Friday, June 29, 2007

Louisville, Here I Come!

This weekend I will pick back up on the posts on beauty. In the mean time, I have been enjoying a nice week with my wonderful mother!

All that aside, some of you may know that I applied to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for the fall semester. Well, today I recieved a phone call from the nice people in the Admissions Office and they politely informed me that...

I have been accepted!

So, in August I will be headed off to the great state of Kentucky to go to seminary.

Hope you all have a blessed Friday.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What is Beauty? Part 1

We live in a culture that is obsessed with image, and every day we are bombarded with advertisements promising to deliver beauty and happiness. For many of us, it is a daily struggle to leave the house content because of the constant anxiety we feel over looking “beautiful enough.” With all of the hype surrounding being beautiful, we must ask ourselves—what exactly is beauty? Every day we are faced with a choice, will we choose worldly beauty, defined by fashion magazines and the culture? Or will we choose godly beauty, defined by the perfect, holy words of our God?

In the next week (or so), my prayer is that we would be able to look at godly beauty through God’s eyes. Today, I want to lay a framework and in the next few days I will write about what the Bible says we should seek regarding beauty.

First, we know that there were beautiful women in the Bible. God is not silent on beauty. Being beautiful is not a sin, but, for example, if Esther had sought her own gain and refused to help her people, her beauty would have meant nothing. And though Sarah was beautiful, she probably would have traded her beauty for a baby. Beauty does not buy happiness, nor does it save you.

Everything around us is a reminder that we cannot trust in external beauty. All of us will be subject to the natural process of aging. And even in our youthfulness, we could all probably attest to the fact that many times our daily date with the mirror leaves much to be desired.

As women there is no arguing that we want to be beautiful. It is a gift, and I will be the first to admit that I enjoy styling my hair, putting on makeup, and picking out an outfit every morning. But I also must recognize that if my hope is in my $40 straightener and my Great Lash mascara, I will be disappointed and discontent every time. There is a healthy balance between being feminine and making the products of femininity an idol.

For many of us we know that leaving the house everyday can be a big struggle because we are faced with a barrage of self-criticism and comparison to others around us. For others, we know that when we walk into a group of women our first reaction is to judge the beauty of those around us, even to the point of gossip—“did you see what she was wearing?” We must repent of both of those things.

Unless we see that all of our comparisons and self-criticisms are fundamentally pride and unbelief in God, we will spend our entire lives never feeling good enough—and that is a worldview that will ultimately lead us to death. The fact that some women bury themselves in a sea of credit card debt just to buy the newest designer style, is fundamentally saying that “God is not really God, He is not sufficient to meet my needs.” The fact that some women spend the wee hours of the morning hugging a cold toilet after forcing themselves to throw up, is fundamentally saying “God does not meet my needs, and He is not sovereign over my weight.” Obsession with image, no matter how detrimental it is to your health or well being, is a form of pride and self worship—just like all of our disbelief is pride and self worship.

We can, and should, recognize beautiful, modest, godly women when see them. But we should not bank on those affirmations in our own life. And, most importantly, our characterization of beauty must not come from the latest InStyle magazine.

If the Lord allows us to live that long, when we are 80 years old no one will remember the face of our 20’s, 30’s, or 40’s. All they will see is the wrinkled face of a woman nearing her last. As we prepare to meet our Savior, no amount of Botox or fad-diet will prepare us for our final breath. Only a life spent pouring over the mirror of God’s Word will prepare us for that glorious day.

It’s really easy to pay lip-service to the truths of the Bible, yet still live in constant anxiety and unbelief. The fight of faith is hard, and this is not any different. If you feel yourself struggling with true beauty versus worldly beauty, ask God to reveal the areas in your life that need to be changed. Preach the Gospel to yourself daily. If you find yourself anxious about how you look in the morning, proclaim Christ to your wayward heart. Do not choose bondage to the world’s ideals any longer—choose life in Christ. So let us not be ashamed to recognize true beauty as we see it, but let us also put our hope in Jesus blood and righteousness, lest we think on that final day that it’s our trendy outfit and size 2 body that will save us.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Is Marriage about Memory?

As my roommates will attest, I am an avid blog reader. I came across a blog last week that caught my attention. The subject was divorce, and the man (a Christian) was making a case for staying together in marriage. His overarching reason for keeping covenant with your spouse was memory. Memory is a powerful force, one that is ripped apart by divorce, comparable to a chapter being ripped out of a book—it’s just never the same story after that.

While I greatly appreciated this man lifting high the beauty of his own marriage, and speaking out against divorce, it seemed that something was missing from his argument for staying together. Memory is most certainly a very viable reason to want to stay married. No one can replace years of events that happen between a husband and a wife, but memory is not enough. Memory won’t make a woman stick with it when she has vowed to pick up her husband’s dirty clothes for the last time. If anything, memory would make her remember why she made that rash vow in the first place. Memory is easily clouded by emotions and feelings, especially in the heat of turmoil.

Memory of a life spent together is special and part of what makes growing old together so exciting. But there is a deeper memory that keeps a marriage intact, a memory that has been around since the beginning of time.

God created marriage to point to Himself, first to point to the nature of the Trinity, then to point to the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. When people get divorced, they are preaching a Gospel of abandonment, of a Christ who leaves His Church, and that is fundamentally opposed to what the Bible teaches. God hates divorce not because memories are ripped apart, though that is certainly true. God hates divorce because it is blasphemous.

The current view of marriage in our culture is showing us that we must talk about marriage as something far greater than feeling and memory. Turn on the television and we will see that the quest for love and marriage has been reduced to nothing more than a reality show game where companionship ends as quickly as it begins. We see countless men and women staking their very credibility on desperately seeking “true love”, and while this desires and longings are true and right, we must speak to them in biblical language.

While memory is a very real and practical reason to stay married, it leaves much to be desired, and can easily be explained away by those in marriages with memories that are less than ideal. As Christians, we must speak to the divorce culture with truth and clarity, showing them that a Christian man leaving behind his wife and children is preaching to the world that he believes that the Gospel does not matter, that Christ does not keep covenant with His Bride.

Marriage is very much about a story, a story about our great God sending His Son to die to redeem His Bride. Marriages point to that story, they are not simply autonomous stories in and of themselves—though the memories made are individual and priceless. May our language about marriage be as great as God makes it. And may we be preaching the one true Gospel of salvation in our local churches, not only in the pulpit, but inthe 60th wedding anniversaries of the oldest members of our congregations.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Search is Over

At 2:45 this afternoon, I received word that they had found the body of Benjy Heil. It appeared that he had drowned, though the cause of death has not been determined yet. Though this puts an end to the nearly 6 day search for this 7 year old boy, it does not put an end to the sorrow that the Heil family now feels at the loss of their youngest child. Thank you for praying for his return, and I ask for your continued prayers for their family in this time of mourning.

In events like these questions inevitably arise, and our understanding of God, and His purposes, really is challenged. It is also easy to offer pat, simplistic answers that simply regurgitate theology and do not truly address the problem at hand. Lest there be any confusion, God is completely sovereign, even over such horrific circumstances. He is not silent on anything, even this. I do not want to challenge God, nor offer simplistic answers, but it is times like these where we realize that all is not right in the world. As we live in the time between the times, the evil and tragedy remind us that this is not natural, that Creation is groaning for redemption.

But there will come a day when creeks will no longer swallow up little boys, when mudslides will not wipe out entire villages of people, when the carnivorous lion will lie down next to the unassuming lamb and not devour it, and when our disease ravaged bodies will be made whole again at the coming of our Christ to redeem His people and claim the final victory over Satan and death. Until then we pray and wait in eager expectation like Paul tells us in Romans 8:18-25:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Please pray for the Heil family in this time. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Please Pray for Benjy

Benjy Heil has been missing from his home since Thursday evening when he wandered away from his home. He is the 7 year old brother of a girl I graduated with. He has non-verbal autism, which could make it more difficult for him to hear people calling his name, or even tell people he needs help. If you think about it, please pray for the safe return of this little boy to his family. Here are some article links that give more information on the search.

Thank you for your concern. I am sure the Heil family would greatly appreciate your prayers.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

As convinced as I am that praising our mothers encourages motherhood, I am equally convinced that praising our fathers encourages fatherhood. So, it seems only fitting that today, on Father’s Day, I praise God for my dad, and also speak briefly to the necessity of male leadership in the home.

While feminists will try and tell us that patriarchy is the root of all kinds of evils, God reveals to us in, His holy Word, that biblical patriarchy is the way in which He chose to order His creation and reveal His glory. The Fall has so distorted manhood that at the very glimpse of male leadership, we feel the urge to cry “oppression”. But the type of leadership that God designed for men is the very antithesis of a domineering, slave driving, lustful man that is caricatured by the culture and those opposed to biblical patriarchy. And I am convinced that in order to redeem what has been lost by the Fall, we must begin recognizing true manhood when we see it.
My dad did not grow up in a Christian home, and when he married my mom (at age 20), he didn’t have a model to follow. By the grace of God, he and my mom resolved then to know and study the Bible, and then to live by it. To this day, I am still “old fashioned” when it comes to Bible study because I was raised by a dad who simply opened the Bible and taught it to us.

I still remember the frustration and embarrassment I felt when I had to tell my employers that I couldn’t work on Sunday’s because it was the Lord’s Day. While I did not understand, or embrace, that lifestyle then it has now become a conviction that I hold on my own. And when teenage attitudes threatened to reign in our house, there would be no slamming doors and storming out of conversations—we always had to deal with the conflict.

Even though my dad would be shaking his head right now, only remembering the ways he could have done better, his ability to admit his shortcomings and apologize instilled in all of us a sense of humility, and even more respect for his leadership over us. In a day where many dads are out to climb the corporate ladder, my dad would spend his time coaching pee-wee football and taking his sons and other fatherless children to basketball tournaments. And as much as I despised his intentionality with my English classes in high school (after getting a “C”, he made me get a weekly progress update from my teachers until my grade improved), it made me work harder—even to the point of graduating from college with a degree in English.

Although I am eternally grateful for the dad that God has given me, I am reminded today of the many children who had no dad to give a card to this morning. For many of these children it is just another Sunday, another reminder of the void that is left by the absence of a father. As Christians, not only should we recognize our fathers for their presence and work in our lives, but we should also reach out to the fatherless and orphans who have no one to call “daddy”, who have no dad to take them on dates, and who have no dad to take them to Little League games. The beauty of biblical patriarchy is that it points us to a heavenly Father who is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). So, if the Lord has graciously blessed you with a dad, praise Him, but remember that somewhere there are little hearts breaking, little one’s who did not celebrate Father’s Day. Let us not forget about their cries tonight, and point them to the perfect Father.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Devotional: Our Faithful God

Today’s Friday devotional comes from an expositional book on Ruth by Sinclair Ferguson called Faithful God. He captures the beauty of the sovereignty of God that I would like to share with you. It is my prayer that it will encourage and strengthen you as it did me.

“Yet at the same time we recognize that in the midst of our confusion and the happenstances and surprises of life there is a sovereign God in heaven whose hand is upon us every moment of the day, a God who reigns over every inch of the universe in which we live. So we know that nothing ‘just happens’. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his knowledge, interest and rule (Matthew 10:29). All things comes to pass under the sovereign wisdom and purpose of our heavenly Father, working together for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

That is why we can be quietly confident—not because we know exactly what God is doing in this unpredictable world, but because we know that what is unpredictable to us is already predicted by him. He has written his purposes for us in his own book, and numbered our days before one of them was given birth or saw the light of day (Psalm 139:16).”

May these truths give you a greater measure of hope in the keeping and sustaining power of God today. What a grace and mercy to know that we have an all powerful anchor, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Learning Patience

We live in a “microwave” society. Very rarely are we faced with the necessity to wait on something for an extended period of time. Why should we wait when everything we could ever want, or need, is right at our fingertips? In such an instantaneous society, it is apparent that patience and waiting are not virtues in high demand.

But God does not see it that way. We see in Galatians 5:22 that patience is a part of the fruit of the Spirit. And all through the Bible we are exhorted to remain patient in all manners of things: tribulation (Romans 12:12), waiting on the Lord (Psalm 37:7, Psalm 40:1, Romans 8:25), with people (1 Corinthians 13:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:14), and the list could go on. Contrary to what the world is telling us, we are not entitled to having all of our desires met in the exact moment that we feel the urge. Often times, God is calling us to wait and be patient.

I was in a meeting with a group of women earlier this week, and as we were all sharing prayer requests each one of us shared a need for more patience: more patience with people in our lives, more patience in waiting on a job, more patience in waiting on details to work out, more patience in pleading with loved ones to come to Christ—all of our lives are characterized by a greater need for patience.

As I was reflecting on our time together, and our desperate need for more grace every hour, I was reminded of Eve and the curse that she received in Genesis 3:16 “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Though, this passage might not sound like it is speaking to our need for patience, it is speaking to a deeper issue that we all face—we desire control over our lives. So much of our anxiety and frustration stems from the fact that in the core of our unregenerate being we desire to rise up and rule, like our first mother did.

Many times our lack of patience is stemming from our own inability to trust that God has our life in His hands. God has an appointed time for every detail that transpires in our lives, and when He ordains the time, we can rest assured that it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3). As women, so much of our lives are characterized by waiting, and it is good for us to learn now how to cultivate a patient heart. Anxiety is not a quality of the Proverbs 31 woman—it will only lead to unnecessary stress.

In a culture that screams at us to aggressively seek our own, we have a Bible that tells us the exact opposite. If the Lord gives us husbands, submitting to them in a loving and joyful way will many times seem like a great chore. If the Lord allows us to bear children, there will be a whole host of difficulties awaiting us as we seek to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. If the Lord allows us to remain single, living in community with the local church will require discipline and grace. Though the task seems impossible, we have a hope. Like the godly women who hoped in God before us, we too must look to our Christ as we seek to cultivate a patient heart. As we wait, God is crafting in us a deeper love and hope in His unshakeable promises. And like fast food, and microwave dinners, instant gratification is always a cheap copy for the real thing. We would not trust, or appreciate, His mercy and provision nearly as much if it was given to us right away, therefore we wait. May we be willing to wait on the Lord, and trust that His promises are sufficient.

“And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6).

Friday, June 8, 2007

Friday Devotional: Jesus, Our Hope

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”—John 6:68-69

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Jesus had just given them some truths that were hard to take. The disciples were faced with a decision, to leave Christ with everyone else or stay with this man from Nazareth. People wouldn’t have blamed them, it is hard to accept that our “flesh is of no avail” in regards to our own salvation. Many had already deserted Jesus at the sound of this teaching, and He asks an honest question of His disciples. “Do you want to go away as well?”

We are faced with that decision on a regular basis. Circumstances surrounding us can make us think that leaving Christ and going out on our own would be much better, much easier. Every trial, every obstacle, and every ounce of suffering that comes our way beckons us to choose, Christ or the world.

But deep down, we don’t really want to choose, really. We know, with Peter that without Christ there truly is nowhere else to go. The followers left Jesus because the road ahead looked hard and they didn’t like the picture that they saw. And though often impulsive and sharp-tongued, Peter’s confession, like another instance (Matthew 16:16), reveal eyes that have been opened. Though the deserters were culpable for their actions, the fact of the matter is, they left because they could not see.

Jesus was preparing them for the hard road ahead, just as He prepares us. If we did not have the trials, we would not long for Christ because we would be too busy being comfortable. But in all of our circumstances, no matter the sorrow, no matter the pain, no matter the uncertainty, we can rest in the promise that there truly is no other place to go but to our Christ.

The narrow road is paved with tears, but we are not walking on uncharted territory. It was laid out for us on the Calvary Road two thousand years ago by a Jewish carpenter. He knew the tears, He knew the pain, He knew the scorn and judgment. You can run to Him, dear Christian. He will not fail you. May God give you the grace today to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Does God Care How We Worship and Serve?

“Worship is worship. What does it matter how I do it? God cares about my heart and desire to bring Him honor.” So often in evangelical circles we adopt a philosophy that sees worship as primarily about my feelings, all the while saying that it really is about God. God can’t really be upset at me for serving Him in this way, can He?

So often in the gender debate we get bogged down on particulars—who can be pastor’s, who can lead in the church and home, who can preach, can my wife teach our mixed gender Sunday School class, etc. We get so stuck in the banter of church logistics that we are blinded to the real distortion—we don’t understand God. And this is not limited, primarily, to the gender issue. It shows itself in all areas of church life, even down to the teenager in the youth group who is mad about the modesty code.

A friend of mine asked the question recently, “What is a church to do when there are no men to fill the role of pastor, especially in another culture.” I am not going to get into my ideas here about whether or not women should go alone on the mission field. But I am simply going to say this in relation to the American church, often time we, in a genuine earnestness to serve Christ and His Church, make hasty decisions because it seems that at the time there are no other options (i.e. lack of men). Circumstances cannot be the deciding factor for correctness in our decisions, no matter how daunting the outcome may be.

The Israelites were not immune to this sort of thing either. God gave them strict commands for worship, and even told them to not mix their practices of worship with the pagans of the land. All through the books of the Old Testament we see the Israelite people on a trajectory to exile because they did not recognize the holiness of God in His commandments for worship. Every time reformation came with a new king we see the common theme, “but he did not remove the high places.” The high places were convenient, but the high places were also products of the idolatry of the land.

Very often we think that because we want to worship and honor God we can forego His commands for the time being, recognizing that it should be different. God tells us that obedience is better than sacrifice because He has a purpose in all of His commandments—to point to Christ. To worship outside of God’s parameter’s is almost saying that our worship is what God needs, when in reality we are really showing the world, the Church, and God, Himself that His commands are a mere secondary issue.

The fact that the high places were not removed may have seemed like a noble and pure idea in the beginning, just like having a woman serve as pastor for a brief interim may seem like a pure and noble idea. But as we see in the Old Testament, failure to adhere to what God says leads to destruction. What the Israelites missed in their worship of God is the same thing that we miss in our worship of God. The specifications for worship in the Old Testament point to the same thing that the specifications for gender roles point to in the whole of Scripture—Jesus Christ. There was a mystery being displayed in the intricate details of the Pentateuch that was revealed when the veil was torn in two, and the Son of Man said “it is finished.” And there is a mystery being displayed in the Garden of Eden when God created man and woman in distinctly different ways and gave them both a role to play.

I have been a part of a small church that started fifty years ago as a women-led congregation because all of their husbands were unbelievers. The intent was noble and right, but there was a pattern of leadership set in that congregation that never went away. Fundamentally our disagreements about gender roles are too shallow, just like our disagreements about so many things in church politics are shallow. It all will eventually come down to whether or not we trust God. Do we trust that God is who He says He is? If we do, then we must trust that when He tells us how to live, He will provide for us the means to live in such a way. We must establish a framework of Scripture and God that ultimately sees the mystery that Christ has with His Bride. Maybe then our dialogue would get somewhere.