Monday, January 26, 2015

The Sin We Don't Speak Of

We all have that sin. The one we thought was long conquered, long forgotten, and long paid for by Christ's precious blood. Then one day it emerges, reminding us that we are not yet perfected, and riddling us with guilt. It's the sin we don't speak of. It's the sin that we are certain would cause friends to shun us, strangers to mock us, and God to turn his back on us. Everyone's is different, but the effects on us are the same. And when it rears its ugly head we are undone.

I don't know what your forgotten, unspeakable sin is. But I know mine. I know that even after years of victory it can come back without any warning, reminding me that I am still in need of a great Savior. It's good for me, really. This sin, in all its heinousness, is a reminder to my ever prideful heart that the respectable sins I live with are just as ugly as the one that I don't utter out loud. Everyone needs to be knocked down a few rungs on the ladder of our own perceived righteousness. I am no different.

In the moments of despair over the reappearance of this sin, I have been comforted by the fact that it has been paid for by Christ's atoning work at the cross. There is no more condemnation for me because Christ took all of it for me (Rom. 8:1). But practically speaking, I've learned that I need the same guttural response to my every day sins as I have to the one I hate the most. I should weep tears of brokenness with every act of rebellion against my God, and yet, I don't. I've created a hierarchy of sinfulness, stacking some at the very top of the "do not do this again" list.

In God's eyes, sin is sin. No amount of human ordering changes that for him. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). This sin is the great equalizer before him. There are no sins that are beyond his reach for cleansing and there are no sins that make us any better or worse in his eyes. Without Christ, the verdict is the same--guilty.

Oh, but the story doesn't end there. With Christ the verdict is the same--righteous. My sin (respectable and otherwise) says that there is no hope for me, and that is true. But in Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own (Phil. 3:9). I can stand free from condemnation over all of my sins, even the one that I feel is too unworthy to bring to the throne of grace.

If that is where you are today, dear sister, know that I am with you. Actually, we are all in this together. Look to Christ and trust in his perfect work on your behalf. Repent, yes. But then cling to the One who paid for all our sins--even the ones we can't speak of.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Certainty of Hope

We are a hopeful people, aren't we? We hope for warmer weather (at least I do!). We hope to get well from sickness. We hope our babies sleep through the night. We hope to get pregnant, find a spouse, or get the job we are applying for. We hope for good grades, a glowing performance review, or that our favorite characters in TV shows will finally get together. We hope for family members to come to Christ, relationships to be mended, and our circumstances to turn around. We hope for a lot of things. And not all hopes are equal. Some have no lasting value (like our hopes in favorite characters), while others carry eternal implications (like our hopes for lost family members). But in the English language, we still use the same word for both--hope.

When my husband preached at our church a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned something that stuck with me. Hope is a recurring theme in the Bible. But it's not like we think of hope. Preaching on Philippians 1:18-26, Daniel said that Paul's hope was not wishful thinking, but confident expectation that God would do what he said he would do.

J.I. Packer has this to say about the Christian's hope:

In a word, hope: hope understood not in the weak sense of optimistic whistling in the dark, but in the strong sense of certainty about what is coming because God himself has promised it (J.I. Packer, Weakness is the Way: Life With Christ Our Strength, 92).

I've been thinking a lot about hope lately. One of my biggest hopes (and besetting fears) is that our little son would make it into this world alive and healthy. Holding on to that hope is hard for me now that I've gone through two pregnancy losses. I don't have a confident hope that all will be well because I've seen it not be well in my own body before. I wrestle daily between bursting expectation about holding his wrinkly newborn body in my arms and crushing fear that I won't get to hear his newborn cries. What I'm learning is that my hopes and fears are not what will carry me as I carry him. Hoping in my son's well being is not the hope Paul, Packer, or the whole of Scripture is talking about. It's not a hope in circumstances. For me, it's not a hope in counting kicks, hearing a heartbeat, or even holding him in my arms.

It's a better one.

When Job lost everything: his possessions, his children, even the support of his wife, he hoped in God. He worshiped him (Job 1:20-22). When the Hebrews joyfully accepted the loss of their property they trusted in God because they knew he was the better possession (Heb. 10:34). These saints expressed confident expectation that God would do what he said in their lives.

The same is true for my hope. While I have no guarantee that I will get every earthly thing I hope for, even a healthy baby boy come May, I do have full assurance that God will keep me to the end. Scripture is full of this very promise for those who are in Christ. We are hoping in an unseen, eternal reality that will never pass away, not in the shifting sands of circumstances--good or bad (2 Cor. 4:18).

Of course, I'm still hopeful that my precious son will make it into this world healthy. God delights in giving good gifts to his children, including precious children of our own. But regardless of the outcome of this pregnancy, I want to hope in the God who is holding everything together and who promises to do me good, not harm, all the days of my life. I want the unshakable hope that will carry me when everything crumbles around me or when I am tempted to forget him in the joy-filled days.

"My hope rests firm on Jesus Christ, he is my only plea."

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year, New Prayer for Faithfulness

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions. I suppose I don't like the disappointment when I don't meet my own impossible standards. But I do like to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the one ahead of me. As the year turned from 2014 to 2015 I was reading through the stories of the kings of Judah and Israel in Kings and Chronicles. It's hardly reading that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside as you start a new year. If you are familiar with their history, after King Solomon died, Israel and Judah split into two separate kingdoms. The tribe of Judah had one set of kings. The remaining tribes of Israel had another. Every king in Israel was unfaithful to the Lord, while Judah had periodic glimpses of God's continued work.

Even in the midst of rebellion and idolatry, God was still faithful to his promises to his people. He could have wiped them out. But he didn't. He sustained the Davidic line in order to pave the way for the one true King, Jesus.

But what has stuck with me as I think about the coming year is that even the faithful kings of Judah stumbled at the end of their lives. Solomon was loved foreign women and was led astray by them (1 Kings 11:1-8). Asa failed to remove the high places (2 Chron. 16:17) and then at the end of his reign failed to repent of his sinful reliance on the Syrian King (2 Chron. 16:7-14). Jehoshaphat joined with the king of Israel (2 Chron. 20: 35-27). Amaziah did not follow the Lord with his whole heart and became a wicked king (2 Chron. 25). Uzziah became proud when he became strong (2 Chron. 26: 16). Hezekiah boasted of his successes and flaunted his resources (2 Kings 20:12-21). The list could go on.

Every one of these kings at one point followed the Lord. Every one of these kings started well. They knew the scriptures. They knew what was expected of them. Yet they fell away. As I start a new year I don't want to think that I am not susceptible to the same soul-destroying pride that pulled them away from the true God.

Of course, in all of this there is a greater story being told, isn't there? In Judah's sordid history is a scarlet thread that tells us that a greater king is coming. King Jesus never fell away. King Jesus never grew proud of his power and might. King Jesus never sinned, thus never needed to repent. So if you feel the weight of the same sobering truth, that you are prone to wonder just like me, rest in this amazing truth: the same Christ who called you will keep you. The same Christ who died for you will sustain you. The same Christ who bore the curse for you will convict you when you fall away. Left to ourselves we are just like those wicked kings of Judah, the best of intentions, but no means of fulfilling them. Christ is our means. That is a New Year's Resolution that has already been done for us.

What a great hope for a busy new year.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Books I Enjoyed in 2014

I'm a couple of days late to the party for favorite books last year. It's still early January, so it counts, right?

Every year I am amazed at the privilege we are given to have such an abundance of books at our fingertips. While this list isn't exhaustive, nor is it reflective of books written just in 2014, it is a list of books I really liked last year. I hope you will find something in this list that you can enjoy yourself in 2015.

Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid
I reviewed this book on the blog. I think it's one I should read every year.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms by Gloria Furman
Here is a short review of this one as well. If you are in the motherhood trenches, this book is for you.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
I received this book from my parents and read it in two days. Her story captures your attention and reminds you that Christ's power over salvation can reach anyone. Her final chapters on life after her conversion are especially moving as you see her love her children from all walks of life.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
This book came highly recommended from a friend of mine and I'm so glad I read it. Written against the backdrop of apartheid in South Africa, it is a moving story of prejudice, injustice, and forgiveness. And it is beautifully written. It also reminded me that I need to read more fiction.

True Beauty by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre
Not your average beauty book, this book is a breath of fresh air for all who struggle with what it means to be truly beautiful (and that's probably everyone!). I reviewed it here.

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
This is a book I hope every woman in our church reads at some point. I finished this book wanting to know my Bible better, and I've heard other friends say the same. She establishes the basis for Bible literacy and then gives you the tools to accomplish the task. If you want a more robust understanding of Bible study, this book is for you.

The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank
I think this book can be a paradigm shifting book for many women with regards to work. I'm especially thinking of their focus on the seasons of a woman's life. While our culture doesn't lend itself to women and work in a variety of season (i.e. accomplish everything when you are young), they help the reader see that for everything there is a season and there is value in understanding your place in that season.

Teach Us to Want by Jen Pollock Michel
Jen makes me want to be a better writer. But she also makes me want to know God more. She has a gift for making words come alive. By drawing you into her prose, she helps you better understand your own desires in light of Scripture. This book won the Christianity Today book award for 2014 and I'm so glad it did. I interviewed her here.

One thing that stands out to me with the books I enjoyed this year is that most of them are written by women. I'm so encouraged by the many female writers that are out there right now. They are an encouragement to a new writer like me, but also help all women see the value of studying Scripture for every woman. I imagine 2015 will be no different!