Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Inner Moralist

I've had a long relationship with moralism - one which I have been actively trying to sever. Unfortunately, my inner moralist has the knack of raising her ugly head periodically or worse, camouflaging herself under the guise of wanting to do things right. There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to do a good job. Who wouldn't want their surgeon to perform the operation correctly or have their pilot land the plane without mishap? We should strive for excellence for the glory of God, but this desire ceases to be good when right behavior, understanding, attitude, feelings, and [add your favorites here] determine acceptance and favor with God.

Now consider the promises of God. I've realized a good deal of my problems with worry stem from not knowing the exceeding great and precious promises found in Scripture.These gifts from God in Christ not only give comfort and hope but also reveal His character. What a wonderful thing to study, meditate upon, and believe! Let's start taking God at His word! Amen?

But ... what if I don't appropriate them correctly? What if I am presuming upon God? The last thing I want to do is be like the prosperity preachers who think God is obligated to give me whatever I want just because I say the right words. And this is where my inner moralist disguises herself. To avoid a name-it-and-claim-it misuse of God's promises, I can swing to the other extreme, thinking my understanding needs to be absolutely correct or else I could be guilty of presumption. On the surface, it sounds noble and pious, but access to God's promises becomes dependent upon my doing something right. I need to earn what He intended as a gift. I'm robbed of receiving with joy and, in turn, worry about not performing up to par. At its heart, moralism is destructive because it's a thief of the gospel2. Sneaky, isn't it?

But these very promises provide the power and freedom to shut the door in this robber's face and turn the lock.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7
So, Inner Moralist, listen up, and I will repeat this if necessary. The way to heaven isn't a ladder of duties but a golden chain of free grace3.  The promises of God aren't mine because of the accuracy of my understanding or the state of my Christian walk.  They are freely dispensed from Mercy's hand and no other. God has committed Himself to be my God and placed me in Christ where all His promises find their yes and amen. 4 Did I do anything to deserve it? No. Can I jeopardize God's covenant with me because of this sin? No, because the gospel is for recovering moralists too. What is left then? Repent, believe, and receive His promises by faith with thanksgiving.
No unworthiness, therefore, should hinder us from believing or receiving the promises of God, since they are freely given to those who do not deserve them. We have the promise of John 6:37 that the Lord will receive us as we are - base, sinful, poor, and of no account - and will not cast us away. Our unworthiness, then, rather than disqualifying us, actually qualifies us, for God has made His promises not to those who deserve grace but to those who need it. (Matt. 11:28). 5
1. 2 Peter 1:4
2. The Centrality of the Gospel - Tim Keller
3. William Spurstowe quoted in  Living by God's Promises, Joel R. Beeke and James A. LaBelle, Reformation Heritage Books, 2010, pg. 41.
4. Ibid. 16.
5. Ibid. 42. (emphasis mine)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Fighting for Your Girl's Inner Beauty

Note: This is part of the Fight Like a Girl Series. Other posts are found under the series tag.

My make-up bag used to be filled with high end cosmetics, my bathroom counter laden with the latest and trendiest products.I wanted to look my very best, and I was willing to spend what I thought it took to achieve that goal. I wasn't alone. The beauty industry is thriving - nearly $300 billion in sales in 2011 alone (source). There are plenty of women who have yet to learn what I finally discovered. No amount of make-up will conceal a sin-sick heart.

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), but it doesn't change who he is. The truth is, God judges our hearts and not our faces (1 Sam. 16:7). I know that in my head. Yet I'm reluctant to post photos of myself online. I feel ugly and unworthy when I look at magazine covers in the supermarket checkout line. I tell my daughter she is not defined by the world's idea of beauty, yet I don't believe that is true for me. Somehow, I don't think I'm the only one.

But what if we decided to use the Word of God, rather than the pages of a magazine, as our mirror? What if we looked to the women of Scripture, rather than the latest offering from the Hollywood factory, as our ideal? What if we could teach our girls to do the same?

Isaiah writes that the Jesus "had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." (Isaiah 53:2, ESV). Yet most Christians would declare Jesus to be beautiful, even though we have never seen Him. Could it be we consider Him so because He fulfilled His purpose? In Uncompromising: A Heart Claimed By a Radical Love, Hannah Farver recounts how she and a friend decided that things are beautiful if they work the way their maker designed them to work. Could the same be true of people? 1 Peter 3:3-4 certainly agrees with this theory; God considers a gentle and quiet spirit as very precious.

 Paul Tripp offers this exhortation to parents: "Our goal is to produce children who exist in the world of the seen, but who live for what cannot be see, touched, or tasted." He then outlines the qualities of a spiritual warrior, the goals we should have in raising our children. Spiritual warriors "have a heartfelt, internalized fear of God...[exhibit] submission to authority...[practice] separation from the wicked...have the ability to think through [their]faith and apply it to the situations of life...and [possess] spiritual self-awareness." (source)

If we're going to raise girls who are spiritual warriors, we must realize that there's a war being waged against their inner beauty. They're trying to fight it with make-up brushes, curling irons, and fashion magazines. They're getting pummeled. It's time for us to jump off the sidelines, draw our Sword, and start fighting.

Keep Fighting:

~Ask your girl: What makes someone or something beautiful? Why do you think people want to feel beautiful? What do you consider your function in life?

~Read Colossians 1:16 and Psalm 139:13-14 with her. Remind her that "God didn’t make your body in order to please what some fashion magazine decided was attractive. You were designed to reflect God’s own image." (Hannah Farver, Uncompromising: A Heart Claimed By a Radical Love)

~Read Deuteronomy 10:12-13, Proverbs 31:30, and Micah 6:6-8 with her. Discuss what the Lord requires of us, and how we can cultivate our inner beauty. "We are to be primarily known, not for our good looks or name-brand clothing, but our good works." (Farver)

Friday, January 25, 2013

You're Gonna Need a Quality Shoe

If we expect the path of our life to be all freeway, or even paved sidewalk, we’re going to be disappointed. Jesus warned his disciples that in this world they would have trouble. Why would we expect it to be any different for us? Eventually, we’re all going to run into difficult circumstances and we may have to endure them for a long time. It’s the way it is for believers in this world.

Jesus didn’t tell his disciples how hard things would be for them because he wanted to scare them, but because he wanted to prepare them for it. When persecution and difficulty came, he didn’t want them to be blown away by it.

Do you remember Jesus’ words of warning?
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33 ESV 0.
Did they remember what he said? How did the disciples react the first time they faced trouble after Jesus ascended?

It’s all recorded for us in Acts 4. Peter and John were held in jail overnight and then brought before the Sanhedrin, where they were threatened by the rulers in an attempt to get them to stop preaching. When they were released, they joined with their brethren and prayed this prayer:
...[T]hey lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, [25] who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
[26] The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
[27] for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [28] to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. [29] And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, [30] while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:24-30 ESV)
It’s their very first persecution. You might think that since they, of all people, knew the mighty power of God, they would ask him to make the road easier for them by taking this persecution away. But instead, they asked God to give them courage to keep on proclaiming the gospel in the face of persecution. It seems they expected trouble.

But there was more to it than that. They expected trouble and they viewed their trouble as God’s plan for them. Their prayer opens by affirming that everything comes from God and that he is sovereign over it all. It continues by declaring that God had not simply foretold the crucifixion, but he had planned it. They see Christ’s suffering as the centerpiece of God’s plan to conquer sin, and I think they see this as a pattern for the way God works generally. Their God is a God who accomplishes his good purposes through suffering, and he will accomplish his good purposes through their persecution. Instead of asking that the persecution be stopped, they accept it as God’s plan for them, his way to accomplish his good purposes in the world.

Jesus had told them they could expect trouble, but to be courageous. So they asked for courage to keep speaking God’s truth as they face persecution. “I have overcome the world,” Jesus said, and they knew that. They also knew that just as God worked Christ’s victory over the world through his suffering, he would spread the news of Christ’s victorious work through their suffering. But they needed courage to endure persecution and keep on preaching the gospel undeterred.

Like the early disciples, as long as we’re here in this world, we can expect hardship and difficulty. It may not be persecution, but we will have trouble. Like Peter and John and their brethren, we can face our trials with courage because Christ has overcome the world. Our suffering will bring about the fruit of his victory by working God’s good purpose for our own redemption and the redemption of the world. Our troubles work to conform us to Christ’s image (James 1:2-3; Romans 8:28-29), and in many cases, they work in the same way Paul’s imprisonment did: they turn out to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12-14).

All our trials — and we’ll have them — work together for good purposes because Christ has overcome the world. We’ll need our sturdy shoes, but we can hike on knowing that the difficult trail is the best way — God's way — to reach our perfect destination. We can take courage, and when we don’t have it, we can ask for it, knowing that a prayer for courage in trouble is a prayer that pleases God and one that he is pleased to grant:
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31 ESV)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

God Came Down

Today's post comes courtesy of Juanita Stauffer, a woman I met online over five years ago through a homeschool email support group. I asked her to talk with us today about her daughter, Emily.  She shares today the content of a message she and her husband, Terry, delivered at Christmas called, "God Came Down."  This post is long, but you will be blessed and left seeing how great our God is.  Resist the urge to skim, and keep reading!  Welcome, Juanita.

Just over four years ago, I was on my way home from Red Deer where I had been at a piano teacher’s conference. I was about an hour from home and I think I called home to let Terry know where I was. He said something unusual for him: “Don’t spare the gas – get home as soon as you can.”

I pressed him a little on why – after all, we are usually pretty careful with both gas mileage and speed. He finally told me that our 14 year old daughter, Emily, was missing. I started to drive pretty quickly. About 30 minutes later, I called back to find out if he had heard anything else and he told me that it was confirmed that she was dead.

I drove even faster. Faster than I’ve ever driven before for a long period of time. I was actually hoping that the police would stop me so that they could take me home. I think it took me about 50 minutes to get home from the first phone call, instead of the usual hour.

As you can imagine, those 50 minutes, especially the last 20 or so, were hard. I was crying out to God. I listened to two songs several times over. I prayed and cried and prayed some more and cried. The phrase that came to mind, that I found out later Terry also used in his initial announcement online, was “my precious daughter”.

I don’t remember all the thoughts that went through my mind. At that point, we really didn’t know anything about what had happened. What I do remember, though, is the emotion – the gut-wrenching pain of it all.

As I reached Edson, I took a slightly different way home than usual, trying to avoid the lights on the highway so I could get home faster. As I came around the first corner off the highway, at that moment, “God came down”. I don’t remember the exact phrasing of the thought but I remember thinking, “God, why? And can you understand my grief?”

Then I realized the truth – His Son had died, too. He could understand better than anyone else and He already knew what was ahead of us and what had happened just a few hours before. At that moment, God came down to me.

I’m actually very thankful for that drive home. Although it seems terrible in some ways, it gave me time to cry out to God on my own, before I had to face our children. And as I listened to the two songs, one titled “It is not death to die”, and the other, “How Deep (is Your Love)”, I believe that it started to set the trajectory in my heart focusing on who God is.

As I got home, we started to deal with all the aspects of what has to be done in the case of a sudden death. Terry and I told the younger girls together – they only knew that Emily was missing. We notified grandparents and family and then notified our church family and friends around the world. Our church family and other pastors in the community quickly rallied around us.

I found out more about what had happened that afternoon and evening, although we still didn’t know then, nor would know for several months, what had actually happened to Emily. Terry told me that she had gone for a quick walk prior to a babysitting appointment and had headed up a well-travelled path that skirts a subdivision just north of us. When she didn’t come back in time for her appointment, Terry started to worry and he also talked to our friends where she was supposed to babysit. They told him that there were many emergency vehicles in their neighbourhood so he got on his bike and headed up towards the subdivision. When he talked to the police there about a missing girl, they quickly drove him home and got a photograph, and the wheels of justice were set in motion. Her death was confirmed just about 90 minutes later to us.

The next week passed slowly and quickly. The entire town basically shut down as no one knew what had happened and people were very fearful of the possibility of a murderer being out on the streets. We planned the funeral and in God’s grace, were able to speak of the hope that we have in Christ and our assurance that Emily was safe with Jesus.

Then we waited for two months as the police did their work and at the beginning of December, they arrested the man who had committed the murder. It was a great relief to everyone. That was the beginning of the story. As I consider the rest of the story, I would like to tell you about our fight – against fear, against unbelief, and against bitterness.

A friend of mine said recently on her blog:
I am not remotely as encouraged by a book about success as I am by a book about abject failure, about not getting what you want from life, about hearing the platitudes over and over and being sick of them, about reaching a point of utter disappointment and frustration with life and anger at God, and about COMING BACK. Not to perfection or a magically transformed life but to a life where God says, “I know better than you” and you say, “okay.”
That was the point we had to come to.

Fighting Fear

During those two months when we waited to find out who had committed this crime, I remember feeling fear as I’ve never felt before. Our younger girls remember that feeling very well – it was one of the foremost emotions surrounding that time.

Because we didn’t know why Emily was killed, I was fearful every time I stepped out of the door. The girls weren’t allowed to play in a nearby green space, only in our yard. As time went on and after we knew who had done this crime, I fought fear in letting the kids go places or do things that were perfectly safe for them to do and yet I didn’t want to let them go.

I think that many of us live with fear every day. Not just fear of physical safety but fear of the unknown, of the possibility of being hurt physically or emotionally. Yet God does not call us to a life of fear. Instead, He calls us to a life of trust.

I don’t know about you but my imagination can work overtime pretty fast – my mind can have terrible things happen to my family in just about the blink of an eye. When that happens, I need to wrestle my mind back into submission to God and His word. What has He said about fear?
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (I John 4:18) 
During those times when I am tempted to fear, I need to remind myself of God’s truth – that perfect love casts out fear. What does this mean? It means that God’s perfect love has already been shown to us in the form of His Son, Jesus. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. Matthew tells us that Jesus “would save his people from their sins”. The Christmas story is only the beginning. Christ lived, then died on the cross and rose again – all for a love of His people. He took the punishment for our sins on Himself and so He perfected love for us. That’s the first place to start.

Second, one of the psalms I remember quoting to myself often during those first few days, and nights, was Psalm 23. This past Sunday, our pastor reminded us of the phrase – “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” The answer to fear is not anything we can do but simply God’s presence.

When I responded in belief to God’s call on my life, I also began to learn how to love God. It’s very difficult to love someone that you fear, isn’t it? As I have learned to love Him more, I have learned to fear Him less. This is not to say that I don’t fear God in the sense that He is so much bigger and more holy than I am; but because of Christ’s death on the cross, I can approach God boldly. Heb. 10 says:
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
I do not need to be afraid either of God or of what can happen here on earth because of the assurance that we have in Christ.  Practically speaking, that meant that I had to give my fears to God each and every time I thought about them.

We also fought fear using music and books. Our girls listened every night for months to a couple of albums by Sovereign Grace music. Even today, if they are particularly worried about something, they will put music on at night to listen to. We use books or music to remind us of what is really true, not just what we see around us.

Fighting Unbelief

We have had many people tell us how much they admire our strength. Let me tell you all – that strength is not from us or in us. It is only from God. And I am convinced that it came about through the prayers of God’s people.

On one of the first mornings after Emily’s death, Terry and I got up early (from not really sleeping) and we were sitting on the couch talking. One thing that Terry said stuck in my brain: “If the gospel doesn’t mean anything now, it never did.”

In all his years of pastoring and preaching, in all my years of following God, if that gospel, believing that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again and is coming back in the future, if that gospel was not true at this time of testing and sorrow, was it ever true?

Now, this doesn’t mean that we didn’t have to fight against unbelief. We had to learn to fight against it. I don’t think I ever lost my belief in God but I did question whether this was right and good and part of His plan.  One of the pivotal doctrines I had to wrestle with was the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. Was God in control? Was this part of his plan? Did He have a plan? And why us?

I read several books on grief, on suffering and on God’s sovereignty over the course of the first few months. I also read only the Psalms for several months. There were times when I was tempted to throw books across the room because I could not see how they could be true and right. But God worked in my heart and the next day, I would pick up where I left off and so gradually worked through the issues.

My conclusion eventually was that if God’s character is what is portrayed in the Bible and if He is truly God, then He must also be truly sovereign over all things. I have had people say to me they didn’t know if they could believe in a God who would allow this to happen. My answer is that if God is so weak as to not be able to be in charge of all history, I could take no comfort in believing in that God. God, in order to truly be God, must be far beyond us and this universe.

The sovereignty of God is a difficult doctrine but in the end, it is the only one that gives peace and comfort to my soul. And it is the only one that ultimately jives with Scripture. How thankful I am for passages like Psalm 91:  “he who dwells in the secret place of the Most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.“

Psalm 61 says:
“Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I. For you have been a shelter to me.”
In our fight against unbelief, we had to acknowledge first of all that it was a fight. I remember saying to Terry that I hadn’t realized before how active faith is. True faith is not passive – it doesn’t just sit back and wait. Especially in difficult circumstances, true faith is active. It’s like the old illustration of a chair. One shows faith that the chair will hold one up by sitting on it, not by just looking at it. We had to learn to “sit” on God’s truths, not just sit back and watch them. Part of that sitting was reading good books, as I mentioned. Part of it was listening and singing good music, in church and at home. And part of it was learning to speak truth, both to my own heart and to others.

Psalm 42-43 repeat this refrain:
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
I am indebted to Martin Lloyd Jones for this observation: The Psalmist reminds us that we have to talk to our souls, not just listen to them. I had to keep reminding myself to put my hope in God.
Phil. 4:6-7 tells us to:
not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The promise was that God would give us peace and He did. A few months after Emily’s death, the children’s song in church was “I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart”. As we were practicing the song, it dawned on me – I finally knew what the peace that passes understanding was. I remember as a child and probably even as an adult wondering what that peace really was.

Fighting Bitterness

Finally, I’d like to talk a little bit about fighting feelings of bitterness.

One of the greatest gifts God gave us right from the very start was the gift to say, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” I am not saying this to tell you how wonderful we are nor that we never had feelings of anger and bitterness toward the perpetrator.

But it is truly a mark of God’s grace that we did purpose from the beginning to leave this in God’s hands. Although we didn’t understand why then and still really don’t know why this man committed this crime, we did know that God, who is the Judge of the whole earth, will judge rightly and fairly and more completely than we could ever imagine. We were pleased that the justice system here on earth judged, in our minds, rightly and fairly and we were very thankful that the perpetrator pleaded guilty but ultimately, we had to leave it all in God’s hands.

Some of you may be wrestling with bitterness and trying to work through issues of forgiveness. I encourage you to start (or maybe go back) and look at who God is and start by giving the issues of justice to God and let Him take care of the vengeance. Don’t let what the author of the book of Hebrews calls “the root of bitterness” to grow up in your heart. That would be allowing Satan and evil to win. Instead, let God take away the bitterness and rest in Him.

I have been talking about fighting – against fear, against unbelief and against bitterness. It may seem like an odd thing. I think often we think the Christian beliefs and walk should be easy – let’s just “let go and let God”. But I don’t think the Bible calls us to such a laid back approach.  Especially when it comes to difficult times or in preparation for suffering, we need to wrestle with these issues. Ultimately, as we learn more about God, I think we will learn more how to rest in Him but it is an active rest. Perhaps we will not fully be able to rest in Him until we reach heaven.

Our family was changed forever by the loss of Emily. And yet, we see God’s gracious hand throughout the past 4 years, comforting, guiding and teaching us. Our children are walking with the Lord, which is a tremendous blessing and answer to prayer.

Juanita has been married to Terry for 23 years. They have four children, two of which are still at home and the oldest is away at college in his third year. Terry is currently pastoring part-time in a team ministry at Calvary Grace Church of Calgary and working fulltime.

Monday, January 21, 2013

When Life Tugs at Our Heartstrings


I am the youngest of four sisters. As you can imagine, there was a lot of conversation in our household. I learned to use my words early and often; it was a matter of survival.

But with the age difference, I often couldn’t keep up. When one of my sisters would boss me in a way I didn’t like and I couldn’t find the words to make my case, I always resorted to the same comeback:

YOU HURT MY FEELINGS!

It never worked. I believed such a weighty pronouncement would at least make them clutch their chests with dismay. I hurt your feelings? Oh, no! Please, please, what can I do to make this up to you?

But no. I still had to finish my supper or go to bed or simply endure under whatever injustice was being placed on my small shoulders.

I’m not four anymore, I’m forty. And you know what? I still get my feelings hurt. I’m a bit more sophisticated about it, but inside I’m still that small girl, clenching her fists and stomping her feet and railing about the injustice of it all.

Sometimes I’m just being unreasonable. I think I’m more important than I really am, and I don’t want to face things that indicate otherwise. It’s painful to be brought up short, but like the four-year-old being forced to eat her vegetables, it’s best for me and helps me grow.

Other times it’s not so clear. I offer my love or help sincerely, and end up being rebuffed. Or perhaps my good intentions simply come face-to-face with my human limitations and my best just isn’t good enough. Although it’s tempting to try to find comfort by taking revenge or lashing back, these things must be taken to the foot of the cross.

We have a Savior who understands

Hebrews 4:15 says "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."

Even our most sincere efforts are tinged with our own self-interest. The only completely sincere person to ever walk the earth was Jesus, and he was crucified. He understands our hurt when we are misunderstood, and his death on the cross secures our forgiveness for the things we do with wrong motives.

God is glorified by our faithfulness, not our success. Sometimes our efforts produce the results we desire, sometimes not. He loves us no less when we fall short.

I am thankful for his grace and mercy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What's the point?


I teach Bible study, a responsibility and privilege I have loved and feared for fifteen years or so now. I currently teach a community-wide study on Tuesday mornings. We resumed this week after our holiday hiatus and I was as nervous as I was when I first took my place in the teacher's chair all those years ago. In fact, I was so very nervous Tuesday that I was only half joking when I wondered to my friend if it was too late to cancel the whole thing, this mere minutes before I was to teach! It was surely too late, she informed me, and there was nothing for me to do but to cast myself on the mercy of the Lord and just do it.

All my weird insecurities and panic attacks aside, I love the start of a new study. I love the anticipation of the Lord's sure work among us, as well as the zeal and excitement that accompany a fresh beginning. I type out a course outline and I wonder as I do about the blessings and challenges that await. It's exciting to me!

Years ago I was leaving my son's basketball game early in order to get to Bible study. Upon hearing where I was going, an acquaintance asked me what was the point. I do not know if the question was to the point of Bible study in general or to the specific group I was leading at the time (also a community study). I can tell you I was quite offended and I haven't yet forgotten the question nor my indignation.

But whatever the reasons behind its asking, I find it a good question. What is the point? What is it we are doing? What makes that hour and a half on a Tuesday morning worth our time? My acquaintance's question rings in my mind as I seek to define the goals and motivations not merely of Bible study in general but also of our specific group and course of study.

There are many reasons I could give for why I study God's Word. I have found it powerful to effect change in me as I confront what it says about me and sin and grace and mercy. Its truth makes sense of my world, both my small world of home and family and the larger world of culture and society and politics and philosophy and the like. It is in Scripture I find hope and promise and inspiration and challenge.

But my main motivation extends beyond the therapeutic. I study God's Word because by it I know Him. The more I know Him, the more I love Him, the more I love Him, the more I want to know Him--it's a self-perpetuating cycle, glory to God! Theology, doctrine, these are not merely academic pursuits but avenues for a passionate pursuit of God Himself. I engage in Bible study not just because of all its wonderful benefits and helps--and there are many--but by it I discover the knowledge of the Lord.

John 5:39 puts the fear of the Lord in me and I do not engage in hyperbole when I say so. There Jesus indicts the religious leaders who have diligently, even passionately, pursued knowledge of the Scriptures and yet for all their scholarship they missed the main point: Jesus. Knowledge of the Scriptures does not impart life; they point to the One who is Himself the way, the truth and the life. This warning sobers me. How many Bible studies have I participated in--have I taught--through which I gained factual knowledge and yet missed Jesus?

So here's our goal: we want to see Jesus. We believe the Bible is God speaking and we will set ourselves to hear Him. We will ask for ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to understand. We will trace the gospel story in Old Testament and New. We will pursue the knowledge of the Lord with diligence and discipline; we will cry aloud for understanding and we will seek for it as for silver and gold. We will do so in faith, knowing that those who seek the Lord will surely find Him. Make us more like Jesus, we will ask, and we will submit ourselves to the Spirit's good work of conviction and sanctification.

So what's the point? Jesus! It's about Him and for Him and through Him and because of Him. Because of the Lord's great faithfulness, we will see Jesus and we will rejoice in the gospel grace He has lavished on us and we will worship Him who loves us so.

Yes and amen.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. ~2 Cor. 4:6

We love because he first loved us. ~1 John 4:9

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Bridge

"Life is a vale of tears" is the saying, and it's all too true.  We let out a cry the moment we are born, and the tears don't stop. Yes, God will wipe every tear from our eyes, which gives great comfort (Rev. 21:4). But what about now? 

You may be in the middle of a trial or know those who are. All I need to do is look around on a Sunday morning, and I see the faces of those who have lost a child, a spouse, parents, and grandparents within the last year. I see the faces of those suffering from chronic illness with no relief in sight. There may be others with hurts that no one knows. What do we do? What do we say?

How do we reconcile the brokenness of the world around us and "rejoice in the Lord always"? (Phil. 4:4) Where do we find the strength to say, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."? (Job 1:21)
We have a bridge between our godly longing and our fallen reality that sufficiently equips us to deal with each struggle.
It is the gospel.
The gospel is the bridge. God has done something through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ by which He is able to make "all grace abound to you." He has done something through Christ that sufficiently equips you and I so that we are abundantly supplied for every good work he has called us to do, this kingdom living that stands in such stark contrast with our fallen earthly reality. 1
When I read those words, my heart gave a resounding "Yes!". It may be a no-brainer to you, but I needed this reminder to drink from the fountain of grace that is open for every struggle and sorrow. It's a grace that isn't rationed based upon what I can pay, but it is lavished on me because of the gospel. (Eph 1:3-8) This grace may not not take the form of deliverance from present suffering but it is sufficient for every believer regardless of the complexity or severity of the situation. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Thank God for the good news that brought us to Himself, but gospel grace doesn't merely greet us at the front door and then meet us at the exit. It is for every step of the journey no matter how painful or halting.

1. The Gospel Centered Woman by Wendy Alsup, 2012, pg. 37.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fighting for Your Girl's Priorities

Note: This is part of the Fight Like a Girl Series. Other posts are found under the series tag.

Merriam - Webster defines busy as foolishly or intrusively active.

I started pondering this several months ago, when the need for quiet living began to tug at my heart. A recent conversation with my girl has made me think about the subject in a whole new light.

I realize that my girl has an early bedtime by most high school standards. (As a reformed night owl, I can attest to the power of a good night's sleep.) Still, I was shocked to learn that some of her friends frequently stay up for hours after she's asleep. Some are watching television or trolling around on social media. Some are finishing homework they didn't start until they should've been in bed. All have been allowed to be foolishly or intrusively active.

As we were discussing the subject at dinner, I wondered about evening meals in other homes. Do the families gather around a table and talk, or are they watching television and checking their phones? If we allow technology to consume us, we can expect it to also consume our children.

In some families, dinner is regularly eaten out of a bag in the car while rushing from one event to the next. As we shuttle between practices, games, meetings, and lessons, are we teaching our daughters that motherhood is little more than being a chauffeur and social organizer? Are we taking seriously our responsibility to teach what is good and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled? (Titus 2:4-5) How can we teach our daughters to work at home when we are hardly ever there?

Don't misunderstand me. I think there is great value in extra-curricular activities. Through the years, my girl has played several sports and taken piano lessons. I confess that we have had seasons when most meals were eaten in the car or on the bleachers - and I only have one child to consider! Much as I dislike those seasons, I struggle with the temptation to push my girl into activities so that she'll be as popular and accomplished as some of her friends. I'm thankful that she doesn't seem to have this struggle. When I tried to find a way for her to continue piano lessons between field hockey seasons, she was wise enough to say, "I don't always need to go from one thing to the next." Oh! that I would learn from her!

Could your daughter feel the same way, but be too afraid of disappointing you to tell you? Perhaps you share my struggle. In today's society it is difficult not to feel that our children are being left behind if they aren't playing at least one sport every season, taking some sort of music lesson, and maintaining a straight-A average. Don't fall victim to Satan's lie. While hours spent on homework or the playing field may bring our girls the accolades they desire, they will never bring the rewards that are won by spending quality time with their family and, more importantly, in God's Word.

Keep Fighting:
~Take a hard look at how busy your family is. Is your schedule filled with foolish or intrusive activities? Discuss with your spouse, and follow up with a family meeting to set limits on extra-curricular activities.

~Commit to regular family dinners around the table at home - no electronic devices allowed!

~Honestly evaluate the lessons you're teaching your daughter about establishing priorities. Do you place little importance on meeting the needs of your family? Do you put too much emphasis on keeping up with what other families are doing? Does your own computer/social media time interfere with your family relationships?

~Consider setting a technology curfew for your home (parents included!). If a computer or phone in your girl's room may be too much of a temptation for her, move it someplace else.

~Monitor your girl's social media accounts and phone, for usage and content.

~Commit to a technology-free day of your own. Who knows, your family may be inspired by your example!

For Further Reading:
~Aimee has some great thoughts on extreme sports

~Becky is challenging us to consider quiet living in 2013

~ What living quietly means in our home

Friday, January 11, 2013

Grandmother by Vocation

A little over a year ago, I became a grandmother. I now have two baby granddaughters, and I will, Lord willing, have one more grandchild next month.

On Wednesday, Kim posted on the doctrine of vocaton, especially as it applies to housewives. In a nutshell, the doctrine of vocation applied to my grandmotherhood is this: Grandmother is a role to which I am called by God, who called me simply by giving me grandchildren. "We arrive at our vocations" wrote Kim, through the oversight of God, "who ordains our circumstances." Or to draw from a verse she referenced, each believer leads "the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him" (1 Corinthians 7:17). The good Lord assigned two (so far) grandbabies to me, and called me to be their grandmother. I am a grandmother by vocation.

Right now, being a vocational grandmother consists mostly of holding, feeding, rocking, pacing, diapering, and playing peekaboo.* These are my grandmotherly duties, but they are more than mere duties. The doctrine of vocation elevates mundane physical tasks by giving them meaning and showing us God's own presence in them. When I rock my grandbaby, my arms are the arms of God's providence for her. God clothes the lilies and feeds the birds of the air, and he provides for two little ones through my life.

Even unpleasant baby jobs are elevated through the doctrine of vocation. Luther said that God smiles on the father who washes diapers in Christian faith. How does one wash a diaper in Christian faith? By doing the dirty chore knowing it is service to one of God's creatures and service to God's will. The same smile of God, I'd think, goes for a grandmother changing a stinky or wrestling a stubborn toddler.

Eventually, I hope to be like Lois, who shared her faith with her grandchild Timothy. As they grow older, I want to help teach my grandchildren the scriptures.  But according to the doctrine of vocation, truly significant grandmotherly work—even spiritual grandmotherly work—doesn't depend on a grandchild's ability to listen and understand. A grandmother providing for the physical needs of her grandchildren is a tool in God's hand. She is God's gift to her children and grandchildren. What could be better than that?

If I'd understood the doctrine of vocation when my own children were little, would I have found as much joy in my young children then as I find in my grandchildren now?


*I know some grandmothers live far from their grandchildren, so they can't be involved in their everyday care. If these are your circumstances, they are circumstances given you and your grandchildren by God. Your grandmotherly calling is different than mine, but just as significant. God is still providing for your grandchildren through your life—in your prayers, cards, letters, phone calls, gifts, visits, and more.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How Vocation Helps Housewives

"I'm just a housewife."

Have you ever said that?  I have.  Have you ever directed it in word or thought about somone else?  "Oh, she's just a housewife." I've also been on the receiving end of that comment.

The word "just" in that comment is not the legal use of the word.  The implication of that phrase is that being a housewife is somehow inferior work. In a society which values work based on earning potential, it is not surprising that the role of housewife may be seen as inferior.

Often, we try to come up with terms to legitimize it, like calling ourselves "Domestic Divas" or "Household Engineers."  Sometimes, we spend energy calculating how much money it would cost to replace us in the home.  I don't care for either approach. I believe the principle of vocation provides the best way to understand the occupation.

Vocation is the principle that God calls people to areas of work as part of their lives of faith.  The word comes from the Latin, voco, "to call out." Check out our own Rebecca's very useful Theological Term of the Week page for further clarification.  Both Martin Luther and the Puritans developed doctrines of vocation.  William Perkins, a Puritan, defines it: "a certain kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God, for the common good."

Perkins highights two of the most important principles regarding vocation: who determines it and its purpose. Luther stated the purpose of vocation is to benefit our neighbour.  The Puritans looked at work as being something to serve the common good.  Our vocations are not something we choose for ourselves. They arise out of not only what the Puritans called our "inward inclinations," but also the circumstances in which God has placed us.  As Christians, there is the general calling to faith (2 Thess. 2:13-15) and within that, there is a particular calling to a specific life in Christ (1 Cor. 7:17), both controlled by God.  The process by which we arrive at our vocations is overseen by God, who ordains our circumstances. For example, while there was a point at which I made a decision to leave my job to stay at home full time, the reality is that God ultimately made it possible.  He is the one who placed me into a circumstance where it was financially possible, and He is the one who gave me the temperament to be at home. We may think we choose entirely on our own, but the opportunities from which we make these decisions are at the behest of God.

God also gives us multiple vocations, as Gene Edward Veith points out in his book God At Work:
In the family, a woman may have a calling to be a wife, which is a task in itself, but she may also have a calling to be a mother, a vocation that involves different tasks in a different kind of relationship.  She may also be a daughter to her mother, a vocation that does not end with adulthood, but only when the parent dies. She might become a grandmother to her daughter's children.  Then there is her relationship with her brothers and sisters, the whole extended family.  These are all holy callings and gifts of God.
And of course, a woman may have a vocation that takes her outside the home into paid employment or volunteer work.  The point is, vocation is in the here and now in what God has given us.  If you are a married woman, you have a vocation that has been given by God, and in which you serve your neighbour:  your husband.  If you are a mother, you serve your children.  Outside the home, it's your employer and other people you come into contact with.  Our neighbour receives our good works which are done as a result of our salvation and for the glory of God.

The housewife is a vocation within the context of marriage and motherhood.  Why would we say we are "just" housewives when all vocations given by God are valuable and done for His glory?

Vocation means we can work with contentment, knowing that God has given us a particular calling, specific to us. If we are not content, perhaps it is because we are not looking at our work as a calling. Rather, we are looking at it as a choice, and choices can always look better or worse than another choice. Lack of contentment can also be a sign that we are not working as an offering to God, but comparing what we do to others, or looking for recognition and accolades.  Vocation provides a purpose for our work, and can free us from the tendency to comparison.

The topic of vocation is a big one, and I encourage you to partake of some of the resources I mention at the end of this post.  Whatever your vocations are at the moment, know that God has given them to you to work in everything for His glory.

Recommended Resources:

Gene Edward Veith, God at Work
Gene Edward Veith and Mary Moerbe, Family Vocation
Ray Pennings, "Working for God's Glory," in Living for God's Glory
Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation
Os Guinness, The Call
Leland Ryken, "Work," in Worldly Saints

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

And the winner is....

Congratulations to Monica, winner of Lost in the Middle!

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Getting Healthy and the Glory of God

I’ve been on Facebook for a few years now. One notification that always gets my attention centers on my photos. A college friend will load a photo from days gone by, and I’ll be confronted with the younger version of myself: smooth-skinned, smiling, and thin. If an old friend comments on a current photo, I’ll scrutinize it. How much heavier do I look in this photo? Did they notice how much weight I’ve gained?

I don’t like this impulse in myself, but it’s with me all the time. I’m not the girl I used to be. In many ways I’ve changed for the better--but those changes don’t show up so well in the photos on my Facebook wall.

As Christians, we talk a lot about sin. We try to guard our thoughts and control our tongues. We install filters on our computers and are mindful of the movies we watch. If a friend confesses a struggle with lust or alcohol, we rush in to help.

Gluttony and sloth we don’t take so seriously. Some of that is understandable. Overeating doesn’t destroy lives like adultery and alcoholism do. But though there’s no immediate fallout if I overeat and don't take care of my body, it doesn’t honor God, and the impact goes far deeper than how I look in photos.

Weight wasn’t always an issue with me. I remember several trips home from college where my only company for the two hour trip was the radio and a bag of bite-size Snickers. I would wash it all down with a Coke and not give a thought to fitting into my jeans the next day.

It wasn’t until my 30s that I had to start thinking about it. The numbers on the scale crept higher and the clothes got bigger. I’ve gone on a handful of successful diets, but my motivation had nothing to do with pleasing God and building his kingdom. It was always triggered by what I thought others might see when I showed up at the wedding or class reunion. If the diet was successful I felt triumphant. If I failed I felt self-conscious.

What I’ve had to learn, though, is that my problems with food didn’t start in my thirties. That just happened to be the age that I couldn’t hide it any longer. Losing weight and exercise are good things to do, but when my motivation is only to look good to others, I need to examine my heart before I worry about the size of my hips.

As Elyse Fitzpatrck says in her book “Love to Eat, Hate to Eat,” God doesn’t call us to be thin, he calls us to take care of our bodies. Many people who are heavier than I am have much healthier eating habits. And just as I used to, some people use food in unhealthy ways, it’s just that their metabolism allows it to go unchecked.

Food is a gift from God that we are to enjoy and receive with thanksgiving, but my enjoyment goes beyond what is good for me. When I reach for the chips not because I’m hungry, but because I’m bored or tired or just want to feel the crunch and taste the salt over and over again, I’ve crossed the line into sinful self-indulgence.

This New Year, like the last ten, I have goals that include a healthier body. This time, though, I won’t be measuring my success by a number on the scale or a smaller pants size. I hope to focus instead on whether I’ve been a better steward of my body. I want to eat for my health and not my appearance. I want to receive treats with a joy that is balanced with self control. I hope I meet those goals. If the number on the scale happens to remain the same, I hope I will have peace with that as well.

Friday, January 4, 2013

On myopia, perspective, and hope for the least of these


It will be rather obvious, I think, that I first published this post several months ago. I revisit it here with a twofold purpose. First, January is typically when many pregnancy centers, ours included, seek to increase awareness of their work and ministry. With the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade this month, I encourage you to support a local center either by a monetary donation or with much needed diapers and clothes and wipes. These sorts of resources are the cup of cold water we offer in Jesus' name, vehicles for the proclamation of the gospel.

My second purpose in this post is to encourage you this new year to make plans to purposefully place yourself in the path of someone very different from yourself. Serve someone in the name of Jesus. Volunteer at a school, teach an immigrant English, coach a soccer team, go on a mission trip. What I want for you and for me is a wide angled view of the Lord's heart for the least of these and to know afresh the power of the gospel to save. 

Experiences such as the one I attempt to articulate here provide much needed clarity and perspective.  In the counseling room my opinions on Santa Claus or school choice or eschatology mean very little to the woman in desperate need of diapers and the gospel. This new year, let's you and me make war on our myopia. Let's step outside our comfort zone and find the humbling, exhilarating, priority-altering joy of gospel declaration... 

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I am gathering my things in preparation to head home in a few minutes' time. It's been a slow morning at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in terms of clients but a busy one in terms of administrative tasks like putting together a bulk mailing to local churches and counting monies from our Baby Bottle fundraiser.

The front door dings as two young women enter, each carrying a baby, both little ones wide eyed and solemn, their moms not less so. I greet them with a smile and ask how I can help.

Do you do pregnancy tests? one of the women asks me, a nod of her head and a glance of her eyes indicating her companion. After the requisite forms had been filled out and pertinent information gathered, I take her back, the woman wanting the pregnancy test, I show her the bathroom and where to leave the cup, and then I watch her baby, all smiles and gurgles on the sofa in front.

I chat with the friend.

We're both of us from the domestic violence shelter, the friend tells me. I give the baby another smile as my heart breaks just a little. So sweet, the babies and the women both. What horrors have they endured? I can only wonder.

After checking the test, I tell the woman what she's already suspected. She is pregnant. Tears fill her eyes and she looks up, toward the ceiling, and in her broken English whispers, oh God. Not a curse, a petition. She sighs and holds her baby close, kissing the top of its head. She didn't want to be pregnant she tells me. But, yes, she will keep the baby. Of course she wants her baby. God is good, she says. He knows. No, the father will not be involved she states with a shake of her head and is it fear or relief I see in her eyes?

I tell her we can help. Maternity clothes, diapers, baby clothes. We will help. Please, let us help. And I want to tell them to take care of themselves, of their babies, that they did right to get out and to get away and that the Lord sees and knows and hears and rescues. He does. He promises. He must.

I give them both some diapers and some baby food. I pat the babies on their backs. I tell the women the good news, the best news, that Jesus saves. Trust Him, I urge. They nod. I know God, she tells me. I am glad. She will need Him. I hug them. I walk them to the door. Please, let us help you, I say again. We can help you, both of you. They thank me graciously, humbly, and with dignity.

I get my purse. I drive home. I reply to email. I eat a piece of chocolate. I check my Twitter feed and there I read of various lunch plans and of the latest fashion trends and of the presidential candidates' differing agendas and of links to all sorts of blog posts on everything from decorating to doctrine. I read about a rich pop star dying in her bath tub and about laments and indictments over one pastor calling another pastor's critics heretics and where oh where is the proof of such accusation? And I think to myself how inane, not that politics is unimportant nor that heresy, real or perceived, ought not be confronted or decried, but oh so much drama and yet those two women have never even heard of modalism or panentheism nor do they speculate on the cause of Whitney's death and of what importance is fashion when you are pregnant and living in a shelter with your baby and several other moms and children and babies? Not even a room to yourself not to mention the basic, and greater, needs of safety and shelter and security.

I think to myself how easily I am insulated from and inoculated against such tragedies. I am blind to much, most, of the heartache that surrounds me. Sometimes I choose my blindness and when I do see I often despair of my inability to even glance the surface of such gaping need. What are diapers and jars of baby food when one has no home, no job, and no security?

Oh, I claim to love the gospel--and I do, indeed I do--but sometimes I more adept at dissecting it and defending it and denigrating those who disagree with it than declaring it. In my selfishness I forget its glorious truth: Jesus saves. What other hope do my two new friends have? What hope do I? If Jesus does not save, then I am lost. Dead and desperate, doomed in my sins and transgressions, I need saving. Sin is my biggest problem and salvation is my biggest need. Same for you, same for us all, same for these two women. How much, how desperately, they need hope, hope that sustains and strengthens, hope that extends beyond their present circumstance, hope that points to peace and joy.

And how will they know unless they are told? Faith, hope, comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. This is the glorious mystery that is our privilege to believe and to proclaim: Christ in you, the hope of glory.

To my shame I confess I sometimes ignore the real world in which they live, these two precious, battered women and their babies, preferring instead the assumed safety and security not just of social media but of my self righteous smugness. I forget both the good news that Jesus saves and that there are many--hundreds, thousands, millions even--who are desperate and dying apart from this, the hope of salvation found in Jesus Christ.

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Author's note: We at the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteer affirm our clients' rights to privacy and it is with this commitment in mind that I have deliberately altered or even deleted pertinent details in this post in order to keep my clients' anonymity intact.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lost in the Middle - review and giveaway

Middle-age. It's the time when we realize we aren't as young as we used to be. It's a time of introspection, regret, and disappointment. It can be a time to run from reality or, according to Paul Tripp, a prime opportunity to experience the grace of God.

Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God by Paul David Tripp takes a hard look at midlife issues including:

- What lies behind the midlife crisis?
- Facing our mortality
- Dealing with regrets
- Fading dreams and unfulfilled expectations
- Suffering
- Who is in control of my life?
- The idols that come to light
- Where do I find my identity?

Although the Bible doesn't specifically use the words "midlife crisis", Tripp believes it addresses these concerns and provides the only worldview that will help us safely navigate these waters.  Only in the light of the Word can we make sense of our struggles and find real comfort and hope for change.

We may experience some or all of these issues. We may deal with them to varying degrees, but our response will be dictated by the state of our hearts. This is where we see the mercy and grace of God. Rather than letting us continue as is, these difficulties force us to face who we are and where we have misplaced our hope. Grace allows us to own the bad harvest we may be reaping, repent, and believe that God will enable us to bear new fruit. This grace doesn't necessarily fix our problems but it refines us and prepares us for heaven.

Having weathered a major midlife crisis, I was greatly encouraged by this book. I could relate to the stories and trials that were shared and gained insight into my situation. But the book's main strength is that it points consistently to the gospel and its glorious culmination, eternity with the Lord. In my own aftermath, I can't think of better place to fix my gaze. I highly recommend Lost in the Middle.

What is midlife about? Yes, it is about painful regrets, crushing disappointments and physical aging. It is about decisions, words, and actions you would like to take back. Furthermore, it is about dreams that seemed so good but now seem like they will never come to be. It is about the loss of youth and the dread of old age. It is about these things, but it is about so much more. Midlife is about the glorious riches of God's grace that call me in my lostness to find something better. It is about learning in my weakness to find the inner strength that is mine because the Spirit of power lives inside of me. Midlife is not a time for weakening faith but a time of trial that is designed to leave my faith in Christ stronger than it has ever been. It is a time when I really begin to understand that no other glory (relationships, career, health and physical beauty, or material ease) can compete with the glory of being loved by Christ. pg. 347

To kick off the New Year, we will be giving away a copy of Lost in the Middle. Please fill out the form below to enter. (US and Canadian address only please.) The providential winner will be randomly chosen and announced on January 8.