Proclaiming the Gospel

Growing up, I was always a self-proclaimed goody-two-shoes. I rarely did anything wrong. I followed the rules. I never rebelled. I defended my faith and brought my Bible to school to show just how serious about my faith I was. I was your classic good Christian girl.

While this is wonderful, it took me a long time to see just how lost this world is, but how genuinely human my neighbor is, regardless of their faith or knowledge of Christ. The topic of how to approach nonbelievers has been one that is on my heart a lot lately. I have seen far too many Christians build up walls around our churches, judging newcomers and young Christians by their sins instead of getting to know them personally. But I feel that Jesus has been shifting my views a little, allowing me to see a generation, however selfie-obsessed, that is broken and in need of the knowledge of the love and grace that only Jesus can give.

I am not alone in this. Many growing churches today have the same mindset — we live in a world that needs Jesus, so let us show Him to them. Sometimes, the mindset can be viewed as a watered-down Gospel. Many Christians feel that love is taught too freely and sin is not taught enough. I believe that sin should be pointed out among Christians, but that love cannot be given to freely.

I recently watched an interview with Carl Lentz on The View that had many Christians angry. He did not point out that abortion is a sin on national television.

From the very beginning, they introduced Carl Lentz as a pastor “unlike anything I’ve ever seen” and then went straight for hot button topics like same-sex marriage and abortion. It’s The View, so controversial topics are not unexpected, but it really looked like they were asking not out of genuine interest but to stir up something. Immediately, I got uncomfortable — not from the question, but from the motives. He got uncomfortable too, and refused to give a straight answer when asked if abortion was a sin. I quote, “I’m trying to teach people who Jesus is first, find out their story; before I start picking and choosing what I think is sin in your life, I’d like to know your name.”

I thought about those words — similar words to what I had told my husband only days before. If you don’t know Jesus, I want to get to know you and point you to Him. I do not want to look at you and point out your sins. This is not my job.

In fact, my job as a Christian is laid out in Mark 16:15 – “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” – and in Matthew 28:19-20 – “ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Firstly, the word “gospel” literally means “good news.” The good news is NOT that you have sinned but that the God of all creation has loved you so much that He sent his only Son into the world as a baby for the sole purpose of dying one day all for you. Because you matter.
Secondly, I don’t think that the order in which Jesus speaks in Matthew 28 is an accident; in order to make disciples of all nations, first we must baptize and then we must teach. First we must lead them to Jesus and then we must teach them His ways.

I talked about this a few posts back in No Place in Heaven; that there had to be a better way to approach nonbelievers than telling them that God hates sin and that they have sinned. This could not be the gospel that Jesus was talking about in Mark 16:15. That could not have been what He meant.

Recently, I read in 1 Corinthians 5 about sin in the church. Specifically, Paul had received reports that there was a case of sexual immorality in the church, something that is so obviously sin, even pagans did not practice it. He rebuked this sin specifically and said there was no place for it in the church. But he also touched on sin outside of the church and said,

 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

The more I read my Bible and how Christians are to ask, the less I am compelled to point out that my neighbors who do not know Christ are actually sinners by a standard they do not understand. The more I think about Jesus, the more I want to let people know that he was a radical in this time and would likely be considered a radical in the church today. He ate with sinners. He refused to cast stones at an adulteress. He gave the good news about the living water he offered to another adulteress who wasn’t even Jewish. He was touched by a woman who was ceremoniously unclean and did not rebuke her. He loved the unlovable and the pharisees scoffed at him.

Five years ago, I was pregnant with my first son. I was not prepared for him. I wanted kids, but not yet. I was only four months married when I found out about my son. It was not the first year of marriage I had always imagined. I knew, though, that God had given my my son at that time for a reason. As life goes on, I am realizing more reasons for all of it. One thing God did in me at that time was give me compassion for the girl who chooses abortion.

I was always pro-life and will always be pro-life. I wrote about it a little here. There were facts I had always known from research that supported the ideology that a fetus is actually a life. And yet, five years ago, I felt scared and ashamed to be pregnant. I never considered ending my pregnancy, but I realized how people could. The life growing inside of me was something permanent that I would have to care for when I was only learning how to be an adult myself. I could not see past my current situation, and my current situation certainly did not allow for a child.

My heart melted the day that I saw my “little gummy bear” dancing on the screen during my 9-week ultrasound. I knew the scientific facts about how babies grew in the womb. But to see my baby, only an inch long, dancing and jumping, made everything that much more real.

If I had chosen to end my pregnancy, I never would have seen that ultrasound. I never would have actually seen the life inside of me. You could have told me about it, but I would not have known. I could not have pictured it. If I had chosen to have an abortion, that guilt would have stayed with me, as I have heard from many women who have had abortions out of fear from their current circumstances. Every birth date that would have passed would have been a reminder that the baby I never had was not with me.

You see, many women who choose abortion do not do it out of spite or callousness. They have so many different reasons. And many genuinely do not see the fetus as a life and therefore have no reason to call it murder. Do you not see why a Christian who claims the love of Jesus above all does not want to call it sin on national TV? Do you not realize how many broken women there were watching that morning needing to not hear that there choice from years ago, months ago, or the day before was simply a “sin”? And could you not imagine the backlash that a Christian man would have gotten for calling all these women sinners?

The world does not need to hear right now that it is in sin. In the midst of all that is going on in these weeks alone, we need to hear that there is a God who loves us, a God who wants to be with us, a God who thought that we we worth His death on the Cross.

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The Sacrifice and Selflessness of Motherhood

I just read an article called “Motherhood Isn’t Sacrifice, It’s Selfishness.

Yeah…

It was enough to make me break my silence here and feel the insatiable need to write.

Here’s the definition for selfishness: “devoted to caring only for oneself, concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.” Yup, sounds like every mom I know.

I’m not saying that there aren’t any selfish moments in motherhood. Right now, for example, I am being selfish. I am ignoring what is going on with the boys and the house and my husband so I could sit down and write this response. I am being selfish in that I only care what is going on within this two-foot radius and purposely blocking out anything else for the sake of my own interest, which just so happens to be rebutting (with the occasional snark) the article I just read. Yes, I realize the irony.

But I digress.

The author refers to a phone call she had with her own mom about taking her sons, ages 7 and 9, on a family vacation and her excitement to watch them ride roller coasters and enjoy time as a family. She was upset by her mother pointing out that that’s not exactly a vacation for a mom – a mom needs her own time without her kids.

First, I want to point out that I have a 1- and a 4-year-old. One of my favorite memories from this spring is taking them to the carnival in town. I loved watching my older one play games and win prizes. I loved that we all loved the ferris wheel ride and got to enjoy some ice cream while we were there. But let me repeat, it is one of my favorite memories.

As it turns out, my experience with motherhood is not always as enjoyable as those two hours (which I’m pretty sure contained some meltdowns) on that one night this year. In fact, in the past four years of me being a mother, I can assure you that no memories, good or bad, actually define motherhood for me. Motherhood seems to rest in the mundane in this house, and while we make memories, spontaneous or planned, there’s always more to the picture than what our minds’ eye can remember.

But, perhaps, the part of the article that struck a chord with me was not her idea of a perfect family vacation in which there is nothing but joy and squeals of excitement from the kids and how it was actually a pleasure for her to be with her boys, after drudging at work for grueling hours every day of the year (let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong with this picture). Instead, it was her matter-of-fact statement that motherhood is not a job. To quote, “the language surrounding child rearing as a job surely derived from caregivers’ and homemakers’ efforts to be acknowledged as fulfilling an important role.” And, to add further insult to injury, she adds that while it is important for parents to do raise their kids, it brings in no income, so it cannot be considered a job.

I consider myself to be a stay-at-home mom, even though I work part time outside the house. I love my part-time job, but I adore my kids even more. Most often while at work, I am counting down the hours until I am able to kiss those faces again. But my job, in which I deal with dozens of kids every day, is nothing compared to the job of raising my two children.

I am certainly not one of those moms who has all of it figured out. I actually don’t feel like I haven even 10 percent of it figured out. My 1-year-old seems to know the times I set my alarm in the morning, because he seems to wake up a half hour before it, every single morning. I groggily start my day and serve the boys breakfast. Depending on how that goes, I am sometimes too overwhelmed by the sight of breakfast foods that I don’t even want to satiate my hunger any more. The rest of the morning is filled with different things. Sometimes, I’m a good mom and take my kids to the park or the pool or even just go on a walk around the neighborhood. Other times, I make the effort to be a good mom and put out an art project for them to do on a rainy morning and find that it only lasts for ten minutes, and that while I was cleaning up after them, the toddler ransacked every single basket of toys in the living room and now there is literally no space to walk, and it sets a bad tone for the rest of the day. And what feels like most days lately, I throw in the towel, take away some toys in an effort to lessen the inevitable mess, and throw on an episode of Curious George for the boys. Or three.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I have other things going on in life right now that take away my attention from the boys (such as studying for a huge exam coming up that I really don’t want to fail), or maybe it’s because I could honestly use a day where I wake up and only have to think about myself for a time, or maybe it’s because my toddler is the most strong-willed and feisty child I have ever known (and has been that way his entire life), but this mothering thing really feels like a job and not at all selfish. In fact, in part due to the fact that motherhood, ahem, surprised me a bit earlier than I was expecting (I have no qualms in admitting that we had planned to have our first son a bit later in life, because I wouldn’t change a thing about him today), but it sometimes actually feels like a sacrifice. And not just the lack of sleep or never getting to eat a meal while it’s hot kind of sacrifice, but also that I had to delay certain ambitions of mine and put aside dreams I had for my future – the same reasons for which people delay having children at all.

But here’s the thing: I adore my boys. It is a privilege to be their mother. And when my 4-year-old gives me a bear hug and sweet kiss as I say goodnight to him, it feels like the greatest reward. I mean, I get to call those two beautiful boys my own. And when I tuck them in at night and say “I love you” one last time for the day, I know that they are my reward for the job of raising them and they are worth any sacrifice.


Maybe the author of the article had a few good points. Maybe we shouldn’t focus on the hard work that comes with motherhood, but the joy that we reap from it. And, maybe, as some commenters pointed out, she didn’t mean “selfishness” in the way that the dictionary defined it. Hey, she’s entitled to her opinion, but if that’s not what she meant, then I’m going to call out The New York Times for publishing a writer who can’t use a thesaurus.

 

 

Life is Precious II

As Christians, it’s easy to make a big production of being perfect before we come to the throne of God. It’s easy to feel like we need to be worth of God’s grace and blessings. It’s easy to put on the right clothes and a smile before going to church instead of addressing what’s really going on. 

But the throne of God is there for the imperfect, for the lost, for the hurting and broken. We don’t have to do anything to come before Him. 

The same God who loves us in our high moments loves us in our low moments. 

This is what kept me going today. This is the promise I held on to. This is what I repeated in my mind when I heard of the sudden death of a dear old friend. 

It still doesn’t feel real and I am in shock. I’m sure I will grieve more as the week draws on, but for now, in between waves of some tears, I am in a place of peace. These are the things I want to remember. 

I thanked God that my boys were with me, alive, well, healthy. Only hours later, I learned that a mother lost her beautiful 25 year old son. A family I knew lost one of their own. 

There was always a special spot in my heart for this old friend. We grew up in the same church but I think we only became friend as late teens, but he spent many Sunday afternoons at our (my parents’) house for family dinners. Over time, I stopped seeing him as much but I always tried to be encouraging to him, whether by text or in person when I did see him. I saw him a handful of times in the past year and was always excited to hear about his life and how he was doing. He was a young man with a wide smile and contagious laugh who was trying to find his place in this world. 

He had his ups and downs in life. I had seen him more in the “up” parts, but the downs became obvious around the time of my wedding. He made mistakes in his life, and one of those mistakes cost him his life. 

But my God is the God of highs and lows. His grace isn’t reserved for those who are always righteous. His grace reaches down to the depths of the earth, to the lowest points. 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/rom.8.38-39.esv

I do not know what happened in his final hour. I believe that’s something that his loved ones can only guess about. But I do believe that he is free today. That he is living out his eternal life, away from this broken world and any battles he has faced. 

We who are left behind are in pain. We feel that someone was taken from us too soon. He was loved by many and is therefore missed by many. I cannot imagine the pain that his family is in in this season. I pray for rest for them and that, with rest will come peace and comfort. I pray that they will one day be filled with the hope that they will see their son/brother/father again in a place where there are no more tears. 

Rest well, friend. You’re home, you’re free. You’re in your Savior’s arms now. 💙

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Alive • All Sons and Daughters

Life is Precious

I had one of those restless nights last night. It’s usually on those nights that I pray (or at least should pray), “God, what are you trying to tell me? What do I need to pray for?” But last night, I just hummed worship songs. 

The songs I sang to myself reminded me of Ethan’s stay in the hospital. Normally the songs remind me of when he was in the PICU at the second hospital. But this time, I pictured the room at the first hospital. 

I saw the window that overlooked the playground, the same one where I thought “Joshua would love to play there while he visits” forgetting about the blistering cold January weather. 

I saw the room where I sat with my infant son, convinced that he was getting better.  I was so excited that I would hopefully be able to take him home that night, if not the next morning. 

It was the same room where I saw my son struggling to breathe only hours later. The one where I wept when the resident doctor told me I have to seriously consider him being transferred to their sister hospital where there is a PICU for him to stay. It was a truth I was unwilling to accept. She gently told me that babies, like the elderly, go fast, and she didn’t want him to get any worse where they did not have the equipment to transfer him. All I heard was “your son may very well be at death’s door at this moment.”

I didn’t see it. 

The decision for Ethan to go the PICU should have been an easy one. But it took a while for me to realize “even if he isn’t so sick, he will get better faster there.” I was so set in my own idealized thinking, that Ethan was getting better, that I did not see him getting worse before my eyes.

When I finally accepted his condition, I turned on All My Sons and Daughters. (I put a link to their entire YouTube page. I couldn’t even name a favorite song. All of their songs got me through that difficult time, and any difficult time since. I encourage you to listen to worship music like this if you are going through a difficult time yourself.) I was so tired and sick that night but I hardly slept by the time the EMTs came to take Ethan to the second hospital. 

I watch my son get strapped into a stretcher with a makeshift car seat made of blankets. I listened to his weak cries and whimpers, as he was not strong enough for anything more. Up until that point, I was his entire source of life, and yet there was nothing I could do to help him on that day. 

There is no worse thing than to watch your baby suffer and to not be able to do a single thing about it. 

I had to rely on God that He will be the source of life for my son. “Speak life,” I repeated to myself, numb as I was. 

As I thought about all this last night, I thanked God that He had brought us out of that dark time. Many people have experienced even harder times, but I wouldn’t wish those feelings on my worst enemy. I thanked Him for the life of my boys, that they are both strong and healthy. I thanked Him that, although not perfect, I have all of my family right here. I praised Him because even when I’m not sure of the way, He guides me and we make it out, thanks to his sustaining grace. 

Life is a sweet, precious blessing. Embrace it.