JBF Tips & Tricks for New Shoppers

This week is one of my very favorite things is happening: the semi-annual Just Between Friends consignment sale.

JBF is a well-organized, one week used kids’ sale where people can buy gently used clothes, toys, books, baby gear, and tons more at 50-90% off the retail price, but it’s also a chance for families to make a little bit of extra money selling the things that their children no longer want or need.

I love being able to sell my old stuff to moms who need it more than I do, but I also love the bargains I find on stuff for my kids. My mother-in-law were talking about this the other day, and she, being a super savvy sale shopper, insisted that I could find comparable bargains on brand-new clothes during big sales, and she’s probably right.

But to me, participating in JBF is about so much more than saving money.

It’s about making sure the dollars I am spending are going directly into the pockets of moms like me. It’s about eliminating manufacturing and landfill waste by making sure that clothes are really and truly worn out before they get tossed. And it’s about the discipline of making room for new things before I go out and buy them, and even then, only buying what I truly need. This year, for the first time ever, my kids are electing to sell some of their own toys so they can earn money to buy the things they really want, and I’ve encouraged them to do so.

Can you tell that I really love JBF? If you have kids (or grandkids! or friends with kids!) I highly recommend that you check out this sale. But if you’ve never been before, the amount of stuff that is for sale can be a little overwhelming. If you’re new to JBF, here are a few strategies that I have found to be extremely valuable when I shop:

1. Know what you have (and what you need)

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There is nothing more frustrating than spending money on a good deal on long sleeved shirts for your 5-year-old, and coming home to find that he already has plenty, and that it was your 3-year-old who needed the shirts. I know it’s only August, but take an hour or two, pull out your kids’ winter clothes, figure out what still fits and what needs to be replaced, that way you aren’t wasting your time shopping for things your kids already have.

This year, my kids are already mostly set when it comes to basic clothing items, but what they really need are accessory items: jackets, shoes, hats, etc. I snapped the pictures of above of what will comprise the bulk of their fall wardrobes so I can be sure that I’m not buying a hoodie that they’ll never wear because it doesn’t match anything.

2. Take your kids’ measurements

If you shop at the same store all the time, you probably know what sizes fit your kids. But since JBF is a consignment sale, all kinds of brands of clothing will be available, and sizing is extremely inconsistent. At the last JBF sale, I found 3 different t-shirts all labeled 5T, one of which fit my small-for-his-age 3-year-old, one of which almost fit me, and one that fit my son who actually wears 5T-sized clothes on a regular basis. So it can be valuable to have kids’ measurements with you as you shop, especially for items that you really need.

What this means for me is that this afternoon, when Caleb gets home from school, I will make both my boys stand on a piece of cardstock so I trace their little feet and take their actual foot size with me to the sale. If you really need jeans, you might want to measure their inseam, and bring a small measuring tape with you, or cut a length of ribbon as long as you need their pants to be.

3. Don’t buy the first thing you see

Give yourself plenty of time to shop, and if you can, go through the whole section of items you’re shopping in. Maybe you found the perfect pair Batman jammies, and they’re only $4. Yay! Grab them, but keep looking because there’s a chance another consignor has the exact same pair of jammies a little farther down the rack for $2.

Every sale I’ve been at, I’ve seen identical items, sometimes in identical shape, but with difference prices. Without fail, exercising patience and diligence while I shop has been rewarded.

The Springfield JBF sale is at Remington’s on Republic Rd., and opens to the public Wednesday, although some folks get to shop early (See here if you qualify.) And if you’re not in the Springfield area, you can see if there’s one near you here.

Happy shopping!

What We’re Talking About When We Sing Christian Songs: Fire Fall Down

One of the things we sing a lot, at least in evangelical circles, is for fire to fall down, or for God to send his fire. In fact, we sang this Matt Redman song, “Here for You,” in our own church just a couple weeks ago, boldly voicing our desire: “God, let your fire fall down.”

If you look at this very literally, it seems like a crazy a thing to ask. I’m not sure any of us want God to send an actual fire into our church in the middle of one of our services (although that would be kind of cool.)

God did actually send literal fire down a number of times in the Bible. The time that comes most immediately to mind, at least for me, is Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth on Mt. Carmel. Israel had embraced idol worship, and Elijah had prophesied a drought over the land as God’s judgment for their worship of the idol Baal (whom they believed provided them with rain, crops, and fertility). After three years, the land was dry and barren, and Elijah made king Ahab and his false prophets an offer: Let’s build sacrifices to our respective gods on the top of this mountain, but not light them. Whichever god answers our prayers with fire is the true God.

They accepted, so Israel gathered at Mt. Carmel to watch the showdown between this one man of God and the 850 prophets who served the nation’s idols.The false prophets went first and called out to Baal for hours. They wept and wailed, and even cut themselves in an attempt to get his attention, but to no avail.

Then Elijah took his turn. He repaired the altar of God, arranged the meat on it and then drenched the sacrifice with water. Now it was going to take a honest-to-goodness miracle for this thing to catch on fire. Elijah stepped forward, and prayed a simple prayer that demonstrated his absolute faith that God was able to do this:

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you,Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!'” (1 Kings 18:36-39, emphasis added).

Elijah asked, and God answered with fire. Not just any fire, either, a supernatural fire that burned up all the things we use to contain fire: water, soil, stones. It is this image that is often in my mind when I sing about fire falling down. But this is far from the only time that God sends fire in Scripture. God rained fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah. God sent a pillar of fire to guide the Israelites in the desert. God sent fire to consume the sacrifice when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem. And tongues of burning fire appeared over the heads of the believers in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

These are all instances of a literal fire coming down from the sky. And as I said before, I’m not sure that’s what we are asking for when we sing these songs. So what are we talking about? We should be careful to consider what the Scripture says about God and His fire.

So often, in the church, I think we equate fire with zeal, as in “being on fire for God,” and some nebulous feeling of being excited about God. But the fire of God is much bigger than that.

Want to hazard a guess at which book of the Bible mentions fire the most? It’s Leviticus, which is not a book we often enjoy reading or studying, but it can teach us a lot about what it really means to ask for God’s fire.

In the book of Leviticus, God’s fire meant a few different things, and they are a pattern for what fire means throughout the rest of the Bible.

Judgment

In Leviticus, the people of Israel frequently turn away from God by grumbling, complaining, losing faith, acting irreverently, and turning to idols. In these instances, God often judged people for their disobedience, and on more than one occasion, the Bible says that fire came out from the Lord and consumed people (Leviticus 10:1-2, Numbers 11:1-3). Through Christ, we are no longer stand accused of our sins, but for those who reject Him, the judgment that awaits them is often described with images of fire and burning (as in Mark 9:43).

Sacrifice

By far, the majority of references to fire in the book of Leviticus had to do with sacrifice. Leviticus is all about instructions for the priests in their duties, one of which was continually offering ritual sacrifices on the altar before the Lord. The fire on these altars was supposed to remain burning at all times. Those who loved God continued to make burnt offerings to God throughout the rest of the Old Testament, and as I mentioned before, there were several occasions when God sent fire from heaven to show his pleasure for a sacrifice his people offered to him (Leviticus 9:24, 1 Kings 18:38, 2 Chronicles 7:1).

Sacrifice looks a little different for New Testament believers. Jesus died once for the sins of the whole world. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t bring anything to offer to God; on the contrary, because God has done so much for us, we owe him everything. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer you bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Purity

Another primary way that fire was used in the book of Leviticus was for ceremonial purity. Because God is holy, and cannot abide where sin is, His people needed to be set-apart and clean. A large portion of the book of Leviticus talks about what makes a person unclean, and how the Israelites were to purify themselves. Things that had touched disease, bodily fluids, mold, or had been in foreign possession had to be purified also, and anything that could withstand fire was usually purified that way (as in Numbers 31:23).

In the New Testament, believers aren’t purified outwardly through ritual, but inwardly through obedience and submission to Christ. New Testament writers often remind us to be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances, because they often purify our faith and draw us nearer to God. Peter calls these “fiery trials” (1 Peter 4:12, ESV) and Paul teaches, “We also rejoice in our sufferings; because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

God’s Presence

To me, the most significant thing that fire represents in the Bible was the very presence of God. In Leviticus, when they were setting up the tabernacle, God signified that He was with his people by appearing in their midst as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that when God poured out His own spirit on New Testament believers that what they saw “seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3).

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Asking for God’s fire is a big thing, but for those of us who are serious about forsaking ourselves and following after Jesus, I think it’s a wonderful and appropriate thing for us to ask from God. We just need to be mindful that when we sing and pray “fire, fall down” we are not asking for a warm glow of affection for God. We are asking for his blazing, consuming, awesome presence. We are asking for God to come as rightful judge. We are asking for Him to look with pleasure on the meager offerings we bring before Him. And we are asking for God to draw near to us in His fullness and to burn up everything in our lives that is displeasing to him so that we can know Him more and walk in closer step with Him.

Recommended Reading: Back to School

I cannot believe it’s that time of the year already. Ozark starts Kindergarten in LESS THAN A WEEK. We have the school supplies and the backpack, the lunch box and the water bottle. We are going grocery shopping this weekend for school lunch food. So I am prepared, but I am so not ready. You know what I mean?

But I do love this time of year. Even though I’m not in school anymore myself, something about the fall makes it easy to embrace routine, tackle difficult projects, or learn something new. A lot of the books I’ve read recently are absolutely perfect for this time of the year, whether you’re looking for a great novel or a really interesting piece of non-fiction.

At the Water’s Edge – This is a new one by the author of Water for Elephants. The story is extremely compelling, especially if you like WW2 novels or are intrigued by the idea of the Loch Ness Monster.

The Invention of Wings – I don’t know why it took me so long to get to this. It’s a novel, but it’s based on a true story about a little-known woman who was a major part of the early abolition movement. Another home run by Sue Monk Kid (also the author of The Secret Life of Bees).

To Kill a Mockingbird – If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past two months, you probably know that Harper Lee just released a brand-new book about Scout when she’s all grown up. It’s been met with mixed reviews, but a lot of people are saying it’s important anyway. If you’re thinking of reading it, might I suggest reading To Kill A Mockingbird first? If you’ve never read it, it’s more than worth your time, but even if you read it in high school, it’s worth the re-read. I realized, as I was reading this again this summer, that my freshman year of high school when I read it before was literally half my life ago. My perspective on Lee’s characters and message has changed a whole lot in that time.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – I have only recently realized that I am an introvert. I found this book helpful and fascinating. Did you know that people who are introverted, and likely more sensitive to their environments physically have thinner skin than their extroverted peers?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma – I love Michael Pollan’s work, and this book was no exception. He explores the route of food through the industrial food chain, but also delves into the worlds of organic farming and hunting. If you like knowing about where your food comes from, this is an excellent read.

 

Of course, you may not be quite ready to tackle my back-to-school reading list. It’s still quite warm outside, the pool is still calling, and you need something to read. I get it. The lazy days of summer seem to me more ideally suited to fast-paced, easy-to-read engrossing stories that you can finish in a weekend. (In fact, my summer ideal is a two-book weekend.) If you’re not quite ready to give up your summer, here’s what I recommend:

Royal Wedding – I unashamedly love the Princess Diaries series. This installment is written for adults, about Mia as an adult. It falls squarely in the “chick lit” category, and is an easy, fun read.

All Fall Down – Grace, the main character in this book, returns to the European embassy where her grandfather is an ambassador following her mother’s death. It’s clear that there were some traumatic events that led up to this, and you’ll spend the entire book trying to piece them together. If you liked last year’s We Were Liars, you will enjoy this book. And that’s all I’m going to say.

Rapunzel Untangled – Nominated for the year’s Truman Choice award, this book reimagines the story of Rapunzel in a modern, non-magical context. What if someone kidnapped a baby and keep her locked up in a tower for 16 years? What would that look like today?

The Bookseller – I picked this up off the new shelf at the library, and was so intrigued by the jacket description I decided to check it out. Katherine wakes up, alternately, in two different lives every time she goes to sleep. Which life is the dream? Which is real? I couldn’t put this book down.

The Girl on the Train – No one quite expected this book to the be breakout bestseller it’s become over the last several months, but it’s clear why it’s so popular. The story is so intriguing: Rachel, an alcoholic who rides the train every day, has had a vantage point into the lives of a couple whose home is along the tracks, even though she doesn’t really know them. When the woman goes missing, Rachel is sure she can help figure out what happened. Disclaimer: this one is a little intense, suspense-wise, and with regards to some of the things the characters do and say, but if you’re looking for a chilling mystery, this book is worth your time.

What We’re Talking About When We Sing Christian Songs: Introduction

Worship

When I was in college, I was part of an on-campus Christian organization. As we grew we did a lot of things, but the way we got started was through a weekly evening of worship at one of the fraternity houses, of all places. (Actually, it was the one with the worst reputation. Isn’t is just like God to reach into a place of darkness and shine brilliant light?)

Eventually, we had this idea to bring in Christian artists and host a concert for them, giving them all of the proceeds, if they would agree to come and lead our worship night, where anyone could attend free of charge.

Thinking back on this as an adult, I am astounded we got anyone to come. I can’t imagine those concerts were very lucrative for these artists. We were a small school and our biggest auditorium didn’t hold much of an audience to speak of, especially not if these artists were used to playing in big arena.

But they must have seen our hearts or something, because some people came anyway, and led worship for us like we had asked.

One of those nights, Todd Agnew came. I had heard his songs on the radio and was excited to hear him play for us, both at the concert and at our worship night, which was first. I had a really full schedule that semester, and hadn’t been around when some of my friends picked him up at the airport and got him settled at our school’s bed-and-breakfast-type inn. We had decided to have the worship night at the old cathedral on campus, because we were expecting a larger crowd than we typically had on an average Monday at the fraternity house.

I had come from work and got there just as it was starting. I expected to see Todd Agnew up on stage, but the only stage lights that had been turned on were the ones behind him, outlining only a vague silhouette of a man on a guitar.

“Tonight isn’t about me,” he said. “It’s about the Lord.”

And he proceeded to teach us about worship. He pointed to Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4, where Jesus tells her that the kind of worshipers the Lord seeks are those who worship in spirit and in truth. Todd challenged us: how often do we sing words we don’t understand or words we don’t mean? If God wants people worshiping Him in truth, are we doing that?

Those questions have stuck with me all these years, and I return to them often, evaluating the way I sing when I sing to the Lord and the lyrics of the songs I’m singing to Him. My favorite songs contain rich imagery and language taken directly from the Bible. But I also love songs that force me to stop and ask, “Do I really mean that?” Is God’s grace alone really enough for me? Would I really follow Him anywhere? Do I even know what I’m asking when I ask to see God’s face?

Lately it seems a lot of other people have been asking those same questions, particularly as it applies to the Hillsong United song, “Oceans.” The lyrics to the bridge of this song say, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders/Let me walk upon the waters/Wherever you would call me/Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander/And my faith will be made stronger/In the presence of my Savior.”

That is a big thing to ask. And a lot of other people in Christian circles have been pointing this out, and asking us, do we mean it? (I would contend, that if we are call Jesus Lord, we should be praying these things. There is no way to follow Him halfway, but that’s another post for another day.) I am glad that “Oceans” has sparked those questions for people

But “Oceans” isn’t the only song we should be applying those questions towards. We should be asking questions of every song we profess to sing to God. We should be asking:

  • What does it mean?
  • Is it biblical?
  • Do I mean it?

I can’t answer that last question for you, but I can help with the first two. Studying worship lyrics has always fascinated me. As a teenager, I loved reading a passage of scripture and realizing it was the inspiration for a song I liked. And as I’ve gotten older, I have intentionally sought out the history and meanings behind songs that are a part of our tradition, from the most contemporary worship songs to the oldest hymns.

I want to start sharing some of that information here. It’s so easy to get caught up in lyrics that sound good, or that are set to a nice melody. I’m guilty of that as much as the next person. So I thought we could spend a little time together examining the things we say in Christian songs, and what it really means to say to those words to our Lord, so stay tuned.

But in the meantime, would you do this with me? Next time you go to church and sing worship songs, would you read the lyrics before you start singing–I mean really read them? Start asking yourself the questions above. What do these words mean? Do these words line up with the truth in the Bible, to the best of your knowledge? And most importantly, do you mean them?

Our summer Sabbath

It’s been quiet here for a while, and that has been on purpose.

This summer has been unreal and different than any I’ve had yet.

Jason and I have been blessed by our church leadership with a four-week Sabbatical during the month of July. This followed on the heels of the most busy and intense month, work-wise, I have had since Caleb was born. I spent June helping with what is essentially a day camp for Assemblies of God missionary kids. Because I was working, my kids got to participate. While I snuggled babies, my boys visited the zoo, the park, the pool, the Discovery Center, and learned so, so much about what it means to be a missionary family, even though we aren’t one. It was crazy busy, but so much fun, and such a wonderful growing experience for my kids.

My last day with the MK program was a Saturday. We had church Sunday, and spent the final couple days of June getting our ducks in a row for a month-long absence from church. And then, all of a sudden, we were off. For a whole month. What would we do with ourselves? We weren’t entirely sure.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture right now is Hebrews 4, where God speaks (through whoever wrote this small, wonderful book) about Sabbath-rest. I wrote about this passage a while back, when we were in Hebrews in our church-wide Bible reading plan, and the words of Hebrews have stuck with me all this long time. I find myself mulling over them still. The chapter begins, “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” 

Bible scholars are not entirely sure about what rest this is talking about – whether that is the eternal rest of heaven or rest from striving to earn our own salvation through works here on earth. There’s a chance (and this is what I believe) that it’s referring to both. Of course it’s easier to see how we have to trust in God to get into heaven, something we can neither see nor touch, nor really even fully comprehend.  It’s much harder, I’m finding, to live out what it means to rest in God in the here and now. I know in my head that only Jesus saves, but so often I live like for someone to come to know Christ in one of our services it takes the Holy Spirit and me getting all the power point slides up at the right moment.

Taking four weeks away from our church has forced us to come to grips with the fact that what God does in our church is up to Him and not to us, and relies on His efforts, not ours. We still believe He wants to do saving and sanctifying work in Ozark. And we still believe that by His grace, He wants us to play a small part in that. But I think from here on out, we will do more resting and waiting for Him to move instead of forging ahead on our own; letting in more silence and stillness as we allow Him time to do what He will, instead of filling silence with noise and the stillness with activity because it makes us feel awkward to slow and rest.

However awkward it is at times, we need stillness and rest. God reminds us of this all the time with commandments about the Sabbath. And if that weren’t enough, He bound our spirits up in physical bodies that have limitations, including, and very importantly, our need to stop and rest every single day. Sleep is so important that we cannot survive more than a week or two without it. Sleep deprivation is even used as a torture technique in some places.

So we rest.

We wait on God, we do what He tells us, and then we rest.

An entire month of resting has been weird and wonderful for our family. What this looked like for us, practically speaking, was:

  • Going places and doing fun things as a family, like blueberry picking, trips to the theatre, visiting the zoo, and going hiking. We really wanted to treasure these last days before Caleb becomes a big, school boy.
  • Reading a bunch (I’ll post soon about the great books I’ve enjoyed this summer).
  • Surprisingly, cleaning the kitchen really well every single day. It’s a chore I usually avoid, and leaning into it, and seeing the finished results was so much more restful and encouraging than I ever would have imagined.
  • Journaling more than I have since I was a teenager–I think I filled half a journal this month alone.
  • Having friends over to eat and play games. We do this a lot anyway, but realizing we want to do it even on “vacation” makes me want to incorporate it into our schedule more, even if it takes a little extra planning to do so.
  • And talking, talking, talking, talking, talking. We talked with friends. We talked with each other. We talked with people who give us wise counsel. And of course, we spent a lot of time talking with God. Talking through questions, hurts, fears, problems, hopes and dreams has been difficult at times, but cathartic for us, and I’m glad we’ve had time and space to do it.

What it didn’t look like was checking our email. Jason stayed off Facebook for the most part, too, and I probably should have followed his lead on that. Whatever else Facebook is, it isn’t very restful, and it doesn’t help me place my hope in God and wait on Him. I’m going to try to figure out what it looks like for me moving forward, and how to use it wisely. But I don’t have any answers yet.

It’s been a good month, but it’s only been a month. I’m a work in progress. And thanks be to God, even though it’s slow going, He hasn’t given up on me, and He has promised not to ever do so. Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope you get some time, in these last few weeks of summer, to pause for a moment or a few hours or a few days and rest in the Lord. He holds the whole earth together. He can hold us together, even when we lay down our work for a little while.

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:9-16

Our Passover dinner

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This is my oldest son, sitting across from me at the dinner table on Thursday night.

The night before, we had read in our Bible the story of how God has rescued his people from the hands of the Egyptians by sending ten plagues. The last plague, the death of the firstborn, passed over the Israelites, because each household had slaughtered a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their home. When the destroyer visited Egypt that night, he saw the blood of the lamb, and did not come for theirs. Afterward, they would always remember that night, and celebrate their deliverance as the Passover.

When I tucked Caleb into bed after the story, he quietly asked, “Mommy, could we have a Passover sometime?”

I said, “Sure. How about we have one tomorrow?”

So on Thursday, we went to the store and bought costly lamb, bitter herbs, and whole wheat flour. We spent the rest of the day cooking and cleaning, making preparations for our Passover. The boys were so excited. We found a recipe for roast lamb and got it into the oven. They helped me make bread without yeast and pierce it full of holes. We mashed up potatoes and chopped some apples and raisins. We even painted sheets of paper red and taped them to the trim around our doors. WP_20150402_003[2]WP_20150402_001[2]WP_20150402_015[1]

When it was ready, Jason and I sat down to eat our meal with our little disciples, just as Jesus had done with his on the Thursday of Easter week so many hundreds of years ago. We talked with them about what the elements of our meal meant to the Israelites, and what they meant to us as people who believed in and followed Jesus. We talked about the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai, and the new covenant God made with us through the body and blood of Jesus. We ate the bread and drank the grape juice and proclaimed the death of our Lord together.

And I sat across the table from my Caleb, my firstborn son, I was overwhelmed by the weight of what God has done for us. I thought about all those Israelite mommas, sitting down to that first passover dinner with their boys, and how thankful they must have been when their sons were spared from the plague. And I thought about God in heaven, who did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us, to be sacrificed like a lamb.

I still have the red taped to my doors. I think the boys like seeing their handiwork on display like that, but I love it even more for its constant reminder to me: the lamb died instead of us. The lamb of God, God’s best priceless gift to us, was offered up for our sake. God’s judgment has passed over us, and he has made a way for us to leave the bondage of sin, and go to the glorious mountain where his presence dwells.

And as I sit here in the not-quite-light wee hours of Easter morning, I am reminded of one more amazing truth: the lamb that died–Jesus–could not be held by the cords of death. On a morning much like this one, a grieving momma who did watch her boy die went to tomb where he was buried, and heard the greatest news the world has ever been given: He has risen! He is not here. (Mark 16:6)

The lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world is alive, forevermore.

Happy Easter.

The Epidemic of Immature Believers

Jason and I had a rare date night recently, and when we ended up with a little time before our dinner reservations, we popped in to a local Christian bookstore to look around. As a reader, I love browsing bookstores. On this particular occasion, I spotted several books I wanted to add to my reading list.

But I also spotted a lot of books that (based on the titles) seemed to me to be missing the point. Jason and I have often wondered what a foreigner or alien would think the church believed if they simply judged us on the books we buy and sell. As I walked through the aisles, I started to worry that they would perceive a church that is weak and powerless, so consumed with our own needs and self-esteem that we constantly battle the same issues, and never become effective agents of God’s mission in the world.

The writer of the book of Hebrews had the same concerns for the people of Israel who had turned to Christ:

“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14

Are you an infant? Or are you a mature Christian?

Sadly, may of us in America are “grown up,” in that we’ve been serving Christ a long time, but we have not yet reached maturity. Like it says in Hebrews, we should be teachers, but we need someone to teach us the basics over and over again. In his book, Cultivating a Life for God, Neil Cole says this about the current state of the church:

“We are the most biblically privileged generation in all of human history! We have more Bible translations, helpful study tools and mountains of scholarly information than any previous generation in all of human history. Nevertheless, we are also the most biblically illiterate generation this nation has ever seen. In other parts of the world and in other [times], people willingly gave their lives for free access to God’s word, yet her in the Western world many of us have several unread volumes in a variety of translations collecting dust on the shelf” (p. 64).

And later:

“Most of us would be ashamed if compared the amount of books, magazines and newspaper articles we have poured into our minds with the amount of God’s word we have invested into our souls. Doesn’t that tell us that we really value the world’s philosophies more than God’s?” (p. 87).

That’s the heart of the issue right there. How we spend our time reveals our priorities. And I’m not exempting myself from this scrutiny, either. I am appalled at my own heart’s willingness to set aside God’s word for the words of the most popular Christian author, or even for a few hours of reading a bestselling novel or watching television. I don’t have a lot of solutions, other than to say that we need to set those things aside and pick up our Bibles instead.

Practically speaking, for my own life, what this has looked like recently is to camp out in a single passage of Scripture, instead of taking in more and more and more without actually applying it to my life. I have read Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) nine times this week, and I am still so far from really truly grasping what Jesus is asking of me. The Bible is comprised of 66 books, and these three short chapters are such a small fraction of that. And yet, look at all the many things Jesus commands in this sermon:

  • Let your light shine before men. (5:16)
  • Teach God’s commandments to others. (5:19)
  • Be more righteous than the Pharisees. (5:20)
  • Devote yourself to reconciliation with fellow believers, to the point that you would be willing to interrupt a worship service at church to make things right with someone who was upset with you. (5:23)
  • Cut anything out your life if it causes you to sin. (5:29)
  • Be so true to your word that it is unnecessary for you to make promises or swear oaths. (5:37)
  • Be overly generous to people who seek to take advantage of you. (5:40)
  • Love and pray for people you do not like. (5:44)
  • Give to the needy, but not so as to be recognized for your generosity. (6:2)
  • Pray faithfully, but not so that people will think you are very spiritual. (6:5)
  • Fast, but don’t draw attention to yourself while you’re fasting. (6:17)
  • Store up treasures in heaven, not on earth. (6:20)
  • Don’t worry about your food or clothes. (6:25)
  • Judge other people with the same standard you would use for yourself. (7:2)
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated. (7:12)

I don’t know about you, but I could strive for the rest of my life just to live out the truths listed here. And it’s important to remember that these truths are meant to literally change our lives. Jesus shares this right at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27)

I want to be wise. I want the things I build during this life to stand. I want them to be built on a firm foundation. And after taking an honest look at these three chapters, I recognize that I have a long way to go. I wondered last night – what if I just kept reading these three chapters until my life started to look a little more like what Jesus is describing here? What if I continued to meditate on this passage alone until I saw fruit of it in my life?

I’m not saying I would ever get it perfectly, and it’s only by God’s grace and through His work in us that we are able to become more like Him. And of course, I want my study of God’s word to be balanced and comprehensive. But neither do I want to glibly assume that I am already being obedient to everything Jesus asks of me here, because I know that is not the case. So I’m going to keep hanging out with the crowds who gathered to hear Jesus speak on the mountainside. I’m going to lean in close, and let his words change me.

And I challenge you to do the same. Spend some time next week reading and rereading a single passage of Scripture. It doesn’t have to be the Sermon on the Mount. It could be the book of James. Or Hebrews 10-12. Or the letters to the churches in Asia in Revelation 2-3. All Scripture is God-breathed. But whatever you pick, don’t just read it once and let it go in one ear and out the other. Dwell in the words of God, covering yourself in their truth, and reminding yourself over and over again what He says.

Let’s not be a church of immature believers. Instead, let’s really read God’s Word, aiming not to acquire knowledge, but to transform our minds and conform ourselves to the image of Christ.