Spiritual food for your faith journey and encouragement for hard times.
Spiritual food for your faith journey and encouragement for hard times.
[Guest commentary by Jonalyn Fincher, author of Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home]
God thought planet Earth needed a woman, not to do the laundry or to give Adam another dependent, but because all his creation needed a female. Both men and women are image bearers, two-ways of being human. And it was God’s idea to have us work together. God didn’t think women were more suited for Venus or men for Mars. He made us both for this planet.
Every year we get a chance to celebrate women who mothered us. We honor them because they’re smaller pictures of our God, because our mothers, like our fathers, tell us more about God.
God told Isaiah that his love for Israel could be compared to the love of a mother. God said he nursed and comforted Israel like a mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66:9-13). God talks about writhing with labor pains for Israel (Isaiah 42:14). God was not and is not ashamed of being identified with femininity. Even in the stereotypical "womanly" tasks of laundry, home-making, cooking and sheltering, God is the first one we find doing each of these. God was the first tailor, clothing Adam and Eve with skins. God was the first to clean up the earth with water. God makes earth fit for life, giving water to every beast of the field, providing food in due season (Ps. 104: 10-13 and 27-28). God is a great housekeeper. You could even say God does interior decorating, spreading out the heavens like a tent, covering the deeps with water as with a garment (Ps 104: 2 and 6).
There are hundreds of ways mothers show the world more of what God is like. Not only in the things mothers do, but in the very fact of them being female. It doesn’t matter if our mothers are pretty or frumpy, exhausted or peppy, every mother reveals something about God.
Much like Dorothy with her ruby slippers, sometimes mothers don’t realize the gift they own. Maybe they go through life gathering friends for their journey, fearing lions, tigers and bears, hoping they don’t get captured by the Wicked Witch, but always follow-follow-following their yellow brick road. Maybe someone will tell them about that glimmering gift they’ve had all along, their unique capacity as women.
Mothers everywhere need to know that their femininity is more significant and necessary in this world than their completed "to-do" list. Instead of all the things our mothers have done for us, perhaps this year we can thank them for who they are as women, for being living cameos of our God.
[Guest commentary by Jonalyn Fincher, author of Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home]
Before Ruby Slippers was published, I remember how skeptical people were about my writing project. I’d hear things like, "Wow! You’re writing about the woman’s soul?" I’d see a doubtful glance at my youthfulness and then a slow smirk, "Good luck!" Some would tease, "Nice, small project!" The more outspoken gave unsolicited pointers, "Women are emotional, make sure you put that in your book." Others would counter my enthusiasm with, "I’d be very interested to see what you find." Some would just state that women are complicated and mysterious and change the subject.
Ruby Slippers is now out there, living, moving, and having its being. While the comments keep coming to my inbox, they’ve changed their tune. Recently a friend from seminary days now working as a church leader called. She told me that she was planning to buy her mother and mother-in-law a copy of Ruby Slippers for Mother’s Day. I wanted to know why.
"It’s got a great cover!" she said laughing. "But, really, your book is going to give both my moms a new perspective into their womanhood. For their generation this is not a very familiar topic. They haven’t thought a lot about what it means to be a woman. You’ve respected femininity here, giving it new life, breathing purpose, value and dignity into something that the church doesn’t know what to do with. You’ve helped women see they don’t have to be smashed into one place. They can have full life, now. I just can’t wait to hear what they think, to talk with them after they read it."
Last week I got an email from a middle-aged woman who told me that Ruby Slippers had given her this indescribable feeling. "There is just no way to describe the feelings of HOPE that I feel about the SOULS of Women. It seems, with your words, you have reached right in to touch the very SOUL of me…and reminded me that inherently, I am Pure, Whole, Light & Life……JUST AS IS."
I sat at my desk amazed at her words. This smirked-over manuscript was bringing Light and Life. Those two pregnant words are the things so many women think they’ll find in a romance or in Wicca or boutique spirituality or from Oprah. They are the two things Christ came to give. He gives abundant life to women, now. He brings light to women, today. God finds us valuable even as fallen women.
When God chose to curse woman in Eden, he treated her as if she was responsible. When God chose to redeem the earth, he dignified Mary as if she, though no older than a seventh grader, was capable of bearing God in her womb. There’s something to women that goes deeper than the typical labels (beautiful, romantic, helper, better-half, weaker sex, baby-machine). God thought Woman offered more than a hot body or a romantic sensibility to planet Earth. As it turns out, women, like men, are made in God’s image, with all the rights and privileges thereof.
That means that our mothers are image-bearers of God, and that alone, regardless of their good or bad mothering, is worth honoring.
[The Zondervan Blog interviews Rich Wagner, author of The Myth of Happiness: Discovering a Joy You Never Thought Possible]
Rich Wagner is the author of The Myth of Happiness and The Gospel Unplugged. He’s also author of 3 For Dummies books, written with the goal of making biblical truth easily accessible for modern-day readers. These books include Christianity For Dummies, C.S. Lewis & Narnia For Dummies, and Christian Prayer For Dummies. Rich lives in New England with his wife and three boys. He can be found online at www.digitalwalk.net.
Q: Why do so many Christians fail to experience the joy promised in the Bible?
A: I’m convinced it’s because we’re confused by what biblical joy is and how it can be fully experienced in our lives. All too often, joy is simply another word for happiness. We treat this spiritual gift like cotton candy — sugary on the outside with no substance inside. But, as a result, we’ve become a church of happy Christians who look good on Sunday morning, but live the rest of the week strapped to rollercoasters, rising and falling based on situations in our lives. In the end, we find ourselves pursuing happiness instead of joy.
Q: What’s the difference between the two?
A: On the surface, joy and happiness look almost identical. But as you dive deeper, the two often reveal themselves as opposites. Happiness is all about the here and now, but biblical joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness depends on circumstances. Joy is independent of anything that happens to me. Happiness draws me inward, while joy turns me outward to God and others. Happiness seeks temporary peace with myself, but joy embraces lasting peace with Jesus Christ. Pain kills happiness, but joy soothes it. That’s why, in pursuing happiness, we easily get defensive and bent on protecting the things in our lives that makes us happy. Biblical joy, by contrast, is open to God’s will, even when he takes us down unhappy roads and gloomy alleyways.
Q: James 1:2 tells believers to "count it as joy" when we face hard times. Why do we have such a hard time living this out?
A: When we face a crisis, it’s easy for us to look upon joy much like Indiana Jones would. It’s a smirk in the face of disaster. A gritty determination to persevere no matter the odds. Donning a fedora and a leather jacket, we memorize James 1:2 and become bent on being joyful in a crisis. Then, in true Indiana Jones fashion, when the tidal wave comes our way, we grab a life raft and attempt to ride out the storm. The fundamental problem with this view of joy, however, is that it becomes something attained by willpower alone. We stay afloat for awhile, but eventually sink. As I explain in the book, we choose joy, not will it.
Q: Can joy transform our Christian walk?
A: Absolutely. Happiness is available to anyone, but joy is distinctly Christian. It’s dynamic proof of our future hope as believers and our greatest distinguisher to a cynical world held hostage by life’s circumstances. Once we begin to choose this spiritual gift, then we can jump off our rollercoasters and experience the freedom and transformation that Christ so clearly promises us.
We attended an Easter sunrise service on a day the sun did not rise, not noticeably anyway. Instead, at 6 am snow was falling heavily from a dark gray sky. Some friends with property nearby have a tradition of erecting a cross on a hill and inviting others to trudge up it for an early morning service. There were 40 of us in all, 17 kids and 23 adults, as well as a few dogs chasing each other and a corral full of curious horses next door. Three of us couldn’t easily trudge: a teenager with a rare genetic disorder that has damaged his motor nerves, a woman with muscular dystrophy, and me in a neck brace that makes it difficult to look down and negotiate snow-covered fields. Someone brought a Hummer, though, which transported its disabled cargo straight up the white hillside, just as they show in the television ads.
“It’s like the witch in Narnia who makes it always winter,” one of the kids remarked as we stood shivering; last year’s service called for shirt sleeves. A coating of powder soon covered hats and parkas and the xeroxed song sheets we were holding. I had just returned from a trip to Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina, where every bush and tree was ablaze with color, but on this day in Colorado, Spring seemed very far away.
I’ve thought of that scene often this week, the week that follows Easter, a day that in some ways changed everything and in some ways not. “It’s Friday but Sunday’s comin’!” Tony Campolo famously preaches. Yes, but after Sunday had come and gone, some of the disciples still doubted, the Roman Empire rolled on oppressively, and Jews and Gentiles alike continued to live in poverty and die. Easter is a marker we desperately need, a promise of a world aborning and not dying—and yet how hard that vision is to sustain.
I know, you just wondered how I was recovering, and here I go waxing philosophical. There is a connection, I promise. For two weeks after the accident I walked around in a “daze of grace,” looking at the sky, trees, grass, my wife, my friends, with newly washed eyes. Life holds surprises around every corner, fresh promptings to gratitude and joy.
Then the sleepless nights in a neck brace began to take their toll; woodpeckers hammered holes in the west wall of our house; in an electronic conspiracy the television, microwave, and refrigerator all stopped working. Life also grinds you down.
I am trying to keep before me the crystalline vision I had while lying strapped to a backboard for seven hours. What we spend so much time and energy on (finances, image, achievement) matters so little when you face the very real possibility of imminent death. What matters reduces down to a few basic questions. Who do I love? Who will I miss? How have I spent my life? Am I ready for what’s next? So, how do I keep those questions in the forefront as I come to my desk each day and face piles of paper and blinking electronic messages? How do we sustain the vision of Easter on the other 364 days a year?
I have learned how thin is the thread that separates life from non-life, and how comforting is the knowledge that I am not alone on this journey. I have learned these things in a way that I doubt I will ever forget. I thank all of you who have prayed and sent messages of encouragement.
The 10-day trip to the Southeast was something of an experiment, and mostly it went well. Standing up and speaking for three hours straight is not a good idea, I found, and the twists and turns of greeting people and signing books creates a strain. I spoke at the University of Mobile and at the Bible College where Janet and I met (on the topic, “What I Wish I’d Known as a Student Here”), and Janet and I both got to visit our families. Then, in an act of pure grace, an angelic reader managed to get us tickets to opening day at the Masters. Funny how walking around a beautiful golf course for eight hours is suddenly tolerable, especially when it’s the fabled Masters. One long hole, where we hung out for the better part of an hour, is lined with 1600 azalea bushes.
I have an appointment with the neurosurgeon on April 30, at which time I’ll learn if I need surgery on the discs and ligaments. If all goes well I should start weaning myself away from the neck brace too. Each day I’m feeling less disabled and more normal. I exercise by walking and using a reclining bicycle in the fitness club.
Janet has made enormous adjustments in her schedule, taking on the roles of personal chauffeur and caregiver. She tackles necessary tasks—such as climbing a high ladder to fill woodpecker holes and shoveling the drainage ditch beside our dirt driveway—with energy and a minimum of complaint. It’s not easy for me to stand by and watch her climb on the roof to assess the damage a raccoon just did to our eaves in search of a warm home, or to let her drag both of our suitcases through the airport lines. All in all, though, our marriage has flourished. We’re grateful for each other, and for the prospect of more life together.
My mind goes back once again to that scene early Easter Sunday as our motley crew of crippled and healthy alike huddled together in the snow listening to familiar passages about the shock of resurrection, a shock that produced both fear and joy. An Easter egg hunt awaited the kids; some of the parents were no doubt thinking about their contributions to the brunch. Had they brought enough? Did they remember serving implements? And afterwards, would their car make it down the slippery, curving driveway?
Yet even as we stood there, singing songs and reading from the Gospels, snow worked its magic. Mud-splashed cars, Ponderosa pine trees, rocks in the field, a wooden fence, even the cross—for a window in time, the snow covered every imperfection, and all glistened white.
Erik Mirandette, his brother, and two friends went on the adventure of a lifetime — 9,000 miles across Africa on dirt bikes. Along the way they withstood confrontations with local thugs and gangs, but it was when they were at the end of their journey, in Egypt, that a terrorist’s bomb maimed Erik and killed his brother. Erik writes about the trek, the joys he encountered, and his struggle through grief and darkness to find his way back to a life lived for God in his just-released book The Only Road North. Read the page-one article in the Sunday edition of The Grand Rapids Press. Hear a passage from the book. Read a .pdf excerpt from his book.
"But one of his interests is anything but ordinary. Hunter is a 21st century abolitionist. His mission is to abolish slavery in the world, to liberate the millions of men, women and children forced to work uncompensated or indentured…"
—ABC News, Good Morning America
It’s rare to find a role model so young. Learn more about this remarkable teen who now leads the fight to free 27 million (yes, that’s MILLION) enlsaved men, women, and children around the world.
Many consider the abolition of the slave trade to be the greatest moment in William Wilberforce’s life. The distinguished historian G. M. Trevelyan called this achievement "one of the turning events in the history of the world." From Wilberforce’s perspective, however, the supreme event of his life was his Great Change, or embrace of Christianity. He believed that "God’s good providence had checked and turned him through a miracle of mercy." This transformation redirected the course of his life, and without it he would not have become the reformer he was.
—Kevin Belmonte, William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity
Are you planning on seeing the film Amazing Grace, opening in theaters this Friday?
"It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere." That must be one of the most common statements I hear when people first start talking about faith. What do you think about that statement? Personally, I don’t think these people really mean what they are saying, at least not literally. If you are walking on a lake that’s covered with one inch of ice, no matter how sincere you are in believing you can do it, you are in for a cold soaking at best. If someone encourages you to try, "as long as you’re sincere," they are no friend!
The issue is less the sincerity or intensity of your faith than it is the trustworthiness of the object of your faith: Is it solid enough, deep enough, trustworthy enough, to be capable of holding your weight?
—Brian D. McLaren, Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense
Any comments or testimonies today?
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flood your mind, stealing your joy, and often your sleep with it. What will become of them? What will the fruit of their lifestyle be? Will there ever be a homecoming celebration?
I wrote Will Your Prodigal Come Home? (releasing in March) because I know that honest help is needed when you love someone who has chosen the bright lights and bleakness of the far country. Those who love prodigals need solid answers, not catchy clichés. Some of our prodigals aren’t really prodigals at all: they are just searching for real faith, not the hand-me-down type, or oppressive legalism. We need to know the difference between a prodigal and a seeker.
We need to know how best to pray for our prodigals, and how to maintain hope while we wait. And what to do when we feel overwhelmed with guilt: thoughts of what we could or should have done taunt us. And what if they come back to God: how can we throw a party for their return?
Join me in the journey that this book takes, and let’s do what those whose hearts break for prodigals rarely do. Let’s talk.