Monday, January 26, 2015

The Sin We Don't Speak Of

We all have that sin. The one we thought was long conquered, long forgotten, and long paid for by Christ's precious blood. Then one day it emerges, reminding us that we are not yet perfected, and riddling us with guilt. It's the sin we don't speak of. It's the sin that we are certain would cause friends to shun us, strangers to mock us, and God to turn his back on us. Everyone's is different, but the effects on us are the same. And when it rears its ugly head we are undone.

I don't know what your forgotten, unspeakable sin is. But I know mine. I know that even after years of victory it can come back without any warning, reminding me that I am still in need of a great Savior. It's good for me, really. This sin, in all its heinousness, is a reminder to my ever prideful heart that the respectable sins I live with are just as ugly as the one that I don't utter out loud. Everyone needs to be knocked down a few rungs on the ladder of our own perceived righteousness. I am no different.

In the moments of despair over the reappearance of this sin, I have been comforted by the fact that it has been paid for by Christ's atoning work at the cross. There is no more condemnation for me because Christ took all of it for me (Rom. 8:1). But practically speaking, I've learned that I need the same guttural response to my every day sins as I have to the one I hate the most. I should weep tears of brokenness with every act of rebellion against my God, and yet, I don't. I've created a hierarchy of sinfulness, stacking some at the very top of the "do not do this again" list.

In God's eyes, sin is sin. No amount of human ordering changes that for him. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). This sin is the great equalizer before him. There are no sins that are beyond his reach for cleansing and there are no sins that make us any better or worse in his eyes. Without Christ, the verdict is the same--guilty.

Oh, but the story doesn't end there. With Christ the verdict is the same--righteous. My sin (respectable and otherwise) says that there is no hope for me, and that is true. But in Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own (Phil. 3:9). I can stand free from condemnation over all of my sins, even the one that I feel is too unworthy to bring to the throne of grace.

If that is where you are today, dear sister, know that I am with you. Actually, we are all in this together. Look to Christ and trust in his perfect work on your behalf. Repent, yes. But then cling to the One who paid for all our sins--even the ones we can't speak of.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Certainty of Hope

We are a hopeful people, aren't we? We hope for warmer weather (at least I do!). We hope to get well from sickness. We hope our babies sleep through the night. We hope to get pregnant, find a spouse, or get the job we are applying for. We hope for good grades, a glowing performance review, or that our favorite characters in TV shows will finally get together. We hope for family members to come to Christ, relationships to be mended, and our circumstances to turn around. We hope for a lot of things. And not all hopes are equal. Some have no lasting value (like our hopes in favorite characters), while others carry eternal implications (like our hopes for lost family members). But in the English language, we still use the same word for both--hope.

When my husband preached at our church a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned something that stuck with me. Hope is a recurring theme in the Bible. But it's not like we think of hope. Preaching on Philippians 1:18-26, Daniel said that Paul's hope was not wishful thinking, but confident expectation that God would do what he said he would do.

J.I. Packer has this to say about the Christian's hope:

In a word, hope: hope understood not in the weak sense of optimistic whistling in the dark, but in the strong sense of certainty about what is coming because God himself has promised it (J.I. Packer, Weakness is the Way: Life With Christ Our Strength, 92).

I've been thinking a lot about hope lately. One of my biggest hopes (and besetting fears) is that our little son would make it into this world alive and healthy. Holding on to that hope is hard for me now that I've gone through two pregnancy losses. I don't have a confident hope that all will be well because I've seen it not be well in my own body before. I wrestle daily between bursting expectation about holding his wrinkly newborn body in my arms and crushing fear that I won't get to hear his newborn cries. What I'm learning is that my hopes and fears are not what will carry me as I carry him. Hoping in my son's well being is not the hope Paul, Packer, or the whole of Scripture is talking about. It's not a hope in circumstances. For me, it's not a hope in counting kicks, hearing a heartbeat, or even holding him in my arms.

It's a better one.

When Job lost everything: his possessions, his children, even the support of his wife, he hoped in God. He worshiped him (Job 1:20-22). When the Hebrews joyfully accepted the loss of their property they trusted in God because they knew he was the better possession (Heb. 10:34). These saints expressed confident expectation that God would do what he said in their lives.

The same is true for my hope. While I have no guarantee that I will get every earthly thing I hope for, even a healthy baby boy come May, I do have full assurance that God will keep me to the end. Scripture is full of this very promise for those who are in Christ. We are hoping in an unseen, eternal reality that will never pass away, not in the shifting sands of circumstances--good or bad (2 Cor. 4:18).

Of course, I'm still hopeful that my precious son will make it into this world healthy. God delights in giving good gifts to his children, including precious children of our own. But regardless of the outcome of this pregnancy, I want to hope in the God who is holding everything together and who promises to do me good, not harm, all the days of my life. I want the unshakable hope that will carry me when everything crumbles around me or when I am tempted to forget him in the joy-filled days.

"My hope rests firm on Jesus Christ, he is my only plea."

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year, New Prayer for Faithfulness

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions. I suppose I don't like the disappointment when I don't meet my own impossible standards. But I do like to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the one ahead of me. As the year turned from 2014 to 2015 I was reading through the stories of the kings of Judah and Israel in Kings and Chronicles. It's hardly reading that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside as you start a new year. If you are familiar with their history, after King Solomon died, Israel and Judah split into two separate kingdoms. The tribe of Judah had one set of kings. The remaining tribes of Israel had another. Every king in Israel was unfaithful to the Lord, while Judah had periodic glimpses of God's continued work.

Even in the midst of rebellion and idolatry, God was still faithful to his promises to his people. He could have wiped them out. But he didn't. He sustained the Davidic line in order to pave the way for the one true King, Jesus.

But what has stuck with me as I think about the coming year is that even the faithful kings of Judah stumbled at the end of their lives. Solomon was loved foreign women and was led astray by them (1 Kings 11:1-8). Asa failed to remove the high places (2 Chron. 16:17) and then at the end of his reign failed to repent of his sinful reliance on the Syrian King (2 Chron. 16:7-14). Jehoshaphat joined with the king of Israel (2 Chron. 20: 35-27). Amaziah did not follow the Lord with his whole heart and became a wicked king (2 Chron. 25). Uzziah became proud when he became strong (2 Chron. 26: 16). Hezekiah boasted of his successes and flaunted his resources (2 Kings 20:12-21). The list could go on.

Every one of these kings at one point followed the Lord. Every one of these kings started well. They knew the scriptures. They knew what was expected of them. Yet they fell away. As I start a new year I don't want to think that I am not susceptible to the same soul-destroying pride that pulled them away from the true God.

Of course, in all of this there is a greater story being told, isn't there? In Judah's sordid history is a scarlet thread that tells us that a greater king is coming. King Jesus never fell away. King Jesus never grew proud of his power and might. King Jesus never sinned, thus never needed to repent. So if you feel the weight of the same sobering truth, that you are prone to wonder just like me, rest in this amazing truth: the same Christ who called you will keep you. The same Christ who died for you will sustain you. The same Christ who bore the curse for you will convict you when you fall away. Left to ourselves we are just like those wicked kings of Judah, the best of intentions, but no means of fulfilling them. Christ is our means. That is a New Year's Resolution that has already been done for us.

What a great hope for a busy new year.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Books I Enjoyed in 2014

I'm a couple of days late to the party for favorite books last year. It's still early January, so it counts, right?

Every year I am amazed at the privilege we are given to have such an abundance of books at our fingertips. While this list isn't exhaustive, nor is it reflective of books written just in 2014, it is a list of books I really liked last year. I hope you will find something in this list that you can enjoy yourself in 2015.

Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid
I reviewed this book on the blog. I think it's one I should read every year.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms by Gloria Furman
Here is a short review of this one as well. If you are in the motherhood trenches, this book is for you.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
I received this book from my parents and read it in two days. Her story captures your attention and reminds you that Christ's power over salvation can reach anyone. Her final chapters on life after her conversion are especially moving as you see her love her children from all walks of life.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
This book came highly recommended from a friend of mine and I'm so glad I read it. Written against the backdrop of apartheid in South Africa, it is a moving story of prejudice, injustice, and forgiveness. And it is beautifully written. It also reminded me that I need to read more fiction.

True Beauty by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre
Not your average beauty book, this book is a breath of fresh air for all who struggle with what it means to be truly beautiful (and that's probably everyone!). I reviewed it here.

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
This is a book I hope every woman in our church reads at some point. I finished this book wanting to know my Bible better, and I've heard other friends say the same. She establishes the basis for Bible literacy and then gives you the tools to accomplish the task. If you want a more robust understanding of Bible study, this book is for you.

The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank
I think this book can be a paradigm shifting book for many women with regards to work. I'm especially thinking of their focus on the seasons of a woman's life. While our culture doesn't lend itself to women and work in a variety of season (i.e. accomplish everything when you are young), they help the reader see that for everything there is a season and there is value in understanding your place in that season.

Teach Us to Want by Jen Pollock Michel
Jen makes me want to be a better writer. But she also makes me want to know God more. She has a gift for making words come alive. By drawing you into her prose, she helps you better understand your own desires in light of Scripture. This book won the Christianity Today book award for 2014 and I'm so glad it did. I interviewed her here.

One thing that stands out to me with the books I enjoyed this year is that most of them are written by women. I'm so encouraged by the many female writers that are out there right now. They are an encouragement to a new writer like me, but also help all women see the value of studying Scripture for every woman. I imagine 2015 will be no different!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Pain of Motherhood

In a recent article at The Gospel Coalition, I wrote about Mary’s coming pain in the wake of Christ’s birth. Motherhood is filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and she was not exempt from such emotions. With the joy of her newborn baby’s birth came the dark shadow of his foretold death. She felt the sting of motherhood acutely throughout his adult life, and as she stood at his cross and watched him gasp for breath.

I've said before, motherhood, like many things, is a great equalizer for women. It takes women from all walks of life, all cultures, and all time periods and brings them together under one unifying purpose—loving a child. It’s why women cry at birth stories of strangers and weep over the caskets of children they have never met. We know the joy and the pain that comes with being a mother. We feel it in our bones.

But like everything in this sin-cursed world, every joy carries with it the reality of pain. With the overwhelming joy at the birth of a baby comes the paralyzing fear of SIDS. With the excitement of watching your young toddler takes his first steps comes the all-consuming fear that he may one day get hit by a car or run into danger. With the joy of watching your teenager drive away for the first time by herself comes the helpless fear that she may not always be safe on the road alone.

We all have lived long enough to know that every happy moment we face as mothers can in an instant be laced with soul-crushing sorrow.

So what are we to do when we face these fears, sometimes on a moment by moment basis?

It’s easy to look to the temporal, tangible realities staring us in the face as our assurance of hope, like the assurance of our newborn’s breathing patterns or making our toddler hold our hand at all times in public. We feel like we can control those moments. We can put our finger on them as markers of goodness and faithfulness towards us. But those markers aren’t always there, are they? When every earthly treasure gives way, Christ is all our hope and stay.

The psalmist has this to say about our fears:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).

He didn’t look to what was happening around him, good or bad. He looked away from his circumstances to the God who lovingly controls his circumstances and is working them for his good. But the truth is, it’s hard to do when everything is crumbling around us, isn’t it? Trusting God with our circumstances starts when all is well, when we are overwhelmed with joy. Mary couldn’t contain her wonder at what God did through her and for her in the birth of her son. But this wonder is what would carry and sustain her when all seemed hopeless and lost.

The same is true for us. Walking the road of motherhood carries with it more emotion than I ever knew humanly possible. Giving your life for another does that to you. With the intense love I feel for my children comes the possibility of tremendous heartache. Where does my help come when my fears seem to be my undoing? Or even more devastating, when my fears become reality? The same God who gave me these precious gifts, is the God who sustains me in my fears and heartache as well.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learning from Hannah More

Earlier this Fall I received a copy of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. I couldn't wait to read it. I had been hearing about this book from Karen Swallow Prior for a while, and the more I heard about Hannah More, the more I wanted to get to know her. I think you will too. Here are some brief observations about her life that really stayed with me. I hope it will make you want to read the book (there is still time to get it before Christmas!).

  • Her accomplishments as a woman in her time period. Hannah lived in a day where women were not educated like men were. Women had little rights and voice in the powerful ranks of society. But Hannah was an exception. She did not embrace the early feminism that was rising up in her day, instead she understood her creation as a woman and used it to accomplish great things. 
  • She valued female education. In a Western context it's easy to take this for granted. But for many women in our world this is still a very real means of oppression. She taught women to read, to think, and to use their mind for good. But she saw a clear distinction between teaching women to think and making women think like men. "She sought to advance female education in order to fulfill women as women, not to make them like men" (24).
  • She was brave enough to go against her culture regarding slavery and the treatment of all human beings. It's easy to look at history from our vantage point and think Hannah's positions on the deplorable practice of slavery and the refusal to educate lower class people are simply no-brainers. But we must remember that she was standing up for things (abolition of slavery and education of all people of all classes) that were unthinkable to many English men and women. Like every society, we have our own blind spots, and like Hannah, we must ask God to reveal these blind spots and give us the courage to stand against the tide.
  • She had a consistent ethic regarding the dignity of persons and creation. One of the more surprising, and interesting, aspects of her life to me was how she fought for the ethical treatment of animals. It might seem like a random addition to a book on her bravery as an abolitionist and educator, but the more I learned about her the more I realized that it all goes together. Hannah believed in the dignity of people because they were created in the image of God. She believed in the fair treatment of animals because she valued God's creation. Her high view of God enabled her to honor and fight to protect all that he had made. 
Those are just a few of the many things that struck me about her compelling and convicting life. I hope you will take the time to read Fierce Convictions and discover the myriad of ways that Hannah More's life means something for us today.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Dependent Woman in an Independent World

The twins and I just got back from a two week trip to Florida to visit my parents, which means I flew by myself with two 21 month old boys. It was fun. It was intense. It was filled with memories. It was exhausting. This is a snapshot of how it went.

Between staring out the window at all of the airplanes, watching Bubble Guppies, and eating an abundance of snacks, we all had a pretty good time flying together. Daniel and I have flown with them together before, so I knew what to expect a little bit. But this was my first solo venture, so I was a little (a lot!) nervous about how it would all go. In God's kindness, these sweet boys exceeded all expectations and made it a fun ride. 

What I didn't expect was how my ugly battle with pride would come full force as I boarded the plane with two littles. I prepared for little help from fellow passengers, but I was blown away by how kind people are to a pregnant lady with two toddlers. I never actually had to get the boys on the plane alone. Someone always stopped to help me, which was a great blessing. But with every offer for help from kind bystanders I felt my own self-sufficiency rise up in me. Of course, I brushed it off as not wanting to be an inconvenience. But I know what I really meant in my heart. I may have said "thank you" out loud, but I was thinking:

No, I don't want your help. I want everyone to marvel at how I mastered flying alone with twins.

It's awful, really. Only a crazy woman refuses help when she's trying to wrangle two busy toddlers. But I am that sinful, crazy woman. The very essence of pride is a desire to make much of yourself, to puff yourself up in front of others. It can even come across as noble and good, like taking care of twin boys on a flight to Florida, but it's still pride. I've written before about my struggle with accepting help from others, and while my circumstances are different this time around, it still lurks in my heart. 

It doesn't help that I live in a culture that prides itself on self-sufficiency. America is about the self-made man or woman. America celebrates independence, not dependence. We marvel at the woman who does it all. We praise the man who came from nothing and made himself into a successful businessman. We love a story of survival and grit. But that is not the way of Christ. As a Christian, everything I have is owing to the merits of another. My motto should be "nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." So even in my best moments as a mom, wife, friend, or writer, I'm still coming up short on the sufficiency front. It's pride that feeds me lies, making me believe I'm doing better than I truly am. 

Now that I'm home, I'm glad all those people offered to help me. It made the trip much more enjoyable. It protected my boys from running off when I couldn't move fast enough to catch both of them. It even allowed me to make some friends on the flights. So the next time someone offers to help me, I want to accept with a willing and grateful heart, rather than as a woman who thinks she's got this whole mothering twins thing together. Because, let's face it. I need the help.