When Good News is Especially Good

When Good News is Especially Good

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

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

Finished Atonement 

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

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

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

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

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

Promised Resurrection 

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

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

An Especially Good Easter

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

2020: Eyes on a Better Country

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

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

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

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

Beauty and Brokenness 

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

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

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

Go to Jesus Outside the Camp 

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

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

Nothing is Lost

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

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

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

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

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

The Christmas Story: Redemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Christmas Story: Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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.

Expectancy

Expectancy changes everything. One’s perspective, planning, and worldview are all shaped and often altered by the expectation of something or someone’s coming.  I’ve thought much about expectancy recently as we are anticipating the arrival of our third son around Christmas Day. Our expectation of his arrival has altered our Christmas travel plans, affected the arrangement of our house, and even changed the way we think about the future of our family. While Christmas Eve isn’t necessarily considered an ideal due date, it will be special to count down the days until our son’s birth as we simultaneously count down the days until Christmas. As we await the birth of our little boy, we will joyfully celebrate the first coming of our Savior King with hopeful expectancy for His future return.

I’ve been imagining how Mary must have felt as she carried Jesus in her womb and anticipated the day of His birth. She, along with all the people of Israel, had for many years been waiting expectantly for the coming of the Messiah–the Rescuer–the one who would bring salvation and free the Israelites from oppression. Their expectation gave them hope to press on in faithfulness to God, despite hardship and uncertainty. Their expectation enabled them to have joy in the midst of pain and sorrow.

Christmas is the season full of joyful expectancy and anticipation. Everything–from the decorating and shopping to the parties, performances, and baking–is leading up December 25, the big day when we celebrate the season in full with friends and family. The excitement of the holiday season  builds through the month of December and is made complete on Christmas Day. But for believers, the significance of this expectation and anticipation is so much richer than just the gifts, traditions, and even the family. Our expectation and joy in these things is just a pointer to a deeper joy and greater expectation in our hearts. The big day is greatly anticipated and greatly celebrated because it was on this day that God took on human flesh and came to live among us (John 1:14). It was on this day that a light dawned on a people living in a land of darkness (Isaiah 9:2). It was on this day that the many promises of God to His people began to receive fulfillment: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Cor 1:20). Through Adam’s original sin, brokenness and death reigned among humanity. But through the birth of Christ and one day through His death on the cross and resurrection, grace would reign among humanity (Romans 5). Jesus came into the world on that first Christmas Day to conquer more than the oppressive Roman Empire. He came into the world to conquer sin and death–much greater oppressors of humanity.

For believers in Jesus, Christmas is both a season of joyful celebration for what He has already done and a season of joyful expectation for what He will accomplish still. In a world still plagued by terror, violence, sorrow, injustice, and oppression, we celebrate Christmas with joyful expectancy. We rest in the truth that we serve a God who has always shown Himself faithful to keep His promises, and we hold on to the hope that Jesus will return again. This time, He’s coming to judge the world, make all things new and right, and reign forever. And our expectancy for this great return changes everything about the way we live today. 

“Come, thou long expected Jesus, 

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee. 

Israel’s strength and consolation, 

hope of all the earth thou art; 

dear desire of every nation,

joy of every longing heart.”

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Books that shaped my thinking in 2014

download_20150102_2344542014 really didn’t afford me much blogging time because it was the year of READING. But that’s ok. In my book, reading is both an important discipline and a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the few waking hours I have free from chasing the wild things. The hurry-scurry of life and exhaustion of caring for littles can so easily squelch out reading time, so I was glad that seminary reading requirements gave me the motivation–or the excuse, depending on the day–to sit down and absorb some of the books on this list. I even found the time for some good page-turning fiction, which is a real treat these days.

Book choices are really important because the things you and I read really affect the way we think. What we read shapes our worldview(s) and the way we interpret reality. This, of course, is why God’s inspired Word must always be at the top of any year’s reading list and must inform the rest of our reading. I realize I can only read so many things in my lifetime, and I want to pick books that are worth my time. . .books that will make me think and examine myself and human nature. . . books that are going to make a difference in how I live my life. So, in no particular order, here are the books that accomplished those purposes for me in 2014, as well as a few picks on my list for the new year:

1. Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples (Francis Chan): Here in the Bible belt, almost anyone will claim to be a Christian. Nominal, cultural Christianity is still a relatively acceptable norm. But what does it mean to really be a follower of Christ? What does that look like? How does that impact the purpose and trajectory of our lives? Multiply is such an amazing resource to use as we seek to understand and help others understand what it really means to know God through Christ. This book is great to use in one-on-one discipleship settings and in small groups. I am going through the book with a friend who wants to grow in her walk with Christ and also with the ladies in our women’s ministry at church. Chan is very readable, and you will learn a lot regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey.

2. George Mueller: Delighted in God (Roger Steer): This is a biography that truly increased my faith and belief in the power of prayer. George Mueller, a pastor and evangelist, set out to demonstrate the faithfulness of God and eventually built orphanages to house thousands of orphaned children while praying in every penny of the costs. He had no salary and never asked one person for a dime. It’s amazing to read about God’s provision and delight in answering the prayers of His people when those prayers are in accordance with His will and for His glory. This is such an amazing story.

3. Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Gloria Furman): I can truly say that there are many days when I feel as though motherhood is causing me to lose my find. In the midst of craziness and real-life challenges, it’s easy to get frustrated and lose perspective. Gloria Furman’s book helped me get my thinking straight. It took me back to the gospel–to the purpose of motherhood and to the true Sustenance for motherhood. This is my number one book to recommend and give to new moms, and it’s a book I will return to many times through the years.

4. Is God Anti-Gay? (Sam Allberry): Homosexuality is the issue of our day. There are numerous conflicting views on this issue and even conflicting opinions concerning what the Bible says about this issue. So, what does God really think? What does the Bible really say with certainty about marriage, sexuality, and same-sex attraction? How can Christians be a beacon of gospel light, hope, and love to all people in this broken world, including those with same-sex attraction? This book is biblically sound, full of wisdom, and motivated by true Christian love. And it’s short to boot!

5. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Donald Whitney): This is a book that every Christian should read. Truly. Sustained discipline is not easy, but Whitney’s thesis verse is 1 Timothy 4:7 which teaches that growth in godliness is the result of  God working through our practice of the spiritual disciplines. Whitney provides all sorts of practical helps for reading and meditating on Scripture, praying, fasting, serving, etc. This is another book that will benefit you greatly regardless of where you are in your walk with God.

6. Women of the Word (Jen Wilkin): I think so many Christian women genuinely want to read the Bible consistently, but because they have never been taught how to study and interpret it, they often feel confused and unsure of where to start. Jen Wilkin teaches easy, systematic ways to study and understand God’s Word so that it truly comes alive and makes sense. She helps women understand the big story of the Bible so that we can see how our individual stories are a part of that great, grand story.

7. Finally Free: Fighting for Purity by the Power of Grace (Heath Lambert): This is a book about finding freedom from pornography addiction through Christ’s power and grace. I had to read this book for class, but I thought it was excellent and very relevant as pornography is a rampant and common problem even among Christians. If you or someone you know are struggling in this area, this is an excellent, grace-filled resource–full of practical helps and the hope of the gospel.

8. Be Rich: Gaining the Things that Money Can’t Buy (Warren Wiersbe): This is actually a commentary on the book of Ephesians, but it reads like a regular book. I used this as a resource this summer while teaching a small group women’s study through Ephesians. It was excellent. Wiersbe has a “Be” commentary series that includes commentaries for almost every book of the Bible. These are very easy to read and understand and are great for personal study or group study.

9. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (Donald Whitney): Dr. Whitney was my prof this past semester, so obviously I read a lot of his stuff. This is a short little book that will really help you examine your heart and life to determine if you are spiritually healthy or just spiritually busy. There’s a big difference.

10. The Hunger Games Trilogy (Suzanne Collins): Hmm…which book in the list doesn’t fit? Ha :)! I realize  I’m a couple years behind the rest of the world, but these three books were my page-turning fiction splurge when I finished my class. They fall into the category of “books that make you think about the world, politics, and human nature.” They are excellent—very entertaining and brain stimulating. They will also make you thankful that, as Christians, we have a remedy and a true promise of hope for the horrific brokenness in our world.

11. Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Tedd Tripp): I think I actually read this is 2013, but this is my go-to parenting book. This will revolutionize the way you look at parenting and help you give your kids the hope of the gospel by getting into what’s really in their hearts.

Here’s what I have on the 2015 reading list so far:

1. Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

2. The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgement, the Hope of Holy War (Joshua Ryan Butler)

3. The Church Planting Wife (Christine Hoover)

4. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Tim Keller)

5. Love Does (Bob Goff)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books as well as any recommendations you might have for me—particularly good fiction! Happy reading, y’all.