The Puzzling Pursuit of Perseverance

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

I was boiling with anger. I felt paralyzed, helpless against the ever-changing tide of circumstance and self. I tried to keep my body language open. The usual practice of hugging my arms tightly around the blessed pillow (which doubles as a barricade for my heart) too often suppressed the unruly tornado swirling inside me.

“Ok, I can’t believe I’m asking this, but . . . how do I lose my conscience?” I asked awkwardly. I laughed, and my therapist chuckled. “I know that’s terrible . . . I mean, who asks their counselor that?” I added, my tone shifting quickly into incredulous despair.

“No . . . no, its not terrible at all. It just shows me how much you’re in pain. I can hear it,” she responded gently.

Apparently God has graced me with a remarkably strong conscience and a resolve to pursue truth no matter what it costs me.

I get angry about that a lot.

I observe the cultural stream of self-actualization and self-fulfillment with wonder and longing. I see the happiness of my friends who value the enigmatic phrase “be yourself” above all. In contrast, I step into the truth over and over again, to be met with disappointment (let me be clear – I do “go my own way” a lot, but there’s a boundary that I just can’t seem to cross that some people seem to be able to do a little easier).

What’s the point? To hell with suffering for Christ… I want to live!

In my darkest moments, that is my anthem.

Still, I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit’s unrelenting pursuit of my heart. Somehow, deep down I know that perseverance in pursuing what I know to be ultimately good and true is nurturing a maturity in me that will far supersede the temporary happiness of self-actualization. I have even been able to experience glimpses of this truth in my life now.

If it was just about maturity and growing into Christlikeness, I don’t think I would be able to resist rebelling. But its not just that. Through my suffering and my shaky trust in God’s goodness, I am being made complete.

Complete.

What a gloriously attractive word! If I were to marry a word, “complete” would be the one for me.

There is so much that is incomplete in this world. Whatever perspective you look from, the 107 billion¹ puzzle pieces (and counting²) of humanity scatter the earth in chaos. God the great puzzler sees everything that has been, is now, will be, and could have been. Keeping all this in mind, he is in process of shaping each of us to contribute to the whole picture in the most beautiful way we can. Some of us are side pieces, bordering the edges of this fraying world. Others burst in with color and focus in the center.

Each one He has made and chosen are essential.

Imagine for a moment scrolling through Amazon and seeing an advertisement.

700-billion-piece puzzle (2)

Intrigued, you click the ad, but all it reveals is a short description:

Box not included.

Such is the way of humanity.

We buy the puzzle and try to create meaning of a 700 billion piece puzzle with no box.

Only God has the picture on the box, but in His great mercy He allows us the freedom to choose… will we try to fit ourselves in our own way into a massive puzzle which we can only begin to imagine…or will we trust that the God who made us also created the box we came in and will fit us in such a way that we will be rendered eternally complete?

Perseverance must finish its work.

And what is that work?

It is the work of allowing God in His sovereignty to shape us into the puzzle pieces that will reveal us as the glorious, complex, integrated, communal, creative, complete human beings that we are.

It is the work of realizing that in the waiting for Him to finish the puzzle, God knows how we best fit better than we do.

And when that last piece is lovingly placed, we will experience that wondrous eternity where we will truly “lack no good thing.”

But for now, by the grace of a suffering Savior, I’ll try to continue on in the puzzling pursuit of perseverance.

¹the estimated number of people who have ever lived

²remember that show 19 (20? 21?) Kids and Counting? If you thought that was a nightmare, imagine having 107 billion kids! Its all about perspective, right?

 

My Response to The Nashville Statement

Earlier this week, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a document entitled “The Nashville Statement.

Because I am passionate about loving LGBT people well due to some very personal ties, I feel compelled to express with utmost clarity my own convictions regarding sexuality.

Though I am an Evangelical Christian and though I live in Nashville and though I incompletely agree with parts of “The Nashville Statement,” I believe it is an extremely poor and untimely expression of beliefs in numerous ways, and one about which I am sad and angry.

And so, I’ve come up with some statements of my own.



Article 1

I AFFIRM that sexuality is complicated, confusing, and ultimately a gray area in a world that insists on being black and white.

I DENY 
that sexuality is merely the sum of our biological parts and AFFIRM that the characteristics of gender difference are mostly shrouded in mystery and therefore cannot be described in ultimatums.

Article 2
I AFFIRM that God has boundless compassion for individuals questioning their sexuality, and that He will love people through their own particular journeys.

I DENY that LGBT people are going to hell based on how they identify themselves.

Article 3
I AFFIRM that the Church is called to be a place where sexuality can be discussed openly, freely, and without fear of judgment.

I DENY that the Church has any right to condemn God’s children based on their gender identity.

Article 4
I AFFIRM that describing oneself as gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. as a partial expression of one’s experience of life are helpful descriptors that have many nuanced layers of meaning and that each person’s story must be heard in its entirety before jumping to conclusions.

I DENY that describing oneself as any of the LGBT descriptors is a violation of God’s “natural order”.

Article 5
I AFFIRM that a continuous searching of the Scriptures combined with consulting of the Holy Spirit is required to mold our understanding of sexuality.

I DENY that the discussion should ever be “closed” on the topic of sexuality.

Article 6
I AFFIRM that I will personally love and cherish every LGBT person I have the honor of knowing.

I DENY that my own convictions will prevent me from respecting another person’s story.

Article 7
I AFFIRM that evangelical Christians have been historically hateful and phobic of LGBT people.

I DENY that hate and fear are appropriate responses to difference of any kind.

Article 8
I AFFIRM that Christians have the radical and joyful privilege to BE FAMILY to their LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ.

I DENY that same-sex attraction for a Christian equates to a lifetime of loneliness and shame.

Article 9
I AFFIRM that God is fully and uniquely at work in each of our lives and that He will mold our hearts to His will if we are willing to be open to the painful and uncomfortable processes He uses.

I DENY that I have all the answers.


I’m sure I could go on and on . . . but for now I will stop there and leave you with this beautiful song about a Christian man who experiences same-sex attraction and how a church’s all-too-common condemnation of LGBT people deeply affects him . . . and the radical love of Jesus that broke through all of the man’s shame and fear.

Coming Back to the Heart of Worship

heart of worshipOne of my earliest memories is singing through the huge binders of worship songs that my mom (who was the keyboardist at the church where I grew up) owned. I would go in my room by myself, shut the door, and flip through the hundreds of pages, singing classic ’90s favorites: “There is None Like You”, “Lord I Lift Your Name on High”, “The Heart of Worship”, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” . . . the day I was baptized, one of the worship leaders commented on how I knew the lyrics to more of the songs we sang than anyone else at the church. He was probably right.

Somewhere, there is still a cassette tape of me singing worship songs when I was about four years old. I gave it to my mom, wanting her to give it to my pastor for “Pastor Appreciation Day”. She didn’t end up giving it to him, because it was “too cute” and she wanted to keep it. Every once in a long while, I dig up that cassette tape and listen to my tiny, high-pitched voice sing these praise songs.

When I was four, I didn’t think about the words I was singing. I don’t even remember being cognizant that I was singing these songs to God. But in a way, my childish worship was more honoring to God than the way I sing to Him now. How can that be? Then, I sang out of the pure happiness that music made me feel. I sang because I loved to sing. Now, my mind is clouded with pride and anxiety. I’m trying too hard to be real and vulnerable and sing the words with true desire in my heart, when God just wants me to find the happiness of song again. He wants me to tap back into that childish desire to hum and sing everywhere I go. My former habit of involuntarily humming music at the dinner table was more honoring than the duty-bound drudgery that singing with a congregation every Sunday has become.

To this day at worship gatherings, I’m known as a sort of worship music jukebox: “yeah–Lindsey can play anything!” come the cries of my friends, amazed that I often do not need chord sheets or lyrics for worship songs.

But even though I still remember lyrics and tunes, I’m losing something . . . I’m losing the memory of joy that made me look forward to every worship practice in my living room with my violin-transformed-guitar. I’m losing the desire to lose myself in song for hours and hours. Life and loss has caught up with me, telling me that there is no longer much of a reason to sing except as an expression of groaning desperation for God.

I started to write this blog post with a totally different direction in mind. I was going to talk about the song “Blessed Be Your Name”, particularly the words: “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say: blessed be Your Name”, and what that means and how that is possible.

But a small stirring in my heart caused me to remember a time when analyzing the words to worship songs and doubting everything I am singing and being plagued by pride and my own false images of God I’ve created over the years was not a struggle. That’s not to say I was a constantly happy child. Sometimes I think I must have been born with chronic anxiety. I had lots of silly and fun and wonderful moments as a kid, but I have always had an inexplicable underlying melancholy nature; aware of the immense evil and pain in the world. I don’t ever remember being completely carefree.

But when I sang–whether it was worship songs, Disney melodies, or tunes from Phantom of the Opera– I was free, happy and alive.

i could singI want to feel that way again. I want to sing just because I love the way singing makes me feel. Instead of singing at my circumstances, I want to sing irrespective of my circumstances. I want to be lost in the sense of feeling alive, of bubbling from the inside out with the joy of music.

The delighting in God’s creation of melody and lyric and harmony, is more pleasing to Him than the anxiety and self-absorption and attempts and failures at focusing on what we are singing about, that we all tend to bring to worship.

Matthew 21:16 says,

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’

Kids get it. They get it because they don’t care about “getting into it”. They sing truth without thinking about the consequences of that truth. They sing truth without being concerned about their authenticity, their pride, or their failures. They sing with eyes wide open, taking in the massive glory of God with their minuscule lens of life experience.

God help us all to become children again. Help us to come back to the heart of worship.