Getting Real in Your Relationships

Getting Real in Your Relationships

(Today I get to share with you the foreword I wrote for my friend’s excellent book Real: The Surprising Secret to Deeper Friendships. Make sure to check out the trailer and links to learn more about Catherine Parks and her new book. )

I’ve always had a sensitive conscience: even before I became a Christian, I would confess wrongdoing to my parents. Vulnerability was never difficult for me when I was younger.

Oddly, once I became a Christian, I started to become more aware of how I would be viewed by others, and that vulnerability all of a sudden felt much more risky. I was 22 and wanted to be accepted. But God was gracious to me and gave me two friends, two accountability partners, two people serious about God and eager for true and honest fellowship.

My two close friends and I did accountability consistently for several years (and even to this day, one of them and I will catch up as if those college and single years aren’t long gone). We would meet every other Friday afternoon. Our times together would consist of eating spaghetti, confession, encouragement, and prayers. We cried and laughed and shared the most intimate parts of ourselves. We were honest and open, often sharing things that might even make one blush with embarrassment.

Those formative years in my Christian walk were priceless. I learned the gift that is repentance and that I could bring anything before my heavenly Father. God was and remains incredibly approachable to me, because I know that if I confess my sin, he is faithful and just to forgive me and purify me (1 John 1 v 9). I know that I can come before his throne of grace and receive mercy and help in my time of need (Hebrews 4 v 16).

God also used those relationships to solidify my view of the church as a family. I knew that my friends and I weren’t simply three girls pouring out our hearts to one another. We were, and still are, sisters—co-heirs with Christ! Relationships in the church are essential for our walk with him. I know this because there were times when I wasn’t sure if I could walk the walk of faith. God used those relationships to keep me from wandering off course. Those sisters were in the race, in the fight, or—as my friend Catherine Parks has written here—on my team.

Those college friendships expanded beyond college into our single years and then through the beginning of our marriages. But as many of our stories go, two of us ended up moving away, beginning a search for new, deep relationships in our new homes.

RealamazonimageIn walks Catherine.

When I moved to the Nashville area, I knew that the only way for me to truly settle in and make our new location feel like home was to (1) find a church and commit to it and (2) find some friends and begin to build deep and true relationships. The Lord was faithful in both cases. I had known of Catherine Parks via her online articles and book. I reached out to her to see if we could meet up, and it was one of the best decisions I could have made.

Catherine and I hit it off quickly and easily. I don’t remember all that we talked about, but I do remember going from “Nice to meet you” to “Let’s confess our sins” within a matter of a few hangouts (it may have even been our first!). I’m not good with surface-level conversations, so I dove right in. It was something I was used to; but it wasn’t necessarily Catherine’s default. Yet she made sure to let me know that for her, it was good and challenging to think beyond the surface and resist the urge to give coined answers of “I’m fine.”

I share this with you because I am both a reader and an author. As a reader, I want to know that the author is authentic and can write with at least a measure of authority on the topic; and as I’m a Christian reader, it’s even more assuring when I know that the author has integrity. Catherine has walked out and wrestled with the truth that she writes about in Real. She isn’t writing from a place of superiority or as someone who has arrived. Rather, Catherine is a fellow sojourner in the faith, on a mission to finish the race well. Confession, repentance, and being real are essential in that goal.

In Real you will find wise counsel, biblical exposition, and personal stories that will inspire, encourage, and challenge you as you seek to be honest with yourself and with those around you. We will learn the futility of chasing after what we think we want versus the value of chasing after what is right. We will learn to face our sin for what it is. No excuses. No defending.

But Catherine doesn’t leave us to wallow in condemnation and self-pity. That isn’t the point of confession, nor is it the goal of repentance. It is indeed God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2 v 4). God’s word tells us that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1 v 9). We can trust that God will do as he says—he meets our sin with forgiveness and grace. As Catherine has written, “When we’re assured of our Father’s forgiveness, instead of covering up in front of others, we can confess—be honest about our sin” (p 31).

We will never outgrow this message of grace and repentance. And we will never outgrow our need for one another. Whether you have a core group of friends who are thriving and already committed to seeking Jesus together, or the concept of confession is absolutely new to you, this book is for you. Anyone at any stage will benefit from the pages ahead.

Visit Catherine at her site: http://www.cathparks.com/

Purchase Real: Amazon, The Good Book Company

Book Club Intro to Spiritual Healthcheck

Book Club Intro to Spiritual Healthcheck

(Special note: if you are reading this via your email, you must click through to my website to watch the video. You can click here or at the link towards the end of the email.)

Today we begin our six-week video book study through Spiritual Healthcheck by Carl Laferton.

Are you ready to move beyond “I’m fine?”

Read the intro and Chapter 1 to learn more.

What you’ll find on the video:

  1. A brief introduction to the book and why we are studying it. What exactly does it mean to be spiritually healthy?
  2. Thoughts on how and why we can be honest about how we are doing.
  3. Brief reflections on Romans 8: 28-31.
  4. A reminder of why you and I desire to be conformed to the image of Christ and where our strength for the fight comes from.

Please note that because this was an introduction, the length of the video is slightly longer than future videos. Expect to join me for about 5 minutes each Thursday.

A Book Giveaway!

To help you get started, the Good Book Company has partnered with me to giveaway three e-books! All you need to do is comment on my site or on my Facebook page. That’s it. Simply comment below or comment on my Facebook page and you’ll be entered into the giveaway!

The Spiritual Healthcheck giveaway ends at noon on Friday, January 12. A

Bonus video!

Take a moment to hear from Carl! 

Enjoying the Pastoral Prayer

Enjoying the Pastoral Prayer

(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)

“Let’s pray.”

With these words, the pastor in the pulpit bows his head and everyone in the pews around me does the same. What follows is pretty unspectacular. A roomful of people close their eyes. Their pastor speaks words of praise and thanksgiving, of confession and repentance, of desire and supplication. It might last for five or ten or fifteen minutes. There is no music. No movement. No sound except the voice of one man and the quiet “Amens” from the congregation.

This hardly seems like a high point in the worship service. And, I admit, I haven’t always enjoyed it.

As a child, I squirmed and daydreamed through many pastoral prayers. As a teenager, I slept through a handful. Even as an adult, I find my mind wandering and my heart cooling more often than I would like to confess. At such times, the week’s calendar or the prospect of lunch seem more compelling and delightful than sitting in church with my head bowed.

But, Sunday after Sunday, I must remind myself that these moments of prayer are much more than they seem to my myopic human eyes. The pastoral prayer is not a passive interlude. It’s not a serene intermission for the congregation to catch its breath. It’s far from boring.

It’s work. And it’s war.

When I was a teenager, I lived for a while in the Scottish Highlands. I’ll never forget my first Sunday in the village church: as the pastor began to pray, the entire congregation rose to its feet. We were not listening to the prayer. We were praying. The pastor was the mouthpiece—he gave words to our desires—but we all joined our hearts before the Throne of God.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John pulls back the curtain of heaven so that we might see what our prayers look like from God’s perspective. John writes:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:3-5)

This picture looks nothing like the quiet, unspectacular ten minutes we experience every Sunday morning. Incense. Fire. Thunder. Lightening. Earthquake. In the words of one commentator, “the prayers of the saints and the fire of God move the whole course of the world.”

Elsewhere in Scripture, we read that by our prayers God’s people escape temptation and find deliverance from evil (Matt. 6:13). By our prayers, Satan’s subjects surrender and his demons admit defeat (Mark 9:29). And by our prayers, the gospel of Christ secures victory in people’s hearts (2 Thess. 3:1).

When ordinary people bow their heads in the wobbly pews of a nondescript church building on any Sunday morning, their prayers are used by God to accomplish his great purposes.

Enjoying the pastoral prayer, then, means that we see ourselves not as passive listeners to someone else’s prayer but as active members of a praying army, boldly approaching the very Throne of God. It means that we cherish the invitation to join with our brothers and sisters in this important work. It means that we learn to delight in what God will do as we pray together.

MeganHill-1Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the author of Praying Together (Crossway 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)

5 Gifts I’ve Found in My Singleness

5 Gifts I’ve Found in My Singleness

(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)

By Lindsay Swartz

If you had asked my 17-year-old self what one of my worst-case scenarios would be, being single into my 30’s would have been up there at the top. In fact, I don’t think it even registered at the time as a possibility. Like many young women, I dreamed about meeting a wonderful man, getting married, and having a family. I may have even doodled out the names of my future children in my class notes.

Yet, here I am. I’ll be 34 this year, three years past the age when my own mother had me. I’ve wrestled long and hard with singleness. In many ways, I’ve been terrible at being single. Much of singleness hasn’t been fun for me because of the accompanying angst—and not always believing God’s goodness. But, as I look back, it’s almost laughable that this was my worst-case scenario. While I may not love being single, there are plenty of things about singleness that I wish I would have learned to enjoy much sooner. So, if you’re in an unwanted season of singleness, here are a few gifts I’ve discovered in an effort to help us enjoy the Lord.

Enjoy extended time focusing on the Lord.

I have heard plenty of my married friends and those with children talk about how their busyness often keeps them from having regular time with the Lord in his Word and prayer. While singles are busy too, there is a type of distraction we don’t share—one that Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7. There are divided interests and anxieties of this world that can hinder the married person’s pursuit of the Lord.

Now, I’ve said to the Lord plenty of times, “But I want that distraction!” It seems so much better to me than the endless hours of quiet and yet another morning of waking up alone. But until that distraction comes, we have the opportunity to press on to know the Lord in a different way (Hosea 6:3), enjoying uninterrupted time in God’s Word and in prayer that helps secure our undivided (or, as good as undivided gets this side of heaven) devotion to him that will serve us in whatever the next season brings.

Enjoy the freedom of unique opportunities.

It’s pretty neat to actually stop and recount all of the things I’ve been able to do as a single adult. I’ve visited over eighteen countries so far. I’ve lived in four different states. I’ve been able to respond to last-minute phone calls for help. I’ve worked at three different ministries. I’ve been able to pick up and go at the drop of a dime. I’ve had several internships. And I’ve toured with a Christian music group working as a nanny.

While these experiences aren’t the norm for everyone (and I’m pretty sure I would’ve traded most of them for marriage and family), it’s good for me to think back on God’s kindness in the ways he’s made my single years full. In fact, as I think about the prospect of marriage, I can honestly say I’m not afraid to shift my time and attention to a family because I don’t feel as if I’ve missed out on anything. I’ve had the chance to do more than many of my friends who lived out my dream and married young. Each of us has been given a different lot, and enjoying and taking advantage of unique opportunities is just a small way that I can try to celebrate mine.

Enjoy a multitude of relationships.

I tend to forget all the amazing people that I’ve gotten to know over the years until I’m at a conference or an event with work. My time is usually spent saying “hello,” giving hugs, and being surprised by encounters with past acquaintances. Though not all of these relationships are deep or mean that we regularly keep in touch, the friendships and connections add a richness and help me see God’s sovereign hand in each chapter of my single season of life. I know people from all over the country because of the various places I’ve lived, my involvement in several churches, and my work at a few different ministries. It’s truly a blessing to have connections with brothers and sisters from all over the world because of the unexpected ways the Lord has caused my single path to wind.

Enjoy investing deeply in relationships.

It’s not until I’m overly busy or in a dating relationship that I realize how singleness has afforded me the opportunity to invest heavily in a variety of relationships. I’ve worked as a nanny for several families, have friends’ kids I spend time with frequently and who have become like nieces and nephews, get to have frequent time with “just the girls,” and have several spiritual moms and dads. There are families I’ve been honorarily adopted into – many of those I could call in a crisis – and a number of people I’ve been able to spend lots of one-on-one time with over the years.

I know you don’t have to be single to have deep relationships, but I do know the opportunity that singleness provides to be hospitable, provide a support system, and serve without certain limitations. I don’t always live this out well—and I’d like to be more faithful in reaching out to my neighbors and those without Christ around me—but I’m grateful for these relationships that have etched themselves on my heart and provide a constant source of companionship and sense of a forever family in a season that can be so lonely.

Enjoy praying big prayers.

As long as I have breath and a desire for marriage, I’m committed to praying big prayers about the fulfillment of this desire. God exhorts us to ask again and again in his Word (Matt. 7:7), and I intend to take him up on it. It’s true that delighting in God and receiving the desires of our hearts doesn’t mean God automatically gives everything we ask for, but it also doesn’t mean less than approaching his throne like that pestering neighbor in Jesus’ example (Luke 11:5-13). I don’t want to leave room for being able to say that I don’t have because I didn’t ask (James 4:2).

We can also pray big prayers about our singleness too, though I admit that this is harder for me to want to do. We can ask God to help us truly believe that we aren’t missing out. And we can ask for deep satisfaction in him and in our season. Our privilege to ask as God’s children is astounding, and his answers, we’ll come to see, will surpass anything we could imagine.

All of us, regardless of the circumstances in the season of life we’re walking through, are battling to enjoy the gifts God has given—and, ultimately, the Giver himself. Unfortunately, it’s a battle that won’t be over until our redemption is complete. I’m thankful for Jesus who makes enjoyment in God possible and anchors us to a hope-filled future of unending and untarnished joy. May he continually satisfy us throughout our lives with his unfailing love that we may rejoice and be glad all of our days (Ps. 90:14).

 

LindsaySLindsay serves at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) as the managing editor of content. She completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She loves movies, traveling, good food, coffee shops, girly things, and sports. She lives in Nashville, TN and is loving every minute of living in Music City.

 

 

 

(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)

Savoring What We Love

Savoring What We Love

(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)

By Karen Prior Swallow

Two of the great loves of my life are reading and eating.

Both bring me much happiness, and while only one is absolutely necessary to live, they both seem as natural and as essential to me as breathing.

Yet, although sources of great pleasure, both eating and reading require discipline in order to bring me the longest lasting health and joy.

Some of the best, purest food that I’ve enjoyed in my life was in the North African kingdom of Morocco. There is no such label as “organic” in Morocco because, as an unindustrialized nation, all of its food is produced free of artificial processes or chemical additives. All of it is natural, and you can taste that fact in every bite. From flaky pastille to velvety couscous to goat roasted over an open fire in the Sahara Desert to simply sumptuous fruit, the food I dined on during my several trips there still lingers in the memory of my taste buds. I never even missed the junk food that wasn’t widely available.

Here at home in the U.S. it’s a different story. To be sure, plenty of healthful and natural foods are fairly easy to find. But so is all the junk. And on a day-to-day basis, it’s just too easy to choose the fast, ready and artificially made foods, which I also enjoy, but which end up bringing me far less joy in the entirety of my life than their healthier counterparts (as the roll around my middle can testify!).

I face similar difficulties of late when it comes to reading. When I was young, which was, I suppose, before the internet had even been imagined, I had plenty of reading material at my disposal. Falling in love with reading in my earliest years, I graduated from Little Golden Books, to Scholastic Book Club selections, to daily newspapers (which I still read), to eighteenth and nineteenth century British literature—all paper and ink items I could hold in my hand and immerse myself in for hours and days at a time.

Today, the world still offers these options—and so much more. The internet provides a supply of reading as infinite as the stars in the sky and the sands on the shore. Much of that reading is short, easy, and cleverly curated by sophisticated algorithms so as to cater to my very present and very precise tastes, as scientifically determined by my most recent browsing history. And if I don’t like what I’m reading, no longer must I get up out of my chair, walk to the bookshelf in another room, look for another title, walk all the way back to my chair, and settle in again. No, on my phone, with the flick of one finger, I can swipe, click, or press, and—voila!— I’m presented with a new and vast array of choices. No need to hold a pen in one hand and pause my reading to underline and make a note on the page. Now my eyes skim across the screen of my phone, taking in every third word or so in a millisecond, skipping paragraphs to get to the conclusion at the end. Loathe to skip a page in a book, I triumph over those ethereal electronic words that slide across my screen, feeding and deepening my addiction the way a Diet Coke only increases my hunger for sweets.

I have become far too easily pleased: by the tweets and blogs I read on my phone, by the sandwiches I eat in my car between meetings and classes, and by the gummi bears that so easily replace a meal. These all are, to be sure, good gifts I’m thankful for and would never want to give up entirely.

But I find myself thinking more and more about the differences between those things that bring me ceaseless and instantaneous pleasure and those that bring me deep and lasting joy. The greatest joys usually come only with discipline and sacrifice, focus and attention, intention and investment and love. Such joys are to be savored. Savoring takes the devotion of time and care, things not easy for most of us to give in this world of hurry. It’s too easy to equate efficiency with goodness, to mistake ease with joy.

Food and words are my great loves. Yet even as I try to love them more faithfully and well, I need to let my love of them remind me of my first love (Rev. 2:4). I need to remember that there is no word that can bring me more joy than the Word (John 1:1), no food more satisfying than the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

As I try to slow down more to savor His good gifts (James 1:17), may I slow ever more to enjoy Him.

Karen Swallow PriorMore about Karen: Karen Swallow Prior, Ph. D., is an award-winning Professor of English at Liberty University. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012) and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014). She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a Senior Fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

 

 

(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)

Faith to Believe God Enjoys My Prayers

Faith to Believe God Enjoys My Prayers

(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)

By John Starke

I wake up and it’s still dark. It’s quiet now but that won’t last long. The kids will be up soon, hustling to pour their Cheerios, comb each other’s hair, and throw their backpacks on to shoot out the door before the 3 Train comes to take us away to our day. But not yet. It’s still quiet. Just me and my coffee.

I have lists and notes scattered around my desk, tempting me to start the day early. There’s a lot to do: people who need care, a sermon that needs some attention, and a few meetings that need some thought. But not yet. There’ll be time for that soon; not enough time, for sure, but time nonetheless. Since there’s never enough time I’m reminded that all I am, all I long for, all my hopes and plans can never be fulfilled and accomplished in time. Time always runs out and leaves me disappointed and my heart doesn’t accept the limitations that Time offers. It has eternity pumping all the way through to the bottom. I need something more than just enough time.

My notes, preparations, and lists will have to wait. I move from my desk to my chair in the corner. Psalm 141 helps me pray. “Let my prayers be counted as incense before you.” Yes, that’s a good way to begin, “incense before you.” Like an aroma that provokes pleasure and satisfaction, that’s what I want my prayers to be like.

But how can they? The Psalms are filled with what seems like the writers’ inner conflicts of knowing (or at least confessing) that God is their only refuge in their neediness and vulnerability, yet at the same time they’re always hauntingly aware of their lack of merit to expect God to listen and act on their behalf. In Psalm 141, the psalmist will get to praying against his enemy, whoever he may be. But surely the psalmist is slightly aware that there’s at least a bit of the enemy in him. “Let my prayers be counted as incense before you.” Counted, reckoned something they inherently are not: a pleasing aroma.

Break my prayers down to their essential elements and you will find contradictory longings and desires. You will see wants I am ashamed of. What are these doing here? If you poke around, you see repentance and hopes of reconciliation, but also cravings to be vindicated and to have an ease of conscience to just get along with my day without the nagging weight of sin hanging around. Let me be washed clean, but is there an express lane? Let my prayers be counted as incense. Let my half-hearted prayers be counted as full-hearted.

A few days ago, I read Psalm 138, which seemed to begin with a running start; “I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart.” “Whole heart”? I look down at my coffee. What did David have for breakfast that gave him this “whole heart” prayer? Who can deliver me from my enemies and who can deliver me from my prayers? Sitting in my old chair with fresh sins, can my prayers truly be counted as incense before you?

Jesus tells me not to think my many words can beautify my prayers enough to be heard. Babbling and going on as if I can impress or charm the Almighty is silly talk more than prayer. But my impulse to babble is, at its root, a sign that my heart knows its shortcomings. My babbling is just my darkness talking, acting like an angel of light again. That won’t work. It never works. It just turns my prayers into court arguments and me into a court jester. But Jesus knows this temptation. He is a sympathetic priest who is acquainted with my weaknesses. “We can go together,” he tells me. “That way you can enter with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

My prayers will have to be reckoned as incense. Beauty will have to be a gift I receive by faith. My prayers will have to begin in the posture of reception, an active welcome. So here I am, in my old chair with fresh grace again. The blood of bulls and goats doesn’t count me as incense. Violence was enacted elsewhere, once and for all, and beauty has been given by grace.

Now there’s nothing left to do but enjoy this gift and tell him everything that’s on my heart. My whole heart. Faith is believing that he enjoys it too. I have about half my coffee left and 20 minutes until the kids start stretching. But not yet. Eternity has tabernacled with me and given me friendship and company.

Inline image 1More about John: John Starke is the Lead pastor of Apostles Church Uptown in New York City.

 

 

 

 

(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)

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