Encouragement Worth Sharing

This looks like a relatively nice Easter picture, but what you don't see is that Lewis hit Cal in the head just seconds later, Cal has a low fever, Gabe has a stinky diaper, and Brad and I are probably having some sort of tension over the pose and speed of this family photo.  As we walked away from this picture, I thanked God in my heart for Easter, because this is a physical example of a spiritual reality.  No matter how clean and polished we make the picture of our life seem, a closer examination reveals our utter depravity.  Thankfully, Jesus died and rose again so that those who put their faith in him can have eternal life. (also, I'm thankful that he created discipline, tylenol, and diapers to help us in the mean time!)

How Mothers Can Worship in the Midst of Inconvenience
I don't know about you, but most of the time I spend with Jesus is interrupted by children who need my immediate attention.  About the time I get into a heartfelt prayer, I hear screaming from another room and a beckoning to whisper a quick amen while I go back to my "real life".  I sit and read my bible as I hear the theme song to Daniel Tiger and I'm looking up every couple minutes to make sure my toddler isn't climbing onto the fireplace or sticking things in the DVD player.  Church is great, but as soon as it's over I need to swiftly go back to the nursery to pick up my kids even if I did want to visit with the new couple sitting next to us.  It sometimes might seem like my kids are interfering in my relationship with God, but I don't believe this is a true or right mindset.  I loved this blog post on True Woman about how to embrace the spiritual multi-tasking, seeing God's plan for our relationship with him, even when it feels like we can't have a "real" quiet time.

Supporting a Friend through Miscarriage
Even if you have never experienced the heartbreak and loss of a miscarriage, you probably know someone who has.  Madison over at Espresso and Cream has been posting some extremely helpful and honest insights into the recovery period after a miscarriage.  I know that I'm grateful for her heart and will try to remember these things as I interact with and minister to friends who have experienced this type of grief.  On a related note, go check out my sister-in-law's perspective about being the friend with the baby. ...It's a take on the issue of loss and infertility from another angle.

Blogging and the S Word
I know I link to this blog a lot, but I really appreciate her the author's writing style and heart for Jesus.  In this post, she gives some insight into the hidden struggle of many Christian bloggers (myself included) to both glorify God in our writing while resisting the temptation to be lured by our "statistics".  This post encouraged me to remember to pray for God's direction in my content and also for him to "pick" the audience.  She points out something important, "the truth is, 100,000 people could read an article that bears no lasting fruit in their lives, and 10 people could read an article that changes them for eternity.  With God the statistics are unseen."

Why I Will Keep Talking About Biblical Womanhood
Courtney does a phenomenal job of explaining why this topic is relevant to our lives in 2014, and gives me more motivation to continue exploring God's plan for women as it's laid out in the bible.  Favorite quote:  "Every day we hear lies about God’s image and his rightful authority over his creation, and we know the truth. These aren’t silly arguments that evangelicals like to get into. They are eternal matters that tell a story about our creator, God."   

 ...and a couple more Easter pics because I really enjoyed watching Lewis do an Easter egg hunt this year!  (as seen in the last picture, he enjoyed it too since he is busy eyeing his new treasures)...

Judas & Peter: Knowledge vs. Faith

Coming into holy week, we are studying the circumstances surrounding the crucifixion in my bible study.  It's been wonderful and challenging to look at the road Jesus took to the cross, and even more interesting to review the actions of his disciples.  Almost a lifetime could be spent gleaning truths from the way each individual contributed, and what that implies for us today.  In the past when I've read about the last supper and the road to the cross, I've always skimmed the role of Judas, pegging him as the blatant villain.  But with a closer look, I think he deceptively looks more like a genuine disciple than I'd like to admit.

Here are some interesting facts about Judas:
  • He hung out with authentic followers of Jesus. (Psalm 41:9, Acts 1:17)
  • He listened to the teaching of Jesus and could have communicated this teaching to others. (Acts 1:17, inferred from various texts)
  • He acted so much like a disciple that when Jesus said someone would betray him, Judas didn't stick out as the obvious choice. (Mark 14:18-21)
  • He appeared to care for the rights of the poor and oppressed. (John 12:4-6)
  • He felt guilty when he realized that he'd betrayed Jesus. (Matt 27:3-5)
  • He knew that Jesus was innocent and should not have been condemned to die. (Matt 27:4)
The striking truth is that someone can look, sound, and seem like they are a genuine follower of Christ, while not really loving him at all.  There will be people who do many things in the name of Jesus, but when judgement comes, he will say to them, "I never knew you; depart from me..." While these people might have done good works for Jesus, they never actually put their faith in him.  The bible also says, "even the demons believe and shutter".  Satan and his demons know that Jesus is the son of God, that he was raised from the dead, and that he has power and dominion over everything.  Affirming the truth about Jesus can't be the same as having true saving faith.

But there is another disciple we can contrast with Judas, whose story should bring us hope and encouragement.  While Judas was betraying Jesus, Peter was also betraying him.  After faithfully following Jesus, Peter was maybe one of the most "strong" looking disciples.  He even boasted about his ability to be so fiercely loyal, he claimed he would die for Jesus.  However, when the time came for Peter to share his allegiance after Jesus was arrested and tried, Peter failed the test.

But Peter, who had true faith in Jesus, responded differently when he realized his sin and betrayal...he went away and wept bitterly.  Peter was crushed and deeply broken over his sin.  Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 3:3)
  • Judas felt guilt over his actions and how they affected an innocent man...Peter realized how his sin had separated him from a holy God, and his spirit was broken.  
  • Judas went back and tried to undo what he had done...Peter remember the words of Jesus and turned back to the one who could save.
  • Judas went on to commit suicide...Peter went on to spread the gospel.
We learn from the bible that everyone will sin, everyone will fall away, and everyone will betray Jesus.  However, when we realize that we have sinned and fallen away, it is our response that reveals our true heart condition.  We can repent (turning from our sin and running to God) or we can simply feel bad and keep going our own way.  The sacrifice that is pleasing to God is a broken and contrite spirit.  Those with true faith, like Peter, will be strengthened and persevere...while those filled with only knowledge and good works, like Judas, will fall away.

Christian Zeal

With Easter on the horizon, I thought it might be fitting to do at least a couple of posts pertaining to faith and our excitement about what has and will happen in God's great story of redemption.  I was thinking and reading through some old J.C. Ryle sermons the other day, I came across one about Christian Zeal.  As I considered my desires and the calling Jesus gives his followers, I thought this was a fairly interesting word to study.

thoughts on becoming a zealous Christian

What is Zeal?
Zeal (noun)  - to have great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective (synonyms include: passion and devotion)

A person who has zeal for Jesus gives their whole life and heart to him as a living sacrifice, withholding nothing for themselves or their own agenda.  Just as a wife should only to have eyes for her husband, the church and it's members should only have eyes for Christ, passionately pursuing submission to him and helping to spread his message in whatever way they can.  Zealous Christians spread their joy, energy, and passion for the gospel among other believers, making their faith contagious.

Evangelists, missionaries, teaching pastors, and even mothers are just a few great examples of those who often work tirelessly, devoting themselves to the call God has given to do. (Although I'm sure that Christian zeal can manifest itself in every calling.)

Why is it so Difficult to be Zealous?
On the outside, zealous people don't have something our culture values greatly...life balance.  It appears as though they are so stuck on their one cause, so focused on their mission, so devoted that others might even label it "weird" or "unhealthy".  Even in Christian circles, aren't we sometimes guilty of mocking those who have the truth always on their lips and focus their all on Jesus? It makes us a little uncomfortable.  People who are sold out for God appear not to care as much about material and mortal things as much as the rest of us, and therefore they look and act differently.  Sometimes it can feel awkward and our defense is to pride ourselves in our ability to be balanced and reasonable.  Then we tell ourselves they must be in some super-spiritual category that we aren't a part of.  We're just "normal".

Not to mention, our world hates the message of Jesus.  They hate everything about him, and the second we become about him, we are hated too.  It often seems easier to just blend in with the crowd, speak in a quiet and mild voice and only chime in when we are forced to do so.  Instead of standing alone for truth, we cower in fear of man and stand with the crowd.

Finally, aren't we all a bit numb to truth?  The age of technology and social media has left the sweet honey of the word as a dull taste on our tongue.  What used to be a treasure is now forgotten and replaced with things that gratify us in the here and now, only to fade away later.  We try to fill ourselves up and find satisfaction in any and every earthly distraction and then wonder why we are tired, empty and unable to muster up energy to serve God.  It seems as though there is a lot riding against us.

Jesus, the Gospel, and Perfect Zeal.
We have an example of perfect zeal for God and his purposes.
"Zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me."  Psalm 69:9

Jesus was all-consumed with his role and purpose and message.  He was not divided, he was devoted.  He was not afraid of what people could do to him.  Even unto death, he did not shy away from his call - consumed with passion for his father's will to be done.  As a result, it was done.  Jesus took the reproach that should have fallen on us and instead gave us freedom.  He granted us his righteousness, and in turn gave us both the power and the motivation to be zealous for God.

So I'm free to be full of zeal for my faith.  But I must ask myself,

  • Can I say that I'm not afraid to stand alone for truth?
  • Can I say that I don't care if people judge me or judge my motives because I am secure knowing that God understands my heart?
  • Can I say that I don't care what I lose for the sake of advancing the gospel?
  • Can I say that I am only about one thing and one thing alone?
  • Can I say that I am so devoted to the cause of Christ that I ignite a fire in others to love him more?
  • Can I say that I am wide awake to the truth and how it impacts the world?
  • Can I say that my hands are always at work for the sake of the gospel?
  • Can I say that my face shines the glory of God to others?
  • Can I say that no matter where I go, I bring the essence of Jesus with me?

This Easter season I am challenged by these thoughts and the example Jesus has set before me in his death.  What I do in this short life matters, but only if I give it fully to God so that my good works don't burn up but stand for eternity.

Do you live with zeal?

*questions adapted from this sermon

Fashion Theology - When clothes become a distraction

When people see clothing and not Jesus
I will never forget the essence of a quote I heard from John Piper about fashion.  This isn't a subject he discusses frequently, so when he addressed it, my ears perked up.  He was discussing how, in his opinion, clothes are something that shouldn't draw too much undo attention to ourselves.  We shouldn't dress so un-fashionably that people are distracted by it, and likewise we shouldn't dress so fashionably that people are distracted by it.  We should seek to dress according to our cultural norms, within the bounds of God's commands, in such a way that it's a non-issue for others.  The idea being that they can spend more time thinking about what we are saying (which hopefully glorifies God) than what we are wearing.

I can understand what he means by "distracted"...can you?
We used to go to a wonderful gospel-centered church where most people dressed really urban-cool.  The ladies were experts at pairing trendy consigned pieces with the latest style of boots.  I don't want to criticize (because they were dressing according to their cultural norms and there is nothing wrong with that), it's MY sin that caused my distraction.  But nevertheless, when it was time to leave for church in the morning, due to the fashionable atmosphere, I was more concerned about my outfit than preparing my heart for worship.  As we stood and sang the first few songs, I couldn't keep my eyes from scanning the crowds and comparing myself to every other trendy 20-something woman in attendance.  Then I would start matching outfits in my head, strategizing what clothes I needed that I didn't have.  When it was time for communion, the temptation was at it's worst.  The line was a fashion runway, and each perfectly placed belt and statement necklace drew me in.  I had a difficult time remembering to focus on Christ.  Although God used that church to do amazing things in our lives and we have some dear friends that attend there, I'm sometimes a little bit relieved to not be in that battlefield anymore.

I can think of other times as well when I have met people who exceed the local fashion standards and even though they are Godly and have a soft heart, initially, I can't see it.  All I can see are their clothes.  It takes time to move past their exterior and begin to hear and see their heart.

When people look at me, who do they see?
I've spent a lot of time thinking on these things.  I know there are not clear answers, and every heart and culture have vastly different standards.  This isn't something to over-spiritualize or over-think.  Not everyone is tempted by this type of comparison and not everyone is distracted by clothing.  But I've found myself asking some questions...
  • What if the way I dress distracts people from Jesus?
  • What if people spend the first 5 minutes of our conversation thinking about my boots and my shirt and not about what I'm saying?
  • What if someone who doesn't know me assumes I don't love God because I look too much like the world?
  • What if I lose my credibility to speak about Jesus because other Christians think I'm too pre-occupied with appearances?
This can have strong implications, so I want to be cautious here.
It's not my responsibility to put on my clothes in the morning, hoping to stop anyone and everyone from being tempted to sin.  I can't control the hearts of others, and it's not completely my fault or my problem if they judge me.  I don't need to make clothing choices out of fear of man...but at the same time, I can't help but wonder, "If I can prevent someone else from stumbling by prayerfully considering how my wardrobe might affect them, shouldn't I?"

Shouldn't I ask God, "Do my clothes allow people to see me or to see You?"
or even scarier, "Do I sometimes secretly want people to be distracted by my clothes, thinking more highly of me than of Him?"

Overall, my guess is that the implications vary wildly from person to person.  And in the end, what we wear on on physical body matters less than the state of our hearts.  But I think these thoughts are still worth discussing and worth submitting to the Lord.  For those of us who are distracted by other people's fashion choices, we should seek to take our thoughts captive and refrain from judgement.  After all, believers are free to dress fashionably.  And for those of us who dress in a way that might be distracting to our peers, we should be thoughtful about our choices and let our heart's desire be for God's glory and not our own.

What about you?  Do you regularly find yourself distracted by fashion when you should be looking at Jesus?

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