Mercy in Modesty

MELISSA MCPHAIL|GUEST So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13) I’ve read and studied James’ book of wisdom multiple times throughout the years, but this morning I realized the law of liberty is a New Testament explanation of Christ’s gospel of grace. Immediate conviction overwhelmed me. So speak and so act according to [grace]. Do I do that? No, most of the time, I do not. The recipients of this letter did not do that either. James instructed the believers to hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, and in so doing, they were to show no partiality (James 2:1). None. Zero. They were not to have a spirit of judgmentalism or display a critical eye having strong opinions of others. They were not to make distinctions among Christ’s people and become judges with evil thoughts. They, too, knew the right thing to do and struggled to obey...

Mercy in Modesty2022-06-03T20:21:56+00:00

Parenting as Our Father Parents Us

CHRISTINA FOX | EDITOR When my son was little, he was prone to wander. Those days, he lived more in his imagination than in real life. This often led him away from us when we were in a crowd. I remember during a visit to Disney World I urged and cautioned my son in the importance of staying beside us as we navigated the crowded park. Yet not long later, I watched as he meandered away from us. Rather than going after him, I kept an eye from a distance. I wanted him to realize what he had done. So I followed him, ensuring he was safe, but waited for him to stop and look for us. Eventually, he did realize he had gotten separated from us and I could see him searching the crowds, a look of worry stretched across his face. He spotted us and ran up to us in relief. I then reminded him of the rule of staying together. And he did so. At least for the rest of that trip. Prone to Wander So often as a mom I grow frustrated when I have to teach and reteach my children the same lessons. I find myself impatient with how easy they forget. After all, how many times does one have to get lost in a crowd before he learns his lesson? How many times does a lesson have to be taught before it sticks? In my own heart, far too many times.

Parenting as Our Father Parents Us2022-05-04T00:33:31+00:00

On Suffering Well and the Mercy of God

MARISSA BONDURANT | GUEST She stood next to me one Sunday with tears streaming down her cheeks. Without looking at her, I gave her arm a squeeze. Both our faces were up; both of us were singing loudly. But I was singing of God’s faithfulness with a new baby strapped to my body, and she was singing of God’s faithfulness with the stinging news of another failed IVF treatment. In my heart I wondered, “How is my friend doing it? If I were in her shoes, there is no way I’d be able to sing to the Lord this morning.” Suffering Well Have you ever had a similar thought? Have you ever watched a fellow believer suffer well and wondered how she did it? It might help to define “suffering well.” To suffer well is to suffer like Jesus. To acknowledge the real pain and sorrow of the experience, while simultaneously holding on to the hope that the pain will not last forever. Before he went to the cross, Jesus was honest with his Father about his pain – asking God to “let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Then his prayer moved directly into hope and trust, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). My friend who sang praises to the Lord in the middle of heartache was not ignoring her pain. She was pleading with God to make her a mom, but she also held onto God’s promise to make beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3). Perhaps hardest of all, she trusted that God’s version of beauty would be better than any version she could imagine.

On Suffering Well and the Mercy of God2022-05-04T00:42:31+00:00

Not me! Not I…but Christ

One of the perks of studying abroad with a college theater group was free or cheap tickets to theatrical productions playing wherever we were. Actors like to play to full houses, so if there are spare tickets, they are happy to find worthy recipients. On one such occasion while I was studying in Italy, the British National Theatre was touring with their production of The Passion Play, and we somehow gleaned tickets for a performance in Rome. Because we had the “cheap seats” (the groundlings), we got to be very close to the action, sometimes part of the action, as we stood on the floor (for six hours with one dinner break). The first act told stories from the Old Testament, and the second act, the story of Christ from the gospels. Of course, during the Palm Sunday scene, everyone was excitedly cheering. Then during the Good Friday scenes, most of the audience was excitedly jeering. Except me. As one who seemed to be the “token Christian” in my group, I was not about to cry out, “Crucify Him!” I loved Jesus and wanted no part in demanding His crucifixion. And that’s what I shared when a couple of the others asked why I had been quiet. I thought of myself like one of the women who had followed Him and watched the crucifixion, devastated by His murder. I had even portrayed Mary Magdalene several times in an Easter monologue―but I had not considered why she followed Him even to death. (See Mark 16:9.) That kind of gratitude was not part of my response at the play, nor even part of my testimony....

Not me! Not I…but Christ2022-05-04T23:19:43+00:00

A Desperate Saint

SUSAN TYNER|CONTRIBUTOR A desperate woman can do some crazy stuff. Like tricking your father-in-law to sleep with you to get pregnant. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been that desperate, but let me introduce you to someone who was. Tamar was stuck . . . desperate. (Genesis 38). Tamar was a Canaanite who married into Judah’s family, a family who belonged to the God of Israel. But, when Tamar’s husband died as a judgment for his evil behavior, she was left without a secure future. Thankfully, God provided a practice for widows stuck in this position. The next son in line was to marry the widow and father an heir for the dead brother and his widow, thus ensuring the dead husband a line as well as provision for the widow. Judah, as head of a God-fearing family, told his second son Onan to do the honors. But Onan didn’t like the idea of his son being considered his brother’s, and Onan weaseled out of his duty at the last minute. God judged him as well. Judah’s second son died.   And although their deaths were not her fault, Tamar got the blame. Tamar became a “bad luck bride.” By this point Judah probably felt desperate, too. He was down to his third and last son. What about his dreams for an heir, a name, a future? Judah decided to buy some time. He sent her back to her parents’ tent with the promise of his youngest son once he grew up. Maybe he hoped she would just recede back into her Canaanite tribe, taking her bad luck streak with her. But Tamar was patient, and she must have valued belonging to this family (and perhaps their God?) enough to wait. However, when she saw Judah’s last son had become a man and yet not given to her as promised, she took matters into her own hands. She disguised herself as a prostitute, waited for Judah on the side of a road, and let him hire her services. Three months later, Judah heard his daughter-in-law had “played the harlot” and was pregnant. How dare she! Judah judged Tamar and declared she should be punished by fire. Thankfully, Tamar was as smart as she was desperate. She produced Judah’s identifying cord, staff, and signet she’d kept as a deposit for his sex payment. Convicted of his wrong, he admitted Tamar was “more righteous than I.” Her desperate – and to our way of thinking, plain out crazy – plan forever put Tamar in Judah’s family tree. But I doubt Tamar realized just how much a part of God’s family she’d become. Not only did Tamar get pregnant, she had twin boys. Their birth was so legendary, generations later Tamar’s daring story became an Israelite blessing when Boaz marries Ruth, another Canaanite who married an Israelite...

A Desperate Saint2022-05-04T23:17:45+00:00

Perfectionism, Shame, and Freedom in Christ

DUSKI VAN FLEET|GUEST Sitting in my counselor’s office the day after I lost my temper with one of my children, I shared the details of our hard day and my disappointment with how I responded. I tell her how puzzled I am when I mention my failures as a mom, because people often tell me they could never see me angry or yelling at anyone. They rave about what a wonderful mom I am and point out the ways they see me getting things right. It seems to me they think I have it all together, while all I think is, “If you only knew me. If you could only see how hurtful I can be.”  Her response takes me by surprise. “Well, why can’t both be true?  Does it really have to be one or the other? Is it possible for you to be both a really good mom and a mom who makes mistakes?” Hold please, while I let this one sink in.  Considering her questions, I began to think of other similar scenarios that trigger the same thought pattern within my brain. For instance, when I realize I forgot about a friend’s text from days ago expressing a need for help, I suddenly declare myself a thoughtless, selfish friend. When I interrupt my husband again and he becomes frustrated, I pronounce I am a terrible wife. As I thought about my roles in life throughout the rest of the day, I realized how often my failures define my identity.  Stuck in a Thought Cycle Black and white thinking keeps me stuck in a cycle of perfectionism and shame. I invest a lot of my time, thought, and emotional energy into learning how to love my people well. I also work hard to put what I am learning into practice. I love my husband and my kids so much, and I care deeply about their hearts and the stories God is writing for them. I want to be a part of those stories and impact them for good. I am a good wife and a good mom. That is one truth.  There is also another truth. I am a sinner. I carry in my body the sin passed on to me and every human when Adam and Eve chose to sin. I live in a fallen world that has broken and wounded me. Evil is hunting me and through deception, wants to obliterate the good God desires for me, my husband, and our children. There are times I choose to believe the devil’s lies, and I emotionally wound the people I love. This grieves my heart...

Perfectionism, Shame, and Freedom in Christ2022-05-04T23:12:52+00:00

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...

Love that Breaks the Chains of Addiction2022-05-04T23:04:07+00:00

Where do Your Burdens Carry You?

Our burdens carry us somewhere. Where do your burdens carry you?  2 Corinthians 12 records a burden Paul carried, a thorn in his flesh. Three times Paul pleaded with God to remove it. But to keep Paul humble, God would not remove it. Paul’s response was to see his suffering as a reason for rejoicing because it revealed Christ’s power at work. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10) A Present-Day Example When I think of people today who have carried burdens for long periods of times, I think of Joni Eareckson Tada. If you have read any of her books you know that Joni attempted a dive into shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay. The moment her head crunched against the sand bottom, she knew she was in trouble. She recalls feeling like her life was over when she learned she was permanently paralyzed. Joni was a Christian at the time and spent those early months praying for healing, getting anointed with oil, confessing every sin that she could recall and attending one healing service after another, until finally she whimpered, “I cannot live this way. I’m so lost. God, show me how to live.” Her burdens drove her to Christ where for over 50 years she has lived in a wheelchair, and describes her life as dying daily to self and rising with Jesus. Joni wrote this about her life: “A ‘no’ answer to my request for a miraculous physical healing has meant purged sin, a love for the lost, increased compassion, stretched hope, an appetite for grace, an increase of faith, a happy longing for heaven, a desire to serve, a delight in prayer, and a hunger for His Word. Oh, bless the stern schoolmaster that is my wheelchair!” The thorn in Joni’s side has never been removed. Her burden carried her straight to Christ’s arms...

Where do Your Burdens Carry You?2022-05-04T23:36:23+00:00

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... 

We Are Not Better Than This2022-05-04T23:37:26+00:00

Swimming in Grace

This is a fish story. This is not a grandiose tale of record-breaking sizes nor of hard-fought battles of rod and reel, waves and wrestling. The scale is smaller and the location is my daughter K.’s apartment, in an aquarium that is home to Bob, the longear sunfish. Bob’s home is lush with green plants, their leaves wave gently in the water. The rugged stones on the floor of the tank afford him places to hide, rest, and dart about. Floating through the water are smaller fish, the same kinds he was used to eating in the Tennessee waters from whence he came. All in all, a pretty good life for a fish. Except it wasn’t. In case you are wondering if maybe you’ve stumbled onto the wrong blog (fish?) let me assure you that I think I’m on pretty safe ground using a fish for an illustration. The world God made is rich with objects, analogies, comparisons, and every wonderful thing to use as a picture to help us know him better. Camels, sheep, lamps, and coins – when we have eyes to see – help us to understand abstract truths in a concrete way. Think back to your favorite Bible stories and I’ll bet you can think of a fish or two. A Certain Death This fish was dying. The problem seemed obvious. Bob suffered from an ailment called “popeye,” where a fluid build-up caused his eyes to bulge out wildly, marring the appearance of his beautiful turquoise and orange body. Blinded, he kept swimming straight into the glass walls of the aquarium, unable to eat, and slowly starving to death. My daughter tried to give him different food, improve the condition of the water, and even treat the water itself with medicine— all futile efforts. Bob’s blindness was due to an underlying infection, and without treating that, he would not make it. The problem was, how do you get medicine into a fish that won’t, or can’t, eat? K. sought a solution. Thanks to the Internet, You Tube, and a knowledgeable pet store owner, she found it. First she had to create a paste made of bloodworms (larvae that fish love to eat) and antibiotics. Next she put the medicated food into a syringe. Afterward she gently reached into the aquarium, took hold of the fish, and with her other hand used the syringe to squirt the food into its mouth. What a beautiful illustration of the gospel! Here are some truths I noticed. Perhaps you can find even more! An Illness A host of problems plagued this fish. He was blind, ill, and starving. Fixing the obvious problem— his blindness— wasn’t enough. The greater, underlying infection needed to be dealt with. What a picture of our hopeless, sinful selves! Remember what Jesus said to the paralytic, handed down through the roof by his caring friends? “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Paralysis was not the worst of his problems. And the problems that paralyze us are minor compared to our overarching problem. Our sins need to be forgiven. Friends, whatever problem or need initially drew us to Jesus, we needed to realize our real problem was our separation from God. We needed to be reconciled with him....

Swimming in Grace2022-05-05T00:32:15+00:00
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