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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

I  wanted to comment on something I wrote this past week on singleness. I got a bit of pushback on it and some of it was founded; I also received some concern that I was pushing against my own church’s model of home groups since we don’t have extraneous ministries apart from home groups. I love my church and agree strongly with our leadership that less is more, and that a focus on programatic within the local church can distract from mission. Some of my pastors have written a book on that which you can find here.

However, when I look at the sheer amount of divorces or marital problems within the Church at large, I can’t help but wonder if we could do better for our singles before marriage.

If the divorce rate is rising—or even plateaued, because even one divorce is too many in my opinion—shouldn’t we do more to prevent marriages of unequally yoked, immature, or otherwise unwise individuals? Of course we can’t micro-manage the unions of everyone, but a few? As many as possible?

I don’t think singles ministry is the answer, so let that be said. I actually agree strongly that singles should not be segregated off to themselves, but should surround themselves with marriages from every point along the way. Walking with young and old couples is one of my great joys. I’m able to enter into their joys and mourning in a way I can’t with my single friends. I’m able to pray for babies, for grandchildren, for discipline problems, for marriage difficulties, and they’re able to pray with me through my single-specific trials. This is one of the beauties of the local church.

So if singles ministry isn’t the answer, what is?

First a few observations:

1. Homegroups cannot be the means through which we expect marriages to be born. I am not saying that two singles can’t meet, mingle, and marry within the context of a home group, I’m simply saying that by nature of the smallness of a small group, we can’t expect the 2-5 possible singles who’ve put themselves there to find themselves face to face with their future spouse. It’s certainly ideal, but not the norm.

2. Using an online dating service does bring a few success stories—praise God for them and pray for more of them—but as a whole there are more disadvantages to this than advantages. It takes a very wise believer to walk that path in a circumspect and godly way—and sadly many of our singles are spending more time crafting the perfect profile, responding to foolish inquiries, and dating aimlessly, than working on wisdom.

So about that answer?

First, do not be a parasite, sucking off the life of others, expecting your church to serve you in this area. They probably want to serve you here. It’s not like your elders are sitting in a dark room scheming how to get more troubled marriages in their offices. They want godly marriages to happen and fortunately they’ve probably provided the perfect vehicle for singles to meet, mingle, and marry.

That vehicle? Ministry.

Within your local church—whatever its ministry model—there are things to be done. Trust me. I’ve worked for local churches and non-profits most of my adult life. If you can fold a piece of paper, sweep a room, hold a baby, pray for someone, you can serve. (If you’re a Villager, go into Connection Central on your specific campus, and there will be a list of roles and needs you can fill.)

Here’s why this is the singles ministry you’ve been longing for:

As you serve you will encounter those with shared visions, shared goals, & shared burdens. You will see work ethics, the heart of hospitality and mercy, the hands of service. You will not be distracted by perfectly crafted profiles or instagram images. You will see real people doing real things for their real God. You will see in motion the things we ought to value in marriages.

Your life of singleness will be richer, more full, more joyful. You will encounter someone’s someday spouse. You will begin to systematically kill the little foxes. You will grow into what will be a better wife or husband. When you see all there is to do, you won’t ever complain about a lack of ministry to singles again, trust me.

And you might just meet him or her.

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leadership

A wise, and lonely, leader once told me, “Leadership is lonely, so choose your friends wisely.” I believed him without hesitation because I saw the aching loneliness whenever he was in a crowd, the uncomfortable posture of one who longs for depth and fears it for the work it will bring.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters from prison thinking often of how long stretches of time alone might have been the fuel he needed to write those letters—and yet, in prison? Alone? In those days, there is no more lonely place I can think of.

Leadership is lonely. It doesn’t look like it, of course, because every leader is surrounded by others, called on by others, even known, in some respect, by others. It seems like all the aching loneliness of being unknown would dissipate if only you stood with the leaders of the pack.

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

One of the most helpful verses I’ve ever memorized is John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Those six words have meant more to me in the swirling storms of suffering and rejoicing, lack and plenty, contentment and desire, than any six words I know. They are the mantra of my life and they are prophetic in a way, speaking future truth into what is not fully realized. They comfort me when I feel the aching loneliness of being both unknown and very known, a nobody and a leader, a friend and a stranger.

Leadership is lonely because decreasing is lonely. The larger the Lord of your life becomes to others, the less they see you, and isn’t that what we all want? Just a bit? To be seen, known, and truly loved? To be unshackled from the collective prison of our minds and hearts, to be free to roam among other commoners, to find our place at the fire or the table, to fit in?

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

This morning I read an article about a couple who were removed from leadership at a school in New England. They were serving Jesus faithfully, wouldn’t sign a paper demanding more from them than their faithfulness to His word, and they were given the boot, stripped of their leadership.

And yet, not.

Because the crowning achievement of every kingdom leader is to be the least, the last, and the lowest. To fulfill their mission in the prison of lonely leadership or unrecognized leadership—a prophet who has no respect.

If you seek leadership, know that what you’re asking for is a life of service and loneliness. It may not look like the glamorous service you suspect lies there. It may be the simple act of looking others in the face, hearing their stories while knowing yours is ever decreasing. It may be a life of quiet prayer. It may be behind a pulpit, which may be one of the loneliest places of all.

But, good and faithful—and lonely—servant, find your joy not in being known, but in making Him known.

Makerness

February 17, 2014 — 2 Comments

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I’m a first generation college graduate, and the only one of my seven siblings to have completed secondary or tertiary education. Growing up, neither of my parents had college degrees. My mother put herself through a degree in early childhood education for the past several years—the irony being is she is the last person who I think needs it. She’s now working on her graduate degree.

The reason I say that is because my hard-working parents taught me the value of using my hands from my early childhood. Laziness was not permitted in our home and using the word “bored” was as near to cursing as any of us would ever get.

From the moment we woke up until the dinner dishes were done, and the candles lit for evening read-aloud, our hands were kept busy.

My father is a gifted artist, talented writer, and has been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember, working hard, long and late hours. He has always been inventing some new gadget or brainstorming some crazy idea. We never went hungry.

My mother quilted, baked, created lesson plans, gardened, refinished furniture, and always encouraged us to work hard at the things that gave us joy. Since my parents divorce, she has built her own successful business—while putting herself through school.

I’m grateful for my college degrees. I worked hard for them, paid for them myself, supplemented with scholarships. In no way am I discouraging a college education, but I know my best education came from watching my parents work hard. Start businesses. Give homemade gifts. Make things from scratch. Look at what others had done and decide to make it themselves—only better.

Whenever people ask me how I learned to sew or write or design or crochet or cook or make flower arrangements or make a home or anything, I tell them I taught myself, which is true. But not entirely.

The whole truth is my parents taught me to value hard work.

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

Paul encourages the Thessalonians like this,

“[We urge you] to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
I Thessalonians 4:11-12

Don’t under value the work of the hands. Teach your kids to work hard when they are young, let them puzzle their way through diagrams and difficult words, give them tasks that are too difficult for them, encourage them in the work that gives them joy. But don’t let them simply value work because it gives them or you joy, teach them to value it because it gives the original Maker joy. Teach your children they are literally imaging God when they work hard, carefully, with attention to detail.

All of life is a muscle waiting to be worked. We bring glory to our Maker when we reflect His Makerness. His creativity. His near constant work.

chaseWe’re talking about David and Jonathan in my Old Testament class. Sunday-School felt-boards, crackers and juice aside, I’ve never given either man much thought.

………………..

A friend is thinking of leaving our church. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last, and I’ve left my share of churches in life, so I know whatever I say won’t matter much. So instead I’m thinking of covenant these days, the Old Testament, grab the inner thigh, share the sandal, slaughter the lamb kind of covenant.

At my church we don’t sign a membership document promising to agree with everything my church teaches, promising to never question authority, or to turn a blind eye to what seems unjust. We sign a Covenant saying we’ll wrestle every demon to the ground before we turn our backs on these brothers and sisters. We’ll turn over every stone before we’ll call anyone a heretic. We’ll come to our senses as quickly as possible and run from the pig’s pen to a Father who meets us.

We sign up for Covenant, not a pansy pot-luck.

Not really.

But kind of.

………………..

This morning in class we read the first part of I Samuel 18 three times. Three times is a holy number and so I listen close.

Three is also the number that made a covenant in those first few verses: David, Jonathan, and an unseen God who wouldn’t leave them, not ever.

Three is also the number of times the author made mention of Jonathan’s soul being knit to David’s.

A soul is a funny thing. In my circle I never ask how someone’s doing, or how is their heart. I ask how their soul is and people always turn their head sideways, maybe laugh a bit at me. Their soul? Their soul? Ask about my car, or my health, or my day, or my family, but not my soul. Not that precious, beautiful, broken bit of me. Not the bit of me that is secure and fashioned deep in the crevices of God, but oh, so tender still.

Souls are the one thing about us and within us that are truly lost or truly found, but all the peripherals crowd around and lie to that soul, telling us we are not okay and never will be. And sometimes our souls lie to us in other ways, telling us we are okay when we’re clearly not.

………………..

I think of my friend this morning, and myself, and all the others. Friends who have left the Church, been burned by the Church, can’t figure their way around the Church. I think of David and Jonathan, and Jonathan’s soul. And I think of God who cares about souls.

The Covenant I signed with my church is not a failsafe; it does not keep me from harm or knit me to the people there. It is not my badge of glory or my shame. It does not give me special privilege or grant me favor. The Covenant is a promise between them and me, us and God. It says we will chase, we will run, we will warn, we will fight, we will wrestle, and someday, some final day, we will win. Our souls are knit together, see?

And that is the God who Covenants with me too, and I can’t get over this today: He runs, chases, meets me at the end of the lane, throws his cloak on me, and welcomes me at long last home.

………………..

If you’re interested, I’m also talking about covenant Church living over at Deeper Church today in a provokingly titled post: Mark Driscoll Isn’t My Pastor 

We filled our glasses and pulled our chairs close to the fireplace. Only a few of us, but enough still to carry the conversation, none of us noticed when midnight rolled past, and so we asked more questions.

I don’t make resolutions because I know I can’t keep them. Instead I just ask God to birth and build in me what I cannot do myself. Two years ago it was fearlessness. This past year it was to ask. I still don’t know what 2013 will be, but I’m afraid it might be to just ask again.

This morning I read Psalm 1 and I tell myself I am the tree—planted by streams of water, but who only yields fruit in its season and this is not my season. This is the season to ask, but not receive. It doesn’t make me less a tree because fruit doesn’t fall from my laden branches.

It is winter and the trees are bare outside, cold wet cowlicks standing stark on flat brown Texas spreads. I stand outside this morning in the damp cold, the gray skies overhead, cupping my coffee and asking for what seems impossible.

The acorns and leaves carpet our backyard, fruit borne in its season, now lifeless on floor of the earth, making space and way for new fruit.

I turn my hand up and ask for fullness in the right time and not before.

resolutions

KILL your DARLINGS

July 22, 2012 — 13 Comments

256423772504133334_lCsiOGcQ_fIt’s humility that’s got me down these days and I suppose that’s not a bad place to be after all.

I have no wish, desire, or need to draw any more attention to the recent happenings in the faith-blogosphere in internetdom. If you caught whiff of it, it was enough, and if you were in the unfortunate position of being a blogger yourself who is used to having people look at you for what to tweet and retweet next, well, even worse. I learned my lesson with KONY 2012—acts of division among the body are not my cup of tea, no matter what’s in the water.

I sent a draft of a post of political nature to a blogger friend last week along with the question: should I post this? It wasn’t the post itself, though, that made him warn me against posting it, but the subject: “People don’t come to Sayable for this, they come for grace, for encouragement, and for the gospel.” Or something along those lines. I deleted the draft and went on my merry way. In college a creative writing prof quoted William Faulkner in our class saying everyone needed to “learn to murder their darlings in their writing, and for pete’s sake, Lore, would you quit murdering your darlings?” I’ve never been too married to my words.

But if there is one thing that these sort of hurricanes in the blogosphere teach me, it is that we maybe ought to perhaps at least divorce our darlings, sit down quietly, and let the Holy Spirit do what he does best—namely, to teach and guide his habitats into all truth (John 14).

So I’ve been thinking about humility this week, how low can we go, and all that.

John said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” And Paul determined to “boast nothing but the cross.” And I think we could learn a bit more from these apostolic fathers.

At the root of pride is the feeling that we have the corner on the market (or theology, or politic, or semantic), and the price of meat is just going to keep on rising. We feel, in error, that if we do not guard this piece of the pie with everything our mamas gave us, the whole world will go without pie. And what a pity that would be.

But the cross? The cross levels it. It somehow levels the misapplied doctrine, the faulty readings of scripture, and the sinner who can’t stop sinning. We don’t like to say this because we don’t like to murder our darlings. We don’t like to cross out the possibility that upon this doctrine He will build His church. But the truth is He’s building His church and He’s invited you and me to come along—pick up the bricks and slather the mortar. He’s building it with or without us.

He’s building it of people who know the only way to be first is to be last. He’s building it of people who know the difference between close-handed and open-handed theologies. He’s building it of people who will reach out to the least of these (even when the least of these thinks they’re the greatest of these). He’s building it of the little people, and dare I say, the little bloggers and tweeters and facebookers who think more than twice about stamping their feet, calling foul, and jumping on bandwagons, or defending their ilk with wit, sarcasm, and theology.

So maybe you didn’t weigh in this week or maybe you never weigh in or maybe you were hanging laundry, shuffling littles, and clocking in at work this week and never caught a whiff of anything amiss. Whoever you are and wherever, He’s building His church and He’s looking for the lowly and humble to come along with Him.

He’s looking for people willing to die on no mountain but the one on which cross stood tall and offered all: righteousness in Christ alone.

MEASURE OF MISSION

February 10, 2012 — Leave a comment

We measure out cups of flour, oil, bran, molasses and more, careful to follow the recipe, exactly. We are keeping people alive, she tells me. This, her hands brush the tops of the measuring cups, will save lives. I am eight years old, living in a comfortable house in upper-class Bucks County Pennsylvania. The concept of lives needing to be saved is foreign.

But I know how to help.

Carefully measure ingredients. Press the pasty mixture flat into a cookie sheet and then wait. The smell is of burnt granola and some smoky substance I can only assume is the molasses binding that mixture together. We cut the cooled sheet into bars, pack them tightly into wax paper-lined buckets, mark them with the project’s name and ship them off.

This is our once a month commitment to save lives.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that by teaching me to measure baking ingredients my parents were teaching me to measure a life. They were teaching me the worth of a life. Was it worth it to me, for instance, to stand on our wide plank wooden floors, in the comfort of our massive home, for a few hours every month to perhaps save a life in Honduras?

It was.

We are all measuring lives, all of us. We do it unconsciously. We do it culturally. We do it spiritually. We do it physically. We certainly do it emotionally. Whether we are measuring the worth of our neighbor or the worth of a tribe in Papua New Guinea, the worth of a girl behind the counter at the mall or a staff member at our church. We are measuring them carefully, waiting to see if they are worth our investment, our time, or our energy.

The truth is that before we started doling out our apportioned care for anyone, Christ had already completed the transaction. He’d already deemed its worth and it was far beyond what any of us could spare.

But somehow it’s easier for us to see the worth of that tribe in Papua New Guinea, a starving child in Honduras, or even a trafficked woman on the streets of Mumbai, than it is to see the needs of our next-door neighbor or the girl behind the mall counter.

Jesus said, “if you do this to your neighbor, you’re doing it to me” and “love your neighbor as yourself” and that sticks to my ribs like those nutrient bars would stick to the ribs of those children. Whatever I’m doing to my neighbor, or not doing, I’m interacting with Christ in the same way.

And He doesn’t say that to push me into involuntary servitude or slavery, He says that because more than any human who has ever lived has understood, He understands. He gets weights and balances; He understands measurements; He understands worth. He has not asked anything of me that He Himself did not taste. He understands it because in the face of our injustice toward Him, He still gave it all.

What my parents were doing, by bringing a piece of the needs of Honduras to our kitchen once a month was showing me that from our kitchen we could be neighbors with children in Central America. I knew that the oats I was mixing with my own hands would feed the bellies of children who would certainly die without these essential nutrients. I understood that I could not do it all, but I could do something.

As we walk through this year, brushing shoulders with opportunities across the sea and across the street, I want to encourage us to see worth in our neighbors—to see them through the lens of Christ’s all. To measure out worth to them by diving in and serving them in ways that may go unnoticed or unseen. To show them that the love of Christ knows no depth or height or width or measure.

Originally published on the Hope for North Texas blog. 
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THE MEASURE OF MISSION

February 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

If you’re interested, I’m writing over at the Hope for North Texas blog today on the measure of mission: 

We are measuring out cups of flour, oil, bran, molasses and more, careful to follow the recipe exactly. We are keeping people alive, she tells me. This, her hands brush the tops of the measuring cups, will save lives. I am eight years old, living in a comfortable house in upper-class Bucks County Pennsylvania. The concept of lives needing to be saved is foreign… (Read the rest here)