Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 5 Posts of 2011

As we often do at the end of the year, I've been reviewing 2011 and what's happened on this blog. Most notable to me, what started as my lectures to myself has become something that seems meaningful to many more people than I ever expected to reach. The blog has over 2000 subscribers, and that makes me think. I am literally a pajama blogger, sitting in my housecoat right now listening to my boys playing in their bedroom as I type this. Who am I, and why do people want to read what I write?! My husband tells me regularly (so I don't get distracted by the larger, often irrelevant debates that go on around conservative evangelical blogs) that the key to this website is authenticity and honesty about the real issues facing women who love Jesus and His Word while living in a fallen world. I note that articles on these topics are the ones that seem to resonate with you, the reader. It's significant to me that the #1 post this year was on the pain of singleness, and the #2 post was on the need for gospel grace for mothers of infants and toddlers.

Here are the top 5 commented posts of 2011 (along with two articles that included free book giveaways--book giveaways skew results). I've enjoyed rereading them and contemplating why they resonated with readers. Hope they bless you as we enter the New Year!

#5 Protection or Inoculation?
... My other friend noted that, while growing up, his parents often had destitute people in their home for a season. He remembered watching a prostitute doing drugs in his home. And he noted the marked difference in his heart from learning of sin by witnessing firsthand the ugly consequences verses learning of sin via entertainment forms that usually sanitize it of its ugly consequences.

That conversation has provoked much thought for me. My children are going to be exposed to sin. Plus they are sinners themselves. I actually feel fairly equipped to navigate the sin within. I understand how the gospel equips us to face that head on. But now that I've gotten that biggie settled in my mind, I'm thinking anew about equipping them for the sin without. I have enough experience with cloistered Christianity to know that it is no savior from the sins of society. Yet I'm not naïve about the effects of unbridled exposure either.

#4 Counterintuitive Words of Comfort for the Hurting
I am beginning to see that the primary point of long periods of silence by God during our earthly sorrows and suffering is that we show His worthiness of our belief and trust based fully on who He is and not on what things He gives us. Satan can't believe we would trust God just based on His character and not on the blessings on earth He gives us. That's Satan's taunt--"They only worship you because you are good to them. They'd never worship you if you didn't answer their prayers and take care of them like they expect." The truth is that true faith doesn't worship God because God is good but because God is God.

#3 For Moms, Former Moms, and Wannabe Moms
Mother's Day is a tricky holiday. Like any holiday, it is sweet for some and bitter for others. For some, it’s both. I remember feeling on the outside looking in on Mother’s Day, first as a single woman and then after I miscarried our first. Our church had an entrance near the nursery called the Family Entrance. Could I use it? Were we a family? I finally just used it regardless, almost as an act of defiance. Now as the mother of a 4 and 6 year old, I can deeply appreciate someone setting aside parking near an entrance that kept me from having to walk my toddlers across a busy intersection. But at the time I was dealing with emotions that weren’t swayed by practical realities. I just wanted to be a mom. And that sign at the church entrance reminded me I wasn’t.

#2 Give US Grace – parenting advice for moms of infants and toddlers
I wish someone had told me years ago that the person that most needed grace in those early years with infants and toddlers was MYSELF. The baby and toddler years are TOUGH. They are very different from the early school years, though they too have their struggles. The toddler years are crazy, and we need different expectations of our parenting in those early years.

#1 It isn't Good to be Alone
My experience is that there comes a moment as a single woman where it just stops being fun. Where you are done with the single scene, worn out by meat markets, and frustrated by well meaning but insensitive friends or family who keep suggesting the wrong guys to you. I remember feeling like I needed to talk myself into marrying someone that friends thought was good for me but who made me feel like dying inside personally. Was he my last chance at happiness? Being a Christian single woman is hard!

***(These next two got lots of comments, but perhaps that was because of the free book giveaway)

The Myth of the Biblical Parenting Method
... In contrast, I have read many great gospel-centered parenting books, but the really good ones seem to understand that a gospel-centered approach doesn't lend itself well to specific, quantifiable methods. Examples are different than methods, by the way. A good author who understands the difference in the gospel and law guards themselves from breaking down the line between what worked for them (example) and what will work for you (method), between what they found helpful and what they project onto you that all good parents should do.

Review of Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James
James' books always provoke me to think, and this book does it as well as any. If you're a complementarian conspiracy theorist, this book is not for you. I know some folks think James is out to undermine complementarian teaching, but I actually have benefitted from some of the push back she subtly gives. She married later in life and had problems having children. I can identify with sincerely valuing and longing for marriage and children, yet being thwarted from each by the sovereign hand of God. That experience opened my eyes to the flawed ways we present women's issues in Scripture, which I've talked about many times on this blog. I think James' experience is similar.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughts on Tebow, SNL, and Jesus

I love Tim Tebow. I really love watching his interviews. I enjoyed him on Sound FX after the Broncos win over Chicago, singing Our God is an Awesome God as he ran on the field for their final winning drive. I love Tebow's heart. He encourages me. But I'm concerned that I'm going to exploit him by using him as the topic for a blog post. He of course gets exploited by unbelievers. That's par for the course. But his exploitation by believers really annoys me. Sarah Palin's and Rick Perry's references to him to promote their political campaigns just seems the worst kind of exploitation. It didn't benefit Tebow to be associated with Palin or Perry, but it certainly benefited them. But now I'm using his name in my blog post. I don't often talk about individuals in a post, unless I'm reviewing a book or linking to a sermon. So I've thought a lot about what the tone of this post should be if I'm going to use an individual name of a brother in Christ. He's a person, not a phenomenon, and I don't take that lightly.

Tim's name gets used and exploited for other's benefit quite a bit. Consider the Saturday Night Live Jesus and Tebow skit. That really outraged a lot of people. I don't like to see Jesus' name or likeness used in a flippant way. Yet, there was something about that skit that reminded me of the amazing incarnation we celebrate this season--of the wonderful difference in Jesus and, say, Mohammed. If SNL did a skit with a character dressed up as Mohammed, fundamentalist muslims would put a fatwa on their head. Just ask Salman Rushdie. Jesus isn't just a prophet like Mohammed. He's actually God incarnate. Even so, there will be no Rushdie type ultimatum against SNL because of their Jesus skit (though Pat Robertson may try). This is not the first time Jesus has been mocked. Most notable is the mockery Jesus endured in person, and His infinitely gracious response, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Our ever gracious God made a way for the very ones who mock Him to be forgiven and restored.

Tim Tebow has been an example to me of this kind of Jesus-like graciousness. When the Detroit Lions defense mocked him during their game, he endured it and responded with graciousness. When Brian Urlacher called him a good running back, Tebow didn't take it as an offense. He turned the other cheek, so to speak. He has not risen to the taunts that have bombarded him since his years at Florida. He's characterized by graciousness to his enemies and care for the poor and oppressed. In contrast, Sarah Palin is not known for either. And when Christians who are not famous for their Christ-like graciousness or self-sacrificial care of the oppressed try to tag along on Tebow's reputation for their own cause, well, it makes me indignantly angry. I have convictions about not acting out on such anger, even if I feel it is righteous. But I don't think it's wrong to say that it makes me angry.

To be truthful, I'm not very much like Tebow either. The thing I most love about Tebow (and that I pray daily that the Lord protects in him) is his transparent, moment by moment walk with His Savior. Short prayer here. Short prayer there. “Praise Jesus” at the beginning of every interview. “God bless” at the end. Singing praise songs during warm up and then after a big play when everyone else is screaming and jumping up and down. Two verses immediately come to mind.

Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

I used to be more outwardly enthusiastic. I used to better wear my relationship with Jesus on my sleeve. I thought I was naive in my youth and attributed the tempering of that enthusiasm to maturity. I was settling down and getting to work on the mundane, tedious aspects of life, or so I thought. Someone has to endure quietly in the trenches, right?! And there is some truth to that. But I think cynicism has played a role in the change too. Cynics are those who believe the worst about people and circumstances. If an event could be interpreted in more than one way, the cynic chooses the worst interpretation and labels as naïve those who choose the best. Tebow is reminding me that there is more than naivety that calls us to believe the best.

I Cor. 13: 5-8 … (love) is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

It's not naivety that calls us to give the benefit of the doubt and put off resentment. It isn't naivety that calls us to rejoice in the truth and believe the best. It's God Himself in His Holy Word. So, thanks Tim, for reminding me of some very important Bible truths. I'm praying that God protects this in you, win or lose.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Painting Pictures of Egypt

We just moved into a new home, and I've found myself very, very discontent. We had good reasons for moving out of our old home, and our new house fits the criteria for which we were looking. I wasn't sure that it would work out for us to get this one, and I prayed and prayed for God to work it out. On paper, it seemed exactly right. God did work it out, and I thanked Him for it.

Then we moved in. I tend to fix my vision on a momentous point in time and get disappointed afterwards that everything didn't resolve the way I thought it would. I KNEW my tendency to think something like a move into a new house would solve various problems, and I prepared myself not to do that this time. Yet, here I am on the other side of it, and sure enough, I have problems. I feel as unsettled in my “home” as ever. And instead of feeling prepared because, of course, I knew this wouldn't solve life's struggles, I'm sick with longing to move back into the house we had.

Sarah Groves has a song about “painting pictures of Egypt, leaving out what it lacked.” Like the Israelites, it's easy to look back at what I had, forgetting the real reasons we had for moving. The funny thing about the Israelites is that, in Egypt, they were SLAVES. Yet once they were actually free, the regular food they received in bondage seemed better than freedom in the wilderness.

Not only am I discontent, I'm discontent with something that really is very nice. I'm thankful for friends who let me unload on them without making me feel like a whiner, but I have many loved ones around me struggling with real things—critically sick children, bankruptcy, spouses leaving the faith. And I feel very guilty that I'm struggling with such a lesser burden. I keep reminding myself that it could be so much worse. “Be thankful. Look around at what you DO have!” But guilt doesn't help me at all. I can't say it enough--guilt doesn't help me resolve this in my heart AT ALL.

The truth is that the Israelites, even after they were freed from Egypt, STILL weren't in the promised land. They were still sojourners, trekking through the wilderness. That's the principle that seems to draw me back to emotional stability and endurance. I am discontent because this world is not my home. Not my old house. Not my new house. And not that other house that I thought was so peaceful and inviting that didn't work out either. I am longing for something more than any house could possibly give me. I'm longing for peace. And security. For stressless relationships. To be with the One I love and Who loves me. I'm longing for sunshine and provision. For joy and REST.

I know where this is found. I wrote about John 6 here. Jesus says there,

54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

I long for true food and true drink, for true satisfaction and true rest. I long for true HOME. It's the already, but not yet aspect of the Kingdom of God. Jesus has come, and in this very moment, I can feast on Him and LIVE. I am already seated with Him in the heavenly places, my permanent, peaceful home. Yet, I still live here on earth in a tent. I don't see Him face-to-face as I type these words.

The solution to my discontent is to embrace the tension. This world is not my home, and I am seated with Him in the heavenly realm. He is my manna in the wilderness, and I feast on Him through prayer and Bible study. I can then receive from this earthly home what it can provide and not look to it to provide what it can not. Only then do the seeds of peace and rest start to bloom in my heart.

Guilt did nothing for me. Meditating on Christ did.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On Lonely Christmases

This is the 3rd year I've posted some variation of the following thoughts for Christmas. I'm tempted to come up with something more positive and inspirational. If you're not personally enduring a long season of loss, I suspect I sound like Debbie Downer through the last few posts. Yet, I remain convinced that nothing drives us to authentic faith in Jesus like desperation. And I know and love so many desperate people right now.

The trial of our faith works patience. Patience. Endurance. Perseverance. These are as important virtues in the Christian walk as the more popular peace or temperance. The holidays each year draw our attention clearly to the passage of time and highlight our need for endurance.

I have spent my fair share of Christmases crying under the Christmas tree in the dark, staring at the lights on the tree dreaming of the Christmas I want, rather than the Christmas I have. This Christmas, it's stressful (we just moved and our house is still a chaotic mess), yet it's a good stress, and I thank God that I don't foresee crying under the tree this year. But I've had enough lonely Christmases in the past, longing for something different, to respect the fact that for many of you who follow this blog, the Christmas season puts a harsh spotlight on the losses in your life. Perhaps you lost something you had -- a child, a spouse, a parent, a relationship. Perhaps you feel the loss of something you long to have but have not yet gotten to hold – a child, a husband.

The holiday season makes it very clear exactly what we are longing for and exactly what we are mourning. It is especially hard to distract ourselves from our losses during this season. If you find yourself in this place, with the spotlight shining on your losses so that you can not escape the pain whether sitting under the tree, singing a carol, buying a gift, or opening a present, here are some thoughts from someone who has been there before.

1) Your loss is real, and it is OK to feel it deeply. But know also that you are not alone in your loneliness. Despite what you likely sense, most others are not enjoying the holidays unconditionally. There is not something wrong with you. Or actually, there is something wrong, but there is something wrong with all of us. So don't let the feelings of loss, loneliness, and isolation go unanswered in your own head. You may feel that you are alone and no one else understands the weight of the loss you carry through the holidays, but the truth is that MANY of your brothers and sisters in Christ are carrying such burdens, and you are not alone in your loss. Feel your loss, for it is real. But fight Satan when he tempts you to isolate yourself or distance yourself from others because of it.

2) Holiday pain can also clarify what you do have. Forget turkeys and cranberry sauce, gifts given and received. Stocking stuffers are over rated. Instead, understand that your circumstances also shine a spotlight on Christ. When you aren't distracted by Christmas frivolities (or enamored by them, as many of us are), you can recognize the void that can only be filled by one thing -- Christ Himself. It was during lonely Christmases that I discovered Colossians 1 and sat under a tree reading it to myself. It sustained me, not just for a season, but I've gone back to that passage for a lifetime.

Colossians 1 tells us exactly Who arrived in the manger that night. As the holidays spotlight the pain of your losses, I encourage you to let God's description of His Son shine an alternate spotlight on all you have in Him this season.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

Wherever you are this season, daughter of God and bride of Christ, I hope this vision of the eternal One you have in Christ will sustain you during lonely times. You are loved and wanted by Christ. You do have a family, in every idealistic sense of the term. It is in Him and with Him. That truth won't erase the pain of your very real loss this holiday season, but may it be the balm that soothes and comforts you, for by His wounds, you are healed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Where else would I go?!

The last two weeks, our pastors have preached from John 6. I highly recommend their sermons. Here's the one from Nov. 27. I'm waiting on the link to the other. I went home from church and read John 6 again. It's a pivotal moment in Jesus' ministry, and God struck me with the significance for my own life as I reread it. Consider the scene.

The people have a felt need. They are hungry, and Jesus provides abundantly—with baskets and baskets left over. It's amazing, incredible provision! The people quickly move to make Him king. Who wouldn't, right?! This PROVIDER is what they've been looking for. Or so they think. But Jesus understands their purpose and eludes them. When they finally catch up to Him, He rocks their understanding of Him.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" 26 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." 28 Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" 29 Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 30 So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

Jesus points out to them that they seek Him now, not because He's doing the signs of the Messiah, but simply because He provided great, free food. They hear His rebuke and seem to want to understand.

32 Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Still more earnest desire to understand. Bread of heaven?! That sounds good. What is that?!! We want that!

35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Jesus Himself is the bread of heaven, the eternal sustenance. When the people believe in Jesus, they won't need signs or healing or miraculous provisions of food. He's not there to provide them with felt needs, but to provide them with LIFE.

41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 42 They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" 43 Jesus answered them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. … 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."  52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

They continue to grumble and dispute what He's saying. It makes no sense to them. It doesn't fit their paradigms. Instead of backing down, He takes it up a notch.

53 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. … 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" …
 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

When I finished reading this chapter, I shut off the lights and stared out the window at the night sky for a while. I understood clearly what the Spirit was communicating to me. God has worked miraculously in my life many, many times. Incredibly. Abundantly. I recounted some of it in the introduction of my first book. But for a few years now, I've felt a bit in the desert. I've identified more with Habakkuk than the feeding of the 5000. I've felt more like Hagar and less like Ruth (and that does not reflect at all on my loving husband – just fyi). I resonate more with the Psalms of lament than the Psalms of thanksgiving. And I've waited and waited on God to move like He used to. I KNOW He heals the sick. I've seen Him heal the sick. Yet He's allowed me to live for four years with chronic pain. I KNOW He changes hearts. I've watched Him change hearts. Yet I've waited for years for loved ones to repent and repair with those they've wronged. I KNOW He provides. I've seen Him provide. Yet I now watch friends file bankruptcy and lose homes.

The Spirit whispers, “It's time, Wendy. It's time for a faith that isn't tied to what God will physically do for you or those you love.” Habakkuk had an incredible faith, yet His articulation of it in Habakkuk 3 threatens me more than it inspires me. But it's when the barns are empty and the crops fail that we become desperate. And desperation is what pushes us to feed on Jesus alone. Pure desperation. Things are critical. I'm at my last resort. I'm out of options. The things I used to rely on (often without even realizing it) are shown to be completely ineffective. But I don't walk away. Where else would I go?! I know in that moment who has the words of LIFE, and I desperately want LIFE.

Jesus may be done with exciting provisions in my life. Maybe not, and I will receive them with great thanksgiving if they come again. They were so helpful to my early faith when they did come, and I am grateful for His miraculous past provision even as I receive this season of quiet from His hand moving on my behalf. This season, it's not about His hand. It's about His face. It's not about feasting on His physical provision. It's about feasting on His spiritual provision at a whole new level. I'm understanding faith in a new and different way. It doesn't make faith during amazing provision any less real, but it's different now. And there is something precious in the difference. I don't worship Him because He provides. I worship Him because there is NO ONE and NOTHING ELSE. As Jesus said,

63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

I echo with Peter, “Where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life. You are the Holy One of God. I believe."