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We Are Not Better Than This

JILL WIGGINS|GUEST

Earlier this month, I witnessed the assault on our nation’s Capitol with incredulity. In the aftermath, I found myself consuming copious amounts of media examining responses from political leaders, pastors, and news sources. It did not take long before a myriad of politicians from both parties adopted the familiar phrase often uttered by parents and teachers alike to children whose behavior has been disappointing— “We are better than this.” Although I understand the sentiment and its guilt-eliciting, behavior-changing appeal, I would respectfully and broken heartedly disagree with their proclamation.  We as Christians should be the first to point out that “we are not better than this.”  

I spent the better part of my teenage years thinking that I was “better than this.” I grew up in a small Baptist church in northeast Alabama and our offering envelopes came preprinted on the front with a variety of boxes to check. There was a box for attendance, daily bible reading, offering, and lesson preparation.  Every Sunday night at youth group, my goal was to very literally turn in an envelope that checked all the boxes, because along with not drinking, smoking, cussing, or fooling around with boys, that was what “Good Christians” did. In the years since, the list has become more political in nature, but the sentiment is the same. Then and now, there are boxes to check, issues to support, causes to champion. These are things that Christians do. . . and those are things Christians do not do. Though not overtly stated, I perceived that there was “us” and there was “them.”  We were good “box-checking” Christians, and “they” were dirty, bad, vile, worldly, sinners.   

Yet, one Sunday night, the summer following my senior year of high school, I found myself face down on the hook rug on the floor of my bedroom, crying out to God. I realized that I was    one of “them.” I was dirty, bad, vile, and worldly.  For all my box checking, I was a fraud.  A pit formed in my stomach, and I believed that if everyone knew just how really bad I was, how dirty I felt on the inside, no one would ever love me. And that’s when I met Jesus. After all, we must first see the sin in ourselves to grasp the wonder of God’s grace.

Paul in his letter to Timothy states that “Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Present tense.  Jesus came into the world to save sinners like me. Sinners.  Like me. And that is the good news. That is the gospel. That is grace… 

Introducing the Heidelberg Catechism to Children

ANN MARIE MO| GUEST

What are your favorite comfort foods? On a chilly winter day, I crave a steaming bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, paired with a hearty chunk of freshly baked bread. Comfort foods satisfy our bellies and warm us up from head to toe.

Just as our physical bodies require sustenance, our souls ache for comfort and nourishment too. Many people feed their souls with temporal things—possessions, relationships, and financial success. But these perishable gifts cannot impart lasting peace or satisfaction, for God has created our souls with a hunger that only he can satisfy. Jesus confirms this in his words: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

For Christian parents, it is a critical task to pass biblical truth on to our children, for them to know that true peace and satisfaction are rooted only in the Lord Jesus Christ and his atoning work on the cross. To teach our children the basics of our Christian faith, many excellent catechisms exist.

What Is a Catechism?

During the Reformation, many pastors wrote catechisms to provide a systematic method of teaching the Bible to God’s people. In the form of simple questions and answers, a catechism summarizes key biblical doctrines. Questions build incrementally on one another and provide a basic understanding of Christianity. But aren’t catechisms old-fashioned? Won’t children think catechizing is boring? Providentially, many engaging resources exist today to spark our children’s interest in catechisms and to introduce them to the richness of these works. For our children to know true biblical comfort in this fallen world, we must train them diligently from Scripture and catechisms provide an effective method of training.

The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563 by two pastors, is a compendium of biblical truth that is essentially a book of comfort. While the catechism covers the Gospel, the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and other biblical topics, it presents these subjects in the context of the catechism’s first question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”[i] This theme of comfort resonates throughout the catechism.

The English word comfort derives from the Latin word confortare, which means to strengthen greatly. The two Latin roots, con and fortis, literally mean with strength. So, the idea conveyed in biblical comfort is something far more profound than in comfort food. The comfort that God imparts from his eternal Word by the Holy Spirit strengthens his people to persevere and to grow in Christ through hardships….

Waiting Beyond the Waiting

CHRISTINE GORDON|GUEST

Much of 2020 was about waiting. Waiting to see how the virus will spread, waiting to see if the kids will go back to school, waiting to see if we’ll be able to go to church in person or if we’ll have to worship in our living rooms again. The church has just made its way through another year of advent, a time when we expect to wait. We mark it and celebrate it. But now the holidays have come and gone. And unlike new years in the past, the change in our calendars this time may feel more like a mockery than a fresh start. Instead of the new or different we had hoped for, we find ourselves waiting again, enduring.

The other day I was half listening to the news on the radio as I drove when I heard this headline, “It is an historic day for a woman in Great Britain, who is the first person in the world to receive a vaccine for the Coronavirus.” I listened as the woman in her 90s expressed her surprise and delight, saying she was overwhelmed at the opportunity to be the first to be immunized. And then I started crying.

Living in Hope

Maybe it was her sweet British accent and the gratitude in her voice. But in my body I felt profound relief. Finally help was coming. Finally the hundreds and thousands of deaths would be slowed, the hospital admissions would go down, the children would play on playgrounds again without worrying about the distance between them. I knew none of these things would happen immediately, but suddenly there was a hope in my heart that felt like life and joy, energy and motivation. This locked down, lonely, mask-wearing, death-fearing existence might be our present reality. But it would not be our future.

I do not now know the date when the world will go back to normal, whatever the new normal looks like. I do not have access to the name of the last person who will die from the Corona virus. I don’t know when my husband, who is diabetic and a heart attack survivor, will be vaccinated, therefore alleviating some of the anxiety my children and I carry every day. But because I know protection for him and all of us is coming, my outlook has begun to change. The ground beneath me seems to have shifted from a downward ramp toward the unknown and scary to an upward path of hope and possibility. I do not need to know specifics for my heart to begin to relax and believe that we might make it through.

Is this not the experience of the Christian life?

Even when we are fully on the other side of the pandemic, there will still be loss, grief, and tragedy….

Words Matter: Honoring the Sanctity of Life with our Words

STEPHANIE HUBACH|CONTRIBUTOR

Words matter.

Several years ago, when I was working for Mission to North America (MNA) as Special Needs Ministries Director, I was on my way out the door for a trip to Atlanta. With a glint in his eye, my younger son Tim (who has Down syndrome) looked at me and quipped, “Remember: MNA means ‘Mom’s Not Around!’” Whether that remark was shared in the spirit of “It’s boys’ weekend at the Hubach house” or, “You travel too much Mom,” I’m still not sure. If you are a Mom, however, you can guess how I heard it.

Words matter. Their meaning matters. Their delivery matters. And all of that matters because the people to whom those words are directed matter.

In January each year, many Christians celebrate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. But what do we mean when we say “sanctity?” And how ought that to inform our not only our message, but our delivery?

“Sanctity” is actually very close to the word holiness. In particular, it is akin to the “quality of being sacred, or by law (especially by natural or divine law) immune from violation.” When we speak of the sanctity of human life, we are often focused on calling out the violation of abortion and, instead, promoting the biblical warrant of protecting human life—from conception to natural death. As Christians who uphold the authority of Scripture, we ought to always protect the vulnerable—including the unborn—so that they might be “immune from violation,” the ultimate violation being the experience of intentional death. May we always remain faithful to this.

At the same time, however, we need to carefully share our message of being pro-life—”for the life of my neighbor”—in a way that is immune from violation as well. Have you ever thought of your words as a weapon? Have you ever considered that good concepts can be presented in a way that actually “undoes the goodness” via the violence of language? In a world of tweets and texts, it is very easy for us to lose sight of this. Snark can creep in. Our words can suddenly become curt, sarcastic, cutting, demeaning, and brutal. Rather than focusing on private righteous action, we can find ourselves simply trying to illicit a public raging reaction—one that unquestioningly affirms the validity of our view, while harshly discrediting that of another…

Remember to Remember

KAREN HODGE|CONTRIBUTOR

On a bitter cold Chicago afternoon, I pulled into the remote parking lot at O’Hare airport. I hurried off for a quick trip to Atlanta. I landed Saturday evening dressed for a Christmas party. Big problem. There had been heavy snow, and I had forgotten where I parked my car. I trudged through the snow dragging my suitcase, yielding no success. A kind shuttle bus driver spotted my pathetic pursuit and asked, “How can I help you”? I unburdened my dilemma with tears in my eyes, and she kindly invited me to climb aboard. She encouraged me to stand by the widow, clicking my remote as she weaved up and down the rows. At last, we could see the faintest of headlights flicker under the snow. I wiped my tears and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Forgetful Covenant Breakers

Stubborn self-reliance followed by weariness, frustration, and resignation to quit is a recurring picture of my forgetfulness. Like Winnie the Pooh, the bear with very little brain says, “I do remember, but then when I try to remember, I forget!” Every day I fail to remember things more important than where I parked my car, like the bigger story of what God has done. When you forget the Big Story, you forget who God is, who you are, and why you exist.

Forgetfulness is not a personality problem; rather, it’s a sin problem. Sin breaks all things, including our capacity to remember and think biblically. God’s people are always in danger of losing their memory, forgetting who they are and whose they are. We are Covenant-breakers, but we serve a Covenant-keeping God. He never forgets His promises or His people; He never suffers from memory lapses. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.

When we fail to remember our great God, we can trust that He will never forget us.

Covenant Remembrance Engages Head and Heart

To remember something is to intentionally consider, be mindful, or call attention to something. To ponder or delight in something requires stopping, noticing the dimensions, and treasuring its value…

Five Key Questions for Setting Gospel-Shaped Goals

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR

She looks almost beatific in her black velvet senior drape, her bright hazel eyes gazing heavenward. Next to her portrait, her senior quote reads, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have yet been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

It was an apt senior quote for the young perfectionist, who spent hours of every day striving to achieve—A’s in her courses, the approval of peers and faculty members, and most of all, a perfect Christian life. It was an apt senior quote for the young perfectionist, who keenly felt her failure to “obtain all this,” who knew how short she fell in every area where she longed to succeed.

Sadly, that seventeen-year-old senior, who had only been a Christian for two years when she chose Philippians 3:12 to mark her life, didn’t fully understand the dynamic of grace and goals. Happily, that seventeen-year-old senior, who was me, discovered the joy and rest of knowing that God’s grace undergirds our one central goal in life: “to press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13).

God’s Grace and Our Goals

What does it look like to allow the goal of “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” to define all of our other goals? Let’s consider some of the good and helpful goals people set in the New Year:

I will get the promotion this year.

I will lose the ten, twenty, or thirty pounds.

I will help my child get into college.

I will run a half-marathon.

I will quit drinking, overeating, compulsive shopping, etc.

I will develop healthy friendships.

I will rest more, work less.

The problem with my goals as a high school senior, and the problem with many people’s goals, is that we forget to account for God’s grace and power when we are making them and as we seek to attain them. As an adolescent with a perfectionist bent, I assumed that achieving my goals of good grades, being well-liked, and living a holy life depended on my efforts alone. I had completely missed the point of Philippians 3:9, that my righteousness, my “right-ness with God,” depended on faith in him alone (Philippians 3:9). I had also failed to recognize the connection of Philippians 3:9 to Philippians 2:12-13. It is true that we are called to “[work out] our salvation through fear and trembling.” But by his grace, God is working in us for his good pleasure, sanctifying (“perfecting”) us by our faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13). That reality affects all of our goals…

Aging with Grace: An Interview with Susan Hunt and Sharon Betters

CHRISTINA FOX|EDITOR

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview I did with Susan Hunt and Sharon Betters about their new book, Aging with Grace.

Christina: What prompted you to write this book?

Susan: It started with a conversation when Sharon and I realized each of us had recently spoken on aging and we both had been surprised at the interest in the topic, especially among young women. Our conversation became a conviction that we should prayerfully consider two questions: How do we think biblically about aging? How do we live covenantally as older women? These questions eventually became the format for the book. I write a chapter on Thinking Biblically about aging using Psalms 92 and 71, and then Sharon writes a chapter on Living Covenantally using women in Scripture who flourished in old age.  

Christina: What do you think is/are the main challenges for Christian women as they think about aging? 

Sharon: Most challenges of aging are felt by all women. The anti-aging message of culture insists we deny the losses and fight the ravages of time with expensive creams, treatments, and physical activity designed to keep us forever young. When an older woman is portrayed in movies or television, she is physically beautiful, strong, and in control. The message of advertising, entertainment, the corporate world and, sadly, sometimes the church is clear: flourishing in old age means doing more, playing more, spending more, and exhibiting youthful bodies and skin unhindered by wrinkles and gray hair. Old is out. Youth is in. As our bodies grow older and weaker, we slowly realize it is impossible to maintain this cultural expectation. As Christians, we must decide if we will embrace a scriptural or a cultural view of aging. Susan and I pray this book will be a resource to help women know that no matter how wrinkled our faces, broken our bodies, or disenfranchised we might feel, God’s Word describes aging as a time when we can flourish with the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of repentance, and the fruit of righteousness. We may not be able to do all we could once do, but we can grow in intimacy with Jesus. By His grace, we can age with grace…  

Offering the Lastfruits

LEAH FARISH|GUEST

Some New Year’s Eves, I have felt a frisson of nervousness as I readied for a party or fellowship event—did I forget to pay a bill that needed postmarking this year? Take all my tax deductions? Meet an annual work deadline? Prepare the kids and babysitter, whom I wouldn’t see till “next year”?

This Eve will be a quieter one. But are there any missed opportunities or duties? Oh, yes, this year there was the vacation cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled again, the celebration delayed or job lost, the relationships starved of physical touch. Many things were not accomplished, but I improvised, regrouped, made do. Is there anything more I can do before 2020 is, thankfully, behind me?

I often think of Richard Wilbur’s poem called “Year’s End,” where he broods on unfinished business, examining how an ancient disaster in Pompeii “found the people incomplete, the loose unready eyes/ Of men expecting yet another sun/ To do the shapely thing they had not done./ These sudden ends of time must give us pause./ We fray into the future, rarely wrought/ Save in the tapestries of afterthought./ More time, more time….”

The prophet Abraham was given an opportunity late in his time on earth: he was challenged to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham didn’t just love his son, and didn’t just see him as a miraculously-provided boy, but probably also saw him as a last chance—at engendering and raising a son for establishing the covenanted legacy that Jehovah had promised. Last chances are always so poignant.

So Abraham’s was a special offering—of lastfruits, as my husband calls it. We are familiar with offering firstfruits, described in verses such as Exodus 23:19, Leviticus 23:9, and Deut. 26:1 (not a bad devotional for January 1st). In Exodus 22:29, God even says “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.” Abraham had had Ishmael, but that son, conceived with a concubine, was not the sacrifice God requested. He wanted the lastfruits—“the shapely thing that Abraham had not done,” as Richard Wilbur might say.

What should be the lastfruits of this year?…