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Love that Breaks the Chains of Addiction

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR

Samantha’s family emigrated to America from Mexico when she was only eight. Her mother fled from her abusive boyfriend, Samantha’s father, finding work in the small taqueria of a distant cousin. Samantha’s mother worked long hours, and the young girl was often left alone. As she grew older, she discovered a way to find the connection she desperately sought. All she had to do was offer her body to the boys. Sexting led to backseat encounters, which led to multiple partners in urban bedrooms. Shunned by the girls her age, Samantha found intimacy through sex alone. She could not have foreseen the dangerous addiction that would develop. As a young woman, she fought to break free of her sexual addiction.

Though she longed to be free, the connection between love and sex had been deeply engraved in her soul.

A Woman with Many Husbands

It’s possible that Samantha and the Samaritan woman of John 4 had similar addictions. Maybe the Samaritan woman had five husbands and lived with one who was not her husband because she too had sought to fill her craving for love through offering her body to men. Maybe the Samaritan woman went to the well at noon, the hottest time of the day, because at that hour, she would not encounter the shaming whispers of the town’s women.

When the strange Rabbi asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, she was surprised…First, why would a Jew ask for a drink from a Samaritan woman (Jews hated Samaritans). And second, why would a man, a Rabbi no less, speak to a woman, a woman like her?

And what was this strange, “living water,” he spoke of? He said whoever drank of it would never be thirsty again. Oh, she knew about thirst. She had thirsted for love, and time after time, man after man, her thirst had remained unquenched. “The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:15). Yes, she longed for this water, water that would moisten her mouth and rinse her dusty soul…

Big Picture Parenting

SHEA PATRICK|GUEST

Lately, it seems I am often at wit’s end in my parenting. We have five children in the home between the ages of 8 and 13, and many days it is a struggle to keep my head above water. In the midst of this chaos, I have found that an understanding of covenant theology—the big picture of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to His children— provides real gospel hope for parents just like me.

These three specific truths have anchored my mind and heart:

God has not left me alone; he is with me.

I often feel crushed by the weight of the responsibility of parenting these children God has placed in my family. I desperately want to make the best decisions for them. Fortunately, I can rest in the fact that these children are the Lord’s; he loves them and is more committed to them than even my husband and I are! Even more, the promises God made to Abraham apply to my family because we are part of the covenant family.

In Genesis 17:7, God promises “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Through my union with Christ, this promise is extended to me as well. As Paul wrote in Galatians, “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:29). What this means practically is that God walks with me as I parent my kids— as I try to address the needs that arise moment by moment. He does so as my Father, parenting my own heart as I then seek to parent my children. My elder brother, Jesus, is an ever-present friend and intercedes for me in my weakness and failures. The Spirit is at work in me, transforming and changing my heart even as he works in my own children’s hearts…

Taking a Long, Hard Look at the Bookshelf

HOLLY MACKLE|CONTRIBUTOR

Oh how I love to read all the things. When a friend asks me what my favorite book is I feel a tightening in my chest, sweaty palms, and the unmistakable tremor of panic. Did she just ask me which child I prefer?? I typically freeze. Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes, if I’m feeling kicky, I toss out a line to see if the asker will bite. “Solely memoirs of SNL cast members.” “Dark political satire.” “Cookbooks before bed.”

Sometimes I’m a jerk and I utter the (let’s face it, totally arrogant) response, “I read pretty widely,” before shifting the question back to them, “What kind of book do you like?”

(Obviously it’s far preferable to riff off something a friend is interested in and ask if they’ve read a similar title rather than be put before that specific firing squad.)

So since you (did not, and thank you for not) ask, for this specific enCourage audience, I’ll say I love books that trace the perseverance of God’s faithful. I’ll weep alongside the real life Sheldon Vanauken, or feel my heart beating out of my chest every time Francine Rivers’ fictional Hadassah narrowly escapes. I’ll eye roll at just how much contemporary Christian thought is borrowing from Augustine’s Confessions, and yell at the prison guards in Darlene Diebler Rose’s Evidence Not Seen. Give me the thread of redemption any old day, and please oh please allow me to see God’s faithful holding the line, from one to the next, shoulder to shoulder, generation after generation.

As I glance at my bookshelves, one sad reality comes to light: while God’s faithful are all throughout history, real or fictionalized, my “wide” reading of their stories lacks the full spectrum of his faithfulness at best, and is stunted and narrow at worst. There are gaping holes on my bookshelves that are not so in God’s authorship of redemptive history.

One of those holes hovers right over a wicked period in our country’s past, in the history of African American slavery. As I looked into titles that fit the bookshelf gap, the work of author, biographer, and former slave herself, Octavia Albert, practically jumped off the page. Mrs. Albert was a believer, a teacher who viewed her profession as worship, and a curator of the voices and God-stories of others—that’s three checkmarks in the “someone I’d like to know” column…

Follow the Lamb

BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls. —Jeremiah 6:16

As Reformed believers we understand the whole of Scripture through the lens of covenant theology. Reading through the Bible, we see God’s spotlight illuminating the Covenant of Grace, lighting the way through the history of redemption. One way to follow the path of the covenant through the scriptures is to look for the shadows cast by God’s spotlight. These symbols and figures point forward, signifying greater spiritual truths and realities. Examples of such symbols are garden and tree, water and bread, bride and groom, priest and king, wilderness and cities.

While the covenantal types and shadows may be familiar to us as Old Testament symbols, neither the symbols nor their significance diminish in importance on this side of the cross. Under the Old Covenant, believers looked forward to the coming of Christ, and in these last days, Christians await his return. But we still need encouragement to look forward. I’d like to encourage you, Dear One, based on God’s covenant promises, to find rest for your soul by looking forward in faith to the Lamb of God.

But First, Look Back

Let’s begin by looking back at the ancient path. In the book of Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham, graciously promising to give him offspring as numerous as the stars through his son Isaac. Abraham believed this covenant promise so thoroughly that when God commanded him to sacrifice his son—his only son, whom he loved—Abraham obediently set out first thing in the morning (Gen. 22:1–3). By faith, Abraham considered that even if he sacrificed his beloved son, God was able to raise him from the dead (Heb. 11:19).

As they approached the mountain, Isaac, seeing the fire and the wood but no offering, asks, “where is the lamb?” Abraham answered that God would provide the lamb for the offering himself (Gen. 22:7–8). Sure enough, God intervened and provided a substitute.

Isaac’s question continues to echo down through the Scriptures.

Where, indeed, is the Lamb?…

The Comfort of Covenant Theology

SARAH IVILL|CONTRIBUTOR

One of the things I love to do is sing covenant theology with my children. We have CDs that put the First Catechism: Teaching Children Bible Truths to music, as well as CDs that put the Westminster Shorter Catechism to music. I love both! I have found that we learn the questions and answers better when we sing them. Not only do I love to hear my children sing these truths, I love to sing them too. Whether I’m singing the catechism while doing chores, or while homeschooling, the truths of covenant theology comfort me.   

Perhaps comfort isn’t the first thing you think of when you hear “covenant theology.” Maybe you’re not even sure what covenant theology is, or if you do, maybe you aren’t confident in explaining it to others. I want to help you associate covenant theology with comfort, and hopefully be better able to teach it to others.

We need comfort on a daily basis, and we don’t want to get it from the wrong sources, such as food, shopping, or media. We want to remember that the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God is with us in our physical pain. He is with us in that messy relationship. He is with us as we battle habitual sin. And He is with us as we engage in service.  

Five Ways Covenant Theology is a Comfort

Covenant theology is a comfort because it teaches us that God is the Creator and Redeemer who wants to be in a relationship with His people. He created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, so our greatest satisfaction will always be found in Him. He could have chosen to relate to His people in any number of ways, but He chose to relate to us by way of covenant. We could not have initiated a relationship with God, but amazingly He initiated one with His people. This isn’t a relationship that can be broken; it’s binding. And this isn’t a relationship without structure. It’s grounded in His grace and promises. Furthermore, this isn’t a relationship without security. The blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, secures it.

Covenant theology is a comfort because it teaches us the promise of God’s presence…

We Are His: The Great Love of Christ

SHARON ROCKWELL|GUEST

The phrase “be my Valentine” conjures up so many different images associated with the celebration of Valentine’s Day: cards with hearts and sugary poems on them, candy and flowers from someone you love, and images of cupids flying around shooting their arrows of affection for their sweethearts. February 14th is represented as the holiday of love, at least by the card and candy companies!

A Legend of Love

According to tradition, Valentine was a priest in Rome in the third century. At that time Rome was having difficulty getting soldiers to join the military because their spouses objected to them leaving their families. Marriages were therefore outlawed. Valentine defied the government by conducting weddings, but when discovered, was put in jail.

One legend has it that Valentine ministered during his jail time. He witnessed to the guards, one of whom had an adopted daughter who was blind. As the story goes, Valentine prayed for the girl and she subsequently regained her sight. The emperor ordered Valentine beheaded, but in his last days, Valentine left a note for the young girl which he signed “from your Valentine.” Valentine was made a saint by the Roman church after his death.

By the 18th century, it became popular for those in love to exchange tokens of affection “from their Valentine.” You would think the hearts and flowers of the holiday would turn our heads toward thoughts of love and marriage, but it often has the opposite effect. Those who do not receive some tangible, even expensive, gift may feel disappointed. Those who are single may feel left out. The beauty of love is reduced to a need to receive physical evidence that someone truly cares for us.

A Love that Calls Us His Own

Christians need to keep a close eye on our feelings during this holiday. Without proper perspective, this holiday can become idolatrous. We are the church, the bride of Christ. Married or single, in love or hopeful, Christ calls believers His bride. We are His…