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)

Church & Ministry, Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

A Better Vantage Point

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Jeff and I attended a pastors and spouses retreat this week. All the costs were completely covered– it was a generous gift from God through the retreat center. My parents took care of the kids for a few days, and we had a good time with other couples in ministry. We ate and rested well.

During the retreat, we decided to hike up the mountain on the property. It was the perfect combination of strenuous enough to be interesting and short enough to be survivable (for me). We talked and caught up as we followed the trail one mile up, comparing heart rates on our watches for fun and asking Siri about our elevation every now and again.

At one point, the trail seemed to end abruptly by a small waterfall. The next tree markings were visible only after we climbed up a set of large wet rocks streaming with water from the overflowing fall. Here, it looked as if part of the mountain had been plowed through, and I stopped to wonder aloud at how the massive rocks came to rest the way they did. The Ice Age was Jeff’s guess, and though we weren’t sure about the geology, it wasn’t hard to imagine a glacier moving through the mountain to expose bare rock, leaving huge stones in its wake and paving a miniature gorge for the waterfall and stream.

Soon, we arrived at a small lookout and were taking in the nice, though not exceptional, partial view, when another couple hiking down toward us pointed to a wooden cross 30 yards away marking the actual overlook. We made our way over and as we reached the rock ledge, trees by the trail gave way to a clearing with a stunning, 180 degree panoramic view.

Close to us by our left, about 300 feet below, we saw the retreat center buildings. In the far distance, 20 miles out, mountains filled the horizon. A set of almost indiscernible white lines on the base of one, we identified as a ski resort. A slight break and dip in the ranges toward our 2 o’clock, the Delaware Water Gap. Between us and the mountains, a valley of smaller, rolling hills covered with leafless trees and scattered patches of evergreens. At almost 2000 feet elevation, the view was so far and wide, I was dizzy from disorientation. “We’re not used to seeing this far out,” Jeff said.

The next day, back in our room, we talked and prayed about ministry and heavy things on our hearts. And as we prayed, I thought again of the huge rock formation on our hike and whatever had left it behind. I thought of how there is only One who knows how they came to be not only because he directs all things, but because he was there as witness to its history. And in view of God’s eternity, I was comforted.

I remember being fresh out of college and talking to older people who seemed to throw around years when they spoke. As a student and in your twenties, thinking about next semester is thinking about the future, and waiting one or two years for anything feels unbearable. We wrestled with questions regarding God’s will, which often meant knowing what to do the coming summer or next year, or maybe plans for after graduation. But these elders, who in retrospect were probably not too much older than me now, tossed about decades like semesters. In a few sentences, they’d talk about spending ten years in this country, then seven years in that one, now going on four here. Because of their age, their view of time was different than mine. Their perspective, unsurprisingly, meant when they spoke about the future, they were was less anxious, less urgent, less impatient.

Though I am now old enough to need to recalculate my age every time my daughters ask and I can’t recall off the top of my head how long I’ve been back in Staten Island, I’m still young. Young enough to give into anxiety about the near future, to be utilitarian in my decisions— wanting visible, guaranteed results to think something is worth my time. I get restless in the mundane and give up too easily when prayers are not yet answered. I feel worried when God doesn’t meet me experientially in the few hours I set aside to be in prayer and the Scriptures. I wonder if I’m missing his voice if I don’t hear from him this very instant and I get frazzled over hiccups in plans for family or ministry.

But, God. From the beginning, through the ages, thousands of years from now, he was and is and will be. In my restless, anxious toil, meditating on God’s eternal nature is often the force behind the seismic perspective shift I need.

When longing for swift deliverance, Christians are exhorted to remember that our view of slowness is not his. That though ten years may sound like a hundred to us, to him a thousand are as a day. That his purposes for our suffering go far beyond our years and through unsearchable paths into eternity.

When discouraged about the slowness of his Kingdom’s advancement in ourselves, our families, and our churches, we look to the God of ages past whose view of slowness is not the same as ours.  We remember that, “He has moved like rapids — quickly and vivaciously — and startling to see. But the Spirit also moves like a glacier — subtly and cumulatively — and sometimes so imperceptibly that the believer might be unaware of his work.” It may seem slow from my vantage point, but his movement through history is steady, unimaginably powerful, unstoppable.

God’s eternal view of time directly speaks against my need for fast answers, quick fixes, and instant results. He is not working on my timeline– and his eternity is good news for me. As a parent, my discipline is unkind when I feel the pressure of time and am unsure of the future. I begin to demand immediate perfection from my children, correcting in fear, not faith and love. God though, does not panic at the passing of time, nor does he resort to flustered last ditch efforts in his dealings with me. His eternity means patience with his impatient children.

Sometimes, in his goodness, God gives us glimpses of his good purposes, lookouts if you will over a few years of our lives. At the retreat, Jeff and I were placed in the same room we had been in two summers ago. We’d gone with our church and I was barely surviving. As I surveyed the room this visit, I could still see the set up we had then– the girls on one bed, the pack-and-plays side-by-side for our foster boys, and just enough floor space to walk from the entrance to the bathroom. I remembered not being able to sleep, being anxious about sick kids, and feeling upset toward God about both.

The days felt so long back then, so it surprised me how two years could fly by and find us at the same location but in such a different place. The boys are with another family and we welcomed our now almost 18 month old since then. There have been new beginnings in writing, headway made in homeschooling, lessons learned in life and ministry.

But there is still all I have been slow to learn, prayers God has yet to answer. I see recurring requests and repeated struggles thematically spanning years through the pages of my journals. There are new unknowns my mind fills with threatening futures. We all carry sadnesses yet to be healed, questions yet to be answered. There are long walks through the valleys of the shadow of death still to come.

So we look at our everlasting Rock (Is. 26:4).  One day, we will ascend the heights, having received the eternal weight of glory, to where our deepest sorrows will seem “light and momentary” and the longest seasons of darkness, “a little while” (2 Cor. 4:17, 1 Pet. 1:6).  Until then, we trust our eternal God has a view of our lives so complete, and from there his purposes so spectacular, we would be dizzied by its vastness and beauty if given a peek.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
Psalm 90:1-4 (ESV)

Church & Ministry, Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

The Invisible God Who Sees Me

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God is the remembered one. But this does not mean we are forgotten—not by him. Not by a long shot. In fact, being remembered by him means we no longer fear being forgotten by the world.
– Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus

I always plan on– or at least think about– writing more, but then, you know, life. Not the fighting bad guys, moving mountains, here’s my trophy kind of life. More like, life that fills my days but often finds me wondering as I’m brushing my teeth at night why my body is giving out when I haven’t even left the house in two days.

As a new mom coming out of ministry, I struggled with days and weeks like these. But over the years, I have been learning to be grateful for them. And part of my discipleship from restlessness to grateful contentment has been through an example found in an unexpected place.

In a world where we’re constantly publishing where we’ve been and what we’re accomplishing, living life behind the scenes is getting increasingly difficult. If the older generations drove around Benzes as a sign of getting along well in life, millennials showcase experiences. And whether of food, vacations, family life, or social causes, the everyday feel of social media sharing makes it feel like everything– even the ordinary– ought to feel meaningful and immediately fulfilling.

We live Coram Deo, and so every part of our lives is significant. But as a generation, our definition of significance has been shaped in large part by our culture such that we have trained ourselves to be unprepared for when the mundane feels ordinary. Couple this with our need to see immediate results, and we grow restless when ordinary work requires waiting and faith. We are like children who plant a seed and rush to the garden the next day expecting to pick blue-ribbon pumpkins. Or, like my daughter, who the morning after finding out I was a few weeks pregnant with our son, wondered aloud why my tummy wasn’t big yet.

As Christians in life and ministry, we often mix the longing for public, quick, measured results with our understanding of the work of God. Whether at home as we raise our children, at church helping other Christians grow, or in the work of evangelism, we conflate our understanding of success with God’s purposes and plan. Surely if God was in my parenting, it wouldn’t feel so hard and I would feel more fulfilled. Surely if I were following God’s will, ministry would look more glorious, people would grow more quickly, and we’d have more good news to report to our supporters.

So we grow weary and we lose heart. We mistake our periods of waiting in ministry with our not being in God’s will. We continue to care for our families but without a sense of God’s commission behind our daily service of love, longing to move onto accomplishing greater things on a stage that isn’t set up to a domestic scene.

Cue the book of Ruth.

In our Bibles, this four-chaptered gem follows the book of Judges. Judges contains some of the most disturbing accounts in Scripture as the author details Israel’s moral decline through the years following their exodus and settlement in the Promised Land. Repeatedly in Judges, the people are described as doing what was “right in their own eyes” as the writer immerses us in a full-sensory experience of what it looks like when the people of God cease to live as though that’s what they are. Reading the book of Judges is like walking through a national crime scene.

One commentary describes Judges this way:

Readers encounter shocking accounts of violence, sexual abuse, idolatry, and misuse of power. Before the book is over, gruesome scenes of bodily mutilation and dismemberment are disclosed. While Judges portrays the worst with regard to bad behavior, such realism was included to reveal something important about life and human nature apart from God.

But then comes Ruth. Another writer describes the transition from Judges to Ruth like “turning from the field of a bloody battle to gaze at a quiet pastoral scene.” If you didn’t grow up on these stories, the change of scene is actually quite jarring.

From sky-high scenes of a national cycle of sin-judgement-repentance-deliverance-repeat, the writing pans out then zooms hard into the lives of two struggling women living in the time of the judges. In the grief of bereavement and widowhood we meet Ruth and Naomi. We find that even amid Israel’s rebellion, God is working to bring his own to himself. Ruth, a foreigner, has readied herself to leave her family and the gods of her land in courageous commitment to Yahweh– the God of her mother-in-law, her God now.  Demonstrating self-sacrificial love for Naomi and courageous allegiance to God, she leaves with her mother-in-law to live with the people of God. There she finds work in the field of a godly man, who in contrast to many described in Judges, has not chosen to do “what was right in his own eyes.” Boaz would welcome Ruth and Naomi with hospitality, leverage his resources for their good and safety (as called for by God’s law), and finally, act as Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer.

The whole story sounds radical and dramatic, and in many ways it is. But recently I have been struck lately by the hiddenness of it all. Turn back the reel and let’s consider: What did Ruth’s life look like to her as she lived it?

Ruth’s life looked like choosing to follow the God of Israel and a resolute decision to love a bitter mother-in-law. (Call me “Mara,” which means bitter, Naomi had said.) It looked like weathering through the difficulties of immigrating to a new land, looking for work to support herself and her mother-in-law. The story’s action rises at the kindness of a God-fearing stranger acting with integrity and kindness, but not with swooping heroic deeds which would be seen worthy of internet fame. Even the happy ending of a new marriage and a baby boy’s birth are still relatively hidden, ordinary scenes. It’s just the story of one family, it would seem, experiencing the faithfulness of God in their grief and his providence in difficult circumstances. The story of faithful, godly people choosing generosity and obedience to Yahweh.

The book of Ruth is in many ways a story of hiddenness, but it isn’t an ordinary story. “Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David,” and we feel the ellipsis at the end of Ruth . Through Ruth would come David– the king after God’s own heart that the nation of Israel needed desperately — and later, through David, the Great King and Redeemer, Jesus.

My attitudes about the hiddenness of much of the life I’m called to live in as a wife, mom, church member, Christian, person, etc. pivoted around the following commentary:

The secret providences of God guided the personal tragedy of the loss of Ruth’s husband and father-in-law, personal choices to leave her country and commit to the God of Israel, and seemingly random events in the harvest fields of Boaz. These led directly to King David and the King of Kings. God works in mysterious ways. Ruth “is the only instance in which a book is devoted to the domestic history of a woman, and that woman a stranger in Israel. But that woman was the Mary of the Old Testament.”

The fulcrum that my heart turned on was this: that God would care about and use all the bitter and sweet providences in the domestic lives of two ordinary women. And that he would use their hidden obedience to accomplish eternal purposes way beyond their scope.

Ruth is the only instance in which a book is devoted to the domestic history of a woman.” The impact of these words on me has rested on the idea of domestic life as a sort of antithesis to public, glorious work that produces immediate results. It is hidden, it seems small and insignificant to those who are looking to be world shakers and history makers. But that God sees the parts of our labor hidden to others, that he is working with a view of time and place beyond us, that his loving providence is behind every grief and joy in these hidden places. This knowledge brings consolation and courage to me and to all who would seek to obey him in ways hidden to the rest of the world.

In our day-to-day living, God speaks truth to our restless hearts yearning to be acknowledged for what we do: What we need most is not for other people to see us, but the knowledge that he sees. What we need most is not to see immediate fruit, but trust in the purposes and timing of the One who makes things grow. The tearful intercessions offered in the closet, the service in his church, the burden borne for one another in love, the work in our homes, the hospitality extended to strangers. He sees. He is working. Our lives, offered to him, are never overlooked, never forgotten, never wasted.

At the end of the book of Ruth, we are left marveling. Against the backdrop of national tragedy and amidst personal sorrows, God has worked in the domestic lives of two ordinary women to redeem them, their people, and ultimately, the world. We are led to wonder at the wisdom of his hidden purposes, the kindness of his redemption, and the graciousness of his sovereignty.  Through Ruth, we have been given a glimpse of the workings of an invisible God who is fulfilling his unseen purposes through hidden people and places.

This is our King and Redeemer. He is invisible, yet sovereign. His ways are mysterious, yet always wise and always good. And though the lives we live unto him may be hidden from others, they are always significant because he has us in his sight.