Thursday, May 31, 2012

Who is This Jesus? He is God (Part 1)

Jesus can be a controversial figure for some people. For centuries the outside world has viewed him as little more than a nice person who taught people how to live, or worse, a complete lunatic who led people into his crazy way of life. As Christians, we see him much differently. We have been redeemed by him, loved by him, and bought with his precious blood. But often we fall into similar patterns of thought regarding Jesus. We believe that he is more than a mere man, but we treat him as little more than an example for us to follow as we live our daily lives. While he is most certainly the one who obeyed perfectly and modeled for us, he is so much more than that. And as we read the Gospels the question that most frequently arises is “who is this Jesus?” not “how can I follow his example?” Because in reality a close reading of the Gospel accounts shows us that no amount of our own attempts to be like him will produce results in our lives. Why? He is God, and we are not.  

I have been reading through the Gospels for the last couple of months, and our church is going through the Gospel of Mark on Sunday mornings, so these thoughts and ideas have been swirling through my mind a lot lately. In the next few posts I hope to get some of those ideas on paper (or Internet paper, so to speak). I want to get away from simply viewing Jesus as a good example for me to follow, and I hope you do to. Even though theologically we hold to right thoughts about him, we often functionally treat him as little more than this good teacher with some good ideas for happy living. So before we begin looking at all of the characteristics that describe Jesus, we must begin with his identity.

If the overarching question in the Gospels is “who is this Jesus?” then the consistent question that must first be answered is: “who is he at the core of his being?” Where does his identity come from? What enables him to do all of the miracles, signs, and wonders? How does he know the thoughts and actions of people before they even do them? How does he refrain from sin? Before we begin applying the actions of Jesus to our lives we must first stop and worship at the feet of who he is. He is God. Everything he does flows out of this very truth. Jesus Christ is God made flesh (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-20). He has always existed (John 9:58). He created the world by the word of his power. He is one with the Father (John 10:28-30; John 17:11). He is the second person of the Trinity. The same Jesus who walked this earth and shows up in the Gospels is the same Jesus who lives and reigns today at the Father’s right hand. Jesus Christ is God.

And it’s not just the biblical writers who attest to his deity. Jesus was pretty clear about it too (Luke 6:5; Luke 23:43; John 9:58; John 18:6—and countless other passages). In fact, it is one of the reasons he was crucified. The Jewish authorities believed him to be blaspheming God by claiming to be God. To them it was complete nonsense to declare himself to be God.

The fact that Jesus was (and is) God is further evidenced by his sovereignty and knowledge even while he walked this earth. Every attempt to overtake him was thwarted until the appointed time had come. And Jesus knew when that would happen (Matthew 26:45-46; John 18:4). His complete power and authority was shown even to the point where he drew his final breath (John 19:28-30), leading those who witnessed his crucifixion to declare that he was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54). Jesus bore our sins completely and fully, and gave himself over to death only when atonement was fully complete. He was sovereign over it all.

So what does all of this mean for us? It means that we worship and trust him as the perfect, holy, God made flesh. It means that no attempt to “be like Jesus” will be sufficient on our own. You can’t just simply follow him and do what he does—he is just too majestic and other than us. He deserves much more than mere imitators.  He deserves our full, life-long devotion. He is worthy of it all. Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He is perfect, holy, and good. And he is our Savior.

The Gospels should cause to ask repeatedly, “who is this Jesus?” First and foremost he is God, and the manifestations of his deity, as shown in the Gospels, are endless.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

He is the Complete and Final Sacrifice for Sin

"Here is the true, the final, and the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. Jesus not only endures God's just wrath on the cross, but he exhausts and satisfies it, draining it down to the bitter dregs, so that there is none left. In satisfying God's wrath, Jesus also shows us that here at last is the true king and judge who conquers the enemy of his people--not flesh and blood, but sin and death--and delivers us from the power of both...

Christian, your sins have been paid for, your substitute was sufficient, and you have been brought to God. Christ is done with your sin--and so are you. The trials of this life are small in comparison to the future Christ has secured for you. So do not grow fond of this world's love, and do not faint under this world's scorn. Christ died for sin, for sinners, for God, so that you may live for God and with God, now and forevermore."

-Michael Lawrence, It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Putting My Eyes Where They Belong

Do you ever find yourself going to bed overwhelmed and anxious? Does the prospect of a new day, filled with new demands and new trials, cause fear to rise in your heart the minute your alarm goes off? Or maybe you have been living with a constant trial. The pain is relentless. There never seems to be any release. And just when there seems to be a little light at the end of the dark tunnel, fear and dread plague you. What if it never gets better? What if this prospective light is actually the beginning of another trial? It can be hard to hope when the cares of this fallen life are pressing in.

King David understood this predicament well. From early on in his life he faced persecution, abandonment, and scorn from people who were closest to him. For David, it would have been very easy to wallow in anxious thoughts in the midst of very trying times.

This is why Psalm 131 is so encouraging. We know from other passages of Scripture that David did not always have it easy, yet he reminds us of our place in God’s story. It reads:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
I used to think that verse 1 was talking about arrogance and pride, as if David was admitting that he was not a prideful person. But a closer reading of the psalm, and a look at the surrounding verses, actually reveals something else. In verse 2 he explains that rather than concerning himself with things to high and lofty for him, he has instead calmed and quieted his soul “like a weaned child.” And it is a right understanding of this verse that gives helpful insight into both verses 1 and 3.
So how is a weaned child with his mother? What does this mean? A weaned child is content and secure in the arms of his mother. He is not pre-occupied with the weather, his finances, his job, or his circumstances. He feels safe in the tender protection of the one who has always cared for him, and this safety allows him to rest and not worry about anything else. David is saying that, like this weaned child, his soul is content and restful in the arms of his heavenly Father. God has promised to protect him and provide for him and that is his basis for his response.
So what does this have to do with verse 1? For David, to raise his eyes to high (as verse 1 says) would mean to ask God to explain things or to concern himself with things that are only for God to know and control. Many of the things of God are not all revealed to us. We are only given a small glimpse. Our inability to see all that God sees and knows is a reminder to us that we are not God. And isn’t this applicable for us today? When we attempt to be God by an overemphasis on control or demanding answers from the Almighty, we are doing the very thing David is talking about in verse 1. While it is not directly about pride alone, to attempt to put ourselves at the same level as God is a form of pride. And verse 1 is a subtle plea to step away from a sinful grasping for control that is not ours to have.
Focusing my gaze on things too marvelous for me takes my gaze off of the marvelous One. And it reveals my sinful desire for control and to be God. What is the hope for the psalmist in these verses? Hope in God. In verse 3, David gives us the way of escape. It is the way to quieting our souls and refraining from prideful grasping for idolatrous control. It is the point of the previous two verses, and the basis for our rest in trying circumstances. It is taking our gaze off of things that are not ours to control, and trusting in the One who controls all things by the power of his word.
There are a host of things that we face every day that tempt us to lift our eyes too high, or become preoccupied with things to marvelous for us. But this psalm reminds us that there is only one thing we must do in these moments. Run to the Savior, run to his word, and find rest for our souls in the promise that our great God is good, true, and keeps every promise he makes to us.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Three Years of Marriage

Last night I told Daniel that it is hard to believe how little we knew each other when we said "I do" three years ago today. We knew we loved each other, we knew God brought us together, but in all honesty, there was so much we didn't know. I mean, we hadn't even known each other for a year before our wedding day! We had a lot to learn! I'm sure ten years from now I will say the same thing about this stage of our marriage as well. That is the wonderful thing about marriage. You grow together, you learn each other, and Lord willing, you spend your whole life doing it. While there was so much unknown that day three years ago, one thing is certain now--my life is better because I married Daniel. This has been the most amazing, most difficult, most fulfilling, most tear-filled, most joyous three years of my life. And I would not want it any other way. I love him more and more with each passing day. He is my best friend, and even though I often say that the years go by so fast, it is hard to imagine what my life was like before him. He serves me. He loves me. He points me to the Savior. And we are better together than apart. My understanding of Christ's unconditional love for me has grown because of my experience as Daniel's wife. His trust in God and dependence on his grace for all things encourages me. I am so thankful for this gift of marriage today, and every day.

I love you so much, Daniel. Happy Anniversary!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

After Three Years of Marriage: Take it One Day at a Time

Whenever we examine our hearts and lives we inevitably wind up with a list of things we want to change. Reflecting on the past year can bring a laundry list of goals, dreams, sin that needs to be addressed, and the like. If you are like me, you can be simply overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before you. There is so much that needs to change, or that you want to change. You have so many goals for the next year that often feel so unattainable. You have so much guilt over your past failures. Where do you even begin? Here is something so simple, yet so profound, that has encouraged me this year as I have sought to grow as a believer and as a wife.

Work on one thing at a time.
There it is. It’s not a long list of goals or an elaborate plan. In fact, it’s just one simple task. Choose one area for change or one nugget of truth learned and apply it to your life right now. Don’t try and tackle everything at once. That tends to be too much and could actually cause us to go backwards or at least stat stagnant in our growth. Maybe this year growing as a wife means learning to trust in the finished work of Christ. There are a ton of great books out there that can help you in this pursuit (like here, here, and here). Maybe growing as a wife this year means greater discipline in personal holiness. You can start by reading a chapter of the Bible a day and praying for your husband for five minutes a day (maybe while doing the dishes, laundry, or fixing dinner). Maybe growing as a wife means learning to use your tongue for good towards your husband, rather than for evil. You can start by trying to think of one encouraging thing (that you mean) to say to your husband every day.
While these suggestions might seem small, they are steps forward. Even baby steps move us, albeit slowly, towards greater godliness. Focusing on one thing at a time allows us to really grow in that particular area, often fueling greater growth in other areas. It is hard to do things well when you are stretched in a variety of directions.
Few things have served me more than this simple concept. I learned it first from listening to Betsy Ricucci (and I can’t remember the exact message I was listening to). I can get overwhelmed by too many options and too many things to do, especially when it is related to my growth as a believer. But what I have learned in those moments, and my husband has so helpfully led me to see, is that God is concerned with faithfulness, not perfection. Sometimes faithfulness means just doing the next thing. Sometimes it means spending time reflecting and identifying areas of needed growth. Sometimes it means taking action in one specific area. But it usually does not include all three of those things at the same time! God knows I’m not perfect, that’s why he provided Jesus as my righteous substitute. Daily plugging along in the Christian life is faithful living and it will produce a harvest of fruit in the end.
And often we can get more focused on the evidence of fruit, can’t we? Yes, as Christians we should be growing and producing fruit, but it is our overemphasis on the abundance of fruit that often brings discouragement. This is why working on one thing at a time is so helpful. Instead of being overly preoccupied with the results, we are focused on the growth and the process it takes to get us there. But more importantly, focusing on one thing at a time should cause us to be drawn to the One who will produce a harvest of righteousness in our life—Jesus Christ. Only he can bring lasting change. Only he can produce genuine fruit in our lives.
As I look back on this year of marriage, and look forward to the coming year, there is a lot of sanctification I would like to see take place. If you are like me, and you struggle with wanting to see more results than are often evident, you can rest in the promise of Philippians 1:6, God will complete the work he began in you. And as you work and labor to grow in godliness, remember this: take it one day at a time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

After Three Years of Marriage: Love is Unconditional

One of the benefits of reflecting on the past year is that it affords me the opportunity to see areas where I need to continue to grow. It also reminds me of the importance of my role as a wife. Carolyn Mahaney has taught me so much (through her writing and speaking, of course) about God’s design for me as a woman and as a wife. The last few days I have been listening to some of her messages and in her message “Loving Your Husband” on Titus 2:3-5 she highlights two things that were really convicting to me:

  1. Loving my husband like Paul talks about is a learned behavior, not what comes naturally to me.
  2. Loving my husband like Paul talks about is not contingent on my husband’s treatment of me or his meeting of all of my expectations.
First, Paul exhorts the older women to teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children. The idea of teaching implies that one is not an expert at the subject matter. You don’t have to teach a young woman how to love her husband if she is already good at it. The truth is we are not naturally inclined to love our husbands in the way that Paul is talking about here. Mahaney explains that this form of love that Paul speaks of is a warm, affectionate love, not a love mainly expressed through action. Yes, we can serve our husbands and take care of them, but as Carolyn so helpfully says, we can do all of these things without having any affectionate feelings towards them. Often I find myself loving my husband in ways that I think he needs to be loved (i.e. serving him, doing things for him, etc.) rather than really working hard at getting to know him and love him as my dearest friend and lover. This is why the older women are commanded to teach the younger women how to love their husbands. They have walked the road of marriage. They have years of experience in failure and success. And more importantly, they have seen Christ’s transforming work in their own life and in their marriage. This is the basis of their wisdom and experience. And they can transfer that knowledge to the younger women around them. Because of sin, I am naturally inclined to love my husband in my own selfish way, which leads me to my next point.

Second, loving my husband is not based on his performance as a husband. Loving him, submitting to him, and respecting him as my God-given partner should not be withheld in the moments when he is failing me as a godly leader and spouse. My love for him is (and should be) unconditional. I married a sinner. And I know he married a sinner. If Paul wanted loving my husband to be contingent on his behavior towards me he would have put a clause in this verse in Titus 2. But he didn’t. For a long time I have pretended like that little clause is actually there in Scripture. I withhold respect and trust in Daniel because he is not doing what I want him to do. I treat him with contempt because he is not meeting my expectations. I ignore biblical truth about soft answers and humility because I sense that my needs are not being met by him. What I have had to learn is that my expectations are not ultimate, nor are they always accurate. Yes, my husband has responsibilities before the Lord, but so do I. And Jesus makes it very clear that I must deal with my own heart, sin, and actions before I get in my husband’s face about what he is not doing right (Matt. 7:1-5; Luke 6:39-42). Failure to do this on my part has actually revealed my own idolatry more than I care to admit at times.

The reality is that marriage is a daily exercise in self-sacrifice. Sometimes I have to sacrifice my expectations and desires in order to serve my husband and point him towards the Savior. Sometimes he must do the same for me. When I love my husband and submit to his leadership regardless of how he is acting I am actually closer to the path of Christ than if I spent my time stewing over his imperfections and failures. Christ has paid for every failure of leadership on the part of my husband in the same way that he has paid for every unkind word, idolatrous desire, and hateful reaction towards my husband on my part. When I withhold love from my husband because of his sin, I am actually saying more about my unbelief in the Gospel’s power in his life than I am about my husband’s behavior.

Christ’s love for us is unconditional. There is nothing we can do that can change his love for us. It is based on the merit of his shed blood on our behalf. And our marriages, which are meant to image the beautiful relationship our Savior has with his Bride (us), are to be rooted in the same type of unconditional, covenant keeping love. It’s the covenant and commitment that enables me to love my husband. But even more than that, it’s the cross of Christ that proves to me that this love is even possible. Jesus made a way for me to love my husband so that God will get the most glory as a result. Jesus made a way for me to love my husband even when it goes against what I naturally want to do. Jesus made a way for me to love my husband even when he doesn’t meet every expectation and need I have. Why? Because Jesus is enough, and every act of submission and trust towards my husband is actually displaying my trust and submission to the Savior.

That is my hope for obeying Titus 2. That is my hope for my fourth year of marriage. And by God’s grace, that is my hope for every year after that.

The message by Carolyn Mahaney that I referenced (Loving My Husband) can be listened to here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

After Three Years of Marriage: Part 1

It’s hard to believe, but my third wedding anniversary is this coming Friday. When we got married everyone said it would go by fast, and while I believed them I didn’t fully understand just how fast it would go by. In some ways it feels like we’ve been married forever, not in the sense that some describe forever (i.e. monotony, boring, etc.), but in the sense that I simply cannot imagine my life without or before Daniel. My life is so much more enriched and blessed by him. He is my best friend. He knows me sometimes better than I know myself. He loves me and cares for me. He is fun to be around. He is my dear, sweet husband.

As we reflect on the last three years together we have been talking about the way the Lord has grown us both personally and as a couple. It is an ongoing conversation that will take us all the way to May 25 and passed it, I am sure. What has struck me the most is how much I still have to learn about being a godly wife. I’m sure a lot of wives feel this way, or at least I hope I’m not the only one! The beauty of marriage is that we have a lifetime, Lord willing, to grow in these things. Marriage is an ongoing sanctification project. The declaration of our union as man and wife does not transform us immediately into the man or woman God has called us to be. But don’t we wish it did sometimes?!?

Before I got married I thought I knew a reasonable amount of information about biblical womanhood. I had studied it. I worked for CBMW. I sat under good teaching on the topic. I wrote about it. After I got married, and I was suddenly faced with the daily implementation of these truths, I was surprised by how hard it was. I thought it would come naturally. Sure, things came naturally to me but they weren’t along the lines of submission, respect, love, and honor that God desires of me. If you were to ask my husband, I probably found much better company with the woman on the corner of the rooftop rather than the Proverbs 31 woman.

I wish I could say three years later that I am much improved. I’m not where I want to be, but I pray that by God’s grace I’m making progress. So over the next few days, in honor of my anniversary week (we like to celebrate weeks around here, rather than days) I am going to write about things the Lord has taught me about myself as a wife this year. I’ve learned to take it one year at a time. This year, by God’s grace, showed more fruit than last year. Hopefully next year will be even more fruitful, and with each passing year I pray my marriage grows more and more. Maybe you can relate. You aren’t where you want to be, but you know you need help and hope for change. I hope you will join me this week. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I am like you—a desperate woman, desiring to please God, and hoping for more of Jesus in my life and marriage in the next year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday is for Food and Fotos

Last week we were in Dallas for Daniel's job. While we were there we also got to experience all of the culinary awesomeness that is in Dallas. We ate a lot of good, good food. In-n-Out Burger has added locations in the DFW area, and while we had seen it on our recent travels there, we had yet to try it. It was my first experience with In-n-Out, and I was not disappointed. But I'm easily pleased by a hamburger, so I might be an easy critic! Here are some pics to document our dining experience. As you can see, I could not wait to try my burger!

And because I never can get enough of mexican/Tex-Mex, the first thing I made when we got back Saturday was this amazing Pioneer Woman recipe. I actually thought about it the entire drive back. It was as good as my daydreams imagined! I had some leftover shredded beef in the freezer, so this all worked out nicely. It is worth your time if you are into this sort of thing (i.e. the goodness of mexican food!).

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Radio Interview on the Family

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by a radio station in Pennsylvania and New York on my Her.meneutics post Mourning the Death of Family-Friendly TV. The Christian radio station specializes in music, teaching, and cultural and family issues. We talked about a variety of things related to the article, including over-programming, the local church, and God's design for families. It was my first radio interview and I had no idea how it would go. I was really nervous! Here is the link if you are interested in listening.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Infertility Does Not Define You

One of the constant struggles in my journey of infertility is to not believe the lie that I am defined by my infertility. Many times it feels like if you were to look up the word infertile in the dictionary my picture would be there staring back at you. Of course, it is easy to feel this way. Regardless of the medical condition causing the problem, the diagnosis from the doctor is that for the time being I am infertile. Infertility is keeping me from getting pregnant. Treatments, medicine, tests, and the like occupy my thoughts. I talk about it with my friends and family. I’m on a first name basis with my doctor. When it takes up so much of your time and money it only takes a few short steps to get to the point where you think it makes you who you are.  

Maybe you are like me. Maybe you are dealing with infertility and find yourself defined by what ails you. Maybe you look in the mirror and only see a woman with a faulty womb or hormonal imbalance rather than a daughter of King Jesus. I know I have.

After Mother’s Day it’s especially easy to dwell on these feelings. Amid the plethora of “happy mother’s day” niceties a couple of days ago you want to scream “It’s not a happy day and I’m not a mother!” Or maybe you are dealing with the aftermath of feeling like you stuck out like a sore thumb, surrounded by the happy moms and babies while your arms were noticeably empty.

I suppose the struggle with finding our identity in our circumstances is not unique to the infertile woman. The man who faces another week of chemotherapy surely wrestles with feeling like his cancer defines him. The unemployed college graduate with mounting college debt must fight the temptation to believe that a job will provide the identity she needs to make it in the world. But there is something about infertility that hits at the core of who you are as a woman. God created women to bear and nurture life. Prior to a diagnosis of infertility, many infertile women never imagined they would be facing this suffering. They thought motherhood would come naturally and easily. Bringing life into the world is a unique and glorious task given only to women. And when you can’t even do that, it jars you. But does it define you?

The reality is that as believers we can rest in the fact that our identity is not in our sufferings, disappointments, or losses. After our miscarriage I had to fight to believe that people didn’t see a big “M” on my chest whenever I walked into a room. We don’t bear the scarlet letter of our sufferings. While they do mark us and shape us, they do not have the final word in our life. We bear the name of Christ, who bore the most horrid scarlet letter for us so we could now be identified with him. This means that no matter what suffering we face, even as personal and deep as infertility is, our identity is not wrapped up in the trial. Because we are identified with Christ, one day we will no longer bear the scars of our suffering. What glorious news this is! Consider the words of Paul to the Philippians:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Phil. 3:7-9a).

This verse has been on my mind ever since Sunday. Paul is saying that any good thing and any gain he could have had before he counts as trash compared to knowing Christ and being found in him. Paul’s, and our, identity is wrapped up in knowing Christ and being known by Christ. Can I say this with Paul, that every gain I could have had, even the amazing gain of having a child of my own, is loss compared to knowing Christ? Sometimes I’m there. Other times I struggle to believe it. But I must remember that the lack of a child does not define me. Christ defines me. How could Paul face suffering in such great magnitude and yet still be joyful in the Lord? How could Paul endure hardship and alienation from people he loved and not turn his back on God? At times he must have felt like the only thing that defined his life was humiliation, pain, and trials, yet he remained steadfast until the end. Why? Because knowing Christ and being identified with him far outweighed every loss he experienced.

The family of God is made up of scarred, broken, suffering people. We have lost treasured possessions and loved ones, faced dashed dreams and expectations, weathered disappointment and sorrow. But all of these realities will not have the final say in our life. Because of Christ, every earthly gain we could have received is nothing compared to what we will get one day when we see Christ face to face. We are merely pilgrims on this earth, waiting for our final home in heaven. What we face on this earth does not define us because this is not all we have to look forward to. Yes, it pains us to walk through suffering. Yes, we weep and cry out to God for mercy and relief. Yes, we grieve and mourn over loss. But one day the God who started the good work in us, and secured our identity in Christ, will bring it all to completion. And it will have all been worth it.

It is tempting to look at my suffering and believe that it makes me who I am. It is tempting to believe that I can never be anything more than a childless woman. It is tempting to believe that my infertility makes me less of a woman and of lesser value in God’s economy. And Satan wants nothing more than for me (and you) to believe those lies. Christ secured our identity before we were even formed in our mother’s womb and long before we even knew we would be infertile. He bought us with his precious blood and paid for our sin so we could be brought into his family and given a home. This is our hope when we feel the ugly lies creeping in that tell us we are not worth anything because of our faulty bodies. We have value and identity not because of our own intrinsic worth, but because of the worth of Christ. And that is what defines us. Remember this truth, dear sister, when you see another negative pregnancy test or bleak diagnosis. You are a child of God. And God gives you your identity.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Reading on the Cross: What's Up Next

I've heard it said that we should never stray far from the cross of Jesus Christ. It's a common misconception that as believers we somehow move on from the message of the cross and on to more practical, weighty matters. This could not be more untrue! We need daily doses of the gospel. We need regular reminders of what the cross accomplished for us. And we need a clear view of the wonderful place called Calvary, where our Savior bore our sins and died the death that we deserve.

That is why I am really excited to start reading It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence. My dear friend, Laura, just finished reading it and said it was so helpful and encouraging to her soul. One of the things that has helped me most through our trial these past couple of years is being regularly reminded of God's love for me shown most evidently at the cross. When I feel tempted to doubt God's care or involvement in my life, a healthy dose of the truths of the gospel always helps me greatly. And when I am struggling the most with despair and hopelessness I often find that listening to a sermon, reading a Christ-centered book, or listening to a rich hymn stirs my heart to remember that God is for me. It is at the cross that I see this most clearly.

So I suppose this is a book preview, rather than a book review (though that will come once I finish the book!). If you are in need a fresh reminder of the beauty and wonder of the atonement, I invite you to read along!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mourning with Those Who Mourn on Mother's Day

Her.meneutics (the Christianity Today women's blog) just posted an article I wrote on navigating the difficult waters of the joy and grief that surrounds Mother's Day. I link the exhortation in Romans 12:15 ("Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep") to the celebration that surrounds the day. I know a lot of women who, like myself, want to be happy for others this coming Sunday but feel a sting in their soul regarding their own longings for children. Romans 12:15 is for days just like that. For us, it's hard to rejoice with the rejoicing when our arms are painfully empty. For them, it might be hard to weep with us in our pain when their arms are filled with children. Here is how I conclude the post:

"Regardless of your situation this Mother’s Day, Romans 12:15 is true for you. It does not take away the pain you might feel. Nor does it diminish the joy you might feel. And if we were truly honest with ourselves, we would say that obeying this command in the thick of your pain or joy is virtually impossible. We need Christ’s help to enable us to serve one another well in every season of life. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything, and Mother’s Day is no exception. May our churches be a place where the glory of motherhood is upheld and honored, but the pain and sorrow of those who long for what they do not have is honored as well."

Read the rest of the post here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Finding Your Home on Mother's Day (repost)

I wrote and posted this last Mother's Day, but I thought it might be helpful to post it again for myself and all my readers out there who feel like Mother's Day is not for them. May it encourage you today, dear sister.


“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.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What a Girl Wants (and How She Can Get It): Part 3

A Girl’s Responsibility

Even with the most comprehensive and put together discipleship program girls today have a responsibility to act rightly. Women, and girls, have tremendous power at their fingertips. While most young women would say that they want a man to lead, provide, and protect them, many of them settle for far less than God’s ideal for a godly man. As John Ensor so helpfully says in his book, Doing ThingsRight in Matters of the Heart:

“Sisters, abstaining from sexual immorality is, for you, too, a matter of submitting to God and his commands. But it is more. It is God’s “Mature Manhood Test Kit” for women. The immature, self-centered, ungodly man will test negative in a matter of weeks. The deceitful and cunning predator will test negative in a matter of days. Men willing to wait, and wanting to wait, will test positive. It is not a lack of sexual interest; it is a healthy fear of God. It is love, which at this point rightfully expresses itself as protection from sin and shame. If he weakens, help him succeed. If all else goes well in the development of the relationship, you know you are marrying a godly man, one who has self-control and a clear sense of his calling as a man.”

To put it simply, girls can encourage men to be men. They can test them by their willingness to wait to fulfill their sexual desires until marriage. It is not normal for boys to expect sex and get it outside of marriage, at least not in God’s economy. Yet, so many of them think this is the case. As we disciple them and walk them through God’s design for them as women they will learn that they have tremendous power to either encourage men to act honorably or dishonorably. And something happens when we help girls do this—the bad boys move on.

I find great encouragement in the fact that young women today want to marry well and live as godly women. But we have to go further than the desire. The Evil One wants nothing more than for them to abandon God’s design and follow the culture. And the cultural onslaught against womanhood is just as bad. By God’s grace our churches can, and should be, places where young girls can grow in godliness and their desire for marriage and family, and be protected from the boys who will keep them from these matrimonial dreams becoming a reality.

This post is the third post in a two part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2

Friday, May 4, 2012

What a Girl Wants (and How She Can Get It): Part 2

Yesterday, I discussed the disconnect between what many younger girls want and what they actually do to go about getting it. The local church is the place where they can learn about what it means to be a woman and live according to God's guidelines for them. And the Bible has a lot to say on this. Here is the continuation on yesterday's post.

The Value of Discipleship

If we are not intentional at combating the voices of the culture, the culture will eventually win. While many girls today are reacting to the feminism and “I am woman hear me roar” spirit of their mothers’ generation, their moms were reacting to the stay-at-home mom of the June Cleaver generation. Simply letting the rebellion against careerism win will not be enough over the long haul. And even then, so many of our young girls want what the Bible teaches but have no idea how to get there.

Whenever we need to reorient our understanding of something as important as womanhood, we must go to God’s word. And as usual, God has not left us to ourselves in understanding how he wants us to live as women. The primary way we are going to help young girls prepare for marriage and grow into godly womanhood is through intentional discipleship. Titus 2:3-5 is where we see this practically laid out. Paul gives Titus the biblical basis for women mentoring women within the local church. Of all of the ways he could tell Titus to teach his congregation, he tells him to have the older women train the younger women in godliness, womanhood, and life within the family. Translated to today’s society and this looks like life-on-life ministry where older women are giving themselves in order to train the next generation. A quick survey of younger women in your congregation would probably show you that they are yearning for this type of relationship with an older woman.

Our churches must provide an avenue for these relationships to happen. Whether it’s equipping older women in how to teach and pass on their wealth of wisdom. Or it’s providing a safe place for these relationships to foster and grow. The best place for intentional, counter-cultural discipleship is in the local church. The local church is God’s means of glorifying himself in this world, through proclaiming the gospel and equipping his people. In a local church gender-specific discipleship ministry, young girls can ask the hard questions, see godly womanhood lived out, and get teaching they need to grow in godliness.

Next time we will look at the girl's responsibility in making all this happen.

Read Part 1

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What a Girl Wants (and How She Can Get It): Part 1

It’s the stuff little girls dream of. What begins as a childhood fascination with princesses, dress-up clothes, and mock weddings, grows into a teenage obsession with wedding magazines, boys, and dreams of matrimonial bliss. Most girls, pre-pubescent and teenage, think about getting married. They flock to romantic movies, swoon over the male lead pursuing the woman perfectly, and then hope and wish that the same thing might happen to them someday. Regardless of what the feminists say about girl power and all, most teenage girls (especially Christian ones) still want marriage and family. But then again, there is also a disconnect somewhere.

Just a quick glance at the statistics regarding teenage sexual activity shows that while girls might want marriage, they aren’t really following the typical path that will get them there—or at least to a happily ever after. Girls might want marriage, but they sure don’t act like it. They hook-up with boys, but then are surprised when they don’t treat them with the respect, honor and pursuit that they see in romantic comedies. And as they get older they grow desensitized, bitter, and cynical to all things male and matrimonial. They start with a fairytale and end with a 30-year-old boy playing video games and drinking beer in their one bedroom apartment. What happened to the house, dual-income, and 2.5 kids they always dreamed about? What happened to the happy ending?

Unfortunately, the joke is on them.

As I’ve taught and discipled girls, gone through my twenties, lived and learned a little, and am now married to a wonderful, godly man I’ve noticed a common pattern with girls these days. They want the happy ending; they just go about it all wrong. They embrace the cultural milieu of hooking-up and no commitment and are surprised when it doesn’t feel as good as was promised. As Christians, we have a distinct and hopeful answer to the girls and women who buy into this thinking. And as much as we would like to think that our abstinence pledges and True Love Waits rallies are setting us apart, they aren’t. In order to embrace a biblical model of womanhood (and manhood) Christian teenagers and young adults will need to be swimming upstream in a muddy, swampy mess of ambient culture. For most of them, they need a complete reorientation of their understanding of what it means to be a woman.

What’s the Church to Do?

All of the writing, speaking, debating, and press regarding biblical womanhood the last decade or so could easily make us all think that the battle has been waged and won. But a quick survey of the modern evangelical landscape shows us that our work is far from over. While there are excellent resources out there, and many places are doing it well, most of our churches are still left lacking. And the local church is where it must be taught. A lot of our teenagers are still dating and pairing off like the world, all the while hoping that they will one day marry like their pastor and his wife. We must have a robust theology of womanhood, coupled with a safe haven for girls to talk, question, and learn about how God has created them to be, all within the context of God's ordained means of spreading his glory in this world--the local church. Everything they are bombarded with on a daily basis is contrary to God’s design. From entertainment to friendship, young girls today need a complete overhaul of teaching on biblical womanhood. Feminism is at the very core of our being, and now that it is a culturally accepted doctrine, it will win if we don’t counter it with the truths of Scripture.

Our churches must be the first place girls can go to learn about God’s design for them. We cannot simply expect that they will learn womanhood by default. They won’t. And this is where the Bible comes into play.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hope for Homosexuals

A few years ago a girl I knew remarked that she felt strange visiting her particular hairdresser because she was a lesbian. Knowing that this woman was attracted to women, not men, made her uncomfortable, and eventually she moved on to someone else. She meant no ill-will towards the hairstylist. She was a solid believer, valued God's word, and prayed fervently for lost people to come to Christ. But when it came to the homosexual hair stylist something just didn't sit right with her. I think her response is quite common for many of us within the conservative Christian community. While we all agree that God doesn't hate homosexuals, when it comes down to actually ministering to them we simply don't know what to do. Our response to those in the gay community tends to be similar to our reponse to the person in the throes of grief--in fear we either don't say anything or say way too much of the wrong thing. We don't intentionally treat homosexual people with contempt, but our fear of the unknown tends to overtake our desire to do good by them. I know I have seen it in my own life way too often.

I had the opportunity this week to listen to the panel discussion from T4G on gay marriage. It was basically a question and answer session with Mark Dever asking questions and Dr. Mohler answering. And true to his form Dr. Mohler was extremely helpful in addressing the reality of homosexuality in our churches and communities, while also providing a course of action for the church.

One of the things Mohler said that really stayed with me is that all of us, post-puberty, are broken in our sexual orientation. We live in a post-Genesis 3 world, and as a result we have all sinned sexually in some way. Our sin just manifests itself in different ways, from the guy who is enslaved to pornography to the girl who likes other girls. Sexual sin is sexual sin, and sin is the great equalizer. We are all equally fallen, but by God's abundant grace we all have a way of escape from the sin that entangles us. Homosexuality is not the worst sin a human being can commit. Rejection of God is (Mark 4:22-30). While Romans 1 reminds us of the heinousness of homosexuality, it also tells us that wrath, envy, slander, gossip, disobedience, impurity, and the like all fall under the condemnation of God. Every one of those sins is stemming from a heart that does not believe that God is good and worthy of our worship. We want to worship the creation, rather than the Creator. That idolatry manifests itself differently in our varying personalities and sin tendencies.

The problem with our arguments against homosexuality is that so often they are framed in the context of human behavior rather than concern for the souls of lost people. We think the behavior is gross and so we treat it as such. But what we have to remember is that the people we speak of are image bearers just like us. They are living, breathing human beings who are enslaved to sin and the worship of the god of this age. In Romans 1 the issue is that we worship the creation, rather than the Creator. This leads to a whole host of sins that condemn us. Yes, homosexual behavior needs to change. But so does slander, gossip, murder, jealousy, and even heterosexual immorality. It is all stemming from worshipping something other than God.

Our response to homosexuality must move away from the ideological and political, and move more towards dealing with the hearts of people. Within all of us is a God-shaped void that in our sinful state we will fill with everything but God, because left to ourselves we hate him. What people need is a bigger view of God and of his great love for us in sending us Jesus, who can take away any sin we struggle with--including homosexuality.

Jesus went to the sexually sinful, broken, despised, and rejected of his day, not because he wanted to endorse their behavior but because he wanted to show them that they were worshipping the wrong thing. But the point is that he went to them, regardless of how gross and strange his culture thought they were. And as Christians we have an answer to the guy or girl struggling with same-sex attraction, his name is Jesus. By God's grace, we must be a place where no person struggles in their sin alone, but finds an answer for their sinfulness and hope for change no matter what sin they struggle with.

For a more thorough assessment of this and for some practical instruction on how the church can help homosexuals, you can listen to Dr. Mohler's interview here.