Responding to Our Sin

JULIANNE ATKINSON |GUEST My favorite writer in the Bible is the Apostle Paul. If Paul was a murderer and God STILL used him on the scale he did, he can use me despite my sins and failures. If Paul wrestled deeply in sin struggles and God STILL loved him, he can love me too. And after all of that, if Paul can fervently love Jesus with his mind and heart, pointing to him in what he says and does, I want to do that too. We see Paul’s heart in the book of Romans. I find chapters 7 and 8 especially encouraging where Paul writes about struggling with his sin. He describes how he does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he wants to do (Rom. 7:15-20). We tend to idealize biblical characters, but Paul opens up about the fact that he has to literally wage war with his own sin, citing covetousness as an example earlier in the chapter. Our sin can be intimidating when the scales fall off and we see the true depths of our depravity. We often respond in several different ways to the reality of our sin. The large-scale analogy that I like to think of to compare it to is what happened at Chernobyl. Before the current tragic war, I was blessed to go to Ukraine a couple of times and teach English. One year, many Ukrainians told me about the HBO series on Chernobyl and said they loved it so I decided to watch it for myself. They were right. It is fantastic and I recommend it. Using this analogy, I want to describe three ways we might respond to our sin. Enter into the Struggle If there’s one thing that characterizes this series, it’s being told the right thing to do, and choosing the wrong thing to do, over and over, to the devastation of many lives. Sin can be like a nuclear explosion. It’s ugly, messy, and it contaminates everything in its vicinity. At Chernobyl, the nuclear core mysteriously explodes, and we see people respond just the way we do when we see our sin. First, we have the nuclear physicists. They’re the heroes. They acknowledge the problem and enter into the struggle, just as Paul does with his sin in the book of Romans. They’re informed; they know something happened and that it was catastrophic. They know the right thing to do and that it’s embarrassing; it requires some serious sacrifice, lots of work, and if they don’t act immediately and engage with the issue it will get much, much worse. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Cover it Up...

Responding to Our Sin2024-02-17T18:05:04+00:00

Be Ready and Willing to Serve

JESSICA ROAN | GUEST It was more than just “one of those days.” It was more like “one of those months” or “one of those years”, a time unlike any I had ever experienced before. It was the fall of 2021, and while our school district was going back to school, it was unlike any other first week of school in my memory. It was the return to school after quarantines and fear and chaos of the pandemic. As teachers, we all began that week feeling uncertain and unsettled. On this busy day, I received an email. I recognized the name as soon as it came across my screen, but what the email contained caught me by surprise. This former student wanted me to read her admissions essay for a Christian college. I knew her and her family, so this request was fitting, but as I read her testimony about how God had transformed her life and family, my heart melted. I was in no mood for this unexpected task, but after a deep breath and prayer for a change of heart, this act of service reminded me to appreciate the blessings of life in Christ and the opportunities he puts before us whether we see them or not. It takes Time to Serve Those Around Us If you’re anything like me, I am driven by a schedule. From the time my alarm goes off at 5:20 AM until my head hits the pillow, I have an agenda. Chores to do, papers to grade, activities to cart my kids to, dinner to make. Amidst this seemingly endless list of “to dos” are numerous interactions with my family members, students, coworkers, friends, and more. Is hospitality on my mind, whether it be in the form of a kind word, a thoughtful question, or just lending a listening ear? Honestly, no. Most often, I am just hoping the day has no bumps so that I can get the most done in the least amount of time. Jesus, on the other hand, never failed to entertain minister to those the Father brought into his path. He had an agenda: the souls of men. No one he met with was in the way or an inconvenience. He healed the hearing of a deaf man in Mark 7, healed a withered hand on the Sabbath— contrary to the rules of the grumbling pharisees (Luke 6)— and bought bread for a large group of people who followed him (John 6). Even when the disciples tried to free him from dealing with a group of children, . . . “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Mark 19:14)...

Be Ready and Willing to Serve2024-02-19T23:51:05+00:00

Identifying Gospel-Centered Resources

BETHANY BELUE | CONTRIBUTOR A few years ago, I read a Christian book I heard recommended over various platforms. A podcaster said she couldn’t put it down. A friend at church shared wisdom she gleaned from it. A book reviewer classified it as “a must read.” When I opened the pages for the first time, I was expectant and excited. What I didn't expect was to disagree with so much of it. The principles felt more as if they were from the author's experiences than the Word of God. The practical applications only gave false hope.  There were chapters of the book that I did agree with and gained from, but I found that it was confusing to separate what was true from what wasn’t. As I reflected on this book, I began to think about why I chose to read it. I read it because I was influenced by the opinions of others and didn’t do my own research on the author or the content.   There are many books and resources available to us in the Christian community.  No matter the topic, there is a book or resource that will address it. While this can be a good thing, it is important that we be responsible to identify resources that are gospel-centered and in line with God’s Word. Since reading that book, the Lord has led me to be more thorough in examining what content I digest in my mind and heart, as well as what I recommend to others. There are five questions I have used to help guide me in choosing God-honoring books and resources.  Five Questions to Ask About Resources Is it gospel-centered? The message of the gospel is central to God’s Word.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9).   There are many books and resources that talk about God, but do they point us to the gospel? Do they communicate salvation by grace alone through faith alone? Many books point to all the things we need to and should be doing to grow as Christians. While that is often helpful, we want to ensure we are being pointed back to God’s grace. If it doesn’t, we are left thinking that it’s all up to us. Our hope should be that we walk away with our eyes focused more on Jesus and less on ourselves...  

Identifying Gospel-Centered Resources2024-02-10T19:41:12+00:00

Gray Hair is a Crown of Glory

KIM BARNES | CONTRIBUTOR Recently, I got an email from a friend. She had heard through the grapevine that my husband had been briefly hospitalized. (He’s fine.) She wanted to let me know she was praying for us. I’ve known Doras for around 17 years and during those years, she has often sent emails letting me know that she’s praying for me, and I know that she reaches out to many this way. I don’t get to see Doras as often as I used to, but I did get to see her recently for a special occasion—her 100th birthday party! You read that correctly. I have a 100-year-old friend who prays for me and who communicates by email. I met Doras when my husband was called to be the pastor of her church. She was 83 years old and had been a widow for several years. Doras was quick to make sure she had my email address. I learned that while the church was without a pastor, 83-year-old Doras decided it would be a good idea to start an informal email newsletter to encourage the congregation and help everyone stay connected. On a regular basis, she would send emails that announced church events, shared prayer requests, and offered encouragement to gather for worship. She forwarded prayer letters sent out by our missionaries and if a member of our church wanted to get the word out about anything, they needed only to send an email to Doras. For the next twelve years, while my husband served as pastor of Doras’s church, I could count on regular emails that encouraged, informed, and blessed me...

Gray Hair is a Crown of Glory2024-02-10T19:34:15+00:00

Covenantal Promises for the Eternity of Our Children

BARBARANNE KELLY | CONTRIBUTOR It’s always an occasion of joy when on a Sunday morning one of the families in our church brings their child (or children) for baptism, or when children of the church are admitted to the Lord’s Table. Though these sacraments reflect the sacred rites of an ancient people, separated from us by millennia, language, and geographic location, they hold deep significance for our church communities and the people in our pews today. When a child is baptized or when we take the Lord’s Supper, these are more than mere rituals and sweet traditions. The meaning behind them and the covenant promises they hold are an opportunity for reflection and remembrance for me as an individual, and for our whole congregation. When God called Abraham into a covenant relationship with himself, he gave him the covenant sign of circumcision as a means of setting his family apart from the rest of the world and marking them as his own. The sign wasn’t a condition of belonging to the covenant people, but an indication that those so marked already belonged to the people of God. Over four hundred years later, God instituted the Passover through Moses. This too was a family-wide ceremony, a feast to remember the deliverance of the Lord. Those households sheltered under the blood of the lamb were “passed over” when the Lord visited his judgment of death upon the firstborn in Egypt. Circumcision and the Passover both required the shedding of blood, pointing forward to the blood of Christ shed upon the cross for the full and final cleansing and deliverance from sin and death for all those who belong to him by grace through faith. Both of these covenant ceremonies were to be kept “throughout the generations” of the people of God, “for an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:7; Ex. 12:17). Yet though the covenant remains, in the New Covenant era, since our Lord Jesus has fulfilled the Old Covenant, the signs have necessarily changed. Bloodshed is no longer required. Instead, circumcision has been replaced with water baptism[1] (Col. 2:11–12). And our Lord Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper of bread and wine—the cup of the new covenant in his blood, to be done in remembrance of him—to replace the killing of a lamb for the Passover ceremony (Luke 22:18–20)...

Covenantal Promises for the Eternity of Our Children2024-02-10T19:29:33+00:00

Find Refuge in God

SHARON ROCKWELL | CONTRIBUTOR We were standing in a circle in the dark of night. In this heavily forested area, our group was being led by a well-known ornithologist who for over 50 years has been tracking owls locally, banding them and recording information to learn more about their habits. We patiently waited for the birds to be caught in mist nets. The nets did not hurt the birds. Those caught were examined, weighed, and banded. Sexing owls in the wild can be difficult, so the ornithologist positioned each owl feet up and blew gently against the lower feathers. In many cases, the feathers would give indication of being broken or damaged, and in a circular pattern, a sign that the female had been nesting. Baby owls had recently taken refuge under those feathers. God created mother owls to protect her “owlets” from nature’s harm and predators by hiding them close to her body, providing refuge and as well shielding them from any evil one who would deliberately lay a trap to snare them. What a picture of how God provides refuge for us! Psalm 91:1-6 comes to mind: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,    my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler    and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions,    and under his wings you will find refuge;    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night,    nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday...

Find Refuge in God2024-02-04T20:25:42+00:00

Coming Alongside Women in the Church

CHRISTINA FOX | EDITOR I sit around the table surrounded by women from various seasons of life. One by one, we share our prayer requests for the week. Requests for healing from painful diseases. Requests for restoration of broken relationships. Requests for endurance in troubles and trials. Requests for comfort in grief and sorrow. As we share our cares and concerns with one another, we feel each other’s sorrows and fears. Our hearts hurt for each other. That’s because we are united to the Body of Christ. So, we pray with and for one another. We rejoice when prayers are answered. We encourage one another in our sorrows. We bear one another’s cares. The church is filled with hurting people. We all bear the burdens and scars of living in a fallen world where the tentacles of sin stretch far and wide. We experience the consequences of our first parent’s sin before we are even born. We enter this world in sin and live our lives in rebellion against our Creator until we are rescued and saved by the blood of Christ. We sin against others and others sin against us. Some wounds we receive at the hands of others burrow deep in our hearts and linger long. There’s also the impact of sin on our bodies as they fail to work as they should—as disease and decay leave their mark until death makes its final call. Sin’s tentacles also impact our created world where natural disasters spin out tragedy and destruction on the regular. In all these ways and more, we feel the weight of our brokenness. Tim Keller once described the church as “a hospital for sinners (where triage happens) not a museum for saints.” If this is true, how are we as the church doing such triage? How are we helping one another in our sufferings? Are we honest about our common struggles with living in a fallen world? And, as redeemed saints who share in the sufferings of Christ and have the same Spirit living within us, shouldn’t we encourage one another in the gospel and in its power to deliver, restore, and redeem?...

Coming Alongside Women in the Church2024-02-04T20:15:16+00:00

A Match (un)Made in Heaven

JAMYE DOERFLER | CONTRIBUTOR I think about heaven a lot. When I’m sad because I’m watching a loved one’s body break down, or because human impact on the environment brings destruction and death, I look to what I know about heaven. In heaven, we will be given new bodies and will inhabit a new earth. One thing will not be made new? Our marriages. The cliché is, “it’s a match made in heaven.” However, in reality, every match made on earth will be unmade in heaven. Consider Jesus’ conversation with the Sadducees in Matthew 22. Marriage Unmade The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection and were trying to make Jesus look foolish, asked a hypothetical question: “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh.  After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” “But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.’” (Matthew 22:24-30)...

A Match (un)Made in Heaven2024-02-04T20:09:30+00:00

Living and Dying in Hope of Heaven: Preparing for Glory

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR When I tell people I’ve written a book about preparing for glory, about living and dying in the hope of heaven, I get mixed reactions. Some people wonder why we would need to “prepare” for glory. Others wonder, frankly, if I’m being morbid. Good questions. I’ll just say that I don’t think I’m morbid. If anything, I’m realistic, given that, besides Enoch and Elijah, every person who has ever lived has also died.  I’m also optimistic, someone who believes that despite the harsh reality of death, something far far better awaits those who trust in Jesus. Finally, I’m practical, because I’ve seen that a kind, thoughtful, and clear preparation for incapacity and death is one of the most profound gifts we can leave our grieving loved ones. To decide if we really need to prepare for glory, let’s begin by considering what we mean by glory in this context. Glory is a wide and weighty word. It is used throughout Scripture to refer to the glory of the triune God. But throughout Christian history, it has been used as a shorthand for “eternal glory.” I propose this summary of eternal glory: Eternal glory is a place and an age and a state of glory where glory is given to the glorious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit  by glorified saints and where the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is enjoyed by glorified saints for all eternity.  The apostle Peter sheds more light on eternal glory: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). According to Peter, eternal glory is that to which we have been called, by “the God of all grace,” “in Christ.” Eternal glory is the future glory “to be revealed in us” after “the sufferings of this present time” (Rom. 8:18). Eternal glory is that for which we and all of creation “groan inwardly” as we “wait eagerly” (Rom. 8:23). Eternal glory is the glory for which the sufferings of this world prepare us. Eternal glory is so weighty that it will one day prove our sufferings to have been as light as a feather (2 Cor. 4:17–18)...

Living and Dying in Hope of Heaven: Preparing for Glory2024-01-28T01:30:46+00:00

How Psalm 77 Comforts Fearful Hearts

KRISTI MCCOWN | GUEST I have a fear of driving in big cities, especially in heavy traffic with eighteen wheelers whizzing past. Anyone who has ever taught a 15-year-old how to drive knows the kind of fear I am describing. When I seek comfort for my fears, I turn to the Lord and ask Him: why am I so fearful? Fear can be a correct response to a physical threat and God designed our bodies in such a way that we respond to such threats with a fight or flight response. It’s what gets us to respond to a fire alarm or to use our defensive driving maneuvers. In a fallen world, we’ve learned to be alert to danger, such as when we look both ways before crossing the street or to watch the weather for dangerous storms. Sometimes, our fears can lead to excessive worry, especially about an uncertain future. We find ourselves anticipating something bad to happen. Our minds focus on all the “what if” scenarios. This is a place I know quite well. The Holy Spirit has used Psalm 77 to speak to my fears. As I read this psalm, I ask myself: What does this tell me about God? About who He is? About what has He done? The more I read it, the more I am reminded that God is greater than my fears. Psalms 77:1 says, “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me....”

How Psalm 77 Comforts Fearful Hearts2024-01-21T14:58:56+00:00
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