The Tragic Loss of the Gospel

One of the biggest questions we need to answer to find the true meaning of the Gospel is, “Why did Jesus come into the world?” Ultimately, we know that He came to die and to be raised again because that was God’s eternal plan.  But we also see from Jesus’ own words that He came to call sinners to repentance.  John MacArthur sums it up well in his book The Gospel According to Jesus:  “Why did Jesus come into the world?  To call sinners – those who know they have a terminal disease, those who are hopeless and desperate, those who are hurting, those who are hungry and thirsty, those who are weak and weary, those who are broken, those whose lives are shattered – sinners who know they are unworthy yet long to be forgiven.”

Sadly, many have lost sight of this, and sometimes, this can result in incredibly disturbing, angering, sickening, heartbreaking and tragic results like in this video.

 

This “pastor” shows a disdain for God and His Word and for the people that are involved, and, ultimately for the Gospel itself.  He was willing to allow this church to die in order to please a few people rather than upholding the Truths of God’s Word.  He shows an incredible immaturity by swearing from the pulpit, and shows an extreme lack of Biblical knowledge and understanding, and an extreme lack of understanding of the Gospel.  And my heart breaks for him and for those he has short-changed.  MacArthur continues the idea of why Jesus came into the world:

“The truth is that unless people realize they have a sin problem, they will not come to Christ for a solution.  People do not come for healing unless they know they have a disease; they do not come for live unless they are conscious that they are under the penalty of death; they do not come for salvation unless they are weary of the bondage of sin.

Thus Jesus came to expose us all as sinners.  That is why His message was so penetrating, so forceful.  It tore our self-righteousness away and exposed our evil hearts, so that we might see ourselves as sinners.

…those who think they are good enough – those who do not understand the seriousness of sin – cannot respond to the Gospel.  They cannot be saved, for the Gospel is a call to sinners to repent and be forgiven.

No one who neglects to call sinners to repentance is preaching the Gospel according to Jesus.  Our Lord came to save sinners.  But to those who are unwilling to admit their sin, He has nothing to say – except to pronounce judgment.”

 

Sadly, this pastor doesn’t seem to have a grasp on this.  Instead, he essentially asks like a skeptic why he should listen to a 2,000 year old book to tell him how to love others (sounds like he’s been listening too much to Rob Bell).  Fortunately, it seems that many in this congregation were more wise to the Truths of Scripture than their pastor, and, “after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10).  What this pastor did reeks of the Enemy who comes to steal, kill and destroy.  He stole the Truth of the Gospel from his congregation, killed the faith of some of them and ultimately, destroyed that church.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident.  Many are giving up the authority of God’s Word, which has been questioned from the beginning by the Enemy.  “Did God really say…” is behind each challenge to Scripture and the question continues to come up in the same ways it has throughout the history of God’s Word.  The Word of God has withstood every test thrown at it.  The trends have come and gone and this one will be no different.  But the Word of God and the Truths of Scripture will remain the same and will stand firm just as they always have.  It’s time we got back to preaching the Gospel according to Jesus!  But, as always, we must do so in an attitude of humility, thankfulness, love and compassion.  Many don’t understand that to truly love someone is to warn them of God’s coming judgment on those who refuse to repent.  They instead think the loving thing to do is to affirm people in their sin and encourage them to live as they please, but nothing could be further from the truth.

My point in saying all of this is not to bash anyone.  My heart truly breaks for those who question God’s Word and lead others astray because of it.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey My commandments.” So if we truly love Jesus and others, it will drastically change our lives so that we will not be able to help but want to obey Him.  Will we stumble?  Sure, all the time.  But we will never live in a constant state of rebellion against what He has clearly laid out in His Word.

Much love in the Truth!

 

 

Jesus was Exclusive

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything.  I usually write to process something, share something exciting or write about something that is weighing heavy on my heart.

Right now, what is weighing most heavy on my heart, and what I feel God prompting me to say something about is, in a sense, idolatry.  We can make idols of many things, but one of the most dangerous yet most subtle things we do is make false versions of God.  So many people interpret Scripture based on how they feel.  When we do that, we deny, twist and misinterpret certain aspects of Scripture, and consequently God’s character.  Scripture warns us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Beware2

What should be happening is we should be allowing Scripture to change the way we feel about ourselves and about God.  Instead of reading into Scripture who we think God should be and our own pre-conceived notions, we should be seeking to know God for who He really is as He has revealed Himself in His Word, and humbly accepting and embracing the Truth and allowing it to change our lives as we stand in awe of who God really is.  The only way to be able to do that is to know and embrace Jesus Christ as the Sovereign God of all creation and the only Savior for the world, and thus of your life.  And this cannot leave you unchanged.

Blog Obeying Christ

Unfortunately, the Jesus that many embrace today is a soft-spoken, all inclusive guy who would never tell anyone how to live, who wants to bless everyone who says his name with health and wealth and would certainly never tell anyone that they are going to Hell if they don’t embrace Him as Lord.  It is true that Jesus called all kinds of people to be His disciples, and still does today.  He calls people from all kinds of races, ethnicities and backgrounds.  But He changes people’s lives to be conformed to His image!  He takes them as they are if they come broken before Him, and molds them and makes them into who He wants them to be.  They can’t do it on their own and they have to realize that.  All are invited to “‘Come.’ Let anyone who hears this say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life” (Revelation 22:17), but not all will accept that invitation.  Jesus was really clear about what will happen to those who don’t accept His invitation.  He clearly explains that at the end of time, they will be gathered and thrown into a fiery furnace (the Lake of Fire) where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:36-42, 47-50).

David Platt

Sadly, many even within the Church believe that if you live a good enough life, Jesus will accept you.  But the Jesus of Scripture was actually very selective about the kinds of people who could follow Him.  He said things like “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30), and “…then I will declare to them (those who call Him Lord, but don’t obey Him), ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’”(Matt.7:23).  Elsewhere in Scripture, there are several passages which proclaim the exclusivity of Jesus’ message; among which is Acts 4:12: “And there is Salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we MUST be saved” (emphasis mine).

The Old Testament even refutes the idea that any amount of works can save us with passages like Isaiah 64:6: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” In other words, every “good” thing we do is tainted by some sort of selfish motive.  And, of course, passages that tell us that we aren’t even good at all, like: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12, Psalm 14:3 and 53:3 all carry the same idea).

Blog Costly Discipleship

The Jesus of Scripture told would be followers that if they loved their families more than Him, they couldn’t be His disciples.  He spoke out against sin, turned over tables in the temple of a false religion (it became false because of the fact that it lost sight of the intent of the Law), claimed to be THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life and that no one could come to the Father except through Him and, most importantly, He claimed to be God!  The Jesus of Scripture spoke a ton about Hell and judgement, and will one day return to judge unrepentant sinners.

I don’t think the Jesus of Scripture would be very well received if He Himself were on earth today preaching the same message He preached then.  He wasn’t well received in His own day.  I think He would be crucified all over again.  He would be called “narrow-minded,” “crazy” and even “Satan” just like He was then.  He told His disciples that they would be called the same names He was called, be treated the way He was treated, and that some of them would even be killed for speaking His Truth, and many still are today.  He said that when you mistreat one of His followers, you are mistreating Him (Matthew 25:41-46, John 15:18-25).

The Gospel of Jesus is exclusive, yet there are an alarming number of professing Christians who are beginning to buy into the lie that all religions lead to God.  Even more alarming is that there are many leaders within the Church that are questioning the Word of God now the way the Serpent did in the Garden.  “Are we really to believe that the only way for people to get into Heaven is by holding to a certain set of beliefs about God, and that people spend eternity in Hell because they didn’t make a right decision with a small amount of time they had on earth?” is the line of thinking.  And to an extent, they are right.  It’s so much more than just holding to a certain set of beliefs.  Belief is essential for salvation, but that belief must be genuine, from the heart; and it must change your life!

Beware

Jesus warns everyone to “Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” and that “…the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14).  But He does tell us what it takes to be His disciple.  One of the best passages for this is the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12.

First, we have to become “Poor in spirit.” This means that we must come to an understanding that we have nothing to offer God and are completely dependent on His Grace to be able to be made right with Him.  This will lead to “mourning” over our sin and the ways in which we have offended God.  That should “humble” us and cause us to “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

We have to be “merciful” because we have been shown great mercy.  The one who shows no mercy will receive none (James 2:13).  All of these things will help us to become “pure in heart” because, as God works in our lives, our thoughts become more conformed to His and He is able to overcome our deceitful hearts more and more.

Being a “peacemaker” should then characterize our lives.  Paul says in Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” In the end, that comes down to repaying evil with good, and not avenging ourselves.  But at the same time, Jesus warned us that people would persecute us because they did it to Him.  He even went as far as to say: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).  When we speak Christ’s message, it is naturally going to cause people to hate us because they resent the fact that there is only one way to God.  And, as Jesus warned later in that passage, it may even mean that our own family members turn against us.  Our response should be to continue to show them love and, even more importantly, to pray for them to come to Christ!

Beware of Coexist

I hope that as you have read this post, it has been encouraging, and yet convicting.  It certainly has been for me as I’ve written it.  My biggest prayer is that we as believers will take Scripture seriously and as it is.  It takes a lot of discipline on our part, but it also takes the Grace of God to help us to see the Truth for what it is.  That is my prayer for myself, and it is my prayer for you as well!

Grace, love and peace in the Truth!

Why are Christians and Churches Caving in to Lies?

This guy pretty much says it all.  Not much need for me to add more.  I will, however add that I believe that the reason so many churches are caving in to the pressures of society and beginning to accept and participate in things like gay marriage is because it’s far easier to do that than to begin preaching Biblically.

They hear the cries of ‘foul’ from the culture saying “why do you only condemn homosexuality and not the rampant divorce rates and sexual immorality within the Church?  Why do you not deal with gluttony and covetousness??”  And these churches are seeing that they have a point, and instead of turning to Scripture and the preaching of the Truth on these things, they are giving in because they think, “If we start preaching from the Bible (against these things), we are going to scare off over half of our members.  We won’t have a youth group anymore because we know that most of them are sleeping around, and they would leave.  We have a lot of people who are getting divorced for far less that Biblical reasons and who are co-inhabiting with their significant other outside of marriage, so if we begin to preach that these things are wrong, we will lose a lot of our members.”

The sad reality is, they reveal that they don’t believe the Bible and they don’t trust God to take care of them for standing up for the Truth.  They are more afraid of losing numbers and money, so they begin preaching the false gospel of acceptance.  After all, we all struggle with sin and Jesus said not to judge, right?  They show their lack of knowledge of Scripture in failing to see that we are to make proper judgments about sin among those who name themselves believers.

We are, of course, supposed to speak the Truth in love and with gentleness and humility, but if we truly love God and others, we won’t allow them to continue to do things that grieve the heart of God and hurt themselves and others.  We are to encourage one another to love and good works, which is one of the main purposes of the Church.  The Church is for believers, not the world.  We are to go out into the world and change the world, not let the world’s philosophies come in and change the Church.  I pray God’s grace and mercy upon these churches who are caving to the demands of society and that He will continue to bring people out of these sinful lifestyles and into a glorious and freeing relationship with Him!

Sin is Like AIDS (Another way to Explain the Gospel)

I’ve always kind of struggled with the idea that Adam’s one sin ruined us all and made us all sinners.  It doesn’t seem fair does it?  I mean, one person ruled the fate of all mankind just by eating a piece of fruit?

Over the years I’ve come to understand that the sin committed by Adam was much worse than just eating a piece of fruit.  He wanted to be like God, which is why he gave in to the Serpent’s lie when he told them that they would be like God if they ate the fruit.  Adam was also supposed to be the protector of his wife and he just stood by as she was being tricked and then he took of the fruit himself.  Have you ever noticed that their eyes were not opened until after Adam ate of the fruit, even though he ate after Eve did?  Just something to think about.

I believe that God has helped me to see a better way to understand what happened in Eden and what is happening now with an illustration.  When Adam took on the disease of sin by taking of that fruit, he took on a disease that would spread to all of his offspring.

We are facing a disease today that is very similar to the disease of sin.  AIDS is a result of sexual immorality and generally is contracted when sexual immorality takes place.  The disease is often spread to the sexual partner, and in most if not all cases, to the offspring.  Now wait a minute, that baby didn’t have sex outside of marriage did it?  And yet it contracted AIDS because of it’s father’s choice.  That is just like us.  We may not have been there in the garden of Eden to choose to disobey God, but the disease of sin was spread to us because of the nature of what sin is.

AdamSin

We are all born with the disease called sin, and are hopelessly and terminally ill with it.  For some people, its symptoms are very mild and it does not show itself very often.  For others, the symptoms are very strong.  The point is, the symptoms of sin are different for everyone and the severity of the symptoms is different, but the fact of the matter is, we are ALL, every single person on this earth, born with the terminal disease of sin and without hope of a cure on our own.  And if we are not cured of it, we will die of it.  The only way to be cured of it is by a miracle.

The only person who can do any kind of real miracle, especially of this magnitude is God.  Why would God help us when we have chosen to consistently turn our backs on Him?  Because He is full of grace.  He came down to earth as a man who had no earthly father to pass the disease of sin on to Him because God is His Father.  He was born without the disease of sin, lived His life completely perfectly without the disease of sin, and yet died as a result of the effects of the disease of sin in everyone else even though He didn’t ever show a single symptom of the disease of sin.

Christ has died

Then He rose from the dead so that He can save those who have died because of the disease of sin.  He holds the only cure for this awful fatal disease and offers this cure for anyone who wants it.  The problem is, most people don’t realize their need for the cure.  Many think they don’t even have a disease that needs curing, or don’t think they have the disease badly enough to need a cure.  Now, we all know that the first step to being cured of a disease is acknowledging that we have a disease that needs to be cured, that we need help.  But most people are too blind to see that.

He is Risen

But for those who do acknowledge that they have a terminal disease that they have no hope of curing themselves and who ask God to cure them of that disease, He answers and gives them the cure.  He sees them as healthy as Jesus, who lived without sin and who died as a result of sin and rose from the dead.  God gives them the hope that they will also rise from the dead one day to live forever without the awful disease of sin.

The sad reality is, the world would rather flaunt their symptoms and try to force everyone to believe that they aren’t sick or that it’s ok to be sick since everyone is sick rather than seeking the cure for their sickness.  And they will die of their disease and be forever separated from the Holy and Righteous God Who has the only cure for the disease of sin by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Without Christ, no one is cured of sin.  Just like with AIDS, no matter how healthily you choose to live or what good choices you make, it cannot be cured but by the miracle that God provided through Jesus Christ.

I realize that this is not a perfect way to explain the Gospel, but I believe that the essential message of the Gospel is included and that this is another way to explain the Gospel to others in a way that can help them understand the seriousness of sin and the amazing Grace of God.  Be encouraged!  There is hope!  Grace, love and peace!

Good Friday: The Gospel is Bad News Before it’s Good News

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written (sorry about that).  I just wanted to share some reflections on this Good Friday 🙂

The first Good Friday didn’t seem so good, especially to Jesus’ disciples.  He had been tried unjustly and condemned to die in the most gruesome way possible, crucifixion.  The only reason we can call it Good Friday now is because we have all the information.  We know that Christ’s death was not the end.  We know that the Resurrection is coming, and that it did come.

But why did Jesus have to die in the first place?  It was because we are so wicked and full of sin, and because God cannot rightly allow sin to be in His presence.  In His justice He has to do something about it.  He desired for those who love Him to be with Him, so He did something about this sin problem:  He sent part of Himself to earth to live a perfect sinless life and perfectly fulfill His Holy expectations, and then to become the wrath-bearing sacrifice for those sins.  Scripture even tells us that “It pleased God to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10) because He knew that it would bring sinners into a renewed relationship with Him and ultimately bring Him the most glory.

Christ has died From the gruesomeness and hopelessness of the cross…

One of the best ways I’ve heard it put comes from my Gospel Transformation Study Bible, where the commentator, commenting on the passage of 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 says of believers:

“We are connected vitally and legally through our union with Christ because He imputed His perfect, righteous life of obedience into our account.  He imputed not only His innocence but also righteousness, not only pardon but also perfection.  He not only stood condemned in our place as a punishment bearer; He also stood in our place as our law keeper.  Jesus not only died the death that we should have died; He also lived the live that we should have lived.  All has been taken care of.”

This is only true of “those who know they are spiritually helpless and utterly destitute of any human resources that will commend them to God. They rely totally on God’s grace for salvation, and they also rely on His grace for daily living.” (John MacArthur)

You see, the bad things have to come before the good.  Good Friday and Jesus’ horrific death had to come before Easter and the glorious resurrection.  And in our lives, dying to ourselves (changing our hearts and minds about ourselves and our sin, repenting and humbly turning to Christ) has to come before we can be saved.

So, the most loving and caring thing that I can tell you as your neighbor and friend is to get over yourself, and get into Jesus.  It’s only because of Jesus’ death that we can rejoice in the fact that He is Risen!!

He is Risen … To the Hope and Glory of the Resurrection!!

Happy Good Friday and Happy Easter!!

Grace, love and peace!

The Year That I Hated, but Loved.

This is a guest blog.  It was written by my wife Jen, about her thoughts on the things that she and I went through this year.  I often think she is a better writer than I am!


We’ve all seen the posts on Facebook: “It’s been a great year!  Thanks for being a part of it!”  Many of my friends have shared the compilation of photos and statuses that Facebook put together as its end of the year hurrah.  I’ve enjoyed looking through them, and seeing the high points of many of my friends’ years.

But honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to share my own.  Because it hasn’t been a great year.  Not entirely.

As I sat at work on my break today, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across this post from a friend:

2014

I thought about it for a second, and posted this reply: “I’d say, ‘In a few short weeks, you’ll go through pain and heartbreak like you haven’t known before. But, you’ll also see the Father in a way you haven’t before. He will carry you through gently. He will remind you that your heart rests within His hands. He will show you how to wait expectantly, and how to love others in a way you couldn’t before. Buckle up.’ “

Last year, at this time, Josh and I were heading over to our friends’ house to count down to midnight.  We went on a whim, and I was glad we did.  Our whole church family was there (it’s a very small church), we played games, talked, and at midnight, we popped party poppers and toasted with sparkling grape juice.  2014 started out with us gathered around their living room, and we sang Build Your Kingdom Here by Rend Collective Experiment.

New Years 2014

I Instagrammed this picture, with the caption, “Happy New Year from the Mendenhalls! #seeyoulater2013 #2014isgonnabegreat”.

I was convinced that 2014 was going to be the best year ever.  Four days before, we had found out that I was pregnant.  No one knew yet, and we would soon be traveling to visit both of our families to tell them.  I was overflowing with the secret joy.

But a month and a few days later, I miscarried.  I was 11 weeks, and I was devastated.  It really was the most heartbreaking and challenging thing that I have ever been through.  I spent several days in bed, trying to recover physically and emotionally.  The physical healing took weeks, but the emotional healing has taken much longer.

I really don’t know how I would have gotten through without Jesus.  Where my heart was broken and cracked, He filled it.  Where my tears threatened to overflow every time I saw a pregnant woman, He gave me comfort.  And He also reminded me of a promise that He had given me in May of 2013, while sitting on a couch at our ministry in Kampala, Uganda.  You will be a mother. 

As the winter melted away to spring, I held onto that promise.  Josh and I decided that once my body was physically healed and I felt ready, we would try again.  But month after month, it was clear that it was not meant to be yet.

This season of waiting was difficult, but I learned how to see the world through different eyes.

I remember on several of the first truly sunny and warm days of the spring, I spent as much time as I could with my sleeves rolled up, just soaking in the warmth of the sunlight.  Josh and I lived with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, and I loved the time I got to spend with them.  We traveled to Georgia to see two good friends get married, and got to reunite with dozens of other treasured friends.

Johnny and Christin's Wedding

I loved harder.  I grew stronger.  I suddenly had the lenses of experience to relate to and love my friends who had miscarried, had a stillbirth, or lost their child in infancy.  And they loved me back in a way that only shared experience can do.

We moved into our apartment in Northeast Kansas City, and joined our church community in living in and loving this often overlooked and disregarded part of the city.  After traveling overseas for a year, and living with family for 6 months prior to our trip, as well as after, I was so excited and thankful for a place to call our own again.

The summer came, and we celebrated five years of marriage by visiting my grandparents in Texas.  I melted in my car on the way to and from work, and tried to be thankful that at least we have a car, even if the air conditioning is shot.  We hung out with friends by the pool.  We explored our city.

WWI Memorial

And yet, all the while, I was still waiting on that promise.  I won’t even tell you how many pregnancy tests I went through, hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this would be the month.  Partially because I honestly have no idea how many, and partially because if I did, it would be pretty embarrassing.

On the morning of July 27th, I got up and took one, knowing that I should know any day if this month was a yes or a no.  I took the test, and lo and behold, there was an itty bitty faint line.  There’s something there!  There’s something there!  Thank You, Lord!  Thank You!  I knew I wanted to record a video for our YouTube channel, so I grabbed the camera, and recorded my first thoughts.  I went into the room to tell Josh, and recorded his reaction as well.

We called our families and told them that day.  I didn’t want to wait, because I wanted those who had grieved with us to rejoice with us.  A week later, I “celebrated” my 26th birthday.  I had a fun, Christmas-themed party planned, but ended up with a terrible stomach virus.  I spent the day on the couch, trying to keep my fever down without medication, terrified that the baby would not survive if the fever got to high.  My fever broke that night, and the next day, we posted our announcement on Facebook.

IMG_1223

I was ecstatic.  The Lord’s promise to me was finally happening, after so many months of heartbreak.  I was so incredibly joyful, but also anxious and worried.  What if it happens again?  I felt like I had recovered from one miscarriage, but I honestly didn’t know if I could take another.

So I prayed.  We asked others to pray.  And I had faith (although sometimes it faltered) that the baby would be alright.

My due date for Ellie, the baby I miscarried, came and went.  I was sad and heavy that day, but I also asked my friends and family to use that day to reach out to others who had lost a child in any way, and let them know that their pain was seen.  I was determined that some kind of good should, and could come from the pain of losing her.

My second nephew was born in September, and I had the honor of attending his birth and taking his first photos.  I wasn’t sure if my heart could handle loving another nephew as much as I love my first, but as soon as he was born, I knew that it wouldn’t be a problem.

Owen

We ushered in fall, which is my second favorite season (just barely behind Christmas).  I think my spirit really starts to come alive in the fall.  I’m happy all the time, and I can’t stop gushing to others about how amazing everything is.  Josh’s parents came to stay with us in KC over Halloween weekend.  We celebrated Thanksgiving with Josh’s family in Springfield.  I was so incredibly thankful for how the Lord had blessed us with another baby, and how so far, I had had no complications and a fairly easy pregnancy.

22 Weeks

At the beginning of December, we had our anatomy scan ultrasound.  As the tech was checking for gender, we looked away.  We would find out that weekend with our friends and family at our gender reveal party.

Haven Ultrasound Profile

The party was so much fun, and at the end, they sprayed us with colored silly string that my sister and brother-in-law had coordinated beforehand.  When I saw the pink string arching in the air to land on us, I wasn’t surprised, but at the same time, I was.  We were having a little girl!  We decided that her name would be Haven Harper.

We prepared for Christmas, all the while, my excitement building.  I. Love. Christmas.  It is my very favorite time of year.  We spent Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning in Springfield with Josh’s family, and spent the rest of Christmas day and the next several days with my family.  Haven got plenty of gifts from the grandparents, and I expect that will be true for many years to come.

26 Weeks

As the end of the year grew closer, my heart grew a little sadder.  There have been so many wonderful things about this year, but there have also been so many difficult things.  My heart ached for the baby I never got to meet.  This was supposed to be the year that I would meet her.  We would have had a four and a half month old by now.  I had let my dream of writing as a career and ministry slip away, leaving me feeling like a failure in that dream.  I spent so much of the year longing for the things of the future that I often forgot to enjoy the present.

This morning, as I was praying, I said, Lord, I just feel…sad.  I wouldn’t change the journey You’ve taken me on this year, but I’m sad.  I’ve been pondering this all day.  How do I close out this year with joy, in spite of the difficulties?

The difficulties made me who I am, and they are continuing to change and shape me.  I am closer to the Lord today than I was a year ago, and that could only have happened, in my heart, by facing the things that I did this year, with Him.  And for that, I am thankful to the core.

And so, I say to 2014: You were the single hardest, longest, and saddest year that I have experienced.  But, in spite of that, you were good.  Because God is good, and nothing will ever change that.  You were formative, joyful, and deep.  You were adventurous, and yet mundane.  In a way, I am happy to say goodbye to you, but in another, it is hard to let go.  It feels like letting go of Ellie just a little bit more, and that is probably the hardest part.  But I also have Haven, who is not a replacement, but she brings me so much joy.  I will always remember you, 2014, as the year that I loved two daughters.  What joy.

As I write this, when I look back at 2014, I can sum it up with one word: Jesus. He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit have tenderly held my heart the whole way.  He loved me, and He showed me how to love in a deeper way.  And for that, I am thankful.

I’ll leave you with a re-writing of Psalm 23 that I did a few years ago. (Side note, this re-writing was for me, and I understand that this is different from scripture translations that have been studied and handled carefully to preserve integrity.  I wrote it as a prayer of sorts, and as a reminder.  Since I have shared so much of my heart, I feel that it is appropriate to share the re-writing.)

God is my Guide and Protector, and He does such a great job, I have everything I need.

He gives me peaceful rest, and shows me new ways and places to rest in Him.

He fills me up, and He shows me the way to go, wanting the best for me, and all for His glory.

Even when I am going through a hard time, I know that I’m not in it alone and I have nothing to fear.

Your hand in mine comforts me.

You take good care of me, and never stop looking out for and protecting me.

You are always glad to see me and spend time with me, and You always pour into me so I overflow with joy and peace.

Instead of stress, worry, and other bad things, only goodness and love will come from being with You.

I will seek and desire to be with You, and I will always be welcomed, every single day of my life.

Amen.

Why the Virgin Birth is Essential (by John MacArthur)

During this time of year, I feel like we get too caught up in the birth of Christ.  It was a great thing, but the Bible never tells us to celebrate it interestingly enough.  I love celebrating it, and would never discourage celebrating it, but I would also encourage everyone to, along with the birth, celebrate His life, death, resurrection and everything that was accomplished and is being accomplished as a result of those things.

I feel that more important than Jesus’ birth is how it came about.  I’ve struggled to put this into words, but one of my favorite teachers John MacArthur wrote a very great blog about why the virgin birth is essential.  I’ll leave the rest up to him to explain:

Why the Virgin Birth is Essential

“You may be wondering why the virgin birth—of all the miracles in Scripture—is so frequently attacked. After all, if one can believe, say, that Moses parted the Red Sea, what’s the big deal about a virgin birth? It certainly isn’t as spectacular a miracle. And Scripture devotes relatively little space to describing it. Can it really be that important?

Yes. The virgin birth is an underlying assumption in everything the Bible says about Jesus. To throw out the virgin birth is to reject Christ’s deity, the accuracy and authority of Scripture, and a host of other related doctrines central to the Christian faith. No issue is more important than the virgin birth to our understanding of who Jesus is.

If we deny that Jesus is God, we have denied the very essence of Christianity. Everything else the Bible teaches about Christ hinges on the truth we celebrate at Christmas—that Jesus is God in human flesh. If the story of His birth is merely a fabricated or trumped-up legend, then so is the rest of what Scripture tells us about Him. The virgin birth is as crucial as the resurrection in substantiating His deity. It is not an optional truth. Anyone who rejects Christ’s deity rejects Christ absolutely—even if he pretends otherwise (1 John 4:1-3).

Jesus Himself viewed the question of His parentage as a watershed issue. Matthew records one of the last confrontations He had with the Pharisees.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. (Matthew 22:41-46)

His sonship was the source of controversy on other occasions. John 8 records another run-in with some leading Pharisees. They told Jesus, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God” (John 8:41). “We were not born of fornication” is a not-so-subtle jab at Jesus. They implied that He was born illegitimately. They twisted the whole point of His miraculous birth to make Him an illegitimate child. They even said later in verse 48, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

The fact is, there is a direct parallel between those Pharisees and modern religious leaders who hint that the virgin birth is unimportant or a fable. Their challenges grow out of unbelief in Jesus Christ. They are the expression of sinful, unregenerate hearts.

Contrast their response with that of Peter. Matthew 16:13-17 records this exchange between Jesus and His disciples. Again, His sonship is the issue.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Notice that the answers proposed by the populace were human ones. They had concluded Jesus was either John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. They had not yet grasped the truth of His deity. They assumed He was just a man.

Simon Peter’s response was different. He understood that Jesus was more than a human Messiah, more than an anointed prophet, more than a son of David. He was the Son of the living God. Peter knew because God had revealed it to him (Matthew 16:17). Flesh and blood cannot reach that conclusion. Science, philosophy, and human religion cannot explain who Jesus is. Their adherents will inevitably conclude that He is a great teacher, a good moral example, or even a great prophet of God. But they all miss the fact that He is the Son of the living God.

That’s why the virgin birth is so important. For Jesus to be God, He must be born of God. Joseph, a man, and Mary, a woman, cannot produce God. God cannot be born into this world by natural human processes. There’s no way He could be God apart from being conceived by God.

At this time of year, believers shouldn’t merely celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate every aspect of Christ’s life—His humble incarnation, His transformative ministry, His righteous example, and, ultimately, His sacrificial death. But none of that matters if we don’t believe God’s Word is accurate about His Son’s parentage. When it comes to the truth of the virgin birth, compromise is not an option.”