Archives For gospel

The Good Ground

March 29, 2014

It is a good place where one can say, “I do not trust you,” to God.

These are the places where God becomes real. Realer than theology books and good sermons, more real than dark nights and soul talk, realer than heaven and hell and all the variances in between. To stand barefoot by the burning bush of your life—or the Spirit—and to say, I do not, I can not, even maybe I will not. These can be good places.

There is a realness to the God of that moment, a reckoning with all the ways in which we have felt the realness of life hurt and bruise us. It is, in some ways, the moment of coming to our senses. It is touch, sight, sound, scent—the aching reality that this is hard, so hard. Harder than it was ever meant to be, and yet, the only way we could come at last home.

Whenever I find myself in the company of one who doubts, I know I am on hallowed ground. Holy ground. I want to take off my shoes and stand there with them for a while. The ground is often a pigsty: it smells, it is muddy, full of animal waste and the rottenest fares of the richest feasts, but it is the place of coming to.

To say, “I do not believe, but God, I want to,” can be the first step toward coming home.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Wipe that Glass

January 7, 2014 — 1 Comment

The first thing we know about God is He is Creator. He takes nothing and makes something. He makes many somethings. More somethings than any one of us will ever see in our entire lifetime.

Staggering.

I understand God as Creator, but if He is Creator, that means He is infinitely creative—and that is something I will never be able to grasp or understand.

He is involved in every iota, every molecule, every atom, every gene, every thought, every action—and He is infinitely creative, which means He never stops creating.

Just thinking about that for three minutes staggers me.

But it becomes so real, so personal, when I think about all the ways He has been creative with me—and the accompanying realization that He isn’t finished with me yet. He is still creating, still teaching, still growing, still perfecting, still forming.

So an infinitely creative God, constantly creating and recreating His people, is a God who can be trusted to not make mistakes. Every scrap of my spectacular story, every rag of my richest rich, every moment of my mind—these form who I am and who I am becoming. He knew the washed up, backwards, inside-out, upside-down story He’d bring me through and He knew that through the mess I’d see Him.

And I’d see Him through a glass dimly, but that dirt and grime, that’s mine. I own that grime. God let me have that grime because otherwise I’d never understand His holiness, His set-apartness. Now all I can do is never stop asking Him to wipe that glass clean.

I love that.

I really love that.

I love it because it’s my hope, more than anything, that we’d spend our lives helping others to clean that grime. To take a rag and say, “You too? Me too. Let’s clean it together. Let’s see Him more clearly, love Him more for Who He truly is.”

I don’t know what your grime is, but I know God knows it. He made it, every atom and molecule. He knows your issues with fundamentalism, gender roles, abuse, theology, culture, suffering, depression, death, divorce, fear. He knows it all. And He’s so creative that He knows how to draw you in, grime covered you, and show you Himself, holy and splendid, majestic and clean.

It’s spectacular.

Sweetest Frame

November 14, 2013 — 1 Comment

There are sweet idols in my life. Tempered steel overlaid with silver. Carved wood overlaid with gold (Isaiah 30:22). These are the things that bid for my time, my affections, my joy, and even my mourning. They care not what kind of attention I give to them, only that my whole attention is given.

This past week we finished 11 weeks of studying 1, 2, & 3 John. We gathered one last evening in the sanctuary and a friend led us singing through The Solid Rock. My favorite line from the hymn comes in the first verse: I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.

It is my favorite line, but most times I cannot bring myself to sing it. It simply isn’t true, and most of the time I doubt even my desire for it to be true.

The sweet frames in my life seem not so sordid as they really are when held against the surpassing beauty of Christ alone—and yet, oh how they make such palatable feasts.

Once someone told me my faith seemed like a crutch, a way to deal with a broken family, untimely death of my brother, and a move away from all familiar things. I carried those words with me for a decade, asking myself if this faith was less paramount and more crutch, something to buffer me while all around me the world gave sway.

It wasn’t until the past few years I began to see, though, that if my faith was a crutch (and I believe it is), it was because without it I could not walk or stand at all. The sweet idols walk beside me but crumble when the slightest weight is laid on them—these cannot carry me through to the beloved face of Christ. Only He can do that and He promises He does—and will.

I can trust the sweetest frame, but that frame will falter without fail. But to wholly trust in Jesus name? It may be a crutch for a limping me, but it leads to the ultimate Healer and I limp gladly, trusting in the Sweetest Name.

Greatly Shaken

November 11, 2013 — 2 Comments

This afternoon Psalm 62 worked its way through my mind: He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Greatly shaken.

I have felt shaken in recent weeks. Shaken by my own expectations, by the expectations of others, by my sin, and by the sin of others. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve been surprised at how surprised I am.

Somewhere along the way I bought the story that He was my rock and salvation, my fortress and I would not be shaken. I know suffering comes and sin steals for a season. I read the Bible and see it is full of people for whom things did not go well. But shaken? Knocked off kilter, rattled around?

Ah. Greatly shaken.

The gospel does not make lead-footed friends of us. Our salvation is secure, but we are not cemented in place, stuck with no forward or backward motion. The gospel sets a feast before us, but it is not a feast of fructose and ease, it is one that gives us what is best for us. And sometimes being shaken is best.

There is a passage in Corinthians I hear quoted often in reference to struggles: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

But it is the words before and after that catch me off guard, that shake me down, that pull my pride into a vortex of the Holy Spirit:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

So He is my rock, my salvation, my fortress. He is also my comfort, my shelter, my haven. But all this shaking? All this crushing? All this pressing? It is for Him, for His glory and my good.

Maybe that is simplistic. I know it sounds simplistic to me today, as though I should be beyond this concept. But the truth is every time I think I’m beyond it, I get surprised by how much I still need it.

He is better. In the midst of being greatly shaken, His words stands firm and He is better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else could they do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is IF: Gathering?

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

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

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

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

She is Beautiful

September 22, 2013 — 8 Comments

I met the Church this week and she is beautiful.

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

I met the Church this week and she is beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Listen, Really Listen

August 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worriers in Remission

July 15, 2013

worry

I have a friend who worries she has “lost her salvation.” I listen for long hours and ask questions because I had friends who did the same for me three years ago. My friends worried about me, but I want to go to bed without fear, so I lay my worry on the doorstep and cross over the threshold of trust every moment.

I ran into a friend while getting coffee this afternoon. Five minutes only and tears well up in both of our eyes—the world weighs heavy on shoulders not meant to carry it. Our Father is a better Atlas, rolling our globe on His fully capable back. We are worriers in remission. This is the life of the Christian.

I read an article today about a girl grown with Sunday School sashes and Memory Verse Answers. She doesn’t believe in that god anymore and I see myself in her story. We didn’t end in the same place, but there is time still. It is God who numbers our days and He knows every one of hers. My heart wants to worry about her, but my God clothes lilies and counts hairs—surely He has not fallen asleep at the helm of her life?

I don’t mean to excuse trouble, but I know enough not to borrow it. Or to borrow it long enough to have it pierce my soul and my heart with empathy and then bring it to the throne with confidence—not that my plan will be accomplished, but that His will. And I don’t mean to be lazy. Take my arms and my legs and my mind and my time, take it all, but give us Jesus, only Jesus.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Matthew 6:25

window

It is raining when I wake. I stretch my legs, hooking my toes over the end of my bed. I have not been able to shake the brokenness I feel these days. There is good news and bad and it comes simultaneously. The world is broken and we are in the world, and sometimes of it too. A new niece was born yesterday and a man who is like a father to my brothers died last night.

I was brought forth in iniquity.

There are those who excuse those words as poetry. But what is poetry if not man’s attempt to make sense of what seems senseless or too mysterious for simple words? What is poetry but God’s way of making beautiful what seems ugly? When science fails me and theology is too wondrous for me, I take comfort in mystery, in poetry.

An unsettling verdict, a drug overdose—”this world breaks every one of us, and later we are strong at those broken places.” Hemingway did not believe in original sin, I don’t think, but even the best and worst of us knows the cracked and creviced face staring back at us from the mirror. Are any of us whole? Really whole?

A week of conversations on brokenness, where baggage on original sin and depravity and hope circle and devour—it leaves me feeling brokenness more acutely. No one is unscathed, and especially not the one who thinks he is. We all walk with a limp and better that we acknowledge it than try to hide it. You’re broken? Me too. Let us walk more slowly beside one another then, the journey toward the kingdom is not a sprint or a race, there are no winners—or losers. His glory is our collective trophy.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
a broken and contrite heart, you will not despise.

Brought forth in brokenness, brought forth in wholeness—either way, what He desires is the cracked and creviced child. The one who knows her sin and her faults, her needs and her Savior. The one who knows his helplessness and his fears, his limps and his Healer.

What need have we for a Savior if we can find a scrap of wholeness on our own?

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Corinthians 15:51-57