A Little Compare and Contrast When It Comes to Boaz

I’m currently in a Bible study on the book of Ruth. Have you studied Ruth before?

I think this is my first time. Of course I’ve read it many times, but never studied it. After paying close and careful attention to the characters and the plot, I’ve been completely enthralled.

If you’d like to follow along with our study, you can find the teaching here. I got to teach on Ruth chapter 2 last week (hence the compare and contrast when it comes to Boaz) and will teach again next week on Ruth chapter 4.  Dr. Jason DeRouchie (OT professor) taught our introduction and our women’s minister, Pam Larson, is teaching the rest. She also wrote the study (and did a fabulous job). You can find it all at our podbean site.

I hope you follow along and I hope you grow in love for the God behind this incredible story he tells us.

One Little Big Encouragement for Dads

Being a dad is tough. I’m not one, but I’ve seen it up close. Most dads have to step into a primary role (fatherhood), even though their primary time is spent elsewhere. They have to be good at something (something really important!) that they don’t do all day everyday. Which means they have to take a lot of advice and pointers from the mom or caretakers who do do the parenting all day everyday.

When I help Tom with his business, I have a disorienting sense when I start out, because his work isn’t my primary work. It takes me a while to get oriented to it, to feel competent to actually help him. I think that’s what parenting in the little years is like for a lot of dads. Thankfully, it doesn’t stay that way, and competence grows as the needs demand.

So, my little big encouragement to dads is something I’ve observed in my husband, Tom, and it’s this: the little things are the big things. Here are three little things Tom does that amount to more than I can calculate:

1. He initiates family devotions.

Actually, he doesn’t anymore. He used to initiate family devotions when all the kids were little. Now, the kids initiate family devotions at the tail end of dinner. Every once in a while, we’re both really tired and would likely skip devos, but the kids are in the habit and someone always grabs the Bible off the shelf and hands it to Dad.

2. He initiates family prayer in the car.

Have you noticed how crazy it can be sometimes just to get everyone in the car and going? How sometimes a couple kids are mid-conflict? Or the parents and the kids have gotten out of fellowship with one another in the push to get out the door? The little habit of praying as the seatbelts are being buckled and the car is about to take off can make a world of difference in how we send ourselves and our kids out into the world.

3. He initiates family work.

On Saturdays, it’s most often Tom who gets everyone going on their list of “Saturday jobs.” He tends to expect more out of the kids than I do. His simple routines do a lot to disciple our kids into the faithfulness of God. Because discipleship isn’t just reading the Bible and praying. It’s obeying, it’s contributing to the needs of the people you’re apart of, it’s letting your yes be yes and your no be no. It’s doing our work “as to the Lord.”

So, for any dads out there reading, be encouraged. You don’t have to do exactly what Tom does, but you can do little things that make a big difference in the lives of your kids and wife. Your little initiatives can be like the countless drops of water that make up the ocean of grace and goodness and faithfulness your kids swim in day after day. They likely won’t realize all the goodness they’ve been flooded with, but keep at it.

We appreciate you, Dads. You are doing the Lord’s work. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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My dad and the dad of my kids.

 

On Saying “Everything’s Fine,” When It’s Not: Our Solidarity with the Shunammite Woman

I had been apprehensive about Titus’s eye appointment. Whenever I’d scan my calendar for what was coming up, that appointment would catch my eye–memories of difficult appointments we’d had before still fresh. Titus’s eye doctor is someone whom I thank God for–she is a brilliant surgeon and one of the keenest doctors I’ve ever dealt with (and I’ve dealt with a plenty). She performed Titus’s eye surgery to correct his severe crossing when he was just six months old–a surgery many doctors won’t do that early. She’s aggressive for her patients, she’s frank, competent, no-nonsense, and I trust her.

When she first saw Titus and he was just 3 months old, she told me Titus’s vision problems were not vision problems, but neurological problems that may be impossible to fix–but she said she’d do everything she could to at least get his eyes straight enough that his brain could try and understand what he was seeing.

I’ll always remember that moment and her directness. The truth she spoke, hard as it was, was a kindness. How much of his progress is a result of her assertiveness and competence–allowing eyes to start to learn to work together at a young developmental stage?

But, even with my love for our doctor, eye exams and dilation are hard for Titus. Knowing this, I did everything I could the morning of the appointment to keep us cheerful and well-functioning so that we could get into that appointment with all the resources we needed to survive it.

And everything fell apart–which wasn’t a huge surprise, it’s what I was expecting. It was traumatic enough that they will likely do general anesthesia next time. What was a surprise was that it felt as though God had forgotten us that afternoon. I’ve been through traumatic events with Titus before–much more traumatic than an eye appointment, but it was always God’s presence that carried us–the trust and reality that he wouldn’t leave. But that day in the little exam room, my prayers seemed to bounce down off the ceiling and slap me in the face. I could endure anything, if only Jesus was close at hand, if only he was there opening my eyes to his goodness despite the obvious difficulties, if only he was letting me know he cared about my son–yet my sense of him had vanished.

A week or so prior, I had been reading about the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4. She was a wealthy, married woman, who showed over-the-top hospitality to Elisha the prophet. She even had a room built for him to stay in whenever he came by. Elisha wanted to repay her for this kindness and so he miraculously pronounced to her that she would have a son, although she had no children and her husband was old. She couldn’t believe Elisha and said to him, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your servant.” But it was true. She had a son one year later.

The boy grew and one day came to his father complaining that his head hurt. The father sent the boy to his mother. She held him on her lap until he died. I know something of holding my son in my lap, all but lifeless and gray–so horrific, so peaceful, waiting, wondering, with death so close at hand. It is the sort of angst that only the Spirit can express.

So the Shunammite woman took her dead son and laid him on Elisha’s bed in the room she had built for him.  Then she went to her husband and told him she was going to see Elisha, but when he asked her if everything was ok and why she was going to see him she said, “Everything is all right.” Or, in the ESV, “All is well.” No mention that their son had died.

When she comes to where Elisha is, his servant approaches her and asks if everything is all right, inquiring about her husband and also her son, and again she says, “Everything is all right.” We might start to wonder if perhaps she was simply full of faith and hope; if she was saying all was well because she so trusted that all would be well. But we see a very different story unfold. Everything was NOT fine, to the point that it was too terrible for her even to speak it. She was using “Everything’s all right,” as a cover for her deep pain–so deep that it couldn’t be voiced.

The Shunammite woman would not rest until she had Elisha himself. She went to him and grabbed hold of his feet. Elisha begins to see the truth, though she has said nothing, and he says, “She is in severe anguish, and the Lord has hidden it from me. He hasn’t told me.” Severe anguish. That sort of anguish isn’t the kind you can let out in bits and pieces when asked. It is the kind that overtakes you.

Her recrimination of Elisha is crushing. She says to Elisha–to God really, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Didn’t I say, ‘Do not lie to me?'” It’s like she’s saying, “Why did you give him to me in the first place if you meant to take him like this?” She still can’t bring herself to say that the boy is dead. Her grief only exposes itself to the ONE person she has some tiny hope could help her–not her husband, not the servant–only to the Man of God.

Elisha tells his servant to go and put his staff on the boy to revive him, but it isn’t enough for the Shunammite. She will not leave Elisha, forcing him to go himself to the boy. After the servant’s effort to bring the boy to life fails, Elisha then acts. Two times he acts to bring the boy back to life, laying over him, bending over him, and making him alive.

I confess that the recriminations that bubbled up in my heart after Titus’s awful appointment were a shock to myself. I have not been one to question God when it comes to Titus. In the dark times I have cried, I have wavered with weak faith, but to question God? Whenever one would start to form, my mouth would be stopped in reverence. Now they poured out.

The shape my recriminations took were from the gut, “You said you’d be with me. You said wouldn’t leave me. Why did you make me walk through this fire alone? Do you love Titus? He can’t understand what’s happening–has he suffered enough?” as I sobbed my way home.  As the tears ran, so did my mind–to the Shunammite woman–given a gift she didn’t ask for and trial she couldn’t even speak aloud.

As my friends checked in on how the appointment went, I so much wanted to say, “Fine. Everything’s all right.” But it wasn’t. And as I contemplated who the Shunammite took her complaint to, I remembered she finally let her grief out to the man who could do something about it. And these sisters in Christ also could do something about my problems, my grief. They, like Elisha, are connected to God. They know him, he has written his words on their hearts and put them in their mouth, he has given them his Spirit. So I didn’t say, “Everything’s all right.” I owned that I felt abandoned–not because God put me in a hard circumstance, but because it felt like he put me there alone.

Even as I confessed this, I was beginning to know it wasn’t true. God was pummeling me with evidence of his care: the story of the Shunammite that God had put in my Bible reading the week before the appointment, in the friends who prayed, even in the breaking loose of the questions that drove me to no one but God himself forcing me to tell him that, “Everything is not all right.” And most important of all, the evidence of Jesus, on the cross and risen–the one place that silences all questions of love or nearness, permanently fixed in history, permanently true.

I don’t know if you’ve ever struggled like did, like I do, to trust his presence, to trust him, when he seems far away. To own the real feelings inside, to take them directly to him and to the people connected to him. I don’t know if the pain feels so big that all you say is, “Everything’s all right.” But if that’s you, remember the Shunammite woman with me. Sometimes our grief feels so deep that it’s unspeakable. The only Person who can bear it fully is God himself, so take it to him.

Like the Shunammite, do not walk away from God until he comes with you. Stay with him no matter what. Remind him of his promises to you: that he said he’ll never leave you or forsake, that he said he’d be with you in the flood and the fire, that he’ll make dead bodies alive, not in this life, but the one to come. He hasn’t forgotten those promises. He will not go back on them, because he is faithful to his Name and his Word. He really does love us.

I don’t know what became of the Shunammite’s son. I don’t know if when he was brought to life he was restored to perfect, pristine health or if he had lingering effects of the ordeal in the form of a disability. I don’t know if he trusted Yahweh in his gray hairs. I’m glad the Bible doesn’t tell us that. It simply says he was restored to life. But he did die eventually, as his mom did, as Elisha did, as we all will.

Sometimes everything isn’t fine down here. Sometimes it’s a big mess and cry-fest. But we have the seeds of heaven deep inside. We have a glimpse of the end–of dead bodies restored to life, of all things made new. We have the God of Elisha, the God of the Shunammite woman, with us now. We have Jesus Christ, the one who came to save all the people who are willing to say, “I’m not fine,” I’m a sinner in need of a Savior. I need you, Jesus, to die for my sin. I need you to be raised from the dead and raise me with your resurrection power on the last day. I need you to put hope in my hopeless heart. And I need you to do right by my son–to be the God of the weak and lowly that you say you are.

May God be glorified in us, even when everything isn’t fine. Someday we will say in truth, “All is well.” Physically, spiritually, relationally–well. Hold fast to Christ until that day. He’s got you.

 

Radical, Rest, and Comparisons

Three recent resources to share:

  1. An article written for Radical, the ministry of David Platt. They asked me to write about the most important ways churches disciple children. I’m no expert, but I answered in the truest way I know how–nothing flashy or new. It’s called, “The Most Important Way Churches Disciple Children.
  2. An interview with Hunter Beless of the Journeywomen Podcast on the topic of rest. I enjoyed this conversation so very much. I hope it serves you.
  3. An article at Desiring God called, “Comparison Is Not the Thief of Joy.” This is something that’s been a theme of my writing, but I’ve never addressed it this directly. I pray it helps us use comparisons to fuel our growth, joy, and maturity into Christ.

I’m hoping to get a page set up here on the blog with links to any and all writing, interviews, and talks done elsewhere, for easy access. Bear with my slowness on all this–my desire is to make this online corner a place that serves the family of God in its small way–trusting that even small things can bring him glory. Much love to you all.

Downpour of the Feline and Canine Variety: On Being Clobbered and Getting Back Up

Yes, it’s been raining cats and dogs in our neck of the woods. I’m trying to think of another cliche I can throw in there, just to pull out all the stops and show my writing prowess.  Oh, look, a couple more. Didn’t even have to try.

Well, anyway, our little guy had another seizure episode. I call it an “episode” to try and give some kind of sense of the gravity. But it’s one of those things that just is what it is–it’s scary and sad.  His seizure lasted over twenty minutes and wouldn’t stop even after I gave him his rescue meds. So, middle of the night paramedics and an ambulance ride to the ER made for the wee hours of Monday morning spent somewhere other than our warm beds.

Those warm beds were instead filled with vomit. Vomit from T’s seizure and vomit from our poor daughter who came down with a tummy bug at the same time.

And the following days of follow up, trying to understand why the episode happened again and how we can prevent it, how we navigate life with something so serious hanging about, always unpredictable, always potentiality. It’s like strolling through the fire swamp–will we fall in the sand pit? When will the R.O.U.S.’s attack?

Hence the cats and dogs in a downpour. After other emergency situations I have visualized myself responding to them with calmness and faith. Acceptance and a rational head. I have asked God to help me stay present, to lean in, to be someone whom our kids can count on, even in that moment when the visceral takes over.

And, somehow, that happened on Sunday night. I was calm, I was present, I was thinking rationally, I was praying. I think much of that was because Titus was breathing and his color was mostly good, unlike other times, even though he wasn’t doing well and clearly not “with us.”

But, even with all my sane thoughts, my perfectly following the emergency plan, my soothing voice, I still couldn’t keep control of my own body. About 10 or so minutes into it, I started blacking out. I calmly asked Tom to stay with Titus and tried to get myself to the bathroom and ended up falling on the floor once there. I stayed conscious; I just blacked out with lightheadedness. I prayed, on the cold tile, begging God to make me functional so I could be with my boy during HIS hardship–his real trial.

And thankfully, that happened. I was able to get up enough to put my head between my legs and  my sweat-drenched self was upright and working again in fairly short order.

Friends, I know this ordeal is a weird and personal thing to share–needlessly blacking out and the uselessness that ensued–but I’m doing it because I’ve had a lot of misconceptions about what it looks like to walk with God through a trial and maybe you do, too. If you’re like me, you think that the goal is never to hit the bathroom floor.

But, I’m learning I often don’t have control over that. I’ve got to rethink my goals. Instead of trying hard to keep control of things that I don’t have control over, I can ask God to help me lay on the floor in faith, not fear and doubt. Instead of worrying that Titus won’t be OK without me, I can choose to trust that he will be well cared for, even if I’m out of commission for what seems like a completely ridiculous physiological response that I haven’t figured out how to prevent. Instead of being angry with myself or God that I’m flattened, I can, in faith, get back up when it’s over.

Sometimes the cats and dogs are coming down so thick they clobber you. Or maybe they aren’t even all that thick, you just get nailed by one stray pup flying toward you. That’s OK. There’s still faith to be had, there are still promises that God is keeping, even as we’re deep breathing with head shoved below our knees. He’s still faithful and strong while we’re helplessly cold and clammy.

As a mom, I want to be there to rescue my boy. I want my hands to be supporting him, to monitor and protect him. I want my arms to carry him and my body to shield him from all harm. If only I were never weak, never parted from him, but even that wouldn’t be enough. Even if I was physically present every moment, in perfect condition, I still couldn’t make seizures stop or sustain life.

Only God’s hands are strong like that. Only he can be present at all times, never sleeping, never out of commission, never caught off guard.

And so, I offer the familiar refrain–it’s been the same my whole life: trust God. Trust him. Now really trust him. More. Trust him to get through each night. Trust him with the scary flashbacks. Trust that the fire is more than painful first degree burns, but metal made pure. Trust him that he’s got steps of obedience for you once you’ve been scraped off the floor. Trust that obedience is never meaningless, it’s union with Jesus. Trust God’s words and ways.

Facing trials with faith doesn’t mean never getting knocked down, it means trusting God when we’re horizontal. It means getting up when he gives us the legs to do it.

Those are my new goals.

A Recent Interview on Pilgrim Radio Regarding, “On Being a Christian Woman…”

Last week I was contacted by Bill Feltner of Pilgrim Radio for an interview about the last article I wrote which got some attention around the web. I pray that attention is the kind of attention that draws our eyes to Christ and the glory, the blessing, the privilege of losing our life in Adam and finding it in him. It aired yesterday. If you’d like to listen in, click below.

Interview with Pilgrim Radio: On Being a Christian Woman in the Year of Our Lord, 2018

On Being a Christian Woman in the Year of Our Lord, 2018

Last month I was intrigued to read the prediction that 2018 will be the year of the evangelical woman. I enjoy Karen Swallow Prior, the tweeter of that tweet, but I have no interest whatsoever in living in a world where the year belongs to evangelical women or women in general or evangelical men or any other such group. I am relieved that no matter our proclamations, 2018 will remain the year of our Lord.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve observed a pendulum swing in the more public places of Christendom (i.e. Twitter, blogs, social media, and the like. You know, the important places 😉 ) regarding the voices of “evangelical” women, reflected on a much smaller scale in the more private, local sphere.

To begin with, I hate pendulums. What are they but roller coasters that cause us all a ridiculous amount of motion sickness? The good news is that Scripture is immune to pendulum swings. It’s just as solid and unchanging as it ever was. And more good news: we can stand on the unmovable Word of God and smash the pendulum with that same Book all at the same time. The Bible can multitask.

I’ve tried to put my finger on what seems to be afoot, particularly with conservative Christian women––for whom the sound of the rumbling is different than its liberal counterparts, yet seems to be aimed in the same basic direction. It seems the culprit is a general sense that women have been underutilized and pigeon-holed in Christ’s body and the internet is the main means by which this problem has found its voice.

Here’s my summary: Biblically-conservative Christian women are eager to have visible, biblically-conservative leadership by women in their churches and eager to learn from gifted, female Bible teachers whether locally or nationally. Secondly, women with the gift of teaching in conservative churches have felt underutilized/devalued and are carrying some angst, even as things may change for the better. (The accuracy of these points will vary greatly depending on your local context, but I’m speaking generally).

The underlying lesson is: women are hungry for teaching from women. This is basically right and good (Titus 2:3–4). They would like living examples of wise, Bible-soaked women to follow and imitate. They would like to be fed meat, not just milk. And hungry people get nourishment wherever they can find it––they aren’t picky, they’re starving. If only the worst kind of teachers are available to women, many will go ahead and eat the rot.

So, from the perspective of the hungry Christian woman, this pendulum swing is very much a good thing, if it means more resources available to her that make it possible for her to learn and understand her Bible and her God better. Assuming that gifted conservative female Bible teachers don’t just stay within the boundaries Scripture lays out for women in regard to how they may and may not lead and teach, but have come to LOVE and TEACH the boundaries as good gifts, this is all upside. And I’ve seen lots of this. Loads of helpful Bible resources made accessible for women. Podcasts that go deep in wisdom and the gospel and basic Christian living. It’s awesome––what a time to be alive.

But I’m not so sure this fully describes where we are. There also seems to be an itch, an inkling, an impulse, even in the conservative sphere, that has begun to demand status for women as important and essential humans whose voices must be heard. It’s not that I disagree that women are important and essential, it’s that publicly insisting so is entirely an un-Christian way of trying to get that point across.

In this CT piece, Hannah Anderson (whose book on humility was a great read for me last year) says, “The way forward is for the church to identify and support gifted women, partnering with them via theological training and commissioned ministry positions. If you don’t want women breaking down the doors, simply open them for them.”

This encapsulates it: the mood, the slight angst, the rumbling.

If women are breaking down doors in order to use their gifts in the church, the solution cannot only be to teach men to open the doors. I agree that that is part of it. Let men learn to honor women and notice gifts and facilitate the work of the ministry and open the doors for their counterparts that are helpers by nature. It seems this is vital and basic Christianity and men should be exhorted to act like Christian men.

But there’s another side to it: we must teach the women to act like Christian women, not door busters. We must teach them that the Christian life is not one of getting our way or forcing our plans or barging in––it’s one of dying daily, humble waiting, prayerful dependence, and unseen service where our right hand is ignorant of our left. That breaking the doors down would be the path toward anything but misery seems obvious enough––which doors are enough, when does it end?

Once we’ve broken them down, it’s impossible to open them rightly.

Think of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul tells the young Timothy that he shouldn’t let anyone despise him for his youth. I don’t know about you, but I’m apt to cheer, Yeah! You heard him! Stop despising me! I’m owed a little respect! Is Timothy supposed to demand and insist that no one is allowed to despise him? Is he supposed to say, “You must value me!” No.

Paul tells him how: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). This is the way of Christians. How do we get respect? How do we make people see our God-given value? We go low. We set an example. We don’t insist on our importance.

What if Christian women in 2018 decided that in all things we would set an example in our godly and gracious speech, our exemplary conduct, our loving actions, our bold faith, and our complete purity? What if we stopped trying to exalt our voices and “be heard,” but gloried in exalting Christ (Matt. 23:11–12)? What if we stopped seeking a seat of honor, but resolved to eat even the crumbs from the Lord’s table (Matt. 15:27)? What if we really trusted God––that God sees us, God loves us, Christ came for us, and the Spirit’s working in us, whether others see it or not? What if we really lived like it was the year of our Lord, not the year of the evangelical woman?

This isn’t theoretical for me. I’m as prone to desire recognition and a seat at the table as the next person. I’ve got more opinions, thoughts, and ideas than is safe for any one person to have. I long to have whatever gifts God’s given me recognized, valued, and utilized to their full extent and it can be painful to be constantly weaning myself from those mixed-bag desires. But, in Christ, I know that God is building his church. And I can take the steps of faithfulness available to me, speak and serve when given opportunity, and if not, rest in the knowledge that God doesn’t actually need me to do the jobs I think he might need me to do.

Jen Wilkin says this in her talk to Acts 29 church planters, “The contributions of women in the advancement of the kingdom are essential and indispensable. If we have crafted a vision of the church in which women are extra, in which women are nice but not necessary, we have crafted a vision for the church that is foreign to the Scriptures.”

I couldn’t agree with her more. She’s right. The church advances as the church––made up of all its parts. The stronger are supposed to see that the weaker are indispensable (1 Cor. 12:22). They’re supposed to show them extra honor (1 Cor. 12:23–24). And I think in the context she was speaking to––pastors desiring a woman’s perspective on how to better minister to women––it is helpful to give that reminder. I’m thankful for women like Jen who have had doors opened for them and now are using that platform to ask men to open the door for more women.

But there’s another side to being part of God’s people on his vine and that is that none of us are actually essential. God could raise up stones in our place.

In Romans, Paul tells the Gentiles that they aren’t as special as they might like to think––he’s telling us the same thing:

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:17–22)

Did you catch that?

It is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.

Do not become proud, but fear.

Neither will he spare you.

Provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

Is this part of what we’re teaching women? Are we reminding them that being a physically weaker vessel doesn’t make us humble by nature? That we aren’t owed a seat at any table, but Christ has graciously given us one at his? That as awful as it is that many women have been victimized by men, it’s equally awful that women also victimize those smaller than them, in varying ways? That pride is no respecter of gender and infects everyone in Adam, including women? Are we letting them know that they’re Christians too, which means we women have to die to the desire to be important. We have to die to the desire for the year of the woman and replace it with year of the Lord.

That doesn’t mean that we ignore the real needs of women––in no way! We must feed them, honor them, love them, and serve them––but not in an oddly self-serving, self-promoting way, rather as sacrifice. We must disciple women and fit their gifts into the body. But discipling isn’t only plugging in gifts or putting people in the right seats or developing leaders or getting a woman on staff. It’s also teaching everyone that the only path to life is crucifixion–that they aren’t living anymore, but it’s Christ who lives in them. It’s teaching them to, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)

Exalt others. Honor others––men and women and children. That’s how we follow our Savior, who didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but in humility became a servant. Only then can we be exalted, once humility has so lowered us that only God himself can raise us up. And he will, in due time.

I’ll end with two practical concerns I have with the pendulum swing I see in some of the public sphere of conservative Christendom that’s been trickling down locally.

  1. It makes advancement mainly a function of women teaching and (accidentally?) devalues all the other ways women serve as an essential part of the body. It’s like we want all women to be teachers. I understand why the focus is on women teaching, because that’s the area that some are slower to embrace–feels risky, like a woman might overstep the bounds. But, in the same way I think men can be devalued when they aren’t teachers or pastors, I think the same thing is happening with women and we should avoid this silliness at all costs. You don’t have to be an up-front teacher in order to be a spiritual mother. A female on a stage speaking to a group is not essential to thriving spiritual mothering or the fulfillment of a woman’s role in the local body. A woman teacher is no more effective or influential in God’s economy because she’s been given a microphone.
  2. Our swing is in tandem with the current swing of liberal and unorthodox Christians as well as with the world, albeit on a different scale. This doesn’t make it all wrong, but it’s something to note. When the world is swinging into transgenderism and gender queer identity, and the liberal church is swinging into ordination of women and self-identified gay Christians, the conservative swing toward a disproportionate valuing of the stage/platform as the most important place for women to serve may seem minor, but we should pay attention to it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater––there are important things to learn in this pendulum swing, good and right actions to take. There are many faithful upfront women teachers that I love and have learned a ton from–I want their number to increase! But maybe the most important lesson is that the pendulum needs to be smashed with God’s word.

Christians have a fixed and ancient reference point. Let’s hold fast to it.

A New Year’s Invitation: Resolved, to Tear My Heart to Shreds

I’ve been thinking for some time about New Year’s resolutions. I often read through Edward’s list for inspiration at the end of the year. He has a way of injecting our impending death into our living so that our lives are smaller and bigger all at once.

One basic theme keeps making its way to my mind and heart. It’s not exciting, not new, not deep or intellectual. It’s that I would stop sinning against God and the people around me. All the things in life I’d like to accomplish would be greatly aided if I could make even small gains in victory over sin. My hopes and dreams are great and many and all of them require Christ’s righteousness and a killing of sin.

I want to be the kind of parent that is parenting with the salvation of a thousand generations in mind, not merely surviving the irritations of the evening. I want to be the kind of wife that helps and doesn’t hinder, that does good and not harm all the days of his life. I want to be the kind of friend that is completely committed to another’s well-being, especially their eternal well-being, without worrying about reciprocity. I want to be the kind of church member that honors her leaders, that sharpens and loves them, and that sees and cares for the whole body–the unseen and indispensable. I want to be the kind of online person who is so earnest and sincere in her words and sharing that trying to people-please or schlep for popularity is a non-factor, but the glory of God is all.

You can see how sin, maybe especially inward sin without obvious manifestations, is a giant roadblock to all of these hopes and dreams.

I will not parent with a thousand generations in mind if I’m stuck in the sin of selfishness and laziness and can’t rouse myself to be laid down as a sacrifice on the altar of daily living. I cannot be the kind of wife who helps and doesn’t hinder, doing good everyday if I’m stuck in the sin of a critical spirit. I cannot be the kind of friend who has another’s eternal well-being in mind if I’m stuck in the sin of keeping tallies. I cannot be the kind of church member who honors her leaders and cares for the whole body if I’m stuck in the sin of desiring honor or a voice for myself. And I cannot be the kind of online person who is sincere in her service and brings glory to God if I’m stuck in the sin of people-pleasing or platform-building.

Edwards 56th resolution says this:

“56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”

It’s that last phrase that must not be lopped off: “...however unsuccessful I may be.” If success is what keeps me in the fight against sin, then I’ve gotten it wrong. Especially since the more I see my sin and the more I try to kill it, the more God reveals deeper layers to my sin. How is it that twenty-five years of walking with Jesus and I sense more sin in myself than ever before? Shouldn’t the opposite thing be happening? Discouragement is the road to circular sin apathy. If I’m discouraged by my lack of success in killing sin, I think it’s hopeless and I stop trying so hard, which reinforces the evidence that I just can’t quit sinning in any capacity. Fighting sin can’t be based on how I feel I’m doing at it.

Don’t get me wrong, there must be growth and change and discernible progress––that is not optional. But it’s like coming a mile believing the race is a 5K, then to keep going with the new realization that it’s a 10K, only to find this some kind of marathon and the distance is unknown, but so much more than I would have ever dreamed when I started.

God tells us through Joel, “…rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13 ESV).

God wants us to tear up our hearts over our sin, not our clothes. He wants us to see the consequences for what happens to us and our people if we don’t turn. What happens if I continue in sin? Biological offspring that are denied the tastes of an eternal Father and friend? A marriage that forsakes the log in favor of the speck? Friendships that offer smooth words and zero wounds and are destined for this life only? Church members that put their own needs first and others’ last so that the most vulnerable are forgotten, never seen? And online platforms and puffing up that normalizes self-promotion in the name of Jesus, blurring the lines between a selfish ambition and a holy one?

There are real consequences to sin that aren’t boundaried by the heart in which the sin happens. No, the consequences spill out and multiply.

And it is with these serious and fearful thoughts in mind that I make my resolves and invite you to join me.

  1. Resolved, to tear my heart to shreds over my sin, whether big or small, seen or unseen.
  2. Resolved, to return to the Lord as quickly as I can, making repentance a flat sprint, not a jog or meander.
  3. Resolved, not to look at my sin one second more than is helpful for making me sober and fearful, and then to look headlong at Christ, who has paid for every bit of it.
  4. Resolved, to let thankfulness and joy be the result of repentance as I enjoy increased fellowship with my Father, rather than assuming a posture of guilt or on-going regret.

Lord, would you replace sinful inclinations and actions with thoughts of the glories of Christ and willing hands for good works and happiness in returning to you over and over, so that the appeal of sin becomes bitter and dreadful and Christ becomes more of what he is: my whole life.

Christ’s Ornaments: Learning Our Place on Jesus from Isaiah

This Advent I’ve been reading Isaiah, seeing Jesus at every turn.

I found one passage that was particularly apt for the season ornaments and Christmas trees:

“Lift up your eyes around and see; they all gather, they come to you. As I live, declares the LORD, you shall put them all on as an ornament; you shall bind them on as a bride does” (Isaiah 49:18).

God is speaking to his chosen one–to Zion and to the singular man, Jesus Christ.

Christians commonly glory in having been clothed with Christ. We wear his garments of holiness. It’s worth glorying in. But have you gloried in the fact that Jesus wears you? That you are put on him as an ornament? Bound on him the way a bride puts on something old, new, borrowed and blue? How much must he love us, to display us for all to see?

When I look at the tree this Christmas, I’m remembering that Christ has put me on, not just the other way around. Lord, grant me to be a beautiful ornament adorning Christ this Christmas, whether at home or away, at rest or at work, whether sick or well, tired or alert, “so that in everything I may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10).

Holy Plodding: Joy and Sacrifice in the Everyday

Below are two excerpts from Reformation Doctrine: Everyday Life. You can listen here.

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So what is the spiritual sacrifice that we’re supposed to make in 1 Peter 2? Is it our fasting? Our quiet time? Long hours of prayer each night? Our Sabbath keeping? Our being inside the church building as often and much as possible?

No. It’s none of those things. It’s you. You’re the sacrifice. It’s me. I’m the sacrifice. Our lives are what we sacrifice to God. So, in that sense, it’s absolutely everything we do. From laundry to supper to office work to bedtime routines and yes, our prayers and gatherings and devotions. We do them all with the hands and heart and mind that belong to God and we pour out our lives as a living sacrifice. It’s not the uber “spiritual” things. It’s everything.

Romans 12:1 says it like this:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (ESV)

This is what the reformation was about. Luther said,

“In the NT there is no sacrifice except the one which is common to all, namely the one described in Romans 12:1 where Paul teaches us to present our bodies as a sacrifice, just as Christ sacrificed his body for us on the cross. In this sacrifice he includes the offering of praise and thanksgiving. Peter likewise commands in 1 Peter 2 that we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, that is, ourselves, not gold or animals… in the church there is only this sacrifice, namely, our body.”

So rather than retreating from the world as monks and nuns did, and cloistering into a physical building that is considered religious with a physical altar to offer the mass as a means to greater holiness through private uber spiritual activities, we see the opposite thing. Now, we offer our lives, not in order to be made holy, but because they are holy in Christ. They have been consecrated by his blood. They are for him.

The altar that we lay our lives on is the kitchen counter, the weedy garden, the bed that needs made, the car that needs repairs, the neighbor’s leaves that need raked, anywhere that you have an opportunity to serve in life, that’s your altar. And you’re the sacrifice– your hands, your time, your mind, your feet.

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I was trying to figure out how I wrap up all these weeks and all that we’ve learned about the reformation. And there’s one thing I want us to ask ourselves as we end this entire study: how do I interpret the events of my life? And how does that change what I do with my life?

If I go home from here and get in a car accident and face horrible medical problems, what is God telling me? If I face night after night of not enough sleep, what is God communicating? If I leave from here and arrive home in perfect safety with children who obey perfectly and someone has cleaned our house and stocked our pantry. What is God telling me?

How we answer those questions will absolutely direct our lives in profound ways. The reformers discovered, through God’s word, that we interpret everything through the cross. We interpret everything as those who have been united to Christ in his suffering. Sojourners and exiles.

If bad things happen–and they do, all the time–we look to the cross as the irrefutable proof that God loves us in Christ. If good things happen–and they do as well–we look to the cross as the irrefutable proof that we do not earn anything of our own merit.

Unless we are convinced of his love for us and our complete security in him, come disease and death, hell and high water, we will not withstand the torrents of life. And unless we are convinced that his love for us is all of grace, not works, we will not be humble or holy as we ought.

But our assurance of who he is and what he has done for us, our assurance that our names are right now and always have been written in the Lamb’s book of life give us freedom to move about our day, no matter the circumstance. That assurance gives us freedom to pour out in good works done by faith through Christ—whatever form they take.

And more than that, interpreting every event and situation of our life through the cross of Christ is the only way to enjoyment of God. We will not enjoy what we do not believe is ultimately for our good. And the cross of Christ is the proof that God is for us.

How will you have the power to lay down your life, to lay down your living body on the altar of your circumstances as a sacrifice to God if you believe he hates you? How will you do it if you believe all the hardships are coming from his displeasure? But when we know that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him, when we know that the most horrible event in history of suffering was ultimately born of love—a spectacle of grace toward us, we will begin to say,

Romans 8:32–39:

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ESV)

The shorter westminster catechism was written over 100 years after the reformation, as Reeves and Chester point out in their book, and the first question captures the essence of so much of what the reformers gained in rediscovering the Scriptures. It goes like this:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

That’s my prayer for us. That in whatever we do, whether eating or drinking or studying or praying or changing diapers or caring for aging parents or suffering or walking in a valley–whatever we do, we would do it to the glory of God. I pray that there would be great delight in that—that as God gets glorified you would be set free in happiness and self-forgetfulness in him even alongside the sorrow. And that the truths we’ve learned over the past ten weeks would cause us to glorify God and to enjoy him every day until he comes again.