Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible

Click Here to Download Tracing Glory – Advent Devotional

My absolute love for the Christmas season began when I was a very little girl and continues still. The music, lights, decorations, family traditions, gifts and (most of all) the mystery of God made flesh truly make this one of the most wonderful times of my year. As a child, the Christmas season felt just about perfect in every way, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my view of the season itself was somewhat idealized in the naivety of childhood.

As wonderful as December is, the realities of living in a fallen world don’t just go away during this special month. On the contrary, they’re often highlighted. Busyness and stress creep in. The longer to-do lists are exhausting. Relationships are challenging. Grief is more raw than usual. Children still have meltdowns, and there is still laundry! I’ve come to realize that my hope and joy must run deeper than the season itself, or I’ll be let down every year.

The cliche’ “Jesus is the reason for the season,” is almost as overused as it is true. I know well that Jesus is the reason for the season. Of course, he is our hope in December and every month of the year! But just because I know it’s true doesn’t mean I function as if it’s true. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s all too easy to make very little room for Christ. If Jesus truly is the reason (and hope) for the season, then he must be central in my heart and home the whole month through. How do I make this my reality in the busiest month of the year when so many other things vie for my time and affections?

I have found that if Christ is not central in my life during the first eleven months of the year, he won’t be central in the last month either. If I am not rooted in the Bible’s big story January through November, I will miss the sheer magnitude of what I read in Luke chapter two during December. The centrality of Christ at Christmas is tied to my love for him and commitment to his Word every day of the year. It is also tied to my intentionality to think and plan ahead for a Christ-focused Christmas season.

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible is a twenty-four day Advent reading I wrote for our family to use this December and for many Decembers to come. It begins looking back at creation and ends looking forward to the new creation, tracing Jesus Christ from start to finish. I wrote this devotional primarily for my boys because I want them to understand that the birth of Christ is the climactic event of a much larger story–a story about God’s mission to redeem sinful people for his glory.  

This advent reading was written with children, teens, and adults in mind. My goal was to communicate big truths in ways a child could grasp. I want to help readers see how every story in the Bible points either forward or backward to the hero of the story.

In each day’s reading, there is a key Scripture given to look up as the basis for that day’s devotional. Next is my written commentary on the key Scripture. At the end of each day’s reading, I have summarized the key Scripture and commentary with one main point and Christ connection, showing how that particular Bible passage points to Jesus Christ.

While preschoolers may not yet be able to grasp all the content given in the key Scripture and commentary, they will benefit from hearing the main point. I would suggest that parents of very young children read the first two sections and then communicate those truths to their children at their particular level of understanding. I think most school-aged children and teens will benefit from listening to or reading the commentary, but families can decide what works best for their particular situation. This is a resource that very young children can grow into through the years.

This Advent resource can be printed and spiral bound or put into a three ring binder for organization and easy access. At the back of the devotional, I have included individual pictures of an ornament suggestion for each day. These are simple ornaments I have made or bought to use with our family. Each day of the Advent season, my children will unwrap the ornament that corresponds to the key Scripture we will be focusing on and hang it on our Advent tree (see picture). These ornaments can be easily replicated, or you can cut out the pictures provided and use those as visuals with your children each day. Having a visual helps children grasp the meaning of the text and makes Advent exciting as they anticipate what ornament they will open each day.

The story you will encounter in this Advent reading is both epic and true, and it isn’t finished yet. We are living within this grand story now, awaiting the final chapter when we will see Christ face-to-face and dwell with him forever. My prayer is that, as we wait, God would use this resource to help us stand in awe of his matchless glory.  As we encounter the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us in Christ, may we move to worship him every day in December and the whole year through.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sarah Rice

Click Here to Download Tracing Glory – Advent Devotional

It would be remiss of me not to thank those who have so graciously contributed their time and gifts to this project. To my pastor John Sloan: Thank you for your time and endorsement in writing the foreword, and thank you for encouraging women to use their gifts in the church. To Brandee Sandusky: Your art work for the cover makes this resource inviting and provides a helpful visual for little ones. Thank you for using your talent to put my vision on paper. To my friend Casey Capps: Thank you for taking time to meticulously proofread for grammar mistakes and answer many capitalization questions. You are a precious friend. Finally, to my husband (and other pastor) Adam Rice: This project would not have been possible without you. Thank you for encouraging me to write, formatting all my work into a document (handling all the “techy” things I don’t know how to do), and listening to me talk about this project for the past two months. You are my greatest supporter, friend, and partner in ministry. I love you! 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Created Good

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

Corrupted by Sin

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

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

Redeemed by Blood

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

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

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

Resurrected to Glory

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

 

 

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

Dear Sister,

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

*Boast in the Lord*

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

My Soul makes its boast in the Lord;

 Let the humble hear and be glad..

Oh, Magnify the Lord with me,

And let us exalt his name together!

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

*Taste and See God’s goodness*

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

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

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

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

*Take Refuge in Christ*

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

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

…The Lord redeems the life of his servants;

None of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned

(Psalm 34:8-9, 22)

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

*Reflect His Radiance in Trials*

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

Those who look to him are radiant,

And their faces shall never be ashamed. . .

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

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

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

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

 

When You Feel Lonely At Church

When You Feel Lonely At Church

 

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

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

Foundation of Fellowship

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

Christians gathering as Christians

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

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

Hospitality and Vulnerability

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

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

Hope of perfected Fellowship

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

 

Defined by Grace

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

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

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

God as Creator

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

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

God as Redeemer

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

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

God as Sustainer

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

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

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

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.

Your Kids Need Your Patience, Not Your Power

Your Kids Need Your Patience, Not Your Power

 

There are times when I’m reading God’s Word and a verse seems to literally jump off the page at me. Maybe a light bulb of understanding flashes on in my mind or a connection is made for the first time. Most often, the lamp of God’s Word shines deep within, and His Spirit pricks me with conviction as the true condition of my heart is revealed.

This happened recently as I came to the following verse in my reading through the book of Proverbs: 

Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s emotions than capturing a city. (Prov 16:32)

Ouch.

As the long days of summer have worn on, I’ve found myself quick to lose patience and grasp for power, particularly in my relationships with my boys. Here’s the thing: Summer is really fun. I love having all three boys home all the time. I love getting to sleep later and have lazy mornings with nowhere to be. I love having time to swim, play with friends, travel, read and take the boys to lots of new places. I love having more opportunities to teach them all sorts of things as I seek to fill their minds with truth. I consider it a privilege and joy to be home with them each day.

But summer has its challenges too. While there are more opportunities to spend time together enjoying and loving each other, there are also more opportunities to rub each other wrong…to irritate each other…to sin against each other. Constant family togetherness means the shortcomings of four sinful human beings are highlighted and on display. Selfishness, pride, anger, fear, manipulation, sibling rivalry. In the summertime, more than in other seasons, I see my kids’ individual weaknesses and the sinfulness of their hearts.

And my natural tendency is to want to fix my kids by my own power. In other words, I want to say and do all the right things as a parent to produce the desired effect in their hearts and behavior. I find myself trying to smooth out their rough edges with solid biblical parenting–trying to somehow mend their flaws and melt away their fears and insecurities so that I can feel really good about my kind, obedient, well-adjusted and happy kids. And if none of this “good” power parenting works, it’s likely I’ll completely lose patience. I’ll let my own irritation, anxiety, and fear take the wheel, and in a final ditch effort yell, “WHY CAN YOU NOT DO____?!?!  WHAT IS SO HARD ABOUT____?!?! JUST STOP IT! NOW!!!!!!” 

Patience is better than Power.

When I read these words, I felt the Lord whisper to my heart, “They are not your projects, Sarah. They are gifts from my hand. They are blessings to steward, not burdens to shoulder. You will not give account for how you changed or healed or fixed them. That is not a job you can even do. It’s mine alone. You will give account for how you loved them. And my love is patient. It is not irritable. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. My love never ends. You can be faithful and rest in grace as you trust Me with the hearts of your boys.”

Loving my kids with a Christ-like love, doesn’t mean glossing over their sins and struggles with an “anything goes” mentality. The proverbs also repeatedly command parents to discipline their children in love: Discipline your son while there is hope; don’t set your heart on being the cause of his death (Prov 19:18). No, loving my kids with a Christ-like love means being faithful to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4),  being patient with the process rather than trying to force visible results that, in reality, I have no power to produce. 

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, he was telling them to raise their children in the Gospel. Paul’s Gentile audience (Greek believers) would have raised their children in the instruction of the philosophers. The Jews would have raised their children in the instruction of the Law. But Paul is calling followers of Christ to something new: Gospel-centered parenting. And the good news of the gospel is that “we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope” (Tim Keller). Loving my kids patiently and raising them in the instruction and discipline of the Lord means giving them the good news of grace as I rest in that grace myself.

Jesus Christ came to this world and lived the perfect, pure, and righteous life that my boys and I could never live. He died a horrific, unimaginable death in our place. He triumphed over death when he rose from the grave, and He lives to offer us forgiveness, His own righteousness and transformation through His Spirit. When I am resting in the gospel, I can stop grasping for power and love my boys with a patience that endures the process–rough sinful edges and all–because that is how Christ has loved me. I can discipline and teach in love rather than irritation and fear, extending the good news of grace that has been extended to me. I can parent in a way that hopes all things because my hope is grounded in the finished work of good, merciful and mighty Savior, not the way my kids behave on any particular day. My life can exhibit the truth that patience is better than power because God’s patient grace has changed me. . . and his patient grace will change them too.

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that he has made. Psalm 145:8