Savoring What We Love

Savoring What We Love

(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)

By Karen Prior Swallow

Two of the great loves of my life are reading and eating.

Both bring me much happiness, and while only one is absolutely necessary to live, they both seem as natural and as essential to me as breathing.

Yet, although sources of great pleasure, both eating and reading require discipline in order to bring me the longest lasting health and joy.

Some of the best, purest food that I’ve enjoyed in my life was in the North African kingdom of Morocco. There is no such label as “organic” in Morocco because, as an unindustrialized nation, all of its food is produced free of artificial processes or chemical additives. All of it is natural, and you can taste that fact in every bite. From flaky pastille to velvety couscous to goat roasted over an open fire in the Sahara Desert to simply sumptuous fruit, the food I dined on during my several trips there still lingers in the memory of my taste buds. I never even missed the junk food that wasn’t widely available.

Here at home in the U.S. it’s a different story. To be sure, plenty of healthful and natural foods are fairly easy to find. But so is all the junk. And on a day-to-day basis, it’s just too easy to choose the fast, ready and artificially made foods, which I also enjoy, but which end up bringing me far less joy in the entirety of my life than their healthier counterparts (as the roll around my middle can testify!).

I face similar difficulties of late when it comes to reading. When I was young, which was, I suppose, before the internet had even been imagined, I had plenty of reading material at my disposal. Falling in love with reading in my earliest years, I graduated from Little Golden Books, to Scholastic Book Club selections, to daily newspapers (which I still read), to eighteenth and nineteenth century British literature—all paper and ink items I could hold in my hand and immerse myself in for hours and days at a time.

Today, the world still offers these options—and so much more. The internet provides a supply of reading as infinite as the stars in the sky and the sands on the shore. Much of that reading is short, easy, and cleverly curated by sophisticated algorithms so as to cater to my very present and very precise tastes, as scientifically determined by my most recent browsing history. And if I don’t like what I’m reading, no longer must I get up out of my chair, walk to the bookshelf in another room, look for another title, walk all the way back to my chair, and settle in again. No, on my phone, with the flick of one finger, I can swipe, click, or press, and—voila!— I’m presented with a new and vast array of choices. No need to hold a pen in one hand and pause my reading to underline and make a note on the page. Now my eyes skim across the screen of my phone, taking in every third word or so in a millisecond, skipping paragraphs to get to the conclusion at the end. Loathe to skip a page in a book, I triumph over those ethereal electronic words that slide across my screen, feeding and deepening my addiction the way a Diet Coke only increases my hunger for sweets.

I have become far too easily pleased: by the tweets and blogs I read on my phone, by the sandwiches I eat in my car between meetings and classes, and by the gummi bears that so easily replace a meal. These all are, to be sure, good gifts I’m thankful for and would never want to give up entirely.

But I find myself thinking more and more about the differences between those things that bring me ceaseless and instantaneous pleasure and those that bring me deep and lasting joy. The greatest joys usually come only with discipline and sacrifice, focus and attention, intention and investment and love. Such joys are to be savored. Savoring takes the devotion of time and care, things not easy for most of us to give in this world of hurry. It’s too easy to equate efficiency with goodness, to mistake ease with joy.

Food and words are my great loves. Yet even as I try to love them more faithfully and well, I need to let my love of them remind me of my first love (Rev. 2:4). I need to remember that there is no word that can bring me more joy than the Word (John 1:1), no food more satisfying than the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

As I try to slow down more to savor His good gifts (James 1:17), may I slow ever more to enjoy Him.

Karen Swallow PriorMore about Karen: Karen Swallow Prior, Ph. D., is an award-winning Professor of English at Liberty University. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012) and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014). She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a Senior Fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

 

 

(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)

Three Benefits of Discipleship

Three Benefits of Discipleship

What happens when you get a group of women in a room to discuss life and the gospel?

Talking. Lots of talking. And questions. More questions than you can imagine. Why? Because we need each other, and sometimes life can be confusing and include insurmountable circumstances. During my time in settings like this, I’m reminded of the importance of discipleship.

Discipleship can take on many forms. It can be as simple as inviting someone into your kitchen for fellowship to organizing a normally scheduled lunch. However it looks, it involves honesty, seeking advice, and Scripture, and someone willing to do all of the above.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes writes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10).

He is writing about the vanity of trying to work alone as a means to outdo another. But labors aren’t the only benefit of working together. Two are also better than one as we live out our faith in Christ. We really need each other, though we often try to go at it alone. We truly need reproof and instruction, though we seldom seek it out. This is why discipleship is so important.

Here are three simple benefits of discipling relationships:

  1. Discipleship builds humility.

Our temptation might be to think we know what is best for ourselves. As you’ve heard, and maybe said before, “we know ourselves better than anyone.” Scripture says that we might actually be more confused than we think. The heart is deceitful and so to trust yourself at all times is probably not the best route to take (Jeremiah 17:9). Wise counsel from a friend, pastor, or spouse could be just the thing God uses for our protection.

Proverbs says that a wise man will hear and learn, and will acquire wise counsel (Proverbs 1:5). So we can safely assume that an unwise man will not hear from others, will shut them down and will not listen, will lack understanding and will not acquire wise counsel. We need to resist the temptation to be wise in our own eyes (Proverbs 3:7). This isn’t so easy! But as we seek to gain understanding, we must first acknowledge that we don’t always know what is best.

  1. Discipleship unites us with fellow believers.

The body of Christ isn’t meant to simply exist for us to gather together on Sundays and then move along with our lives the rest of the week. God’s word paints a picture of believers doing life together (Acts 2:44–47). Seeking counsel and discipleship is one way to invite others into your life.

Most of the time people won’t know the details of your life unless you are willing to share with them. Being willing to be discipled by another provides an opportunity for prayer and mutual encouragement (Galatians 6:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We want to pursue one another because we are members of his body (Ephesians 5:30).

  1. Discipleship equips us for faithfulness.

Paul tells us in Titus 2:3 that the older women in the church should teach what is good and train the younger women. They are to equip other women in how to walk in step with the truth of the gospel. And this isn’t a suggestion — it is God’s instruction for how we should relate to one another.

This is Discipleship 101. It’s yet another proof that we need each other. We can’t obey the commands in Titus 2 without being willing to be discipled (and being available and willing to disciple others!).

Book Giveaway!

As we think about discipleship and relationships, I wanted to make sure to share about Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s newest book Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together. As I wrote in my endorsement: Nancy’s instruction, wisdom, and grace will challenge you to not only pray for a woman who you might call a spiritual mother, but you’ll also desire to be the type of woman others might call on—for the good of the church and to the glory of God.

Today, I’ll be giving away 5 copies of Adorned along with 5 copies of my newest book Enjoy. Part of our temptation to neglect to pursue discipleship could be that relationships are difficult. My prayer is that the chapter in Enjoy on relationships called “The Gift of One Another” could help encourage you in this pursuit.

Five people will be sent one copy of each book.

The giveaway begins today, 2/21, and ends tomorrow night, Wednesday 2/22 at 11:59 p.m.

To enter, simply click here or fill out the form below to enter for the Adorned and Enjoy giveaway.

a version of this post first appeared at desiringGod.org.

Being Found by the Deepest Love

Being Found by the Deepest Love

It was the summer of 1998. I was leading a private camp and awaiting the arrival of my assistant. She arrived with her blonde ponytail, blue eyes, and bubbly spirit. She was a few years younger than I — and seemed it. Not that she was immature, she wasn’t, but there was innocence about her that poured out as she spoke and interacted with the campers. Our first meeting would be God’s way of forever changing the whole course of my life.

That girl was Elizabeth Plewniak (Moore at the time). She and I were polar opposites. I was black and she white. I was in college and quite academic and she had decided to leave college early to do campus ministry. Later I would find out that she came from a fairly wealthy family and I was poor (we would have been considered poor to lower-middle class). Most importantly, she was a Christian and I was not.

Growing up, I only attended church on major holidays. When I did find a church my junior year in high school it didn’t end so well. I ended up falling for an unbeliever and left the church. That wasn’t the only reason for my departure, I was also aware that there wasn’t something quite right with the doctrine. Nevertheless, I said goodbye to church and vowed never to return. I didn’t want to have anything to do with organized religion.

But that was not God’s plan.

A Roommate of Faith

So here I found myself in an odd series of events that only God could ordain, rooming with a Christian girl during a private camp. Our first night of camp she plopped down on the bed and broke open her Bible.

I was seated on the adjacent bed wondering if she would mind if I turned on the television as she began to read to herself. When I glanced at her I could feel the blood rush to my face. My guard immediately went up and I spoke frankly, “What are you doing?” All I could think was what she might say to me.

By the end of the night, we were both crying over my past church experience and my fears. By the end of the night she had also shared the gospel of salvation with me.

It took me some time before I would eventually visit her church. Elizabeth and I would meet together every now and then; but finally in the spring of 2000, after a broken engagement and humiliation over my sin, I came to her church and I stayed.

The Gift That Gives

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday morning and I hadn’t been back to this church in possibly a year. While singing the worship song “Rock of Ages” the Lord began to soften my heart and reveal His grace to me. After the meeting Elizabeth and two friends (Paul and Carel) prayed for me. And I was saved.

I recall later reading Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The Lord revealed that He saved me not by my works or anything I had done or anything I could ever do but instead by His grace, His free gift, His own power!

And it is the same power that saved me that enabled my friend, Elizabeth, to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to me — a stranger and different from her. And it is the same power that will enable you to share cross-culturally too.

The Race-Transcending Gospel

What struck me about Elizabeth was that she wasn’t at all concerned that I was black and older and the leader of the camp. None of that mattered to her. She admits intimidation but not because of my race or ethnicity.

In her own words: “When I met my friend Trillia, I was very intimidated by her, but I don’t think it was because she was black and I was white. I was more attracted to her because she was black. I don’t know if it was common grace or a work of God in my heart. My mother raised me with a value of loving diverse people. I saw black people as very attractive and desirable and gifted in ways that I’m not, and that attracts me to them and I’m just curious about their life and culture. That’s something I’m drawn to.”

Her curiosity led her to become my friend in 1998. But it isn’t what led her to share the gospel with me.

“Trill and I kept getting put on the same jobs and I was totally in faith that this was the Lord’s doing,” Elizabeth told me recently. “Sharing the gospel with her and challenging her on her faith — that was difficult because my flesh was seeking to please her and impress her. But I did feel like the Lord was leading me to do that, to love her in those ways.”

Motivated by love she shared the gospel with me and the course of my whole life was changed — forever. The outcome could have been different. Elizabeth could have hesitated because of our perceived and obvious differences. Sharing the gospel can be scary enough without throwing clear differences into the mix.

But it is genuine, Spirit-filled love for the soul of another that can overcome all the natural oppositions to sharing the gospel. I believe the motivation for that love comes from our own salvation experience. God drew us out of the pit to salvation. We were not seeking God. We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:10). And we love others, through the proclamation of Jesus Christ, because God lavished that same love on us (2 Corinthians 5:14, 1 John 4:19).

And it is his example of love that transcends all others.

The Supreme Example

Throughout the New Testament, Christ continually related to people who were different from him, be it tax collectors or Samaritans (who were hated by the Jewish people and vice versa. See John 4:9, John 8:48 and Luke 9:51–56). He was bold to share, bold to the point of death on a Cross, bold to his own death because of his love for souls. And with his death came his Spirit, poured out on us to witness to others (Acts 1:8).

God does as he pleases and can use our stumbling speech. Even Paul didn’t share the gospel with eloquent verbosity: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

The gospel has power to bring even the most unlikely of people together for his glory. God will also give the most unlikely of people the power to share with those unlike themselves.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

And this is true love — a love that shares the race-transcending gospel.

So, on Valentine’s Day I’d like to celebrate the love of the Father. He loved me, sought me, saved me and continually gives of himself to me. That’s amazing grace. Oh, how deep the Father’s love!

 ***

How Deep the Father’s Love

 How deep the Father’s love for us,

How vast beyond all measure,

That He should give His only Son

To make a wretch His treasure.

How great the pain of searing loss –

The Father turns His face away,

As wounds which mar the Chosen One

Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,

My sin upon His shoulders;

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice

Call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished;

His dying breath has brought me life –

I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,

No gifts, no power, no wisdom;

But I will boast in Jesus Christ,

His death and resurrection.

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer;

But this I know with all my heart –

His wounds have paid my ransom.

 song author Stuart Townsend; Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music (Adm. by CapitolCMGPublishing.com excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family, songs@integritymusic.com)

 A version of this post first appeared at DesiringGod.org.

Faith to Believe God Enjoys My Prayers

Faith to Believe God Enjoys My Prayers

(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)

By John Starke

I wake up and it’s still dark. It’s quiet now but that won’t last long. The kids will be up soon, hustling to pour their Cheerios, comb each other’s hair, and throw their backpacks on to shoot out the door before the 3 Train comes to take us away to our day. But not yet. It’s still quiet. Just me and my coffee.

I have lists and notes scattered around my desk, tempting me to start the day early. There’s a lot to do: people who need care, a sermon that needs some attention, and a few meetings that need some thought. But not yet. There’ll be time for that soon; not enough time, for sure, but time nonetheless. Since there’s never enough time I’m reminded that all I am, all I long for, all my hopes and plans can never be fulfilled and accomplished in time. Time always runs out and leaves me disappointed and my heart doesn’t accept the limitations that Time offers. It has eternity pumping all the way through to the bottom. I need something more than just enough time.

My notes, preparations, and lists will have to wait. I move from my desk to my chair in the corner. Psalm 141 helps me pray. “Let my prayers be counted as incense before you.” Yes, that’s a good way to begin, “incense before you.” Like an aroma that provokes pleasure and satisfaction, that’s what I want my prayers to be like.

But how can they? The Psalms are filled with what seems like the writers’ inner conflicts of knowing (or at least confessing) that God is their only refuge in their neediness and vulnerability, yet at the same time they’re always hauntingly aware of their lack of merit to expect God to listen and act on their behalf. In Psalm 141, the psalmist will get to praying against his enemy, whoever he may be. But surely the psalmist is slightly aware that there’s at least a bit of the enemy in him. “Let my prayers be counted as incense before you.” Counted, reckoned something they inherently are not: a pleasing aroma.

Break my prayers down to their essential elements and you will find contradictory longings and desires. You will see wants I am ashamed of. What are these doing here? If you poke around, you see repentance and hopes of reconciliation, but also cravings to be vindicated and to have an ease of conscience to just get along with my day without the nagging weight of sin hanging around. Let me be washed clean, but is there an express lane? Let my prayers be counted as incense. Let my half-hearted prayers be counted as full-hearted.

A few days ago, I read Psalm 138, which seemed to begin with a running start; “I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart.” “Whole heart”? I look down at my coffee. What did David have for breakfast that gave him this “whole heart” prayer? Who can deliver me from my enemies and who can deliver me from my prayers? Sitting in my old chair with fresh sins, can my prayers truly be counted as incense before you?

Jesus tells me not to think my many words can beautify my prayers enough to be heard. Babbling and going on as if I can impress or charm the Almighty is silly talk more than prayer. But my impulse to babble is, at its root, a sign that my heart knows its shortcomings. My babbling is just my darkness talking, acting like an angel of light again. That won’t work. It never works. It just turns my prayers into court arguments and me into a court jester. But Jesus knows this temptation. He is a sympathetic priest who is acquainted with my weaknesses. “We can go together,” he tells me. “That way you can enter with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

My prayers will have to be reckoned as incense. Beauty will have to be a gift I receive by faith. My prayers will have to begin in the posture of reception, an active welcome. So here I am, in my old chair with fresh grace again. The blood of bulls and goats doesn’t count me as incense. Violence was enacted elsewhere, once and for all, and beauty has been given by grace.

Now there’s nothing left to do but enjoy this gift and tell him everything that’s on my heart. My whole heart. Faith is believing that he enjoys it too. I have about half my coffee left and 20 minutes until the kids start stretching. But not yet. Eternity has tabernacled with me and given me friendship and company.

Inline image 1More about John: John Starke is the Lead pastor of Apostles Church Uptown in New York City.

 

 

 

 

(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)

More than a Month Long

More than a Month Long

In 1976, the United States government officially acknowledged this month as an annual celebration of noted Black historians, scholars, educators, and publishers. Growing up, school days for me during the month of February meant learning about historical Black figures like Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. The posters commemorating these important historical Black figures would go up and we’d be required to dive into heavy research on who these people were and what they did. But just as quickly as the posters went up at the beginning of February, they disappeared when the calendar turned over to March 1. As earnest as our research had been, once February ended, these historical figures were basically forgotten.

February is a wonderful time to reflect on the lives of Black Americans and the remarkable contributions they had on society. It’s a time to teach kids about American history. It also presents a great time for local media to highlight the “heroes” of their respective communities. But I have a love/hate relationship with this month because I believe it should be more than month long. I wonder if there’s a different, perhaps even better way, for Christians to approach embracing the historical significance of Black Americans and culture.

Set Aside, But Not Equal

I don’t mean to suggest that Christians withdraw from the celebration of Black History Month in culture at large. By all means, we should honor worthy heroes along with the mainstream. But the better way I’m suggesting — the Christian approach — is to celebrate Black history throughout the whole year.

Many of us have a real desire for racial harmony. But cramming our heads full of history for one month won’t necessarily build a broad awareness of the issues our country still faces. If anything, the fact that we have this one month segregated from the other eleven reminds us that we’re still a long ways from real reconciliation.

Personally, the experience I had growing up made me sense the topic of Black history to be less important than others. We set aside a month for study and then bleached any further mention or learning for the rest of the year. It seemed like filling a quota — we were doing something that was assigned, but wasn’t worthy of learning about for more than 28 days.

But I think, for American Christians, there are deeply compelling reasons to learn beyond February. Here are two reasons why studying our country’s history and important African Americans has year-long significance:

  1. We gain perspective.

Getting to know our shared history throughout the year can help us gain understanding and perspective. Specifically, in the church, it could be a means of building community and helping us learn how to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Bearing the burden of another is a way to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Our nation’s history of oppression and segregation continues to carry a sting for many, both white and black. Understanding the gravity of the situation can only help us in relating to the pain so many still carry.

Knowledge and understanding of this history can be a catalyst for open dialogue. Of course, we wouldn’t want to assume that knowledge equates to full understanding, but it can help. Furthermore, and possibly most importantly, this knowledge can display a genuine interest in and love for others (when done as unto the Lord).

This knowledge could have eternal significance as well, it could lead to opportunities to share the gospel.

  1. We welcome greater diversity in our homes.momanddad

I thank God for my parents and their desire for us as their kids to know about other cultures. But that’s not all they were teaching us. By exposing us to the pain of our history, they also taught us to forgive and love. My father in particular is the reason why I am so passionate about reconciliation and believe that it is possible. He taught us to love our neighbor—even though it wasn’t a conscious Bible teaching. We had an open door policy, so to speak. It started at home. That’s where it begins. It begins with a conversation over the dinner table.

We can all benefit from learning and discussing history, especially as it relates to culture in the United States. Learning about culture can open the doors for hospitality in our homes.

Starts with You and Me

But, even as I type this, I realize that there are many who wouldn’t know where to begin to teach their children or to discuss over dinner with friends because you haven’t taken the time to learn. That’s okay—we all begin somewhere. I don’t prefer to share a problem without trying to affect change, be a part of the solution, or change myself. So, over the next year I’ll be posting an article each month about Black history. It will either be about a book, article, or other resource. I will simply share what I’ll be reading about and how it affected me and I’d love for you to join me on this journey.

February: Let Justice Roll Down, By Dr. John Perkins

I had the joy of interviewing Dr. Perkins and thought this would be a wonderful start to our “More than a Month Long” journey in learning about Black history. While this series of posts will not be interactive, I welcome you to comment on what you are learning. I will simply post my reflections on the book at the end of February and share the next article, book, or other resource for March at that time.

If you’d like to read along, you can purchase the book here. Here is a clip of our interview:

 

Celebrate Black history in February. Learn and give thanks. But let’s not stop there. Ultimately, it’s not a celebration of a single people, but a recognition of the diversity among God’s image-bearing creatures — the diversity among every tribe, tongue, and nation for whom Jesus died.

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