Three Encouragements for Women on Mother’s Day

Three Encouragements for Women on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is two days away, and I wonder how many women are dreading it. On a day set aside to honor the invaluable work only women are able to fulfill, many are left feeling tender and disappointed, wishing we could skip the day altogether and get on with Monday. For women with and without children, Mother’s Day evokes a host of emotions as it exposes dreams, longings, fears, and hurts in an especially poignant way.   

Is the pain of this day redeemable?

The truth is, the role of “mother” is important and worth honoring. The mothers who bore us, raised us, and sacrificed for us should be acknowledged, thanked, and loved. But it is all too easy for us as women to slip into a blinding self-focus on Mother’s Day. For those in the trenches of mothering, the desire to be acknowledged (or just to be given a break, for goodness sake!) can grow too big, leading to anger and frustration when expectations are not met. For those longing for marriage and family, struggling with infertility, grieving the loss of a child or mother, or praying for the return of a wayward child, the hurt may feel insurmountable. Sometimes, this leads to feelings of self-pity or despair.

Is the pain of this day redeemable? For women who are in Christ the Redeemer, we answer with a resounding “Yes!” Here are three truths to help us lift our gaze and live with gospel-shaped hope on Mother’s Day.

Joy and Pain are Realities for All.

On Mother’s Day especially, it’s easy for women to feel alone in their pain and struggles. All of us can easily fall prey to the lie that no one is hurting as deeply as we are, and this makes our own pain feel magnified. But, in a fallen world, pain is a reality that goes hand-in-hand with joy. Every woman, regardless of her circumstances, experiences some mixture of the two, and it isn’t necessary or wise to try to compare levels.

The woman longing to conceive a child sees pictures on social media of smiling mothers with their arms full of (what appear to be) smiling, well-behaved children, and she believes that woman’s life is all joy. But pictures never tell the whole story. The exhausted mother of four, struggling through what feels like monotonous work in the home, sees the childless woman with (what appears to be) a fulfilling career, and she covets the freedom and professional success that woman has. But she too isn’t privy to the the whole story.

Pain is real for all, but for those in Christ, we know it isn’t the end of our story. “Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). The gospel gives us hope on Mother’s Day by reminding us that. . .

Motherhood is Bigger Than Us.

Whether a woman has biological children or not, she must remember that God’s purposes for motherhood are bigger than her. While children certainly bring joy (and pain), they are blessings to steward for a purpose greater than a mother’s personal happiness. God created mothers and motherhood so that his image and glory might be multiplied across the face of the earth (Genesis 1:28). And when his image was marred by sin, God allowed motherhood to continue so that he might send a Redeemer, both human and divine, to bring salvation to the world: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

“Mother” is a role, not an identity. As Christian women, we are made in the image of God and created anew in Christ Jesus for the purpose of good works. Christ is our defining identity (Ephesians 2:10). For some, the good works prepared for us by God include raising up physical children in our homes. For all of us, these good works include raising up spiritual children (disciples) within the local church. When we remember that motherhood is bigger than us, we can rejoice on Mother’s Day in spite of our circumstances. We can shift our gaze upward, giving thanks to God for using a mother to bring the Savior of mankind into this world.

Christ Redeems All Things.

Around this time last year, I drove past a church sign that said, “Join us Sunday as we celebrate mothers!” I cringed inwardly as I imagined  this might cause hurting women to shy away. While the Church may honor mothers, we celebrate so much more!  We celebrate a risen Christ, who is redeeming every ounce of pain his children experience both for his glory and our good. We celebrate a Savior who is making all things new. No woman should avoid this celebration on Mother’s Day Sunday. 

One way Christ has already redeemed the pain of motherhood is by expanding its definition and purpose. In her book (A)Typical Woman, Abigail Dodds says, “You may have been denied biological children, but there is no childlessness in the new covenant. You have been given children beyond counting in Christ to love, nurture, and disciple, as Paul and Jesus did.” In Christ, motherhood goes far beyond bearing and raising biological children.

Although this truth doesn’t negate all the pain women feel regarding issues of motherhood, we have the blessed promise that God is working our pain for good as he uses it to make us like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). And we have the sure hope that this pain is not forever. A day is coming when tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more (Revelation 21:4).

So, on Sunday let’s take time to honor our own mothers, both those who raised us and those who have discipled us in the faith. Let’s lift our gaze from ourselves to Christ, worshiping him and trusting him to carry us through our pain and redeem all our unmet expectations and longings. And let’s bless the Lord for the gift of motherhood and his good purposes in it. He alone is worthy!

 

Nurturing Life in a World of Death

Nurturing Life in a World of Death

One of the most challenging aspects of my current season is the constancy with which I must feed other people. Perhaps it’s safe to say that no one thinks about food more than mothers. Even from the earliest moment a pregnancy is detected, a new mother must begin to consider her role to nourish another. When a baby is born, a mother is immediately faced with the daunting task of eight to ten feedings a day. As months go by, the number of feedings necessary to sustain life lessons, but the menu becomes more varied and complex. And the need certainly never lessens.

Preparing food is neither my greatest gifting nor my greatest enjoyment, but I have developed the skill out of sheer necessity. My boys must be fed multiple times a day, and, sadly, I often view the constant responsibility to feed them as more of a burden than a joy. But, as the Lord has faithfully strengthened my body to nourish little lives day-by-day, he has done a slow but sure work in my heart as well, showing me more of the great privilege and responsibility women have to image him as life-givers. This role is not less than the provision of physical nourishment for other people, but it certainly extends far beyond it.

A Gift, Not a Curse

When I am pouring what feels like the hundredth cup of milk for the week, I am quick to lose sight of the undeserved gift all women have received in both our calling and ability to nurture life in a world cursed by death. The beginning chapters of Genesis bring me back to this perspective-shifting truth: Adam and Eve did not deserve to live one moment beyond the moment of their sin. After all, God had promised that disobedience would lead to death (Genesis 2:17).

God would have been righteous in immediately striking his human creatures dead for their rebellion in eating fruit from the one forbidden tree in the garden. But we see a beautiful foretaste of God’s lavish mercy in the fact that he didn’t. Adam and Eve’s spiritual death was immediate, but their physical death was mercifully delayed. Although God cursed his children because of their sin, even his curses displayed beautiful whispers of his love and grace as he spoke of their continued ability to bring forth life in a world now corrupted by sin.

The toil would be hard, but man would image God as provider by working the ground to bring forth food. The pain would be great, but woman would image God by taking this food and giving it to others to nourish life–even new life within her own body!  And, eventually, one woman would nourish the life of a Son who would defeat the serpent and the curse of death once and for all (Genesis 3:15)!

Before his wife ever conceived a child, Adam named her Eve, which means “life-giver.” By faith, he believed she would be “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). As daughters of Eve, all women share her calling to image God as life-givers, and this ability to nourish both physical and spiritual life is an amazingly undeserved gift, not a curse. This is the truth our hearts need as we chop veggies and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches day after day.

What if I can’t cook?

What if a woman hates to cook, or believes herself to be no good at it? What if she isn’t married and doesn’t have a biological family to feed every day? Do these things negate the calling and ability of certain women to nurture life by feeding others? No. As the Scriptures make clear, nurturing life encompasses more than breastfeeding babies or putting a delicious and beautifully presented meal on the table every night. Our world is full of people needing to eat, and, as women, we are called to offer this food in a variety of ways.

When a woman meal plans, grocery shops, and prepares food for her family, she nourishes life. When a woman provides a meal for an elderly widower in her church, she acts as a life-giver. When a woman orders pizzas and serves them to her small group, she sustains life. When a woman ladles up bowls of hot soup to put in the hands of the poor and homeless, she images the giver and and sustainer of life. When a woman feeds children who aren’t her own in order to give their weary mother a break, she is being a life-giver. 

In all these instances, God is less concerned with a woman’s skill and more concerned with her faith (Hebrews 11:6a). Christian women nurture life as they are continually sustained by the life of Christ. As we walk by faith that leads to obedience, God grows us in the skill and strength necessary to feed others well to the glory of God. Being the best cook isn’t essential because even the most delicious of foods cannot ultimately satisfy. Whether we serve others takeout or a home cooked meal, they will always come back hungry for more. And this is by design.

Serve the Bread of Life

Why do these children constantly need to eat?!?” I’ve said it myself, and I’ve heard other moms say it. The demand for physical nourishment is a constant (and often exhausting) part of this life, but it is a beautiful and necessary reminder from the Lord that “man does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). When the bread of this life leaves us wanting, we see clearly our need for a better type of bread.

As those called to image God by giving life, women must serve up sustenance for more than this life only. Nurturing physical life affords us opportunities to nurture spiritual life. As women, we fulfill our calling as life-givers by continually feeding others the food of God’s word–the only food that leads to Christ, the Bread of Life. Those who eat hot bread from our ovens will eventually die, but those who feast on “the true bread from heaven” through belief in him for salvation will have eternal life (John 6:47-50).

Feeding others is important work. It’s God-like, gospel work. When we feed others in our wombs, through our breasts, or with our hands, we tell the story of a God who is faithful to feed his people the Bread of Life when they deserve only death. As we serve up meat and bread and fruits and vegetables, we tell others of the one who gave the bread of his flesh for the life of the world. We must call those we feed to look to him in faith, so they will never hunger or thirst again. Sisters, in our marriages, parenting, friendships, and relationships within the Body and with the lost, let’s faithfully nurture life. In world where death cannot be escaped, let’s feed others the risen Christ.

 

Beware the Gospel of Self: Why Radical Grace is the Only Good News

Beware the Gospel of Self: Why Radical Grace is the Only Good News

The New Testament is full of warnings for Christians to beware false teachers–those who proclaim a distorted gospel that leads others away from the gospel of Christ (Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:28-30, 2 Timothy 4:3-4, 2 Peter 2:1).

We might imagine that false teachers are easy to pinpoint, but they slither their way into local congregations slowly and subtly. They slide through the front doors of the church unnoticed– comfortably situated in the minds of many who claim Christ but have been inundated with falsities wrapped in a Christian guise. False teachers proclaim their message everywhere we turn–from social media to billboards, blogs, and bestselling books–and it’s not difficult to see why many in the church have become their disciples.

False teaching can sound so right. It’s popular and self-affirming— wrapped in punchy cliches that tickle the ears and make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Instead of heralding the good news of God’s undeserved grace for sinners, false teachers herald the “good news” of you and me and them. At first blush, their message sounds delightful and full of hope, but it actually isn’t good news at all. In fact, it’s damning news.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, doesn’t appeal to anyone apart from the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit. Grace–the good news that God has provided for us in his Son what we neither deserve nor can provide for ourselves– brings us low before it lifts us high. Grace rips the rug of self-righteousness out from under our feet. It  brings us to our knees in painful acknowledgment of our own inadequacy before it raises us in Christ. But the gospel of grace is humanity’s only hope. It’s the only truly good news for sinners.

As believers living in a world overrun with the gospel of self, how do we guard ourselves (and others) from subtly believing this falsehood? Simplistic as it may sound, the way to battle the lie is to know, believe, and proclaim the truth. We must discern and clearly articulate how the gospel of grace differs from the gospel of self and speaks a better word. Here are three primary ways:

You (Don’t) Have a Good Heart

Have you ever heard someone say, “She made a mistake, but that’s not really who she is. Deep down she has a good heart.” The gospel of self promises that, despite our sins, we can rest in the fact that we are basically good people. While we naturally want to believe this about ourselves, grace debunks the prevalent myth that human beings are born with a fundamentally good nature.

The Bible is clear that all of us are born into this world with deceitful, sin-sick hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12,19). The way we live flows from the condition of our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). In other words, we aren’t sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. Any outward morality we have is polluted by inward desires (often unrecognized even by ourselves) for our own autonomy and glory (Isaiah 64:6-7). We come into this world with no desire for our Creator or his glory.

This is far cry from the warm fuzzy messages of self-goodness we are saturated with at every turn. But grace is only good news when juxtaposed with the bad news of our utter depravity. Basically good folks don’t need a bloody, substitutionary, atoning Savior (Galatians 2:21). Jesus Christ was the only human born into the world with a truly good heart, and the forgiveness God extends to us through him becomes precious only when we see just how desperately we need it. As the puritan Thomas Watson said, “Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

(Don’t) Believe in Yourself

Almost nothing sounds better to us than this oft quoted mantra of the American way: “Believe in yourself! You can accomplish anything!” It’s a positive word of empowerment that tells us we’re self-sufficient and able–a word we love to hear and are naturally prone to believe about ourselves. But, the truth is, we are not self-sufficient. We were created to live in joyful dependence on our Creator, the one who gives and sustains our very life and breath (Acts 17:28).

Grace reveals to us that we enter this world as spiritually dead slaves to sin (Ephesians 2:1) who exchange the truth of our dependence on an all sufficient Creator for the lie of creaturely self-sufficiency. Blinded to our need, we worship and believe in ourselves rather than in God (Romans 1:25). We strive in our own strength to clean up our behavior and achieve goals the world applauds, and, from the outside, it may look as though we’ve achieved success. But self-sufficiency is a lie.

Not only are we dependent on God for our physical needs, we are completely dependent on him to meet our ultimate spiritual need as well. Spiritually dead people are powerless and needy when it comes to our real problem. No amount of self-belief can resurrect a dead heart, but the gospel of grace has the power to save those who believe, not in themselves, but in Christ (Romans 1:16). Why? Because Christ is the perfect and powerful one who conquered sin and death. He’s been and done what we cannot be and do for ourselves. Self-belief will eventually crush us under impossible expectations, constant striving, and ultimate failure. But belief in Christ leads us to a hope that won’t disappoint (Romans 5:2-5).  

(Don’t) Be True to Yourself

Humanity is obsessed with the concept of personal identity, and we often go to great lengths to figure out who we truly are. Discovering and remaining true to one’s unique identity are key virtues of the gospel of self, but the Bible simplifies our identity quest by showing us there are only two underlying identities for all human beings made in the image of God: Dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) or alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5).  

Grace beckons us to come to Christ as we are in our sin, but it never leaves us as we are. Christ called those who would follow him, not to be true to themselves, but to deny themselves and prepare to die to the sinful nature that had defined and shaped every part of them until that point (Matthew 16:24). By faith, we share with Jesus in his death as our old identity is crucified, and we share with him in his resurrection as we are raised to a brand new nature and identity in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we trust Jesus for salvation, his sinless identity becomes ours!

In Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit who enables us to put off the deeds that were characteristic of our former identity and put on Christ-like living that matches our new identity (Romans 8:13, Ephesians 4:22). In other words, grace frees us to stop striving so hard to be true to ourselves and, instead, devote ourselves to lives of good works that are true to Christ.

The Only Good News

Beware the gospel of self–a message that falsely affirms us and is radically at odds with the biblical gospel of grace. Grace exposes the truth of our sin, powerlessness, and misplaced identity. It tells us we are not enough in order to freely offer us Christ, the one who is more than enough for us. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). May we turn away from trusting ourselves and say with the apostle Peter, “Lord, to whom [else] shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

 

Women Who Work

Women Who Work

“Do you get paid for any of the work you do?”

I was caught off-guard and pleasantly surprised by her unusual phrasing of the question. “Do you work?” is a more typical rendering of the same inquiry frequently presented to women. While often asked innocently in an effort to distinguish between paid and unpaid work, the phrasing of the latter assumes the false premise that some women are workers and some are not.

The answer to my friend’s question is no. During this season of life, I am busy parenting three little boys, managing our home, and serving alongside my husband in ministry through writing, teaching, and counseling women. I am not currently paid for this work, but what I do each day is work, nonetheless.

As women, we often feel sensitive when it comes to our work. We wonder if what we do is meaningful. We look around to see if our work measures up to what the world says a successful woman should accomplish. We may question the value of our work, especially if what we do each day is unpaid and unseen. The striving to prove ourselves can feel endless and the satisfaction elusive. As women who follow Christ, are we processing and evaluating our work through a biblical lens? Are we using God’s standard to measure success?

Made to Work

Work is introduced in the opening pages of Scripture where we read about God’s six-day creative work, as well as His mandate to the first humans made in His image: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it . . .(Genesis 1:28). Humanity was gifted the joyful work of representing God in the world–expanding and caring for His creation in a way that propagated His glory to every corner of the earth.

The man was created first, but Adam was not designed to carry out the work God had assigned alone. Adam needed a counterpart who shared His humanity yet differed from him significantly–someone who complimented him perfectly and provided vital strength and support in the areas where he was weak.

So, God created the woman. Eve was made uniquely female and given the distinct role of “life-giver” (Genesis 3:20). Eve’s work wasn’t the same as Adam’s, but God sovereignly ordained that the unique and mutual work of both male and female would be essential to the fulfillment of His creation mandate. As daughters of Eve, all women are created to work.

Working for the Wrong Glory

Human work is good because it was a God-ordained part of life before sin corrupted the world. When we work, we image a creative God. But from the beginning, all human work was meant to be the joyful overflow of an identity firmly rooted in God Himself and tethered to the ultimate purpose of bringing Him glory. Because God is the good and powerful Creator of all things, He deserves all glory (Revelation 4:11). Human work was never about us to begin with.

But sin changed everything. Deceived by the serpent, Eve doubted the goodness of her Creator. She decided it would be in her best interests to pursue her own glory rather than God’s. As a result, all daughters of Eve are born with an insatiable desire to pursue our own renown.

The world (particularly the feminist movement) and even certain teachers who claim Christ validate the lie that work is about us. Chase your dreams! Built your platform! Get more followers! Make good money! Change the world! And, by all means, make a name for yourself! The culture at large projects the view that a life lived quietly– cultivating a home, caring for a family, and serving the Church– is, at best, unfulfilling and, at worst, a waste.

Sin has distorted our understanding of the value and purpose of work. No longer secure in our identity as daughters made in God’s image, we seek to root our worth in what we do rather than in who God says we are.

We long for our work to make us a “somebody”. But, ironically, work driven by desires for self actualization, the praise of others, or material riches doesn’t satisfy or endure. King Solomon had it all, and he says this is “vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

Working from a Place of Rest

While we cannot free our own hearts from the endless pursuit of personal glory, Jesus came to earth in human flesh to do the work we are powerless to do. His cross-work on our behalf was completely and perfectly motivated by the will and ultimate glory of God (John 4:34). Jesus shows us the true purpose of all human work.

When we repent of our glory-thieving and, through faith, rest in Christ’s perfect work, our identity as children of God is restored. The Holy Spirit progressively changes our self-obsessed hearts, giving us the desire and ability to stop working for ourselves and, instead, carry out the God-glorifying work He has planned for our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

For women resting in Christ, there is no dichotomy between secular and sacred work. Whether it’s paid employment or unpaid service, all work is just a means to seek first His Kingdom and glory. Remembering our identity and worth in Christ enables us to prioritize the work God esteems with the right heart motives, taking our cues from the Word rather than the world.

What Does it Look Like?

There isn’t necessarily a “one-size-fits-all” mold when it comes to the work of women. While the motivation underlying our work should never change, the type of work we do will look different in the various seasons and stages of life. The work of the married mother will differ from the work of the single woman without children. There are numerous creative ways to use our gifts, talents, education and resources to bring God glory as life-givers in the world.

The Scriptures are clear, however, that God commands and commends the priority of home and family (Titus 2:3-5 & Proverbs 31). The indispensable task of raising up the next generation to love the Lord is critical in fulfilling the work-mandate given at creation (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Sister, the often monotonous and thankless tasks required in cultivating a home where children are fed, clothed, loved, and taught truth matters significantly to God and honors Him when done for His purposes.

And the hard work of hospitality, spiritual mothering (or discipleship), and service in the Body of Christ is just as significant and necessary as the work of physical mothering (Matthew 28:19-20). This is work for all believing women in all seasons.

These labors will not necessarily build up your bank account or garner you a huge Twitter following. But, in God’s economy, work that is unseen and unsung by our culture can, ironically, be the most world-changing. Work that insists we die to the pursuit of our own names and pour ourselves out in service to others for the sake of God’s name is revolutionary and eternal. As women rooted in Christ, may we faithfully tend the gardens He has assigned to our care and joyfully cast down any crowns of earthly achievement at the feet of our King– the One to whom all glory is due.

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.

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 Body Image Becomes an Idol

When Body Image Becomes an Idol

During my high school years, I struggled with an eating disorder. Any weight gain was unacceptable to me–even that which was part of normal growth and development. If the numbers on the scale went up or I had to size up in clothing, I freaked out. Having total control over my body was so important to me that I restricted my caloric intake to a dangerous low while exercising excessively.

Looking back, I can put my problem in biblically accurate terms: I practiced body-focused idolatry that resulted in disordered eating. My thoughts and feelings concerning my body and food trumped what God had to say about these things in his word. I knew this was an area of my life not surrendered to God. If not for his pursuing grace, things could have gotten very bad.

Body idolatry and eating disorders are multifaceted problems. Helping people with these issues requires time, wisdom, prayer and the involvement of multiple people, including medical professionals. It requires a holistic approach that deals with both body and soul. The church shouldn’t shy away in fear.

Ultimately, it was my parents who spoke biblical truth into this area of my life and helped me see my problem as more than just physical. God used their watchful care and their faithfulness to nourish me with truth. Like me, those struggling with body idolatry and eating disorders need faithful men and women in the body of Christ to come alongside and care for them in grace and truth before it’s too late.

Awareness and Physical Care

A person with an eating disorder typically won’t be upfront and honest about it. With this issue comes hiding, denying, and often lying. To help a struggling person, you must be attuned to warning signs (weight loss, restricted eating, etc.) to identify the problem. A medical doctor needs to thoroughly examine and assess potential danger and harm. Seeing a doctor or nutritionist regularly may be a vital part of someone’s physical care and something she won’t receive apart from the insistence and help of another.

The Word’s Nourishment

Along with physical care and nourishment, those struggling with disordered eating need to be constantly nourished by the word of God. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 4:4, “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” For those with disordered eating, spiritual components are tightly interwoven with physical. Issues of the heart need to be exposed and confronted with the truth of God’s word. Scripture draws out these divisions (Heb 4:12) and shines light on lies the heart believes.

A person consumed with body idolatry likely won’t be feeding consistently on the word herself. She’ll need to be fed specific biblical truths about her identity, her body and food by others through consistent counseling.

The Reality of the Gospel

Body idolatry at its root is an issue of misplaced identity and worship. God tells us in his word that all human beings possess great dignity and worth as those made in his image (Gen 1:27). We’re the crown of God’s creation, and we reflect something true about his nature. But we’ve all sought to find our loveliness and worth in something other than God (something like our own bodies), and we’ve worshipped the created rather than the Creator (Rom 1:22-25). God hasn’t left us in our idolatry, though. While we were running away, God sent Jesus to die the death we deserved for our rebellion (Rom 5:8) and to restore our misplaced identity by giving us a new, righteous identity in him. If we agree with God about our sin, turn from it, and look to Jesus in faith we are forgiven and healed (1 John 1:9). This is the good news that someone with an eating disorder needs to hear over and over and over. Helping this person find her reality in Christ, rather than the size of her body or the control she exercises over it, is the foundation for helping her find freedom.

Truth About the Body and Food

When a person’s reality is rooted in Christ, it frees her to think rightly about her body and food.

The Bible says life is more than food and the body more than clothes (Matt 6:5). The body and food are not ends in themselves for us to control and worship for our own fulfillment. They’re important in that they are means to help us accomplish God’s kingdom purposes, and they should be cared for and enjoyed to this great and glorious end (Matt 6:33).

For those of us in Christ, our bodies are the dwelling place of his Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), created in him for the purpose of good works (Eph 2:10). We should strive to eat in ways that appropriately fuel our bodies to bring God glory by accomplishing the various works he has ordained for each of us to do. For some this will mean eating more. For some it will mean eating less. For others it will mean eating differently. A person struggling with body or food idolatry needs to be trained, in concrete and practical ways, to eat to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).

People with eating disorders need help and care from a number of sources. The body of Christ must be one of these sources. We must be equipped to step up and address this issue head on with wisdom and confidence in the sufficiency of scripture. We need to continually speak the truth in love as we seek appropriate help for those who struggle, recognizing that ultimately one person has the divine power needed to overcome (2 Pet 1:3), and he shares freely with all who come to him.