Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Home I Never Knew I Longed For

The best part of a vacation is coming home. Or so people say. 

For me, each returning evokes longing. We have been in temporary dwellings now for just over a year. Our flood-wrecked house is undergoing repairs and the waiting makes me ache. I feel displaced, unstable and in transit. I long to pull into our driveway after being away, and to feel the comfort of arriving at our home and haven.

The tension tugs at my emotions and tempts me to despondency. But the words of Hebrews 11 infuse my heart with hope. They tell the story of saints who left their earthly homes because they desired something better. They freely identified themselves not only as living in transit, but as pursuing a heavenly home. They so strongly identified with their heavenly citizenship that they called themselves “strangers” and “exiles” while here on earth. 
These all died in faith...having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
So perhaps this involuntary homelessness is a reality check for me. Do I more closely identify with my earthly home or my heavenly one? In truth, I’m not sure my house has ever been a true sanctuary for me. The flood last year leaves no doubt of it’s deficiency. Perhaps my longing to move home is actually a longing for a better homeland. The ultimate driveway to pull into.

In a sermon titled “The Weight of Glory,”C.S. Lewis said: 
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
I have a sneaking suspicion that my longing for home will never be satisfied in this life. Earthly longings are shadows, but not substance. Insatiable apart from Christ. They taste of fleeting satisfaction, but always leave me wanting. And yet far too often, the object of my desire eclipses my view of Christ. 

I'm learning that my refuge is not found between four walls, but in Jesus Christ. In Him I find freedom from sin’s slavery. Reconciliation. Peace. A spiritual rest untouchable by circumstances. He stretches out the heavens, keeps the earth in orbit, redeems humanity and holds my heart in his hands.

Through faith in Christ I find the sanctuary that eludes me on earth--the ultimate home that I never knew I longed for.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

5 Things To Avoid When Weak

Lately I’ve been frustrated with my limitations. Since getting sick with an autoimmune disease I seem to need sleep like a baby on a growth spurt. I feel keenly aware of those extra 2-3 hours that I spend sleeping while others are being productive. Truthfully, I feel embarrassed about it.
I know I’m not alone in my feelings of inadequacy. I see the new mom who is overwhelmed by caring for her newborn baby while another mom goes out for a jog the day after delivery. I see the woman with a high school diploma intimidated by the woman with an MBA. I see the woman whose marriage is falling apart or who longs to be married, while another woman is posting pictures of marital bliss on Facebook.
Keep reading here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Have We Failed in our Discussions on Modesty?

Contrary to popular belief, men are not animals. The Christian blogosphere seems to be full of posts on modesty that are...well, disappointing. I am thankful for the balance and wisdom of certain writers such as this one. But far too often men are portrayed as animalistic creatures that have no capacity to control their lustful thoughts. If you follow through with this line of thinking, you have to ask, how much does a woman have to cover up in order to prevent every last man from having a lustful thought? This is especially disconcerting considering that even in Muslim countries where burqas are the norm, men still lust.

Can Modesty Stop Lust?

My husband recently preached on Genesis 12 and I was struck by that fact that Sarai’s beauty caused more than one man to sin. She was so beautiful, in fact, that Abram was afraid that the Pharaoh would kill him in order to have his wife. So Abram told Sarai to lie and say she was his sister. Pharaoh did as Abram predicted and took her for a wife. Was this Sarai’s fault? Was she not modest enough? Well, no. Sarah is lifted up as an example of modesty in 1 Peter 3. Sarah’s example points us to the fact that modesty, in and of itself, cannot stop lust.

We live in a sexually-charged, body-obsessed culture. May I suggest that it is not helpful to encourage women to think about and analyze men’s lust for their bodies? Many women are already thinking about their body too much. Our culture preaches that a woman’s worth is defined by how “hot” her body is. “Hot” women are worthy of more praise and attention than those who are not. This causes many women to have their fair share of insecurities and fears. 

Will I lose my man’s attention? Am I worth much? Will another woman will outshine me? Will modesty make me nearly disappear? Will I ever snag a man’s attention? Christianity offers a better alternative to this woman -- an identity apart from “hotness.”  But too often we add to the pressure by suggesting that women need to be attractive enough to keep their husband’s interest, but not attractive enough to not cause another man to lust. With all this push and pull, women are left to walk a fine line. 

Nevertheless, Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” There is something noble and good about trying to help a brother in his battle with lust. But lets be clear about whether we are asking women to help or cure the problem of lust. Because the first we can do imperfectly and the second we cannot do at all.

1 Timothy 2:8-9 and Our Motivation for Modesty

Paul says, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.”

Paul seems to be encouraging women to avoid a general showy-ness. She should not flaunt her wealth, status, style or sexuality in order to bring attention to herself. It speaks to more than women’s clothing, but not less. Modesty is a matter of the heart expressed in clothing, demeanour and conversations. It is an outward expression of who you are.

I do think women who dress modestly make it easier for men to see their personhood rather than their parts. However, stopping lust cannot be the number one driving motivation for modesty. It places an unfair burden on women to save men from their sins. A role that only Jesus Christ can fulfill. 

A more prominent motivation for modesty should be a desire to glorify God in the gospel. The gospel confronts the attention-getting self-focus of our natural self. When we respond in faith to God’s offer of salvation, we are transformed into a new person with new desires and motivations. We desire God’s glory more than our own. We are disillusioned with our greatness and find more enjoyment in God’s holiness and beauty. He is the one worthy of attention, not us. At times we struggle to remember who we are in Christ, but as we grow in our communion with God, our desires become more and more in line with His.

Modest people may look quite different from each other depending on their culture, context and personality. Modesty is a matter of the heart first and foremost. In light of 1 Timothy 2:9, we should ask ourselves whether we are more defined by wealth, beauty and sexuality or by good works? Although these things are not mutually exclusive, your kindness should leave a stronger impression than your Prada purse.

Banishing Fear

When we remember who we are in Christ, we will feel free to give up our spotlight for the sake of another. Femininity is beautiful and so is modesty. They are both God’s ideas. Women don’t need to hide or be ashamed, but our clothing and demeanor should reflect a humble heart -- a serene heart -- a heart that confidently trusts in the sovereignty and goodness of God. When we begin to comprehend how much we are loved and accepted by God, we won’t crave the attention of people to the same degree or severity. God defines our worth, not people. As we grow in communion with him, a miraculous thing happens: our fears are cast out by His love (1 John 4:18).

(My very favourite book on modesty is Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel by R.W. Glenn and Tim Challies. Unfortunately, I lost my book in the flood last year so I can’t quote you from their book. But if you are trying to think through this topic in your own life, I highly recommend that get the book and read it.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hope for the Indecisive

Remediation of our flood-soaked home has given me the chance to play interior designer. Now I’m noticing baseboards and backsplash and combing the magazine shelves for home decorating tips. And honestly, I’ve been overwhelmed by the massive amount of decisions. I had NO IDEA how many would be required to renovate a home. How many shades of white are there? You might be surprised! How many kinds of trim and baseboard? Interior doors? Flooring? Light Fixtures? Hardware? Railing? Cabinets? Countertops? Sinks? Etc.. And how do you match the style and colours? 

Needless to say, my mind has been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices.  More than once I have agonized and second-guessed myself.

Basically, this has been a crash course in decision making for me. And I’ve discovered that I am a horrible decision maker. I had no idea just how bad I was until this year. 

Rewind five months. I am standing in my stripped-bare frame of a house -- emotionally fatigued and confused about what I want. The plumber, electrician, carpenter and general contractor are all looking to me -- waiting for me to make a decision about where to put the washer. I desperately need a cathartic five minute cry, but then I would be paying these men to wait around for me to finish my meltdown! So I make a decision, leave and then immediately begin to second guess myself.


Over the next 5 months I repeated this pattern many times. At some point I began to realize that there was a reason I was so anxious.

We make decisions more difficult than they need to be when we forget to keep our priorities straight. Jesus’ words in Luke 12: 22-32 are such a beautiful reminder for me that,

  1. God cares about what we need here on earth.
  2. God will provide for us.
  3. We have less control than we think, and
  4. If I’m getting overly anxious, it’s probably because I’m making something here on earth my treasure.

    And he [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 

    Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

In light of these truths, the location of my washer doesn’t seem so important. While I can’t add an hour to my life by worrying, I probably did lose an hour. But as I begin to understand that God will provide what I need, I loosen my iron grip on the details. I don’t need to make perfect decisions. In most things, it’s sufficient to make good decisions.

What Do You Treasure?

Someone once said that our emotions are a window to our soul. Our anxiety shows us what our hearts love. We need only look. Do our decisions have to be perfect? Do we care too much what other people think? Is the decision too important to us? Are we defined by it?

It’s true that we treasure comfort, beauty, success and riches. But we can’t take them with us when we die. Redemption and an eternity spent with the One we love most is a better treasure. It cannot be lost, destroyed or stolen. God cannot fail and his promises don’t wear out.

The gospel doesn’t make all decisions easy, but it should take some of the pressure off of us. There is only one decision that we need to get exactly right. And that is deciding who and what we love most.