Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Will You Please "Like" Our Church?

We've enjoyed getting settled here in Little Rock and finally feel like we have some time to actually think, plan, and relax. After a wonderful three-day weekend, it was back to reality today and with it came a new development with our church plant...we have a Facebook page! When you are in the beginning stages all developments are a big deal.

So I humbly ask you, my faithful blog readers (and I know you are out there), to "Like" us on Facebook. Just click on this link, log-in to Facebook, and hit "Like." It's so easy and would make us very happy. If you don't have Facebook, we have a Wordpress page that talks more about who we are and what we are about (click here to get to that page). Either way, we covet your prayers as we begin this exciting and sobering journey to start Midtown Baptist Church here in Little Rock, AR.

Hope you all have a happy re-entry into the work week!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy Two-Year Anniversary!

Wow. It's hard to believe it's been two years already. For those who have been married a long time, two years probably seems really small. And it is considering our hope that God will give us many, many years together. But for us it's just gone by so fast that it's hard to believe that two years ago I was all dressed up ready to walk down the aisle to join in marriage to my best friend.

We celebrate year number two a little differently than we did year number one. Year number one ended with a lot of anticipation and excitement. Year number two is ending with more pain and sadness, but still anticipation and excitement over a new ministry and new home. This is life together. Some years will bring great joy and happiness. Some will bring overwhelming sorrow. This is the fulfillment of the vows we made to one another two years ago today. They are still true. In fact, the are even truer today than they were then. They were hypothetical situations then. Today they are realities.

In sickness and in health,
For richer or for poorer,
Til death shall part us.

I love you, babe. I pledged you my love then and you will have it for the rest of our lives.

(The above picture was taken at my parents house this past Christmas. We are so in love.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Count It All Future Joy

I’ve thought a lot about the experience of suffering and the Bible’s response to our suffering this past year. Before our miscarriage and infertility I quickly passed over passages on suffering, not because I didn’t see them as important, but I just didn’t relate to them. I had faced trials before, but nothing that really made me wrestle with God’s good plan for my life in the way I have recently. I don’t doubt his goodness; I just need to understand it more than ever before. While difficult, that is a good result of our suffering. It causes us to lean hard into him and desperately seek his face because without his presence in our lives we are hopeless.

Often when we are counseling suffering people there are a few key verses that quickly come to mind, and one of them is James 1:2-4. We want the hurting person to get to counting the trial as joy as fast as possible. We want them to see that God has a plan for them and be happy with it. But I’m not sure that’s where James is ultimately going with his exhortation to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” James isn’t talking about happiness here. His reference to joy is not some triumphalistic, plastered smile, everything-is-going-to-be-alright attitude. That’s not joy. Rather, it’s a confident hope in God’s good plan for me even when my heart is breaking or my world is falling apart.

How do I know this? Consider Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). The expectation of the agony of the cross was not a happy thought. It made him sweat profusely, like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). But it was the “joy set before him” How? The future joy of what his death on the cross accomplished. He is now seated at the right hand of the Father, having completed the work of redemption. That was the joy. The event wasn’t the joy. The finished work was his joy.

That is our hope to count trials as joy. Not that losing a child is a joy, or another negative pregnancy test is a joy, or unemployment is a joy, or a neglectful, abusive spouse is a joy, or a prodigal child is a joy. No, these are not joys. These are sufferings that rip the wind out of our sails. Joy for the Christian is future minded. It realizes that perfection, and the ultimate fulfillment of our joy, doesn’t always come until the end when we see the Perfect One who makes our joy complete.

Like Jesus, our hope in the agony of our trials is rooted in a deep theology of who God is and his goodness in all things. His plan is perfect, even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment.

But James doesn’t end there. He gives even more encouragement for the struggling believer in verses 5-8:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

When we are struggling to see the future joy of our trial, we need wisdom. We need wisdom and faith to believe God’s promises for us. James gives us a way of escape. We can cry out to God when we feel tempted to doubt his goodness and he will act. He is always wise and always good and will give us the grace we need to endure trials. If we don’t, then we are unstable and unable to see his grace in our lives. These verses are there for the believer who is tempted to doubt God’s goodness in their trial. They are there for you and me, reminding us that we serve a God who hears and acts on our behalf.

I don’t pass over passages on suffering anymore. In fact, I cling to them now. I don’t always feel like my trials will one day produce a future joy. Honestly, a lot of the time I buck against that. But I want to trust more and have eyes to see God’s perfect plan for me for eternity. May God make us all more like our Christ, who endured the agony of the cross for us knowing that a future joy was coming—one that would make the present reality of suffering fade away in light of his glory.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Piper on Romans 8:28

"If you live inside this massive promise [Romans 8:28], your life is more solid and stable than Mount Everest. Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty. Outside the promise of all-encompassing future grace there are straw houses of drugs and alcohol and numbing TV and dozens of futile diversions. There are slat walls and tin roofs of fragile investment strategies and fleeting insurance coverage and trivial retirement plans. There are cardboard fortifications of deadbolt locks and alarm systems and antiballistic missiles. Outside are a thousand substitutes for Romans 8:28.

Once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28 everything changes. There come into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply can't be blown over any more. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life. When God's people really live by the future grace of Romans 8:28 -- from measles to the motuary -- they are the freest and strongest and most generous people in the world. Their light shines and people give glory to their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16)."

-John Piper, Future Grace (122-123)

Oh Lord, make this true of my life.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday is for Fotos: Graduation Day!

After three and a half years of studying, papers, tests, and hard work, Daniel walked across the stage this morning at Southern Seminary to receive a Master of Divinity degree. I could not be more proud of him today, and every day, really. He worked tirelessly to complete the program while working part time as a shift manager at McDonald's and as a youth pastor. His efforts to complete the program quickly and with excellence is evidence of his Christ-like leadership and provision for us. He started seminary as a single man and came out a married man (not uncommon around here). I love you, Daniel and I am so proud of you!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We Have Moved!

Well, sort of. Last Saturday, we finished packing up and began the eight hour trek from Louisville to Little Rock. Sunday morning we signed our lease and moved into our new apartment, only to turn back around and fly back to Louisville on Monday night. Sound crazy? It gets better.

Being the genius that I am, I forgot the key for where we were supposed to stay in Louisville, so by the time our plane landed we were homeless. For two nights we moved from place to place until the key finally came yesterday (overnighted from a dear friend). So for three nights we get to stay in the same place. I never knew that would be such a sweet blessing. But right now, it's the little things that count.

While all of this chaos was going down I would periodically cry thinking that this is not how I wanted to spend my husband's graduation week. I wanted it to be happy. I wanted it to be joyous. I wanted to make memories and remember memories. I didn't want to be frustrated, tired, and moody. But I was.

And then it hit me. This is exactly what we both pray for regularly. We want to be humbled because we know that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Instead of embracing the grace of the humbling, I was stiffening my back and responding in pride. I wasn't grateful for God's mercy to humble me and make me more like him. I was angry that I didn't look perfect to everybody around me. I didn't want to have to ask for help, even though we needed a lot of it.

Moving is hard. But all big changes are really. This is our first big change together, coming off a year of busyness and heartache. It hasn't been easy. In fact, at times it's been excruciating. But as I read this morning in Isaiah 45:3, God gives treasures in the darkness so we know that he is God and there is no other. These times of sorrow, hardship, and even our own humbling, are reminders that God is God and we are not. And even though the circumstances are trying, he is giving us treasures in the darkness and providing abundant grace to us as we are humbled.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

So You're Married, Now What? Use Your Gifts

No blushing bride goes into marriage thinking that it’s going to be hard, or even that sin will rear its ugly head shortly after she says “I do”. But the unfortunate reality is that it does. Sometimes right away. But sometimes a few moments of bliss is enjoyed before real life sets in. Either way, there will come a point where the “honeymoon phase” is over. Two sinners living under the same roof is a hard adjustment. For many it’s the first time they have ever been hit head on with the sinfulness of their condition. And it’s painful. It’s crucial that the church and godly families help young brides-to-be prepare for what to expect, and how to respond.

The culture unabashedly tells young women to seek a career and climb the professional ladder. There are a host of television shows, message points in the classroom, and mainstream media publications that encourage girls towards this end. Unfortunately, many in the church do too. They might not state it so bluntly, but often the expectation placed on young women from a very early age is find out what you want to be when you grow up and educate yourself accordingly. It’s a subtle encouragement to the impressionable girl that your dreams, goals, and pursuits matter most. And it’s up to you to make them a reality. The message is rarely one of helping young women learn how to serve a family as a wife and mother one day. That, my friends, would be a waste of her intellect and dreams, right?

Don’t get me wrong. Women have incredible talents, gifts, and strengths just as much as men. It’s part of being created equally in the image of God. But God never designed any of us to use our gifts to seek our own glory and gain. And in his good plan, he uniquely created married women to primarily be a help and service to their husbands (Gen. 2:18, Gen. 2:20). But this looks different for every wife.

We would do young brides a great service by helping them fully understand their gifts and talents (and they have them), and how to harness those gifts to support and help their husbands. Sound crazy? Counter-cultural? It is. But it’s exactly what we as women need, and what a watching world needs to see. What can happen when young brides have not grasped this great truth is what would happen to any relationship when both are seeking their own way. Conflict.

I didn’t understand this when I first got married. Sure I believed that I was supposed to be a help to my husband, but I didn’t understand what it meant to be a “suitable helper” to my husband. I thought he was a hindrance to me fully exercising my talents and living my dreams. What I failed to realize was that God had gifted me in the exact ways my husband needed to be helped. He made me perfectly suited for my husband. And not for my own gain and my own glory, but to serve and support my husband in such a way that he is freed and equipped to fulfill his calling in life.

This is how the family is supposed to work. The family is one cohesive unit, with every member having a role to play. Some have more prominent roles, some have more behind the scenes roles, but all matter in the Kingdom.

So next time you talk to a young girl about her aspirations in life, don’t squash her desire to be a wife and a mother. Instead help her learn how to cultivate her gifts, dreams, and abilities in a way that will bring honor and blessing to her future husband and glory to her heavenly Father as well.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Letter from a Grieving Mother

My Sweet Baby,

This is not how I thought my first Mother’s Day would be. I had hoped to be holding you and dressing you for church this morning. But I'm not. Instead my arms ache to hold you this side of heaven. I know you don’t weep for me. You are with our Savior, King Jesus. I can’t help but smile thinking that when I worship the Savior this morning at church, I’m joining in a heavenly song already going on. One that you are a part of.

All I ever wanted for you was faith in Christ. I wanted you to treasure him, worship him, and see him as the all-sufficient redeemer or your sins. We prayed that for you from the moment we found out about your existence. God answered that prayer. Just not how we expected it.

We don’t have to pray for you anymore, sweet baby. We only pray about you, thanking God that in his kind providence he saved you early in your life. While our hearts break that this saving happened before we could hold you and know you, we rejoice that he saved you from this sin-cursed world. All you will ever know is the sweet joy of fellowship with your heavenly Father. You are worshipping our Christ with an unveiled face this day, my baby. And that makes this grieving mother's heart glad.

I will love you and remember you all my earthly life.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Finding Your Home on Mother's Day

He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” –Psalm 113:9

Barrenness and empty arms have a way of making a woman feel homeless and out of place. Whether your barrenness is due to infertility or loss of a child, Mother’s Day can make you feel like you don’t belong at church or even in your circle of friends. You may be surrounded by pregnant women, newborn babies, or families with quivers full of children, and your arms ache to be a part of the club. But you’re not. Is there a place for you in God’s house? He hasn’t yet made you the joyous mother of children, does he still have a home for you? Maybe you recently lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or in infancy, or maybe you are waiting for God to open your womb. You might feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 77 who says:

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refused to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints” (Psalm 77:2-3).

In all of your pain and sorrow you desperately want God to hear your prayer and comfort you in this dark season. Mother’s Day can be a stark reminder that there is a deep longing in your soul for a baby you long to hold, either in heaven or yet to be formed. And when you cry out to the Lord it seems like he isn’t there either.

I assure you, he is. Behind the dark clouds and frowning providence of this season is a God who cares about every detail of your grief. He may never remove the suffering in this life, but there is a grace for that. There is a tender-hearted Savior for that sorrow. His entire earthly ministry was to people who were outsiders, misfits, and people who did not fit within the world’s definition of worthy and perfect. Women who can’t celebrate Mother’s Day.

This Savior is not aloof to your pain this day. He knows it and has created a home for you in his house, in his Kingdom. While your home may not include children, know that he has prepared a place for you. You belong in his Kingdom and he is there to comfort you in your affliction. If you are a mother who has lost your precious child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or some other means, or if you are in the painful throes of infertility, hear the Savior’s call to you today:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Even if you feel homeless and alone on this otherwise joyous day, know this my dear grieving sister, there is a place for you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What I Learned Watching the Royal Wedding

Like so many other women (and some men) in the world, I set my alarm a little early this past Friday. With an extra cup of coffee in hand I settled on our couch to watch the long anticipated Royal Wedding. Sure I was a little more tired at work on Friday, but it was worth it to watch a historical moment while texting about all of the details with my mom hundreds of miles away.

Some helpful evaluations have been written about the biblical implications of all of it (or at least I found them helpful), so I won’t rehash what has been said. You can read those posts here and here. But the thing that stood out to me most throughout the ceremony was the solemnity and reverence that permeated the affair. British people know how to respect authority, or at least show respect at the right time. I’m sure there is fault to find with all of the pomp and extravagance of a wedding of this magnitude, but I think there is something to learn from it too.

A lot could, and should, be said about the dead orthodoxy of the ceremony. Sure, Scripture was read, hymns were sung, and prayers were lifted up. But there was no passion, no life. As conservative Christians, who often are part of much livelier church services, it’s really easy to judge the theological ambivalence of so many of the people in Britain, most notably the Royal Family. And we should grieve over this desertion from the Gospel. Every culture has it’s hindrances to believing the gospel. Ours is an independent spirit that leads us to crave personal autonomy, not awestruck wonder at Another greater than ourselves. The British, while seeming to understand the importance of respect and awe, sit lifeless in a sea of theological liberalism and secularism.

The people of England’s respect for the Royal Family, and especially the Queen, made me think about the recent weddings of two former presidents. Both happened with very little fanfare. Neither wedding was televised before 2 billion people. And I certainly didn’t set my alarm for their weddings. Obviously, these families are not an established monarchy, but I think it’s something more than that. We don’t respect authority and leadership in the same way the British do. We were founded on individualism, not unity. Our roots are in independence, not dependence. Surely this independence has tremendous bearing on how we relate to God and his authority in our own lives.

We can talk all day about the spiritual deadness of the Royal Wedding and many in Britain, and it’s true. But before we start throwing stones at our friends across the pond, let’s remember that we too have our own vices and stumbling blocks when it comes to embracing the truth of the Gospel. We might say all of the right theological terms and actually read our Bibles, but if we are characterized by a spirit of it’s-just-me-and-Jesus individualism then our orthodoxy is just as dead.

I’m glad I experienced this historic day. It was a fun experience, and who doesn’t like a good wedding? I pray the best for the newly married couple. But more than anything I hope I learned a little more about what it means to honor and respect authority—most importantly the authority of a sovereign God over every fiber of my being. That was worth setting my alarm for.