(This is a guest post from my friend and ministry partner, Erik Wolgemuth. Erik and I work together on various projects. Look forward to seeing him on my site from time to time.)
The mountains are in plain view. At their highest, they rise to heights of twelve to fourteen thousand feet and from my vantage point, they begin in a dusty brown, move to a dark green, and then peak in a blanket of white. Few days present the same perspective on these magnificent formations of rock…on some, the broken sunlight through the clouds highlights the foothills while concealing the towering peaks. On others, the perfect combination of sun and shadows reveals every contour and layer of depth. The Colorado front range is a masterpiece – the Creator’s work on full display from the early morning light that illuminates each summit to the glowing orange as the sun slips behind them at day’s end.
With a few cloudy and stormy exceptions since we first arrived in Denver eight years ago, this mountain range has greeted our glance to the west. It fills our windshield as we make our drive to church. We see it as we ride bikes to our neighborhood park. And a trip to our nearest grocery story – sitting on a bit of a rise – presents an amazing panorama.
But, so often, I miss it. The range is there, just as visible as ever, but I don’t see it. Not really.
In God’s extravagant generosity, he fills my skyline with divine architectural brilliance. Layers and angles. Colors and contours. And for something even as unchanging as a mountain range, he provides variety in his presentation of light and shadows. Underneath the heavens and the sky that proclaim God’s glory and handiwork (Ps. 19:1) there is earth that makes an equal demonstration.
The work of the Creator is a gift generously given. And, like all gifts – especially those of such value and significance – it is a gift to be enjoyed. A gift that should cause me to pause, to reflect, to meditate and glorify God for his power, goodness, and love. The snowcapped peaks should startle me out of my busyness and routine to remind me of the love of my Father. A Father who would give so generously. Who would create so uniquely.
The natural world is full of such wonders. Many are far smaller than the Rocky Mountains, but no less awe-inspiring in their design. These, too, are gifts meant for us to enjoy. Gifts that can only result in marveling. But not at our ingenuity to capture and observe such things or in the wisdom of our residential planning so as to maximum a mountain range view. No, though both require skill and are themselves a gift, ultimately we marvel because the natural world around us so clearly reveals our God (Rom. 1:20) and because his creation can and should be so deeply enjoyed.
As I reflect on the gift and wonder of the natural world, I can’t help but think about my kids. As my kids move through the rhythm of birthdays, Christmas, and other gift-inducing holidays, I don’t want the expectation of a gift to dampen their gratitude towards the giver. And that’s a lesson that I need regularly as well. The established, expected presence of the Rockies should be another cause for praise, another reason to give thanks for the faithfulness, strength, and order that comes from our Creator.
These truths come through loudest when my initial reaction is one of delight and enjoyment. When I recognize the gift of Pikes Peak to the south, Grays and Torreys Peaks straight west, Longs Peak to the north, and all the connective summits in between, thankfulness and praise overflow. I want eyes that see a gift to enjoy, a heart that responds in praise, and a mind in tune with what is so clearly revealed in the natural world about our good and generous Father.
Bio: Erik Wolgemuth has worked for Wolgemuth & Associates as a literary agent since 2005. He lives with his wife Kendal and their three kids outside of Denver, CO. You can follow him on Twitter (@ewolgemuth) or find him writing about being a dad at dadcraft.com.
(Trillia’s new book, Enjoy, releases on December 20th. and as a gift for those who choose to pre-order, she has written a devotional for you to use during the Advent season. You can find details here.)
Have you ever woken up beside your spouse and realized you didn’t want to be there? You may have felt this way because marriage can be difficult. Trying to figure out how to relate and love each other for as long as you both shall live can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re carrying bitterness toward your spouse. But it can also be daunting when you’ve grown familiar.
As you live, you change. I’m not the same woman my husband married 13 years ago. I’d like to think in some ways I’ve matured, but even many of my interests have changed. I’ve had children, so my body has definitely changed. Even my temperament has changed as we’ve experienced more trials in our married lives and growth together. I’m still me to the core, but I’m also different. Because of the familiarity we feel in marriage, it takes intentional effort to stay close as each person changes.
Two Sinners, One Union
You might not even realize you no longer know the person you married all those years ago. Remember the time when you couldn’t wait to learn more about your spouse? You’d stay up late on the phone and linger as you’d say goodbye—you didn’t want the conversation to end! In marriage, the wonder and excitement comes and goes, but what my husband, Thern, and I discovered is that when we have a concentrated time of sharing, some of those “warm fuzzies” come rushing back.
I think Tim Keller’s chapter “Loving the Stranger” in his book, The Meaning of Marriage, captures this tension well. There isn’t necessarily anything pulling you away from your spouse – such as adultery or a difficult or trying circumstance – instead, it’s either that you realize you married a sinner or you’ve simply grown apart. Perhaps you’ve been married for several years, and as you’ve changed you’ve become distant – operating more like a business partnership or roommate rather than a couple in a deeply loving marriage.
Keller says that you’re likely to respond in various ways when this happens:
If your purpose in marriage was to acquire a “soul mate”—a person who would not change you and would supportively help you reach your life goals—then this particular reality of marriage will be deeply disorienting. You wake up to the realization that your marriage will take a huge investment of time just to make it work. Just as distressing will be the discovery that your spouse finds you a stranger and has begun to confront you with a list of your serious shortcomings. Your first response will be to tell yourself you made a bad choice and failed to find someone truly compatible.
Instead, Keller suggests that our response should be to see marriage as a spiritual friendship where we can help each other grow “out of our sins and flaws into the new self God is creating.” We would then expect the “stranger seasons,” as he calls them, and would be willing to do the hard work of marriage and spiritual growth.
4 Minutes, 36 Questions
I’ve experienced both responses as I reflect on my marriage over the years. When I first got married, I was overwhelmed by all of the things Thern and I didn’t know about one another. I was tempted to wonder if our marriage was a mistake as a result. Thankfully, I also understood the spiritual aspect of our union and that marriage takes work, so we rolled up our sleeves.
Last year, Thern and I read an article in The New York Times about a woman who claimed that if you simply stared into a person’s eyes for four minutes and asked a series of 36 questions, you’d automatically fall in love. The claim seemed silly, but I wondered what it would do for a couple who had been married for quite some time. So, we tried it.
We sat there eye-to-eye—giddy with excitement—yet honestly feeling quite silly. We lasted the entire four minutes, but it wasn’t the eye gazing that did it for us. Instead the taking the time to ask and answer all 36 questions was deeply significant. We’ve been married for 13 years and together off and on for more than 17—yet we learned new things about each other that night. We learned fears we hadn’t expressed and childhood memories we had suppressed. It was a delight, and we’ve enjoyed greater, deeper conversation since.
Love Is Action
The author of The New York Times article wrote that love is an action, and I agree. Married couples will most definitely feel love, but our feelings are useless when it comes to sustaining marital commitment. Feelings are good but unreliable. Feelings often lie. I’ve been angry before because of something I thought—it wasn’t true, but I believed the lie in my head, felt wronged, and then became angry. And let’s be honest, most of us don’t wake up every single morning with a heart pumping full of love. That’s why it’s important to cultivate a friendship in marriage. The feelings may wane, but love—true love—bears all things and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).
So what do we do when there isn’t a circumstance hindering love except for our own apathy or familiarity? We choose to love. And I think one of the greatest acts of love is through communication. Choose to reengage with that stranger in your bed. Be interested in one another. Look into each other’s eyes and say “I do” all over again.
The Christmas season is traditionally filled with many things: lights, trees, gifts, snow—if you’re lucky—and songs, loads of songs. I imagine that without much thought you could come up with five Christmas-themed songs right now. “Have a Holy Jolly Christmas”, “Jingle Bells”, “White Christmas”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, “Little Drummer Boy”, “Santa Baby”—that list took me a little longer than a minute, but all those songs are quite familiar tunes. Now, these songs have little to no Christian significance, they are simply fun and frequently played holiday classics. We get used to hearing them and maybe singing along to the radio, but they don’t typically move our hearts beyond a feeling of nostalgia. But what about these songs: “Joy to the World”, “O Holy Night”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “Angels We Have Heard On High”, “O Come O Come Emmanuel”? Like the mainstream Christmas songs, it’s easy to sing these hymns of praise with little to no thought about what the words actually mean. But, unlike the others, these songs do have great significance. And so, inspired and encouraged by my church’s children’s ministry director, I’d like to make this Christmas season less about singing and more about worship.
The children’s ministry at our church pulls all of the kids together each Sunday to worship. As I was recently serving, I watched our ministry director come in to help lead worship. She was preparing the kids for an upcoming Christmas performance in front of the church and, as she was doing so, had the kids sing through the song once. The second time she stopped at each line and asked the kids what it meant. Essentially, she was teaching the song. She was helping the kids go from thinking about a performance at church to thinking about what they were singing about. My heart was filled with thankfulness during her lesson as I watched my two kids sing “Gloria, in excelsis Deo” and attach the meaning for singing to it. Yes, I thought to myself, we can sing these songs with gladness, thanksgiving, and praise! These words aren’t simply to be sung in jest or in the name of tradition—they are to help lead us to worship the God Most High.
When I was on a worship team, we’d frequently stop and think about the words we were singing as we practiced. It was a wonderful way to prepare our hearts and also to take our eyes off ourselves and turn them toward the Lord. Now that I’ve been away from that team, I realized on Sunday as I saw my friend lead those little hearts in worship, that I have gotten out of the practice of thinking of the meaning of the words I sing in worship. I guess I could easily ask, during those moments when I’m just repeating and not thinking about what I’m singing, am I even worshiping at all? Thankfully, the Lord was kind to challenge me in a most peculiar way, as my friend taught 3 to 11 year olds! Oh, that we never cease from learning and growing.
So this holiday season, as you hear the familiar words of significant songs, let’s not just sing—although singing is wonderful—let’s worship. And as we think of the rich words in these memorable songs, ask God to reveal to your mind and heart their rich meaning.
I’m praying for fresh grace and joy for you and for me this holiday season so we might praise and exalt our Savior.
Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
(Psalm 33:1-3 ESV)
My friend, Christian Walker, leading the kids in worship and teaching each line.
In a few days, many of us will gather around a table to give thanks with family and friends. But as life goes, Thanksgiving may not be a time of cheer for all. As I thought about how to encourage my own soul this Thanksgiving, the Lord turned my heart to pray to him. I’ve seen pastor Tim Keller, quoted saying something like, “The only person who dares wake a king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.” We have access to the Great High Priest, the King of Kings; we have access to Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father and, during the busyness or difficulties of this season, it might be easy to forget to stop and pray. Therefore, instead of writing about all the reasons we ought to be thankful, I would like to share a prayer from Scotty Smith’s book Every Season Prayers. I hope this prayer encourages your faith during this season.
A Prayer for Remaining Grateful When Life Is Messy
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5: 18 ESV)
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ( Isa. 41: 10 ESV)
Dear heavenly Father, there are some days when it’s good (and important) to remember that you call us to offer thanks in, not for, all circumstances. The gospel isn’t about magical thinking or make-believe living, spiritual anesthesia or circumstantial amnesia. In fact, the gospel is the only place in the universe where we don’t have to pretend about anything. That’s one of the many reasons we love you and are grateful to be your children.
Father, strengthen, help, and uphold us with your righteous right hand, in stories that are recipes for dismay.
For those of us for whom holidays highlight the brokenness of our family system—grant us grace and freedom to love well in the chaos.
For those of us bearing the weight of health concerns for ourselves or those we love—grant us peace, and the assurance of your nearness.
For those of us weighed down by some combination of the six o’clock news, financial pressures, vocational issues, and relational heartache—grant us grace and a vision of the occupied throne of heaven.
For those of us who hear the condemning whispers of Satan louder than the consoling voice of Jesus, grant us grace and fresh assurance that nothing can separate us from your love—that Jesus plus nothing is our righteousness, period.
Father, in these and other scenarios of difficult circumstances, reassure us that you are very much at work, for your glory and our good. For you have called us—you have subpoenaed us to an eternal life of intimacy with yourself. You want us, you have us, and you love us. Hallelujah, now and forever we are yours. In Jesus’ merciful and mighty name we pray. Amen.
I would love for you to check out my new book, Enjoy, which releases on December 20th. And as a gift for those who chose to pre-order, I’ve written a devotional for you to use during the Advent season. You can find details here.
 Smith, Scotty. Every Season Prayers: Gospel-Centered Prayers for the Whole of Life. 33-34
Over the past few weeks, I have been contacted via social media by a group of white supremacists. They are extremist, hateful, and attack with no understanding of who they are attacking. Their threats are alarming, but not all that surprising. And to be honest, it’s almost easier to understand extremists—they’ve potentially been given over to their sin (Romans 1). But what’s confusing for many of us are the numerous people who seem to ignore racism, who sweep it under the rug, or who have categorized racism as a lesser evil than other evils.
Welcome to the 2016 election year.
Unfortunately, when I reflect on what I’ve experienced and what I’m seeing, I think I fear a pendulum swing. It was reported that 81 percent of evangelical voters cast their lot for what many of us deemed as an unacceptable candidate because of his racist and misogynistic views, words, and/or actions. Although the 81 percent report has been rejected by some, even a slight majority vote by evangelicals in the president-elect’s direction has been disappointing for others. As I’ve mentioned before, I was for neither candidate. And what’s done is done. Now we are left with questions.
The pendulum swing-perspective, however, would be to assume that all white evangelicals 1) voted for the now president-elect and 2) are racist. I enjoy a unique proximity to different ethnicities. Proximity isn’t just good for white people. In other words, it’s often encouraged that white people get to know people of other ethnicities because proximity helps with understanding different perspectives, experiences, and viewpoints. This is so very true. But, you see, my proximity is to that of a white male. My husband is white, which gives me a unique view into the culture at large.
Broad Sweeping and Generalizations
If my husband didn’t have skin and you heard him speaking about culture, race, ethnicities, and the general election, you wouldn’t be able to figure out his ethnicity. Perhaps you’d even assume he was African American. He would speak with sadness that our president-elect has appointed a racist as his second in command of the White House. He would lament that there is so much divide in the church. He would hope that there would be reconciliation in our country and he would not be ignorant that this work of reconciliation takes more than simply saying hello as someone passes you in the street. He would share about times he stood up against racism in college. He would tell you about defending his wife after someone said something inappropriate. He would tell you about how he protects his family. Actually, he wouldn’t tell you any of those things because he is modest, humble, and simply not active on social media. Instead, he is living and serving us as an average, everyday citizen of the United States. He is a Christian. He is white. He loves people.
But, if he looked at social media, he might feel a rebuke. Wait, your friends and those who you follow…liberal, conservative and everyone in between, they know I’m with them, right?, he might think. Of course, his biggest concern is me. But my point is, there are many, right now, who strongly oppose racism, although you may not see it. They are the men and women found in the shadows on their knees before the Father. They are the men and women serving alongside people from every tribe, tongue and nation, and weeping with those who weep. They are there. They are the few white men and women evangelical leaders who have taken hits from every side for speaking out strongly the past two years and who now feel a weight of defeat. So in these tense times, we all need to beware of broad sweeping generalities that pit us against each other. What I’d like to say to those on the front lines but operating behind the scenes, as well as to those who are on the front lines and in the public, though we are disheartened we are better together.
There are still many of us who desire reconciliation—real reconciliation. Let’s not throw the baby out of the evangelical bath water. Let’s keep pursuing one another. Let’s keep speaking up. And I’m confident, although it’s a confidence that is shored up by begging and pleading with the Lord and filled with many tears, that in this tough season we may even be able to grow in understanding, even with those whom we thoroughly disagree. Everything is in the light. This is a good thing. My prayer is we wouldn’t waste this season arguing with those who are with us and we wouldn’t waste this season shaming those who are not. Instead, let’s keep speaking truth in love and pray for God’s work in the hearts of his people.
(picture by Michael and Megan Harrington)