Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pushing Thirty: Happy to be Humbled, Part 3

(Carrie's third reflection on reaching the third decade of life:)

Aging.  The connotations are less than pretty. The appearance of gray hair, the few extra pounds hanging on, the wrinkles and bags and saggy skin.  And after three kids, suffice it to say that things just ain’t what they used to be in oh, so many ways.  It’s not as though I was ever a great beauty, primping and waxing and shopping my days away, but as I approach thirty I am faced head-on with the ugly reality that I have been vain. 

I have trusted in my youth, which is always accompanied by a kind of freshness and beauty even in the most homely of us.  I have valued my outer appearance over my inner appearance. I have compared my own appearance to those around me just to make sure that I’m not the most unattractive person in the room. 

The problem with vanity is that when the beauty (or perceived beauty) starts to decay, it feels like a betrayal.  My body is not supposed to do this to me!  And so the idol I’ve made of my own physical appearance comes crashing down, which leaves me in that place of humility again, realizing that the only One who will never disappoint, never betray, is the ever faithful God of the universe.

When I was in high school, a friend who treated me a like sister called me up one day.  He said, “Carrie, I was reading in Proverbs and I wanted to share this verse with you.  It says, ‘Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.’” (Proverbs 31:30)

It stuck with me.  And it is finally starting to make sense to me, which officially makes me a very slow learner. Here’s what I’m piecing together: If it is true that beauty will not last, then the pursuit of beauty is akin to the hamster running endlessly on that squeaky wheel – the pursuer never really arrives at any destination though he finds himself terribly worn out.

This could be dark and hopeless if not for the second part of that verse.  There is something of enduring value about the woman who fears the LORD.  Put another way:

"Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

All people are outwardly wasting away.  Those who have been graciously given the honor to be followers of Christ (because of God's love and favor, not because I am deserving), however, are being inwardly renewed daily.  The griefs that cause those wrinkles to form, the pain of childbearing which stretches the body all out of shape, the worries that spawn those gray hairs - they are all doing a good thing in the lives of sisters in Christ.  They are teaching us to live in awe of God, to rely on His grace and supply, and identify with the sufferings of Christ.  This is the reason I am happy to be humbled in the face of my own vanity.

Instead of making me more beautiful on the exterior, the process of aging and its accompanying wisdom is re-making me to look inwardly more like my Savior.  And that is a deeper, eternal kind of beauty which I am delighted to discover will never fade or disappoint.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

WAKE UP: We're at WAR!

More than ever in my life the stark reality of thousands of people groups unreached by a "peaceful" western church has been branded on my brain. More and more it troubles my heart. The logic of love is irresistible. If I love the lost, I will seek to save them from perishing. If I love the glory of God, I will work to overcome the worldwide ignorance and belittling of that glory. The blinders are beginning to fall off of my eyes and the bombshells of the unseen war are beginning to explode with terrible brightness all around me. I am coming to see the peacetime mentality that dominates our church and our conference as a tactical victory of Satan—the result of a kind of nerve gas from Satan's arsenal of chemical weaponry that gives the soldiers of Christ a kind of stupor in some and religious euphoria in others, and eventually puts them to sleep at the gates of the enemy, and makes them utterly oblivious to the cries of the P.O.W.'s behind the wall.
Who but Satan could devise a chemical weapon which when spread over the army of Christ would make them content simply to hold worship services and support groups at the door of Satan's dungeon? Picture the Allied troops landing in Germany, marching victoriously toward the smoke from the ovens of Dachau, and then stopping at the gates, setting up camp, and having a big Bavarian beer bust to celebrate while the Gestapo finishes murdering 5,000 Jews behind the gates. Satan is satisfied with all our religious activity as long as it does not move us to break down those gates to rescue the perishing.
Therefore, at the top of my agenda these days has been the question: how can I get myself and the church awake to a wartime mentality? Is there some way to break the spell? Picture a great army asleep with mighty weapons in their limp hands and armor in their tents. Picture them sleeping in the fields all around one of Satan's strongholds. Suddenly, an eyelid blinks, a head lifts and looks around. Then another and another. A strange awakening spreads through the field. Muscles are flexed. Armor fitted. Swords sharpened. Eyes meet with silent excitement. The light in the commander's tent goes on, the generals gather and the strategy for the attack is laid.
What has happened? The Holy Spirit has begun to move upon the armies of the Lord. "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light . . . Do not be drunk with Bavarian beer but be filled with the Holy Spirit . . . Put on the whole armor of God . . . and take the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God . . . Keep alert . . . and help each other be bold" (Ephesians 5:14186:1117–19). There is only one power that can break the spell of Satan, waken the armies of the Lord, and rout the god of this age—the power of the Holy Spirit.
From a sermon by John Piper, 1984
By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reflections on Family Ministry in the Church

These reflections come out of several years studying the family-integrated model of ministry, 5+ years of full-time youth ministry, and now 2+ years as a senior pastor. The key impetus for this post was reading Timothy Paul Jones' recent and well-written article: "Making Time for What Matters" (it might help you know where I am going to read his article first).

I've personally been thinking a lot about these concepts. The big issue is that the "problem" is so multi-layered that there is no quick fix. 

My first 3 reflections push against the family-integrated model:

First, the kind of model this guy wrote is the "ideal," and for most non-Christian families and baby Christians it will take years (think 5-10) before they can make a transition like this. Churches shouldn't expect families to jump on board with a plan like this right away. There needs to be a series of steps that get people there. If a church holds this model up as the minimum, the only people who will stay at the church will be fairly matured families. Thus, evangelism will get stunted.

Second, this ideal situation is not "the Gospel." The Gospel is the message of Christ's reconciling work on the Cross. Some churches/people I've read in the past year have made "good families" the goal of the Cross. This is not the goal of the cross. Though time management, setting priorities, redeeming the time, godly parenting, etc. are now more possible with the Spirit alive and at work, we must be careful to hold up any ideal that could be confused as Gospel.

Third, families cannot fully disciple their children. The local church is the necessary location where people are discipled. God has gifted the church with the gifts needed to bring people to maturity in Christ. No family has been endowed with all the spiritual gifts necessary to rear children to know, love, and serve the LORD. Yes, parents need to be engaging their children and obeying various commands in Scripture related to raising their children. And yet, the key responsibility I believe for parents is to be sure their families are fully-integrated into a church family. This is even more important for those who are baby Christians. They don't have the resources to help their children, but the church does. These parents need a place where they can grow, and a place where there kids can be fed before their parents can feed them spiritually. So too, these kids need to be exposed to those with the gift of teaching (many parents don't have this gift). These kids need to be exposed to those with the gift of mercy (many parents don't have this gift). These kids need to be exposed to gifts of giving, service, helps, etc.

Now, 3 ideas in favor of this concept:

First, my #1 responsibility as a father (not as a Christian) is to help my children fear and love the LORD God (Eph. 6:4). Their careers, success on the field or on the stage, or functioning "well" in society falls behind this #1 responsibility. The weekly calendar should be structured based first and foremost on this #1 responsibility. This means we will say no to lots of "good" things in order to focus time in God's Word, with God's people, and in service to the world (admittedly this is an abbreviated list).

Second, both kids and adults need to be exposed to all of God's people. Young and old need to interact together. Now, I don't mean all the time. But there needs to be venues, programs, informal gatherings, etc. that involve people of different ages, ethnicities, genders, etc. These settings will be a bit awkward at times, but God uses these awkward situations to teach us about the importance of loving those not like us. A church that has a million programs to keep people from having to interact with people not like them is going to have a tough time obeying lots of the commands about bearing with one another, loving the unlovely, etc.

Third, Satan is busy and he likes others to be busy too. One wise saint remarked that it isn't a good idea to follow the Enemy's example. Satan is prowling and working day in and day out. Let's not do the same. We need to rest. We need a weekly 24-hour Sabbath. Our family members (every one of them) need a break: a day with no competition, a day with no school work, a day with no expectation than simply to receive God's good gifts. We need to pray and play, rest and be refreshed. A day set aside as holy, a day for worship. I believe we will ultimately have a greater quality of life when we obey the Lord's commands to rest.

I hope it's apparent by the contrasting reflections that no church should quickly adopt any new method or overhaul existing methods and embrace another church's plan. Each church is different, with different people, different needs, and different resources. Each church needs to be who God has created them to be and who God has called them to be. Ministry will look different at each church, and we need to be careful to not quickly judge one church's ministry program.

Praise God the body of Christ shows up in various ways in various local churches.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Books Read August-ish 2012

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (short, classic book on what Christianity should look like)

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Scazzero (needed refreshment for my soul)

The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (stellar book on the Trinity and how the Triune God shapes the church and the life of the Christian)

The Three Musketeers by Dumas (read aloud book with Carrie--not as good as I hoped)

Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson (short and sweet read on praying bold prayers for your children)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Pushing Thirty: Happy to be Humbled, Part 2

"How was the 5k?” asks random person.

“I came in dead last, but it was still good,” I reply.

“You weren’t dead last; there were walkers behind you,” chimes in my dear husband. 

Thanks, honey. The only folks slower than me are the ones walking. And yet, this race I “ran” in (that might be a slight overstatement, perhaps “jogged” is more appropriate) a few weeks ago has been good. 

My husband, who is preparing to run a half marathon this weekend, wanted to run the 5k as a sprint run.  So I thought, what the heck, I’ll join him.  Just a few weeks of training and I’ll be ready.  Can I just say that running 3.1 miles on the road is to 20 minutes on the elliptical what a five-course meal is to frozen pizza?  So I had to work pretty hard in those weeks leading up to race day.

On race day, as I’m bringing up the rear around the first curve (somebody’s gotta do it!), I’m realizing that I have two options.  Give up or press on.  Normally, my instinct is to give up, hide, walk away from all things related to “personal failure”. That’s my fall-back.  Yet I didn’t really like that option. The problem was that I realized early on that I didn’t have the personal discipline it would take to press on.  So I started to pray.  Lord, help!  There’s no way I can do this thing without walking and within my goal time, but will you please just keep me from dying out here?  Oh, and maybe help me finish the race, too?

As I continued on that trail, something changed in my heart.  It was like a long-treasured possession was being pried out of my fingers. That nasty, life-killing little possession resembles pride, vanity, the need for personal glory.  And though I’ve clung to it for almost 30 years now, I am happy to say that it is finally beginning to make its exit.  (I say “beginning” because I think it will be a long road before it will be truly gone, and quite possibly not in this life.)  Instead of that destructive desire to compare myself with others, I began to be concerned with doing my best, using my physical exertion as an act of worship, and putting one foot in front of the other as an act of faith that the God who promises to make our feet like the feet of the deer would help carry me to the finish line. (Ps. 18:33)

In the end, I kind of liked the race.  It’s really good for me to do something at which, when viewed from the world’s concept of performance and success, I’m just plain terrible. It’s another step toward humility, which, I discovered at the finish line, brings freedom.  The first thought as I set foot across that line was that I had, miraculously, just jogged the whole thing.  And the first (very surprised) words out of my mouth to my sweaty husband were, “I made my goal!!”

Running has made very plain to me that I do not take a step down that trail by my strength alone, but by the strength God provides. This reality is seeping into other aspects of my life wherein I see the grace of God holding me up, putting breath into my lungs, moving those legs along in ways I’ve never noticed. Somehow, I always thought it was just me, super-talented and fantastic me, doing those things.  I’m happy to be humbled because it means I see more clearly on the day-to-day the hundreds of ways God Himself is working in, around, and through me to accomplish His purposes, which are, much to my delight, not always without pain but definitely always good.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Dogs at church?

So in the middle of my morning run an idea came into my head...The church is full of dogs. I'm not talking about canines by genetics, but canines by behavior.

Dogs are members of households. They get fed, watered, walked, and groomed. They perform tricks that please guests and occasionally will perform a service like bringing in the paper. But overall, they are receivers. They take and take. We enjoy their company, and they keep us from feeling alone.

Similarly, the church is full of people who are canines by behavior. We have people in the church who are members of the household. They get fed and watered from the church through its teaching, fellowship, and other blessings. They look good to guests and occasionally perform a service. But overall they are receivers. We enjoy their company, and they keep us from feeling alone.

Unfortunately, the church is not supposed to be full of dogs. The church is to be filled with brothers and sisters in Christ whose lives are to be marked by sacrificial service for one another. Certainly, family members are invited to feast at the table of God's Word and within the church's fellowship, but eventually, we ask our small children to grow up and take their plate to the kitchen, then they do the dishes, and eventually they take on more and more sacrificial responsibility. We certainly don't want our children to regress into to acting like dogs; we desire them to grow up, mature, and become life-giving participants in the family.

Jesus put it this way in John 13:12-17: When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (NIV, emphasis added)

Spoiler Alert:
Oh...and for those of us that think we are the "good kids" out-performing the dogs and less mature children, this is sin (pride, legalism, works of the flesh!). We don't "serve God" out of our goodness or our strength. Rather, God provides all that is necessary for Christian service, all that is necessary for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). Every act of obedience puts us more in debt to God's grace. Every act of service is a testimony to God working in us to will and to act according to His purpose (Phil. 2:13). St. Peter put it well in 1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (NIV, emphasis added).