From Foe to Friend: How the Hope of Christmas Transforms Suffering and Death

We are on a journey with one destination: a brick wall that signals our obliteration. For some, the ride is bumpy, hurtling ever faster towards that staunchly immovable wall. For others, the ride is long and smooth. It ambles through peaceful plains, lands of plenty so pleasant they make them forget where they are headed. The illusion tells us we shall go on thus forever, but the persistent, fearful whisper of our hearts will not let us forget where we are headed.

Death. We meet with it every day, in aging bodies, in tragedies, in broken wombs and cancer diagnoses. Some will say it is a part of life, but can darkness have fellowship with light? Can the dusk embrace the dawn? Deep down we know…we know that at death’s fateful door we meet not with our natural ending, but our unnatural curse. Life pulses with beauty and meaning and goodness and yet it ends with such pain and weakness and shame. Something has gone terribly wrong.

It seems that if God should want to right this wrong, He would simply change our destination, put us on a different path altogether, but God is in the business of re-purposing things. He not only creates. He recreates. That which was meant for evil, He means for good. That which was intended for our destruction, He uses for our regeneration. That arrow which aims to pierce, He makes to heal.

In Christmas, we see the dawning of that strange and beautiful plan. We wanted the abolishment of our sufferings. We wanted a conquering king, bringing his power and triumph, but instead, He came first as a sacrificial lamb. He came first embracing, not banishing, the weakness and brokenness of humanity. Now, this side of the cross, victory is sure, but not complete.

Thus, we find ourselves still here, still assuredly plodding along towards our shared fate. No matter which way we try to turn, all roads converge unyielding to that spot. God, of course, has done something different than we ourselves would choose. He has not changed our path. He has joined us on it. He has not torn down the wall of death. He has cut in it a door. He has not yet vanquished our foe. He has made it our friend. That lion which roared to consume us, He has tamed to purr and welcome us home.

It remains that none of us can avoid the door. Walk through it we must. Only now we walk through, not in terror, but in hope, knowing that Christ has walked through before us. He holds it open for all who come in faith, believing that light and life will greet us on the other side. And someday…the trumpets will sound and the wall of death will crumble at the coming of our king. That final enemy who has already bowed before His power will on that day be destroyed forever.

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And Yet…We Praise Him. Thanksgiving When Life Is Hard.

2400 years ago, Plato wrote his famous work, The Republic. In it, he addressed a crucial question. Is justice an intrinsic good? Is the just life, the righteous life, really the good life? That is, if you removed all the rewards of righteousness and the penalties of unrighteousness, would it still be worth it to live justly? Plato’s character, Glaucon, claimed that it wouldn’t. Those who live justly, he argued, only do so for its worldly benefits.

Many thousand years ago, Satan made the same argument to God concerning his righteous servant Job. “‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face'” (Job 1:9-11).

And so, God allowed Job to be tested. He was stripped of all his earthly goods including all of his children and yet…He praised Him (Job 1:22).

Two thousand thousand years ago, Paul and Silas were beaten because of their identification with Jesus Christ. They were thrown in jail and placed in shackles and yet…they praised Him (Acts 16:25).

Two weeks ago, my uncle suffered a stroke during his bladder removal surgery. He awoke unable to see. Barring a miracle, He is now permanently blind and yet…he praises Him.

A week ago, my mother, who has suffered from the effects of cerebral palsy her whole life, underwent ankle replacement surgery. Her pain is great and her recovery will be long. There is a possibility she will end her life in a wheel chair and yet…she praises Him.

Today, the Prosperity Gospel tells us what Glaucon told Socrates and what Satan told God. Righteousness is only worth what it produces. God is only worth what He gives. He is not the end to happiness, but only a means. The good life is the life that is full of health and wealth and if God does not give it, He is not worth our time. Our righteousness has been in vain (Psalms 73:13).

This Prosperity Gospel has a childish sort of logic to it, a basic arithmetic.  Be good. Get good. If this is the case, then Job and Paul and Silas and my uncle and my mom and so many more are either fools or they know a greater truth. The Prosperity Gospel cannot account for worshiping prisoners or singing blind men. It has no explanation for joyful suffering.

Like Satan in the garden, it mixes truth with lies. The content of its promise is true, but its timing is wrong. We are promised health and wealth, but not in this life. Its claim that God wants to make us happy is true, but its understanding of that happiness is wrong. God is both the means and the end to our happiness. He is not only the giver of the treasure. He is the treasure.

This is the true heart of the Christian faith and it radically changes its message. Grace confounds the Prosperity Gospel’s basic math. In fact, it reverses it. We have done bad and yet, we receive good. Moreover, the treasure we receive is of such great worth that not only does any earthly treasure pale in comparison, but it is such that we would gladly give it all up in order to obtain it. As Paul said, we would count it all as rubbish that we may gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).

Christ is the treasure we could not afford to buy and the treasure we would sell anything to keep. That is how you account for worshiping prisoners and singing blind men. That is the only way to make sense of joyful suffering.

Next week, we will all gather with family and give thanks for our blessings. For those who are suffering, this may be harder to do. It is hard to believe in God’s goodness when it can’t be tasted and seen, but there is a day of prosperity that is unseen, but surely coming. We couldn’t earn it and we can’t lose it. This treasure is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:40).

The good life is not the easy life, but the life lived for Jesus. If we have Him, we have more than sufficient cause for giving thanks. If we know Him, we have known and we will know happiness. While we tarry here, we are not promised easy and comfortable circumstances, but a joy that exists independently of all circumstances. We may have seen great sorrow and we may see greater sorrow still and yet…we praise Him.

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What If I’m A One Talent Woman?

In Jesus’s well-known parable in Matthew 25, a master gives talents to his servants while he goes away. To one, he gives five, to another, two, and to the last, one. The first two invest and multiply their talents, earning the praise and commendation of their master upon his return. The last servant, however, hides his talent in the dirt, earning a harsh rebuke. The talents are usually understood to represent the resources God has given us: our time, money, possessions, and abilities.

My sisters and I, all in the throes of raising young children, sometimes joke that we are one talent women. It’s usually funny to laugh about, but…what if it’s true? My adult years thus far have been riddled with many insecurities. There is in my mind, a feminine ideal, of which I fall so short. I picture her making a healthy, gourmet meal while also crocheting a sweater and teaching her rapt children a catechism. Though I know this probably doesn’t really exist, I look around and see many women who seem to embody it better than I. They have better organizational skills, administrative abilities, and domestic know-how.  They seem to have endless energy and resourcefulness and patience. I have often even felt inferior to my own husband, who is ten times the cook I am and knows more about how to remove tough stains. I laugh that he is a better woman than I, but all of this comparison has led me nowhere good. Mostly, just to self-pity.

Our Talents Are Not Our Own

Maybe I am a one talent woman. Maybe you are too. So what? None of the servants in the story did anything to earn their talents. They weren’t even their own. They were the Master’s. Feeling self-pity or shame over your one talent is as silly as another feeling pride over their five. “For who makes you different than anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Pride has no place in the kingdom of grace nor does shame or self-pity. All that we are and all that we have is from God. It is His to give as He wishes. It is not given to make us greater or lesser, but to magnify Him and advance His purposes. Both the first two servants receive the same commendation even though they have different amounts. The last servant is rebuked not for having little, but for doing little with what he had. In the same way, if we sit and compare our one talent with another’s five talents, we are missing the point and wasting what we have been given.

Our Talents Are Not Who We Are

There are many different kinds of people in the body of Christ. Some rich and some poor. Some with brains and beauty and charisma and some without. Some with many gifts and abilities and some with only a few. Yet, all are equal citizens in the kingdom of God and all have the same fundamental identity.

Grace is the great equalizer. While the world places us all in different echelons based on money, power, beauty, the Gospel places us all in one category: condemned. It then offers us a second category: justified. The only means to this transaction is the grace of God. When we receive this grace, we receive a new identity: in Christ. This identity is given to every citizen of heaven without discrimination. It alone is what separates us from the condemned and makes us acceptable to God.

So, every Christian has the same identity, but different gifts. The gifts we are given, be they great or small, do not define who we are. When we sink into comparison or self-pity, we are forgetting this. We are forgetting that our identity is bound up, not in ourselves, not in our gifts, but in Christ.

Our Talents Are Not For Us

We are all products of grace, intended to be means of grace. Whatever we are given, for we are all given something, we are meant to use, not for our own glory, but for God’s. Not to serve ourselves, but to serve others.

The beauty of God’s kingdom is that grace is liberally and indiscriminately given to the weak and strong alike. All are lost. All are brought in. All are justified. All are given something. And all are called to take what they have been given and invest it. We are held accountable not for what we’ve been given, but what we do with it.

So, if you have a home, use it. Manage it the best you are able and make it a place where grace and love abound. If you have children, pour yourself into them. In the strength that you have, care for their daily needs and diligently feed their souls the Gospel. If you have special gifts and abilities, use them to make His name great and not your own. If you have time, money, resources, invest them in kingdom things. Take all that you have that will not last and with it, build what will.

Even if we have one talent, we are meant to take that one talent, every bit of it, and leverage it for our Master. If we have just one gift, we must steward it, develop it, wield it for the One who has given it. Whatever we have received, great or small, is meant to be used in the service of others and the ministry of His all-surpassing grace (1 Peter 4:10).

Real Masculinity Isn’t Toxic. It’s Life-Giving.

I generally write a lot about motherhood on here because, well, I’m a mother and being a mother pretty much consumes my life right now. But today is Father’s Day and so today, I would like to write to the Fathers, to the men.

Men sometimes get a bad rap in our culture today. With the rise of feminism and the Me Too movement, the idea of masculinity has taken a bit of a hit, so much so that the term “toxic masculinity” is commonly tossed around. Now, some of this is justified. There is certainly a long history of men using their power and position to abuse and take advantage of others (though I would say that is a fault not exclusive to men).

I wonder though, if in trying to stamp out what has gone wrong with masculinity, we are in danger of also destroying what is good about masculinity. To pair it with the word “toxic,” which literally means “poisonous,” can imply that masculinity is, in and of itself, dangerous and destructive.

This begs the question, “What is masculinity?” Is it innately bad or is it, a good thing that can be abused for bad purposes? I would argue for the latter. Some of God’s greatest gifts, sex, money, food, have been used to perpetrate some of the greatest evils. It is Satan’s greatest delight to take God’s good, wise, pure designs for mankind and distort them for wicked ends. The greater God’s intent for good, the greater potential for evil when placed in the hands of sinful people, led astray by a cunning, deceitful enemy.

So it is with masculinity. Men are given a high calling in scripture to love and protect and lead. With this position, does come power. This power, should be seen as a sober responsibility though yes, often it has been abused for selfish ends. Such abuse should always be condemned, but let us be careful that as adamantly as we condemn wrong masculinity, we should be affirming and teaching right masculinity.

Real masculinity is not just muscles and sports and guns any more than femininity is merely dresses and makeup and manicures. It is not unbridled power any more than femininity is wilting, unquestioning acquiescence. Real masculinity is power constrained by wisdom, integrity, love, and above all, humility. It prizes and preserves what is good and right and pure. It does not use its strength to take advantage of the weak and vulnerable, but rather to protect the weak and vulnerable.

When I think of masculinity, I think of the image, emblazoned in my memory, of my husband holding our firstborn son in the hospital. I see his strong arms and hands, cradling and shielding his tiny, fragile body. I see him gazing down at him with a radiant love that silently vowed to fight for him and protect him. I remember it so vividly because it made me fall in love with him in a whole new way. That is the essence of real masculinity. Strength that protects and serves and sacrifices.

My sons need my husband’s masculinity. They need him to show them that a real man walks in humility, fights for purity, leads with boldness, respects women, and fiercely protects those entrusted to his care.

My daughter needs my husband’s masculinity. She needs him to show him to show her that a real man will treat her as the treasure she is, prize and preserve her purity, and see her beauty and worth as so much more than her body.

I need my husband’s masculinity. Perhaps that is seen by many as an outdated opinion, but I stand by it. I need it as surely as he needs my femininity, not because I am weak or helpless, but because that is the beauty of God’s design. Each spouse functioning as intended, complementing and providing unique strengths and abilities that the other is lacking.

This world needs masculinity. It needs good, God-fearing men who “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God” (Micah 6:8). It needs fathers who are involved. It needs husbands who are faithful to their wives and to God.

We should be celebrating masculinity as it was designed to be. We should be affirming and nurturing its unique traits in our sons. We should be applauding the husbands and fathers who are living it out every day. Because masculinity, real, true, masculinity, is not toxic. It does not poison or destroy. It lays down its life in order to give life to others.

So, to my husband and so many others I know who quietly and humbly live this out every day, I say Happy Father’s Day. Thank you for being real men. We need you so much.

View More: http://maryfieldsphotography.pass.us/gideon-james-schuch

Is God Anti-Pleasure?

Pleasure and holiness are not things we normally think about in the same category. Pleasure is about doing whatever you want. Holiness is about abstaining and restraining. Pleasure is about freedom from rules. Holiness is about burdensome adherence to the rules.  Pleasure and holiness by definition, must be at odds.

However, I would suggest that these are mistaken understandings of pleasure and holiness that stem from a fundamentally and tragically warped view of God which has pervaded our society and even sometimes, the Church itself. It is the view that God is boring and He wants us to be boring too, that He delights in giving us rules just to keep us from enjoying all the things this world has to offer. To choose a life of holiness is to forego the life of pleasure. The truth I have come to realize and delight in is that this is fundamentally false. In fact, what Scripture teaches us about God is the exact opposite.

Consider the status of man before the Fall. Adam and Eve were brought to life and it was abundant life. They found themselves in a verdant garden, full of all kinds of delicious fruit to taste and beautiful plants and creatures to behold. Above all, they were given each other, companions to love and enjoy for life. And God had equipped them with all the sensory organs they needed to experience all the wonderful things the garden and each other had to offer.

The garden was literally laden with opportunities for pleasure. God called it good and He wanted Adam and Eve to experience just how good it really was and therefore, just how good He really was. Yes, there were rules.Well, really just one rule. Their pleasure was not without its boundaries. There was one tree, just one tree out of many from which they could not eat. What is interesting is that it is after they break this one rule, after they break with holiness, that their desire for pleasure becomes frustrated. Like Adam and Eve, we sin not because the pleasure we seek is itself is wrong, but because, having forsaken holiness, we seek it in perverse ways that God did not intend.  

This shows us that God’s character and attitude towards man is not one of stinginess. God’s delight is not to withhold arbitrarily, but to give bountifully. It is also tells us that, contrary to popular belief, pleasure without bounds is not very pleasant in the end. This in turn shows that our desire for pleasure needs boundaries in orderly to be properly satisfied. Is it not logical that the One who created all the good things in this world would know the best way to experience them? In making this earth, God had a design and His design was perfect and benevolent.

Consider the role of a Father and child.The child has things he naturally and foolishly wants to do. The child has a God-given desire to experience things. Yet, he lacks the knowledge and wisdom to know how the best way to do so. Is it wrong or mean-spirited of the Father to set boundaries and laws for the child? Of course not. A Father does not give his child rules arbitrarily or to withhold good things from him. Rather, he gives the child rules to protect him from harm and to show him the best and most enjoyable way to live.

In the same way, God’s rules (holiness) for the ways in which to live and enjoy His creation (pleasure) are designed for our good. The wondrous truth is that God takes great pleasure in our pleasure. However, our pleasure is most fulfilled when lived within the parameters He has set for us. His holy laws are given to us in love. So we see that contrary to common thought, God is not against our pleasure. His call to holiness is to not a call to dullness. It is a call to life abundant.

It seems then that pleasure and holiness are not mutually exclusive as we might think, but are meant to be united.  For when we experience pleasure through creation, we reflect the character of God who Himself has called it good and desires that we should too. And when we limit our pleasure within the bounds of holiness, we find that our pleasure is not lessened, but rather increased. We find that there is holiness in pleasure and pleasure in holiness.

This knowledge produces in me a renewed awe at the goodness of my God, a God who is overwhelmingly for our pleasure, is also good and wise, delighting to give us good things and to show us the best way to use them.

It also causes me to reflect that ultimately, all the pleasures God has given us here on this earth are meant to point us to Him. They are an overflow of His good character and a mere shadowing of the pleasures we find in Him. He has made known to me the path of life and in His presence, I am filled with joy (Psalm 16:11).

So as I eat, drink, and seek to live a holy and abundant life to the glory of God on this earth, I lift my eyes to Him, thanking Him for all the good things He loves to give and that one day, I will be with Him forever. I resolve to live a life of holiness knowing and rejoicing that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:60) and that this path of holiness is a path to pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

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A Little More About Me

I’ve updated my site a little and hope to be writing a little more consistently, a hope that may very well prove to be unfounded since baby #3 is on its way.

I’ve never gotten too personal on here, but I thought I’d share a little more about myself and my family should any of you be interested.

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Here we are. The Schuch clan. Don’t let the German spelling scare you. It’s pronounced just like “shoe.”

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This is my husband Stephen. He’s a loud and crazy statistician from Pittsburgh. I’m a quiet, book lover from Oklahoma. We met at a Christian world view conference almost 10 years ago. We’ve been married for almost 6 years and he suffers the Texas heat just for me. We just went through an extended period of unemployment, but he is now killing it catching fraudsters with math and data. He’s basically a nerdy detective which is the perfect fit for him. I am so proud of him and thankful for God’s goodness and provision.

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This is my oldest Gideon. He loves superheroes (batman is his fav), singing, and all the candy. Currently obsessed with The Greatest Showman Soundtrack. As you can see, he’s quite the brown-eyed, curly-haired charmer. He definitely has my whole heart.

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Here’s my little bit, Evelyn. She’s a tiny thing with a lots of personality and a big vocabulary. Her current favorite word is “no,” lots of emphasis added. She is smart and sweet and sassy and lights up my life.

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And here is our next addition. Baby brother coming in July. All I know about him so far is that he loves steak. Hope he isn’t expecting such fine dining all the time!

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I spend my days with these two and all in all, it’s a pretty great gig.

I call my blog Illuminating Truth because

1) That’s what God’s word does: it illuminates reality so we can see it as it really is.

2) That’s what I hope to do when I write: illuminate the truths of God to make them more accessible to others.

When I find the time and the brain power and I feel like God has given me something to say, I like to sit down and write. To those who have been following me, thank you for reading!

Obedient to Death. Now Death is Obedient to Him.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:6-8

In the beginning in the garden, God presented man with two choices: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He told them that choosing the latter would bring death and yet, deceived by the serpent, they chose it still (Genesis 3). Promised by Satan that they would receive enlightenment and and freedom, they instead, received darkness and slavery. Death became their master and so it has become the master of us all. In their pride, Adam and Eve chose death and now every human since has been made obedient to this one final fate. Over and over again, death has won the day.

Easter is the startling interruption to this story for in Easter, we see Jesus, the new Adam, also choose death. However, it was not in pride, but in humility, that He chose to take on this burden. Indeed, He was the one man over whom death had no right for He had committed no penalty. Not only was He a righteous man, but He was God in the flesh. He had every right to live and yet, He chose to die. Subjecting Himself to the laws of mortality, the flesh He created was pierced. The heart that He formed stopped beating. The lungs He filled ceased breathing.

On Good Friday, the ruler of the universe and the author of life made Himself obedient to death, but on Sunday, He made death obedient to Him. In His resurrection, Jesus obtained mastery over our master so that He might set us free. Descending into our prison, He emerged with the keys (Revelation 1:18).

Now, for those who believe in Him, death has been transformed. It is no longer a thief, but a giver. No longer a threat, but a hope. Now death leads us not into eternal punishment, but eternal life. What was destroyed in the garden will be restored. What was wrong will be made right. There will be no more tears or suffering or pain. Death’s dark shadow will be forever vanquished in the light of the risen Son (Revelation 21:4). The tree of life, lost to us through our sin, will be restored to us through His blood. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14). There we will worship forever the One who by His death, gave us life, conquering our conqueror and breaking our chains.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

The Prosperity Gospel’s Deadly Whisper

“Find rest, o my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all time O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalms 62:5-8).

That was the verse shared by someone at church about four months ago, a verse I memorized in college. But that Sunday, I just thought, “That’s nice. I like that verse” and moved on with my life. Only later did I realize it was for me, that it was the verse God was giving me as the theme for the season of trial He was about to lead my family through.

A week or so later, my husband lost his job. We had just come off a year of great blessing. Great new job. Great new house. Beautiful new baby. This year could not look any more different. Unemployment. Sickness. Job offers falling through. Maybe we’d put too much stock in these earthly blessings. “Are you punishing us, Lord?” I wondered. Not punishing. Refining. Refining our hope. Refining our rest.

What does it mean when trials come regardless of “good behavior”? This is the great question of the book of Job.

The truth is, we all want a simple calculus. Do good. Get good. Do bad. Get bad. Obey. Reap blessings. Disobey. Reap trials. We want God to operate on our terms. It’s no different, really, from the Old Testament draw to idol worship. Gods made of human hands can be controlled by human hands. They are manipulable. Containable. Predictable. Non-threatening.

A living, breathing, omnipotent, sovereign God on the other hand? That can be a terrifying thing. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. He lives far above us in heaven and does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3). His judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33). If we submit to Him (or not), we are very much at His mercy.

Trials have a way of revealing what we really believe about God and about ourselves. I could give you a point by point run down of the Gospel.  I can scoff at Prosperity Gospel preaching and provide a scriptural rebuttal and yet, its seductive whispers can sneak behind my theologically equipped mind and make their way into my more vulnerable, more wayward heart. It is there that God is sifting.

I must confess that I can want God to behave more like an idol, to be a tool in my hands that I bend into making my life what I think it should be. I can want the Prosperity Gospel to be true.

As we have endured and continue to endure this season, it has forced me to ask myself some questions. Do I really believe that God is sovereign? Is the misfortune that has come our way a product of bad luck or divine providence? What has God promised me? Comfort, ease, and a life free of trouble? Or a hope, a joy, and a peace that remain in spite of trouble? What is the purpose of my life and what role does God play in it? Is my life about me and is God my fairy godmother who makes all my dreams come true? Or is my life about Him and His glory?

The answers to these questions directly determine how we respond in trials and suffering. I cannot pretend that my answers have always been the “right” ones. The verses I’ve been most drawn to are from Psalm 77. “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion” (v. 8,9)  My soul has refused to be comforted (v. 2), and yet still searched diligently to remember the deeds of the Lord (v. 11). I believe. Help my unbelief.

The lie of the enemy is that God owes us much and yet, withholds much. The truth of the gospel is that God owes us nothing but wrath and yet, gives us nothing but grace. Which will I believe?

I do not serve a god made of clay, fashioned by human hands, but the great and mighty creator and ruler of the universe. He has redeemed my life from the pit and it is His to do with as He pleases. He is not a good luck charm I invoke when trials come. He is my refuge when trials come. He is not making a plan for my life. He is making my life for His plan.

No one cares if we praise God when the sun is shining, but the world will stop and marvel when we praise Him in a storm, when our worship operates completely independently of our circumstances. That is the mark of a faith that is really real, of a heart that loves God for Himself and not for His blessings.

I am weak and weary, but I pray that trials will prove the tested genuineness of my faith, refined like gold in the fire, and resulting in the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). I have faltered and will no doubt falter again, but I am resolved to say with Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).


Holiness Made Its Home Among The Cursed

At Easter, it is natural to reflect upon the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, I find myself also thinking upon the broader scope of His life and its meaning for us. What does it mean that He was Emmanuel? What does it mean that God not only forgave our sins, but came to dwell among us, the sinners? It means God was not merely after forgiveness, but restoration. Restoration of the world in its entirety. Restoration of the human condition in its entirety.

You don’t have to look far to see that we live in a broken world. There is pain. There is injustice and evil and grief. We can find that even our greatest joys can be tinged with sadness as if we know things are still not what they should be. We can be haunted by the dauntless specter of death, our one shared and final fate though something tells us it shouldn’t end that way. Why? Why is the world fraught with sorrow? Why does life end in death? Because we are fallen. We bear the curse of our sin and every square inch of creation bears it with us (Romans 8).

Yet in the life of Christ, we see mercy dawning. We see God retracing the steps of the Fall. We see the Holy One enter the cursed womb and set into motion our ransom, our rescue. The first place He sent sin’s curse was the first place He sent sin’s cure. And there is nowhere He has commissioned His curse that He has not also commissioned His grace, no scars of His judgment that He has not also touched with the healing of His redemption.

The incarnation means that Holiness made its home among the Cursed. Yahweh, a name too sacred to be spoken by our tainted lips, became Emmanuel, God With Us. How astounding that the holy, eternal God entered into the wasteland of our transgressions. How astonishing to see Him be born of a sinful woman, labor among the thorns and thistles of our cursed ground, touch and heal the sick and perishing, and finally, die the shameful death of a common sinner.

Christ, the God-man, our lamb and conqueror, subjected Himself to our curse that He might defeat our curse. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Who could but falter under such an unfathomable burden? Yet, He never did. He carried it to completion and finally, cast it off, hurling our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and with them, our condemnation. Now we find the wrath of God is quenched, spent, satisfied like a fire which finds nothing left to burn. Its cup is emptied. Not a drop remains for He drank it all for thee.

What, then, remains for us to fear? What part of our curse shall hold terror for us still? Shall we fear the womb, be it emptied or filled or aching with the pain of loss? No, for our Lord has been there. Shall we live in dread of sickness? Jesus has taken up our infirmities (Isaiah 53:4). Shall we falter under the burdens of loneliness, grief, persecution? He has been well acquainted with them all (Isaiah 53:3). Shall we tremble as we face our final breaths? No, for Christ has breathed them before us.

He has lived and hurt and died, not merely pardoning us from afar, but entering fully into our human experience and leaving grace for all and in all in His wake. Yes, this ground we tread is cursed still, but now Holiness has been here, sowing the seeds of redemption. For now, they may seem to lie dormant as in winter, or barely shooting up, as in the first, fledgling moments of spring, but someday…someday, they will burst into full bloom. They will chase away the curse forever. All will be made new. It will. It will.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….” Isaiiah 35:1,2

“But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter into Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

jesus walking

Good Friday Was Bad

The older I get, the more I become aware of life’s fragility, of our precarious position in this world. We are not promised tomorrow, nor even tonight. What’s more, neither are our loved ones. Living is risky and loving is even riskier. Motherhood has made me all too aware of this. From ISIS and the zika virus and just basic human error the endless list of what if‘s could bring a mother to the brink of insanity. I think with each pregnancy, I will confront fear again and again. I can be haunted by the words of Job, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me…”

The question then, is what is the answer to the problem of our fears? Is it a blind, unfounded belief that bad things won’t happen to us? Do we just tell ourselves God wouldn’t do that? I don’t think so because we can plainly see that bad things do happen to people. As scripture tells us, God not only lets them happen, but He ordains all that will come to pass. How then can we know that this God, this sovereign God is really good? How may we look our fears in the face, knowing that they might all come true and yet believe that God is trustworthy?

Whenever I wrestle with the sovereignty of God and the existence of evil and suffering, a profound mystery, God always leads me to the surer, solid ground before the cross. We celebrate today, the day Jesus died, and we call it good, but the truth is, it wasn’t really good. Good Friday was bad. Nothing could have been more disastrous, more terrible for followers of Jesus than the death of the one on whom they had pinned all their hopes.

But it wasn’t even just that it seemed bad at the time. It was really wrong. It was really evil and unjust that Jesus, who had committed no wrong, was crucified at the hands of those who had. Jesus himself, when they came to arrest him, said, “But this is your hour when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). What a startling statement for the light of the world to make. God purposed that darkness, evil, should reign–but only for a time. For we know that the real injustice wrought by man was, at the same time, mysteriously coinciding with God’s perfect justice against sin and amazing grace to sinners. You see, the cross tells us that God always re-purposes or rather, “supra-purposes” evil and suffering. What man intends for evil, God intends to work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Genesis 50:20, Romans 828).

So my answer to my fears and worries is not some wishful belief that they will not happen, that they could not happen. As they happened to Job, they could happen to me. All that I fear might come to pass and it might be truly bad, truly wrong. Yet if I follow the logic of Romans 8, the logic of the cross, I find the freedom to walk in faith instead of fear. Good Friday was bad, but now it is so very, completely good. Through His resurrection, Christ redeemed His own death and if He can redeem such a great wrong, He can and will redeem all the pains and sorrows of those He suffered so greatly to purchase. If He can redeem the cross, He can redeem anything and if He can redeem anything, we have nothing to fear. That is not trite, vain hope, but plain, solid truth to which our souls can firmly hold.