The Mess at the Wall

About a week ago, I posted a new piece at the Church at Charlotte blog.

I was recently disappointed. It wasn’t a huge thing, but the disappointment is real and it’s been roiling around in my soul for a while now and I’ve been wrestling with God over it. Around the same time, a friend asked me about my walk with the Lord during a period of time a few years back that I refer to as my “year of hell”—tragedy after tragedy compiled with stress after stress as I walked through an emotional and psychological crisis period. The funny thing, I realized when my friend asked, was that my faith wasn’t shaken during that time. Through it all, I saw God as God and God as good. I continually watched His faithful care in the darkest moments of grief and tragedy.

But something about this current disappointment is different. It’s not that God is not good. Not that He is not on His throne. Not that He is not showing Himself as faithful. It’s just that I’m sick and tired of this stuff.

Read more.

Though We’re Strangers

I put up a post about a month ago at my church’s blog that I haven’t shared here yet. It contains references to Rich Mullins and oblique references to Hutchmoot, just so you know what you’re getting into.

My first year the weekend missed my expectations entirely, but was one of the best weekends of my life. I found things I didn’t even know I was looking for. Wouldn’t it be great if someone visiting our church could say that?

Soon after attending my second year, I re-encountered the song “Peace (A Communion Blessing)” by Rich Mullins and found that the lyrics came close to describing what the weekend was for me:

Though we’re strangers, still I love you
I love you more than your mask
And you know you have to trust this to be true
And I know that’s much to ask
But lay down your fears, come and join this feast
He has called us here, you and me

Mullins’ song is about a communion feast: something that happens in church. And yet many people go to church and never hear words like these: “I love you more than your mask,” “Don’t be afraid,” “Sit down; feast with us.”

This Is My Story

“In biblical Hebrew, there is no word for ‘history.’ Instead of ‘history,’ the word ‘memory’ is used. The idea is that history is someone else’s story, but memory is your own.”
–Heidi Johnston

The Settles Connection at Hutchmoot 2015, Photo by Mark Geil.

The Settles Connection at Hutchmoot 2015, Photo by Mark Geil.

Story, story, story. The word echoed through my weekend, shaped by various tongues. Once or twice it might have come out as “narrative,” a slight variant on the form, but the same essence.

“We tell stories from the image we hold in our hearts,” Jonathan Rogers said as he spoke of honoring our place—our hometown or family. We tell stories to support the thesis we have of “home.” We love our hometowns and our families, he reminded us, not because they are great, but because they are ours. “Remembering this lends the story to universality. Every human place has mythic experience.”

“Baseball is such a multi-purpose narrative tool,” said Russ Ramsey.

“The best way to tell someone you love them is to listen to them,” Michael Card said.

“This is not forever,” Heidi Johnston said. “We are just living in a day of a story that spans all of time.” She challenged us to be so immersed in the Bible that what we write tells the story of Scripture. If we speak only from our imagination without being anchored in truth, she said, we are only giving empty hope.

“Stories name our hopes we’ve hidden away and didn’t know we had,” said Doug McKelvey. “A song or a painting or a story can play on the imagination of the reader or the listener or the viewer almost in the same way a pianist can play on the piano keys.” Telling your story is throwing out a line and hoping that it connects with someone, he said. You’re inviting that person in as a third part of the creative process when they grip the line you’ve thrown out.

“Story is an invitation into a house that becomes a cosmos,” said Walt Wangerin. “What makes the story present and grants us the opportunity to be in the story at this present time is the telling.”

He reminded us of Deuteronomy 5, when Moses tells the story of Sinai to those about to enter the land. The generation who were there at Sinai are all dead, but Moses spoke to the generation before him as if the story were their own. His words echoed Heidi Johnston’s from earlier in the day, “History is someone else’s story; memory is your own.”

“Beware the man who makes himself the hero of his own story,” said Russ Ramsey in his sermon on Sunday morning. He combined the warning with this, “May we try to be brave, believing that trying to be brave is being brave because the author of life controls the narrative, and we are in his hands.”

On Saturday night, as the Settles Connection sang “Blessed Assurance” they invited us to sing along.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.


This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

“This is my story…” My story.

My story is that of a bride adorned for her bridegroom.

My story is that of a people whose God chased after their wayward hearts like a lover.

My story is that of a hard-headed disciple who betrayed his best friend and his Lord, only to be restored over a coal fire on the beach.

My story is that of a servant, entrusted by his master with five talents and turning them into ten.

My story is that of a king who took what he lusted after and killed to keep his sin hidden.

My story is that of a man who took his son to the mountain to sacrifice him, only to learn that the God he served would never ask such a thing like the gods of his past did.

My story is the story of a group of people who came together to discover the strangers they’d met were already their friends.

My story is the tale of a people made in the image of God who once turned away from him, but found him a gracious God with mercies new each morning, who shows steadfast love thousands of those who love him and keep his commandments.

These stories are my own, so deeply pressed into my soul they’ve left a mark. That mark, when watered, will become the seed of new stories. And I can throw out those stories into the world like a line, awaiting a hand to catch them and tie them to the hand’s own stories. And the line will go out again and again, so that strand after strand after strand all lead back to the truest story of all: that of a God who loved his creation so much he lay down his own life to save it from its brokenness.

Post-Moot

We are post-Hutchmoot again, and I am certain I will have many things to say in the next few days, but I’ll begin with a few quotes:

“A song or a painting or a story can play on the imagination of the reader or the listener or the viewer almost in the same way a pianist can play on the piano keys.” -Doug McKelvey

“This is not forever, we are just living in a day of a story that spans all of time.” -Heidi Johnston

Hutchmoot 2015“What makes story present and grants us the opportunity to be in the story at this present time is the telling.” -Walter Wangerin, Jr.

“Beware of the man who makes himself the hero of his own story.” -Russ Ramsey

(and for a bit of fun, please imagine the following in a Northern Ireland accent)
“Have you ever been at a conference with so many references to Deuteronomy?!” -Heidi Johnston

Catching Up

I have, again, been remiss in posting here, but I do have some recent posts elsewhere. Here’s a bit of a recap:

Saturday: Sabbath

Wondering what the day between the crucifixion and resurrection sounded like.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, my small town had a Chabad- Hasidic Jewish synagogue at the top end of State Street. Newtown was full of historic buildings where George Washington had slept, and most along State Street—the main street of the town—had been converted into boutique shops and restaurants. I lived at the bottom end of State Street, and on a Saturday afternoon, the street and sidewalks between my apartment and the synagogue were crowded with chatting shoppers, hands full of bags and Starbucks beverages.

Every Saturday afternoon, quiet in the midst of the bustle, families, dressed in their finest, their heads covered, their prayer shawls showing from beneath their coats, walked slowly up State Street to worship.

Community and Compulsion

A baseball game and John 14.

And here’s the thing, the risk doesn’t always pay off. Sometimes the person you were vulnerable with proves untrustworthy, sometimes entering into another person’s mess leads to getting taken advantage of.

Earlier this season, in a Detroit Tigers baseball game, Victor Martinez (a.k.a. V-Mart) scored a run from second on a single from Yoenis Cespedes. V-Mart was never the fastest runner, is now in his mid-thirties, had an off-season knee surgery, and had just tweaked the same knee a few days earlier: speed is not his thing. He only made it home because J.D. Martinez, another player on the team, got caught in a run-down between second and third and the opposing players didn’t have time to throw V-Mart out.

I’m Not the Queen

Discovering what it means to be a part of the Body.

A few weeks ago, I sat reading over breakfast at Panera. I watched a woman come in and strike up conversation with the employee behind the register, looking up at the menu to determine her breakfast choice. She paused every few sentences and sipped from the beverage already in her hand: a coffee from Starbucks.

I posted the observation on my Facebook page. I considered commenting on it, but decided to simply post it as a statement: “There’s a woman standing in line at Panera drinking from her Starbucks beverage while she orders.” I had my own opinions on the matter, but I was more intrigued to see what people would say in response.

Writing with Light

photocampLearning about photography and the Author of Light with a crew of teenagers.

On Monday, David Johnson, the Director of Silent Images, presented some initial thoughts on photography to the students. Two of the things he noted stuck with me particularly. He began by asking us to think about the meaning of the word “photography.” I’d never thought about it before, but the root words are “photo”—light and “graph”—writing. Photography is, David said, “writing with light.” One of his rules for the week was “look for the light.”

The second thing David noted which stood out to me was the idea that a photograph tends to be seen as an objective witness to events. He asked us to think about how cameras on our phones have in recent days impacted the course of history. From showing the abuses of corrupt governments to recording a sequence of events in a conflict, a camera in the hands of an individual standing on a street can have tremendous power.

The Still, Small Voice

I sat at a concert about a month ago and listened as the man standing before us, guitar in hand, dredged up the whole of his soul and threw it down in rhythm, chord, meter, and lyric.

I desperately wanted to raise my hands and join him in the soul-pouring. I adored the song. I adored the performance. I worshiped with him as he sang. My soul resonated with every word, every chord.

And I spent the entire time in angst, torn between the desire of my soul and my inhibitions. That is so not me, I thought. And so not this crowd.

I grew up in the kind of church where the movement of the Spirit sometimes resulted in an “Amen!” from the back row, but rarely anything more. I’m a stiff-upper lip type; emotionalism is about as far from me as you can get. While I know that there is genuine response to the activity of the Spirit that is not emotionalism, the times I’ve been in worship services where there is a more visible response to the Spirit’s moving, I’ve watched, detached, analytical, and probably a bit cynical.

My relationship with the Holy Spirit person of the Trinity has always been a bit stand-off-ish. God the Father—yep, absolutely, I get Him. God the Son? Sure! Who wouldn’t want to spend time with Jesus? But God the Spirit? He’s a little tougher to get my head around.

I’ve read the Upper Room Discourse in John’s Gospel. I can quote you the stuff Jesus said about the Spirit. It’s the actual living with Him that’s rougher going for me.

At various times in my life I’ve encountered people who seem to be so much more attuned to the activity of the Spirit than I am. I’ve sometimes felt envious. Sometimes felt overwhelmed. Sometimes been in awe. But an easy, back-and-forth, listen-response relationship with the Spirit has never really been my thing.

But God…

He likes to bring that contrasting conjunction into our lives, doesn’t He?

God’s been doing something in my heart in recent months (well, God’s been doing lots of things in my heart in recent months, but I’ll save some for other posts—this one is about the prompting of the Spirit). I’ve had more conversations about the Holy Spirit, about His activity today, about His role in the life of the believer. And I’ve been more acutely aware of moments like the one in the concert, where I felt the prompting of the Spirit, but didn’t know what to do with it.

Enter this past weekend. I was at an event, a fundraising banquet for a Christian organization. I was seated with folks I didn’t know all that well, and I took a moment to hide in my cell phone right as we were getting settled. I looked at Facebook. A friend had posted a request for prayer.

I’m not very good at following through on promises to pray. So most of the time when such requests come my way, I lift the person up there and then, and then go on about my business. In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light, Grandfather describes prayer as taking someone into his heart and putting them into God’s hands. I love that description. And that’s what I do—I take a moment, take the person into my heart, and then put him into God’s hands. And that’s what I did when I saw that post.

But here’s the thing. The request didn’t leave my heart. Over and over throughout the meal I was burdened by it again, distracted from the conversation at my table.

I began to have a conversation with myself inside my head. One voice thought that I should tell my friend about this strange phenomenon. Another voice thought that it would sound like a meaningless platitude. The first voice insisted. The second argued back.

I finally settled the conversation with a plea to the Lord. If He wanted me to say something to my friend, I told Him, He would need to tell me what to say.

There was special music in the program, and I listened to the words of the songs, hoping to find a snippet I could pass along to my friend. Nothing. The Director of the organization got up and shared about the ministry. I listened to the stories, wondering if one of them was what I should pass on. Nothing. Then the keynote speaker got up to preach. And he opened up Hebrews 11 and said he was going to talk about faith.

Of course he is, the cynic in my head scoffed. It’s a fundraising banquet, they’re asking people to step out in faith and give.

From time to time, the Spirit joins the conversations in my head. He joins like He did Elijah outside the cave – not a fire, not a wind, not an earthquake, but a whisper.

He whispered, “I’ve been talking to you a lot about faith recently. Haven’t you been listening?”

The voices in my mind shut their mouths in surprise.

Finally, my soul found her voice. “You want me to tell my friend what You and I have been noodling together about faith?” she asked the Spirit. “But the prayer request was for something else entirely!”

“But we’ve been talking about faith,” the Spirit repeated. “Tell your friend about it.”

Later, in the car as I was trying to pull together my thoughts into a semblance of order for sharing, I heard the still, small voice again as the lyrics of a song played, “Share this, too.”

I wish I could say that I hear that whisper more often. I’m sure He’s spoken, in His quiet way, plenty of times in my life—and I haven’t heard because I’ve been too caught up in the noise, or I have ignored Him because I’ve been too caught up in my inhibitions.

These have been strange days for me. After that night’s encounter with the still, small voice, I’ve had more—like I’m suddenly tuned to the right frequency. But the stranger thing for me is this: I’ve been willing to raise my hands, to shed my inhibitions and pour out my soul because He prompted me to do so.

That is so not me.

But it is lovely. And in it, I see Him.

The Race That Knows Joseph

“They’re our kind of people,” Julie said.
It’s the sort of phrase that could be cruel. It could be unkind, exclusive, evasive. But the way she used it, it was none of those things.
“Couple on Two Benches”
George Segal
Source: Sculpture.org
She was referring to what Anne Shirley, as a child, called “Kindred Spirits.” Later, when she grew up, she adopted the term her friend Miss Cornelia used, “The race that knows Joseph.” I have no idea where L.M. Montgomery came up with that phrase. I presume she is referencing one of the biblical Josephs, but I honestly don’t know. I only know that she somehow found the perfect description for “our kind of people.”
The race that knows Joseph are actually a fairly broad and diverse lot. They like all kinds of different things. There does tend to be a bookishness about them, but they’re not limited by those books. There are scientists, athletes, English professors, historians, sea captains, and doctor’s wives…all who belong to the race that knows Joseph.
It’s a bit of an intangible descriptor. There are, after all, two biblical Josephs. I think an argument could be made for either one to be him who is referenced. The Old Testament Joseph, Jacob’s son – he of the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat – was a dreamer and an old soul. He was a gifted manager and strategic planner. Through his life he learned to see the big picture and to glimpse things from God’s perspective. I’d wager this is the Joseph that Montgomery’s Miss Cornelia is referring to, but I often wonder if maybe, just maybe, it’s the other one.
The other Joseph, the New Testament Joseph, of the house and line of David, is a quieter character than the Dream Coat Joseph. We only get a few chapters’ worth of glimpses into this Joseph – who also had a father named Jacob – but they are telling glimpses. He is a man who speaks with angels. A man who rises up and takes his pregnant fiancée into his home, marrying her despite the whispers of the people around them. He is a man who raises a Child he knows is not his own, a Child whose depth and wisdom are confounding to the carpenter. He works hard, and – it seems – he dies early, before seeing how the Boy he raised turned the world upside down.
I think both Josephs would be “our kind of people.” I think they both would find that chord of resonance with the other. But Technicolor Joseph would be up front leading the group, laying out the plan of events, and Carpenter Joseph would be working hard behind the scenes.
Whichever Joseph it is that we know, “our kind of people” all know him.

“You’re young and I’m old, but our souls are about the same age, I reckon. We both belong to the race that knows Joseph, as Cornelia Bryant would say,” said Captain Jim.

“‘The race that knows Joseph?’” puzzled Anne.

“Yes. Cornelia divides all the folks in the world into two kinds– the race that knows Joseph and the race that don’t. If a person sorter sees eye to eye with you, and has pretty much the same ideas about things, and the same taste in jokes–why, then he belongs to the race that knows Joseph.”

“Oh, I understand,” exclaimed Anne, light breaking in upon her. “It’s what I used to call–and still call in quotation marks ‘kindred spirits.’”

“Jest so–jest so,” agreed Captain Jim. “We’re it, whatever it is. When you come in to-night, Mistress Blythe, I says to myself, says I, ‘Yes, she’s of the race that knows Joseph.’ And mighty glad I was, for if it wasn’t so we couldn’t have had any real satisfaction in each other’s company. The race that knows Joseph is the salt of the airth, I reckon.”*

*Montgomery, L.M. Anne’s House of Dreams. New York: Bantam Books, 1992. p. 38. (©McClelland and Steward Limited, 1922.) 

 

Living Stones

In Joshua 22, there’s this misunderstanding.

The tribes who took allotments of land on the east side of the Jordan are finally going home after helping the other tribe conquer the land of Canaan, and they build an altar, somewhere near where they are going to cross back over the Jordan.

The tribes in Canaan think they’re trying to build a second place of worship, away from the Tabernacle, so that they don’t have to travel so far to make sacrifices. They rise up to make war against the eastern tribes and fortunately stop to ask questions before they do so.
It all comes out in the explanation: the eastern tribes didn’t want anyone to forget that they fought for the land. They pulled out the practice of their fathers and forefathers and built an ebenezer – a an altar of remembrance – so that when their children asked why they had to go all the way to the tabernacle to worship, or when the western tribes’ children asked why these strangers from across the river kept coming over into their land, someone could point to the altar and say, “See, your fathers and our fathers fought together and God gave them this land. It is His, and we all worship Him here.”
Except, here’s the thing. The stones could stand for generations, and they could represent what the eastern tribes wanted them to say, but only if someone said it first. The whole misunderstanding arose because no one was there to remind the western tribes of what had happened.
I’ve been thinking lately about living stones. Josh Garrells uses the phrase in his song, “White Owl”: Every dream that you have been shown / Will be like living stone / Building you into a home / A shelter from the storm.
And I’ve been listening to him almost incessantly, so, frankly, living stones in my head. But that is just the background music.
On Tuesday evening we gathered together the Chorale that went to Poland this spring for a reunion. A significant portion of the group was able to make it, and we were able to have a little bit of time for people to share what God had been doing in their lives since the trip.
One by one, as they shared, I was reminded of the things we learned together as we traveled.
And I had this thought – we’re living stones.
The Israelites set up piles of stones to speak as a remembrance of the things God did. But without a message to go with them, as we see in Joshua 22, they failed to tell the story.
But then I started thinking and trying to remember exactly what it was that Peter says about living stones. I looked it up: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” It’s all in the context of the Church – and fitting that it’s one of Peter’s letters that uses the analogy. Jesus is the cornerstone, the one upon which He will build His church, but we are the walls, the steeple, the body – a spiritual house.
As I wander forward through history I begin to see that we didn’t leave the piling of rocks back in ancient times. One has only to look at Notre Dame de Paris, or Westminster Abbey, or St. Paul’s, or the National Cathedral for that matter, to realize that we’ve been piling stones as markers of God throughout the centuries. Problem is: one only has to look at the words coming out of some of those buildings to realize that the message has gotten confused along the way.
Perhaps then, we should pour ourselves into building piles of living stones, gathering around us other members of the holy priesthood who can remind us of what we learned, of what we want to remember.
But then we run into this: for all their faults in communicating messages, stones have one serious factor going for them: they last. There are still altars built along the Jordan River. We don’t know exactly if one of them is the one from Joshua 22, but it’s quite possible. If that one isn’t standing, others from near the same time still are.
Living stones on the other hand, well, they’re fallible.
Time, philosophies, and the evil one take their toll on living stones; making us wonder if perhaps they were never stones at all, but something false, like the lithops plant that avoids being eaten by blending in to the stony ground around it. And we’re left wondering if it might have been better to build up stone walls as remembrances, rather than facing the disappointment and confusion that false living stones give us.
I haven’t finished thinking about this whole thing, but I’m going to say no. Living stones are worth the risk. Because not only can they tell the story of what happened then, in that time that you’re building the remembrance of, they can also tell the stories of what has happened since, and the new things that God has done.

Lamentations

He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.

He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the LORD.”

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he should bear
The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and be silent
Since He has laid it on him.
Let him put his mouth in the dust,
Perhaps there is hope.
Let him give his cheek to the smiter,
Let him be filled with reproach.
For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.

Where I Am Now – Keeping Focused

This morning, someone made a comment about passages of Scripture that have, in the past, impacted you so deeply that they’ve become a part of the fabric of your being. At the words, I cast my memory back and thought of passages like that in my life.

The first to come to mind was a verse in Second Timothy that resonated with me in times of struggle during college, hard times when I didn’t even have the strength to pursue Christ: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.” Having the strength for faith isn’t something I’m currently struggling with, but the verse still resonates—it is a truth I rely upon and live in.

Today, though, I went back to the beginning of the chapter to take a look at that verse in context. I wanted to see what I was to do with the phrase right before the one I’d grasped: “If we deny Him, He will also deny us.” It’s a frightening verse, really. What does it mean by the word deny?

These days, my spiritual struggles are wrapped up in the struggles of others. I have friends and mentors who have turned their back on the God who is my life-force; friends and mentors with whom I learned Christ and a biblical worldview. And I do not know what to do with that. If God taught me something through the words or actions of a friend, and that friend no longer follows that teaching, what am I to do? How am I to comprehend that teaching now? Through prayer and consideration, I’ve come to realize that my philosophy that God’s Truth is Truth, no matter in what vehicle it is presented, applies here, too. But even so, the struggle remains. My faith is currently secure. By God’s grace, I am not doubting His person, His faithfulness, His goodness, His justice. But these friends cannot say the same—and some have said the very opposite; they have rejected God.

So I read the whole passage again, finding myself in a different position than when I last spent time looking at it. This is what I read:

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in sufferings as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect; that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him;
if we endure, we will also reign with Him;
if we deny Him, He will also deny us;
if we are faithless, He remains faithful—
for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Who am I in all this? Where do I stand today? I am the “child” addressed at the very beginning. I’m exhorted to be strengthened by Jesus’ grace, by the truth I’ve heard all my life. I’m commanded to pass this truth along—which is what I’m doing right now.

I’m to pursue Christ single-mindedly, undistracted by those around me who doubt. Not without care for them, but with the knowledge that my pursuit benefits them, as a soldier’s obedience to this commander serves everyone he protects. Yes, certainly, there is reward for faithfulness, like the athlete’s crown or the farmer’s crop, but that is secondary to the soldier’s focus upon his commander. That aim to please the commander comes with hardship sometimes; soldiers are asked to lay their very lives on the line, but their aim is not focused upon the suffering, rather the goal.

And what is that goal? That Truth will be heard and understood. Paul exhorts me to remember Christ Jesus. He is bound for the sake of the Truth, but the Truth still speaks, still goes on. Paul sets aside his own cares; he shows the soldier how to endure the suffering for others’ sakes.

This is where things get nitty-gritty and theological, and I’m not sure if I’ve got it all right, or even exactly how it plays out in real life, but here’s what I’m thinking on the end of the passage. Paul says he endures everything for the sake of the elect, and it is in that context that he says what follows. He knows the elect will be saved, but he wants them to obtain salvation with eternal glory…living fully forever, starting now.

The saying Paul quotes at the end of the passage is the part I’ve always spent time upon. There’s salvation: dying with Christ and also living with Him. There is suffering and reward: enduring and reigning. And then that denial. Those who deny Christ will be denied. So who are these ones? I think, based in the idea of election, these are those who are not elect, who were never saved to begin with. The faithless, on the other hand, are believers who falter, either through willful sin or simple exhaustion. To them, Christ remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself – and they have co-died and co-lived with Him.

So where does it leave me with these friends who have turned their backs on the Savior who suffered for them? I mourn to think that some of them may have denied Him from the start, and they will be denied by Him. But others, even those who have shaken their fists in His face and said, “I will not serve!” may still yet find Him faithful. For He cannot deny Himself, and they are His.

I wish I could figure out who falls into which category. I wish I could shake those who have lost faith and say, “Wake up! Don’t you see? He’s still here! He hasn’t given up on you!” Right now, I don’t have the opportunity to say those words, but at least I can keep my focus and hope He speaks through my life. I also co-died and co-live with Christ. He is my commander. It is He for whom I compete, for whom I work. And it is that that will benefit those friends around me; it is that which will point to the Truth. I love that right in the middle of this whole passage there’s an encouragement to think on all this, and a promise that God will give understanding. I don’t know if I’ve got it yet…but I’ll keep my focus.