Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Begrudge the Generosity of God

I love when I see the Lord's generosity towards me, in the big or little things. Whether it be my job, a friend to talk to, a beautiful sunrise or a verse that reminds of the glories of Christ, God has been so gracious towards me. And He has done so solely because of who He is, and not because of who I am. This should leave me humbled and grateful. I am usually grateful; humbled...well, not so much.

I know this because when I see His generosity in the lives of others, my response is not usually one of joy for them - it's one of jealousy. I see what He has given them, and rather than celebrating His generosity, my response is usually, "Why not me, Lord?" Usually, I follow up that question by listing all of the reasons that I deserve His generosity in that area more than they do.

My heart is so easily deceived. Though I know that the gospel declares my brokenness apart from Christ, I often practically convince myself that I have something to offer God. But the truth is simple: I don't. He has been so good to me. And He has so good to all of His children. I don't need to begrudge God His generosity - there is more than enough to go around. In His infinite wisdom, He always gives us exactly what we need. It is in this knowledge that I can begin to see His generosity towards my brothers and sisters as a joyful truth rather than a frustrating discouragement.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

He Gives Beautiful Gifts

Last week, summer decided to finally arrive, and we had weather that was incredibly warm. I did not appreciate this when our house was still almost 90 degrees when I was trying to go to sleep. However...the redeeming part of the week was the most glorious sunrises and sunsets. A friend borrowed my camera, or I would post pictures here. But each morning and night, the clouds were stunning and when the sun reflected off of them it painted the most beautiful picture.

It reminded me that God doesn't just give us necessary gifts - His Son, justification, sanctification, grace to walk through trails. He also gives beautiful ones. Sunrises and sunsets, the way a violin sounds layered with piano, trees and flowers and hills and mountains. None of these things are necessary! But they are beautiful. What a good God who gives us not only everything that is necessary for life and godliness, but also gives us things that bring us joy!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Perish Every Fond Ambition

"Perish every fond ambition, all I've sought or hoped or known. Yet how rich is my condition - God and heaven are still my own." - Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken
My Bible study finished Hebrews last Sunday, and as we did it became very clear that one thing should mark the life of a believer: an active forsaking of everything here in order to gain Christ and our heavenly inheritance. We are told that the believers of old desired "a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:16). Abraham was left all that he knew to follow God's commands because "he was looking forward the city that has foundations, who designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). Moses chose to be mistreated with the people of God because "he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealthy than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward" (Heb. 11:27).

Then, in chapter 12, we are commanded to run our race with endurance as we look to Jesus. And in so doing, we are told to lay aside not just sins, but weights that slow us down. They aren't bad things - they are good things that are distracting from the best thing: Jesus. Then we are reminded of what we are running towards: Mt. Zion, which can never be shaken, angels in celebration, the Living God, the assembly of the righteous, and to Jesus. To Jesus - this is the most glorious part.

And finally we come to chapter 13. This is where it gets difficult.
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. - Hebrews 13:12-14
Let us go to Him, outside the camp, and bear His reproach. This is a call to intentionally lay aside our comfort, the good things of this earth, and our desires, to follow Christ wherever He leads. There are many things in my life that are precious gifts from the Lord - friends, family, experiences, travel. These are not wrong to enjoy! But sometimes we are called to move away from those things in order to run towards Christ.

The hymn Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken has been on my mind a lot lately, especially the line I have quoted above. This is my prayer - that I would be willing to give every desire that I have held so dear in order to know Christ and be found in Him. And that as I go to Him outside the camp, I would see how rich my condition is - the Lord is still my own. May that always be more than enough for us.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: Jesus on Every Page

A few years ago, I first had the opportunity to read The Jesus Storybook Bible, and I began to see how present Christ is in the Old Testament. Since then, I have struggled with how to see and find Jesus in all of Scripture. It's one thing to know that I should be able to find Jesus in the whole Bible; it's an entirely different thing to actually do so. I'm so thankful that I was recently given the opportunity to read and review David Murray's new book Jesus on Every Page.

Jesus on Every Page is concise, practical, as well as easy to understand and read. It is an introduction to studying the Old Testament in light of the work of Jesus; it is in no way a complete guide to doing so. But David certainly achieves his goal of equipping readers to study the Old Testament, and he does so in a helpful and engaging way.

The book begins with David's story of how he came to see Jesus in all of Scripture, and then moves into helping the reader see Christ in 10 different areas of the Old Testament:

1. Christ's Planet
2. Christ's People
3. Christ's Presence
4. Christ's Precepts
5. Christ's Past
6. Christ's Prophets
7. Christ's Pictures
8. Christ's Promises
9. Christ's Proverbs
10. Christ's Poets

Each chapter includes a myriad of Scripture references, principles for interpretation, and examples of specific ways that each principle is applied. The overarching theme that helped clarify so much for me was this: "Old Testament faith was shadow faith, but shadow implies at least some light." Jesus has always has been the hope of His people, whether or not they understood the fullness of who He was. Jesus on Every Page helps readers to see the light of Christ that the Lord gave in the Old Testament. 

While this book is both practical and clear, I benefited from more than just principles for studying the Old Testament. David does a wonderful job of giving his readers a view of the glory of Jesus through all time. I walked away from reading this book thankful for the gift of all of Scripture - a gift that demonstrates the greatness of God's plans, the greatness of Jesus, and the unity of Christianity. 

Jesus on Every Page is a valuable resource for any believer who wants to better be able to love Jesus by studying all of Scripture. I heartily recommend it! 

If you purchase this book before August 31, you can receive over $100 of free Old Testament Resources!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fully to Enjoy God...

"To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives or children or the company of any, or all, earthly friends. These are but shadows, but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams but God is the sun. These are but drops but God is the ocean." - Jonathan Edwards

He Preserved His Word

I'm taking a Biblical Hermeneutics class this semester in seminary. One of my favorite parts of the class so far has been some reading that I had to do regarding how we came to have the Bible that we currently have. One of the points that the author (James White) made was that when Scripture was written and distributed in the first and second century A.D., there was never a point when one group had controlling access of all of the copies that were available. Copies of all of the books were spread across Africa, Asia and Europe. As a result, no one person was able to suppress portions of Scripture that they didn't like or agree with - there was accountability, because there were always other people who had a copy to point out major errors or changes.

In contrast, after Muhammad died, every copy of the Koran was collected by one man who created an "authorized version" that he then sent back to all of the different mosques. He could add or delete anything that he liked, because he destroyed every copy that had existed previously and didn't match his own.

How thankful I am for the sovereignty of God that has preserved his Word for us throughout the ages that we might truly see His glory and the glory of His Son!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: Judges for You

A few months, I had the chance to review Galatians for You by Tim Keller, and I was really encouraged by it. So when I had the opportunity to review his new commentary Judges for You, I jumped at the chance. I was not disappointed.

If you listen to Keller preach, it quickly becomes clear that two themes run through everything he says and does. First is the idea of gospel centrality - that not only is the gospel central to all of Scripture, but to all of life. Second is his contention that humans are, at our core, idolaters, and that our biggest problem relating to God is that we worship other things instead of Christ.

In Judges for You, both of these ideas are central themes. Judges is harsh and raw. It is not an easy book to read or to understand. Keller states his overarching theme early on: " Ultimately, there is only one hero in this book, and He's divine." It quickly becomes apparent how true this really is.

One of the things that I like most about this commentary is that Keller doesn't shy away from the difficult issues of Judges, such as how Deborah's judging should relate to our views of women in ministry or Jephthah's vow that ultimately led to the death of his daughter or the fact that God commands what we would call genocide. But while he Biblically addresses these challenging points, Keller never strays from his main point: that the book of Judges is intended to point us to Christ, the true and better Savior.

Judges for You is not hard reading, nor is it long. But I walked away after reading it with a fresh conviction of the sin and idolatry in my own heart and an assurance that is only found in Jesus. In my past readings of Judges, it has been easy for me to say that I would have acted differently than the Israelites. But the reality is that my heart apart from Christ is just as idolatrous as theirs. Keller's commentary helped me to see this, and then pointed me to Jesus.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

When You Have a Big Decision...

...It's important to remember that God is sovereign. Always and absolutely. While His sovereignty doesn't release you from your responsibility to make wise and thoughtful decisions, it does ensure one thing: you cannot mess up the Lord's plans. And what that does is give you the confidence you need to make this decision. Pray, read Scripture, obtain wise counsel, and then make your decision knowing that a man plans his way, but the Lord always establishes his steps. There is no need to worry about tomorrow.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sleep and Self-Sufficiency

My roommate is getting married this week, making our house wedding central. In addition, it has just been a busy week at work and with friends. I haven't been sleeping as much as I should, and yesterday, I started to feel it.

I can go for a few days without enough sleep and I don't feel the affects. But any more than that, and all of the sudden it hits me, and I am furious or hurt about the littlest things, things that shouldn't be an issue. Yesterday was the day that everything hit me. I fell apart last night about the smallest things, and felt awful because of it.

When I initially choose pleasure or work over rest, I feel fine. I am self-sufficient, not even needing sleep. But then I realize the truth: I cannot sustain myself. Rest is a necessary part of the way that the Lord created me.

It is when I sleep that I remember that I need the Lord's sustaining power and sovereignty. It is a way of saying that I cannot do it all. It is a reminder that I am ultimately completely dependent on the One who created me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

He Anchors Me with His Grace Abounding

It's profound with all these sinking ships around me, peace surrounds me and He anchors me with His grace abounding. - Josh Garrels and Beautiful Eulogy, "Anchor of My Soul"
Last month, I waited in a security line at the airport to have my ID checked as I headed to see my grandma for the last time. It had been less than 36 hours since I had returned from Thailand, and in that time I had worked two full days, done laundry, unpacked and repacked, and slept for a few hours. I was jet-lagged, and adding another 3 hour time difference to my already confused body, still on the typical missions trip "high", but heading to say goodbye for the last time to my grandma who doesn't know the Lord. I was a tangled mess of emotions.

But there was a peace...a peace in knowing Him who is greater than this world. A knowledge that He is an anchor for my soul in every storm. And so as I waited in the security line, I didn't feel quite as drained as I probably truly was.

When I reached the TSA guard, I handed him my ticket and passport, smiled and asked how his night was going.

"Very well," he answered, smiling back at me, an abnormal response from almost any California TSA agents, but particularly those working the night shift. They aren't exactly known for their pleasantness.

He looked at my ticket for a moment, and then looked up at me again. "You're looking very joyful, Miss Joyce." Then he handed me my ticket and I walked on to the next portion of security.

What he will never know is what those words meant that night. My middle name is Joyce. I am named for my grandma, the very grandma I was going to say goodbye to and who I had been praying for. I was exhausted and had every reason to be frustrated and full of grief. But the Lord had given me a confidence in who He is, and I did find rest in Him.The TSA guard's words, although he will never know that, were a reminder to me of the joy that I have in Christ,  in the One who anchors my soul in every storm with His abundant grace. I was indeed feeling joyful that night.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lay Aside Every Weight

In my Bible study, we are finishing up the book of Hebrews. I was struck last week by a verse in chapter 12: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which so easily entangles..."

Did you catch that? There is a distinction between weight and sin. Sometimes, we are asked to lay aside neutral or even good things for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God. Sometimes that means turning off that TV show to spend time with a lonely friend. Sometimes it means setting aside time with friends in order to spend time with the Lord. Sometimes it means choosing to not buy a new car so that you the opportunity to spend that money in other places. Sometimes it means you leave the place and people you love and move halfway across the world to preach the gospel to people who haven't heard it.

These weights look different for everyone. This isn't a formula. What this requires is to obey the command that follows: "looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." It is only when you look to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross. that you will lay aside every weight. When you look at Jesus, the only proper response is to count everything else as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

His Blood Speaks a Better Word

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24, ESV)

"Herein, the blood of Christ 'speaketh better things than that of Abel,' for Abel's blood said, 'Revenge!' and made the sword of God start from its scabbard; but Christ's blood cried 'Mercy!' and sent the sword back again, and bade it sleep for ever." - Spurgeon

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Beauty of the Body of Jesus

Sometimes we compartmentalize church life too much. Yesterday, after Sunday School, I went to lunch with two friends from church. Five hours later, we realized we were almost late for our Sunday night Bible study. We talked and laughed about everything from childhood stories to things we have been struggling with at church.

On Sunday mornings, it's hard to have a real conversation. Time is short, and there is so little privacy and so very many people to talk to. And sometimes, spending extra time with other believers can feel more like a burden than a blessing - something that we "should" do but don't want to.

Yesterday was a sweet reminder that the Lord has given us our brothers and sisters to encourage us and build us up; consequently time spent with them is often one of the most refreshing things that we can experience.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Unintentional Sabbatical

Sorry for the lack of has been a busy season that has been focused in other areas. I hope to get back to regular posting next week.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Good Words for a Sunday

"All joy ... emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings. - C.S. Lewis

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Wonder of Reading

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see piles and piles of books. One morning, two team members and I just carried all of these books to the temporary library. We had a group of children who were supposed to be helping us...and they would, except that every time they carried a stack, they would get so excited that they would stop to read. Very soon, the library looked like this:

As much as we would have loved their help carrying (it sure was a lot of books!), it was exciting to see the passion that they have for reading. For most of them, they are the first people in their family who have ever been able to read. Their parents and grandparents have never even had the opportunity to learn. But by God's grace, they can. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I don't have any pictures from the you get a rice paddy instead.
Right now, I'm once again sitting in airport. My family received news yesterday that my grandma is not doing well, so I am making an emergency trip to see her for what might be the last time. Flying is starting to feel normal. Life in transition is becoming par for the course. So much for coming home and settling back into routine. When I got the call yesterday morning from my mom less than 12 hours after I came back from Thailand so excited for life, I didn't really know how to respond.

As much as it was the worst news to receive so quickly after coming back to the States, I also felt prepared. I had just spent three weeks seeing incredible testimonies of God's providence and sovereignty. Our first flight to Thailand ended up arriving 2 1/2 hours late, and we were an hour late for our flight to Bangkok. We thought that we would be spending the night in Taipei. But in His mercy and because He is good, the airline held the flight for our team and four or five others. His plans are perfect.

In Thailand, I saw a beautiful picture of how the Lord knits together a story for His glory and the good of His people. I practiced trusting that goodness through illness, exhaustion, poverty, and disunity in our team. And so when I received the phone call yesterday, I felt ready.

More than that, I had just seen how the Lord changes hearts. My grandma is very hard-hearted...she does not know Jesus, nor does she want to. I have no false hope. The Lord's will is always done, even when it breaks my heart. My grandma may die apart from His grace.

But there was this thief on the cross...

I serve a God who softens even the hardest of hearts. There are hearts of drug addicts and broken women who now believe the gospel in a little village called Mah Oh Jo, a village that everyone else had forgotten or hated, but my God sought out and pursued. I pray that He pursues my grandma in the same way.

So as I sit in this airport, it feels strangely right. Life is an adventure, one that never stops. I am resting in the goodness of God that I have known so clearly. I feel empty; I'm tired, emotionally and physically. My body doesn't know when to sleep and when to be awake. But I also feel so very full of the right things. Full of trust, full of peace. The Lord's timing is perfect.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Beautiful Skies

When I visited Thailand in December last time, it was pretty. But these past three weeks were gloriously beautiful. Here is just a small sampling of the beautiful skies we witnessed...I couldn't get pictures of the stars and the lightning storms.

Home Again

It's 2:30 am (hello, jet lag!) and I arrived safely home from Thailand about an hour ago. These last three weeks have been encouraging, strengthening, thought-provoking, refreshing, wonderful and so hard all at the same time. Over this next week, I will upload pictures and share some of the stories of our time there. I am so thankful for this time and I cannot wait to share some of the works of the Lord in and through His people in Northern Thailand!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Going to Thailand!

Tomorrow morning, I leave for Thailand again for three weeks. I cannot wait to share stories of the Lord's work and glory and grace. I may get a chance to post here, but more than likely, posts will only go up on our team blog:
Join me there - and please pray for our team!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Weekend Links 5/18

Stop Hustling and Get Your Life Back - I love this.

Preparing for the Future in the Age of Facebook - "But an endless assortment of instantly-available media and non-stop social interactions are making uninterrupted study less common for young adults in our day (and for all of us). Such distractions radically short-circuit the learning process, preventing students from reaching their God-given potential for usefulness in the kingdom and workplace."

Ain't Got No Rhythm - An incredibly insightful post from Kevin DeYoung. "Many of us are less busy than we think, but life feels con­stantly overwhelming because our days and weeks and years have no rhythm."

All the Single Ladies. And Men. - "Dear single ladies and single men, the church needs you."

Women Teaching with Authority - I appreciate Wendy's thoughts here, although I'm not sure whether or not I agree. Thought-provoking in a good way, though.  "Today I'm thinking about 1 Timothy 2."

How Far is to Far? - "Everyone has had to ask or answer the question at one time or another: When it comes to the physical component of a dating relationship, how far is too far? Can we hold hands? Can we kiss? Can we do a little bit more than kiss? Should we even explore the physical relationship a little bit to ensure we are compatible?"

Another Alseny - "Big brown eyes and a milky mouth; my kind of baby. Alseny was here to have his cleft palate repaired, but when I opened the chart, another photo fell out, one from before his cleft lip surgery. As I started to look through the rest of his paperwork, Alseny's beautiful story unfolded in photos and graphs and page after page of careful notes."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Weekend Links 5/11

Mysticism and Freedom - "But, I was the oldest in the room and it became apparent to me that, in some ways, I was seeing things quite differently. I think there are probably three general phases in Christian growth."

Words from a Gay Student to His Classmates - "Moody Students, we are among you, beside you and rooming with you. Give us grace as we struggle for holiness and sometimes fail. Give us your prayers, not just for today, but throughout your ministry here on earth."

The Best Book - "What was wrong is that at some point along the way my hunger for God's word was replaced with a hunger for mere knowledge. I longed for truths more than the truth. It didn't take long for the word of God to become something I used to simply footnote what I was reading in other books."

Ordinary: Christian Living for the Rest of Us - "It is about being ordinarily excellent, ordinarily passionate, ordinarily godly. It is about trusting that such ordinary saints are saints indeed, fully acceptable, fully accepted, fully pleasing to the One who created and called us."

On Mother's Day, Remember the Infertile - "We must recognize though that many infertile women find this day almost unbearable. This is not because these women are (necessarily) bitter or covetous or envious. The day is simply a reminder of unfulfilled longings, longings that are good."

This Sin but Not That Sin - "Last week I wrote about how Christians should respond to NBA player Jason Collins coming out as gay. Later a young gay man challenged me as to why Christians feel the need to respond with such bold clarity to homosexuality while not doing the same to other cultural sins."

Half Marathon: Accomplished

Well, we did it! My brother and I both finished the half marathon; I have the blisters and sore muscles to prove it. David did great, of course. He had his usual energy afterwards. I can't imagine not being tired and sore after running 13 miles, but somehow he seems to manage just fine.

It was a hard course (even the top finishers were slower than usual), with several mile-long uphill portions. When I finished, I didn't think I would never do another one. It was probably the most challenging thing I have ever done, both physically and emotionally. But now that I am 5 days out, I've convinced myself that it wasn't half as bad as I remember, and I'm pretty sure I will do another year. Time to take a long-distance running break and focus on shorter distances for a while. I'm sure my knees will thank me.

I'm really thankful that David was able to come down to SD and run with me. It was great to spend the weekend with him and my mom. And now another item has officially been checked off of my bucket list!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Song: Holy (Wedding Day)

This is what we long for.

This is the story of the Son of God
Hanging on the cross for me
But it ends with a bride and groom
And a wedding by a glassy sea
O death where is your sting
Cause I'll be there singing
Holy Holy Holy
Is the Lord

This is the story of a bride in white
Waiting on her wedding day
Anticipation welling up inside
While the groom is crowned as king
O death where is your sting
Cause we'll be there singing
Holy Holy Holy is the Lord

Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy
Is the Lord Almighty
Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy
Is the Lord Almighty
Who was and is and is to come
Who was and is and is to come

This is the story of the Son of God
Hanging on the cross for me
And it ends with a bride and groom
And a wedding by a glassy sea

This is the story of the a bride in white
Singing on her wedding day
Of the God who was and is to stand before a bride who sings
Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy is the Lord Almighty

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Follow our Thailand Trip

Only 12 days until I leave for Thailand! Our team will be updating a blog while we are there. If you would like to follow us, the first post about this trip is up:
Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Weekend Links 5/4

Brace Yourself for Suffering: Lessons from a Broken Leg - "A couple of weeks ago, my youngest brother, Weston, broke his right leg during a soccer game. It was horrible. He spent eight nights in the hospital and underwent four surgeries."

Something Beautiful - "God is not silent. He is not idle. He weaves our lives together in the most unexpected and intricate ways, laboring tirelessly on behalf of the small and the forgotten. Humbled, I watch Him work, holding on to my end of the thread as He takes it and makes it into something beautiful." There is a Part 2 of this story as well, though. This one is much harder to hear.

Where Are You? - "But God approaches them. Why? Why doesn't he just banish them and let them waste away in their now dying bodies, contaminated by their sin? Why not just give them over to Satan? Or why not wipe them off the earth and create a new, pure couple?"'

Eat It or Love It - "This is a command they cannot complete, no matter how badly they want to. They could will themselves to eat they fish; they cannot will their love of it. In fact, in order for them to be obedient to this command from their father, they need something internal to change. They need more than mere will power; they need new taste buds."

May We Use Commentaries Written by Women? - I so appreciated Jared Wilson's thoughts on this subject.

How Older Members Brighten the Future of the Church - "We sometimes act as if older members have no role vital to the future of the church. But actually they are absolutely essential, indispensable."

Dear Mr. President - A mom writes a letter to the President after sharing with her children the realities of abortion.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Song: Upon a Life I Did Not Live

I have really been enjoying this song from Indelible Grace.

Upon a Life I Did Not Live

Upon a life I have not lived,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another’s life; Another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.

Not on the tears which I have shed,
Not on the sorrows I have known,
Another’s tears; Another’s griefs,
On these I rest, on these alone.

O Jesus, Son of God, I build on what Thy cross has done for me;
There both my life and death I read, my guilt, and pardon there I see.

Lord, I believe; O deal with me,
As one who has Thy Word believed!
I take the gift, Lord, look on me,
As one who has Thy gift received.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Not Enough to Go Around

After Bible study on Sunday night, I stayed to just chat with a few friends. The couple who was hosting us all that night has a almost three-year-old son who was downstairs playing while we talked. At one point, he noticed that his dad had used a second chair to create a footrest for himself. Michael thought this was a great idea, so he picked up a folding chair (that was taller than he was) and moved it over by the couch.

Satisfied with himself, he sat down and smiled. But then he noticed - there were still people missing out on this glorious footrest! So he proceeded to move the two remaining folding chairs in front of his mom and another lady in the group, grunting the whole time with the effort. It was so sweet. He finally sat down and sighed in satisfaction. All was well...

Until his mom pointed out that there were still two of us who didn't have footrests. But there were no more chairs left! So he spent the next ten minutes shifting chairs over and over again. He would move one from his mom to me, and then from himself to his mom, and then from the other lady to himself, and so on and so forth. I think he was hoping that eventually, if he just moved the chairs quickly enough, there would be enough chairs to go around.

Sometimes I feel like Michael; there isn't enough of me to go around, but I'm hoping that if I just keep trying, more energy and time will magically appear. Sadly, it doesn't. And instead, I just end up tired and worn out from never taking time to rest.

Sometimes, saying no is a good thing. It allows us to focus our energies where they should be focused. Rather than doing a myriad of things halfheartedly, we can do a few things well.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

God is Good; Therefore...

I am fully funded for my upcoming trip to Thailand, which is such a blessing and encouragement. There are still people at church who ask how my fundraising is going, though, and each time, I get to say, "I'm done! God is good!" And it's true - He is good. But I have been reflecting recently on how often I praise His goodness to me only when I experience "good things" (read: things that I want) from Him.

There is an essential distinction that I often fail to make. God is good. Always. In all that He does. However, we usually say, "God is good because...(insert something good you experienced from Him)." But God isn't good because He does good things. His goodness and character are not dependent on His actions. Rather, His goodness produces those good actions. It is much more truthful to say, "God is good; therefore He..."

God isn't good because he chose to send His Son - He is good. Therefore, out of His overflowing goodness, He chose to send His Son. He isn't good because He provided for my Thailand trip. He is good and therefore, I am now fully funded. If I wasn't funded, it was still because God is good and always does good.

You see, when we make God's goodness dependent on His actions, trials and sorrows can break us. When something happens that we don't understand, we don't know where to turn because we have always said that God is good only when we received His blessings.

But when God is good always and regardless of what we understand to be a "beneficial" thing, we have a refuge in the time of the storm. We can run back to the Father and cry out that He is good and does good (Ps. 119:68), and therefore know that we only ever experience good things from His hand.

God is good and therefore He does all things well. This God is an anchor for our souls.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why Baptism?

I am so thankful for these beautiful truthes. 

Why Baptism? from Granger Community Church on Vimeo.

Weekend Links 4/27

Leap and Weep - John Piper's thought on finishing his time as a pastor.

53 Fun Nights Out for $10 or Less - I love all of these different ideas!

Letter to a Parent Grieving the Loss of a Child - "This loss and sorrow is all so fresh. I hesitate to tread into the tender place and speak. But since you ask, I pray that God would help me say something helpful."

Naming False Securities - This was so convicting. "All of these false securities erode our trust in God, and when our trust in God is gone our joy evaporates and we are left with dehydrated souls. The response is to turn to Christ, and there to find all the security we need eternally and for our daily bread today."

Dear Church Kid - "Did you know that you functionally deny the reality of our need for grace in Christ when you put on your church kid mask?"

The Complementarian Woman: Permitted or Pursued - "The challenge for any pastor would be to consider whether he is crafting a church culture that permits women to serve or one that pursues women to serve. Because a culture of permission will not ensure complementarity functions as it should.

Salvation's Tenses - Don't miss this glorious gospel poem

Book Review: Delighting in the Trinity

As I mentioned last week, I have been reading Delighting in the Trinity. Now that I am done, I am hard-pressed to think of a book that has been as much of an encouragement to me. I think intellectually, I have always been able to say why the Trinity was important - the Father sent the Son to bear His wrath and the Spirit applies salvation to our heart, etc., etc. All true. But I had never understood the depth of this precious truth.

Reeves argues that if God is triune, this central truth changes everything. It is not a problem to be solved, an after-thought, or a technicality. In actuality it is "the vital oxygen of the Christian life and joy." If God is, indeed, eternally Triune, then He has always been a Father, who gives life, love and glory to His Son through the Spirit. We now, in Jesus, receive the overflow of this eternal love.

Many times, the way that Christians discuss God is no different than the way that a Muslim or a Mormon would discuss their God. But this Triune God is shockingly different; rather than being a self-absorbed, singular being, He is a God who has always delighted to share His love and glory. This explains why He would create us and why He would send His Son. He seeks to have His life and goodness shared.

Karl Barth contended that, "The triunity of God is the secret of His beauty." After reading this, I cannot help but agree. At the beginning of the book, Reeves says that his purpose in writing is to help us taste and see that the Lord is good. This was the effect on my heart.

Delighting in the Trinity is relatively easy reading, and it is short, about 130 pages. But for me, it has changed so much about how I read Scripture, how I think about the Lord and how I relate to Him. The Trinity changes everything - it really is the foundation of Christianity. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Life Update

Sorry for how quiet I have been! I leave for Thailand in just over 3 weeks, and the closer it gets, the busier I have become. Between worship practices, team meetings, VBS preparation and more, any extra time that I have is usually not spent on my computer. If you think about it, your prayers would be much appreciated as we prepare for our trip.

In other news, I run my first half marathon with my brother in a week and a half. And by run, I really mean that I hope I don't die while I move my body 13.1 miles. In all seriousness, though, it will be fun. It's in a beautiful area of San Diego, and my parents and my brother are meeting me down here the day before so that we can spend some time together, which I am looking forward to.

Speaking of family, I've just been feeling more and more torn. I love going - I want to travel and see the world. There is so much to learn and know. But my heart already feels torn and divided between home and here. I love going, but I hate that going means that I have to leave. My heart hurts because here on this earth, my world will never be a complete whole. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

It has been a reflective week, a week that has forced me to trust that the Lord is who He says He is. His promises are true and His timing is perfect. I don't always understand the way that He chooses to do things, but when I look to Jesus, I cannot help say, "You alone are my hope and stay." And He is. There is peace.

Please enjoy this wonderful song, one that I have been listening to over and over again this week...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weekend Links 4/20

What Gosnell and the Gospel Mean to the Brave - "If the compassion of the world is 'We do not unwanted children born into the world,' then the compassion of the Gospel has to be far more powerful. The compassion of Christ-followers needs to literally and practically and sacrificially be: 'We do want all the children born into this world.'"

Ten Simple Strategies for Prayer - "I know very few people who don’t struggle with prayer. We know we should pray, but doing so consistently and fervently is not easy. Most of our praying is reactionary – that is, in response to a problem – rather than proactive, lifestyle praying."

Find Your Worth in the Gospel - "The therapeutic gospel says, 'I am valuable, and that’s why God loves me.' The biblical gospel says, 'I am valuable because God loves me!'"

Hard Training - "We agreed that God seems to give much more frustration to some Christians than to others. It is a fact that God will eventually put you ‘to death’ one way or the other through sorrow and disappointment. But with some this comes through a thousand cuts. With others through a few major strokes."

Mirror Wars - "But I wonder if Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches has the right idea. I wonder if seeing ourselves through the eyes of others will show that we are too hard on ourselves, that the real source discrediting our beauty is found in ourselves. And then I wonder what we would see if we chose to see ourselves through the eyes, not only of charitable strangers, but of Christ."

Strength to Hold On - A great reminder.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Who is God?

I have been reading Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. I will be reviewing it soon - it has been a wonderful help to me in so many ways. But I wanted to share one quote:
At bottom this God is different, for at bottom, He is not Creator, Ruler or even "God" in some abstract sense: He is the Father, loving and giving life to His Son in the fellowship of the Spirit....Having such a God happily changes everything.
For the first, I feel as if I am beginning to see how a trinitarian God changes everything, and how so much of what we see in the world around is simply the overflow of this wonderful truth about the Lord.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Weekend Links 4/13

The Asphyxiation of Hope - Heartbreaking and courage-building reflections on depression and suicide.

Sunday School Conversations - My friend Jess teaches Sunday school at our church. She does a fantastic job, and the kids love her, so much so that they are doing everything that they can to get her married off. Her stories about their advice are hilarious.

The Right Time God - But thank God His timing is not dependent on my recognition of its rightness. Thank God He is not swayed by my complaints. Thank God He is willing to press on to the right time. And thank God that He didn't wait for me to be ready to exercise His good work in my life:

On Grudges and Generosity - Yikes. This is convicting.

Kermit Gosnell and the Gospel - Helpful thoughts from Russell Moore.

Quietness of Heart Overcomes All - "Quietness of heart before God, trusting in him, is our strength, and there is no greater strength."

Our Hearts Still Burn - I have been enjoying the whole album, but this song in particular is one that I keep coming back to.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekend Links 4/6

The Power to Love and Forgive - "At this point we realized we needed resources beyond love languages and bank balances. We had nothing to give the other — which left us with nothing to get from the other. It was a vicious cycle."

What the Law-Keeper Cries to the Gospel-Lover - "Over the years he has shared with me several interesting little glimpses of his work in that community--a community that attempts to adhere to every part of the Old Testament law. It is fascinating to hear how these attempts manifest themselves in the twenty-first century."

Not a Waste of Time - "One of our favorites stories from Edith Schaeffer."

First Day Thoughts on Not Being a Pastor Anymore - "Finishing the ministry at Bethlehem has been deeply and painfully satisfying. Painfully, because of long, tearful embraces with people who don’t want to let go. But here I want to show you how finishing can be so satisfying."

Waiting, Wasting, Wandering - Sweet encouragement.

Why Envy is a Danger for the YRR - "This will be the test for us among the Young, Restless Reformed. So I invite you to take the test with me. The next time someone else is given an opportunity or a blessing that you wish was yours, how do you react?"

Two Adams Met in Me - Fantastic poem from Barry York.

When Josh Harris Slapped Me Across the Face - I needed to hear this.

Peacemaking: A Gospel Necessity - "If God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, how can we not pursue reconciliation with one another?"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

He Crushed Its Head

I am finishing the book of Numbers in my regular Bible reading, and I just came to the passage where the Lord sent fiery snakes to punish the Israelites for their disobedience. It reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Russell Moore's book Tempted and Tried.
In my nightly Bible readings with my family, I read a selected narrative in the canon, but every night my children beg me to read "the one about the snake." For some reason they love to hear about Moses combating the fiery serpents in the wilderness with the bronze serpent on the pole and about the afflicted finding healing when they look on the emblem of the very curse that's killing them. My little boys don't simply have a morbid fascination with venomous snakes among the wandering Israelites. In fact, they are never satisfied to end the story there. 
They wait in silence until we turn to what they call "the other pole," the picture of the cross of Christ. That's when I tell them how mysteriously this seemingly helpless, executed man confronted the snake of Eden right there on "the other pole" and finally did what God had promised since the beginning of history. He crushed its head. 
Praise God that He did.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

When You Feel Wronged...

I hope you all had a blessed Resurrection Sunday - I know I did. The past few days since then, though, there has been a completely unintentional situation at church that has left me feeling as if no one cares. I know is not true; I just feel as if it is right now. As hard as it has been, though, the Lord has used it to remind me of what I need to remember when I feel wronged by the church, and how I can respond in a way that is honoring to Him.

1. I don't serve the church for what I gain.
Each time I start to think about this situation, my gut reaction is to point to everything I have done for everyone at the church...the Bible studies I have babysat for, the many times I cleaned the sanctuary on a Saturday when no one else wanted to, the early mornings arranging chord charts for worship sets, the multiple nights each week I arrive home late because I am serving in some way; I am not un-involved. Honestly, I feel as if I am as committed at church as I can be at this point in my life.

But situations like this remind me that unless I am married and/or have a family at the church, I will still fall through the cracks more often then not. And while my initial reaction is to scream unfairness, that really isn't true. Either way, I don't serve so that others remember me and serve me back. I serve because the Lord has first loved me, because I love this church, and because I can. I have time and energy and resources right now that I won't always have. And even if no one sees, it doesn't matter. The Lord sees, and it is ultimately for Him anyway. My job is only to be faithful with what I have been given.

2. Our actions often have unintentional consequences.
What's been so hard about this situation is that all of the things that I have been hurt by are good things - things that are glorifying to God and bless someone else in the congregation abundantly. But by blessing this person so openly and publicly, I have been left feeling as if no one cares about the fact that I am in the same situation. I know that isn't the intention, but the results are the same. However, this has forced me to think about all of the things that I do, and the unintentional consequences that they might be having. I am not exempt from this problem, and it has been a heartbreaking reminder to watch my life more closely.

3. I need to focus on what unifies me with my brothers and sisters.
It's easy right now to dwell on all of the ways that I feel wronged, and to even go back to little things that people have done in the past that have been hurtful. But the truth is that love does cover a multitude of sins, and that even though I feel divided from some people in little ways in the moment, we are united because of Jesus and His finished work on the cross. In the midst of this, that is what I need to remember - that we all have the same Spirit and the same Lord at work in us for His glory.

It has been a challenging few days, but God is good. It has been good to process through everything and refocus on the things that matter.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Weekend Links 3/30

Did Luke Write Hebrews - This is fascinating, absolutely fascinating, especially since my Bible study is now working our way through Hebrews.

The Old Man and His Big Book - Wonderful stories from the life a faithful saint.

10 Things I've Learned about Church Drama - "Drama. Gossip. Back-stabbing. Politics. Jockeying for power. Rumors. It’s destructive and has no part in the local church. I've seen lots of it. And, along the way I've learned a few things."

Tired of Gay Marriage Debates - "So I ask you to consider these questions. Don’t fall prey to your emotions or the tide of opinion – on either side. Don’t make the mistake of using the wrong medium for ardent thoughts. Above all, be a witness, not of your political views but of your faith. What will make Jesus more beautiful, hopeful, and joyful in the eyes of those who have yet to meet Him?"

10 Reasons to be Thankful for Feeling Broke - "I use the word “broke” really intentionally. We’re not poor. We’re just in one of those seasons where things seem extra tight, and we feel extra frustrated by the lack of freedom we have financially. But the more I obsess over it, the more I realized that living with less is actually a blessing. Here’s why."

It's the Little Things; Ok, It's the Big Things Too - I am so thankful for how R.C. Sproul, Jr. is walking through his grief.

Holy Week and the Insomnia of Jesus - "Why could Jesus sleep so peacefully through a life-threatening sea-storm, and yet is awake all night in the olive garden before his arrest, crying out in anguish? Why are the disciples pulsing with adrenaline as the ship is tossed about on the Galilee Lake, but drifting off to slumber as the most awful conspiracy in human history gets underway?"

Don't Let Systematic Theology Mess with Your Head - "Should we study systematic theology? Of course! It’s invaluable. But when reading God’s word, let each passage speak for itself first. Let it cut you and heal you, bind you and break you."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Cup He Drank

Today is Good Friday; a sobering day for quiet reflection. The theme of my church's service tonight is, "He drank our cup that we might drink His." The Old Testament speaks often of the cup of God's wrath that the wicked will drink:
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed,and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)
Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’ (Jeremiah 25:27-29)
But then in Isaiah 51, we are given the first glimmer of hope, the first hinting of the cup that Christ would later drink for us:
Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: "Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more." (Isaiah 51:22)
And then, many years later, we find Jesus in Gethsemane, praying that the Lord would remove this cup from Him. He knew the fullness of the wrath that He would drink, and yet, His prayer was, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matthew 26:42).

And He did drink it, the cup of God's wrath. And when it was empty, he declared, "It is finished," and the curtain in the temple was torn in two, split from top to bottom.

The wrath that we could never satisfy was drained dry by the One who could never deserve it. And now we drink of His cup, an inheritance that Peter describes as "imperishable, undefiled and unfading". This is a glorious thing. 

Song: My Hope is Jesus

This song has the most plays of any on my I-Tunes account, for good reason. This is the perfect time of year to be reminded that our hope is only found in the Lord Jesus! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Seasons...

On Monday, I was officially accepted into seminary! I have been thinking about grad school for a while now, and I finally decided that I might as well pursue it. I have both the time and the money to do so right now and I love structured learning. I want to be better equipped to serve at my church and to minister to the different people that the Lord has placed in my life. Additionally, I believe we need more women in the church who take their theological education seriously, whether through studying at home or through organized school. Either way, it's essential that we are able to speak truth to each other, our families and friends.

The biggest reason I finally decided that it was time to apply was because I realized that even if I only take 5 or 6 classes and then stop for whatever reason, it won't be wasted. I don't have to have a degree for learning to have been worth the effort.

So I applied to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. And on Monday I was accepted. I start in the fall, although not much will change, since I will be attending part-time, long-distance online. The bills still have to be paid! My hope is to attend long distance for several years, and then spend a year in KY finishing my degree...which could be one of many options. At this point, it is a Master of Arts in Theological Studies for Laypeople, which is wonderful because I get five elective classes. I can take anything that I would like! However, while this is my declared major, I have by no means officially decided. There are too many things I would like to learn!

So there you go...a new season begins soon. A season of school and full-time work. But I am excited to learn and study more intentionally again. I'm sure that I will have lots to share as this new season begins!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Give Thought to Jesus

If you have read this blog for any time at all, you have probably figured out that I thoroughly enjoy reading anything by C.S. Lewis. While I by no means agree with his views on everything, he is one of my favorite writers. I spent some time this weekend reading through papers that I wrote during my senior year of high school and came across one about The Great Divorce. It was interesting to see what quotes have changed the way I think, even though I had forgotten about them. This was one:
There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself…as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity they never gave a thought to Christ.
I struggle with this. I love knowledge and learning, and by nature I love rules - the structure that they provide is comforting and safe to me. But my desire always is that I would not just know about the Lord, but that I would know Him. I want to know Jesus, to boldly sing of His sweetness in all things, because I know in the deepest way the truth of His goodness. Defending the faith is good, but it is only good to the extent that it leads us to the Source of all truth and goodness.

Weekend Links 3/23

I'm posting these a bit early this weekend because when I get off of work today, I'm headed camping with a few friends from church, where I will gladly give up all computer access for the joy of hiking, campfires and friendships. See you all in a few days!

Sibling Rivalry in the Church - "As soon as I see her as sister, I must see her as my equal. That's a hard pill for many of us to swallow. If she is my sister, there is no hierarchy--not one of us better than the other, not one prettier or more deserved or more important or more worthy."

It Is Not We Who Can Sustain the Church - Marc Cortez shares a wonderful reminder from Martin Luther.

After Steubenville: 25 Things our Sons Need to Know About Manhood - "When the prevailing thinking is boys will be boys — girls will be garbage. And that is never the heart of God."

I am not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter - This comes with a strong language warning, but it is an important reminder. "The truth is that I am someone’s wife. I am also someone’s mother. I am someone’s daughter, and someone’s sister. But those are not the things that define me, or make me valuable in this world. Those are not the reasons that I should be able to live a life free from rape, sexual assault or any kind of violent crime."

An Open Letter to the Church from A Lesbian - "We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not what we shall be, but thank God, we are not what we were."

The Sentence Against God - Beautiful, beautiful truths. Don't miss this.

Confessions of a Woman Who Didn't Like Theology - "Nevertheless, I'm convinced you should care, and here's why: I represent members of your church. Maybe a large segment, maybe a smaller one, but I guarantee they're out there. With this reality in mind, l'd like to offer three insights from an unnatural theology lover."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: Galatians for You

I was excited to have the opportunity to review Tim Keller's newest book, Galatians for You. As many of you know, my Bible study recently went through the book of Galatians. This was the perfect follow-up in helping me to expand upon and apply what I had learned during that study.

Keller devotes two or three chapters to each chapter of Galatians. Each chapter has two parts, with the first part addressing the more technical and theological issues relating to the text, and the second applying the passage to issues around us. Keller's goal is that we, like Paul in Galatians, would see the gospel not only as the starting point for the Christian life, but as the center point of our entire walk with the Lord. He says, "We are not only justified by faith in Christ, we are also sanctified by faith in Christ. We never leave the gospel behind."

And that is really what this book does - helps us to not leave the gospel behind in any area of our lives. This book is Keller doing what Keller does best: applying the gospel to everything. How does the gospel influence our work? Our view of race? Our interactions within the church? Keller answers each of these questions, and many more, using the book of Galatians.

One of the best parts of this commentary is its simplicity. While Keller doesn't shy away from any difficult or controversial issues, he addresses them in a way that is easy to follow and easy to understand why those issues matter. The content is engaging, but doesn't move away from the text.

At one point, Keller quotes an old hymn, which says:
Lay your deadly "doing" down -
Down at Jesus' feet.
Standing in Him, in Him alone -
Gloriously complete. 
Ultimately, I think that is what Galatians for You helps to accomplish. By pointing us continuously to the completed work of Christ on the cross, Keller helps us to see what the Lord's words are to us through Galatians: find our sufficiency in Christ alone. It is a glorious theme.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekend Links 3/16

Wurmbrand - Wonderful stories from the bold witness of Richard Wurmbrand.

When We Lie About Praying to Others: 7 Thoughts - "Someone approaches me and asks for prayer. It might be right after I've spoken somewhere. So I tell them I will most certainly pray for them. But I don’t. I forget about their heartfelt request as soon as I start talking to the next person."

On Looking - Thought-provoking article that forces you to consider what you have been missing as you see the world around you. So many things to learn and explore!

Learning Not to Learn from your Mistakes - "Much of maturity is learning how to learn without needing mistakes to do it, especially not the intentional missteps."

Missing Out on Beautiful - "I used to think that the world was the objective observer and my view of Penny was skewed by my love for her. I now believe that love is the only way to see the truth, and that for years I was simply missing out on beautiful."

'Imago Dei' in a Nursing Home - "But in practice, does our own culture demonstrate a similar devaluing of personhood? Do our actions indicate that deep down we believe life is worth less when an older adult can no longer live independently or contribute to society? Do we consider people less valuable the day they can no longer feed and toilet themselves, the day they fail to recognize the face that stares blankly back at them in the mirror?"

What to Do When You Can't See Straight - "When God opens the eyes of our hearts then we can see him for who he is. And when we see who he is then we understand certain things that will change the way we look at ourselves and our situations."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

He is the True End

I just finished A Grief Observed; I would highly recommend it. It's a very honest journey through Lewis' grief and very helpful as we consider how to respond Biblically to the tragedies that we will experience here on this earth. One of my favorite quotes comes near the end. He says,
Am I, for instance, just sidling back to God because I know that if there's any road to H. [his wife], it runs through Him? But then of course I know perfectly well that He can't be used as a road. If you're approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you're not really approaching Him at all. That's what was really wrong with all those popular pictures of happy reunions "on the further shore;" not the simple-minded and very earthly images, but the fact that they make an End of what we can get only as a by-product of the true End. 
And this is the truth...Scripture makes it clear that the Lord Himself is the point of everything. Everything is because of Him and for Him.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Video: An Adoption Story

I love this beautiful story of a domestic adoption that I came across a few days ago. Cue the tears...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brothers and Sisters in Eastern Europe

My home church has partnered with a few different missionaries and ministries in a small, poor country in Eastern Europe for several years now (I'm not saying the name for the protection of my dear friends). While the Soviet Union is officially no more, the government in this place continues to operate in a very similar way. There is very little religious freedom and very little spiritual interest.

This past week, two pastors and one of their wives were here with us. It is always such an encouragement to see them. They claim that they are so refreshed to come and visit us, but I hardly think that they are more strengthened than we are.

Their ministry is hard. Most churches have between 10-30 members; several pastors have been in an area for 15 or 20 years and still have only seen 10 people come to know the Lord during that whole time. Christians are not treated well and their are many legal restrictions on their activities. Additionally, the economic state of their country often means that churches cannot support their pastor part-time, much less full-time. They usually work multiple jobs to provide for their families. Life is difficult.

But...their faithful service and their commitment to the gospel are so honoring to the Lord and a blazing testimony to His grace. One of the things that they repeated over and over as they were sharing with us yesterday is that their ministry in their home and our ministry here in the States are not two different ministries, but one unified proclamation and display of God's grace, in response to the gospel, for His glory. It is so sweet and beautiful to be reminded that God is working worldwide. We have the opportunity to truly love and support our brothers and sisters in prayer, in training, in encouragement, in finances and more.

But in our loving and supporting, we are not the losers, not by any means. Instead, as we share the Lord's blessing with them, they share His blessing with us. I left church yesterday reminded of how firm the gospel remains in the midst of tragedy and heartbreak because I had seen the testimony of those who lived it. I left reminded that the most important thing I can spend my life and my resources on is proclaiming the truth about Jesus because  they give everything to do that.

So today, I ask and encourage you to pray for our dear brothers and sisters. Pray for God's provision for them, for encouragement and strengthening in the truth of the gospel, for open hearts and fertile ground, for training in the Word of God, and most of all, that God would be glorified by them. I know that they appreciate your prayers!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Weekend Links 3/9

Create a Contrast Culture in Your Church - "So how do these embassies of Christ's rule cultivate a culture of discipling, of evangelism, of mutual care and hospitality?"

Interview with David Platt - "I corresponded with Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, about unconverted believers, whether the gospel's a call to life or to death, creating a culture of discipleship in our churches, and more."

A Gracious Recipient: The Flip Side of Hospitality - Helpful thoughts on how we ought to respond to being shown hospitality. "As I ponder more on hospitality, I've discovered that recipients of hospitality could use a little more refining as well. Whether because of a love of independence or pride or misplaced humility, those being served are often flat-out rude!"

Moving Signs - Thoughtful reflections on moving and transitions, both physical and otherwise.

The Young Goat God - Did the older son in the story of the prodigal son truly know and trust his father?

That Heavenly Ache - From Mark Altrogge. "To set our minds on things above is to set our minds on Jesus. And the more we do that, the more we become like him. So go ahead, be as heavenly-minded as you want. That heavenly ache will make you that much more earthly good."

Church Should be a Place of Undistracting Excellence - Another great article from the Blazing Center, this one from Stephen. "Our goal should be to serve the church and the Lord with undistracting excellence. We want to serve with a level of excellence that is not distractingly bad, but is also not distractingly good. Our goal is not that people would say, 'What an awesome worship service,' or, 'What an awesome preacher,' but that they would say, 'What an awesome God!'"

Friday, March 8, 2013

Testing the Strength of Our Belief

The older I get, the more real grief becomes to me. When you are a child and the worst you have experienced is a friend moving away, it's hard to truly understand the nature of how real sorrow and pain are here on earth. I still haven't experienced many trials. But as I watch others walk through the valleys where the Lord has them, I hurt for them in a way that I never have before. It forces me back to the truths that I know to consider whether they withstand griefs like these. As I've been reading through C.S. Lewis' book A Grief Observed, I have been struck with how honestly he writes about his wife's death. He writes,
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
The beauty of deep pain and sorrow is that it forces us to come to Scripture and the Lord to see if we truly believe the gospel. Are we willing to count everything, even the best things, as a loss for the sake of Christ? He will not be found wanting. And that was it what Peter talks about at the beginning of his first letter.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  (1 Peter 1:6-9 ESV)
May sorrows truly be something that reveals the genuineness of our faith, resulting in the glory of God.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Just His Work, Please

I stopped at Starbucks to get a cup of a chai tea this morning after an early hike with a friend. Most people, it turns out, order chai lattes rather than plain tea. When I ordered tea, the lady behind the counter said, "A chai latte?"

I said, "No, just the tea, please."

She smiled and said, "Oh, would you like it misto?" (Misto, I was thinking - what is that? Tea with steamed milk, apparently. Clearly I don't stop at a coffee shop very often.)

"No, thank you. All I want is the tea bag and some water." She said, "Oooooh, ok." A few minutes later, she added, "Would you like honey with your tea?" I said, a little frustrated now, "No, I would just like tea, please."

Finally, I received my cup of plain chai tea - just a tea bag and hot water. Certainly, like black coffee, plain tea is an acquired taste, and apparently not one that many Americans have based on my experience. We love to add sugar and milk to make something a little more interesting or tasty.

I wonder if we often choose to do this to the gospel. I see it my own heart. Like the Galatians, I want Jesus. But I want my work to count for something too. Tea with milk and honey; the gospel with Jesus and my obedience. You know - if I read my Bible, that means the Lord is more pleased with me and more likely to listen to my prayers, right? But the gospel is Jesus only, not Jesus and anything else. My standing, our standing, before the Father is based solely on His work. My works are because of Jesus and because of my standing, not to earn them.

And praise God that it is, since our work isn't very impressive anyway, and is only a result of His grace. So may we not ask for our gospel with anything else - no milk or honey to make it sweeter to our ears. Today, may our prayer be, "Just Your work, Jesus, and none of mine. May I know the Father's satisfaction through Your life and death, not my own."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Song: I Believe

JJ Heller has been one of my favorite artists for a while now. Quiet, acoustic, reflective, and grounded in truth. Beautiful.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Loving Selflessly

Last week, I was on my old college campus four days in a row for different activities. I realized while I was there that it isn't always a comfortable place for me. There's a lot of people that I know and love, people that I know but haven't really talked to in 6 or 8 months, and then a ton of people who I don't even recognize. Especially when there are large groups of them all together, I start to shut down - I don't know who I should talk to, what to say, and whether or not they even remember who I am or want to talk to me.

But I was reminded that I am always blessed when someone unexpected goes out of their way to say hello to me. When someone asks me how I am, my response is never an angry one. I always feel cared for and loved. But so often my default when I go back on campus is to only talk to the people who reach out to me first - they are are safe.

But how selfish of me! That really shows my lack of true love for my dear friends at school. Rather than living in fear of rejection (fear of man), I ought to be so concerned with glorifying the Lord in my interactions with others that my default is to always ask how I can demonstrate love towards them.

It's interesting because this topic came up in Bible study as we were discussing how to live out Hebrews 3 in exhorting one another daily as long as it is called today. Turns out a lot of us struggle to reach out to other first, to pursue them regardless of whether they have talked to us.

But if our hearts are truly content and sure in Jesus in the way they ought to be because of the gospel, it really shouldn't matter to us how we are being treated; we are simply called to love, encourage and speak truth to our brothers and sisters.