Saturday, July 26, 2008

Made for Fellowship

Our hearts our lonely till they rest in Him who made us for Himself.”—Elisabeth Elliot

Loneliness can be a debilitating feeling. It can make us feel unloved, even despairing. It can make us feel that we are the only people in the world experiencing it at that moment. But we are not. Though painful, loneliness can be a tremendous blessing for the believer. Loneliness makes us acutely aware that we were made for something more. We were made for community. And not just a fellowship with each other, but most importantly, fellowship with the Father. Every twinge of loneliness reminds us of our need. So often we fill our need with other things that leave us wanting, and more lonely than before, when in reality our hearts are crying out for our greatest need—God, Himself. All of the other “fillers” are sad substitutes for our rest in the Savior. We are never alone because we have fellowship with the Father through Christ. When all around us is isolating, God has not forgotten. He is there.

Not only is loneliness a cause for dependence on the Father, it also affords us more fellowship with the sufferings of our Christ. No one faced the loneliness that he faced on the Cross. He, unlike any of us, was for a time abandoned by the Father so that we would never be abandoned by Him. What hope! Even in our despondency we can know that we are not alone. And it is in these times that we need to be reminded that our feelings are not always reality. Jesus knows what it means to be alone. Let Him be your rest.

We were made for fellowship with the Father. Rest in the Son, dear Christian, who purchased that fellowship with His own blood. “What a friend we have in Jesus” is a true statement indeed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Momma!

For the last 25 years (my whole life) Deb Tarter has been my mom. Being a mom is all she ever aspired to be. So, I think that it is only fitting that today, on her birthday, I tell her (and everyone else who reads) the 25 reasons why I am thankful that she is my mom.

  1. She loves Jesus.
  2. She wants people to love Jesus.
  3. She cares about the Church.
  4. She married my dad.
  5. She loves being a wife and mother.
  6. She encouraged me to desire to be a wife and mother (even when I bucked against it).
  7. She taught me the Gospel.
  8. She still teaches me the Gospel (though in different ways now).
  9. She is always there when I need her.
  10. She speaks truth into my life.
  11. She allows her children to grow up and encourages them towards that end.
  12. She let me go when “growing up” meant going away in rebellion for a season.
  13. She trusted the Lord to bring me back, and welcomed me back when He did.
  14. She recognizes that I still need a mom.
  15. She encourages me in my pursuits and takes an interest in what I do.
  16. She taught me to love theology and love studying the Bible.
  17. She likes learning.
  18. She cares about people and feels their pain, and knows what it means to “weep with those who weep.”
  19. She delights in giving gifts to people.
  20. She is the most compassionate person I know.
  21. She listens and understands me.
  22. She loves to laugh.
  23. She is a great cook.
  24. She loves serving people by cooking for them and having them in her home.
  25. She is my friend.

Those are just a few of the many reason why I am thankful for you, Momma. I am so thankful to call you a mom, but also a friend. The Lord has blessed me tremendously by giving me a mom like you. Happy Birthday! I pray that God gives you many more!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Friends

My friend Molly has a really good post up this week on her best friend, Danielle. It made me think about my recent trip to Minneapolis and how grateful I am for the dear friendships that I still have there. She ends the post by saying “I hope you have a Danielle in your life. I also hope you are being a Danielle to someone.”

Friends are a gift from the Lord. To have even one deep friendship in our lifetime is a mercy that we do not deserve, but a mercy that God lovingly gives to us. My two “Danielle’s” live in Minneapolis. Andrea, Steph, and I were friends from the beginning. Though we only lived together for six months it felt like we had been friends our whole lives. They became more than roommates to me. They are like sisters. No one can make me laugh like they do (except for maybe my brothers). We can look at each other and know what the other is thinking—usually this results in laughter, too. I never have to explain myself when I am talking, they just know. They understand me. They bear with my constant opinions. They are willing to listen, even when I talk way too much. But most importantly they make me love Jesus more. Their love for the Savior is evident in all that they do, and they are a constant conviction to seek him daily. One of my favorite things was listening to Andrea and Steph recite the church Fighter Verses to each other on Sunday morning. Walking with Jesus is real to them. Every time I am around them I am reminded of the Gospel because it is so real and personal to them. I can always count on them to be honest with me. They care about my holiness far more than my happiness. Last summer, when I was going through some really difficult circumstances, they cried with me. Bearing one another’s pain is a mark of true friendship.

God has designed us to be relational people. He has designed us to desire friendship and community with people, I believe because this is a part of being created in his image. The fellowship within the Trinity, and also the fellowship we have with the Father through the Son, reveals something important about our interactions on earth.

I am so thankful to the Lord that he has given me many dear friends. I do not deserve them. And I am so thankful for Steph and Andrea. Without their friendship I would be a completely different person. I pray that I can be as much of a blessing to them as they have been to me. My life is profoundly different now that they are many miles away from me. Even though we talk on the phone it’s not the same as living with them. But by God’s grace we have hope. This temporary separation reminds me that one day we will all be together. United with the One who calls us friend—and what a great friend he is.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Are Christian College's the Last Bastion of Traditional Values?

We are now seeing, among my generation in particular, the many effects of a culture that increasingly normalizes sin. Lisa Miller recently published an article about the rise of homosexual clubs on Christian college campuses. The birth of these clubs is largely due to the influence of Soul Force, a self-proclaimed Christian group that travels to Christian colleges and universities in order to free homosexual and transgendered students from oppression—namely religious oppression.

What was most troubling about the article is not that students are starting homosexual clubs in a community that claims the name of Christ. The problem arose long before these groups ever formed, or even before Soul Force arrived on their property. For many of the schools these students are acting contrary to the doctrinal and lifestyle statements of the institution. And the arrival of Soul Force may only have encouraged these behaviors, not created them. Even though some of the schools mentioned in the article are not sanctioning the clubs, they are not stopping them. An unofficial club is merely a matter of semantics. These schools abdicated their roles as leaders and guides of the next generation long before the students “came out.” And the issue is more a matter of discipleship than of discrimination.

While it could be said that a Christian college or university is not the “church” there is still a sense of shepherding on the part of leadership simply because they profess the name of Christ. They have rules and responsibilities of those who are members of the community, one being (on some campuses) that a student must be a believer. Miller gives several examples of students who are living contrary to these standards set by the institution, including a young woman biding her time until graduation day, who will then depart for her tour with the Soul Force bus openly declaring her lesbianism. How does she slip through the cracks? And what does it say about the institution?

Miller calls Christian colleges “the last bastion of traditional values—places where parents can continue, in absentia, to protect their children from the corrupting influences of the world.” But she goes on to say that this is no longer a valid idea due to the cultural acceptance of homosexual behavior. In the wake of same-sex marriage acceptability, Christian colleges are losing their ability to condemn this behavior, especially when, as she says, “they are wedged between their genuine desire to support the students and their obligations to donors and alumni.” This is when it becomes problematic for them. If we allow students to gather around homosexuality, what is to stop a “Gluttony Club” or “Pornography Club” from forming? Our hope is not in Christian colleges, and parents and students (and even the Church) should not treat it as such. And while our hope does not rest there, they still must function as members of the universal Church, one that never condones homosexuality, or any sexual behavior that deviates from what God has designed.

We have an obligation, as the Church, in a world increasingly confused about gender to speak boldly about what God says. Just because our culture views a particular behavior as acceptable does not mean that we turn a blind eye to it. Where will we be in 10 years if our Christian colleges, and our churches for that matter, do not teach and disciple people through their desires? It should also make us weep for these students. They are living out the darkness of Romans 1—and this is where we would be without the sovereign hand of God on us. And while the “last bastion of traditional values” may be on its way to being given over to the world, we know that the Church never will. Our obligation is to seek and save what is lost and teach them about how God’s glory is displayed in his creation of gender, perhaps even those lost on the Soul Force bus.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Let No Sin Escape"

Every day I get Spurgeon in my inbox. Unfortunately I do not always read and ponder these emails like I should. But today I took the time to read. Truth for Life has an email list that you can sign up for that sends you a piece of Spurgeon's Morning and Evening every day. I pray that it convicts you like it did me. May God be pleased to keep Calvary in our constant view as we do battle against our sins.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

1 Kings 18:40

When the prophet Elijah had received the answer to his prayer, and the fire from heaven had consumed the sacrifice in the presence of all the people, he called upon the assembled Israelites to take the priests of Baal and sternly cried, "Let not one of them escape." He took them all down to the brook Kishon and slew them there. So must it be with our sins-they are all doomed; not one must be preserved. Our darling sin must die. Do not spare it because it cries. Strike though it be as dear as a beloved son. Strike, for God struck at sin when it was laid upon His own Son. With stern unflinching purpose you must condemn to death that sin that was once the idol of your heart. Do you ask how you are to accomplish this? Jesus will be your power. You have grace to overcome sin, given you in the covenant of grace; you have strength to win the victory in the crusade against inward lusts because Christ Jesus has promised to be with you even unto the end. If you would triumph over darkness, set yourself in the presence of the Sun of Righteousness. There is no place so well adapted for the discovery of sin and recovery from its power and guilt as the immediate presence of God. Job never knew how to get rid of sin half as well as he did when his eye of faith rested upon God, and then he abhorred himself and repented in dust and ashes. The fine gold of the Christian is often becoming dim. We need the sacred fire to consume the dross. Let us fly to our God. He is a consuming fire; He will not consume our spirit, but our sins. Let the goodness of God excite us to a sacred jealousy and to a holy revenge against those iniquities that are hateful in His sight. Go forth to battle in His strength and utterly destroy the accursed crew: "Let not one of them escape."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Reading Book 3: Seeing with New Eyes

I finished David Powlison’s Seeing with New Eyes last Friday on my flight up to Minneapolis. This book transformed my thinking in many ways, and probably more than I even realize right now. It was intensely practical, yet saturated with biblical truth that maximizes the Gospel and in no way minimizes sin. I have only recently been exposed to biblical counseling, largely because of my time at Southern. The book is a compilation of things he has written on Scripture and biblical counseling.

Here are some things I learned as I read (though it doesn't even come close to doing the book justice!):

  1. Sin is our fundamental problem.
  2. Christ is our greatest need and only solution to that problem.
  3. The Word is where we learn about this solution, and it is sufficient to meet every need that we face.
  4. The Word contains all that we need to counsel ourselves and others. I must learn to study it and apply it.
  5. We must learn to ask “probing questions” of ourselves and others in order to get to the root cause of our sin.

While this may seem like “common knowledge” to the believer, so often we don’t live like it is common. Sin and the world entangle us and muddy our gaze towards God. There are so many competing ideologies that promise to supplement the Bible in the sanctification process. Powlison teaches his reader to learn to “see as God sees.” And this can only be done through first knowing his Son through His Word. We need the Bible every day so we can know and see our Savior. We do not need any supplement. Oh how I long to see that perfect Son in greater measure and in all of His glory!

“When our gaze awakens to the gaze of God, we have started to see. Seeing clearly we can love well.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Getting Rid of Distractions

Fear, worry, and anxiety are my besetting sins. This has become an increasingly real fact of my life as I have gotten older. I don’t know if growing up necessarily affords for more occasions to fear, but in my case I have been hit with it more and more. I have been reading through David Powlison’s book, Seeing with New Eyes, and his insights have been extremely helpful as I battle my own tendency towards anxiety.

Powlison teaches the biblical counselor to ask probing questions of the person who is struggling with sin. Probing questions can reveal behavioral patterns that simply mask the sin instead of face the sin. In my case I realized that instead of facing my anxiety I distract myself. One of the ways I do this is by turning on the television. Whenever I am staying alone I turn the TV immediately. I try to find some mindless sitcom or movie that will get my mind off the fact that I am afraid and allow me to enter another world. The problem is when I go to bed the “other world” of the movie is inside the TV, and I am faced with the reality that I am scared. So I replay that movie in my head until I lull myself to sleep. But this does nothing for the fear itself. It simply covers it with something else. When I distract myself I am merely pretending that it is gone until the next time when it resurfaces, usually in a stronger capacity.

Distraction is a much easier way to deal with sin. We see this all of the time with parents and unruly toddlers. Instead of teaching a child to sit still at the dinner table, the mother or father simply gives them many toys to play with while dinner is being served, so that the child will cause minimal problems at the table. It’s not dealing with the issue; it’s masking it with a distraction.

In my own life I realize that it is much harder to face the sin of fear and anxiety because often the fear does not go away immediately. I might have to face a few sleepless nights praying Scripture through my worry in order to find true freedom, but it is the only way to true freedom. My creation of distractions is really the creation of an idol. Something other than God is my hope in the midst of fear, and that is blasphemous against my Creator who has only called me to fear one thing—Himself. Fundamentally my fear and anxiety is unbelief in God. When I turn the lights out at night, when I go to the store alone, when I fly in an airplane, I do not trust that the One who holds the universe is in his hand will uphold me. All of my actions are manifestations of a heart condition that reveals distrust in my Savior. Overcoming fear is not a matter of exerting will power. It is pinpointing the root cause of my unbelief in God.

Thankfully we serve a God who does not allow us to continue in our sins. He is merciful to us, even when we seek everything else but him. I pray that the next time I am faced with fear I will have the grace to crucify the distractions and fear only the One worth all of my fear and worship.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Celebrating Dependence

I always look forward to the 4th of July. But as I prepared for the festivities today it caused me to think about what independence means for me as a Christian. Though I am very thankful today, and every day, for the freedoms that I have as an American citizen, I am not really a free and autonomous person. Nobody is. We are under the rule of the One who rules the universe. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” As a Christian, my celebration of independence should be one of gratitude for the men who died so I can have basic liberties, but I also should recognize that I cannot get caught up in the rhetoric of rights. I belong to the Lord first, America second.

Following Christ also means that I have far more in common with the believer in Uganda who doesn’t know any stanzas of “My Country ‘tis of Thee,” than the person who lives next door. America is where I live. And I am so grateful to be here. Every time I leave the country I am proud to say that I am from America, and very grateful to come back home. It’s where I live. It’s where I was born. It’s where my family is. But it’s not where I will live forever. I feel so privileged to be here and live in a place where I can read my Bible in the park and not get arrested. But that is a mercy from God, not a basic right that will change my faith if taken away.

As I celebrate Independence Day I will gladly eat hot dogs and watermelon with the rest of my friends. We might even sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” And I will sing proudly because I am a thankful American. But as a Christian I must always remember that I am more defined by dependence than independence.

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”—including the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Summer Reading Update: A Path Through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot

As I mentioned previously, Elisabeth Elliot is one of my favorite writers. Reading her writing has encouraged me in so many ways as I have grown in my walk with the Lord. Last week I finished book number 2 on my summer reading list. A Path Through Suffering is a book that I have wanted to read for a while, and it was worth my time. The chapters are really short. So if you don't have a lot of time on your hands, this would be a great book to read little snippets of each day. She uses the theme of the seasons and the process of nature to apply to our suffering. And as always, she challenges and encourages her readers to walk faithfully with God and delight only in him.

I leave you with a few quotes that I liked, though most of the book is quotable!

"Vines must be pruned. This looks like a cruel business. Perfectly good branches have to be lopped off in order for better branches to develop. It is necessary business, for only the well-pruned vine bears the best fruit. The life of the vine is strengthened in one part by another part's being cut away. The rank growth has to go and then the sun reaches places it could not reach before. Pruning increases yield."

"We are not often called to great sacrifice, but daily we are presented with the chance to make small ones--a chance to make someone cheerful, a chance to do some small thing to make someone comfortable or contented, a chance to lay down our petty preferences or cherished plans. This probably requires us to relinquish something--our own convenience or comfort, our own free evening, our warm fireside, or even our habitual shyness or reserve or pride. My liberty must be curtailed, bound down, ignored (oh, how the world hates this sort of thing! how our own sinful desires hate it!)--for the sake of the liberation of others."

She recognizes for many, and even in for herself, that there is suffering that is on a much more painful and grand scale then daily being kind to a hateful person. She speaks to those circumstances, too. One of the most helpful things I gleaned from the book was in the chapter on suffering as a parent. Though I am not a parent, her comments were very applicable and caused me to really think through her words.

She says:
"The deepest lessons come out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires. One of God's greatest gifts, parenthood, always includes the gift of suffering, that we may be humbled and our faith refined as gold in the fire. Again, we are not given explanations but, to hearts open to recieve it, a more precious revelation of the heart of our loving Lord...Occasions of desperation prepare the way for the recognition of Christ himself."

She then goes on to reference biblical passages where people were in great despair and suffering prior to a greater revelation of Christ.

Our culture tells us to flee from suffering. We do everything we can to skirt pain and discomfort. Yet, Elliot shows us that this is not the way of our Christ. He endured the shame of the Cross, the greatest suffering imaginable in order to do the will of the Father and "bring many sons to glory." This book is a reminder of that. It is not a call to stoicism, nor is it a call to self-pity. Neither of these reactions are the way of the Savior. But it is a call to embrace suffering, as Christ did. We should embrace it openly, grieve over it, and know that the story did not end with the Cross. He rose again, and so will we. And then, because of his work on our behalf, our suffering will be over.