Friday, October 14, 2016

Covenant

One of my favorite parts of a wedding ceremony is the exchanging of the rings. Officiants will talk about the ring being circular; symbolizing the love the couple is professing cannot be broken. They'll talk about the gold nature of the ring; gold being a precious and expensive metal, just as their love is valuable and irreplaceable. The ring is given as a symbol, a picture, of the covenant that couple is making with each other. 

The thing with covenants made between people though is the guarantee that they will, in one way or another, be broken. There is only One who can perfectly and faithfully keep His promises.

In the Old Testament, covenants between people happened through a covenant binding ceremony. Animals blood was spilled as they were cut in half and and placed across from each other. Both parties of the covenant walked through the animals, binding themselves to one another.

Genesis 15 gives us an inside look at God making His covenant with Abraham. God comes to him in a vision and reiterates the promise He first made with him in Genesis 12. He reminds Abraham that He has been faithful; He has delivered him. He reminds Abraham of these things: You will be great. Your offspring will be in more number than the stars. I will be your shield. Your reward will be great. I will bless you so that you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2). 

We watch as God gets animals, cuts them in half, and sets them up for a covenant binding ceremony. Verses 17-18 says this, "When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram." The flame; that was God. I can't even get started on the beautiful workings of God when we consider where else in Scripture He takes that form: Moses and the burning bush; delivering the Israelites out of Egypt. Just astounding to consider it.

So we see this covenant ceremony where God is the only one who passes through the animals. In this covenant binding ceremony, the only One who binds Himself is God. He binds Himself in Abraham in a way that would not be broken. He is perfect in His love, steadfast in His promises. He covenants to Abraham that He will be His God; He will be faithful and steadfast, righteous and immovable.

That covenant is renewed in Moses and David- and in Jeremiah and Isaiah, we read promises and see glimpses of the New Covenant, which is to come through Christ. Over and over and over in Scripture we see account after account of God's faithfulness, of His "Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" (Jesus Storybook Bible). His people continually failed and left Him, and He continually pursued them and promised them that He would never fail or forsake them, He would never leave them.

Galatians 3:13-14 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hanged on a tree'- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." We are the inheritance of that promise. We are the Gentiles who received the blessing that God tells Abraham he would be a part of giving. This is incredible. Covenantal language is all throughout Scripture; it's not just for the Israelites, it's for us

I've been dwelling on all of this for a while. Today as I was reading through Genesis, I was struck with the desire to have a physical symbol to remind me of God's steadfast covenant. And I knew it was supposed to be a gold, circular ring. I bought a ring today and placed it on my left ring finger; as I've looked at it and felt it on my finger, I can't help but think of the shape. The circular nature of the ring, as stated before, shows that that love cannot be broken. The thing is, a persons love can (and will) be broken. It's not perfect in its nature; it's redeemed, yes, but so far from perfect. God's love, however, is perfect. It truly cannot, ever, be broken. It's intimate and personal, a love of pursuit, redemption and reconciliation. I can't help but think of the color either. It's gold. It reminds me of the pure and perfect nature of God's love for me. It's an costly love; given at the price of His Son's life. It's beautiful and deep and eternal. Just as a bride is reminded of her husbands loves for her as she looks at her ring, so am I reminded of God's love for me, in Christ Jesus (my husband), as I look at my ring. The symbolism, the parallelism, the depth- it really does bring me to tears. I pray I never lose sight of His covenantal love and faithfulness.

"For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:10 

 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How Great the Love

Weddings are this beautiful, complex thing for me. I'll be 32 this year; I've been in 20 weddings and have lost track of how many I've attended. There seem to be ebbs and flows with weddings, depending on stages of life of those around me. This summer is another "peak season" as former students I mentored are graduating college and getting married and prolonged single friends were gifted with their spouses. It's equally exciting and terrifying, all mixed into one.

Yet, I really love them. I always have; everything about them. They bring out a really deep joy in me; What makes them so complex is that while I feel that deep joy, I experience a really deep grief at the same time. It took me years to realize I really was allowed to grieve and experience loss over something I was never promised to have (i.e. marriage). As I've grieved over the years, the Lord has given me an abundant amount of grace to grieve as one with hope; hope that is unshakable and unfading. (Romans 5:1-5, Hebrews 6:13-20, 1 Peter 1:3-9)

Due to several unforeseen circumstances and changes, it's been a rough month. More often than not, I've been quick to forget the promises of the Lord to provide for me and love me. I got home from a wedding just a few minutes ago. It was beautiful. Because of how this month has gone, I really bathed this wedding tonight in prayer. I was going alone, it was a former student, I've been exhausted, and I knew, left to myself, I was in a prime state to forget His promises, believe the lies of the enemy, make this about myself, and miss seeing His glory on display. So I prayed;

- I prayed He would remind me of how good He is.
- I prayed He would amplify the gospel through this wedding and marriage.
- I prayed I would get a chance to  proclaim His excellencies.
- I prayed He would be kind enough to tangibly show me His love. 

The Lord hears the prayers and cries of His children; and He IS faithful to answer. Sometimes that answer is exactly what you longed to hear, sometimes it's what you feared, and sometimes it's unexpected. But He is always, always faithful, wise, and good- regardless. Tonight was no different.

  • The hour long drive to the wedding was song after song displaying God's greatness. The closer I got, the more light and joy-filled I became as truth just poured over me. (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • I saw many former students, and did not have to sit alone. I forgot to even pray for this, but the Lord knows what His children need; and He provided. (Matthew 6:8)
  • Several of those former students spoke incredibly timely and encouraging words of life and love to me; words that the Lord knew I needed to hear. (1 Thessalonians 5:11, 23-24)
  •  As the beautiful bride walked down the aisle in white, the Lord reminded me that's how we are before the Father: white, blameless, pure, forgiven. (Isaiah 61:10, Revelation 19:7-8)

  • As they exchanged vows and made a covenant with one another, the Lord reminded me of the covenants He made with Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David...and the covenant He's made with His people, with me; that He will never leave us or forsake us. He will return and reclaim what is His; He will redeem all things. He will once again dwell with us. (Hebrews 10, Revelation 21:3-4)
  • The pastor officiating the wedding continually put the gospel on display. It was impossible to sit in the audience and avoid the person and work of Jesus. HE is worthy. (Romans 1:16)
  • As we sat down to eat, I was reminded of the greatest marriage, the greatest feast, any of us could ever imagine taking part in. Revelation 19 calls this the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb." We, the church, are the Bride of Christ. Just as this sweet bride tonight made herself ready for her groom, we, the church, are to make ourselves ready for Christ, our bridegroom. One day the church will be feasting with Christ. One day, with one voice, we will proclaim "Hallelujah!" (Revelation 19:6-10)

I got in the car after the wedding, a nostalgic mix of all sorts of emotions, and again the Lord reminded me of His love. Song after song played...Seek the Lord. He will never fail us. Lead me where my trust is without borders. The last song before I drove up to my house was "How Great the Love." The Lord's love did cover me. On a night that could have really been marked by tears of loneliness, betrayal, fear, heartache, and shame was redeemed to be a night marked by tears of hope, anticipation, angst, and desire for my Savior's return and to be forever in His presence, to sit at that marriage supper of the Lamb, surrounded by brothers and sisters from ever tribe, nation, and tongue.

I share all this to say, the Lord is faithful. Whatever season you are in right now, the Lord is faithful.
  • If you're like me; single yet surrendered to the Lord's will, remember that He is faithful. 
  • If you're like the bride and groom; newly married and overflowing with young love, rememeber that He is faithful.
  • If you're married and your marriage is on the rocks, remember that He is faithful.
  • If you're a new parent and you're past exhausted and overwhelmed, remember that He is faithful.
  • If you're fresh out of college and feel like a failure in the real world, remember that He is faithful.
  • If you're anything else, or any of the above, and life is just good and full of joy, remember that He is faithful. 

He is faithful.


How great the love of God, 
That it endures, it pursues even a sinner like me 
How great the love of God, 
Determined, resolved to save, to redeem 

Unwavering, unchanging 
Never resting, never tiring 
Boundless and unfailing 
How great the love that covers me 

How great the love of God, so merciful 
That You don't turn You face away 
How great the love of God that it sustains me 
Bearing my burdens, restoring my soul 

Unwavering, unchanging 
Never resting, never tiring 
Boundless and unfailing 
How great the love that covers me 

How great the love that covers me 
How great the love that pardons me 
How great the love that stirs my heart to sing 
How great the love that covers me 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Laying Down Roots

I've been watching a lot of Fixer Upper lately (if you haven't watched it, watch it! You're welcome.) - and a theme I hear continually in that show is something to the extent of, "we're ready to lay down our roots." Most of the shows center on a young couple, or a young family, who are ready to buy a house, plant roots, and grow in a community. It's picturesque and quite lovely. And it's encouraged! The nomadic lifestyle (although exciting I'm sure) isn't a lifestyle that is full of relational depth or the highs and lows of real community. But that "laying down roots" as we think of it is not always a reality right?

This whole idea has been on my mind a lot lately; and I've felt a lot of tension in it, coming from two places; the fact that I'm single, and the underlying reality of my identity in being a child of God. How does planting roots play out in my life considering those two things?


  1. Singleness:

    I've lost count of how many friends I've watched get married, have their kids, buy their houses, and choose where to have their families and live their lives. It makes sense. It's a natural progression of life. One of the struggles we singles face is wondering where the heck we actually fit in on the "settling down" spectrum. Where do we fit in a world of families? (side note: which is a world that is more single than it's ever been) What is actually stable and unchanging in our lives? From the time I left my parents house 13 years ago till now, I've had over 40 roommates and moved 16 times. Not because of tension or fighting, but because of life. Nothing in those numbers screams "laying down roots"- it actually looks quite the opposite. I can't speak for single men, but for single women (especially as we get older), we don't always feel like there is a daily protective covering or TLC in our lives. The role my father played when I was 13 is not the role he should play now that I'm 31- and that is okay. I wouldn't want him to. But there are times I do wonder; who does care for me? (this is not discrediting the Father's care- I'm speaking in a human standpoint). When I'm driving home at midnight after a late night babysitting gig, is anyone aware? If I were to be in a wreck, would anyone even know I was missing until late the next day? Those are real questions I have asked because there is a lack of a certain type of stability. Again- this doesn't scream "settled."

    These are just a couple of scenarios I thought of as I've considered this. They're unique scenarios to singleness, and I know there are so many more.

    In this, there are two big things I have learned, and they're something to beware of and something to fight for. In the inconsistencies that comes with singleness, there is ample room for selfishness and deceit (and that is an understatement). In the number of times I've moved, it would be so easy for me to continually put up fake facades and not be known (and I have fallen prey to this). By the grace of God, I have had very stable, faithful, and wonderful friendships that have helped me fight against that or called me out when they saw it. I have to not only be aware of my sin, but I have to confess that sin to others; I have to invite them in to speak into those struggles, to sit with me as I weep in pain or frustration, to point me to truth. I have to be on guard against sin and I have to fight for community. In a marriage, it's difficult to get away from the very person who knows you best because you see them every day. For a single, it is incredibly EASY to escape any and all things. Fighting for genuine community means you're open and honest, even when it's painful, awkward, or painfully awkward; you're known.

    A word I keep coming back to in this is "faithful." What does it look like to be faithful in a world that sometimes feels chaotic? Oftentimes, the greatest hindrance to my day in-day out faithfulness in ministry and pursuing the Lord is my tendency to continually look at what's next. Not just in the big things (Will I get married? Will I ever have kids?)- but in everything. Right now, the greatest way I can "lay down roots" is to be faithful to where I am, to the church body I'm a part of, to my family, to my friendship, to my roommates (even if they change in 3 months!), with my job, and most importantly, to the Lord. Faithfulness is a good and right characteristic of a believer.


    I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth "home." Before you know it, I am calling luxeries "needs" and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don't think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.
    John Piper


  2. Child of God:

    As beautiful as laying down roots and being settled is, I think it can also be a very real hindrance when esteemed higher than it should be. Following God's call and being ready to go when He says go is always, always best. It's worth any and all hassle of moving and the stresses and pains that come with change. Always. When I take a step back and just survey the Christian culture in America, the greatest idols I see are family, comfort, and safety. Family is everything for so many people. It's interesting to me that family is exactly what Christ uses when He's explaining the cost of discipleship to great crowds who were listening to them. He says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26) Jesus isn't talking about actually hating as we view hate; He's more explaining the proper placement of love. We are called, first and foremost, to love Christ above all. Loving Christ means you love the gospel. Loving Christ means loving your enemies. Loving Christ means loving the people who spit upon Him. Yes, loving Christ also means loving your family and desiring to protect them. But if you protect your family physically at the cost of their souls, what gain is that?


    The greatest cause in the world is joyfully rescuing people from hell, meeting their earthly needs, making them glad in God, and doing it with a kind, serious pleasure that makes Christ look like the Treasure he is.
    John Piper

    The greatest need in the entire world right now is for all peoples to know Jesus Christ. The way God chose for that need to be met is through His children, those who Paul calls "Ministers of Reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5). If you profess Christ, that is you. We were not created to live perfect cookie cutter lives of comfort and ease; we were created to make much of the name of Christ by denying ourselves. We were created to live counter-cultural; to be lights in cities of darkness; to make disciples of ALL nations. As believers, we hold the greatest hope, love, and joy in our hands. We know the way of life, yet we hide in our worlds and our comforts, when 2.5 billion people in the world don't know Who we know.

    One of my favorite family stories is the Elliot family. Jim and Elisabeth met at Wheaton but were married in Quito, Ecuador in 1953, where they were serving the Quichua Indians alongside one another. There was an unreached tribe, the Aucas, who no one had been able to meet and minister to without being killed. Jim and a few other men entered the tribe; it was friendly at first, but that did not last long. All of the men were speared to death. This is where the story gets incredible- and I can only pray I would do as Elisabeth does. She doesn't go back to the States; instead, she stays in Ecuador with her infant daughter. In her ministry with the Quicha Indians, she "happened" to meet a couple of Auca women. They lived with Elisabeth and her daughter for a year; and those two women took Elisabeth and her daughter back to their tribe; the very tribe who had speared Elisabeth's husband and Valerie's father to death. They lived with the Aucas for two years; in those two years, they saw every single member of the Auca tribe come to faith in Jesus Christ.

    Our American mindsets of individualism and idealism are huge chasms between what God has called us to and what we're actually doing. What if the absolute best thing you can do is obey the Lord's call by packing your family up and moving to Turkey to share the gospel with Muslims? What if the greatest way you could show the Lord's love as a single man or woman is moving into a refugee community or hosting a foreign exchange student? What if you have a job making 6 digits so that you can give a lot of it away to efforts reaching the unreached? What if, at the end of the day, it really was all about Him? What if the roots we laid down were laid down, first and foremost, in the Scriptures; and we lived with open hands, counting the cost of discipleship, and were willing to follow Him wherever (and whenever) He leads?

    But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.
    Philippians 3:7-9 

    My joy grows with every soul that seeks the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Remember, you have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.
    John Piper

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Not My Dream to Dream

A couple of weeks ago I had a moment of clarity that I have not been able to shake, nor have I wanted to.

I was laying in bed, unable to sleep, and just began thinking and dreaming and imagining. If you're a woman, you get this without me having to explain it. We fantasize. We dream. We make believe. Oftentimes those dreams, those figments of imagination, become our bargaining chips with God. We dream and desire so vividly that our emotions and cravings get all tangled up, and those desires become our expectations; a part of us (whether we admit it or not) believes we deserve those things we dream about. It is so easy for this to happen; so easy for our thoughts to drift and our hearts to become self-seeking.

So on that night, before I knew it, my thoughts became this stream of subconscious day-dreaming. {I had just given birth. As I held my child in my arms, my husband leaned over to kiss me and we both just wept; overwhelmed with the Lord's goodness and gifts.} It was so beautiful, so right, so simple, so realistic; yet at the same time, full of imagination and impatient longing. I was awake, yet not at all present or on guard. I shook myself out of the day dream and the first words that came out of my mouth were, "this is not your dream to dream."

I didn't mean that in the way that I'm not allowed to desire or dream or want; but in the way that this dream I had concocted in my mind was not my reality, nor am I promised it will ever be my reality. I cannot pretend that it's my reality or place my hope, energy, and and heart on that being my reality. My hope should not, and cannot, be placed in something that is temporal and may never be granted- or even if it is granted, can be taken away by a good and sovereign Father.

As I laid there that night, I was quite the mixture of confusion, sadness, frustration. I began to think about what has been given to me as a child of God; of what is promised to me; what is my reality. In my mind, I echoed what the prophet Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:21. "This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope..." 

When I hear the word hope, there is a depth that I feel; to hope for something goes far beyond wanting or desiring. I can want to sleep in on a Saturday; but if I wake up early I'm not crushed. I can desire a good grade on a test; but if I don't get it, my heart isn't broken. But when I hope for something; like truly hope...and that hope and expectation isn't met, it is truly crushing. It's devastating. We were not created to hope in something temporal. We were created to hope in God, and God alone. We were created to hope in His promises; to rest in His love; to rely on His character; not something or someone else's.

As I sat in all of this that night, I began replaying the promises of God in my mind for the believer. (this list barely scratches the surface too, which is so crazy) As the weeks have passed, I've continued to pray these would be something I daily believed at a deeper level. These are my reasons to hope. And, if you are a child of God's, these are your reasons to hope too:

  • I am a child of God (Romans 8:12-17)
  • He loves me and nothing can separate me from that (Romans 8:31-39)
  • Nothing and no one can snatch me from His hand (John 10:28-29)
  • He is my divine source of joy (Matthew 5:2-12)
  • He is my Good Shepherd (John 10:1-21)
  • I have a hope that is a sure and steadfast anchor for my soul (Hebrews 6:19)
  • I am being transformed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18)
  • He is my source of peace (Philippians 5:6-7; John 14:27))
  • God provides for my needs (Matthew 6:25-30)
  • Jesus intercedes for me (Romans 8:34)
  • God will never leave or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5)
  • We will receive when we ask in His name (Matthew 21:22)
  • He delivers me from my fears (Psalm 34:5)
  • The Holy Spirit intercedes for me (Romans 8:27)
  • There is rest found in Christ (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • He is with me to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)
  • Jesus is my High Priest; He understands (Hebrews 4:14-16)
  • I have been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)
  • God will never again remember my sins (Hebrews 8:8-12)
  • He knows what I need (Luke 12:27-34)
  • Jesus is preparing a place for me (John 14:1-4)
  • He is a good Father (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13)
  • The Father gives good gifts (James 1:17)
  • I am a part of God's people (1 Peter 2:1)
  • Sin will not rule over me (Romans 6:14) 
  • He holds my tears in His bottle (Psalm 56:8) 
  • The Holy Spirit is my Helper (John 14:15-31)
  • He comforts our hearts (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)
  • He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:3-6)
  • I will be raised to an incorruptible body (1 Corinthians 15:52-57)
  • His Kingdom is coming (Matthew 24:14)
  • By abiding with Christ, I will produce fruit (John 15:5)
  • God is faithful and strengthens me against the enemy (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
  • I am an heirs to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:6-7)
  • I will be transformed into the likeness of Christ (Philippians 3:21-22)
  • The inheritance kept in heaven for me is imperishable, undefiled, uncorrupted, unfading (1 Peter 1:3-5) 
  • One day He will return and once again dwell with us; He will wipe away every fear and death will be no more (Revelation 21:1-7)

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When Darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood
supports me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found!
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.



Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas

Wrapping paper thrown away, floors swept and vacuumed, food put up, dishes washed, family back at their own homes, and now the house is quiet with just me, my parents, and George Bailey. As my heart settles and my thoughts consider the day, I have a myriad of emotions. Christmas Day is over. But December 25th is merely one day that reminds us of what we should consider, and consider often. 

One day Christ will return and dwell with us. He will end our sadness, defeat all evil, and fulfill our deepest longings. Just as the Israelites wait, we wait as a Church- with anticipation and hope. As I looked at this globe on my parents tree today, I was reminded of what scripture says that will be like. In Revelation 7, John is given a beautiful vision.  

"Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"

What an incredible day that will be! As I look back on this year, I'm grateful for and humbled by the friendships I've made around the world. I've seen tiny little glimpses of what the marriage supper with the Lamb will be like (Revelation 19), as we all, with one voice, shout His praises. My family extends beyond the Nicewander and Nelson name, and I'm forever grateful. 

Life is so much more than what we see in front of our face. It's bigger than our small little worlds. God is working and moving globally, for His glory and for the salvation of men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. There is no greater story to be a part of than the story of God reclaiming the lost for Himself. 

As you conclude your Christmas, remember the nations. Remember your brothers and sisters who are experiencing persecution and loss. Remember the refugees who are here, feeling lonely and isolated. Remember the unreached people groups who fill up Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. Remember the call placed on us, the church, to proclaim liberty to the captives, good news to the poor, comfort for those who mourn (Isaiah 61). 

Merry Christmas family, near and far! 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fellowship of the Believers

I've always been drawn to Acts 2:42-47. In those 6 short verses this beautiful unity and community is put on display. Men and women are whole-heartily devoted to the gospel, serving one another, living communally, praising God. I long for this today; and I believe we CAN have it.

Over the next two months, we (as the people of God) have an incredibly unique opportunity to live those verses out with one another- and those who don't know Christ. While the holiday season is full of laughter, joy, and cheer- it also holds stark reminders of grief, pain, loneliness, and loss.
  • Missionaries are some of the most forgotten about during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season. Just because they've followed the Lord in a very specific call, it does not mean it's without sacrifice and loss. It's hard. Despite the Lord's grace, strength, and provision, the loneliness and sadness is real. Get the email addresses of missionaries you or your church supports. Email them (check their time zone!) several times the next few weeks. Skype them! It's not too late to put a Christmas card in the mail! They love that you're praying for them, but they want to hear from you; they want to hear about your families and pray for you too. Remember them.
  • Any time there has been a death in the family (whether that's the loss of a child due to miscarriage or a grandmother of 95 years old) the pain is felt in a different way during the holidays. One of the greatest gifts you can give to friends or family who are experiencing this is your presence and your love. Hear their stories. Cry with them. Put Romans 12:15 into practice. I have several friends who have lost one or both of their parents; holidays for them are very difficult. Open your home. Make your family their family. Love selflessly and without reserve.
  • Singleness and infertility create unique struggles during the holidays that you don't understand unless you've been there. There's a very real grief and loss over something that you never actually had; and trying to articulate that is confusing. In your celebration of love with your spouse and children, remember (and be tender towards) those who desire that very thing but don't have it. That void is going to feel very real during this season. Remind them of the family, friendship, and love found in the body of Christ; remind them of the One who does fill any and every void, with His hope, love, and joy.
  • The fact that refugees are all around us right now is of no surprise. It's not just with the Syrian refugee crisis that this has begun; it's been before that. Realize they are the "least of these," as are the orphans, widows, homeless in your cities. In your communities, search for ways you can give of your time and resources, and serve them this holiday season. Just as you've been given an abundance, give to them. They are hurting, lonely, scared, hungry, grieving, sad, and at times, feel hopeless. Share the love of Christ with them, and give them a reason to hope.
These are just a few ways to put into practice the entire reason we, as followers of Christ, say we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. We are thankful because of what we've been given. We have been given the greatest gift in the atoning work of Jesus. We celebrate His birth because it meant the Savior, God the Son, had come; the Savior who would live a sinless life, to die a tragic death, to raise triumphantly from the grave, to sit next to God the Father in heaven, where He rules and reigns until the day He returns. For those of us who are His people, we were given the Holy Spirit to help us as we wait. It's the Spirit in us that enables us to look at holiday traditions and make them mean something. So, let's do that. Let's make this year mean something; let's look beyond ourselves and our circumstances- and look to others. Love as He loved, give as He gave, serve as He served.

Christmas means Jesus came down and got involved in suffering. He hears your cries.
-Tim Keller-

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Greater Gospel

This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a two day seminar over the Biblical Narrative and the Christian story. It was amazing, in so many ways. Dr. Barry Jones (who is a professor at DTS- if you're ever a student there, take his classes!) led the seminar- and he had so much wisdom to share with us. At one point when discussing the creation narrative, we got into a pretty hefty discussion on sexuality and God's design. It was good, right, and really just beautiful. God created sex, and it is good. When experienced within the bounds He's given us, it is so good and is meant to be enjoyed and celebrated.

I've spent a lot of today thinking over all of it; meditating on the truth he shared, considering my place in it, dwelling on truths in Scripture, and figuring out where to go from there. There's always a tendency in singles to hear talks like that and want to just shut down, turn it off, and numb yourself to the reality that what's being offered is not something you can partake in. I get it; I've been there. But that's not the right response, and I'll keep arguing to that end.

One thing Dr. Jones mentioned, that I whole-heartily agree and believe, is that the Bible never elevates marriage as the highest calling. Let me say it again; The Bible never elevates marriage as the highest calling.

Without quite knowing where that belief came from, we believe it. As a young teenager, I remember telling people that I was confident I would either die young or be married, but there was no way I could "handle" singleness. I didn't believe I was equipped for it, nor had the strength to endure it. I looked at marriage as this beautiful vessel of understanding the gospel. And it is! But the gospel does not equate marriage. It is not the only avenue of understanding the gospel or experiencing the beauty of love, pursuit, intimacy, and community. The gospel does not equate marriage, the gospel is not marriage, the gospel is not void without marriage- the gospel stands alone as the gospel.

The word gospel means "good news." We all believe in a gospel, whether it's the true gospel or not. If you're single, you may believe the gospel of the goodness of marriage; the gospel that sexual union is beautiful and exciting and awesome. That is your hope, your greatest desire; that's what you dream of and are anxious for. If you're married, you may believe in the gospel of having a peaceful, perfect, and passionate marriage, of family, the right career, the Instagram life that is good and right and beautiful. That is your hope. But the thing is, there is a greater gospel. And it's in the word and work of the Triune God.

The gospel is that God the Father provided a way of redemption through the sending of His son, Jesus Christ. The gospel is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, through Jesus bearing the wrath of the Father on our behalf, we are adopted and called children of God. The gospel is that Jesus ascended into heaven, but left a Helper, God the Holy Spirit, to indwell us and teach us how to look like Him. That is the gospel. That is the good news. The Triune God has entered into our sin wrecked world and is continually reconciling us to Himself.

That is the gospel. Being married doesn't mean you get a superior gospel. Being able to have sex doesn't mean you have a deeper and more intimate understanding of the union of Christ and the church. It just doesn't. Marriage is not better. Singleness is not better. GOD is better. He is best.

Submitting my desire for marriage and suppressing my physical appetite for sexual intimacy have been the most sanctifying and difficult acts of obedience in my life. I'm not writing this saying I've always had this strong and firm belief that the gospel is the gospel, regardless of where you are. I've struggled, I've doubted, I've wrestled, I've accused God, I've wept, I've yelled, I've disbelieved. ("I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!" Mark 9:24)- I've felt hopeless, isolated, unheard, and alone. I just told my roommate that I may be writing this today, but crying in two days because I'm lonely and feel like I'm unworthy of pursuit.

But it's there, in the deepest yearnings and disappointments, that I've met with the Triune God in the deepest, most intimate of ways, that marriage doesn't hold a candle to. There is a very real possibility that I may never experience the joys of a marriage covenant under God, which means I may never know the sexual intimacy of that covenant consummation. But the thing is... my happiness, and your happiness, that's not the point.

God's glory is the point. His renown is the point. The new heavens and earth colliding in the radiance and power of Christ's return is the point. God once again dwelling among His people is the point. All peoples, ethne, nations, tongues hearing the good news is the point.

There is a greater gospel that goes beyond the temporary. It goes beyond the pain and loneliness of singleness. It goes beyond the yearnings and cravings for a food that is not ours to take. It goes beyond the insecurities and fears in marriage. It goes beyond the unmet expectations and the disappointments. There is a greater gospel that goes beyond this life.

  • There is a greater gospel that points to the fullness of the Triune God. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
  • There is a greater gospel that celebrates in our weaknesses, because that's when He's strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
  • There is a greater gospel that rejoices in our sufferings, knowing that the glory to be revealed is not worth comparing to the temporal. (Romans 8:18)
  • There is a greater gospel that enables us to live our lives for His glory, not our own. (Psalm 115:1, 2 Corinthians 10:31)
  • There is a greater gospel that so radically changes our hearts that we look to the future with hope, knowing that we will one day stand face to face with Him, because He will be dwelling among us, and it's then and there that we will know fullness of joy, intimacy, love, companionship, hope, freedom, and life. (Revelation 21-22)