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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.

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.

I suppose I don’t know very much about being married, or even being engaged, or being in a relationship, but I know a pretty good amount about being single. And I’m knowing it from a different angle than ever before. The past few weeks I’ve been thinking about a few things I’m so grateful I did in my singleness that prepared me for the season I’m in now.

I’m grateful I never lived alone. Since 2000 I have had 34 roommates. That’s not because I’m a bad roommate either, I promise! It was just life circumstances, the nature of moving often, having roommates who married, graduated, or moved on. I’m grateful for every woman with whom I’ve lived. Each of them came from vastly different lifestyles, the daughter of missionaries, the daughter of hippies, the daughter of a broken family, the nearly-perfect family. Girls who struggled with mental illness, spiritual brokenness, had strong faith or weak faith. I do not have a single regret from living with each of these women. The person I am today is in part due to each of them.

Singles, live with roommates. I understand you want to have your things just as you want them, have your own space, and more, but there has been no better preparation for the season of dying to self I’m in now than living with so many different people.

I’m grateful I wasn’t friends with only singles. In this season I find myself running often to my married friends (Shout out to Meredith, Jeannie, Maggie, and Nancy!) for advice, counsel, accountability, and more. If I had isolated myself to only being friends with those in a similar season of singleness, I would not have a cache of married men and women to seek help from. Being in a relationship is a joyful thing, but it is also a hard thing. There are things in this season I never expected to struggle with. Having someone who’s been there take my face in their hands and say, “Hey, this is normal,” is so good.

Singles, seek out married friends. Do not isolate yourself or relegate your friendships to other singles. Do not seek out only friendship of those in the same exact season as you. This is hard and will take sacrifice on your part, but I promise you: someday they will be the ones sacrificing for you.

I’m grateful I learned to embrace this gift for this day. Years ago I read a quote by Elisabeth Elliot,

“This gift for this day. The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived-not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner. It is for today we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.”

I never forgot those words. I longed for years to really see each day as a gift and I can honestly say that in the months and years leading up to the most recent season, I did see my singleness as a gift. As I prepared to move into my present house this past summer, I was excited because I saw it as an opportunity to have some girls live with me in a discipleship context. There’s a natural discipleship that comes from living with one another, but I had intentions to do it even more deeply as I moved into this season—even for the rest of my life. I couldn’t wait. Why? Because I was learning more deeply what it means to ask myself, “What’s in my hand?” The most obvious answer was my singleness and I wanted to use it as fully as possible. I do not regret a second of that redeemed time. Did I do it perfectly? No. But I did (and do!) treasure my singleness.

Singles, what is in your hand? This is your gift for today and it is only for today. God still owns tomorrow. Embrace that.

 

Just some notes rolling around in my head. Hope they’re helpful to someone tonight.

Fallen

November 1, 2013 — 1 Comment

I had a conversation a few months ago around my kitchen table. We were two kids washed up and battered around by a legalistic ministry in our teens. Both of us had stories, neither of us trying to outdo one another, but just sharing, “You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Of course we didn’t think we were the only one, but isn’t that one of the enemy’s favorite ploys? To isolate and make us feel as though what we have experienced or will experience is singular to us?

The point of our conversation was to talk about leadership, charisma, the difference between preaching and shepherding, and I hope I was some encouragement to my brother.

This morning I read of the resignation of a man who was in leadership of a similar ministry. He admitted his failures, took responsibility, stepped down, and yet the consequences are still rife for him—and us, the Church. Even if I did not prescribe to his particular brand of faith or practice, the ache of a fallen brother sits deep in my stomach this morning. I did not celebrate him or his ministry, nor do I cast a judgmental finger in his direction. His sin was taking his eyes off Christ—for one moment or one month, it matters not. My sin is a constant same.

There will be three responses to his sin:

1. Some will call attention to it and cackle something like, “See? This man who espoused these doctrines with which I disagreed fell, therefore everything he espoused is wrong.” The bible has something to say about this: “[Love] does not rejoice with wrongdoing (either the doctrine or the sin), but rejoices with the truth.”

The truth is this man confessed and repented. We rejoice at that. His sin is not related to his doctrine except that anything can become an ultimate thing—and something did in his case. Something other than Christ.

2. Some who should say something will not say anything. There is this strange phenomenon within the Church. When someone falls on the other side of the fence, we write blogs, we tweet, we caution, we make a fuss—we are the pharisees who thank God we are not like those people. But when someone nearer to us theologically or ideologically falls or fails, we keep our mouth tightly shut. I think that closed-mouth tendency is good in some ways. Love covers a multitude of sins and all that. But what love does not do is ignore the level ground before the cross. Love acknowledges that none of us are exempt from taking our eyes off Christ. Love says, “He failed, yes. But for the grace of God, here go I…”

3. The third response, and I think the one we ought to do first and foremost, is to pray. If we are in a local church we have a pastor or more than one, and our minds ought to first go to them. Men who are in leadership are not exempt from failing, struggling, or fearing. I have written about this before, but more than opinions on how to handle this particular fallout, we ought to pray for our pastors and leaders. They are mere men. Real men, if you will. Made from flesh and blood and all the same things we are. You can cognitively believe any doctrine you want, but at the end of the day you are still a man or woman with a propensity toward sinfulness.

Pray for your leaders. In times like this when they watch a brother fall, they are praying more deeply and fervently that they would not fall, that they would stand accountable for us with clean hands and a pure heart.

Pray the same for them.

Review of Jesus Feminist

October 28, 2013 — 3 Comments

jesusfeminist

Sarah Bessey has done a unique thing in her book and it’s something the whole Church should try a bit more. Interwoven with thoughts on theology, history, and her vision for the future of the Church, Sarah told her story.

Raised in Canada, educated in the Bible Belt, on staff at a church in Texas, and then relocating back to Canada gave Sarah a bit of a unique story. Though she grew up in the Church, she did not grow up in the kitschy church-culture so many of our contemporary couch theologians did. Her experience is not one of “I was this but now I’m enlightened, so now I’m this,” but instead it is a story of roots and wings in healthy ways.

Jesus Feminist is not the tired story of a woman raised in patriarchy and conservative theology who threw off her shackles after a theological awakening. That story is all too familiar and, unfortunately, so often riddled with grinding axes that it is difficult to see the trees for the forest. Sarah grinds no axes, points no fingers, and brings every point of her story to the beautiful complexity that is faith in Christ Jesus.

She has woven the gospel through her story and her theology, and this is why I do recommend Jesus Feminist.

Primarily I recommend Jesus Feminist to pastors and teachers, men and women who are in positions of influence and whose duties including shepherding people. I recommend it for the sole reason that Sarah’s story is the story of every-woman in some way. Perhaps not the same path or set of experiences, but it tells the journey of a woman who lands on her theology through the lens of both experience and the word of God.

These days many words are spoken, preached, or written in pragmatic ways—I often wonder if some of our modern theologians have walked through difficult things because it doesn’t seem to come through in their message. Sermons neatly packaged with four points and a promise—even in the gospel-centered crowd. I do not doubt they have experienced difficulties, but we need to hear it said explicitly. If true shepherding is to be done, we need to sit at the table with the people and their stories.

I recommend Jesus Feminist next to women in the Church who come from a more conservative position on gender roles, but who have wrestled with their current roles as women.

Serving in ministry, I see two main types of women in the Church. The first is a woman who has no construct for theology or Church history but feels the constraints of both. Without having a robust theology or prescriptive design for their role, those constructs can feel suffocating and I see women leaving good, healthy churches in search of churches more accommodating to their personal story. The second is a woman who has a deep theological grasp on complementary gender roles, but who may struggle to feel her ministry as a woman is valid. Jesus Feminist spends copious amounts of time on the descriptive role of women in the Bible and the roles of women in our present lives. I was personally encouraged to engage more fully as a woman, to bring my femininity to the table along with my theology.

Jesus Feminist, contrary to its provocative title and subtitle, does not seem to be a book meant to convince the reader of a radical position on gender roles. Instead it seems to be a book intended to point to the character of God, the purpose of His creation, and the journey He takes His children on toward the fullness of His kingdom. Is there a theological bias in the book? Yes, absolutely. Sarah is an egalitarian and believes in roles for men and women without distinction in the Church. But the book does not terminate on her bias, because her true bias is the name and renown of Christ, and a robust Church filled with all kinds of people fully used by Christ.

If there is a caution to potential readers, particularly ones from a more conservative perspective, it is this: let us not be so quick to ascribe definitions to words and catch phrases that we miss the deep complexity behind them. Feminism has brought with her many good and right things; she may have left the back door open too long, letting in the draft of culture’s sway, but I think we can agree we are grateful for the breeze of freedom, equality, and voice.

What Jesus Feminist does not do is explore the ways in which modern feminism has taken its toll on the people of Jesus. This could be because Sarah doesn’t believe it has, or it could be because Sarah believes to do much good there has to be an uncomfortable itch under the hem of the Church’s robes. I think Jesus Feminist is a fair handling of feminism in the Church, but I think to properly discuss what a Jesus Feminist is, we have to wrestle with feminism’s origins. This is my only critique of the book. I think if you’re going to title a book thus, the subject at hand should be handled in its own respect, historical and modern implications. Otherwise, if what Sarah espouses to be feminism is this Jesus Feminism, count me [nearly] all in. There’s a lot more to it, though, but I’m grateful she set the table and invited us in for discussion.

Acknowledging

October 28, 2013 — 3 Comments

Before beginning a book I read the acknowledgements. Not every book has them, but the ones that do hold a litany of treasure. Here, at the end of a book or at the beginning, you have the list of people who made the work possible. While it is a personal touch, I think it can hold the potential for much more meaning if we readers will give it a thorough look.

When I opened my advance copy of Sarah Bessey’s debut work, before reading the table of contents or back cover, I paged through to those acknowledgements. I knew within them there would be some men and women whose names I do not only recognize, but whose lives and words have touched my life in impacting ways. As I read the last words of her acknowledgements, I felt the tears rise in my eyes: here was a woman whose heart beats as strongly for Jesus as mine does. In that alone, she is kindred, and I need nothing more to reach across the table of friendship.

Why am I telling you this? Because Sarah’s book is titled Jesus Feminist, and it already has some people around the table rearing back their heads and huddling together with a rebuttal after a mere glance at the subtitle (an invitation to revisit the Bible’s view of women). I am telling you about Sarah’s acknowledgement because the blurb on the heading of the book is an important one for all of us: Exploring God’s radical notion that women are people too.

So before you read any further, stop. Just think about that. We are all people. Women are people. Men are people. We, the collective, are a people. And we are persons. And that is a beautiful thing. Feminists, even Christian ones, are people. Those acknowledgements of Sarah’s hold a hundred names who are not just names or bloggers or agents or friends, but people.

I asked Sarah if she would allow me the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of her book because I think there’s a better way we can have the conversation about things of this nature. I don’t think it has to be enemies pitted against one another furiously writing blog rebuttals to rebuttals to rebuttals. Sarah has been nothing but gracious to me in the past—even in areas where we are diametrically opposed theologically. Why? Because Sarah understands that behind avatars and platforms and theology and -isms and -ists, there are people. And that is a beautifully rare thing.

Tomorrow I will post my review of Jesus Feminist.

jesusfeminist

 

A few weeks ago I left work and drove to Austin with a small luggage bag and not a lot of expectations. I didn’t feel nervous, excited, scared, or expectant. I felt, I’ll be honest, suspect. I knew Jennie Allen had asked the lot of us there to talk Church and I’m a Church girl, so that was enough for me. But what was IF?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one on top of that west Austin hilltop asking the question.

I also wasn’t the only one who left three days later still asking that question.

And that is exactly why I’m on board with IF: Gathering.

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Because there was a tremble in Jennie’s voice on that first day and on the last day and on the phone the other day. It’s a tremble that I don’t hear in the Church very often. And it’s a tremble that draws me in. It sounds like faith and expectation and unknowns and it sounds like the Holy Spirit.

This is why I think IF: Gathering is worth every penny. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Church, we are fat on the feast that is knowledge, puffed up with pride and principles, gluttons for information and checklists. We want to see the Father or we want to be Jesus-only-Red-Letter Christians, but the Holy Spirit is there wanting, longing, waiting to teach us all things (John 14:26).

What Jennie and the team are doing is not only different from any conference I’ve seen, they are also doing something that requires buckets and waves of faith. The sort of faith that presses them into the Rock. Peter asked Christ,”To Whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And the team at IF is saying just that.

What else could they do?

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So the preliminary IF: Gathering was worth every penny to me. And if it cost you a penny, it would be worth it to you. But in an expression of faith and an expectation of the same Holy Spirit who fell heavy on our three days in Austin, the leadership team at IF has decided to open the February gathering at no cost to you.

Not no cost, not exactly. Because as Bonhoffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.”

The cost of being a part of IF: Gathering is the same as the cost of being a part of your local church and the global church. It is to come and die. Die to your own expectations and designs, dreams of platform growth or opportunistic voyeurism. It is to die to self and to love the Church in a way that is sacrificial and eye-opening. To see the Church in all her glory and in all her brokenness.

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There are two ways you can participate in IF: Gathering. The first is to attend the central gathering in Austin, Texas along with 1200 other women who desperately love the Church and the table at which we all sit. UPDATE: Registration closed.

The second way, and I hope so many of you will take this route, is to hold a gathering in your own town. Invite women from other churches and faith-backgrounds. Sit at the table. Worship the same Jesus. Commune with one another. The ground before the cross is the most beautifully level ground in the world. Bring that level ground home in a tangible way. There is something so powerful about women opening their homes and lives to one another, reaching across their own tables, over food they have made with their own hands, surrounded by the stuff of their own lives—this is the beautifully messy bride of Christ.

One of my favorite moments at the initial gathering last month was when 50 women from every corner of the Church came to the middle of the room and didn’t see eye to eye, but saw the cross, the beautiful, wonderful cross.

What is IF: Gathering?

Peter asked Jesus, “Show us the Father and it is enough for us.” And Jesus replied, “No, I’ll ask the Father and He will give you another Helper to be with you…He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

IF is nothing. I promise. Jennie would say the same thing to you. It is nothing but a room where the Holy Spirit is welcome to do what He will.

If you’d like to register for IF, whether in Austin, TX or in a local gathering near you, register here. And consider contributing to the financial cost of holding the gatherings. The team isn’t asking for a registration fee, but it costs a pretty penny to help things like this run smoothly and in a way that serves as many as possible. Pure Charity is handling that, so consider giving if you can. (They’re a trusted organization, promise!)

UPDATE: IF: Austin sold out in less than an hour. But you know what? IF: Local has the potential to be deeply impacting in beautifully different ways. I hope you’ll consider it a blessing to be a part of a Local gathering. Open registration begins tomorrow. 

Believey

October 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

When I was in my early twenties I had someone in my life who was *believey for me, for all the things about myself she knew to be true and all the things I doubted. I knew if I could ever get over the funk that was my life in my twenties, I wanted to be that sort of believey for someone else.

That someone else lives in the bedroom next to mine now and she is in her early twenties and she has been a lot of things to me in the past seven years. But today she is one of my very favorite persons in the world. I believe all sorts of crazy things for her and sometimes I crawl into bed with her in the early morning hours to tell her all the things I believe for her. She grunts and groans. But sometimes she writes things like this and I bust with belief.

When you’ve lived in so many different houses and so few homes, its tempting to stay on the sidelines. Sometimes a house doesn’t feel like a home because it just doesn’t. Sometimes a house doesn’t feel like a home because I hesitate to let it. Just about the time a place gets the comfortable pulls and tugs of home, life always seems to send me somewhere else. Which is always easier when you’re leaving a house and not a home.

Read the whole thing. It’s a beaut.

I guess I want to share this with you today because maybe you’re in your early twenties and life is a funk. Or maybe you’re in your forties and you know someone in a funk. I’m not into psycho-mumbo-jumbo “Believe in yourself, achieve anything,” garbage. But I do think there’s something beautiful about believing the promises of God on behalf of someone. I was the half saying, “Help my unbelief!” but my person was the half saying, “I believe.” And at some point in the past three years I could say both with confidence.

Don’t underestimate the significance of encouragement, of saying to someone, “With God in you, I think you can do it.”

*Nan’s word, not mine.

She is Beautiful

September 22, 2013 — 8 Comments

I met the Church this week and she is beautiful.

Her hips are wide and she sways to the praise of her God. She laughs loudly, her head thrown back, two rows of gleaming teeth; her sound is joy. She is too short or too tall, too much, not enough. She sips her wine slowly, savoring the taste of life. She gulps the last drops, never afraid to do anything boldly. She is half a century old, she is twenty-two. She is a writer a speaker a story-teller a friend. She adopted her children. She lost hers.

I met the Church this week and she is beautiful.

I gathered with some women this week, thinkers, dreamers, ministers, travelers, speakers, writers. They are half the Church and there was nothing halfway in our gathering. There was robust fullness, women fully there, fully present, fully themselves. There was no competition, no idle chatter, no small talk, and no shortage of prayers or tears. There were rooms fully alive in the fullness of God.

I am a Church-girl, I have always known it. There is nothing, nothing, I love more on earth than a diverse community of believers wrought together by one common thing: an uncommon man. On a local level, this means I serve her, I love her, I pray for her, I believe in her. On a broad level, this means I see her place in the manifold plan of God.

We are His plan. The Church is it. Without the Church we are factions of individuals broken by the things that set us apart. With the Church we are reminded it is our brokenness that binds us together, planting us deep on the level ground before the cross.

The Church is beautiful because she has met with God. She has seen Him and been seen by Him—fully, all her blemishes and beauty, all her brokenness and bravery, all her boldness and belief.

I met the Church this week and she took my breath away.

fight

Challenge to Christian bloggers: read a blog you don’t usually read, find good content, share it. Reach across the table & find the commonness of the gospel.

That’s my status on Facebook right now and I mean it.

Last week there was yet another dustup in the blogosphere. You know how it goes. Blogger writes XYZ, Twitter erupts with 140 character-easily misunderstood opinions and all manner of logical fallacies, and 67 Bloggers all respond—many of them entirely missing the point of original blog or demonizing original blogger or making good points of their own which will undoubtedly be rebutted by another 67 bloggers.

Somebody hand me a paper bag and get me off this ride.

One of the ways I try to do damage control in the Christian blogosphere is to stare people in the face and tell them to slow down, breathe, be circumspect, trust Jesus is Who He says He is and that He is building His Church—with or without a troupe of bloggers all juggling their balls in amateur hands.

But one of the most helpful things, I think, a blogger can do is to simply read more than one polarizing post of one blogger. There’s something about even reading the “About Me” section of a blog that humanizes a person, takes the monster out of him, or at least shows the monster to be only a suit bought at half-price after October 31st. Underneath they’re real people with real lives who cook dinner with their spouses and stub their toes and probably really do love Jesus—even if He’s revealed Himself to them in different ways than He has to us.

The beauty of the gospel is that it is for all men, Jews, Greeks, Slaves, Free, Men, Women, but it does not eliminate differences, demanding a dehumanizing clone-like Christianity. No. Instead it reaches inside all the differences and finds the beautiful sameness: broken people in need of a Holy God, and then sends us out to reach all kinds.

So if you’re a blogger or a content creator of some sort, can I encourage you to do something radical this week? Go read that publication you shudder to think of. You know which one it is for you. Go read it and read it with the express purpose of finding the beautiful gospel woven through its threads and then share it with your followers. I think we’d be surprised at what might happen.

 

Listen, Really Listen

August 1, 2013

resignation

This week has been ablaze with conversations about millennials and leaving the church. CNN published an op-ed piece by Rachel Held Evans, the fearless leader of the marginalized and marginalizing millennials, on why there seems to be a mass exodus from the Church. Yesterday in a conversation with Micah Murray I was reminded that my very personal faith/church crisis is a common story among my generation and one which I beg God regularly to not let me forget. My carpet was snot-soaked for months on end and “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” was my constant cry. I felt forsaken by God, the Church, and life itself.

Yet it was the debasement of my mind that emptied me of me and led me straight to the sufficiency of the cross. That snot-soaked carpet was necessary to bring me to today. Micah made the point that we have a generation who is in that period and too often we kick them when they’re down. What they don’t need is kicking, I agree. But what I didn’t need was just someone letting me vent for years on end, I needed the cross. I needed to be welcomed to the cross, not beat over the head with it. I needed someone to say, “There’s room, there’s room,” and then make room for me.

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

Here’s a compilation of many of the responses I’ve read this week. I think most of them make valid points and should be read by both sides of this discussion. If we’re only preaching to our choir, we’re not making disciples, we’re making an army, and it’s not God’s army. Depending on your angle of this discussion, I’d encourage you to click on some of the links here and listen, really listen to the points made and stories told. Whether you agree or not, it is important that we mourn with those who mourn and respect those with a different perspective (whether or not we feel respected back).

Why Millennials are Leaving the Church,
by Rachel Held Evans:
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

How to keep Millennials in the church? Let’s keep church un-cool.
by Brett McCracken:
As a Millennial, if I’m truly honest with myself, what I really need from the church is not another yes-man entity enabling my hubris and giving me what I want. Rather, what I need is something bigger than me, older than me, bound by a truth that transcends me and a story that will outlast me; basically, something that doesn’t change to fit me and my whims, but changes me to be the Christ-like person I was created to be.

Why We Left the Church,
compiled by Micah Murray:
You know my heart, if you’ve been here before. I don’t share these stories to disparage the church. I love the church. I want you to love it too, someday. But if you don’t, that’s ok. You aren’t alone. Just listen.

Jesus in the Church,
by Seth Haines:
As fate, fortune, and the Holy Ghost would have it, Mrs. Curtis drew my name. She never told me that she had come into possession of my pledge card. She never broached the subject of purity or lust with me, which is good because the awkward quotient to any such conversation would have been rivaled only by the time Sister Sarto had the “sex talk” with my class of sixth grade boys in Catholic school.

The Millennial Exodus and Consumer Church,
by Nate Pyle:
Christendom is coming to a close. Church is going to have to change. Call it a new reformation. Call it a changing of the guard. Call it what you want, but change is on the horizon. This makes how we have this dialogue very important. My hope is that, if we do it with a lot of grace and love, our dialogue might just be as beautiful as whatever emerges.

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church: A Response to Rachel Held Evans,
by Trevin Wax:
Some millennials, like many from generations before us, want the church to become a mirror – a reflection of our particular preferences, desires, and dreams. But other millennials want a Christianity that shapes and changes our preferences, desires, and dreams.

United Methodists Wearing A Millennial Evangelical Face,
by Anthony Bradley:
One of the many blind spots in Evans’ entire project is that young evangelicals are not leaving evangelical churches to join mainline churches like the UMC, they are leaving the church altogether in many cases.

7 Lessons Learned from a Church of Millennials,
by Chris Morton:
We don’t have to worry about the “Millenial Exodus” because God has promised that the Gates of Hades will not overcome his church. We just have to decide if we are willing to get on board and be the church for the next generation.

Entitled, Don’t Care,
by Caris Adel:
Who exactly am I having to prove my reasons to?  To people who don’t want to engage while I’m still here?

Jesus in the Church (A Community Story),
comments moderated by Seth Haines:
I’d like to shift the focus away from the institutional wrongs or misplaced ideologies, and focus on the small, unsung saints who faithfully plug away at conforming themselves into the image of Jesus.

Why are millennials leaving church? Try atheism,
by Hemant Mehta:
It appears that atheists and Christians are finally working together on the same task: getting millennials to leave the church.

Where Have All the Young Adults Gone? Reflections on Why Young People Leave the Church,
by Jason Allen:
Why do young adults leave the church? This is a pressing concern, but an often-misplaced question. Instead of focusing so much on why young adults leave the church, let’s focus more on how they enter the church and how they engage it along the way.

And, finally, if you’re interested, here’s the piece I wrote for The Gospel Coalition on the subject.

A Profound Mystery

July 5, 2013

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:31-33

You don’t reach the ripe old age of 32 without having worn sixteen bridesmaid dresses to sixteen weddings. (Actually, seventeen, I wore the black one in two weddings.) Standing beside seventeen women as they vowed to love, honor, and cherish the guy facing them, as well as walking through countless relationships with nearly all of my friends, you learn a thing or two.

This morning, as yet another friend and I were talking about how to handle a situation with a guy she recently started dating, it occurred me to that there would be much more clarity in dating relationships if we really took the “profound mystery of Christ & the Church” seriously. That illustration is about marriage, yet, but shouldn’t that be the aim of dating?

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

Christ pursues us from the foundation of the earth. He doesn’t wait until it is less risky or for us to show interest in Him. Because of this, the Church knows Christ’s love for us is true and will not be depleted when the going gets rough.

Men, do not wait for a riskless situation, pursue anyway.
Women, don’t make it difficult for him to pursue you.

Christ never wavered in His sacrificial offering. He wept in the garden, but did what His Father asked Him to do. Because of this, the Church trusts that Christ’s word is true and trustworthy. There is no question or doubt about His intentions.

Men, state your intentions, simple though they may be, right up front.
Women, trust a man who does this and believe him without second guessing.

Christ spreads wide the arms of love. He doesn’t withhold until we are lovable, understandable, or beautiful. Because of this, we can take our unloveliness to Christ with confidence. He sees past our blemishes and we are lovely because He loves us. We love Him because He first loved us.

Men, look past culture’s demands for a perfect wife, love what the world calls unlovely.
Women, you become lovely because you are loved first by Christ—rest in that loveliness.

Christ intercedes on our behalf. He does not stop going to the Father in our defense and for our petitions. Because of this, we know Christ will fight for us. He will not allow anything to break us beyond His capable sight, so we trust Him.

Men, don’t give up on a woman because she is difficult to understand; seek the Holy Spirit for understanding.
Women, be clear about what you need or how you feel, without making it difficult for him to meet your needs—trust him and the Lord’s work in him.

Christ reminds us of our sufficiency in Him. He doesn’t make us wonder if we are enough or too much. Because of this, the Church can trust that every difficult and beautiful thing will be used for the fruition of His kingdom—nothing is wasted, nothing is too much, nothing is not enough.

Men, find your sufficiency in Christ, not your girl’s approval, respect, or admiration of you.
Women, trust your “not enoughness” and “too muchness” to the finished work of the Cross, and know that in your weaknesses He is made great.

It is a profound mystery, I think, Christ and the Church, marriage, all of it. But I think it could be a little more profound here on earth if we really took Paul’s illustration to heart.

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