John 15: Abide, Wholly Dependent Yet Secure

MELISSA OSTERLOO | GUEST Relationships are powerfully influential; we begin our lives completely reliant on the love and care given to us by our parents. Secure attachment— trust built over time through consistent encounters of dependent needs being fulfilled— informed us that we were seen, safe, and valuable. Children naturally feel at home in their parents’ arms, no matter what circumstances surround them. They grow and thrive, confident that their longings will not go unnoticed. We can learn a lot from children. In John 15:1-2, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and his Father as the vinedresser. "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." Over the past four years, I have been living through a tough season of pruning. My husband, Adam, and I moved to northern Alabama in March 2018 for what seemed to be a great opportunity. He had built a solid reputation in the commercial truck industry and was recruited to open a new sales territory that had great potential. However, within just 8 months, instead of reaping the rewards of hard-earned commissions, we found ourselves endorsing the back of a severance check. Just enough to get by for a couple of months, and mere weeks before Christmas. Our harvest had not been fruitful.

John 15: Abide, Wholly Dependent Yet Secure2022-05-04T00:27:40+00:00

Turning the Dials at Thanksgiving

HOLLY MACKLE|CONTRIBUTOR It’s Thanksgiving and I’m in the kitchen turning dials, trying so hard to get everything just right. If only I spoke of solely the oven dial—but who can forget the relational dials, the conversational dials, the quick repentance dials, and even the simple act of dialing the number just to extend the invitation. At the holidays it seems there are far too many complex layered dials to turn and crank and adjust just so. It can be downright exhausting. My brilliant neighbor owns and operates her own medical testing lab. (STEM girl, whoop!) At the very beginning of the Covid crisis—you remember, the days when we didn’t understand the first thing about transmission—one of her employees began running a high fever. My neighbor sent her entire staff home and undertook the painstaking process of sanitizing and deep cleaning the lab all by herself. Trouble was, this wasn’t the chemistry lab from our high school recollections. My friend sanitized every piece of precision equipment, each complex apparatus with countless knobs, dials, levers, and pulls. I can still see my sweet neighbor’s face as she described the nature of what had to be done. It was all-encompassing. She had to find and scour every crevice for the protection of all involved. I’m hard-pressed to think of anything that sounds more like Jesus to me. Her actions remind me of the Christ who won’t stand for a quick wipe down of our hearts. His holiness and utter righteousness can’t give it a once over and call it a day—his beloved are at stake. For any particle of sin left on us or in us makes us unacceptable to his Father, the God of all cellular levels, protons, elements, and even viruses...

Turning the Dials at Thanksgiving2022-05-04T23:31:31+00:00

Why Go to Bible Study

COURTNEY DOCTOR|CONTRIBUTOR I went to my first Bible study because I was lonely. I was in my early twenties with two small children at home and was desperate to meet other women and make new friends. The offer for free child-care only sweetened the deal and I signed up, eager for a few hours away from children and hungry for adult conversation. I did not go to this study because I had a burning desire to know God or his Word. However, while I did meet new friends and benefitted from a few hours away from the demands of small children, ultimately, I met God. And I have continued to attend Bible studies ever since. If you attend a weekly Bible study of some kind—in your church, neighborhood, or community—I want to ask you why? Like me in my twenties, perhaps you attend Bible study to make friends or enjoy child-care. The reasons that compel us to walk in the door will vary from person to person and from season to season. But the bigger question I want us to consider is, Why do we go to Bible study at all? It’s an important question because the answer shapes our expectations. What should we expect to be the result of going to Bible study? I’d like to propose that, while there are a myriad of good things that happen in and through Bible study—we deepen friendships, grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, invest in the lives of those around us—one of the ultimate things that happens is transformation. If you are a Christian, God is at work in your life transforming you. He is changing you into a woman who is better able to discern his will (Rom. 12:2). He is changing you so that you will be better equipped to join him on his mission to seek and save the lost. He is transforming you so that you will be more consumed with his kingdom than with your own, with his glory than with yours. And he is changing you to be increasingly more like Jesus in every way (Rom. 8:29). One of the most remarkable things about this extra-ordinary transformation is that it happens in very ordinary ways. And “going to Bible study” is one of the ordinary means God uses to do his extraordinary work. But this transformation does not just happen automatically—it requires your participation. Two ways you can actively participate with God in your transformation is by doing your homework and by showing up to discuss it with others. DO THE HOMEWORK A lot of women I talk with think of the homework provided in their Bible study as optional or something they will be better able to prioritize in a different stage of life. But time in God’s Word is vital at every stage of life! And a good Bible study will provide you with the structure and opportunity to spend that time productively. Most Bible study homework will ask you to read a passage of Scripture, answer questions about the passage, and consider how you are to respond to what you’ve read. The actual moments you use to go through these steps can feel so ordinary. Some of you do your study early in the morning while you’re still in your pajamas. Others study over lunch while sitting at your desk. Some of you try to finish it while you’re waiting in the carpool line. Very average moments for the most part. But, as we move through the homework of our study—reading, answering questions, reflecting, and thinking about how we are to respond—God is at work! Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This list is not exhaustive. As you read God’s Word, he, by his Spirit, is instructing you, teaching you, convicting you, encouraging you, rebuking you, feeding you, calling you, reminding you, humbling you, lifting you, comforting you, and loving you...

Why Go to Bible Study2022-05-04T23:18:34+00:00

Delicious Despair 201

ANN MAREE GOUDZWAARD|CONTRIBUTOR My entire backyard burst with the colors of spring. Everything bloomed. It was a perfect, 70-degree day and the landscape showed off. I looked out my window and saw the wicker chairs scattered under the pergola and balloons dotted on the boulders strategically situated throughout the yard. When we invested in landscaping last year, I had visions of hosting joyful events. The picturesque backdrop was perfect for a tea party or bridal shower. In fact, we planned to host a “baby sprinkle” for my daughter that very day. (A “sprinkle” is a baby shower for couples who already have children.) Cori and Brett had all they needed for two kids, but then they found out they were expecting twins. So, we planned a sprinkle to help them provide for multiple babies. We hosted a memorial for the twins (Deacon and Hallie) that day instead. In 2020, the pandemic reminded us to preface our plans with “if the Lord wills.” Everyone’s agenda hit a “hard stop,” and we realized how precarious goals are. For our family, 2021 ushered in the opportunity to experience that truth in real time. My husband and I planned for chaotic bliss in adding a twelfth and thirteenth grandchild to our already bustling family. Together with our other children, we coordinated our calendars to support Cori and Brett at her due date. God had another plan. The Lord willed something different. Something more difficult. An accommodation we had no idea we would need to make. And so began my education in grief. What’s essential in the grief process is to try and grasp God’s redemptive plans. This takes time. It may even last indefinitely. In Delicious Despair 101, I wrote that Martin Luther fully expected the pain of suffering to result in a transformation.[1] For instance, in opposition to the “first step” of grief (denial)[2], candor looks suffering in the face and says, “Yes, that really happened.” Candor acknowledges devastation, but it also asks, “Now what do I do?” Wallowing in self-pity over the events God ordains is antithetical to biblical grieving. In 1 Thess. 4:13, Paul instructs mourners not to grieve as those without hope. So, we must keep moving through our grief and actively seek wisdom to reinterpret what happened as perfect and good...

Delicious Despair 2012022-05-04T23:19:25+00:00

Why Me? A New Perspective

On my way to a singles’ potluck dinner, I was reveling in the new car smell of my much loved two-week-old car. Suddenly, out of my peripheral vision, I saw a car lose control and barrel down the cross street I was passing, so I sped up to avoid being hit. After all, I had already been in three accidents—none my fault—in the last two years and finally had gotten rid of the car that seemed to be an accident magnet. “Not this car!” I thought as the car behind me was hit and then propelled into mine. Why me?!! Story break: How often do I ask that? Most of the time the circumstances are not as dramatic as a car wreck. The babysitter cancels. The gas tank is low. Traffic is backed up. The printer jams. Stop for a minute and think with me of the last time “Why me?” crossed your lips, or at least, your mind. One of my last tirades was as a just-purchased iced tea turned over onto the floor of my car. Really? That made me ask, . . . Why me?!! It was all I could think as I watched my new car be towed away like its predecessor, the last time just five months before. God, why me, again? Once the family friends who had (providentially) witnessed the wreck took me home, and I called my family and singles group to tell them what had happened, then I plopped on my bed and begrudgingly grabbed my Bible to look for some sort of understanding and comfort. I thought the Book of Job would be a good place to start, since I felt I had a lot in common with the patriarch. My Bible fell open and (for real!) my gaze fell upon Job 23:10: “But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (NASB). Though the thought of being tried by God was not in itself comforting, the words surrounding it were. “He knows.” God knew what happened. He was there. He hadn’t abandoned me to fate. And “I shall come forth as gold”! It was part of His plan for me, and so were and have been and will be those other times I cry, “Why me?” It often hurts, but He’s polishing me to be His treasure...

Why Me? A New Perspective2022-05-04T23:17:00+00:00

Delicious Despair

ANN MAREE GOUDZWAARD|CONTRIBUTOR It was date night. My husband and I were enjoying our first outing in over a year. Our favorite restaurant looked a lot more like a family night; kids and babies were everywhere. My eyes kept connecting with the sweet baby boy at the table next to us. He was cooing in his daddy’s arms while his father gently rocked him. He was content despite all the commotion. I’ve never been much of a baby person. I prefer hanging out with teenagers. But ever since my twin grandchildren were born and passed too soon, I’ve found my eyes lingering on chubby cheeks and toothless smiles. Deacon and Hallie’s brief life outside the womb created an emptiness in my arms for something I had but lost. The void is overwhelming. So, instead of growing impatient with the noise of children and a baby’s laughter, I smiled. As we were leaving, I turned to stand and saw the baby boy seated in a Bumbo on his table happily eating his dinner. I smiled at him. He smiled at me. But, in a flash my joy turned into ugly tears because, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a second Bumbo. Seated next to the baby boy was his sister. His twin sister. My eyes went back and forth between them. Was I seeing correctly? Were twins really sitting right in front of me? Torrents of grief washed over me. I couldn’t stand. I looked to my husband to confirm the scene. He saw the shock in my eyes. He wrapped his arm around my heaving shoulders and helped me walk out of the restaurant. I barely made it to the car. In an instant, I found myself back to square one. Denial. It’s typically the first “step”[1] of grieving.  It had only been a little over two weeks since our grandchildren’s death and, in a heartbeat, I was once again questioning, “Did that really happen? Did mourning really crash into our family’s world? Were the sweet little babies we expected to love and cradle ushered into the presence of God instead?” Grieving is not passive. Suffering isn’t something that just happens to you and then you ride a wave of emotions until the circumstances quell. Suffering is like school, and grieving is how we accomplish the coursework. It’s not the kind of education anyone willingly signs up for. But, when devastation enters our lives, we are automatically enrolled into the seminar on suffering. And, just as we would prepare for any class, we must download the syllabus and begin to faithfully complete the assignments...

Delicious Despair2022-05-04T23:17:18+00:00

Seasons of the Soul

PATSY KUIPERS|GUEST Editor's Note: The following is an adapted excerpt from Patsy Kuiper's new book, Be Still: Quiet Moments with God in my Garden. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 Nature’s Seasons I once attended a presentation where the speaker began with, “Summer, fall, and winter are seasons – spring  is a miracle.” I’ve thought about her comment every spring since. Early warm spells begin to nudge plants from their slumber in January here in the South. Witchhazel, Lenten roses, and paperbush start the floral parade that continues for multiple weeks as plants take turns in the spotlight. Trees, flowers, baby birds – all embody the joyful message of rebirth, which in turn stimulates hope and rejuvenation in us. But spring gives way to summer, and tender ephemerals[1] disappear for another year as heat-loving specimens flourish.  Summer annuals and perennials bloom, then set and disperse their seeds before beginning their decline. Fall arrives. Crops are ripe for harvest, the fruit of spring planting and summer tending. Soon daylight hours decrease, as does the temperature, and autumnal leaves create a riotous display of color – one last hurrah before they let go and blanket the ground for the winter. Ah, winter. Based on my observations, I’ve concluded it is the most misunderstood, under-appreciated season, at least from a gardening standpoint. Those unfamiliar with the ways of plants scan the leafless, apparently lifeless landscape and pronounce, “everything’s dead.” I used to think that too, but my horticulture studies dissuaded me from that notion. For instance, some seeds won’t germinate without scarification,[2] and some bulbs won’t bloom without adequate chill time. Many plants depend on the decreased daylight and increased darkness that accompany winter to flower at the appropriate time. My newfound knowledge has given me a different perspective...

Seasons of the Soul2022-05-04T23:01:02+00:00

God’s Work in Our Weakness

JESSICA ROAN|GUEST Recently, my English students responded to the prompt, “What type of weather represents your personality?” Now, I really try to journal with my students, but I often struggle to get out from under my grading to take part. But this prompt was different. I really wanted to write about this one, or did I? Literally seconds into my journaling, I realized that I was not a sunny day, or even a soft blanket of snow. My life-long loathing of certain parts of my temperament came flooding back, and my best answer was a storm, yes with lightning, maybe a bit of hail? Ouch. As a few of my students and I discovered— or were reminded—personalities can be complex. Sometimes, we might even wish we had a different one altogether.  When I consider my own temperament, I often question why God chooses to use seemingly difficult dispositions to accomplish his plan. Well, we may never have the answer to that question this side of heaven, but there is good news! The fathers and mothers of the faith were human too—personality flaws and all. The Bible shows us that God uses all his children for his Kingdom purposes— whether we view the glass as half-empty or half-full, whether we are outgoing or shy, whether we go with the flow or like things to stay the same. And, as we’ll soon see, even when we stumble and fall into sin, God works through us then too. Relating to Those Who’ve Walked Before I have certain traits, tendencies, weaknesses, and sins I would like to change in myself. I long to be more content. I wish I didn’t have a tendency toward despair. I desire to be rid of my fear of failure or rejection. I’ve confessed my selfishness with David who mourned: “For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me…As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!” (Psalm 40: 12,17)....

God’s Work in Our Weakness2022-05-04T23:02:07+00:00

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...

Five Key Questions for Setting Gospel-Shaped Goals2022-05-04T23:42:53+00:00

When Loss Comes, Hold on to Jesus: Wisdom from the Sermon I Quote Most

I just have to give credit where credit’s due! Tim Keller’s sermon, The Vinedresser on John 15:1-2  is one that many have heard me quote. Keller’s sermon addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his “pruning” of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us— the branches— looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ the true vine, drawing love and life from him, or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit that gives testimony that we are vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life? Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus (the one speaking in John 15), says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, prunes fruitful, abiding branches! To punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less! Pain: When Loss Equals Gain Keller says that the Father never cuts/prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.”[1] Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches that are next to us, and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences that are leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus through bearing more fruit as his life surges unhindered through us. It is often the good things that distract us from what is best, wouldn’t you agree? A relationship, job, ministry opportunity, bank account, house, and so much more can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. Ever so subtly our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling and before we know it, we are attempting to abide (or draw life from, find our meaning in) that gift. Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove it for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Ephesians 1:22-23). When his purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father...

When Loss Comes, Hold on to Jesus: Wisdom from the Sermon I Quote Most2022-05-05T00:08:51+00:00
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