Archive for April, 2014

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Life and the Image of God

April 12, 2014

Last Sunday my mom told me a cool way to remember what God made each day of creation.  The first three days were “making” days: light, water and sky, land and plants.  He built the structures necessary to sustain life.  Then He followed those with three “filling” days, and filled those structures with stars and moons, fish and birds, animals and people.  That makes it so much easier to keep all those days in order in one’s head!

massachusetts_nature_outside

I was surprised to encounter the very same concept in an article from the Desiring God blog this week.  It was an article on how husbands should love their wives, so after showing how God created structure and then filled it with life, it continued:

“Men are meant to create structures so that life can flourish. We create farms where the conditions can be perfectly calibrated to maximize the fruitfulness of the trees. We create ranches where animals can grow strong. We create financial structures where investments can reach their full potential. And, in the home, we create an environment where our wives and children can flourish in every area under God.” – Ben Stuart

How interesting that God first created a man “to create structures so that life can flourish” – and then from him the first woman, the “mother of all life.”  Eve’s very name means life!  Men and women need each other, for many reasons, but also because men generally create strong structures (which are empty by themselves), and women fill them with life (which needs a structure to flourish in).

I’ve also been thinking about femininity this week.  What makes a woman feminine?  There are many feminine qualities we could name, but which of them distinguish us from men entirely?  The first, biggest answer to those questions is that women are life-givers.  God has made us to give birth, to nourish those babies with milk from our own bodies, to kiss boo-boos and nurse sick children back to health.  We are homemakers, nourishers, caregivers, helpers, empathizers.  We enable people to thrive!  Of course men can do some of those things too (the exception being the whole “giving birth and breastfeeding” thing), and the talents of women are not limited to this short list of attributes.  We can certainly create structures too.  But giving and promoting life is something women are especially good at, an area where we excel, because God made us to reflect that part of His nature.

Writers also give life, in our own way.  We take what exists only in our imagination and bring it to life on the page, so it can be alive for others to read.  We human beings are “sub-creators”, as J.R.R. Tolkien liked to say – any work of creativity is bringing something out of nothing, or shaping new things out of materials we possess, imitating God who created the world with His word.

Many believe we are products of random chance, evolved in a survival-of-the-fittest pattern where the unfit get left behind and die out.  But then how do they make sense of this?

“For all of our evolution, it has been the females who have cared for each other and helped each other learn how to birth and feed and love and raise strong babies. It has been the wisdom of women that has seen us through the darkest times in history, when survival was precious, and when our strength for each other was the key to our existence.” – Mayim Bialik

(Hey, look, women promoting life!  Even those who believe in evolution can’t deny that distinction between male and female.)  In a kill or be killed kind of world, why should primitive humans help each other?  Why help the neighboring cavewoman birth safely and help her learn how to feed her little cavebaby?  The child will just grow up to compete with yours for food and resources.  I suppose evolutionists would argue that primitive man found it helpful to live in supportive communities for security after a certain point.

But regardless, the fact remains that we live in a world where everything is falling apart.  People age and die, stuff breaks, things decompose, objects rust and wear, buildings crumble.  Fallen man is not naturally life-promoting – we are all prone to hatred, selfishness, and violence by our sinful nature.  When you take all factors into account, really it’s amazing that humanity hasn’t destroyed itself or died out by now.  (God’s sustaining and protective grace at work!)

So why do we still see people building things and helping others, making structure, filling it with life?  After all, it’s not only Christians who accomplish great things, have amazing creativity, or are good parents.  Even the wicked man knows how to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13), and God gives good gifts to believers and unbelievers alike, including talents and skills and a desire for a healthy, cooperative society.

glass_broken_break

Shattered mirrors still reflect the light.  Even ugly sin can’t obscure His beautiful image completely.  Through all sinners’ bad intentions, evil desires, and wickedness, we still see flashing glimpses of a creative, life-giving God.

We’ve all seen things online…fifty photos that will restore your faith in humanity, 20 inspiring acts of kindness, and so forth.  As Christians, maybe we could retitle those in our minds when we see them.  “Fifty photos to refresh your faith in our Creator God!”

Fifty new reasons to glorify the Almighty Giver of Life.  Fifty reflections of our Maker’s love.  Fifty glimpses of the image of God in His creation.  Fifty tiny pictures of the love Christ has for us, that we should have for others.

Here’s one I found with 35.  Happy weekend to you all!  🙂

“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

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We’re Going to Knock Your Wall Down

April 9, 2014

Once during my most recent pregnancy, I had a disturbing dream which perfectly described my mental state that week.

I dreamt I was struggling my daughter into her car seat, and she was misbehaving, fighting me tooth and nail.  Suddenly a woman in a neighboring car offered to take my daughter and the car seat into her vehicle instead, clearly intending to keep her.

“Why exactly do you suggest that?” I asked, in an over-my-dead-body kind of tone.

She gave me a sugary smile.  “Well, obviously you can’t manage the children you have and you have trouble using birth control.  I’ll just take one off your hands and make your life easier.”

“I find that very offensive!” I said, and spent the rest of the dream arguing with her over our points of view.

That dream was a clear manifestation of how I thought I looked that week, to everyone who didn’t know me – a hopelessly overworked mother who doesn’t know how to say “when”.  I was hugely pregnant and chasing two toddlers, and if I got one more comment from a stranger on how I had my “hands full”, I thought I’d scream.

Any mother who has had multiple children close together has experienced this kind of attitude from others.

“Wow, you’re having another one?  That’s…brave of you.”

“You’re a busy woman.”

“You’ve sure got your hands full.”

These remarks usually aren’t meant in a complimentary way – they come with pity and amusement from most mouths.  Even the self-deprecating one about how “I could never handle that many kids” seems to the tired mother to carry an undertone of scorn, something like, “You poor insane woman…boy, I’m glad I’m not you!”

Knowing that as Christians we are ambassadors of Christ wherever we go, I felt pressured to at least look like I had it all together, like it was easy pushing a heavy double stroller through Target with two unhappy children and a bulging belly that showed I would soon have another.  It isn’t easy, mothering three under three.  Some days I still feel like an inexpert faker trying really hard to be a mom.  Thankfully God provides the strength we need for each day, but I felt like it was my job to hold my head high and never let an unbeliever see how what a challenge it was, as if that would poke holes in my testimony and prove all their pity and amusement was well-founded. I couldn’t let the world think I was stupid to choose this life! I had to make it look like I was smart, like I could confidently handle the 24/7 needs of wee ones, because God was my strength, right? Any time I went in public I was anxious, wondering what passerby thought of me.

With further thought it occurred to me…

Those who are in the world live for self.  Many of them can’t fathom why someone would give up their lives for such an inconvenience as a bucketload of little children.  They’re willing to put up with one or two kids, or at least decently spaced kids, because it fits into their vision of success and value in life.  But pour out years of your young life to feed kids (day and night!), grow more kids, be a human Kleenex for kids, discipline kids, tow around kids, listen to kids whine, listen to kids screech, supervise messy kids, push strollers full of kids, stay up all night with kids, kill your back carrying kids, run in endless circles chasing kids?  To do that you must be a glutton for misery, or a simpleton!

But to us who believe God’s promises, we know that we are entrusted with these little eternal flames, who (Lord willing!) will one day sing Christ’s praises with us in eternity.  We are making war on Satan, raising new soldiers for Christ.  We are in the business of building and training an army.

Parenting is hard work. Not only are we shaping tiny souls to love and serve Jesus (a work only God can ultimately bring to fruition), but we are being shaped and molded too – burning away the dross.  We’re fighting our sin and our children’s sin, and trying to help them grow up into decent human beings who will not only live, but thrive.  It’s not supposed to be easy.

As Rachel Jankovic says*, the world reviles motherhood because it smells of sacrifice and sacrifice smells of Christ.  Every time a new child is conceived in sweet married love, born into loving, welcoming arms, and raised in a faithful Christian home, I imagine Satan must stamp his feet and gnash his teeth in rage!

This is the stuff of spiritual warfare, and we are on the winning side.

So let us look like simpletons to those who don’t see that coming victory! Let us look tired, because we are – we are at war. Let us look burdened, because we are picking up our crosses and following Him. Yes, indeed, we have our hands full!

And they are full of the most wonderful things they could be, eternal souls.  God gave my children to me, and I yearn to be like Mary, who answered God’s calling with submission – “Let it be to me according to Your word.”  He is my captain, this is my mission, and I undertake it in the power of Christ my King.

Let those on the ramparts of Jericho laugh as they see us going in endless circles, because there is a point to all this, and that wall is going to come tumbling down!

*

*If you’re a mom (or even if you’re not), please read the great article I took that quote from!
P.S.  Certainly not every blow to Satan comes from a child who was born to the loving arms of happily married parents – but as this is the way God intends it, it must make the devil peeved!  Also, Satan can’t see the twists and turns of the future the way God can, so he must do a little happy dance when a child is conceived out of wedlock or born into a broken home, because he thinks he has the upper hand.  God, however, knows all of the future and He rejoices over the new life of any of His children, no matter what their situation is at birth.  I feel the need to mention that, lest anyone be discouraged. God uses stealth tactics in His army too!
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Oops. Sorry!

April 7, 2014

I don’t usually blog Mondays, but I felt I needed to come out and say this:

It was brought to my attention this morning that the painting of the crucifixion in my last post may have offended some brothers and sisters in Christ, due to their convictions on the 2nd commandment.  (And it was a post primarily based on the 10 commandments…oh, the painful irony!)  This did not occur to me before posting, and I sincerely apologize to anyone who found that to be a stumbling block.  I have removed it from the article, and will avoid doing likewise in the future.

I’m curious, what are your convictions on what the 2nd commandment means?  Maybe I need to do some research!

In Him,
Bethany

P.S.  Small public service announcement – I had someone ask me about this.  If you would like to receive an email alerting you when I put up a new post, scroll down and you will find a subscription box on the bottom of the right hand column.  I hope that’s helpful!

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10 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore (Because Sin is a Terminal Illness)

April 5, 2014
  1. Do your thoughts, plans, hopes, intentions, and actions revolve around something other than God?
  2. Have you felt worshipful toward any images of God, Jesus, or false gods? Do you reshape your “vision” of God based on your own passions, prejudices, or any source other than His Word?
  3. Do you use His name flippantly or without reverence?  Have you taken the name of “Christian” for yourself but look and act no differently than those who deny Christ is Lord?
  4. Do you consider Sunday just another day to work or play?  Do you give God a couple hours of your attention in church each week and then go your way like you’ve “done your duty”?  Do you work yourself to the bone and reject rest because you feel like the weight of the whole world is on your shoulders?
  5. Do you talk disrespectfully of (or to) your parents, or disregard their rules or wishes?  Do you ignore their needs? Do you skip opportunities to bless or honor them?
  6. Have you ever felt hatred toward another human being or treated them like dirt?
  7. Do you gaze lustfully on anyone other than your spouse?  Do you compare your spouse negatively to others, or let other relationships become more intimate than your relationship with him or her? Do you disrupt your unity with them with self-serving moods or actions?
  8. Have you taken, borrowed, or used something that was not yours?  Did you want to?
  9. Do you say things about other people that are not true, or speculate things which you have not verified?  Do you talk negatively about anyone behind their backs?  Do you throw people under the bus?  (Note – if you have literally thrown someone under a bus, see #6.)
  10. Have you ever felt miffed, upset, or angry because someone had something you don’t have?  Have you been discontent with your lot in life?  Have you begrudged someone more fortunate than you? Have you been angry because you could not obtain something you wanted?

These are just a few of the many symptoms of a debilitating and terminal disease called SIN.  Lack of treatment will result in certain physical and spiritual death.  Many remedies promise to take care of the symptoms, but the one and only cure can be found in the pure, unfiltered blood of Christ, shed for your salvation.  Thankfully, this priceless treatment is totally free of charge, guaranteed to work, and readily available to all mankind!

O, ye who are weary and burdened with sin, take hope.  Healing is found at the foot of the cross.

WARNING: This treatment may will result in joyful liberation from guilt, lifestyle changes, increase in good works, love and compassion for other people (even the horrible ones), peace, hope, thinking less of yourself, giving without getting (or expecting) anything back, willing self-sacrifice, persecution, and in some cases, death by martyrdom.  Some effects will not be immediate.  See Bible for details.

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 3:19-24

I feel I should note here that I don’t believe we are merely sick with sin before we are saved – the Bible says we are dead in it!  (Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 2:5.)  You could say we were the walking dead.  😉  But sickness worked well for an analogy.  You could say we were “as good as dead.”  One foot in the grave.  Doomed.  You get the picture!

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Until My Lord Release Me or Death Take Me

April 2, 2014

I often have to remind myself that the Christian life is a life of discomfort.

We must be uncomfortable with ourselves, striving to greater godliness and fleeing from our sin daily.

We must be uncomfortable with the extent of our knowledge of God, seeking His face and searching His word diligently, even desperately, every day.

We must be uncomfortable with the suffering of those around us, giving of our resources and compassion to those who are hurting or in need.

We must not seek comfort as our ultimate good in daily life, instead embracing the truth that there is greater gain in denying ourselves and living a life of servanthood and diligence.

This shouldn’t surprise us, because when we came to the foot of the cross and bowed before Christ as our King – we were enlisting.  We pledged our service there in a spiritual war against Satan, the world, and our sin.

John Bunyan compared the Christian life to a long, arduous journey.  The comparison is good, but in this day and place, when “journeying” involves sitting in an air conditioned vehicle with our iPods blasting and Starbucks in our cup holders, I think we’ve lost our sense of ardor and trial in traveling, so the analogy may be a little weak for many of us.

Like the Apostle Paul, I often compare the life of faith to a war, and the Christian to a soldier.  Not that most of us have more experience with war than with journeying…but for some reason it’s more relatable to me, personally.  Maybe that’s because I write fiction with wars in it, but don’t we all feel like we’ve “done battle” with sin?

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” – 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV)

I am no longer a disinterested civilian going about my own business, because I am “on duty” for God.

In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Peregrin Took swore fealty to Gondor:

“Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end.”

That is our road.  We must put on our armor and carry our weapons at all times, because the devil prowls about like a lion looking for someone to devour.  Sometimes we have rest and reprieve, but often every day is a new battle.  We are soldiers – we are not free to laze around when there is a war to be fought.  I don’t mean we can never rest or enjoy the sweet blessings God gives us in life, but we must be wary that comfort is not our ultimate goal.

Taking the lazy way out is not an option.  When the kids start fighting, interrupting my moment on Facebook, and I yell at them from the couch instead of taking the time and effort to disciple their hearts, I’m caving.  I’m making comfort my god instead of God.  He is my King!  I should do all my work “as unto the Lord”.  As a Christian soldier, life is not a quest for my own happiness or peace-and-quiet, but His glory.

The Christian life is uncomfortable.  But despite that, there is a comfort to which we can – must! – cling.

“Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.  This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” – Psalm 119:49-50

“But Abraham said [to the rich man in hell], ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.’ ” – Luke 16:25

“Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” – 2 Corinthians 1:7

While those in the world may seek comfort and happiness as their ultimate goal, and often get it, those who do not have Christ have no ultimate comfort.  They soothe themselves with shadows; they please themselves with dim reflections of eternal joy, things that are not lasting and do not pass beyond the grave.  I must not live as one of them, because in Jesus I have been shown the love of God, an eternal and abiding comfort that does not age, fade, or grow old.