Receiving the Appointed Bitter Gifts of God

Writing a book is a funny thing because it becomes like your little shoulder angel, whispering in your ear, reminding you of all the fine words you wrote that you’re supposed to be also putting into action. Maybe God has a little chuckle watching me deal with the many opportunities I have to do so. Like, oh you wrote about sacrificial love? Here’s a 6 am wake up call, some poop handprints on the bathroom wall, and a vomit covered toddler. Enjoy.

It sounds stupid, but I’m often taken off guard when life is hard. I can be personally affronted by inconvenience. Do something hard and unpleasant? Surely, not ME. Maybe we never grow out of this childishness without a perspective shift…because if we believe our lives are fundamentally about us, then our daily difficulties seem out of place. If we think we’re the director and star of our own drama, we will be continuously perplexed when our storylines go awry. 

While we’d like to think that our lives are self-made, scripture tells us that they are appointed to us. “Only let each person lead the life that the LORD has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17). Our lives and every day that makes up their sum, including its difficulties, has been assigned to us.

If we see this, if it dawns on us that perhaps we are not the stars of this show nor the authors of this story, but recipients of a part to play in God’s grand narrative, we might begin to see our daily difficulties differently, even as a gift. I’m not sure I can ever look at poop handprints and think, “What a lovely gift,” but I think at least, we could see such inconveniences as bitter medicine with a sweet purpose. 

Every hard thing is meant to remind me that I am here on this earth to magnify Him and not the other way around. I can fight what He has assigned to me or submit myself to it, receiving the hard things as God-ordained and therefore, good. The toddler tantrum has been assigned to me. The poop handprints have been given. Though I might regularly pray, “Lord please let this cup pass from me”, the dishes and the laundry have apparently been appointed unto me for all my days under the sun. Yet I know from whom they come. I know who holds my lot and draws my boundary lines. The path He’s set out for me may include many things I’d rather leave out, but I know where it leads. To life. To joy. To pleasures evermore.

Big announcement! Upcoming Book

Thank you to those who are following along on this blog. I started this blog as a fresh out of college philosophy graduate. I, and my writing, have changed a lot since then, as I am now a stay-at-home homeschool mom of five. God began to help me hone what I wanted my writing to do: enlighten and encourage. And naturally, it has veered mostly toward the topic that consumes my life: motherhood.

A few years ago (3 1/2 to be exact, but who’s counting?), a handful of people told me I was funny and I should write a book about motherhood. Apparently, that was all it took to convince me that I’m funny and I should write a book about motherhood. But truthfully, it had always been a dream of mine to have a book published though it felt a little like dreaming of making it on broadway or becoming the queen of England.

Nonetheless, I started writing. I set out to create a book that gave moms in the trenches what I believed they needed: real gospel encouragement for the calling of motherhood and help laughing at the parts of motherhood you have to laugh about or go crazy.

I began to send it to publishers which felt like a big shot in the dark in a world where it’s very hard to be traditionally published, but God opened a door and led me to a publisher that was interested in my book.

Lots and LOTS of waiting, uncertainty, pandemic delays, hours and hours of editing, more waiting, and two babies later, it’s finally coming together. The cover is still in process and release date TBD…but stay tuned.

I am SO excited to announce that Majoring in Motherhood, my motherhood crash course, is coming soon. 🤗

For the Unholy Mother

I thought I would be holier by now.

I thought surely eight years of motherhood would turn me into a June Cleaver who smiles beatifically through the travails of raising children. I wake up with the resolve to be more like this, but somewhere between the morning oatmeal smeared on the table and the fiftieth exclamation of, “He hit me!” My resolve crumbles.

God’s love is described as steadfast, like the waves that relentlessly hit the shore. My love often feels fickle, pulled back and forth by a moody, unpredictable tide. I want to grow to be more like Him, more steadfast, but instead I feel like I’m just “fast.” Fast to anger. Fast to grumbling.

But maybe, that’s a big part of becoming holier: first seeing how unholy you are. Maybe the work of sanctification in motherhood is seeing just how wide the chasm between you and righteousness really is. We are not just a little worse than God. We are so very human while He is completely “other”, in a category of holiness we could never even come close to achieving on our own.

“If you O LORD should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”

Salvations means God has descended down into our depths and hauled us back up to stand in the field of grace. It’s as simple as that and yet, there’s tension here. Grace is free, but not cheap. We are welcomed to its throne, but we must not tread flippantly on holy ground.

I thought I would be holier by now.

But maybe, the holiest person is the one bowed down to the dust, the one who reaches for the cup of salvation with trembling hands, knowing their only hope of receiving it is to plead the merits of another.

Reverence and redemption. Mourning and joy. Forgiveness and fear. How closely are they intertwined.

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

Natural Does Not Make Moral

A moral philosophy has pervaded our culture that is (or should be) disturbing.  It comes to us dressed in what appear to be enlightened thought and words, but anyone who thinks even slightly deeply about it can see that it is the exact opposite.  It is in fact, hopelessly primitive. It is the philosophy which equates the natural with the moral.  If something is natural it cannot be prohibited and if we desire something, we must necessarily have a right to it.

This is no more noble than it is novel.  We, living in the post-modern age, tend to turn up our noses at those who came before, scoffing at their backward and binding sense of morality.  Indeed, we believe ourselves to have transcended and transformed what has come before us into something better when in reality, we have most decidedly descended, not into anything new or inspiring, but into the most base manner of thinking. In so doing, we make ourselves to be nothing more than creatures of instinct, indistinguishable from the animals.

There is indeed something very attractive about this line of thought and it is not hard to figure out what it is.  It is easy and it gets us exactly what we want.  Morality dictated by something other than our instincts is almost never convenient and rarely in line with our desires. Doing the right thing is, more often than not, very hard and very costly.

Of course, there is the glaring argument that if it isn’t right, then it would not be so ingrained in our nature to desire it.  We are, after all, “born this way.”  But what does that have to do with morality?  With truth?  Since when is “what is” the same thing as “what ought to be.” I find no necessary link between the two. In fact, I am more deeply convicted that there is much about what is, in the world and within myself, that really ought not to be.   I was born selfish, but does that mean that my selfishness must be condoned, even celebrated as good?  If all that counts is what comes naturally and what I desire, then anything, anything goes.  Let us think past the ends of our noses and realize that if we make natural instinct the sole basis of our morality, we have not merely revised moral law, we have abolished it.

We must be careful to remember that what has set humans apart from all other living beings is our sense of a moral law and our conviction that this law should govern nature and not the other way around. What has made the human experience beautiful and meaningful is our unique ability to perform very difficult and very costly moral acts: to die in the place of another, to remain faithful to our spouse until death, or to tell the truth at great cost.  These are the acts we celebrate and admire and yet they are anything but natural.  In fact, they go completely against nature.  They are, in the sense that they go beyond nature, supernatural. And it is this ability to think beyond and act in spite of our natural desires that makes us uniquely human and makes our humanness meaningful.

 

The Right Kind of Slavery

A couple weeks ago I posted my thoughts about the question of whether or not living a life of holiness was necessarily opposed to living a life of pleasure.  I argued that contrary to common thought, the life of holiness will yield the life of greatest pleasure.  A closely related issue is the question of freedom.  What does it mean to be free?  Does living for God mean giving up your freedom?  These are important questions and I’d like to share what I’ve been mulling over lately.

First, we must examine what we think freedom is.  Then, we must determine if our view of freedom coheres with the reality of human nature and also whether, such freedom is possible or even desirable.

Freedom According to the World

America is by far the most individualistic society in the world.  We prize autonomy above all else.  The human right to liberty is the primary ideal on which the country was founded.  The founding fathers believed that humans had an inherent dignity which gave them certain rights and freedom which should never be violated.

However, I would say that freedom has come to mean something more today than it did then.  Personal liberty was never meant to be absolute.  The right notion of human dignity and liberty has been twisted into something it did not used to be, a bloated and irrational conception of freedom.

Today, our understanding of freedom has become the idea that we, as self-governing, rational individuals should have the right to do whatever we please, with whomever we please without any regard for consequences or accountability to an authority imposed on us against our will.  This kind of thinking has infiltrated our music, our media, basically ever aspect of our society.  The individual has been exalted to god-like status.   This is nothing new.  It is merely selfish arrogance masked as something noble, the age-old rebellion of man against God masquerading as “enlightenment” and “progress.”

Besides the fact that it is very hard to see how a society who has discarded the Creator who endowed them with such inalienable rights, can still maintain that they have such rights, there are other problems with this view.  It is not really possible nor, if we think about it for any length, is it really even desirable.

It would be very hard to maintain a society where people were actually free to do whatever they wanted.  There could be no laws.  There could be no protests against the behavior of others.  Chaos would reign.

Even if it was possible, would such a world even be one we would want to live in?  Of course not.  Our beliefs are inconsistent.  None of us really want a world of complete freedom.  We want the bad guys in prison.  We want those who have wronged us punished.  Our tolerance and subjectivity shatter in the face of evil.  Deep down, we do not want a world where there is absolute freedom and no final justice because we know that such a world would render our lives meaningless and neutralize our sufferings.  The real and ugly truth is that we do not want everyone to escape the consequences of their actions.  Just ourselves.

Moreover, I would argue doing as we please does not really bring freedom at all.  Those who seem the least concerned with following God’s law or any sense of moral obligation other than their own desires and whims usually end up in the greatest bondage to addictions and destructive lifestyles.

Freedom According to the Bible

So if doing as we please without regard for consequences is not true freedom, then what is?  The Bible takes a very different stance.  Its notion of human freedom is both less and more than ours for it exalts God rather than man. Man is not his own absolute authority.  His actions do have consequences and he will be held accountable, not to the moral code he creates for himself, but to the laws of an eternal, holy, just God.  None of us are free from God, but if we submit ourselves to God, we can be free from the destruction of own foolish ways.

Yes, we all have free will in the sense that we make our own choices and these choices come from our own hearts. Each human life is sacred and therefore should always be treated as an end and never merely as a means. However, our human dignity does not mean we are our own masters, exempt from God’s law and immune to His judgments.  We were simply not designed to be our own master and therefore any attempt to be will end in disaster and frustration. It goes against our nature.  The truth is that we are all slaves to something.  We were created to worship and whatever we worship, we serve. Whatever bewitches our hearts will own our souls.  We are in bondage to whatever we love most.

This is startling and offensive to our American sensibilities, but if we survey even a little of human history or look into our own hearts, we cannot deny it.  Yes, we are free to make our own choices in this life, but the sum of our choices is merely the choice of what we will be slaves to, what master we will serve.  In fact, the Bible only gives us two options.  We can either be slaves to sin or we can be slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18-23).

To be a slave to sin is to live without reference to God.  It is to “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things, rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).  The problem with this kind of slavery is that it is in direct opposition with reality and in total opposition to our built-in purpose to be God-worshipers and God-reflectors.  In essence, to reject God’s law in order to live a life of licentious freedom is to live a lie. Absolute freedom without the guide of absolute truth is a dangerous thing.  To freely follow our own passions and desires is not freedom from God but voluntary bondage to the objects of our own misplaced love and worship.  Many who live for such “freedom” ultimately find it to be a cruel master.

If being a slave to sin is to live a lie, then being a slave to righteousness is to live in the light of the truth of God. It is to make our choices in accordance with the reality of God’s existence, the truth about who He is as the Creator, and the subsequent truth about who we are as the created.  As Tim Keller put it, freedom “is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.” -Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Freedom then, on the Biblical account, is nothing more than choosing the right kind of slavery.  Now to us, slavery has major negative connotations which we need to check at the door.  Choosing the right kind of slavery merely means to serve the God we were made to serve and worship the God we were created to worship.  It means exalting God rather than ourselves.  In so doing, we find that, paradoxically, such slavery leads to freedom because it releases us to fulfill the purpose for which we were designed and thus, to attain the abundant life which God always intended for us.

No, we are not “free” to do whatever we like.  We are still bound to the authority of God, but we are no longer bound to sin and therefore, death (Romans 6:21).  We are now bound to Christ and therefore, life (Romans 6:22). We are bound to a God of infinite love and wisdom “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:31) and “who works all things for good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28).  What better Master to serve?  Who could be more worthy of our utmost love and devotion?

Jesus said, “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  The precondition for freedom is truth and the precondition for truth is holding to His teaching and thus, being His disciples.  The life of true freedom then is not the life of freedom from the authority of God, but the life submitted to the authority of God.  Christ is the only One we were meant to worship and the only Master who will free us from death unto life eternal.

Truth is Not Free

“Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.”  -Proverbs 23:23

“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.  Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” -Proverbs 4:7

My last post was a piece about the supposed virtue of an “open mind.”  As it said, an open mind is a commendable thing only if we recognize truth as truth and subsequently, submit to it and invest in it.  As that implies and the above verses explicate, this means that the truth will cost us something.  If we really want to own it, to live by it, we must be willing to be obedient to it and yes, even pay a price for it.  Truth is not free.

This should be sobering to us.  Yet it should also be a hopeful thing.  For by virtue of costing something, it must also be worth something.  We do not pay a price for things of no value to us.  And these verses tell us that the treasures of truth and wisdom are of supreme value.  

Jesus has told us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He has also told us that anyone who would come after Him, the Truth embodied, must be willing to lose their life.  The truth is not always popular.  It is not always easy.  But I do know this:  the truth is always good and the truth will always win.  When all is said and done, I want to be on the side of truth.  For the promise of Scripture is that while it is certain that following Christ will cost us something, it is even more certain that it will be worth everything.