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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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When I was in high school I read the A.W. Tozer quote, “The most important thing about a man is what he thinks about when he thinks about God.” There’s no way I could have known that what I thought about God then, and would think about him for the next decade, would run my shred of faith straight into the ground.

I cannot begrudge my misunderstandings. Sometimes we have to subtract until we’ve reached negative space before we can add what is true and holy and right and good. I would dive back into the depths of darkness once again without a second thought if I knew I would surface with the riches I found in 2010. And those riches?

His character. Namely, what I thought about when I thought about God.

Since 2010 these attributes are my buoys, my buffers, my strong-tower, my defense, my comfort, and my control. When all around me is sinking sand, I know who my God is in His unchangeableness. He is immoveable, unshakeable, ever present, and always good.

Whenever what I think about God is incorrect and it informs how I think about everything else, I sink and quickly. But when my soul feasts on the truths of his character and his attributes, I am sustained. The most important thing about a man is what he thinks about when he thinks about the most important things about God.

Joe Thorn’s new book, Experiencing the Trinity: the grace of God for the people of God, does such a fine and succinct job of displaying God’s character and I hope you’ll consider grabbing one of these small books for yourself. Actually, what I hope you’ll do is what I’ve done with his small book, Note to Self, and buy fifteen copies to give away. So many of us are limping along in our faith, with our eyes set on circumstances or ourselves. How much better to forget ourselves and see Him, robed in truth and beauty, splendor and goodness?

Lift up your eyes to the hills,
where your help comes from,
the maker of heaven and earth!
Psalm 121:1

mydesign

I have always owned a Bible, scribbled and tattered, ignored or forgotten, but always one somewhere. For most of my life my Bibles were reminders of ways I’d fallen short, paged taskmasters holding the ruler of law over my head. I knew they were supposed to contain the words of life, but mostly they felt like death.

It was a surprising conundrum, then, when the words of the Bible that first preached the gospel to me came from the first verse of the first chapter of the first book. Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the girl who loved words suddenly loved the Word.

Whenever people ask me when I was saved, the easy answer is before the foundations of the earth I was known. The more difficult answer is that I don’t know. I don’t have a calendar date, a circled number to celebrate. I do know I did not understand the character of God until a hot night in September of 2010, on the front row seat at my church’s old campus. And, which is perhaps more, it was the first night I understood that I would never understand the character of God. That His character was as limitless as His creation, as limitless as the “beginning.”

In the time it took to read those ten words, words I had known almost the entirety of my life, I knew my life would never be the same. Through the most rudimentary verse, the one every Christian and most non-Christians can quote, the one we have all read on January first a thousand times over, the Lord opened the eyes of my heart and gave me the slightest glimpse of Him.

I cannot explain it. I cannot explain what I was before—someone who had much knowledge and practice of faith—and what I became after that night. But I was changed.

Since then my thirst for the word, not as a map or guide, nor a dictionary or textbook, but as life has never stopped growing. It is the method, the joy, the comfort, the truth, and so much more. In its pages contain the truest things ever existing: the character of God communicated to his people through every generation. Every verse tells of the gospel if we look hard enough, every book shouts of the plan of a master storyteller.

From the beginning until the amen, it gifts God to us and us to God.

And it will change us.

Tonight my church is beginning a series in the book of James and I cannot wait. The book of James is what my parents would make me write, in its entirety, every time my mouth ran away with itself (which was nearly every day for two years of my childhood). Those composition books were filled with angry scribbled transcriptions and I resented my parents for taming my tongue in this way. But now, twenty years later, those words have become life, the discipline of faith and works, patience and action, words and quiet, they point to a more true thing than a curbed tongue. They point to the sanctifying work of a God who takes a very, very long time to grow us up, make things clear, and bring us into paths of life, to Himself.

His word is a lamp to our feet, no matter how far they have to travel. His word is a light to our path, no matter how long it seems to ramble on.

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

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

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

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

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

And here we are, fighting about yoga pants.

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

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

high chapel house

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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Someone asked me how to fall out of love with her ex-boyfriend. “You don’t,” I said. “The problem is not that you love him too much, it’s that you love everything else too little.”

What sets marriage apart from every other relationship is not the love between a man and a woman (although that love is a mystery, who can comprehend it?), it is merely covenant. Love waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows, and there are some days when we barely love ourselves let alone love others. Covenant binds the man and woman together when love seems an impossible venture.

So how do you fall out of love? What if your heart has been broken, your boyfriend didn’t love you back, your girlfriend couldn’t make her ardor match yours? What if you’re the one standing there, empty hearted while they make off with both theirs and yours? In the absence of covenant, how do you fall out of love then?

You don’t.

Oh, there will be some sorting that needs to happen, some grasping and understanding. You will need to be able to discern what about your relationship was idolatrous or lustful and what was good and holy and right and true. You will need to be able to repent for loving the wrong things too much and the right things too little. But you will also need to be able to understand the nature of real love, biblical love, means you cannot stop loving another person, not ever.

The problem is not that we love them too much, but that we love others too little. We do not extend to them the same grace or walk with the same long-suffering. We are perhaps guilty of objectifying or only loving the way someone made us feel—and this is not love, but a cheap counterfeit, flimsy and fleeting, and we ought to fall out of that.

Falling out of love is an anti-Christian idea. Christians must love all the more—even and especially the ones who deserve it the least.

If you are standing somewhere, nursing a broken and bleeding heart, know this: God is willing and working His goodness in that brokenness. But also know this, the way through this is to love others with the same fervor and intensity and selflessness that you brought to your relationship. Nurture them, encourage them, delight in them, enjoy them. As your capacity to love grows, you will find that former flame no longer burning higher than all the others, but a mere light along the path that brought you into the most full and robust love there is. The love of God.

“I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little….No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much—i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserve.” C.S. Lewis

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The muse used to keep me awake at night, pestering me with sentences too lovely to ignore, ideas too undeveloped to leave alone. Every conversation was his food, every challenge his dessert. He was relentless in my ear and eye, every “common bush was aflame” with possibility, every pedestrian thought was flint for his fire. I couldn’t not write. To not write was to not breathe.

The muse bedded himself a year or more ago. He comes out sometimes, when the moon is too lovely to ignore or my breath catches at the end of a poem, but mostly he hides. He is petulant and I want to drag him out, but a muse cannot be dragged.

Anne Lamott says the main work of writing is “butt in chair,” and that is the truest thing I know about writing, but I wonder sometimes if it is not so much the discipline of being still as much as it is the muse can find me better when I am still.

I am so easily distracted, like the Lewis quote everyone always mentions, “playing with mud pies,” ignorant of the offered holiday at sea. The mudpies feel more my style, the distractions, the things I know I can fill my time and energy with, but they mostly steal my time and suck my energy. They are not givers, not like my muse was once a giver. He was generous with his giving.

The muse comes most often when I listen for him and then give him permission to speak and then obey his words, no matter the cost. I have fit myself into a mold of writing because I listen more to the reader than the muse, and everyone says this is what we must do: to be writers we must write to the readers. I love my readers—I love you—but I loved my muse more, selfish as that sounds. I trusted him because I knew him and he knew me and we knew how to make beauty together. I have missed the beauty he knew how to knit and spin and bring, the poetry he made of everything.

“I have this against you,” Jesus said, “that you have forgotten your first love.” He was speaking to the church at Ephesus and speaking of the things they had loved once more than they loved themselves, namely the Holy Spirit. I have not forgotten my first love but I have forgotten how he roams in quiet places and times and is a giver and lover and comforter and helper. And how he helps with even the small things like writing and keeping my butt in my chair and seeing beauty in every thread of this steady, monotonous, straight line of a life.

“To be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond.”

I read this quote in a book and was warmed by its presence. In a complementarian culture it can be tempting to tout the party line, “Men initiate, women respond,” as though the complexities of human nature and God-ordained orders can be summed up in pithy four word statements.

What about all the women we see in scripture who initiated and the men who responded? “Yes, but order!” the dogmatic pounds his fist and says with the full authority of Paul and the early church behind him. But what about Eve, the mother of all living, the nurturer of life (Gen 3:20)? Adam may have planted the seed, but it was Eve who did all the work. Isn’t this the nature of nurturing? And isn’t that also an initiating, sustaining work?

The real work of a woman is to be long-suffering. To see what is—but also what can be, and then to nurture it every step along the way (Prov 31). This is an initiating work if there is one because all around us the message is to stop when the going gets tough, make time for me, to treat ourselves, to omit or abort what is inconvenient. The real work of the feminine woman is to work and to keep and to tend and to pioneer forward in the face of risk and uncertainty and what is frightening (I Pet 3:6).

The real work of the feminine woman is to initiate kingdom work on earthly soil, to sleep by the seeds deep under the dirt, and to burst with anticipation and then at last joy when her work is born (Rom 8:22).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

The truth is that the majority of the 20- and 30-something women in our churches feel this way, too. They may be attending regularly, but they are sitting quietly back out of respect and uncertainty. They wrestle with whether they fit in the church at all anymore.

The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.

So expect to stumble, I tell my son. It’s a sign you’re making progress up the hill. What I don’t tell him, because I think he has to learn this on his own, is how warranted is this fear and trembling. Be careful what you pray for, child. Have a care. There is no grace worth having that comes cheap. These bones are a temple being swept clean and some of them will be scourged.

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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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lovesaves

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re an ambitious lot, you and me. Armed with our five and ten year plans, our budgets, our ideas, our visions. We stockpile shortcuts and wisdom and switchbacks, the fastest and easiest routes to success. We set high goals and adhere to rigorous demands and diets and designs in the pursuit of domination over some thing in our lives. We determine to win.

Yesterday a friend and I talked for a few minutes about the plague of ambition in Christianity. He talked in military analogies and I think I disagreed until we came to an agreement. We agreed, at least, that some of us need to learn to slow down and some of us need to move forward.

In the translation of I Thessalonians 4:11 I have memorized, Paul says to make it our “ambition to live a quiet life and attend to our own business and to work with our hands,” and I love that. Yet it is one of the few times the word ambition is used in the Bible. And every other time it’s used, the word is tied to negative adjective: selfish.

The ambition to the faithful act of quietness, the faithful plot of my own business, the faithful work of my hands—this is an ambition we are less than hopeful about putting on our faith-resumes.

Let’s be ambitiously quiet today. Ambitiously faithful to our plot. Ambitiously working with our hands. Let’s see what God does with the opposite inclination of our society and culture.

Let’s still.

 

This past week an article from the New York Times made the rounds on my social media feed. I thought it was great and wanted to develop the idea a bit for Christians. If you’re interested, here’s the original article and my piece published at Christianity Today.

To Fall in Love, Do This: Mandy Len Catron
We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.

Dating by Q & A: Lore Ferguson
Friendship forces us to see another person as more than what they can offer for us. Friendship grows not by asking questions to gain answers for self, but by saying to one another by virtue of the questions, “I see you and I want to see more of you.”

We don’t seek the answers to protect ourselves or build an arsenal of weapons for future use against one another, but to curate a museum of memorabilia to delight and reflect upon—to be able to say, “Remember when?” and “Look how far we’ve come!” and “Your hopes and dreams have come true!” This friendship as a foundation for marriage can only be, I imagine, a more rich and tender and long-lasting type than any checklist man or woman might deliver. Keep reading…

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