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!

 

The Goodness of Good Friday

The Goodness of Good Friday

There is a giant elephant in the room of life.

No one wants to talk about it. We really hate to even acknowledge it exists. But none of us can get around it. Its effects are deeply personal and universally widespread. They leave nothing and no one untouched. They are, quite literally, earth-shattering.

We try to live our lives pretending this elephant isn’t really a big deal, but it’s the reason our world is full of natural disasters, crime, poverty, sickness, hatred, oppression, and tragedy. The elephant’s ravaging effects loom large in our world, but the elephant itself emanates from our own hearts. It begins with wicked desires that give birth to wicked deeds (James 1:15). The fruit of these desires and deeds are fear, guilt, deep shame and separation from the one who made us, the only one who is truly good. 

The elephant is sin, and not one of us can avoid its fruit or its ultimate sting–death.

Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us attempt to deal with our sin, guilt, and shame in various ways. We hide, pretend, excuse it, or accuse others for it. We ignore sin’s heinousness and glorify it as good (or at least “not that bad”). We strive to self-atone through good works or prideful self-loathing so we can feel the faux peace of self-forgiveness. We offer grace to ourselves from ourselves because “we’re only human” and need not expect too much. We live for today as if judgement and death will never really come. And all of these efforts are so futile, so inefficient.

But on a dark day over two thousand years ago, God himself dealt with our sin, guilt, and shame. On this day we call Good Friday, God the Father took all that is unholy and placed it on his perfectly holy Son. Jesus the Christ hung naked on a cross, publicly punished and shamed by the Father for the world to see. In this, God demonstrated that the “elephant” of sin is a serious problem that cannot be hidden or ignored. It cannot be glorified or justified away in our own efforts. It cannot be excused. And God has not excused it. He has crushed the perfect Son in whom he delights that he might forgive rebellious children and make us holy.

How could the Father love us this much? For one will scarcely die for a righteous person…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8). Let’s not miss all that this love has accomplished for us. Let’s dwell on why Good Friday is so good.

The One Who Dealt with Guilt

The guilt we feel as human beings is not imagined, false guilt. We cannot avoid feelings of guilt because, deep within our hearts, we know we are truly guilty. We have transgressed the Creator King’s righteous law, and we stand legally condemned (John 3:18), awaiting God’s just judgment (Romans 2:5-9). And blood is required. 

For the wages of sin is death. . . (Romans 6:23)

. . .and without the shedding of blood there is not forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22b).

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life (Leviticus 17:11).

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. . . (Ephesians 2:8)

On Good Friday, Jesus took upon himself the just wrath of God our sin deserved. He paid the penalty for our guilt in his death that we may be declared “not guilty” in him. In a beautiful paradox, God was able to remain justly holy while justifying sinners through our faith in his Son (Romans 3:26). Only the love of God toward us in Christ vanquishes our guilt. By faith, we can stop striving to suppress or rid ourselves of the guilt we feel and boldly proclaim: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:1)

The One Who Dealt with Shame

But what about our shame? Although we are legally declared righteous before God through faith in Christ, how do we deal with the fact that our current practice does not match our new righteous position? Even in Christ, we still fight remaining sin. Christ has been righteous in our place, but deep down we know we are not yet truly good. In beholding the holiness of Christ, we have seen ourselves for who we really are, and it is painfully shameful.

When Christ hung on the cross–the very emblem of suffering and shame–he took upon himself not only our guilt but also our shame that his holiness despised. He is not only the founder of our faith but also the perfecter of it (Hebrews 12:2). In other words, by faith in him we need no longer feel shame for former sins or the remaining sin we still struggle against. In Christ, our holiness is as good as done.

For by a single offering, he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life (Romans 6:22).

The fruit of sin is shame, but the fruit of being in Christ is progressive holiness. The benefits of  salvation are more (though certainly not less) than our being declared righteous by faith. By faith, we are also being made holy, and God will finish the work he started, bringing us to sinless perfection when we meet him face-to-face (Romans 8:30).

The One Who Dealt with Death

If the death of Christ on Good Friday was the end of the story, we couldn’t call the day good. If Christ dealt with our sin and its fruit on the cross but failed to deal with the sting of sin through the resurrection, where would we be? Paul tells us.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

Good Friday is truly good because resurrection Sunday is coming, the day when death lost its power and sin lost its sting!

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. . . The sting of death is sin. . . but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 56-57).

Look Up!

Today and every day, let’s look at our sin honestly. May we despise it, mourn it, and humbly confess it. But let’s not linger there, pridefully navel gazing in an attempt to deal with sin on our own terms. Let’s direct our gaze heavenward to Christ the perfect one, looking to him to deal with our sin and its fruit. Christ was high and lifted up on Calvary’s hill to bear our guilt and shame in his body and to pay for our sin through his death. He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven to rule with all authority—high and lifted up as the conqueror of death!

Good Friday is good because the Holy One bought back for himself what was lost because of sin in the world he created good. His resurrection is the proof that he is, indeed, making everything sad [and bad] come untrue, both in our hearts and in our world. Look at your sin but linger on Christ, thanking God for his indescribable gift!

 

A Prayer for 2019

2019 is in full swing, and I haven’t written a list of resolutions or chosen a “word of the year.” It is on my heart, however, to be more dependent on the Lord through prayer in this new year. I often busy myself so much that I neglect deep communion with God, pressing on in my own strength to accomplish what I need or want to do. How arrogant and foolish to function as if I have no need of the one who fills my very lungs with air! In view of this tendency, I felt that a prayer (rather than a list) for 2019 would be most helpful. Pray with me this year.

 

Father in Heaven–set apart yet near,

Help us to wonder at your unmatched power,

worship your great might,

submit to your sovereign hand,

trust your infinite wisdom,

and cling to your perfect goodness in all things.

Help us to fear your great name.

Jesus the Christ–image of the invisible God,

Help us to rest in your perfect record

trust you as our substitute,

believe in your salvation,

and bow to your Lordship over our lives.

Help us to rejoice as we share your suffering now,

that we may hope to share your glory for eternity.

Let us hide ourselves in you and abide.

Apart from you, we can do nothing.

Holy Spirit–helper who dwells within, 

Rain down in great power.

In your kindness, reveal our sin

and lead us to continual repentance.

Guard us from evil,

keep us in faith,

grow us in holiness,

and drive us to desperate prayer.

Save our lost children, neighbors, and friends.

Exalt the name of Jesus in us.

In 2019, as we seek to glorify you, our triune God, focus our hearts on…

building relationships rather than results,

growing our faithfulness rather than our following,

cultivating humility rather than visibility,

working for your fame rather than our own names.

It’s in the strong name of Jesus we pray.

Amen

 

 

 

Come, Let Us Adore Him

Come, Let Us Adore Him

Merry Christmas! We’ve spent the past twenty-four days tracing God’s glory through the pages of his beautiful story, and I pray our hearts have been stirred to respond. God has revealed himself to us through his Word so that we may experience the joy of knowing and worshipping him! This story is our story.

God created us in his image to live in joyful relationship with him and to spread his glory around the world. But, like Abraham, Jacob, David, and every other biblical figure, we have inherited fundamentally bad hearts from our first parents Adam and Eve. The Bible says we are born spiritually dead and enslaved to sin (Ephesians 2:1-2). Sin has separated us from our good Creator and King, and we have no desire to be restored to him or reflect his glory (Romans 3:10-12).

We live in spiritual darkness, searching for something to fill the mysterious emptiness in our hearts. Sometimes, we ignore God in the world he created and work to build our own towers for personal glory. We believe success, power, or riches will fulfill us. Other times, we work hard to obey God’s rules in our own strength. We build towers of good deeds and try to climb up to him through our own morality.  

But God knows we can’t get back to him on our own. No matter how hard we try, we can never be good enough. And none of our successes, achievements, money, or power can make us eternally happy apart from God himself. Because of our sin, we deserve the just judgment of a holy God and separation from him forever.

But, the good news of Christmas is that God has not given us what we deserve. He sent us a Rescuer to bring us back to him. This Rescuer is the Ark who protects us from God’s wrath. He’s the Lamb whose blood was shed to pay our debt and cover our shame. He’s the Ladder who brings us back into the glorious presence of God. This Rescuer was born as a baby to live a life of perfect obedience to God and die a horribly painful death in the place of sinners. And this Rescuer rose from the dead and is coming back to Earth as Shepherd King who will rule forever by the light of his glory.

What is our response to this holy God who has provided this perfect Rescuer? First, we must agree with him that we are desperately in need of being rescued. We must acknowledge our need of forgiveness for the sins we have committed against a holy God. Then, we must stop running after our sins and turn to the Rescuer. By faith, we must trust that Jesus kept God’s law and took God’s punishment for us. We trust his finished work on our behalf as the only way to be saved from sin and brought back into relationship with God, the one with whom we were made to dwell forever.

And then we worship. We bow in adoration–praising our three-in-one God for all he is and all he has done through the Son. We wait with hopeful expectation for the day when we will together exclaim, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ!” (Revelation 11:15).  Until then and forevermore, come, let us adore him!

Advent Day 24: The Glorious City

Advent Day 24: The Glorious City

Key Scripture: Revelation 21:1-5, 9-11

Forty days after Jesus was resurrected, he rose back into heaven. The kingdom of God was not coming in the way his people probably expected. It was coming in stages. Before Jesus ruled as King on Earth, he was going to rule as King in the hearts of those who trusted him for salvation.

Before he left, Jesus gave his disciples (those who followed him) a mission. He commanded them to spread the good news of his saving work to people from every nation on earth, calling others to turn from their sin and trust him alone for forgiveness. Jesus promised to be with his disciples. He was going to send the Holy Spirit to live inside them. And Jesus promised to come back one day to rule on Earth as King forever.

As the disciples obeyed, the gospel began to spread to people from every tribe and nation in the world! Those who have believed the gospel and have trusted Jesus to save them from sin make up the new people of God, known as the Church. The Church is not a building but a group of people where God’s Spirit lives and where Christ rules in hearts as a perfect King. The Church is now God’s chosen nation— the new Israel of God.

Although Christ rules as King in the hearts of those who make up his Church, things are still not as they should be in the world. The snake is still lying and convincing people God’s Word isn’t true. There is still pain, sadness, sickness, and death. People still sin and don’t reflect God’s glory perfectly, even those who are part of the Church. But it won’t be like this forever. King Jesus is coming back to Earth to get rid of the lying snake and sin for good.

As King, Jesus will make everything new and right on Earth. He will establish a new city made up of all the people who have trusted him alone to be their Savior. This city will be perfectly safe, clean, and beautiful because God will live there. There will be no tears, pain, or death in this city. Here, there will be no sun because God’s glory will be the light. There will be no temple because Jesus is the temple who makes it possible for God to dwell with his people. In this city, the children of God will finally have the glory of God. They will radiate it perfectly, that all may see and worship King Jesus forevermore!

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Main Point: Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth to rule as King and make all things new and good. He will establish a perfect city where God will live with his people, and they will reflect his glory forever.

Christ Connection: Jesus Christ will establish the new and perfect city of God–the city Abraham and all of God’s people look forward to (Hebrews 11:8-10).

Advent Day 23: Glory Through Death

Advent Day 23: Glory Through Death

Key Scripture: Acts 2:22-32

As he grew up, Jesus was a normal boy in many ways. He learned to walk and talk and read. He slept, ate, laughed, and cried like every other child. He had parents, brothers, and sisters. But Jesus was different from other children in many ways too. From a young age, he understood God’s Word in a way that amazed others. And Jesus never sinned—ever. He obeyed his parents and loved others perfectly. Most of all, he loved God perfectly. His one purpose was to please God by doing his will.

When he grew up, Jesus began to announce the good news that God’s kingdom was coming on Earth. The kingdom God had promised–the one where the Shepherd King and Savior from David’s family would rule forever–was finally coming true. Jesus called people to turn away from their sin and believe the good news that he was the promised one from God who would save them! He healed the sick, made the blind see, made the crippled walk, and forgave sins. Jesus was showing the world that he had the power to heal sinful hearts and everything else sin had broken.

But God’s own people, who knew his promises to them, did not believe Jesus. They did not recognize him as the Messiah sent from God. In fact, the religious leaders were filled with hatred  toward Jesus. They felt threatened by him and decided to have him killed. Although he had done nothing wrong, Jesus was arrested like a criminal. He was whipped and beaten until he bled. He was spit on and mocked by those he had created. Then, he was nailed to a cross where he died between two criminals.

How could Jesus save God’s people and rule forever as Shepherd King if he wasn’t alive? Once again, it looked as if God might not keep his promises to Abraham and David. But God was not surprised by Jesus’s death. It was his perfect plan to use this evil for good. Jesus could have saved himself from death if he’d wanted, but he wanted to glorify God by saving others. So, he offered himself to God as the final Lamb– the perfect human sacrifice for sinners. When Jesus died, he took God’s full punishment for sin on himself, so God’s people could be forgiven and live with him again. But Jesus didn’t stay dead! Three days later, God raised him from death to rule forever! Through Jesus Christ, God has kept every promise he’s ever made.

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Main Point: Jesus was born to die a terrible death on a cross. He took God’s punishment for sinners on himself, so sinful people could be forgiven and live with God again. After three days, God raised Jesus from the dead to rule forever.    

Christ Connection: Jesus is the “Yes!” answer to all of God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 9:26b-28).

Advent Day 22: Guiding Star

Advent Day 22: Guiding Star

Key Scripture: Matthew 2:1-11

Just as God announced the arrival of Jesus to the shepherds in an amazing way, he announced his arrival to another group of people in a different amazing way. God used a bright star to tell a group of men called Magi about the birth of the long-awaited Savior and King.

The Magi lived in East Asia, far from Bethlehem. They were priests who offered sacrifices to a fake god. The Magi were very important, powerful people in their government in the east. They chose the kings in their land and gave them advice. The Magi were known as wise men. They were experts in mysteries like magic and dream telling, and they studied space and the stars. When Jesus was born, God made a new star appear in the sky. He used this star to make it known to the Magi that the King of his people had come into the world.

The Magi made a long trip to the city of Jerusalem. They asked people where they could find this new King because they wanted to worship him! Now, at the time, a wicked man named Herod was ruling as a king over God’s people. Herod was not from Abraham and David’s big family. He did not know the one, true God. When Herod heard that the Magi were looking for a new king, he became very jealous and afraid. Herod didn’t want this new king to take his throne, so he told the Magi to find the baby and come back to tell him where he was. Herod pretended he wanted to worship the baby king too, but he really wanted to kill him.

God then made the new star move in the sky, filling the Magi with joy as it guided them to the house where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were staying. When the Magi entered the house and saw Jesus, they bowed low to worship him. They gave him very nice presents–presents fit for a king called gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God warned the Magi in a dream not to tell wicked Herod they had found Jesus.

How unexpected and amazing that God led a group of priests from far off—a group of priests who once worshipped a fake god–to bow before the one, true God and King! The promises God had made to Abraham were already starting to come true! God was beginning to make King Jesus known to people from other nations so he could bless them by his grace.

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Main Point: The Magi were wise and powerful men from the east who worshiped a fake god. God used a star to guide them to Jesus so they could worship him as the one true King!

Christ connection: The good news of Jesus Christ is not just for the nation of Israel but for people from every tribe and nation on earth–even those who are far away like us (Ephesians 2:12-13, 17-19).