Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Doubting Good News

Sarah was 90 years old when she was told she would give birth to a son. Zechariah was well passed the age when a normal person becomes a father when he was promised a child. Both had spent years praying, longing, hoping, and grieving over the desire for children. So you can imagine their amazement (and shock) when they are told that they will soon receive the desire of their heart. But their reaction is more than just shock. It's unbelief (Genesis 18; Luke 1). And they were rebuked for their mistrust of what God said he would do. Years and years of waiting made good news seem impossible. They probably had given up hope that children would ever be a reality for them. They were so used to bad news, that when good news came it didn't seem real.

I don't blame them. I, too, have wrestled with this same unbelief in recent months. Whenever God provides for us and answers a prayer I have doubted that he is really working in my life. I have assumed his answer of infertility means a lack of care, and therefore any other answer to our needs and desires is not really evidence of love and care for me, his child. I've prepared myself for bad news for so long that when good news comes I have a hard time seeing it as good. One of the glorious things about the Bible is that it reveals the human heart in fresh ways. My sinfulness is laid bare when I am exposed to God's word, and I'm not alone. The tendency to doubt God's goodness has been a thorn in our flesh since Adam fell in the Garden. And it still causes problems today.

Sarah's laughter, Zechariah's questions, and my doubting all reveal the same thing: a heart that doesn't trust God. Sarah and Zechariah were rebuked because they didn't trust God. Their initial reaction to God's promises for them revealed that they doubted his good plan for them. My reaction to answered prayer does the same.

These reactions are the opposite of faith. Faith is believing what you cannot see. I didn't see Jesus die for my sins, but I have faith that what God says is true and what he completed on the cross is sufficient for my sins. Doubt is believing what you can see. Another negative pregnancy test feels like, and looks like (at first glance), God has forgotten me.

The reason I (and every other biblical character who doubted) have a hard time with good news is because I've gotten into a pattern of doubting God's good plan for my life. So when his good plan includes a favorable answer to my prayers (even if it is small), I can't see it for what it is. I doubt that it is real. I doubt that he can do all things. I doubt that he is truly working in my situation.

Thankfully sanctified faith is not a prerequesite for answer to my prayers. Like Sarah and Zechariah, I need some chastening and help from the Holy Spirit when I am tempted (and give in) to doubt God's good purposes.

God is in the business of answering our prayers and giving us eyes to see his great love and care for us. Sometimes he lets us see a small glimpse of what he is doing in our lives. Other times he covers his purpose with a veil so we learn to trust him more in the darkness. Even when we can't see behind the veil, he is still working, answering prayers, increasing our faith, and preparing us for glory.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Trusting What You Cannot See

"Between the death of Lazarus and his resurrection four days later, his family could not see how God would be glorified in it. That would be revealed at his resurrection. Therefore, if that is where you stand today—and all of us do, in some sense, not seeing clearly how God is glorified in the death of our beloved—do not judge before the resurrection. God is doing more than you can know. And the resurrection will bring it all to light. In the mean time, trust him, and treasure him above all things." - John Piper, This Illness Is for the Glory of God (sermon)

Maybe you haven't lost a loved one, but you are facing a suffering that seems pointless right now. It isn't. There are a thousand details going on behind the scenes that God is orchestrating for your good and ultimate joy in him. It is evidence of his great love for you. He will show up in your pain in ways you never would have known had you not faced this trial. I know this because he has done it for me. Let this quote from Pastor John minister to your weary soul today in whatever season you are in.

Listen to the sermon

Thursday, September 22, 2011

While We Wait

Carolyn McCulley has recently written a couple of posts (here and here) about praying for a husband and living with the desire for marriage when it's not necessarily being fulfilled immediately. While the posts don't apply to my specific situation right now, I found her insights about waiting on God to provide something you strongly desire extremely helpful for myself in this season of infertility. Waiting is waiting. The specifics are different, but often the helplessness of the waiting is the same regardless of the thing we are waiting for. Granted, the levels of pain and emotion are different with the varying degrees of waiting, but the temptation to sin and the tendency towards despair are present for nearly everyone who is waiting on God to give them what they desperately desire. Wherever you are in the "waiting" journey of life, consider these questions she asks and ask God to apply them to your heart today. Her questions are geared towards women waiting on marriage, but as I read them I inserted my own situation of waiting on God to open my womb. I pray they help you like they helped me.

  • You find it hard to pray because you think God doesn't want to bless you.

  • You aren't thankful for all the other answered prayers and blessings in your life.

  • You withdraw from others who are getting married or in relationships. (I do understand how hard it can be when someone else enters a relationship, especially with a man you are interested in. Being knocked off-balance by disappointment is common and it takes time to grieve lost hopes. But it should be temporary. If it becomes a permanent way of relating to others, then you've entered the place of bitterness and idolatry.)

  • You go to church more aware of the human relationships around you (ones you envy, ones you want) than your relationship with God.

  • You think you have no purpose in the Kingdom because you are single, so therefore you don't serve others in the church or outside of it. You've begun to believe the Enemy's lie that nothing good can come out of this season of your life.

  • Any discussion of marriage or singleness is a sore spot for you, one that keeps bringing you back to the idea that God is withholding something good from you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Crisis of Pregnancy Reduction

“I couldn’t have imagined reducing twins for nonmedical reasons,” she said, “but I had an amnio and would have had an abortion if I found out that one of the babies had an anomaly, even if it wasn’t life-threatening. I didn’t want to raise a handicapped child. Some people would call that selfish, but I wouldn’t. Parents who abort for an anomaly just don’t want that life for themselves, and it’s their prerogative to fashion their lives how they want. Is terminating two to one really any different morally?”

This has haunted me since I read it over a month ago. The quote came from an article in The New York Times Magazine on August 10. The article chronicled the troubling trend of pregnancy reduction in twin pregnancies. Pregnancy reduction, a sterilized euphemism for abortion, is not uncommon in multiple pregnancies, but when a couple decides to reduce from a twin to a singleton some in the medical community begin to draw the line.

The article presents the situation as a mere choice for these parents. Children, after all, are a commodity that many spend thousands to conceive, but when they get more than they bargain for the lines become blurred. If the children in utero are shown to be a consumer good, rather than a precious life, then the choice seems a lot easier.

But is it?

Choices have consequences, sometimes lifelong ones. For the families who choose one baby over the other, the lifelong memory of the child that could have been most likely never dissipates.
But what haunted me the most as I read this article was the rationale for aborting these children, and so many others, is founded in the belief that we are autonomous beings in control of our own destiny. We have the right to dictate how our life plays out, and when it takes an unexpected turn (like a multiples pregnancy or a baby with Down’s syndrome) we take the necessary measures to adjust our lives to our liking.

As much as we want to make our lives fit neatly into a perfectly square box, it won’t. Life is fluid. It changes. It is flawed and broken. And we don’t really have a choice in the way it unfolds sometimes. We are not God, and the more we try and play his role the farther into darkness we will descend.

This article messed me up when I read it. Maybe it’s because as I read the article I kept thinking “but I would take your baby! I would love your baby that you don’t want!” Or maybe it’s because in the back of my mind I saw a little piece of myself in the stories of the women presented. Yes, I would never abort my baby even if I had a multiples pregnancy or my baby had an abnormality. But I do try to play God in the little things in my life. I try to control every aspect of my fertility so I can at least think I have a shot at getting pregnant again.

But I’m not God either. And he knows my story and the details of my life just as much as he does the lives of the women who think they are controlling their own universe. More importantly, he knows the names of those precious unwanted babies, discarded as medical waste on the altar of their parents’ desire for freedom and comfort.

To all of this heartbreak we say, Maranatha, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday is For Fotos

No, we aren't in Hollywood (although that would be fun!). This is Branson, MO, and this picture doesn't even scratch the surface of the vast array of tourist attractions along the Branson strip. The only word I could think of as we drove around our first night here is "overwhelming". Daniel had a convention to attend for his job, so I tagged along. We have eaten well, enjoyed exploring, and tried to stay warm (they had a cold front come through and our Little Rock blood isn't used to it yet).

Happy Friday from the traveling Reissigs!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Learning Endurance

I've been running regularly since the beginning of the summer. Those who know me know that this is no small feat. I've always disliked running, primarily because I was afraid of it. The idea of running brought back horrible memories of my pathetic attempts to run the required mile in high school P.E. I didn't. In fact, I didn't complete a mile without stopping until I was 24 years old. If I ever felt the slightest twinge of pain, or began to breathe hard, I would stop. I had no endurance and I didn't really care.

Fast forward a few years and in God's kind (and humorous) providence, I married a runner. And not just any runner. He is a trained runner. You know, the kind who runs marathons and likes them. They say that marriage changes you. Boy, has it changed me.

I'm a runner now.

It's not like I'm a really good runner or anything. I'm not fast by an stretch of the imagination. I don't have any aspirations of racing glory. And while my early days of running were painful and made me want to quit, I now find myself enjoying my daily morning runs more and more. Why? Because I've grown in endurance. As I run a little more each day my body is physically prepared to go farther and faster.

I always used to gloss over the passages in Scripture that talk about learning endurance and running the race well. I could apply them to my life, but usually that was because I had watched running races on television or stood at the finish line for a marathon. I actually had never finished any running race, or anything physical for that matter (unless you count the year that I was on a swim team. I finished last place every race). My entire life I have been a quitter. If it gets too hard, I quit. Often I didn't have the drive to keep going. Hardness and discomfort translated into not liking it, which meant I needed to find something else to do. I didn't understand that pushing through the pain or discomfort might actually make the activity more enjoyable in the long run.

Isn't that how it is in the Christian life as well? The race we have been given will most certainly be filled with extreme conditions: suffering, persecution, war with indwelling sin, sorrow, joy, pain, happiness, love, death. But only those who finish the race will receive the eternal joy promised at the end (1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). The race requires endurance, patience, and a strength that is outside of ourselves. Yes, we are responsible to run this race, but we are also carried along in this race by the one who promised to complete the work began in us (Phil. 1:6). He has already completed the race for us and is waiting at the finish line (Heb. 12:1-2).

What I never understood about endurance, I now see more clearly. For this habitual quitter, running is exactly what I needed to help me with discipline and learning patience. I like quick results and fast answers. That doesn't come in running and it doesn't come in the Christian life either. It's a slow race. It's a hard race. But I will finish it one day, because he who promises is faithful.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wilberforce for Today

I've been reading Eric Metaxas book, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, and it has been as challenging as I thought it would be. I thought I knew a good bit about the abolition of slavery, but have realized that most of my knowledge about this horrible practice is from American history. Wilberforce was the leader of abolition in England, so I've learned a whole new aspect of history that has been insightful and made me really think about the implications for me in the 21st century.

By God's grace, slavery as they knew it in the 19th century is now over. Wilberforce led the effort as a member of Parliament in England. His driving conviction was that all human beings were created in the image of God--even African human beings. This belief catapulted him as the leader of the abolition movement, one that was not without tremendous persecution. Besides the fact that his physical condition was plagued by frequent illness, he faced death threats and hatred from his own countrymen on multiple fronts. Those involved in the slave trade were so tied to their belief that the slaves were nothing more than property that they would stop at nothing to remove this troublesome obstacle, namely Wilberforce.

As I read the horrific accounts of life for the slaves on the slave ships I was overwhelmed with sadness and anger. "How could Christians in Britain and America believe that this was the right thing to do, or let it go on for so long?" I thought. We have the vantage point of looking back now that this form of slavery is abolished, but are we really any different than our brothers and sisters from two centuries ago? Sure, we don't have a commercial industry devoted to buying and selling human beings. But we do have pristine abortion clinics masquerading as medical facilities devoted to the good of women and society. And let's not forget that millions of people, many of them women and children, are still in bondage as slaves even today. We might not ship slaves from Africa to serve on sugar and cotton plantations in the South and West Indies, but we do ship countless women and children to brothels and perverted men across the globe.

I don't know what the answer is. The activist in me wishes I did. There are good "Wilberforce-like" ministries in place that help pregnant women choose life, provide a healing place for trafficking victims, and prosecute those who buy and sell human beings. I can pray for them, and pray that God raises up more just like them. And I can pray that God gives me less complacency and more concern for the suffering and abused in this world. He is the only hope for all of us. Wilberforce understood that, as evidenced by his later efforts to make a way for missionaries to go to India. He wasn't about abolition for abolition's sake. He was about abolition so God would get glory.

Reading this book has been a sobering reminder that it's easy as a society to believe that the ways things are is the way things are supposed to be. As Christians, we have a greater authority than societal norms. Wilberforce understood that and did something about it. I'm thankful for his example for all of us. May I be willing to do the same.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Will Rise

“He will rise from this grave, you know?” That’s what my mom told me a couple of months ago after visiting my grandpa’s grave site. After looking at the plaque that marks his life, she reflected on the truth that one day he will get up out of that grave and rise. Amidst the sadness that he is no longer with us, we have a hope as Christians. When we buried him a year and a half ago we were devastated, but hopeful about a coming resurrection for him and for us. In the same way that our Savior rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb, we also will rise from the dead. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he was showing his followers, and us, what he would do for all believers who die in Christ. Death is not the end for us.

So why did he weep?

Death is ugly and tragic. It causes tremendous grief for the ones left behind. It is painful and sorrowful. And it is unnatural. Jesus wept because the death of Lazarus only happened because the world he created was now sinful and broken. We were never made to die. We were made to live. But that is not the reality for us. When sin entered the world, so did death (Rom. 5:12). Jesus cried over the death of Lazarus, but it was not a helpless cry. As Romans 5 goes on to say, death came through one man and life came through another—one who was perfect and sinless (Rom. 5:17; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). All who are trusting in Christ have this life, even if they face an earthly death.

But if Christ has conquered the grave by his defeat of sin and resurrection from the grave, why do funerals still cause so much pain? I can trust that my grandpa will rise and that my baby will rise, but often my heart still aches to have them here with me. As I’ve watched some of the coverage leading up to the anniversary of September 11, I’ve been reminded of the very real aspect of the loss of life that day. Christian or not, the death of a family member is deep and the pain lasts a lifetime.

I think that is how it is supposed to be. While we can trust that death has been conquered for those who trust in Christ, I think that defeat is a future and final defeat. 1 Corinthians 15:26 says that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, but for those of us here left on this earth death still stings. The resurrection of the dead in Christ has not happened yet. It is a future reality that we long for and wait for. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 15 that death has no sting, but notice that it doesn’t happen until the dead are raised and are given imperishable bodies (vs. 50-57).

So if you are mourning the loss of a loved one today, dear Christian, know this—there is a future hope for you and for them. The grave they now lie in will not be able to hold them, nor will it hold you. We grieve now, just like our Savior did over his friend, Lazarus, knowing that sin has distorted what God created to be perfect. The pain we feel over loss and death is a reminder that this is not how it was supposed to be. Oh, but we have a hope. We will rise. My grandpa will rise. My baby will rise. I will rise. Our faith will be made sight and we will be with our gracious Lord forever. What a glorious day that will be.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fill My Heart

It has always been a battle in my soul to use my tongue for good and not evil. When I feel anger rise up in me I often feel overwhelmed by the inability to control this sometimes unruly emotion. Condemnation rises. Why do I always seem to react so sinfully? Why can't I just be more patient and nice when my little kingdom is thwarted? Recently, I confessed to my husband that the impulse to kill with my words feels uncontrollable at times. I needed this encouraging reminder from Jon Bloom at Desiring God.

"So what will come out of your mouth today, death or life? “Sword thrusts” or “healing” (Proverbs 12:18)?

It will all depend on what’s filling your heart. Jesus said, “. . . out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). A critical heart produces a critical tongue. A self-righteous heart produces a judgmental tongue. A bitter heart produces an acerbic tongue. An ungrateful heart produces a grumbling tongue.

But a loving heart produces a gracious tongue. A faithful heart produces a truthful tongue. A peaceful heart produces a reconciling tongue. A trusting heart produces an encouraging tongue.

So fill your heart with grace by soaking in your Bible. Soak in Matthew 5, or Romans 12, or 1 Corinthians 13, or Philippians 2. And be very careful taking in the words of death in the newspaper, on the radio, the TV, or the blog.

And pray: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 41:3)."

Oh, Lord, fill my heart with righteousness and faith that can only come from your good and sovereign hand.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Love in the Local Church

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it’s not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Perhaps one of the most popular sections of scripture read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 contains a beautiful example of the nature of love. Separated from its context, it can seem that Paul is giving us an example of how we are to love our spouse, children, or family and friends. While it is possible to read this passage and be convicted about how you love your husband, mother, brother, or children, Paul is speaking about a relationship that has much deeper bloodlines—the body of Christ.

Like most of Paul’s letters, 1 Corinthians is written to a local church. This body is a gathering of believers in the Lord, Jesus Christ who are saved by his precious blood into the family of God. Often when we hear 1 Corinthians 13 mentioned it is in isolation from the verses and chapters surrounding it. This passage, like all of Scripture, is profitable because it is God’s word, but the full meaning can best be understood if we understand what Paul is doing in the preceding chapters.

Chapter 13 is sandwiched between two chapters on spiritual gifts in the church. In chapter 12 Paul teaches the Corinthian church about the unity of the gifts and their usefulness in the body of Christ. This chapter contains tremendous encouragement for us as believers. Paul shows us that no spiritual gift is better than another and each believer is useful and valued in the body of Christ. Chapter 12 provides the framework for the practical applications that come in chapter 13.

1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful application of how to use the gifts and minister in the body of Christ. Yes, we can glean application for our own familial relationships from chapter 13, but more importantly Paul wants us to see that all of our efforts to minister and use our spiritual gifts are meaningless if we do them for our own glory and gain (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Chapter 13 should be a defining characteristic of our churches, not because we want people to say we have such a loving church, but because we want people to see Christ as the greatest treasure. The overarching theme of Paul’s ministry was glorifying Christ. He wanted local churches to be a testimony to the sufficiency of Christ and his salvation of sinful people.

That is my prayer as our church (Midtown Baptist Church) begins our Sunday morning services this Sunday. I want to be free to be thankful for the gifts God has given me without comparing my gifts to other believers, because all of our gifts matter in the body (1 Corinthians 12:14-21). I want to care for the other believers in our congregation like I care for my own body, because they are members of Christ’s body just like me (1 Corinthians 12:27). I want to lean hard on Christ’s righteous work in my own life so I can love people well with the gifts God has given me, because every effort in my own strength will fall short every time.

Obeying 1 Corinthians 13 is not easy. I am a sinful person who is not naturally patient, loving, or humble. I am, however, naturally resentful, prideful, and irritable. By God’s gracious grace in my life, I’m growing more into the person he has called me to be.

So pray for us as we begin our services this week. Pray that we would be a church that values all members of the body and exalts Christ above all other things. Pray that our pastors would preach Christ boldly and that hearts would be stirred to trust him. We want him to made much of in all that we do.