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.

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).

When You’re Walking Through More Than “Just a Season”: Perpetual Living in the Season of Chronic Dying

I love seasons. I love how there is always something to anticipate, always something to look forward to: snowy woolish white, new green buds, lush full life, the brilliancy of death in the leaves of autumn.

And the season motif was first put forward by the wisest of men: Solomon.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV)

I’m not sure how I would have survived the “season of motherhood” that included multiple littles with no older kids, little sleep, crazy amounts of diapers, and very little adult conversation without the constant reminder that I was in a season, that there would be an end, that what faithfulness to that job looked like would not be what it looked like forever. In a few short years, faithfulness would be teaching reading, tying shoes, and working on a solution to toothpaste on the walls, cabinets, and floors.

And now, faithfulness has expanded to include in-depth conversations about the Scriptures, help with increasingly difficult homework, maintaining rhythms and schedules, cultivating mentor-like friendships with my own growing kids, and legitimately funny jokes.

But I’ve noticed that there are some areas of life that are perpetual seasons; they aren’t “just a season” as the sages like to say. They are things that won’t relent until we die.

What about the depression that is vastly longer than the season of “post-partum”? What about the hard marriage that lasts fifty or sixty years? What about the unwanted singleness that endures your whole life? Or the diagnosis that doesn’t have a cure? Or the early death of a loved one who you never do get to see again in this life? Or infertility that doesn’t abate? What about seasons that have no transient time-tables?

What about caring for a child with special needs whose needs remain into adulthood? There isn’t a changing of the seasons in the same way that there is with other children, and while many parents are either longing for or dreading the day their children are independent adults, parents of kids with significant special needs do not anticipate that season in the same way. Which isn’t to say that things are stagnant or always look the same for those parents or kids. We all do change. Things can be easier or harder, simpler or more complex. And many people like myself, simply do not know what future stages will look like. I have reason to be very hopeful, but I simply cannot know. I must walk forward with no predictable season in front of me.

I’ve heard parents with “typical” kids say that that’s true for everyone, not just special needs parents and kids: none of us know what the future will hold for our children. And of course they’re right. But there is a legitimate difference of how we anticipate the future with “normal” kids and special needs kids. With my “normal” kids, it’s true I don’t know the future, but there is a template of growth, development, and maturity that is to be expected, not because we’re pretending to be God and predicting the future or presuming on his kindness, but precisely because what Solomon said is true. To everything there is a season.

Anyone who’s observed life knows how things are supposed to go. The reason we grieve special needs or untimely death or terrible illness is because those seasons have been interrupted or the predicted flow of things has been changed. The reason the grief over the death of a fourteen-year old is particularly horrific and different than the grief over a ninety-eight year old is because we have an innate understanding of how this is supposed to work.

Yet, there is great hope in knowing that while you may not be in “just a season” temporally speaking, this whole temporal life is a season. This life is the melting of winter for Christians. For some of us who have been set down in the shadow with little to block the bitter wind, we may weather this life with an ongoing chill in the bones. And for others, the sun may be throwing a bit more warmth as we perceive a centimeter of green on the tips of the trees. So, for some, this thing called life is a season with a certain sort of predictability to it—with one thing leading to another. And for others, this thing called life is a season of ongoing and chronic trial that doesn’t follow a pattern. And for most everyone, it is a combination of both.

But, we must know that winter is doomed, no matter our experience here and now. We wait for the fullness of life to come, but it is coming. Things are changing in unseen places. The seeds are underground, but they are pushing up. We may be in a chronic season of dying—dying to our expectations, our hopes, our good desires even, but we can live through it. We can perpetually live in the season of chronic dying because Christ has died once for all and he has put us in himself. He has put himself in us. Let Christ in you, the hope of glory, keep you renewed in each and every season—especially the one of chronic dying.

He knows a thing or two about how to help you live through that.

The Secret Ingredient in Bible Study

Below is an excerpt of what I shared with the women at Bible study yesterday. It’s Luther’s rules for theologians. We’re studying Reformation Doctrine and if you want to follow along with us, you can do so here. Here is what I shared yesterday:

I wanted to take a minute and encourage you as you study your Bibles and seek to grow as theologians—as women who are knowing God better. Some of you may be overwhelmed with life. You’re here, but barely. You may be in the middle of something really hard. Luther has some encouraging words for you and me:

Martin Luther said in his Preface to the Wittenberg Edition, “I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself… Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout Psalm 119 and run thus: Oratio, Meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation, trial).

Regarding prayer Luther says:

“You should completely despair of your own sense and reason, for by these you will not attain the goal…Rather kneel down in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God through his dear Son, graciously to grant you his Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide you and give you understanding.”

Regarding meditation, Luther says:

“Secondly, you should meditate. This means that not only in your heart but also externally you should constantly handle and compare, read and reread the Word as preached and the very words as written in Scripture, diligently noting and meditating on what the Holy Spirit means…Therefore, you observe how in this psalm David always says that he will speak, think, talk, hear, read, day and night and constantly—but about nothing else than God’s Word and Commandments.  For God wants to give you his Spirit only through the external Word.”

Regarding trials he says:

“Thirdly, there is the tentatio, testing (Anfechtung). This is the touchstone.  It teaches you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme. This is why you observe that in the psalm indicated David so often complains of all sorts of enemies…For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real [theologian] of you.”

Psalm 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word. 68 Thou art good and doest good; teach me Thy statutes. 71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes.

Nothing has put meat on the bones of my study like trials, friends. Our youngest son with special needs has neurological sleep problems, which means 4 years of really bad sleep and lots of throw-up every week because of his problems swallowing. It’s amazing how bad sleep and vomit can open the eyes of our heart to behold wondrous things from God’s Word. Trials give us the gift of desperation. They give us the testing ground for our beliefs and the unmatched joy of knowing and experiencing Christ to be the keeper of every promise. So I encourage you to persevere and let your trials be the hammer that drives you deeper into Christ.

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The Fog and the Longest View

On vacation this past week, our son Titus had a seizure.

Just writing that, I know that each person reading has a different understanding of what that means. Lots of us think of seizures as fairly benign, because they usually are. Some are freaked out by them. Titus has only had two seizures, both were this kind: status epilepticus. They’re not your typical seizure; they’re long, life threatening, and the mortality stats on them aren’t encouraging.

After the first one, which landed him in a coma in the PICU, we were on high alert for the possibility more would happen. But for over two years, things have been quiet. Until on vacation, when it was the farthest thing from my mind.

It’s hard to describe what Titus’s seizures are like without sounding like a real drama lover. It seems for those of us who really dislike drama, God has this way of inserting it into our lives, and forcing us to own that we don’t control how peaceful things are.

The simple fact is he looks like he’s dying, or even dead. His eyes are fixed, he’s not “with us,” he doesn’t move or have any faculties, and he stops breathing, which turns him the color of purple gray dusk. It’s not something I can put out of my mind by force. It just shows up there, in my waking sight. It’s there when I close my eyes at night, pressing on me.

Now is a good time to remember the all the positive stuff, like how he recovered from the seizure on his own this time, how it didn’t keep on, how he got checked out and was fine and got to come home, how it’s likely his meds have been working really well over the last couple years and an increased dose will help them to keep working well.

Those facts are a real comfort and they are worth giving thanks over. But they’re so superficial in the end. They don’t reach the deep places that need comfort.

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Two days after the seizure, we were hiking along the rocks on the shore of Lake Superior in a thorough fog. The mist and ashy cloud was everywhere, and who could believe in weather as brooding as that, that the sun was out there, above it all, gleaming and oblivious?

There are times when this belief seems as far-fetched as a fairy tale. How can the sun be giving warmth and causing life, when all around is shadow and veil? Shouldn’t I feel it? Isn’t feeling it what makes it real? And that’s when the hot, life-giving rebuke of God sears:

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!” Job 38:16-21 (ESV)

I must believe, am commanded to believe, that in our darkest haze, the light is unchanged. Because it is in our darkest haze that we stop straining for the earthly light of better circumstances, as if we understand what that would look like, and start leaning hard on the unseen Light that has already overcome the darkness. This is our only comfort in life and death. It’s that we belong, body and soul, to the Light. I do not wish for foggy days–gifts that they may be to my vision of God. But I do not wish them away either.

Never do I feel more keenly how much an unearned gift faith is, than in the fog, where no long views are offered me. It’s when we’re granted no long view, that we must exercise the faith that depends on the unseen longest view. Oh for the grace to believe when we have not seen–we have not seen healing, we have not seen relief, we have not placed our fingers in the holes in his hands, we have not seen resolution or an unsullied idea of the next twenty or thirty or fifty years. We have not seen it here, in this world. Yet, give us the grace to believe Christ is all and in all and there is a better world to come–this is my daily prayer.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” John 20:29 (ESV)

Staring at the Paper Towel Roll (and Other Ways to Stiff-Arm Uncommon Grace)

We should buy stock in paper towels. They’re what keep us from sloshing around up to our ankles or elbows in spills, drips, and yes, throw-up.

It seems I have a roll everywhere: in the kitchen, upstairs in the hallway, in the car, and we always bring one to the basement when we’re all down there for movie night. The other must-have is the cleaning wipe. They do the follow-up clean to the paper towel. Of course, we also use actual towels with water and soap, but when everything has spectacularly splattered to the nether regions of furniture, floor, and surrounding people, the paper towel has a certain immediacy and convenience to it.

But every now and then, a big spill happens and I will simply stare in the direction of the paper towel roll. Utterly irrational and completely ridiculous, I can only be thinking one of two things: 1) someone else will take care of this problem if I just sit here, or 2) this problem will take care of itself if I just sit here. It usually only takes a few seconds for sanity to prevail and for the stalling engine to start, but it’s a real thing that happens.

And this sums up what is likely the biggest spiritual problem I face–and maybe you, too. It’s not that grace isn’t there. It’s not that the paper towel roll of life is empty. It’s that sometimes I just stare at it rather than see it as a gift and help and true grace and mercy.

Jesus is more than a paper towel roll–the analogy has major limits, people, but stick with me. He’s more than the clean-up to a problem, but he’s certainly not less than that. And how often do we talk about him, look at him, eye him from a distance, but fail to avail ourselves of the grace found in him?

Sometimes I say things to one of my children and I know they’re hearing me on some level–they’re giving some slight outward acknowledgement, but thirty seconds later, they don’t know what it is I said. They heard, but they weren’t listening. That’s us with looking at Jesus. We look. We may even gaze. But it’s the gaze of a bored boyfriend sitting on a bench at the mall mindlessly staring while she tries on another pair of shoes. He’s not really seeing anything. How often do we look at Jesus, but we’re not getting anything, not grasping a concrete reality, not truly receiving or knowing anything with our own minds and hands and hearts.

One thing that has sometimes slowed me down in laying hold of the grace in Jesus is that it often doesn’t feel how I think it’s going to. It doesn’t look or feel super spiritual or ultra meaningful or cosmically life-changing. It just looks like singing a song of praise when I want to call a friend and complain. It looks like ordering my thumb to open my Bible app instead of facebook. It looks like receiving the gift of a text from a friend who offers prayers and support, rather than letting my thoughts spiral to self-pity. It looks like thankfulness for every small thing that is going “right” today–especially the teenager helping with lunch, rather than griping inside about all the stuff that isn’t worth griping about (which is all of it, by the way, even the really hard stuff).

God’s grace through Jesus is everywhere– a flood of kindness that keeps us watered and growing even during a drought, but we’ve got to tune our ears to really listen for the grace, we’ve got to look with our eyes to really see it. And that, in NO WAY, means that we’re earning it, or getting it by our own means. It’s a gift. But even gifts have to be received.

It’s uncommon grace found in that paper towel roll. When I first learned about common grace, I was really helped to have that category, but after awhile I started misapplying it to mean that all the normal good stuff of life that I experienced was a mere impersonal common grace. What I failed to see was that Jesus’ sacrifice makes me God’s child. When we’re God’s children, every way we interact with and relate to God is done in that paradigm. Nothing he gives us is a mere “common” grace–it is a grace that comes only because Jesus secured it for us, just as he secured our status as God’s children. Even paper towels. If ALL THINGS work for the good of God’s children, then if we are God’s children, we must receive everything in life as a particular grace through and by Jesus.

The paper towel roll is never empty with Jesus. There is always, always, always grace. Not just barely enough, but more and more and more than our brains have categories for. He cares more for us than we do. He’s committed to our good, our obedience, our growth more than we are. He never forgets to restock the shelves of grace. In Christ, they are infinitely available. Stop staring at them and start receiving them through Christ.

P.S. Here’s a link to my latest DG post, The Only Constant in Life.

A Podcast Interview: Risen Motherhood

Last week I was interviewed by Laura Wiffler and Emily Jensen of the Risen Motherhood podcast about having a child with special needs. It was a neat experience and I really loved getting to share Gospel hope with moms.

Emily and Laura both have little kiddos and are applying the Gospel to motherhood as they walk through it. Their podcast hits about every topic you could hope for as a mom–from food choices to fear to guilt to comparison. You can subscribe to Risen Motherhood podcast on iTunes or listen on their website, which includes many helpful resources and links.

Listen to my interview here or here.

 

On Loving a (MN Nice) People Group

Sometimes I long for God to send us somewhere–somewhere other than here. I have this idea that ministering to the nations is ministering far away. How often do I consider that I am part of the nations that Jesus spoke of. That my children are the nations. That if Jesus or Paul or the apostles saw us (as yet unconverted), we’d be some of the most foreign, needy, weird people they’d ever encountered.

I find I can sentimentalize just about anything, from special needs to far away places to the actual people who live in those far away places. It’s easy for me to love the people I barely know and the places I’ve barely been. In my high school years, I traveled to Mexico City, Mexico four times to come alongside some missionaries who’d been there for over 20 years. We helped put on camps and Vacation Bible school and built relationships. What’s interesting is how much more sentimental and glowing it was after going once than after going four times. After four times, I was more invested and less enthusiastic. I was less “in love” with the people and more just learning to like them, having discovered they were just like all people everywhere: containing strengths and weaknesses, warts and beauty.

I suppose that’s true in all our relationships. The beginning of love is always a whirlwind of emotions and ignorance, not without some foundations, but still, it’s irrational and causes us to say and do things a clear head might forgo.

I turned 36 this month, which means I’ve now lived in Minnesota almost as long as I’ve lived anywhere. I moved here when I was 18 for college and, minus two summers in Iowa, I’ve been here ever since.

When I first got here, I loved so much about it: access to the arts, museums, people who cared about education, people who worked hard, better roads, a theologically rich church. But eventually this wore thin as I discovered what seemed like giant barriers to developing relationships with people. For a state known for its Minnesota Nice, I felt like I searched in vain to find it.

To me it seemed more like Minnesota Passive Aggressive, or, Minnesota: Cold Weather and Cold Shoulders, or, Minnesota: Good Luck Trying to Figure Out What We Really Think, or, Minnesota: Refuge for Introverts and Others Opposed to Making Eye Contact. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience and probably says as much about me as anything. I can think of a few less-than-lovely tag lines for myself as well: AntiMinnesota: Ready, Fire, Aim Conversation Starters, or, AntiMinnesota: Adventures in Awkward Oversharing.

The thing is people are people. They’re unique in their strengths and weaknesses and it’s always by the grace of God that we grow in real love (not hype or ignorance) for people who are different than us. After eighteen years here, I can say that God has grown in me a deep love and loyalty for this people group. The nice people group. The can’t-make-eye-contact people group. The group with the strong opinions that they’re afraid to let out. I’m pretty sure I’ve started adopting quite a few of their ways. And I can say that I’ve been well-loved by this people. They endure those of us who say too much, too fast. They hang in there with people like me, who seem to have never met a thought that they didn’t feel the need to express.

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I’m SO thankful for those who’ve left home and country to go to the faraway nations. Those who are laboring in places where Christian churches are rare or absent, who are upending everything to take the Gospel and plant it in soil where it hasn’t taken root. Those who are staying long enough to actually know that the people they are there to love are no easier to love than any other people. It is a high calling and I want to do everything I can to support them and affirm that what they’re doing is massively important and essential and set apart.

And for as long as God has me here, I want to look around at this people: the MN Nice people, the melting pot of the Twin Cities, and love the heck out of them, dontcha know.

 

 

Why Sunday Matters, Union With Christ in the Wilderness, and Baking The World Better

I’m home again this Sunday. More sickness. Which means I’m writing down everything on my mind. Forgive the disparate nature of it all.

I’ve been trying to get to the nub of why missing church hurts so badly. Is it because I don’t get to hear the sermon? Or the Sunday school teaching? Well, yes. But no, because I can listen to those later in the week when the recordings become available. Is it because I feel cooped up and want to see people and have some social time? Well, yes. But no, because I get to see people and get out other days of the week.

What I miss most is hearing, receiving, and singing together. When we hear the Word preached together, it’s different than me downloading some killer sermon to listen to by myself. When we sing songs together, it’s different than when I find the latest or best hymn album to listen to in my kitchen. It’s valuable to do those things at home, but it’s not the same as being with God’s people on Sunday.

When we gather as God’s people and sing a song to the Lord and about the Lord from our heart, with other Christians singing the same song, and the same words, from their hearts, we are being united. Every Sunday morning God is answering Jesus’ prayer that we would be one as he and the Father are one. When we submit ourselves fully to the faithfully preached Word of God we are being made one as shoulder to shoulder our brothers and sisters put themselves under that same Word. That’s what I miss so much.

I’m never quite as aware of my frailty as on a Sunday when I’m engulfed in the singing of his people. My faith won’t survive without the faithful saints singing next to me. It’s true that “you can have all this world, give me Jesus..” as long as when we say “Jesus” we mean his body, too. I can’t live without his people. Sundays at home with sick kids are God’s good plan to remind me of this even more.

I’ve spent the better part of the past year thinking about our union with Christ. It has become to me the sweetest of all truth in the universe. I was reading through the sermon text for today, while at home, wanting to keep on the same page as everyone. I couldn’t get past the first two verses.

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” Mark 1:12-13 (ESV)

So much to take it. But I was strengthened by remembering that it’s God’s Spirit that puts Jesus (and us) in the wilderness, and that we can be in the wilderness and not fear, because Jesus already did it for us. He did it perfectly. He made a path through. The Israelites couldn’t do it, I can’t do it on my own. But because of him, we can walk through the wilderness and resist temptation. He did it for me and he leads me in paths of goodness and faithfulness right through the desert and dry land.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what goodness looks like. Is it a good attitude? Is it doing good things? Can the world engage in goodness? What is Christian goodness? If I get the laundry done, how is it distinctly Christian goodness–doesn’t everybody have to do that? This is another area where thinking about my union with Christ has made life all the sweeter.

There is a Christian way to do the laundry, and make supper, and tend the garden, and go to work, and clean the house. And that is to do them all in Christ and for Christ, with his garments of holiness round about us. It’s so easy to think that our Christian selves are the selves that do “ministry.” The Christian part of us is the part that goes to church, or does Bible study, or disciples a younger person, or helps in Sunday school, or has a quiet time. But because of Christ everything we do is a Christian thing. And I’ve been reveling in baking bread while united to Christ and seated in the heavenly places.

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There’s this cute hashtag: #baketheworldabetterplace. I love it. I love it because, in Christ, it can be true. In Christ, we can bake the world better. In Christ, baking really can be a way to befriend faithfulness. I can love my children with the love of Christ by baking. I can put my hands to do good works in and for Christ by baking. I can teach about him through baking; I can love Christ with baking; I can enjoy Christ in baking.

Baking in and of itself is a common good–it provides food, it is enjoyable. But baking while belonging to Christ is something else entirely. The metaphor (bread is food that sustains) and reality (Christ is the bread of life that sustains) meet spectacularly when baking as a Christian. Doing good works in Jesus’ name is transformative, both to the “good work” and to the person doing them and the person receiving them.

I mention all this baking hubbub, not to get you to start baking, which is completely unnecessary to your life as a Christian. But to ask you, what are you doing everyday that you can see in a new light because of your union with Christ. The laundry (making dirty things clean)? Making supper? Reading books? Accounting? Science experiments? You are doing those things in Christ. They belong to him and are for him. What metaphors are brought to fullness in your doing them?

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When we’re in Christ, nothing happens apart from him. Not our relationships with other Christians, or our relationships with non-Christians, or our interactions with the stuff in the world (like flour, clothing, tools, tv). We don’t invite Christ into those things. If we’re in him and he’s in us, it’s a reality that he’s there. But our awareness of him is what needs heightened. Which is part of why we need each other, Christ’s body. To keep each other remembering and reminded.

If you were at church today, I hope you know the gift you were given. And if you were at home or the hospital or somewhere else, I hope you know Christ as the one who blazed a trail through the wilderness for us.