Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Titus 2 for the introvert

True confession. Titus 2:3-5 scares me.

There are so many expectations wrapped around these verses. We have different thoughts on what should be taught, how it is taught, and the criteria for older vs. younger women. This passage can seem daunting because we are accountable to God for our influence on others. Also, a qualified older woman still needs to earn the trust of those she wants to help. On top of that, let's throw personality into the mix. I know someone who could walk right up to another sister and say, "I want you to disciple me," and may her tribe increase. But for us introverts...

Being with a few, very few friends is much safer. In fact, being a shut-in doesn't seem too bad every now and then. Also building trust takes longer because an introvert's walls can be pretty thick. I remember when I was a new mom and a well-meaning but rather persistent woman swooped down to take me under her wing. We were on a casual I-know-your-name-enough-to-say-hi basis but nothing more. I didn't like the pressure and felt overwhelmed. After a few more swoops, I got scared and ran, and if I'm honest, maybe I'm still running. But the Apostle Paul never wrote an exception clause for introverts. We don't get a personality pass when it comes to being built into the local church. But maybe there's a different way to look at discipleship, mentoring, Titus 2-ing, whatever your preferred descriptor is. At its most basic level, it's friendship, and perhaps this is the place to start.

As I contemplate tearing down the walls and reaching out above and beyond official meetings, being a friend takes the pressure off. I may be an older woman chronologically, but that doesn't mean I have to have all the answers, which is a scary thought indeed. Friendship is mutual sharing and encouragement in the Lord. Friendship isn't a duty but the result of loving God and letting that love spill over to one another as we live life together in the body of Christ.

This isn't meant to be a critique of how you approach Titus 2. Rather this is a long overdue kick-in-the-pants to get me out of my rut. If you're like me, I hope you will be encouraged to go up to another sister who may be as introverted as you and say, "I'd like to be your friend."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Benefiting the Virtual Company We Keep

And may every place and company we are in be benefited by us.

 As I closed the prayer these words hit hard, a blunt force trauma to my sin-sick heart. Is every place I go benefited because I am there? Is the company I keep better off because I am keeping it? Tough questions, to be sure. Tougher still when I direct them to my internet presence.

Last spring, the Holy Spirit began to tug at my heart with the words of 1 Thess. 4:11-12: and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. I began praying about a quiet life and what it might entail. I diligently sought to live a quiet life, both on screen and off. I would make progress only to backslide under the weight of temptation. When the dust settled, my heart would turn its course back toward the quiet life. The thought of it captivated me, luring me like a siren. In April I retired my blog and started a new one to chronicle my pursuit of a quiet life, its pitfalls and rewards. It is a small, quiet corner of the internet and it suits me perfectly well. I pray it is a benefit to anyone who stops long enough to read.

While I have taken pains to make my blog home a place that might bless others, I wonder if the same could be said of my online interaction as a whole. My comments, status updates, and tweets - do they benefit others or are they the mark of a soul bent on self-promotion and validation? Does my public discourse highlight me or God?

As I've considered these things over the course of the week I've realized anew that living a quiet life that brings glory to God alone is tricky business when it comes to social media which, by its very nature, feeds our inner narcissist. Still, I believe that with God's grace, Christians can use social media to benefit the virtual company we keep.

We should use 1 Corinthians 10:31 as our guideline, but there no one-size-fits-all solution. For me (for now, at least), I will focus on benefiting others by not being a distraction to them. That means no more adding to a conversation (or starting one, for that matter) just to "hear myself talk". Instead, I will seek to make substantive contributions and cut down on the meaningless chatter that draws attention to me rather than the Lord.

Now, Reader, I'm interested in your thoughts. What could you do to benefit the place you occupy and company you keep on the internet?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Showing His Grace

When I was a child, my mother complained that if she ever needed to shout for me to duck, I'd probably be asking "Why?" when whatever she'd seen coming hit me in the head. I haven't outgrown my desire to know the reasons for things. I still need to see how everything fits together.

Maybe that's why I love the purpose statements in scripture. (You know, the sentences with phrases like "so that," or "in order that," or even just "that.") They give us the reasons for God's acts. They help us piece together the big picture, or the whole story, of God's work in history.

See the "so that" at the beginning of Ephesians 2:7? 
...so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Yes, this is a purpose statement telling us God's reason for his saving action in the preceding passage, Ephesians 2:1-6. To sum it all up: God takes people who are spiritually dead, who are by nature objects of his wrath, raises them to spiritual life, and seats them "in the heavenly places," so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus

To be sure, this is not the only reason God saves people. Years ago, I did a study of scripture's explicit purpose statements for Christ's death and found ten different ones. John Piper wrote a book containing Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. Many of these purposes—or reasons—would also apply to the saving actions described in this passage. But the reason given in Ephesians 2:7 is God's ultimate purpose for saving sinners: He saves in order to show his limitless grace throughout eternity.

God gives us a glimpse of the fulfillment of this purpose in Revelation 7:9-12, where we see all of heaven praising God for his salvation. God planned this heavenly scene before time began, and acts in history to bring it about in eternity. To this end, as an eternal demonstration of "the immeasurable riches of [God's] grace," sinners deserving nothing but wrath are given salvation instead. In response, those who have been rescued by God's grace—and the angels, too—will eternally praise him for it.

Of course, there's no reason to wait until eternity to begin praising God for his glorious grace.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lessons in Nehemiah - Have the hunger

This is the fifth post in a series on Nehemiah.

The wall is finished. Nehemiah and the children of Israel have been successful in their task, despite the opposition. Nehemiah 8 begins.

The people are gathered together before the Water Gate (Nehemiah 8:1). Ezra is there now. Nehemiah has been the administrator of the reconstruction job. Ezra is the priest, and is there to for priestly tasks. There is a big wooden platform from where Ezra reads (Nehemiah 8:4). The people stand gathered before it.

What does Ezra do? He reads. He brings the Law before the assembly and he reads to them. How long does he read? He reads from early morning to midday. Who is his audience? Nehemiah 8:2 says that it was "both men and women and all who could understand what they heard." No one is excluded.

Nehemiah has men who help him translate for the audience. They speak to the people, not only translating, but helping the people understand the Law: "They read from the book, from the Law, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." (Nehemiah 8:8)

What an extraordinary picture. No microphones; no large screen to watch what is going on. No one is Tweeting. They are listening to understand.

What is their reaction? They worship.
Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. (8:6)
It gets more emotional. They weep (Nehemiah 8:9). Why are they weeping? Their city had been in ruins. They had been in captivity. They had not been able to gather together in such a manner as this, hearing the Law read and explained. Finally, they could hear the Law. Do you suppose they were hungry to hear from God?

They are told not to mourn, but to go and eat the fat and drink sweet wine and give to the needy. The people do this, and this section (Nehemiah 8:1-12) ends with them rejoicing.  Why are they rejoicing? Because, as 8:12 says, "they had understood the words that were declared to them."

Would you be hungry enough for a word from God to stand underneath a wooden platform all day, out in the sun to hear it? When you hear the Word read, do you worship with your face to the ground (either figuratively or literally)? Are you willing to wait upon help so that you can understand "the sense" of the Word? We have men all over the world whose job this is, to teach us. We have commentaries, online sermons, multiple translations. It has never been more easy to understand the Word. Do you take advantage of this blessing? We have no problem standing in line for a couple of hours to shop for something, or attend a concert, but do we say we don't have "enough time" for the Word?

It so easy to take advantage of the Word of God, but do we spend more time on anything else but probing the depths of God's word? We all make time for that which is important to us.

Christ, as part of the Godhead, is everywhere present with us, but Christ is revealed most clearly in His Word. We are often "in exile" in the world in which we live, far from the sound of His voice. We need to return to His Word, to worship and to obey. We need to have the hunger.

Previous posts on Nehemiah: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Problem With Books and Blogs

The article was in a Christian magazine. The author, a woman, was concerned. She had lived with a group of young women while taking a class, and they were slobs. She worried that the next generation of young women would not know how to clean their houses.

I read it during one of my infant son’s few short nap times and it struck me with guilt. I should have been cleaning instead of resting. Not only was I letting my family down, but my entire generation.

I wish the 41-year-old me could go back to that weary 25-year-old and dry her tears. I would remind her that she had a right to be tired, and a right to want to rest. We had just relocated, and the move was more difficult than we expected. I was in a cramped apartment. I suspected my downstairs neighbors were junkies. My baby boy had been sick for most of the summer. The apartment wasn’t even that dirty. But all I could feel was the judgment of a woman I didn’t know.

The woman’s message wasn’t evil. There have been times when I needed to be told to get up and get moving. (Take Thursday, for instance. I could have used that message then.) Just not that day in that particular season.

Books and blogs and magazine articles can be good things. Sometimes I’ve read things that told me exactly what I needed I hear. Sometimes I’ve tossed the book aside in disgust when I should have listened. And other times I’ve felt unnecessary condemnation.

The model Paul gives us in Titus 2 is for the older women to teach the younger women. That implies a personal, one-on-one relationship. In the three years before I read that article, I had gotten married, graduated college, got my first “grown-up” job, bought our first house, had a baby, and moved to a new city. That’s a whirlwind three years, but I hadn’t been an adult long enough to know that life isn’t always that eventful. I thought I should be handling things better. I needed someone with some long-term perspective to tell me I really wasn’t doing that bad, considering. Someone to babysit while I went to the laundromat would have been nice, too.

We don’t always judge ourselves well. Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations. Sometimes we rationalize bad behavior. A real friend can help you see which you’re doing. I’ve written an article or two, and I’ve read even more. But real friends can listen to our worries, dry our tears, and tell us when we’re full of beans. They can bear our burdens, weep when we weep, and rejoice when we rejoice.

Please keep reading the books and blogs and magazine articles as time allows, but don’t let them keep you from being a real friend to a real person who needs you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Weary in well-doing

When I reflect on the weariness I experienced as a young(er) mom--physical, emotional, spiritual--I often think, "If only I'd known how quickly those days would pass!" If only. If only I could see that stage in its proper perspective, I might have been able to relax, rest, and rejoice in those fleeting days of my boys' babyhood.

In today's weariness I often wonder the same thing.

In his encouragement to those of us weary in well-doing--a weariness, incidentally, not unique to moms but to us all regardless of age or stage--D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones advocates viewing our lives in proper perspective, that is, an eternal one, remembering that this world is not our home and living in anticipation of the joy that awaits us. From his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure:
You are tired and weary and you feel at times it is too much for you? Go back and look at your life and put it into the context of eternity. Stop and ask yourself what it all means. It is nothing but a preparatory school. This life is but the ante-chamber of eternity and all we do in this world is but anticipatory of that. Our greatest joys are but the first fruits and the foretaste of the eternal joy that is coming. How important it is to remind ourselves of that. It is the sheer grind of daily life that gets us down.
Further,
We are too immersed in our problems. We need to look ahead, to anticipate, to look forward to the eternal glories gleaming afar. The Christian life is a tasting of the first-fruits of that great harvest which is to come. 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.' 'Set your affection on things above and not on things on the earth.' Realize something in mind and heart of the glory of the place to which you are going. That is the antidote, that is the cure. The harvest we shall reap is certain, it is sure. 'Therefore,' says Paul to the Corinthians, 'be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord for as much as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.' Go on with your task whatever your feelings; keep on with your work. God will give the increase, He will send the rain of His gracious mercies as we need it.
How I need proper perspective, to remember that my true reward is Christ Himself! I want to be like Paul, straining toward what lies ahead: an eternity rejoicing in the glorious presence of my Lord! When I am weary I want to remember the joys of heaven, confident that my labor is not vain because it is the Lord Jesus I am serving even as I lay up treasures where moth and rust will not destroy.


Author's note: a version of this post was first published at my personal blog in August, 2010.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tearing Down the Walls

The ladies in my church were discussing what hinders in-depth relationships with each other. Several reasons were given such as busyness, poor time management, and needing to get to know one another. I agree these are valid concerns, but for me there was one underlying issue - fear of man or rather woman.

I'll share my struggles up to a point but nothing more because they might think I'm not very spiritual. I'll be myself to a certain degree but keep quiet about those things that might cause them to think I'm weird. They seem to have it all together, so no one could possibly relate to what I'm going through.

I don't mean to be presumptuous, so tell me if you are the exception, but I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way. So for any of you who are ready to tear down some walls, here's what I've been preaching to myself:

First of all, they and them need to be laid to rest. As in they are more spiritual, talented, outgoing, attractive, hospitable, [add your favorite adjective here]. It's not them. It's us. We are in this together, sisters, not in competition.

Secondly, what we share in Christ is greater than the multitude of measuring sticks we compare ourselves with. "The tie that binds" is more than a sentimental song with a good cry and a group hug. What binds us was bought with the infinitely precious blood of Jesus.

Thirdly, opening up our lives seems risky, but it's not a risk for God. When He saved us, it's a done deal from beginning to end. When He placed us in the local church, He didn't draw random names out of a hat. We are where we are and with whom we are with by divine appointment. He loves us too much to let us live in solitary confinement.

Lastly, our friendships matter. When new members join our church, they commit to "work towards the purity of the Bride of Christ." This happens through the preaching of the Word on a Sunday morning, but it also happens when the walls start to come down through open hearts and homes. This happens when we love one another in deed and truth along with our words and when we are humble enough to ask for prayer and admit we need the gospel, too.

Is it comfortable being vulnerable? Will our relationships always be perfectly amiable and free from misunderstanding? Is this a quick and easy process? No. But is it worth the time and cost to tear down our walls for the glory of God and the good of the church? Yes and amen.

Monday, July 15, 2013

For Those of Us With Teenagers...

It is vital that we remember the truths of the Gospel: First, there is no situation that is not "under control," for Christ "rules over all things for the sake of his body, the church  (Eph. 1:22). Second, not only is the situation under control, but God is at work in it doing the good that he has promised to do (Rom. 8:28). So I do not need to control my teenager's every desire, thought, and action. In every situation he is under the sovereign control of Christ, who is accomplishing what I cannot. Third, I need to remember the goal of my parenting is not to conform my children to my image, but to work so that they are conformed to the image of Christ! My goal is not to clone my tastes, my opinions, and my habits in my children. I am not looking for my image in them; I long to see Christ's.

We cannot consider the teenage years, with their tumult and struggle, without honestly looking at what we, as parents, bring to the struggle. If our hearts are ruled by comfort, respect, appreciation, success, and control, we will unwittingly hunger for our teens to meet our expectations instead of ministering to their spiritual needs. Instead of seeing moments of struggle as God-given doors of opportunity, we will view them as frustrating, disappointing irritants, and we will experience growing anger against the very children to whom we have been called to minister.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Seated in the Heavenly Places

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . . (Ephesians 2:4-6)
These three verses are a description of God’s gracious solution to the human problem detailed in the verses that begin the chapter (Ephesians 2:1-3). Two weeks ago, we looked at the problem as it affects our children, but it applies to us all—young and old, believer and unbeliever—although for the believer, it’s a “once were” situation, while for the unbeliever, it’s still a “now are.”

For the solution to our “by nature” problem, we are entirely dependent on God’s action. God, out of the mercy that flows from his love, takes those who are dead in trespasses and sins, and makes them alive, raising them, and seating them in the heavenly places. He does this all “in Christ.”

These events have already occured in the life of Christ: He has risen and ascended to heaven where he sits at God’s right hand. What once took place with Christ affects those who are in him, too. Those who belong to Christ are a risen people. They have new life—spiritual life.

The phrase in this passage that intrigues me most is this: “seated us with him in the heavenly places.” Even though Ephesians 2:1-10 is one of my favorite passages, and one I’ve spent plenty of time studying, I’ve never been sure I understood exactly what it means that I—or perhaps more precisely, God’s people corporately, including me—have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

Reading what commentators say doesn’t help me much either. Some think this refers to something that believers possess, at least in part, in this life. The ESV Study Bible notes on this phrase, for instance, say that even now, God’s people “share in a measure of the authority that Christ has, seated at the right hand of God . . . .” Others think this refers to the future hope of eternity with Christ, a hope so certain for those who belong to him that Paul can refer to it as if it has already happened. 

Either way, it’s a phrase that should bolster our assurance. If it is pointing to an inheritance still waiting, our blessed future is sure—as sure as our own own past regeneration (being “made alive”), and better yet, as sure as Christ’s past resurrection, ascension, and present session at the right hand of the Father. If it means we presently possess a share of our future heavenly blessings, it's all of the above and this, too: What we have now is a promise of more to come.

This life here will always be a struggle. Our faith is never what it should be; we are never what we should be; and our bodies are dying little by little, day by day. It isn’t very heavenly, is it? 

Yet, if we are in Christ, God sees us as if we were already seated in the heavenly places. Our inheritance is settled because we are united to the One who was raised and now sits at God’s right hand. We can bank on this!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Envy of Eve - Book Review

This morning, I'm giving everyone a break from my series on Nehemiah, and re-posting a book review I did on my blog.

Who doesn't struggle with feeling envy? Who hasn't occasionally found it difficult to suppress?  Melissa Kruger's book The Envy of Eve  is a book that can shed light on why this might be. This book is about the subtle and seductive nature of covetousness and the damaging consequences which can result.

Kruger first establishes what coveting is:
an inordinate or culpable desire to possess, often that which belongs to another. 
 Kruger first establishes the nature of coveting, specifically, where the root lies, which is unbelief.  We covet because we do not believe God's dealings with us are good; instead, we want what someone else has.  Kruger describes a pattern whereby we covet:  see, covet, take, hide.  She begins with Eve in the garden who saw the fuit, wanted what was not hers, took it, and then was forced to hide in her shame.  This pattern is found in all of the chapters as she details the various kinds of coveting.  The way to battle this pattern is to adopt a new one.  Instead of seeing, we should seek the Lord in all things.  Rather than coveting, we should desire rightly.  Instead of taking, we ought to give generously, and instead of hiding, we should confess freely before God any tendencies lurking in our hearts.

Kruger explores various areas where we may covet: money and possessions, romantic relationships, relationship with friends and family, circumstances and seasons of life, and giftedness and abilities.  In each chapter, she provides a solid biblical example of the consequences of coveting.  For example, in the chapter about romantic relationships, she points to the devastation wrought after David coveted Bathsheba and took her.  Also, in each chapter, she discusses ways to adopt the new pattern which rejects coveting.  At the end of each chapter, there are questions for group discussion.  Sometimes, the discussion questions in books like these aren't my favourite thing, but I found her discussion questions very biblical and edifying.  I think one could take the bible passages and have a nice study with a group of friends if one so chose.

All of the chapters spoke to me in some way, alerting me to my own tendency to covet.  However, the chapter about relationships with friends and family was very hard-hitting to me.  I have struggled with female friendships all my life, and I can see now how much of my attitude toward them has carried a root of covetousness.  Kruger reminds us while having good relationships with family and friends is not wrong, they can become idolatrous in many ways, as we seek them more diligently than our relationship with Christ.

At the heart of every chapter is the principle that our complete and total sufficiency is found in Christ, not in these earth-bound things which we covet.  When we spend time coveting, we rob God of his glory and we can rob our family and friends of things as we spend time chasing things which are not meant to be ours.  Ultimately, we take honour and glory from God because we don't embrace what He has given us.

This book was such a refreshing read in comparison to many other Christian women's books which try to excuse bad tendencies by making all women out to be "victims" in some manner.   My tendency to have covetous attitudes about female friendships could be because I was bullied in junior high school and suffer from fear of rejection.  But no, it's not; my struggle comes from not accepting the things as good that God has given me.  It coms from wanting something someone else has.  This book forces the reader to take a long, hard look into her own heart, and I think that is really needed in this age of therapeutic Christian reading.

I highly recommend this book for women of all ages.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Forgetting

For a few months now, I've been posting every other Monday at this blog. I try to think of my posts ahead of time, but it doesn't always work that way. Several times I've had to write a post late on Sunday night.

This time, though, was going to be different. I was thinking about my post this past Wednesday. I had my topic and three main points. I was doing laundry at the time, so I decided to write it down later. Then came the July 4th holiday. Then a weekend trip to my hometown to visit with cousins at my late grandparents' farm. Then a day with my in-laws. And the post? Poof! Gone. Whatever feeble imprint it left on my memory vanished in the course of the busy weekend.

So first off, let's just imagine it was the greatest blog post ever written and mourn the tragedy.

Memory is a funny thing. I can remember the phone numbers for most of my childhood friends, my grandparents, and the restaurant my parents ate at most Saturday nights when I was growing up, but I can't remember my husband's work number to save my life. And this isn't so much that I've gotten older, because I've always had a tendency to remember trivial things but forget important things.

Our recurring nightmares often involve forgetting things. Many people have a variation of the "test" dream. I don't have that nightmare, probably because I had the actual experience more than once in my academic career. But when I was pregnant with our oldest child, I dreamed several times that I would forget about the baby. In the dream I was usually in the grocery store, and it would occur to me that I hadn't seen or cared for the baby in days. I would wake up each time in a terrible panic.

Once he was born, the dream proved to be ridiculous. Not only was our son quite capable of making everybody in the house aware of his presence, I was also changed. When he cried in the night, my eyes would open immediately. And though I was occasionally disoriented, and it often felt like I had just fed him a few seconds ago, I never once forgot about him.

But sadly, it is possible. This time of year we read the tragic stories of a parent who has forgotten a child. My heart breaks when I read these stories, because though it is rare, it is possible. We are human, and therefore fallible. We are capable of forgetting important things, and making horrible mistakes.

Our Heavenly Father, though, does not forget. Isaiah 49:15 takes the strongest human bond that exists--that of the mother and her nursing child--and says God's love is stronger.

He never forgets us. Even when we don't understand what he's doing, he's in control with a plan. Even when we forget him, his love for us never changes. Even when we are exhausted and aren't quite sure how we're going to get through the next week's to-do list, his love for us is perfect. Even when I woke up this morning in my parents' guest room, disoriented and groggy and not quite sure where I was, his watch and care over me never paused (Psalm 139:2).

God's care for me never ceases. If God's love for me depended on me, I would definitely mess it up. I forget blog posts and birthdays and important appointments, but he never forgets about me.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Melancholy and the hope of the gospel

In high school I was part of the youth choir at my church, the highlight of such participation being the annual choir tour. My senior year we spent a week in Canada doing backyard Bible clubs, performing in various venues, and sightseeing (the highlight being Niagara Falls). At the close of the week our choir director honored the graduating seniors by presenting each of us with a hymnal with a personal inscription on the flyleaf. As he presented each hymnal he related a specific hymn to each senior. For me that hymn was "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee".

I've thought of that often, not the trip to Canada so much, but that particular hymn and what may have prompted the director to choose that title for me. See, "joyful" isn't exactly the sort of word one would choose to describe me. Not now, at least, and I suppose we all assume the way we are now is the way we've always been. And the me that I am now, well, I am more melancholy than merry.

Not only is my general disposition toward the less-than-joyful it seems that the older I get the more prone I am to occasional bouts of deeper melancholy. Being in the dumps, down, depressed, whatever you want to call it, this funk-y state often sneaks up on me thanks to my hormones. Sorry, guys, just keepin' it real. If you'd like to click away, please do but I promise this isn't a post about hormones. It's about the gospel. And persevering when I'd really rather sit on the sofa and feel sorry for myself.

To borrow John Piper's term, I must fight for joy. "Joyful, joyful" is not my default emotion but I can fight for the kind of settled conviction that dispels the darkness of my despair. I'm not talking about happy, happy euphoria but something deeper: hope, peace, and, yes, joy. Here's what helps me fight the fight...

I am proactive. My low bouts are generally expected--I know when I am vulnerable--and I try to be wise in my fight. I do the things I know help: I get off the sofa, I walk my dog, I engage, I eat chocolate.

I preach to myself. I talk to myself rather sternly and I tell myself that it's only the hormones, that it's only emotions, that it's not real. Sometimes this helps but most times it only makes me sad and mad both, sad because it is the hormones and mad because I hate suffering the whim of something as inconsistent and erratic as the hormones of a 40-something female.

Sigh.

I talk to myself and I make myself get off the sofa but really, all that sustains is this: the gospel. So not only do I sternly remind myself of the fleeting nature of hormones and of feelings but I also preach the gospel to myself. When my emotions tempt me to despair, I must hold to something higher, something stronger, something more sure, more solid, more true. I must hold to Jesus and He promises He will not let go. I cling to Him, to His promise to save and sustain, to His grace and forgiveness, to the hope I have beyond hormones and depression. There is more and it is in Christ.

I seek perspective. These struggles with melancholy point me to my true home where there will be no sadness and no tears, only joy and light and that light and that joy being Jesus Himself, yes and amen! In the face of such future hope my melancholy makes me yearn for the satisfaction that I will know when I see Him. What a glorious gift to see this world as wanting and know the sure glory of the next!

While I struggle with emotional lows and even suffered a season of post partum depression after my last baby, I don't pretend to know the enduring darkness which some of you may suffer. I know my inability to climb out of the sadness, but my sadness only lasts for a few days, maybe a week. To those who suffer prolonged periods of depression I offer the hope of the gospel as well as the encouragement to seek professional help. There is no shame in getting the kind of help you need be it medication or some other form of treatment. Please, talk to your doctor or engage a professional Biblical counselor.

Two resources that have been a great help to me are John Piper's When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight For Joy and D. Martin Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. Even if you do not struggle with these types of funks I think both titles will serve to encourage and edify.

Whether you are naturally disposed to joy or, like me, are more-melancholy-than-merry, we have a hope that endures. There is joy beyond the sorrow! Let us hold fast, sisters, for He who promised is faithful.

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!
~Henry Van Dyke

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Help for the blindsided

Have you ever been blindsided by your past? You could be driving down the road, reading a book, or listening to music. Something triggers a memory and suddenly BAM!

I was recently blindsided with memories of a very un-gospel-like incident. As I replayed the scene in my mind, shame, regret, and sorrow washed over me. How could I have done that? How could I have said those things? Who do I think I am?

After the tears dried, I had two choices. I could beat myself up or turn that un-gospel-like recollection into a gospel moment. Thankfully, I chose the latter. So at the risk of stating the obvious, here is what I preached to myself:

- If I was so hardened that I couldn't acknowledge any wrong, what a tragic state to be in. So praise God for godly sorrow. It's a sign my conscience isn't seared and that the Holy Spirit is working in my heart. (2 Cor. 7:10; Rom. 2:4)

- Forgiveness is available for Christians, too. I needed it the day I was saved, and I'll need it every day for the rest of my life.  (1 John 1:6-9)

- There is no condemnation in Christ. Not because God turns a blind eye to my sin but because His just wrath was poured out on Jesus in my place. (Rom. 8:1-4)

 - My sanctification isn't derailed. God has not thrown His hands in the air saying, "You were progressing so swimmingly. What am I going to do now that you've messed things up? You've set Me back at least 10 years." Nonsense. God will present me blameless and holy to Himself, not because I've been a model Christian in my own right but because He has promised to do so in His Word. (Phil. 1:6; Jude 24-25)

- Nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Not the times I've blown it in the past. Nor the times I will fail in the future. Absolutely nothing. (Rom. 8:31-39)

- There is hope for my brokenness and those I have hurt. Jesus came to heal and bind up our wounds. Reconciliation is possible through the gospel. (Is. 61:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:16-20)

So I apologize that I don't have anything "new" to share. But when the past wallops me from out of nowhere, it's tempting to wonder who I am and if I will ever be a good enough Christian. It's tempting to question whether God's work is enough to compensate for what I've done. It's times like these I need to hang on for dear life to what Jesus has done through His life, death, and resurrection. It isn't a psychological pep talk to cajole myself into feeling better, but the declaration of reality - who God is, what He has done, and who He declares me to be in Christ.

This is the truth that sets me free.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Resources for Teens: On The Go Devotionals

Throughout the Fight Like a Girl Series, I cited various resources that parents of teens might find helpful as we navigate the waters of adolescence. In the coming weeks, I'd like to highlight some resources our teens might find helpful as well. While not all of these resources are written specifically for teens, they deal with many issues teens face.


Contentment. Purity. Trust. Joy. These are the four topics of Lydia Brownback's On the Go Devotional Series. While the series was written for women, the books are also suitable for teen girls. In fact, I believe they are a valuable resource for several reasons.

First, each book has a singular focus, which allows the reader to contemplate one topic for weeks at a time. Teen girls benefit from repetition, letting the concepts really soak in so that they can make useful application of that they've learned.
Second, the devotions are compact and powerful. Each day's reading averages 1 1/2 pages, drawn from a short Scripture verse or passage. In this case, good things do come in small packages! Brownback's to-the-point, don't-mince-words style is quick to pierce the heart.

Third, Brownback has a gift for exploring each topic from various, perhaps unexpected, angles. For example, Purity discusses a pure heart and its fruits (feminine purity, a pure body, sexual purity, and pure love). Even though a reader might spend 5 - 6 weeks in a book, she will not feel as if she's been hammered over the head with the same topic over and over again.
Finally, a girl could go through each of these books several times and still learn something new, depending on what's going on in her life. This makes the series ideal for women and girls alike.

Mothers, if you are looking for some conversation starters with your teen daughter, I highly recommend the On the Go Devotional series. Order a couple of copies of one of the books, and watch your relationship with your daughter - and both of your relationships with God - grow.