Finding Joy in Winter

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This is a picture from outside our front door in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. It’s winter time. I love living in Chicago for a variety of reasons. I love the city. I love the Midwest. I love the Autumn season. I love the Bears, Bulls, and Cubs.

But I hate winter. Always have. People think snow is charming and romantic. I hate shoveling it and trudging through it and the mess it creates for a commute. I hate the bitter cold weather that blows through your bones in February. I hate the traffic and the fact that people drive 25 miles slower when there are a few flurries.

So, if you haven’t noticed, I hate winter. And yet . . . . there is beauty in winter. Tremendous, awe-inspiring, breathtaking beauty. On Saturday I drove along a main road near our house, a road lined with homes, white fences, and tall pine trees. The site of this landscape blanketed by heavy snow is something you only see in places where there is winter, only during seasons when snowstorms occur, when the weather is cold enough to numb your appendages.

As I drove down that road, enjoying the wonderful picture, hating winter, something struck me. It’s simple and yet profound: we need winter in our lives, because there is a certain beauty that only winter, only seasons of hardship and pain, can produce.

The Bible says that it is God who creates the seasons. The psalmist Asaph writes:

You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter. Psalm 74:17 (ESV) 

The Scriptures often compare moments in our lives to seasons. The author of Ecclesiastes says there is a season for every phase of life: joy, sorrow, building, resting, planting, harvesting, etc. It is God who establishes those seasons, the sacred rhythms of life.

Which brings us back to winter. I find that my attitude toward Chicago winter is similar to my attitude toward the winter of suffering and hardship in life. I find that I don’t like these seasons very much. I find myself grumbling, questioning, waiting for the warm sun to break through the freeze and the frost. And yet . . . I find in those winter seasons a certain unexplainable beauty and joy that can’t be found when life is as I think it should be.

This must be why the writers of Scripture describe a joy in trials. Paul says: “I rejoice in my sufferings” (Colossians 1:24). Peter says, “Rejoice insomuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ”(1 Peter 4:13-16). James writes, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Chuck Swindoll says this: “Deep, contended joy comes from a place of complete security and confidence [in God] – even in the midst of trial.”

There is another benefit of winter. I’m no farmer and so what I say  here might be completely off. But I do know this. Without a winter, without a deep freeze and a without the heightened water table produced from the layer of snow, there is no harvest season. In life, without winter seasons, there is no fruit. I love what Elizabeth Elliot says:

Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering…. The love of God did not protect His own Son…. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.

If you want to be like Christ, if you want to experience a deep sense of joy, you must embrace the winter seasons of life. You don’t have to enjoy the trial nor should you pursue suffering as some kind of false martyrdom. But it we can see winter for what it is: a temporary seasons of formation, we’ll not only endure, we’ll experience growth when harvest comes.

The beautiful thing about living in Chicago is that winter isn’t forever. Around the end of March and beginning of April, green shoots rise up in the barren soil, flowers begin to bloom, trees show signs of life. It’s a reminder that in every season, God is faithful, that not every winter lasts forever. And in another sense, the whole earth is in a winter, but spring is coming. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the first sign of spring, hope budding up among the barren landscape of a cursed creation. One day harvest will come, the King victorious, and the long winter of humanity will be over.

 

5 Things Every Daughter Needs to Hear From Her Dad

I’m a father of four beautiful children, three of whom are girls. My oldest daughter is eight years old and with each passing year since her birth, I’ve become more conservative when it comes to all things that pertain to my girls. I’m not a gun enthusiast, but I could be if it meant standing at the porch waiting for the first guy who dares to ask one of my daughters on a date.

Seriously though, I love having daughters. There is something about having a daughter that softens a man, adds a certain tenderness to his soul. In that spirit, I’d like to share five things every daughter needs to hear from her father:

1) You are beautiful and you are loved. This is something you should tell your daughter at least once a day and probably more than that. Telling her once every so often doesn’t cut it. I’m no psychologist, but daughters who know their father loves them grow up with more confidence and tend to avoid looking for love in all the wrong places. Hearing she is beautiful is oxygen for your daughter’s soul. So do it often, in different and creative ways.

2) Your mother is beautiful and she is loved. The best gift you can give your daughter is to show her how a man treats a woman. Let her see modeled in you, however imperfectly, the God-given love between a man and a woman. Tell your wife daily that she is beautiful, that you love her, and that you are glad you married her. Tell her you are committed to her for life. And say these things, periodically, in front of your children.

3) You belong to God and were created for his glory. Girls frequently battles insecurity over a number of issues: their weight, their looks, their friends. Maybe sometimes they feel unimportant or unwanted, even in a home with love. This is why you, as a father, should remind them often that they are special creations formed lovingly by the Creator in His image. You should read with them the words of David, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” from Psalm 139. That passage should be well-worn in your Bible and something internalized by your daughters for moments of doubt.

4) You are forgiven. Your girls will mess up. They will sin. They will disappoint you. And if you don’t have the good news of the gospel at the center of your family, she may grow up wondering how to measure up or what to do with her sins. Evangelize your daughter and then disciple her. Train in her in the vital Christian practice of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance for her sin and forgiveness of others’ sins. Let her know that Christ is always ready with fresh supplies of grace. Let her know that she must apply that grace not only to herself, but toward others who will wound her.

5) You are accepted. Whatever you do, don’t let your daughter consume the poison of the culture which measures a woman’s worth by her independence, by her ability to give away freely her purity. Don’t for a moment let her swallow the lie that sexual license is anything but a bondage of the worst kind, the enemy’s way of stealing the creativity and beauty and purpose for which she was created. Teach her what to look for in a man (hint: not the slackers you see on TV). Also: be that man so she knows what it looks like. Make her aware of the beautiful image of womanhood painted by the Creator. Her acceptance, her sense of self, her worth are bound up in her unique calling as God’s daughter.

*Next week I’ll share a similar list for fathers and their sons.

If There is No Sin, There is No Grace

Be of sin, the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure – Augustus Toplady

There is a hesitance, actually more like a firm resistance, to calling any behavior, “sin.” When the issue of sexual lifestyles are discussed, even evangelicals are wary of labeling any one behavior as sin. It’s the word we want to run far, far way from. Nobody sins anymore. They make mistakes. They were born that way. They are misunderstood.

The Bible, however, has clear categories. And some things are sin. Sexual license is sin. Murder is sin. Libel is sin. Gossip is sin. Furthermore, the Bible doesn’t just say that humans commit sin, but that humans are actually, by nature, sinners. That is they aren’t naturally good people who sometimes fall off the wagon and sin. We are sinners by nature.

But what about grace? Isn’t the church supposed to be about spreading the good news that God has accepted sinners by grace? Isn’t the message of the church that God’s grace covers even the vilest of sins? Yes, it is. And this is a message we should shout from the rooftops. It should be the core of what we evangelicals do and say.

Here’s the rub. If you stop acknowledging that some choices are sinful, you stop needing that wonderful thing called grace. In other words, if everything is okay, is just a different lifestyle, but not actually a gross violation of the righteousness of God, then why would you need grace? You wouldn’t, because nobody is doing anything wrong.

This is why the Church must talk about sin and about grace. At times, followers of Jesus have talked more about sin, as if God was violently angry at sinners and they have no hope. As if we were gleeful, like the Pharisees, to catch someone abusing God’s standard. This is the wrong message and denies the gospel.

And yet, we seem to be in a moment in the church when we want to talk about grace in a way that acts like sin is no big deal. Let’s not talk about sin, after all we’re suppose to be the people of grace. Wait a minute, though. If there is no sin, there is no need for grace.

The point I’m making here is this: Unless I realize I’m a sinner deserving of God’s just wrath against sin, I cannot experience the richness and fullness of His grace. If I deny my sin, I shut the door on grace. This was Jesus’ message to the woman at the well. Yes, you are a woman who is living in sin. Yes, you are just the kind of person I came to save. 

We have to acknowledge both realities. This is why talk of the word, “sin” should not frighten us who believe in the gospel. Because it was not mistakes or missteps or misunderstandings that Christ came to conquer and defeat. He came to defeat sin and sin’s awful child: death.

I’m not proud of my sin, but I’m glad to recognize that I’m a sinner. Because sinners are the only people eligible for Jesus’ unlimited grace.

Friday Five: Paul Rude

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Last week I read an excellent article on the Gospel Coalition blog on the significance of everyday work. At times, pastors and ministry professionals tend to cast “secular” vocations as a sort of second-tier calling. I loved Paul’s perspective and asked him to join me today for a chat around this topic and his new book, Significant Work
Paul Rude is a ministry consultant, speaker, and founder of Everyday Significance, an organization dedicated to helping people connect Christ-centered faith to everyday life. Before launching Everyday Significance, Paul spent eight years working in missions as a ministry leader. Prior to that, he spent a decade in the adrenalin rush of Fortune 500 corporate finance–and loved it. When he’s not speaking or consulting, you might find him rafting whitewater rivers or climbing mountains. Paul lives in rural Alaska with his wife, Misty, and their five kids.

There seems to be a renaissance, of sorts, among evangelicals around the doctrine of work, with Tom Nelson‘s Work Matters, Gene Veith’s work, Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavor and now your book. Why is this issue so important?

Hardworking, everyday Christians are tired of feeling like second-class citizens in the church.

Deep down, we know something is wrong with the paradigm that limits eternal significance to the short list of jobs we traditionally define as “ministry.”

Most of us earn our daily bread in the marketplace, not in religious ministry. If we assume that only acts of “ministry” (teaching Sunday school, witnessing, etc.) are significant to God, then we live two separate lives. We live a sliver of life that makes a difference in eternity, but everything else we do, the great bulk of life, has no eternal value—or worse, it’s a necessary evil.

As we become accustomed to living two separate lives, our faith gradually loses all relevance to our weekday lives. Church is church; work is work. We navigate between two unrelated spheres, two value systems, two moral codes. We begin to confine our faith to that sliver of time we spend doing “religious stuff.” The rest of the time—the great bulk of the time—our faith is off duty. It sits on the sidelines, unconsidered and unexpressed.

Now, at last, theologians, pastors, and authors are pushing back against this paradigm. We are trying to articulate the robust biblical doctrine of work. It’s a doctrine that gives extraordinary significance to the work of truckers and accountants and homemakers. Millions of people are discovering that Jesus Christ is Lord of all seven days of the week—not just Sunday.

You talk about a class system in the church where missionaries and pastors are “really serving the Lord” and lay people are sort of “walking wallets” to fund God’s work ,but whose daily job has no significance. How does this view conflict with God’s mission?

If we were all pastors and missionaries, the human race would starve to death. So we must ask: Did the sovereign God of the universe create a cruel game of musical chairs, where 90 percent of us must work in meaningless jobs so that 10 percent of us can work in significant jobs—ministry jobs? The absurdity of this class system is self-evident.

We make little of God and much of religion when we claim that only pastors and missionaries are serving the Lord with their work.

God’s mission is bigger than our job titles. And he doesn’t play cruel little games with significance.

His mission encompasses far more than simply preaching and witnessing. We see this when we read the rest of the Bible. The Bible begins and ends with creation. Our God is the Creator and Ruler of all things, and he made us in his image. We reflect his glory and character when we create things, when we fill the earth and subdue it, when we tend it—when we work!

How can pastor’s empower the laity to find purpose and mission in their daily work?

Talk about it with their congregations. It’s that simple. Oh, sure, there are many other things a pastor can do. But most pastors need to take the giant first step of initiating the conversation.

Surveys repeatedly tell us that pastors almost never preach or talk about everyday marketplace work—the activity that consumes the greatest portion of the congregation’s time and energy, the activity that puts them in direct contact with the world. This creates a huge disconnect between the heavenly bliss of Sunday and the gritty reality of Monday.

What about parenting? How can Christian families instill a sense of significance and worth in the everyday work life?

My grandmother was awesome, the coolest granny in California—she loved parasailing and polar bear swims, and she loved Jesus Christ.

But one day she told us, “My greatest hope is that all of you will grow up to serve the Lord as missionaries and pastors.”

She meant well. But her words dumped a crushing load of expectation into the heart of a kid who desperately wanted to please his parasailing granny. My dad wisely pulled me aside and corrected grandma’s well-meaning, but misguided, intentions. So no damage was done in my case. But what if my dad had agreed with her?

Parents and grandparents: guard your tongues! Do you carelessly imply that pastors are more significant than truckers? Do you imply that CEO’s are more successful than carpenters? Ouch! I preach and write on these topics, yet I easily fall into this trap. This is tough; we must steadfastly guard our tongues, as well as our hearts.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from your book?

I passionately hope the reader will lay hold of—will live, breathe, trust, know, and utterly experience—the life-giving freedom of the gospel. I want him or her to see how the gospel gives extraordinary value to their regular, everyday work—and to their lives.

Because of Jesus Christ, our undiscovered gifts, our unapplauded work, our forgotten names, and our unsung lives all matter. They matter to God. They matter for his glory. They’ll be part of his masterpiece for all eternity—and oh, what an astonishing, breathtaking wonder it will be!

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