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To Trust in Men

August 13, 2014

A few months ago I sat across from a pastor who took my shameful history and held up his own, point for point. It wasn’t a competition, it was a “You too? Me too.” I am grateful for men like him who do not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but stand on the level ground before the cross and say, “There’s room here. There’s room here.”

Have you been disappointed by leadership? Are you of Jesus and not the Church because pastors modeled for you less of Christ and more of self? Do you press against authority because it has failed you again and again? You are in the company of many, including myself.

In the evangelical world there are so many reasons to be disappointed by leaders, men and women who fail us, whom we fear or find fault with, who do not take seriously the responsibility to care for our souls, or who allow wolves to run rampant among the sheep. If you have felt that searing disappointment of broken trust, you are not alone.

Recent weeks have brought a deep sadness to my heart as I view the expanse of Christian leadership. Blog wars, tit for tat, volleying back and forth, exposing, naming, calling out, “standing for truth.” I feel like Elijah standing on the edge of the wilderness saying, “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left.”

Do you feel alone? Do you know the bible says to obey your leaders, submit to them, but do you just feel the betrayal of life and all it holds. Do you want, like Elijah, to find the nearest cave and create for yourself a monastery (1 Kings 19)?

You are not alone.

You suffer from the same plight that attached itself to Adam and Eve in the garden, and the enemy before them, and every one of us born after: the inability to trust authority.

When the rebellion in me, innate as my blue eyes and proclivity to melancholy, rises and makes itself known once again, I know one thing to be true in those moments.

It is not that my earthly authorities can be trusted. It is not that all things will work together. It is not even that my rebellion is idolatrous witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). The one thing I know is God is the author of all systems and order. He set lights in the sky and seas on the earth and grass on the fields and called it good. He ordained these times and these days for me, and I can trust him. Not because all things work together, but because even when they all fall down around me, He does not.

What I Pray For My Pastors

August 11, 2014

Every few weeks I tweet this: “People, pray for your pastors.

I do it because I need reminders that the men who lead my local church are faithful and godly, but still human and fallible. They hurt just like we do. They struggle to build systems just like we do. They need to repent just like we do. They aren’t superhuman. They’re fully human. So I pray for my pastors often. Not just my lead pastors (although I recognize they are more in the public eye more often), but for my groups pastors, our recovery pastors, our resource pastors, etc. I love the men who shoulder the pastoral responsibilty for my church. I respect them. I entrust myself to them. And because of that, I want to be invested in their fruitfulness. One way I can do that is through prayer.

Here are some things I pray for my pastors:

Pray they would love God above wife, wife above children, children above church, and church above their own life.
Pray they would mourn over their sin, instead of getting lost in busyness.
Pray their mourning over sin would lead to repentance and not death.
Pray they would set a watchman over their time, words, and family.
Pray they would not buckle under culture’s sway.
Pray they would lead with humility and gentleness, boldness and wisdom.
Pray they would ask for help when they need it and that we would give it quickly.
Pray they would rest.
Pray they would work hard.
Pray they would play.
Pray they would have minds that sharply divide the word of truth, and hearts that vulnerably discern the hearts of men.

Pray they would seek only God’s glory and not their own.

Here’s one more important thing I pray for them.

hunger

If the life of a single, as Paul admonished, is to be undistracted by the world, concerned with the things of the Lord, then unmarried ministers have a unique calling indeed. And it is one the church ought not ignore—or usurp.

Where I live, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, young marriages are common. Younger than the national average at least. Yet few single men and women are involved in ministry. My pastor leads a large church-planting network and I asked him recently, “How many single guys are planting in the network?” He named a mere few. The dearth of undistracted men and women in ministry is sad, but more so, it is alarming.

I am in no way discouraging marriage (I want to be married, after all), but I believe the church can do better in this area. If the trend of delayed marriage continues, we must have men and women who have walked the narrow path of godly singleness teaching those who come after them. The church’s tendency to primarily hire married men and women, for whatever reason—stability, plantedness, longevity—should be reconsidered for multiple reasons.

Read the whole article over at Christianity Today.

 

Trench Livers

July 15, 2014

Tim Challies wrote a post this week that reminded me of something I’ve wanted to write about for a while: the most important person in your church.

Several months ago a new person showed up at my church. Visitors are commonplace, but this person was different. He sat in the first row, eyes glued to the front. When the team of musicians led us in song, he jumped right up, every time, and made his way over to stand in right in front of them, shifting feet with no sense of timing whatsoever, a perpetual grin on his face.

His name is Chase, he is mentally handicapped, and I love watching him. It brings me joy to watch someone love with abandon. He is unabashed in his joy, unhindered by social constructs, and unafraid of the judgement of others.

But there are some other people in Chase’s life I love watching too.

Every service, without fail, Chase leaves for a bathroom break. And every service, without fail, one young man from a group of about five, takes him. They leave the front row, where they sit with him, and walk down the aisle, slowly and patiently, letting Chase lead the way. I know these men and know them to be servants, leaders, and worshippers. I also know them to be some of the most important people in my church.

Watching this weekly ritual humbles me every time because I begin to think of all the people in our churches who do the thankless work. There are hurting people, sinning people, marriages on fire and discipline to be done—but for every bit of the brokenness, there are people in the trenches beside them, silently serving, quietly giving, patiently listening. They do not seek a prize for their work, and I do not mean to give them one here.

If you are a silent server, a quiet giver, a patient listener, I want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. There are some who will always capture the eye of the public, but you, hand, foot, shoulder, and arm of the Church, your reward is great and it will not be lost.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
Matthew 10:42

fruitI caught of a whiff of longing this morning. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. I stood in the parking lot and let the Texas breeze wash over me—and I felt a burst of hope inside of me: I’m going home!

I am sitting at the table with two dear friends the other day, an elder from my church and his wife, one of my first friends in Texas. They are New Yorkers, upstaters like me, and they have loved me well in my time here. This year has been one long shove, I said, a pushing away from all the reasons I would have to stay here. But are you running? they ask. Is it still running if you’re going home?

New York is a big state, divided into sections. The City, Upstate, the North Country, the Adirondack Region, the Finger Lakes Region, the Thousand Island Seaway, the Catskills. It’s all New York, but so much more than just The City. I’m not moving to the same region from which I hail, but I’m moving to the state I call home. Is it still running if you’re going home?

When I first visited New York I was 18 years old, a sullen teenager whose parents wanted to buy an old farmhouse and homestead it, growing organic vegetables and raising animals. I was born and bred in an affluent county north of Philadelphia. The earthiness of our new home didn’t bother me, but the humbleness of it did. It was a bigger, grander house than the one we’d left, but the life we now lived was simpler. I never felt at home there.

New York took from me, from beginning to end, it seemed. The timeline of my time there is dotted with its thievery. Home, life, family, security, finances, faith. By the time I left, my small car packed with every earthly belonging, I would have been glad to never return.

I tell one of my girls this morning that it was the lonely, poor, and rejected times where I now see the providence of God. It was not New York that stole from me, it was God who pruned from me. Cutting off what didn’t bear fruit. My first three years in Texas I felt strong and tall and healthy, free of the dead branches. But new branches grew and they have to be pruned too. That is the truth I am learning: to bear healthy fruit, even new branches have to be pruned.

One of the most painful lessons God’s children must learn is that we are not God, and our strength is only as strong as our dependence on Him. He is our strength. That which bears fruit in us, is born of Him. He is the producer, not us. He is also the farmer and the vine-keeper. He decides what is not best, what is not fit to produce.

I have some fears about moving back to New York, going home to a state that took from me, a place where my faith withered and died. I have fears that feel paramount today. Fear that some will think I am running away. That some will think I will never settle down. That I am making a mistake. That there, where I am known, I will slip into old patterns and ways of thinking. Deadly things.

But at the bottom of those fears, I land on one solid truth: He prunes. He takes away and gives something better. And he does it over and over and over and over again until we are his likeness. Because He is the vine and the vine-keeper, and truest fruit-bearer.

Moving

June 4, 2014

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetWhen I first moved to Texas, it was hot. It was 100 degrees the mid-September day I crossed into the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth. I was on a mission. The church I knew I’d be calling home was holding a quarterly event we call Group Connect and I knew if I wanted to make this place home, I’d need a group.

I drove ten hours that day and got there late, didn’t find a group, but talked to a person who put me in touch with Jen Wilkin who taught Women’s Bible Study. I only wanted to know one thing: is this the kind of women’s bible study where weepy women cry and complain and take prayer requests that sound like gossip? I was assured it wasn’t and so I went.

And God, that hidden man, the monster of my heart, the one I feared, at times hated, and rarely trusted, split the veil in two. This temple, for the first time maybe ever, knew what it was like to approach the throne with confidence, to be full of the Holy Spirit, to cease sacrificing the lamb of self and to trust Him. I was home.

It was a new kind of home for me, the vagabond pilgrim. I’ve always been the girl who moved a lot. Comfortable with risk and averse to complacency, I’ll nomad my way through life if it means more treasure in heaven and less on earth. But this kind of home, in Christ, in the gospel, it was new and different. It fit. I never liked Texas, but I was home. Inside the doors of my church I found a people who became my family.

This past week my pastor had a few of us stand during Elder Led Prayer (a once a month prayer meeting at my church, mostly attended by covenant members and staff) and receive prayer. I didn’t see all those who had hands on me, but I felt them. I felt the hands of my family and the prayers of the saints. I left that night and felt so full and so at home.

But, dear reader, all has not been right in this temple-home of mine. Some of you know all the details, some of you have suspected, some of you guessed, but this year has been hard. Hard in hard ways. Ways that make me wonder daily what I’m doing wrong, or what God is doing right.

I have known since I moved here that Texas wasn’t the long-term plan. I moved here with the intention of staying six months. Six months has turned into four years and they have been four good years. But it has become increasingly clear to me that my heart is back in the northeast, that my soul yearns for four seasons, for the darkness of winter, the light of spring, the death of fall, and the life of summer. Even more than that, my heart yearns for the people of the north. I love those people. I love their wild eclecticness, their independence, their fierce can-do-itiveness. I love their ideas and philosophies. I love how hard they are, and how soft, how welcoming and how hard to win they are. I can’t get the northeast out of my blood, out of my soul. I get them because I am part of them.

When I moved here four years ago it was a fluke. Texas was nowhere on my list or mind. A certain mid-sized city in New York was my aim and then one day I knew it wasn’t, couldn’t be. I have never regretted that decision. He brought beauty out of the ashes. He taught the pilgrim how to pilgrimage.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka (Valley of Weeping),
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

That was the verse God gave me to meditate on before I moved to Texas and I have seen how he has taken my weeping and turned it to joy, a dry land and made it bear fruit. He has given me strength after strength, given me men and women who have pushed on those strengths and called me to deeper and stronger places. Everything he has done with the gifts he has given me, has surprised me. He has shown me his character in a fullness I never knew possible, he has put a new song in my heart, a song of praise to our God. That is a blessing I know I will never understand fully. All I can do is be grateful.

And I am.

And yet I am leaving, heading back up to the northeast, to the people who I love with my whole heart, to lilacs, rivers, lakes, and mountains, small churches with great needs, to gospel-dry places with gospel-rich people.

Will I be home there? I don’t know. But I know for sure He is at home in me.

burden

There are many, many brothers & sisters in the Church who believe their same-sex attraction is sinful, and they war against it in their own lives. I would venture to say there are more quiet-strugglers within the Church than there are those who bear the title Gay with Pride.

Whenever situations like this World Vision decision and recant happen, I mentally list out all those I know who are warring and fasting from the sexual intimacy they desire in light of their Gospel convictions. I do this because, friends, how we talk about these things does matter. It affects these brothers and sisters—and us, if we’re honest—more and more each time. It threatens to lead us eventually to a lack of tenderness to those dealing with sin within the Church.

We must always be tender in dealing with those who know their struggles and sins, and who take seriously the command to “throw off the weight and the sins that entangle.” We must also be sure that our loudest sentiments and pithy statements do not add to the crushing weight. We must bear their burdens.

Below is a snippet from a John Piper sermon that greatly encourages me to bear my brothers and sister’s burdens, to, as he says, “Develop the extraordinary skill for detecting the burdens of others and devote yourself daily to making them lighter.”

Burden-Bearing and the Law of Christ

The main point of Galatians 6:1–5 is given in a general way in verse 2 and a specific way in verse 1. Verse 2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” If a Christian brother or sister is weighed down or menaced by some burden or threat, be alert to that and quickly do something to help. Don’t let them be crushed. Don’t let them be destroyed. Don’t be like the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus said, “They bind heavy burdens hard to bear and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4). Don’t increase burdens. Make them lighter for people. Some of you wonder what you are supposed to do with your life. Here is a vocation that will bring you more satisfaction than if you became a millionaire ten times over: Develop the extraordinary skill for detecting the burdens of others and devote yourself daily to making them lighter.

In this way you fulfill the law of Christ (6:2). That’s an odd phrase in a book that says (5:18): “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” And (3:13): “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.” Have we been freed from the curse and burden of the Mosaic law just to be burdened down with a more radical law of Christ? No. The difference is that Moses gave us a law but could not change our hearts so that we would freely obey. Our pride and rebellion was not conquered by Moses. But when Christ summons us to obey his law of love, he offers us himself to slay the dragon of our pride, change our hearts, empower us by his Spirit, and fulfill his law.

That is why, even though Christ’s law is more radical than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, he can say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). The law of Christ is not easy because it’s greasy, or permissive. It is easy because when we are weak, he is strong. It’s easy because he produces the fruit of love: “I am crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (2:20). Christ never commands us to do anything that he wants us to do on our own. Therefore, every command in the law of Christ is a call to faith. Through faith God supplies the Spirit of Christ (Galatians 3:5); through the Spirit we produce the fruit of love (5:22); through love we fulfill the law of Christ (6:2). Therefore, if you trust him, you will fulfill his law of love. You will devote yourself to lifting the burdens of others.

pulpit

The popular euphemism for “can’t we all just be friends” is to give folks “a seat at the table.” I’ve used it. It’s helpful. It reminds me that people are people and everyone around the table is coming with different presuppositions, stories, layers, and theologies. It evens the playing field.

More and more, though, what is communicated is that everyone gets a seat at the table and the table is a pulpit for everyone to preach their message. It’s the church of all peoples and thoughts and ideas—and it’s a veritable mess.

Paul warned the Corinthians that hanging with those intentionally sinning was corrupting the purity of the gospel. Here’s what’s interesting though: he used the words of one of their own to deliver the warning. The Greek poet Menander first used the words, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Paul contextualized the line for gospel purposes.

What often happens with all these seats at the table is we end up attempting to fit the gospel to sinners, instead of fitting sinners to the gospel.

Bad company does corrupt good morals, and one of those morals is that the gospel cannot be so contextualized that everyone at the table agrees.

If that is difficult for us to swallow in an age where everyone wants meritorious rightness, we’re in good company, the disciples once grumbled to themselves, “This is a difficult thing, who can believe it?”

And Jesus, sweet Jesus, gives that wide berth and narrow path: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

Sit with sinners, eat with everybody, welcome all to the table—but remember Jesus is the only one who offers words of spirit and life.

I’m a church girl, capital C and lowercase c, cosmic Church and local church. I love the Church and I love my church. This is why I’ve stayed silent on most controversies within the church and Church. More of us need to really read I Corinthians 13 when Paul said Love doesn’t delight in wrongdoing, and fewer of us need to skim over the cliche oft cross-stitched words.

The other night my weary and hardworking pastor sat down with me at church. After talking about what God is doing in Europe through the church planting network he leads, we chatted for a few minutes about the work still ahead. There are so many who need to hear (and see) Christ. Nothing excites me more than endeavoring toward that. I’m a Church girl.

And then I asked him: Matt, talk to me for a few minutes about the most recent Driscoll dust up; as my pastor, I want to take your lead on this, happy and joyfully, knowing you take pastoring us seriously.

Nearly the first words out of his mouth were scripture:

I Corinthians 4:3-5
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This past weekend Driscoll issued an apology to those who call him pastor, friend, and family. It was not an “open letter” as many are asserting that it is. It was family business, not public business. But sure enough, I scrolled through twitter this morning and the finger-pointing had already begun. People are out for blood and nothing Driscoll does or says at this point will be enough. Follow every possible route this could go, and someone, somewhere, will still be out for blood.

I did not read his apology, because he does not owe me one, nor will I comment on it. First, because I trust Driscoll has elders around him who will stand before the Lord for their actions; second, because Driscoll himself will stand before the Lord for his actions.

What I will comment on is the lack of ecclesiological understanding within the Church today—which is ironic if you give it a few minutes of thought.

Everyone wants to BE the church and not GO to church these days. Everyone wants to LEAVE the church that doesn’t make them FEEL like they’re the church. Everyone wants to SAMPLE the church in various ways and means and SHRUG OFF the church when it presses in too uncomfortably. And everyone wants theorize and strategize and commentate on the Church and no one wants to sit and understand some pretty rudimentary things about the Church.

Namely that there are three things more of us should understand and practice:

Understanding and practicing biblical eldership.

Understanding and practicing biblical discipline within the local church.

Understanding and practicing the One Anothers of the New Testament.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Less and less am I interested in what self-proclaimed journalists, bloggers, social media experts, and “church survivors” are saying about the Church because I don’t see them actually practicing church.

I am not saying they’re not. What I’m saying is I don’t see them practicing it. They might be practicing it, but I can’t see it with my own two eyes.

Beneath the layers of apologies and acts of repentance, beneath the acts of submission to authority or acts of subordination, beneath the unjust actions and the loving ones—there are real people living real lives in front of real people who see them with their own two eyes. As it was designed to be.

If you do not have a biblical understanding and practice of the three things I mentioned above, you absolutely do not have any authority to speak on things in other churches.

And if you do have an understanding and practice of them: trust God is on His throne, building His Kingdom, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. He has won this and there are far better, greater, and more worthwhile things for your energy and biblical understanding of ecclesiology to be spent on. Namely, teaching those who don’t know—which are many and gaining in number.

Go and be the church if you will. Be it to your neighbors and friends and pastors and the people you sit beside week after week after week. Do it well, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, not as unto the twittersphere or blogosphere or whatever platform you have toppling beneath you.

Moth and rust destroy those things, and if you think they won’t you are more a fool than you realize. Step down before you’re standing in front of millions and it topples in front of them all.

topples

I anticipate plenty of pushback on this namely in these areas:

1. My use of the word biblical, which many progressives seem to think is manipulative and heavy-handed, and which, to me, simply means: the Bible says it and if we’re children of God, we ought to abide by it.

2. A perceived victim-shaming for all those who’ve experience pain related to the church. I hope you’ll understand if I’m saying anything here, I’m saying your greatest place of healing could come within good, healthy, biblical church order as God designed it.

3. An accusation that I’m protecting my pastor, leaders, church network, etc. To which I say, first, they don’t need my protection. I am a lowly blogger. Moth and rust will destroy my words, and sooner rather than later. And second, to me covenant means mutual trust. I am in covenant with my church which means I trust them and they trust me. If you expect me to break that trust, then you do not understand two things: covenant and being in covenant in a place you trust. Call it protection or naivety if you wish. They will stand accountable for my soul someday and I don’t envy that place at all.

Congregant Caricatures

March 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

The thing about caricatures is you always know who it is just by looking at it:

caricature

And yet, you know you can’t trust the likeness.

Right?

A caricaturist zeros in on several points on a person’s face. Maybe it’s a slightly larger nose, or a bit of a crooked smile, or maybe something as pedestrian as deeply blue eyes or a natural blush. The caricaturist’s aim is to exaggerate and minimize what sets the face apart. His aim is not to make ugly, but often times a caricature looks ugly. If you’ve ever had one done you know the righteous indignation that accompanies first sight,

“I don’t really look like that!” you say, and of course you don’t.

But you kind of do. Not really. But sort of. Enough that you’re recognizable, not enough that anyone who knows your face well would say it’s an exact likeness.

Within culture at large, and Church culture especially, caricaturists abound. In some ways, they’re the comedians of the inner circle; the Jon Acuff and Jen Hatmakers. They zone in on the ridiculous and ludicrous parts of the Christian life and family and help us all laugh at ourselves. They satire, and they’re good at it, and we laugh at them because they’re helping us laugh at ourselves.

When Caricature goes badly is when a sly artist studies a theology or movement solely to find the weak or shallow parts. Then they pound out a blog post heard round the world for a split second and then life goes on as normal. A moment of fame while everyone points and laughs at the funny man in the picture, asks how could he be so silly and stupid and ugly, and how could he not know he’s so silly and stupid and ugly.

Ha ha.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Here’s the other thing about caricatures: we know the elongated nose or tiny eyes or stout neck are true about us; in fact, nobody sees our face in the mirror, under such a microscope as we do.

But when the caricature is passed around as truth for long enough, everyone starts to believe that’s our real face. That’s who we really are. But it’s not.

That’s not the person who wakes up in the morning, drinks their coffee while they read the bible, who packs lunch for her kids or drops the shampoo in the shower, who can’t find their keys where they left them, who buys coffee for the person behind them in line, who killed it at the meeting with his coworkers, who meets weekly with a guy who just needs prayer and a friend, who forgot to put gas in the car, who falls into bed every night exhausted and confident that they are doing exactly what God designed them to do and be and look like.

Who cares about a caricature when there are real people to be seen?

If you are tempted to zero in on a particular face of a movement and draw for the world a caricature they won’t forget, what you need to remember is at the end of the day we throw those caricatures in the garbage. Nobody really wants to look at them, and especially not the subject of the drawing. Why? Because it’s not true. It’s partially true, which makes it not true.

If you want people to listen to what you have to say, really listen, not just rally around you, or press like on your Facebook post, you have to sit with them and be true with them, and be truthful about them.

I asked an artist one time, a man who paints likenesses that almost breathe with life, how he made the paintings.

“Do you take a photo and paint from that?” I asked him.

“Oh, no,” he said, “I make the subject sit in front of me, hours and hours and hours. How could I paint them life-like if I did not see them living?”

If you came here looking for gossip, this is not where you’ll find it. I alluded to a few things in my recent post on Same Sex Attraction and Delaying Marriage, so consider these thoughts just a continuation of that post.

First, I want to say that I bear no ill will toward my parents in any way. Hebrews 12:10 says, “Your fathers disciplined you as it seemed best,” and whatever that verse means for you, for me it means I can trust my parents did what they thought best. They did not intend harm toward me or my siblings in the schooling or spiritual choices they made for our family. That does not mean we were not harmed, only that I know they were doing what they thought best.

Second, I want to say that God is not a wasteful God. He does not pile up the scraps of our lives and bemoan the loss. He is a careful artist and potter, shaping and shifting, knitting and building, crafting those made in His image to be more and more like Him. He is careful and attentive. He does not waste experiences or difficulties or joys or pains. Every single moment of my life has been held in His capable hands. I see that more today than I ever have before and I trust Him.

Now, let’s talk about homeschooling and sex scandals

If you were a part of the homeschooling revolution of the 80s and 90s, then you were most likely a child of someone who came of age in the 60s and 70s. These were the hypnotic, drug hazed years of rock n roll, hippies, bra-burning, Woodstock, and the Jesus Movement. These were people who knew how to sin big—and who came to Jesus big. For most of our parents, even if they were not part of those movements, they were influenced by them—for better or worse.

As any parent, and especially ones new to faith, would do, they protected their young often to the point of over-protecting. They banned rock music, R rated movies (or PG13 if you were my parents); they monitored clothing choices not only for modesty, but also for looking too much like the world; they monitored friendships—especially friendships between boys and girls (more on that in the aforementioned post).

Folks, I have stories I find laughable now, but then? In the moment? Rage inducing stories. It was tough to be a child in that atmosphere. We were ruled by the fear of what might become of us. There was little grace in our communities—in fact, it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that the word grace ever entered my vocabulary as something other than a girl’s name.

These parents intended to protect, and they did, but drawing boundary lines close around your daughter still does not protect her from herself. Naming things as off limits to your son does not keep him from delving into the darkness in his own heart.

You can monitor modesty and measure hemlines, but you cannot moderate the temperature of your child’s heart. You can eliminate songs with beats, but you cannot temper the beating of your child’s heart for artistry. You can talk about not defrauding the hearts of boys or girls, but you cannot control the trigger in their hearts that jumps when they feel chemistry.

The problem is, for many and most of these homeschooling parents, they tried to do just that.

Full disclosure for a moment here

I was not simply a homeschooled kid. My family brushed shoulders with some of the upper echelon of the homeschool movement of the 90s. My parents produced an award winning book for homeschoolers and I spent most of my youth surrounded by the most deeply entrenched in the movement. We were taking over the world, one homeschool convention at a time.

Within these homeschool circles, because there was much protection, there was much trust with likeminded individuals (I remember being disciplined and rebuked often by other parents in my family’s circle), and kids were free to roam among their likeminded peers. There was a common habit of putting the older children in charge of the younger children—but all of us still just children. And all of us bit with the curiosity that forbidden fruit offers. I had my first encounter with sexuality when I was 10 years old. I cannot even remember all the times my peers were either accused of sexual curiosity, abuse, or simply “going too far.” It was epidemic—and still never talked about.

Natural curiosity lies abed in everyone. We all want to know about things. All sorts of things. How they work, if they work, who knows how to make them work, and if they’ll work for us. For many of these homeschoolers though, the questions about sex and relationships were squelched—even the good ones.

You can protect your kids from almost anything, but if you don’t teach them that their greatest threat is self and the sinfulness that lies inside them, they’ll be surprised by it every time.

Curiosity kills the cat—and sometimes the mouse too.

In the past few years more and more allegations of sexual abuse or assault within conservative movements has come to light (SGM, ATI, BJU, and far more).

Friends, we should not be surprised.

I believe that much of the sexual abuse and scandal that’s coming to light these days is directly related to the sin of legalism. It was Eve telling the serpent, “God said we could not eat or touch.” There was so much fear surrounding the other things in life (music, clothing, doctrine, even food), that to broach the subject of sex just seemed almost other-worldly.

We added to the gospel, to the truest things God ever said. We got knowledge of good and evil, but for many in the homeschooling movement, we prided ourselves on keeping the knowledge inside and the evil locked safely out. We never let ourselves realize the heart contains all the knowledge and evil it needs to have things go very, very badly indeed.

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Note: These are just my thoughts and commentary on a bit of my own experience. I believe most parents who spearheaded these movements realize their error at this point—and most of us, the product of these movements, certainly realize it.

The solution is the whole gospel—and to flee whenever you catch even a drift of another gospel. There are “other” gospels everywhere—pet theologies, dogmatic arguments, dramatic treatises on any subject offering the real truth and real life, but Christ alone is it. Christ alone.

If you find yourself heading into a belief system that places more emphasis on any outworking of the gospel, than it does on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, flee.

600574_880963006576_124042678_nI’m beginning work on a project that will require having many, many meals in my home over the next year. The meals will not be for entertainment sake, but something of a deeper nature. My hope is to have different people over each time, with perhaps a bit of an overlap sometimes. This isn’t a community group or a way to build community (unless you do that on your own!). The purpose is selfish in that way—it’s for my own study and the project.

If you want to invite yourself over to my house, here’s what I can promise you:

1. Each meal will have a distinct purpose and an underlying message through what is served and how we interact over that meal—I will need people who will be willing to engage that purpose.

2. You may not like the taste, consistency, or content of the meal—but I can promise you that you will have the taste of something much more lasting in your mouth when you leave. (Also, I won’t poison you. I’m a good cook.)

3. This is not for one demographic. I don’t just want singles or women. I’d like families, older folks, seasoned believers, new believers, and unbelievers, men and women. You may be the only one of your demographic at that particular dinner, but I promise you won’t be the only odd one out. My goal is to make it as diverse as possible. If you’re a couple, or you have kids, or you’re a grandparent, or a divorcee, or a single—I want you!

4. Depending on which meal you’re asked to come to, it might require you to bring something. I would give you a heads up about that.

5. You get to be a part of a cool project and I’ll fill you in on more details when you come over!

If this sounds in the slightest bit interesting to you, or your curiosity is piqued just a bit, please fill out this survey (all results are private). I will be in touch with you about the first meal.

This project will span most of 2014 and my hope is to have between five and seven people per meal. There are a few meals that require a specific demographic, and if you fit into that demographic in any way, I will ask for you specifically (hence the survey). Otherwise, I’ll just send out an email when I have a dinner coming up and you can let me know you’d like to be included (first come, first serve). I’m also open to guests bringing guests, but we can talk about that nearer to the dinner.

If you’re from out of the area, but you’ll be in the DFW area over a certain period of time and you’d like to be included, OR you would like to host a meal in your own town and pay for me to get there, that would be AWESOME Sign up!

Thanks and looking forward to meeting many of you!

Four years ago, on February 11th, 2010, I lifted my head from the snot soaked carpet, turned David Bazan off my iTunes, and reread a blog-post written by a guy who pastored a church a few hours from me. I was in the middle of not the driest season of my life, or the valley, or whatever metaphor the church folk like to give to people who have swallowed another gospel. I was weak, acquainted with sorrows.

Each of us has felt the aching weakness and realization that what we are believing (about God, salvation, suffering, the cross, blessing) is a crude misappropriation of the real thing. God help you if you don’t sometimes question what you think you believe. We need that kind of desperation just as much as we need the comfort of security. Those months of weakness led to years of weakness—a weakness I hope I never recover from.

The blog author had uprooted his family from the bible belt where he’d been on staff at a few churches and moved to central Vermont to work the ground of a small local church. Faithfully God worked in him as he worked that land. He penned a book called Gospel Wakefulness and that book led to more nights of snot soaked carpet in my house. This guy left the land of church-growth-opportunity, embraced his weakness, and woke up to the gospel. For the past four years Jared Wilson has discipled me from afar in what I think, ironically, may be the most undernourished area of Christianity: weakness.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The churches dotting the countryside of the northeast are sometimes only 20 or 30 faithful people. People who day in, day out, deliver crockpots and shovel driveways, sing robustly from an overhead projector or a hymnal. It’s not that they’re legalistic fundamentalists, they’re not. They just don’t have the trappings of most modern churches. They don’t use Twitter and barely use Facebook. The concept of a celebrity Christianity is as foreign to them as a pastor who wears skinny jeans on their single Sunday morning service.

Belief, though, in the northeast is not rare, as the pundits will have you believe from their polls and surveys. I think belief may actually be strongest in the northeast, so deeply rooted in history and the birthplace of many of America’s richest belief systems. The ground is not hard up there. A deep sense of belief is the soil tilled for hundreds of years. Trust me when I say the ground there is ripe, the best kind of ground for the gospel to take root in. I am biased, I know, but the northeast has had her years of soil rest—it is time for planting.

It will take humble, humble men and women to do that work. Northeasterners see through genteel platitudes permeating the Church these days and will raise you an honest reply. The northeast will not revive on mega-churches, but small steeple dotted hills full of saints led by men and women who aren’t seeking a platform, but offering a haven. We know what it is to need shelter and if the northeastern church is to thrive it will be because it is filled with leaders who are unafraid to be weak, to need a crockpot or a shoveled driveway.

To his parishioners, Jared is simply their pastor, but Jared is pastoring thousands of rural pastors all over the world. He is modeling the long, slow work of church work. It is inglorious, it is messy, and it takes a long, long time with very little financial gain.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Are you a weak Christian? Not riddled with false or partial gospels, but weak. Acquainted with sorrow? Have you suffered? Are you more impressed by hard work than by a quick rise to fame? Are you willing to farm, to get your hands dirty in rich, rich soil, to dig below the historical layers of the upper east coast? Are you okay with not being okay and are you okay with that knowledge, day after day after day?

Are you swallowed up by the grandeur of God, so much so that your success matters little to you? Do you know how to count the days and the sheep who come home, one by one by one by one? Do you know how to rest in the winter and toil in the summer; to truly work and truly sabbath?

If you do, if you are a weak Christian, than I beg you to consider rural church ministry. I think all churches need weak Christians, but I think you’ll be especially suited to the rural church—the long obedience in the same direction, as Eugene Peterson says. You cannot go in there planning changes, ways in which you will revolutionize the “simple people.” You really just have to farm.

But if you will farm alongside those people, you will see a harvest. Trust me, we plan for the seasons up there, and we’ve planned for this one for a long time.

Jared is offering a Pastoral Residency for his church in Middleton Springs Vermont. If he can’t grab your attention with the amazing photos (yes, it really does look like that up there), then maybe this blog post will convince you of the need. I hope you’ll check out this residency

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*I say “we” because you can take the girl out of the northeast, but you can’t take the northeast out of the girl. As for why I’m not up there? I don’t know. It’s my near constant prayer, though.

Church Girls

February 8, 2014 — Leave a comment

Every time I’ve heard Christine Caine speak, she has said one phrase that sticks to my gut like peanut butter on wonder bread: I’m a church girl.

She says it with confidence, more confidence than everything else she says, and I believe her. I believe her because I think when you love the Church, you’ve caught just a tiny glimpse of what God meant in the very beginning when He said, “It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper fit for Him.” And then the Helper bent low, thrust into the side of man, and drew out of man, the helper fit for him. And the man said, “At last.

I like to think that when Christine says, “I’m a church girl,” what she means is that she is beholding the Church in that moment in the same way Adam beheld Eve: At last. 

She is seeing something in her mind’s eye, something few see. She sees the bride of Christ in all her splendor, gloriously robed, fully functioning, and she loves her.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the local church and whether we feel comfortable or at home in a place of worship. What kind of music resonates with us, whether the sermon sits well with us. When discussions like these rise, I feel the sort of defense mechanism in me rising, the same sort I feel when someone takes issue with one of my brothers. It’s a blood kinship I feel there, not because I think they are perfect, but because I belong to them and they belong to me. I see their foibles and falls, their brokenness, their spotted and blemished reputations—and I love them not for who they are, but who I know they are, by the grace of God, becoming.

In short bursts of expectation I say with Adam, “At last!” not because what is broken has come untrue, but because I know it will be.

I am a church girl because Lord knows, I need all the help I can get and God provided that. He made me that. He made my brothers and sisters that. He knew we’d all be wandering aimlessly without the construct of a miracle made from flesh and bone. This mix of broken and beautiful. We are not saved by the church, but we are saved with her, thank God. We are all saved with her.

This weekend I am in Austin, in body with a part of the body, but I’ll be honest, my heart has been with the IF:Local groups of women gathering all over the world. I wonder how their small groups are going and their discussions. I am praying that some broken feelings about church and belonging are coming untrue, healed by the Helper, and administered by the helpers, the local churches.

Let’s be church girls. Let’s be about what God is about.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
John 14:26