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.

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.

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.

2013 . . .

The year of transition.

The year God placed us in vocational ministry.

The year we said goodbye to precious seminary friends.

The year we moved back to Alabama.

The year we bought our first house.

The year of new life—the birth of John Wicks Rice, our second son.

The year of many new friends— some who already feel like forever friends.

The year of adjustment.

The year of learning.

The year Adam’s sweet Mommaw went to be with The Lord.

The year Will graduated from LSU.

The year of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.

The year Luke turned 2.

The year of the word “no.” (If you know L, you understand this.)

The year we celebrated 5 years of marriage.

The year of deep dependence upon God for strength, endurance, and patience in motherhood and ministry.

And, as always, the year of God’s undeserved grace and continued faithfulness.

1006207_10101482253409151_18672214_n(You can read our 2012 recap here.)

2012 . . .

The year we survived mice infestation.

The year Adam’s Papa went home to meet Jesus.

The year Adam’s brother completed his Ph.D and became “Dr. Bo.”

The year our precious Granddaddy went home to meet Jesus.

The year Adam survived hand, foot and mouth disease.

The year Mr. Boy turned 1.

The year we found out blessing #2 was on the way.

The year I completed 5 classes toward my master’s degree while taking care of one babe and growing another. Mercy.

The year of more gray hairs and gloss to cover them.

The year Jenny got accepted to medical school.

The year Adam graduated from Southern with his M.Div.

The year of God’s continued faithfulness in so many unexpected and beautiful ways.

Rice_Family094

May I never forget God’s abundant blessings and grace for the challenges of 2012.