Motherhood & Family

Greater Is He

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(from Instagram)

I felt the fall last night, the pain of childbearing. In the beating my body has taken in birthing and caring for a newborn. In the toil of raising sinful children. In my own hard-heartedness.

***

I’m sick of dealing with sin.

I think that to myself after refereeing another bedtime squabble. Nothing new, but it’s the mundanity of the self-centeredness that gets to me, that pervasive inward curvature of sin. I think about what it would be like to raise children in a pre-Genesis 3 world. I’m tired and mad and tired.

I retreat from their room when the Spirit speaks: Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). A cheery voice calls from across the hall, “Mom, can we pray together?” It is a divine invitation.

I‘m still angry, but what am I going to do? Say, “No!“? So I reenter. First, anything you’re thankful for? Then, more accusatory than I‘m proud of, anything you need to say sorry for?

Their confessions catch me unguarded and convict me. They share specific moments from the day I hadn’t noticed. They give humble insights on their weaknesses. They apologize and forgive. My heart softens. We talk about friendship and family and seeing each other’s sin. I’m asked for verses that will help with a particular struggle with the flesh. We talk about Christ’s forgiveness and the Spirit’s help.

Then we pray.

I pray the gospel over us, over me. It is sheer grace I am able to do so. God himself turned the tide; he spoke, he invited, he softened.

All in spite of me, my sin, and the fall.

***

“Sometimes when I’m in a bad mood, it’s hard to do the right thing,” she says.

Me too, baby. But, praise be to God— greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world.

Motherhood & Family

God Who Pursues

(Reposted from Instagram)

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So much about parenting is hard. The sleepless nights, the pouring out, the not knowing what I’m doing. But the hardest thing is how little control I have over what matters most.

Jeff and my greatest hope for our children is that they’d know and walk with Christ. My greatest fear is that they won’t.

Will my children know God?

Sometimes this fear drives me to my knees. These are my best times, too few and far between, when I let desperation and helplessness usher me to God’s throne of grace.

Do my kids love Jesus?

Sometimes this fear becomes panic. Like a madwoman, I act as if I alone stand between my children and a future I fear is barreling toward them. My words come out forcefully, but not with God’s power.

Will he save them?

And sometimes, my fear leads me to wrong thoughts of God himself. I can’t know for sure whether my children will trust him. And his sovereignty starts looking more like fate than fatherhood, his election more like impersonal algorithm than love.

This week, I opened up the Scriptures and so did one my girls. In the same room, we read. I prayed. She highlighted. And when she shared later what she’d gleaned, I held back tears. God had spoken to her. She had insight that wasn’t from me. True thoughts of God from God himself. I caught a glimpse of God‘s pursuit of her heart and mind. And the fact that he is pursuing her apart from me.

Parents, God wants our children to know him more than we do. He is more committed to leading them in the truth than we are. He has chosen their times and places so that, seeking him, they would find him (Acts 17:26-27). He will not allow us to singlehandedly set the courses of their future because he loves them more than we ever could.

So let’s teach them his word. Let’s pray for them with tears. Let’s repent and live as examples of those being changed by the gospel. And let’s remember that we do all this because God first pursued us.

Because he chooses to pursue them them through us, we tread with holy fear.

Because he pursues them, we walk on solid ground.

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.

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)

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Looking Unto Jesus

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If you’ve studied physics (or ever played QBasic Gorillas), you know it only takes a slight difference in launch angle to completely change the trajectory of a moving object. Likewise, in the Christian life, there are many seemingly subtle nuances which actually have massive impact on our worship of God and lives with him.

I enjoyed this devotional from Charles Spurgeon on “Looking Unto Jesus” and am struck by the fact that though there is a world of difference between looking to Jesus and looking to ourselves, sometimes the initial shift feels so slight we don’t realize we’ve turned our gaze inward.

Sometimes, it isn’t until we find ourselves despairing, doubtful and discouraged that we trace back our struggles to trying to find hope in ourselves and our own faith or spirituality. And sometimes, we need to hear someone articulate for us the difference between hoping in Christ and hoping in self to make that connection.

So, here’s an excerpt from the prince of preachers today:

“Looking unto Jesus.” (Heb. 12:2)

It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.” All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

( June 28, Morning by Morning. Tip: Access Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening daily devotional at Biblegateway.)

Yes!

The Christian’s hope is not how much faith he has. It is in Jesus who trustworthy.

It is not in the progress in sanctification she’s making or how she is doing spiritually compared to others. It is in Jesus who sanctifies.

It is not in yesterday’s experiences or our own “decisions for Christ.”  It is in Jesus’ finished work on the cross and his ministry of intercession for us today.

It is not in our promises to “do better next time.” It is in he who finishes the work he began in us.

It is not in our penitence and sorrow over sin, but he who receives and purifies repentant sinners.

It is not in our fruitfulness as branches. It is in the life-sustaining vine.

It is not in our faithfulness as sheep, but the Shepherd’s steadfast care.

Dear Christian, look to Jesus today.

And take heart. Because in the final count, what matters most won’t be how well you did looking to him, but that his gaze was ever upon you.