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Being a covenant member at The Village Church for five years was a means of grace in my life for that season, a true gift. But even more, learning from the pastors, teachers, elders, and ministers there has been transformative forevermore. The men and women there invested deeply in the empty well of my heart, mind, emotions, and spirit—and continue to do so from afar.

I sometimes fear being the girl who always longs for what she had and can never invest in what she now has, and that fear has kept me from talking much about how grateful I am for my years there. But it is with full faith I can say I am who I am today because of every season of my life—and that particular season was rich and overflowing. I long for my friends and family there daily, but I know God has called us to this day, in this place for His purposes, even if they’re difficult to see today.

All this to preface this:

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One of the most transformative lessons of my time at The Village was sitting under the teaching of Matt regarding equality and complementarity, diversity and distinction. We humans worked it out on the ground at a flawed way for sure, but from the pulpit there was a high regard for the diversity of all people and the equality of every image bearer of God. It was better than any understanding of complementarian, egalitarian, patriarchal, or feminist theology I’d come to understand. It was not a “This way or the highway” view, but a “Come up higher, see how beautiful God is that He would create so intricately and that we would still only understand so partially.” I loved this view of equality and distinction, particularly between genders, because it was never about saying one was better than another or more capable, but about celebrating the differences and the similarities.

A Beautiful Design was the series Matt spent a significant amount of time teasing out these ideas within the framework of the Bible and I’m so grateful Lifeway has put together a study packet on the series. Regardless of your position on gender roles, I think this series presents a level-headed, compelling, rich with the Bible, and beautiful presentation of what it means to be made in the image of God. Matt is imperfect and no Bible study series can communicate all the richness of God’s design perfectly. And I can tell you for sure we stumbled over this all the time on the ground at The Village, but I’m forever grateful it was communicated with beauty and an attempt to come up from the muck of the world’s culture and evangelicalism’s culture and see what the Bible actually said about men, women, their hurdles, their design, and how we need both in full measure within the local church.

If your small group is interested in tackling this nine week study, you can purchase the contents here at Lifeway Christian Resources.*

*I’m not getting paid for this review.

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In the midst of conflict within the local church the first thing we need to understand is that we are never promised a clean, unspotted, unblemished church (Ephesians 5:27). The bible repeatedly makes the case that the local church on earth will be broken and blemished until Christ presents us clean and spotless.

Therefore, when we encounter brokenness in the local church our response is not to run the other direction, complain, or grow angry at the institution. If we are Christians, then we believe the bible, and the bible says we are imperfect. The crux for the Christian is how we respond, then, to the imperfect church family of which we are a part.

As humans we can be tempted to respond in a few different ways to conflict within the local church. Philippians 4:1-9 has a clear pathway for how Christians walk through conflict.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

1. We can be tempted to speculate: Philippians 4 begins with Paul naming two individuals in the church at Philippi who were disagreeing in the Lord. We are not told what the nature of their conflict was. We are not told who brought it first to anyone’s attention. We are told very little, in fact, of the details of the situation. Paul thought it important to not name the specifics of the situation. God ordained that godly men would lead the church as elders and that the body would submit to them as under-shepherds knowing they know specifics of things we might never know. This is a good and safe place for the Christian.

In verse 7 Paul says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying there’s a peace that passes all kinds of speculation. It’s a peace the world cannot give. It’s a peace that even knowledge cannot give. No matter how hard we grasp for the details of a situation, they cannot give the peace that only God can give. When we are tempted to speculate here, let’s entrust our questions to God and ask for a peace that passes the limited answers we’re given.

2. We can be tempted to judge: Paul begins this chapter with the conflict, but he quickly follows it up with the truth that these women have “labored side by side with [him] in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of the fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” What we know is there are some faithful women who have encountered the brokenness of life on earth as humans. But it doesn’t change the fact that these women labored hard alongside the other early Christians.

When the temptation comes to judge, remember the faithfulness that Paul commends. Is there any perfect leader or Christian? No. But commend the faithfulness of all. Flee from the temptation to judge the process, people, or church. Commend faithfulness.

3. We can be tempted to be divisive: Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul is saying in the midst of this time be reasonable, don’t be anxious, make your requests known to God. Do it with thanksgiving. Exercise gratefulness for what the Lord has done and is doing. Fight anxiety with the truth of the word. Be so full of the Holy Spirit in this time that it is “known to everyone.”

Instead of being divisive, trying to cause division, discord, creating “teams,” or pitting people against one another, rejoice in the Lord always. And again, because it’s so important, rejoice. Fight the temptation to cause division in God’s church.

4. We can be tempted to gossip or listen to gossip: Paul says in verses 8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul is saying in response to this situation where there are unknowns, conflict, and a lack of understanding, do this instead. Think about the things that are true, just, pure, lovely, commendable, etc..

Paul isn’t saying to trick ourselves into being and feeling great. He is saying, though, to lift our eyes up to what is eternally and foundationally true, God Himself, the most true, most commendable, most lovely of everything. Do not be tempted to sit in a pit of gossip with other speculators, panning for the nuggets of curiosity. Climb out of that pit, trust those he’s put in place to lead your local church, and flee from gossip.

Maybe you’re in the middle of conflict right now. Or maybe you’re not in the middle of it, but your ears are juicy for the details of it. I hope and pray this passage encourages and challenges you as it has for me. Let’s all aspire to live quieter lives, trusting God to build His church wholly.

Grant us peace, as we make important decisions. Some of us are facing career changes, church choices, economic challenges, and health issues. Free us from the foolish notion that there is only one right choice to make. Actually, there is only one right God to trust, and that is you. Lead us, as we lean on you, Father.

Scotty Smith

The day after I flew home from an interview in Denver in March, Nate asked me out. Three months later—to the day—we said our vows in his back yard, celebrated with 150 friends and family, got into his VW at 10pm, and began our drive to Colorado.

I had been processing this job and move for months as a single, and then suddenly this would affect two individuals—and a marriage. If we were simply two individuals, it probably wouldn’t have changed much about the decision. Throw a marriage into the mix, until death do us part, richer, poorer, sickness, health, honor, obey, and all that stuff, it changed everything.

For 34 years I’ve made decisions as an unmarried person. I didn’t move anywhere, sign a lease, take a job, quit a job, go to school, take on debt, buy a car, sell a car, book plane tickets, or go grocery shopping with the interests of another person above my own. I considered others, but on the cusp of every decision, I was the principle player and the decisions were mine to make.

In marriage there is nothing all mine anymore. That’s a joy almost all of the time. And a hard, hard thing the rest of the time.

I don’t have a husband who is lording decisions over me, making them without me, or not considering me in the making of them. But I do have a husband whose desire is to be the primary provider financially, whose desire is that his wife would flourish in every aspect of life. I have a husband who lays down his life to serve his wife in even the most minute decision.

He laid beside me the other night and whispered, “I wish I could be a better husband.” I thought for a moment and then said, “I can think of 63 ways I could be a better wife to you and not one way in which you could be a better husband.” I’ve continued thinking through that the past few days and still can’t come up with one, not even an inconsequential one. He serves me so fully and loves me so wholly I’m stumped to find a place he doesn’t outdo himself in honor toward me.

When I had made the decision to move to Denver and then put it on the table when marriage was looking like a certain direction, we had one serious conversation about it and decided to move forward. Denver is a tech city, full of start-ups, and IT professionals. Nate has a 16 year career as a Senior Level Data Architect and has never lacked a job. We expected when his contract at DFW airport was over, finding employment in Denver would be easy. We bought a house, settled in, dreamed about growing old here.

And then his contract was over sooner than we expected. Four and a half months later, 90 applications, dozens of interviews, what we’re finding is when your expertise is in a tool that billion dollar corporations use and you live in a city full of small to mid-sized start-ups, finding a job can be nearly impossible. He has worked harder in the past four months than I saw him work in the year before. He has faithfully sat at the desk in the front room every single morning at 8am and searched, applied, and interviewed until past 5pm every night. If I doubted his ability to be faithful in difficult times before, I have no doubt now: the man has a super-natural God-given gift of faithfulness.

. . .

So here we are. We have one offer on the table (out of state), and a few more possibilities coming in in the next week or so. We’ve made a matrix, made lists, tried to wager where we might end up, and had our hopes crashed more times than I can count in the past few months. We’re exhausted. We’re confused. We’re weary. We didn’t plan this.

One of our mentors said to us a few months ago:

“The Lord has a way of changing our course when we have already heard clearly and heeded the call to the first course. I am reminded of how in Matthew chapter 2, Joseph is told by an angel to go back to the land of Israel but before he can get there he is warned in a dream to stay away! He winds up in Galilee. You know the rest of the story. I am reminding you of this so you are not afraid to hear a new call from the Lord to go somewhere else, even though you were affirmed by others to go to Denver. The Lord’s plan is better than ours and when he calls or grants release we obey. Its a good thing because we serve a good God.

You belong to Him. You cannot move so far He cannot find you or use you or grow you or cause you to suffer for His glory. David said it this way, “It doesn’t matter where I go because wherever I go your hand is upon me. Your will cannot be thwarted nor your glory diminished. Even if I hide from you.” My paraphrase of Psalm 139:7-12.”

I’ve gone back to that email a dozen times or more in the past few months. We thought we heard clearly and I think we did. And I also think our plans aren’t always His plans. I still don’t know what our plans will be, but I’m writing this for a few reasons:

1. We feel strongly in this season it is good and right to allow others a glimpse into our process. In the Church too often we see two attitudes from many. The first is to keep everything private until the Great Reveal. The second is to process decisions with anyone who will listen. We do not want to do either. We want to say to you, to God, and to ourselves, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on Him.” We want to invite you to pray with us and for us. We have good counsel and know we are cared for by God in the midst.

2. We want to make sure our new friends in Denver know there is no other reason for the consideration of moving except Nate’s job situation. Without going into details, the past seven months at Park Church have been weighty, hard, heavy, and heartbreaking for many people at Park. Nate and I have said through it all, “If the only reason God called us here was to walk through this season with Park, to press for rest among the staff, to encourage clear communication and Gospel centrality in the midst of a hard situation—we accept that and trust Him with the rest of our lives.”

We have had a few people concerned we’re considering a move because the church situation was too hard. I won’t deny it has been one of the hardest seasons of life, but the church situation is only one piece in a 30 piece pie. It wouldn’t be a reason for us to leave. We love the local church, we love the brokenness of humanity, and the ways God uses us in the midst of brokenness. If you know Nate or me at all, you know God has given us a special love for difficult people and circumstances. We consider it an honor that he would toss us into a mix like this. We are considering a move only because of Nate’s job.

. . .

This is long and if you’ve made it this far, I’m grateful. I probably wouldn’t have said much about this at all if the two points above hadn’t been raised by enough people. We want to walk in transparency, so thank you for reading and listening.

Please pray we have a few more options soon. We’ve set a tentative decision date of February 5th.

Please pray we would all trust God’s will in this season, not our own and not the will of others. Everyone has preferences and everyone’s preferences are different. Nate and I even have different preferences. God’s will, what brings Him the most glory, is the only thing that matters.

Please pray we would worship in the meantime. The object of your worship is revealed in times like these and the past several months have revealed so many small idols (comfort, the ability to have children, financial security, a home, friendships, community, church, and more). We want to worship Him alone.

Please pray we would be strengthened. We are weary and without much vision for tomorrow.

Thank you for all those prayers. We’re grateful for each one.

 

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I have never left well. I’m a runner, an escaper, and I come from a long line of leavers. I color it pretty, as best as I can, but the deep current of my heart rushes to beat feet, run away, slink around the corners and perimeters as I exit, slipping out quietly, hoping no one will notice.

The goodbyes have begun and the tears run freely these days. I tell my home-group I always imagined the weeks before my wedding to be full and rich and unencumbered happiness and bliss, but the truth is I am so conflicted with emotion: happiness and sadness, joy and longing, expectation and heartache. When we leave Nate’s backyard after the ceremony and reception, we leave Texas.

In seven days we leave Texas, our unexpected home.

The realization of what we’re leaving hits hard these weeks. God has disciplined us here and loved us, taught us and grown us, trained us and now sends us, and I don’t think either of us expected any of this. Five months ago he was a tall bearded near stranger and I was entertaining thoughts of life-long singleness and service to the local church. We were okay, you know? We were content and serving the Lord and our church and how much can change so quickly?

It is less about falling in love and more about falling in life. There have been so many times the past few months I think to myself, “Shouldn’t this be harder? More difficult? More wrought with question and doubt and wrestling?” Nothing in my life has come easily and this love came so easily, this move so seamlessly, this job so joyfully—how does one stand beneath the waterfall of common grace and not drown? How do any of us cup our hands and receive all the goodness from God and not stand in still and silent wonder?

I wish I could slow time the next week. I never thought I would be married, never thought I would miss Texas, never dreamed I’d move to Colorado, never expected the gifts of God to taste so good—and feel so full and final.

I want to say goodbye well. Goodbye well to all that Texas has given me, shown me, the ways it has loved me and grown me, but the tension of so much hello on goodbye’s heels feels impossible. I think the goodbyes will happen in increments over the next few months and I think that might be the grace of God too. Gulps of glory one cup at a time.

Texas, I love you. I don’t love your hot summers or your big box stores or sprawling suburbs. But I love your people and I love how you took me away from all the things I thought I loved best so I could see Christ was alone my good. The Village Church, Steps and Recovery, Jeff and Marianne Haley and their parenting of me, Jen Wilkin and her Women’s Bible Study, Matt and Lauren Chandler and the way they have cheered me on, my amazing home-group, Geoff Ashley and his shepherding, Shea Sumlin’s faithful teaching of the word, Radio Lab Discussion Group and the 1099ers, Roots Coffeehouse, the Meadow-Lane girls, Sower of Seeds International Ministries and Red Light Rescue—each of you a glimpse of heaven and eternity and I can’t wait.

Goodbye. I love you. And thank you. I am a life that was changed.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.
Psalm 73:28

The plan was to leave Texas almost as soon as I came to her. Six months, see if God was real, and if he could spare any love for a doubter like me, then move on, vagabond my way through life. I figured God (if he was real) could manage an oddity like me better than any one place could.

Five years later: I’ve tried to leave her a half a dozen times but she’s kept me, like the song goes, “Not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway.” A year ago I sobbed on my bedroom floor before signing another year lease. It felt like signing a death warrant. Another hot summer, another suburban home, another brown winter, another flat year.

But God turns our mourning to dancing—or something like it.

. . .

I died a thousand little deaths throughout 2013 and 2014. Every one of them seemed a no to me and my desires. But the best of them were no to my lesser desires and I see that now. I have wanted a great many things, but too often I take the leftovers, certain God means for me to suffer until I am left with only Him.

A hundred decisions loomed in front of me over the past two years and I, like Rebekah, packed my little idols in my bags just in case. I worshipped the lesser gods of marriage, vocation, location, and more. I was certain God wouldn’t give me all the desires of my heart, so I settled for the scraps of just one, maybe two.

But something unexpected happened: the more I submitted to being all here, all in, Texan for as long as God would call me to be, I began to love Texas. Love for her people, her places, and specifically my place in her—it all began to grow. It was small at first, imperceptible glimmers, but it grew stronger and stronger until the thought of ever leaving seemed unlikely. I went to Israel last fall and the strongest emotion I felt while there was not wonder at the land upon which Jesus once walked, but homesickness for my own land.

For Texas?

Yes.

And then in January I got an email, a job offer. It was not in the location I wanted, not in the church I wanted, nothing of what I thought I wanted, and all of the peace I imagined was possible. I did not trust my heart or desires, though, and passed it through to those who know my propensity to worship lesser gods. Elders and pastors and mentors who know my proclivities, my impulsivity, and, more than anything, know the Holy Spirit. The more I let it slip from my grip, the more it seemed God was saying, “No, daughter, this, this is good.”

. . .

I stood in that church building a few weeks ago, the sunlight streaming through the windows of the hundred year old sanctuary, the Rocky Mountains to the west outside, the liturgy spoken and sung by all of us, small families and staff on all sides of me who’d done nothing but bless me and answer every question posed to them over four days—and I worshipped God. I worshipped God because he heard all my prayers and during all my attempts to thwart Him and take the lesser portion, He was still storing up the greater one.

This is an announcement of sorts, true: I have been handed the description to a job that only existed in my dreams and been told, “It is yours if you want it.”

But this is also a proclamation of sorts: the lesser gods will always be there clamoring for my worship.

They will be prevalent in Denver, Colorado at Park Church where I will work with their leadership team to train and make disciples in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. They will be there as much as they have been here in Dallas, Texas where the Lord brought me to the beautiful and full knowledge of Him, trained me in discipleship, taught me submission, and helped me to see He did not bring me out to the desert to die, but to truly learn that man does not live by bread alone—or all the feasts we think will bring us life—but we live on Him and His words and His water and His plans.

Those lesser gods do not always seem like the worst decisions. Mostly often they are just the less than good decisions. I have not fully learned that lesson and I suspect God will always be teaching it to me. But I have learned this lesson: I cannot thwart His purposes. He will not let me live on the crumbs while a feast awaits on the table above.

. . .

If you’re my family at The Village, I sent this in a letter to the elders last week: I’ve been more loved here than I could have ever imagined. The Lord saved me here and taught me more about the gospel, studying the Word, loving discipleship, loving women, submitting to leadership, loving discipline, than I could have known was possible. The Village Church is honestly the most humbling and beautiful common grace I’ve experienced, and you’ve each played a role in that. I’ll never stop being grateful for it and each of you. My heart is broken to leave, but expectant to go.

I mean that for the rest of you too. My heart is broken to leave this place and I’ll be more mourning than rejoicing for the next two months as I prepare to go. I want to end my time here well, which means prioritizing the girls at #highchapelhouse and my immediate community of friends and leaders. We will have a come-one-come-all going away party at Roots Coffeehouse the first week of June, details forthcoming. Thanks for understanding my limitations over the next few months. And thank you for loving me. At the end of one meeting about this with some elders and pastors here, one of them said, “You can always come home,” and my heart knew that home was Texas and you, so thank you. 

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My friend Paul Maxwell has some words to older men from a young man on Desiring God today. As I read through it, affirming so much of it, I thought about the mentors I’ve had in my life.

In my Christian life I have rarely been without a multitude of counselors to mentor and lend me wisdom. I know that is not the portion of every person and many men and women long for godly, older people to invest in and guide them. I do not take these gifts lightly. Here are few thoughts about mentoring that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Above I used the words “these gifts” on purpose in reference to the many men and women who have walked with me.

So often when we seek a mentor what we have in mind is a unicorn. We want them to be tender and firm, gentle and wise, learned and simple—we want a man or woman who fully embodies the Christian ideal. The problem is: that man or woman doesn’t exist. That person is Jesus, our only Savior.

There has never been one person from whom I’ve received all of what we’d call ideal in a mentor. I have had a multitude of counselors—not a singular one. If you’re holding out on finding a mentor because you’re looking for a unicorn, stop, consider the strengths and weaknesses of the men and women in front of you, and gather yourself a multitude of counselors.

This will save the men and women from whom you seek wisdom from growing burnt out on trying to counsel every area of your life, and it will save you from future disappointment when they fail.

2. Whenever I have languished around wishing and hoping and dreaming for mentors, I have found myself lacking them. Yet when I have engaged in the ministry of mentorship myself, I find myself in an abundance of counselors.

Too often we disqualify ourselves from ministry until we’ve been given the go-ahead from older and wiser people, but one thing older and wiser people know is that pouring time and investment in a sieve is not ever wise. They’re going to invest in people who are investing in people. That’s wisdom. If you long to be mentored or discipled, begin mentoring and discipling. Go to the word of God as your guide, obey what it says, humble yourself, ask for the Holy Spirit, and go! You might be surprised at the older and wiser people who begin to invest in you.

3. No matter how old you are, you are both an older person and a younger person. There is no magic age when you suddenly have it together. Be an older person to a younger person, and be a younger person to an older person. Do it now. There’s no better time.

. . .

Your Father longs to give you good gifts, but sometimes you won’t spot the gift He’s giving because you haven’t feasted your eyes on what is good. Know what a godly man and godly woman looks like. Read the book of Titus. Again and again. And again and again. Be and do and seek those things, see what God does.

Every time I proclaim how much I love my church, I feel somewhat suspect. I sit under teaching weekly most people only experience at conferences and special events. I sit at the feet of some of the best thinkers and teachers, men and women, in the Church today. Not for one second do I forget it.

I remember it today after getting off the phone with a woman who has loved me, counseled me, and taught me for five years—who I know most women would love an opportunity to learn from. I remember it every time I interact with one of my church elders—men who I trust with my life and heart in every way. I remember it when I leave the office of any one of the pastors at my church who take my words and womanhood seriously—a trait I know many women weep for. I remember it when I travel all over the country and people speak well of my pastors and my people—it is not pride that puffs me up, but a deep gratefulness that the Lord saw fit to plant me here for a season.

But I still feel suspect that I do love her this much. As though it must be always easy to love her because of her better qualities, as though in her beauty she does not have blemishes, or as though I couldn’t possibly understand what it is like to be covenanted at a church of a simpler nature or full of more sinners. I do not imagine the accusation—it comes to me often, usually in the form of veiled compliments, “You’re so lucky you go to that church, with that pastor, and those people.”

. . .

I sometimes feel frustrated with men who are married to above average beautiful women telling single men around them to settle down and marry a perfectly average looking girl (because who’s kidding, there are plenty of us around). It’s hard to take advice like that from a man whose wife of his youth is still smokin’ hot.

This is how I feel sometimes when I talk about my church, like the person with the smokin’ hot spouse telling others to just grow up and settle down and be happy in their local churches.

The longer I am single though, the more I feel the lack of a tender hand of a godly husband in my life. I know there is no guarantee if the Lord brings me into a marriage, that he or I will do one another good all the days of our lives, but there is the hope for it. But when I think of the most beautiful women I know, the more certain I am they are beautiful because they have been tended to by the gardening hands of their husbands for years. He has watered her, loved her, cared for her, and she has flourished beneath his husbandry. She is lovely because he loved her.*

This is what makes the bride of Christ lovely. The Church, when she is presented to her bridegroom will carry none of the stains of this world or blemishes she tries to hide these days. She will be presented pure, spotless, without blame or blemish. She will be lovely because he loves her.

This is what makes our local churches lovely too. Not just my local church, but yours. Loving your local church makes her lovely to you and to others. Her loveliness becomes contagious to everyone—but mostly to you. The more you love her, the more you love her. The more she is loved and cherished, the more she will love and cherish.

. . .

It is a gift to be planted at my church, I know this, but trust me, we have an underbelly and plenty of blemishes. We have faults and failures and holes and lacks. We spend much time pressing back darkness and engaging in discipline. We move too quickly into some things and too slowly into other things. But we deeply love the word of God and we deeply love one another and we deeply love our church because we deeply love The Church.

It’s okay if you love my local church, if you learn from her, glean from her, watch how she functions, but love your local church into what you yearn for her to be. Make her lovely because she is loved.

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*That’s a line from Jesus Storybook Bible, not me. 

A friend who knows my story of loving church and leaving it and then loving it more than I thought I could posed this question to me today on Facebook. I thought it was a good question and something many of you might be experiencing or know others who are. If you’re interested, I’ve copied an edited version of the question and answer below. If you’d like to join the discussion, here’s the link to the thread on Facebook.

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I’ve recently encountered a few believers who don’t participate in Sunday (weekly) worship services with a local church because they’re afraid that such participation can easily lead to legalism. Meaning, they recognize that some who go to a service on Sunday feel better about themselves, feel like they have better standing in the presence of God because of it, and maybe even think that such participation will ultimately play a part in their own salvation.

How could I help this group toward participation in Sunday services? Something that I believe would be equipping for them and allow them to more directly be involved in body life and Kingdom. I certainly don’t want to encourage them toward legalism, but I want to stir them to good works and practical ways for them to better serve other believers and the lost around us.

I’m asking you because I think you’ve wrestled with these ideas more than many (e.g. tithing and church membership), and I know that you’ve come to recognize that you’re able to walk in good works without incorrectly basing your justification/adoption upon them.

—Jamie

Jamie, I think like every discipline there is a matter of obedience and a matter of cheerfulness. And the question of which comes first is a chicken/egg question. Does cheerfulness in the discipline lead to obedience? Or does obedience in the discipline lead to cheerfulness? I think we can argue that almost always in the first, yes. And in the second, sometimes. We love to do what we love after all. But we do not always love what we have to do.

In the matter of any discipline there is the matter of obedience: the bible says to not neglect the gathering of the saints (Heb. 10:25); it commands obedience to church authorities (Heb. 13:17)—who are these authorities if we’re not gathering with the saints in a local and organized fashion? It only takes a cursory glance through Acts and the epistles to see that the description of a healthy believer is one who is gathered regularly with believers in a local and somewhat organized context. But it is also clear that the prescription for a healthy believer is one who is doing the same. That’s not legalism, that’s the pursuit of joy in submission to what scripture calls best.

Now, you know as well as I do, that one of the reasons you’re asking me this question is because there have been times when I’ve refrained from gathering (or tithing, or regular spiritual disciplines) and have no regrets about doing so. And it’s true. I have no regrets. But I would never build a theological case for it. An experienced testimony is not the same as a theological trajectory. The gospel that saves us is the gospel that sustains us, but the way we come to the knowledge of the gospel doesn’t necessarily need to be the lens through which we see the every increasing joy of the gospel.

I would say to the person who feels they are sinning in the experiencing of these things (either by feeling convicted about legalism, judgement of others, or anxiety, etc.), that their experience is real, but that a real experience or feeling doesn’t mean that our God is not good and sovereign—and that the cure for their experience is grace. First grace to themselves, grace to others who find joy in what they fear, grace in the process, but ultimately understanding the grace of God sets us free from all fear—including fear of legalism. We must understand that fear of legalism is just as much a sin as legalism—and the cure is the same: grace. In the pleasant boundary of grace (when we’re not hammering our heads or the heads of others about a particular discipline), there is freedom to exercise obedience that IS cheerful. In this case, we don’t want to be the ones hammering the head of a weaker brother or sister, but instead displaying our delight in a beautiful thing. Delight can beget obedience.

Behavior modification doesn’t lead to cheerfulness, it only leads to moralism—which has become somewhat of a curse word in some circles, and which we ought to recover. Morals are not wrong ever. Moralism rooted in fear of man or God is wrong. But morals are good virtues given from God who only gives good gifts. The only thing that leads to TRUE cheerful obedience is wonder and awe at the God who delivered us from legalism, behavior modification, and fear of man moralism. And sometimes the only way we get there is to stand still and behold the wonder apart from the things that lead us to fear (and others to joy). Abstention from the local church (tithing, fasting, etc.) for a season might be that place, but a person who is being honest with themselves and God will see quickly that they can’t stay there long.

I’m staying in the mountains of San Diego this week at over 4000 feet elevation. This morning I woke up and my skin felt so dry. I drink a lot of water usually and have been drinking my usual Dallas amount, but in this elevation I probably need to drink more. My skin was thirsting for it. I opened a bottle of water and drank the entire thing in one minute. And the strange thing is I was more thirsty after that bottle of water than before. My thirst had been whetted and I couldn’t get enough.

This is how the glory and grace of God works in every situation. It works that way in the smallest disciplines and in the smallest moments, and in the greatest. If we haven’t tasted true grace though, we don’t know what we’re missing by neglecting it. Covenant with local church is not so much a spiritual discipline, ultimately, but it is a good, good grace to a needy believer who knows their neediness and can’t wait to get more of one of God’s expressed graces to His children: the local church.

That’s just the starting point of the purpose of the local church, of course, and doesn’t cover all the purposes (and theological richness of the Church in the scope of the gospel), but hopefully it scratches the surfaces of my thoughts on this matter. Praying for your friend!

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One of my favorite things to do is talk about the discipleship of women in their local church contexts. Gospel Centered Discipleship published an interview with me a few weeks ago. It’s long, but they asked great questions and it was a joy getting to think and talk through the answers. I hope if you’re a pastor or ministry leader you’ll take some time to read it. 

. . .

GCD: There are many opinions about what Christian women need most in and from the church. In your opinion, what’s the greatest need for women from the church?

Lore: What women need most is the same as what men need most—to understand and see the power and effects of the gospel made clear in their lives. I think we often think of the men as the gospel proclaimers and the women as the gospel enactors. Men teach and preach, women serve and build. Even if we wouldn’t draw such clear distinctions with our words, it is the way the local church seems to function. In the same way the gospel is for all people, though, the effects of the gospel are for all people all the way through.

GCD: Pastors have not always honored or considered the needs of women in the church. How can pastors grow in their understanding of the needs and meeting the needs of women in the church?

Lore: Ask us! Whenever my pastor is asked by another man how to lead his wife, my pastor says, “I know how to lead my wife. You ask your wife how to lead her!” It’s the same with us. Keep an open dialogue with the women in your local church (not just the wives of your pastors/elders). Many pastors seem to have similar personalities and marry women with similar personalities/giftings, which enables them to minister well to women of the same personalities. But the local church is made up of every personality and gifting. Ask women—aside from your wives—how you can serve them and help them flourish.

Continue reading here. 

lovesaves

This morning I tweeted a link to an article I thought was written in a heartfelt, honest way. It was the raw feelings of one young man when he found himself in a roomful of a thousand other similarly feeling people. He and I disagree on a myriad of things, not the least of which was at the heart of the conference at which he found himself. I shared the article because he made one point we do agree on: the need for the Church to hear people out.

A few people responded, pushing back mainly against the article’s thesis (that hope for the future of the church is found in the love and affirmation of all people). I disagree with his thesis. The hope of all people is found in the cross, the Savior who died on it, and the resurrection that followed. All implications fall from that hope, regardless of how loving we are with anyone else. Love does save the world, but Love’s name is Jesus and not the Church. The reason I shared the article is because occasionally it is good for the Church to hear others out—not to reach an agreement on the issues at hand, but simply to walk alongside hurting individuals, offering them water that satisfies.

One pushback came from one of my dearest friends, though, and she said, “A believer has to wade through some messy theology to reach the conclusion you’re aiming for [by sharing the article without a caveat].”

I responded, “And more believers should wade through messy theology, I think.”

. . .

A few weeks ago a guy came up to me after church, knowing I write about cultural issues sometimes, asked me my advice on how to walk with a friend of his who identifies as a gay Christian. “Does she believe the bible is inerrant?” I asked. “No,” he responded. “Does she believe the gospel as we understand it?” “I think so,” he said. “Well then my answer to you is the same answer I give to myself when I walk alongside those struggling with—or those embracing—same-sex attraction: The whole point of the gospel is that we are intrinsically distinct from God. The gospel wouldn’t count if we had the righteousness of Christ on our own. We needed someone wholly righteous to pay for our absolute unrighteousness. If the design of marriage is to reflect the gospel, two members of the same sex cannot mirror the intrinsic picture of the gospel.” That is perhaps a simplistic argument, but it is the only one, I’ve found, that cuts through all the messy theology and gets to the heart of the issue at hand.

But the presence of the gospel doesn’t change the presence of messy theology. In fact, the presence of the gospel sets us free to work all things out in submission to a singular reality: broken beyond repair in our sinfulness, the Father sent the Son to suffer, die, resurrect, and leave the perfect love of the Holy Spirit with His children in order that we might have a helper to bring us into all truth.

The gospel is the whole picture, and the messy theology is sometimes the way we get to the gospel (it was for me), and the messy theology is sometimes the thing we find after we’ve gotten to the gospel (it is for me). But either way, sorting through theology, saying what we believe, why we believe it, opening ourselves up to critique and correction, getting things out of our heads, making them sayable (the whole point of this site!)—this is the working out of our salvation that must happen.

Too often we’re parrots of a status quo instead of wading deep into the pool of muddied water, and letting what is sometimes dirty and always messy do the healing work in us it must. Jesus used mud to heal a blind man’s eyes and I never want to be above both allowing mud to be put on my eyes, and being a healing handler of mud for the eyes of others. It was not the mud that healed, it was Jesus. The mud was just the mechanism He used.

If we believe God is sovereign over all (and God, I hope you do), then we have to believe that He is protecting the Bride, purifying her, setting her apart, and presenting her spotless, without blemish. No messy theology will cling to her when she is at last presented to her Groom. Not one bit. This sets us free to worry less about articles we disagree on and think more about the messy ways God brought us to Him—and how we are all other beggars along that path for someone else.

This article isn’t actually directed toward singles, but married folks, so if you’re tempted to skip because you think it doesn’t apply—it’s actually JUST for you!

I can barely navigate a few real-life dating prospects, let alone imagine constructing pithy profiles and smartly angled selfies to snag myself a guy. While others check out their options online—the percentage of American adults using dating apps and websites has tripled in the past three years—I’m tempted to go the other direction, deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts, making my online self less accessible (or perhaps more mysterious?) to the male mass.

Every year, between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, online dating registrations soar. There are a myriad of reasons for this: the difficulty of holidays spent single; New Year resolutions; desire to not be by themselves in dark, winter nights; pressure from family; and more.

One thing is clear, it is written on the heart of every man and woman that it is not good for them to be alone.

Continue reading at Christianity Today.

If you’d like to hear a followup I did regarding this article, WORDFM interviewed me today. It begins at the 13:00 minute mark and perhaps my heart will come through a little more clearly if anyone is interested.

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I tell a friend yesterday that I miss liturgy, but the truth is I have never had it.

I was raised on the hard pews of a stucco church in southeastern Pennsylvania. Our only liturgy was the blessed quiet life we lived. My first communion was in a house-church when I was seven, the bread baked fresh, the grape juice drunk from small glass tumblers. This was before the Big Baptist church with its plastic cups and small, round, salty oyster crackers. There was a brief pass through an old Catholic sanctuary, our services were non-denominational though and we only rented the building. I have never forgotten the stained glass. In college I had a brief fascination with the Episcopalian church across from campus, mostly because when I left church, church didn’t leave me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the motions, the liturgy, the order, and the smallness of it all.

What I really mean when I say I miss liturgy, is that I miss the order. I have never had order, but I long for it.

A friend of mine has converted to the Orthodox church. He told me once the confession, prayer, and fasts remind him he is human and needs someone to expect more of him than he expects of himself.

But isn’t grace so much more beautiful? I want to balk. Wouldn’t it be better to see Christ as the fulfillment of those rules and boundaries, instead of something you still have to do? I think my friend would say to me that every time he presses against those boundaries, he is reminded again and again that Christ has fulfilled them. I think it’s a beautiful thought, but I am a recovering legalist and rules of any kind are my Jack Daniels and my pain pills, so I have to say no-thank-you, and move on.

. . .

What I miss most about liturgy is the community of it. Community means to “Gift together,” and I miss the gift of gifting together. Gifting to one another, to God, and, in some ways, to ourselves. We are saying words, rote and memorized perhaps, but the same words forming on our tongues. We are asking the Lord to hear our prayer—not just my prayer, but our prayer, because if only my prayers are answered and never yours, what have we gained, any of us?

. . .

In my church we read the same bible version, and if we don’t have a bible, we use the one in the seat-back in front of us, which is our gift to you if you don’t have one. (These words are said every weekend at every service because Baptists have liturgy too.) We collectively open to the passage, read together, and then listen. Sometimes we are reading from a passage in the lower right hand part of the bible and something beautiful happens, I hold my breath and wait for it:

A thousand people turning their pages at the same time.

I forget to turn my page sometimes because I love the sound so much. That is the sound of my people. We do not have the liturgy of confession and repentance built into our service, but we do have the liturgy of turning pages. The collective confession that we are literally on the same page and going in the same direction. These are my people, and I am theirs, I say in my head. This is what it means to gift together, to community.

This is our liturgy.

alejandroescamilla-book

increase

Every few weeks I’ll tweet the following: “People, pray for your pastors!” I mostly do it because I need to be reminded to do so, but also because I know how much it means to my pastor friends to know they are prayed for by their people. You can look in any direction today and see churches, leaders, pastors, and flocks crumbling under weights of sin, failure, financial ruin, and more. Not only do I not want to see that happen at my church, I don’t want to be ignorant of the pressures on pastors and their families.

But prayer isn’t the only way we can encourage our pastors. Below are some biblical ways we can increase their joy.

Be of the same mind:

Every parent knows when his kids are squabbling, there’s no peace to be had. How much more joy is there when we, out of selfless ambition, decide to be of the same mind? There is a very intentional choice we must make at times to bite our tongues or not prove ourselves right. We shouldn’t ignore injustice, of course, but sometimes family means submitting ourselves to one another. Paul said it would “complete [his] joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Count them worthy:

Paul spoke to Timothy about the worth of double honor. Double honor isn’t exactly what our generation likes to give to anyone. We indulge in celebrity, where we drink every drop from their gold-tipped lips, or we fall on the other side, cautious and suspect of every leader. But Paul says these guys labor in word and doctrine. They’re laboring on our behalf, working to see in us a greater hope in Christ and the gospel. So not only will you never hear me say anything bad about one of my pastors (a single honor), I labor to speak well of them and to them every chance I get (a double honor). I want them to know I appreciate their investment in me, our church, the Word, and gospel initiatives.

Respect them:

I’m a question asker, rarely do I accept anything at face value, and I’ll chew on ideas until they’re unrecognizable in their original form. Because of that propensity, I can judge my leaders instead of simply respecting their time, study, devotion to the gospel. The truth is I have covenanted myself to these elders, to this body, for this time. I have counted them worthy simply by saying, “Yes, I am a covenant member of The Village Church.” We respect them by making every effort to do as Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” These guys may not always make the decisions that I’d make, but I want to esteem them highly because of their work.

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

I reached out to a few pastors and wives to ask about other ways we can practically encourage and support our pastors as they “keep watch over our souls.”

“Words are inexpensive but rich. Genuine appreciation, heartfelt gratitude can bring healing, strength, encouragement, and vision.”

“Value the elder’s wife in her unique gifting. Do not confer, by extension, the office and responsibilities of eldership on the elder’s wife. Meaning: she is not automatically the “women’s pastor” or the head of any other department by virtue of her position as the wife of an elder.”

“Offering to take us out to coffee just so you can share what the Lord is doing in your life and how you are growing in grace (i.e. not a meeting where we are expected to give advice or answers, but can just listen and glory in God’s goodness).”

“Let us know you are praying for us and what exactly you are praying.”

“Encouraging family time/ rest time. I’ve heard the joke “Sunday is the only day you work,” plenty of times in my life. It’s funny and I’ve said it a lot but when it’s time to rest I love when people really guard that time and certainly don’t act resentful of it.”

“Everyone assumes the pastor and his family have tons of friends; they seem to know everyone, after all! That said, in my experience, we’re generally the ones extending ourselves and reaching out. Sometimes we just want to have someone spread a tablecloth, light some candles, and offer their friendship through a simple meal and a welcome into their home. Leadership can be a lonely place, in all actuality.”

“Bring a meal over if you catch wind of a season of nights when the pastor isn’t home. If I (a pastor’s wife) feel the strain of ministry ever, it’s in the 12-20 day stretches of him being out night after night after night.”

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.