Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: When God Weeps

I just finished reading When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, written by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes. I have read snippets of Joni's writing over the years, but never actually read a full book by her. Now I'm wishing I had started reading her writing earlier in my Christian life! A reader commented a while ago asking what books I recommend on suffering. I've read a few over the last couple of years, but I would have to say that this one might be the one that has helped me the most. It's a solid biblical response to suffering coupled with a tender care for the reader. If anyone knows and understands suffering, it's Joni Eareckson Tada. What she writes is born out of the often bitter school of suffering, but the glorious truths that she has learned shine forth so evidently in this book. She and Estes strike the right balance of rock solid theological truths about God and compassionate care for the sufferer. As I read I felt like they knew my heartache and were inviting me into their living room to learn from all that God has taught them in their pain. They understand what you are going through, and they want to help you see God for who he is even through tear-filled eyes.

The book is divided into three sections: "Who is This God?", "What is He Up To?", and "How Can I Hang On?". They helpfully begin by unpacking God's role in suffering, his purpose in suffering, and even his pain in suffering. I was struck by the reminder that God not only is completely sovereign over every detail of my life, but that he also is with me in my suffering, bearing my burden, and has himself faced pain and heartache in order to bring me to himself. He is a God who is in the details. After giving us God in all his glory they move into the purpose of our suffering and the hope we have in the midst of it. In the chapter titled "Gaining Contentment" they lead us through our hope in Christ and our means of contentment--a resolute trust in God's perfect plan and in finding our hope only in him. Contentment is not merely about will-power, but about trusting in the sufficiency of Christ to meet all our needs. He is a Savior who suffered, knows our pain, and promises only good for us.

Very rarely does a book move me so much that I can both hardly put it down and be on the verge of tears all at the same time. There were many occasions where I wanted to scream "Yes!" at the top of my lungs because I was so moved by God's complete sovereignty and abundant care for us. It is a Christ-centered, biblically rich book that moved me and gave me great hope in our gracious God. It's not too heavy for someone in the midst of suffering, but it's rich enough to provide the only resource that will bring any encouragement to a weary soul. They helpfully point to the God who is there, always caring, always working, and always loving through every pain and sorrow we bear.

If you are in the midst of suffering, I encourage you to get this book and work through it. You will not be disappointed. If you know someone who is suffering, buy the book, read it first, and then give it to your friend. They will be greatly encouraged both by your care for them and your interest in their life.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Pure See God

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” –Matthew 5:8

I have read this verse for years and it was only recently that the full weight of it hit me. Lack of purity, in heart and ultimately in deed, can keep us from seeing God. So often when we talk about purity with young people we focus primarily on behavior modification. It is not wrong to tell kids not to have sex and that “true love waits”. In fact, telling them what not to do is a form of instruction and necessary in shepherding and guiding. But it must be more than that. And I think the Bible tells the same story.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is speaking about behavior, but he is also getting at something more integral to what it means to trust in Christ and be a believer. Jesus is speaking about the heart. When he addresses lust later on in Matthew 5 he actually makes the command to not sin sexually much harder, essentially saying to every human being who has ever lived “by your lustful thoughts you all are adulterous, even if only in your mind.” In Jesus’ mind there is no difference between what we desire and what we actually do. It’s the principle he speaks of elsewhere that out of our hearts comes who we really are (Luke 6:45).

So what’s really going on when we talk about purity? Jesus is getting at what we worship. John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. Our depravity ensures that we will naturally gravitate towards propping up idols to worship, rather than bowing down at the feet of King Jesus. The reason the impure can’t see God is not because they are having sex outside of marriage, although that is enough to condemn them. They can’t see God because the idol of pleasure is blocking their view of the greatest pleasure they could ever know—fellowship with their Creator. The Bible consistently teaches that those who continue to practice sexual immorality are living as those who do not know God (Ephesians 5:1-11, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). This is why messages of behavior modification will never be enough. We must get at the heart of what people worship before we can begin telling them how to live. Otherwise we will be left with empty moralists who no more see God than the girl who had sex with her boyfriend last night. They have to know and believe in the God who made them before they can begin learning how he wants them to live.

The culture would have us believe that pleasure, love, and security awaits you if you just give in to your feelings and follow your heart (i.e. live a sexually promiscuous lifestyle). In fact, even this week there was talk around the web about Tim Tebow’s commitment to remaining pure until marriage. To the outside world, it is laughable. But to us, it is commendable. Why? Because according to the Bible pleasure, love, and security do await us, but not in the way the world prescribes. God’s standard for holiness and purity is designed to protect us, and give us maximum happiness in our obedience to him. It is more about our worship of him alone than our desire for sexual fulfillment. It is in the losing of ourselves and our desires that we actually find ourselves.

Just look around at Hollywood actors. A quick survey of their marriages and relationships reveals that even though they often portray sexual activity outside of marriage as the norm and blissfully risk-free, their personal lives tell a very different story. While they promise lasting happiness in their films, the proof is in the true Hollywood stories of their actual lives.

God knew exactly what he was doing when he gave Eve to Adam and blessed the marriage covenant (Genesis 1-2). God knew what we has doing when he told the Israelites, and now those who are in Christ, to be holy because he was holy (Leviticus 11:44). God knew what he was doing when he said that there must be not even a hint of sexual immorality named among us (Ephesians 5:3). And he knew what he was doing when he declared that only the pure in heart will see him. He made us for himself and for his glory. When we live outside of his commands and boundaries we make a mockery of his good design and we lose the fellowship we were made for. We can try all day long to fill the God-shaped void with pithy idols like sex, boys, pleasure, and false security but they will never be enough. That’s why we always need more but feel so lousy afterwards. With God, we never can get enough but we always feel satisfied.

Don’t believe the lie that sexual activity outside of marriage is really no big deal. If you were honest with yourself, you would probably say that you don’t really believe that anyway. Every act of impurity is leading you further away from the God who made you and loves you. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The One who spoke the words of Matthew 5:8 made a way for you to be pure. He died for your idolatrous worship of sex and pleasure. He died to make you pure and blameless in the Father’s sight. He died so that you would no longer be a slave to unrighteousness, but would bear his righteousness. And by his work, you can be cleansed from your impurity and see the perfect and holy God in all his glory. Only then can you truly be blessed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Want More Bible

As I've reflected on my first semester as a teacher this verse has been rocking my world lately.

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

It never ceases to amaze me how powerful God's word truly is. When I read a passage of Scripture and sense my heart and affections being stirred to treasure Christ more and long to study further, that is evidence that God's word is active and alive. Left to myself, I want nothing to do with the Bible and it makes no sense to me. But when the Spirit of God moves, the Bible comes alive and I can't get enough. When I see students grow simply by reading God's word, that is proof that the Bible is sharp enough to penetrate any heart. God's word will do it's intended work. It will not return void in the life of any believer, including you and me. The very fact that we are trusting in Christ means that we are given the promised Holy Spirit who makes God's word alive to us. How amazing!

God could have left us to ourselves, but he didn't. He gave us his very word. And it is life to weary, broken, sinful people who desperately need a glimpse of his goodness on a moment by moment basis. Teaching has revived this passion in me. Our church has renewed my love for God's word. The Bible is powerful. It changes lives. It's deserving of our study and our time. It is the very word of our great God.

Monday, April 23, 2012

God's Plan for Us

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”Jeremiah 29:11

If you could make money off of a Bible verse this would be the one. It graces graduation cards, posters, and plaques that fill our churches and homes. It’s a happy verse. It makes us think nice things about God. And let’s be honest, it just makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. When someone is having a bad day, we quote Jeremiah 29:11 to them. When our friend starts a new business, we tell him about Jeremiah 29:11 and that God is going to prosper his work. When our friends are moving to a new, but uncertain area, Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God has good plans for them and will give them what they ask for.

But is that the best, or most accurate, interpretation of the text? Is Jeremiah 29:11 the lucky charm for getting all your prayers answered and for living a life of prosperity? Many of us would say we don’t believe God works that way. But when it comes down to it we often act like he does with the way we apply his word to people.

Let’s look at the context of Jeremiah 29:11. This verse comes in the midst of great difficulty. Jeremiah is speaking to the exiles, Israelite people forced to live in another land because of their own rejection of God. They have faced hardship, despair, and sorrow, and Jeremiah is giving them hope that this is not the end of their story. This verse, and the entire chapter really, is God’s declaration of his absolute sovereignty over his people and the outcome of their life. It is his promise that even when they reject him and disobey him, he is the one who will bring them back and restore them (Jer. 29:10). And what is the point of it all? Notice what verse 12 says:

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.”

God’s work in bringing them out of exile and giving them a future hope is that they would call upon him and treasure him above all else. God drove them into exile to discipline them, and he will bring them back to glorify his name. Every move he makes has a divine purpose in the life of his child.

Jeremiah 29:11 is not a trite, catchy verse to be used as a “name it and claim it” promise of God. When we use it this way we run the risk of leading people into discouraging, and often extremely damaging, understandings of God and his purposes for us.

For example, what about the godly, Christian mother whose child is born blind and deaf? Was this part of God’s plan of prosperity that her child would never hear her voice or see her face? Or the husband whose wife dies slowly of cancer? Can he trust that God is still working to give him a “future and a hope” when the love of his life is now gone and all his dreams of a bright future went with her to the grave?

When we use verses like Jeremiah 29:11 outside of their proper context we miss the point of the text and how it works within the entire Bible. In reality, Jeremiah 29:11 has a lot to say to this weary mother and grieving husband. The future and the hope that Jeremiah is talking about is one that is established by God. We who know the end of the story know that while the prosperity, welfare, ease, and comfort might not grace us here in this life, the new covenant promises of Jeremiah are true for us. We are his people. He is our God.

As believers who know the end, we know what this “hope” is all about. And we know how it must come to us. Romans 5 tells us that steadfast hope in God is born out of suffering. It is when we are stripped bare that we are able to be built back up and molded into the image of our Christ (Rom. 5:1-5).

Jeremiah was not telling the Israelites (or us) that God’s plan for us is always good cheer, happy days, and prosperity. Just look around at the Christians you know. Is that what it looks like? But he was telling us that the God who made us, bought us, and sanctifies us will give us the future glory that we all long for. One day we will see what it all means, and more importantly, we will see him.

While it’s easy to use Jeremiah 29:11 as the catch all verse for those in limbo or embarking on a new adventure, check yourself before you put it in that greeting card next time. We never want to give someone the false hope that their life this side of heaven will be everything they want it to be. It might be. But it most likely won’t. What people need is a clear view of what Scripture is teaching about our lives on this earth and what we exist for. And even more than that, they need a big view of God. Jeremiah got that. Let us be careful that we don’t miss his meaning when we decorate our homes with sweet, promising Bible verses. Yes, God is giving us a future and a hope. Yes, he is giving us good welfare and abundant goodness. But we won’t get it all until that final, promised day. When his glory is fully revealed to us and he wipes every tear from our eyes. That is prosperity beyond anything this mere earth could ever provide for us. That is what Jeremiah is hoping for. I am too.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday is for Food: Pesto Chicken Pasta

I had this at a friend's house when Daniel was out of town a few months ago. And I have been DYING to make it ever since! She didn't have a written recipe for it, which is kind of nice and freeing. I sort of made up the name of this recipe based on what is in it. It is just so good! If you like veggies, pasta, and pesto, you will like this. If not, you can just skip making this meal all together because that's all that is in it! Here it is:

What you need:

- 1 box of penne pasta (I used whole wheat penne pasta because that's what I had, but anything similar will do)
- Fresh vegetables cut up into small pieces (Again, I just used what was on sale at Kroger this week, so I used 1/2 of an onion, 1/2 of a green pepper, 1 yellow squash, and a few chopped mushrooms)
- 1 jar of pesto
- 1 teaspoon of garlic

How to make it:

- Boil pasta in chicken broth according to instructions (this gives it good flavor)
- Reserve about 1 cup of chicken broth when the pasta is done
- While pasta is cooking, cook the vegetables in a little olive oil just until heated through
- Once pasta and vegetables are done, mix them all together and add pesto. Add enough chicken broth just to give it the right consistency. You don't want it watery, it just loosens the pesto a bit.

Serve warm (or cold) with french bread. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grace for Today

I am a planner. I live by my calendar. I love having things to look forward to. I am always looking ahead with excitement over whatever is coming that promises to be better than today. But often, to my own detriment, I focus too much on the future. I miss the exciting moments of the day because I am so hopeful about what lies ahead. Sometimes it is good to be a planner. Sometimes it just makes me plain crazy.

Intentionality and organization aside, excessive planning can sometimes cause me to focus too much on the hypothetical and not the real life moments happening in front of me. I can order my days around "What if this doesn't happen? How will I cope?" rather than trusting that the God who created me also knows my present and my future.

In this season of my life I have had to live by one simple motto: take it one day at a time. I have no need to worry about what will happen three months from now. The God who is faithful today will be faithful then. And what I need to recognize and embrace right now is that he has given me the exact grace I need for today. When the future becomes the present, he will give me the same grace then.

Lamentations 3:21-23 says:

"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness."

Did you catch that? Every morning when I receive fresh mercies from God I can trust that tomorrow the exact mercy I need will come in the same abundance. Why? Because his steadfast love never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, and he is faithful. This truth we can be sure of: there is an endless supply of new mercies for every need we have each day. How comforting that the God over all cares so deeply for us that he gives us mercy to uniquely meet our needs for the day!

This great truth is a reminder that God's word is always true. His promises are sure and we can trust him. Charles Spurgeon knew this well when he said:

"God doesn't give his words merely to quiet us, and to keep us hopeful for a while with the intention of putting us off at last; but when He speaks, it is because He means to do as He has said."

Even if your trial today is great, God means to do what he says, namely give you new mercies for your suffering, new grace to face the day, and greater hope to trust in his unending and perfect faithfulness to those who are his.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ask Probing Questions

After yesterday's post, I thought it might be helpful to provide some practical questions to assess your heart for bitterness. They are hard ones, at least for me. I don't always like to ask them of myself, but they almost always produce fruit and conviction, which is necessary for change. Here they are:

If the person you are offended by, struggling with, or angry towards received a good thing (whatever it might be), would you be happy for them or mad that it happened to them?

Better yet, if they did not receive a good thing, or something unfortunate happened to them, would you be happy that it happened or would you feel compassion towards them?

Ouch. As hard as it might be to ask yourself those questions, they reveal things don't they? If they don't right now, you probably can remember moments you have felt this way, right?

Thankfully, like we talked about yesterday, our basis for fighting bitterness is the same hope that ensures our bitter thoughts no longer condemn us. Confess your sin of bitterness to the Lord, and he will forgive you. Praise God for forgiveness!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Antidote for Bitterness

You never saw it coming. A hurt feeling, an unmet expectation, or a dashed dream and suddenly your entire emotional being is controlled by this sneaky feeling. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you notice it the most when that person or moment is brought to mind. It makes you angry. It makes you frustrated. And before you know it, you realize that it actually makes you bitter.

Bitterness is an emotion (read: sin) that we are often okay with. We disguise it with the language of hurt feelings, frustration, disappointment, or even righteous anger. We say to ourselves: “Bad things have happened to me. I’m not bitter. I’m just sad, hurt, and discouraged.”

But are we?

It’s a fine line, that one between genuine hurt/disappointment and full-fledged bitterness. But if we were truly honest with ourselves, while we don’t really like pinpointing it in our own lives, it’s not too hard to identify it in others. Usually it manifests itself in resentment, disdain, harsh judgment or hatred of a person. The overarching theme of the bitter heart is one that deep down thinks “I deserve better than this.” How do I know this?

My name is Courtney, and I am a bitter person.

Once I realized that so much of my resentment and anger was stemming from a bitter heart I wanted it gone immediately. It’s really ugly once your eyes are opened to it. I mean, who wants to be around a bitter person? I sure don’t. And one of the things about bitterness is that it can be really hard or intimidating to identify in the life of a person who is going through a trial. We tend to excuse their sinful responses because they are hurting or suffering. Why heap more problems on them, right? Wrong! It is exactly in these moments where godly, wise, and compassionate friends can lovingly show the sufferer that while her pain is legitimate and real, she might be allowing it to foster bitterness and resentment, rather than the growth that God intends.

Thankfully, the Bible provides us with a helpful antidote to bitterness.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:31-32

Each of the first responses in verse 31 stem from an unkind, unforgiving heart. And then Paul gives the antidote. The remedy for bitterness and anger is forgiveness, and not just blind forgiveness, but forgiveness in the same manner as our Savior forgave us. Of all people to be angry and frustrated with the ones who offended him, it’s Jesus. If anyone had reason to hold our sin against us, it is Jesus. We can cry “I don’t deserve this” all we want, but Jesus is the one who truly can say it. He forgave us abundantly even when we hated him. The hope for a bitter heart is to look at the Cross. Bitterness is self-focused. And nowhere else are we more distracted from our own selves than by gazing at our Savior on the Cross. He was perfect, and we wronged him more than we will ever be wronged in our life. If he forgave me, the chief of sinners, how much more should I put away bitterness and forgive those who wrong me?

The heart of bitterness in my own life is stemming from a self-righteous attitude that thinks I’m getting something I don’t really deserve. But the Cross tells me the exact opposite. I deserve far worse than I’m getting. I deserve death and eternal punishment for my sin, but it was all poured out on Jesus instead.

Bitterness is an ugly sin. It often takes legitimately hard circumstances and makes them all about me and my feelings. They don’t understand me. They don’t treat me like I want to be treated. I didn’t get the desired outcome I wanted from this circumstance. But in God’s kind mercy he has given us a way of escape through our Savior, Jesus Christ. Bitterness does not have to have the last word in our lives, and for that I am eternally thankful.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Friday is for Fotos

A couple of weeks ago, Daniel had a trade show for work at Mt. Magazine (the tallest peak in Arkansas). They have a beautiful lodge that we were able to stay at. Even though Daniel had to work, it was a very relaxing, much needed time away for us. We loved it! We went for a walk on one of the trails and for a non-outdoorsy person, like myself, it was still an enjoyable experience. Who knew?!

Enjoy the pics! Happy Friday!

Thank You for the Trial

After our miscarriage a friend of mine (who had also experienced a miscarriage) relayed a conversation she had with another friend who, after reflecting back on her own pregnancy loss and infertility, was able to thank God for the suffering and the pain because of what it did in her own life. As we talked about our own trials we both commented that while it would be good and helpful to get to that realization in our own life, it was hard to see that far ahead in our own season of loss.

On April 2nd our baby should have turned one. Last year, as I approached the due date for the first time, fear was my constant companion. All I wanted to do was sleep through the day and pretend like it wasn’t happening. April 2nd looked very different for me than I hoped it would. Initially it was supposed to be our baby’s due date. After our miscarriage I at least hoped I would be pregnant again, leaving something to look forward to.

This year was much different. While I still have an empty womb, I didn’t dread April 2nd like I did last year. In fact, in a lot of ways it was a normal day for me. Daniel and I spent some time reflecting together. I was able to journal some. But sadness and darkness did not hover over us, and for that I’m grateful.

Over the last couple of years I have listened to the Come Weary Saints CD from Sovereign Grace over and over, and so many of the songs on there have ministered to my soul in some of my most discouraging days. One song in particular really hits home for me. It goes like this:

Every Day

In Your grace, You know where I walk
You know when I fall
You know all my ways
In Your love, I know You allow
What I cannot grasp
To bring You praise

Thank You for the trials
For the fire, for the pain
Thank You for the strength
Knowing You have ordained
Every day

Your great power is shown when I’m weak
You help me to see
Your love in this place
Perfect peace is filling my mind
And drawing my heart
To praise You again

In my uncertainty, Your Word is all I need
To know You’re with me every day

The first time I really listened to the words I thought to myself “that is not my heart at all!” I could not fathom how I could honestly thank God for this trial of miscarriage and subsequent infertility. I didn’t understand how it could be used for good in my life. Even though the lyrics seemed so true and right to me, I thought that my trial surely could not fit this category.

And then something amazing happened. Walking through another April 2nd, and another year of waiting, did something to my heart. I don’t know when it changed, but now I can honestly say to the Lord, “thank you for this trial, not because I like it, and not because it is good to be unable to conceive, but because through this trial I have seen your glory and your goodness in ways I never would have seen before.” Now it took nearly two years to get to this point, but I think this is what Paul is talking about in Romans 5:3-5 when he says that we “rejoice in our sufferings.” Not because they are pleasant. Not because they are easy or fun. But because it is through our suffering that trust is born, that hope is forged, that our eyes our opened to seeing God for who he is. I would not lean on the Savior in such desperate dependence if I had never faced this trial—and I know this is not the last trial I will ever face. I would not long for heaven and unending fellowship with the Savior if I had gotten everything I prayed for these last couple of years. Do I cry more now? Yes. Does life seem more serious now? Yes. Do I wish it all could have come another way? Absolutely. But do I also have more hope and joy in the Savior because of what he has done in my life? Yes, and as Romans says this will never put me to shame.

I’m sure that there will be a lot of other moments where I am not as thankful for the trial of infertility as I am right now, but I want to savor this moment and use it to prepare for the hard ones to come. If you are facing a trial today, dear Christian, and you (like I did for so long) find it difficult to be thankful or see God’s hand in it, remember this. The very fact that you struggle to remain faithful is evidence of God’s kind working in your life. Just hold on. The Christian life is not about microwavable results. It’s a slow process that often takes time, tears, and patience. God has promised to work all things together for good in our life (Romans 8:28), and while sometimes we don’t see that good for many years, you can trust that he is working a thousand merciful details behind the curtain of your pain, and one day it will be visible to you.

So if you cannot thank God for the trial today, keep plodding—even if it is a tear-stained plodding. And when you feel like you cannot hold on any longer, you can trust that our gracious God is holding on to you. And he will never let you go.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Theology Matters

When I went to seminary I had one goal in view. I wanted to be equipped to teach women the Bible. I wanted to grow in my understanding of God’s word and gain a solid theological foundation because I firmly believe that women (like all of us) need a deep and unshakable foundation in the God of the Bible. I enjoy studying and learning. I’ve seen fruit in my own life from studying. And I believe that God can do the same in the lives of many women.

While I didn’t graduate from seminary, I was privileged to take a few semesters worth of classes—and I’m so grateful for my time in the classroom. In the years since I went to seminary I have been able to be involved in the lives of women in a variety of capacities. Regardless of their circumstances, stories, struggles with sin, or season in life, one thing has united every situation together. Theology matters.

Maybe that feels a bit overwhelming to you. You might be thinking, “But I’m not a theologian!” Or maybe the word theology scares you. It seems too high and lofty. You think theology is something that is relegated to the thinkers and the bookworm types, not everyday women like you and me. Let’s think about that for a minute.

What is theology? Theology, simply put, is the study of God. Now it can be deep and challenging at times, but at its core it is really about understanding and knowing God. When you read your Bible, interpret it, and apply it to your life—you are studying theology. So all of us are actually theologians. The real question is whether we are good ones. What we believe about God matters. Without a right understanding of God, we cannot rightly understand ourselves, and more importantly, our need for a Savior.

Theology is also important because it gives us hope. When we understand who God is, we are able to make sense of the world we live in. Without theology, any attempts at right living are in vain. Theology takes the practical and gives it teeth. What was once impossible on your own now has a basis for possibility because you know the God who loves you and gives you a way of escape. As I’ve worked with young women over the years this has been the resounding truth as I’ve discipled them. The Bible is powerful. Studying God and his word is life changing. And it is in this process of studying the Bible and formulating ideas about God that we all become theologians.

We have to get away from the mentality that theology is scary and daunting. It’s not just for our pastors, teachers, professors, or even our husbands. It’s for us too. This doesn’t mean you have to read the entire works of Jonathan Edwards now. But it does mean that by the sheer fact that you are a Christian, you will take time to study and know the God who saved you. That’s all that theology is.

In the most difficult moments of trying to help women see God (and even in my own struggles) the thing that helps me most is knowing God and his word. His word contains everything we need for this life (2 Tim. 3:16-17). No amount of learning the myriad of practical, psychological, or emotional responses to a particular sin will replace (or improve upon) the abiding truths of Scripture. Theology matters. And it is in the study of God that we learn how to live, not the other way around.

As my husband relays to me all of the amazing things he is learning this week at Together for the Gospel, I am excited and encouraged to continue my pursuit of theology. I love being a part of a church where knowing God and his word is of first importance for everyone—men, women, and children. And I’m convinced now, more than ever, that what our souls need, in times of want or plenty, is more of God and less of our own ideas.

Yes, theology matters, but not in the big, scary seminary classroom way. It matters in the more mundane spaces, like the kitchen table, the commute to work, and in the quiet corners of our own hearts. May we all be biblical theologians, for the good of our souls and the glory of God.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Death is Swallowed Up in Victory

This morning my husband said that if Christ has not been raised than what we are doing (gathering on a Sunday morning for worship) is a big waste of our time. If Christ didn't rise from the dead we should all just go home and enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon, rather than rise early to be with God's people in worship. But as our other pastor so helpfully reminded us this morning, Christ did rise from the dead. He did exactly what he said he would do on that third day in the tomb. He got up, effectively conquering death once and for all.

I still remember the year that this really hit home for me. It was only two years ago. Even though I had been a believer for a number of years I had never faced an Easter where the hope of the resurrection carried so much power in my own life. My grandpa had passed away a couple of months earlier and I remember barely being able to get through "I Stand Amazed" without weeping. Prior to my grandpa's death the hope of the resurrection, while a crucial aspect of my faith in Christ, was only something I read about and talked about in general terms. This time it was real. It was my hope, that even though my grandpa died and was returning to dust, because of his trust in Christ I would see him again.

And then we lost our baby a few months later. In seven months time my understanding of the resurrection, and Jesus' conquering of death, went from paying lip service on Easter to a precious promise in dark moments of grief. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, than surely I (a grieving mom) should be most pitied. But he did rise. And the truth of his resurrection is the proof that my baby will one day rise as well. What a precious, precious promise.

As we've walked through more death, more sorrow, and more suffering in these past couple of years all that Jesus accomplished on the Cross and in his resurrection means more to me than ever. My tears, my loss, my pain, and most importantly, my sin will not have the last word in my life. Yes, Jesus overcame sin and death, but he also secured the hope of a brighter future. Colossians 1:18 says: "He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." His resurrection is the beginning of the new creation promised to us. By trusting in him, we are trusting that one day all will be made right. And oh, what a day that will be.

As we ate with friends this afternoon, I told everyone that I really think Easter Sunday should be our greatest time of feasting. For those of us in Christ, it's a celebration. It's an expectant anticipation that what we are celebrating now is only a glimpse of the glory that will one day be revealed. And I don't know about you, but I can't wait for that day. The resurrection is the stamp of certainty that all of God's promises are true, right, and good.

"Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. Christ is risen from the dead. And I will rise when he calls my name. No more sorrow. No more pain. I will rise on eagle's wings. Before my God, fall on my knees and rise!"

He is risen. He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah!

Friday, April 6, 2012

By His Wounds We Are Healed

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. --Isaiah 53

This is all I can think about today. It was the will of the Lord to crush him. God laid on him the iniquity of us all. And by his wounds we are healed. It is a good Friday.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Loss of Family Togetherness

While numerous studies have revealed that a shared family meal, and quality family time, can have tremendous benefits for children (especially teenagers), many families experience the reality of busyness, technology, and individualism. The concept of a traditional family time is a dying notion.

And the culture is taking notice.

The "family hour" was once a coveted spot on network television. Now it's an hour for the television history books. I wrote about this trend, and our response as Christians, over at the Her.meneutics blog today.

Here is a snippet of my thoughts:

Will we Christians who have families follow the cultural drift? I believe we can provide a counter voice to the individualistic mindset that permeates our families. While we can never be perfect in our approach, we do have a guide to show us a better way.

Scripture attests that God instituted the family as one model of not only his triune nature but also his relationship with the church (Gen. 1:26-31; Eph. 5:22-33, 6:1-4). When we lose family togetherness, we lose a valuable and crucial picture that cannot be recreated elsewhere.

The loss of family togetherness is a symptom of a culture that is increasingly embracing individualism over community. But we Christians know we were not made as “individuals” but as persons in community. Separation from the God-designed community of the family creates an environment that is not healthy or productive for us. It has implications for how we relate to others, the church, and God himself. While it might seem noble and cool to live outside the confines of a family, countless studies have shown that families where a father is absent, due to reasons other than death, face greater dysfunction and turmoil. God knew what he was doing when he made Adam and Eve and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.”

You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Treat Her Like Your Sister

“Treat older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”—1 Timothy 5:2

This verse has been sort of a theme in my class this semester. Whatever it might pertain to, whether it’s impurity, disrespect, flirtation, or leading them on, the question always is there: would you do that to your sister? So because this is a verse written to a man, and a pastor at that, you might be wondering how this has any bearing on your own life, as a woman (I’m assuming the bulk of my readership is female). But I assure you, it does. As young women, who are either dating, thinking about dating, or wanting to date you can do a lot to encourage the men in your life to treat you with respect and purity.

Paul sets the standards really high, doesn’t he? If he were to peek into your relationships with boyfriends, friends, or even random guys you meet at a party, would he find them treating you as sisters? Better yet, would he find you encouraging them to treat you as sisters?

The reality is that as women we have tremendous power in encouraging the guys in our lives to act like men. By your actions you can either encourage the guys in your life to sin sexually or you can encourage them to work hard at being men (i.e treating you with purity). The fact is that so often we make it too easy for them. We give into their sexual pursuit because we think it will make them love us more and then we are disappointed when it has the exact opposite effect. We flirt with them, essentially begging them for attention. We let them have too much of our heart, all the while hoping that in the end they might see the light and ask us out. How is that working for you?

All of us want to be pursued and treated with respect, right? I have never met a girl or woman who says “I want to be treated like an object. I want to be treated like I don’t matter.” Every girl wants to be treated with respect by the guy she is with. Every girl wants to be loved, cherished, honored, pursued, and valued, right? It doesn’t happen in the context of a sexual relationship outside of marriage. Guys learn to treat girls with honor by the respect that is demanded from them. When you expect a guy to only treat you like he would his sister, you are encouraging, and even demanding, that he respect you and your body.

So if you are single woman reading this today, apply the words of Paul to your own life. Protect the men around you by giving them no other choice but to treat you like a sister. You will be happier. Your life will be easier. And in the end, the guys who don’t want to follow the Bible will take their ball and go home.

God knew what he was doing when he gave us the commands of Scripture. And it’s worth the wait and the discipline to abide by his standards.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Spurgeon on Unanswered Prayers

I have been reading through Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening and it has been a very helpful and edifying experience for me. Over the years I have heard so many people quote Spurgeon in sermons and realized that while I'm always helped by their quoting of him, I have very rarely read anything by him. When we moved last year we found a copy in a box of books and I'm so glad we kept it. Here is what Mr. Spurgeon has to say about our (seemingly) unanswered prayers. I hope it encourages you this morning like it did me.

"Unanswered petitions are not unheard. God keeps a file for our prayers--they are not blown away by the wind, they are treasured in the King's archives. This is a registry in the court of heaven wherein every prayer is recorded. Tested believer, your Lord has a tear bottle in which the costly drops of sacred grief are put away, and a book in which your holy groanings are numbered. Before long, your suit shall prevail. Can't you be content to wait a little while? Won't your Lord's time be better than yours? Before long He will comfortably appear, to your soul's joy, and make you put away the sackcloth and ashes of lengthy waiting, and put on the scarlet and fine linen of full fruition."