Miscarriage and God’s Faithfulness

The man named Job in Scripture made this confident and faithful declaration (in the form of a rhetorical question) in the midst of an enormous amount of tragedy in his life: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). And although he suffered so much loss, he “did not sin with his lips.” What a high bar he set, right?

Rebecca and I were reminded of this message from Job last month when we found out that we miscarried both of our babies. Yes… I said both of our babies.

At our first checkup and ultrasound, we were surprised to find out that we were expecting twins. Sadly, a few seconds after we found out that there were two babies, we heard the news that one of them had passed away around 12 weeks. It was sad to see the tiny baby, peacefully curled up on the monitor. Honestly, as common as miscarriage is, it was the first time I have ever faced it. It was a lot easier to deal with, though, when I saw the other little guy dancing around in his tiny home.  I’ve heard 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and this was true for us.

We left that doctor visit with hope as well as concern. The impossible question of “why” was inevitable, although the doctor was very clear that asking it would not be helpful. The double amount of hormones explained a lot though: especially why Rebecca had been SO sick. In the midst of all that was going well in our world – this was tough. Specifically, it put trying to unpack and move into our new house at a standstill. 

Despite the good news of “Baby B” seeming to be healthy, Rebecca could not shake the sense that something wasn’t quite right. And sadly, those concerns were confirmed at our second doctor visit: the second child’s heart had recently stopped beating also. The mixture of feelings, questions, and what-ifs was a little overwhelming.

But that is when we were reminded of those words from Job: “shall we receive good… and not evil?” Or as he also declared: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

God had chosen to bless us with three healthy, vibrant children already. Even if he never gives us anymore, his faithfulness and goodness has not changed. As hard as it is to remember in the moment, His name is still “blessed.”

The next several days were rough on Rebecca as we checked into the hospital at nearly 17 weeks pregnant and endured the process of labor and delivery – something that we were familiar with (but not like this). Rebecca pushed through it all with great physical and emotional strength. As much as I tried to be right by her side, what really held us up were family members and friends praying for us, talking with us, and caring for us in all kinds of ways. We felt so loved, particularly by folks at our new church that barely knew us but loved on us anyway.

Since we’ve been home from the hospital, the kids have dealt with the loss of the twins in their own way (just like Rebecca and I), and now we’re trying to move forward. Obviously, we are all disappointed, but I think that Abram is okay with continuing to be “the baby” of the family for a little longer anyway.

If you know me, you know I’m an optimist (maybe to a fault). Well one of the “silver linings” of this whole experience has been the empathetic comments we have heard and even conversations that we have had with others that have gone through miscarriages, still-births, or even the deaths of their young children. It seems that these kinds of difficulties in life end up as silent struggles for most moms and dads. But when we talk about them in the open, we discover a little more peace and strength. It is one of the many ways that God wants us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Or maybe I should say – it is one of the ways we can “be the Church.”

I’ll end with this thought that came from something that my Father-in-Law sent me. It is an excerpt from a message called “Death of a Little Child” by the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee talking about dealing with the death of his own young child:

“Although the span of life of your little one was brief, your child completed a mission, served a purpose, and performed a God-appointed task in this world. The child’s presence turned your thoughts to the best. Your little one’s helplessness brought out your strength and protection, and your child’s loveliness roused your tenderness and love. The little one’s influence will linger in your heart as long as you live. If anything can bring a man to God, it is a child.”

When difficulties and even tragedies take place in our life (and they most certainly will), we have a choice: do we run TO God or AWAY from God? May we look beyond the struggle to see the arms of our Savior stretched out for us.

You Are Gifted

Do you know what gifts God has given you to serve others? Do you know your purpose and calling in life?

Many people are are very confused about how their gifts, talents, and abilities fit into the Body of Christ. Some people think that if they can’t teach, sing, or pray eloquently, then they do not have talents that God can use.

But it is helpful to know that no matter what we are able to do (or not do), our gifts and propensities all originated from God for one sole purpose: to glorify Him by serving others. God loves to use men and women who simply present themselves to him as “living sacrifices” in response to his grace.

I invite you to read my thoughts on how you can identify your gifts here: http://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-life/how-can-i-identify-my-spiritual-gifts.html.

BECAUSE HE LIVES!

This Easter, many church congregations across the world will be singing songs emphasizing the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is even a good chance that somewhere on the worship team’s setlist (or at least in the pastor’s notes) is the sentence, “because he lives, I can face tomorrow.”

But is this song biblical?

This well-known line is from the relatively modern, yet timeless Christian or spiritual song titled “Because He Lives.” This song was written just a few decades ago by Bill and Gloria Gaither, leaders that are still popular today in the Christian world. According to one writer, the Gaithers wrote the lyrics to this song in 1969 during a fierce winter that was made worse by Bill’s physical ailments as well as the false accusations and belittling comments that others made about their family. On top of that, the 1960s was a “chaotic era” characterized by a “quantum shift in values” in America that made it seem as if God had given up on the world…

But in the midst of it all, Gloria noticed God’s work around them, and she wrote a song expressing the hope given to Christians by the resurrection of Jesus. Since that day, “Because He Lives” has been hailed as a classic worship song or hymn of the contemporary church. In fact, it still finds its place among the top Christian songs sung in churches. The lyrics to that song are as follows:

God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus 
He came to love, heal and forgive 
He lived and died to buy my pardon 
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives 

How sweet to hold a newborn baby 
And feel the pride and joy he gives 
But greater still, the calm assurance 
This child can face uncertain days because He lives

And then one day we’ll cross that river 
And fight life’s final war with pain 
And then, as death gives way to victory 
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he reigns 

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow 
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future 
And life is worth the living just because He lives

Read the rest of my article on the whether this song is biblical or not here: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/jesus-christ/is-because-he-lives-i-can-face-tomorrow-in-the-bible.html

What is the Significance of the Battle of Jericho?

One of the most popular characters found in sermons from the Old Testament for both children and adults is Joshua. While Joshua was far from perfect, his boldness, faith, leadership, and even recovery from failure not only gave him a spot in God’s “Hall of Faith” in the Book of Hebrews (although not by name — which is interesting), but Joshua was so lionized among the Jewish people that many parents named their children after him. In fact, Jesus is the Greek variation of the Hebrew name Joshua!

And among all of the acts of Joshua, the event that probably stands out the most in his biography is the Battle of Jericho found in Joshua 6. This battle has been the theme of countless sermons, motivational messages, songs, and shows (such as the classic “Josh and the Big Wall” Veggie Tales episode).

Joshua was the successor of Moses for God’s people. He was used to experiencing intense battles, miraculous events, divine intervention, and difficult situations. But Jericho seemed different. Now it was not just a sea and a wilderness to deal with — it was a heavily fortified city that stood between God’s people, the Israelites, and the “Promised Land.” Jericho had a massive, impenetrable wall around it that the Israelite army had no hope of getting past, and even if they did, they would have to face an enemy army.

So, following the rather odd set of instructions by God to quietly march around the wall a certain amount of times over the course of seven days with trumpets and lanterns, something amazing took place: the wall fell down flat, allowing Joshua and the Israelite army to charge through like a football team busts through a home-field banner and “devote all in the city to destruction” (Joshua 6:21). If you do not like violence, you might want to turn your head during that scene.

Is this just a fun story of leadership, warfare, and military triumph – or is it more? Is there a spiritual significance to the story for us today? Well… of course there is! You can read about it in my article here: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/bible/what-is-the-significance-of-the-battle-of-jericho.html.

Should Church be “Seeker-Sensitive”?

In the latter part of the 20th century, many churches began to adopt a philosophy known as “seeker sensitive,” “seeker friendly,” or even (the extreme version) “seeker driven.” These titles (made popular by men like Robert Schuller and Bill Hybels) basically meant that a church would strive to be as modern, relevant, and attractive as possible to its community in order to reach the “seekers” around it.

A “seeker” is an unbeliever that is outside the church but still searching (or “seeking”) for meaning and significance in their lives. Classic “seeker sensitive” churches have had a consumeristic mindset and were focused on the “felt needs” of the lost people around them — especially people in suburban or affluent areas. While not every church that shared this philosophy neglected the gospel or saw the gospel as an addition to their self-help and motivational message, many did – and many still do, including some “mega-churches.”

But I would argue that churches today SHOULD be “seeker-sensitive.” But quite possibly not how you thihnk…

Read about take on the “seeker-sensitive” mentality in my article at https://www.christianity.com/wiki/church/should-the-church-be-seeker-sensitive.html. Leave a comment to let me know what you think.

(photo couresty of https://www.facebook.com/MallorySmithPhotography/)

What are Marks of a “True Believer”?

Maybe it’s not this way everywhere, but in many places around America people throw around the title “Christian” way too flippantly. We all know people that say they believe in God, yet their lives do not really match up to that beleif.

So what does it mean to really believe in God? What are the characteristics of a “true believer?”

To answer this, we need to take a “back to the basics” approach to Christianity. Because while it is easy to get caught up in contemplating deep thoughts, debating election vs. free will, arguing esoteric ideas, or speculating about eschatology, the life of a Christ-follower can be explained in some very simple terms. In fact, I would say that the life of a “true beleiver” is held up by four simple pillars: worship, community, ministry, and mission.

In other words, the life of every Christian is characterized by these four distinctions or “marks.” Just like an athlete becomes better with training, the more a Christian devotes himself or herself to these marks, the more they will be evident in their life.

To read about these four marks and why they matter so much, read my article at https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/what-are-the-marks-of-a-true-believer.html.

How Are We Created in the Image of God?

Throughout my life, I thought I have been a lot of things, mainly because of what I was told. 

For example, when my family moved from the far north to the deep south, I was called a “Yankee.” For most of my childhood, I was called a “nerd” by some or an “artist” by others. Then, in high school, I adopted the identity of a student-athlete on top of calling myself a Christian. As an adult, my career often dictated how I thought of myself: I was a pastor, a husband, a father, and then a church planter. Depending on the season, one of those identities was emphasized over another.

Who do you think you are?

That has to be one of the most profound questions that someone could be asked because how we see ourselves (or what we believe about our identity) impacts so much of how we live our lives, how we treat others, and how we even treat ourselves. 

This question is the main theme in countless books and movies where the protagonist is on a quest to “find himself” or discover “who she really is” (this is a common theme especially in superhero movies). It is also a concurrent message of many songs, such as one from my childhood titled, “I Don’t Want to Be.” In this pop song, Gavin De-Graw sings these lyrics: “I’m tired of looking ‘round rooms wondering what I’ve got to do or who I’m supposed to be.” 

A significant portion of science is dedicated to figuring out who we are based on where we came from (whether that be from an intelligent designer or by chance from a mix of chemicals). And the thought behind a lot of religions is to help people figure out who they are, who they are meant to be, and how to get there.

But I have learned that no matter our stage of life, age group, relationship status, career, or hobbies (all things that are extensions of who we are), the one part of our identity that should rise to the top of our list is who we are in relation to God, our Creator. In the midst of all of our attributes, titles, positions, and labels, we need to know that the most fundamental aspect of our identity is that we were “created in the image of God.”

This is so important because it combats every kind of racism or elitism at its root. We were all created in the image of God.

Read about what this concept of being made in the image of God (“Imago Dei”) means and why it matters at https://www.christianity.com/wiki/god/how-are-we-created-in-the-image-of-god.html.

Baptism – is it that Important?

It is not easy to get in front of other people, especially not a crowd. Speaking in public even has its own phobia called glossophobia. There are many underlying reasons why someone might be afraid to be in front of others, such as anxiety about what people will think or fear of messing up and looking foolish. But whatever the reason, this fear affects most people in one way or another. Ironically, one of the first steps to take when someone becomes a Christian is to be publicly baptized — and this event often even includes speaking in front of everyone!

So, what is believer’s baptism, and why is it so important that every believer overcome their fears to do it? The following six characteristics of a believer’s baptism will help us understand it more fully.

1. Baptism is one of the two primary ordinances of the local church. Ordinances are traditional, symbolic ceremonies for believers to perform as a means of worship in response to God’s grace. Both baptism and Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) have been pillars of the Christian faith since the beginning of the New Testament church. While different Christian denominations use different methods to baptize, the most popular method by evangelicals is to publicly immerse someone under a body of water (such as a pool, creek, tub, etc.), and then quickly bring them back up. This is called “full immersion,” and (as you will see) it is the most biblically accurate and relevant method.

2. Baptism was commanded by Jesus. As one of his final statements to his disciples, Jesus said to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). Not only did Jesus institute the ceremony of baptism at the end of his life on earth, but he set the example by doing it himself to start his ministry(Matthew 3:13-17Mark 1:9). When we get baptized, we are obediently following in Jesus’ footsteps.

3. Baptism is not salvific (meaning it does not save), yet it is an important milestone for someone who has already been saved because it is their first step of obedience. This is the main reason why the baptism of infants (pedobaptism) is at least unnecessary and at most unbiblical. As a step of obedience, baptism demonstrates…

Read the rest of this article on baptism at https://www.christianity.com/wiki/church/what-is-a-believers-baptism.html.

Husbands – start the new year by praying for your wife

Outside of a relationship with God, the marriage connection between a husband and wife is the most critical relationship in humanity. It was at least the most original relationship (according to the Book of Genesis) and is functionally the most foundational relationship for family and society. God gave us marriage for our enjoyment as well as to display the gospel. In many ways, it is an allegory and a visual aid for God’s relationship with us, the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32).

A common misconception that many people have is that as long as we choose the right mate or even treat our mate the right way, then we will not have problems in our relationship.

But the reality is that ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, every man and woman has had to live in light of their own brokenness, which always results in difficulties, confusion, and struggles in their marriage relationship that was supposed to be a harmonious, peaceful, and beautiful fabric of three strands — husband, wife, and God — woven together (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

But right now, whether you have a new marriage that is still in its “honeymoon” phase, a troubled marriage, or the most normal kind of marriage with its ups and downs, the most important thing you can do as a Christian is pray.

But how can a husband pray for his wife?

Outside of your wife’s specific prayer needs that you may already know about, here is a list of seven relevant and heartfelt ways that you can pray for your wife over the course of your week: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/prayer/how-can-i-pray-for-my-wife.html

Was Jesus born in a Cave, Stable, House, or None of the Above?

During the Christmas season, it is common to see all kinds of Nativity scenes commemorating Jesus’ birth that might be plastic, wooden, or “living” (filled with real people as if in a play). No matter what they are made of, many of them depict a clean, colorful, and haloed baby Jesus with his family and a few small animals underneath a wooden shelter. The children’s Christmas carol that has been popular nearly since the day it was written about 150 years ago, “Away in a Manger” describes the scene like this:

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

But while many people know that the Nativity was not quite so sanitary or calm, there are other details that are assumed or speculated about. A quick reading of Scripture (such as in Luke 2) dispels much of these speculations, but we are still left figuring out a few other details, such as the date and location

While we can be confident that Jesus’ birth took place near an inn (a lodging place for guests) in the small town of Bethlehem a few miles south of Jerusalem, we do not know much about the manger or whether there were animals roaming around or not. We can, however, be confident that Joseph was not a king and Mary was not a queen and there were no butlers or chauffeurs, no nurses or scrubs, no cameras or spotlights, and no pictures on Instagram or videos on YouTube. They were outside (probably) without running water, air-conditioning or heat, hand sanitizer, or gloves and the only visitors at this point were shepherds (well… and angels).

From a short word and context study, the manger must have been a make-shift cradle borrowed from an animal’s feeding trough (confirming what the angels told the shepherds). This is far from the ornate and (at least) clean birth experience that a king deserves. Instead of a crib of gold with pomp and pronouncement, the eternal Son of God was born, wrapped up in strips of cloth, and then quietly laid in a rough-hewn humble manger probably made out of wood or stone with bits of food stuck to the bottom.

The question that is difficult for us to answer is whether this manger was out in the open beneath the stars, under a drafty wooden shelter, inside of a back or lower room of a house, or inside of a cave. While the earthly birthplace of Jesus is traditionally a wooden stable, historical records suggest that during the first-century animals were often kept in caves (or “grottoes”).

Read about where Jesus’s manger was at https://www.christianity.com/wiki/holidays/did-mary-and-joseph-really-stay-in-a-cave.html?utm_source=Christianity.com%20Daily%20Inspirations&utm_campaign=Christianity.com%20Daily%20Update&utm_medium=email&utm_content=4030383&bcid=5e6d8f059cd72b1ea19053f43199897c&recip=525323465%20 .