Long, long ago, in college classrooms far, far away there were no personal computers. In fact, there was simply one little basement room in the entire campus of my college that had two or three computer monitors and a computer system that ran paper cards. Really. This was the era in which I took my first computer programming class. (Truth be told, I despised that class. Attention to detail is not my strength, so every time I had an extra space or a mis-placed keystroke in the code I wrote, the program would not run. Then I would spend hours trying to find and fix my error. But I digress…) My biggest takeaway from BASIC programming was that computer programs run on a binary system of rapidly processed continuous choices between “1” and “0.” That’s it. (Remember that next time you spend $1000 on a laptop!)
A Binary Culture
Do you ever feel like our culture is operating inside of a computer? Have you noticed that so much that poses as discussion is couched in binary ways?
If you spend any time on social media, or on cable news, or in political theater, you are likely to find yourself regularly bombarded with either-or propositions. This or that. Them or us. Rich or poor. Rural or urban. Black or white. Is this really the nature of God’s universe? Do we live in a static computer program or in a dynamic universe held together by God’s power? Does God reveal himself through a set of binary propositions or does he reveal himself through his Word and his world? So much of what the Scripture teaches us is that life is lived in tension. There is not only conflict between good and evil—which I am not discounting—but also a literal tension between two right things. Christ was described by John as “full of grace and truth.” That is noteworthy because it requires so much godly tension. Grace AND truth. Fallen human beings are prone to one or the other. Jesus as the only perfect human being flawlessly exhibited both. While none of us can possibly perfectly emulate Christ, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we are called to be conformed more and more to his image.
What I am asking each of us to reflect on is this: “Where am I presenting or embracing a binary stance where there is a biblical call to embrace the tension between two good things?”…
Missionaries often are asked: “How can I pray for you?” and most likely, we will answer: “Pray for our financial support, our witness, and our families.” These are good things to pray for, but there are some things we are ashamed of admitting and that don’t make the prayer request list.
A missionary is not someone special, more gifted, or more holy than anyone else. In fact, many of us missionaries joke that God needed to take us to the mission field to teach us the hard lessons we could not to learn because of our own stubbornness and zealousness. Among missionary leaders, there is a saying that leading missionaries is like “herding cats” because of our independent streak. Missionaries can exude strength and courage, but as the years progress, I have noticed certain patterns of struggle that are unique to missionaries (and I’d venture to say much of this applies to those who are in full-time ministry, pastors, or church-planters). We need you pray for us in the following areas.
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…
My grandparents remember exactly what they were doing when they received news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My parents have similarly sharp memories concerning the assassination of JFK. I still clearly remember where I was and what I was doing when I saw the footage of the Twin Towers collapsing. Our complex and beautiful brains have a way of remembering both the shocking and the deeply significant moments that shape our lives.
Likewise, I will never forget the day that the theological concept of union with Christ trickled that long eighteen inches from my head to my heart.
I remember the exact table at the coffee shop at which I was sitting. I remember the old, tattered book that God used to cement the concept in my soul. I remember that moment because it colored the way I experienced every moment after it!
Having come to Christ from an unchurched background, I threw myself headfirst into the Christian life. My husband and I had been in full-time vocational ministry for many years and were in the early years of parenting two under two. On the surface, things were going well, but my soul hit a wall. I was tired and my faith, once vibrant, felt anemic. I was doing all the same things, but my heart felt simultaneously weary and restless. What was I missing?
Sitting at a local coffee shop, I prayed that the Lord would restore unto me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing heart to sustain me (Psalm 51:12). Then God used a little-known book, Bone of His Bone by F.J. Huegel, to open my eyes to the freedom and wonder of union with Christ.
What Union with Christ Is
Paul describes the mysterious wonder that is union with Christ when writing to the church at Colossae using the phrase, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). In his letter to the Galatian Church, he speaks further on this incredible reality….
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….
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…
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…
We moved to our new house three years ago. It is a two-story house, a first for our family. Soon after we moved, our oldest son threw his brother’s teddy bear over the stair railing, hitting my favorite lamp below. It shattered into a million pieces. I remember lecturing my son on the foolishness of his choices (and mourning my lamp).
Searching for Wisdom
This same son turns 13 at the end of the year, and the stakes related to wisdom and foolishness are much higher now. I honestly wish I could use one of those Magic 8 Balls to help my son make wise decisions—and to make them myself! Should my son have a smart phone? Shake, shake. Should he be allowed to be on social media? Shake, shake. Is it reasonable for him to sleep until noon on Saturdays? Shake, shake, shake. However, we all know that wisdom doesn’t come from the simple shaking of a toy ball.
As we face increasingly more questions, I am convinced that seeking wisdom and training our children in wisdom are two of the most important things that parents can do. I know I am not the first one to be convinced of this—the entire book of Proverbs is about a father imploring his son to seek wisdom! “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 3:13-15). Wisdom is more important for our kids than excellent grades, athletic accomplishments, and good friends (man, I need to be reminded of this!) So how do we get wisdom as parents and then teach our children to do the same?
Source of Wisdom
1) We remember that godly wisdom is different from worldly wisdom.
Ruth Younts in “Get Wisdom” says “Wisdom helps you be more like Jesus in your actions, thoughts and attitudes, by loving God and loving your neighbor.” Godly wisdom has God as its purpose and center. My husband and I recently explained an unpopular decision we made to our son and discussed the difference between worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom. Godly wisdom is usually counter-cultural. It does not seek to please self or others. Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” while 12:15 says “The way of a fool seems right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Often, what is right or wise goes against what is popular or right in the eyes of the world. True wisdom looks to please God above all else. We have had multiple conversations with our children about how our desire to please the Lord with our lives may cause us to make decisions that are very different from those of their friends. Although these differences can be difficult for our kids, we are preparing them for a life of kingdom discipleship, looking at what God would have for them…
I’m not a skilled gardener. I know little about plants, flowers, soil types, or gardening techniques. During the time of COVID confinement earlier this year, my kids and I planted a variety of seeds and have since harvested a sad handful of each type of vegetable. Just yesterday my son pulled a single red tomato from the plant, and we wondered if the other tiny green ones would ever become red. Because of my lack of horticultural knowledge or talent, I find great encouragement in the passages of Scripture that speak of God’s effectiveness and expertise as a gardener.
One such passage, the parable of the sower (found multiple places – Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8), is a familiar one to most of us. We relate to the images of God as the sower and of His Word, the seed, falling on different types of heart-soils. As a missionary, I occasionally think about this parable as I talk to a friend about Jesus and pray that the good news takes root in the soil of her heart. The image of soil can also be a helpful one when we speak of missions in a certain context, be it a city, a people-group, a country, or even a continent.
Just as one word cannot capture the spiritual landscape of the United States, no one adjective can describe the soil of Europe. Even within Western Europe, where I’ve lived for several years, many spiritual distinctions exist among different countries and cultures. In general, however, Europe is considered to be “post-Christendom.” Christianity has a rich history here, but Europe as a culture has moved beyond the Christian worldview into secular humanism. The spiritual soil possesses almost none of the cultural receptors to Christianity that one might find in many parts of America; Biblical Christianity and the God of the Bible are viewed at best as relics that some people still find useful and at worst as tools of oppression wielded throughout European history. Many Europeans have no concept of church other than the large building in the center of town that often attracts more tourists than worshippers…