Archives For gospel in community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Jamie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I added up the meetings this week and they valued in the too many for any introvert. They happened in prayer rooms and offices, across coffee tables and over coffee, on our couch late at night and on my bed early in the morning. Listening, talking, walking.

We are in the work of long-suffering, of listening when it seems better to speak, of obeying when the odds suggest we not. We are submitting and silencing, seeking counsel from the wiser and counseling the weaker. It is a lasting joy, but a long-suffering one too. It is hard fought for, but sweet when it comes. It is not popular.

It is easy to create copycats. To say to say as I say and do as I do. To teach to follow me as I follow Christ. But I am not an Apostle or Christ and I quake to tell anyone to follow me. I cannot even trust me, please do not trust me. We ask for the Holy Spirit and we keep on asking, more and more, a helper and comforter, a keeper.

. . .

Today is the two-year anniversary of a little girl on my doorstep. She had a few suitcases, some guitars, no money, no car.

I have known her since she was 14, but really I have known her my whole life. We are different in many ways, but the same questions wrest our souls and tempt our hearts. Two years is not a very long time, but it can feel like an eternity when you are walking with someone who hates God and sometimes hates you too.

Then one day she was crafting a wooden baby Jesus for a nativity scene present and the God she’d crafted in her own image all her life became real. We joke about her blood on the lamb, but four hours in an emergency room on Christmas Eve was no joke. God became flesh and dwelt among her, in her, and through her. And she was changed.

I won’t deny I have been holding my breath for weeks, afraid to let it out. But today is the two-year anniversary of her coming to Texas and the two month anniversary of the day that everything changed for her.

God saved her. I got to watch the change, but I was powerless to save.

She is so much like me in so many ways, and so much like others in so many ways, but she is more and more like Jesus and the Spirit inside of her than anyone else.

I tell someone the other day that she is my letter, like Paul said of the Corinthians, “You are our letter, written on our hearts, known by all.” But not my letter, written by me for others, but “a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Her disciple-making is from and by Christ alone, I merely, as my pastor says, “got to play.”

Mini-me making is a passing fancy. Disciple making is a long-suffering joy.

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A few weeks back I sat across from one of my pastors while he delivered the news of my deficit. The words came in a halting tumble, the words of a messenger, not the accuser. “Do you see evidence of this in your life,” he asked. I let out my breath because no accuser is louder than the enemy in my own head. I am all those things and more, the list never stops, never ceases; pile on the claims and I will swallow every one.

“I have heard the claims,” I said, and I’ve been checking my heart and home and hearth to see if there is any wicked way in me.

He leaned in as I recounted the weeks leading up to this moment and when I finished he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to bother you,” I said, because it was the truth, but also because I was afraid.

. . .

I don’t remember when it was that I realized if God knit me together, with all my parts and pieces, then he knit me together with all my proclivities and purposes. That the same careful attention he gave to my shape and my size, he gave to my mind and my heart.

For the girl who had only ever known a deep and turning angst in her soul, this made a poem out of a pauper. I had always wrested with depression, anxiety, an unnerving panic at inopportune times. But I had also seen purpose and beauty and a haunting art to all of life too. The horrible badness about me cut me deep enough to let the piercing lightness all the way in.

Even the mundane moments, the 10,000 little moments, all of them little crosses, little funerals, the little concerns rising—these all turn me again and again to Him.

. . .

“There is an impulsivity to you,” he said. “It’s part of what makes you a treasure to us. You’re, what’s the word, bohemian? Never going to go with the flow, always on the fringe, an artist. As you submit your weaknesses to us, I don’t want you to lose the treasure of those perceived weaknesses. It’s what makes you you.”

. . .

It has taken me a very long time to learn—and I haven’t learned, but am learning—that the world is full of people to whom one way makes sense. Wrestle this way, no, not that way, this way. Be this way. Stand over here. Be this. Eat that. Don’t go there. Advice is a thousand times more common than real affirmation and real affirmation is so heavy laden with flattery we most times can’t see anything straight.

And this we know: in our weakness, He is glorified. In our weakness, He is made strong. In every way we cannot do, it is because He has done. In every “I don’t know,” or “I have failed,” He says, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden.” And in this we rejoice.

I did not rejoice, sitting there, across from a pastor who loves me, knows me, who is for me, and, which is more, who is for Christ formed in me. Who of us rejoices when we hear our accusation? But I rejoiced later and 10,000 times since. Every day a reminder that I have miles to go before I arrive at eternity’s door. Every day a reminder that God knew what He was doing when he knit me—just as I am and full of so much more.

As he passed by,
he saw a man blind from birth.
And his disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered,
“It was not that this man sinned,
or his parents,
but that the works of God
might be displayed in him.
John 9:3

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

Continue reading here. 

One of the reasons I’m grateful for my male friendships is because they press me in issues from different points of view. Paul Maxwell is one such guy and Christianity Today published some of the results of our conversations this week. We co-authored this piece on modesty and the yoga pants phenomenon that’s taken the female fashion trend by storm. I hope no matter where you land on the subject of female modesty and male lust, you’ll take a few minutes to read. Yes, we know there are far more important issues in the world, but we believe that global mindedness begins with being personally submitted in the small things. Enjoy! 

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She comes in the coffee shop like she does every day. In every shape and size and age. She just worked out, she just had a baby, she just got out of bed, she’s headed out for the night, she is running errands. She is every woman—she’s you and she’s me. And she’s wearing yoga pants.

“There’s just not much left to the imagination,” thinks the guy sipping his coffee. “Not much extra room for the Holy Spirit.” He works hard to exercise discernment and accountability for the issues he had with porn in past years. He has a wife who isn’t getting younger. He has a fiancée with whom he is trying to maintain purity. He is inundated with flashy ads intended to wire male brains to think one thing about the female form. He is every man—he’s you and he’s me. And he’s surrounded by women in yoga pants.

The question of whether yoga pants are appropriate attire to wear in public has swirled online in recent years, following the garment’s rise in popularity as a casualwear staple. For millions of women, yoga pants are “the new jeans,” worn well beyond the yoga studio and gym.

Among Christians, these form-fitting pants get wrapped in the modesty debate, most recently with a viral post from a blogger sharing her conviction to stop wearing yoga pants and leggings. Then came responses with treatises on freedom and morality and lust and modesty culture. And defenses. And cynicism. And hysteria. And spite

And here we are, fighting about yoga pants.

Rather than taking sides and settling for boundaries or restrictions, we—as women and men—can talk about what it means to approach these conversations with a biblical ethic that respects the people involved, their bodies, and their sexuality, all of which were made by God and declared good. As a girl and guy following the back-and-forth, we see how parts of this debate aren’t actually up for debate.

Continue reading to hear our surprising take on the modesty discussion. 

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Our living room is dark. I have already done the nightly ritual of light-switches and locks. The blankets are folded in their corner basket and the kitchen is cleaned.

Every night we put our home to sleep and I pray over it. The kitchen that nourishes our bodies, the dining room that nourishes our souls, the front room that nourishes our friends, the living room that nourishes our minds, and our bedrooms that nourish our rest. We know the role of a home is not for us to serve, mastered by it and its demands for bigger and better, but a home is to serve us and the ministry before us.

These days the ministry before us is one another and we are not always faithful, but we love one another, love well and hard.

. . .

“Do you ever cry,” one of our honorary High Chapel House girls asks me yesterday. I think hard because the truth is she saw the tears in my eyes only moments before, where they rise every day without fail as she and the other girls come home one by one. “I cry,” I say. “But not for very long or very hard. I ask God that he would give me tears though. Sometimes I could use a good cry.”

This afternoon I pulled in our driveway, walked into our empty house, and I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. “Is this it?” I asked God. “All this time and you’re going to make me cry over a silly, impersonal exchange I had today? Something no one else thought anything of?”

But something about home stopped those tears and planted peace there instead.

. . .

There is nothing magical about our home and we are plenty flawed, trust me, each one. Yet in this home there is no onslaught toward us, we are for one another and for the hope the gospel offers today and the sanctification the gospel offers tomorrow. I am reckless in how much time I give to the girls in that way and some judge me for it. But I have seen nothing but good fruit in it, the steady, faithful work of the gospel taking root in all of our lives day by day, degree by degree.

There are no fast tracks to discipleship here, just a present peace and a palpable purpose, and today that peace and purpose disciplined me. Reminded me of who Christ is and how He saves and sanctifies and redeems within the hospitality of a home. And how the essence of the gospel is hospitality, and therefore home.

Tonight as I pray for our home and the bedded bodies in it, I pray that we would use our home to serve others and one another, but that our Father would use our home to serve us, his beloved children.

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

Today is her first day of school. Orientation, really, but I have learned to count the small blessings. She crawled into my bed last night and we talked about everything until I was falling asleep and she was too giddy to sleep. “Thank you for bearing with me,” she said. And of course it’s okay, I said, it’s my joy, but what I was thinking was how long the paths to life are and how very thorny along the way.

This morning I woke up to make her breakfast, toast and eggs, runny like she likes them, and I thought of the person who made me go to college orientation a dozen years ago. I was a wounded bird in those years and the thought of a classroom frightened and intimidated me, but at her urging I went. I was out of place, older than all my classmates, wildly unprepared for the liberal atmosphere, and I thrived. I sent her a message this morning: thank you for making me go to school, for sticking with me.

. . .

Some friends and I talked late last night about discipleship and long-sufferingness. The long road is, as I said, thorny along the way and we are too often softened by psychology and words like “healthy boundaries” and “my time.” To disciple is to make and to mature, but it often seems a far more glorious thing to make than to mature. We grow lazy and pass people off, as if they were the baton we pass instead of the message we ought to be passing.

This morning I think about how Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and how desperately we all long for that. But he did it at home, in his father’s house, sweeping the sawdust, listening to his mother, caring for his siblings, learning to craft furniture and construct buildings, learning Torah. He did it for years and years and years and years and years, in faithful discipleship from those around him. And others did it with him—even those who knew his true nature as Messiah.

Haven’t we grown weary though? In doing good? Doesn’t our good so often seem to fall on deaf or dumb or fear-filled ears? How long, oh Lord, until we see wisdom and stature from train-wrecked marriages and wayward children and unrepentant friends and, God, my own heart? How long?

Love is long-suffering, though, suffering long. The way is thorny and marked with setbacks plenty. We will administer correction or challenge or wisdom, or walk so long with someone through darkness it feels like the end is never coming.

. . .

I sit with someone yesterday and talk about how a seed can’t grow to maturity if we keep digging it up and replanting it. It has to bed itself deep in the dark earth, it needs the musky darkness to break open and grow, and then it needs light and water and time to grow into maturity and we cannot rush that process—no matter how difficult it is to stay, to be long-suffering, to enter in, to do the difficult work of people.

We need stayers in the kingdom, those who will do the difficult work of discipleship, who walk with the weak as they grow in wisdom and stature, in spiritual things and physical things, in intangible ways and tangible ways. Long-suffering makers and maturers.

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A friend and I talked the other night of friendship and what it is made of, ours specifically. We have learned in our friendship not to give advice. Sometimes it is sought, and then we give it, but sparingly, because we have learned the value of the wrestle.

The wrestle in the Christian faith is not a glamorous or sought after place, I find. We are arrivers, winners, finishers, rarely do we let the wrestle do its work in us. We strain forward, but sometimes so fast we miss the small irks and tiny pains that teach us to slow and listen and hear and constrain. We advise instead of enter in alongside; we teach instead of walk beside. There is a place for teaching and advising, but I wonder if we would be more wholly sanctified if we did less of those and more of entering and walking.

Tonight I read these words in Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus:

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:52)

Jesus says that the Bible knowledge the teachers communicated “took away the key” that others needed to actually know God. A key opens and locks a door. They described the door for people, but they had no way to open the door for themselves or for others. Make no mistake: when it came to door description, they were accredited experts. They spent their days gathering people to look at the door, to painstakingly memorize every line, crack, corner, color, and carving. The Bible teachers and the congregations possessed an expert (keyless) knowledge of an unopened door.

The problem was not the Bible itself but how it was being used apart from Jesus. After all, a light shone into our eyes is still a light that shines in the darkness, but it does not help us to see. The problem isn’t the light itself, for the light retains the capacity to illumine. The problem is the way we are using it. Such light so used in our eyes actually blinds us for a moment. We blink and blink when the light is pulled away. We see spots. Exposure to such a torch certainly gives us an experience of light that is powerful and unforgettable, but this kind of power neither airs our vision, nor clarifies our path. We stumble with squint amid the blur once we try to walk. Because of this, a wise old pastor was right: “It is possible for us to develop a false sense of knowledge.

I know this is not Eswine’s full intention in this passage, but it has me thinking of all the advice, noise, and voice given in Christless counsel. We are brimming full of good ideas and plans—at least I am. More and more, though, I want to still my voice, quiet my words, cease trying to fix problems or offer easy wisdom—even if that wisdom is shaped from scripture and spiritual insight. Sometimes we are not being helpful by simply shining a bright light into someone’s face. It is better to shine the light in the path and then walk alongside them in it.

I want to endeavor to walk in the paths of life in my friendships. Christ’s word, not mine, offers the most abundant life. His word, not mine, is the lamp to our feet and light to our path.

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“I was born fighting the status quo,” I told a friend earlier today. My parents have stories of my infant rebellion and it never really stopped, just grew quietly into a mistrust of authority, a silent questioning of every demand, and a bristling fear of boundaries.

I can mask the stubbornness and strong-will in many ways, namely by giving lip-service to whatever will cause the least amount of damage in the end. I am no masochist, I crave peace and mutual consent, but I protect my own opinion even if no other shares it. I care little for going with the flow, but I do because I care more about not making waves.

This propensity has been my nemesis long and hard. Outwardly I am kind and sweet, but inwardly I am mistrustful and suspect. I am positive everyone means harm to me in the long run and my kindness aims to keep that harm as far away as possible. Kill them with kindness, the saying goes.

Today, all day, I have felt the pressing of submission. It comes in the form of people wanting my time and energy. It comes in the form of demands I cannot satisfy. It comes by email, by text, and by face to face. Everyone around me demanding I bend my will and desires to their will and desires. At one point I asked the question: “Why must I bend here? Why can’t they bend here? Why can’t they, for once, see their sin for what it is and serve the greater good here?”

And then I think of Ephesians 5 and true submission.

Before Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives about loving and submitting, he gives instructions to all persons everywhere, ending with this: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

I have learned to submit, not out of reverence to Christ, but as a tool to secure my own safety. I want to keep the peace, not rock the boat, to be seen as docile and kind, for the good of others instead of myself. It is a twisted manipulation, but those are the best and most poison kind.

It is out of reverence for Christ, though, that Paul says we ought to submit.

When I think of revere, I don’t think of my friend Jesus, my brother, my Kinsman Redeemer, my wonderful counselor, or the prince of peace. I think of King Jesus, the one with a sword in his mouth and his face shining like the sun. The awe-inspiring, fear-inducing King Jesus, the one with whom you do not mess.

Submitting is not something we like or enjoy. A pastor friend of mine says, “Submission begins where agreement ends.” In other words, if we agree on this point, it is not mutual submission we are practicing, but common vision. But Paul wasn’t talking about common vision, he was saying, “In fear and awe of the King on His throne, submit to Him by submitting to others. Take the crown off of your head, the expectations out of your heart, and by doing so, you proclaim what you truly worship.” We preach the Kingship of Christ when we practice submission to one another.

Nothing in my day has gone according to plan and I confess, the frustration that was a mere simmer eight hours ago has steadily turned up higher and higher. I’m asking King Jesus to put a burning coal in my mouth, to rend me silent in my own defense, in my own will and preferences, to be sent and to go where He leads, pressed up against those “one anothers” with whom I will eternally worship our King.

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I’ve been in Israel for the past ten days with hardly even a moment to jot down notes about my time there. In the meantime, all sorts of people were publishing words and phrases I put together anyway. The show runs fine without me. What a relief, right?

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If you’re a Christianity Today subscriber, you can read my short piece from the magazine online:

For most of us today, the endgame is simply to survive. Survive the family dynamics, the financial constraints, the season, and then sweep up the wads of wrapping paper, tear down the tree, and sit down with a glass of wine and declare Christmas “Finished!”

I was interviewed by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on singleness in the church:

It isn’t that he’s given the gift of marriage to others, and I’m the giftless kid in the corner. Today my gift is singleness. There’s a rhetoric in Church culture that assumes every single is waiting to be married, which may be true in some respects, but it doesn’t help us to treasure these days as the gift they are. In order for us to know these days are a gift, though, we have to see singles being utilized as they are, not waiting for a future version of them to materialize through marriage.

The Gospel Coalition reprinted this on ways to encourage your pastors (and families):

Not only will you never hear me say anything bad about one of my pastors (a single honor), I labor to speak well of them and to them every chance I get (a double honor). I want them to know I appreciate their investment in me, our church, the Word, and gospel initiatives.

. . .

Hope something from one of them encourages you. After this week I plan to land at home for the foreseeable future (this fall has had me gone more than I’ve been home), and hopefully that means I’ll be writing with more regularity (or at least better quality…).

 

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

A thousand people turning their pages at the same time.

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

This is our liturgy.

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