The Discipline of Remembering

This morning I called my mom for a quick chat and she reminded me that this week was “a bit of an important week…do you remember what happened this week?” Although this kind of conversation is rather typical, I responded that, no, I could not recall the importance of the dates ahead of me, and she proceeded to remind me of two wedding anniversaries, two birthdays and, most importantly, 7/11 day (where you get free Slurpees from 7/11 gas stations). My mother has a steel-trap of a memory; things go in and they never come out. She remembers events with such specific details that sometimes I feel like she must be making it all up. “Anne, do you remember what we were doing 9 years ago today?! We were driving through Utah on our way to Moab! We stopped at that little coffee shop in Grand Junction—oh, you must remember the one!?”

My mom’s remarkable ability has always challenged me to remember. Not in a nostalgic way, but in an informational, you need to know this, kind of way. The kind of remembering that reminds you of your story, where you came from, and events in your life. She has written several accounts of our ancestors immigrating from Norway and Sweden to settle in the mid-west. Her most recent research was dedicated to me, my siblings, and her five grandchildren. Although it is not uncommon to check my email and find the full known story of a Hans or Lars somewhere back in our family tree, reading my daughter’s names in this dedication made this story feel more important, connecting another link in a small, typical family and whispering, you are part of this story. These are your people. This is where you came from. Remember.

Christians have a memory problem. The whole story of Israel can be boiled down to forgetfulness. When we open Exodus we find a people who had forgotten God calling out to a God who had not forgotten them. Much like the cycle of the judges, Israel repeatedly forgets God’s faithfulness and character, and consequently forget who they are. Moses is gone on Mt Sinai for a few days and they forget Yahweh and make a new god. They forgot the plagues, the Red Sea opening before them, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, the manna, meat, and water that God provided. They forgot who God was, and because they forgot, they acted like he didn’t exist. Sometimes when I read Exodus it feels ridiculous. How can you forget the pillar of fire that led you each night? Or the mysterious manna that gathered like dew in the desert? How could you forget what God had done? 

But the reality is, we are exactly the same. Remembering is difficult in the midst of our busy days and future plans. But if Christians hope to live faithful, joyful, and Jesus-centered lives, we cannot afford to forget. We must practice the discipline of remembering. Remembering God’s story– for the Christian, our story, is a fundamental Christian practice. Humans are narratival beings. We live in and embody all kinds of stories that shape us, give us meaning, tell us how to live, what to buy, who to associate with–all of our choices and actions demonstrate a story we believe. To be in Christ means you are embodying (or living in) the story of God–  that is what it means to be a Christian. Christians believe that God’s story is true–His account of what humans are for, our purpose, how we are supposed to treat one another, how we use our bodies and our money, how we should speak–all of our actions and choices should align with the story God tells about himself and his people. When we forget God’s story we inevitably start living in another story. These stories rarely reinforce the Biblical narrative, but rather begin to recast where we put our hope and what we look to for identity.

Practicing the discipline of remembering pulls us out of false stories and back into God’s story. The Bible is God’s story for us, so that is the story we must abide in. Scripture is the primary way God ingrains his story into our hearts, minds and actions. If we don’t know the story of God, we cannot live it. The Old Testament is full of reminders about the forgetfulness of God’s people. “But take care, lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Deut 6:2). “Remember how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness (Deut 9:7). Remember the Sabbath day” (Ex 20:8), “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he has uttered” (1 Chron 16:12). Again and again, remember! We must remember what God has done and who he is. His character is always revealed in his actions, so to remember his actions is to remember who he is. 

When I was pregnant with twins the hardest part was abiding in God’s story, and church was often where God’s story was most difficult to remember. When people found out I was having twins a few things would happen—a wide-eyed look of surprise, then the mental math criss-crossing their faces—I have one toddler and I am barely surviving, how are you going to do it with two?, and finally a closing statement that ranged from “I hope you feel really supported,” to “you must be getting a full-time nanny,” to “I’m so glad you are quitting your job,” (I didn’t, I wasn’t, and I wasn’t). One transparent 23-year-old said what most people communicated to me when he exclaimed, “OH NO! I am SO sorry!” 

How people responded to the good news of having two kids at the same time revealed the stories they lived in. You aren’t going to be able to do this. Mothers should stay home. Children are so much work. I am barely surviving. And these stories were coming from God’s people. Where were the reminders of the Christian story that God is sovereign and he gave you twins? That he will sustain you even though this will certainly be difficult? I wasn’t looking for false comfort, I was looking for Biblical comfort–the comfort of firm faith and a loving Father. I wasn’t hearing that story very often. We must be people who remember the story of God and abide in it, not forgetting who we are or abiding in an alternative story. 

When we remember rightly, we are able to hope accurately. The power of remembering is not about nostalgia, it is about the right orientation before our eternal and good God. When our hearts and minds are dwelling in His story, promises, and salvation, we are living in a story of hope. John’s Revelation paints the glorious picture of the new heavens and the new earth. Paul exhorts us to remember the hope we have in heaven and live accordingly. Hope is kind of like future remembering. It is looking at the past, taking account of how God has acted in real time with real people in real circumstances, and applying what we have learned to the future. If we do not know the story and character of God in the past, we cannot envision what he might do in the future. 

Attending a women’s bible study last week, this very question came up. How do we respond to God when it feels like he isn’t here or doesn’t care? Or in other words, what keeps us hopeful when life gets hard? The answer is the story of God. When life is hard, we need the psalms proclaiming the provision of God and accounts of his works. We need the prophets revealing a God who remains faithful. We need the Gospels showing us Jesus who brings life to broken, weary and hopeless people. The story of God is a story that brings life out of death, that sets captives free, that promises (and demonstrates) the authority of the one true God as he acts throughout history. When we feel hopeless, we must practice the discipline of remembering and allow it to recast our vision of what God might do in the future. 

Remembering what God has done, and rightly hoping in what He will do, gives us what we need to abide in Christ today. Today, you and I need to participate with God in his story. Here are three ways we can practice communion with God so that we remember his story.

  1. Read the story every day. One of the easiest ways to abide in God’s story is to read it regularly and allow the words of God to dwell within you, reshaping your hopes, teaching you your history, and revealing more of God’s character. Reading scripture helps give us eyes to see God’s provision and presence because it centers us daily upon Him.
  1. Communion is an act of remembering as a church. “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) At this supper, Jesus is inaugurating the new covenant. His body and His blood will be the sacrifice poured out for the atonement of others. Do this in remembrance of me. Jesus is calling all who are in Him to physically and spiritually participate in a meal that will commemorate all that he has done. This humble meal might feel mysterious or mundane, but it points to a greater spiritual reality and reminds us of the work of Jesus.
  1. Rely on the Spirit. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit…he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26) One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to bring to remembrance everything Jesus said: the Holy Reminder. Before the Spirit came, Moses tells Israel to wear the laws of God around their necks and to put them on their doorpost so that they wouldn’t forget them (Deut 6). But the prophets promise a new covenant in which God will write his laws on our hearts. The law will no longer be external but will become internal by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As we participate in Christ by his Holy Spirit we are given supernatural power to remember the Lord in our days. 

A season of discontentment

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Phil 4:11-13

What are you thankful for this year? We are entering a season in which our whole country will gather around the idea of giving thanks, but thankful hearts quickly fade as thankful Thursday turns to Black Friday. Thankfulness is recognizing the good in your life and being rightfully grateful for it. Health, a delicious meal, a day of rest, a job that pays the bills. While keeping the tradition may seem strained for many of us after a grueling year, perhaps we should take a step past thankfulness and ask ourselves, what is going to make me content in this holiday season? 

Contentment is similar to thankfulness but says I need nothing added, I need nothing more, what I have and what I am is enough. I can be thankful for many things, but still find myself discontent; I want more. More date nights, more vacation, more clothing, more cookies. And this hunger for more is insatiable. We will even feel it as we sit around the dinner table discussing thankfulness while wondering if we might have one more piece of pie and filling out a Black Friday shopping list. Our natural disposition is to want more; our natural disposition is discontentment. We are never satisfied. Thankfulness and contentment share a corner, but they are very different things. 

While thankfulness is a popular concept, our culture doesn’t celebrate contentment. Contentment can sound boring, unambitious even. Beyond the consumeristic impulse towards more, there is a whole movement around the idea that we deserve more or better in our lives. Don’t settle, always pursue more for yourself and your life. More is not only a consumeristic tool, it is a spiritual practice for the religion of self. Pursue more of everything that will make me better, whole, complete. Don’t you want more in your life? More is the foundation of our culture. And in this coming holiday season that can easily be about acquiring things, what could possibly make us content? There is so much we desire. From wanting to be with family that we cannot see due to Covid, to wishing we had nicer things or someone to share a New Years’ kiss with. How can believers pursue contentment in a season that more often produces discontentment?

Paul says he has learned in whatever situation, in every and any circumstance how to be content: I can do all things through him who strengthens me (13). While Paul doesn’t give us a nicely packaged guide to become contented people, it is Jesus who is the source. To understand what this means, we must walk with Paul and learn his heart. Now more than ever, we need to learn what Paul calls the secret to contentment. 

Finding joy in people and relationships, not things

Throughout Philippians, Paul celebrates people. They are his pride and treasure. He rejoices in the Philippian church for their partnership with him in the gospel saying that he yearns for them all with the affection of Jesus (1:7-8). He boasts in Timothy and Epaphroditus because they are just as interested in others as they are in themselves (2:19-29). Though Epaphroditus had grown ill and almost died, he was most distressed to hear that the Philippian church was worried about him. He was equally interested in their welfare as his own. Paul loves these people and rejoices in seeing them thrive in their love for the gospel. Paul prizes people, not things, and it is the first key to his secret of contentment.

Holiday application: Make this season about other people. Imitate Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus by being just as interested in the lives of your family and friends as you are in yourself. 

Placing our hope in the Gospel

When we are in a consumer mindset always pursuing more, our hope is in what we have. We begin to believe the subtle lie that if I have the right things, then I will be happy. Though this may seem insignificant, anytime we place our hope in something other than the gospel, we are crossing into idolatry— a discontented, hungry heart. But Paul shows us another way. 

Paul is arrested and thrown in prison for preaching the gospel but says it is good to be there because he can preach the gospel and win more to Christ (1:12-14). He says that it does not matter if he lives or dies because to live means preaching Christ more and dying means he gets to be with Jesus (1:19-26). He says that though he was once regarded as an important thinker and teacher, he considers it to be worthless in comparison to knowing Jesus (3:4-11). Paul’s hope is not in his freedom or social status, it is exclusively in Jesus and his promises. In Colossians, another book Paul wrote, he says when Christ who is your life appears (3:14). Christ is Paul’s life. All of it. What an incredible thing.  

Holiday application: Daily ask yourself where your hope is today. What are you trusting or hoping in that is not Jesus? Imitate Paul and actively choose to put your hope in Jesus today, not in things or circumstances. 

The possessions we need

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Paul’s contentment is found in Jesus who strengthens him. Here are three possessions that every Christian needs. 

  1. Knowing Jesus. 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 (3:8). Christians should pursue knowledge and intimacy with Christ before all else. Knowing Jesus is the source of all contentment and we must know his words, his character, and his voice. 
  2. Humility. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (2:3-4). When we are humble and consider others more significant than ourselves, we start to look like our servant King Jesus. Humility breeds contentment because we are no longer the most important person in the room. Chase after it.
  3. Peace. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:4-7). As we lay aside anxiety, seek the Lord in prayer and practice thankfulness, the peace of God fills our hearts and minds. A peaceful heart that has stopped hungering after other things is a heart that is content.

Holiday application: Address your contentment equation. Fill in the blanks _____+______+______= contentment. Then reframe it to Paul’s equation. Joy in people + Hope in the gospel + Pursuing the things of Christ = contentment.

Where Broken Spirits Meet The Promises of God

Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” – Exodus 5:23

Moses spoke these words to God after he obeyed God and went to Pharaoh, asking him to let the Israelites go free. In response, Pharaoh made their work as slaves doubly difficult, demanding that in addition to building the bricks he required, they must also collect all their own materials and complete their work in the same time. Obeying God’s command led to harsher slavery conditions for Israel. 

Have you ever felt like following Jesus leads you into situations you did not choose and suffering that could have been avoided altogether? I have. It seems like some of the areas of obedience that the Lord calls us into make our circumstances worse for a time—relationships get flipped upside down with an unexpected truth, choosing integrity means persecution at work, denying sin leads to friendships lost. 

If walking with Jesus is anything, it is difficult and costly. And this shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus tells us as much in his parting words, and yet, when that truth becomes reality, we, like Moses, say, why have you done evil to me? Why did you ask me to do this? Ever since I obeyed your command, my life has become more difficult. You have not delivered me through what you called me into.

When Moses confronts God with this accusation that He has only brought evil into their lives and not delivered them at all, God responds with promise. He promises Moses that Pharaoh will drive the Israelites out of Egypt, he reminds Moses of the promises he made to his ancestors to make Israel his own people who will know him as their God, he tells Moses that he will bring Israel into the land he promised for them. 

God responds to Moses’ cries with promises. He will do what he said he will do. He is not finished with his work. He will keep his promises, bring glory to himself, deliver his people from slavery, and make himself known to them. 

I need to hear this. When following Jesus leads to seemingly unnecessary pain or suffering, I need to be reminded of God’s promises of deliverance, of his presence, and of his greater plan. But what’s interesting about this anecdote in Exodus is that Moses goes back to the people and proclaims God’s promises to them, but “they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (6:9).

Israel’s response paints a much more realistic picture of how we respond to God than we would like to admit. When we face trouble, we are more likely to ignore the promises of God because of our broken spirits and harsh circumstances. We allow our present emotions and situation to dictate what we believe more than a God who feels far off, whose promises have not yet come to pass, and who would allow our life to get more difficult rather than making a straight and easy path for us. They are broken in spirit and crushed by the demands of their lives and they do not hope in the promises of God. 

If I’m honest, I think that “broken in spirit and crushed by the demands of life” describes far more Christians than I would like. We, like Israel, live in difficult times. We may not be enslaved by another people, but we are enslaved to our sins, trapped in cycles of unhealth, unforgiving, selfish, bitter, unbelieving, and often disappointed in a God who doesn’t really seem to show up like he used to. 

We need deliverance. We need our God to act in our lives in powerful ways. We need his presence to lead and empower us when it feels like following him only makes life harder. And while Israel would be delivered from the hand of their enslaver Pharaoh, in Christ we are delivered from the ultimate enslavement of sin and death so that we might no longer be people who ignore the promises of God because of our broken spirits and challenging situations. 

Israel didn’t know it but God was about to completely transform their lives. He was going to free them from centuries-long slavery, perform signs and wonders that the world had never seen, dwell in their midst, and lead them into the fulfillment of all of his promises. 

Today, we read the story of Israel’s deliverance and we are not in the same vantage point as Israel. We have their story, the songs of David, the word of the prophets, the revelation of the Son of God, and indwelling of the very Spirit of God in our hearts. Today, we have every reason to believe that God keeps his promises. 

So when you find yourself broken in spirit and crushed by the weight of life, remember. Remember that God has been faithful to his word and he will be again. Remember that he still delivers us from pain and suffering and sin. Remember that His presence goes before us in the day and in the night. Remember that he dwells in your midst. 

Our God who redeems has proved his faithfulness, let’s rest in his promises.

The Boundaries Jesus Kept

Having boundaries is a popular idea these days. Being able to say “no” to things is being championed as a means to protect one’s peace or to practice self-care because saying no is a surprisingly difficult thing to do in our day and age. We have fomo with our friends, we want to be liked at work, there are hobbies to develop, and church events to attend. But here’s a crazy idea—maybe the reason we should have boundaries and say no to things is because Jesus did. 

Jesus led a relatively unproductive ministry. It lasted only three years, he didn’t have a google calendar booked full of healing appointments and temple engagements, he didn’t disciple dozens of people. He hung out in small towns on the periphery of influence rather than declare the kingdom of God to as many people as possible.

Furthermore, he would regularly retreat to be alone to spend time in prayer and listen to the Father, he spent afternoons with outcasts and attended weddings. He was so interruptable, he often just saw and cared for the people who crossed his path. He didn’t even begin his ministry until he was thirty; he was just building furniture and cutting wood for almost his entire life. 

By the world’s standards, the Son of God’s three-year ministry was wildly unfruitful. He could have been so much more if he had just pushed himself harder, thought more strategically, and streamlined his ministry. 

But he didn’t. Why? 

He had all authority and power in heaven and earth, and yet the rhythms of his life are marked by peace, joy, humility, and relationships. He was never frantic or overwhelmed, he never overcommitted himself. His secret? He only did what the Father told him to do. 

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise (John 5:19). And, “I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him” (John 8:26).

Jesus spent every day doing exclusively what he saw the Father do and what he heard the Father say. No more, and no less. That means that every person he healed, every sermon he preached, every meal he enjoyed with his disciples was what the Father wanted him to do at that moment. Jesus lived in perfect harmony with the Father, drawing away to be in his presence and listen to his voice so that he might continue on in perfect union with him.

But Jesus further tells us that he came “down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30, 6:38). Jesus lived in perfect harmony with the Father, but he also lived in unbroken submission and obedience—choosing to live in and do the Father’s will, not his own, at all times, even to the point of death.

Maybe you find yourself asking, why wouldn’t the Father want the Son to accomplish more? To heal more people or transform more lives? The Father is teaching us through Jesus what it means to live as a human beings. Humans who have limitations, who can’t do it all and are not called to do it all, who are made to abide every moment of the day in Christ, and who will flourish when we do. 

A successful and beautiful life is not about maximization, it is about being in the presence of God and walking in his will. This is what we see in Jesus and it is beautiful and compelling. Creation is not utilitarian. What is a flower for? What does a starfish add to creation’s purpose? Humans, God’s crown jewel in creation, are made to worship and enjoy God forever. It’s what Jesus did, and it’s what we are called to as well.

For most of us, our days are spent in a flurry of activity, dropping kids off at school, zooming into meetings, getting work done, cleaning the house, walking the dog, and a million other things. But do we stop to ask the question, what does the Father want me to do with my time today?

If you have a job or are raising kids, the answer will certainly be to attend to those needs. God has given you those gifts to steward and cultivate, but if you’re like me, there are a thousand other things vying for your time and attention, and I often get worn out trying to do a little bit of everything.

I want to pursue new hobbies, go on more adventures, work harder on my side hustles, have more friend dates, more, more, more until I crash and burn. In a world that shouts for more, we need the quiet whisper of the Father saying less. And not simply do less to do less, but do the things I have given to you. Exit the highway and run the path that I have set before you—the path that I want to bless and to give you favor in. The path that develops and challenges your gifts. The path that is obedient to the Father’s will for you. 

It’s no wonder that Jesus teaches us to pray by saying, “Your will be done, your kingdom come.” The Christian life is marked by abiding in Christ, walking by the Spirit, and obeying the Father’s will for our lives, not trying to accomplish our own. Our very salvation depended upon Jesus limiting himself to the Father’s will. Through his limits, we are saved. And when we take up his mantle and embrace what the Father has for us rather than trying to have it all, we participate in the cosmic blessing the Father bestows upon his Son when he says the he is well-pleased with him. 

The question, then, is how? How do we listen for the will of the Father? How do we say “yes” to the things he wants us to do?

We do what Jesus did. We take time to be in the presence of the One who made us, who calls us, and who has plans for us. Jesus regularly took time away to pray, to seek the Lord, and to spend time in silence, solitude, and worship. We must do the same if we want to hear the voice of the Father. We need to become deeply familiar with his voice—spoken through His Son, the incarnate Word, and through Holy Scripture—so we might hear when he speaks. We need to surrender our own wills, choosing to be ruthlessly obedient to the Father. When we do the things the Lord invites us into, we live joyfully—not without difficult circumstances that require sacrifice, but joyfully, filled with the Spirit, and delighting in the fullness and power of Christ.

Imitators of Christ

We Imitate What We See

Every morning around 6 am I hear the soft thud of four-year-old feet hitting the ground, the creak of a bedroom door, and the secretive steps of one of my girls creeping down the hallway to surprise me. A brown-haired head pokes above the arm of the sofa I sit upon and I gasp in mock surprise as my quiet time with the Lord comes to an end. 

Every morning, my daughters come out of their room to discover my husband and me in our living room with Bibles open, journals covered in scrawled prayers, and theological books strewn around us. We get up at 5 am to have an actual quiet time of prayer, worship, and time in the word. 

Though my faith journey has taken me through many stages and seasons and places, my morning time with God has never wavered. It was ingrained into me far before I could even tell what those hours might mean or what the story of the Bible was or what prayer meant. It was something I saw modeled for me each day by my father. 

Thirty years ago it was my footsteps creeping down the hallway to enter the living room and see my Dad with his leg crossed and eyes closed, Bible open on his lap. He often wouldn’t even open his eyes as I passed through to the kitchen. But he was there, day in and day out, meeting with Jesus. It left an everlasting impression.

Humans are great imitators. We see someone do something interesting, beautiful, funny, or provoking, and we go and do that thing. But because we are so impressionable and so willing to imitate that which we take in, we must be thoughtful about what we choose to fix our attention upon. 

If we’re honest, our attention is often fixed upon people and things that are not going to produce lives of faithful discipleship and deepen our love for Jesus. But if we put on habits and practices that draw us closer to the Lord—reading his word, spending time in his presence, adoring him in worship—we will inevitably begin to look more and more like him. 

This is what Paul invites the Corinthian church to do when he writes to them—to watch the things he does and listen to the things he says and to go and do the same things.

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ. – 1 Cor 4:14-17

Though you have countless guides, you do not have many fathers. Though we may not feel like the spiritual giant that Paul was, our children will have many guides, but they will only have one mother and father. The things you do, the words you say, the habits you have will shape your children. What a responsibility! But as Paul says, he doesn’t write these things to heap on shame that you aren’t living life perfectly for your children to see. He writes it to encourage us as God’s beloved children whom he is deeply invested in and who he longs to see grow up into maturity in Christ. 

But Paul at one point wasn’t a mature disciple who could tell people to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Paul became a mature believer who fixed his gaze unwaveringly on Jesus when Jesus intervened in his life and transformed everything. When he met Jesus, he devoted his life, his time, and his mind to come in accordance with the things of God. And he was able to do this—to become someone who reflected Jesus in word and deed—because Jesus himself empowered and equipped him through His Spirit.

As we grow in imitating Jesus, our children will grow in imitating us. And like our own lives, it won’t be perfect. It will be full of mistakes and tears and fights, but the thrust of a life lived after Jesus leaves an impression. Today, take heart in knowing that your parenting doesn’t have to be perfect. You are called to a life of following and imitating Jesus before you are called to mother and father your children. And our God, who loves us so much that He would put on flesh and live a life in submission and obedience to the His Father, goes with us. Impressing his love upon our hearts, giving us the words of life, and maturing us into spiritual adults for the sake of His Kingdom—a kingdom that comes in our very homes.

Jesus Asked “Why?” And We Can Too

The question is a human question. It’s what we ask when we face suffering. When we watch our loved ones get sick. When a marriage falls apart. Why?

Perhaps we ask the question because we sense that if we could only know more—the logic, the explanation, the ultimate payoff for this current suffering—then we might be able to endure our circumstances better, with grace, maybe even joy. 

When I climb a mountain with my husband, I know how high the mountain is that we climb. The burning in our lungs and legs, the mental tax of the long ascent is mediated with hope and assurance of our path, with the confidence that the top will be beautiful, that we know the way, and that our bodies will take us there safely. I know the why for the suffering on the way to the top, and it carries me through. 

This week, I found comfort in remembering that Jesus asked why, too. On the cross, his final words were, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46). Jesus asked why. He knew the bigger answer to his question, just like we do. He knew that through his death and resurrection he would bring many sons to glory (Heb 12:2). He knew that he suffered for the joy set before him in setting all humanity free from the power and penalty of sin and death (Col 2:15). He knew that His Father would not forsake Him forever. And yet, he still asked. 

As Christians, we know the biblical answer to our question. We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope (Rom 5:3-4), that suffering will make us steadfast and firm in our faith (1 Pet 5:10), that our sufferings today are but a light and momentary affliction compared with the glory that will come (1 Cor 4:17), that we can rejoice in suffering because we are participating in Christ (Col 1:24), that we are being perfected through our suffering (Heb 2:10). 

We know the bigger answer to why God allows us to suffer, that we live in a broken world in which suffering still exists. We know these things and yet we still ask because we know deep down that this is not the way it is supposed to be. 

Today, ask why? Bring your suffering to the Suffering Savior who asked the question long before you did. Bring it before him knowing that he didn’t receive an answer right away either. But bring it before him with the joy and confidence that his question was answered three days later when he rose from the dead. 

We can ask why today, knowing that God ultimately works all things for good for those who love him (Rom 8:28). We can ask knowing that Jesus suffers with his beloved and that the ashes of today will grow into the beauty of tomorrow. Ask why today knowing that when we weep we have a God who weeps beside us. Ask why, knowing that Jesus’ question was answered when he rose from the dead and, one day, when he sets all things right again, we won’t ever have to ask why again.

Don’t Settle for Cultural Kindness

This excerpt, written by Anne Kerhoulas, is reprinted from The Gospel Coalition.

Kindness seems to be everywhere these days. It’s posted on yard signs and granola bars, T-shirts, and posters for your home. Though kindness is not new, “Be kind!” has become an unofficial slogan, the currency on which a culture steeped in tolerance, affirmation, and acceptance runs.

But for all the talk about kindness, our world is growing increasingly unkind, divided, and contemptuous. If kindness is so popular, why is our culture so harsh? Perhaps this brand of kindness is lacking, pretending to do and be good while unable to produce any real changes. In a world that’s hungry for kindness but often finds only emptiness, we must look to Scripture and the author of kindness to teach us what kindness truly is.

Read the full article here.

The Choice We Make In Exile

In Jeremiah, the Israelites are taken into exile by Babylon. As the people grapple with what has just happened—being torn from their homes, the land given to them by God, their traditions and way of life—false prophets rise up to speak the words that they all long to hear: the exile will be short, the Lord will return them quickly to Jerusalem, their nightmare will surely come to an end quickly. 

But Jeremiah hears a different word from the Lord, that Israel should plant gardens in Babylon, they should marry, build homes, and seek the good of their new city (29:4-14). The Lord tells Israel they will not return to Jerusalem any time soon; it’s time to get comfortable and find a way to make a new life in a new land.

Eugene Peterson is hands down my favorite author. I’ve been rereading Run With the Horses recently, a book on the life of Jeremiah, and Peterson says this, 

“Exile (being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with) forces a decision: Will I focus my attention on what is wrong with the world and feel sorry for myself? Or will I focus my energies on how I can live at my best in this place I find myself? 

All of us are given moments, days, months, years of exile. What will we do with them? Wish we were someplace else? Complain? Escape into fantasies? Drug ourselves into oblivion? Or build and plant and marry and seek the shalom of the place we inhabit and the people we are with? Exile reveals what really matters and frees us to pursue what really matters, which is to seek the Lord with all our hearts” (150, 154).

Where do you find yourself in exile today? Perhaps it’s at home raising little children, wishing you were starting the career you have put on hold. Maybe it’s in a job that feels oppressive, exhausting, and unfulfilling. Is it your marriage? Filled with tension, unspoken words, or disappointment? Exile is part of human life. And as Peterson challenges us, we are the ones who decide how we will live in our exile. 

Several years ago when I was suffering from the weight of trauma in a particular season, I was driving in my car down a familiar road, weary, exhausted from a rather sleepless night, and wondering, when is this going to end, change, feel different? The Lord met me in that moment of exile and reminded me that His joy supersedes our experience. I had to decide how I was going to move through what would be a very long season. I could curl up in exile just hoping it would pass, or I could learn how to plant a garden in Babylon.

As Peterson said, this is the choice we make in exile. Nothing happens outside of our Good Father’s hand and the exiles he allows us to endure can be the place of life springing forth from death, of new relationships forged in fire, of a home built from scratch. The Lord allows us to experience exile so that he can meet us in it. Today, lift your head to the one who allows us to be refined by fire so that we may burn with passion for our Savior.

Eat the book

A few years ago a friend of mine who is not a Christian criticized Christians for not embodying their faith. Their faith was mostly about knowing a set of rules, but they didn’t seem very joyful or alive. While this critique was harsh, it also felt true. It is all to easy for Christians to know things about God without ever digesting that knowledge, getting the teaching of Christ into our bellies where it might course through our bodies and make us different. When we settle for training our minds and neglect bringing our whole bodies into alignment with the knowledge we profess, we find ourselves living an undernourished faith. But this is not the way it is supposed to be.

In Revelation 10, John listens to an angel in heaven read about the mysteries of God from a scroll. His voice is like a lion’s roar, thundering across the land. Intuitively, John moves to write down what he hears, but the angel forbids him from writing down the words and rather invites him to eat the scroll. Though Revelation may seem to be full of bizarre snippets such as this, Revelation is all about worship. Here, John is being instructed about what true worship is—it is not simply knowledge, writing down information so our minds might absorb it, worship is about our bodies. 

In response to this passage, Eugene Peterson says, Why, that [writing the words down] would be like taking the wind or breath out of the words and flattening them soundless on paper…It’s as if the heavenly voice said, “No, I want those words out there, creating sound waves, entering ears, entering lives. I want those words preached, sung, taught, prayed—lived. Get this book into your gut; get the words of this book moving through your bloodstream; chew on these words and swallow them so they can be turned into muscle and gristle and bone.” And John did it; he ate the book.

Most of us are in danger of living a life flattened on soundless paper. Christians can fall into a way of life that exists primarily in the mind, the place of knowing and thinking, but fail to fully digest our knowledge. This has always been a religious person’s problem; Jesus criticized the relgious people of his day for this very thing because knowing and believing something that does not produce congruent actions is called hypocrisy. Those pharisees knew the law and the traditions, but their religion was like a fine table set at a party at which no one feasted; they were missing the point of all that knowledge. Their concepts never nourished their heart; they hadn’t eaten the book. And unfortunately, this is the modern churches’ problem too. We are an undernourished people, hungry for intimacy with Christ and settling for knowledge of him. We need to be people who eat the book. 

An undernourished people

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. -Ezekiel 3:1-5

The prophet Ezekiel receives his call from God to be a prophet to Israel, but rather than filling Ezekiel’s mind with perfect theology or knowledge of God’s law, God goes for his gut. He wants to fill Ezekiel, get his word inside his body, coursing through his bloodstream and sustaining his muscles for the task ahead of him. 

His task to is prophesy to Israel, God’s own people. These people knew God. They had the law to instruct them and their story of God freeing them from Egypt so that they might dwell in his presence and worship him. And yet, Israel had not gotten the law into their hearts, they had not come to hunger for the ways of God. Later God and Ezekiel would have a conversation about Israel in which God calls them dry bones, dead and wasted away. The question of the conversation is can they come alive again? Is God able to raise them back to life, to put muscle on their bones, give them breath and empower them to walk in the ways of God?  

The same question goes for us. When our faith is predominately an intellectual faith or a faith situated in our minds, we are on the path to becoming dry bones, bodies that are unnourished and wasting away. It is not because our minds are unimportant—- on the contrary, they are critical to our faith and we are commanded to used them (Mt 22:37)— but a faith that is only about knowledge will always trend towards hypocrisy. We must put what we know into action, we must be people who don’t just read the book but eat it. We need to hunger for more than knowledge about Jesus, we must hunger for him—his presence, love, and peace in our lives. And fortunately, this is exactly what God wants for us. 

The nourishment we need

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. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. – John 6:53, 55 

Though Ezekiel and John were invited to eat the written word of God, we are invited to something much stranger—to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. It is no coincidence that Jesus chooses food to be the way his people remember him and participate in his covenant. He knows that humans trend towards anemic lives that lack the fullness we were made for. So he chooses food. 

My sister is a naturopathic doctor who says that food is the fastest way to teach people to connect with their bodies. When we eat wholesome, nourishing foods, our bodies are fueled and empowered to do what they are made to do. Food changes us from the inside out, repairing our cells, giving us energy, and teaching us to hunger after the right things. Just as the word of God nourished Ezekiel to fulfill his calling as a prophet to Israel, to speak against their ways and call them to repentance, Jesus, the incarnated word of God, offers himself as our spiritual nourishment so that we might live sacrificial lives and fulfill our calling as Christians to follow him. God is not interested in only teaching our minds, he is first and foremost interested in getting into our hearts and guts. As we feast on Jesus, the true word of God, he softens our hearts, strengthens our limbs for his work, and empowers our bodies to move through the world like he did. 

How to eat the book

Prioritize intimacy with Christ over knowledge about him. It is much easier to learn things about God than to get to know him. We need to know him, and knowing God comes from spending time in his presence, listening to him, and loving him for who he is rather than what he can do for us. He is more than worthy of our time, let’s give it to him.

Don’t be a hypocrite. Be hearers and doers of the word (Jas 1:22-25). Ask yourself where and why you aren’t taking God’s word seriously. Repent and ask the Spirit to make you hungry. Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 6). Make this your prayer: that you would hunger after the ways of God, not your ways, not the ways that are comfortable, but the ways of God. 

Remember that our God wants to nourish us. In Christ, the incarnated word, God has revealed himself to us and given us the same spirit that gave breath and put sinew and muscle back on those dry bones. He is able and he wants to nourish us. Let’s ask him to do so.

From Great to Good

What’s so great about being great? 

A few decades ago, Jim Collins wrote the book From Good to Great, a pathway for businesses and leaders to move from average to great. While Collins wrote to business owners, the phrase embodies the sentiments of our culture; why settle for good when you can be great?

While the pursuit of greatness is no new thing—history books are literally filled with stories depicting it, not to mention the Bible (Tower of Babel, anyone?)—what does seem new is the going out of style of goodness.

Karen Swallow Prior, a professor and writer teaches the classical virtues. Something she notes is how certain virtues have become very unpopular—prudence, temperance, and chastity, once prized and valued, are a waste of time in our modern culture.

But Prior also argues that for any virtue to be truly virtuous, it must be held in balance like a counterweight with the other virtues. For example, you cannot be truly just without also being temperate (restrained, using moderation, and self-controlled). Without temperance, justice would turn into tyranny.

Jesus teaches us the counterweight to greatness in Mark 9 when the disciples ask him who among them is the greatest. In response, he says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).

In the economy of God, greatness is not wrong to pursue—Jesus doesn’t rebuke the disciples for being interested in greatness—but it is only achieved through goodness. Greatness grows from goodness. To be great, you must consider yourself the least important person in the room; spend your time serving others; humble yourself, not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less often, as CS Lewis says.

When you look at the church, it is all too easy to see disciples of Jesus missing this completely. Megachurches and celebrity pastors chase greatness, but when we see them disintegrate into spiritual abuse, affairs, and greed, it is clear they were not good. Not pursuing good, not making more of others than of themselves, not as interested in growing the Kingdom of God as their own kingdom.

Though Jesus tells the disciples to humble themselves and value goodness over greatness, we also see Jesus doing exactly that, offering a template of what true greatness looks like. This is why Pauls says, “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8-11).

The great one, God himself, chooses to serve, not lord his greatness over others, not consider himself more self-important than everyone else. No, the great one humbles himself unto the point of death, calls himself the Good Shepherd, and does good to those who persecuted him. This is greatness, and He calls us to the same greatness, achieved on the pathway of goodness.

To hunger for greatness is not wrong; we worship and are made in the image of a Great God. But the greatness we are made for is not the warped, greedy, broken greatness of our world, it is a greatness that comes by way of goodness, wielded with love, ever seeking to serve, and born of the Holy Spirit.

A king is not saved by his greatness (Ps 33:16), but we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10). May this be our greatest endeavor.