Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rejoicing When It's Hard

“Rejoice with those who rejoice.” –Romans 12:15a

Rejoicing with others is sometimes really hard, especially when they are getting what you desperately want. I have been convicted lately that I put people in categories: those who are easy to rejoice with and those who are more difficult. In the second category it can be much harder to rejoice with them. Maybe you want to be married and your friend (who always seems to have a guy hanging around her) just recently got engaged. Maybe you are hoping for a certain job and the person who cuts corners gets the promotion or the opportunity. Maybe you want a particular scholarship and you are looked over, again. Or maybe you have been trying to get pregnant for a while and every time you check Facebook one more person is expecting a little bundle of joy.

It’s hard, isn’t it?

But the biblical command doesn’t include an exception clause. We are not given a pass at rejoicing when it’s harder for us, or when someone hasn’t walked our road with us. The command is there because it is hard and counter-intuitive. Our natural self would rather not rejoice with someone when they have something we want. We would much rather wallow in self-pity and sadness. But the redeemed person, who Paul is talking to, has a new heart and a new perspective. It’s not all about me and my world anymore. The Bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). And it also says that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). We have no more control over the outcome of our own life as we do over those around us. God is the provider of it all.

The fact that we can’t rejoice over another person’s blessing is just plain old fashioned jealousy, if we are truly honest. We have made what we desire (and what they have) into an idol. If we can’t have it we sure don’t want that person to have it instead. Or maybe you don’t go to that extreme, but you might feel like you deserve this gift. If they have it, why can’t you have it too? These heart attitudes are all hindrances to our ability to rejoice. They strip us of our joy for others, and ultimately our joy in God because he is the one who supplies every good thing we have.

Thankfully, Christ has come to redeem all of that. This verse is in there because it is hard. It is not mere willpower. If we were honest, every feeble attempt to rejoice in our own strength without a changed heart falls miserably short of the goal. Just like Romans 12 starts out, in view of God’s mercy this is how we are supposed to live. In light of the Spirit’s work in our life, this is how we love and serve the Body. The only way to rejoice with those who rejoice, even when your heart is breaking, is to trust the One who deserved more good gifts than all of us but gave up everything for us all. He makes us servant-hearted. He makes us rejoice. He has paid for all that jealousy and envy that threatens to destroy us. And he gives us a reason to rejoice even through tears.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

God is in the Heat

"It is incredibly encouraging to realize that the Bible addresses the world as we know it. God makes it very clear that he understands the Heat we face every day. It isn't always pleasant to read the honest stories of Scripture, but it is comforting. We realize that we will never face an experience, no matter how dark or difficult, that would be a shock to our God. The hope and help God offers his children reflect his knowledge of the full range of human experience..."

"Life on earth is a wilderness. Each day we face unexpected difficulties, and even blessings knock us off our path! In it all, God works to expose, change, and mature us. He has not forgotten you or the promises he made to you. He has not left you to the limits of your power and wisdom. In ways that are glorious, yet often hard to understand, God is in your Heat. He calls you to turn from questioning him to examine yourself. Where do you question his goodness, grace, and love? Where do you toy with the idea of going back to "Egypt"? When do you neglect daily Bible study and worship? Where do you struggle with anger, envy, disappointment, and blame.?"

-How People Change, Paul David Tripp and Tim Lane

One of the most helpful things I've learned in the past few years is this concept of Heat and Thorns/Fruit. We all face Heat in a variety of ways. While the Heat can be difficult, it does not dictate our response to it. It only reveals what is already inside. Heat has a way of doing that. But what has been even more encouraging to me is that God is in my Heat. He has ordained my Heat. He has promised to sanctify me in my Heat. And he will bring me through it. I am not left to myself and my own sinful responses. I have a God who is there and who will never leave me or forsake me. If you are struggling with lasting, biblical change in your life (like me), this book is so helpful in identifying sin and providing hope for change. It was an encouragement to my soul.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Our Creativity Tells a Story

We are all familiar with Psalm 19:1, which says “The heavens declare the glory of God.” In this psalm David is saying that every inch of the created world—from clouds to vegetation, human beings to animals—screams the greatness of our amazing Creator. The uniqueness in each person’s face, the rain that falls on parched vegetation, the creation of a little life in the womb of a mother—every tiny detail reflects the glory of our great God.

As human beings, we are created in the image of our Creator. Yet only one part of his creation is given the responsibility of bearing his image. One of the ways we image him to a watching world is through our ability to create and make things. We are given the gift of creativity and personal handiwork. And it comes in all shapes, sizes, and skills.

This is no small matter. When we create we are doing so as image bearers. The fact that I craft a sentence or an article, or even create a new recipe in the kitchen, tells a story about the God who made me. My creative capacities are not merely for my own benefit, but are meant to draw me, and those who are watching, back to the Creator. Like the heavens above me, every gift I possess is designed to declare the glory of God.

But unlike God, my creative capabilities are limited by my personhood. I cannot create a prosthetic arm for an engineering project, or design a new building, or fix an anesthesia machine, or even make a gourmet-style cupcake. Even with the most adequate training I would still fall short of the goal. Why? That is not my gifting. God simply did not create me with the attention to detail needed to do such things.  

And that is the great leveler when it comes to looking at our gifts. Every way we create, design, work, and labor is meant to point away from ourselves and direct our gaze to the God who gave us these gifts. We should take our cue from the skies above us. As beautiful as a bright and sunny day is, the sky derives its value from God. The splendor of the sky is meant to make us glorify the One who made it. The same is true for our gifts. Every capability we have to create something new, beautiful, or innovative is a different facet of being created as image bearers. All of our creative capacities are meant to point us back to the Creator—the giver of all good gifts.

This understanding of our gifts transforms a jealous heart also. Within the family of God there is no room for jealousy. We are all given gifts, talents, and capabilities that are designed to serve his people and make much of him. But we are all limited in what we can do, too. If we could do it all we would be God, and we would be prone to boasting in our own strength. When we see another person possessing a creative quality that we lack, rather than wallowing in jealousy and self-pity, we should use it as an opportunity to worship God for the gift he has given that person. That’s all it is—a gift.

God possesses all of the creative capabilities we have individually in the core of his deity. He is everything in one. He is artistic, good with words, intricate, detail-oriented, attentive, innovative, and so much more. In his kindness he made us image bearers so we could, like the skies, declare his glory in this world.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jesus is Not Your Boyfriend

Daniel and I have just finished a much needed vacation, hence the silence on the blog this past week! But I have been writing. This morning, Her.meneutics (the Christianity Today blog for women) posted something I wrote on a popular trend in Christendom--single women calling Jesus/God their boyfriend. I'm sure at some point you have heard someone say something along these lines, "until God brings me a husband, I am content to just have him as my boyfriend." Some have even gone so far as calling God their lover, as so many popular songs often do.

While a personal relationship with our Savior is crucial, it is not a personal romantic relationship. In fact, when we use earthly relationships to describe our relationship with Jesus we miss something really important, namely the fact that our earthly relationships (i.e. marriage) is meant to image his relationship with his Bride (the church). We are a collective bride, not an individual one.

In the post I say this:

Just as self-marriage misses the mark for what God designed marriage to point to, “marriage” to Jesus misses what his work accomplished. Marriage to Jesus while waiting for a husband can often trivialize our Savior in a way that makes him more like a sweet boyfriend who takes us out on dates, rather than the God-man who paid for our sin on the cross. Jesus did not accomplish redemption to marry us individually. He died for the church corporate, of which we are apart. His death accomplished something much greater than simply meeting our deep-seated desires for a significant other. That is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 5:22–33 when speaks of the mystery of marriage.

Read the rest of the post here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

No Condemnation

If you are anything like me, you regularly (sometimes daily) come back to the truth of Romans 8:1, which says “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And if you have ever taken a bible interpretation class or listened to your pastor explain the context of a specific passage you know that whenever we see a “therefore” we must always ask what it is there for. Clever, I know. But it’s catchy and helpful isn’t it? So what is this “therefore” talking about in Romans 8:1?

It’s talking about Romans 7. We all know Romans 7, right? It is the passage where Paul recounts the tension of the new man versus the old man. Sin still plagues him. He knows what he should do and yet he still does the opposite. Romans 7 is a reminder to us that sin is a vicious, life-sucking enemy that doesn’t know when to let go.

Who can relate to the tension and struggle of Romans 7? Let me be the first to raise my hand to say “I can.” How many times have I lashed out at my husband in anger, cussed at a driver who got in my way or cut me off (bad, I know), gossiped about a person I didn’t like, or harbored bitterness in my heart against someone who has wronged me? Deep down in my heart I know these are sinful responses. But sometimes I do them anyway. The good I want to do I don’t do, and the bad just keeps hanging on. Romans 7 is filled with tension and struggle with sin and then Paul delivers the hammer of gospel hope for all believers—if you are in Christ those sins do not condemn you.

And that is why Romans 8:1 is so refreshing and encouraging. Yes, I sin. Yes, I still have lingering issues that don’t seem to go away. Yes, I hurt people with my tongue and my actions. But because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ on my behalf those sins do not secure my fate in hell. Instead, I am resting on the fate of another—Jesus Christ.

Romans 7 left to itself can be a startling reality. Enter Romans 8 and we have the hope that Jesus paid it all for us. You might feel overwhelmed by your sin and the battle in your soul today, but you can bank on this truth—Christ has won that battle for and you are not condemned. You may feel convicted and remorseful, and rightfully so. But you are not condemned. Preach this amazing truth to yourself when you feel the water of condemnation rising up around your weary head.
“There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Quiet Father's Day

Our little apartment is pretty quiet this morning. There is no fanfare, no breakfast in bed, and no presents waiting on the table. At first glance, we are just another married couple getting ready for church on a Sunday morning. But we are more than that. There is a father here, just not according to the world’s definition of fatherhood.

You see, my sweet husband was only a father for six and a half short weeks nearly two years ago. But that little pea-sized baby made him the happiest father around for that short time. He loved that baby. He prayed for that baby. And he even rearranged his life in preparation for that baby.

There should be a nearly fourteen month old running around our living room rather than the painful silence that reminds us of what could have been. But we wait and pray, still begging God to be pleased to give us another on this side of heaven.

In the days surrounding Mother’s Day we talk a lot in evangelical circles about how to mourn with the hurting and be sensitive to the infertile on an otherwise joyous day. Bereaved fathers, wannabe fathers, and infertile fathers are sometimes overlooked. But they are there. And many are hurting just as much as their wives are; they just deal with it differently sometimes. For some, few times exacerbate their painful longings like a day devoted to the one thing they desperately want but can’t seem to have. Remember them. Pray for them. Honor them for their trust in God in spite of uncertain circumstances. It will mean a lot to them.

So we will celebrate my husband today. Not in the way we would have if we had a bubbly toddler in our home, but we will celebrate nonetheless. He is a father, and a good one. And he will be a good father to every subsequent child the Lord sees fit to give us. We long for that day. Until then, we give thanks that God gave us that little one two years ago and long for the day when we see him again.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday is for Food: Black Bean Enchiladas

This recipe is an adaptation of another enchilada recipe I really like. Daniel's brother and sister-in-law came to stay with us last weekend, and since my sister-in-law is a vegetarian I wanted to make something that we would all enjoy. Since I was making the beef enchiladas, I decided to try the same thing with the black beans, and it worked! I LOVE black beans, so I will definitely be trying this again.

What you need:

1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed (I use the organic ones from Kroger)
1 can of diced green chile's
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
Salsa (I almost always have this salsa on hand)
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese (divided)
Italian dressing
8 corn tortillas

How to make it:

Preheat oven to 375

Heat black beans, onion, green peppers, green chile's, and 1/2 cup of salsa (or enough to moisten the beans) in a large skillet. Once the vegetables are softened add 1 cup of cheese. Once the cheese is melted remove from heat.

Brush the corn tortillas with a little Italian dressing, cover with wax paper, and microwave for 30 seconds. Scoop the bean mixture into the tortilla and roll in a 9x13 baking dish. Complete the tortillas. Top with enough salsa to cover and bake for 20 minutes, or until heated through. Top with the remaining cheese and bake for 2-3 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When a Man Loves a Woman

We all know a guy like this. He’s outgoing, suave, sensitive, and flirtatious. Women flock to him, and because of this he always has a different one on his arm. Some are quick to write him off as a player. Others simply attribute his antics to a deep love for women. And with so many to choose from, there are a lot out there for him to love.

Adam Levine, lead singer of the band Maroon 5, seems to think the same thing; owing his rampant promiscuity is to his love for women. In a recent article, Levine attributes his reputation of sleeping around with many women as a representation of his love for them. He is clear to distinguish his actions with other types of men who do the same thing—namely men who he would call misogynistic and only out for themselves. He on the other hand only loves women and can’t seem to get enough of them. And he doesn’t really seem to care.

But is this love? Does he behave this way because of a deep sense of affection and care for the women that he beds? Hardly.

While the culture celebrates men (and women) who view a myriad of sexual exploits as expressions freedom and love, the Bible tells a very different story. As much as we like to think that as a post-sexual revolution society we are more enlightened and uninhibited than our repressed ancestors, human desire and sin ensure that behavior simply is repackaged for the order of the day. In other words, this liberated sexuality is really not a new idea at all.

Solomon knew this well when he instructed his son to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). At first glance, this verse implies two things about loving a woman well.

  1. There is only one woman for him to love.
  2. The love he has for her is to be long-lasting.
Here is the true test of whether a man loves women or not. Does he love one woman well for a lifetime? It’s easy to have sex with a lot of women over the course of your life. But try loving a woman who doesn’t always treat you with the respect you think you deserve. Or try loving a woman who gets sick and needs care, is weaker than you physically, or gets in your way when you want to do something. Real love for women takes hard work, not smooth talk and flattery. Any man can bounce from woman to woman. That’s easy and old news. The real evidence of love and manhood is if you love and stay until your (or her) dying breath—not when her face looks a little worn or another woman comes along.

And girls, this is the type of man you should be looking for. Don’t settle for a man who asserts his manhood through sexual experiences and flirtation. That will not be true love in the end. True love shows restraint when necessary, and especially when she is not his wife. Look for a man who will love you enough to say “no” until your wedding day, and then say “yes” only to you for the rest of your earthly lives.

The ambient culture sees no problem with Levine’s definition of loving women. In fact, in many circles it is the norm now. As Christians, our lives should not mirror the cultural wasteland that we live in. A man (or woman) who follows Christ will look very different when put next to the views of men like Levine. Men who follow Christ are called to love like the One who saved them, not like the world they were saved from. Men who follow Christ serve, instead of take. They die to self, instead of live for self. And they love women by protecting them from the predatory men that seek to devour the women God has given them, all in the name of love.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Unbroken: A Review

****Warning: Spoiler alert (This post contains spoilers. If you want to read the book, you should probably wait to read this post!)

For the last year or so I had been hearing about a book called Unbroken. I would see it recommended on a blog or Facebook, or hear about it in a conversation and wonder what all the talk was about. While I enjoy learning about World War II, and appreciate movies that tell the stories of the war, I found it hard to believe that I would actually like a book that chronicled the life, plight, and survival of a Pacific POW during the Second World War.

Boy was I wrong. This book is amazing—at least in my humble opinion. Just ask my husband. I could not put it down. I even kept it after it was due to the library so I could finish it late one night (bad, I know). And it was totally worth the extra 20 cents I will have to pay. By the time I finished the book I felt like Louis Zamperini (the main character) was my friend. So much so that when I saw that he was on Jay Leno the other night I contemplated staying up late to watch him. I didn’t. But it crossed my mind.

So why did I enjoy this book so much? Besides the fact that it was just a really good story that rapt my attention, there were some key things that struck me as I read it. Maybe it will peak your interest too and cause you to run to your local library and grab the book.
First (and most obvious) is the power of the human will to survive. This is a book about a man (and multiple men) living through horrible suffering both at the hands of human beings and at the hands of nature. Many times I thought to myself “I could never survive that.” But I would imagine thought that before those moments too. In the face of tremendous suffering, God gives people common grace to endure. Even when Louis wanted to die and leave the horrors of the POW camp, he held on. Why? I think partly because deep within every human being is the reality that death is unnatural. God created us to live, not die. Sin brought death, and ever since that day we have been looking for ways to fight death and live forever. Even when all hope seems lost at rescue Louis, and many of the other men, held on because deep down they really wanted to live.

Second (and most heartbreaking) is the depravity of man. Any notion that we are somehow growing more enlightened, and thus less sinful, is shattered in studying any war, especially this one. The violence that Louis and the other men faced was atrocious and inhumane. The fact they survived it is a mercy of the Lord. These parts of the book were hard to read, but it allowed me to really grasp how something like this can haunt a man for the rest of his life. And it did for so many of them. A lot of the former POWs never recovered from the trauma of these camps, and I now see why. Reading this was a reminder once again that sin is a nasty enemy that strips any hope of goodness from our very being. We are a depraved people in desperate need of a Savior.

Third (and most hopeful) is the power of the Gospel displayed in the book. What made this book even more remarkable was the redemption Louis experienced. After returning from Japan he faced an uphill battle of painful memories, recovery from injuries, and addiction to alcohol. In many ways, his life saw little improvement even though he was free from the confines of a POW camp. Every effort to rid himself of the horrors he experienced came back void until he was confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached by Billy Graham. When Christ invaded his life and regenerated him he was a new man. Gone were the nightmares and binge drinking escapades. Gone were the fits of rage. Gone was his hatred for those who had abused him in Japan. His changed life was a reminder of the sufficient power of Christ to change a life. Only when Jesus broke through was healing, forgiveness, and change possible.

So those are my thoughts on the book. I liked it so much that I was sad when it was over, which is always a good sign. If you are interested in World War II, a good story, history, or all of the above, run—don’t walk—to your library to get the book. It is summer after all, and this book makes for excellent poolside reading. Trust me, I know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jesus, Bold and Truthful (Part 3)

One of the unexpected emotions I have experienced as I’ve read the Gospels these last few months is shock. Jesus says some seemingly outlandish and authoritative things! On more than one occasion I have found myself rereading a particular passage or verse, thinking to myself, “did he really say that?” Any notion that Jesus is merely a mild mannered, even keeled personality is a misguided one at best. That is not the Jesus of the Bible at all. Instead, Jesus is bold, clear, and he speaks the truth without reservation.
And he would have it no other way. You see, he didn’t just come to earth as a man, as we have already seen. He came as the God-man. His deity secures his authority. He formed the earth and everything in it by simply speaking a word. It is no wonder that he would speak with the same boldness and power when he became God incarnate.

But is this boldness and clarity really unique to Jesus? We hear leaders regularly speak with some type of authority. Politicians make statements promising results. Pastors exhort people with the truths of God’s word. Parents speak with authority to their children. Teachers make absolute statements.

So what’s the difference?

What Jesus said actually happened. And not only did it happen, it happened in a relatively short amount of time, namely the lifetime of the ones who heard him speak directly. Politicians fail to keep promises. Pastors speak on the authority of God’s word, not their own. Parents fail their children regularly. Teachers make mistakes. Jesus is the only human being who ever walked this earth that spoke with authority, made promises, and fulfilled every one of them. We can bank on everything he says coming true because he is God—and God always keeps his word.

This is why the only response we can make at the revelation of Jesus Christ is to worship him alone. While countless people have authority and power to speak clearly and boldly in our day, they will always fall short of the perfect Savior, Jesus. We can trust everything Jesus says in the Gospels, and the rest of the Bible, because he is God. And God’s word will never fail and never pass away.

Even though we might initially be shocked by the bold claims of Jesus as we read the Gospels, we must remember that these truths are not simply there for shock value. They are there to bring us to our knees in humble worship of the word made flesh. He dwelt among us, died for us, and sustains us even now with the power of his word.

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jesus, Compassionate and Loving (Part 2)

Last week I wrote that the first thing we must believe about Jesus is that he is fully God. Even a brief read through of the Gospel accounts draw us to conclude that there is no other explanation for his power, authority, and sovereignty even as he walked this earth. Every other description of him stems from this amazing and unique reality—Jesus is God.

But what else can we learn about him from the Gospels? If he is God made flesh, then he most certainly bears qualities that help us better understand the nature of God himself. When we study the Son we also are studying the Father. They are united.  

So who is this Jesus?

For starters, he is compassionate and loving. This is no surprise to most people. If the world was going to pick one word to describe Jesus, love would most certainly be the first choice. Everyone wants a loving Jesus. And even the most unbelieving of people would affirm that Jesus, if nothing else, at least has to be loving. The real answer, though, lies in the definition of loving. In the world’s eyes, a loving Jesus is one who makes no authoritative claims, heals diseases, and plays with children on his lap. He smiles a lot. He is nice. He makes everyone happier and healthier. And he is for everyone. But he most certainly does not demand anything from them, especially rejection of sin.

The Bible paints a very different picture. While the Gospel writers portray a Jesus who is loving beyond what we could ever emulate, the definition of this love looks different than how the world defines it. This love is compassionate and merciful, but it also carries claims of more than just happy feelings. Obviously we could spend hours and pages trying to exhaust the manifestations of Christ’s compassion and love towards people while he walked this earth. But here are two brief observations I have noticed as I’ve been plodding through the Gospels.

  1. His love is specific
  2. His love demands a response
Repeatedly the Gospel writers talk about the love Jesus has for his people, namely his disciples and those who follow him. His love is always demonstrated most clearly towards the ones who trust him. On a number of occasions, the Gospel writers speak of Jesus being moved because of his great love for them. He spent the majority of his time with a few people, training them, and shepherding them. He loved them deeply. But the Gospel writers also spend a great deal of time relaying accounts of Jesus with individuals. When Jesus heals and saves people he goes directly to them, speaking to their situation, and showing them that he is the Messiah. Jesus knows those who are his own, granted to him by the Father, and he will stop at nothing to bring them to himself. He is never arbitrary in his approach to human interaction. He is purposeful, and he seeks his own until they are brought home to him. The love Jesus displays in the Gospels is no generic love. It is displayed towards certain people, and it never stops there.

Which leads to my second observation: his love demands a response. Whenever Jesus displays his love and compassion to broken, sinful, and outcast people he includes a simple command: “Go and sin no more.” Sometimes it is coupled with the necessary requirements of the law or an exhortation to go and tell all that Jesus has done. But the important thing to note is that when Jesus demonstrates his love towards people they cannot remain the same. His love towards his people shows that they are his own, and his own joyfully follow and worship him. It can be no other way.

Jesus did not just come to earth to perform miracles and appease a wrathful, angry God. He didn’t come to earth to start a revolution. He didn’t even come to earth to heal people. Jesus came to earth to redeem a people for God’s own glory. He came to gather worshippers for himself. And one of the ways he does this is by lovingly drawing people to himself and transforming their lives.

We can, and should, celebrate the abundant love of our Savior for his own people. But we must not trivialize it by making it cheap and independent of behavior. Jesus’ love, as displayed in the Gospels, is powerful. But it is also specific and demanding. Next time we will look more closely at the bold statements Christ makes in the Gospels and how that impacts us today.