Archives For gospel in community

hunger

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

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

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

Read the whole article over at Christianity Today.

 

Trench Livers

July 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farmers in the Field

July 14, 2014

One of the things I love most about my church is we’re a church planting churches planting churches. The turnover of folks at The Village is often because people are responding to a call to plant or serve in places less churched than the DFW metroplex.

We call these Gospel Goodbyes because they are hard, but they are good. They are serving the Kingdom’s purpose and in that we rejoice.

One of the couples leaving this year is Chad and Hiroko Farmer, and their young daughter. Chad has served us faithfully on staff for several years, and now they are heading to Hiroko’s native Japan to work with Christ Bible Institute. The population of Japan is 127 million, a bit less than half the population of the United States, and only 1% of the population in Japan identifies as Christian. CBI is one of the largest seminaries in Japan and you can see how crucial the need is.

When I met with Chad a few months ago to talk about how I could help them on their journey, I was excited to hear about the sacrifices they’re making even now as a family. They left their home a few months ago and he stopped working at The Village so he could fundraise full-time. They’ve been living a nomadic life, inhabiting houses of other members of our church while they’re out of town, and Chad is simply meeting with folks to share the vision. What I loved most about my time with him is not the excitement he has about going to Japan, or even being a missionary there, or even returning to Hiroko’s homeland—but his simple infectious love for Japan. He breathes it and by the end of our hour together, I wanted to love it like he does.

I want to encourage people to do what they love. There’s a strange beauty to watching someone walk into something they love. Chad and Hiroko love Japan. The last I talked to Chad, they were nearly funded completely. And I want to invest in that. If you’d like to join them in their life there consider helping them meet their fundraising goal.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Matthew 9:37

We’ve got some willing laborers here.

Click here to help the Farmers get to the field

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The Landlord

July 3, 2014

Someone told me some counsel they’d received was to not make a habit of renting to single women. Why? Because they don’t always call when something goes wrong. Many just let it fester until it’s unfixable. I haven’t stopped thinking about what he said. It wasn’t an accusation, it was a commentary, but it’s a commentary I find telling. It’s a reflection of a heart-problem, not a laziness problem.

I was called the The Responsible One yesterday. But I haven’t felt responsible in a year or more. I’m backtracking and highlighting and caveating and trying to figure out where I misplaced responsibility.

This past week I’ve had to make some phone calls to leaders in my life. They’ve been humbling phone calls, not because I met with criticism or disdain, but because I’ve had to say over and over again: I do not know best for my life and I should have come to you before making decisions instead of after. I had been looking for their approval rather than their counsel—and that is not the mark of The Responsible One. That is a single woman who lets a problem fester because she doesn’t believe people want to hear her pestering about broken faucets and broken feelings.

I woke up this morning thinking about responsibility and sonship. Responsibility is simply knowing what needs to be done and taking the proper steps to getting it done. But what about when you can’t make yourself feel something? Even if it’s true?

For four years God has been bringing the doubters and ye-of-little-faithers into my life. They believe they were created to be a vessel of wrath, that they’re a jar too broken to be useful again, that God has not chosen them before the foundation of the earth, or that He has sprinkled fairy dust on the heads of others but never on them. No matter how long I listen or talk or hear or preach, I can’t make someone feel something they don’t feel. And I know how that feels.

No matter how much leaders in my life take my face in their hands and tell me they love me, they want to lead me, I disbelieve them. It’s the same with God. I’m a hurried and harried kid, sweeping up the messes of other’s lives and my own too, hoping he’ll condescend to give me the scraps from the table. I feel undeserving and the truth is, I am.

But the Father is the landlord. He owns the house and the body, he owns my heart and my home. And it’s his Son’s job to be The Responsible One. And His Son already has been. My only job is to inhabit what he has given me to inhabit: my heart and his home. And to live there like He owns it and He loves to care for it. He loves to fix the leaky faucets and the broken unfeeling hearts. And he loves to employ the services of his people on earth to help care for me while I inhabit this tent. He gave those leaders to me to lead me. As I approach them with confidence, my heart grows in confidence of His care for me. He designed it like that.

home

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It’s been a season where I have hesitated to write about singleness for obvious reasons. But Tim Challies linked to this post this morning and I wanted to comment on it briefly.

First read the post on how to make your wife more beautiful.

Now, let me say that a woman who is fully loved by her husband is markedly different than a woman who is not, or does not feel loved by him. We all know both women, and there is a definite glow and confidence in a woman who feels the security of her one-woman man.

That said, I worry about the message this sends to unmarried women, particularly those of you who are in your thirties and beyond. Shakespeare said it best “Age, with his stealing steps, Hath clawed me in his clutch.” We cannot stop the inevitable blurring of our birth year behind us and the empty grave in front of us. For a single woman aging feels achingly more hopeless than for a single man as he ages. Every month we watch our fertility fade and the crows-feet crowd in. We feel less beautiful as each day goes on.

On top of that, there is rarely someone tending to the garden of our souls. There isn’t someone delighting in us, in every curve and nuance, every idiosyncrasy, speaking to fears and sheltering us in times of question. The lack of these things begin to eat at the blossom that bloomed in our twenties, and soon the withering comes.

If you know a single woman (and you all do), take a few moments today and encourage her inner beauty. Comment on her character and your hopes for it. Speak to her fears and lead her to the cross. Affirm her good desire to be married,  speak highly of your own marriage, and assure her of her eternal position within the Bride of Christ. And practically: serve her. Nothing makes me feel more cherished as a woman than a brother who notices and serves my sisters and me.

We should desire for the whole bride of Christ, not just the women, or just the married women, to be beautiful. Proclaim the manifold wonder of what the gospel has done in our lives and how it has transformed us.

That is true beauty.

unmarried

Church, wo[men] are staying single longer and longer, remember to include singles in your ‘biblical [wo]manhood’ narrative. It’s not a mark of deficiency or a blemish to be single—but it can feel like it in the somewhat glaring omissions. Paul said singleness was good. I think singleness is good. Many singles LOVE their singleness. Give us land to till.
—Thoughts tweeted by me this morning.

Church, here’s how you can give singles land to till:

1. Stop expecting them to have more time/money than marrieds. I understand we often do, but if we’re taking seriously the radical gift of singleness today, we’re going to have less, not more. We’re going to be crafting a lifestyle that isn’t making the stuff of earth our great treasure. Stop giving big discounts to married couples for conferences and leaving the singles to pay more. It legitimizes the feeling that we’re less, not more and yet have more, not less. An unmarried person who truly is caring for the things of the Lord will have pockets inside out spending their time and finances on Kingdom things.

2. Don’t assume that because we haven’t experienced marriage we don’t have good things to teach married persons. The true aim of a disciple is to live a life submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Though submission for a married person looks different than an unmarried person, trust me here, unmarried persons should be (and are) practicing submission in a more universal way. That’s a pulpit worth sharing. While we in the modern Church spend most of our listening time hearing from marrieds, it’s worth noting that Christ was single, and Paul seemed to have been. Be careful to not equate marriage with maturity.

3. Do you know unmarried people who want to be married? Who feel their ministry would be strengthened and better within the context of marriage? Help them. Help them, Church. In the absence of singles ministries or a place for singles to meet and mingle, they’re going to go outside the Church to find partners. God help us, and they do. Nearly every one of my single friends is on some online dating service. I’m not knocking the tool, but it seems to me that we are doing singles a great disservice to not provide a context for singles to meet one another. Small groups don’t work because by their very nature, they’re small and the pool is usually limited to less than five other singles. Don’t be afraid of matchmaking or thinking strategically about potential couples. Help them.

4. Reframe your idea of biblical womanhood and manhood again and again and again until what you actually have is a biblical believer in Christ Jesus. Until we have human flourishing at the base of our teachings on roles, we will bang our heads against this wall. The aim is never to be a biblical woman or man, it is to preach Christ crucified by living a life fully crucified to our flesh, submitting all rights, nailing autonomy to the Cross: that is the true role of biblical men and women, married or unmarried.

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

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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.

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