Hope Deferred

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
— Proverbs 13:12
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It has not been an easy week in the Fry household. Rejection has run rampant in both of our lives, finding us weary, finding us thankfully to be on our knees. Dirty obedience is what I’m calling it now, seeking, knocking, with our circumstances showing little of what we would want them to look like.

I’ve been using Eugene Peterson’s newest book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, to help me prompt prayers and point me to Christ crucified on every page, especially when words have found themselves lacking. Today I found myself in the chapter on “The Root of Jesse,” tracing the storyline of the prophet Isaiah finding himself in the wake of Assyria devastating the land of Israel. Where were God’s promises in the midst of this devastation?

I found myself praying something similar, watching hopes deferred in front of both mine and my husband's eyes, looking around at what seems like a wasteland for the things we thought we were told to be faithful to, feeling truly that sickness and death.

Isaiah 11 then tells us that not only that a shoot will come forth from a stump, but the nations will seek that shoot now grown. A shoot growing from what looks dead. Seeking to be found in this growth, this banner to rule all, where His dwellings will be glorious.

A person can go through the worst, lose every vestige of hope, have every shred of faith pulled away from the soul, leaving it bare and shivering in a world where all the evidence says God is dead, live through that, and become a person of faith again, become convinced that nothing else is worth anything compared to discovering the truth and reality of God. Several times during the lecture, Elie Wiesel used the word midrash. ‘If we are realistic persons, honest persons, alert persons,’ he said, ‘then midrash will enter our lives.’ The word midrash is a Hebrew word that means to seek out.
— Eugene Peterson

I was able to finish my in-depth study of Ruth this week, with disaster abounding within the first five verses of the text, and barely any mentions of the Lord throughout the entirety of the book. Lots of things that “just so happen,” and lots of mentions of BEHOLD, or SURPRISE, as if everything is ironically coming by chance. It’s the actions of the ordinary, the ones taking on what it looks like to hold on to a vow, a covenant, the beauty of the Hebrew word hesed, that show as well as foretell the redemption that will come from the root of Jesse.

In the midst of following the Lord into what seems dark, where around us hope is deferred, devastation seeming to abound, there is a growth, a sprig of green, coming from the death. From this will grow the true tree of life, the only answer to our consistent “why,” and the comfort in forever fulfillment. He is on the move, no matter what we can or cannot see, hear, taste, or touch. He will stop at nothing less than full redemption. We must seek the Lord amidst this mundane, amidst what looks like destroyed dreams, and we will find that we can see nothing less than a fountain filled with blood. 

He remains always true to His promises, to Himself, and we lie in that dirty obedience seeking Him. He hasn't failed us yet, although there have been times when prematurely I have said so.

I won't let go until You bless me.

Dear Woman in Seminary

This post was originally written for a multi-media ministry called Servants of Grace, posted last week. So thankful for them and the way they have worked with me graciously.

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Dear Woman in Seminary,

You are not alone. There are days in which the journey is long and wearisome, but you are seen. Your church needs you, and I am so glad that you responded to the call of seminary with a heart that says, “Here am I, send me.” In the midst of the chaos seminary can truly be at times, I hope that you hold on to that call as an Ebenezer, a mark that proclaims, “He who calls is faithful.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

There are many warnings for us who find ourselves in seminary. Within those warnings lie deep seeded idols to be weeded out, pruned by our loving Father. As we pursue after the heart of Christ, the ultimate example for us in ministry and the whole of our lives, laying His life down for His sheep, we submit ourselves to not only grow in knowledge, but to grow in utter dependence upon Him for all things. The warnings that follow are not to trample anyone down underneath the heavy weight, but to exhort you to place yourself at the feet of He who calls you to be holy as He is holy.

Called to Be a Disciple

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
— Matthew 22:36-39
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
— Matthew 28:19-20

These are the words of Jesus Christ Himself. These words are never to be taken lightly. If you have found yourself going into seminary, found there not to be bound to these specific mandates, the call to be both a disciple and to make disciples; you may be in seminary for the wrong reasons. Seminary is not necessary to be a disciple.  Yet, if seminary is where you find yourself, it certainly should be for the explicit purposes of building His church. Going to seminary is secondary to your call to come and die to live abundantly in Christ alone.  Check your heart through God’s Word and in prayer for ways you may have a personal agenda before the call to be a disciple in your journey through seminary.

Called to Be Transformed

There is such a gift in going to seminary that gets to be expressed by diving deeper and deeper into God’s words for many hours a day. There is so much glory to be found in the biblical text that you will be poring over, spending much of your time debating, studying, and writing about it. The warning found here is that sometimes an overwhelming amount of knowledge can desensitize you to beholding it as a gift.

The danger of head knowledge is that sometimes this head knowledge stays put only in our minds. We have already covered loving God with all of our minds, but if our mind doesn’t translate into heart change, we are missing something tremendous. Our theology must pour out into doxology. These very many “aha” moments of blessed assurance should be cause for rejoicing and transformation. It is so easy as you study to forget the gift it is to spend ample amount of time learning about Him in Scripture and how to love His people well. Check your heart for ways in which you have stopped depending upon the Holy Spirit to guide your time in His Word, asking Him for His wisdom, and not just trusting your newfound skills you’ve learned while in seminary.

Called to Be Human

Another danger found in seminary that can lurk around every corner is the idolatry of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake can quickly change into a pride in your knowledge. What doesn’t help with this idolatry is the way that we as humans look still for a king, even when the Lord has made Himself known through His Word. Instead of grounding ourselves in our identity in Christ, people time and time again have placed one another on a pedestal. Knowledge that benefits others, a phenomenal gift of time in seminary, can quickly turn sour and make you the savior, a false god to behold.

Being in seminary should not elevate you above anyone else. Being a leader in the Kingdom of God means that you bring yourself to the lowest seat, washing the feet of those around you with the gifts you have been given, which also means your education. Check your heart for pride that may have found ind it’s way into your life. Check your heart for ways in which you may be pointing to yourself as the source of where to find Christ, instead of Christ Himself.

Considering Your Call

You may not be in seminary yet, but you might be thinking about attending. All of these warnings may be frightening, and they should be. “Not many of you should become teachers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1) No matter the context in which you find yourself sharing the great gift and wealth of substance found in your countless time in God’s word, you should find yourself spending the same amount of time on your knees bringing it before the Lord as an offering, praying He would speak mightily through you.

While I paint what looks like a bleak picture, I can never forget the beauty that has come in all of my time spent devoting myself to Him through seminary. There have been many days where I am weak, and it feels like I may be too weak to continue wearing the many hats that students in seminary also put on at the same time. In that weakness, Christ has been and will always be glorified. The opposites of all of those many warnings bear great and tremendous fruit in the lives of those who find themselves wholly dependent on Christ alone. May seminary for you, and for all, be a place where Christ becomes greater, and we all find ourselves lesser.

Peace be with you,

Your Sister,

Alexiana

Forgetting His Wonder

This is an age where our sense of spiritual possibility, transcendence, and the presence of God has been drained out. What’s left is a spiritual desert, and Christians face the temptation to accept the dryness of that desert as the only possible world. We have enough conviction and faith to be able to call ourselves believers, but we’re compelled to look for ways to live out a Christian life without transcendence and without the active presence of God, practicing what Dallas Willard once called ‘biblical deism’ — a strange bastardization of Christianity that acts as though, once the Bible was written, God left us to sort things out for ourselves.

In such a world, the Bible feels like a dead text and our prayers seem to bound answerless off the drywall… We might be fluent in the language of faith but unable to pray, overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, and victim to the compulsive, distracting habits that fill our age. We might be able to articulate the doctrine and dogma of the gospel but feel as though we’re doing so from the outside looking in.
— Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder
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I haven’t been dishonest in saying in these last few posts of mine that these last months have been weighing on me, heart and soul. Today, I am here doing laundry and picking up the house before heading off to class for the afternoon. I’ve been praying less and less, wondering if He really is the God who hears, knowing He is, but having firm lingering unbelief weeding it’s way through my heart. Circumstances have pushed their way into being my god once more, dictating whether or not the Spirit is moving or going to make a way.

Mike Cosper’s book, Recapturing the Wonder, was truly a page turner, as I got the book on Friday and finished it within a few hours (like a good book team member). I’m a bad book owner in that I dog-ear the pages that stick out to me, remembering to go back to those pages once I am finished to recall those truths that can be very seriously life changing. There were certainly plenty of those, making it hard to figure out what exactly to pinpoint as I thought through the many ways God was convicting my heart gently. Book plug aside, this one came at such a beautiful time for the Lord to use it to point me back to Him.

In a world where I find myself compulsively checking my phone as a liturgy, as soon as I wake and before falling asleep, dissatisfaction and the need to be omniscient have been illuminating my face every single day with the glow of the screen. I found myself counseling someone one day to take a step away and rest, while ignoring the fact that the Spirit had those words for me. Like the above quote said, I found myself fluent in the language, but my heart had forgotten the language. Lord, have mercy.

Maybe the desert seasons not only push us to pursue the heart of God because we long for what is lost, but they also prune away that which is ugly, that which finds itself to be too religious to look at the Cross of Christ for comfort. Maybe the desert is only the desert so that, like when something is aching in our body, we go to the physician to fix what has dried up. Maybe all of life is that beautiful paradox of grace and struggle, and we can finally stop attempting to dress up the desert and call it for what it is so we may find that life abundant, bearing the scars of a wrestling match. It takes a death, many deaths, of saying no to what looks appealing in order to reorder a life that bears much fruit.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

So I take a deep breath of the warm, glory filled smells of Downy from my fresh pile of laundry, I thank God for the beauty found amidst mundane, and I praise God for another morning where the sun has come up and His mercies are new. I wear the limp proudly, a badge saying to all who see that His grace is here; it has found even me. I bask in the paradoxes found in this faith, dying to my need-to-know heart, and asking Jesus once more to help me bear whatever Cross today finds. The battle has been won, friends, and I want each step and breath to once more leave me in awe of wounds ever flowing, grace upon grace, calling me into a new Kingdom where I am not god.

Provider, Please Provide

It’s been a long few days.

In the midst of a long staff retreat, one where we shared bits and pieces of who we are with one another, opening the deep caverns of our hearts, a tragic and unsurprising thing broke loose in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I am tired, in more ways than one. My body is tired from truly, enjoying time with my peers and co-workers for four straight days, as well as my heart from empathy overload. However, to a degree, a comparison game must be played.

I face a few things, yes, because I am female, but I will still never ever face the degree of persecution that my brothers and sisters who are people of color, different than my white heritage, will ever face. I have said too many ignorant things, forgetting first and foremost that the commandment behind loving the Lord my God with all of my heart is to love my neighbor as myself, even if they don’t look or act exactly as I am or do. I prayed even today, that the Lord would hack this death off of me, the racism in my own heart that I do not see. I can not even imagine how tired my brothers and sisters of color find themselves to be.

Like a few weeks ago, I have done some more digging into what I will teach at my home church this Fall, through the book of Ruth. I have sat now in Ruth 1 for quite some time, parsing the Hebrew, checking the patterns, mining the gold. Two things in specific have challenged my prayers, challenged my view of our Lord, shown in the heart of a widow in Ancient Israel.

The first is that Naomi laments, and she doesn’t hold back. I had taken some time to write about this a while back on my first time around with Ruth. I will never tire that our Father in Heaven hears these cries, allowing us to seemingly shake our fists at Him as He knows we don’t see the full picture. Our laments don’t further our distance from God; they instead bridge a gap in that there is still an acknowledgment of Who we know Him to be. Come through, Father.

The second is exactly that acknowledgment piece, the piece that calls upon God to be Who we know Him to be. Naomi calls upon God when she laments, and she uses a very specific title of God.

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
— Ruth 1:20-21

She calls the Lord here the Almighty, in Hebrew, Shaddai. Although in many situations throughout the text where Shaddai is found, He comes like a mighty warrior, I was struck by another meaning that this word could be translated as: provider.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the word, I find it beautiful that Naomi calls on the provider to restore, calling upon the provider that she knows her Lord, Yahweh, to be. Even though I may find it beautiful, this call of faith in Who she worships, Naomi makes it clear that she is empty, she is found wanting, she is tired. Her life around her is destroyed, her livelihood, her everything taken from her. She invokes this name of the Lord, provider, to do what He said He would do in the midst of her circumstances saying the exact opposite.

I can’t wrap everything up in this beautiful looking bow, and most of that is because everything in our world is totally broken and riddled with sin. I am tired, and even though I cannot speak for my brothers and sisters of color from their exact experience, from simply my relationships with them they have expressed that they are much more tired and empty than I am. Our Scriptures unravel and show us how to lament in these days, these days full of brokenness and heinous evil, showing us that we can call upon our God to be who He says He is. Provider, please provide. Judge, please judge, bring mercy and justice swiftly in the face of it looking the opposite.

I cannot help but look to the rest of the book of Ruth, the context, to start to hope once more. As Naomi calls upon God to be who He is, to come through on behalf of her lack, a book where God is barely mentioned moves through a woman named Ruth. God’s loving kindness is shown in and through a woman who lays down her livelihood and her future for another whose life is seemingly over, a foretaste of our future hope in Christ Jesus who lays His life down for us, cruciform.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
— Ruth 1:16-17

Our call today is to die as well, and as we lament along with our brothers and sisters, we who have privilege are called to lay that down as followers of Christ, just as the Son of God laid His down. We not only have a call to emulate Naomi and Ruth, but to be like Christ, because of the great love with which He loved us.

It’s uncomfortable to die, to give up our lives, but it is where true life is found. Until we all are free, we all must come and die.

Death to My Boast

“If at the end of your degree, you don’t get a job, but you get more of Christ, will that be enough?”

I was forced to see a spiritual director three times my second year of my seminary journey, very much against my want or will. I also had to put some stock into it, paying some of our cold hard dollars that as newlyweds, we were strapped for. This meant that although I wasn’t buying it (but had to buy it), I was going to spend this time talking this poor woman’s ear off.

This of course led into someone who is trained to be discerning to be discerning about one of my biggest fears.

The question left me dumbfounded, struck, simply because I knew with all of my heart that I wanted the answer to that question to be a cheerful and glad “yes,” but it was most certainly a “no.” How could Christ call me to something like this and not have my future in mind?

And yet, it showed in me such a deficit. Not only was I hearing the question, “Do you love me?” I was hearing the question, “Do you trust me?” The answer revealed itself in a hearty “no” once more, not trusting Him with this thing that had so quickly become my prized possession, my idol, my identity.

Fast forward to a year and a half later and now, I am rejoicing that I get to look at the finish line in front of me, my last semester. I thought in this time period that I could firmly tell you that I had dealt with this thorn, walked through this desert, giving my Lord my abundant yes. However, in the midst of looking ahead to what is next, I have lost sight of what is here and now, fixated upon the question of if God will come through in the way I want him to four long months from now. The death has not been pruned from me yet.

This weekend, my pastor said something in the midst of his sermon on being led as a captive in Christ’s triumphal entry (2 Corinthians 2:14-16), that struck me once more.

You know what you boast in by how you defend yourself when things go badly.
— Martin Luther

As I have had to deal with the hardships that come with working with other sinful people, myself included, I have refused to see the goodness that comes from Christ’s pierced hands. Instead, I have found myself wandering to humans, asking for acceptance and approval as they look at my works and judge whether or not they are worthy of me staying or going. Instead, I have used my works these past three years in seminary as a way to qualify myself, rather than covering my face and pointing to His glory.

This sounds severe, but whenever we move a simple degree away from sola gratia, grace alone, in even our own lives, a serious temptation in the work of ministry, this is what we have done: glory robbing, idol coddling, autonomy.

What has my boast been in? This future degree, and the hope of something that could give me status other than the ever-looked-down-upon “student.” My boast has not been in His work done for me, and the work that I can see He is doing now.

In order for me to find life again, to find joy in surrender, to find peace amidst such unknown, I must know with certainty that my life is not my own. I must remember who God says He is, and that those words are true and trustworthy. I must know that this dream, this hope, this life of mine, needs to be put to death in order for true life to make its way through the muck and the mire.

So like I did for two straight weeks with a group of sweaty people on either side, I recite the Shema, and pray to God it takes root and changes this heart of stone into one beating and full of His beautiful light.

Hear, O Israel.
The Lord is our God.
The Lord alone.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your might,
and love your neighbor who is like yourself.

My only boast is Christ alone. Who is like the Lord our God?