Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review Friday: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (Guest Review)

Note from Rebecca: One thing I have learned about my husband over the years is that he doesn't read many books.  A joke around our house is that if Martin Luther didn't write it, he doesn't want to read it!  But Christopher has a lot of passion for running, so I gambled and bought him Born to Run for his birthday.  I HAVE NEVER SEEN HIM DEVOUR A BOOK LIKE HE DID THIS ONE!  Yes, that does need to be in all caps.  In Born to Run, he encountered a great story, well told, and it inspired him in running and life as well.  Because of all of this, I asked him to do a guest review for Book Review Friday this week.  Enjoy!
When I was growing up, I hated to run.  I’d breathe hard, I’d get all sweaty, and just generally have a bad time. Over the last six years, though, I have developed quite the love for running.  I run many races over the course of a year, a highlight of my day is my mid-day three miles, and I feel like I’m a better pastor when I run.  It has gotten to the point where one of my favorite presents for my birthday this year was Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Vintage), written by Christopher McDougall.

Born to Run starts out innocently enough, in the lobby of an isolated hotel in an isolated town in an isolated part of Mexico known as the Copper Canyons.  McDougall has been brought to this place by many factors, primary among them a nagging pain in his knee from years of running.  Because he works as a columnist for Runner's World magazine, running is pretty much his whole life.  Yet, no matter what he tries, the pain won’t go away.  Then he begins to hear stories of the Tarahumara, a native tribe from the Copper Canyons who separate themselves from the world. There are really only two things known about them: they can put away the corn beer, and they can run.  And when they run, it’s not just a jaunt around the block.  The Tarahumara compete in races where groups kick a ball along as they run, and these races are routinely 50 miles long.  They run these races without the benefit of $100 running shoes, sponsor contracts, television contracts, or paydays.  They run because that is what they do.

These stories bring McDougall to this isolated corner of the world.  McDougall is in this hotel lobby in the Copper Canyons looking for someone a little different, however.  He is in search of Caballo Blanco, the White Horse.  Caballo is not a Tarahumara; in fact, some of the Tarahumara that McDougall talks with believe Caballo to be a ghost when they first see him.  McDougall does eventually find Caballo in this dingy hotel lobby, and that’s when the book takes off.

The story is built along the main path of Caballo’s attempts to get some of America’s best ultra-marathoners (those who run races of 50 or 100 miles) to journey into the Copper Canyons to race against the Tarahumara on their home turf, the narrow, winding, steep paths that can lead to death for the inexperienced traveler.  What I found most interesting, however, were the side trails that McDougall takes us down.  There are a few chapters on an ultra-marathon in Leadville, WY to which a man named Rick Fisher brought some Tarahumara, showing them the worst of American hubris in the process.  There are stories of American ultra-marathoners who get caught up in Caballo’s search for the ultimate ultra-marathon.  One, Scott Jurek, is from Proctor, MN, very close to where I grew up.  Another is known as “Barefoot Ted”, a runner who never found relief from his back pain until he started running without shoes.  There are even stories of men known as “persistence hunters” who hunt their meat and kill it by running it down.

The passion for running that McDougall, Caballo, Jurek, and the others have deep down in their souls comes pouring off of the pages.  If you are a runner, this book will stir up your passion again, and may even make you want to throw your gear on and go for a quick three miles immediately.  If you have ever watched a race and wondered what makes long-distance runners tick, this book will give you more insight than you ever wanted.  If you have never wanted to run, and never will run, this book will still give you the motivation to do whatever it is that stirs your passion.  Caballo gives all of us a good lesson when he is teaching McDougall about running in the Copper Canyons:

“Think easy, light, smooth, and fast.  You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad.  Then work on light.  Make it effortless, like you don’t give a [darn] how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go.  When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth.  You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

No matter what race we run, we were all born to run.

Highly recommended.  5 stars out of 5.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Great tool for teaching kids about faith!

As Burrito and I have worked on our at-home preschool curriculum in the last few months, we have had a Bible verse memorization song each week.  Some of the songs have just been familiar childhood tunes, but we have also used a fantastic resource put out by Christian recording artist, Steve Green. has the MP3s available individually or as a group for Green's Bible verse song recordings, Hide 'Em In Your Heart, Vol. 1 and Hide 'Em In Your Heart, Vol. 2. 

The full recordings are $10.99 and the singles are $.99.  The songs are catchy and uplifting.  You may even find yourself singing them when your kiddo isn't around!

Highly recommended!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

healthy lifestyle changes: progress report

Since I posted about my weight gain last week, I've been trying to implement some healthy changes in my life.  I am trying very hard not to get obsessive about body image, but I'm also finding that as an always-skinny girl, suddenly bumping up against a noticeable weight gain makes it hard not to obsess.  Sometimes it's hard to accept that my body will never again look like it did before I got pregnant and had a baby.  The best I can hope for is the leaner but still visible belly rolls and droops of my body after pregnancy.  In a culture that accepts nothing less than physical perfection, this can be hard to accept.  But my husband consistently reminds me that that droopy ol' belly is evidence that our sweet daughter lived there once; because of that, he says, it is beautiful.  What a gift he is to me!

So I am trying to accept that perfection is not a realistic goal.  Rather, regular healthier choices in the area of food and exercise will eventually begin to pay off in a more fit body, an ability to fit into my clothes better and feel better about how I look.  (I actually got asked if I was pregnant a few weeks ago.  NOT an ego boost!)

Anyway, I've been trying to get exercise in as often as I can.  If it's a nice day, I try to invent a reason to go for a walk.  If it's a gloomy day, I do leg exercises and Pilates.  Every day?  Heck, no.  I'm still sedentary at heart, but I'm really trying to increase my exercising and get more active.  I've noticed increasing strength and stamina and the exercise along with eating healthier is helping my body to just feel better.

I counted calories several days as well.  Mostly to attune myself to how much I actually am consuming and to hold myself accountable to make better decisions.  But I am not starving myself.  It's tempting (for about half a minute!) because I know I would get quicker results.  But I would also have the grumpy hungries all day and I'd end up gaining a lot of the weight back.  It's not good for me mentally or relationally or physically to be without nourishment.  So instead of starving myself or eating gross food-like substances labeled "diet food," I am trying to make my calories count.  Rather than getting a huge portion of my daily calories from butter or other fats, I am trying to get them from a lot of protein and I'm eating a ton of vegetables too.  I'm also eating more whole grains again.  But I've not fully cut out fats.  I tried some low-fat cheese as a snack this week, but I think I'm going back to full fat cheese and just having a sensible portion.  Our bodies do need some fat.  They just don't need us to gorge on it all the time. 

I've found some great snack ideas (I require snacks during the day and at night, but without good options in the house, I go back to my trusty popcorn with three tablespoons of butter!).  Here's a few to share with you:
--Triscuits with 2 TBS of good cheese (Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Boursin are some of my favorites)
--Sugar snap peas, baby carrots, and red/orange/yellow pepper strips with Skotidakis Jalapeno Yogurt dip (available at Costco and just 50 calories for a 2 TBS serving!).
--Spinach Salad, with onions and tomatoes, tossed with homemade salad dressing (lately, I've been partial to Maple Dijon)
--Fage 0% Greek yogurt with fruit (120 calories per container)
--Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches (although, I think I'm going to go back to regular ice cream and just eat less of it! Low-fat dairy just isn't as satisfying!)
--Half an apple with 1 TBS of natural peanut butter (salty and sweet craving!)

I've also found some great lunch ideas, packed with protein to keep me going.  My favorite was this smoky, sweet and savory Creamy Chicken Salad, served on a bed of spinach. 

If you have good healthy and filling recipe ideas, post them here!  I'll be back with another post on healthy dinner options soon!  It's funny how easy it is to get lazy about what we eat, but healthy nutrition is starting to come back to me!  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Erotic Lit and the Christian Woman

Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels did not make it to the top of the Amazon best-seller list without the help of Christian women.

A book does not become number one unless a bunch of Christian women are reading it, along with their secular counterparts.

For years, as Christian women, we have lamented the fall of our menfolk into the bondage of pornography.  We have talked about the disservice their viewing of porn has done to us as women.  We have cried over our broken relationships and the loss of trust.  We have come to find that viewing pornography is never a victimless sport.  It involves the real emotions and brokenness of the actors and actresses who are involved and for whom Christ died.  It brings us unrealistic expectations of what a man and a woman should be.  It may harm the self-image of a spouse who feels completely inadequate, never able to match up to the manufactured "perfection" on the screen.

Paul said it best: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify" (I Corinthians 10:23, NKJV).  We are not called, as Christians, to pull ourselves completely out of culture.  I personally do not feel called to stop watching TV or movies or reading books that are part of the secular market. Though I sometimes encounter content such as bad language, sexuality, or the like in my media consumption (some of which I fast-forward or in Christian nerd fashion cover my eyes for!), I also often find meaning and edification in my viewing or reading.  Once I start to realize that a show, for instance, is not edifying me in any way, but is wasting my time, I find myself eliminating it from my viewing.  This is not legalism.  It is what I might call Christian pragmatism.  Is my media "diet" building me up or tearing me down?  I also believe that for every Christian, media choices will probably be different.  Romans 14 is helpful here as we make media choices in the midst of Christian liberty.

However, liberty does not mean license.  We do always need to be on guard that we are "in the world, but not of the world."  And pornography is something which has no "grey area" (contrary to the best seller's title).  Do Christian women rationalize their consumption of erotic literature such as Fifty Shades of Grey (or any number of paperback romance novels) by telling themselves that "nobody is getting hurt" by their "harmless little fantasy"?

What if your child picks up one of these novels?  Reading something like this could damage their view of sex for a long time to come.  What if you begin to be so entranced by your fantasy life that real life no longer hold vigor for you?  What if your husband begins to become boring and unsatisfying to you because he just doesn't match up to the ripped muscle hunks on the cover of your erotic novels?  What about the example you are setting for your husband?  If erotic lit is ok for you, why isn't internet porn ok for him?  What if you start being drawn toward visual pornography and thereby using the lives and bodies of real and broken people who Jesus loves for your own pleasure.  Research has shown that a high number of those who are involved in making pornography have suffered sexual abuse.  Will you re-victimize them?

I don't mean to be angrily stern.  I have made mistakes in my life, just as you have.  None of us is flawless as we stand at the foot of the cross, particularly when it comes to sexuality.  The good news is that there is forgiveness for usThere is hope. There is healing.  There is a new relationship to be had with our spouse in which we love them for them, not for an idealized idea of what they should be.  There is companionship with our God when our love cup is so empty and our hearts so desperate that we turn to pornography to fill us. 

God calls us to be in the world, not of the world. This is a life-long journey.  But perhaps God is speaking to you today about your consumption of erotic literature or visual pornography.  Will you hear His voice?  May He strengthen you--and me--through the Holy Spirit to dare to be counter-cultural and to see people as people for whom Christ died and not things for our consumption?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Review Friday: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

I picked up my library's copy of Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Pastor Mark and Grace Driscoll (Thomas Nelson) with real interest.  There has been no end of controversy about Mark Driscoll, this marriage book, and Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  There are people who loved the book and love Mark Driscoll and there are those who hate both.  During the media tour for the book, I was very impressed with the way Pastor Mark and Grace came across.  There was no Joel Osteen sticky smile, no Bible pounding, no fancy words.  There was just clear conviction, humility, willingness to admit past sins of their own, and faithfulness to Scripture.  Pastor Mark and Grace were real and approachable and had a sense of humor.  I was intrigued.  This coupled with hearing personal reports from a friend who attends Driscoll's church and has the highest respect for him and Grace gave me a real desire to read this book.

The number one thing that I would say about Real Marriage is that it clearly reveals a pastor's heart.  While many books address marriage from a psychological or self-help perspective (and those are helpful in other ways), this is a book of Christian discipleship in marriage.  While reading this book, I frequently felt as if I was reading a letter from a contemporary Paul, answering the confusing questions that arise, challenging me and other married people to follow God and grow in faith and in relationship with our spouses.

Feminists will probably dislike portions of this book, such as the authors' view that the general place for the mother is in the home (although exceptions are allowable and it is ultimately up to the couple to decide).  The Driscolls definitely view the husband as the head of the home, but the way in which they articulate this view was very helpful for me as a person who has always struggled with this Biblical teaching (I have seen it abused many, many times).  The Driscolls write: "This is what the Bible means when it says that a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church.  It means that he lovingly, humbly, and sacrificially leads by being a blessing and taking responsibility not only for himself but also for others--beginning with his wife."  They go on to say, "Men are like trucks--they drive smoother and straighter with a load."  When the husband's headship is described that way, what women wouldn't love it?  How many men have we known who either didn't want to grow up or wanted to flex their muscle, intimidating everyone around them?  The Driscolls show a middle way where a man is strong, but that strength is used on behalf of others.  The strength is not a right, but a responsibility.  Later in the book, the Driscolls condemn spousal abuse in the strongest possible terms.  They tell women that they must leave if they are being abused and they condemn spiritual leaders who make women feel guilty about leaving.

The Driscolls' emphasis for wives is that they show respect to their husbands.  I know they are right.  All too often, I see wives and husbands speak disdainfully about each other either when together or behind each other's back.  I think almost nothing is more destructive to a marriage.  I know that there were times when Christopher and I were serving in ministry together when I would say something critical to him in front of our secretary.  I regret those moments as I know that they were not honoring or respectful.  If something needed to be addressed between us, it could have been done privately.  In teaching about respect, the Driscolls speak strongly against two sinful extremes: "the silent, compliant wife [and] the loud, contentious wife."  Instead, wives are encouraged to disagree with their husbands but to be respectful in the way in which they speak to them.

The biggest areas of controversy in this book are related to the frank discussions of sex in marriage which are included.  Mark Driscoll is writing, however, out of a pastor's heart.  The discussions of sex, while frank, are not intended to titillate but rather to address real questions that have been asked of him as a pastor again and again.  The central idea of this section is that sex in marriage is not to be treated as "god" or "gross," but, rather as "good," created by God.  One of the most powerful chapters is called "The Porn Path" and clearly addresses the pervasiveness of pornography in our culture and the harm that it causes.  I particularly appreciated Pastor Driscoll's emphasis on the harm done to the men and women who are involved in making porn.  He seeks to bring us to empathy for these broken people and he shows that pornography is not victimless.  (If we truly understand the back story of these broken people's lives, how can we view porn with impunity and re-abuse them all over again?)  Pastor Mark also outlines a path back to God for those who have become addicted to pornography.  I was so grateful that Pastor Mark and Grace were willing to take the risk of talking about this sin.  People in the pew are addicted to pornography and they need to hear the truth about it.

The most controversial and talked-about chapter of the book is titled, "Can We----?"  This book addresses specific practices related to sex about which the Driscolls have frequently gotten questions from people.  It is very frank and from the pastoral perspective asks three questions: Is it lawful (in our country and Biblically)?  Is it helpful (within marriage)?  Is it enslaving?  This is based on I Corinthians 6:12, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any."  The Driscolls do not go into their own sexual practices and also remind people that none of the practices which are lawful and potentially helpful are mandatory (other than that a married couple should normally be having regular intercourse).  They emphasize that both spouses must be comfortable with the sexual practices in their relationship.  I can see why this chapter might be controversial simply because it talks more frankly about sex than we are used to hearing Christians do.  However, Biblically speaking, I felt that most (if not all) of the counsel was wise, helpful, carefully addressed, and dealt with Scripture in relation to whatever practice was being discussed.  It must be remembered that this is a book for married people, as well, not a book for dating couples.  Providing some pastoral guidelines for sexual practices within marriage is a very helpful tool for married couples.  The method of thinking through each sexual practice can also teach, providing a process for couples to learn to discern for themselves if they are following God's Word or not.  Although frank talk of sex may make some people uncomfortable, I found nothing here which contradicted Scripture.

One of the greatest blessings of this book has been the witness of the Driscolls in the secular media.  They have been able to talk with media people in a sane and rational way, while still upholding Scripture.  They have been respectful and humble.  I wish them well as they continue this witness in a culture that is so very like the city of Corinth in Biblical times.

This is not the best book ever written on marriage, but it is a solid resource worthy of reading and studying.  There were a few points where I may have articulated a view a bit differently.  There were a few points where I might outright disagree.  However, overall it was a book with a lot to offer in growing a marriage into maturity.

Recommended. 4 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

but i don't worry about my weight!

Ever since my growing up days, I have been a classically skinny girl.  Despite not being very physically active, I've been blessed with a high metabolism and good genes and have always managed to eat what I want, with relatively few problems.  There was the time I was working at Culver's and eating lots of Butter Burgers and frozen custard and put on a few pounds, I suppose.  And until I took off my pregnancy weight, I was bigger than I'd ever been (nursing helped a lot with that!).  But without pregnancy or post-pregnancy to blame, I've never carried this much weight.

I had started noticing my clothes fitting tighter in recent months.  But as a rule, I don't weigh myself.  Too many neuroses as an American woman!  I don't need to add to it by obsessing over a stupid number on a scale.  Plus, I accept as dogma that I can eat whatever I want since I have high metabolism.  And I don't worry about my weight.

So you can understand that it was a big shock when I went to doctor's office this past week and found I had put on about 15 pounds in the past year!  How did this happen?

I blame the butter.  Yes, in moderation it is a reasonably healthy food since it is natural (unlike, say, margarine).  But the problem is that me and butter do not usually equal moderation.  I was eating a shocking amount of butter on popcorn many nights a week.  And I was letting unnecessary fat sneak into my diet (full fat sour cream, instead of lowfat, for instance).  This combined with the extra-sedentary nature of winter...well, it wasn't helping me out.

Now that I know I've gained this extra weight, it's hard not to get super obsessive about it.  But I'm trying my best to start simply making healthier choices.  Doing more exercise (which the beautiful spring weather is helping me to do).  Making healthier choices in my consumption (which is difficult since my high metabolism leaves me hungry very often!).  I am trying to get more of my calories from nutritious foods rather than using them all up with fatty butter and sauces (which I know are still ok in moderation).  I REFUSE to eat diet foods or officially go on a diet, however.  I firmly believe these methods backfire.  I won't eat a bunch of pre-manufactured foods, because I believe that overall they are bad for my body.  I won't go into deprivation mode but will simply work hard on finding healthy, delicious foods that still feel like a "treat" for me (like this salad or some crackers with slivers of good quality cheese).

I guess it was bound to happen, humbling this "skinny girl."  We grow older and our metabolism slows.  We get lazy and make bad choices, thinking there will be no consequences.  But I am hopeful that if I am consistent in some lifestyle changes, I will begin to see results!

So, who has healthy recipe recommendations (especially for snacks and lunches!) and words of advice?  I hope to hear from you!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

a reflection for holy week: a Savior for betrayers

The long-awaited day had arrived.  Since Jesus had begun His ministry, whisperings about Him had been heard all through the land of Israel.  There were people who guessed He might be the Messiah, the coming Deliverer who was prophesied about in the Old Testament.  So when He got on a colt and rode into the city of Jerusalem the week of the Passover celebration, when the town was bustling with celebration and out of town visitors were everywhere, it seemed like perfect timing.  Everyone around, a big crowd of people, were caught up in the excitement.  They spread their cloaks and palms beneath Him…treating Him with honor, like a King.

The long oppression of the Romans…was it finally over?  Everyone in Jerusalem saw the Messiah, the promised Deliverer, to be a military hero…they thought that Jesus would clobber the Romans and set them free from their oppression.  So they wave palm branches, which were political and nationalistic symbols, like waving an American flag would be today…and they cry out, “Hosanna!” which means, “Please save us!”…but they are blind to their need for spiritual deliverance.  All they want is their homeland back again.  All they want is a Jesus on their own terms.

Jesus for His part is deliberately fulfilling an Old Testament promise about the Messiah in order to push the envelope with the Jewish leaders, so they would push things toward the crucifixion.  He knew that the Jewish religious leaders would see His actions as directly related to Old Testament prophecy, the prophecy that we read this morning in Zechariah 9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 

That’s why Jesus deliberately sent His disciples out to find a colt.  He wanted to exactly fulfill Old Testament prophecy in order to get the religious leaders’ attention.  He knew that they would do anything to preserve the little bit of power they had by cooperating with the Romans.  He knew they would see Him as a challenge to their power, and He knew that they would try to kill him, that He would be crucified and rise again.  Acts 2:23 says, “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (NIV).  In other words, God knew exactly what was going to happen…Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen…the Holy Spirit knew exactly what was going to happen when Jesus rode into Jerusalem in fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture.  Jesus was going to get Himself killed…at the hands of the religious people.

And so we are pulled in and implicated in the crucifixion.  It wasn’t the secular Romans, the world, that was out to get Jesus…it was the religious people.  The Romans were just the means of execution.  So when you think about it, that means it was us.  All too often, just like the people of Israel, we think that the problem is all the people who are outside, those worldly people who don’t value old-time values and old-time religion…all the while, we miss the fact that the real problem is us. And that truth hurts.

What is it that we do wrong?  We have a tendency to try to make Jesus do and be what we want Him to do and be.  We try to make Jesus into the God we want Him to be, instead of the God that He is.  We want a leader who does everything for us without requiring anything of us. 

We do this in several ways.  First of all, when we—like the crowd in Jerusalem that welcomed Jesus with palms—confuse our nation with God’s Kingdom.  The people of Israel just wanted their nation back again.  This is not so very unlike those in the Church who spend all their time and energy trying to make the United States into a Christian nation, as if God’s Kingdom could be found in an earthly government. 

Obviously, God cares about the government and can use it to do good in the world, and we ought to do all we can to see that that happens.  But…there has snuck into the Church an angry, fists-in-the-air, defensive attitude towards the world…as if non-believers out there are trying to steal "our" country from us. 

What if, instead of expecting the world to act like the Church, we acted like the Church should?  What if we taught and served and loved in such a way that people sat up, took note, and began to ask us (as Peter suggests), “What is the reason for the hope that is within you?”  Yes, we are just like the people in Jerusalem when we demand that Jesus give us political power and a Christian nation instead of realizing that the Church often functions best as a loving minority, serving and reaching out to a broken world.  That’s how the Early Church worked!

We also act like the people in Jerusalem when we praise God at Church but deny Him by our actions the rest of the week.  I think most of us would have to admit to this.  It is super easy to come to church and sing songs of praise and act religious but when we return to our homes and work places, all too often we treat our family and co-workers badly.  We act selfishly.  We break each of the Ten Commandments.  We do not spend the time in the Bible and in prayer that we should.  We don’t care for the needy as we should.  We don’t forgive.  We don’t share our faith in a loving way with those around us.  We are quick with the Hosannas but slow to follow through.

The people of Jerusalem were all excited to praise Jesus when it was convenient for them…when they thought He would be a military leader who would set them free from Rome.  But when He didn’t move fast  enough for them, when He began to lead in a more spiritual manner and didn’t take out the Romans, they quickly became a part of the fickle crowd shouting, “Crucify Him!”

I see myself in that fickle crowd too. For example, there was a time in my life when I was going to school and even though I had always gone to church every Sunday before that time, I found myself getting up on Sunday mornings and saying, “I’m too tired to go to church.”  And so all too frequently, I wouldn’t go.  I see my own times of faithlessness, my own following Jesus just when it is convenient for me, my own confusing the Kingdom of God with my country…and the many other ways that I try to make Jesus the leader I want Him to be, instead of the God that He is.  I try to make Him bow to my desires instead of bowing to His will. 

The bottom line is, we are all implicated.  There is no escape for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We turn away from Jesus.  We are not faithful.  We are His betrayers.  We are the ones who will shout in a few days’ time, “Crucify Him!”  We are the ones who drive the nails into His hands and feet.

But here’s the good news: when we face our naked selves and see the depth of our sin, when we see how far we have wandered from God, our creative and surprising God takes even our failure and sin and turns it around and uses it as a tool in His hand to save and redeem us.  Again, Acts 2:23-24 says, “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (NIV).

God knew what we would do. God knew we were going to kill Jesus.  So He took that very thing, that most evil of things that we did, and turned it around.  Jesus humbly emptied Himself, as Philippians told us, took on our sin and the punishment for it, and then rose again, showing that He had conquered sin, death, and the devil. 

Christ came for you.  He rode into Jerusalem for you, even though He knew you were only offering convenient words of praise, even though He knew you would desert Him when the going got tough, even though He knew you would turn away, even though He knew that you would kill Him and not just with any old death but with an excruciatingly painful death. 

But He still rode into Jerusalem for you.  He did it because His love is an insanely powerful kind of love.  It’s a love that embraces the unlovely.  It’s a love that pulls in the unfaithful.  It’s a love that chases down the rebellious.  Romans 5:6-8 says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

He died for you before you were a believer, when you were at your ugliest and worst.  And He still loves you when you wander from Him.  He will keep chasing you down.  He will keep pursuing you.  He will never give up on you.  Because you, you who are His betrayer (and I who am His betrayer), are precious to Him.  And He came to set you free from sin, death and the power of the devil.  To make you His own.  To bring you out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light.  To adopt you as His child.  And this giving of Christ for you and for me, though we do not deserve it, is the very Gospel, the very good news.  Amen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

multitudes on monday (131-135) (spring edition!)

Today I am thankful for:

131. The gorgeous weather we have been having in the Flathead Valley.  Sun!  Warmth!

132. A chance to get outside and walk. I'm loving the way my muscles actually feel like I'm using them!  And who can beat that wonderful fresh air here in Montana?

133. A daughter who "ruined my mad" tonight by singing "Edelweiss" when I was seriously annoyed with her.

134. The incredible blessing of being asked to be a godparent (with my husband) to a precious baby boy.  Last week, I had the privilege of attending his baptism and what joy!

135. Girls' night out with my lady friends.  What a joy to have so many lovely woman friends who I can truly be myself with!

BONUS: The chance to dig in the dirt and pot a geranium plant and some seeds today.  How hopeful planting is!

What are you thankful for today?

GREAT DEAL: The Beginner's Bible on Kindle

For those of you with toddler little ones, there is a great deal available for your Kindle right now.  Amazon is offering The Beginner's Bible on Kindle for just $2.99 for the month of April.

This is the most versatile children's Bible I've read, with simple, inviting illustrations and good retelling of the most important Bible stories kids need to know.  Many churches give this Bible to a child's family when the child is baptized.  I invite you to take advantage of this great deal and continue passing on the faith to your precious little one!
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