I Should Be Writing

I should be writing. 

Instead, I’m standing in the dim light of our basement, transferring articles of our dirty clothing from the wicker hamper to the washing machine. The smell of damp and mildew surrounds me, and I wonder at the haze of cobwebs catching the thin rays of light coming through the window. I am suddenly inspired to scrub minor stains and change the sheets. 

I should be writing. 

Instead, I’m planning our meals and making a list for the store. I’m clipping coupons and browsing through sale ads. I will save us money while still filling our house with the smell of fresh baked bread and homemade chili bubbling in my teal Le Creuset. I will have extra on hand for when others join our table, planning in advance for spontaneity. 

I should be writing. 

Instead, I’m bent over the sink, hands coated in soap suds, scrubbing the pots and pans of past meals, scraping the few leftover cornbread crumbs into the trashcan. These dishes will not wash themselves. I pile up the dripping utensils of my culinary adventures, slowly revealing the table’s wooden surface. It’s dirty. I wash it. The stove is speckled with crumbs and grease splatter. I wipe it down, gently lifting the burners and drip plates. As I rinse my cloth in the sink, I notice the drain is developing a dark film. No time like the present. 

I should be writing. Instead, I’m scrubbing the drain of my kitchen sink. 

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Anne Lamott says the key to writing success is to keep your butt in the chair. Day in, day out, keep your butt in the chair and write. 

This is perhaps one of the most challenging parts of the job. To stay in the chair, to stay typing out words, whether I feel “inspired” or not, whether there are dishes in my sink or not. I can’t—and don’t—wait to sit down at my writing desk until I feel struck by an idea or moved by the Muses. I sit down every day, and I write. 

Some days it comes easy. Other days, I can barely eek out a paragraph that satisfies me. It’s on these days that I feel the incessant urge to do household chores, to do anything to flee from the cursor mocking me with its steady blinking.

The truth is, there is something powerful and strengthening in just showing up every day in obedient discipline. It works the muscles of my resolve. There is something hard won in bearing the weight of days with little creativity, with a raging inner critic, with the challenging work in what I’ve been called to. But there’s only one way to do this: butt in chair…and write.

The Bible is Not About You

This post is part of an ongoing series on reading, interpreting, and studying the Bible. Click here for all the posts in this series.


As I write this post today, which will be the last in this current series on studying the Bible, I sit in the tension of two truths. 

1. The Bible is not about you. 

As Western Christians, we get uncomfortable with that first statement. Some would take quite an offense at it. Some would use it to call into question my views of Scripture. 

In our time and place, we sit in Bible studies in which we hear too often the phrase “What this passage means to me is…” We sit in these studies or classes or sermons in which Scripture is read but then we sprint to how it’s about us. How it somehow relates to an aunt’s illness or a conflict with a co-worker, questions about the future or a sense of comfort and wellbeing. It’s as if the Bible becomes a Magic 8 ball, we shake it, flip it open, and slap the verse we pull out onto our current situation.

We must remember that the Bible is not first and foremost about us. It tells God's story. It was written in another time and place and, if you come from a Western culture, in a radically different culture. It was written for the ears of particular audiences, for a particular purpose, in light of a particular situation. 

2. The Bible has everything to do with you. 

Just as our God is not only transcendent, removed, wholly and holy other, but made Himself immanent and accessible, so it is with His Word. It is true that the Bible is not about us. But it is also true that it has everything to do with us. Yes, it tells God’s story—but He has invited us into that story. 

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Scripture teaches us what God is like. It shows us how He works in the world. It tells us everything we need to know for salvation and proper relationship with Him. It models for us how to live in a way that pleases Him and embrace the abundant life He offers.

It can be applied to our lives and speak to our circumstances. Through the piercing, tender work of the Holy Spirit, it can move us to repentance.

It is God’s Word, written in time and space, but speaking to people in all times and spaces. It is both not about you and completely about you.

The Final Step

I think this dichotomy guides the way we approach Scripture. 

When we remember the Bible isn’t about us, we approach it with respect and care. We study it. We pay attention to genre and allow it to shape our reading expectations and approach. We read it in light of its immediate context of surrounding verses and chapters and its big-picture Redemption story context. We notice the use of words and literary devices. We listen for the Word spoken to the original hearers.

If the Bible were any other document, this is where our work would end. We’d put it under our literary and historical microscopes, analyze and dissect, arrive at a conclusion and that would be the end. But because the Bible has everything to do with us and our lives, we don’t end here. After we have done the careful study, we come to the place we can apply it. 

When we understand what God was communicating to the very first audiences of Scripture, we have a solid framework to take that message and apply it to our own circumstances. We can look for an appropriate and correct parallel to our situation and apply the same lesson. 

For example, that oft-quoted, oft-abused verse, Jeremiah 29:11, gains proper clarity. From our study, we know God is talking not to an individual but to a corporate group of His people. We know they are in the darkest days of their history—they will be brutally ransacked, many will die gruesome deaths, God’s presence in the Temple will leave them, and they will be ripped away from their homeland, the land of God’s promise and favor. But God says, “I know the plans I have for you (plural). Plans not to harm you (even though that’s all you can see right now, even though my righteous judgment would give me cause to cast you off). Plans to give you a hope (when now you feel hopeless) and a future (when now it seems all is lost).” This is the message that can be applied to a parallel situation. We know it isn’t just a warm and fuzzy sense that everything will be fine. It’s a sure promise in trial, when all is dark, that God will not abandon His purposes with His people, and that these purposes can never be thwarted.

And so we come to the final step. The place where this glorious and gracious story—that is so much bigger than you or I—touches our little world and shapes our hearts. 

Friday Morning Coffee #39: Reformation 500

Good morning, friends. 

There are sometimes I love the power of technology. Scott and I sat on our couch last night - in lounge pants - watching a conference taking place an hour away. What a luxury! 

Gordon-Conwell (where I attended seminary) is hosting a conference through Saturday in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The good news is - it's being live streamed on Facebook. So, if the thought of listening to dozens of seminary professors share about the impact and implications of the Reformation intrigues and excites you, tune in here

If you're not so sure about all the hype around the Reformation, I'd encourage you to read my post "Protestant Amnesia: What's So Important About the Reformation?" Also, you can take a look at posts from the last two weeks as I've reflected briefly on ways the Reformation shapes my thinking today. They are "Your Work Matters" and "Luther's Letter to the Barber."

Some of you, perhaps, will have had enough of the talk of the Reformation by now. If so, I beg you to humor me for one post more. Because it's truly what's on my mind this morning. 

As I was listening last night, I was struck by Luther's transformation from a monk terrified of Christ as Judge to a man who loved and risked his life for Christ his Savior. Some of you may have experienced that transition in your own life. Maybe you've had to overcome harmful pictures of God as you came to - or continue to grow in - faith. This transition alone is worth reflection.

But Luther didn't have anyone to guide him through the process, to show him a new way of reading Scripture or teach him a new take on theology. All of this came from reading Scripture, studying it, pouring over, teaching it. Scripture was his teacher. Scripture guided him to the Gospel.

His story reminds me of the power of the Word of God. It's easy to discount it. It's easy to think that we need a human to present His Word for it to be heard and understood. (Do not misunderstand me. I find great value in those who can help us understand God's Word better. I did go to seminary after all.) But we can never forget that the Bible does have power - that it does not need us in order to be "living and active." That God's Word and the great Story it presents can, by God's grace, transform people's vision and reach their hearts. 

Luther's Letter to the Barber: Reformation Reflections

In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I'm taking some time to reflect on what the Reformation means today. If you'd like to learn more about the Reformation, see my post "Protestant Amnesia: What's So Important About the Reformation?"


When we think of Martin Luther, it's typically as a fiery Reformer. He's nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg (though there's some debate whether the nailing actually happened). He's engaged in hefty theological disputations, defending his understanding of salvation by grace through faith. He's a larger-than-life figure. He's a genius with a witty and cutting pen.

But Luther was above all a pastor. His ultimate concern wasn't the intense theological debates - it was the normal every-day Christians who were being led astray. He saw the way the Church's theology affected the simple German folk in his parish, and he wanted desperately for them to know the Gospel and to be free of the intense fear of a conscience haunted by God's judgment. His theology wasn't coming from a theoretical, scholarly high ground. It was intensely practical and pastoral, driven by real people.

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The Ninety-Five Theses were at heart a pastoral concern about how peasants were being manipulated into giving money they couldn't afford to give up in the name of something morally and theologically suspect.

Luther once said he preached his sermons with the servants and children in mind, keeping the ideas simple and straightforward so that anyone could understand and learn. 

He translated the Bible into German so it could be read and understood by laypeople. He rewrote a new worship service, also in German, so that it would be in churchgoers' own tongue, to be understood and followed.

One of my favorite examples is Luther's A Simple Way to Pray, dedicated to Master Peter the Barber. Do you see how powerful this is? This great man - one of our church history giants, who wrote to kings and the pope - also took the time to write to an ordinary German man, his friend, a barber, to explain how to pray. (I would recommend you take a look at this one - it's still incredibly insightful!)

It's easy to get caught up in theology or theory or debates. But Martin Luther reminds me that to do so for its own sake is missing the point. Christianity should never become so heady that it becomes distanced from or feels inaccessible to normal, every-day Christians. It is for the everyman (and woman), for the ordinary. 

The message of the Gospel is not far from us. It is not beyond our comprehension or understood only by those with advanced degrees. It is simple. It is for us. And the church's ministry should be too. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday Morning Coffee #38: Hope and Restoration

I wish you could see it, friends - the world awash in crimson. Autumn is in its glory. I find it to be a driving hazard, my eyes longing to soak in the flaming beauty of gold and burnt orange and scarlet, at the expense of oh, say, road markings. 

This week, with our community group, we talked about the hope we have in the promised Restoration (see Revelation 21:1-8, 22:1-5). The New Heavens and New Earth. Our existence fully reclaimed, fully redeemed. Our inheritance that will not fade or falter or disappear. All that was broken at the Fall, all that sin has tarnished and twisted, will be healed, redeemed, and restored. All will be made new.

Doesn't this sound too good to be true? Doesn't it make your heart long to see it? 

To see broken bodies, broken minds, broken spirits healed. To see greed and violence and exploitation finally eliminated. To see mourning and weeping and pain finally and fully comforted. To see the entirety of God's creation restored to what it was intended to be. To be restored to the full and physical presence of God.

I look at the broken bits of our world, and sometimes I cry, "How long, Lord?" I hear the stories of pain. I see justice shattered, unfulfilled, averted. I watch my own heart break. 

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.

This faithfulness will carry us through to the new beginning. And it will give us courage and love to live as Kingdom-people today because we have this sure, living, vibrant hope in the day His Kingdom will fully come.