What is Gospel-Shaped Womanhood?

What is Gospel-Shaped Womanhood?

We are living in the age of the modern, individualistic self–a time when women have both the freedom and the pressure to forge a personal identity. Voices within our cultural context tell us it’s our job and our right to discover and define who we are. We are taught to look deep within to find our authentic selves, so that we can pursue a path in life that aligns with our true identity. In other words, we are living in “find yourself, live your truth, you do you” times–times in which we are (supposedly) free to be whoever we want to be.

But is it really true that identity is ours to create? Do self-discovery and self-definition really bring freedom and peace? At the end of the day, we’re all still desperately searching for answers to the same questions: Who am I, and does my life matter? Am I valuable? Wanted? Accepted? Secure? Am I truly, deeply, fully loved? The world tells women we will discover the answer to these questions within as we incessantly navel-gaze and search our own hearts while rehearsing to ourselves, “You are enough.” But if it’s true that identity is self-made, we’re left with the constant and heavy burden of trying to validate our enoughness. Could it be that what the world markets as freedom is actually another form of enslavement to ceaseless striving? 

In our quest to forge a personal identity, we often seek to define ourselves according to our roles, relationships, work performance, possessions, health, and a host of other fluctuating factors that aren’t stable enough to support the weight of our womanhood. If our worth as women is based on what we do, what happens when we stop doing that thing, or when we fail to do it well? If our security and sense of acceptance are wrapped up in our earthly relationships, a bank account, or a fit and healthy body, what happens when those things are lost? When the sources of a self-made identity are stripped away, we are left totally crushed.

But what if “identity” is not ours to make because we do not actually belong to ourselves? What if we could receive an undeserved but freely given identity that sealed our worth, security, belonging, and the love of another forever? Could this identity grant us permanent rest from the ceaseless striving to be enough? Could it enable us to face our brokenness honestly with the sure hope of true healing and wholeness? If so, is it possible that not being our own is actually good news rather than oppression?

The Bible tells the true story of the God of all creation–the God who made human beings both male and female in his image. As those made to reflect God’s glory in the world, all human beings possess inherent value and dignity. We were made to discover and become our truest selves through a relationship with the one who made us. But, in the beginning, human rebellion and sin against God severed the relationship between the Creator and his first children. As a result, every person born since has come into this world with a sinful nature and, essentially, in an identity crisis. We are born as spiritually orphaned children, dead in our sin and desperate for forgiveness, acceptance, love, and purpose. Sadly, though, we look for these things in all the wrong places. Unable to find the God who made us, we cannot rightly find ourselves.

But the Bible’s story doesn’t end with rebellion and crisis. No, it’s a story that culminates in redemption and grace. It’s a story of identity given, identity lost, and a new identity found for all who respond to the gospel call.  The gospel is the good news that God sent Jesus Christ, his one true Son, to rescue his lost children. Through faith alone in Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death on the cross, and resurrection, spiritual orphans are forgiven and brought back into relationship with the Father. And, by grace, all who trust Christ for salvation receive more than just forgiveness of sins. We are given a whole new identity as those in Christ, and this identity powerfully transforms and shapes every aspect of our lives and womanhood.

In Christ, we are those who are chosen and loved by God. In Christ, we are declared righteous in spite of our sin. In Christ, we are adopted, brought into a family, and guaranteed an eternal inheritance. In Christ, we are progressively being made into truly good people. And, in Christ, our bodies and souls will one day be totally set free from sin to live and reign with God forever. These glorious spiritual realities that now define us have practical implications for every part of our lives–our work, our bodies, our marriages or singleness, our motherhood, our friendships, and our suffering– and these implications are lived and worked out over time as we grow up in Christ.

So, in a world that tells us to find ourselves and be whoever we want to be (while simultaneously pressuring us to be all things), may we as women find hope in the good news that Jesus Christ brings us lasting rest. He enables us to stop striving to build our own identity and prove our worthiness. He releases us from the endless striving to be enough. Most significantly, his cross-work frees us from the incessant impulse to earn favor with God. It’s this true rest in Christ that fuels us to carry out the various good works God has called each of us to do in the world. Our work doesn’t save or define us, but, in Christ, it is eternally significant and purposeful. It matters greatly.

The grace of God in Christ is the catalyst for both deep rest of the soul and meaningful life work. Gospel-shaped womanhood is about learning to rest and work by the power of that grace as we remember that only the love of Christ tells us who we really are and transforms us into who we were made to be. This love is ours to freely receive, and that is very, very good news.

Adopted For Life

On April 22, 2021, we received the gift of a fourth son. Cameron James became legally and forever ours through the gift of adoption. It was a beautiful, joy-filled day as a judge made official the familial relationship we’d been living out in our hearts and home for quite some time. The day brought forth a host of different emotions for me, emotions that aren’t necessarily new but are feelings I’ve experienced to some degree throughout the entire twenty months Cameron has been in our home. Why? Because adoption is complex. It’s gift and tragedy, joy and sorrow, love and war. Adoption is beautiful and hard because it tells a story bigger than that of just one family and one child. 

It wasn’t until early in our marriage that my husband or I ever considered adoption to be much more than “plan b” for those unable to have biological children. During our time in seminary, we sat under the teaching of Dr. Russell Moore (adoptive father and author of the book “Adopted for Life”) and watched three of our closest friends adopt children. Through these means ,God began to change our hearts. We began to see that the adoption of orphaned children into families pictured God’s mission to rescue spiritually orphaned rebels through his Son and make them sons and daughters in the family of God. Stated simply, we began to understand that adoption is a visible picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And bringing children into homes where they will hear this good news proclaimed regularly is an integral part of gospel mission. Adoption boldly proclaims the lavish love of God for sinners, and this is why the powers of darkness rage against it. This is why adoption is war

As we grew our family through three biological sons in the years following seminary, adoption was always a thought in the back of our minds. Maybe one day. We weren’t sure if we would actively pursue adoption through an agency. We weren’t sure if we would foster to adopt. We weren’t even sure we would adopt at all.  We just knew that if and when the Lord showed us the path to take, we would say yes to the journey (you can read more about why we decided to say “yes” here). Around the time our third son turned three, I began to strongly sense that our family was not yet complete. I wasn’t sure if this meant we should try to have another child biologically, or if we should pursue adoption. Adam and I began to talk and pray about it. We met with a couple of adoption agencies, and we honestly didn’t feel a clear sense of the Lord’s leading in any particular direction. So, we asked God to make it clear. Lord, show us what to do. If there is a child who needs a home and a family, we’re willing to say yes, but we need you to show us. 

Not long after we began to pray this prayer with regularity, Adam had a providential encounter with an old  friend from high school who (seemingly randomly) mentioned a new baby she knew of who was potentially in need of an adoptive home. Talk about a direct answer to prayer! Without even needing to talk to me first, Adam was ready and able to say that if this child needed an adoptive family, we were ready and more than willing. Less than a month later, we met two-month-old Cameron for the first time, and less than two months later, Cameron came into our home and our care. 

I wish I could say all was smooth sailing from there, but it hasn’t been. The constant care of a young child with extra physical and emotional challenges has been both physically and emotionally taxing. The grief over the brokenness of Cameron’s birth parents’ situation has been heavy. Learning to trust the Lord in the waiting, the wondering, and the unknowns has been stretching. The legal battle has been long and grueling. I have often felt crushed under the weight of my own emotions and exhaustion. And, at the risk of sounding dramatic, I will say with honesty that the war in the spiritual realms being waged over us and this child has felt palpable at times. 

Yet, through it all, the Lord has so faithfully gone before us, and he has carried us. He has carried Cameron. In his faithfulness, he has provided for our every physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial need. In the midst of the war raging around us, oh how love has grown! And love will ultimately win because “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world! We just adore our Cameron with his big cheesy grin, tight squeezes and joyful babbling and humming. What a gift to hear him call us “ma-ma and da-da” and to see the joy when he greets the other boys and our dog “Yeia” (Leia) when we bring him downstairs in the morning. What a privilege to have watched him take his first hard-fought steps and to know his favorite books and songs. What grace to hear a judge legally declare him to be Cameron James Rice–our son forever–and to remember anew that, in Christ, redemption follows loss. 

Over the past twenty months, one of my frequent prayers over Cameron has been this: Lord, make him a part of our family and make him a part of yours forever. The Lord has so kindly answered the first part of this prayer, and we will continue to pray with faith for him to answer the second part. Adam and I know very well that we are not Cameron’s rescuers or his Redeemer. But we know the one who is. And we get the daily privilege of pointing him to his true Father. God the Father’s heart for orphans led him to give up Christ, his one true Son, so that we who were separated from him by sin might be received back into his family forever. By faith, we are adopted for life! May our family’s story tell this bigger and better story.

Beware the Myth of Independence

We’ve all heard (or experienced) the story of the young child who threatens to run away from home. A friend just told me about a proclamation her four-year-old child recently made in a fit of anger: “I’m leaving!” This friend proceeded to question her daughter on how she would eat, wash clothes, or get to preschool on her own. “I’ll walk on the road, or maybe even the sidewalk!” the little girl retorted. “And where I’m going, they’ll have grocery stores and washing machines.” Her mother replied, “But will you be able to reach the washing machine to put your clothes in?”

We chuckle in amusement when we hear these common “run away from home” stories because the folly of the child is so evident, and the threats are so ridiculous. Any rational adult knows that a four-year-old child marching “free” on the open road is a child marching defiantly toward her doom. Children are only truly free to flourish within the boundaries of a safe home and under the  authority of loving parents. Yet, in the moment of her rash declaration, my friend’s child evidenced her own embrace of the lie every human being believes–the lie that freedom from the constraints of authority is the way to the good life. 

The parent/child relationship is a parable built into the creation order to teach us something about God as Father and ourselves as foolish, rebellious children. In it, we see the myth of independence that we’ve all believed, but we also get a taste of the grace-driven dependence that leads to freedom and flourishing. You see, to run away from the boundary walls of home is to simultaneously run away from the rest, comfort and safety that only a home can provide. The two are inextricably interwoven, and that’s by design. So this leads us to the questions: What is true freedom? And how do we obtain it?

The Myth of Independence 

The world defines “freedom” as self-determination, or the ability to sovereignly control one’s own life without the constraints of a higher authority or objective morality. This is a “you do you” concept of freedom in which the individual alone decides how to think, act, and be. Justice Anthony Kennedy summed it up well in his majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” 

This concept of freedom as self-determination isn’t new. It’s the same myth the first humans believed in the beginning—the age-old lie whispered by the serpent in the garden: “The path to true happiness is freedom from the constraining rules of that Creator of yours. Freedom is the wisdom to determine what’s right and wrong for yourselves. It’s the power to create your own identity, make your own rules, and chart your own course.” Our rebellious first parents sank their teeth into the beautiful forbidden fruit, but, instead of finding freedom, they found themselves slaves to corruption–a corruption they passed on to all people in all generations. 

God’s word teaches that no human is truly “free” in the libertarian sense of the word. We are slaves to whatever we obey, either sin leading to death or obedience [to God] leading to righteousness (Romans 6:16-17). The will is never unfettered to the nature. And the human problem is that our nature is corrupted by sin. We’re children running blind–hell-bent on maintaining the independence that leads to death while desperately trying to satisfy our seemingly insatiable desires. This is the essence of slavery to sin–being locked into the endless chase for what our souls crave and never finding it, never finding Him.

James K.A. Smith writes, “When we imagine freedom only as negative freedom–freedom from constraint, hands-off liberty to choose what I want–then our so-called freedom is actually inclined to captivity… Insofar as I keep choosing to try to find satisfaction in finite, created things–whether its sex or adoration or beauty or power–I’m going to be caught in a cycle where I’m more and more disappointed in those things and more and more dependent on those things. I keep choosing things with diminishing returns, and when that becomes habitual, and eventually necessary, then I forfeit my ability to choose.

 So, if the endless quest for independence enslaves, how does one break free? 

Freedom as Dependence

The first step toward real freedom comes when our eyes are opened to see the chains that bind us in our pursuit of autonomy. True liberation comes through realization of need and the desperate cry for help that follows. The path toward freedom is found when the runaway child on the street, a moment ago so exhilerated in her quest for independence, realizes she cannot live without her parents after all (and doesn’t want to). So, she turns around and runs back home into their arms with tears of humility in her eyes. And she’s received warmly, not because she deserves it, but because of their gracious, unconditional love.

Our Heavenly Father has only one true Son who never rebelled and ran away from him– only one child who obeyed him perfectly and lived within the boundary lines of his perfect will and love. Yet, the Father turned his back on his perfect Son that he might welcome every rebellious son and daughter willing to run home into his arms through faith in that perfect Son. Grace is the answer. Our dependence upon God’s grace in Christ is the only path to true freedom from sin. It’s the only path to satisfaction in the God who made us. 

Smith says, “It is the posture of a dependence that libertes, a reliance that releases. Once you’ve realized you need someone not you, you also look at constraint differently. What used to look like walls hemming you in start to look like scaffolding holding you together.”

Fully Free Forever

Freedom is the gracious gift of a new nature through which we desire to turn away from sin and run back to the Creator we’ve scorned. It’s the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit within us, enabling us to obey the Lord. But freedom from sin is progressive. By faith in Christ, we’re freed from sin’s power, but we’re still plagued by its presence in our lives during our time on earth. Not who we once were, we are still not yet who we will be. This is why Paul reminds believers that sin has lost dominion over us while still exhorting us to “present [our] members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:14;19b). It’s why he declares,” For freedom Christ has set us free” and, in the same sentence, exhorts, “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

By grace, believers have been welcomed back into the family of God. Hidden in Christ by faith, we’ve turned away from the wide path leading to destruction and have begun our journey along the narrow way–the way to our forever home where our freedom will be full forever. Augstine writes, “What shall be more free than free choice when it is unable to be enslaved to sin?…The first freedom of the will was therefore to be able not to sin; the final freedom will be much greater: not to be able to sin…The Christian life is a pilgramage of hope. We live between the first and final freedom; we are still on the way.” 

Wherever you are on the road, dear pilgrim, keep running heavenward in the freedom of Christ. In him alone, restless souls find rest. In him alone, runaway rebels know the freedom of being forever home. 

***Quotes taken from On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K.A. Smith

Lament With Hope

Lament With Hope

I’ve felt a heavy sense of sadness lately. Sadness about all that has been lost because of COVID and cancer and a host of other sicknesses people face. Sadness because everything in our world feels heavy right now. Sadness because anxiety, depression, addiction, abandonment, violence, and unrest are such realities. Sadness because so many people, including people I know and love, are blinded to the truth and walking in darkness—like sheep without a shepherd. It’s so clear to me that the effects of human sin are more catastrophic than we could have ever imagined; the suffering is often deeper than we can bear.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’m in the book of Lamentations in my Bible reading plan, and I’m thankful for the reminder that God welcomes lament: “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!” (Lam 2:19). The prophets knew what it felt like to grieve the deep losses brought about by sinful idolatry as they watched evil foreign nations ravage God’s people and their land: “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears…” (Lam 1:16a). The prophets knew the crushing discouragement of being misunderstood in a world where evil seems to have the upper hand: “My children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed” (Lam 1:16b). Lamentations is heavy reading.

But! Tucked in the center of five chapters of deep sorrow is a thrill of hope.

In the midst of catastrophe and grief, God’s covenant remnant is never ultimately consumed because we are swallowed up by something greater: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22-23).

In the midst of his grief, the prophet’s hope is renewed by calling to mind God’s “hesed” (translated “steadfast love” in this passage). Commentators say the English language doesn’t have one word that fully encompasses the Hebrew word hesed. It’s used some 240 times in the Old Testament and most often describes the undeserved loyal-love, mercy, kindness, and goodness of God toward his people. Hesed is an active word in which “doing” is implied.  And knowing something of God’s hesed is crucial to our grasping real hope.

In his own self-description to Moses in Exodus 34:6, God says he abounds in hesed or steadfast love—a love that forgives iniquity, transgression and sin, but will by no means pardon the guilty. The steadfast love of God for his people is more than a mushy sentiment, and it doesn’t turn a blind eye to what he has called sin. So, who is this God of unceasing love and grace who both forgives sinners and punishes the guilty? And how did the prophets find hope in Yahweh’s hesed while experiencing the aftermath of his intense judgment for Israel’s sin? *They waited for what they couldn’t yet see.* The prophets put their hope in God Himself, basing that hope on his past faithfulness and future promises. Even (and especially) when circumstances were far from promising, the faithful remnant believed God’s own declaration of his merciful lovingkindness to be true, and they rested in him.

As the new covenant people of God, we too have the hope of God’s self-revealed, boundless “hesed” to cling to in the midst of our personal lamentation. But we get to see God’s steadfast love more clearly than even the prophets did because we see it in the face of Jesus Christ! In his kindness, God the Son put on human flesh. As he hung on a cross in the place of rebellious idolaters, he showed the world just how the God of Israel pardons the guilty without letting sin go unpunished. Then, Jesus rose and gave his Church the firstfruits of the Spirit so that we might have hope as we groan in the wilderness of this world while waiting for something much better to come—something we can’t yet see.

Sadly, in this life here on earth, there will always be sin and suffering. There will always be grief. But in the midst of my own feelings of heavy sadness, I call to mind the hesed of God toward me in Jesus Christ, and I have HOPE. I declare with the prophet: “The LORD [Christ] is my portion…therefore I will hope in [wait on] him” (Lam 3:24).

When Good News is Especially Good

When Good News is Especially Good

As Holy Week commences, I’m feeling a sense of sadness that we won’t be able to physically gather together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate Easter this year. So much of life has changed in the past few weeks. Our schedules, rhythms, traditions, and sense of normalcy have all been turned upside down, and it’s hard. This week of the year in which we remember Christ’s death and celebrate his resurrection won’t be “normal” either, and in one sense that’s really depressing. But, in another sense, it brings a depth to our hope and richness to our joy. I cannot remember another Easter in my life when I have felt the need for redemption and longing for resurrection as poignantly as I have this year.

Here’s what I mean: Good news is always good, but it’s especially good when the bad news is very apparent. And there’s no bad news like a worldwide pandemic. When all is well and life feels comfortable (or even just manageable) we can easily sanitize the truth of the human condition in our minds, but a health crisis of this capacity shouts our frailty and brokenness as if through a megaphone. A microscopic virus can decimate our bodies because a disease called sin first decimated our souls and our world. And Jesus Christ is our only hope for ultimate healing.

Finished Atonement 

I don’t know if I have been exposed to COVID-19, but I know that it has exposed me. Having my personal world turned upside down by this crisis has brought sinful idols buried deep within my heart to the fore. My husband is working from home. My very active (read: wild) little boys are home all day every day, needing (read: wanting) to eat all. the. time. and needing constant instruction and correction. 

There are unending opportunities to love and serve my family with joy while exuding the peace that comes from faith in Christ, and I have fallen unbelievably short. Rigidity, anxiety, worry, impatience, harshness and more ugly things have been flowing from my heart and lips in the last few weeks. And maybe I’m not alone? Maybe the fallout of this virus has painfully exposed the depth of your own sin sickness, too? If so, the good news of Christ’s finished cross-work for sinners will be the same sweet balm to your soul that it is for mine–even sweeter than when we heard it last. 

This morning, our pastor said, ‘The cross shouts the completeness of forgiveness, total and unalterable reconciliation to God.” When Jesus uttered his last words, “It is finished” (the Greek word translated “tetelestai”), he declared that he had done everything necessary to forgive and heal our sin-sick hearts. Christ met the perfect requirements of God’s law in his life and satisfied God’s just wrath against sin in his substitutionary death on our behalf. Thus, he secured–for all who would trust him in faith– forgiveness, approval, and acceptance from God the Father. 

Just as Christ has finished his work, God promises to finish the good work he began in us through the Son: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Christ’s finished work of atonement gives us real hope as our sin is continually exposed in the heat of this pandemic. Our righteous position before God is secure, and, as we repent of sin and look to Jesus in faith, he continues his work of making us holy in practice. 

Al Mohler recently said “Christianity is not about adding a little meaning to our otherwise pitiful lives while we live. It’s not about giving us mere pastoral comfort in the midst of a pandemic. It’s about God’s decisive act to save sinners through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and to save those sinners to the uttermost.” 

Promised Resurrection 

If the story of atonement ended on Good Friday, then we absolutely could not call the day good. The apostle Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17,19). But the story doesn’t end on Friday, and, praise God, our hope is not in this life only. Christ not only conquered sin; he conquered sin’s sting: death.  Whether through the coronavirus or by some other means, death will come to all of us. But for those in Christ, resurrection follows death: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep…For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22).

The good news of the gospel is not only for our souls but also for our bodies and our world (Romans 8:18-24)! These perishable, earthly bodies we have are just a breath away from death at any given moment. Death is unavoidable, but one day our lifeless bodies will burst forth from the graves, raised to life imperishable in Christ. From that day forward, we will never be susceptible to cancer or coronavirus or any other form of sickness leading to death. All will be right, all will be well, and we will sing in fullness, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55,57).

An Especially Good Easter

So, as we move through this Easter week, it’s ok to mourn all that has been lost because of COVID-19. It’s good to remember that this world is not as it should be and that we are not yet as we will be. The truth is that it’s always been this way, but we are acutely aware of it right now. When our souls are downcast, may this drive us to hope in God and rejoice in his steadfast love for us in Christ. The good news of the gospel shines brightest in the dark, and that means Easter 2020 is going to be really, really good. 

Sisters, We Need More Than Female Empowerment

Sisters, We Need More Than Female Empowerment

Female empowerment. It’s a hot buzz phrase right now, especially after Sunday night’s Super Bowl LIV Halftime show, but there is clearly some cultural confusion about what it entails. Are women empowered by being told we can be and do anything we want? Are we empowered by the belief that there are really no gender distinctions? Are we empowered by a “no rules” sexual freedom that isn’t suppressed by taboos or the patriarchy, or by following and admiring women who are sought after sexual icons because of their beauty, fame, and self-objectification? How ironic that feminism’s message says women are more than what we can offer a man sexually, while the world’s functional message to women through every media outlet is, “You sure better have a good body and sex appeal!” The world sends mixed messages about female empowerment because the world doesn’t know a woman’s (or a man’s) true source of worth and power.

A Secure Identity

Whatever female empowerment means to the world, Christian women know we have a better word and a better source of power that grounds our God-given identity. We are certainly not less than our femaleness, but we are so much more.  We have been created female in the image of God, and his immeasurable worth secures for us automatic and intrinsic worth. Although we have marred God’s image in us by seeking to find identity and validation in our rights, achievements, bodies, sexuality, and relationships, God sent his Son–His very image made manifest in human flesh–to redeem us from the idolatry of “finding ourselves” in the gifts rather than the Giver. By faith, we have a new identity in Christ that sets us free from the need to define ourselves and our story by the oppression and injustices we’ve faced, or by the sin patterns that have characterized us. In Christ, we are defined as those “radically beloved by God.” Because of this new identity,  we can give thanks for the freedoms, rights, and educational opportunities we have as women in this country without bowing down to them as gods or believing they define who we are.

An Upside Down Power

As Christian women, we don’t need to endlessly pursue “ female empowerment” because we have a greater power living within us. This is an upside down kind of power that enables us to live for something so much bigger and better than ourselves and our own glory. Women have proven our gender’s ability to shatter glass ceilings, but it takes Spirit empowerment to be able to quietly and joyfully lay down our lives for “the least of these” day after day. As women, we have proven we have the God-given intellect and work ethic to become successful doctors and lawyers and teachers and entrepreneurs, but no amount of female empowerment can protect us from calculating our worth by something as unstable as career success or financial security. Female empowerment has given us (the illusion of) complete control over our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction, but only the Spirit of God gives us the self-control to deny gratifying every sexual desire of our flesh. He alone helps us refuse to use beauty, immodesty, and sex appeal as sources of power over men, or as means to secure our own feelings of validation. It’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to believe and find comfort in the unpopular truth that real sexual freedom and joy are found only when we live within God’s good boundary lines for our sexuality–the ones outlined in his word. And it’s by the Spirit’s power that our spiritual nakedness is clothed by Christ’s righteousness and we are able to repent for glorying in our shame.  Female empowerment teaches us to use all of our energy to fight for our rights as women, but the Spirit empowers us to pursue restoration by dying to self and seeking first the Kingdom of God while trusting Him to bring justice. 

A World Made New

I do not pretend to believe that women have not faced real injustices, abuse, and oppression in this broken world—some much more than others. Millions of women around the world have not been privy to the freedoms, rights, educational opportunities, and God-like love that the three girls pictured above have experienced in our lives. No, things are not as they should be in our world. But no amount of female empowerment or mojo or women’s rights can set all things aright because women can’t fix the human condition. Women cannot cure sin-sick hearts (including or own). We cannot heal all the wounds of abuse and set every captive free. Female empowerment cannot ultimately bring perfect justice for the sins committed against women or for the sins women have committed against others, but make no mistake, justice will be done. Sin will be paid for–either through the cross-work of Christ on Calvary or by the sinner in the life to come. We can trust God with this.

So, our hope is not in (broken) girls running the (broken) world but in Christ ruling a world made new. In this new world, there will be no thought of female empowerment and no perceived need for it. Male and female will live together in perfect harmony and love as brothers and sisters– co-heirs of the grace of life. Sisters, we need something better than female empowerment, and it is ours in Christ Jesus. His is the power and hope we proclaim. 

 

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. – Brennan Manning

 

 

 

2020: Eyes on a Better Country

A new year has dawned —a season for reflection on what has been and fresh resolve for what will be. There are so many things I could say about 2019. It was a year that brought unexpected change and blessing for our family…a year that brought deep need and abundant provision…a year of being poured out for others and poured into by the Body of Christ. 2019 was a life-shaping year as I learned more each day how to die with Christ in order to truly live. 

As I look forward to 2020, there are so many things I could resolve to do, or resolve to do better. But rather than making a list of goals or choosing a word of the year, I find myself looking further down the road, beyond 2020 and even beyond my life here on earth. As a Christian, I know my best life is not now: For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14). But do I seek it? Do we seek it?

C.S. Lewis so aptly described the human ache for something more than this world can give when he wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” So much of Lewis’s writing is otherworldly. It seems he had his sights set on a better country, knowing this is the only way to truly persevere in the Christian life while living in a world corrupted by sin.  

Perhaps we feel the ache of the world’s brokenness—of our own brokenness—at times. It’s clear that all things are not as they should be, and none of us can avoid the curse that sin has brought. But do we ache for the one true resolution, or do we simply hate the curse while deeply loving the sin itself?  Are our eyes set on a better country ruled by the only true and good King? Or are we desperately striving to build a bigger and better kingdom for ourselves here on earth? 

Beauty and Brokenness 

Human life on earth is an inextricable juxtaposition of beauty and brokenness, joy and sorrow, light and darkness. Beauty, joy, and light are present and experienced, to varying degrees, by all humans on earth because God has not removed his common grace. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). While the gift of common grace keeps humanity from being fully given over to sin, it cannot fix all that sin has broken. 

We see the reality of these juxtapositions play out in a million ways, big and small. In the span of a few short months in 2011, I experienced both the great joy of new life in the birth of my first son and the great sorrow of loss in the death of my beloved grandmother. On Christmas morning, I watched my sons squeal in delight as they discovered their new toys, and I listened to sobs of (slightly dramatic) despair less than an hour later when a new toy was accidentally broken. In this life, joy and sorrow always mingle. And while the gift of common grace cannot reverse the curse or cure hearts, the gift of God’s special grace through Christ is freely offered to all who will receive it.

No darkness is too dark for the light of Christ to penetrate, and no sorrow is so deep that it can drown the true joy he brings. On earth, no fracture is irreparable by the beauty of his grace. But life on earth is not forever, and in eternity, the once inextricable realities are finally set free from one another. In eternity, beauty and brokenness no longer mingle. Hell is the total removal of God’s presence, the withdrawing of both his common grace and the offer of his saving grace. Those in Hell are given over to what they truly want and love: sin and self apart from God.

Go to Jesus Outside the Camp 

The scary reality is that left to ourselves, we all want Hell. We want to rule our own kingdoms apart from God. And though we may hate its fruit, we love the darkness of sin. But the Son of God put on flesh to free us from our depraved love: So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (Hebrews 13:13).

Jesus shows us that this world is not ultimate; He is ultimate. The maker of the world who came to save the world was hated and killed by the world as an outcast. The longing we can’t seem to satisfy with any worldly success, relationship, pleasure, or material possession is a longing for him. And he offers us himself, forgiveness of sin, and every spiritual blessing with Him for all eternity. He offers us an unshakeable Kingdom free of sickness, sin, pain, insecurity, loneliness, and death. In this Kingdom, toys no longer break and people are no longer broken. But we must forsake the world and flee to Christ outside the camp. Christ’s offer is not a “both/and” proposition. It’s “either/or.” We cannot have Christ and the world because we cannot serve two masters. 

Nothing is Lost

Lewis writes: If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven, we shall not be able to retain even the smallest most intimate souvenirs of earth. I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) was precisely nothing: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in “the High Countries.”

As Christians on earth, we have a message and a mission to steward for the glory of the King as we wait to take hold of the glorious, unshakeable Kingdom in its fullness. He has prepared good works for each of us to do (Ephesians 2:10), and these good works will require us to die daily in service to others. They will cause us to look strange to the world. Our faith in Christ will not exempt us from the inevitable suffering that results from life in a cursed world. We will share in Christ’s sufferings and death while we await resurrection glory. But eternity will show that nothing we have given up was truly lost. Heaven will one day reveal that all things have truly worked together for our ultimate good. 

Lewis writes: [This] is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backward and turn even that agony into a glory…

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17). 

I don’t know what 2020 will hold for me or for my family, but I know that I can face every joy, sorrow, blessing, and trial with expectant hope because I am on a journey to a better country–a country where the Lamb who was slain will reign as King, dry every tear, and make all things new. My eyes are on him.

The Christmas Story: Consummation

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In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! . . . Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end. 

For four hundred years, no prophet spoke for God. The remnant of God’s people who had returned to their land from exile languished under the control of the Roman Empire with no sign of the promised Messiah. But, one day, the long silence was broken by an angel who delivered a pregnancy announcement—two pregnancy announcements, actually!

The first announcement came to an elderly priest named Zechariah, whose elderly wife Elizabeth had been barren for many years. The childless Elizabeth would give birth to a son named John, a prophet of God who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah!  The second pregnancy announcement came to Mary–an unwed teenage virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph from the house of David. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary would conceive and give birth to a Son, who would be called Jesus…the Son of God…a child both human and divine! This Son was the long-awaited child of promise–the victorious King, who would crush the head of the evil snake and reign on David’s throne for eternity.

God’s Kingdom was coming on earth through two unexpected pregnancies to two unlikely women because nothing is impossible with God! Although the nation of Israel had been like a barren woman, failing to bear fruit by mediating God’s blessing to the nations, God would still keep his promises. The virgin conception signaled the inbreaking of a new covenant! The barren woman Israel would now have children…many children from many nations…children with new, clean hearts with the law of God written upon them. God would accomplish his plan to fill the earth with his glory through his people!

The story takes another unexpected turn when Mary gives birth to Jesus in an obscure stable in Bethlehem, and the good news is first announced to lowly, dirty shepherds while watching their sheep at night. Wouldn’t a palace full of important people have been a better place for the birth of the Messiah? How odd for the King of Kings to enter this world quietly among animals! Then again, it’s not so odd when you remember that this baby King was also a lamb–the Lamb of God, born to die for broken, helpless sinners. 

You see, Jesus’s birthplace was no surprise to God. God was showing the world that he was coming down, even to the lowest of places, to rescue his children and live with them again. But this time, the Creator wasn’t going to live among his people in a garden or a temple. He was going to live among them in a human body…a body just like theirs…a body that would one day be broken on their behalf and resurrected to eternal life— the firstfruits of many who would follow through faith in him,

The God-man Jesus Christ was an embodied picture of God’s glory for the world to see… the exact image of the invisible God…-the one who perfectly kept God’s righteous law, yet died a brutal death in the place of sinners. After his death and resurrection, he ascended to the right hand the Father where he now reigns through his Spirit in the hearts of his people, the Church…the mystery finally revealed! 

Jesus Christ is the better Adam, the better Noah, the better Israel, and the better David–God’s one and only true Son! And one day, he’s coming back to finish what he started. The cradle that led to the cross still awaits the consummation of the glorious kingdom on earth. There, Christ will mend all that is broken, dry every tear, and reign in righteousness for all eternity! This is the hope of Christmas! 

So, the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price…and live forevermore. Come, thou long-expected Jesus!

 

The Christmas Story: Redemption

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The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “…Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb…a lamb for a house-hold. Your lamb shall be without blemish…and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it…For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 

God called his people out of Egypt, freeing them from the oppression of Pharaoh through a series of miraculous plagues. The seed of the serpent would not thwart God’s plans for Israel…the nation God called his firstborn son. In the last plague upon Egypt–the death of the firstborn sons–God made it clear to all that the wages of sin and rebellion is death… death that can be circumvented only through the blood of a spotless substitute. 

Through Moses, God led Israel safely through the waters of the Red Sea and into the wilderness. There, he gave his children the law and instructions for building the tabernacle, a tent where his presence would dwell among them. The law revealed God’s holy character. It showed Israel how to live in relationship with the God who had redeemed them in his love. Though they promised to obey, God’s children failed miserably. So, year after year, animal sacrifices were offered at the tabernacle for the forgiveness of sins. But the blood of animals was never enough to pay for human sin once and for all. A better sacrifice—a better substitute— was needed. 

God gave his children the land he had promised to Abraham and helped them drive out the seed of the serpent living in Canaan. He then gave Israel human kings–first Saul and then David…the son of Jesse…. the shepherd boy from Bethlehem….the man of God’s choosing. King David wanted to build God a house, a temple where his glory would dwell permanently with Israel. But the timing wasn’t yet right. Instead, God promised to build David a house or an eternal lineage of kings from his seed! God promised that a son of David would sit on the throne forever.

Lots of kings came after Saul and David. Most were wicked, a few were good, but not one was perfect. Many of Israel’s kings led them into apostasy through idol worship. So, God sent prophets to proclaim warnings of his impending judgment. Through the prophets, God repeatedly called his children to repent of their sin and come back to him, but they wouldn’t do it. They couldn’t do it because they were walking in darkness, blinded by their sinful hearts. 

Years passed, and judgment occurred just as the prophets had foretold: The kingdom was divided and conquered by foreign nations. The people were exiled from their land and carried into slavery. Like a tree felled by the ax of judgment, God’s chosen nation was cut down to a stump. But in the midst of this hopelessness, God gave his prophets messages of hope: The holy seed–that seed of the woman promised to Adam and Eve–remained in the stump of King David’s family tree! And one day, a shoot of new life was going to break through the stump and grow into a branch bearing fruit. 

A remnant would return to the promised land, and a great Light would dawn upon those living in darkness through the birth of the promised child–a Son! This child would be a divine King whose future reign on David’s throne would bring worldwide justice and peace. But he would also be a suffering servant, a substitutionary lamb whose shed blood would deal with the problem of sinful human hearts once and for all. 

The promises were foretold, the remnant returned, and then….SILENCE.

The Christmas Story: Fall

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Now the serpent said to the woman, “Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. 

Everything was wonderful until a serpent slithered into the garden and started telling lies. His message planted seeds of doubt in the minds of God’s children: God doesn’t really love you. He doesn’t really know best. Freedom comes by living according to your own rules, not God’s. In a foolish pursuit of autonomy, Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. Then, she shared with her husband, and the darkness of sin entered the world. Sickness, pain, struggle, shame, spiritual death, and later…. physical death. Life would never be the same. When Adam and Eve heard the voice of their Holy Creator coming to pronounce just judgment, they hid.

 But no one can hide from God. He pronounced judgment on his children through curses. The man and woman would be exiled from the garden and God’s presence. Life would be hard, and death would come to all. But coupled with God’s pronouncement of judgment came a glorious promise of his mercy—a thrill of hope! God would not abandon his children or his world to the enemy. Though the seed of the serpent would bruise the seed of the woman, one day, a child of Eve would crush the evil snake’s head once and for all!

Through this child of promise, God was going to fill the earth with his glory, but things would get much worse before they would get better. Sinful hearts were passed down from generation to generation, and wickedness grew like a vicious weed taking over the world. Things got so bad that God wiped away all he had created through a worldwide flood and started over with a man named Noah. Judgment through water. Mercy through an ark. A new creation, a new start. But still….the problem of sinful hearts. 

Noah, his sons, and all their wives were given the same commission given in the beginning: Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth with God’s glory! But, once again, as people multiplied, sin multiplied, and the cycle continued. God’s matchless glory was veiled by selfish human pursuits for vainglory. The seed of the serpent appeared to be winning…but God’s mercy and grace are greater than people’s sin. 

God called a pagan named Abram, and gave him a new name and identity: Abraham, the father of nations! God made a covenant with Abraham. He promised to bless him and give him a special land and descendants that outnumbered the stars. Through Abraham, God would establish a new family—a new nation through which he would bless people from every other nation on earth!

In time, the new family began to grow. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, his twelve sons, and their many children eventually made up the nation of Israel—God’s chosen people. But Israel wasn’t mediating the blessing of God to other peoples. In fact, they found themselves oppressed by the nation of Egypt, and oppressed in a greater way by their own sinful hearts. Would God keep his promises after all? Well…yes! God always keeps his promises. Redemption was coming!