Archives For gospel in community

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The next challenge for the newly married is one I think affects those who have been married a lot longer too, but the newly married face it in a fresh and shocking way. It is the challenge of finding and agreeing on a local church.

When I was unmarried I chose the church I wanted to go to, even moving to the opposite side of the United States to become part of The Village Church. I had immense flexibility in the choice, theology, worship style, size, and amount of involvement I wanted in a church. I considered each those things heavily, but the choice was mine. When I met Nate, I met him through my church community, in the foyer of my church building, and we were married surrounded by our church family. Even though we were about to move to Denver for my job at a new church, our local church, the local church, was very much a factor and part of our relationship.

Imagine my shock, then, when we moved across the country again, and it was taking us seemingly forever to settle on a church. I was blindsided by how difficult all of this would be. I think it’s partially because both Nate and I take God’s word very seriously and soberly in regard to membership, worship, community, discipline, eldership, etc., and we don’t treat any decision having to do with those components lightly, but what I didn’t expect, and was most surprised by, was how much we actually clashed in these areas. There was an illusion that because we met and married in the same church, we agreed on everything therein and would forevermore. But we didn’t.

One day, in the car on the way home from yet another church we were visiting in August, I wept bitterly and my sweet husband bore the brunt of my outburst. My case was this: If I was still single, even if it wasn’t ideal, and even if I had to drive 45 minutes, I would have settled on a church six months earlier. I would have just gone to the good-enough one instead of searching for the one one or both of us had in mind. I wouldn’t have squandered my time, I wouldn’t have grown stagnate in faith or community, and I would have just sacrificed whatever it took, just to hear the word among the same brothers and sisters every week. This conversation led to some more painful conversations about why I hadn’t said anything earlier. Which led to more conversations about why we both struggled to speak up on our own behalf about very much at all (which I’ll write about another day this week). What this conversation revealed was there were  assumptions being made on both of our parts about what would be best for our family in regard to a local church, based on partial information from one or the other.

I wish I could say we’ve found victory in this area, but I think this will be an ongoing conversation for the rest of our marriage. Committing to one local church won’t lift the issue at hand, which is a communication one, but it also won’t solve each of our individual desires and beliefs when it comes to a local church. We both need to make sacrifices, sacrifices I in particular have never made before in regard to a church, and sacrifices he in particular will need to revise in our marriage, because they weren’t present in his previous one. In the meantime, here are some things we are learning:

1. Church baggage is real

We have each gone to many different churches, which means double the history. We have had great experiences and bad ones, good ones and hard ones. If you name a denomination, though, we have a bit of experience with it, and this informs our future direction. He might have had a great experience with one denominations or theology, and I might have had a terrible one, and we have to talk about that, without assuming the other understands or empathizes with it. I know this can sound very consumeristic in a sense and I don’t want in any way to communicate we are consumers of the local church, but there is a very real choice in the church we go to, and we all have very real reasons for those choices. My reasons are not the same as Nate’s and instead of assuming they are, I ought to assume they are not.

2. Understanding of Theology and Practice change and grow

With joy and confidence I can say what I believe now about God has changed from what I believed about him fifteen years ago, ten years ago, two years ago, and so on. God has not changed, but my understanding of him has. It has been informed by my circumstances, by deeper study of his word, by teaching from others, and by experiences. This is a beautiful thing, but it can be a difficult thing in marriage if one of you has changed and the other feels blindsided by it. We left Denver feeling very disillusioned with some things and those things in particular informed Nate’s desire to attend a very different kind of church when we moved, whereas I felt very afraid of any additional change at all. Until we talked about that, though, we were both operating with two different values and it caused me to feel terrified of any church and him to feel very powerless in leading our family. We had to hash through our fears and our sin, and mistrust of God’s sovereignty, for us to come at finding a church with open hands. Our understanding of theology hasn’t changed much in a year and a half, but our understanding of practice has, and this is what we’ve been blindsided by.

3. What we think we need and what we need are two different things

I was standing in the kitchen this week chopping garlic and a song came on from my playlist that threw me back to a moment of worship at my church in Texas. I knew exactly where I was standing, who was beside me, and what the Lord was teaching me in that moment of unhindered worship. It was a painful time in life for me and I felt so humbled by the Holy Spirit that He would gift me with an experience like that, just when I needed it. The last time I felt that was when I went back to Texas a year ago this month and wept through the entire service. It was profound in a way I cannot explain to others and happens rarely enough that I remember it when it does. I love my church family there, and I love my church there. I have felt the lack of her more deeply this year than I’ve felt the lack of anything else in my life. I am constantly tempted to believe that I need to be with her again to ever feel whole in church again.

If I’m not careful, I can begin to believe I need certain aspects of a local church, preferring my self and my own needs, over my husband’s, or over the local church herself. I need a particular kind of worship. I need a pastor of a certain age. I need a homegroup with a certain type of person. I need a church of a certain size. I need. I need. I need. But what if God doesn’t give?

If I believe that God gives us exactly what we need when we need it, and no more or less, then I can trust that what we have today is exactly what we need. God isn’t skimpy with his gifts. What I also have to realize, though, is within marriage, Nate and I have different needs, but God is meeting them in the same way. This can be a real challenge in marriage when it feels like in every scenario someone is the clear winner and someone the loser (I’ll talk more about that another day this week), but when I stop thinking of my needs needing to trump his needs, I’m able to see how God might be meeting both of our needs, or the needs of others—even in a local church that didn’t check any of the boxes we both desired when we moved here.

I promise you it doesn’t feel as glorious as that moment several years ago in the sanctuary of my church, tears streaming down my face, the rushing desire in me to give all to Him, but it is the result of that moment. Worship says, “I place all my needs at Your feet, because you’re better than all the things I think I need,” and then it gets up and actually does it.

. . . .

Finding a new local church as a newly married couple can be fuel for some very real fires, especially since you’re probably doing it without the safety of a church community around you. I used to be able to recommend ways of doing it, but think if there’s anything this year has taught me, it’s that there’s no prescription for this. It’s hard. And that hardness can actually lead to really good things in your marriage if you’ll let it. Communicate. Repent. Confess. Attempt.

And, be like my husband, who several times this year saw how the weekly searching for a church was actually hurting me more than helping me, and encouraged us to be at peace staying home for a day. It is not a good ongoing pattern, but I think Jesus was okay with hiding sometimes, with running away from the crowds. I think he’s okay with it and understands it, and it might be his good gift to a marriage that needs to remember that he alone is the source.

If you don’t know who Jen Hatmaker is, or Glennon Melton or Elizabeth Gilbert, or any of the women who seem to inform many of my sisters in Christ these days, you ought to know who they are if only because they are informing many of our sisters in Christ these days. Whether you agree with their recent decisions is between you and the Holy Spirit, but this article from Christianity Today makes a strong case for the problem of outsourcing women’s ministries to the books and blogs and conference line-ups.

If you’re a pastor and you don’t think the women in your church are sitting at the feet of these teachers, or if your perceptions about the women in your church come from what a few say they are listening or not listening to, I’d beg you to read this article with a sober and humble heart. Hannah Anderson’s words at the end are particularly poignant, “If you don’t want women breaking down the doors,” she said, “simply open them for them.”

Nate and I listened to a podcast recently from Malcom Gladwell. I can’t agree with all of his conclusions, but one of his points in this episode was when a group of people make one big concession, or does “one big good deed” as he called it, they are more likely to follow it with a refusal to do more. If you want more context, you can listen here.

It’s easy for men in particular to believe they have opened the doors to women in their church, particularly in complementarian churches, if they have opened the door to one or two who are particularly gifted once or twice. The proof seems to be in the pudding if there is one or two scenarios in which a male pastor can point at and say, “The deed is done. I listened. My door was open to her.” The problem is the circumstances haven’t really changed at all. The involvement of women is not a concession, or shouldn’t be, and complementarians of all people should understand and embrace that. We are, after all, those who espouse, “Equality and Distinctiveness.” We should be celebrating the differences and giving equal “air-time” to women in the church. When we don’t, or when we outsource our women’s events to national conferences or local gatherings led by piped in speakers, we should not be surprised when women find their gurus among internet sensations and New York Times bestsellers, or, consequently, when they find their theology informed more by those leaders than they find it in one sermon once a week—especially if they’re a young mom who ends up missing most of the sermon because of young children. It’s easier to be led by Facebook links and pretty Instagram posts during nap time than it is to be led by a sermon on Sunday morning. Hannah Anderson, Jen Wilkin, and more have written extensively on how to employ and empower women in your congregation, and here’s a long interview I did last year with a pastor in New York City on the subject.

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Practically, if you’re scratching your head thinking you’ve done enough to open the doors to women in your congregation, here are some ways you can open them more:

1. Many young women put off seminary because they don’t have the funds, they do desire marriage, and they do not want to bring debt into marriage. This is a real hinderance for them, and one many men cannot understand. If your church is in a place where they can help fund a woman’s seminary education, this is an excellent way to not only invest in women, but also to provide an open door for her to return (or do distance learning) to serve your local congregation. If your local church is not in a place financially do to this, I recommend making it a priority next year.

2. Providing other education opportunities for women in your church is an excellent way to make sure women are being cared for, not just preached at. Offer to fund a CCEF course for a few counseling minded women and then, this is important, utilize the women who have shown themselves faithful in the practice of counseling, particularly in church discipline and other care cases. I’ve seen too many women go through certifications and call themselves “counselors” who end up giving unwise, unproven, and unbiblical counsel, or whose lives do not match up with what they’re counseling. A certification doesn’t mean a certainty. Vet your counselors, male and female.

3. Hire a woman who is clear thinking and able to hold her own at a table full of strong men. Don’t expect her to be the women’s minister, expect her to speak on behalf of women though, and listen to her. Don’t mansplain things to her. I hate using that word, but it is a thing and it is common even in good, solid, faithful local churches.

4. Don’t thumb your nose at women passionate about “women’s ministry.” It’s gotten a bad rap because of lame crafts and silly table games, but if you have a woman who passionately desires to teach and is able to teach, or able to find teachers in your local congregation, see what she is able to do and help her as much as you’re staffed to do.

5. Instead of sending women in your church to a big national conference every year, hold a smaller local one at your church. Bring in a trusted local teacher or utilize one from your congregation. Allocate funds to this. Don’t skimp.

6. Ask women what they’re reading or who they’re listening to and then do your homework. Don’t dismiss them after a few minutes. These speakers/authors are saying something that is grabbing the attention of hundreds of thousands of women across the country. What is it? What void are they speaking to? What gospel are they preaching? Now ask a few trusted women for some alternative authors, speakers, bloggers. Don’t utilize them as your women’s ministry, but read those women, quote them in your sermons, encourage women to read them or reach out to them. I cannot remember the last time I heard a man quote a woman in his sermon. Be the kind of man who does. There are plenty of women worth quoting.

One of the women I have learned the most from was a strong, somewhat abrasive woman, but her words were powerful, her testimony was true, and her life was witness. Elisabeth Elliot said this of Amy Carmichael,

“If she had been born a hundred years later, she would very likely have been encouraged to be angry, told she had a right to express her anger and her sorrow and her bewilderment and her rage, and generally to disintegrate. These were not the expectations of her friends and family. Nothing could have been further from her expectations of herself. Instead, she threw herself into serving others.” 

You have women who are being told by every voice around them to be themselves, to be angry, to express themselves, but throwing themselves into serving others is the antidote for this. I promise it is. When a woman serves others, she loses herself and finds a better One to worship, to long for, to look at, and to love. Open your doors to the women longing to serve, pastors, and don’t make them fit into little molds of children’s ministry or administration. These things are needed, but they are not the whole, or even a fraction, of what women are gifted to do.

I went on an epic rant to one of my best friends this morning (she was raised and leans more liberal, I was raised and lean more conservative, but no subject is off limits in our friendship and it’s one of the reasons I love her so dearly). It was over text message and we were both getting ready to leave for trips so not the most opportune way to rant, but when you live on opposite coasts, you do what you can to keep the spark alive.

My frustration had to do with a liberal elite smugness and a GOP’s smug we-told-you-so base I’m seeing in response to the election. Calls for “safe spaces and honest dialogue” and incredulity at the election outcome by liberals, and an absolute outright gloating and total blind-eye to the President-elect’s foibles, failures, and future blunders by conservatives. I was grateful, in one sense, that most of the Christians I know and respect did not vote for Trump, but that alone illustrates the issue: I surround myself with people with whom I agree. It’s called a confirmation bias and we all have them. The trick is to know you do and to not demonize the ones who don’t know, but to instead educate them and yourself along the way.

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If you lean liberal and are simply scratching your head at the results here, read Hillbilly Elegy. It will do more to help you understand the situation at hand in one sitting, than this entire election season tried to do in one and half years.

If you were raised in a poor, predominantly white town, it would be helpful for you to understand what is actually going on in cities where perfectly normal and legal citizens of this country with varying races are simply trying to live, read: American Passage

If you were raised in a predominantly white evangelical setting and have trouble understanding the unrest by African-Americans, read: Letters to a Birmingham Jail

If you were raised in the north or the south, and are sure you aren’t racist, read: The Warmth of Other Suns 

If you went to college pre-1990 and can’t figure out why Millennials care so much about the cost of higher education, read: Paying the Price.

If you were raised in a home where your parent’s income was considered Upper Middle Class or above, read: White Trash

If you were raised in a home where welfare, food stamps, and the food pantry was where you or your friends got food from, read: Bobos in Paradise

If you were raised in a home that leaned liberal or leaned conservative, but what you see happening today doesn’t reflect what you were raised to believe, read: Strangers in their Own Land.

If you are a pacifist or think all war is unjust, read The Heart and the Fist.

If no one in your immediate family has been deployed, read Tribe.

None of these books solve the crisis of divide at hand here, but they do give us a small glimpse into what “the other side” might be thinking or processing or what has bolstered their belief in what’s right. Rebecca Reynolds said it well in her post today on Thistle and Toad,

The beliefs of the average American are neither formed nor altered by reason. For the most part, our religion and our politics begin with affective impulses more than formal, cognitive research. What we believe about God and country is usually born in the gut, in the center of desire, nightmare, and imagination.

Many of us find our political and theological instincts early in life, then those instincts tend to interweave with a smattering of real life relationships. Over 15-years-worth of Thanksgivings, we hear that FDR destroyed America (or that he saved it). We hear praise or criticism of unions. We hear what happened to our aunts and uncles in California, or in rural Tennessee, or in Chicago as a result of legislation passed in D.C. All of these stories converge to form and then confirm a metanarrative that becomes a framework for how we interpret the entire world.

Few of us bother to fact check those metanarratives. They become too personal to vivisect. All of these beliefs have faces, because they are connected to people and situations we know.

None of us can truly understand what another person felt was at stake in this election or is at stake in the coming years, but we can certainly do our best to try. It’s not as simple or cut and dried as the one-issue voters and die-hard Democrats want it to be, but none of us will grasp that if we continue to crave both “safe spaces” and “honest dialogue.” The two are at complete odds with one another; there is safety in numbers, but not if all the numbers look, think, and act just like you.

If you turn away from those who don’t think like you, you simply cannot complain about the state of politics in American today, you do not have the right to choose an America that only works for you or people just like you. Chance offense or hurt, your own or others, but actually listen to someone with intent to hear them instead of listening with the intent to change their mind. There’s only one who changes minds, and thank the Holy Spirit, it isn’t you.

If you have books or a category you think should be considered, comment below.

Yesterday a friend called to ask for advice. Another friend had told her to proceed one way, a counselor had told her to proceed another. I knew in a sense she was asking me to affirm one or offer a third way. I offered a third way by asking instead what did she think the Holy Spirit was asking of her?

It turned out the Helper had shown her a way in which at the end of the scenario, she would need not only the Help of the Holy Spirit, but also the Comfort if it went as we expected. The Holy Spirit was offering a third way and, I think, the right way.

Nate and I have a saying in our house: Be faithful to the word of God and not a certain outcome. It has saved us from a mighty many scrapes and, to be honest, thrown us right in the middle of some of the hardest predicaments of our lives. To use the word of God not only as a buffer in the midst of storm or the roadmap to treasure, but also to believe the Book of Life may lead to certain death in this world, but it will not return void forever, is a risky thing to do. What seems smart, seems sufficient, seems wise isn’t always what the word of God and the Holy Spirit would ask of us.

Some of us Christians don’t very much like the business of leaning on the Holy Spirit, and with good cause. How many of us have been the recipients of heavy hands on our foreheads and spittle from a prophet’s mouth, men who were purported to be “led by the spirit,” but spewed lies leading to unmet expectations for years later? How many of us have been on the hearing end of someone claiming Jesus told them to get divorced or buy a Mercedes or their son or daughter would be saved on such and such a date, or they would get what they wanted in a certain situation? We all have hopes and we all have preferences, but pinning “the Holy Spirit told me so” onto our hopes feels more like a Get Out Of Jail Free card than the narrow road to Kingdom dependance—which looks more like “If it be God’s will,” than most of us give Him credit for.

What my friend, in the midst of prayer and weeping, had sensed the Holy Spirit telling her to do went against psychology and churchy ideas of tough love, but even more than that, it went against her own flesh. She was, like Paul, compelled to do what in her flesh she did not want to do.

Ah! This, my friend, tells us we’re on the right track.

In an age when it’s all about our stories and our preferences and our feelings, we ought to pay attention when what we are compelled to do seems at odds with what our flesh and the culture around us wants us to do. I am not saying we ought to stick around when we’re being physically or sexually abused (and I know the line is fine here), but some of what we Christians call abuse is really just the brokenness of humanity in such tight quarters. People are sad and it affects us. People are grieving and it’s uncomfortable for us. People are suicidal and we have to be attentive to them. People are angry and we hear them say untrue things. People are fearful and we cannot understand why. This is the sort of brokenness most of us are pressed up against every day. It’s everywhere, we can’t escape it, though so many do and end up building tiny castles with massive moats and standing upon the highest towers refusing to hear any criticism or complaint which makes them uncomfortable.

Paul said, “I bear on my body the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ.” You think for a minute he would have stayed under the whip, the burnings, the shipwrecks, the lashings if the Holy Spirit had not compelled him to? No, friend, without the Holy Spirit he would have been sunk. He would have skedaddled. He would have slunk away, swam away, sprinted away. But with the Holy Spirit he was able to say, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:9,10

Friend, seek solace knowing the wounds you take today are for the sake of Christ—who came into brokenness in order to save to the uttermost.

The Holy Spirit Made me Do it

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.44.59 AMI’ve been wondering, these past few weeks, when did it become a sin to be sad? We have become little band-aid applicants, carrying them with us everywhere in the form of advice, counsel, scoldings, and, for those unwilling to soil our hands, corridor whispers. We are faster than an ambulance in our rush to clean the scene, sweep away the proof, and move on to bigger and better and happier things. Does anyone think, I think to myself, how silly it is to do such a mediocre job when what is needed is surgery only God can perform?

Two verses, but mostly the same, have played on repeat for me in this year of sadness (Is it okay if I say that out loud? I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, and nothing to lose.). They are from the book of Jeremiah (that great Lamenter for whom we seem to have little use in happy, clappy modern Christianity):

From prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace. (Jer. 6:13-14 & Jer. 8:11)

It is against our nature, I think, to apply pressure to a wound, everything in us wants to be soft with another’s and softer with our own, to handle with care or kid gloves or not handle at all. But the greater temptation is to cover a wound lightly and call it healed: out of sight, out of mind.

I don’t know when exactly the gauging came, but this morning I read my husband’s text in the still dark morning and send my own back. Our prayers are staccato sorts: Help. Pray. Please. Love. Sorry. Forgive. Forgiven. Love. Love. Love. Marriage is beautiful, but sin crouches at our door waiting to pounce and we must rule over it, even with staccato prayers in still dark mornings (Gen.4:6-8). But how did we get here? How did the wound grow from small and tolerable paper cuts to tears on the way home from church and pulsing guilt for the seeming missteps of our year? We both believe in a sovereign God, don’t we? Why then would we falter for one second even, in our belief that He directs our every step—even if it feels like we’ve fallen into a ravine and there is a cliff above us and a rushing river below us—death no matter where we look.

Maybe this isn’t you. Maybe you’re one of those happy, clappy Christians who has never fallen into a ravine or had to scale a cliff or navigate roaring waters. I don’t envy you, although I suppose I should. My pastor used to say, “Suffering is coming for us all. If you haven’t experienced it yet, it’s coming for you.” And I used to believe it had come for me and I had gotten through it okay. I was wrong, and there’s probably more ahead. The truth is I don’t understand the happy, clappy Christians. I really don’t. I don’t understand those who would heal a wound lightly (though I’ve been guilty of it a time or seven), thinking it would be enough to have paid attention for a second and then washed my hands of it, having done my part smartly enough.

There are so many things this year I can’t even begin to tell you but they all mount one big awful offense: God cannot be trusted. I’m horrified to say those words at all, and especially horrified that the offense hurts me worse than it hurts Him. It also isn’t true, and I know this with every fiber of my being. But the arrows carrying their deceitful message come flying still. Who here hasn’t felt the flaming arrows of untruth come battering down on their weary souls? If you say you have not and will not, I beg you to read the accounts of Paul again and then talk to me. What I cannot figure out, though, is how stalwart he stayed through it all.

What I am saying is the same as what Hemingway once said, “This world breaks everyone,” and also “And afterward we are strong at the broken places.” But to pretend the brokenness and the broken places don’t happen or don’t hurt or need to be fixed speedily or need some form of happy, clappy Christian healing with immediacy, is to lie, not only to the wounded, but to yourself most of all.

It is no sin to be sad. I have believed that theologically for a long time and it is being tested in the crucible of truth now. Can one be sad and still trust God? Can one mourn and still know God is good? Can one weep and still know morning is coming? Can one grope blindly in the long night without one single doubt that God stands there, somewhere and certain, in the sea of darkness?

I have thought those things might be possible and now I know they are. My sadness is not a sin, but I will not call “Peace, Peace” until the heavy hand of healing is applied all the way through.

. . .

Maybe you are sad today too, maybe the dark night of the soul has lasted far longer and been far darker than you thought, or maybe you know someone for whom that dark night is their reality. Nate and I watched a film this week where the lunacy of the main character was not portrayed as such from his perspective. To him, his friends were not imaginary, they were as real as he was. We remarked, at the stunning conclusion, how it helped us to have empathy for our friends walking through forms of depression, lunacy, and irrationality in a way we might not have had before. Their pain is as real to them as our pain is to us. I do not need to feel their pain precisely to understand its reality. I pray for this for us all.

Everyone you meet today is carrying some hidden weight, and the temptation to make your own greater in comparison, or to overlook theirs for laziness or fear, will be great. I beg you today: Do not heal a wound lightly, your own or someone else’s. Do not cry, “Peace! Peace!” simply because you want their sunny disposition returned. Sit across from them and ask what hurts and don’t offer counsel or advice or bandaids, ask only for the Savior to be near, because His word says He is and He is the only One who can heal all the way through to the other side.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)

Encourage married friendsBefore I got married and was asked to write on singleness every other day, one of the questions I’d be asked often was, “How can married women encourage their unmarried sisters.” I thought a lot about this question because I think it’s a good one, but also because it can be easy to forget some pains of singleness once the vows are said.

In order for us to truly mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice, it takes a great amount of empathy—entering into the sadness, fears, and joys of our sisters and brothers in Christ. What is unfortunate, though, is that the question is rarely flipped the other way around. “How can unmarried women encourage their married sisters?” I think this is perhaps due to an incorrect view that those who are unmarried are somehow lesser than and therefore need greater amounts of encouragement than those who are married. This simply isn’t true. What is true is that an unmarried person has distinct and perfect gifts designed by God for their season, and a married person has distinct and perfect gifts designed by God for theirs. No one is less than, or has less than—though it’s hard to believe that as an unmarried person who longs for what your sisters and brothers have through their spouses.

I know even as I write this there are those who are saying, “Well, of course you can say that, you’re married. I’ll bet it didn’t feel like a gift when you were single!” To which I’d reply, actually, it did, and not just in hindsight. Yes, I felt the lack, and yes I mourned the reality that I might never have children or a husband, but it didn’t make my unmarried life any less rich than my married life is today. If you’re still disbelieving me, I encourage you to tend to the affections of your heart; if having a spouse is the pinnacle of joy for you, then your heart has settled for idolatry.

In hindsight, though, there is still one regret of my singleness: I wish I had encouraged, or known how to encourage, my married friends better. I prayed for them, loved them, tried to be specific about helping them and encouraging them when I knew how to, but I wish I had not looked at their lives and seen a form of completion that somehow (in my mind) negated my words and presence in their lives. There was a perception that the season they were in did not need my particular brand of encouragement as a single. I was wrong. Just as I needed their prayers, encouragement, vulnerability, and friendship, they needed mine.

Here are four ways the unmarried can encourage the married:

1. Fight the lie that says to you their lives are complete in a way yours is not.

This lie is not only damaging to you, it is damaging to them. Marriage does not complete a person, but when you believe it does, you remove the opportunity for them to be vulnerable about the ways marriage presses on them in difficult ways. If your answer to their struggles in marriage is always, “Well, at least you have a husband,” the lie that can play on their minds and hearts is, “They’re right. I have a husband. I shouldn’t be struggling with this gnawing feeling of incompleteness.” Now you’re both believing lies. The truth is you are both complete and whole in Christ, nothing more, nothing less. The truth is also that you are both wholly incomplete in Christ, awaiting your final consummation with Christ. This is a beautiful truth if we can truly wrap our minds and hearts around it. Complete and not complete, but both in Christ, not in marital status.

I have really struggled with this in marriage because many of my still unmarried friends so long for marriage that they assume I can’t possibly understand the struggle anymore, or I feel guilty talking about difficulties in this season of my life as though I’m not allowed to still struggle. God is doing a work on me in this area and I’m trying to be faithful to holding marriage up as a source of joy (though not the pinnacle of joy) while also being honest about the very real angsts within it.

2. Ask them probing questions about their marriage.

There has been an idea that one’s marriage is somehow off limits for discussion. Perhaps you grew up in a broken home and any conflict meant divorce was around the corner, or perhaps you’ve heard men and women alike complaining about their marriages, or gossiping about their spouses. I’ve experienced both. There can be a paralyzing fear that if we talk about struggles we are having or our husbands are having with anyone, that we are slandering them or exposing our marriage.

The best thing for sin is to be exposed to the light, for the Holy Spirit to minister and heal, and for reconciliation to come. But often times as unmarried people, you can feel inept at asking those probing questions without seeming like you’re digging for salacious details. I’ll never forget being in a group of friends with one recently married and one of the other girls asking our newly married friend all kinds of details about marriage, sex, routines, etc.. I was embarrassed, but mostly because my newly married friend was embarrassed. But years later when that marriage had dissolved, I wished I’d asked more questions along the way. I wished I’d helped to be a minister of reconciliation instead of a bystander who thought I couldn’t ask probing questions. You may not have all the answers (and in fact, none of us do), but hearing honest words about the difficulties within marriage can help dissolve the Hollywood version we all have in our heads—and God may use you to help heal brokenness along the way.

Here are a few questions that would be helpful for you and her: What does leadership and submission look like in your marriage? How does it make you feel? What is the hardest thing about being a wife? What are you afraid of in your marriage? What brings you joy in it? In what ways was what you were taught in the church right about sex in marriage? In what ways was it wrong? How can I pray for you and your husband today?

3. Pray with them about their needs and desires.

Something happens when I pray. I don’t mean God always answers my prayers. I mean something happens in me when I pray. My heart is softened and becomes more understanding to the plight of another. I can talk for hours about a particular angst or fear or whatever I or someone else is struggling with, but the moment I say, “Father,” and follow it with an earnest prayer, my heart changes. I don’t mean this in a mystical way, I just think it’s the Holy Spirit in me communing with the Son who intercedes on behalf of me to our Father in heaven.

When you bring your own longings, fears, and angsts to the fervor behind a prayer for someone else, something settles within you. You are able to understand and sympathize with a friend—in whatever season of life they’re in—matching your longings ache for ache.

One of my good friends has a baby right now and a tiny apartment she longs to be out of. I am renting a home but ache for a baby. We are able to have what the other longs for (in a way), but pray for the other as though we both long for the same thing because we understand what we ultimately long for is God. Pray with your married sisters—even if you think they should just be happy with what they have because it’s what you want.

4. Rejoice with them when their dreams are fulfilled.

I’ve told this story a hundred times before but for the past six years I had three friends who all struggled with infertility. They each mourned differently and struggled in unique ways, but we prayed and cried for one another in the lack of what we desired: a baby for them, a husband for me. Within a year, we saw all of those prayers answered for each of us in various ways. I’m not saying this is a guarantee for everyone, but it was a sweet picture of God’s attentiveness toward each of us and because we had been faithful to love and encourage one another in our particular season, we were able to rejoice with a fullness we wouldn’t have had before.

It is much harder to look with jealous longing at a friend who has what you want when you’ve truly entered into her mourning when she didn’t have it. The safeguard against jealousy is not coveting all the more what our neighbors have, but rejoicing with them when they get it. This is a blessed safeguard and an opportunity more of us should take. Rejoice, as fully as you’re able, when God answers the prayers you’ve both been praying for them.

This has also been a struggle for me in marriage because most of my closest friends are still unmarried. I have struggled to rejoice around them because I fear my happiness will lead to their sadness. God is teaching me to model joy for earthly gifts while at the same time keeping Christ as my constant joy at the center.

. . .

In many ways these are things we all need to do with all of our friends, but many of us do them more easily with those who are in the same season as us. It is easier to pray for a husband with a friend who longs for one too. It’s easier to understand infertility when you’re walking through it too. It’s easier to counsel difficult seasons in marriage when you’ve walked through them too. But crossing outside of those boundary lines can bring, I might argue, a better more lasting blessing.

I know it’s hard to fight the lie that your married friend has everything you want and doesn’t need your encouragement, but I beg you to fight through it, set your truest affections on Christ, trust He supplies every need according to His riches, and assume the position of being the answer to your friend’s need. Your joy will be greater, I promise.

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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.

Please don’t tell anyone else this, but I wanted to process something with you. If you could just keep it between you and me? I assume you know I wouldn’t want it to get around, I want to make sure people really understand my side of things and that can only happen if I communicate about it directly. You understand right?

I just tried to emotionally manipulate you. Did you fall for it?

There’s a chair in the corner of my office at the church were I work. It’s a shade of gold I can’t quite name and its fabric is velour of sorts. Every week someone cries on that chair. Not a week has gone by that someone has not cried on that chair. Sometimes I’m the one crying on it. Often the person sitting there asks me to just keep this conversation between them and me, and every single time I have to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t promise that.”

There are some who are contractually obligated to keep secrets—lawyers, counselors, mobsters—but within the local church, “Just between you and me,” is bedfellows with its sister, Gossip. They seem at odds, but they are actually two sides of the same coin.

Gossip wants to control the narrative by embellishing it, the other wants to control the narrative by being the only one to talk about it. Gossip wants to make the story interesting, the other wants to make the story one-sided. Neither reflect the words and meditations of a heart pleasing to God.

Friends, sometimes we show discretion in what we share to protect someone’s heart, but if our aim is to craft a narrative or limit the narrative to our side only, we’re lying, and God calls lying is a sin.

Here are three truths when we’re tempted to hide within the narrative we’ve crafted:

1. God owns and knows the whole truth and we cannot hide from him.

Whenever I’ve been tempted to tell someone to keep something between us, I have to ask myself the question: “Whose narrative are you trying to present?” Sometimes there are a lot of moving pieces and we’re not ready to make announcements public yet. But most of the time when I’ve used those words, I was trying to control the order in which people heard something, or I was trying to make sure my perspective was valued as sort of a secret treasure I entrusted to someone to hold.

The problem is, though, these things are too heavy for mere humans to hold. We weren’t made to hold the weight of secrets. One of the first things humanity did was try to hide from God—but we can’t hide from God! Whatever things we’re doing to protect ourselves are as laughable as standing behind fig leaves in front of the Almighty Creator of those fig leaves. Controlling a story, crafting the perfect narrative, and trying to make people see things from our perspective are empty efforts.

God sees you, He knows your heart, He knows what you’re protecting, and He knows why. Walk in truth and wholeness with your brothers and sisters, and Him. He can handle the whole mess of it all.

2. God orchestrates a better story than we can tell or keep from telling.

Without exception, every single time someone has said to me, “Please don’t tell anyone this,” the unveiling of their fears or concerns has been part of the working toward healing, redemption, and reconciliation in the body. So many of us are blindly walking around ignorant of our issues, complacent in our efforts, or unaware of problems. We need the iron sharpening of one another in the body of Christ. Here’s why: the end of our story (which is really the beginning) is a better one than we can imagine in our moment of pain.

When we’re blinded by the presence of pain, uncertainty, or misunderstanding, we can’t imagine a good ending to the story. We just need to vent, to process, to express ourselves. But God is writing a better story and He’s orchestrating all the smallest players to be a part of it.

If you must talk about something, talk about it with the intention of holistic healing, and talk first and only with the people involved in a godly solution—not with those jumping on a party bus heading straight for Division Canyon.

3. God has put His children in a body with different perspectives, different histories, and different gifts.

When we ask someone to keep something “just between us,” we’re asking them to stand on a desert island with us. We’re asking them to alienate themselves from their covering and their counsel and join in solidarity with us away from something else. Friends, this is a sin. God always comes forward to us. He always initiates. He always invites in. He moves toward us in reconciliation—and his design for us is to do the same.

God puts us in the body of Christ to express those aspects of Himself to one another. He puts His cards on the table, all of them. There is nothing hidden with Him and in Him we live and move and have our being. He is the whole story—and He puts us along side one another in community to work out the expressions of Him on earth.

Don’t live in a factionalistic society. We have an enemy, and our brothers and sisters in Christ aren’t him.

. . .

My parents always used to say to my brothers and me, “There are three sides to every story, yours, his, and the truth,” and the adage still stands. Your perspective is valid, but it is not the whole story. Trust God with the whole story, yours, theirs, and all of ours.

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We’ve come by our attraction to transparent communities honestly—we have been hiding since the third chapter of Genesis. We ache to come out of hiding and to walk in the freedom of Eden again. There are little secrets in us all, taunting us with their presence: “If everyone knew this about you…”

And what if?

I always find it slightly generous of God to have asked Adam the question he already knew the answer to, “Where are you?” Generous because the answer to that question was not for God but for man. Who of us truly wants to face the question, “Where are you?”

Where is your heart?

Where is the meditation of your mind?

What are you thinking about? Obsessing over? Hiding?

Where are you? On the grandest scale of human emotions and proclivities and circumstances and seasons, where are you?

God didn’t ask the question to find the answer. He asked the question because the next words Adam spoke would teach us all, “I was naked and afraid, and so I hid.”

Half the battle warring inside of us is won with those words: I am naked—uncovered, exposed. I am afraid—fearful, worried, full of angst. I am hiding—withdrawing, retreating, running away. And aren’t we all, Adam? Aren’t we all? But most of us will never say the words because we like to talk more about the testimony of yesterday than the valley of today.

A transparent community is not simply one where we talk about what God did yesterday and how we came to enlightenment and grew and how today will be different. A transparent culture of confession is one where we say, “Here is where I am today and I am afraid I will always be like this and my inclination is to hide it away.” That is true transparency. That is true confession.

Eating the fruit made Adam and Eve see the destructive nature of wanting to be like God and we still eat the fruit of that fruit. We want to be like God in a thousand different ways. We want to, like my pastor from Texas says, “Wear a superhero’s cape.”

But humans don’t need capes, they need the skins from the sacrifice, the shelter of the Most High, the mantle of God, the robe of the Father thrown over them as they limp home from squandered inheritances and life beside pigs. Real humans, children of God, stink of the pigsty under the pristine robes of the King.

Stop pretending we don’t stink, friends. Say the words, “I am naked. I am ashamed and fearful. I am hiding.” Let us gather at the threshold gate and run toward home where the Father waits to clothe us with the sacrificial covering of His Son.

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There have been seven or eight lessons I have learned over the course of my life that have altered my thinking in profound ways. They have become markers of what Paul calls, “Glory to glory.” They marked a step forward, not in closer or better union with Christ, but in closer and better understanding of him. Today I thought of sharing them briefly with you.

A love for the local church: This was pressed deep into me before I even understood the theology of the church. My pastor in New York wooed me to a love for the local, to what God was doing right here in front of me. To the people with whom I walked and lived and fought and fought for. We cannot say we love Christ and not love what he loves best. He loves the Church best. He gave His life for her. I learned to live and die for the Church.

To not rob others of their suffering: This came from a friend during a season of deep pain and sadness in my life. He could have relieved it, I suppose, but said instead to another friend that he would not rob me of my sufferings. It took me a very, very long time to understand what that meant, and it took more suffering and more observation of suffering to understand. But here is what it taught me: God doesn’t waste anything, not suffering, not difficulty, not pain. He is working and willing and waiting and faithfully attending to his children in the midst of it. There are no “meantimes” in the Kingdom of God.

To be a “There you are!” person, instead of a “Here I am,” person: My pastor in New York also taught me there was real value in showing true interest in another person and their life. To not stand on the sidelines waiting to be approached by others with a “Here I am, come find me,” attitude. OR to enter a room and be the life and center of the party with the exclamation, “Here I am!” But instead to enter a room and find others first. To be the first to ask questions about their lives and the last to talk about yourself. This lesson, for a shy, wallflower like me, was life-changing. God pursues us like that!

God is not surprised by my doubts, my questions, my fears, or life: My pastor in Texas taught me this and it was one of the lessons that has been the foundation of my faith for five years. I spent years and years doubting my life, my choices, my faith, my repentance. All of this because I somehow believed I was in charge of it all and God was shaking his head in disappointment at me. If, though, God is in charge of everything, that means he isn’t surprised by anything—and he isn’t waiting me to mess up some cosmic plan. He’s shepherding, giving, guiding, loving, hearing, and faithful every step of the way.

This gift is for this day: Elizabeth Elliot taught me this. She hammered into my little head that not only was today a gift, but whatever I had today was a gift, and whatever I didn’t have today was also a gift. “God still holds tomorrow,” she said. This lesson reminded me time and time again over the years that today held enough disappointment and treasure as it was. There was no use longing for tomorrow and ignoring what God wanted to teach me today.

Love Jesus and People more than things: I will never forget sitting in the living room of some friends back in New York and hearing the father talk of how if his kids squabbled over a toy or some plaything, they would immediately rid their home of the item. They would not sell it because they wouldn’t attach worth to some thing which had caused conflict. He wanted to teach his kids to love Jesus and People more than things. Shortly after that I began to get rid of almost everything I owned and began to discipline myself to not worship the idol of sentimentality or wistfulness. I wanted everything I had been stewarded to reek of the fragrance of God’s own. If it didn’t, I got rid of it.

Expectations are resentments waiting to happen: This from another pastor in my church in Texas. I heard it at a time when all my faith and trust in God was shattered because I had put all my expectations in certain things instead of in Him alone. I wanted expressions of His goodness, not simply his goodness. I wanted gifts of lavish attention, without his simple affection. When I began to see the discrepancy, it became immediately clear where my doubt in him was coming from. I resented him, plain and simple. When I began to simply hope in His character and not at all in his gifts, everything changed for me. Nothing about life itself changed, but everything about the way I saw him changed.

This are just a few of the small things that have changed me throughout life. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me talk about one or all of them. I hope even more, though, that you’ve seen me live them. It would be a waste if all we did with theology was talk about it. These men and women, though their faithfulness, taught me in small ways huge lessons. This is the last lesson I have learned: To be faithful to God, not an outcome.

I doubt very much most of these people would know their small acts of faithfulness would have life-changing effects on me. But they did. My prayer today is two-fold: that you would find those benchmark moments in your life today, and that you would go back and thank the people who taught you those lessons. And second, that you would know you are being watched and studied by others in their walk. What we say and model and teach matters—and what a good gift that is from God!

It’s a joke now, lovingly called the “Non-coffee-date,” which syntactically makes no sense but we know what it means. Whenever we tell people our story (three months from first date to wedding date) their incredulity is visible: “But did you even know each other before?”

Yes, of course we did. But we knew each other in contexts in which dating one another for various reasons wasn’t happening. We had overlapping friend groups that eventually morphed into one. He was well known by men I trusted, I was well known by men he trusted. I cheered for him when he’d taken a friend out on a few dates. We had no reason to do anything but cheer one another on in our individual pursuits.

But then: the non-coffee-date in which we did drink coffee and it was not a date.

We spent two hours in our community’s coffee shop, in full view of any frequent church staff customer and no fewer than 30 of our closest friends walking in and out the door. The purpose of the meeting was to continue a conversation we’d been having about pacifism (Sexy, I know.). I’d fought with one of my friends the night before because she wanted me to clarify with him whether this was a date, but I felt this deep confidence in me that God was my Father and he cared for me. I knew Nate was a good man and I had confidence that if it was a date, or he wanted a date, he would ask me, using his mouth, and words straight from the English language. It was just coffee.

At the end of it, he cleared his coffee cup and I cleared mine and he left. “Did he ask you out at the end?” a friend asked. Nope, I said. And then I went home.

Several weeks went by without communication and then a big decision was made by me to move to Denver. The night I came home from my interview trip to Denver, Nate called (on the phone, using words he said with his mouth) and said, “I’d like to take you to dinner. I’d like it to be a date.”

And you know the rest of the story.

I’m telling you this, not just my single girl friends, but my married girl friends too, because so often we grasp for control, clarification, communication. We want to know all the moving parts, all the possibilities. We want to plan for every contingency and every system failure. We want faith that is not blind, we want to see every crack and crevice of the future.

But that’s not, as a friend of mine said once, real faith. Faith isn’t faith if it can see where it’s going. Even that statement fails a bit because if you’re a child of God you do know where this is all going, even if you can’t see it.

Single girls, don’t manipulate and scheme the single guys in your lives. Trust God that when a man sees and knows and trusts God with you, he will do the right thing. It might mean a non-coffee-date or two (if he makes it seven or ten, it’s not bad to ask for clarification, just don’t demand he call it something it’s not—that’s bad for you and bad for him.), but trust God with the outcome. Be faithful, obedient, gospel yourself, and then trust God.

Married girls, trusting your husband isn’t the goal. It’s a means for some things, but not the goal. The goal is to trust God and the overflow of trusting God is trusting your husband. If you feel he has broken your trust, look to God. If you feel he has never given you reason to trust him, look to God. If you just want him to do something, trust God.

All my readers, if you are a child of God, don’t play chess with today. Don’t wake up and scheme how you’ll defeat the enemies of your life. Christ already has. He has defeated depression. Discouragement. Confusion. Fear. Worry. Discontent. Sadness. Loneliness. Christ declared His intentions for you before the foundation of the earth. He called you His. Therefore you are secure, chosen, holy, set-apart, a royal priesthood, saints, sons, and daughters. There is no question. Walk today as if there was no question.

He has also made a plan for work that doesn’t fulfill you, a husband or wife who doesn’t complete you, a local church that doesn’t seem to see you, friends who don’t seem to care enough about you, and every other disappointment you feel. His plan is Himself.  If He gives you nothing you desire today, it is not because He wants you to lack, but because He wants to give you Himself. Trust Him.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
— Abraham Kuyper

This past spring my pastor said to me, “The sheep never stop needing a shepherd.” In context he was saying, “I kept waiting for a time when the sheep wouldn’t need me so badly, for a time when they’d grow up and mature, but the truth is as long as God has me here, I’m their shepherd and am called to them.”

This morning we read Psalm 23 and John 10 and last night in a meeting we talked about what faithful and good shepherding looks like and how we fail at it so often. A good sermon does not a good shepherd make. A good spreadsheet does not a good shepherd make. And a good event planner does not a good shepherd make.

To know what makes a good shepherd, we look to the Good Shepherd, Christ.

A good shepherd leaves the flock to find the one (John 10:16)
Good shepherding means at times the majority of the flock may feel left alone, but if they know their shepherd, they trust he will return. They know the business of their shepherd, which is to care for each sheep—even the wayward ones. The good shepherd always returns and teaches his flock to rejoice at the homecoming of the lost.

A good shepherd uses his rod and staff (Ps 23:3)
Good shepherding means faithful disciplining, but it also means knowing discipline is ultimately a comfort. The ultimate aim of discipline is not alienation, but cultivation for the sake of health. The good shepherd corrals his sheep toward the flock because it is the safest place for them.

A good shepherd lays down his life (John 10:11)
A good shepherd does not count his life as something to be grasped or held or protected. He does not protect his personality, his comforts, his time, or his energy. He lays himself across the threshold of the gate and lays down his life.

A good shepherd knows his Father and his Father knows him (John 10:14)
A good shepherd is like Enoch, walking with God. His food is to do the will of the Father. He knows the father more than he knows good theologians or good literature. He is known by the Father, laying bare his life and heart before the one who shepherds the shepherd.

A good shepherd has authority (John 10:18)
A good shepherd does not demand authority or grasp for it. He simply has it because it has been given to him. He does not cajole or fear when authority seems far from him, he knows who his Father is and the task he has been given.

A good shepherd knows where the still waters and green pastures are and leads his sheep there (Ps 23:1)
A good shepherd has adventured out to faraway lands to seek out still waters and green pastures. He has looked under rocks, in dark places, climbed hills, and been sunk in valleys. He seeks and find the stillest waters and greenest pastures for the good of his flock. He does not lead his sheep to mediocre places.

I look through this list and see the myriad of ways I fail at shepherding anyone, even my own heart, and I remember Isaiah’s words in chapter 30:

In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.

If you feel less like a shepherd and more like a lost sheep these days, leading other sheep in wandering ways, return. Rest. Quiet. Trust. Christ is the Good Shepherd and in His goodness He is leading you to good places.

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It is the work of providence, I suppose, that I have been reading about conflict in the church at Philippi these last few weeks and Nate is reading The Peacemaker. I somehow always imagined marriage to be ripe with conflict, but the truth is that ours hasn’t been, or if it has, we’re delightfully oblivious (that is not to say we have not had conflict, just that we do not stink of it every day). But for all the lack of conflict within our marriage, our entire relationship has been surrounded by conflict among those we love. Which, if you know either of us, is a grand cosmic joke between the Trinity:

“Let’s put these two passive, peace-loving, conflict-adverse people together for the rest of all time, okay?!”

“Yeah! And let’s put them in ministry where they’ll be surrounded by conflict all the time!”

“Grand idea!”

It was an exclamation mark fest, I just know it.

For all our natural passivity, though, the conflict swirling around us has been a blessing of sorts. Oh, we don’t like it, don’t mishear me, but it has been a “severe mercy.” Through it we see God’s mercy, our sinfulness, and the persistent unfinishedness of the Church—so in this, it has been a blessing.

One thing I am consistently surprised about, though, is the pervasiveness of modern psychology in the midst of conflict between Christians. Phrases like, “You’ve broken my trust in you/him/her/it,” “I was wrong, but…,” and “You shouldn’t have waited until I’d sinned five times in this way before coming to me.” It makes me wonder, truly, how broken is our theology if these are the words coming out of our mouths?

You’ve broken my trust.
One of the best men I know is a biblical counselor across the street from my Texas church family. He told me once, “The bible never says we ought to have faith in another person, it only says we should place it in God.” To displace my faith from another person is actually a good thing—it points me toward a God who cannot and will not fail. When our “trust has been broken” in another human, be encouraged, it was never meant to rest on them. Trust God.

I’m sorry, but…
The most beautiful thing about repentance is there is no “but…” after the brokenness. To add a “but you…” or “but they…” after our admission of guilt (no matter how justified we may feel in our counter-accusation), takes away the weight we’re meant to feel in our mourning over sin and the staggering beauty of a God before whom we stand fully approved and full loved as his children. One of my favorite passages on our response to sin is when Paul says to the Corinthians, “Ought you not rather mourn?!” So often we apologize and run quickly to a counter attack or run quickly to a false sense of security. Brothers and sisters, there is no security in coming out on top. Do not consider equality as something to be grasped, become obedient to death. He raises to life.

You should have told me sooner.
There are two sorts of people in conflict that I’m observing: the first tends toward quick righteousness and the second tends toward prolonged grace. In the midst of conflict, the latter typically will overlook a matter (to God’s glory) four, five, six times before finally coming to the brothers or sister and entreating them to righteousness. The former who desires quick righteousness typically responds, “Why didn’t you come to me sooner!?” and so excuses their sin. Friends, overlook a matter, as much as it depends on you, extend grace, pursue peace, forgive seventy times seven without saying a word. The modern concept is that if we bottle up our feelings we’re somehow doing ourselves a disservice and betraying our hearts. I have good news for you: God holds every one of your tears in his capable hands, He knows them and cares for them and has paid for every one of your sins—even the ones five times back. When you cover a multitude of sins with the love of God, you are not doing a disservice to yourself or to the accused. It is kindness that draws us to the throne and love that keeps us there.

Make no mistake, Christian, our theology is on display in the midst of conflict. Our belief in the gospel and its permeation in our lives comes through in those confrontations, apologies, stalemates, and  arguments. God, the ultimate reconciler, though, has given us clear directives for the ministry of reconciliation. Conflict does not surprise or bewilder Him, He has made a way and set an ultimate example of humility, obedience, and persistence through His Son. Trust Him. Believe Him. We will always be disappointed by people but never by Christ.

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We’re shelving books, no longer two, but one. We sit at the same table every night and morning. Our dishes, his pottery and my vintage, married on the kitchen shelves. We’ve bought a house. With every action there is a recurring subconscious question accompanying them all:

Who will get this when we divvy things up?

Until last night I didn’t give the thought enough space to analyze. We sat on our patio and worked through the instructions (His idea, not mine, I never think to look at instructions.) for our patio furniture and the thought crept up again, I stared it right in the face and asked where it came from. Fear of divorce? Both our lives have been shattered by that reality once, it would be natural to fear it in some way. Fear of death? I suppose there is always that. But no, deep down, I realize, it comes from fourteen years of living with roommates. Fourteen years of divvying things up.

I wouldn’t trade a single one of those roommates. I have lived with crazy, kind, cruel, caring, clean, and chaotic, and I have been all of those things back; still I wouldn’t trade a single girl. Those girls taught me to deal with my monsters, to respond with kindness when met with cruelty, to laugh a lot more than my nature would, to not listen to a fool in her folly, and to not be a fool in her folly. There has been no more sanctifying agent than the dozens of roommates I’ve had while I waited and hoped for marriage. Each year, in many ways, more difficult than the last because we learned to confront sin and to be confronted in our sin. We learned to serve and not be served. We learned to outdo one another in honor. We learned to navigate really tricky situations with no happy outcome for anyone. We learned to die.

I have not yet learned to die and this is clear in my marriage, even though my husband rarely asks it of me. As we meld our books and cups and plates and pitchers, I think about dying and I think about divvying. There has always been an end date on my housemates. A lease. A cap. But with him, there is no end date, no divvying up, no dividing, no chore charts, no questions on who is responsible for what. There is a cyclical kind of service, he serves me and I serve him, but sometimes the cycle breaks and one of us is short and one of us is absentminded (three guesses who on the latter, first two don’t count). It takes a hard restart, but not the kind where we go our own way and make up when we feel like it. It takes one of us coming to the other and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m owning my stuff here, but realizing all our stuff is shared and I affect you, whether I want to or not.”

I have heard it said marriage is the most sanctifying gift to his people, but I think that is hyperbole. I think people are the most sanctifying gift to his people. And fourteen years of roommates have taught me many things, some things I have to unlearn in marriage (there is no divvying up of stuff because there is no end date on this covenant). And some things I am grateful to have learned alongside roommates. I have sometimes felt like all the right things have to happen while we’re under the same roof, because once I am gone, or they are gone, nothing good can ever come. That God cannot continue to sanctify roommates once we are apart.

That’s the hyperbole of it all. That God is limited to doing exactly what needs to be done to sanctify his people inside of marriage or outside. He completes the work—whether we are 35 and single or married at 21. The sanctification looks different, but it is completed.

I’m sitting on our new patio furniture, drinking my coffee, and writing. The operative word there is, “our.” It’s the new sanctifying agent in my life, that this is all ours, together, stewarded to us by God for the season of our marriage covenant. It’s a new feeling, one I don’t know how to wear well yet, but I am learning; by God’s grace we are learning.

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