Temples Made of Sand

It's funny when magazine articles and blog posts suggest that Christianity is collapsing.  Even funnier when they argue that it has run its course when they see a number of ordained ministers leaving their churches and heading to other churches that take a different view on marriage.  There are entire denominations running to the Shechemites, but that certainly doesn't mean it's the end of Christianity.   

We've been here before.

Inter-marriage was a serious and difficult problem in Nehemiah’s time.  God's people were marrying non-believers and the non-believers were drawing God's people to false gods.  It was how the people were pulled away from God, which led to the exile.  Solomon struggled in this (as Nehemiah points out in Nehemiah 13:26).  Ezra dealt with it (Ezra 9).  And we can find the same drama centered around inter-marriage in Nehemiah's day.   There's a loose string coming from the garment of a man named Sanballat.  Let's give it a tug and see what unravels. 

Looking at Nehemiah 13:28-29, there is a curious thing about the relationship between the the son of the High Priest, Eliashib to Sanballat.  It says the son was also the son-in-law of Sanballat, making this guy’s father (Eliashib) the High Priest and his father-in-law (Sanballat) the governor of Samaria.   This also suggests that Sanballat’s daughter was a Horonite like her father.  

But in Nehemiah 10 they had covenanted not to marry outsiders.  They agreed that they would stand on the truth of God's Word. But this son-in-law married a Horonite.  

Why is this a problem? 

The position of High Priest was handed down through family lines.  So there was a potential that this guy could become the High Priest, if not for Leviticus 21:14-15 (which says of the High Priest, "A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am the LORD who sanctifies him" (bold added for emphasis).  

Josephus gives us more.  In his writing, Antiquities of the Jews, (Book 11, Ch 8), Josephus states that the son of the High Priest, Manasseh was instructed to divorce his wife or he would be driven away from the altar of the Lord.  (This is still in violation of Levitical law, but it seems they were prepared to make some exceptions.) Josephus continues, 

“Whereupon Manasseh came to his father-in-law, Sanballat, and told him that although he loved his daughter Nicaso, yet he was not willing to be deprived sacerdotal dignity on her account, which was the principal dignity in their nation, and always continued in the same family.  And then Sanballat promised him not only to preserve to him the honour of his priesthood, but to procure for him the power and dignity of a high priest, and would make him governor of all the places he himself now ruled, if he would keep his daughter for his wife.  He also told him further, that he would build him a temple like that at Jerusalem, upon Mount Gerizim, which is the highest of all the mountains that are in Samaria; and he promised that he would do this with the approbation of Darius the king.  

“Manasseh was elevated with this promises, and stayed with Sanballat, upon a supposal that he would gain a high priesthood, as bestowed on him by Darius, for it happened Sanballat was then in years.  But there was now a great disturbance among the people of Jerusalem, because many of those priests and Levites were entangled in such matches; for they all revolted to Manasseh, and Sanballat afforded them money, and divided among them land for tillage, and habitations also; and all this in order every way to gratify his son-in-law.” 

So if Josephus is correct, Sanballat gave his son-in-law a high priesthood in an unholy temple and made him the governor of Samaria.  Then as other priests and Levites married foreign women, Sanballat gave them money and land in Samaria.  

Does this account not seem like some of the actions we're seeing today?  The concerning part is the lasting ramifications of building temples to the god of our own desires. 

Remember the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4?  In verse 20 she references a dispute regarding the most holy hill for a temple.  It’s possibly a reference to Judges 9:7 and it’s definitely a reference to the reality that Samaria had a temple of their own . . . on Mount Gerizim.   

Josephus also states, “Now, when Alexander was dead, the government was parted among his successors; but the temple upon Mount Gerizim remained; and if any one were accused by those of Jerusalem of having eaten things common, or having broken the Sabbath, or of any other crime of like nature, he fled away to the Shechemites, and said that he was accused unjustly” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, Ch 8). 

So it would seem that there was a liberal temple where one could go if he violated God’s Law but still wanted to feel holy and continue to worship the god of self.  It was this same temple that came about because a son-in-law of Sanballat wanted to be God’s high priest but not follow God’s Law.  And it seems nothing has changed today, has it?  

They Will Persecute You

IMAGE: RICH PEDRONCELLI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

IMAGE: RICH PEDRONCELLI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The recent shooting in Oregon is disturbing. For Christians it is even more so, given that reports are stating that the shooter was targeting Christians.  This may cause fear, but Jesus says fear not. Be encouraged!

As Jesus was preparing to head to the cross, he gave his disciples some encouragement.  He was preparing them for what was coming.  (John 13-17).  At one point, he said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  As if that wasn’t encouragement enough, later he said, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).  And he said, “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered” (John 16:31).  Feel encouraged?

Sometimes living in America we struggle to realize the reality of these statements.  On occasion, we read stories of Christians in such circumstances, but it is often only passing reminders.  Rest assured, Christians all over the world know Jesus was speaking truth because they experience it daily.     

But there is encouragement.  In John 14:18 Jesus reminds us that we are not orphans.  We are part of the family of God and we will never be left alone.  Jesus is with us.  And we must remember that we have the great Comforter—the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-31).

And we must remember that Jesus has already won this fight.  Before praying, he concluded his final instructions to his disciples saying, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

In this life, you will be persecuted (if you're following Jesus), but take heart, Jesus has already overcome! 

 


"Prof" Howard Hendricks on Motivation

Sometime in the Summer of 1970, "Prof" Howard Hendricks spoke to a group of students from Campus Crusade for Christ.  He spoke on motivation and his lecture was recorded.  

A 13-year-old boy listened to the recording of that lecture over and over again.  In fact, he memorized it and applied it to his ministry for years.  He later became a student of Dr. Howard Hendricks at DTS.  Imagine his delight when, more than 40 years later, the cassette tape (for those of us who remember what those were) was found in his mother's belongings.  Even better, he now has the ability to share the lecture that was instrumental in his ministry success over the years. 

My friend had the tape remastered and made into a digital copy.  He sent it to me with the idea that Hendricks' lecture might prove helpful for my ministry.  I listened to what to the Prof who taught at DTS for more than 60 years had to say about motivation back in 1970.  Then I listened to it again.  My friend was spot-on right! 

How could it be so simple that one lecure could rock my thinking?  How could we be missing it today?  I listened again.  Nine things.  Nine, simple things.  Amazing!  

Hendricks looks at what really motivates a person within the Christian life.  If you are in any position of leadership, or you want to faithfully follow the teaching of Jesus and be a disciple that makes disciples, you really need to listen to Hendricks' lecture.  I mean it. 

Download or Listen Here:
Dr. Howard Hendricks on Motivation

*Thanks Dr. Swanner for sharing this lecture with me and allowing me to post it here. 

Who Is The Real Enemy?

Photo by Aurelio Arias is registered under a Creative Commons License.

Photo by Aurelio Arias is registered under a Creative Commons License.

Not too long ago, I preached through the book of Jonah at Redeeming Life Church.  (You can listen to those sermons here.) As most pastors do, I broke it into four sermons, one chapter per week.  At this point, I'm not so sure that's the best way to break it up, but it works.  

When most of us think of Jonah we think of a great fish.  Some of us start debating the possibility of a big fish before we even try to comprehend the God who created and appointed that fish.  And we often forget that God also appointed a tempest, a plant, a wind, a worm, and most importantly -- a man to go proclaim God's message.  

I'm still struck by how reluctant Jonah was.  He was afraid, yes; but he was also unwilling.  He was unwilling to see or be a part of God mission to forgive and save Jonah's perceived enemies.  But who was the real enemy? 

It's hard to avoid the complexities in our world today.  We wrestle with issues of gay marriage, abortion, other religions and cults, politics, drug dealers, pornographers, and so much more.  Watching many Christians, I wonder if they have the same heart as Jonah?  Would they rather see God destroy their 'enemies' rather than save and redeem them?  Have we become a church of Jonahs?  I hope not. I pray not. 

At the heart is a grave misunderstanding.  It seems we've forgotten who the real enemy is.  The enemy is not Planned Parenthood.  The enemy is not the LGBT community.  Society is not the enemy.  The hard life of the street is not the enemy.  Our neighbor... not the enemy.  Hollywood?  Nope.  The government?  No.  The local church? Wrong! 

1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  I wonder what would happen if a zookeeper let a lion free in your workplace?  Would you just go about your business as normal?  How about if there was a lion in your neighborhood?  I suspect you wouldn't be out mowing your lawn if there were a lion sitting on your front step stalking you. We'd be making phone calls.  We'd be going for guns.  The news media would be there.  And we probably won't be too concerned with the little things. 

We do have a real enemy.  There is a lion prowling around.  Ephesians 6:10:-20 tells us what to do: 

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak." 

Let us not forget who the real enemy is, and let us be ready when the lion comes to u

Abortion is a Religious Right

Photo by Yoel Ben-Avraham is registered under a creative commons license.

Photo by Yoel Ben-Avraham is registered under a creative commons license.

It doesn't take hidden camera videos of Planned Parenthood's operation to convince us of the truth.  We all know it.  Unborn babies are babies.  Giving them another name does not change the truth.  Calling the termination of a baby's life 'abortion' does not take away the fact that it is premeditated murder.   

But there's that sticky question of religious rights.  

Let us not forget that we have religious freedom in America and abortion is about religious rights.  Is it fair for one group of people who believe that all life is valuable and should be protected to trump the religious rights of those who believe they must sacrifice babies to their gods?  

Should our government have the right to stop a woman from killing her child on the altar of selfish desire, sexual irresponsibility, or the god she calls choice?  Can we truly expect our political leaders to hold fathers accountable for their actions when many men worship the gods of abandonment, unaccountability, and genital satisfaction?  Is it possible to regulate those who worship themselves?  In the religion of the American Dream, a life with a voice is more sacred than one who cannot defend him or herself.  Should it be legal to defend the voiceless when that very idea is in direct violation of some people's religious practice?  At what point does a human life mean more than these religious practices? 

In a time when we can protect sea turtle eggs and bald eagle carcusses, you'd think we could find a way to protect humans who can't protect themselves.  Sure, we've already put some restriction in place. The priests who perform the sacrifices must be licenced.  No back alley temples allowed.  And we certainly don't allow birth mothers who sacrificed their babies to sell the dead body parts after the offering.  This greatly restricts the religious practice of immoral greed, but it also places a deterrent upon the religion.  Could you imagine how fast that religion would be growing if we did not prohibit such a practice?  There would be profiting converts to that god every day!  

I respect religious freedom.  But at what point can we allow worship practices to do harm to others?  How long will we allow these various religions continue sacrificing other humans?  How long will we look the other way while this kind of worship kills babies?  The babies aren't given a choice in the matter.  They are forced to be a part of these religions and it costs them their lives.  

Abortion is a deplorable practice and it's wrong.  It must stop now!   

 

 

Behind the Man, Jonah

Jonah is an interesting book.  While it's probably the most well known, it's not likely the most contemplated of the Old Testament prophets.  Most people know the story because of the great fish.  They've either rejected the narrative on account that they simply won't accept that God is a God of miracles, or they love the story because of the fish.  But Johan is not a story about a fish.  It's a story about a prophet of God and a great number of people who do not know God.  Jonah is a story about a complex man who struggles with his service to God, especially as it relates to his enemies.  At times Jonah is angry and in rebellion.  At other times he praises the God of his salvation.  He struggles to serve God who desires to save Israel's enemies.  Jonah, it seems, has forgotten that all the world will be blessed through God's people. (Genesis 12:1-3).  

Take a few moments and read the four chapters of the Book of Jonah.  Here are some points to consider.  

1.  Many people argue whether Jonah was a real guy.  They see this as a fictional narrative.  Maybe it's the story of the fish or maybe it's due to the literary quality.  In any case, we do find biblical evidence to believe that Jonah was a real guy and this was a real account.  We see that Jonah was serving as God's mouthpiece in the land of Israel (2 Kings 14:25).  Unlike the other prophets in the Bible, we don't have those sermons recorded.  The only sermon we have was preached in Nineveh.  Jonah said, "yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"  We also find that Jesus treated the story and the sign of Jonah has a real thing.  (See Matthew 12, Matthew 16, and Luke 11).  In fairness, some argue that Jesus could be arguing the point of a parable like we might say a person is a prodigal son.  However, I don't agree with this argument given the context in which Jesus uses the sign of Jonah.  

2.  There is a remarkable literary quality found within the book of Jonah.  Look how word "arise" is used throughout the narrative. (Sometimes it's only translated as go, but notice the "get up and take action" feel.  Even as the sailors yell at Jonah, we are reminded of Jonah's initial call.).  Look at the places were God "appointed" a storm and a fish.  Look at the word "great."  A great city, a great storm, a great fish, but God is greater than these great things.  How about "to provide"?  That proves interesting too.  Or notice how Jonah "went down" into the belly of the boat before being carried back to his mission in the belly of a great fish.  This is a rich book with a tremendous literary quality.  

3.  Also amazing is the complexity of Jonah. He is filled with a range of emotions.  He flees.  He's angry.  He's thankful God saved him from drowning.  Jonah says he'll be faithful in chapter 2 only to be reluctant and a grumbler in chapter 3.  Then he's downright angry in chapter 4.  He is a complex man. 

4.  And finally, notice how this book brings the reader in.  It's a story that demands the audience respond.  The twists and turns shock us.  Jonah is called to go to Nineveh and he gets up and runs.  The city repents after a call that doesn't even include the word 'repent' or God.  It's simply a fact that the city will be destroyed and the people respond in amazing ways.  And then Jonah is angry at God.  When the book leaves us hanging on a question, it is really a question for the reader.  At the time, that reader may have seen Nineveh as his or her mortal enemy.  Today, we probably ought to think about this question in that context.  When Jesus says "love your enemy" we should think about who that person is.  Then we should realize that God cares about this enemy and may call us to be his agent to take a message of salvation to said enemy. 

Jonah can be read in no time and should be read a few times.  It's rich and has a transformative quality it we take it to heart.  I highly encourage you read and enjoy the book of Jonah. 

Philippians and Gordon Fee

Commentaries are an interesting thing.  Preacher's offices are full of old commentaries like Calvin's many volumes, Matthew Henry, and any number of sets from the 1970's, 80's, and 90's.  They are expensive until they're outdated, which is probably why preachers have older sets. But in the academic world (and probably the world of the preacher too) the better commentaries are ten years old or less.

"Wait just a minute!" you might shout, "aren't some of the classics still the leading thoughts on the matter?"  Yes, don't panic.  Those older commentaries aren't bad because they're older any more than newer ones better because they're new.   However, good commentary writers will have consulted a slew of older commentaries and affirmed or refuted the older work with additional material.  Maybe even quoted the older stuff.

It's also helpful to understand how different commentaries work.  Some commentaries are extremely technical.  They dive into the languages (and assume the reader reads Greek and/or Hebrew).  Some commentary writers deal with the historical context.  Some deal with application.  Some examine more theology while others are focused on the transmission of the text.  There are commentaries that approach the biblical material from a preacher's perspective.  And there are devotional commentaries. So it's helpful to know what kind of commentary you are consulting because the specific type of commentary was written for a specific purpose.

Take for example, Dr. Gordon Fee.  Fee is an expert on the book of Philippians.  If you consult  BestCommentaries.com, you'll see that Fee has two commentaries on the list.   Fee's commentaries on Philippians are:

Fee, Gordon D. Paul's Letter to the Philippians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1995. 
Fee, Gordon D. Philippians(The IVP New Testament Commentary Series). Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

You might also see that the better Philippians commentaries are more than 10 years old.  (Oops! This one is an exception.)  A couple publishers have produced something in the past few years, but it's hard to outsell Fee, especially when he has two commentaries on the list!

Now, you might be asking how the same guy could have two commentaries on the same book.  Why would anybody own both copies?

In Fee's case, he was first asked by IVP to write a commentary for their series and agreed to write Philippians when he had time.  Shortly thereafter, Eerdmans asked him to write for the New International Commentary on the New Testament.  Understanding the different focus, both publishers agreed to allow Fee to write Philippines in their series.  But why own both copies?  Fee answers that question in the introduction of the IVP publication, writing,

"The reader, however, should not assume by these acknowledgments of indebtedness that this is simply a small version of the larger one.  In many ways, of course, it is that, since I changed my mind only a couple times in the course of this writing.  But I have had the reader of this series in view at every turn, which has meant that the exposition has 'lightened up' a bit and the many footnotes of 'Big Phil' have been all but eliminated.  What remain are those few that are necessary to help the reader know where to go for alternative views on many tests" (Fee, 1999, 10).  

I own both copies.  I love both copies for entirely different reasons.  The IVP version is quicker, punchier, and easier to get right into the points.  It can be read devotionally and is less distracting.  If I'm looking for the background on something for a sermon and don't need to spend an hour reading, I pick up the IVP version.  It's 200 pages; whereas, the Eerdmans print is 500.

On the other hand, when I was studying for a preaching series in Philippians, I enjoyed the heavier material and language notes of the Eerdmans' version. It is rather academic and a little stuffy, but very helpful in the technical matters.

If someone were wanting to learn more about the book of Philippians but have no need to write academic papers, I would recommend the IVP copy.  Why not?  It's full of illustrations, easy reading, and it's backed by the amazing mind of Gordon Fee.  And for the ambitious types, the Eerdmans copy is outstanding too!

*If you're interested in either of these commentaries, purchasing them with the links above helps support this ministry. 

You May be a Barnabas if. . .

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By guest writers Dave Earley and Tom Swanner.

Dave Early says you may be a Barnabas if...

... you get more excited about the ministry success of someone else whom you have helped than you do about your own success.

... you are content to do most of your ministry behind the scenes and off the radar.

... ministries that you have started tend to fizzle.

... you would rather listen quietly to the struggles of a young leader than lead an evangelistic rally.

... you get your greatest joy from watching the individuals that you have discipled become movers and shakers in the kingdom.

... you are awakened often in the night with an urgency to lift up your senior leader in intercessory prayer.

... you are more about what other leaders are doing than about what you are doing.

... you are often tempted to see the needs and inadequacies in senior Christian leaders and think of ways you can help.

Tom Swanner explains what it is to be a "Barnabas" in ministry: 

Most of my life I struggled with thoughts of inadequacy and self-doubt. I was sure that I was supposed to be in some kind of ministry; however, I did not feel that I was supposed to be the lead in any Christian organization. I knew what it took to be a leader, and many times I found myself in leadership roles, but I never felt entirely comfortable.

One day I was studying the life of Paul. I realized that there was a person who was not only humanly responsible for Paul being in the ministry, but there was also a person responsible for keeping him effective at ministry for an extended period of time. His name was Barnabas.

Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

Barnabas was really a nickname that Joseph (his real name) picked up after the early believers learned what kind of person he was. The name “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement.” The longer I spend in ministry, the more I am convinced that this type of leader is vital for the sustainment of our campaign against the darkness. While we may see the need for real men and women of God to lead the masses, the often-overlooked need of the son and daughter of encouragement is just as fundamental.

The problem with being a Barnabas is that there is often very little recognition in the modern Christian economy for someone who is a second leader. People tend to ask, “Who is in charge here?” People want to get that guy’s attention so that they can get what they want. They do not ask for the guy who is not in charge of something, because that guy cannot give them what they want.”

“Jesus said that whoever would be great in God’s kingdom would be the servant of all (Matthew 20:25-28). As a Barnabas, you have a great responsibility. Your job is to keep the “Paul” in your ministry encouraged and on track. They do not need your criticism from the sidelines. They need your encouragement.

* Dave Earley and Tom Swanner serve at Grace City Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Dave is the author of more than 20 books.  Both hold Doctorates of Ministry. 

** This post originally on published on Dave Earley's website in a slightly different form.  

You can find it here.

 It is reposted here with permission. 

What is Courage?

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What is courage?  Is it something demonstrated on the field of battle, where bullets cut through flesh and heroic acts dance a pasodoble with death?  Is it giving up a high-dollar promotion to be the father that makes it to his son's soccer games?  Might it be standing up to the bullies that tease your little brother?  Running into a burning building when everyone else is running out is courageous, right?

At a time when being part of the LGBT community is vogue and celebrated, our society (or at least the media) has deemed it courageous just joining the party.  Celebrities are hailed for their courage when they're photographed (for big money from magazines) without make up.  Rock stars are courageous for releasing books that tell the world all of the antics they did that the rest of us already assumed they did.  Politicians are courageous for admitting wrongdoing after having been caught.  One wealthy, politically savvy woman is courageous for running for president while another wealthy, politically savvy woman is courageous for being black and living in the White House.  CEOs are courageous when they go undercover and spend a weekend working an entry-level job in the companies they lead--and it's even more courageous if they do so on a TV show that will promote their company.  Having special dietary needs is courageous.  So is riding a bicycle.  Courage, is turning your cell phone off for an hour.

When everything is courageous, nothing is.

When I think of courage, I think about Polycarp.   Most of what we know about Polycarp comes from a letter he wrote to the Philippians and another letter someone else wrote and circulated to the Second Century churches. That second letter was on the topic of Polycarp's martyrdom.

Polycarp became a Christian as a child.  He studied under the Apostle John and eventually became the Bishop of Smyrna.  During his lifetime he argued against Gnosticism, to include Marcion, a heretic of great note.  But what makes Polycarp truly courageous came when he was 86 years old.

For whatever reason, Rome determined that Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, was an enemy of the state.  When the Roman centurions came to arrest him, he fed the soldiers dinner.  He then proceeded to pray for two hours.  Eventually the guards took him to Quadratus and a screaming mob of fans that packed out an arena.

While the spectators demanded Polycarp's death, Quadratus demanded that Polycarp deny Christ.  Polycarp responded.  "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?"

After some banter, Quadratus lost his temper and threatened to burn Polycarp on the stake.  This time Polycarp responded, "You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little while is extinguished, but you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly."  Quadratus, in his anger, demands that Polycarp be burned alive.  The letter says that the fire did not burn Polycarp so a guard stabbed him with a spear and killed him.

The Roman government felt that an 86 year-old Christian pastor was dangerous to their way of life so he tried to silence Polycarp.  Instead, Polycarp, firmly standing on his convictions, gave up his life for Jesus Christ and continues to speak today.  He would not recant.  He would not back down. And we still remember him for his faithful courage.

History probably holds records of more courageous acts.  But there is something about Polycarp that should inform about us what courage looks like.  Compare Polycarp's last day to many of the things called courageous today.   It's almost laughable, isn't it?  Maybe we should think twice before we call someone courageous, unless he or she really is indeed courageous.    

Pentecost and the Church Year

5/26/2015

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Last Sunday was Pentecost.   I've not spent much time in local churches celebrate the Church Year liturgy.  Every church has a liturgy, be it less formal or not, and most churches have some kind of typical calendar.  The Evangelical churches I've been a part of celebrate very few Christian holidays.  Sure, every local church I know celebrates Christmas and Easter, Christmas Eve and Good Friday; but what about Pentecost?

Before I get into Pentecost, I probably need to give a brief summary of the Church Year (also referred to as the Liturgical Calendar or Christian Calendar).  The Church Year is a visual representation of the historical narrative of gospel redemption and the life in the New Testament Church.

Different traditions break the year up differently; but for the most part, the 'seasons' look the same.  The first season, which, by they way, does not start on January 1st, is called Advent.  It typically begins about a month before Christmas and consists of four Sundays.  Advent is a season of anticipation of our coming Savior.

The second season is called Christmas.  It lasts 12 days, starting with Christmas Day.  (There's a song about the 12 days of Christmas.  If you didn't know why there was 12 days, now you know.) Because we celebrate Christmas on a fixed calendar date, the date the Christmas season is not dependent upon Easter (more on this below).

Next comes Epiphany.  Epiphany means a disclosure or unveiling and this season represents Christ's earthly ministry.  Various traditions mark special days within this season, but they are not all in agreement about which days to draw more attention too.  Epiphany begins January 6th and can last as much as nine weeks depending upon which Sunday Easter falls.  Epiphany ends when the season of Lent begins.

Lent begins 40 days before Easter.  It is intended to be a time of preparation.  According to T J. German, Lent started as a week long fast but was extended to 40 days in the 7th Century.  Depending on the tradition, every Friday of Lent is a day of abstinence.  Prayer and fasting are important.  People of some traditions abstain from a desired item as a way to anticipate and long for the coming of Easter.  In addition, Holy Week is the last week of Lent and refers to the last week of Christ's earthly life.  The First Day of Lent is typically called Ash Wednesday.

Easter is the name of the most holy day of the Christian Year and it's the name of the next season.  Easter is a movable feast, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.  It is connected with Passover because Christ raised from the tomb on the Sunday following Passover.  Technically, Jewish Rabbis determine the day for passover. But to simplify when Christians celebrate Easter, it is set on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the Spring equinox.  The Easter season is 7 weeks long and includes The Day of Ascension.  (Some traditions include Pentecost as part of the Easter season too.)

The final season, which represents life in anticipation of the consummation of the Kingdom, is either called The Season After Pentecost or Ordinary Time.  On occasion, this season is all called Pentecost.  Some traditions place the Day of Pentecost in the Easter season, some have a one week break between seasons, and some open the season with the Day of Pentecost.  No matter how you break it up, last Sunday was the Day of Pentecost.

Pentecost is an interesting holy day.  In the Old Testament is was actually called the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10).  It was to be celebrated seven weeks after the Paschal Feast.  In other words, 50 days later, there would be another feast.  The Greek word, pentekostos, means fifty.  The celebration was originally designated to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest (Leviticus 23:17-20 and Deuteronomy 16:9-10).

Jesus was crucified on Passover.  He was the perfect sacrificial lamb and the perfect completion of the Exodus foreshadowing.  What a remarkable connection to the lamb in Exodus.  In that event, the lamb was sacrificed so its innocent blood could mark the homes of those the angel of death would passover.  It is fitting that Jesus would be crucified on the day of a celebration about sacrifice, just as it is fitting that the Holy Spirit would come on a day that traditionally celebrated the harvest.  

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem.  They waited and prayed.  They also replaced Judas, who had betrayed Jesus.  Then, Acts 2 opens by stating that the day was Pentecost.  It was on that day that the Holy Spirit came on the disciples and filled them.  It was also on that day that people witnessed the impact of the Spirit and questioned what was happening.  Peter, being filled with the Holy Spirit, stood and preached.  3,000 people became believers that day.  Talk about some first fruits of the harvest!

Some church traditions don't make a peep about Pentecost.  I come from such a tradition and I find that sad.  What a great day to celebrate.   What a great way to remember and learn.  Some traditions, however, celebrate baptisms on Pentecost.  That is a remarkable picture of the working of Christ.  I think this is one Church Year holy day that ought to be celebrated with a little more gusto.  And if that can be done with baptisms, all the better.  I don't know what the church I pastor will do next year, but I hope it's more than I've done in the past.

Welcome to Pentecost, The Time After Pentecost, or Ordinary Time. . . depending on your persuasion.    

It's a Matter of the Heart

Jonathan Edwards argues for a faith that comes from our affections because our affections ultimately drive us. “The nature of human beings,” writes Edwards, “is to be inactive unless influenced by some affection: love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, etc” (1).  True religion, according to Edwards, is one in which we are driven, compelled even, to seek after God with deep affection. Our faith simply cannot be motivated from a cognitive understanding of God. Edwards argues, “A person who has knowledge of doctrine and theology only—without religious affection—has never engaged in true religion. Nothing is more apparent than this: our religion takes root within us only as deep as our affections attract it” (2).

Sadly, many who call themselves Christian have affections for something or someone other than God. They have an awareness of God’s Word but it has not penetrated the dark places within the soul. Something else still masters over them. “There are thousands,” Edwards says, “who hear the Word of God, who hear great and exceedingly important truths about themselves and their lives, and yet all they hear has no effect upon them, makes no change in the way they live” (3).  Edwards feels that no person will ever be changed by the Word of God unless he or she is affected because God has changed the heart, or more specifically, the affections of one’s heart.

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1. 
Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected readings for individuals and Groups (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2005), 20. 
2. Ibid., 21.
3. Ibid.


* This post comes from a paragraph of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.

John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul

John of the Cross understood something of spiritual growth. “At a certain point in the spiritual journey,” writes John, “God will draw a person from the beginning stage to a more advanced stage. At this stage the person will begin to engage in religious exercises and grow deeper in the spiritual life” (1). The means, according to John, is the ‘dark night of the soul.’ This dark night is that time when, “those persons lose all the pleasure in that they once experienced in their devotional life” (2).

Seeing God as a mother caring for her little one, John compares the new believer to the babe suckling and feasting on its mother’s milk. “But there will come a time,” he writes, “when God will bid them to grow deeper” (3). As difficult as it may be, the dark night is the means of growth.

The Christian will experience a dry season in his or her devotion with God. Dry may even be an understatement for those who completely seem to lose any closeness with God. God withdraws himself for a season. However, the risk of living a life free of the dark night is grave. John identifies seven spiritual sins that manifest themselves in the devotion of the believer because of immaturity and a lack of the dark night season. Pride, greed, luxury, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth in devotion creep in and lead to death. A survey across Christendom confirms the very presence of these seven sins and may actually cause the Christian to welcome the dark night of the soul, the Christian who deeply desires to grow closer to Christ and mature in his or her journey. “No soul will grow deep in the spiritual life,” argues John, “unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night” (4).


__________
1.  Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected readings for individuals and Groups (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2005), 33.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4.  Ibid., 37.


* This post comes from a paragraph of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.
** Photo used in this post is in the public domain. 

The Cost of Nondiscipleship

There is a grave problem in the church today and it seemly slipped in under the cover of apathy. The problem is nondiscipleship. “The disciple” according to Dallas Willard, “is one who, intent upon becoming Christlike and so dwelling in his ‘faith and practice,’ systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end”(1).  The nondisciple then is one who desires to be gathered with the Church without accepting the cost of discipleship. He or she desires association without following Jesus, leaving the clutches of the world, or being set apart in such a way that it surely might be “obvious to every thoughtful person around us, as well as to ourselves”(2).

How did this happen? How can it be that the American church today is so full of nondisciples? “For at least several decades,” contends Willard, “the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship” (3).

The expense of this great lethargy is severe. “Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it cost exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10)”(4). In light of such nondiscipline, the answer is clear—rearrange your affairs to follow Jesus with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength as his disciple, being formed into his likeness.


______
1. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected readings for individuals and Groups (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2005), 7.
2. Ibid., 16.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 16.

* This post comes from a paragraph of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.

Is Christianity Easy or Hard?


C. S. Lewis asks a deeply significant question: “Is Christianity hard or easy?” (1). The answer, from his book Mere Christianity, argues for both. “You have noticed, I expect,” writes Lewis, “that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes very easy. He says, ‘Take up your Cross’—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute he says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden light.” (2).

This fascinating paradox is only an enigma if one attempts to hold on to the natural self. As Lewis contends, we are to give up our own life, desires, and temptation to hold something back for ourselves, and give it all to Christ, which will cause Christ to indwell our souls. And when we are no longer our own, the question of hard or easy easy is no longer a question at all. The complexity and strain of Christianity no longer matters. Hard and easy are measures that fail to report on the reality of Christianity. We no longer labor toward morality. No more do we seek to do good, but to be Christ-like. “It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soak right through,” says Lewis (3). No, Christianity is not a question of hard or easy, but a question of deeply inside or only a thin outside covering.


________
1. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected readings for individuals and Groups (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2005), 7.
2. Ibid. 8.
3. Ibid. 9.

* This post comes from a paragraph of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.  Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

Stop Saying 'What Would it Look Like'

If you've viewed any ministry video lately--especially those made by college ministries, church plants, or urban churches--you've likely heard someone on the video say something like, "We wanted to explore what it would look like to . . . "  It's time we stop saying that line and start saying something else.

Here's what happens. A group of people get together and have an idea.  They feel a need.  Maybe God calls them to do something.  Or maybe whatever they put in that blank is just the new, cool, trendy thing to say.

I've heard things like. . .

"We want to explore what it would look like to be the Church in the inner-city." 
"We set out to understand what it would really look like to love people like God loves people."  
"We started meeting to discover what it would look like to help these prostitute mothers." 

Here's the problem.  The statement is a non-committal.  It's too safe and many people hide behind it, especially young people.  It is more of call to form a committee and talk then any kind of real action.  When the group finally discovers what it does look like, the members still reserve the option to back out, sometimes even before they get started.  The statement lacks action and risk.

I don't believe God calls us to know what something looks like.  That's just a curious study or endless discussions over coffee.  Abraham wasn't called to know what it would look like to leave his land and go, he was just told to go.  Barnabas didn't explore what it would look like to find a church body in Antioch and help disciple them, he just found what he found and then when and got Paul.  God calls us to be something, do something, or pray for something, and after we've done that, we'll know what it looks like.  We don't need to worry too much in the meantime if we're going to be faithful. And chances are good that what it looks like is not anything we ever would have understood at the start of the thing.  You'll know what it looks like when you get there, but you have get moving in that direction to get started.

So maybe a better thing to say is, "What is it going to take for us to . . . " or "what's the next step we need to take?"  Or even better, just simplify.
"We want to be the Church in the inner-city"
"We want to love people like God loves people."
"We are helping these prostitute mothers."  
It's really okay to figure how how it will look when you get there, so go ahead and take a step of faith and get moving. Take a risk.  See what happens.  It will be worth it.

Armchair Pastoring is not Pastoring

I was a teenager and my first car needed new spark plug wires.  My father--an experienced mechanic--attempted to provide me with some guidance.  "Don't take all the wires off at the same time;" he warned me, "Take one wire off and replace it before moving on to the next one."  But when I looked at the new wires for my car his guidance seemed a bit silly.  They were each a different length so it seemed obvious to me which wire would run to each plug.  Dealing with one wire at a time seemed like a hassle because the wires were clipped together and the old wires were getting in the way of the new wires.  So I went against my father's sound advice and took all the old wires off at the same time and tossed them aside.

At this point any mechanic reading this knows exactly what I did wrong.   The mechanic knows what obviously I didn't.

Each wire was a different length--that much was simple enough.  But what I didn't know is which wire needed to go on which post of the distributor cap (pictured above).  It turns out the location is critical because there is a part that spins inside and sends a perfectly timed charge to the correct wire so the plug that needs to fire has spark.  Without getting this right, the car won't run.  Yet I had no idea which wire went where.  My arrogance bested me.  I didn't know what a distributor cap was, let alone what it does and how it works.  I made a great deal of assumptions about my abilities as well as my father's experience based on my brief observation of a package of blue wires.

Had I heeded my father's advice, I would have removed only one wire from the distributor cap, knowing exactly which wire went where.  Instead, I invited a learning lesson from the school of hard knox.  Clearly, I had not known better.  Obviously, I could have saved myself a great deal of heartache if I had only humbled myself and listened to my father.  He had done this before, maybe many times.  And he understood how the distributor cap functioned.  (Once I had a better understanding of the full function of these motor parts, maybe I could have been in a place to determine if I could effectively deviate from his way; but not before I had a better understanding.)

As I am now serving as the lead pastor of a new church plant (Redeeming Life Church),  I see that I may have acted like the young boy with car troubles.  I served on staff under older, wiser pastors.  In my previous ministry roles, I would be like that guy sitting in the armchair telling the quarterback how to do his job better.  I would observe something and assume I understood all the details.  Now that I am elbow-deep in engine grease, I see that maybe I didn't have a full understanding of the situation.  Maybe my armchair perspective of my pastor's leadership was missing a great deal of information.

How many times did I think to myself, "If I were doing this, I would. . . "?  Not having the perspective of my pastor, I didn't really see the best course of action.  (I often wonder how the armchair quarterback would feel if he had a few 350lb linemen coming after him.  Would he act the same way the quarterback did?  Probably.) Being afforded that perspective now, I am starting to see why my pastors did the things they did, in the way they did them.  "Oh. . ."  I find myself saying fairly often.  Like a young dad feeling like he needs to call his own father and apologize, I often feel I need to say, "I'm sorry" to the wise pastors who have gotten me to this place.   Being out on the field is different that directing from the armchair; I see that now.

Fortunately, these older, wiser pastors are still helping me with my journey.  I can still go to them often and ask questions.  And having a little better perspective, hopefully I won't pull all the wires off the distributor cap too often.  For that, I'm thankful.


*Photo by Taran Rampersad is registered under a Creative Commons License.  

Reading All of Your Bible in 2015

It's that time of year when people resolve to read the Bible, which is great.  It's also the time when One-Year-Bibles go on sale.

Reading more of God's Word or reading the entirety of the Bible for the first time is is a good resolution.  We should have a desire to read and know the Bible, especially considering that it's God's message to us.  Want to know God better?  One good place to start is in his Word.  But for those not too familiar with the Bible, this is a huge task.

Many people who are new to the Bible will start in Genesis and read page by page until they reach the end of Revelation.  This is a canonical reading, meaning that the Bible is read in the order of the arranged books of the cannon.  Reading this way is certainly not bad, but it can be confusing for someone who doesn't know the story of the Bible in chronological order.

Most Bibles are arranged and bound like a big bookshelf.  One entire section is for the books of the Old Testament and one section is for books of the New Testament.  Bound together within the Old Testament section, you have five books of the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  Then you find 12 books of history (Joshua through Esther), followed by the poetry or artistic books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon).  The five books of the major prophets open the section on the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel), followed by the 12 books of the minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi).

In the New Testament section opens with the four gospels (Matthew Mark, Luke, and John) which all cover the earthly ministry of Jesus but from different perspectives.  Acts is the only book in the New Testament history section, followed by nine of Paul's letters to the churches (Romans through 2 Thessalonians).  Paul also wrote letters to individuals and they get a section (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).  Then there are nine general letters to the churches (Hebrews through Revelation).

If you're wanting to follow the historical timeline of God's redemptive history and get a good grasp of the biblical story, then you will actually do better to read in chronological order.  This will mean you'll be in the books of history, artistic books, and the prophets at the same time as you move through the Old Testament.  As you read Jonah for example, you'll have a better understanding of the context.  You'll know that the kingdom was divided, who the kings where, what political problems were playing out, and who the Ninevites were.  The narrative will be rich and far more informative.  In addition, this will make your reading more enjoyable.  The same will be true of the New Testament.

If you've never read the Bible in chronological order, I highly recommend it.  You can download an easy chronological reading plan here.

Another way to read is with a devotional plan.  These tend to have some reading in the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament.  There are many of these plans out there or you can simply put a bookmark in each section.  You don't even need to start at the beginning.  Pick the books and start there.  Read 3 or 4 chapters from the Old Testament, a psalm, and a chapter or two from the New Testament.  The amazing thing about this kind of reading plan is how interconnected the Bible is and how much God will use each reading from these three sections to speak into your life.

Or maybe if you've already read the Bible cover to cover or in chronological order, you can jettison the idea of reading your entire Bible in a year and start reading smaller sections or single books more deeply.  For example, you could read one book of the Bible over and over again for a couple months.  Or read Titus or one of the minor prophets every day for a month.  Or you could read a book with a commentary reading book club, which I also highly recommend.  (Here's more on that.)

No matter how you read, getting into God's Word is a good thing.  If you've resolved to reading more of the Bible this year, I can't help but believe it will be good for you.  Stick to it.  Enjoy it.  Savor it.  It's not about getting a task done in a year; but rather, hearing from God.


* Photo by Flickr.com user, Ryk Neethling is registered under a Creative Commons License.
** Much of this post was taken from a previous SaltyBeliever.com post that published January 7, 2014.

Why Do We Think of Him as a Baby on His Birthday?

The next time you have a birthday for someone at work, put up pictures of that person when he or she was a baby.  See how it goes over?

Why do we always portray Jesus as a little baby on Christmas?  Is it simply because we're celebrating his birthday?  We don't do this with Martin Luther King Jr. or any of the US Presidents?  I don't imagine my wife as a baby when I celebrate her birthday.  I don't even really do that for my kids and I knew them as babies.  Yet that's exactly what we do with Jesus.  Why?

I think it might be because there's something much more amazing about this unique baby.  For everyone else on earth, being born is just what we do.  We are conceived by a father and mother.  We grow and eventually leave the womb to enter the world.  With exception to Adam and Eve, the first humans, that's how God planned it.  And while that is spectacular, it doesn't make us spectacular.

Jesus on the other hand, existed before time was created.  He's God.  And to enter the world, he was conceived in the womb of a virgin.  That's already so miraculous and spectacular that millions around the globe refuse to believe it.  But that's not even the part that's difficult to believe.  What's really amazing is that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, all-present God would enter the reality of his creation in the form of a baby.  That while he would not share in sin, he would share in humanity.  That is amazing and I believe that is what we should celebrate at Christmas.

It's not a little baby born into poverty and unusual circumstances that gives us cause to celebrate.  No, it's that the King of Kings would humble himself so much to come in the form of a baby to an unlikely couple, in unlikely circumstances.  And that little baby Jesus, the God-Man, would do so much more even than that because of his great love for us.  We should declare the amazing wonder that God would walk among us in the flesh.

So when you look at that little infant Jesus in your nativity set, don't forget that we are celebrating something so much more than a little baby's birthday when we truly celebrate Christmas.  This year, let's honor the King of Kings.

Merry Christmas!
Bryan Catherman

Bible Study Tools That Fit in One Box or are Under $200

What if you had to put your Bible study tools in one copy paper-sized box? What books would you put in there?

What Bible study tools would you have if you could only spend $200?

Looking for some tools to dig deeper into your Bible study?  Jared Jenkins and I recorded a podcast for Salty Believer Unscripted to try to answer these questions.

You can listen to that podcast here.

We discuss a number of resource tools, both digital and paper.  A couple extremely helpful items made it to the top both of our lists.  One was is ESV Study Bible.  If you don't have one of these, this is the place to start.  The other is Accordance Bible Software.  We both use and love Accordance. And here's a bonus: you can get this really amazing resource for less than $200.

Here's a teaser for Accordance Bible Software if you're interested:



*Photo by flickr.com user Alvin Chua.
** Neither Jared Jenkins or I work for or financially represent Crossway or Accordance Bible Software.  

Who's Plan is it Anyway?

By Lisa Catherman
12/2/2014

When I got married, I had a plan--four children by the time I was 30.  As the years passed with no children I realized that my plan was not in line with God's will.  I struggled, mostly with God.  My deadline was less than a year away and still the infertility were insurmountable.  Fertility treatments didn't get me any closer to my plan either.  It felt hopeless.

However, just a few months before my 30th birthday God began our family. I thought I would be childless but God said we were just getting started. In May 2006, we brought home our oldest son, Asher. He was a healthy beautiful 10-week old baby whose biological mother had chosen a life for him that she was unable to provide. We were thrilled God lovingly chose to bring him and us together as a family.

In late 2007 I started amending my plan and we began to prayerfully consider the possibility of growing our family. We decided to try fertility treatment again. After four months, we saw our first positive pregnancy test in nearly a decade of marriage. We shared our joyful news with everyone we knew and some we didn't. At our 8-week ultrasound we saw a little heartbeat and rejoiced in the life growing inside me. Although we didn't know the baby's gender, we felt that it was a boy and had chosen the name: Matthew.

At my 12-week visit the doctor informed me that our baby had likely died just a week after my previous visit. I was sent home with a prescription to induce the miscarriage. It was a grueling weekend. Physically, the pain was beyond anything I'd ever experienced. Emotionally, I cannot express what it's like to watch what you know was your baby being flushed down the toilet.

After nearly a year of grieving and severe depression, We were ready to try adoption again. We finished our home study in May 2009 and notified our contact.  On July 29, 2009, we picked up our son, Daniel, from the hospital. He was two days old.

At that point, we felt like we were done. We were blessed beyond our wildest expectations. We agreed not to do fertility treatment and we both felt like we couldn't afford the financial or emotional toll again that came with each adoption process. The likelihood of another pregnancy seemed impossible given that I hadn't been on birth control for years.  I was settling into God's plan and felt blessed.

But while we thought were were done, God had other plans.  We were beside ourselves when in the summer of 2013, we had a positive pregnancy test.  It was only the second after 15 years.

The pregnancy seemed to be going perfectly. We saw our son Titus on our 20-week ultrasound on November 18th. To our shock and horror, he was born the next day.  Titus lived only a few minutes.

In the following Spring, we found ourselves staring at another positive pregnancy. The impossible was possible and happening, again.  It's a little different this time. I'm considered 'high risk.' I've had a cervix cerclage. There are weekly progesterone shots to help prevent preterm labor. I've seen my doctors every two weeks since the beginning and they've had a look at the baby every time. Now we're nearing the end. Our daughter, Lydia, is due in January 2015. I'm not arrogant this time around. I'm thankful for every day we have with this little one. I know anything can happen.

My plan was much like those of my friends. Get married--spend my twenties having babies. Be happy.  But God had a different plan.  For a while I thought there would be no children, but that wasn't God's plan either.

My family may not look typical. On the surface, I appear to be a pregnant mother with two boys, but I know differently. I'm a mother of many. God in his sovereign mercy and grace has seen fit to bless me with many children.  Each life, each story is a beautiful miracle. Each child has blessed me with tears of joy and tears of heartache.  All these years later, I'm thankful that God's plan was not my plan, that His ways are higher than mine. I'm thankful for the testing and sanctification through fire and tears.  Believe it or not, I wouldn't change a thing.  And, I'm thankful God has allowed me to be a mother in His timing, His way.  I'm thankful for God's plan.

*Photo is from Pixaby.com and used with permission.