The Pursuit of Beauty

The Pursuit of Beauty

Women love beauty. We love observing it, creating it, and displaying it around us. At our core, we are beauty seekers, and we exhibit this in all sorts of ways. Some love fashion and makeup and creating all the right combinations of both. Others love growing and arranging flowers or creating the perfect tablescape for a Holiday meal. Many of us cannot resist capturing a child’s adorable face or a beautiful sunset through the lens of a camera or with a paintbrush. Others create and display beauty by lettering an invitation in just the right script, playing music with an instrument, turning food into a delicious meal, decorating a home, or writing a story.

In addition to this desire to create and reflect beauty, we all have a strong longing in the deepest part of our hearts to be truly beautiful. This desire has fueled countless industries and, whether we realize it or not, has led each of us on a quest for personal beauty—a quest which, sadly, has left many empty and dissatisfied. Why? Why does authentic beauty often feel so unattainable? Is personal beauty something we shouldn’t pursue…or do we just look for it in the wrong places?

The Glory of True Beauty

Our deep desire for beauty is not arbitrary, unfounded or negative because God Himself is the essence of true beauty and the Creator of all things beautiful. And we are created in His image! In Psalm 27:4, David records his longing to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” God is Spirit, so when David references the Lord’s beauty, he is not referring to God’s physical appearance but to the attributes of His character. One writer says, “The beauty of the Lord can be defined as God possessing everything in His character that is desirable.” God’s perfection,holiness, goodness, purity and glory are the substance of His beauty, and He created the world to put this beauty on display.

The heavens, earth and all their hosts were created to be a beautiful and visible reflection of God’s glorious and invisible nature (Psalm 19:1). And the truth of our own personal beauty was sealed when the Creator of all beauty looked upon the first man and woman made in His image and declared them to be “very good”. As Sally Lloyd Jones puts it, “They were lovely because He loved them.”

The Veiling of True Beauty

But all too soon, the perfect beauty of God’s creation was marred substantially by the ugliness of evil. Rather than finding her worth in the love and beauty of her Creator, the eyes of our first mother Eve were captivated by a lesser beauty: the beauty of a piece of fruit. Eve believed the lie that to eat from the one tree of the garden forbidden by her loving Creator she would somehow be a wiser, happier, more beautiful version of herself.

The serpent promised that by eating the fruit, Eve’s eyes would be opened and she would be like God (Gen 3:5). The truth is, Eve was already like God—made in His image to reflect His beauty in the world. Eve didn’t want to be like God. She wanted to be God. She ate of the fruit, and through this disobedience, her eyes were opened to the reality of evil and ugliness. Eve’s sin exposed her. It separated her from the Beautiful one, the one in whom she was meant to find her own beauty. Eve saw her naked body, and for the first time, she felt immense shame. She hid from God and sought to cover herself (Gen 3:7)

But it was God who mercifully clothed Adam and Eve in the skins of animals, and those animals had to die to provide the covering (Gen 3:21). The wages of sin has always been death, and blood has always been required to cover the one exposed by sin and shame. In the future, God would allow many more animals to die as substitutes for human sinners, but the death of these animals only provided a temporary solution. Because animals can cover shame for a time, but they can’t recover true beauty in a sin-corrupted heart.

Since Eve sinned, all of her daughters have been on a lifelong mission to cover our shame and recover true beauty. But sin has distorted our understanding of true beauty, so we pursue a counterfeit. We think, “If I could just lose fifteen pounds, have a better tan, and afford nicer clothes; I would be beautiful. If I looked more like her, maybe I would measure up.” We often chase after external, temporal beauty for a sense of worthiness, and we do so not to put God’s glory on display but to put our glory on display. We compare ourselves to other women and internally compete with one another, rather than observing the unique beauty of the Imago Dei in each other. True beauty—the Beauty of God Himself—has been veiled to our eyes by our sin, and we are left wanting.

Adorned: Clothed in The Beauty of Christ

But we need not continue wanting. The good news of the gospel is this: Jesus Christ came to earth in human flesh so the true beauty of God might be revealed and recovered. The apostle John tells us that Jesus is the revelation of God’s glory (John 1:14). Paul says that Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

While there was nothing particularly attractive in Jesus’s physical appearance (Isaiah 53:2b), He revealed the nature of true beauty because he perfectly embodied the holiness, goodness, purity and glory of God in a way we could see. As the sinless God-man, His blood alone provided the necessary sacrifice to not only cover our shame but also clothe us in His perfect righteousness—a beauty that doesn’t fade with time (Rom 3:22).

This beauty is ours for the taking if we will stop desperately trying to cover our own shame with everything the world promises will make us whole and instead look to Jesus in faith, saying with the prophet Isaiah, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in “my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation; he has covered me with a robe of righteousness. . .as a bride adorns herself with jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). This is what it means to be a woman adorned by the gospel.

Adorn: Reflecting The Beauty of the Gospel Together

Author and teacher Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “To be adorned with another’s love is to develop a greater capacity to reflect love and beauty to others.” We are adorned with the righteousness of Christ to mirror His love to a world that has no concept of true beauty. How do we do this? How do we make the good news of the gospel attractive to the watching world by the way we live our lives?

The Greek word for “adorn” is “kosmeo’’. This word is the root of the English term “cosmetics”, i.e. what adorns (“orders”) the face. So, when the apostle Peter tells believing women “Your adornment must not be merely external—but let it be the hidden person of the heart . . .” (1 Peter 3:3-4) he is telling them to focus less on beautifying their faces and more on beautifying their hearts. When Paul tells Timothy that Christian women should adorn themselves with good works rather than ostentatious clothing (1 Timothy 2:9-10), he is saying, “Show the world that your beauty and worth come from the righteousness of Christ, not the clothes you wear.”

This is a lovely thought, isn’t it? But how do we practice this? There are thousands of fashion blogs, makeup tutorials, and fitness videos all over the internet, but not as many people are  sharing how-to’s on cultivating a beautiful heart.

And how do we reflect the beauty of the gospel when life is hard? When the baby isn’t sleeping at night or the car breaks down…when a husband walks away from a marriage or the scans reveal cancer…when depression, anxiety, fear or indwelling sin feel unshakable…how do we then adorn the beauty of Christ?

The truth? None of us can do it alone. God never intended for us to reflect the beauty of the gospel as individuals but, rather, collectively. He gave us His Spirit and His Church as helpers, and he gave us each other. And when we have been adorned with the righteousness of Christ, cultivating the true beauty of good works is not a competition but a race we run together.

This is what women’s ministry is all about: Older believing women involved in the lives of younger believing women, teaching them “what is good” (Titus 2:3-4). We all need the godly wisdom and instruction of an older woman in the faith poured into us as we seek to reflect Christ in our work, our marriages or singleness, our parenting, and our friendships. And we all need to be the older woman in a younger sister’s life.

This only happens if we live life together—transparently sharing burdens and struggles as well as truth and encouragement, studying the Word of God and speaking that Word into each other’s lives, praying together, opening our hearts and homes, and consistently pointing each other back to the truly Beautiful one. We must remind each other that a day is coming when we, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2), will behold the beauty of Christ face to face and cry out:

Hallelujah! For the Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure–for the the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. -Revelation 19:6-8

And when this day comes, our pursuit will be over. We will have obtained true beauty once and for all.

Food, Fitness and The Gospel: Why Your Body Matters but Can’t Save You

Food, Fitness and The Gospel: Why Your Body Matters but Can’t Save You

 

It takes only a quick scroll through social media feeds during the summer to reveal that we live in a body-obsessed culture. Swimsuit selfies abound this time of year, but they aren’t the only manifestation of our complete obsession with how our bodies look and feel. Excessive exercise, restricted eating, binging and purging, gluttony, negligence, and substance abuse are other tell-tale signs that we have veered off course in the way we think about and relate to our bodies.

Last year, I wrote an article about my own struggle with an eating disorder as a teenager. Anything that human beings love and adore more than God Himself is an idol, and during high school I worshipped at the altar of my ideal, size-zero body. While this led to severely disordered eating for a season, my eating habits were not the root of my issue.

My ultimate problem was that I took cues about the purpose of my body from the culture rather than from God Himself. I sought to control my body as a means to my own end rather than caring for it as a means to bring God glory. I looked to the image of my body for my happiness and worth, and this left me in a mess. So, what does God have to say about the human body? How do we glorify Him by loving and caring for our bodies without simultaneously worshipping them as functional gods?

Created Good

During the first century, the heresy of Gnosticism began to slip into the early church. The Gnostics believed the human spirit was intrinsically good and the human body was intrinsically evil, but the Bible tells a different story. In the first chapter of Genesis, we learn that God completed his creative work with the fashioning of man and woman—spiritual beings with gender-specific, physical bodies. Then, God looked back over all of his material creation and declared it very good (Gen 1:31). The human body is not intrinsically evil because it was created by a good God who declared it to be good. The body is a beautiful part of God’s design and plan for humanity, but it was never meant to be our god.

Corrupted by Sin

When Eve was deceived by the serpent, she doubted the goodness and truth of God’s Word and, together with her husband, disobeyed God by eating food from the one and only tree He had declared off limits.  As a result, the entire human race was plunged into sin, and all of God’s good creation—including the human body—was subjected to corruption.

While our bodies are not intrinsically evil, they are now cursed with weakness, disease and ultimately death. Furthermore, they are now agents of the rebellion and idolatry flowing from our hearts. We falsely believe that our bodies belong to us rather than to God, and this belief typically manifests in one of two ways: 1.) We obsessively control  our bodies for the purpose of our own glory or 2.) We are controlled by the fleshly desires of our bodies for the purpose of our own pleasure. The first may look like like hyper-fitness obsession, self-starvation and body selfies, while the second looks more like laziness, overeating for comfort, substance abuse or sexual immorality. These are different extremes of the same root problem. In both cases, we are worshipping and serving the creature (ourselves) rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25), and when our god is our stomach, we are on a path that leads to destruction (Phil 3:19). 

Redeemed by Blood

In sin, we make our bodies idols, but through blood, God transforms our bodies into the spiritual temple of His Holy Spirit. When Jesus came to earth in bodily flesh, He lived a perfect life and died a bloody death on our behalf. He bore all of our sins in His sinless body on the cross, so that all who look to him by faith for salvation might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). Dying to sin means that we turn away from worshipping our bodies for our own pleasure and glory and began stewarding our bodies as temples for God’s Kingdom purposes. The line between faithful stewardship and sinful idolatry is easily crossed, so the Word of God is critical in helping us discern the difference.

The Bible teaches that  faithful stewardship of our bodies is less about health and wellness and more about godliness, purity, and sacrifice. Nowhere in Scripture will we find a list of specific foods we should or should not eat. There is Christian freedom when it comes to what we eat (1Timothy 4:4), but all of our eating and drinking must be motivated by a desire for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31). The Bible does not outline how often we should work out for optimal health but exhorts us to focus primarily on training ourselves in godliness. While bodily training has some value, godliness has value both in this life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:8).

Does this mean we should eat whatever we want whenever we want it and sit on the couch all day? No. As those walking by the Spirit, we practice self-control (Gal 5:25) rather than being mastered by our appetites (1 Cor 6:12-13). There is value in learning what foods best fuel our bodies and consistently eating those foods. There is  value in regular exercise and bodily fitness. But that value doesn’t rest in the fact that exercise might produce a more attractive body and that eating well might lead to long life. Healthy eating and exercise hold value because they enable us to expend our bodies in service to Christ and others during our years on earth. In view of the gospel, we are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices and die daily to our fleshly desires for self-worship (Rom 12:1).  Sometimes this means hitting the gym when we would rather succumb to laziness. Other times it means skipping the gym in order to better serve our families and neighbors.

Resurrected to Glory

We don’t proclaim the Paleo, Vegan or CrossFit “gospels” because food and fitness cannot ultimately save our souls or our bodies. No matter how well we eat and exercise now, our physical bodies are still plagued with weakness and are moving toward death and decay. This should not cause us to lose heart but to refresh our hearts with the hope Christ alone offers. The redemption Jesus provides through His blood is not only for our souls now but also for our bodies in the life to come because “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus…”(2 Cor 4:4).  So, our hope is not in the preservation of our frail, earthly bodies but in the One who will resurrect and transform them to perfect, glorious bodies (Phil 3:21). Our earthly bodies matter, but they are not ultimate as the world would have us believe . Christ is ultimate. He has bought us at a steep price, and we are not our own. May we glorify Him alone with our bodies, both in death and in life, now and forevermore. 

 

 

Taste and See: A Letter to my Younger Sisters in the Faith

Dear Sister,

I would love to meet for coffee and tell you what I wish I had understood and experienced ten years ago. Hindsight is 20/20,  isn’t it? The Lord  teaches us through time, and I suppose this is why the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul exhorts older women to teach the younger women “what is good” (Titus 2:3b). We live in a world that promotes a superficial view of goodness, and we are prone to lose our way—failing to see and believe the One who is truly good. So, if we were sipping coffee and chatting, here’s how I would seek to challenge and encourage  you through what I’ve learned:

*Boast in the Lord*

Regardless of your age or season, you will always be tempted to look to yourself for a defining sense of worth. Whether it’s grades, career success, athletic achievement, the size of your body, quantity and quality of material possessions, number of instagram likes, relationships and attention from the opposite sex; you will find yourself grasping within for a reason to boast. You may be blind to this desperate need to boast in yourself because it often happens within the recesses of your heart even when it doesn’t spring forth from your lips. In addition to worth and value, you will naturally strive to find personal goodness and an ultimate sense of righteousness within. How tempted you will be to claim your own kindness, charity, service, morality, or the fact that you have “checked all the spiritual boxes” as reasons God should count you worthy of His Kingdom. In Psalm chapter 34 , King David writes,

My Soul makes its boast in the Lord;

 Let the humble hear and be glad..

Oh, Magnify the Lord with me,

And let us exalt his name together!

How was David— the warrior King, conqueror of tens of thousands, and man after God’s own heart—able to confidently boast in God alone rather than in his own success or perceived worthiness?

*Taste and See God’s goodness*

The Bible teaches that God alone is good, and He alone is worthy of our boasts. You may know this to be true, but there is a difference in mentally agreeing with truth and personally experiencing that truth. David was able to boast in the Lord because he had tasted the sweetness of God’s goodness in his own life. He encourages his readers to do the same:Taste and See that the Lord is Good (Psalm 34:8A). Jonathan Edwards explains this well:

There is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former yet know not how honey tastes, but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind.

Until you taste the goodness of God yourself, you will desperately seek to define your value and worth in some “goodness” of your own. Only in understanding God as infinitely good will you discover that human goodness in any form doesn’t measure up. It cannot and will not give you ultimate value, joy, or eternal life.

So, practically speaking, how does one taste and see the goodness of God?

*Take Refuge in Christ*

For you to experience the Father’s goodness, you must trust Him enough to take refuge in His Son. Jesus alone is the shelter God has provided for your salvation and eternal protection. Those who hide in Him are promised ultimate joy.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

…The Lord redeems the life of his servants;

None of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned

(Psalm 34:8-9, 22)

No matter what you achieve or how good you are, you will never meet the righteous requirements of God’s goodness because your heart is corrupted by sin (Jer 17:9, Psalm 51:5). Jesus alone meets God’s standard, and he came to earth as a human to live the life you couldn’t live and die the death you deserved to die. He has sheltered you from the righteous wrath of God you deserve by absorbing that wrath in your place. Jesus’s death on the cross is the visible proof of God’s goodness toward you. You take refuge in Him by looking to Jesus and trusting Him as sufficient to make you right with God. As you daily draw from the well of the gospel through God’s Word and His people (the Church–you cannot do it alone), you will  taste the sweetness of God’s perfect goodness and find it so satisfying.

*Reflect His Radiance in Trials*

Taking refuge in Christ does not mean that your life on earth will be free of trouble and hardship. Scripture is clear that you should not expect your life “hidden in Christ” to be easy. On the contrary, following and identifying with Jesus is a call to die to yourself (Luke 9:23) and lose the life you have known. It is a call to stop taking your cues from the world and looking within for your sense of worth, happiness and goodness. It is a call to recognize that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22) but God is working all things out for the ultimate good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Roman 8:28)  even when “good” doesn’t always look the way we want it to look yet. Sister, your best life is not now. It’s later. And it’s eternal.

Those who look to him are radiant,

And their faces shall never be ashamed. . .

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

If you are in Christ, your freedom from condemnation and eternal deliverance from trials of this life are secure. Take refuge in Jesus when the storms of life rage by saturating yourself in His Word, surrounding yourself with His people, and rehearsing His gospel to your heart daily.  The radiance of His glory will be reflected in your life as you trust Him, and you will find His goodness sweeter and more satisfying than any  worldly treasures you may lose. Do you doubt it? Taste and see.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Psalm 27:13

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. -Jim Elliot

 

When You Feel Lonely At Church

When You Feel Lonely At Church

 

A friend recently shared with me how terribly lonely she feels at church on Sundays. “Everyone has their place and their people, and I just don’t know who to sit with. I kind of feel invisible,” she explained. She isn’t alone in her feelings. Another friend shared how disconnected and lonely she feels in her small group. Even after a few months of gathering with this group, she is struggling to develop strong connections with others.

The sad reality is that too many people feel estranged and lonely even while gathering to worship with tens or hundreds of other believers. If the God we worship is a God who places the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) and believers make up the family of God (Galatians 4:4-5), then shouldn’t Church gatherings be a time of deep fellowship?

Foundation of Fellowship

In his first epistle, the apostle John explains that he has proclaimed the gospel of Christ so that believers might have fellowship with God the Father through Jesus Christ. This fellowship with God leads to eternal life and fellowship with each other (1 John 1:3). In modern church culture, we often equate fellowship with socializing or eating together, but John makes it clear that Christian fellowship is much deeper. The Greek word for fellowship in this passage is koinōnia and means “that which is shared in common”. A life-changing encounter with the good news of the gospel is the shared commonality of all true believers. Thus, authentic fellowship is always grounded in gospel truth, and it is this truth that binds people from every nation, tribe, race, gender, and class together as one Body of Believers. Because of a shared faith in Jesus alone, we are immediately connected with people we may have absolutely nothing else in common with. So, if this common gospel bond exists why is loneliness still so prevalent?

Christians gathering as Christians

It almost goes without saying, but for gospel fellowship to be experienced, Christians must gather together. This happens in the context of the local church and includes both large gatherings for corporate worship and small group gatherings of two or more believers (Acts 2:46). Both types of gathering are essential parts of the Christian life, but deep abiding fellowship with others will not happen simply by sitting together in the rows of a worship center on Sunday mornings. As my husband says, “the Christian life is lived out in circles, not just rows.”

True, gospel-founded fellowship is experienced as we put our feet under the same table with other believers–sharing food, conversation, and life. It’s lived out in one-on-one mentoring relationships and developed in small groups that enable us to know others at the heart level. And it happens when Christians gather as Christians. In other words, these gatherings are more than just social events where followers of Christ hang out, play games, and talk about the weather,  jobs and kids. When Christians gather, Christ should be present in our conversations. As we share joys and burdens and dreams and disappointments, we must speak the truth of God’s Word to one another in love. This does not mean that every gathering should be a Bible study or every conversation must be about theology. It does mean, for those who have been transformed by the power of the gospel, Christ is never absent in our minds and hearts and, therefore, should never be totally absent in our conversations and gatherings. We will talk about about what we truly love because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). When Christians gather as Christians, deep connectedness results and loneliness has no place.

Hospitality and Vulnerability

Growth in authentic fellowship with others requires an abandonment of the “church consumer” mentality. First Peter 4:9-10 teaches that each believer is to use his or her individual gift(s) to serve others, and all are to practice hospitality without grumbling. To combat loneliness in the church, we must take our eyes off ourselves and learn to see  people we might welcome and serve. Hospitality has been defined as “the generous reception of guests, visitors, or strangers” and it requires both open small groups and open homes. Do we notice people on the fringe and welcome them in as part of the family? When we feel unseen and lonely ourselves, do we plug into a small group or volunteer in an area of church ministry and ask ,”How can I use my gifts and who can I serve?” Do we reach out to someone we could mentor in the faith or even ask an older believer to mentor us?  Sticking to ourselves or close to people we already know (people who don’t require too much of us) often feels most comfortable, but it is not most Christ-like. 

As we welcome and serve others, we must let the facade fall. The experience of authentic gospel fellowship necessitates vulnerability. Like Paul, do we love others enough to share not only the gospel message but our very lives as well (1 Thes 2:8)? Sharing our lives means laughing and crying together. It means sharing food and time and all the resources God has given us . It means being transparent about personal sin. It means being willing to pray together, search the Scriptures together, encourage each other, and speak hard truths in love. It means humbling ourselves enough to hear and receive hard truth from those who love us. It  means learning to trust others because ultimately we trust Christ.

Hope of perfected Fellowship

 Christian fellowship will always fall short in this life here on Earth, and we will all struggle with feelings of loneliness from time to time. Even in seasons of richest community, there will be hints of longing for something more in the deepest places of our hearts. However, as we faithfully practice hospitality and embrace vulnerability and service, loneliness will fade and the buds of a fellowship rooted in the gospel of grace will begin to blossom visibly. These blossoms that grow in the Church offer a beautiful foretaste of the day when every tear of loneliness will be wiped away because the dwelling place of God Himself will be with man (Rev 21:3). When that glorious day comes, we will see Jesus face to face, and He will dwell with us fully.  We will be His people. He will be our God. And loneliness will be no more.

 

Defined by Grace

The last days of a calendar year are typically a time for reflection and resolution. It’s good for the soul to look back—to trace God’s faithfulness through the various blessings and trials of the year gone by. When I look back on 2017, my heart swells with gratitude as I see so clearly the many ways God has graciously cared for our family in a year of change and transition. I see His hand of provision in many unexpected beautiful ways.  

It can also be beneficial to look ahead and mentally prepare for the fresh start of a new year. There are certainly noble goals and improvements worthy of our time, intentionality, and discipline. I have already been formulating a mental list of things I want to do (or need to do better) in 2018: More exercise, more consistent time in the Word, better meal planning, less sugar, more prayer, more quality time with each child, etc. Motivating as these lists may be, they also make it easy to feel overwhelmed before the new year even begins.

Evaluating ourselves–our blessings, our hardships, our work, our (perceived) successes and failures our plans, our goals–seems the most natural and beneficial way to end one year and begin the next. We live in a world where most people define themselves by the work they do or the earthly relationships they possess. We tend to define happiness as the absence of pain and suffering. We define blessing as material prosperity or good health or a beautiful, intact family. The problem with evaluating and defining ourselves (and our year) by these measures alone is made clear by either the inflated pride or deep discouragement we often experience as a result. Is there is a better way? What if we ended and began each year looking not at ourselves but at God? How would it change our outlook on the year to recognize that our true worth and the purpose of our days is found only in light of who He is?

God as Creator

As believers, we often acknowledge God as our Creator and ourselves as His creation, but too often we fail to let this truth define our own personal sense of identity and worth. Human beings are the crown of God’s entire creation–rational living creatures, made male and female in His very image and likeness to reflect His glory in a way that no other part of his creation can (Gen 1:27-28). After God created humanity, He declared His creation to be very good, not based on anything inherent in the creation itself but because each human being was made and loved by Him, the good Creator.  C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

God’s love, far from being caused by goodness in the object, causes all goodness which the object has, loving it first into existence and then into real, though derivative lovability. God is Goodness. He can give good but cannot need or get it . . . It is good for us to know love; and best for us to know the love of the best object, God.

God as Redeemer

God intended for His love to wholly define the human beings He created and for us to respond to that love in joyful obedience and service. Instead, we spurned the love of our Good Creator and responded in disobedience and rebellion. We exchanged God’s truth about who we are for a lie and thought it better to look to the creation (ourselves, other people, our work, our stuff) rather than the Creator for our worth and purpose. God would have been just and righteous to leave us in our darkened rebellion, separated from Him forever by our own choice. But our God is more than a holy, just, loving Creator. He is also a gracious Redeemer. God sent Jesus to die for our sinful rebellion so that His righteous wrath against sin and evil would be satisfied and our lost identity as His beloved children would be reclaimed. Jesus came that believers might be defined by God’s grace:

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will . . . In Him we have redemption through His blood the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace… In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge for our inheritance . . . (Eph 1)

God as Sustainer

Scripture teaches that believers are created anew in Christ Jesus for the purpose of good works that God prepared for each of us in advance (Eph 2:10). Work is important in God’s economy, and He has given each of us specific work to do for His glory during our years on Earth. But our work must stay in its proper place. It was never meant to define us or become the measure of our sense of worth. When we look to any part of the creation–ourselves, our work, our stuff, our relationships– rather than the Creator Himself to tell us who we are,  we make the creation an idol of our worship. And our idols cannot sustain us through the mountains and valleys, changes, delights, and disappointments of each new year. Our idols of work and self and even good relationships cannot carry us through to the end. There is only one who is worthy of our worship. Only one who can and will sustain us. We must be faithful in the work He has called us to and look to him as our helper in the midst of every high and low.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you. I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you (Isa 46).

As we reflect on the joys and trials of 2017 and look forward with plans for 2018, may we fix our eyes on the God of creation, redemption, and sustaining power. He is the one who tells us who we are. He is the one who holds each day of our lives here on earth and offers the meaning and purpose that we that we so desperately long for those days to hold. He is the one who will carry us through to the end.

First Podcast – The Glass House

Adam recently asked me to start a podcast with him. My first reaction was “HA! In what time?” Our lives are full to the brim, and starting a podcast hasn’t even been on my radar. But through some convincing from Adam and encouragement from others, I began to realize this could be a valuable ministry and way to encourage others with truth and gospel hope. So, here we are. We’ve recorded our first episode!

We discuss the reason, purpose and hopes for our podcast. Then, we move on to the main topic of this episode: Christmas (even though it’s Thanksgiving week…sorry)! We talk about practical ways to exalt Christ in our own hearts and in our families during the Advent season and why this is vitally important in a culture of distraction.

We hope you’ll listen, comment your thoughts, and share with someone who might be encouraged or challenged! The Glass House will be coming to iTunes soon.

Recommended Resources for Advent:

Books
Good News of Great Joy by John Piper
Come Now Long Expected Jesus, Edited by Nancy Gutherie
Come, Let us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp
She Reads Truth Advent- Joy to the World 
He Reads Truth Advent- Joy to the World
The ADVENTure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions by Lisa Whelchel
Truth in the Tinsel (ebook) by Amanda White

St. Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer

The Legend of the Christmas Stocking by Rick Osborne

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd Jones

Music:
Behold The Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson
Prepare Him Room by Sovereign Grace Music
JOY: An Irish Christmas by Keith and Kristyn Getty
Glory in the Highest: A Christmas Record by Shane & Shane
Receive our King by Meredith Andrews
Sing the Bible Family Christmas by Randall Goodgame (Slugs & Bugs)

Making the Most of the Time

Making the Most of the Time

My mom recently made the observation that about one-third of the time we have with our oldest son Luke living in our home is gone. Over. Poof. Well, how did that happen? Cue the tears because that was a fast six years that we will never get back. Luke has moved from babyhood to boyhood and will soon move to adolescence and adulthood before our eyes.

Reminders of the rapid passing of time and the rate at which our children are growing and changing often awaken a mix of excitement, sadness and maybe even a little panic in our hearts. While in some seasons the days feel endlessly long, our children are moving steadily toward independence from us. And despite how we may feel about it on any given day, isn’t that the point of parenting?

The Scriptures teach that human beings should consider the passing of time and remember our frail and transient state on this earth. Our mortal lives are compared to a vapor that appears for a while and then vanishes at a time unknown to us (James 4:14). We are to number our days in order to gain a heart of wisdom–a heart that is governed by eternal priorities (Psalm 90:12). As we walk in wisdom, we are to make the most of the time we have been given (Ephesians 5:15), which includes the *roughly* eighteen years that we have been given with our children in the home. So, how do we do this? How do we wisely make the most of the time? 

Instruct with Intentionality  

God has given parents the gloriously weighty task of teaching our children to think about and truthfully answer all of life’s big questions: Who is God? Who are we? What is our greatest problem? What has God done to solve our greatest problem? In other words, it is our responsibility as parents to bring our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and our window of time to do so is relatively short.

As with all weighty and worthy goals, planning and intentionality are essential for the spiritual training of our children, and it is foolish for parents to live as if this is not the case. Our families lead busy, full-to-the-brim lives–days consumed with work, school, appointments, activities, chores, and entertainment. Making the most of the time we’ve been given on earth with our kids to train them spirituallly can easily be neglected or forgotten. But this is insanity! We will soon be gone and fly away (Psalm 90:10), and only our eternal investments will remain. Our kids will not learn the truths of God through osmosis, especially in a world that preaches a gospel contrary to that which we have received. 

The intentional spiritual instruction of our children is an investment that will always require some level of sacrifice. It may mean less time for TV, social media, or hobbies on our part. It may mean saying no to certain activities for our kids so the family can have dinner and time at home together. It may even mean saying no to a certain career path for ourselves so that we are more available to invest in our kids. Intentional instruction will mean thinking through the practical aspects of how to best communicate God’s truth as comprehensively as possible to our kids in the time we have been given. It will mean guarding our own time in the Word and in the presence of Christ so that His truth naturally overflows into our conversations as we walk and play and eat and ride to ball practice.

*At the end of this post, I have shared some resources we are using to help with the spiritual instruction of our kids

Parent by Grace

Intentional instruction is necessary, but if it isn’t rooted in grace it’s downright dangerous. Here’s the thing. We can teach our kids the truths of God all day long, but we can’t save their souls anymore than we can save our own. Our kids can memorize catechisms, recite Scripture, and know all the right answers to all the right questions, but they can’t remove their own heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). We can teach them to modify their behavior on the outside to some degree, but we can never eradicate the pride and selfishness and fear inside their hearts. Intentional instruction can never breath spiritual life into the hearts of our children, but instruction that is rooted in grace can greatly prepare and fertilize the soil for the Holy Spirit to do so when he wills.

Parenting by grace means recognizing and acknowledging our own inadequacies. Our instruction will never be as intentional and consistent as it could be, and our lives will never perfectly reflect what we teach. We won’t perfectly make the most of the time we have with our kids, and often when we do try to use our time for God’s purposes things won’t go as planned. But praise be to God! He doesn’t save us or our children based on our own (utterly unattainable) perfection but rather on the perfection of His spotless Son. Parenting by grace means teaching our kids the gospel but also living like that gospel is true as we entrust Him with our times and the hearts of our precious little ones. As the days with our children pass before us, grace enables us not to panic or fear but to rest in His faithfulness. 

Rejoice in the Gospel

In Psalm chapter 90, Moses notes the brevity of human life on earth. He prays not only that the Lord would teach us to number our days but also that He would satisfy us with His steadfast love each morning. If we are fulfilled by God’s love for us, we can  have joy and gladness all of the days of our brief life on earth (Psalm 90:14). Making wise use of our time as parents is important, but it will never ultimately satisfy us because our time with our kids here on earth will eventually run out. Training our children is necessary, but even if they grow to love and serve Him, our days on this earth will still be full of toil and trouble and will end in death (Psalm 90:10). We  should not look to our children for our happiness when things are going well with them, and we should not despair when things are not. The Bible is clear that absolutely nothing but the faithful love of God Himself can truly satisfy our souls during our short lives in this world and forevermore. And how can we be assured of this steadfast love of God? By looking at Jesus Christ. God did not spare his only Son, but gave Him to take away our sins, heal our brokenness and raise us to new life–a life where our days won’t be numbered.

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**Intentional instruction is not easy, but make it your goal to just start somewhere! It may be fifteen minutes, three or four times a week, but make a plan for your family. We talk about the things of the Lord with our kids throughout the day, as we drive in the car, etc., but we try to have intentional time as a family around the dinner table several nights a week to instruct our kids in the truths of Scripture. This time is usually CRAZY, as their attention spans are short and they have LOTS of energy.  The (almost) two year old is usually banging on his highchair tray and “scream talking”. But we have a goal throughout the years they are in our home (we are not doing all of this right now) to teach them…

-The overarching story of the Bible as well as individual Bible stories: (Resource: The Jesus Storybook Bible)

-Basic Theology: (Resource: The New City Catechism, )

Books of the Bible: (Resource: We use a song I learned as a child in AWANA, but there are several helpful songs available on Youtube)

-Overview of books of the Bible: ( Resource: Planning to use this in the future- Bible Survey for Kids)

The Gospel: ( Resource: Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers Series)

-Advent: (Resource: Truth in the Tinsel)

Easter: (Resource: Resurrection Eggs and Benjamin’s Box)

Scripture memory through song: (Resource: Slugs & Bugs)