Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Year in Review in Pictures

Pictures capture memories and moments throughout the year that we otherwise might forget. Below is a recap of our wild and crazy (and fun!) year, as seen through pictures.

January 2011- a lot happened this month. Zach and Emily came to visit, we went to NYC on a missions trip, and Daniel's grandma passed away.

(with Daniel's mom after the funeral)

February - the only picture I have from this month is when we went to Chuy's for my birthday. And with good food like this, it deserves a pic on the blog.

March - apparently I took no pictures.

April - another busy month. Daniel was in a wedding and we went to Little Rock to look for a place to live!

May - a bittersweet month. I had my last day of work at Christian Academy, we moved from Louisville to Little Rock, and Daniel graduated from Southern!

June - I think this picture is from June, but we got free chicken for dressing like cows. We were still recovering from the move, so we didn't do a whole lot this month.

July - I was able to go home to Florida for my mom's birthday, so I captured a picture of this sweet little guy! And we went to Dallas and Northwest Arkansas. I only took a picture of us visiting Razorback Stadium, but we traveled a lot in July.

August - again, I have no idea what we did in August. I took no pictures!

September - another big travel month. We went to Branson, Louisville, Ohio (briefly), and I'm sure we went somewhere else, but I just can't remember!

October - took no pictures! Micah came to visit us and I had surgery. No one wants to see pics of me recovering. Trust me.

November - another travel month. We went to San Antonio (hence, the Alamo), celebrated Daniel's 30th birthday and Thanksgiving, and went to Oklahoma City!

December - we went to Florida for Christmas! We met our new niece (precious!) and celebrated with my family. It was such a fun time and we were really sad to come home! This was our 4th Christmas together, so it was fun to take our 4th picture by my parents' tree!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Waiting for the Light

One of the hardest elements of this past year has been the lingering feelings of darkness and sadness. It is in these moments that it seems that I'm unable to feel anything at all. I know I should be feeling joy in the Lord. I know my only hope is to treasure Christ and cling to him alone. I know I should be talking to myself instead of listening to myself. I know a lot of things in those moments, but the kicker is that I don't feel a lot of things.

We are feeling creatures. God made us with emotions that are meant to be experienced. If he didn't want us to feel things, he would have made us differently. When dark nights of the soul come (and the will come for nearly every Christian), it is hard to feel deeply and favorably about Christ and his word. In order to combat some of these dark seasons, I've been reading When I Don't Desire God (by John Piper) over the last few weeks and have been helped greatly by the biblical and practical nature of the book. I had only been a Christian for less than a year when I first read this book, so it was only fitting that I read it again when I am now in a very different season of life. All of the book is extremely helpful regardless of your circumstances (happy, sad, or in-between), but the last chapter really gave me some helpful tools to utilize when it really seems that the "darkness will not lift."

Piper says (speaking about Psalm 40):

"Then comes the king's cry: 'I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.' One of the reasons God loved David so much was because he cried so much. 'I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping' (Ps. 6:6). 'You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?' (Ps. 56:8). Indeed they are! 'Blessed are those who mourn' (Matt. 5:4). It is a beautiful thing when a broken man genuinely cries out to God."

"Then after the cry you wait. 'I waited patiently for the LORD.' This is crucial to know: Saints who cry to the Lord for deliverance from pits of darkness must learn to wait patiently for the Lord. There is no statement about how long David waited. I have known saints who walked through eight years of debilitating depression and came out into glorious light. Only God knows how long we must wait. We saw this in Micah's experience in Chapter Six. 'I sit in darkness...until [the Lord] pleads my cause and...will bring me out to the light' (see Micah 7:8-9). We can draw no deadlines for God. He hastens or delays as he sees fit. And his timing is all-loving towards his children. Oh, that we might learn to be patient in the hour of darkness. I don't mean that we make peace with darkness. We fight for joy. But we fight as those who are saved by grace and held by Christ. We say with Paul Gerhardt that our night will soon - in God's timing - turn to day."

Throughout the book, Piper says that just because we feel a certain way, or cannot get out of the pit of darkness, it doesn't mean that we allow it to take over and be a controlling force in our lives. The Christian life is war, in darkness and in light. What I found most helpful in the book is the lack of formulaic answers. We can fight for joy and wait a long time for relief to come. But, as Piper says, it is all part of the process God has given us to make us more like him. When we fight for joy with God's word we will get joy. It might be joy through tears, joy through suffering, or joy in extreme brokenness. But it will be joy, because our hope is in the Lord and not what we can see. Lord, give us all the grace we need to wait for your light to come and pierce our dark night.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Silent Christmas: A Poem

No infant cries to call our own
No tiny presents that fill our home

Just a deafening silence that tells a story
Of what was, is not, and now will not be

We sing the songs that tell of good cheer
And all the while wish you were here

Your mommy and daddy, we miss you so
Yet in our sadness we hope and know

That your Christmas celebration is much greater than this
More joy, more laughter, and endless bliss

For in our Savior's presence you forever will stand
And one day we will meet you in Emmanuel's land

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday is for Fotos: Christmas with Family

Hope for the Holidays: You Are Not Forgotten

For many people the Christmas season is a joyous time filled with family gatherings, way too much (good) food, and an abundance of gifts. But for some, it’s far from the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas is only a reminder of what is missing, or broken, or not right. Christmas only highlights the fact that they feel completely forgotten by God.

It’s easy to make that leap if you are walking through a difficult season of your life. The external circumstances are grim and there seems to be no relief at the end of the dark tunnel you are staring down. If this is your life this Christmas season, you have far more in common with the biblical characters surrounding the Christmas story than you might think. The people who make up the birth account of our Christ are a very unlikely cast of characters. They are an old couple who are burdened with childlessness, a poor teenage virgin with a husband from an obscure town, and the Savior himself—born in a manger, not a much deserved royal palace. Christ’s descent to earth was (and still is) a loud call to all of us that we have not been forgotten.

Zechariah and Elizabeth

Consider this unlikely couple. Every external observation implies that they are long forgotten by God. Luke tells us that while they have asked God for a child for many years, they have now reached old age with no child to call their own. In this culture barrenness meant certain reproach for Elizabeth. She would be viewed by her community as defective and unable to do the very thing she was created to do—bring life into the world. When the women around her experienced pregnancy after pregnancy, Elizabeth was an outsider looking into a world she couldn’t know. Zechariah surely faced tremendous pressure also as he cared for his wife, grieved his own loss of having no heir, and fulfilled his God-given duties as priest. While many would give into the temptation to sin by taking the matter into their own hands, or turning from the God who made them, we are given a small glimpse into Zechariah and Elizabeth’s response to their lifelong infertility. They were righteous. They entrusted themselves to a faithful God, believing in his promises to them, and trusting that he would work good in their lives. They hoped in him alone and believed that he was not finished with them yet.

And he wasn’t.

We know from the rest of the story that God answers their prayer for a child, and not just any child, but the child who would be the promised forerunner to the Messiah. This old couple who waited years for God to answer their longing for a child, now have one who plays a pivotal role in the greatest story of history—the story of Jesus.

Mary and Joseph

By the time the angel appeared to Mary, and ultimately Joseph, the people of Israel had experienced over 400 years of silence from God. Many Jewish people died having never witnessed any revelation, prophetic voice, or tangible act from God. And that took its toll on God’s people. Many Israelites turned away, determining that God’s promises could not really be true. Mary and Joseph, who Luke tells us are righteous people, represent the faithful few. They are the ones who held on to the Old Testament promises even when it seemed like God would never act. It was through this seemingly insignificant girl that the Savior would come into the world. In a cave filled with animals, in a small town far away from home, she would give birth to the Messiah with her loyal husband by her side. No one would have expected it from them.

And that is how God works. He takes the forgotten, the outcast, the insignificant and shows them his kindness and greatness by glorifying himself through them, sometimes in some of the most surprising ways.

Christ the Savior

But no one shows that we are not forgotten more than the Savior himself. Isaiah 53 says:

“He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.”

He was momentarily forgotten, afflicted, and separated from God the Father so you would never have to be. That holy night in Bethlehem was moving towards this very reality. Christmas is the precursor to Easter. The incarnation proves that God keeps his promises, and the atonement on the cross seals that promise for good, making us God’s own children. It proves that you are not forgotten because God can never forget his own.

The wonder of Christmas is that we weren’t forgotten. And he showed up in the lives of people who the world viewed as forgotten and of little worth. God became man to rescue us from our sin and bring us into fellowship with himself. He made himself nothing, identifying with lowly and despised people to show that no one is forgotten regardless of their circumstances. You are not forgotten this Christmas, or anytime of the year. The manger where this little baby lay all those years ago is proof of that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rest is Not My Savior

The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be an extremely busy time for most people. Between the rush to buy the perfect gifts for family and friends and the seemingly endless parties and family gatherings, we can easily burnout before mid-December. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to realize that the holiday season just seems to get busier and busier. And sometimes I just don’t like all of the busyness.

In college, I would rush to buy all of my presents after finishing finals sometimes a week before Christmas. I would think to myself, “when I’m done with college, I will have more time to enjoy the holiday season.” When I was single and working full-time, sometimes I was too exhausted at the end of the day to even think about Christmas cheer. I would think to myself, “when I get married and have a husband, I will be more settled and able to anticipate Christmas.” Then I got married—to a seminary student. Every December meant studying and final exams. Every Christmas break meant prep for the next semester or J-term class. Again, I would think to myself, “when he graduates and we live a normal life, then I will be able to prepare my heart for Christmas and enjoy this season.”

And now here we are. Christmas is merely an example of the many other times I tell myself some variation of the “when _____ happens, then I can rest and enjoy the season.” Well, I’ve learned something really profound in these last six months. It won’t happen. It’s not that I can’t experience rest, or a more streamlined schedule, or even a lighter schedule. Those are all manageable and attainable goals. And of course there are instances where I need to take a hard look at my schedule and see if I’m being a poor steward of my time. But sometimes no amount of rearranging will change the subtle discontent in my heart regarding my desire for more time. More than anything I have needed to learn that my constant looking forward with longing eyes only reveals a heart that is simply not able to rest in what God has given me right now. Over time I’ve seen rest and a lighter schedule as my savior and means of contentment.

Daniel has often reminded me of a very important truth regarding my “if only” statements. Those things are not my savior. Only Jesus is my savior. Only he can provide me the rest and contentment I yearn for even in the midst of an overwhelming schedule. When I fail to recognize this simple yet crucial truth, I separate rest from the giver of rest, and thus make my desire for rest idolatry.

So as I finish up my final preparations for Christmas I don’t want to be ruled by my sinful desire and grasping for a season that is not mine. I want to find rest in Christ even when my mind is scattered and fuzzy, and my to-do list is longer than I would like. Only he can give us true and lasting rest, in the busy times and the quiet times.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday is for Fotos: Oklahoma City

A couple of weeks ago Daniel and I went to Oklahoma City for his job, and while we were there we visited the memorial site where the Oklahoma City bombing happened. It was a very well done memorial, but it was sobering to walk through the place where 168 Americans were tragically killed. I remember exactly what I was doing when the news broke that the bombing had taken place. I was home sick from school that day, and I remember watching the coverage with my mom and being scared and overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. As a 12 year old it was really frightening, especially knowing that 19 children were killed as well.

The chairs were the most moving part to us. Each chair represents a person who was killed, with the smaller ones representing the children killed. Below are some of the pictures that we took from our visit.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

He Made Himself Nothing

The following post includes excerpts taken from Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas (edited by Nancy Guthrie)

"The Holy Spirit wants us to understand where Christ came from. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-7, 'Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.'
Coming in the very form or nature of God, Jesus didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped. In other words, instead of holding on to his own uninterrupted glory, he chose to set it aside..."

"If you look again at Philippians 2:7, you notice that there is a comma after 'nothing,' and then you have a verb in the present continuous: he 'made himself nothing, taking...' There is a link here between nothing and taking.

Alec Mattea, a wonderful scholar and friend of mine, suggests that if we ask, what did he empty himself into? rather than, of what did he empty himself? we will be closer to coming to grips with it. It's a fantastic paradox. It's what the Lord Jesus took to himself that humbled him, not what he laid aside. He emptied himself, 'taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.' It was in taking to himself humanity that he became nothing. Of course, for those of us who think that man is the apex of it all, we can't imagine anyone who wouldn't be absolutely excited to be a man. But if you were God? Imagine. To be God and come down a birth canal, to be laid in a manger, to live as an outcast, to die as a stranger, to bear the abuse and curse of the law - it sounds like 'nothing' to me..."

"Jesus did not approach the incarnation asking, 'What's in it for me, what do I get out of it?'" In coming to earth he said, 'I don't matter."

Jesus, you're going to be laid in a manger.

'It doesn't matter.'

Jesus, you will have nowhere to lay your head.

"It doesn't matter"

Jesus, you will be an outcast and a stranger.

"It doesn't matter."

Jesus, they will nail you to a cross and your followers will all desert you.

And Jesus says, "That's okay."

This is what it means. He "made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

-Alistair Begg

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Fullness of God

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”—Colossians 1:15-20

This passage has been rocking me lately, especially verse 19: “for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” So many of our Christmas celebrations include verses from the Gospels, and they should. We sing the usual songs, read the familiar narratives, but often miss that Christmas is not only a happy story, but a deeply theological one as well.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that this awesome reality really hit me. Growing up in a Christian home, the meaning of Christmas was not far from all of our festivities. But it was only when I thought hard about the incarnation that Christmas was launched to a whole other level in my mind. Christmas is about God coming to earth and taking the form of man. God who is the creator of the universe, became flesh, and walked this earth. Christmas is about the fulfillment of everything God promised to us and those who lived before us. Can you imagine what those who actually understood what was happening felt when they saw this promised Messiah in the flesh? All they could do was worship.

As the days leading up to Christmas become fewer and fewer, I want the wonder of the incarnation to stir my heart to worship King Jesus. That God would leave his throne and dwell among a sinful people is amazing enough. But that he would come to willingly die to rescue us from sin is even more amazing. I want this to be the focus of my heart this Christmas—treasuring the Christ who saved me and made me his own.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hope for the Holidays: Advent and Waiting

Christmas is an exciting and joyous time. There is so much joy brought into our lives this time of year—parties, family, lights, decorations, and even shopping for presents. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, isn’t it? Absolutely.

But Christmas is also about longing, waiting, and hoping. The weeks leading up to Christmas tell a story of expectancy. For the culture around us, many are anxiously waiting to open presents or visit Santa Claus. As Christians, we are waiting for a great celebration—the birth of our Savior.

Weaved throughout the Bible is this common theme of waiting. It is present in the individual stories of the Patriarchs and in the corporate stories of the Israelites and their hope for a Messiah. In the New Testament, the waiting looks a little different. Messiah has come, but it’s not the end of story.
We are still in a period of waiting for his return, for his second coming. Advent is an already, but not yet. Our anticipation for his return is not unlike the anticipation many Jewish people felt as they waited, and waited, and waited, for Christ to come. And our longing for final restoration joins us with the righteous Jewish men and women from long ago.

While we are waiting corporately for the return of our Lord, we are also often in seasons of waiting in our own life. Whether big or small, waiting is difficult and often very painful at times. The story of Christmas provides us with wonderful reminders and examples of what it means to wait with biblical expectancy.

As I’ve thought about how the Scriptures define waiting well, two different types of waiting come to mind:

-Bitter and indifferent
-Expectant and hopeful

The Israelites as a whole fell into the first camp. John 1:9-11 says: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

Years of hardening their hearts and following false gods blinded their eyes to see that who they were longing for had come. Some simply didn’t care. This bitterness and indifference, fueled by despair and giving up after years of waiting, led them to miss Christ’s first coming. It began with many years of mistrust of God’s good plan for them, led to indifference when his plan was fulfilled, and ultimately led them to kill the One promised to them. They did not wait well.

The expectant and hopeful were fewer in number, but given special attention in the Bible. They were Simeon, Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Anna—all people who were longing for the Messiah’s birth, but did not give in to the temptation to fall away and serve the gods of this world. They held on to hope, trusting that God always does what he says he will do.

It’s much easier to fall into the first camp of bitterness and indifference. When you spend your entire lifetime waiting for God to fulfill his promises and still don’t see them met, the world around you seems a lot more promising. In long seasons of waiting the temptations to sin are great. The Jewish people had grown so cold and bitter towards God that they missed his ultimate work in the sending of his son.

Lest we too miss Christ’s work, we must wait well. Waiting well sometimes mean going your entire life without seeing the fulfillment of his promises for you this side of eternity, but you trust him anyway. Waiting well means holding on and trusting even when his promises aren’t met until you are advanced in years (like Zechariah and Elizabeth), yet you believe in his good and perfect plan anyway. Waiting well means trusting God’s purposes even when your life and reputation are in jeopardy (like Mary and Joseph). It’s hard to wait well. It’s costly to wait well. But it’s essential to wait well. Waiting well means we get to see Jesus in all of his glory. Waiting poorly means we miss him, at great cost to our souls.

Regardless of where you are in the waiting process this Advent season, know that you are not alone. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, many who did not see in their lifetime the fulfillment of the promise we now have, yet the hoped in the God who is faithful and true.
How do you wait well this Christmas season? Consider God’s word to us from Lamentations 3:22-27

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”

It is good to wait on the Lord and trust in him alone. Waiting well means trusting in the One who knows the end of our waiting. He will always be faithful.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Victoria Secret Fashion Show and Christians

I’ve never seen the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, and I don’t intend to start making it a yearly ritual. But my choice is irrelevant considering millions tuned in last week to watch the annual show boasting big name entertainment and barely clothed models. Some find it repulsive and demeaning to women. But mostly, the wider culture embraces the message and gladly joins in on this party.

So why am I writing about this? The Victoria Secret Fashion Show has very little do with Christian women, right? Yes and no. While it might seem like the Victoria Secret Fashion Show is tailor-made to appeal to the interests of men, I’m surprised (and discouraged) to not only see that there are women who like it, but Christian women. And that is a troubling trend.

The issue with it isn’t so much lingerie and underwear. Nearly every major department store sells those. The issue isn’t even really about Victoria Secret as a store, even though their marketing demographic seems to be getting younger and younger. Victoria Secret makes their money selling sexy. Every ad, every fashion show, and every picture displaying their apparel promises one thing to the woman (or man) looking to purchase—buy their stuff and you won’t just feel sexy, you will be sexy. There is no problem in feeling sexy, if you are married and if the person you want to feel sexy for is your husband. But if you are 15—or even 20—and not married the last thing you should feel right now is sexy.

So, no, the problem with the Victoria Secret Fashion Show is not necessarily the lingerie. It’s that they have taken something that God intended to be private and made it into a marketing and entertainment masterpiece—and we have believed their lies along the way.

For the Christian woman who chooses to watch the Victoria Secret Fashion Show it might not seem like that big of a deal. If you are single, you might like their product and want to see new apparel, or you might just like the entertainment aspect of it. Or even more dangerous, you might secretly like the way the show makes you feel—like a woman who can be just as sexy as the models on the screen. If you are married, you might watch because you want ideas of what to buy, or you might like the way it makes you feel as well. You might secretly wish you could be as uninhibited as those models, or wish that you were gawked at by millions of men and women who praise your body. Just because you are a woman, does not mean that watching other women parade around in their underwear is a normal or acceptable practice. We must be careful to guard our hearts and our minds from not just images, but also messages that tell lies about God’s created design for us.

When we don’t, we buy into the ambient culture’s message that sex and sexuality is for public consumption, not the privacy of the marital bedroom. Even if you are married, you have no business joining in the party that makes sex entertainment. The message of the Victoria Secret Fashion Show is that anyone can be sexy enough to be lusted after, if you just buy their products.

So if you are tempted to tune in every year to watch the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, or things like it. Or if you just think it’s harmless, think again. The message that a woman’s body is for everyone to look at is not a harmless message. It’s a deadly one. And as Christian women, our hearts should grieve that our culture has adopted such a perilous philosophy on sexuality, rather than revel in it and join the party.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Another Resource: A Poem for Christmas

One of my favorite things about being at Bethlehem Baptist Church was when Pastor John would read an Advent poem every Sunday leading up to Christmas. While I never heard this one live, last Christmas The Innkeeper really ministered to me in moments when I felt so sad over our loss. You can hear him read the entire poem on Desiring God's website, but here is a little taste of the richness of his words.

I am the boy
That Herod wanted to destroy.
You gave my parents room to give
Me life, and then God let me live,
And took your wife.
Ask me not why
The one should live, another die.
God's ways are high, and you will know
In time. But I have come to show
You what the Lord prepared the night
You made a place for heaven's light.
In two weeks they will crucify
My flesh. But mark this, Jacob, I
Will rise in three days from the dead,
And place my foot upon the head
Of him who has the power of death,
And I will raise with life and breath
Your wife and Ben and Joseph too
And give them, Jacob, back to you
With everything the world can store,
And you will reign for evermore."

This is the gift of candle three:

A Christ with tears in tragedy
And life for all eternity.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hope for the Holidays: Encouraging Resources

Last Christmas I really struggled to find joy in the midst of losing our baby. We were only a few months out from our miscarriage and at times it just felt like God had forgotten us. Last Christmas I thought for sure I would be pregnant (or have a new baby) by this Christmas. And here we are again, our empty arms still aching. Our story is not unlike so many stories out there. There are a lot couples, like us, who are facing Christmas longing for their family to be enlarged, or grieving the loss of the child they hoped for. It's painful. It's lonely. And at times it feels like you would much rather curl up in a ball and forget the whole Christmas thing. It's hard to feel joyful when you feel so joyless.

One of the ways I have fought the temptation to forget the joy of Christmas is by reminding myself (through helpful resources) what Christmas is all about. It's really easy in this season to walk through Target, or watch a peppy Christmas special, and just go crazy from all of the sugary happiness. But Christmas isn't about all of those things (though I do enjoy them). It's about a deep longing that is fulfilled by a little baby born in Bethlehem many years ago. And I need to remind myself of that on a daily basis, in good times and in bad. I have more thoughts on that for another post, but here are some resources that have served me these last couple of weeks as I've walked through Thanksgiving, and now Christmas.

Hope in the God Who is Not Done, Pastor Sam Crabtree's first Advent Message at Bethlehem Baptist Church. I cried through most of this message. It was exactly what I needed to hear that day.

Joy to This Cursed World by Nancy Guthrie. I love everything she writes. It is always so biblical, compassionate, and honest. As I read this article I seriously felt like she was putting to paper everything that had been swirling around in my head.

This next link is not a shameless plug, but all of the sermons for our church are now online. The Sunday before Thanksgiving (November 20), my husband preached a message that wasn't necessarily about suffering, but in it he talked about what rejoicing always, and giving thanks in all circumstances, looks like. It was really helpful to me, especially leading into Thanksgiving and Christmas. And on October 2, our other pastor (Jeff Breeding) preached a sermon called "Faith in the Face of Suffering." Because I was in the nursery that day, I just listened to it last week. It encouraged me greatly, and if you are facing suffering right now I promise it will bless you as well.

We will always be learning what it means to suffer in a way that honors God. Satan wants nothing more than for us to "curse God and die" when everything around us is caving in. He wants us to forget everything and give up. And it's tempting sometimes. But one of the ways we fight that temptation is by filling our minds with the truth. We fight by remembering. I'm sure there are many more helpful resources out there that can serve a sorrowful or discouraged Christian this Christmas season, so these are just a few. But I pray that if you are fainthearted these resources will serve to strengthen your spirit even when the darkness around you seems too much to bear. God has not forgotten you. The manger is proof of that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy 30th Birthday, Daniel!

Today, my dear husband turns 30. I've been saying it over and over again, partly because I can't believe it. He is 30, which means in a little over a year I will be 30. He is out of his twenties and has moved into a new decade. But really, it's just a number. He feels the same way he did yesterday. So on this day, his 30th birthday, I want to honor him with 30 reasons I love him with all of my heart. Every year I love him more and more. I love seeing God grow him as a pastor, husband, friend, son, and Christian. He is a blessing to me in more ways than I can even count. So here are just some of the ways I am thankful for him today, but know that these don't even scratch the surface. I am one blessed woman!

Daniel, here are a few of the many ways I'm thankful to God for you.

  1. You are committed to studying God’s word and rightly handling his truth.

  2. You love people and want to see them grow in their knowledge of Christ.

  3. You love God’s word and believe that it is true and powerful.

  4. You are sensitive to the needs of others and are quick to show compassion.

  5. You take your responsibility as a pastor seriously, and you show that seriousness by your faithfulness in preparing to preach God’s word and your devotion to prayer.

  6. You are hospitable.

  7. You love me and are my best friend.

  8. You model Christ’s love for the Church by faithfully providing for us and protecting me with joy.

  9. You are the hardest worker I know.

  10. You are honest.

  11. You are quick to ask questions and get to know people.

  12. You are a good listener.

  13. You are smart.

  14. You manage our finances in a way that protects us.

  15. You are willing to do things you don’t enjoy in order to serve God’s people and your family.

  16. You are quick to forgive.

  17. You are not afraid to admit that you are wrong.

  18. You are creative when it comes to giving gifts, and like to give people things that really mean something to them.

  19. You are funny.

  20. You care about lost people.

  21. You love the nations and are willing to give of yourself in order to see them trust in Christ.

  22. You love children.

  23. You are loyal.

  24. You are my greatest supporter and encourager.

  25. You are servant-hearted.

  26. You are gentle and not quick to be angry.

  27. You are affectionate.

  28. You enjoy being active.

  29. You still like to date me.

  30. After Christ, you are my greatest joy. There is no one else I would rather be with, cry with, love, and walk through this crazy life with.

Happy birthday, my love. I’m so thankful to God for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Heart of Thankfulness

As we begin Thanksgiving week it’s easy to get lost in the busyness of visiting family, preparing meals, watching football, and maintaining traditions. And while we should be cultivating thankfulness all year, Thanksgiving affords a unique opportunity to focus on the many reasons we have to be thankful. The Bible is not void of discussion on thankfulness either, especially in the Psalms. When the Psalms express thankfulness, it always directed to God and his gracious work for his people. As Christians, we should take our cues from the Psalmist not only on Thanksgiving, but every day as well. Sure, we can be thankful for material possessions, family members, and other earthly things. But when we express our appreciation for these things, it must always be directed towards the Giver, the God who gives us every earthly blessing, but also an abundance of heavenly blessings.

Psalm 103 is a beautiful expression of overflowing thankfulness to God. In verse 1, David says: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Every fiber of David’s being is pouring out blessing, praise, and honor to God. He is celebrating God’s goodness towards his people. But he doesn’t end there. He goes on to explain in greater detail what this goodness looks like. In verse 2, David urges himself (and us) to “forget not all his benefits.” He is telling us to call to mind what God has done for us. In essence, he is saying to remember so you can see how he has worked for you. It’s hard to praise the Lord when you can’t remember what he has done for you. So remember. Call to mind the great things he has worked on your behalf. I imagine it will elicit the same joyous praise that David exhibits here. Thankfully, he expounds on these benefits. And while this is David talking, these benefits apply to us as well. The following verses show us five ways that God’s benefits are made manifest in our lives:

He forgives all of your iniquity (verse 3a). This is the foundation of our praise. All other benefits mean nothing if our sins are not forgiven. At the cross, our greatest problem was dealt with by God himself. This alone gives us reason to celebrate and be thankful for the rest of our lives. Our sins have been forgiven.

He heals all of our diseases (verse 3b). God is the great healer. Modern medicine is an amazing gift to us, but God ultimately heals us of our illnesses. Some of you today might wonder when you will be healed. Maybe you have faced illness your entire life and there is no hope for a cure. This verse doesn’t seem to apply to you. Oh, but it does. Even if you do not face healing in this life, there is a great healing coming for you. The body you have right now won’t be this way forever. One day you will have a new body that is free of disease and decay. Hold on for that final day, and trust in the God who will one day finally heal all of your disease.

He redeems our life from the pit (verse 4a). Before God saved us, we were living in a pit of sin, despair, and hopelessness. We had no way of escape. But God, in his great mercy, redeemed us from that pit. Not only does he forgive our sins, but he takes us out of that sinful life and redeems us. He makes us new creations by the atoning work of Jesus.

He crowns us with steadfast love and mercy (verse 4b). A crown is given to royalty. When we are forgiven and redeemed we are brought into the royal family of God, and given the benefits of being his children. This is the application of his healing, saving, forgiving, and atoning work—we get never-ending, always faithful, mercy and love from our heavenly Father. The benefits just keep coming!

He satisfies us with good, renewing our youth like the eagle’s (verse 5). All of the benefits mentioned in the previous verses are good things that satisfy our souls. He satisfies us with an abundance of good, namely the goodness of himself. He is the ultimate source of good and he is the only good one. This goodness towards us renews us and gives us new life. I squandered my youth, and this verse, like the ones preceding it, reminds me that God is a forgiving and redeeming God. He redeems our youthful wanderings and gives us new vigor to serve him and honor him all of our days.

The rest of the Psalm is a further exposition of his goodness towards us. These verses are rich with evidences of his work on our behalf, and give us many more reasons to be thankful this holiday season. In verse 10, David reminds us that God does not deal with us according to our sins, or repay us evil for evil. His dealing with us is only good and merciful, even though we deserve only condemnation and wrath. And again in verses 11-12 we see that not only does he give us mercy, but he removes our sin from us and looks compassionately on us.

All of these great realities about God’s work on our behalf culminate in a final word of praise and thanksgiving for all that he has done. In verses 20-22 David says that all of heaven and earth will sing his praises because of the good things that he has done. The heavens and the earth cannot be silent about God’s wonderful interactions with us, nor should we. If we are in Christ we have much to be thankful for this Thursday, and every day. God has removed the stain of sin, given us the righteousness of Christ, and promised us a great future with him. Let us join the everlasting song and praise his name forever. He has done great things for us.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday is for Food: Butternut Squash Soup

I wasn't sure I would be able to get away with making this one. When I told Daniel about it, he didn't think it sounded very appetizing. Thankfully, he is willing to try new things. I read a few food blogs, and one of them is Pink Parsley. She always has really tasty sounding recipes and I've always enjoyed the ones I've made from her website. This recipe for Curried Butternut Squash Soup was no different. It was SO YUMMY! Daniel even liked it! It was smooth, warm, and even a little spicy. The flavors were all really good together.

So here is the recipe! Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather
Serves 4 to 6

2 Tbs unsalted butter or olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 medium russet potato, peeled and cubed
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 Tbs curry powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch cayenne
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup milk (low fat or fat-free is fine)
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional) --I used the heavy cream
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream or Greek yogurt, for garnish (I didn't use this, but I'm sure it would be really good!)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften. Add the squash potato, ginger, cinnamon, curry powder, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the stock, milk, cream, honey, and paprika and bring the soup to a boil. Decrease the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the soup over low heat for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

*** Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add black pepper to taste. If the soup seems too thick, add more milk or chicken stock. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt on top. (I accidentally omitted this section because my printer didn't print it. It ended up tasting fine without blending it. Even though it was a little chunky, the vegetables were really soft.)

I made some homemade bread and it complemented it nicely.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

So You Want to Go Back to Egypt?

Being raised in a Christian home meant that I grew up listening to a variety of Christian music, like Keith Green. Even though his life was tragically cut short, he wrote many songs that are still sung in churches today. One song, though not necessarily your typical praise chorus, came to mind this week as I read Numbers 14. “So You Want to Go Back to Egypt” is a lighthearted song about the serious sin of the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. In some ways it highlights how ridiculous and foolish it is to doubt God’s promises to us. Often our sin seems most hideous when we put it into the light, like this song does. And it’s a good reminder that we can fall into the same trap of complaining against what God has done for us.

In Numbers 14 the Israelites grumble and complain against Moses, and ultimately God, because their time in the wilderness is not what they thought it would be. God had promised them land, prosperity, and rest, and all they were experiencing was wandering and daily rations of manna. Where was this land flowing with milk and honey? Where was the promised prosperity? They were tired of living in tents, moving from place to place, and being led by a cloud. And they were certainly tired of following Moses, who somehow continued to lead them into more wilderness wanderings. To make matters seem worse, the land their spies scoped out in Numbers 13 was full of men much larger and stronger than they were. Surely there was some mistake. It all seemed so insurmountable, and very far from what they felt they deserved. The circumstances around them seemed to grow bigger and bigger, and God’s promises started to seem smaller and smaller. So they grumbled and looked longingly back at Egypt—the land of their slavery.

Their story has been convicting me greatly in recent days. I see myself in so much of the grumbling and bitterness that permeates these chapters. I have grumbled against God because of my circumstances. I have questioned his purposes for me and doubted his promises. I have ignored the clear evidences of his provision for me, focusing only on the one thing he was chosen not to give me right now. I, like the Israelites, look at my circumstances and think that anything is better than here. So what is the link between this ancient near eastern people and me?


Because God has chosen me and made me his child, I assume that he should give me what I want. Because God has promised rest and comfort to his children, I assume (like the Israelites) that anything outside of that is less than what I deserve. Maybe I don’t blatantly say it, but in my heart and thoughts I believe it. And this feeling of entitlement finds its home and foundation in the sinful attitude of pride. The Israelites were prideful. They believed that God owed them something because they were his chosen people. But they believed it to their great peril.

The story doesn’t end with their grumbling. Numbers 14:28-38 shows us that it is serious to doubt God’s promises. Not only were they not allowed to enter the Promised Land, proving that they were never really saved, but those who brought a bad report about the land were destroyed immediately. Thankfully, God has not struck me down in the moment of my doubting. But it’s a warning to us all. We cannot take lightly the truth of God’s promises. He is a gracious, merciful, and loving God who promises good things to us. But he is also a jealous God, who does not want us to bring dishonor to him by telling a false story to the world about his goodness. When I act in unbelief I’m telling a lie about who God is.

There is hope for us though. Because we are in Christ, we have an advocate before the Father—Jesus Christ. His righteous atonement for our sin of unbelief (and every other sin) makes a way for us to turn from this sin and no longer live in bitterness and anger towards the God who saved us. This is good news for anyone struggling with unbelief. Yes, it is a serious sin. Yes, it grieves God and makes him (rightly) angry. Yes, we deserve eternal punishment for this sin, just like the Israelites. But God, in his great kindness, extended his scepter of mercy to sinners like us, through the powerful work of Christ on the Cross.

If you are struggling with unbelief today, you have a way of escape. Don’t be like the Israelites, who refused to look to the promises of God. Even if you are faced with a long wilderness journey right now, don't be fooled by the seemingly appealing memories of your life in bondage to sin. Look to the Promised One—Jesus. He is our only hope for rest in this life and in the one to come.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I'm Not What I Once Was

For a long time after my conversion I avoided memories of my former life at all costs. I wanted a fresh start. I wanted a new life, with new memories that didn’t even come close to resembling the Christ-less ones I reveled in before God saved me. I battled guilt, shame, and fear that my past would come back to haunt me. At first, it was a really good thing for me to be far away from my former life. I needed a change of scenery and freedom from the temptation to fall back into sin. And the farther removed I was from the debauched life I once lived, the less that life defined me.

Last week we drove through the city I lived in when God saved me. For the most part it only holds bad memories, memories I would much rather forget and pretend never happened. As we passed the familiar signs pointing to a life that now seems so distant, I was reminded of the importance of memory. Now with many years removed, and a host of good memories made since then, I have a different perspective on it all. For so long I’ve wanted to run from that life, but as I’ve gotten older I have learned that if I run I can’t remember.

Remembering is an important component of the Christian life. We remember the Cross and the great salvation attained for us there. We remember good days and milestones. We remember when God saved us and how it changed us completely. We remember words to songs that moved us and helped us grasp the beauty of Christ. But in this fallen world we also remember the bad. We are flooded with memories of how we have failed to live up to God’s standards, memories of the sin that separated us from God and threatened to undo us.

It took me a long time to know what to do with the bad memories. All I felt was guilt and shame whenever I thought back to my life before Christ. Maybe you feel that way too. Often when we think of our sin we feel crushed by the sheer magnitude of it. It disgusts us. But there is good news for us. If we are in Christ, that sin no longer defines us. It has been paid for. Romans 8:1 says: “for there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s us! Satan wants nothing more than for us to believe the lies that our sins tells us—that we can never amount to more than the feelings of wretchedness. He also wants us to fail to remember, because when we forget what we were saved from we so easily forget how great Christ’s work on our behalf is.

It’s been a long process for me. For nearly eight years I couldn’t even imagine going near the places I used to live. It killed me inside knowing what my sin did to my family and my Savior. It also made me fearful, thinking that I would fall back into the same sinful patterns. But by God’s grace, last week I drove through that city, with my husband, and I was thankful. Thankful that God, in his great mercy, plucked me from my sinful state and made me his child. Thankful that my sin has been paid for and I no longer live condemned before the Father. Thankful that Christ’s righteousness is now my righteousness. Eight years ago I never would have imagined this for my life. But I am so very thankful that God takes sinful people, like you and me, cleanses us by the blood of his son, and makes us his own.

If you are feeling guilty over your sin today, or feeling like you can’t face the life you once lived, hear these words from the song, Before The Throne of God Above:

“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there, who made an end to all my sin. Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free; for God, the just, is satisfied, to look on him and pardon me.”

This is our story, dear Christians. Regardless of the sins you have committed, if you are in Christ, they are paid for by the Savior. You can face whatever past you may have with the hope that Jesus has changed you and made you a new creation, and your life can, and will, be a testimony to the amazing power of the cross for sinners like you and me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Friday is for Fotos (on Saturday!)

Daniel and I just got back from spending most of the week in San Antonio, Texas (with some other stops along the way). One of the blessings of Daniel's job is that he has the opportunity to go to cool places, like Texas! Growing up I loved learning about the Alamo and always appreciate the chance to go there. We actually went on Veterans Day, so it was extra special seeing servicemen walking around as we toured the place. Besides the fact that I had a cold (again), the trip was pretty enjoyable! We ate lots of Mexican food, which always makes me happy. And I was able to show Daniel another part of Texas (and another area of where I used to live). Even though it was a fun trip, we are so glad to be home. Even the nicest hotel bed doesn't feel as amazing as our own, seriously.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When Life Begins

Many eyes were on Mississippi today as they ventured out to cast their vote in the important “personhood legislation” known as Initiative 26, stating that personhood begins when an egg is fertilized by a sperm. It is a polarizing piece of legislation that has led to harsh rhetoric from a variety of angles. I have not followed this story very closely, but one article that I read today enraged and saddened me.

Arthur Caplan is the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote an opinion piece posted on regarding the implications of this amendment. He states:

“Fertilized eggs could be granted human rights, depending on how Mississippi voters cast their ballots Tuesday on Initiative 26. The ballot measure, otherwise known as the "personhood" amendment, proposes to amend the state's constitution to redefine "person" to include "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof." Among other things, it could mean that couples who have turned to fertility clinics for help becoming parents won’t be allowed to ever destroy their unused fertilized eggs.”

And this, he says, is in direct opposition to science—namely what we know about the conception process. Fertilized eggs cannot be considered human beings, in his opinion, because science does not allow for it. Science, he says, only calls a fertilized egg an embryo when it implants successfully in the uterus. And even then it’s not a baby yet.

What’s even more troubling about his conclusions is the fact that he brings miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal death into his argument. He asserts that because nearly half of all pregnancies do not result in a living, breathing baby, those “fertilized eggs” were never really human after all. Using disappointed parents as his example, he says:

“Sadly, all too many couples know about the high rate of spontaneous abortion and stillbirth that haunts embryonic and fetal development. Roughly, one in six embryos will spontaneously abort or produce fetuses that do not develop properly and die in utero.”

Perhaps the most saddening statement of all, he further adds:

“Medicine and science know very well what many millions of heart-broken would be parents around the world know first-hand: To call all embryos “persons” flies in the face of spontaneous abortion, stillbirth and fetal death.”

What? How does calling a miscarried or stillborn baby “fly in the face” of this death? As a mother who has lost a child through miscarriage, I resent the sentiment that my loss proves to me (and the scientific community) that the baby I was carrying was actually nothing more than an ill-formed, fertilized egg. And I don’t know any woman who has experienced pregnancy loss who has felt what Mr. Caplan seems to think is the norm.

The problem with his views, and the views of many who dismiss pregnancy loss as a product of nature running its course, is that their views are informed by cold scientific theories rather than God’s word.

Psalm 139:3-4 and Jeremiah 1:5 were a great source of comfort to me in the days following our loss. God’s word taught me that our baby, even though he was still in the early stages of development, was known and loved by the God who created him. These verses, and the entire Bible, speak to the reality that so many mothers know to be true—life matters to God.

If we don’t define personhood from the beginning (at fertilization) then when does it begin? When there is a heartbeat? When the baby starts moving? When a woman sees those wonderful blue lines confirming pregnancy, she doesn’t tell her family and friends that she is carrying a fertilized egg (though according to Mr. Caplan that is the scientific name for it). She announces that she is pregnant with a baby, not a blob of tissue waiting to be developed into a person. When she finds out the gender of her baby, even though the baby cannot live outside of the womb, she names him or her. To her, this baby is loved, cared for, and wanted.

What Mr. Caplan fails to realize in his piece is that for the parents who lose children at various stages of pregnancy the loss is felt acutely—and often stays with them for a lifetime. My baby was not a fertilized egg that failed to develop, Mr. Caplan. My baby was a life, known by God and loved by his parents. He was a person at the moment of conception.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Good Warning

“Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”—Hebrews 3:12

The writer of Hebrews wrote this verse after spending much of the first two chapters unpacking who Jesus is and how great a salvation he secured for us. But woven throughout this beautiful display of our Christ are repeated warnings to guard the faith given to us by this Jesus (Heb. 2:1-3, Heb. 3:12-13). No matter how glorious the description of Christ set before us, we are still prone to wander from the One who bought us by his own blood. Perhaps your circumstances in life are not what you had hoped they would be. Maybe you are unemployed and unable to find work. Maybe you are facing infertility, like me. Maybe your career aspirations are put on hold, or greatly diminished, because of your financial situation. Maybe you want to be married and God has not provided a spouse for you. All of these situations are hard and can take the wind out of our sails. They can cause varying degrees of pain, often for a long time. But another unwanted impact of suffering is that our hearts are more easily swayed towards unbelief. It’s when we cannot see the outcome, or when the dark clouds will not lift, that we can fall into the trap of believing that God is not really working for us. Satan wants nothing more than for us to believe the lie that God’s promises are not true for us. He wants us to discount all of Hebrews 1-2 (and the rest of the Bible), turn towards unbelief, and ultimately turn away from God. The writer of Hebrews knows this, too.

So what if we see an unbelieving heart creeping up into our own lives, or even in the lives of our friends? Verse 13 tells us to exhort one another so that no one is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The problem with an unbelieving heart is that often no one can see it. It’s an internal sin. We can hide it easily by our emotions, responses to our suffering, or even our pain. But it is so deadly, as the end of verse 12 tells us. There is nothing worse than falling away from God. And in verse 13 we are given a protection—a way of escape. Sin will harden our hearts to truth and reality. Sin will make us believe that there is no way out and the only option for us is to continue in our sin. Even scarier, sin will make us think that our behavior isn’t really sin.

These verses are a warning—a reminder that an unbelieving heart is an ugly, slippery slope leading to the ultimate destruction—separation from God. There are a variety of circumstances that can lead us to have an unbelieving heart. Some are outside of our control. I have faced the temptation to turn from God’s promises and believe the lie that he really is not for me. In fact, I’ve even given into the temptation and felt the bitterness that invades every fiber of your being when unbelief takes over. On a number of occasions this past year I have heard myself say: “I don’t want this lesson anymore. It’s too painful and not worth it.” By God’s grace, his faithfulness has kept me even when I am faithless.

An unbelieving heart is a silent killer, and the writer of Hebrews knew this. He knew that unbelief is a subtle sin that can slip under the radar of even the most discerning fellow believer. But it erodes our spiritual growth and replaces it with anger and bitterness towards God.

The danger when we face suffering, disappointment, and various circumstances is that those trials begin to define us. They are devastating and all we can see in front of us is the pain. It’s hard to trust in God when we don’t understand his dealings with us. The writer of Hebrews is speaking directly to these feelings. In verses 8-11 of chapter 3, he reminds us of the sin of the Israelites in the Old Testament. They turned from God in the wilderness because didn’t believe that he was really for them—they didn’t believe that he would act on their behalf.

Don’t be like the Israelites in the wilderness that you are in. Don’t turn from the only one who can truly understand your pain, sorrow, weakness, and suffering—our faithful high priest, Jesus. Regardless of our circumstances, and they may be very bleak at the moment, God has already acted on our behalf in the greatest way possible through the death and resurrection of his Son. Because of this great gift of salvation, we have been given a hope and a God who sympathizes with us. These verses are a good warning for me as I face the temptation to turn from the promises I know to be true—that God is for me and not against me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Population Control is God's Domain

Earlier this week the world population was supposed to hit 7 billion. I was really intrigued by the reports for a number of reasons. One: because my sister-in-law was in early labor and about to have my niece (she was born on Tuesday!). Two: because so many of the reports were laced with implications that the world population is simply becoming too much to handle.

There are a variety of angles in each report about the amount of people who now populate the earth. Some see it as greater proof for the need for population control. Some see it as an opportunity to encourage and help women become better educated, believing that greater education leads to a lower birthrate. And other simply speculate on the reasons for this “population boom.”

I’m not a population expert by any stretch. I don’t follow the growth trends or theories surrounding our growing world. But I am a news watcher. One of the things that was troubling to me as I watched a number of reports on the prediction that we would be 7 billion strong by this week is that so many of the reports included questions about population control. Coupled with fear over the strain on natural resources in more depressed parts of the world, some are implying that in order for our world to be sustainable we must do something about the number of people we are now bringing into this world.

China could be a test case for this, though no one really wants to use them as the example. The Chinese government has strictly enforced a one-child policy over the years, leaving many parents to fear when they accidentally (or intentionally) get pregnant for the second time. Not to mention the untold numbers of baby girls who are either aborted or left for dead because of the premium on boys in China. The problem when we begin to tell people how many kids they can have is that we begin to think we can control other aspects of childbearing, like gender and the health of the child. When you only get one shot at it, the less than desirable is sacrificed in pursuit of the perfect.

The biblical command to be fruitful and multiply doesn’t include an ideal number. Some could say that in the best interest of an overflowing world that command should be fulfilled with fewer children. But others could say that God’s promise to keep us here until his appointed time trumps any alarming statistic that we might run out of resources.

Another study says that the population, while still growing, actually includes more gray haired people than before. People are living longer, and as healthcare improves this will continue to be the case. So if the surging population is actually due to the longevity of our elderly, wouldn’t the “population control” folk actually want to pare down that demographic as well?

Whenever we get into the details of telling people when they can and should fulfill their God-given command to procreate, or their God-appointed time to die, we are entering territory that is only to be traveled by our Creator. The world is growing at a rapid pace. There is an increasingly healthy elderly population. Some cultures are producing children at a rate faster than their natural resources can be replenished. And in these cultures some women are forced to marry extremely young and have as many children as their husband wants. As Christians, we know that the earth is groaning under the weight of the curse of sin. Ground that doesn’t produce food and water that dries up is proof that this is not how God intended it. Little girls being forced to marry at the age of 8 or 9 and then have children right after their first period is atrocious. The answer isn’t universal population control. Human beings were created in God’s image. That is why God told Adam and Eve (and every person after them) to be fruitful and multiply. When a child is conceived and born he (or she) gives glory to the Creator in whose image this baby was made. This doesn’t mean that we don’t personally make decisions that might control how many children we have, but that’s not the government’s job to do for us.

As Christians, 7 billion people in the world should not be cause for concern about the state of our resources. Rather it should be cause for prayer and rejoicing; prayer because so many of them don’t know Christ (and are giving birth to children in terrible conditions) and rejoicing because each person represents a life made in God’s image and a soul that will never die. God is still the creator of this broken and decaying world. He is not surprised by overpopulation and he is sovereign over the newborn baby’s cry in a hospital and the water source of a small village. Population is his to control.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Power of the Boring Testimony

A good testimony sells. At least that is what a lot of people think when it comes to picking someone to recount how God saved them. We like the testimony of the former drug addict, crazy partier, or promiscuous girl. We tend to think that this person tells a better story, a more compelling story of God’s grace and forgiveness. We use the story of the woman who wiped Jesus’ tear-stained feet with her hair. She was forgiven of a lot, which is why she was so grateful for Jesus. The magnitude of her sin compelled her to weep and thank Jesus for his grace. But is her story really that different from anyone else’s?

Before God saved me my life was similar to this woman. I loved my sin and enjoyed it lavishly. But if my story was different, and I had trusted Christ at an early age, my testimony would be no less amazing. In fact, it might even be more compelling. It’s easy to sin. It’s not out of the ordinary to engage in sinful behavior and be proud of it. What’s hard is to follow Christ whole-heartedly when the world is pulling you to jump in and enjoy the “fun.” A life that is protected from the outward manifestations of blatant rebellion towards God should cause us to worship and rejoice in God’s good work in the life of this believer.

So why do we gravitate towards, and praise, the “crazy” testimony? We are products of the entertainment culture. We like the sensational and the interesting. Reality television alone is evidence of this. But as true and Christ-exalting as these testimonies can be sometimes, I think they can almost do more damage than good in the lives of those who hear it.

In high school I heard a number of testimonies of people who were saved out of sinful lifestyles, and even though they gave glory to God for their salvation, what kept ringing through my mind as they talked was “I want a testimony like that.” As sinful as they made their former life sound, it had a forbidden allure. In my mind, they lived life to the fullest and lived unscathed to tell the story. Plus, sin always looks more enticing than the gospel to an unregenerate person.

But I was so wrong.

I now have their story, and I would give my life to take it back. And I don’t think I’m alone. Countless kids hear shocking testimonies and think that it would be really cool to have a testimony like that. It’s not. One of the ways we can help counter the overwhelming interest in the “sensational” testimonies is to not cater to the hype surrounding them. Don’t believe the myth that if they just hear all the sordid details about the wild life you, or someone else, lived they will suddenly fall on their face and proclaim Jesus as Lord. They might not. And even if they do, for every kid who follows Christ because of the story there are a dozen who it has the counter effect on. This doesn’t mean we aren’t honest about who we are and who Christ saved. It just means we don’t put all of our faith in the story being the means of salvation.

The next time you ask someone to give a testimony at a youth event consider asking the girl or guy who was saved at the age of 5. I remember one of my pastors saying, often with tears in his eyes, “God saved me from a life of drinking, sex, and debauchery—all before I turned 6.”

Grace is amazing not because of the recipient of the grace, but because of the One giving the grace. In reality, even the most righteous act we do is like filthy rags before him. No amount of good behavior can please him, so why do we so often think that the “good” testimonies are so boring? That a perfect and holy God would save any of us is cause for celebration. But he does. And that’s why it is so amazing—from the former prostitute to the six-year old praying by her bedside. No one is righteous, but God sent his Son to save sinners like you and me. It’s all undeserved and all free.

The woman who wept before Jesus wasn’t overcome with emotion because she sinned more than everyone else; rather she was overcome with thankfulness because she finally grasped the magnitude of her sin. If you are in Christ, your testimony is just as amazing. That a good God, perfect and right in all of his ways, would send his righteous Son to die for sinners like us is a story worth telling. And it makes even the most “boring” testimonies in the eyes of the world glorious because of what he has done.

Monday, October 24, 2011

We Trust in God

I wrote this post on Monday afternoon. The verse had been on my heart for a few days as I was preparing to have surgery Tuesday morning. It was my second surgery in three and a half years and was supposed to clear up all of the endometriosis in my body. We had no inclination that it wouldn't be enough. God had other plans, and it was worse than we (or the doctor) realized. So we are now re-grouping. I'm trying to rest and recover and also grapple with the news that I still have some heavy treatment left before our infertility journey is over. It's been a rough few days. I find it ironic that I wrote this post about this particular verse with no idea what was about to unfold a mere twenty four hours later. But God did. God was not surprised by the diagnosis. He is still on his throne and he is still our sustainer and helper in this storm. We are thankful for so many people who have cared for us and pointed us to the One who heals the sick, restores the brokenhearted, and gives barren women a home. We trust in him alone.


"Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." -Psalm 20:7

What do you trust in? We don't use chariots for transportation anymore. We don't ride horses and depend on them for our livelihood. In fact, most of us don't even own livestock. But this psalm still stands true in our lives.

Do you trust in your job? Friends? Family? Spouse? Doctors? Money? There are a whole host of things we are drawn to trust in when life presses in around us. David was no different. He is calling the reader to trust only in the God who gives us life and every good gift.

In verse 4 he says:

"May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!"

He is the one who does it. As followers of Christ we no longer have to trust in things that pass away, like money, doctors, health, people, or our stuff. It will all fail us in the end. We trust in God, the maker of heaven and earth, and the keeper of our life.

All My Sins Are Paid For

One of the defining characteristics of Christianity is that we can’t save ourselves. This belief, that our right standing before God is all God-given grace, is what sets us apart from other religions in the world. A few days ago as we were talking to a non-Christian friend about his religion, he laid out what he believed would happen to him after he died. One statement he made has stuck with me. After explaining his beliefs to us, he basically said that he really has no assurance that he will be saved in the end. He just hopes that his good works will be enough to please his god. After he told us that, one phrase just kept ringing in my ears:

“Full atonement, can it be! Hallelujah! What a savior!”

The words from this popular hymn capture the essence of our great salvation so beautifully. The hymn writer unpacks the work Christ accomplished on our behalf and his only response can be “hallelujah, what a savior!” It’s our response as well.

Perhaps one might think that a conversation about religion could make a believer question his or her beliefs. Maybe it does. But I would venture to say that Jesus shines more brightly when we see him up against the false religions that blind so many in our world.

Works of righteousness will never be enough for anyone to stand before God. Even our best days are filthy rags to him. He is too holy and too majestic to even look on our good days and let us go free. That is why my friend has to do so many good works. It’s never enough. And when he gets to the end of his life, he will still fall short.

But Jesus made a way. Another non-Christian friend of ours said that he thinks people become Christians because it’s easier to be a Christian than to follow his religion. Christians are more free and don’t have to do as many things as he does. And he is right. Christians are the freest of all people because we are no longer in bondage to our sin. We have been covered by the free grace of Christ and our sins don’t condemn us anymore. Christ did all of the work for us.

It seems so basic, doesn’t it? If you have been a Christian for a number of years it’s so easy to put aside the realities of your salvation. We get busy. We focus on other aspects of Christianity. We forget the feeling we felt when Christ first saved us. But Jesus Christ took your sins and paid for them all so you could be in his family. So often we need a jolt to be reminded of our great salvation. I know I did.

There are millions of people in our world who cannot see that Jesus is enough. They have not tasted his goodness and embraced his salvation on their behalf. Instead they live in darkness believing that the only way they will ever see light is if they work as hard as they can to get out of the darkness. The harder they work, the darker their world becomes. If you have been given eyes to see the light of Christ, praise him for the full atonement for your sins. And pray that many lost people would be given eyes to see him too. It is all of grace, freely given by our great Savior.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Way God Answers Prayer

One of the hardest things in our struggle to conceive again has been facing the fact that God's answer to our prayer at this time seems to be "not now." We cry out to him regularly, asking him to do what only he can do, which is open my womb again. We can't make him answer our prayers in the way that we want any more than we can create life. It's a humbling place to be.

But it's a good place to be.

I have wrestled with why God answers prayers the way he does. For some, it's a favorable answer. For others, it's not. And not just in my own life. I've seen dear friends plead with God for things, only to receive year after year of unmet hopes and dreams. I've had a lot of questions and been forced to really work through what the Bible says about God's character and his good plan for the lives of his people, including my own. That's why I was so thankful to read the following quote in D.A. Carson's book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. If you want a pick-me-up for your prayer life, this book is totally the one for you. It has been life changing for me. It's opened my eyes to the purpose of prayer and my own sinful prayerlessness. It has helped me tremendously these last few weeks.

Carson has this to say about God's sovereignty in answering prayer (he's writing in reference to Paul's prayer to have the thorn removed):

"Suppose, for argument's sake, that every time we asked God for anything and ended our prayers with some appropriate formula, such as 'in Jesus' name,' we immediately received what we asked for. How would we view prayer? How would we view God? Wouldn't prayer become a bit of clever magic? Wouldn't God himself become nothing more than an extraordinarily powerful genie, to be called up, not by rubbing Aladdin's lamp, but by praying?...What an easy and domesticated religion."

He goes on to say this:

"There is a profound sense in which the sovereign, holy, loving, wise Father whom we address in Jesus' name is more interested in us than in our prayers. I do not mean to depreciate praying, only to say that God's response to our prayers cannot be abstracted from his treatment of us."

"I do not know the end from the beginning. Only God does. But he is interested in me as his child, in the same way that he was interested in the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. Part of this business of prayer is getting to know God better; part of it is learning his mind and will; part of it is tied up with teaching me to wait, or teaching me that my requests are often skewed or my motives selfish. Just as God's unexpected answer to Paul's prayers was the best possible answer (precisely because it was God's), so also his answers to our prayers will always be for his glory and his people's good"

When it comes down to it, I don't really want a God who answers every prayer my way. He wouldn't be sovereign and all-wise if he did. I'm fallen and not sovereign. I don't see all of the details he sees. I don't see my soul like he does. So when he says "no" to my prayer, he is really saying "I'm giving you what is best for you right now. I want you to see me better and find your greatest joy in me. My answer to you is for your good and your joy"

So whatever you are praying for today, know that God hears your prayers and has not turned a deaf ear to you, regardless of the answer you receive. We do not have a small and domesticated religion. We worship a big God, who lavishly gives us good gifts and holds back just as graciously. In all of these things he is giving us a gift, namely the gift of himself.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday is for Food: Orange Teriyaki Salmon

My sister-in-law sent me this recipe about a month ago and we recently tried it. I've said before that I have had an aversion to fish for almost all of my life, but since Daniel likes it (and it's good for us) I try to include fish recipes into our menu every once in a while. We really liked this recipe! I hope you do too!

Orange Teriyaki Salmon
Recipe by Becca Smith for
*This makes quite a bit of marinade. You could definitely get away with a little more fish in there, or even half the recipe for smaller portions.

about 2 pounds salmon; one large filet or 2 smaller ones
3/4 C orange marmalade
4 Tablespoons butter
1/2 C orange juice
3 Tbs bottled teriyaki sauce
6 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs worshershire sauce
2 Tbs vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1/8 tsp ground red pepper, or 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
several cracks black pepper
2 Tbs chopped dry onion, or 1/4 C minced fresh onion
3 Tbs dry parsley or about 1/2 C fresh

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Layer a piece of heavy duty foil over a large baking sheet Lay on one more sheet in the opposite direction, leaving about 8″ of overhang on all sides.

Place marmalade and butter in a small microwave safe bowl and heat for about 30 seconds, or until butter is melted. Whisk until smooth. Combine this mixture with all ingredients (except fish) in a bowl and stir until smooth. Rinse salmon in cold water and pat dry. Place skin side down on baking sheet. Pour marinade over fish.

Starting from one end, gather the foil overhang together and roll them together to seal a tent-like pouch. Bake in oven for about 25 minutes. Fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork. Test fish and return pan to oven for an additional 5-10 minutes if necessary. Serve salmon with sauce spooned over top.

Grill instructions: Preheat gas grill to 325. Place foil pouch on upper rack if you have one, or on indirect heat on the main rack. Follow the same baking instructions as if it were in the oven.
Fish can also be cooked in a foil tent over a camp fire. Season the fish as desired (you can also add a couple of tablespoons of water to help it steam in the hot fire) and close up your foil tent. Nestle your foil pouch into the glowing embers where the heat isn’t as intense as the flames. Cooking time may vary depending on the size and variety of fish, so check it after 10 minutes. If it’s not done, check at 2-3 minute intervals after that.