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Good and Perfect Gifts

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)

Good and Perfect Gifts

It’s been three years since we lost our baby girl, Anastasia—three years of making peace with the sovereignty of God. This year the anniversary of her death will come as we find ourselves rejoicing in the midst of a great and marvelous blessing: the birth of our daughter, Roseveare Marie.

In his goodness and compassion, our loving Father has chosen to give us the gift of a healthy, beautiful little girl—the first daughter we will have the privilege to raise up in the fear and admonition of our Lord. He has truly given us a good and perfect gift, a treasure that reflects his very image, a blessing through which his love is being expressed.

In times like these God’s goodness is obvious. His gifts seem to perfectly match the character of a God we can live with, a God whom we can tell others about with confidence and joy. “Look at what God has done! He has turned our mourning into rejoicing. He has given us a good and perfect gift!” These are the experiences we look forward to sharing with our unbelieving friends and relatives. We desperately want them to know the God who gives wonderful blessings to his children and who delights in their joy.

We love to send congratulatory greeting cards that quote James 1:17, rejoicing with the recipients in the God who is “the Father of lights and in whom their is no variation or shadow due to change.” We love to talk about the good gifts he gives.

But what if the good gift does not seem good to us? Would we send the same greeting card to a friend suffering from cancer? Would you have sent me that card during my miscarriages? Would I send one to you?

What do we have to offer to a world marred by the effects of sin—a world in which humanity experiences both joy and sorrow on a daily basis? Is God’s goodness revealed only in the joyful times, or is it also made manifest in the sorrowful times?

Over the last 9 months, during my healthy pregnancy, three of my friends experienced the deaths of their babies—one of them was a close family member. I was asked to pray for even more women whom I do not know, who were going through the painful loss of their own children. While I was rejoicing and hoping in the new life growing within me, they were weeping and mourning the loss of their precious babies. Was I the only one of us basking in the goodness of God? Was I the only one enjoying his good and perfect gifts?

To understand what is meant by “good and perfect gifts” we must back up a tiny bit in James’ letter. We must read this verse within its intended context. If we do so, we will see that this promise is given smack dab within a letter addressing the suffering and persecution of its readers, not their joyful celebration of the more obvious blessings.

In fact, just a few short paragraphs earlier, James encourages his audience—and us—to “count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3 ESV)

Joy.

Trials.

These are not typically words that go together. We don’t usually put them in the same sentence and truly, there is often very little joy experienced in the midst of trials.

Unless.

Unless we can see the unseen. Unless we can train ourselves to trust our Heavenly Father. Unless we can “count” it all joy when happiness seems the furthest emotion away from us. We are not asked to feel that the trial is a joy, at least not initially. No, the feeling of joy comes after the “counting” it a joy.

For joy in trials comes as we shelter ourselves against the rock of our salvation as the storms break against his scourged back.

According to James, we must “count” trials a joy because we believe that every good and perfect gift is from our Heavenly Father, and even the trials are good and perfect gifts because our Father cannot give anything that is evil. There is no variation in his nature, no shifting shadow. We can trust his goodness to us, even in the midst of pain and sorrow.

Why?

Because even these terrible things can produce good things. For the testing of our faith produces steadfastness, and steadfastness’ full effect—its purpose in the hands of our Redeemer—is that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 ESV)

Therefore, we can have confidence that in times of rejoicing, and in times of suffering, our God is with us. He is at work, blessing and loving. He is perfecting us and calling us into deeper communion with him. He is not blessing some of his children and withholding good from others, but rather in his perfect wisdom he is blessing all his purchased bride with the individual attention his love demands.

I must rejoice in this time of happiness because it brings glory to our Savior, just as my friends who are suffering must simultaneously cling to him with all their might because it brings glory to the Savior. His love and compassion covers us all.

Where are you right now? Are you praising him in your joy? Are you praising him for your pain? Know that he is with you in both, dear sisters. Count it all joy.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11 ESV)

Wives Be Gracious to Your Husbands

Wives Be Gracious to Your HusbandsToday, I am sharing a post over at Credo Magazine that focuses on the expectations we wives have for our husbands to be the perfect Christ-images in our marriages and the frustration that can result for both husband and wife when he inevitably fails. I pray that this post will cause new wives as well as seasoned wives to stop and consider what type of expectations they have for their husbands as well as how they can better love and show grace toward them. I would be honored if you would take the time to come over to Credo Magazine and share your thoughts on the topic in the comments!

Here is an excerpt from my post:

“Just as submission to one’s husband is a difficult concept for a modern woman to assent to, so too, the modern man finds this type of leadership, responsibility, and dedication difficult to practice. Not many young Christian men have had this kind of sacrificial leadership modeled for them in the home. They haven’t had the privilege of seeing the tender, yet strong headship of a godly man lived out before them and thus find themselves learning by trial and error what it means to lead their wives. Often they can become overwhelmed with feelings of failure and guilt as they realize that the leadership they have been called to isn’t as easy as they once thought it would be. They can become paralyzed by their inadequacies.

We wives, on the other hand find ourselves struggling with feelings of disappointment and even bitterness as our husbands fail to live up the very high standard set for them in Scripture. We were expecting Christ’s love after all—his gentleness, his strength, his washing of the Word, his leadership, and his level of sacrifice. Instead what we often get are husbands who are struggling in their own relationship with the Lord, hardly knowing how to take on the added weight of their wives spiritual growth! A great lack of grace can develop as a wife mercilessly compares her poor husband to the striking picture of the holy Savior presented in Ephesians 5.

In order for a wife to maintain a submissive and respectful attitude toward her husband in this type of situation, she must first and foremost learn to view him as a brother in the faith. Though he has been called to take on an image of Christ in their husband-wife relationship, he is not Christ! He is a sinner, struggling with his inner man all day, every day. He—just like his wife—is the church of Christ, straining by God’s grace to obey and honor the Savior in all he does. He is no less of a sinner than the wife is. His calling to lead his wife is not an indication of his superior spirituality. In fact, many men marry wives who are leagues ahead of them in biblical knowledge and spiritual discipline. This does not negate their call to be the shepherds of their families or the wife’s call to humbly submit to his leadership…”

Please join me over at Credo Magazine for more thoughts on what it means to treat our husband’s as brothers in the faith. 

photo credit: vanz via photopin cc

Book Review: Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

Women of the Word by Jen WilkinA few days ago I had the privilege of worshipping alongside thousands of sisters-in-Christ who were ready and eager to hear gifted speakers like Kathy Keller, Nancy Guthrie, and John Piper teach them from an often forgotten book of the Bible: Nehemiah. Many of these women paced the back row of the humungous conference room with their babies–some even nursing their sweet little ones as they listened to the preaching of God’s Word. Talk about dedication and girl-power! It was truly a beautiful sight to behold and a joy to be a part of. Truly, The Gospel Coalition’s 2014 Women’s Conference exceeded all my wildest expectations.

One of the best parts about the conference was getting to meet and speak with many people I have “met” and “spoken” with online. How wonderful it was to finally put flesh and bones on the pixels I have interacted with over the past few years! One such person was the lovely Jen Wilkin whose book, Women of The Word, made a stunning debut in the massive TGCW14 book store. Within a day, every last copy had been bought up and I found myself very thankful to have an advanced reader copy safely tucked away in my bag!

The book Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds is a perfect reflection of Jen’s passion for the Word of God. As I spoke to her in person and listened to her answer Q&A questions at a late night bloggers panel, it quickly became evident how this down-to-earth, humble, funny, and passionate woman has become a well-known advocate for women’s Bible literacy: her love for God and her love for women could produce nothing less. If you don’t already follow her blog, The Beginning of Wisdom, I would encourage you to do so.

So what is Women of the Word all about? Basically, it is a step by step guide for how to study the Bible. Seems simple enough, right? You may be wondering why there is a need for such a book. Think about this: how often do you hear women say that they feel competent to study their Bibles on their own without the help of a Bible Study book (think of the many editions of Beth Moore studies that line the women’s section of Christian book stores). How many women truly experience the joy of deep Bible study, meditation, and application for themselves? How many women even try, and of the women who try, how many of them persevere to the point of experiencing the fruit of such a pursuit? Unfortunately, the skill of Bible study is not one that is common among Christian women (not that it is extremely common among Christian men either).

In Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin hopes to encourage women to get serious about Bible study and reap the rewards that will flow from a disciplined approach. Hear her heart for Bible literacy in this quote:

Someone asked me recently, after learning I was a Bible teacher, if I was a God-worshipper or a Bible-worshipper. The question didn’t come as a complete surprise. When you spend as much time as I do asking people to care about knowing their Bibles, someone is bound to ask if you have lost sight of the forest for the trees. My answer was simple: I want to be conformed to the image of God. How can I become conformed to an image that I never behold? I am not a Bible-worshipper, but I cannot truly be a God-worshipper without loving the Bible deeply and reverently. Otherwise I worship an unknown God. (Pg. 147)

Jen challenges women to move into deeper Bible literacy by first acknowledging several ways they may have or may be mishandling the Word of God. Here are three of those unhelpful approaches; see if any of them sound familiar to you:

  • The “Xanax Approach”- Coming to the Bible primarily as a means of comfort for your various struggles, rather than seeking to learn all that it has to teach you. In other words: you feel fearful so you come to it looking for verses that deal with fear–no matter what context they are written in.
  • The “Pinball Approach”- Blindly turning to any portion of Scripture that suits your fancy each day.
  • The “Personal Shopper Approach” – Only studying topics or portions of Scripture that interest you.

These are just a few of the unhelpful methods of Bible study Jen walks her readers through as she encourages us to strive for something more substantial and more faithful to the intended message of the Bible.

So how does Jen recommend we study our Bibles? Do we need to be professional theologians with hours of study time available to us in order to reap the benefits of Bible literacy she alludes to? Women of the Word lays out a simple (though unashamedly challenging) process for studying your Bible in all seasons of life.

From the outset, Jen acknowledges that we will each go through seasons where prolonged, daily Bible study is impossible, but emphasizes that it should always be our goal to handle the Word of God correctly. Though our study of a particular book of the Bible may take longer or not go as deep during certain times of our lives, we should never give in to the temptation to give up. Rather we should always be seeking to get the most we possibly can from our Bibles.

The process Jen encourages women to engage in can be summed up in what she has titled the Five P’s of Sound Study: Study with Purpose, Study with Perspective, Study with Patience, Study with Process, and Study with Prayer. Each of these steps are interrelated and connected. Though the Five P’s may seem daunting at first, they will quickly become habitual and intuitive when put into practice.

One of the most important principles Jen emphasizes is found in the “Study with Purpose” chapter. In this chapter she teaches her readers to look for the “Big Story” each time we study a particular passage of Scripture. “Studying the Bible with purpose means keeping its overarching message in view at all times, whether we are in the Old Testament or the New, whether we are in the Minor Prophets or the Gospels.” (Pg.51) What is this Big Story? “From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is telling us about the reign and rule of God…. Each of its sixty-six books contributes to telling this Big Story–a story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.” (Pg. 50) Being able to find where the portion of Scripture you are studying fits into this Big Story will guard you from falling into the unhelpful habits of Bible study mentioned earlier. This principle alone has the potential to revolutionize every woman’s personal Bible study.

The steps that Jen Wilkin outlines in Women of the Word are challenging in the amount of effort they require (especially for those who are unaccustomed to disciplined study), but they are simply explained and modeled by Jen. Her eagerness to illuminate the beauty of solid biblical study will give courage, confidence, and zeal to even the most novice Bible student. By reading Women of the Word, women will be thoroughly equipped to study the Word of God with both their hearts and minds and will have the tools needed to grow deeper in their knowledge of him as well as in their affections for him with each passing encounter with his Word.

I highly recommend this book for anyone desiring to get deeper into the Word in an effort to know God better. It would be excellent to go through in a women’s ministry, book club, or personal discipleship setting and would make an excellent gift in addition to the ESV Study Bible for a new believer.

You can purchase a copy of this book through Amazon.com by following this link.

Never Let Her Grieve or Rejoice Alone

I sat across from my friend, with tears in my eyes, and offered her the same council I had received so many years before: “Take things slowly and understand that being around other pregnant moms may bring up difficult emotions; don’t feel guilty about declining some baby shower invitations for a little while if they’re too painful for you to attend; you are grieving and it is okay to acknowledge that grief.”

I can still remember when this advice was first given to me. I had just miscarried our first baby and the tender words came from a woman who had walked the road of miscarriage multiple times before. She sought to extend a hand of grace to me as I navigated my way through the murky waters of grief. She was the church body to me, assuring me that the pain I felt would be understood and that others wouldn’t expect me to act as though nothing had happened.

Now it was my turn to share this with a sister in Christ—to remind her that her church body would be weeping with her, seeking to be sensitive to her loss. Just as we had rejoiced at the good news of new life within her, so too would we would weep over the death of that life. I sat, stomach swollen with the baby I am carrying, desperately trying to enter into her present pain, to assure her that she was not alone.

A few weeks later, I received an email from her: “I would like to throw a baby shower for you, remind me of your due date again?” I was overwhelmed by her kindness, but also concerned for her pain. Had I not just advised this woman to stay away from baby showers altogether? And now she is offering to throw a shower for me—to decorate her home with the sweet reminders of new life, to celebrate our baby when her own precious child had so recently been taken from her! After some prodding, she assured me that she was truly excited to serve me in this way. She promised that it would not be too painful for her.

As I thought about her kind offer, I was reminded of Paul’s exhortation to the Romans to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and  “weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) We find him expressing this same idea in his first letter to the Corinthians: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:26) My friend’s willingness to rejoice with me, even in the midst of her own suffering was a beautiful picture of unity within the body of Christ.

This type of unity and self-sacrifice does not come naturally. A single woman who’s been longing for marriage doesn’t naturally celebrate with genuine delight as her newly engaged friend shows off her ring. A man who’s been relatively untouched by sorrow doesn’t find it easy to enter into his friend’s grief when his wife dies of cancer. Rather, as sin-prone beings, we tend to find ourselves too overcome by our own pain or too intoxicated by our own joys to tend to the needs of others. American culture itself is built on individualism and self-sufficiency. We are encouraged to take care of ourselves and taught that reaching out for help when we need it is a sign of weakness. By contrast, the unity found within the body of Christ is what makes it so beautifully attractive to a world that is craving genuine community.

Paul’s encouragement to enter into one another’s pains and joys found in 1 Corinthians is couched within his explanation of each person within the church being an integral member of the same body. Each of our gifts, we are told, are meant to benefit the body as a whole rather than elevate one member above another. Though Paul encouraged the Corinthians to seek the higher gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophesy and healing, he challenged them to accept God’s unique gifting of each individual with thanksgiving, for “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them as he chose.” (1 Cor. 12:18) We must trust our infinitely wise and good God with the way he designs his church, right down to the last member. There’s purpose to each person’s gifts (whether the gifts be flashy or hardly visible) as we serve the needs of the body as a whole. Paul emphasizes the one-ness of the church and thus combats our natural tendency to seek isolation and self-promotion.

Thus, Paul is able to assert that each member should also be compelled to care for the pains and joys of other members of the body. In other words: my sister in Christ’s pain in miscarriage is my pain, just as my joy in pregnancy is her joy—for we are one in Christ.

How beautiful it is when the body of Christ “functions properly” in this way as Paul says in Ephesians 4! It is a reflection of the Savior himself, who is holding together his church and equipping it to grow up in love. It is a testimony to the one Spirit who lives within every member of the body. We must battle our natural tendencies of isolation, self-preservation, and self-focus, instead seeking to live in the unity of spirit Christ has made possible through the cross. We must seek to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

Are there members of the body who you have neglected? Have you shied away from entering into a sister’s grief or celebrating her joy? Pray for the humility and love needed to treat her in the way you are called to: as if she were a member of your own body!

“…for we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:5 ESV)

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Why Our Children Need the Church

In this quarter’s issue of Credo Magazine, I had the opportunity to share a little bit about the importance of the church to our children. Here’s a snippet from that article:

“Through regular interactions with teachers, parents, mentors, and pastors, our children are given the opportunity to observe the powerful, sanctifying hand of God in the lives of other Christians. Through the ordinance of baptism our children are able to watch as men and women confess their belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ and commit to living their lives in obedience to him. They gaze in wonder as these believers are plunged into the baptismal and brought back up to the joyful celebration of the congregation, symbolizing their death and resurrection with Christ. In the same way, as the communion plate is passed and the wine and bread are consumed by the members of the body, our children witness the centrality of the gospel to every believer’s life. They are beckoned to come and taste of the Lord’s goodness for themselves—to receive the gospel of grace being proclaimed.”

To Read the Full Article, Click Here.