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One of the guys I have the most respect for as a man, a pastor, a writer, a husband and father, and believer, is Jared Wilson. When he emailed me several months ago to ask if I’d consider writing for the new site from Midwestern Seminary, For the Church, I knew it was a place I’d be happy to be serve. There’s nothing on earth I love more than the Church, and so there’s nothing I love more than encouraging and building her up, and to get to do that under the leadership of Jared is a blessing indeed. If you haven’t yet checked out For the Church, I’d encourage you to do so. I pray the content there encourages and strengthens you as you serve your local church. Here’s my first post there: Lip Service. 

. . .

If we say we believe God is sovereign, but spend our days wringing our hands and fretting, we’re just doing lip-service to theology.

If we say we believe God is love, but spend our days berating ourselves and others, we’re just doing lip-service to theology.

If we say we believe God is faithful, but try to control outcomes and people, we’re just doing lip-service to theology.

Continue reading. 

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Adrienne Rich said, in one of my favorite poems,

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.

and that feels a lot like life sometimes. At least life right now. There’s some wreckage I don’t want to explore. I don’t want to use my words to find the treasures that prevail here. I’d rather just be heartbroken and walk through grief as it comes, instead of purposing with my words.

A friend told me a few weeks ago my life had been like a fallow field for a long time. Furrowed, plowed, ready for seeding, but still standing empty, waiting for the proper time. She was referring to a plethora of good, good things happening in my life right now—seeds and shoots and promises coming through from the dark, dark earth. But with growth also comes pain and these growing pains hurt worse than almost anything I’ve known.

I’m weeping as I write those words because I can’t talk about all the things weighing on me right now—that’s part of the wreckage and the seeds: both things pressed in deep places, hidden from the public eye.

The difference between wreckage and seeds though, is that one falls apart and produces nothing, and one falls apart and produces everything. And it is important to remember the difference and to keep on remembering it.

Something is breaking apart in every one of our lives. Something is giving away and changing and shifting and breaking. Some of it feels like wreckage and some of it is a seed. Some of it we need to dive straight into to see the treasures which prevail, and some of it we need to trust to the deep, dark earth and the sovereign hand of God who makes everything produce fruit in its season (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

The plan was to leave Texas almost as soon as I came to her. Six months, see if God was real, and if he could spare any love for a doubter like me, then move on, vagabond my way through life. I figured God (if he was real) could manage an oddity like me better than any one place could.

Five years later: I’ve tried to leave her a half a dozen times but she’s kept me, like the song goes, “Not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway.” A year ago I sobbed on my bedroom floor before signing another year lease. It felt like signing a death warrant. Another hot summer, another suburban home, another brown winter, another flat year.

But God turns our mourning to dancing—or something like it.

. . .

I died a thousand little deaths throughout 2013 and 2014. Every one of them seemed a no to me and my desires. But the best of them were no to my lesser desires and I see that now. I have wanted a great many things, but too often I take the leftovers, certain God means for me to suffer until I am left with only Him.

A hundred decisions loomed in front of me over the past two years and I, like Rebekah, packed my little idols in my bags just in case. I worshipped the lesser gods of marriage, vocation, location, and more. I was certain God wouldn’t give me all the desires of my heart, so I settled for the scraps of just one, maybe two.

But something unexpected happened: the more I submitted to being all here, all in, Texan for as long as God would call me to be, I began to love Texas. Love for her people, her places, and specifically my place in her—it all began to grow. It was small at first, imperceptible glimmers, but it grew stronger and stronger until the thought of ever leaving seemed unlikely. I went to Israel last fall and the strongest emotion I felt while there was not wonder at the land upon which Jesus once walked, but homesickness for my own land.

For Texas?

Yes.

And then in January I got an email, a job offer. It was not in the location I wanted, not in the church I wanted, nothing of what I thought I wanted, and all of the peace I imagined was possible. I did not trust my heart or desires, though, and passed it through to those who know my propensity to worship lesser gods. Elders and pastors and mentors who know my proclivities, my impulsivity, and, more than anything, know the Holy Spirit. The more I let it slip from my grip, the more it seemed God was saying, “No, daughter, this, this is good.”

. . .

I stood in that church building a few weeks ago, the sunlight streaming through the windows of the hundred year old sanctuary, the Rocky Mountains to the west outside, the liturgy spoken and sung by all of us, small families and staff on all sides of me who’d done nothing but bless me and answer every question posed to them over four days—and I worshipped God. I worshipped God because he heard all my prayers and during all my attempts to thwart Him and take the lesser portion, He was still storing up the greater one.

This is an announcement of sorts, true: I have been handed the description to a job that only existed in my dreams and been told, “It is yours if you want it.”

But this is also a proclamation of sorts: the lesser gods will always be there clamoring for my worship.

They will be prevalent in Denver, Colorado at Park Church where I will work with their leadership team to train and make disciples in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. They will be there as much as they have been here in Dallas, Texas where the Lord brought me to the beautiful and full knowledge of Him, trained me in discipleship, taught me submission, and helped me to see He did not bring me out to the desert to die, but to truly learn that man does not live by bread alone—or all the feasts we think will bring us life—but we live on Him and His words and His water and His plans.

Those lesser gods do not always seem like the worst decisions. Mostly often they are just the less than good decisions. I have not fully learned that lesson and I suspect God will always be teaching it to me. But I have learned this lesson: I cannot thwart His purposes. He will not let me live on the crumbs while a feast awaits on the table above.

. . .

If you’re my family at The Village, I sent this in a letter to the elders last week: I’ve been more loved here than I could have ever imagined. The Lord saved me here and taught me more about the gospel, studying the Word, loving discipleship, loving women, submitting to leadership, loving discipline, than I could have known was possible. The Village Church is honestly the most humbling and beautiful common grace I’ve experienced, and you’ve each played a role in that. I’ll never stop being grateful for it and each of you. My heart is broken to leave, but expectant to go.

I mean that for the rest of you too. My heart is broken to leave this place and I’ll be more mourning than rejoicing for the next two months as I prepare to go. I want to end my time here well, which means prioritizing the girls at #highchapelhouse and my immediate community of friends and leaders. We will have a come-one-come-all going away party at Roots Coffeehouse the first week of June, details forthcoming. Thanks for understanding my limitations over the next few months. And thank you for loving me. At the end of one meeting about this with some elders and pastors here, one of them said, “You can always come home,” and my heart knew that home was Texas and you, so thank you. 

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God,

I did it again. I dug my own cistern and it broke. I sought solace in the arms of a whore, a cheap imitation of the real thing, a creature instead you, the Creator. I long for the comfort of independence, making my own fortune, building my own kingdom, because I long for respite today instead of someday.

I’m hungry for heaven and for the bread of life, but today I just want to be full, to stop feeling the pangs of hunger in my heart. I ache with all the somedays of our faith. The tomorrows and better days ahead.

Jesus, you said You gave us water that would make us never thirst again, but the only water I know is the kind I need every day, again and again. I don’t understand a quench ever being filled and my heart ever being full. I have no concept of fullness, only hunger or the gluttony that makes us fat on the feast of earthly sweets. I starve myself or I indulge myself—fearful of living in the tension of what you have already done and what you have not yet done.

I do not trust you.

And I do trust you.

And I don’t know how to live in that ever expanding, ever closing gap.

The more I know you, the more I trust you, but the more I trust you, the more you give me to trust you with and the more I have to know and trust you. It is an endless cycle, this hunger. I eat of your words, they taste sweet and fill me, but I am oh so hungry again and the temptation to eat a lesser feast is always before me.

Fill me to full, Lord, to overflowing, and empty me of me in that process. Empty me, train my palate and my hunger so the only one for whom I thirst is you. Give me a taste for you.

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

John Piper

I.

I am not like those Israelites in the wilderness, the ones who handed over their riches to make the likes of a golden calf. I clutch to my idols in their original form. I do not trust a maker of any sorts with my valuables, I trust only myself. I adorn myself in them.

II.

I wonder sometimes if all the Israelites gave Aaron their jewelry on that day, or if there were some who held back because an idol in their hands was better than one melded with a hundred thousand other idols.

III.

Remember when Rachel hid the idols of her father’s household in her satchel? She carried them with her just in case. Just in case God failed her, just in case He didn’t come through, just in case the unseen God wasn’t as dependable as the seen gods. Just in case He didn’t give her what she wanted.

IV.

Sometimes the only way you can spot an idol is to have it wrenched from your hands. Empty hands can reveal idolatry.

V.

Sometimes idols in the ancient Near East were the big kind you envision in temples, massive stone or golden statues with people prostrate around them in every form. But common ones were small ones, pocketed bits of clay and wood and rock—things they could pull from their pockets at a moments notice, to fill the void, cure boredom, feel validated, and seek answers from.

VI.

The message to the idol worshipper is the same as to the law worshipper, the same to the younger son as to the elder, the same to the Gentile as to the Jew: that idol and that law will only reveal your need for a Savior and a Father.

VII.

Underneath the gold and silver plated idols was the stuff of the earth: clay, wood, rock. All that glitters is not gold. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”
Isaiah 30:22

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The Christian life, I am finding, does not grow easier with time. I somehow thought it would. I envisioned the sage men and women we would become and find only that my flesh is just as prone to wandering today as it was four years ago or four months ago or four minutes ago.

I am like the many disciples who turned back in John six, but I am also like Simon who said, “To whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” But I take note of the verses before, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” because my grumbling heart wants to be sure God knows how difficult the way of the cross is.

“Oh yes, I know,” he says. “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” The only access is the Father and even then only to whom it has been granted.

This is a hard saying?

How can I believe this?

How can anyone, really, believe this and keep believing it and not stop believing it when the road is long and the grime is real and the cross is heavy and the suffering is present? How do we “believe and come to know that He is the Holy One of God?” when all around us is clamoring for us to lose faith and disbelieve?

No other vice will grip my heart as tightly as doubt, which seems strange because the essence of doubt is to let go. But to whom else can I go? Who else offers not only eternal life but words of eternal life? Eternal life is not so appealing a siren call that I could not shrug my shoulders at it and live as I please today. But the words of eternal life? I live on those words. Every one of them. When betrayal of Him seems easy and his offer of life with Him seem distant, it is his words that bring me back to his sweetness, goodness, and favor.

To whom else can I go in the midst of swirling confusion, painful realization, loss of control, and the presence of fear? He has the sweetest words of eternal life and they taste good.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Psalm 119:103

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“Christian spirituality means living in the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life—children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships —and experiencing them as an act of faith. God wants all the material of our lives.” 
—Eugene H. Peterson, 
The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction

Dear Father,

I confess it’s a lot easier to just let the elements of life carry me instead of experiencing them as what they are: expressions not only of my faith in you, but your entrustment of them to me to navigate in you. Life comes at me with both hands raised, ready for a fight, and I confess, I am not a fighter and so I stand there and take the pummeling.

If the Christian life means living in the mature wholeness of the gospel than that means at some point I have to let my requests rise to you and then let them fall back down in the form of today. Today you have answered every prayer with this situation. This home. These lives. This life. This work. These people. This church. This locale. Every prayer I have prayed has been answered in today’s portion, even if the answer still seems so far off. And even if the answer is not what I wanted.

Jesus, not only do you want all the material of my life, you are the maker of the material of my life—and I confess, I wonder what you’re making with this mess sometimes. My faith in you is strong, but my sight in life is dim and I don’t know how to walk in the dark very well.

Would you light my path, today and tomorrow and all the days I can see? Would you light them with your word instead of my worries, your cross instead of my circumstances, your love instead of my life? Would you help me experience today as an act of faith that you still hold tomorrow, and all the troubles and delights it holds? It’s in your name that I live and move and breathe, and it’s in your name that I pray, Amen.

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I am more poet than preacher, but I gravitate toward epistles when I am discouraged because my soul craves structure—but what it really needs is rest. I have learned that in times when I feel insecure or unsafe, what I need is not to be corralled, but to be wooed. The Psalms remind me that I am dust and that I am loved as dust.

Robbie Seay has been slowly releasing EPs of Psalms put to music over the past year and as each one came I found such comfort in them. This week he released the full album and it’s been streaming constantly for me. Robbie and his wife Elizabeth have been such an encouragement to me over the past few years and I wanted to see if I could help get the full album out.

Robbie is giving away five signed copies of the new album to five of you. Enter below three ways. Winners will be contacted after contest ends and we’ll mail the albums out to you.

I hope it blesses you as much as it has blessed me. If you’d rather just purchase the album and support the ministry of the Seays,  I’d highly recommend you do that.

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Once a painting professor assigned me a project in which I could only use two colors for the piece. He told me, “Constraints are good. They teach you to use your imagination.” As in art, so in life.

Today is one of those days where from the blare of the alarm until this present second I feel the demand of living. It’s nothing unusual, it’s just life and the pressing of it. Demands, needs, hopes, tears, fears—some mine, most not, but belonging to those I love and therefore still mine. I don’t know how to use my imagination when what’s in front of me just seems to be so mundane and monochromatic, constraining and constricting. I feel kept and caught, and I’m questioning the great Artist for giving me this palette with which to paint my canvas of life.

David knew what I feel, and maybe what you feel too,

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”

David felt a very real constraint—the threat of death on his life—and maybe my constraints today aren’t of equal kind, but I think they’re similar.

Living within constraints means dying to myself and my desires, my demands and my mood. It means the temptation to run away, to live outside the boundaries God has given me and put me in, will be pressing and constant. Psalm 16 says the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. That means God has designed this day perfectly within His bounds and it is a delight—I only need to trust the artist who made it so.

Where are you finding yourself stretching at the boundary lines today? Where are you frustrated with the lot you’ve been given? The lack of finances? The lack of marriage prospects? The lack of children? The presence of children? The office building? Instead of running away or standing on the edge, stretching for more, why not live within today’s constraints and trust the Maker of heaven and earth?

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Some of my best childhood memories were spent watching historical documentaries. My parents had a great appreciation for history, and we lived in a part of the US overflowing with early American history, so access to it was easy. No one in our family (I am the second oldest of eight) was exempt from read-alouds and documentary viewings. I know virtually nothing about Saturday morning cartoons or popular music, but I have a rich, rich appreciation for the lives of ordinary people throughout history. This was an investment my parents made in me and I’m forever grateful for it.

I say all that because this morning I watched the newly released documentary Through the Eyes of Spurgeon. Spurgeon, called the Prince of Preachers, has been a peculiar blessing to me. His love for the word, his affection for Christ, and his depth of struggle, particularly with depression, have all been an encouragement to me in the past few years.

“I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted that I might know how to speak a word in season to one who is weary.”

I am deeply grateful for this man and grateful for this well-made documentary. I wish you would all take the time to watch it. But I also wish, if you are a parent, you would watch it with your children. Maybe watch it in parts, or make it a week-long viewing, but somehow I recommend you do it with them.

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary says this, “It’s as though Spurgeon never lived a boring day in his life, every day was marked by gospel adventure and rigor of gospel service.” The heroes of my childhood were Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette, Betsy Ross and Abraham Lincoln, but how much greater would it have been if my heroes were godly men and women like Charles Spurgeon? What a gospel adventure the man lived and what an example of servitude to Christ.

Watch the full documentary here.

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If you know me in person or follow me on twitter you probably haven’t heard me shut up about this book. A friend lent me her copy at the beginning of the summer and after reading one chapter I bought my own copy. I write in my books and I wanted to write in this one, but even more than that, I knew I was holding something special. Here are three quick reasons Sensing Jesus should be on your list of reads.

1. It is redemptive. Zack Eswine chronicles his journey through sin and failure and does it in a tender not-yet-finished way. It is a breath of fresh air if you are weary of hearing from those who seem to be masters of their material. Nothing he writes is from an arrived position, but a journeyman’s counsel. It is gospel-rich and Jesus rich—almost tangibly.

2. It is impeccably well-written. One thing I encounter more and more in the deluge of books in the Christian market, is that there is a dearth of good writing. Everyone has a message, but hardly anyone does the slow work of craft. That’s partially a publisher’s problem, but partially it’s our problem for grabbing every new book that comes along without considering the value of the written word. Zack is a profoundly refreshing voice in the Christian booksphere.

3. It is a slow read. I still haven’t finished it. Does that surprise you? It’s surprises me. The amount of books that come across my doorstep is copious and I constantly feel the pressure to be reading. Zack’s book has not only revealed the sin in the pressure I feel, but also has not put the pressure on me. It begs to be read slowly and circumspectly. It is not a difficult read, but it is a convicting read. I don’t think you could get past the first chapter without a deep awareness of the human problem and the complexity of shepherding souls—including your own. We need more slow-reads. Books that beg us to check out of the rat race of whatever we indulge in, and remember the simplicity of Christ.

I rarely recommend books this strongly, and even more rarely review books without the author asking me to, but I want everyone I know to read Sensing Jesus. It’s the only thing I’m buying for everyone on my Christmas list. Perhaps because I lack creativity, but more likely because I think this book should be in the hands of any believer. Weary, wise, weak, or winsome? Read this book.

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I’ve written here, more than a decade’s worth of doubts, fears, concerns, questions, deaths, heartbreak, joy, moving, lessons, and learnings. In many ways this place is the very public working out of my salvation. Were you to peruse the archives you would find much poor theology and even more narcissism. This page has been my heart splayed out for anyone to read and I’ve bled myself dry for it.

Last night I said to a friend: sometimes silence is the best sanctification, and I numbered all the things happening in my life right now that I can’t talk about publicly. At least not this publicly.

There’s so much of the blogosphere that lauds transparency and authenticity, but even that is rife with trophy stories and humble brags and I am strangled by the fear that I will join their ranks if I so much as whisper the words aloud. The truth is that even good things bring with them deep breaths and open palms. I do not know how this or that will turn out and I can’t even guess. And I don’t want to give you the opportunity to guess. Because I am selfish? Perhaps. Because I am fearful? For sure. But also because some things are best worked out in quiet, gentle, and still ways. Sometimes our rest is found there, in the stillness, in the peace.

Sometimes writing in this place has been the best sanctification for me. But today silence might be my best sanctification.

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Isaiah 30:15

As promised, here is the link to the full interviews for the singles in leadership series. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think may be encouraged by these interviews. Thank you so much to Sam Allberry, Katelyn Beaty, Andy Herbek, Melissa Wade, Paul Matthies, and Bethany Jenkins (whose interview is going up tomorrow).

Click here to view the PDF or click on the image below.

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bethanyBethany Jenkins is the director of TGC’s Every Square Inch and the founder of The Park Forum. I super appreciate Bethany’s drive and commitment to seeing the Church thrive in their given portion. She lives and works in New York City. You can follow her on twitter at @bethanyjenkins

 

 

1. Do you feel a certain call to remain single or do you have a desire to be married? Why?

I’d love to get married one day. I think marriage is the best way—though not the only way—to be sanctified, and I sure need that! (She laughs.) I also want to get married for the same reason everyone does—to walk through life with someone you love.

2. How are you serving the local church and the Kingdom with your portion of singleness?

Mostly, I think my singleness lets me be present in ways that are more difficult for those who are married. For example, two years ago, some of my closest friends lost their baby. He was only two months old and died of SIDS. Our entire community was, of course, devastated. Although I could tell you hundreds of stories of God’s faithfulness during that time, I’ll say this one thing—being single was a gift. I didn’t have a family to coordinate or people who needed me at home. I could drop everything and just show up. Three of us—two singles and one married—organized probably fifty of our friends to do everything—get flights and hotels for their families, plan their meals, write the funeral service, order flowers, and more. They didn’t lift a finger; they just mourned. Wyatt’s funeral was the first one at Redeemer’s new building. We sang of God’s love as tears ran down our faces. I’m so glad I was single that week.

3. Talk about the process of wrestling, either in the past or continued, with your portion of singleness. What contributed to your confidence in Christ in this season?

Over the years, I’ve had many friends get married, which has really served to demystify marriage for me. Although I’ve seen my married friends buy spacious apartments, have several children, and take amazing vacations, I’ve also walked with them through marital unfaithfulness, loneliness, porn addiction, narcissism, and divorce. I’m so thankful that they’ve invited me into their lives to show me—not just tell me—that marriage won’t solve all my problems. If Christ isn’t sufficient for me when I’m single, he won’t be sufficient for me when I’m married.

4. What is the deepest challenge to you as you do ministry unmarried?

I think all Christians are involved in “ministry” so I wouldn’t say that singleness for me is any different than, say, singleness for my friend who is a lawyer. Singleness is singleness; it’s an equal opportunity employer when it comes to its benefits and challenges. For me, the hardest part about being single is not having someone who is as invested in my life as I am. Yes, I have a loving family and wonderful friends who counsel and advise me. But at the end of the day, I’m the only one who has to live out my decisions. No one is as vested in my life as I am.

5. What is the richest blessing to you in your singleness today?

I get to be a friend to so many people, and I get to have so many friends. In my experience, singleness is not synonymous with aloneness or loneliness. It can be rich, full, and generous. There are times when I wish I were married, when I wish I had a partner-in-crime. (She laughs.) But overall, I’m sure of God’s goodness. As Paige Brown once wrote, “I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date and die an old maid at 93 because God is so good to me. Not my will but his be done. Until then, I am claiming as my theme verse: ‘If any man would come after me, let him …’”