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Archive for December, 2014

sanctuary

The last candle is lit.  The sanctuary waits.  Babies coo and papers shuffle.  Distant coughing and soft murmurs are the subtle sounds which usher in this final anticipation.  Just a moment more; a moment more; a moment more.

Advent.  Oh!  How I want to wait always this way!  For all that matters, when life hurts, when I am exhausted and hurried and lonely and thin.  Oh, that I might wait this way.

Redemption is coming.  Running.  Risking.  Ripping through the darkness to reclaim us – even us – as his own.

But we – his own – did not receive him.

Still, his coming is imminent.  He has chosen rescue in the place of revenge.

Rescue.  Do we even know our need?  Nothing short of war awaits and we are all hostages in line for execution.  There is no hope lest this baby be far better than we.

The pianist begins.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, 

Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing.  O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!

Advent is over.  The Savior is here.  He is here.  God is with us.  May the sanctuary of our hearts be filled in the midst of the melancholy, the mundane, and the miseries as we wait for him to come again.

“Olives fail.  People fail.  Dreams fail.  You feel like you fail.  A thousand things mount.  Some days it’s hard not to panic.  You can feel it – we are driven by fear of failure.  For all our frenzied running around, could it be that we are actually fleeing – trying to escape all the fears?  All this pain?  All this failure?  We all live these lives of quiet terror.  OF soundless, hidden grief.  You could just bow your head id the quiet and weep for all that isn’t.  For all that you aren’t.  

In the barrenness of winter, Habakkuk offers this gift to always carry close: rejoicing in the Lord happens while we still struggle in the now.  

Struggling and rejoicing are not two chronological steps, one following the other, but two concurrent movements, one fluid with the other. 

As the cold can move you deeper toward the fire, struggling can move you deeper toward God, who warms you with joy.  Struggling can deepen joy.
Even though.

Even now.

Even though the fig trees have not blossoms and though the Christmas tree aches a bit empty, even though there are no grapes on the vine and no struggle-free days, even though the olive crop fails, even though I fail, even though so much fails- even now I will rejoice in the Lord.

Even now I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.  

Even though, even now – Habakkuk turns the focus.  The secret of joy is always a matter of focus: a resolute focusing on the Father, not on the fears.  All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends.  When does He ever end?  When you can’t touch bottom is when you touch the depths of God.” ~Ann Voskamp

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After he encourages the Philippian church with his love and thankfulness for them, he reassures them of his confidence in Christ despite his sufferings.  He reassures them…and he’s the one who’s suffering!  Miraculous.

Paul can see how his imprisonment has actually helped the spread of the gospel.  Not only that, but it has served to encourage and embolden other ministers of the word.  Because Paul did not lose heart when he was treated unjustly, other men gained courage in preaching and did not fear what the enemies of the cross would do to them as much.

Paul goes on to prove his confidence and trust in the Lord by dismissing any inclinations that he had self-interest or ambition regarding his success in preaching the gospel.  He does so by teaching the Philippians that wrong motives and power hungry preachers do not faze him.  As long as the true gospel is being preached, let them have the spotlight – even if it means more suffering for Paul.

Some men used Paul’s wrongful incrimination as an opportunity to boost their own ministry.  Therefore, because it meant popularity for them, they sought more suffering for him.  In short, these men were jealous of his success and sought to undermine him in order to take his place.  Still, even this did not discourage Paul.  If the gospel was spreading, Paul was rejoicing – even when it meant harm to him and his own good reputation.

Clearly, Paul’s reputation was not his life; the gospel was.  As he suffered at the hands of both false friends and enemies, Paul was not moved.  He did not lose hope.  He was not ashamed.  He was courageous.  He honored Christ in his freedom and in his confinement.

Only divine grace could accomplish such confidence in a man.  Wisdom, or, for some of us, experience, shows us what the alternative looks like, though.  Suffering, especially when it is unjust and severe, often moves a man into despair and discouragement.  It is easy to lose hope in such circumstances, especially when they are long term.  When we are punished and persecuted at the hands of ungodly men, we often feel ashamed, even when we are innocent.  We fear and sometimes even fall into sin and dishonor Christ amid suffering.

Either way – whether in joy or in despair – followers of Christ will suffer.  Joy may prove more difficult at the start, but despair is not where we want the end of our story to lead.

God, give us the grace that Paul had in suffering.  Give us eyes to see how our trials and the injustice suffered at the hands of both false friends and true enemies is serving to advance your gospel.  Give us the humility to lay down when others crush us for their own agenda with the gospel.  Help us to care less about our reputation and more about Christ’s honor.  Give us courage and hope where we’ve only known discouragement and despair.  Give us confidence where we’ve only known fear and shame.  Lord, give us the fruit of joy even when we suffer most.  Amen.

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ginger

“Where’s the ginger?”

It’s hard to make gingerbread cookies without ginger.  Being the unimpressive cook that I am, I rarely use ginger.  It makes for an interesting search when I do.  Sometimes we use least the things we need most.

Ginger is an interesting thing, really.  It is a spice, if you will, that “makes lively.” It is described as pungent; it’s flower, fragrant.  The adverb and adjective associated with ginger, gingerly, however, conveys caution, great care, delicacy, carefulness.

Funny how even gingerbread cookies can usher me to Christ.  If all the world was a cookie, Jesus would be the ginger.

Mild, he lays his glory by.

Mild?  How could the God of heaven and earth be mild?  Look at who he is!  Look at what he’s done!  He’s a lion!  Strong, wild, fierce, and fragrant.  Described as the wellspring of the joy of living!  He gives life to life itself!  Yet he is mild, delicate, and careful as he comes to us.  There is an aura of gentleness which enters with Christ at Christmas.

Gentleness – the fruit I have most trouble growing on my spiritual tree.  Little wonder why its it’s the word that hangs crooked above my doorway.  How many times I tried to straighten that rascal!  Only to to rework it crooked once more.  Even my home decor testifies against me.

Therefore, may I offer my apologies in advance if the following turns into a diatribe of sorts.  That is not my intent.  I just have some…thoughts.

Brothers and sisters, when I hear this war between “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” I don’t know whether to conceal my Jesus fish and pretend I don’t know you or sarcastically make excuses for the nonsensical ignorance of us all.   Instead, these are the things I try to think of: mildness; gentleness; joy; Jesus; caution; carefulness; spice; life; ginger.

Jesus was not one of these things.  He was all of them.  Shouldn’t we be?

  May I just offer this: Friends, if you are offended when people say “Happy Holidays” you are part of the problem.  If you are offended when people say “Merry Christmas” you are part of the problem.  Both groups are acting in self-motivated, self-protective, self-righteous, self-seeking modes.  And that’s a little bit too much self for any good man’s spirit of Christmas.

If a person is offended by a clerk that wishes them a Happy Holiday instead of a Merry Christmas, that person has ceased to be a source of Jesus’ joy whilst claiming to represent him.  There is no love found in our insistence upon anything others must do, let alone a mere preference in favor of our religious holiday.

If the world misses Christ because “Merry Christmas” becomes an illegal expression, we must not look much like the Christ we are celebrating!  He is in us!  We are his people!  The ginger is inside the cookies, folks, with or without those two words in tandem, the world ought to taste and see that the Lord is good!  His fragrance is lively because he lives in us!  It is rancid to some and aromatic to others.  Love him or hate him, you can smell out a joyful Christian a mile away.

 “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

He is the source of joy in our very life!  Banning “Merry Christmas” cannot hide that kind of heart!  When we fight for a cause we are usually avoiding having to fight against our own pride, self-righteousness, and lack of love for those unlike ourselves.

On the other hand, if you are the grinch who bans “Merry Christmas”, why?  Is it not also pride, self-interest, and intolerance?  If you don’t believe in Jesus, the fairy tale words of people who do should not much matter to you. I reckon “Merry Christmas” should sound like no more than a child saying “Pink elephants and green aliens, Mr.  Have a nice day.”

And what of this Exodus movie?  I’ve yet to see it but the reviews are out in droves.  “It’s unbiblical!” (Was there ever a doubt about that one?  It’s Hollywood, people!)  “They make God out to be a monster, angry and without grace!”  (They’re not the ones getting their theology from Cinema 6, guys.)  And my personal favorite, “Don’t support this movie if you are a Christian!”

Um.  Listen, folks.  I can count on my fingers the movies I’ve enjoyed watching and not been grossly offended by – and I read reviews before I ever set foot into the theater.  Where are you when those movies come out?  You’re there, watching them, asking me why I’m such a prude.  Most movies today are chalk full of profanity, lust, scandalous dress, witchcraft, and every form of darkness you can imagine.  Here, we have a movie that initiates conversations about who God really is.  Christians will watch Twiglight, the Hunger Games, Shades of Grey, and every other fad movie series whether it is God-honoring or not calling it “Christian liberty” while shunning Moses and Noah for flaws.  If we know who God really is, why does Hollywood’s misrepresentation so anger us?  We know they don’t understand or hold in high honor the words of scripture.  Do we really think God needs us to defend him?  Can he not defend his own reputation?  I think this public shaming of movie-goers starving for the supernatural and loud boycotting tactic also misrepresents and dishonors him, guys.  Watch their version and review it.  Clarify their error and share the gospel of truth!  Stop acting like self-righteous monks who don’t watch unbiblical movies!   Who of you has not seen Frozen?! No one believes that you don’t watch unbiblical movies!

I’m pretty sure I ran out of ginger somewhere along the way.  Sometimes we use least what we need most.  Signing off to seek my source.  Merry Christmas.  Happy Holidays.  Peace, Love, and gingerbread.

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biblegirl

If you give a girl a Bible, she’s going to ask her Father what it means.  When he begins to explain it to her in the quiet of her soul, she’s going to know she has a gift and know she’s made for more.  When the gift becomes his glory, she’s going to use it all the time.  So she will sing or plan or teach or write.  When she’s done she’ll share those gifts with you and she’ll want to read some more.

She might do something unrefined or something strange indeed, but she is more than mommy, sister, wife, and matcher of the socks.  She is the very image of a God who lives outside the box.

If you give a girl a label, though, and strip away her clothes, Her Almighty Father will run right back to her and tell you where to keep your nose.  The girl was made to be like Him and not what you expect.  She will be what God designed and ask him what is next.

Never tell that girl to stop.  She is not yours to guide.  She does not need to fit a mold; She has Jesus by her side.

If you give a girl a Bible, do not be surprised, if God does not make out of her a fellow image bearer who asks, with you, o man, to be coequally wise.

Ok, so I stole that idea from Hannah Anderson who stole it from Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”  The truth is, if you write a book, people are going to adopt your thinking.  Eureka!  You’ve accomplished your goal.  When you write about the Bible – whether it is a book, a blog, a column, or an article, you’ve got to expect to questions, too.  When you’re a guy those questions are often, “What do you mean by…?”  or “How does that apply?” or “Are there any cross references?”  When you’re a girl they go more like this, “Who do you think you are?” ” How do you know?” or  “Where did you copy and paste that from?”

Hannah Anderson, a native of our very own Fayette County, Pennsylvania, wrote a book entitled “Made for More” wherein she explains the place women hold in God’s design, and, more importantly, in his heart.  It is not a book about roles or rules or relegation.  It is a book about who we are, our value, our place, and the mistaken security we draw from our long-held good girl proving positions.

The book, which was published by Moody in April 2014, has already topped many prestigious must-read charts (bloggingtheologically.com, monergism.com) and been recommended by many influential voices including the Gospel Coalition.

Hannah writes about Imago Dei (the image of God) and how “Imago Dei knowledge means searching for him (God) with childlike curiosity, wide-eyed and eager to discover who He is and the world he has made.”  For some of us, that means offering musical talent or mothering or CEOing or teaching or debating or preaching or writing.  It can mean a million things because when we live in his image, everything we do is in him – not just the church resume filling, important sounding, women’s work kind of things.  Still, when your gender is female, sometimes God given gifts are viewed sorely – especially when the cookie cutters have stopped being made by the we-always-did-it-this-wayers.

When I was a little girl, my mom used to wear a t-shirt which read, “General know it all.”  Maybe it was because she acted like she knew it all and didn’t think it was a bad thing.  Or, maybe it was because she was educated, intelligent, opinionated, and…female – in a time and place where the first three were not allowed to cohabitate with the last.  Often, we learn to adopt the labels people place upon us when we cannot crawl out from underneath of them.  Redemptively, Hannah writes, “When you commit yourself to Christ, he will make you the purest, most authentic version of yourself.”

And he does.  He puts desires, gifts, talents, and motivations into our hearts in order to draw us and others into his very presence.  The more we explore Him, the more we find ourselves.

 Therefore, when I write about theology, I do not want people to ask who I think I am.  I want them to ask who God is.  I don’t want them to say I’m that Mrs. know it all girl who’s fighting for a man’s place in the world.  I want them to say God knows all and because he says I have a place in the world – the place he called me to as a co-equal person in the grand scheme – what I have to say about Him is just as important and valuable as what my male counterparts have to say.

Hannah does an excellent job of bringing out the issues facing women pertaining to biblical equality, stereotypes, works mentality, and gender superiority/inferiority misconceptions.  This is an as-soon-as-you-possibly-can must read for Christians – brothers and sisters alike.  Bravo!

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Starting into the book of Philippians, Paul includes Timothy as a co-author even though it is most likely he wrote the book from prison alone.  His effort is to encourage and foster a respectful regard in the church for his student in the faith.  Certainly Timothy would have known and understood the themes about which Paul wrote here and was doubtless taught all of these things directly by Paul.  Paul is passing the torch, so to speak, that Timothy might be heard and honored in the church as a reputable leader.

Paul begins with a benediction of peace and grace.  He knew Christians could not have one without the other.  He enters with great thanksgiving.  For a man who was mistreated, beaten, scourged in this city, and currently imprisoned, thanksgiving is an amazing starting point.

Paul’s concern, being the exemplary leader that he was, was always for the good of others.  He did not want the Christians in Philippi to feel as though they were second class or somehow responsible for his suffering there.  Instead, he reassures them of his gratitude for them, their partnership, and their fellowship.  Based on the way Paul lifts these people up and honors them, one can make no mistake about about their importance to him or his love for them.

Therefore Paul prays.  He prays for them.  He tells them how much he misses them and longs to be with them.  He prays that they would love more and more and that their increasing love would lead to knowledge and discernment in their church.  Knowledge and discernment, in turn, leading to purity and righteousness in their lives.  Wait, what?

 Love leads to knowledge.

 Love leads to discernment.

Love leads to purity.

 Love leads to righteousness.

We tend to put the cart before the horse don’t we?  But knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to love.  Knowledge can lead to pride.  Discernment doesn’t always lead to love.  Sometimes it leads to criticism.  Purity and righteous deeds, in themselves, may fail and lead to self-righteousness rather than love.  Love comes first, always.  R. C. Sproul said it this way, “The absence of love shows that supposed knowledge is worthless, and love is, itself knowledge of the deepest kind.”

Two things strike me in this opening scene of Philippians.  1. Paul’s thanksgiving is rooted in the fellowship he shared with these Christians.

Fellowship – noun – friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.  Synonyms: companionship, companionability, sociability, comradeship, camaraderie, friendship, mutual support, togetherness, solidarity; informal chumminess.

A church without genuine fellowship is no more no more than a social club for those who like to put carts before horses.  Paul’s example seeks to show us the importance of personal investment in one another within the church.

2. Prayer is the best gift we have to offer when we are in true fellowship and have the best interests of our beloved brothers and sisters in mind.

Love prays when we’d rather sleep.  Love fasts when we’d rather eat.  Love honors others when we’d rather take the credit.  Love builds up others even when we are in low and unfavorable circumstances.  These are the things Paul did for the Philippians.  These are the things Christ did for us.  Therefore, these are the things we are called to do for one another.  Why?  Because these are the things that bring glory to God.  Let love lead.

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inkeeper

As summer began to fade into fall, my familial expectations turned small.  After close to a year of three-a-days at the gym, a thirty-five pound loss, and a self-protective preoccupation, I had set my sights solely upon myself – as if they had ever been any place else, really.  After four years of marriage, at age 24, I had decided I did not want children – ever.

Somehow, the crisp air burned warm in my heart on a day where I proved as unsuspecting as I was unprepared.  A routine check offered a plain explanation for my constant fatigue and weakness with my ever-increasing high impact abdominal workouts.  The diagnosis was a consummation of all things unknown.

“You are pregnant.”

 I remember feeling out of sorts; awkward; indisposed.  Should I do something differently?  What if I fall and hurt “it?”  How do I tell my husband?  (Who, at the time, claimed to want “a whole baseball team.”)  I did not know how to act because I knew so certainly how very extraordinary that ordinary day had become.

The vulnerability I felt that night lying in bed was greater than I’d ever experienced.  I was no longer autonomous in any way.  I was someone’s mother.  The weight of that realization was overwhelming – not to mention inconvenient.  If we’re being honest, I would never have been found in any line to sign up for this job.

Still, God’s grace is immense.  His works are wonderfully wise.  My Father gave me that which I did not want in order to fill my life full of what I most needed.

More than ten years have passed since that fateful day.  I’ve been given three little girls, a live-in mother, a call to quit working outside my home and teach, two dogs, and three fish since then.  If someone had traveled back through time and told me this would be my life ten years ago, I never could have believed it.  In fact, I probably would have hit the ground running.

How wrong I was!  How blessed I am!  How thankful!  How undeserving!  How indescribably humbled!  God has made me the keeper of so many good things- even despite my utter foolishness!

These recollections bring me to my present state.  This Christmastime, I feel the anticipation of Mary.  I have news bursting at my seams just like those shepherds and angels did.  Wisdom has challenged me to offer up my very best gifts to a cause much greater than the I’ve ever expected.   I hear a distinct voice calling to me – the innkeeper.

The overcrowded innkeeper who had room – even ever so humble – for one or two more.

Several weeks ago we began a journey.  Redemption is written all over the road behind us and all I can do is hide my face and worship.  I have scarce few words proper enough to express the joy, the gratitude, and the all-consuming awe inside my heart.  Still, I must share my news.  Therefore, if you will, Hark!

Five years ago I was pregnant with my youngest child, Maylee.  My husband and I decided we did not want any more children.  I was eight months pregnant when he had a vasectomy.  I believed it was the right decision for the better part of a month.  But I knew the very moment I held Maylee in my arms that I wanted more children.  I was overjoyed with my brand-new, beautiful, healthy baby girl, but I felt the sting of regret simultaneously.

Over these five years, a day has scarcely gone by where I haven’t wished we’d not been so foolish.  I prayed. The Lord has been merciful to me.  A few weeks ago my husband scheduled for a consultation for a vasectomy reversal.  This Thursday we will go and talk to the doctor.  I know it is only a first step on the journey, but it is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to me.  This is truly a day I never thought I would see.

I am so thankful; so undeserving; so incredibly humbled.  I am Ebeneezer Scrooge the moment he awoke!  I am truly amazed.

Please pray with us for a safe, skilled, successful procedure.  Please pray that if it is the Lord’s will he would bless us with more children and help us to be found worthy of this call.  Thank you in advance.

“You own the inn?” the Lord inquired.  “On loan, you’d better say.  God owns the inn.”  At that the Lord knew they were kin, and ventured on: “Do you recall the tax when Caesar said to all the world that teach must be enrolled?”  Old Jacob winced, “Are north winds cold?  Are deserts dry?  Do fishes swim and ravens fly?  I do.  A grim and awful year it was for me….Do you know what it cost for me to house the Son of God?” ~John Piper, The Innkeeper

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Throughout Ephesians, Paul has set forth standards for life and relationships for a people who are living in a very corrupt, idolatrous, and ungodly city.  He concludes the book with some important instructions on how to dress.

Armor.  When is the last time someone told you to prepare for war?  Maybe an athletic coach or a drill sergeant has prepped you in the past.  But how about your pastor?

Paul tells the Ephesians to put on armor.  Armor!  His focus is strength and his goal is winning the battles and attacks every Christian is sure to encounter.  So what makes us strong?

Truth.  Paul calls it the belt of truth.  We must know the truth of God because it is our very foundation.  Our belt supports all other garments and keeps them in place.

Righteousness.  Paul refers to this one as a breastplate.  He is not referring to a righteousness gained by works or by any means of our own.  He is referring to the righteousness of Christ. Trusting in his perfect righteousness protects our hearts and gives us the right to stand up to the enemy’s constant accusations.

Readiness.  Like shoes, Paul likens the peace made by Christ through his death on the cross to a readiness to do whatever God calls us to and even meet him if it is our time.

Salvation.  This is our helmet.  The saving power or Christ protects our thoughts and minds from evil.  No one ever acts out sin they have not first thought upon.

The Word of God.  Otherwise known as the Bible, Paul insists that the scripture is our sword.  A sharp, double-edged sword is what we have been given.  Not only that, but also the Holy Spirit to illuminate these divine words and inspire, convict, encourage, and rebuke.  The word of God is both offensive and defensive.  Knowing and doing what the Bible says is a fail safe weapon against Satan’s schemes.

Prayer.  Perhaps the single most important ingredient in this whole soldier suit is prayer.  Jesus himself said that we can do nothing apart from him.  Some of us learn the hard way how true this really is.

Paul concludes the book of Ephesians by urging the people to stay alert, persevere, and pray for all things including him.  He promises to send an informant to them about his work for their encouragement and offers peace, love, faith, grace, and Christ’s incorruptible love to them.

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