Breaking Spells and Shedding Dragon Skins: When Narcissus Refuses the Mirror

Sometimes the only thing to break the spell of sin’s deadly lullaby is the waft of burnt Marsh-wiggle drifting through the air. As every lover of the Chronicles of Narnia knows, Puddleglum’s pessimism is a cloak for his idealistic heart. His heart beats with a real Narnian rhythm and so, when the moment of truth comes, when all is at stake, he does not give in to the Green Lady’s foggy incantations that threaten to undo all reason. And what better way to clear the sticky webs of doubt and insanity than by reminding yourself and everyone else just how gritty and singed reality can be? What’s realer than stomping on a fire with your bare Marsh-wigglian foot?

One question bopping around in my head these days is how do we know we’re really awake? Has the poisonous melody of sin lulled me into a stupor? Or am I seeing through to the other side of the glass, albeit dimly? What if this thing I’m working toward––this goal, this drive, this cause, this achievement––is just a dragon skin that needs ripped off by Aslan’s mighty claw? Would I know the difference between dragon skin and tender flesh? How do I discern the water if I’ve become a fish? In other words, when sinful heart motives have become normalized or justified, how do we discover them and break free?

Of course the first and best answer is to go to the Norm. The unchanging God in three persons. Open his book, read of his ways. But I’ve noticed that when we’ve acclimated to certain heart sins, we can even read them into the Bible. The self-aggrandizement knows no bounds. We want to justify our anger and all the sudden we’re saying, “Look! Jesus was angry!” We want to justify our favoritism and we quickly point out that Jesus had an Inner Ring. We want to justify our greed and we start making a big deal about how Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. We want to justify our passivity and we start belaboring God’s sovereignty as though it negates God’s commands. We want to be well-liked by everyone and we think that as long as we don’t offend people, we’re making a doorway for the gospel. We want to be entertained by immorality and we start telling everyone who raises an eyebrow that the Bible itself is R-rated.

Don’t get me wrong. God’s word is powerful. Sharper than swords. But the human heart is deceitful. Even the regenerate human heart can come under a spell. So what to do?

The best thing I know to do is to try letting someone else hold the mirror for a while. And by someone else, I mean someone who doesn’t benefit from telling us how great we look––and someone who isn’t under a similar spell. The mirror is never less pleasant than when we don’t have control over the angles and filters, when we don’t get to choose which parts of us we see reflected.

Perhaps the best way to shed the dragon skin is to let someone else tell us it’s there. It exists. It’s monstrous. Let someone whose walked around to the backside of us and seen the tail we’ve sprouted hold the mirror. We know we’re in deep when we––we who love the mirror as long as it’s poised at the right angle and managed with the right filters––start refusing to look in it when it’s in the hands of someone other than ourselves, someone who doesn’t come with a built in concern for our image or good Christian status.

What we really need is some burnt Marsh-wiggle to jolt us out of our stupor. But that takes courage and faith and sacrifice and a come-what-may kind of grit. It’s the Marsh-wiggle’s burnt foot that serves as the mirror to the rest of us.

To all the Puddleglums of the world: breaking spells is a dangerous business. For all the Nathan-like prophets willing to say to blind kings and blind moms and blind leaders and blind influencers, “You are the man,” the cost may be high. But we need you. Go put out some fires for us with your bare feet.

A Manifesto for Christian Women on Instagram

When I first got an account on Instagram, I didn’t think about it. I had a friend pressure me into it, telling me it was way better than Facebook. I said, OK, and signed up. And like most things in life, I was slow to the trend. I missed the first wave of blogging, I was a latecomer on Facebook, then poky to Instagram, too.

Most of us who are on social media didn’t put a lot of thought into it before joining–especially if we’re under 40. I jumped on because I wanted to connect with people, plain and simple. I thought it would be fun to share pics of my kids with people I love that live far away. Because none of us can see into the future, we didn’t really know what we were signing up for. We didn’t know how social media could rewire our brains and change the way we interact with the world. We didn’t know it would turn every experience into a spectacle to be consumed by our “followers” and ourselves, as Tony Reinke points out in his fantastic new book. We also didn’t know that Insta would become a place for words and massive influence. Micro-blogging, not merely pictures.

But now that the dangers are apparent and now that the potential influence is also made plain, I have a proposal for us:

Let’s go on the offensive for Christ.

Let’s stop letting the tail wag the dog. We are Christians after all! We have the Spirit of the Living God inside of us––the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. And, we have Good News to share! Do you believe that the Gospel is meant to illuminate every corner of the world? Do you think the light of Christ is able to penetrate even the shiny veneer of curated perfection and curated imperfection of Insta? I surely do.

Many of us sense the pull toward sin in places like Insta so we think the only option is to quit. And don’t get me wrong, fleeing temptation is right and essential. But, in the same way we don’t sever a friendship simply because we struggle with envy toward a sister-in-Christ, so too, severing Insta may not be the best approach for dealing with our sin.

Consider: if you were the devil, how would you shut Christians down from proclaiming Christ in a place where millions of women have gathered? Perhaps by making them think that they’re too sinful to do so. That what they really need to do is run away from the battle. If Christian women won’t engage on Insta, I guarantee you plenty of pseudo-Christian women will. Not only will they, they already are. And, if we’re being honest, they’re winning. They’re luring many Christian women into twisted and perverse ways of thinking about themselves and the world around them. They are glorifying sin and rejecting God’s word.

Friends, would you commit to join me in shining the light of Christ on Instagram? I know many women are already doing this. Many are intentionally speaking the truth in love about Christ. But what if we invited more and more regular, non-famous Christian women to join this mission? What if we strategized and planned, not how to grow our own platform, but how to make him known far and wide and build up his people?

I’ve taken the liberty of writing up a manifesto for us:

  1. We commit to make Christ known on Instagram, sharing the Good News of the gospel as it applies to our own lives and the lives of our readers, trusting that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Rom 1:16).
  2. We commit to loving people by being truthful about sin, defining it the way God defines it, not sugar-coating or ignoring certain sins or giving ourselves or anyone a pat on the head in response to sin which could endanger our own or their soul (Mark 8:35-36).
  3. We commit to loving people by always pointing them to the Way, the Truth, and the Life found in Christ (John 14:6). We will not condemn people in their sins, but will warn them, holding out the hope of the gospel for those who will receive it, inviting them to receive the same grace that we ourselves have received (John 3:17; Col 1:28; 2 Cor 6:1).
  4. We openly acknowledge that we are not our own. We were bought at a great price and we belong to Christ (Col 1:15-20; 1 Cor 7:23; 2 Pet 2:1). Therefore, our words and our pictures and everything we do is under his authority and must be brought under submission to his Book, the Bible.
  5. We commit to gracious speech, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer those with questions (Col 4:6). We will not be needlessly inflammatory and bring reproach upon Christ by our careless words or smugness (Matt 12:36).
  6. We commit NOT to fear anything that is frightening, especially the disapproval of the women (and men) on Insta (1 Pet 3:6; Gal 1:10). We fear God alone, which makes us unshakeable and untouchable in regard to the opinions of others (1 Pet 2:17; Rev 14:7).
  7. We commit to being accountable to our local church authority and the admonitions and counsel of Christian women in our lives (Heb 13:17). We invite those who know us in real life to observe and critique our use of Instagram (Heb 3:13).
  8. We understand that we will fail in these endeavors. We will be fearful when we should be courageous. We will be harsh when we should be gentle. We will glorify ourselves when we should be glorifying Christ (1 John 1:8-10). When this happens, we commit to pray, “Whatever it takes, Lord, keep me yours forever.” We commit to walking a life of daily repentance and forgiveness, of turning from our sins and once again walking in obedience with Christ (Rom 6:1; Rom 16:26; 1 Pet 1:14).

If this resonates with you, I encourage you to share it with others. Strategize with your fellow sisters in Christ. And above all pray! Pray that Christ would be seen and known and loved! Pray that God would use the weird place of Instagram to shine the light of Christ, so that people are truly transformed and set free from the bondage of sin and the worship of self! Pray that no one would be enslaved to Insta, but that it would be a tool in the hands of our sovereign, loving God to spread the good news about Jesus far and wide.

Let’s take #InstagramForChrist.

Launch Day for (A)Typical Woman: What’s the Purpose of the Book?

Today’s the day (A)Typical Woman is officially released.

When I first started writing this book, I was zealous for women to understand Christ as the whole of their life as women. I was burning inside to help women see what being a Christian and a woman actually is–with the whole Bible as the foundation–nothing ignored. I was in turmoil over the misconceptions and distorted teaching that had taken hold in many places. I was angsty over the pendulum whose swing was threatening to tip the whole apparatus over.

That was over two years ago. And I find that since that time God has deepened and matured my zeal, rather than cooling it off. The need is greater, not lesser. This is a marathon, not a sprint, but I’m eager to keep running.

Why did I write (A)Typical Woman? Because the world has tried to steal something that belongs to Christ. They’ve tried to steal the words Christian and woman. They’ve tried to redefine them, not merely in a dictionary, but in living color, in real life. This book is meant to claim them as HIS–his words and his reality. The words Christian and woman belong to Christ. They’re by him and for him. And what’s much more surprising––and distressing–– is how the church has often quietly let the words go. We’ve watched the substance of them disintegrate before our eyes with barely a whimper and sometimes with God-defying approval.

This book is meant reorient us to reality. It’s meant to show Christian women what peace with God is like, and therefore, peace with themselves. So many are striving, longing, aching to make themselves into something of value. So many are rebelling, fighting, and running from their Maker and how he’s made them.

Christian women must know who and what they are and Who and what they’re made for. We must stop searching because we’ve been found in him. We must stop hiding from God and be hidden in him instead.

This is a simple book with a simple goal: to grow you (and me) up in Christ as women. To take you from milk to solid food. To free you for fearless obedience so that your joy explodes and your influence deepens to the glory of God.

Get it on Amazon. Find it at a bookstore. Share it with your friends, your sisters, your mom, and anyone else. Lay down your pet ponies and preferences and read with a heart resolved to receive Christ Jesus as Lord. May he make you one of the most astonishing and atypical things the world has ever seen: a Christian woman.

 

The Humility of Blogging for Yourself and How it Serves Readers

Recently Tim Challies started a conversation about the personal blog–its slow decay and his hope for its revival. And since I’ve been on the cutting edge of absolutely nothing since 1981 and counting (including starting a blog–I started mine right when everyone and their mom had one in 2008), I thought I’d throw my johnny-come-lately two cents in the ring.

I appreciate Tim’s keen sense of why personal blogs are important in how, why, and what we communicate as Christians who are part of a larger, sometimes cookie-cutter like online world of articles. As someone who has refused to give up personal blogging even as I now spend considerable time writing for ministry websites and other publications, I get it. I know that this space gives me a different sort of freedom in writing with my own voice and saying precisely what I want to say. It’s not that there’s no filter here (that would be terrible for everyone!), it’s that the filter allows for a personal style and voice that doesn’t suit larger sites. But I also have to say that my gratefulness for Desiring God, their laser focus on glorifying God, their work to spread the Good News of great joy to everyone they possibly can, and their willingness to let me be part of something so much bigger than me is over the moon. Bigly grateful.

You can find good contributions by Kristen Wetherell, Samuel James, and Jen Oshman in response to Challies. I just want to add one fairly narrow thing to the conversation, and I suppose it applies to all writing, but it especially applies to personal blogging.

Tim argues that the problem with many blogs is that they exist mainly for the writer, not the readers–they are self-serving rather than written in service of others. He spells that out here and here. I think he’s right that the main problem with personal blogs is the personal people writing them. We’re altogether human. The greatest strength of personal blogging is also the greatest weakness.

So here’s my small contribution to this topic: One of the best ways I can serve readers is by not being a jerk. It’s by practicing, not just pontificating. And writing a personal blog is one of the ways God pushes the floorboards of his Word and his ways into the corners of my life. I’m not sharing my diary, I’m sharing the things that have gone through the Refiner’s fire, things that absolutely ought to edify, admonish, encourage, and strengthen you, the reader. But what use are they if they haven’t been applied here first, to my personal life? What use am I to readers if my writing doesn’t take the speck out of my own eye before trying to get logs out of everyone else’s? And I believe letting readers in on that process in our personal lives is powerful. It’s our testimony of what God is doing, of his transforming power.

In this sense, I think all writing should be for the writer in the same way I think that spending a large portion of my time in prayer for myself is an unselfish thing to do.  Begging God to make me more like his Son, repenting of my own sins, is actually not just for my good, but serves my husband, my children, and everyone I come in contact with. Of course, pray for others too! Diligently, faithfully, regularly. Serve them in prayer, but remember that it is a true service to others to pray that God would help you treat them as a Christian ought to. I believe it was George Mueller who said, “the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.” Wouldn’t you want to spend the day with someone like that? Wouldn’t you be edified by being around that sort of person?

Similarly, the first and primary business a writer ought to attend is to receive his or her own words (if they are a faithful re-telling of God’s words), apply them to his or her own life, and humbly turn from thinking our mere pontification is helping people. Then we will begin to serve our readers.

On Being a Christian Woman in the Year of our Lord, 2019

[Below is the full article I wrote last year about the coming year of 2018–here is the interview with Pilgrim Radio about the article. I was gearing up to write something new for 2019 and found that this is still what I want to say, so I’m republishing it. Just like 2018 was the year of our Lord (not the year of the evangelical woman, thank God) so is 2019. Let’s remember that God’s glory is the center, the goal, the foundation, the root, and the fruit of all we do. Let’s remember he does not suffer competitors–whether men or women–he’s too loving and good for that.]

Last month [now last year] 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.

The Old Testament in Eight Weeks

IMG_2877I’m just starting a new class in my M.A. program at Bethlehem Seminary: Old Testament Theology. Our main text for the class is THE OLD TESTAMENT. Novel, I know.

Can I tell you how completely thrilled and excited I am?! So in the spirit of shared learning, linking arms, and strength in numbers, I made a spread sheet of our Bible reading as it appears on our syllabus.

I’m linking to it below in PDF form, hoping that many of you reading this blog post will join me in reading the OT:

OTin8Weeks

Here are few things to note:

Firstly, our prof has encouraged us to read ahead on the lighter weeks. So, it’s not essential that you only read what’s listed on that week. The goal is to get through it all.

Secondly, we are required to read each book in one sitting. If you want to follow along, of course you don’t have to do that, but I think it’s going to be really helpful and I’m excited about it.

Thirdly, some tips: Use audio to listen to the Bible, esp in the car for a chunk of time or on a treadmill or walk or folding clothes. Consider listening at 1.5 speed. Don’t read as you would for inductive study, but also don’t skim. Try and pay attention so that your mind is engaged and “lost” in the story or the text. Read or listen in a translation that is accurate, yet good for reading or listening: NIV, CSB, ESV.

And finally, an encouragement. I realize this is a big thing to throw yourself into at the last minute like this, but just think of it! Eight weeks from now you will have read the entire Old Testament. Think about how valuable that is. Think about how quickly it will be over. Think about how short our time is on earth and all the dumb things we waste our hours and minutes doing. Think about how this could change your life–to really get to know God as he reveals himself in his Word. Let’s do it!

P.S. I’ll have a four week break over Christmas and the New Year, then we’ll be onto the New Testament in eight weeks, so stay tuned!

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).

IMG_9504
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.