Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What is True Beauty?

I don't know about you, but I struggle with the way I look way too frequently. Even before I had the twins, I was constantly worried about if my hair looked good enough, if I looked thin enough, if my outfit was cute enough. It's an endless race that no one ever wins. The grass is always greener on the other side and we are never satisfied with what we have been given. And that's just plain wrong. I will be the first to raise my hand of confession and say that I have idolized the world's definition of beauty for far too long and it has to stop. In God's providence, this helpful book came in the mail a few weeks ago, and it rocked me to the core.

True Beauty by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre is a breath of fresh air to a beauty obsessed soul. If you struggle with what stares back at you in the mirror every morning or feel yourself fighting comparison when you walk into a room full of well-dressed ladies, this book is for you. But if you also want to know what God's version of beauty is and how you can have it, this book is right up your alley. I was so encouraged by this little book. I happened to be recovering from surgery right around the time it arrived, so I finished it in 24 hours. It's that good, friends. I leave you with a few quotes to whet your reading appetite.

"True beauty is to behold and reflect the beauty of God" (p. 35).

"Feelings of inadequacy about our appearance often arise because we feel we deserve better than what we have" (p. 39). Ouch! But so true!

"Some of us may parade our beauty for our own glory. Some of us may brood and worry over glory unattained. Most of us do a little of both. But whenever we try to get attention and admiration for our own beauty--whether or not we are successful--we are robbing God of the glory that only he deserves" (p. 42).

"If our diets and workouts become all about our appearance and how others view us, we are chasing self-glory, and not giving glory to God" (p. 55).

"A gentle and quiet spirit is not a personality trait. It is the quality of a woman who meets adversity--slander, sickness, rejection, and loss--with a calm confidence in God" (p. 81).

"Though many women become hard and bitter as they grow old, a woman who trusts God, who pursues a gentle and quiet spirit through the many trials and temptations in her life, grows more radiant and lovely, even as she wastes away. Her beauty is an imperishable beauty, after all. This is the powerful, living paradox of true beauty" (p. 92).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hannah's Loss

Whenever I hear someone talk about Hannah from 1 Samuel it is usually because of her great trust in the midst of her barrenness. She is the test case for infertility, really. Barren in a culture that gave women their worth by the fruit of their womb. Reviled by the second wife who bore her husband the multitude of children she so desperately wanted, yet couldn't have. Misunderstood by those around her who observed her grief over her emptiness. Yet, she trusted God in the midst of it all. And God heard her prayer of desperation.

But there is something about Hannah that I often overlook. As I was listening to this sermon the other day I was struck by something in this biblical story.

Hannah lost the son she begged for.

In the wake of her great joy over her precious son, she walked in obedience to a vow she made to God and gave her son back to the One who gave her the gift of life in the first place (1 Samuel 1:11, 22, 28). The pastor I was listening to said that it would be expected for Hannah to respond to such a loss with unimaginable grief. This was pre-Skype, pre-texting, pre-modern mail system. Saying goodbye to her son, Samuel, meant saying goodbye forever. When she left him with Eli she left with him every dream of seeing him grow into a man. Every dream of seeing him learn how to write his name, read a book, or do anything that a normal little boy does. Except for the times when they went up to offer yearly sacrifices, when she left him with Eli that was it. As she promised in that tear filled moment before his conception, she gave her son back to God.

But what does Hannah do? She worships God (1 Samuel 2:1-11). She doesn't shake her fist at him in anger. She doesn't go back on her word. She worships the One who gives all good things to his children. She praises him for his character, his goodness, and his faithfulness to his people. She just kissed her little boy goodbye, left him forever, and all she can do is look to God and praise his name.

What Hannah recognized was that her son was really not hers to claim. He was a gift. God gave him to her and he had the right to take him back. She understood that the focal point of all of her barrenness, all of her pain, and all of her joy in the birth of her son was God. It was not about her getting everything she wished for. It was about God being magnified in her life and in the life of her boy.

And oh, how he was magnified. It was through this longed for boy that God would bring his people back to himself and prepare them for a king. It was through his leadership that the line of David, the line of our Christ, would be established. Hannah's loss was not for naught. It was for us. It was for our joy. It was for our salvation.

Rarely do we see the final outcome of our losses. We don't often get to see the ultimate point of them all, but it doesn't mean it is not there. Hannah never got to see the Christ who was promised. She probably never saw the king who would carry the lineage of our perfect King Jesus. But she trusted the promise nonetheless. She knew her story wasn't the final word. Neither is ours. How do we know this? Because of the loss of another--our precious Christ. It is his loss that assures us that our losses mean something much deeper than the agony we feel in the moment. It is his loss that promises that one day all things will be made right by his once and for all defeat of all things evil. Hannah hoped in the God who would get this done in his time. And so should we. Hannah was able to look in the face of her precious boy as she walked away from him for the last time and know that God would win in the end and her loss was not in vain. The same is true for us, friends. The same is true for us.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Heart for Diversity

The subject of race has been a polarizing topic in our country for longer than any of us have been alive. In many ways, the lasting effects of the racism that divided us are still entrenched in many communities. If we move into the church, we find that even among God’s people, diversity and freedom from race divisions is still a longed for reality.
How should God’s people think about diversity in light of our history and his word? What does diversity in relationships look like? How does the fact that we bear God’s image play into our thinking about diversity and race?
My friend, Trillia Newbell, author of the new book United, enters this conversation with grace, conviction, and boldness. Through her own story of longing for diversity, worshipping as a minority in her own local church, and subsequently finding diversity through two dear friends, she shows us God’s plan for making a people for himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It truly is a beautiful sight to behold.
Trillia speaks not only to subject of race, but very real issues in our own hearts as we think through relationships with people who are different than us. As a chronic man-fearer, I was convicted and encouraged to not look to myself in situations of fear and self-awareness, but to look to the God who secures my identity in Christ. Through her personal story of diverse friendships, she shows us that God’s plan for diversity often comes to us through relationship. It is in community with other believers that we grow in Christ but also grow in our understanding of how uniquely different we all are. It is easy to gravitate towards the people who are like us and pull away from the ones who are different, even if they share our skin color. But Trillia shows us that because of our standing as image bearers of God and now his children through Christ, we have more in common than we tend to realize.
United is a refreshing read for anyone who longs to see the biblical promise fulfilled that God is securing a people for himself from every tribe and tongue. I know I do. Which is why reading United ignited my passion once again not only for diversity, but to see God’s name declared throughout the world.

Order it on Amazon

Thursday, April 3, 2014

You Mean, I'm a Sinner?!?!

I don't know anyone who enjoys being confronted in their sin. I know I don't. Sometimes the confrontation comes from a trusted friend, sometimes a sermon, or sometimes it comes from God's word. Depending on how it is delivered to us, our reaction to it varies.

I have often read the stories of the prophets and Israel through a judgmental eye. I think to myself, how can they repeatedly stiffen their neck against God and his word? In my stinging judgment, I think that if I were in their shoes surely I would repent. How could you not when promised condemnation is right around the corner? It's so easy to just repent and trust God!

Or not.

My reaction to confrontation is no different sometimes. I am confronted with my sin and I plug my ears or turn my nose up at the burning conviction that comes from a trusted friend or God's word. It's not fun being called out, but it's necessary. It's a warning shot to our souls.

That's the beauty of God's word. On the pages of holy scripture we find our souls laid bare. Scripture gets us in ways we don't even realize. When we read God's word we are not an external spectator who knows a better way now, as if we don't still struggle with the very same sins. Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun, and that is no more clearer than it is in God's word. There are no new sins, just sins repackaged for a particular culture, person, and context. This gives us hope. While we see ourselves in all our ugliness diagnosed rightly in God's word, we also find the solution. The same solution that was given to the rebellious Israelites is true for us.

Turn to God in repentance and find hope.

The hope for me when I'm confronted with my sin is that God has made a way. The judgment is not the final story. Christ is. So when I'm discouraged by the accurate diagnosis of the depths of my sin, I can also be confronted with the amazing reality that Christ has paid it all.

The bible is both the diagnosis of our problem and the perfect solution. Christ is all we need.

So, yes, I am a great sinner--the bible tells me so. But I also have a great savior.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Goodness of God's Ways

I have thought hard about the goodness of God these last three years. What I keep coming back to is that God's ways are not my ways. The bible tells me that and I know it in my soul. April 2 is a "God's ways are not my own" sort of day for me. You see, April 2 is the due date of our first baby. I could have had a three year old today. In previous years I have marked this day with a myriad of emotions. The first year hit me the hardest and each subsequent year has been a little less painful, yet no less impactful.

This year feels more real to me than last year. Maybe it's because last year I was drowning in the ocean of multiple middle of the night feedings and crying newborn twins. But I remembered. Every year I remember. I remember what could have been. I remember what the stinging loss felt like when I first heard the words "there is no baby there." I remember what it felt like to lose the baby. I remember what it felt like to cry out in agony every month that led to that precious babe's due date. Remembering is all I have of this little one.

But this year feels more impactful because I'm walking through another loss of a little one. The pain of the first loss is now wrapped up in the pain of the other. In God's kind providence, the twins' original due date was April 3, the day after our first baby's due date. In many ways, God was showing us the beauty that could come from the ashes of our grief of loss and infertility. He met us in the darkness and gave us hope that he is for us.

So we cling to that truth this year as well. His ways are certaintly not our ways, but in the same way we remember the precious babes we have lost, we also remember all of the good he has done and promises to do for us. Even in the sadness, we are putting our stake of faith in the ground and declaring that he is good and always does good to his children.

It is true, that his ways are so far beyond what we can comprehend. But he has never failed us. Not in the loss of our two babies. Not in our years of infertility. Not in our darkest days of despair. Not once. And that, too, shows us that his ways are not our ways. A God who cares enough to meet us in the darkness, also promises to bring us into the light.

So as we walk through another April 2 with a house less full than we intended, we are thankful. Thankful for the blessings he has given us in these two boys. Thankful for the gifts he gave us in the babes we lost. And thankful that his ways are not our ways. They are always better.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Gospel for Moms

People prepared me for a lot of things before the birth of my twin boys last year. I received advice on everything from sleep training, my own impending lack of sleep, the difficulty of learning to be a parent, and that in reality you are never really prepared. I was fully prepared to feel completely unprepared when those two little ones burst on the scene. And they did with complete surprise (eight weeks early!). We were as unprepared as we were ever going to be.

I knew my life would be turned upside down, but since that had never happened to me before I didn’t really understand what to expect. And no one really prepared me for the fact that even the simplest things that I once held dear (like quiet time reading my bible or a good book, or the ability to focus while praying) would be left at the hospital with my former life. The last thirteen months for me have been about getting my bearings back.

Gloria Furman knows what it’s like to have “mommy brain” and no time to think. She understands full hands and an exhausted body. She spends her days pouring out all of her energy for her husband and four kids. Yet she has learned how to trust and treasure Christ in the midst of this seemingly mundane life. That is why she is the perfect person to write a book about this very topic. In her newest book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms, she speaks to women in the trenches of motherhood and offers the very encouragement she speaks to herself. With this book you feel like you are speaking to a trusted friend, one who knows your struggles and has real help for you right where you are at. For a busy mom, who can often feel isolated in the daily grind of caring for young children and a home, this book offers exactly what we need—more of Jesus.

I found myself wanting to write down nearly every other sentence because of the nuggets of truth that were packed into even the fewest of words. Reading this book felt like Furman was speaking directly to me, as if she knew what my daily life looked like. And that’s the beauty of this book. There is something for every mom. If you struggle to find a quiet place to commune with God, Furman assures you that Jesus is not confined to a comfy chair in the wee hours of the morning. He promises to meet you where you are at, even if it is at the changing table or the kitchen sink. If you find yourself weighed down by your endless quest to be the “perfect mom,” Furman shows that while no mother is remotely close to perfect, we do have a perfect Savior who is sufficient to cover all of our sins and failures. If you feel yourself losing sight of the goal in this whole motherhood thing, Furman lovingly reminds us that we are parenting eternal souls who will never die. Motherhood is about tomorrow and eternity, she says. While she helps us feel the tremendous weight of this calling, she also points us to the tremendous joy it affords us.

Throughout the book, Furman reminds us that while we are weak, Christ is always strong. This is good news for weary moms who simply cannot add one more thing to an already overflowing plate of responsibilities. So if you are a weak, needy, desperate mom this book is for you. You will find on these pages that Christ is sufficient, his gospel is true, and his promises are all you need to faithfully do all you have been called to as a mother to your children.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Stewardship of Pain

Nobody likes pain. I know I don't. We hate pain so much that we do whatever we can to avoid it. We have a headache, we take ibuprofen. We get a leg cramp while running (true confession!), so we stop running. We have surgery, we go under anesthesia. As a society, we have come a long way by means of pain management.

But what about the pain that runs deeper. The pain that settles itself within your very soul. How do you avoid that pain? Some turn to a variety of coping mechanisms. Some simply try to avoid it all together, as if the pain never existed. What is the Christian to do? Do we adopt the world's methods for "pain management," or is there a better, more sustaining way forward in the midst of searing pain?

Jerry Bridges has some helpful words for our pain. In God's providence, Jerry Bridges has been on my nightstand for both of my miscarriages. For the first one, it was Trusting God. This time, it was The Joy of Fearing God. Both times I have been helped tremendously by Bridges careful and God-exalting words.
We usually think of Christian stewardship in terms of money. Some churches have "stewardship campaigns" during which they seek to get their membership to pledge toward the annual church budget. Then the concept of stewardship was broadened to include our time and talents--or as one slogan puts it, "Be a good steward of your time, talents, and treasure." The idea behind these concepts is that whatever resources God has given us, He has entrusted them to us as stewards to use for His glory.
Now apply that idea to pain, either physical or emotional. If we believe God is sovereignly in control of all circumstances of our lives, then our pain is something He has given to us just as much as our time or talents or treasure. He has entrusted the pain to us to be used for His glory...
Closely akin to trusting God in our pain is trusting Him to fulfill His promises, even when we can't imagine how He can fulfill them (225-226).
That is what I want for my own life. I want to steward the pain he gives me for his glory, and ultimately for my own good. This radically changes our perspective on suffering and pain. It takes pain from being something that is against us to something that is given to us as a gift. It is always for our good, even when it feels and seems bleak.

Stewarding our pain well can only be done with the future in view. If we merely looked at the present we would grow weary rather quickly. Instead, like so many who have gone before us, we must look to the eternal home, healing, and rest that awaits us with our Lord. It is impossible to steward our pain well on our own and with tunnel vision. We need God to give us an eternal perspective and the hope that Christ will reign victorious over even the most excruciating pain we face.

Oh Lord, let it be so in my own life, even today.