Category Archives: christian perfection

five steps to harvesting a good theology…

It’s been one of those mornings in Bible study—a time of reflection that promotes more questions than answers. A day when I (again) wrote these words in the margin of my current Bible study guide, “Do I really believe this?” Whenever this happens, my contemplation takes a turn, sometimes toward clarity, sometimes toward confusion. On this particular morning, there’s confusion—a long wrestling of thought, Word, and practical living that doesn’t compute fully with the author’s considerations. Accordingly, I won’t “go there,” at least not with you, friends. Instead, I’ll take my questions to God and continue to flesh out my beliefs with him, with his Word, and with an open heart. Sometimes it’s just better to let our questions simmer before him rather than fanning them into flame before mankind. Why?

Well, sometimes we’re not as forgiving as God is. In fact, never are we as forgiving as God is. He’s more open-minded with our earnest probing and deliberate searches for answers. We, on the other hand, are more comfortable with ours judgments, making assumptions, drawing conclusions, and rendering a verdict when someone bravely risks doing the heart work attached to his/her faith and doing so out loud. And so today, I tuck away my questions, and I focus on a scripture that has surfaced for me from this same study and from God’s Word that doesn’t warrant my question mark but only my highlighter and my “Amen.” Hear now from God’s Word:

“So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough” (Ruth 2:17-18).

So what in the wide world of faith and function do these verses have in common with the questions stirring in my spirit this morning?

Everything, because in these two verses, God gives me . . . gives you a “how-to” for dealing with the hard wrestlings that sometime surface for us as we move forward in our faith and understanding. Ruth . . .

  • gleaned the harvest;
  • threshed the harvest;
  • carried the harvest;
  • ate the harvest;
  • shared the harvest

Good theology, good understanding begins in the wheat fields, where bread has already been planted by the Sower, watered by the Sower, and grown by the Sower. Truth cannot be created. Truth already is; accordingly, our souls’ understanding cannot, should not be built from scratch. We must start with good seed planted in rich soil—a harvest ready for gleaning. Good understanding begins with God and his Word. Get there first, and you’re in a good place of education and eternal growth. Glean truth from what’s already been grown; you won’t come up empty-handed. God’s already handed you his abundance.

Secondly, good understanding grows during the threshing process—a time when the wheat is spread out so that the edible grain can be loosened from the inedible chaff. A time of cutting through the chaff to get to the palatable. “Without the grain’s release from its hardened casing, the ripened seeds are reduced in their usefulness” (Peace for the Journey, 2010, pg. 113). Good understanding doesn’t come home to roost in our hearts unless there’s been a hearty threshing applied along the way. It’s not always easy to relinquish the harvest to the pounding; rarely is it comfortable, but if we’re after God’s truth—if we really want to know that we know that we know deep down in the marrow of our souls—then we must surrender our questions and our confusion to the winnowing process.

Notice Ruth’s next obedience. She carried the harvest back to town. When questions surface in our hearts regarding our faith and our theology, not only must we glean and thresh the harvest, but also we must carry the harvest with us . . . for a season. Let the work that’s being done in you, linger with you for awhile. Don’t short step this process or make false assumptions about your knowledge. Good understanding must be mulled over, contemplated, and developed over time. The saints of old spent a lifetime cultivating godly understanding. They didn’t have all the answers on the front side of their faith; the answers arrived for them along the way and as they went, one step at a time. You don’t have all the answers regarding God and his Word. Thinking that you do is a good indicator that there’s more work to be done.

Next, Ruth ate the harvest. After gleaning it, threshing it, and carrying it, the harvest was finally ready for consumption. I don’t know much about the digestion process, but I do know that once something goes in my mouth, it goes down . . . deep down and becomes (in essence) part of my inward being. Are you hearing what I’m saying (rather what I’m typing—rather quickly and furiously I might add, not furiously bad, but furiously good)? Before anything, any truth, any knowledge becomes part of our inward beings, let’s be sure we give it thorough consideration before we consume it. To blindly eat the harvest in front of us is to open up our souls to disaster, to waste, to fraudulent food that does more harm than good.

Finally, Ruth shared the harvest. After she had eaten her fill, she generously shared the harvest with Naomi. Initially, we might think Ruth would have first given the harvest to her mother-in-law; after all, Ruth’s generosity is clearly on display at every turn. But I want to lead you along for a moment with a thought that just occurred to me. Just as the ancient custom of the king’s cupbearer tasting the wine before passing it on to his master, could it be the same principle at work here—Ruth eating her fill, making sure it was good for consumption before passing it along to Naomi? Could it be the same for us in regards to spiritual understanding? That after we’ve gleaned, threshed, carried, and eaten the harvest, we might finally come to some realizations about God’s truth in regards to our wrestlings and questions? In other words, if it goes down smoothly for us, if the harvest is good for us, then, perhaps it might be good for others, might be ready for the sharing? Sometimes, eating the harvest is the only way to know if it’s safe for public consumption. Better to pass truth along after it’s been tested.

And so today, on a day when I wrestle through some questions, I’ll do so with Ruth’s example in mind. I’ll glean from God’s fields, thresh the wheat, carry the edible around with me for awhile, eat it while monitoring my digestion, and then, maybe I’ll share it with you. Maybe I won’t. It’s too early to tell.

Oh that we all might take Ruth’s lead and step back from the mirror long enough to submit our thoughts, questions, and theology to the harvesting process so that we might arrive at the place of fully believing in the faith that we are so willing to boldly profess!

For what it’s worth, it’s what I’m thinking about today. What are you thinking about? As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

common sense and good grace… {for Jadon}

There’s a boy that I love… a third son whose name means “God has heard.” A tenderhearted grace that arrived in our lives in a season when I thought my womb would remain closed for forever. It’s a long story, really it is. One that I’ve written about at length in another manuscript that’s yet to make it off the bookshelf. Safe to say, Jadon’s birth filled a deep longing in our young married hearts to have a child together. He’s a miracle, and today I was given another keepsake to treasure. Today, my son finished the 5th grade.


There was a season not long ago when I didn’t know how it would finish for us… how we’d make it through the stresses and rigors of the curriculum. Some of you may remember my frustration—a time when common sense and good grace threatened to leave the building. Thankfully, sense and grace prevailed, and today my son finished the 5th grade. Not just any kind of a finish… a strong finish.

Jadon and his awesome tutor, Ms. Ann!

And I applauded him. Choked back a few tears, thought back a few years, and realized just how far common sense and a very good grace have carried us all. It doesn’t always end this way. Not everyone makes the honor roll, at least not on this side of eternity. Some of us scrape and scrap our way through to the finish line believing the finish line to be the honor, not the grades. But every now and again, we receive the glory of having them both—the honor roll and the finish line colliding as one and reminding us that all has not been lost in the struggle to get there. There has been gain and growth that will carry over and push us forward into the next chapter of our stories.


I don’t know how that next chapter will read for Jadon. I do believe it will be hard for this miracle boy growing into a man, especially as he tries to meld into a mold that doesn’t fit with his uniqueness. We’ll be homeschooling next year, a change that will certainly bring challenges our way. But despite the many unknowns regarding Jadon’s tomorrows, this I do know. Common sense and good grace will take him where he wants to go… where he needs to go. Common sense and good grace never fail. Common sense and good grace make the honor roll every time.


May God grant us all an ample supply of both as we press on in faith toward the finish line. As always…


Peace for the journey,
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loose ends…

Loose ends. Frayed threads. Separated strands of life dangling mid-air. Waiting. Hoping. Praying that somehow, some way they might be found by Master Weaver. Touched by the Master Weaver. Worked into a portrait of grace by the Master Weaver. Some day by the Master Weaver… loose ends tied up and woven as purpose into a story that currently doesn’t make sense.

Loose ends. I have some. How about you? Any dangling unknowns hanging around your heart, your mind, your soul? Any situations, complications that you’re still scratching your head over, wondering what in the wide-world-of-lovin’-and-livin’-Jesus was that all about?

If I could peel back the layers of my heart and give you open access to my loose ends, you might be surprised by what you’d see. My frayed threads aren’t pretty; not yet. Safe to say, ministry days can be hard days. I know you understand. You’ve probably had a few, because as Christians, we cannot escape our ministry days. They are our assignments. The message of the cross is our requirement, regardless of the pulpits that rest beneath our feet.

Ministry is not always well-received. Sometimes it is rejected; sometimes by those you trust most fully with your heart, your story, your faith. And if you’ve loved well in the midst of your ministry days (loved intentionally and without boundaries), then your heart aches, your heart breaks with the rejection… just enough to make you scratch your head a time or two and offer a few questions to the Master Weaver.

Really God? This? After everything else? Seriously?

“Seriously. After everything else. This. Really. Now about your faith, Elaine? I’ve got a few questions of my own.”

And so we talk about ministry days, back and forth, forth and back, the Master Weaver and me. And I pray for more strength, more obedience, more endurance to see the thing through. More hand-to-the-plow fortitude and more long-term visioning to match the faith of my spiritual ancestors—those who, perhaps, scratched their heads and offered their questions but who did so while moving forward… always forward, always proclaiming the God of their youth… the God of their forevers. And in this prayerful exchange between the Weaver and me… I give my messy, frayed, and separated loose ends to him because none of them currently make any sense to me. And I say the only words I know to say…

I trust you, God. I trust you, God. I trust you, God.

Over and over again and then some more I repeat these four words, believing that if I just say them enough, I might actually arrive at a point of doing them… of trusting God. And this one act of obedience, sweet companions on the journey, feels something like faith. Just a little bit of faith; just enough to keep me moving forward with hope.

I don’t know what trust has become difficult for you in this ministry season… what loose ends have attached themselves to your faith, but I do know the only One who is capable of weaving them into something more than the confusing mess that is currently swirling around your heart. I don’t know the “how and when” behind it making sense for you… for me, but I whole-heartedly believe that the Master Weaver hasn’t left the loom. God is still in the house, still weighing in on our loose ends, and still heavily invested in our spiritual progress.

If I didn’t believe this, my loose ends would be the death of me. Instead, they have become my lifelines… my link to the Almighty. To let go now would be to let go too soon. Instead, I’m holding on to them for dear life. I know that it won’t be long before the Master Weaver will also take hold of them, and when that happens, I will touch the hands that have touched the cross. Hands of mercy, grace, and love. And I will begin in my understanding, because life starts making sense when Jesus is attached to me.

Hand to hand, with all loose ends in between.

As always…

Peace for the journey,
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living with a 92%…

My son came home sobbing yesterday.

“I can’t do it again, mom. It’s not fair. I missed one problem on my Math test… one problem, and she’s making me take it all over again. And she said it would be harder … 28 problems instead of 12. I made a 92%, and it wasn’t enough, mom. I can’t do this.”

He kept repeating the phrase as he collapsed onto his bed in a heap of tears.

“One problem… one stupid problem.”

It was then that I had a problem… an angry kind of problem. A problem that wasn’t going to work itself through quietly. This time, I would not ignore the injustice. This time, I would speak up on behalf of my son and his diligent efforts at trying to “make the grade”… his grade … the fifth grade.

Jadon has a learning disability, not unlike many of his peers. It’s been difficult to adequately diagnose his issues over the years. Some term it dyslexia; others ADHD. Still others, a combination of both and then some. I’m not convinced about his labels. There doesn’t seem to be one that accurately describes his problem. Consequently, I spend a lot of time trying to educate his teachers about how to best educate him. This learning process, both for him and them, doesn’t always flow smoothly. Case in point? Yesterday’s debacle.

We’d spent a lot of at-home hours preparing for this Math test. Angles, parallel lines, polygons and the like had been on the after-school menu for several days. S.E.V.E.R.A.L. D.A.Y.S. Those of you who have kids with similar issues get this one. No small amount of blood, sweat, and tears were shed in preparation for this test, not to mention all the other tests that are being crammed into these final days of the nine weeks. Accordingly, we would have been happy to take our 92% (yes, I said “ours” as this learning process is a collective effort) and walk away with a smile. Instead, Jadon’s achievement was met with disapproval and with his tears as he realized, yet again, that a 92% was not enough to appease his teacher’s expectations. Those who scored a 100% received a pass on a second test; those who didn’t score perfectly will sit for another try at it this morning.

And I am angry. Not because there isn’t merit in trying to do better (especially for those who bombed the test) but because a 92% is Jadon’s better and should be celebrated rather than diminished.

Is this where it begins, readers? When did we start believing that our 92%’s aren’t good enough? Did it start in our younger years at school? Maybe even earlier in our homes when the beds weren’t made perfectly, the toys weren’t organized correctly, the dishes weren’t rinsed properly, the clothes not folded correctly? When did our best efforts at living life, accomplishing life, become not good enough? Further still, who gets to make that determination?

I’ve spent my lifetime feeling the weightiness of my 92%’s. Rather than celebrating my achievements, I’ve languished in my desire for perfection. Rarely have I been satisfied with the outcomes of my efforts, and there have been others who’ve been all too willing to agree with my personal assessments. There have been times when a 92% just didn’t cut it.

As a daughter.
As a sister.
As a student.
As a wife.
As a preacher’s wife… twice.
As a mother.
As a friend.
As a writer.
As a homemaker.
As a teacher.
As a speaker.
As a patient.
As a survivor.
As a Christian.

Time and time again, when my best efforts didn’t warrant personal celebration. Times when I was forced to take a second test, a third one, in hopes of getting it right, making my grade, all the while choking through my tears,

I can’t do this … it’s not fair. One stupid problem … one stifling obstacle keeping me from a 100%. I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not spiritual enough to past this test. My learning disabilities are preventing my perfection.

Perfection. Isn’t it time we move past our notions regarding our 100%’s and start living in the realities of our 92’s? Sweet ones, hear me on this one. Our perfection is coming. Each day that we live with Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit as our compass, we move further along in the process of our perfection. From glory to glory, one beautiful, God-shaped step at a time. We’re getting there, being conformed into his likeness with every deliberate faith-filled choice we make and with every heaven-filled grace we’re given. We’re getting there. But, until we do, wouldn’t it be gloriously freeing if we could celebrate our best efforts … our 92%’s? Why must we continually force an expectation on ourselves and others that is impossible to achieve on the front side of heaven?

Would it be alright for us to celebrate the gains today rather than to unnecessarily focus on our almost’s? Is one stupid problem tripping you up and limiting today’s effectiveness, today’s joy? I know that we should always strive to be and to do our best, to be God’s best. To tell you to live lesser would be a false teaching and not in line with biblical standards. But when our best levels at a 92%, couldn’t we just acknowledge that achievement with joy and call it a win? Call it enough?

I don’t know what test you’ve recently scored a less than perfect grade on. I don’t have to look too far back in my history to find mine. But as I see it today, I’m willing to afford some grace to the situation and to realize that all is not lost with my 92%. In fact, there’s been some great gain because of it. I’m not perfect, not yet, but I’m closer today than I was yesterday, and so are you.

Give your best at living life today. Give it all in the name of Jesus Christ, and then let it be enough. A 92% in God’s book is pretty darn close to glory. Keep to it, friends, knowing that the grace of God is working in your heart and life to finish you home perfectly. Look toward that end while taking the time to celebrate the progression. I love your 92% and so does our Father. As always…

Peace for the journey,

trash day…

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Sometimes we don’t have to pray this searching prayer from the psalmist in order for us to know the offensive ways of our hearts. Sometimes we just know. Sometimes it’s just that obvious.

Let me explain.

Things are breaking around my house. The washing machine. The telephone. The remote control. The doorbell. My husband’s watch. My shoes. Unanticipated collapses in and around our home, small annoyances yet big enough to foster our frustration. Not big enough to move us past the point of reasonable responses but just enough to remind us that at any given point on any given day, breakage of temporal things can and does occur. Those breakages can be managed.

But what about the other ones? The breakages not related to temporal things but rather ones related to eternal hearts? Fractures that are not easily fixed, managed, or controlled? Breakages that occur because of the carnality that simmers just beneath the surface of our skin? What do we do with those collapses when they burst forth as “unreasonable and out-of-control”?

Last night I went to bed with some breakage. So did the other members of my household. Someone spoke breakage into someone else, which in turn began a chain of brokenness throughout our household. It doesn’t much matter how the chain began. What matters is the fact that breaking words have a strong tendency to spread like a virus. Before long, everyone is infected, and hearts begin to ache for the greater good they once felt—the greater good for which God created them.

We should know better. Live better. Speak better. A better way of doing life is what God desires for each one of us. When we don’t act on that better—when we deliberately choose to live as a people unchanged by the cross of Calvary—then we continue to live as a sin-sick people in desperate need of a heart’s examination.

To know that we need one … a heart’s examination? Well, I suppose that is a good starting point. So many Christians are walking around with blinders on, unaware of their simmering sin. Worst still are those who are aware of their sin yet are unwilling to do anything about it. Those who choose to linger with yesterday’s rotten, stinking garbage and who have somehow fooled themselves into thinking that stink doesn’t stink and that the flies gathering around are an indication of some remaining goodness.

Time to take out the garbage, friends. Time to pray the prayer, to acknowledge the sin, to put away childish things. Time to stop breaking one another with angry words, forced agendas, human manipulation. Time to work from the heart outward, rooting out those carnal tendencies that simmer just beneath the surface of the skin. Time to push them out completely so that our tomorrows aren’t filled with the stench of yesterday’s struggle.

This morning, I’ve taken time to collect the garbage of my heart and hauled it to the curb of Calvary. Laid it down before the Son of God and begged his pardon for my sin. It hasn’t been a difficult collection process for me. Some stink… some sin, is just that obvious, just that offensive.

Oh for a heart that is quick to notice the quickening truth of the Spirit of God within! Oh for a heart that is willing to listen to conviction, to act on that conviction, and to move forward with repentance and grace-filled renewal! What would it take to get us there, readers? What lingering sin is still simmering beneath the surface of your skin today? If you’re willing to open up your heart for examination, then I invite you to pray the prayer that the psalmist prayed so long ago, the prayer that I prayed just moments ago. It’s time to stop breaking ourselves and those that we love with the sins that so easily entangle us.

Search me, O God, and know my heart completely. Try me, test me, examine me under your microscope, and point out my insufficiencies. Make them obvious to me, Lord, and press my flesh to the point of releasing them once and for all to the cleansing work of the cross. This is the only prayer I know to pray today, the only prayer I want to pray today. You are my standard. You have called me to holiness. Only You can bring about a change in my heart. Humbly I submit it today for your sacred scrutiny. Lead me forward in the way everlasting—the path of eternal consequence. You are where I’m headed, Father. Save me from myself, and bring me safely home. Amen.


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