Truth & Orthodoxy

The Common, Hard Things

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“You’re so proud.”

Such were the insightful words of a dear, straightforward friend after I shared about my time in prayer. More specifically, I told her that I had told God, “My heart hurts…a little.” It was pretty big for me to admit out loud, to God and to another person, about my heartache. But she was referring to my attempt to play down what actually had hurt quite a lot. I laughed because she was right, and more than 10 years later, I’m thinking again about what she said.

Ever since I was a kid, I prided myself in not making a big deal out of things my peers did. I probably thought of myself as more mature, saving my sympathy for things I thought were real problems, not boy or friend drama. There were so many people going through worse things, how could my friends or I complain about our lives? I don’t know what it was that made me start comparing people’s difficulties so early on. Certainly pride was a factor, though I think not the whole reason.

Part of comparing people’s suffering had to do with trying to make sense of the world. As a child, I was moved by reports of famine abroad or serious illness closer to home. I didn’t know how to reconcile such terrible suffering with less horribly difficult things, and I didn’t think I should make a big deal out of my relatively easy life. I knew God was involved in our day-to-day, but I couldn’t see him as sympathizing with our daily burdens. Not when there were so many others who suffered more. Not when he himself already had gone through so much for our salvation.

The moment more than 10 years ago when I admitted that my heart was hurting (albeit, toned down with “a little”) signified a breakthrough for me in learning to come to God with suffering that in my mind was insignificant but felt hard nonetheless. As I started to give God just a little leeway into my hurt, he broke through in compassion with words Jesus spoke at the famous feeding of the four thousand.

The story goes like this. After days of ministering to the crowds, healing the lame, blind, crippled, and mute, Jesus approaches his disciples about getting food for the people. The disciples protest the impossibility of this task, and Jesus performs a miracle, feeding four thousand plus with seven baskets of leftovers to spare. I had known this story since I was a child, but for the first time, I noticed Jesus’ motivation for multiplying the bread and fish.

“I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” (Matthew 15:32 ESV)

Jesus, who’d fasted for forty days early in his ministry, was concerned about a crowd who hadn’t eaten for three. He didn’t compare his capacity and trial to theirs. He knew some of them would not be able to handle the journey home, and in his kindness, was unwilling to send them away empty. He didn’t say, “I’m doing important things like healing blindness and sickness, bringing about God’s kingdom. You find food on your own.” He didn’t harshly rebuke them, “I didn’t eat for forty, you should be able to survive three.” He had compassion on them, the Scripture says. In the same way, he has compassion on us.

A few weeks ago, I told a friend how tired and unmotivated I’d been feeling. I wouldn’t have minded the fatigue if my mind were sharper and soul healthier. If I were out of commission physically, at least I could be getting some reading or prayer in. But I was reminded again that try as I may to separate the parts, I am an embodied soul, and my body, mind, and spirit are interconnected in complicated ways. My lack of productivity, both outwardly and inwardly, contributed to low-level guilt. I was also tired and cranky. And I was frustrated that I was being knocked out by something so common— a healthy first-trimester of pregnancy.

Then she spoke words I believed were from God to my heart. “Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not hard.” (Thank God for kind friends who speak truth!)

So I have been thinking again of the gift of approaching God with our common, hard things, and want to share some of what I’ve been learning.

Common, hard things remind us of God’s infinite mercy and power.

If God were finite, he’d need to split his time, attention, and power accordingly between global crises and individual personal requests. The news cycle and “compassion fatigue” reveal our limited human capacity to care, much less act, in response to the suffering we witness in the world. Oftentimes we assume that God is like us, triaging the needs of billions and prioritizing the urgent ones first.

Some people think going to God with the small things in our lives belittles him, making him small in our own eyes. This is true if we only ever go to him with our own wants and needs. But our heavenly Father is big enough to handle both requests for his kingdom to come and for our daily bread. He is powerful enough to shoulder our troubles and the burdens of the rest of the world day in and day out.

I’ve heard people say they don’t pray because there are so many other important problems in the world for God to tend to. I know what that feels like. Often, God provides in small ways that matter to me, and as I’m thanking him, I am embarrassed that he answers my “dumb prayers.” I’ve been trying to stop calling them “dumb” and instead think of them them as “sparrow” requests, granted by God who cares for lowly sparrows and numbers the hairs on my head (Matthew 10:29-31).

Because God is infinitely powerful, no burdens are too heavy for him. Because he is infinitely merciful, none insignificant. He knows our frame, knows when there are things that will leave us too faint to walk home, and is willing and able to provide the bread and fish we need. Learning to come to him with our common, hard things reminds us of the greatness of his compassion and the limitless of his power.

Common, hard things deepen our sympathy for others.

There are trials we all recognize as legitimate suffering— serious illness, death of a loved one, persecution, and the like. But it’s harder to minister to people when they are not as strong as we are, not “getting over” things as quickly as we would, not enduring with attitudes we think they should have. We grow impatient with such sufferers. The problem with having a measuring chart that relativizes our suffering is that it hinders us from ministering to those whose trials are deemed less difficult. Thankfully, Jesus is not like us.

Jesus endured all we face: loneliness, rejection, temptation, pain, loss, tiredness, and more. He knows all of it, from Everest-sized suffering to pebble-in-shoe trials. Yet he doesn’t wait for us to approach him with our problems only to respond, “I endured. Why can’t you?” Rather, because he was tempted in every way as we are, our High Priest mercifully sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

Likewise, as we learn to admit to God that the common trials in our lives are hard, we no longer see ourself as better than others who suffer. And as we receive comfort from him in our trails, we are able to comfort others with his divine comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Common, hard things humble us so we can receive grace and give him glory.

Marriage and parenting are God-given mirrors, revealing to ourself our true selves. Since becoming a parent, I’ve seen how impatient, unmerciful, unkind, and all-around nasty I can be. But the most humbling thing for me hasn’t been merely seeing how sinful I am. The most humbling thing has been realizing how I’ve pridefully judged others who I thought were impatient, unmerciful, unkind, and all-around nasty. If my trials were uncommon and suffering extreme, I may find a way to excuse myself. But being put through the daily, common grind and temptations others face— and failing. That has been humbling.

The common, hard things in my life have been used by God to surface pride in the ability to resist temptations I thought myself above. I didn’t think I’d be the mom with the kid screaming in the store, caring more about my image than my child. Until first trimester of this pregnancy, I didn’t understand the temptation to distract myself with entertainment on my smartphone. I didn’t think my ability to be reasonable and patient was so rooted in my good health until facing constant fatigued and nausea. And I didn’t think there was so much pride and judgment sinisterly lurking in my heart.

1 Peter 5:5 says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (ESV). It is scary to think about being opposed by God. But the child of God has great comfort in knowing our Father works to humble his children. He disciplines us not just for the sake of putting us in our place, but that he may give us grace: grace in forgiveness, grace in his provision for our needs. And as we receive his grace, he receives all the glory.

When we don’t think we need him in our day-to-day, common, hard things, we miss the gift of his nearness, care, and forgiveness. When I push through ministry, family, friendship, and pregnancy on my own strength, I miss out on a chance to receive the grace of God and display his power being made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I miss out on the opportunity to show those around me that anything good in me comes not from me, but from Christ.

Our infinite God joyfully welcomes not only his strongest saints, but lovingly carries the weakest of his fold. So I’m hoping to learn to come to him more readily with my feeble heart, mind, and body. I am hoping that together we’d receive help to endure things we feel only ought to hurt “a little” and that we’d help others do the same. All so that ultimately we’d be witnesses to the boundless compassion and power our loving Heavenly Father.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Those Two Solid Lines

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When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.
– My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less

With anxiety as my lifelong companion, I have felt at times that I am the worst person to be pregnant. Each pregnancy has been emotionally tumultuous, even the three that were smooth by all other measures. So recently, when I saw that second solid line fade into view, I dropped to my knees on the tiles of my bathroom floor, less so out of joyful gratitude than desperation.

Pregnancy tends to put to the forefront one of my greatest fears: death of someone I love. As a child, I was often afraid if my parents were out of the house for long. It wasn’t so much because I missed them, but because I imagined them never returning because of an airplane or car crash. As an adult, I’ve needed to consciously silence unfounded worst-case scenarios when Jeff’s taken longer than expected to come home. As a mom, I’ve gone to bed praying my perfectly healthy children would wake up the next day. My fear supposedly dates back to before my memory, when I would interrupt my mom’s naps to make sure she was alive.

A well-meaning phlebotomist who, drawing blood to test for hormone levels during my miscarriage a few years ago said, “You’re still young, you can have another.” But he misunderstood. The pain of miscarriage was never about my hopes for a child per se. It was about losing one I already loved. You don’t have to have known your baby for long, or even ever held him or her in your arms, to have loved fiercely and deeply.

The pain of childbirth– not just in labor, but in broken bodies and miscarried babies– reminds us this world continues to groan under the curse of sin. We are warned against public announcements of pregnancy during the first trimester because of the sheer statistics on miscarriage, a staggering 20% of all pregnancies. We fear rejoicing over the tiny lives forming in our wombs, because, what if we’re that one out of five? Pregnancy after miscarriage can be especially harrowing. During a time that ought to be joyful, we are woken up in the middle of the night by bloody nightmares and lie awake wondering if they will become reality. Our hearts drop at each sensation that resembles symptoms of pregnancy loss.

Christians are not spared from miscarriage, stillborn babies, and sick children. We know we have a Father who hears, but for reasons that are good and kind, allows things to happen to us that don’t feel good and kind. We know the answer to, “Your will be done” may sometimes mean our wills aren’t. So in the end, what difference does it make? What difference does it make to be a child of God in a fallen world, full of legitimately scary outcomes, as we await the renewal of all things?

Against convention, Jeff and I shared with our church about those double solid lines as soon as we saw them. I understand not everyone chooses to do this. But these brothers and sisters have walked with us through one miscarriage and I couldn’t imagine walking through 12 more weeks of uncertainty and anxiety on my own. I needed to let them know not in spite of, but because of the possibility of miscarriage. 

These dear ones have been sharing in our family’s joy in ways that, because of fear, I have not yet been able to feel. They have reminded me to rejoice at the news of the tiny one being fashioned within me, and they are praying for us both. Whether they will celebrate with us when God answers their prayers for a healthy baby or mourn with us through the grief of loss, I am unspeakably grateful for the gift of God’s people. 

The present trial of the unknown, of being in the waiting, has at times made me feel like I am going crazy. It isn’t so much the irrationality of my thoughts, but the sheer volume of them and the breakneck speed with which they overtake me. It has been a blessing to be able to share this struggle with others who are praying with us. This privilege is only surpassed by the divine invitation to pour out my own heart to he who hears and helps.

Ours is a God who does not sleep nor slumber (Psalm 121). Who receives our cries at one, two-thirty, and four o’ clock in the morning. Ours is a God who harkens to pitiful, groaning prayers from bathroom, closet, and living room floors. He is merciful. He is with us. He has carried us from our mother’s wombs and will carry us even as he fashions precious babies in ours (Psalm 139).

This may seem morbid, and maybe it is, but I have often leaned my ear on the chest of a loved one only to pull back in sadness. Something about the physicality of a thumping heart reminds me of the inherent weakness of human life. Each ba-bum speaks to me of our frailty– our utter dependence on one aging, fleshy pump in the earthy, mechanical processes of our circulatory systems.  

In a broken world, our hearts threaten to fail. They threaten to stop beating so that our spirits are given up. They threaten to break into a thousand pieces under the weight of grief. Regarding our weak flesh and breakable hearts, the psalmist cries out,

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever
 (Psalm 73).

My flesh and my heart may fail. This is not what I want to hear. I want assurance of a healthy baby and smooth pregnancy. I want to know the baby’s heart will beat and that my heart will not break. But the truth is my baby’s heart may continue to beat for years and years to come, and it may not. My heart may be filled with joy or it may be overcome with sorrow. The truth is, it feels as if my heart may already be failing under the weight of the unknown. But in the uncertainty, God is. God is the strength of our hearts. He sustains each beat. He will lead us, whether through the shadow of the valley of death or by green pastures with quiet waters. He carries us even in our anxiety as we await being led to valley or pasture, which one, we don’t know.  

A story attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson takes place on a ship out at sea. During a terrible storm, the passengers are understandably terrified. One of them, against orders, sneaks out onto the deck. There he sees the pilot, calmly and steadily steering the ship. The pilot turns to the trembling man and smiles, at which point the man returns to the other passengers. To them he announces, “I have seen the face of the pilot and he smiled at me. All is well.”

All does not always feel well. I am still being tossed about, it seems. Still the knowledge that God is not dictated by statistics, superstition, or formulas in dealing with my life has been a steadying anchor as I’ve been tossed about by fear. As the fog of fearful outcomes obscure my thoughts, he speaks clearly, “Lean not on your own thoughts. Trust in me.” (Proverbs 3:5). I have been reminded it is not only the tiniest member of our family whose every day is granted by God, but mine as well. And while this truth has not quelled the storm, it serves as a ballast when I fear my sails are about to go under and feel I will be swallowed up by the deep. All does not feel well, but in the deepest sense, it is.

I know I am not the only one in the waiting. These past weeks have felt like months, and the stretch ahead of me, endless. I write for me, but also for you, dear ones, who face uncertain futures with trepidation. To remind us we are led by a kind and wise Captain. He is steadfast at the helm. Though we venture into the unknown, he turns his face to us. We may still be afraid– I am. Very, very, very much so– but we, the people of God, trust not in the strength of our own hearts to carry us through.

This week, we received the gift of seeing a tiny heartbeat on an ultrasound screen. We are still very early in the first trimester, so early in fact that the doctor had trouble finding signs of anything going on in my womb. Yet there it was, the answer to one prayer, uttered hundreds of times, for a heartbeat. 

We are still not “in the clear” (though, when are we ever, really?) and still, convention would dictate not sharing this news of burgeoning life within me. Yet, I am in wonder of this tiny heart. It has only just started to pump, and whether for days or decades more only God knows. Whatever the case, each beat will be sustained by our good God until this precious one sees Jesus face-to-face.

Whatever the case, he must be the strength of my heart as well.

Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

Reflections On Knowing

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“To know Him is to love Him, and to know Him better is to love Him more.”
A. W. Tozer

One of the sweetest moments of the day is when Jeff comes home from work. Sometimes, the girls catch the sound of his car door closing or the narration of an audiobook as he approaches the house. Other times, it isn’t until he steps in that they realize he’s back and run to see him. Either way, Jeff is usually met by two breathless little girls yelling “Daaaaddy!!” and a toddler boy excitedly jumping around in the fray. You’d think they haven’t seen him for days the way they greet him.

Our kids know their dad.

They know the sounds of his going out and coming in, and his form through the beveled glass of the front door. (Only once did one of them mistake someone else for him in her hurry. The stranger, whose build approximated Jeff’s, was met with the door swinging wide open and immediately slamming in his face.) They know that when he gets home, he’s happy to see them, ready to hear about their day.

On the flip side, sometimes Jeff has a hard time getting out because a little person is hanging onto his legs, refusing to let him leave for work. Sometimes there are tears because there was no proper goodbye. Our kids love their dad and would be with him all the time if they had the choice.

Those who have walked with me know the burning heart-question which drove me to seek God with intensity in my late teens. Seeking God’s will for my life led me to the Greatest Commandment, which in turn led to the perplexing question of: What does it even mean to love and know God? Growing up, a common saying in church highlighted the difference between knowing about and knowing God. But I wasn’t so sure what that actually looked like in the flesh.

In college, the words of the Apostle Paul set a clear course to aim for, a request to God to make this true of me: that I may consider all else as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. God revealed himself as holy in the Scriptures. And the Spirit, in love, relentlessly shone a spotlight on my heart, revealing the ugly, pervasive grip sin had on me. Every time I tried to untangle one root of sin, I seemed to unearth more of my wretchedness. Finally, having been stripped of all illusions of my own righteousness, I saw— and felt— the beauty of the gospel with life-changing force. Oh the joy of not merely acknowledging, but knowing my sin and the grace of God through Christ!

The following years of zeal and service revealed significant gaps in my knowledge of God. Personal piety and ministry experience did not answer questions I had about reading and applying the Scriptures; my (mis)understanding of the Christian life led to guilt and burnout.

It wasn’t as if all I believed before was untrue, but I needed deeper and wider roots. While the foundation remained the same, God reworked some of the infrastructure of my theology through seminary. Rather than dryly academic, my studies in seminary were absolutely life-changing in the best way. I remember holding back tears and stepping out of class during breaks to praise God for his precious truth. And to this day, I am passionate about orthodoxy because I have experienced firsthand the way our thinking about God affects our lives before him.

Both experiential knowledge of and rigorous study about God have powerfully shaped my life and I now see the “knowing about God versus knowing God” dichotomy as a false one. People may tend toward cold intellectualism or vapid emotionalism, but knowledge about and of God is neither. Christians love God with all our hearts and our minds. God seeks worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth.

These days though, I have needed reminders to seek to know God relationally. In particular, I have been challenged by the psalms. Packed with rich theological truths about God and deep affection for him, verbs of religion and devotion abound— long, love, yearn. They are directed relationally— I remember you, seek you, faint for you, thirst for you, bless you, cling to you. Your steadfast love is better than life, the psalmist declares, so my lips will praise you (Psalm 63).

Scripture is packed with experiential, emotional, and relational language when it comes to us and God. Christians audaciously call God our King, Father, Creator, Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend, and Bridegroom— all descriptions of who he is in relationship to us— and ourselves his servants, children, creation, redeemed, sheep, friends, and bride. So I have been reminded to go to God with love and affection, to pray with words of the heart and long for deeper experiences of him.

At home, I have three living displays reminding me of the kind of knowledge at the heart of Christianity. Their knowledge of me, their mom, and of their dad is not abstract. Rather, it drives them to seek us for empathy and bandaids when hurt, to confession and requests for prayer when troubled. Their knowledge that we are wiser means they ask us many questions. Their prior experiences of our care means they climb onto our laps for snuggles just because.

Our kids are still growing in their knowledge of us and we of them, but there are countless ways they display what they already do know. The girls know where to go with fears about the night and joyful stories of new accomplishments. They come to us in tears, ecstatic, and everything in between. Our 18 month-old cannot articulate why he trusts us so much (as of now, he can’t articulate much at all), but he knows to cry for help when he’s slipped trying to reach the sharpener, even as his hand grips a dangerously sharp pencil and his legs dangle off the table. He knows to plead his case, “Mama!”, with pointed finger when his sister is walking away with the Mozart Magic Cube he was playing with first.

Our kids pursue us in relationship, excitedly chatting away, sitting close, freely offering kisses, hugs, and high-fives. They have come to know us through trusting us and they trust because they know us. They know about us, they know us, and will continue to know us more.

Their example is God’s grace to me. The little hand that grasps my finger to walk me to the snack cabinet reminds me to go to my Father because I know he is wise and able. Their desire to know where I am at all times, a reminder to seek him because I was made to be with him.

Every day, they give testimony of the loving delight of knowing in the scramble to the door, the jumping up and down, and the bursting laughter of welcoming daddy home.

God, make this true of me.

Motherhood & Family

Yes! I’d Recommend: Our Favorite Children’s Bibles

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“We’re buying Todo lo que un niño debería saber sobre Dios?” Jeff asked me the other day as he looked over my shoulder into my online shopping cart. We’d already owned Everything A Child Should Know About God  in English– the only language I can read in. I defended myself, “It’s only $6! I’m sure we can find someone to give it to!” He laughed a bit at me and we now have two copies of the book sitting on our shelf as I look for Spanish-speaking children to gift it to.

Some people are always in ready position when it comes making recommendations about restaurants or coffee or entertainment or fashion. My friends know I jump at the chance to recommend Christian books, blogs, and sermons. This is not because I’m extremely well-read (quite far from it), but because I have seen the impact of well-articulated, truth-filled content on my mind, life, and worship. I am always excited to connect others with voices God has used to shape and strengthen me. Plus, I have inherited the habit of buying bargain books in bulk from my mom.

As one way to pass on great content, I am starting this series– Yes, I recommend! where I’ll periodically answer one of my favorite questions: “Do you have any recommendations for books/blogs/etc. on…?” These lists will be short and by no means exhaustive– I’m not even claiming to include the best out there– but will contain content I’ve found helpful. I hope you will find some resources here that edify you too.

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For the first post in this “Yes! I’d Recommend” series, my favorite books to give away: Children’s Bibles!

Some of you may be Christian parents or children’s Sunday School teachers. As parents, we have been given the divine charge to bring up our sons and daughters in the wisdom and instruction of the Lord. Teachers have been entrusted with the difficult task of explaining big Biblical truths in simple ways for young minds. Central to fulfilling both callings is helping children know God’s word.

In Deuteronomy 11:19 (ESV), God says:

You shall teach [these words of mine] to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

And in Psalm 78:4 (ESV),

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

Talking with children about who God is through the Scriptures doesn’t have to be complicated. It isn’t meant to take place only in serious, special settings, but most often happens in the day-to-day grind of daily life. As we walk, talk, sit, lie, and rise, we are given opportunity to teach his words and tell of his deeds. And as you teach your children or students, you will likely be astonished at how much they understand as they receive God’s truth with precious faith.

In our home, we do Bible reading with the kids at night. Bedtime is what works best for us for now, and usually they read with Jeff, sometimes with me. Then, we pray together– I sometimes ask them to list what they want to praise God for (“God, you are…”), something they’re thankful for, and something they want to pray for. Sometimes Jeff or I pray aloud for them. Other times we all pray at the same time, or we pray and they repeat after us. Admittedly, we sometimes skip days or rush through, but I pray God is planting the seed of his Word in their lives which will bear fruit in years to come.

As adults, we often read the Bible piecemeal and forget that it is a gripping, grand narrative. We may fail to take time to read slowly or engage our imaginations. In doing so, we miss the impact of Biblical narratives which don’t just tell, but display to us the wonder of God’s power, the irrationality of our rebellion, the horrors of sin, and the beauty of our long-planned-for salvation. Reading to children of the “glorious deeds of the Lord” is good for our souls as well as theirs.

If you’re in the market for a children’s Bible, here are our family’s favorites in order of age/ reading level.

1. The Big Picture Story Bible (WTS | Amazon)

This was our go-to for many years because of the short text. Even at 2-3 years, the kids could sit through it, enjoying the big pictures. The book traces the theme of God’s Kingdom– his place, people, and rule– from Genesis through Revelation, showing how Jesus fulfills God’s promises as Savior and King. At two, before she could talk much, I would sometimes find our daughter flipping through a Bible saying “fwaioehgjkadlksj Sarah salihgdafoiquwr Abraham,” and I think it was from reading this storybook Bible. Our church also uses this book for teaching younger children, but it’s good for older kids too to get a grasp of some big Biblical themes.

2. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible (WTS | Amazon)

This is our newest addition, and we’re reading this during our homeschooling time. Each Bible story has one main highlighted point and one question to discuss. It’s great at presenting Scripture’s stories in ways that inform both children’s knowledge of who God is and how they are called to obey him– i.e. right thoughts of God and right living before him.

3. The Jesus Storybook Bible (WTS | Amazon)

The power to obey God does not come from knowing his laws, but knowing him. The Bible stories in this book, with their amazing illustrations, point to Jesus in every text. In seeking to make these connections to Christ, parents are helped to resist the temptation to turn Scripture into a book of morals. It is refreshing to see our children learn to understand the Scriptures with God, not human Bible characters, as the hero. The book highlights the love of God for sinners through the drama of Scripture, climaxing in the cross of Christ. Pastor Tim Keller has endorsed this book saying all Christians should read this, not just children! The Jesus Storybook Bible has been a staple in our home and church.

4. The Action Bible (WTS | Amazon)

My daughter will sit for hours listening to the audio version of The Action Bible while following along in the book, and her knowledge of the Old Testament is better than mine was as a college student because of it. This is probably be the most controversial item on this list because it’s a comic book. The characters look like they are from a superhero comic and the text reads like it, with obvious creative liberties taken. I make sure our kids know when something in the book isn’t in the Bible (for example, stories from the intertestamental period) and that God doesn’t really sound like a booming, slow-speaking comic book voice. But still, it has been wonderful for helping our girls be excited about the content of Scripture– even Old Testament history!

5. ESV Big Picture Bible (WTS | Amazon)

When our 6-year-old asked for a big kid’s Bible, we searched for a full-text ESV Bible (the version our church uses). This was our favorite in terms of format and pictures that weren’t too graphic or cheesy. It’s simple and the font is big enough for her to read easily. There are illustrations, but they don’t detract from the text and because they are cartoonish (vs. more realistic), I’m not as wary about how it will influence my daughter’s interpretation of Scripture. My favorite illustrations are the small ones above the headers depicting the theme of each book.

When training teachers in church, I’ve often stressed that just because we are teaching children doesn’t mean we can make up answers to their questions. The youngest members of our church are not too young to understand and need the truth of God. That’s why I value good resources for children so much– they explain God’s Word in simple, engaging ways while remaining truthful.

Though it is a weighty task, it is an awesome privilege to be among the first people to inform a child’s understanding of God. As we seek to instruct the little ones, so dearly loved by Jesus, may we do so with reverence and fear, gratitude and joy.

 

Did you decide to check out any of these books? Leave a comment and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

The Resurrection Is Not A Footnote

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Question: How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?
Answer: First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he might make us share in the righteousness he obtained for us by his death. Second, by his power we too are already raised to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection.
(Heidelberg Catechism)

Easter Sunday is my favorite day of the year. I love meeting together as a church after having corporately embodied the wait between the cross and the empty tomb. I love waking up ready to sing resurrection songs with God’s people. I love hearing of the hope we have because Christ lives and joyfully declaring to one another “He has risen indeed!”

It has not always been this way though. I have not always looked forward to Easter with such anticipation. I suspect this is so for a number of reasons, including my own spirituality and progress in the faith. But in large part, it has had to do with my lack of understanding regarding the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection.

Back when I served in campus ministry, going on regular short-term missions, we would share the gospel here and abroad using an illustration. I would walk through creation, sin, Jesus’ death, and his promise of salvation and did it so often (maybe hundreds of times) it became second nature. But as often as I presented it, I still had to make a conscious effort to remember to tell people Jesus did not stay dead.

At the time, my understanding of the resurrection largely centered on its apologetic force— Jesus defeated death and Satan, proving he was truly God. Thus, we could be sure his teachings are trustworthy and that he was able to bear the weight of our sins. While this is by no means untrue, seeing the resurrection primarily as the greatest of Jesus’ miraculous signs pushed it to the background. More than once as I shared the gospel, I’d have to backtrack to say, “Oh yes, and Jesus also came back to life! Because, he is God and more powerful than death!” 

Without knowing it, I was missing a key pillar of the Christian hope. Since I grew up in the church, I know I’m not alone in this. While we see it as fundamental to our faith to understand the meaning of his death, we are a little hazy on the subject of his subsequent life. But there’s something wrong when the resurrection of Christ is not central to our understanding of the gospel.

How do we know this? 1 Corinthians 15.

The Apostle Paul, addressing the Corinthians about their doubts over a future physical resurrection of the dead, brings them through a thought experiment. He writes,

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (v 12-13)

Did you catch that? If Christ has not been raised, Paul says, then his preaching is in vain. The believer’s faith is in vain. To Paul, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is no mere footnote — helpful but okay to gloss over– it is essential to the Christian faith. He goes on to list some implications of the hypothetical, “if Christ has not been raised.” 

According to Paul, if Christ has not been raised…

We are believing manmade lies. (v. 15)

We are still in our sins. (v. 17)

Those who have died trusting Christ are facing God’s eternal wrath. (v. 18)

We are the most sorry and pathetic people in the world. (v. 19)

This list shows just how devastating it would be if Jesus did not rise from the grave. But why are these things so?

Well, because the apostles claimed Jesus came back to life— and if he didn’t, they are liars.

Because if Jesus were still dead, it means he has not satisfied the wrath of God for our sins. In other words, if he did not rise, he is still under the curse of sin and has not finished paying the debt of sinners. Furthermore, “If Jesus had stayed dead, it would have proven that death had a rightful claim over Him, and since death has a rightful claim only over sinners, Jesus’ remaining dead would have meant that He was a sinner and not our Redeemer.” (“The Resurrection of Christ”)

Because if Jesus has not paid for sins completely, there is only fearful judgment awaiting believers in death. Those who died believing in Christ for eternal life would find they trusted him in vain.

Because to have staked our lives on a Christ who was not raised is utter foolishness. It is to suffer persecution for one who will not save, to labor in life and ministry for nothing, to trust in someone who cannot deliver.

If Jesus did not come back from the dead, we too are dead in our sins. We have absolutely no hope. But, wait! Paul goes on to declare, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

So, looking again at the list above, because of Christ’s resurrection…

We can trust the testimony of the Scriptures.

The early believers either were or had access to firsthand witnesses to the resurrection. The tomb was empty because Jesus’ lifeless body was raised with power and transformed to a new body with an indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). Jesus ate with his disciples to prove he was no ghost or vision. Those who had abandoned Christ at the garden now boldly proclaimed his Lordship, even unto death, because they had seen the Risen Lord.

Thus, our faith is more than morality and psychological wellness, right living and positive thinking. It is founded on the historical reality of a man who was declared dead and then seen more alive than ever before.

We are justified.

Romans 4:25 says Jesus was “raised for our justification.” His resurrection is proof our debts have been paid and the Father no longer has wrath stored up for those who take refuge in Christ. Herman Bavinck writes of Jesus’ resurrection as, “the guarantee of our forgiveness and justification” and, “a divine endorsement of his mediatorial work, a declaration of the power and value of his death, the ‘Amen!’ of the Father upon the ‘It is finished!’ of the Son.”* 

Therefore, when plagued by guilt over our sins and doubts about our salvation, we look to the cross and to the empty tomb. The cross shows us Christ has borne our punishment. The empty tomb assures us there is no longer any more of our punishment to bear.

We will live though we die.

Those who trust in Christ are saved from the wrath to come. While we still grieve over the unnaturalness and sting of death, there is such hope. For the believer, pardoned for sin and brought into the family of God, death has become a doorway into life eternal. Not only are we promised salvation from the wrath of God, but Christ is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Many Christians think of life after death as a disembodied, ephemeral, dreamlike existence. Nothing could be further from the picture Scripture paints for us. Jesus went through great lengths to show he had risen into a real, material body. The Christian looks forward not to an escape from the physical world, but a renewal of creation at Christ’s coming— the New Heavens and New Earth and where we receive glorious, immortal, material bodies (Rev. 21, 1 Cor. 15:48-49).

How can we be sure we will be raised in this way? We have seen the firstfruits of Christ. In farming, the firstfruits was the guarantee that the rest of the harvest would be good. It was proof of what was to come for the remaining season. Jesus was not the first person to ever rise from the dead. But he was the first person to rise from the dead into an imperishable body, raised in glory and power (1 Cor. 15:42-44).

We have a sure hope of resurrection because one who is the Son of Man, now glorified, has put off his perishable body and put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53-54). And what has happened to him, will happen to those who are in him.

We are not to be pitied.

Though the Christian life is difficult. Though we are discouraged and downcast. Though we labor and see little fruit. Though we mourn hardheartedness and the wreckage of sin. Though we weep over prodigals. Though we are hard pressed on every side, perplexed, and afflicted.

Christ is risen.

What assurance of our forgiveness! What courage as we labor to serve him! What power over sin! What comfort as we live in broken bodies! What hope as we walk with believers through death into victory!

Christ is risen indeed!

Crown Him the Lord of Life! Who triumphed o’er the grave.
Who rose victorious to the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, Who died and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring and lives that death may die.

 

 

 


*Herman Bavinck writes of the resurrection as being:
1) Proof of Jesus’ messiahship, the coronation of the Servant of the Lord to be Christ and Lord, the Prince of life and Judge. (Acts 2:36, 3:13-15; 5:31; 10:42)
2) A seal of his eternal divine sonship (Acts 13:33, Rom. 1:3)
3) A divine endorsement of his mediatorial work, a declaration of the power and value of his death, the “Amen!” of the Father upon the “It is finished!” of the Son. (Acts 2:23-24; 4:11; 5:31; Rom. 6:3,10)
4) The inauguration of the exaltation he accomplished by his suffering. (Luke 24:26; Acts 2:33; Rom. 6:4;Phil 2:9)
5) The guarantee of our forgivenesss and justification. (Acts 5:31; Rom. 4:25)
6) The fountain of numerous spiritual blessings: the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33), repentance (Acts 5:31), spiritual eternal life (Rom. 6:3f), salvation in its totality (Acts 4:21)
7) The principle and pledge of our blessed and glorious resurrection (Acts 4:2; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:14)
8) The foundation of apostolic Christianity (1 Cor. 15:12ff)