Compassionate Complementarianism: Or Who Should Take out the Trash?

Male female graphicAs Christians, we want to embrace biblical truth and make it “look right” in our homes, friendship and workplaces.  But what happens when gender roles become the focus rather than compassionate, humble love?

Over at Redeemer Church we’re starting a new blog series today that talks about stuff like this.  You can read my first post here.

Enjoy your day!

Sheree

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I Am Ananias

You know the feeling: you’re sitting in church on Sunday morning trying to stay attentive to the message. You make it through an interesting opening illustration or explanation of today’s topic…and then he starts to pray. You really want to pay attention but you find yourself looking forward to lunch out or realize you forgot something you were supposed to bring for a friend.

Then he says something that kinda jolts you back to the sermon.

That happened to me on Sunday. Our church is doing a series on the Book of Acts and Benny’s passage this past Sunday was the one about Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11. My thoughts were wandering….

“You see,” Benny said. “I am Ananias.”

I can’t do it justice but over at the Redeemer Church blog Jesse is talking about what else was said that morning.

Take a minute to go there. The church blogs are always shorter than mine and you can find it here.

Happy Birthday, Redeemer Church!

Send off Sunday at Metro Life Church: January 1, 2012

Send off Sunday at Metro Life Church: January 1, 2012

Celebrating one-year birthdays is always fun. Typically, the baby is now starting to reach some fun milestones: walking or nearly walking; feeding themselves (kinda); saying a few recognizable words; being entertained with toys; and interacting with other children. Parents often start to realize their little one is becoming a toddler and with this realization comes a mixture of emotions. Where did the year go? He/she isn’t a baby anymore! Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were bringing a newborn home from the hospital? And it typically hits them that the little one who used to love being held now wants to get down —  which means exploring, making messes, slamming closet doors on their fingers and fighting with other kids over toys.

Our first Sunday! January 8, 2012

Our first Sunday! January 8, 2012

This month we celebrated the first birthday of Redeemer Church. And I’m having some of the same thoughts that I did when my kids had just turned one.

The year has flown by and the changes and memories have been many. We’re in our third Sunday morning location and have welcomed new friends only to tearfully say goodbye when jobs took them away.  We’ve grown together through worship, biblical fellowship, picnics, birthdays and sharing tears over painful experiences. Some of us who don’t live in the Lake Nona area are currently packing to move to new houses and re-experiencing the mixture of excitement and loss as the reality of life with a new church sets in. We’ve been challenged and convicted by preaching that has stirred our faith, reminded us of God’s faithfulness and convicted us of sin.

A quick move to a Martial Arts Studio called "Ultimate Power" :-)

A quick move to a Martial Arts Studio called “Ultimate Power” 🙂

And we are experiencing one-year-old growing pains. While we’re grateful for the Martial Arts studio owners that have allowed us to rent their facility, it’s not in our target area and folks have a challenging time finding us. When the kids blew pretend horns a few weeks back to bring down the walls of Jericho during their lesson, those who were listening to the message all heard and smiled, wondering what the yelling was about. Because the church plant happened so quickly without adequate time to ramp up, many of us still live a distance away and are finding the expense and time of commuting challenging. We’ve been a church long enough now for some of the “newness” to wear off, which means the offenses and disappointments Benny warned us last year would surely come are happening. In fact, this past week someone told Benny they weren’t feeling cared for by us during a difficult season through which they are currently walking. (So sad….)

First Picnic January 2012: We did this for them.

First Picnic January 2012: We did this for them.

We are one year old. We’re making progress but our steps are sometimes unsteady. We know where we want to go but aren’t completely sure how to get there. We trip over each other and are tempted to grab friendship and significance from someone who has what we want. When new folks come we don’t always do a good job of being sensitive to them not getting our inside jokes or wanting to feel a part of the months prior to finding us. Yes, our flaws, sin patterns and weaknesses are being exposed. No surprise.

Opening Sunday: Easter 2012. Love my pastor.

Opening Sunday: Easter 2012. Love my pastor.

Yet it’s all good. Good when someone at Community Group responds in an unhelpful way to a friend’s confession then humbly asks to be reminded if they do so again. Good when the pastor and his wife don’t express adequate care to a church member who is honest enough to say so. Good when a special needs child escapes from Children’s Ministry again and the church is endeared to him all the more. Good when people realize that participating in this new church is hitting them in the wallet and on the calendar and yet they continue to serve with joy. Good when a married couple is in conflict and they agree to bring up their fight to their Community Group, then leave feeling helped and loved.

Being a part of something new has been fun. Meeting new people and hearing how they found us builds our faith that God can lead people to a little church that meets in an out-of-the-way Martial Arts studio. Watching God knit hearts together for the mission of reaching the area with the gospel makes the money and time and sacrifice more than worth it. Watching little guys stacking chairs and little girls offering to help mothers with their babies to “serve the church” warms my heart.

Soon to become home.

Soon to become home.

And soon I will live there. I’ll shop at grocery stores and eat in restaurants with people God has providentially put there along with me and my church family. We’ll join the YMCA and my grandkids will play soccer and football and basketball with my neighbor’s kids. We’ll open our home for worship nights, game nights and times of biblical fellowship over food. We hope to invite neighbors in for coffee and offer to help when we see moving trucks down the street. Children will mess up our yard and stain our carpet and drop our dishes. People we haven’t yet met will be invited to look for the blue roadside signs that remind them that Redeemer Church is here to serve the community. Most of them will never visit but, by God’s grace, some will.

I pray they will enjoy meeting our one-year-old. I love her. This little one is the Bride of Christ; one of the local churches He died to see born. She’s young and immature. Just learning to walk. Making messes. Starting to talk and sometimes not saying the right thing. But so much fun.

Happy Birthday, Redeemer Church! I’m looking forward to what year number two brings for you!

What is the Church to You?

Gretta was a self-made woman. She was raised by a single mom who had to sometimes work two jobs to support the family. As the oldest of the three, Gretta was responsible at a young age for her siblings. Her upbringing prepared her to be competent and capable.

She went to college on an academic scholarship and graduated with a Marketing degree. Before long, Gretta was working for a large company making good money; far more than her mother ever made. She climbed the corporate ladder while making her way through several relationships until she and Chad married. Sadly, his substance abuse and unwillingness to be faithful to Gretta resulted in a dicey divorce that left her more committed than ever to rely on no one…but herself. Being raised in the church provided her with some security that God cared. But a demanding schedule didn’t allow time for the church thing.

Mostly because she thought of the church as a building decent people should go to once a week or so.

One of the often overlooked aspects of living a Christian life of costly obedience to God is the place the church holds in the equation. Last Sunday Benny preached a message called, “The Church and the Purposes of God.” In it he provided a flyover of the history of God’s relationship with His people that illustrated the theme of his sermon: “God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made for His own.” From the Garden through the Old Testament to the time of Christ until He returns to take His chosen to the city He is preparing for us, God has always had a people of His very own. He still does.

The church isn’t a pretty building with a white steeple; an institution; a place people go to silence their conscience or pay God off by putting money in the offering; a social club or Sunday morning ritual. The church is a gathering of beloved followers of the only God who stooped down to die so we could know Him. It’s not an organization but an organism. Alive. Vibrant. Oozing with life, mentoring, service, tears, compassion, wrongdoing, forgiveness, training in godliness, gift deployment and doing life together. And it’s comprised of flawed and broken people like Gretta.

The problem is Gretta doesn’t know she needs the church and it needs her. She needs a place where she can be regularly taught that Jesus Christ didn’t just come down to save and forgive, but resides within to help and sustain. A place she can use her many gifts to help, encourage and mentor others. A spiritual family she can laugh and cry with; brothers and sisters to help bear the burden of sadness over the divorce and check to see how she’s doing after an exhausting business trip. Where friends can show her that loyalty and faithfulness still happen. Where children can sit in a lap she has no hope of filling with someone who looks like her. And where she can risk being open with her temptations to sin with a married man who is giving her the attention for which she longs — but thinks she’s too “used” to get from a stand up guy who probably isn’t out there anyway.

You can be a Christian and not be a part of a church, just like you can be a Christian and not do other things the Bible requires. Once we experience saving faith and have been declared not guilty by God, nothing will separate us from His love. Yet to allow anything (schedule, past negative experiences, flawed fellow believers, work, sleep, kids sports, leisure) to prevent us from consistent involvement in the place God has chosen as a primary means of our growth and connection to other Christians is simply near sighted.

My involvement in Redeemer Church isn’t because my husband is the pastor. Okay, I’ll admit it. There have been numerous times over the years when I would have skipped a meeting or event (or two, or three, or twenty) if pride in my reputation hadn’t made me think my absence might have reflected negatively on my husband. But everyone, not just pastors wives, has to make costly decisions to choose time with the people of God over other things, just like we also have to choose going to work or doing laundry or keeping a dentist appointment when we don’t feel like it.

Going on Sunday mornings, to weekly Community Groups, to picnics and baby showers and lunch after the meeting and worship nights with Redeemer Church is a priority to me because I’m God’s daughter, not because I’m Benny’s wife. It’s also because God has chosen to dwell among His people when the church gathers.

Yes, He lives in each of us individually and we could spiritually survive on a desert island.

But we were made to live in community where love, trust, forgiveness, instruction, worship, service and persevering love gives us the opportunity to be like the triune God who Himself lives in constant fellowship as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. If God doesn’t live in isolation, why should Gretta?  Or me? Or you?

Author and pastor Paul Tripp says: “The Bible speaks of Christian experience as deeply and expansively and comprehensively relational. We were not hardwired to live this Christian experience by ourselves.  If you are going to grow and be the instrument of growth in others, you have to understand that I move toward you not because I trust you, but knowing we’re both broken and this is potentially messy. I move toward you because there is hope for us because of the cross.”

Costly obedience means being willing to agree with God that living in community is His wise plan. It’s a pricey plan. It requires me to say no to autonomy and hiding my sin; to sleep or Sunday morning leisure; and to thinking I can figure out life for myself rather than humbly soliciting the counsel, correction, assessment and friendship of others.

You see, for forty years I’ve been a part of churches where God has used the teaching and relationships to change me. Otherwise, I am Gretta. Without an understanding of what the Bible teaches about the church, I would only selectively open my life and heart to others. I would choose to work through my hurts and temptations alone, opening my heart to anyone only after I’ve come to a solution. I would choose self-reliance over healthy interdependence on other flawed sinners any day if God hadn’t given me a vision for His church.

Costly obedience, though, means I choose to live in community with others. Even when I don’t feel like it.

Last Night’s Surprise

Yesterday I mentioned three topics that I’ll be pursuing on this blog, which will start next week.

But today I want to share something really personal the Lord did for me last night…

Benny and I were at our weekly Community Group (our small group that is a part of Redeemer Church). Benny has been leading us through a season of learning what small group ministry at our church should look like. One of the things we are trying to do is learn how to create an atmosphere of warmth, care and compassion that invites folks to openly share the real-life things through which we are walking. Having the “same care one for another” (1 Corinthians 12:25) attitude can best happen when people are free to open up their lives to one another without concern that they’ll be lectured or that someone will try to help with a fix-it, try this, or this worked for me approach. (How often have I done that to people?!?!)

After some meaningful interaction about upcoming mission trips for two of our group members, Benny asked if there was anything anyone is walking through for which they could use help and perspective.  I waited to see if anyone else would quickly speak up. When no one did I welcomed the chance to get perspective on something that’s been churning in my heart and mind.

I talked about the recent decision to invite Benny’s mom to move to Florida to live with us. Jewel is a sweet and generous woman whose escalating health issues are requiring her to leave her quiet life and sizeable home out of state to move in with us. While I welcome the opportunity to love and care for this dear woman, my heart has been restless and I didn’t know why.

I assumed it was selfishness. Just when Benny’s and my home is nearly empty (something I both dread and welcome at the same time!), I find myself having to consider the substantial lifestyle changes that bringing a elderly and needy person into our lives will require. As I started opening up my heart to the group, tenderly probing questions came my way.

Before long, tears were falling. To be the recipient of such tender care touched me deeply. The questions moved from the potential of selfishness to areas I had not considered in my weeks of prayer and conversations with Benny.  I enjoyed the benefits of being a part of the body of Christ where “the eye can’t say to the hand, I have no need of you” (I Corinthians 12:21). We are designed by God to live in community and to reap the benefits of having people in our lives that can see in us what we can’t see in ourselves.

I learned some things about myself last night:

  • Considering living with and caring for my mother-in-law is reminding me of how much I miss my dear mom.  When two of the ladies mentioned that it seemed to them that I am grieving the loss of my mother all over again, I was surprised…but the unstoppable tears that came convinced me they were right.
  • While my heart is eager to welcome Jewel into our home, I’m fearful about this changing our family dynamic. On a regular basis My People (as I affectionately call them) are in our home for both scheduled and spontaneous times eating, messing, playing, cheering and being loud for any number of other reasons. Benny’s mom has lived a quiet, scheduled and immaculate life for decades.  I’m worried that in order to bless her I will spend family gathering reminding people big and small to be quiet, still and tidy.
  • I am selfish. As others were wisely helping me to see my grief, anxiety and misplaced pressure to change how our family does life together, God was confirming in my heart that selfishness is alive and well. I have lived decades serving and caring for others and, honestly, a part of me thinks I’ve paid my dues and deserve some time off. As we talked last night I voiced my flawed, broken and sinful heart: “It feels like God is requiring me to serve my whole life and keep serving until I die.”

Out of the abundance of the heart my mouth spoke (Luke 6:45). Hearing myself so easily say those words was both convicting and freeing. Do the words I uttered sound familiar to you? Remind you of anyone?

Today my heart is lightening because I’m seeing that God is giving me an opportunity to be like Christ, who served His whole life and kept serving till He died.  Because He paid the ultimate price and served ME as each drop of blood dripped onto the ground beneath the cross, I can serve my mother-in-law. I can make her food; take her to doctor appointments; answer questions I just did minutes ago; be the one to respond to calls for help from the bathtub so her son won’t have to; do some extra cleaning because it will bless her; and, if necessary, not choose the house I prefer when we move because it wouldn’t be the best floor plan for her.

And I can also warn her that the house is about to get loud because eleven adorable little people are coming with parents who can be just as loud as they are. Hopefully she will have a nice room where she can retreat and perhaps turn up the tv a little louder to drown out some of the noise of a family who will always be wonderfully and joyfully loud.

I can do this only because Jesus Christ sacrificed far more for me. He isn’t asking me to do anything He didn’t both do and provide the power for me to imitate.

Thinking of having a old lady in my house does reopen the wounds of losing Mom twelve years ago and, yes, I’m  afraid of what this change will mean. Yet because the church was being the church last night, I know and understand myself better.

Mostly, though, I’m reminded of who God is. Faithful. Comforting. Gracious. Good. And able to help me repent of selfishness and grow in love.

I’m freshly grateful today for Him and for His bride.

The Gospel in Real Life

Last Sunday Benny preached on 1 Corinthians 3: 1-15 and 4:5. It’s the section that talks about those who followed Paul or Apollos, both of whom God used to plant and water — but “only God gives the growth.”

His point was that God uses ordinary people to make an inordinate (“disproportionately large” according to the dictionary) difference. While human effort is needed and valuable, only God can make something grow.

This was a timely word of encouragement for our new church. Those of you who have frequented my blog since it started this past January know that we started Redeemer Church that month. It’s hard to believe that was over 9 months ago!

A lot has happened since then. God has brought new friends to us; some have stayed to join with us while others haven’t. People are serving heroically each week — unloading sound equipment, chairs and children’s ministry supplies from a truck and quickly making a martial arts studio into a place of worship. And weekly small groups that started meeting just months ago are experiencing depths of biblical fellowship and mutual care that are an answer to our prayers for Him to build a community of grace among us.

Last night we tidied our home (where one of our Community Groups meet) and left to take our 18-year-old daughter out for her birthday. When we came home some of the group members were still munching on snacks. One of the ladies approached me with a hug and said, “This was a really good meeting.”

That could have meant many things. But what I later learned is that the recipient of the care, ministry, compassion, counsel and prayer that night was my oldest son: the group leader…and some of the most meaningful ministry came from his former employee, Tony.

You see, Tony left employment with Josh on not-so-good terms. Both men made mistakes and asked to get with their pastor to work it through. Benny wasn’t needed. They got together, asked forgiveness of one another, then resumed their loving friendship.

That’s the gospel at work in the lives of flawed and broken men who love truth.

The outworking of the gospel in their lives was that last night Josh was hurting. As the group leader, he humbled himself and admitted his need for help and care. And his former employee was there to respond with his own humble and gracious response. This group is learning that leaders are also weak and needy, and that every member of the group is a vessel through whom God can demonstrate His compassion and love.

A group member, touched by this moment, took this pic last night of Tony (left) praying for Josh.

At Redeemer Church we’re learning that God really does use ordinary people to do some pretty amazing things. Even bosses and employees who don’t handle their relationship well and end up parting ways professionally can forgive one another and extend grace during times of need.

Only God can do that.

Benny encouraged us on Sunday that what we’re doing as a young church is “not about our effectiveness to package the truth but our faithfulness to preach it.”  I’m grateful that while we were out celebrating with our daughter, a group of folks were meeting at our house faithfully preaching the hope of the gospel to my son.

What joy to watch God doing His work.  He’s causing our new church to grow — not primarily in numbers but in image-bearing, gospel-saturated love.  He is answering our prayers to become a community of grace where really ordinary people are being used by God to do inordinate stuff.

Kristin’s Story

On Friday I mentioned I had a story for you. It’s a story about what “speaking [gospel] truth in love” (Eph 4:15-16) can look like in real life.

Last Thursday we had Community Group (our church’s small group ministry) in our home. This is not the group we typically attend. In fact, it was our first time with them since our new church started them two months ago. Benny opened the meeting by reviewing the purpose of our groups: to grow in biblical fellowship by learning how to incarnate the love and hope of Christ to one another. After some brief comments he asked if anyone in the group had anything happening in their lives for which they wanted help.

After a brief pause, Kristin (not her real name) spoke up. Because she is new to both Christianity and to the group, I was impressed by her humility and the obvious grace she had witnessed in the group the prior time she had attended. Who would so easily open up their life to a group of people she doesn’t know well — unless she had witnessed the compassionate care she now desired to personally experience?

Kristin humbly shared concerns and disappointments about her marriage to Scott (who wasn’t present) but did so without putting him in a bad light. She started by communicating her eagerness to focus on her own weaknesses because she understands the only person she has any control over changing is herself. I didn’t know this young woman, but I was already inspired.

As she described weaknesses in how she and Scott communicate, my heart was warmed when Benny and other men in the room identified with Scott. This prevented Scott from being “the bad guy” as several husbands empathized with his responses and thinking, and wives admitted they struggled similarly to Kristin. What grace.

Group members also asked helpful, compassionate questions about her struggles. She responded to each with gut-level honesty. As a young woman expecting her second child in less than two years, it became apparent that she is in a tough season. Martial strife and anger, pregnancy nausea, fatigue, and financial stress are taking their toll on this new Christian.

“Sometimes I get so upset I just have to leave. So I go outside, sit in my car and read my Bible. And God leads me to something that helps me to know what needs to be fixed in me. I can’t fix my husband but I know God can fix me.”

How inspiring that such a young Christian facing weighty challenges could be so open and have such a healthy dose of self-suspicion! She is also running to God, rather than becoming bitter that becoming a Christian didn’t solve all her problems. Amazing. Individuals in the room communicated how inspired they were by her humility. Even her honesty wasn’t without an understanding disposition toward a husband toward whom she regularly struggles with disappointment and anger.

Then someone asked Kristin if she felt God’s biggest priority was to “fix” her.

You see, Kristin grew up in a religious system where doing or praying the “right” thing was a focus. That night she wanted to know what she needed to do to change. Her desire to focus on herself rather than her husband is impressive, but the fact is their marriage is hard. They are both suffering from patterns of sin in themselves and their spouse. They’re weary. Frustrated. Angry. Disappointed. Financially strapped. Young and inexperienced. And another baby is coming soon.

When someone asked Kristen what one thing she most wanted to see change in her marriage she said, “Our communication. Even when we’re sitting together on the couch watching TV I feel alone. I just want him to listen to me. To care about what I’m saying. To understand what I’m going through. But my overreactions and anger aren’t helping. I understand why he doesn’t want to talk to me sometimes because our conversations start with me being angry.”

A woman in the room went back to Kristin saying she needed to be “fixed” by God.

“Kristin,” she began, “You obviously see that your angry outbursts and over reactions to situations are hurting yourself and your marriage. And you’re right. But God is helping you to see this and it’s an evidence of His grace that you have eyes to see the affects your sin patterns are having. Yet I’m not sure God’s priority right now is to fix you. I think what might be most important to Him is for you to know He loves you.”

Kristin needed to hear that what she is looking for — attention, affection, a listening ear, comfort, companionship — will never ultimately come from Scott. Yes, Scott needs to grow. By God’s grace, he will learn how to more tenderly care for his wife. But chances are that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Two of the ladies (representing me, too!) were able to share how common her and Scott’s struggles are by admitting similar temptations to anger and criticalness.

And even if Scott changes, God is the only One who will always love her; always be available to listen to her; always care about what she says; always accept her. Because of His death on the cross, she is forever loved and cherished, even though she gets angry and has become bitter toward her husband.

As these thoughts were shared, Kristin began to cry.

“I came tonight hoping I could get help. I thought that people would tell me I need to stop nagging and being so angry at Scott, which is true. But God is saying He loves me even though I’m sinning so much? That just makes me love Him more.”

Oh, the hope that gospel truth brings.

Speaking the truth in love to Kristin means telling her the whole truth. The gospel truth. It’s true that her pattern of sinful anger and bitterness is eating away at her love for Scott (like his sins are equally hurting their marriage). It’s true that she needs to change. But it’s also true that God loves her. He looks on her with favor, acceptance and tender care. He is never angry or frustrated or wearied by her talking or impatient or selfish. And His power is at work in her to help her to go from seeing her sin to experiencing real and lasting change.

Scott will never be God to her. There is only One who is capable of loving her endlessly and perfectly.

As peace settled onto Kristin, one of the guys spoke up. He shared that unlike Scott (and other husbands in the room…smile) God always wants to hear her talk and that she didn’t need special prayers to communicate with Him. “Just talk to Him like you did to us. Pour out your heart to Him and He will always listen. Don’t feel you have to say it the ‘right’ way.”

“How did you know what I was thinking?!?!?” she exclaimed. “I was just going to ask for prayers I can pray to have this kind of relationship with God.”

Oh, how I love the active presence of the Spirit of God when His people gather.

I know this post has been long. Thank you for your patience. But it’s not enough to read about “speaking the truth in love.” Kristin’s story shows us what speaking gospel truth to one another can look like in a real person’s real life circumstances.

As Tim Keller says, “The gospel is that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

Yes. That’s the gospel. And I saw it in action last Thursday night.

Is Kristin’s story your story?

Up For a Game of Freeze Tag?

As a Granma I can now play all the kid games all over again!

Yesterday I was thinking about how much fun it was to play Freeze Tag when I was young…and how doing life with other believers is kinda like playing this fun game with adults.

For those who may not remember, freeze tag is played when the person who is “it” runs around trying to tag the other players. Once tagged, the player is now in a frozen state until an unfrozen teammate rushes to “untag” them and set them free.

A couple of months ago, I initiated a game of freeze tag with my grandchildren. I loved seeing the teamwork between them. Unfrozen children were strategizing and rushing to the aid of their frozen cousins.  The “us” verses “them” competition was playful and fun. Of course, the game wasn’t without bickering and “NO! You never touched me!” accusations, but it was primarily an enjoyable 20 minutes of seeing the kids rally to help one another.

This reminds me of being a part of a redeemed community — the church. Last week at our Community Group (mid-week small groups at Redeemer Church) Benny continued his encouragement for us to “incarnate Christ” to one another as we pursue biblical fellowship. One of the ways we can do this, he shared, is to understand what genuine empathy is. It’s more than feeling badly for the hurting person; rather, it’s trying to put yourself into their difficult situation to consider how challenging it would be actually experience what they are walking through.

He then asked if anyone was struggling who could use support and help. A gal in the group spoke up about some challenges in her marriage. As is increasingly becoming the case in our new little church, it was heartwarming to watch one person after another ask insightful, gentle questions; help this wife identify what was going on in her heart (anger, bitterness, disappointment, weariness); express tender empathy over how hard the ongoing nature of these challenges must be; and then point to the evidences of God’s sustaining grace in her life. Years of disappointment and struggle have produced some lovely fruit in her life and it was a joy to point these things out to her!

Hope came. And she was strengthened in her faith to take the first step to open up and honestly share her heart with her husband — something she hadn’t yet done because she didn’t expect a good response from him if she did.

Difficult circumstances had left this young wife and mother “frozen” in a perplexing and disappointing marriage between flawed and weak people who genuinely love each other — but who are wronging and being wronged on a regular basis. She didn’t know what was needed or how to think.

Our little group rallied around her, rushing to her one by one to tag her with gospel hope.  Seeing the church in action reminded me of why I love being a part of a church where self-protective mask-wearing is being replaced with vulnerability and humility.

It’s risky. And we’ll make mistakes along the way. We’ll ask the wrong questions and push rather than gently tag one another. But that’s okay because the goal isn’t to love one another perfectly. There’s only One who can do that.

Yesterday our friend told me she and her husband had a wonderful talk the night before. She started opening up to him and he didn’t respond as she expected! Now she’ll be better equipped to run to the aid of another who is frozen with uncertainty, confusion, disappointment or anger.

I hope you are enjoying the benefits of a culture of grace in a church that enjoys doing life together. If not, consider asking around to find a gospel preaching church that is seeking to practice biblical fellowship in real life. After all, you’re like me and everyone I know: frozen in one way or another and needing someone to rush to you with hope and help.

The fact is, we can’t play freeze tag alone.

Leaving Rows of Chairs to Live Out Life…Face to Face

Last Thursday I shared some thoughts about the cultural shift from face-to-face care and support to looking for “hugs” from our computers.

This weekend I got to experience the joy of real face time firsthand. I attended The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference here in Orlando. It was a powerful time of teaching and worship led by Keith and Kristyn Getty. I heard messages by John Piper, Don Carson, Tim Keller, Nancy Leigh DeMoss and others. (Those messages will be available at no cost at TGC’s website soon: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org.) I was intensely inspired by women teachers — young and old, single and married, seminary professors and stay-at-home moms — whose messages were fueled by a contagious and robust commitment to studying theology and living in community where biblical truth is lived out. I want to be like them.

The rich and inspiring messages were powerful. The wonderful worship led by the Getty’s and their awesome band (including a violin, recorder, upright bass and accordion…I loved it!) was refreshing. But the sweet fellowship encouraged and inspired me as well.

One man said that Christian fellowship is when one believer shares what God is doing in his or her life with another believer. So simple!

This can happen in a brief chat in the hallway or during a lengthy heart-to-heart conversation over coffee or a meal. I enjoyed both this weekend:

  • I had lunch with a friend I’ve known for nearly 25 years who has been going through some weighty trials in her marriage. She admitted how hard the past three years has been, the heartache over wondering if she could continue to endure due to her husband’s lack of progress, the hopelessness and anger and sorrow…all leading to God’s faithfulness to bring hope and recent progress! I was able to thank her for her godly example during this season of suffering and encourage her desire to pursue repentance for things God has used this trial to reveal in her own heart. (One of the fruits of trials is how God uses them to gently and lovingly bring dross to the surface of our hearts. Such a gift!) What a joy to benefit from the life and example of this friend…face to face.
  • I was able to greet a godly woman whose ministry has benefitted me for years

    who I know has also been going through a lengthy season of difficulty and transition in her husband’s ministry. I thought to email her…but then decided to wait and look into her eyes to tell her I had been praying for her for the past year.

  • I unexpectedly saw the mutual friend of one of my dearest and closest friends who is also walking through a series of breathtaking trials in her family. Only God could have arranged for us to “happen” upon one another at a conference of 35oo women! It brought comfort to my heart to receive her hug, hear of her warm affection for our friend, and to also hear she and her husband will be with my friend and her husband this week to extend care and love. I can’t be there…but this woman can.  How kind of God to arrange that encounter.
  • I had dinner with some Redeemer Girls (ladies from our church who attended the conference) and heard what the Lord was stirring in their hearts through the messages and worship. As the oldest woman at the table, I loved observing their humility. Excitement about hearing biblical truth. Joy in buying books about godly womanhood, marriage, parenting, children’s ministry and theology. And I was inspired by their discerning and insightful questions about some of what they were hearing. How I love them.
  • And then, on the drive home with one of my New Girls (a daughter-in-law), I was moved to tears by some brief yet warmly heartfelt words of encouragement she shared with me in our driveway. Icing on the cake after a spiritually invigorating weekend.

Yesterday morning I skipped the final session of the conference to be with Redeemer Church. Something in my heart drew me back to the people with whom I’m walking out life. I want to take the things I learned and make them real. To apply the gospel in real-life relationships. To demonstrate the infectious love for sound doctrine and the humility I observed at this conference in normal life with fellow sinners. The Gettys weren’t leading worship and Don Carson wasn’t preaching. But Kyle and Benny did a great job. I was glad to be home with my church.

Sitting in rows hearing teaching and entering into worship is a precious gift from God. But that’s not all there is to being a Christian. When the teaching and worship is over we leave conference hotel or church building — or, in the case of our new little church, the Martial Arts Studio! — and live it all out face to face.

If not, how do we know if we’re really getting it?

We Were Dreamers

I’m taking a quick break from the weighty posts I’ve been doing to share a fun update on our family.

Josh doing sound on the church’s first Sunday.

PJ helps with administration and heavy lifting. 🙂

When our children who now range from almost 18 to 33 were young, Benny and I dreamed and prayed regularly about the day when they would be adults who loved God and served alongside us in the church. Like most parents of young children, we assumed our kids would always live nearby and that we would spend decades together up in Fairfax, Virginia serving side by side. Over the years that dream has been disregarded when moves separated us and when we walked through hardships and sin that tested my faith. We struggled through, and came to a place of peace that the best and most biblical thing we can do for our adult children is to release them to love and follow God’s will — even and especially if that means living in a different city or being part of a different church than Dad and Mom.

Love the greetings from the Little People!

Before I proceed, I want to first express my heartfelt compassion for anyone reading this with a child who is not walking with the Lord or grandchildren you rarely see. The heartache of a spiritually wayward or rebellious child is one of the hardest things a godly mother can face. And being a grandmother whose little ones live far away is a challenge I’ve experienced but am not currently facing. My heart truly goes out to you. I hope my story sparks faith in your heart that God is good. His goodness may not look the same in my life and yours, and you may be in a dark and tempting time in your life, but He remains good and your story isn’t over. I hope my story doesn’t tempt you…but that it encourages you. Our family has walked through some really hard things and challenges remain. Some people look and think we have an “ideal” family. Yet those who know us well know that is certainly not true. We are sinners who have walked through our share of painful situations. But God has been faithful and has done a miracle by keeping us loving and serving together.

The kids enjoy our little children’s ministry.

Janelle enjoys her longtime desire to participate on a worship team.

Before Benny started Redeemer Church in January, we met with all our children to solicit their counsel and tell them what God was doing. At that time Benny communicated to our five married children and their spouses that they were under no obligation to join us on this crazy adventure. He reminded them of what they have heard from us numerous times before: we were available to ask questions and provide counsel at their invitation, but it was important that they spend time talking and praying as a couple, and pursuing the input of others.

To our complete joy, they came to us one by one over several months to say they had decided as a couple that God was calling them to be a part of Redeemer Church. While this was meaningful to me as a mom, it was especially humbling as a mother-in-law. My three daughters-in-law have dear friendships at  and warm affection for the church that was sending us out.  Two of them, in fact, had grown up in the church and had decades of fond memories with the people there. We made sure in each case that they hadn’t felt pressure from us to make this decision and were grateful to hear they each felt the Lord had spoken to them personally. What amazing young women.

Our church has several passionate worship leaders. So grateful!

The night the last of the couples announced to us that they would be coming, Benny and I laid in bed and cried. God doesn’t call all married children to do something like this. But story after story from our kids convinced us that God had moved their hearts and confirmed His will through their own subjective impressions, coupled with prayer and discussion.

We were especially moved when the parents said a big draw for them was giving their children the opportunity to be on a church plant. They wanted them to experience the joy and sacrifice of seeing God grow a church…with their help!

Wyatt here and JJ (below) are pitching in to serve.

Through every trial and storm, through all the years of doubting God’s faithfulness, and through numerous sinful choices that tempted us to believe our prayers long ago were just the sentimental desires of loving parents to want to do life with their kids, God was there. He knew what we didn’t: that Benny would plant a new church in his late 50’s that would include every one of our children and grandchildren.

There are numerous others who are making Redeemer Church possible — we couldn’t do it without them! And I don’t know how long the Lord will allow us as a family to do life and church together. But for now, I’m savoring every moment.

Every moment of watching my grandsons usher or lug equipment or learn to tear down drums with daddy — like he did many years ago with Papa.

Every moment of watching my little people walk up to visiting children to say hi and ask if they want to walk to children’s ministry with them.

Jesse preached for the first time at Redeemer last Sunday.

Every moment of watching my men lead worship; unload equipment; brainstorm with others about how to make things run more smoothly; preach; greet; or load equipment on the truck.

Every moment of hearing my ladies prophecy, head out to help with children’s ministry, invite someone new to lunch or walk up to pray for another woman during a ministry time.

Every moment of watching my Benny setting up chairs or greeting a guest or positioning himself at the podium to preach or grinning over how God provided all the funds needed last month.

Josh leading worship.

Last week I had a wonderful time of fellowship with a dear friend. One of the things we talked about (and that I’ve been blogging about) is how perplexing life is right now. We agreed that in many ways things just haven’t “turned out” like we expected. Another friend and I were chucking about this just yesterday. It’s not that we had a list of expectations in our minds, but obviously we were expecting something and whatever that was isn’t what life looks like right now!

But there’s an exception for me.

Benny doing what he loves!

I prayed and dreamed and hoped and…yeah, expected…that my kids would grow up to love the Lord and His church. I longed for my grandchildren to have the opportunity to be a part of a church where, like their parents, they were trained to serve and sacrifice because every single hand was needed to get the job done. (Which is true in every church — old or new; small or large!) I wanted to watch my Benny spend his latter years alongside his sons working to see the gospel preached through the local church. I prayed that I would have the kind of relationship with my adult daughters and (at the time) future daughters-in-law where we could enjoy biblical fellowship and pass biblical womanhood on to a new generation of little girls.

Our favorite (well, and only) bass player.

So much of my life is different than I hoped and thought. But when Redeemer Church was born and my amazing, humble children and their spouses started signing on to help, I became “like one who dreamed.”

Lauren on her first worship team.

Benny and I dreamed. Talked. Hoped. Prayed. Cried. Battled discouragement and unbelief. Let go. Found peace.

But God heard. Answered. Kept. Sustained. Patiently worked. And then surprised us.

He. Is. Faithful.