Monday, October 29, 2012

Striving for a Place at the Table

In over a decade of working with middle school age kids, one situation I occasionally see is the child who suddenly tries on a new personality. Like the "New Jan Brady" in a black wig, a normally quiet child becomes loud and boisterous; a normally shy child becomes bossy and assertive.

The child doesn’t announce this intention, but it’s not hard to spot once you’ve seen it a few times. It's as if the child gets a picture in his head what “cool” means to him, and becomes determined to create the facade. Since television aimed at this age group seems to portray life as a series of madcap adventures (complete with a laugh track), this usually manifests as a forced, manufactured hilarity. Most of the time, though, the problem goes away. Whether the experiment backfires or just becomes exhausting, the child eventually starts acting like himself again.

Adults are more sophisticated in their efforts, but we do the same thing. Of all our potential social faux pas, the most embarrassing is when we try to impress and accidentally tip our hand. A person tries to pass himself off as more knowledgable than he is, only to realize he’s been talking to an expert. We announce that we’ve discovered the latest and greatest, only to learn that it is yesterday’s news. When others do it, we scoff. When we do it, we stew in humiliation.

In Luke 14:7-11, Jesus addresses this tendency of the human heart.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus didn’t offer this as a way to avoid social humiliation (although it’s pretty good advice in that regard), but to show how we strive for worldly adulation. We clamor after the place of honor to convince ourselves that we’re doing okay. But worldly honor is elusive and fleeting. Often we think we’ve grasped it, only to see it disappear in a vapor.

Jesus goes on in this passage to discuss our tendency to do good only for those who can build us up.

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Our picture of success should not be found in earthly things, but in bringing glory and honor to the Father. This releases us from the futile cycle of seeking approval from people, and frees us to seek only the approval of God.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Weak and Ungodly

Imagine, if you will, a little girl in one of the dark and desperate corners of the world like Somalia or Sudan. She lives in abject poverty and in fact has been sold to a brothel owner as a child prostitute. Now imagine your dear friend traveling to this little girl's region maybe on an evangelistic trip or some sort of mercy mission. She meets the girl and is overcome with pity and compassion. She determines to save her by offering the most precious and valuable thing she has: she will sacrifice her own daughter's life in exchange for the life and freedom of this little girl. In other words, she loved this girl so much that she gave her only begotten daughter so that this little girl might be saved from a life of poverty and horror.
Astute readers familiar with the Bible no doubt noted the gospel overtones in my little story--a story which, by the way, isn't in fact my own but one I heard presented as a metaphor for the gospel. Certainly the description of the helpless little girl captures to some extent the desperation of those unable to save themselves from their sin. And, by drawing a comparison of a real life daughter being given to save another, it also pictures something of the radical nature of God's grace in the sacrifice of His Son. But, whatever kernels of truth it may contain, it is an incomplete portrayal of our sinfulness before God and thus a narrow and inadequate and incorrect representation of the gospel.

Romans 5:6 tells us that "While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." In other words, here's the sort of people that Christ saves: weak and ungodly. The two terms are linked together telling us that the weakness Paul is describing in this verse isn't a physical weakness but rather a moral weakness, a shameful inability as well as a willful disinclination to do good or be good. A morally weak person has much in her past (and present) that ought to make her ashamed. She isn't weak in terms of being a victim to another's wickedness; she is herself ungodly and sin-sick, doomed by her depravity to die and suffer an eternity in hell.

But the good news of the gospel is that there is hope! Christ came to earth not for the well but for the sick, not the righteous but the unrighteous! Glory to God, Jesus died for the weak and the ungodly. See what measure of grace He has granted us: "God shows his love for us in while we still sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) We are sinners--weak and ungodly--but Christ died for us.

Listen, when it comes to your sinful state before God, you are not a helpless victim nor innocent prey. In our sin we are all of us morally weak and tragically, desperately ungodly. The Bible says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins, by our very nature of children of wrath, justly deserving the judgment of God because of our wickedness and depravity. To borrow on the aforementioned metaphor, you are not the poor pitiful little girl deserving compassion but rather the wicked brothel owner guilty of unspeakable transgressions against the holy and righteous God of the universe and yet, still, Christ died for you. He loves you, He redeems you, and He not only canceled your vast sin debt but He gave to you His perfect, sinless righteousness. Amazing grace!

Are you convinced of your sin? Do you know your wickedness? Do you see the condemnation that is rightly yours? Cast yourself before the mercy of the Lord! He died for sinners just like you (and me), and in His grace He saves to the uttermost those who call upon His name. Are you weak? Ungodly? Your only hope is Christ! Rejoice in God and His Son Jesus through whom we have received so great a salvation as a free gift of grace!

Author's note: My pastor preached on Romans 5 this past Sunday and I shamelessly employed some of his points in this post (but not the story at the start--that is from another source which shall remain anonymous). If you're interested in listening to the sermon--and I highly recommend you do--click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

He who sits in the heavens

Worry is one of my besetting sins. It can cover a wide range of subjects - immediate family concerns, the election in less than 2 weeks, or what's really happening in Tehran. I begin to worry because I don't like unknowns, and I don't like feeling out of control. To compensate, I often try to keep tabs on all the possible variables that could affect the outcome, deluding flattering myself into thinking that I can at least be mentally prepared for what could occur. But this is cold comfort. There are too many factors beyond my scope, and as I consider what is outside of my control, the needle on the worry meter goes up.

I have a less-than-robust background in the absolute sovereignty of God, so I could use that as an excuse. But even wholeheartedly embracing that doctrine, my thoughts of God are often "too human"1, as if He is equally perplexed, sitting in the heavens, laughing nervously, and wringing His hands in confusion.

If I dig deeper, there's a showdown taking a place - a face-off between the Bible's claims of God's supremacy versus my fallible thoughts and feelings. Who do I listen to? My worries? Or do I take my soul by the scruff of the neck, so to speak, turn off the news or whatever is feeding my anxiety, and turn back to the Scriptures?  Feelings go up and down. Circumstances change for good or bad. But neither feelings or circumstances are the arbiter of truth. God's Word is, and here's what it says about His authority over all things:
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Psalm 2: 4-6
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chron. 29:11-13
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Ephesians 1:11
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:1-3
The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting...Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore. Psalm 93:1-2,5
From A.W. Pink:
The absolute and universal supremacy of God is plainly and positively affirmed in many scriptures... Before Him, presidents and popes, kings and emperors, are less than grasshoppers.3
God's supremacy over the works of His hands is vividly depicted in Scripture. Inanimate matter, irrational creatures, all perform their Master's bidding.4
God's supremacy is also demonstrated in His perfect rule over the wills of men... His own eternal "counsels" are accomplished to their minutest details. 5
I don't know about you, but this gives me great comfort. This answers my fear of the unknown because there are no unknowns to an omniscient God. He does not react to future events because He has already ordained what will take place by His decrees. We have a foundation that will never shift under any circumstance because we rest on the unchanging character of God Himself.

Let every man or, in this case, woman be a liar. The Lord reigns.
Here then is a resting place for the heart. Our lives are neither the product of blind fate nor the result of capricious chance, but every detail of them was ordained from all eternity and is now ordered by the living and reigning God. 6
1. The Attributes of God, Chapter 5 The Supremacy of God, A.W. Pink, Baker, 1975, pg. 28.
2. Thanks to Zack for his open theist "version" of Psalm 2:4.
3. The Attributes of God, Chapter 5 The Supremacy of God, A.W. Pink, Baker, 1975, pg. 29.
4. Ibid. pg. 30.
5. Ibid. pg. 30-31.
6. Ibid. pg. 31.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fighting For Your Girl's Worth: Part II

Note: This is part of the Fight Like a Girl Series. Other posts are found under the series tag.

My first real relationship with a guy ended in bitterness and lies. My 16-year old heart was crushed. My head, which should have known better, was spinning. In a few short months, my identity and my future had become so wrapped up with this young man that I had no idea how to disentangle myself.

After the breakup, I started losing weight. My cheeks and eyes became sunken. If my friends noticed, they kept quiet. My high school principal did not. He called me into his office and showed me a drawer full of snacks, giving me freedom and strict instructions to raid the stash daily. My parents worried and threatened me with medical attention. Thankfully, I snapped out of my fog before I had done any damage to myself.
I was not anorexic or bulimic. I didn't think I was overweight or that I'd be more appealing if I was thinner. I stopped eating because I had lost the center of my world. I had bought into the lie that my worth was found in a relationship with a guy. 

It was a lie I believed for many years to come. As an unsaved young woman hooked on nighttime soap operas and romance novels, I had no hope of believing otherwise. 

By the grace of God, my daughter does have hope. She has Christ, but she does not have guaranteed immunity against Satan's lies. Leslie Ludy writes about the struggles she faced as a Christian girl trying to navigate the waters of secular dating:

 I had dreamed of living a perfect fairy-tale love story someday. I had pictured a blissful and carefree dating life, just like what I watched on those old-fashioned black-and-white TV reruns. But I hadn't known about the ugly side of the temporary dating cycle: the inevitable heartbreak, confusion, and compromise of my spiritual values...Each fling ended with heartbreak and shattered emotions...Before I even graduated from high school, I literally felt like I had been through the turmoil of about five divorces. I had no more confidence, no more security. I didn't know who I was anymore.

Why would any girl, even a good Christian girl, allow herself to get so caught up in a guy? We may rightly blame television, magazines, and friends; however, we must also look at the messages we're communicating to our daughters. Ludy explains,

In spite of the current cultural emphasis on feminine independence and even superiority, most of us as young women seem to be on an obsessive search for male attention and affirmation...We are programmed to believe that if we are not constantly surrounded by lustful male attention, we have very little worth as young women...the pressure is everywhere - often even from parents and Christian leaders - to prove that we are active in our pursuit of the opposite sex. "Do you have a boyfriend?" was the never-ending question I heard from relatives, pastors, youth leaders, and friends throughout the early, young-adult years of my life. This, combined with the loud and incessant messages from the world around me, made me feel that I was incomplete as a young woman without touting a string of guys over my shoulder.

Many Christian parents expect their teens to date and encourage romantic relationships by giving the boyfriend/girlfriend a ticket to family gatherings and vacations. I wonder if, in our efforts to make our children happy, we are disregarding our responsibility to guard them. Even if they act as if they are grown, teenagers do not have the maturity to correctly judge the benefits of a romantic relationship apart from our guidance. Paul David Tripp offers this exhortation to parents, "Your goal should be to get your teenager to step outside of the emotion and commitment of the relationship to give it a long, honest, biblical look." (Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, pg. 84) He is speaking of friendships, but certainly we are wise to heed this advice for romantic relationships as well.

If we do not want our daughters to fall victim to the trap of finding her worth in a guy, we must start reprogramming them. We must be willing to launch an aggressive counterattack against the cultural norms. We must be diligent in teaching her that a wise woman "doesn't need a man to fulfill her life's purpose...She has a profound sense of mission. More than anything, she wants to know Christ and make Him known." (Mary Kassian, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, p. 89).  Most importantly, we must be willing to model this truth in our own lives.

Keep Fighting:
~If you haven't already done so, read and discuss Hosea 1 - 3 with your girl. (see this post for discussion starters)
~Guard your daughter's heart and mind against Satan's lies about romance by monitoring what she reads and watches. Read and watch along with her, and encourage open discussion about the relationships depicted.
~I recently committed to stop asking my girl about her friends' relationships. It only lends them importance and calls attention to her lack of a boyfriend. I don't want to make her feel left out or unworthy. However, if she brings up the subject, we will certainly talk about it!
~Suggest that your husband and daughter have regular time alone (even if they just go out for ice cream). If her dad isn't available, perhaps a grandfather or uncle would consider making this investment in your girl's life. An older man who exhibits godly character will make a lasting impact on her.
~Encourage other interests that will allow your girl to feel important and fulfilled, such as mission trips, sports, or new friendships with girls who aren't so boy-crazy. In Lies Young Women Believe: And the Truth that Sets Them Free, one formerly boy-crazy girl accepted her mother's challenge to spend one year focusing on her relationship with God. Within two months, she was cured of her "boy-fever." Pray about how you might challenge and encourage your girl in this area.

Further Reading: 
~Kim has had some great things to say on this topic at her own blog. You can read her posts here and here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Recommended Reading: Olney Hymns

by William Cowper and John Newton.

[This is a review (sort of) I wrote for November's newsletter at my church. The copy of the Olney Hymns in our library looks like the picture on the right, but there are various reprinted versions. You can find all of William Cowper's Olney Hymns online, too.]

William Cowper’s childhood was full of difficult things and he was not what we would call a "resilient child." As an adult, he suffered from depression, attempting suicide several times during his life. After his first suicide attempt, he became convinced that his sin, especially his attempted suicide, was so offensive to God that there was no way for him to be forgiven. He was sure he would forever remain under God's wrath.

The conviction that he was beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness drove him deeper into despair and he was sent to a mental asylum. In the asylum, he was under the care of Dr. Nathaniel Cotton, who held out hope of God’s forgiveness to Cowper, but Cowper was unconvinced.

What finally convinced him? It was reading scripture while in the asylum. He was persuaded by Romans 3:25, which says that God put Christ forward "as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." He understood immediately that his only hope was in the one sacrifice sufficient to turn away God’s wrath—the “propitiation by his blood”—and he believed.

I wish I could tell you that Cowper's conversion immediately solved all his problems, but he continued to suffer bouts of mental illness throughout his life, and even attempted suicide again, perhaps two or three more times. The assurance of salvation that he had at his conversion did not continue without interruption. For long periods he would become convinced that ultimately he would be what he called a “castaway”; that is, in the end, Christ would say to him, “I never knew you.” I suspect this was the compulsive thinking of a sick mind. After all, he truly believed that all those who trusted Christ were surely saved, and he also knew that he trusted Christ. Yet he couldn’t rid himself of the fear that he was the one and only exception to the promise, the only person who ever lived who would trust Christ and still be rejected.

In God's providence, Cowper came to live in Olney Parish where John Newton was pastor. Newton took Cowper under his wing, visiting him almost daily for thirteen years. Newton encouraged Cowper, a talented poet, to write hymns to be sung in the church at Olney, and collaborated with him to produce the well-known Olney Hymns, a project planned in part to give a hopeless man a sense of purpose. Their effort gave us a hymnal, first published in 1779, that includes several hymns found in our modern worship hymnals.

I love Olney Hymns for Cowper's hymns especially. Because of his illness, he contributed only 67 of the 379 hymns, but his verses include some of the finest poetry found in hymns. And knowing a little of Cowper's story makes them even more remarkable. When you read the words of Cowper’s best known hymn, There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood1 ("and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains"), set them against the background of his conversion. Because Cowper felt so deeply the despair of condemnation for sin, he understood more fully that his only hope was Christ's sacrifice.

There’s no big happy ending to Cowper's life. His very last words were not of hope, but of despair. I knew someone who thought it was a mistake for the church to continue singing Cowper’s hymns, since, they explained, he’d rejected Christ. I don’t think there’s any evidence he rejected Christ, just that he didn’t find the peace in Christ in this life that we’ve come to expect from conversion. This makes his story a puzzle for us.

Still, there is hope in Cowper’s story. He was a miserable man from whom we received wonderful poetry and some of our most uplifting hymns. The products of his tormented mind bring joy and peace to ours. John Piper says the fact that so many people find encouragement from Cowper’s life should teach us that when we want to encourage others, we “must not limit ourselves to success stories.”2

Cowper’s life is proof of the truth of one of his hymns from Olney Hymns, a hymn he called Light Shining Out of Darkness:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm. 
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will. 
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head. 
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face. 
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower. 
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
The clouds of Cowper’s hopelessness are big with blessings for us, and someday the puzzle of his life will be made plain when God interprets it for us.

1The title in Olney Hymns is Praise for the Fountain Opened.
2The Hidden Smile of God, John Piper, page 116.

Learn more:

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Who I Am

My oldest son was in preschool when I first became known as "Adam's Mommy." For some of his classmates, that would even function as my name. "Hi, Adam's Mommy!" they would say as I came to pick him up.

To my kids, I am no longer "Mommy," but simply "Mom." And with the shortening of the name, the role is changing as well. My kids no longer believe that I have all the answers. I can no longer fix everything. And though my advice is usually received respectfully, it isn't always followed. (And much to my chagrin, my advice is not always correct.)

All of our earthly roles change, and many of them cease. And yet we love to cling to those roles. They remind us who we are. They give us worth a sense of worth.

The problem with grounding our identities on our earthly roles is that they cannot bear the weight of our expectations. Nothing is this world is strong enough to prop up all our insecurities and doubts. If we find our worth in being a good mother, the normal heartache we experience when our children struggle is compounded by the fear that we no longer measure up. If we base our identity on a ministry or career, we panic if we feel it may be lost.

In the book Who Am I?, Jerry Bridges reminds us that Christians have a far more valuable identity than any earthly role we can take on. I am still Adam (and Elise and Jake's) mom, a job I will always treasure. I am still a Sunday School teacher, a task that I love. But I am also in Christ. I am Justified. I am an adopted child of God, a saint, a servant of Christ, and I am not yet perfect.

The beautiful thing is that I am not required to be these things in my own strength (because I would certainly fail!), but in the grace and strength that He provides. They cannot be taken away from me, because they are preserved for me by God's power. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Readers of my personal blog (from back when I used to blog semi-regularly, anyone, anyone?) know that my oldest son is off to college, the first of my babies to leave home. My other three boys are now in middle school and high school, meaning that not only have we entered the world of parenting a college student, but we've also left the elementary years behind us. It's crazy, isn't it, how fast time flies? Seriously.

Dear friends have sent me emails and texts and have stopped me at church to ask me how I'm doing. I suppose all my melodrama has had its effects and my friends love me and care for me and worry about me.

So, how am I? I don't know; it depends, really. I miss my son, of course I do. I'm much lonesome-r upon the return to school this year than ever, even now in mid-October, some two months in to the school year, probably because he's gone but also because I see how fast his brothers are growing up behind him. For instance, I have no afternoon car line to sit through (or to blog about). One son can drive himself, yes and amen, and the other two are involved in after school practices. It's strange waiting around until 5:00 to go pick somebody up.

Transitions are hard which doesn't mean they aren't happy or good or of benefit. The shift from one stage of life to another naturally carries with it some degree of nostalgia and perhaps a greater degree of unease. Things aren't the same and expectations must necessarily change and sometimes that is more difficult to process and carry through than we anticipate.

Life here in the middle years is good, very good, don't get me wrong. I've testified before that I like my 40's and I do. I will say that life here in the middle years can also be confusing and disappointing and extremely stressful. In other words: hello, transition. It's time to be the grown up and sometimes that's hard, so hard in fact that some days the melancholy weighs heavy and the tears shimmer beneath the surface, ready to fall at the least (dumbest) thing. What then?

I've found my best coping mechanism isn't a mechanism at all. It's truth, the truth of the gospel. When I am tempted to indulge my funk and spend the day on the sofa drinking coffee, eating chocolate and watching past episodes of Masterpiece Theater all the while moping and feeling sorry for myself instead of getting up and getting on with my responsibilities--hypothetically speaking of course--I remember the gospel and that the Lord has granted grace to me, grace that is seen in my yesterday's, today's and tomorrow's...

How quickly I forget the Lord's provision in my yesterday's! Today I grieve the transition of my boy leaving home, not too long ago I grieved the seeming perpetuity of the preschool years. That stage of life stretched long and interminal and I remember being certain that I would never be able to go to the bathroom alone much less sit down to eat a complete meal. The Lord was faithful then even when I despaired of survival, I can trust He will be faithful today. I also find great encouragement in the testimony of other moms who have gone before me and can joyously attest to the Lord's past provision in their mothering. The Lord was gracious to them, He will be gracious to me. I can look too in the Word and read of His glorious provision for the saints past. Will He not do the same for me?

Because of Jesus, I can have confidence that all that I need for today the Lord will provide. Forgiveness, mercy, sustaining grace, strength: all are mine in the power of the Spirit because I belong to Christ. His grace is not without effect to me and for me on this day. I am weak but He is strong! No matter what today holds--happinesses, sadnesses, joys, funks--He is sufficient and His provision is abundant!

This week in Bible study I taught on Noah and in my preparation I was struck by the fact that Noah spent 120 years building the ark. One hundred and twenty years of hammering and sawing and waiting, can you imagine? What could sustain such monotony? Only a faith-filled hope in the Lord's promise--not merely a sort of wishful thinking but the kind of hope that inspires an anxious expectation, a confident assurance that what the Lord has said, He will do. This same hope is mine. Life at the moment may be hard and strange and sometimes depressing but I know that I will see the Lord's faithfulness in my tomorrow's and it is this hope that motivates my preservance. There is future grace, yes and amen!

So, how am I? How is life as I know it? I am busy with the usual laundry and supper and football and soccer and band. I am preparing for and teaching Bible study and volunteering at the crisis pregnancy center. I am praying earnestly and desperately for a specific situation. I am a little lonesome with my boy gone and my others so busy but I am overflowing in gratitude for the Lord's faithfulness and provision. I am sometimes sad but I am remembering and reveling in gospel grace that covers yesterday, today, and tomorrow with abundant blessing and unspeakable joy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Gospel for Misfits

Have you ever felt like a misfit? Somehow you were different from everyone else. You knew it. They knew it. And what a relief it was to finally find a group who understood you and with whom you could relate. Perhaps that's why the local church can be such a haven. After failing to fit in with the world, we become part of God's family. Our relationships are now free from misunderstanding because we're all Christians. Right?

If only.

As women, I think it's fair to say that we have a propensity to size one another up unconsciously. We compare and contrast ourselves often unintentionally. But if we're not careful to hold on to our gospel identity, misfit-itis can be stirred up in our hearts. Our differences, real and imaginary, begin to loom large, larger than our unity in Christ.

I had a bout of misfit-itis a few years ago. The women's group in my church was beginning a study on biblical womanhood, primarily marriage and motherhood. I was recently post-divorce with barely healed wounds, and we were going to discuss marriage? I had no idea how I would react emotionally, and the more inward I turned, my divorce began to rise like a barrier between me and the other married women. "They won't understand.”, “What do we really have in common?", and other assorted lies were fuel to the fire of self-pity. I was tempted to take my marbles and go home until the next study.

But the gospel isn't about misfits finding a safe niche. It's about the unfit being made fit to enter the presence of God.

Regardless of our differences, whether good or bad in our estimation, our deadness in Adam levels the playing field. This was our common lot from which there was no escape until God extended His mercy and transferred us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His Beloved Son (Col. 1: 11-14). By His doing, we are in Christ Jesus which trumps anything and everything that would attempt to divide us (1 Cor. 1:26-31; Eph. 2:13-22).

So by God's grace, I didn't take my marbles and go home. Our oneness in Christ is greater than marital status, ethnicity, age, method of schooling for your kids, and feel free to add your own entries to this list.

We aren't competitors. We're on the same team with the same goal. So let's hold fast to this truth and to one another.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fighting for Your Girl's Worth: Part I

Note: This is part of the Fight Like a Girl Series. Other posts are found under the series tag.

Picking up my girl's assignment, I immediately notice the white-out lines and scratch throughs. I can't help but smile. It's messy, true. It's also a beautiful sight to my eyes. Only a few years ago, that paper would've been crumpled up and thrown away at the first mistake. Memories of those battles haven't quite faded. I know full well the origin of this trait.

I don't recall when it started, this grappling with finding my worth in my accomplishments. I was so afraid of letting anyone down that I worked myself into a frenzy. The good behavior, the good grades, the good school. I desperately wanted to be the good girl. The need still clings tightly, its spindly fingers not daring to loosen their grasp.

When I began to see that in my daughter, I was mortified.

When I began to see it in my parenting, I was terrified.

It is so easy to lose sight of the fact that these are God's children. They do not belong to us. They are given not to bring us glory, but him...Our identiy is rooted in him and his call to us, not in our children and their performance.

Mothers who were competitive as girls may approach parenting bent on producing perfect children. We view their accomplishments through the veil of our own failures. We cannot convince our daughters that their value isn't measured by their grades, their looks, or their successes until we understand and believe this truth for ourselves. It is not until we embrace grace that we give our daughters the freedom to throw the measuring stick away.

How do we get there? First, we show our girls the truth of Scripture regarding our standing before God. We have all fallen short (Romans 3:23). Not one of us is righteous (Romans 3:10).

Your wickedness makes you as...heavy as lead...and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink...and all your righteousness would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell than a spider's web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not that so is the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment.
~Jonathan Edwards
quoted by Hannah Farver, Uncompromising: A Heart Claimed By a Radical Love (p. 47)

Once we comprehend our true standing before God, we can marvel at the Gospel. The Gospel that tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). The Gospel that tells us our salvation and our worth don't depend on anything we do, but on everything God has done.

For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
~Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Keep Fighting:
~Our value is determined by how God sees us. Read & discuss: Ephesians 1:4, Psalm 139:14, 1 John 4:9, and Romans 8:38-39.
~Explain the heresy of believing that we can earn God's love. Read & discuss: Ephesians 2:9, Romans 11:6
~Remind your girl that her accomplishments are a means to bring glory to God. Read & discuss: 1 Corinthians 10:31, James 2:12-18

For Further Reading:
~Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson
~Lies Young Women Believe: And the Truth that Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh

Friday, October 5, 2012

Upholding the Universe by the Word of His Power

Right now as I write, and right now as you read, everything in the universe continues to exist because Christ is maintaining it. It is he, says the writer of Hebrews, who "upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). Paul says something similar in Colossians 1:17: It is in Christ that "all things hold together." The laws of the universe are laws because Christ upholds them. He sustains the gravity that sticks everything together.

Christ and his creation are not like a watchmaker and his watch. A watchmaker assembles a watch, winds it up, and lets it run. There is no “letting it run” with Christ; He keeps the universe moving along by his own power. What’s here is here because he made it, and it keeps on working because he continues to make it work.

But the difference between Christ and the watchmaker is even greater than this. Leon Morris says the thought in Hebrews 1:3 is that Christ
is carrying [the universe] along, bearing it toward an important goal. Creation is not aimless; it is part of God's plan and the Son is continually bearing creation along toward the fulfillment of the plan.1
A watchmaker winds his watch and lets it run until it winds down. The watch fulfills its purpose best at the very beginning if its existence when it is new and freshly wound. Someday, inevitably, it will wind down and stop forever, never to fulfill its true purpose again. Not so with creation. Creation is forever fulfilling it's purpose perfectly because it is being moved toward its ultimate aim by the One who made it.

The winding down we see in creation—everything and everyone dies, for instance, and the weeds in my garden grow faster than I can pull them—is purposeful winding down. It's a winding down that's moving forward. The creation, Paul says in Romans 8:20, "was subjected to futility . . . in hope." Hope, biblically speaking, isn't a wonderful future that might or might not happen, but a wonderful future that is rock solid certain. In its futility—or in its winding down, to use the watch analogy—creation is moving toward a day when it will be made new, instantly, into something better than it was on the last day of creation.

What goes for creation, goes for believers, too.2 My aging and aching body, marching relentlessly toward death, is, in the same forward motion, being carried toward resurrection.

And the whole shebang—all of creation and all of us—is being transported into the golden future by Christ’s powerful word. Later, in Hebrews 11:3, the writer tells us that the universe was created by God's word; here, it's Christ's word that bears universe toward God’s goal for it. This is a perfect time to use the word fiat—a command that, by itself, creates something. Christ created by fiat and he upholds by fiat. Christ commands and the universe responds, first by coming into existence, and then by moving forward toward a perfect destiny.

I consider the words in the title to this post to be some of the most intriguing in scripture. God’s command, which is able to bring things into existence out of nothing, was not exercised once in the past at creation, but is employed for every nanosecond of time and for every nanosecond of my life. There is an eternal and personal will keeping the universe and my life together, and an eternal and personal energy source carrying them along. Christ’s command calls up the sprouting seeds in my garden, his command pulls down the crumpled leaves on my Mayday tree, and his command moves my life forward toward death, but also into what will be, in the end, a glorious resurrection. What seems like futility is Christ's command bringing it all—and me, too—toward a perfect fulfillment.

Leon Morris, Hebrews: Bible Study Commentary, page 20.
2 Although scripturally, it's more accurate to put priority on us and say that what goes for believers goes for the rest of creation. We bring creation with us into its future freedom from the effects of sin.

Monday, October 1, 2012

When Trials Come

In 1970, during the Apollo 13 mission, Jack Swigert did what was apparently a routine task for an astronaut--he switched on the stirring fans for the oxygen tank. The result was an explosion that curtailed the original plans to land on the moon and put the astronauts lives in danger.

We now know that the problem was faulty insulation on some of the wires--wires that had been manufactured and placed in the command module long before the mission. No problem was visible to the naked eye, but when they were put to the test, they failed.

Often in our lives, we sail along, our misconceptions and unbelief unnoticeable. Then the test comes. Then our weakness are exposed and we find ourselves reeling.

Perhaps the test comes as a problem in our marriage or a wayward child. Or maybe it's an unexpected illness or sudden job loss that reveals our unbelief. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, though. In fact, it’s often the petty annoyances that best expose our weaknesses. The snarled traffic on the freeway, or that difficult person we encounter at work or church. We find ourselves snapping with anger or contempt, then we slink away, shocked that we could be so petty.

We should, of course, get to know God through his word and seek his wisdom. This is right and good, and can help us to stand firm and learn to die to ourselves in the difficult times. But we should never kid ourselves that we can eliminate stressors from our lives. And no matter how solid our theology, our sin is still with us. No matter how careful we are, trials will find us.

When the trials do come, we should let them teach us. We should use them as a time to get underneath our emotions, to see what we have valued above God and his glory. We need to see what is being threatened that we don’t want to live without. Then we can move forward, taking comfort in the fact that we now know God better.

Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Think of the last time you felt disproportionally stressed or upset. What did you most fear losing during that time? Your comfort? The esteem of others? Control?
Think of the big trials in your life. What did they teach you about God? Could you have learned those lessons any other way?