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.