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For Tom & Linda


When you grow up in the midst of a happy home, you take a lot of things for granted.

For instance, I didn’t know it wasn’t normal for both parents to come to every sporting event–home and away–of your high school athletic career. I didn’t know other families didn’t gather around the table for dinner every night. I thought it was pretty normal to play family games of Jeopardy around the TV, keeping track of your score on a notecard and determining how much you wanted to wager during the Final Jeopardy round.

In hindsight, I wasn’t nearly as thankful as I should have been. As a parent myself now, I marvel at the sacrifice of my parents. Hours during the week spent behind the wheel, driving me to-and-from various sports practices. Hours spent listening to the same songs (played poorly) on the piano. Hours of help with homeschooling and, in later years, homework.

I marvel at the sacrifice, but I’ve also come to realize that they really enjoyed being with their children. Even in my teenage angst, they genuinely seemed to want to hang out with me. I’m sure there were times when they were relieved when I was in bed, but I never saw that. I saw love.

Looking back, I realize they were, perhaps unwittingly, teaching me about God. They were teaching me what love really is–it makes sacrifices motivated not by duty, but by the joy set before it. Their genuine love for and enjoyment of me was a mere shadow of my heavenly Father’s love for me as His child. He doesn’t merely tolerate me, nor does He cast me away or roll His eyes when I’m making poor decisions, once again. He loves me as He loves His Son.

Even now, my parents are my cheerleaders. If you’re my friend on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen their names on pretty much every thing I’ve ever posted. I could post the same link to an article 3 times and they would probably “Like” it all 3 times. I know how I’ve treated them in the past. I know I don’t deserve any support or encouragement on my own merit. But there they are, wielding Facebook “Likes” as pom-poms and faithfully cheering me on.

Today my parents celebrate 35 years of marriage. They’re spending the week at a friend’s condo. If you know them, you know this is an unusual blessing. Even their vacation time is usually spent with their kids and grandkids, working and serving.

For the past 15 years, my dad has been a bi-vocational pastor, working 40+ hours as a journalist and pastoring a small church. His life is service. He’s normally the first one at his church, helping set up chairs before the service, and he’s the last one to leave, collecting the fold-up church stand from the roadside on his way home. It’s not just duty; it’s joy.

My mom drives 10 hours every few months to my house to serve me for a week. She cooks, cleans and plays all day every day. She serves the women in her church. In fact, my parents are using some of their evenings to babysit for other families. It’s not just duty; it’s joy.

It’s the joy of being loved and known that motivates their own love and service. It’s the knowledge that Jesus Christ humbled Himself. But just knowing this isn’t enough. Their service is fueled not just by knowledge, but by receiving incredible grace. And they are conduits for this grace, dispensing it to all who know them.

My parents aren’t perfect, but they are a beautiful testament of the power of God’s saving, redeeming, sanctifying grace in the hearts of two flawed people.

So today I just want to say thank you. I love you, Dad and Mom.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Santa Claus

'Santa Claus with reindeer at the beach: Panama City Beach, Florida' photo (c) 1956, Florida Memory - license:

So I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with Santa right now. I’m wondering if anyone else has dealt with this tension in the past, so I’m just going to put it out there and see what others think.

We’ll start with the hate, naturally.

Erik and I are both products of Santa-less homes. He was never part of our Christmas traditions, and we didn’t know any different. So when we began our own traditions with our kids, we had no category for Santa. In fact, when our daughter was 2, she somehow morphed Santa and Noah into one jolly, animal-saving being. I remember pushing her in a shopping cart around Lowe’s and, upon seeing a life-sized Santa figure, hearing her shout, “Noah says ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!'” Naturally, I did nothing to correct this. (Incidentally, I may have also allowed my young son to believe the bear says “wuah ha ha” for far too long…parents just do this when their kids say cute stuff…I’m banking on no permanent damage being done).

So we’ve never really been Santa people, and it’s never been much of an issue. But this year my daughter is in kindergarten, where Santa reigns supreme. By the end of September she had already told a classmate Santa wasn’t real. So we had many talks about how it’s not her job to tell other kids that, and we need to respect the traditions of their families, etc. And I believe that, really. I hoped we could all just get through Christmas peaceably.

But then she came home one day telling me how Santa is real after all. She’s seen his workshop, and his good kid/bad kid list. She only hopes she can get her name on the good list. Of course, I then asked her how many bad things she’s allowed to do and still be on the good kid list.(For example, would not believing her mom be enough to put her on the bad list? She did not appreciate this question).

This post isn’t a rant about my daughter not believing me, nor is it about our society perpetuating a lie. I mean, I’m not exactly thrilled about the whole setup, but that’s not really the issue.

It’s not even really about Santa. We’ve taught our kids about the real Saint Nicholas and we’ll continue to reiterate the truth within the legend. This is a good, valuable message.

But the naughty/nice thing is just the worst. It’s the worst because it’s just like us to crave a list like this. And it’s super convenient for having a peaceful December. The fear of coal-filled stockings is a real thing, friends. I’ve seen small children reduced to tears at just the thought.

So this is where the love part of the love/hate thing comes in. Part of me really loves Santa because I’ve never had an easier way to share the gospel with my kids as well as other parents/friends/teachers.

A couple of days after we decorated our home for Christmas, I put the kids’ wrapped presents under the tree. I’m not always (read: never) on top of things like this, but this year I’m so thankful for the miraculous gift of preparedness because it has come in incredibly handy with our kids. When the discussion of Santa and his lists came up, I was able to point my daughter to the presents under the tree. I’m so thankful for the wisdom of God allowing me to tell her this:

“Do you see those presents under the tree? They are from your dad and me. They will be there every day until Christmas morning. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how bad you are. You will not lose those presents. You cannot earn them–they are a gift from us because we love you. With Santa, you have to be good to earn gifts. But you and I both know we can never be good enough on our own. And that’s why Jesus is so much greater than Santa. God knew we could never be good enough on our own, so He sent Jesus. Jesus was good in our place, and when we trust in His goodness and His love, instead of our own, then we get His sinless record before God. We get to know God! So Santa really isn’t so great after all.”

So I know this isn’t the end, and we will probably have this discussion every Christmas for years to come. And while part of me hates the thought of forcing my kids to choose whom to believe, part of me loves that inherent in this discussion is a clear gospel presentation. I pray for opportunities to declare the freedom of gospel grace in place of the karma of Santa Claus.

Note: This is in no way meant to condemn anyone who does Santa with their kids. I know lots of people who do it for fun without the naughty/nice lists and have a great time with their kids, not taking away from the true message of Christmas. So please don’t read it as judgment.

But I am wondering how other parents tackle this topic with their kids. If you have thoughts or ideas, I would really love to hear them!

Gospel Like Jazz

Sometimes I think the deeper I go into the gospel, the harder it is to come up with blog topics. Almost daily my Facebook feed includes a link to a viral blog post about what to wear/what not to wear, what to eat/what not to eat, who’s in/who’s out, how to/how not to, and it just goes on and on. Not to say all these things are bad. Practical blog posts can be really helpful–there are many I have benefited from over the years.

But it occurred to me that blogging gives me an insight into sermon preparation. My husband and I are both pastor’s kids, so we’ve seen our dads study and prep and deliver hundreds of sermons over the years. I think most pastors who seek to be faithful to Scripture end up hearing the inevitable criticism, “That’s all well and good, but how does it apply to me? I need more practical application.” I get it…I like practical application too. This isn’t exactly a critique of that idea. But there’s a line I reach frequently in thinking about blogging, and I ask myself what the priority is. Am I seeking to be faithful to the truth of Scripture and the gospel of grace, and then applying that truth to daily life? Or am I taking an idea or preference, writing a blog post about it, then throwing in some Scripture? I’m learning there’s quite a difference.

I recently heard an interview on NPR’s Here and Now program, in which the host and his guest, Julie Lavender, discussed jazz music. She mentioned one musician, Daniel Bennett, whose work she really respects, and her description of his music stood out to me. She said:

“He will repeat things over and over and over again to give them a lot of meaning. Rather than try to shoot for the moon in a bunch of different notes and progressions and improvisations across a wide harmony spectrum, he will repeat and give greater meaning to things that are repeated over and over.”

I’m no huge jazz fan, but this idea has really stuck with me. The thought of giving something meaning through repetition seems to fly in the face of many of my presuppositions. Wouldn’t repetition cause the melody to become trite or boring? But therein lies the skill of the musician. He isn’t simply playing the same line in the same way every time. He’s adding depth, variety of tempo, instruments, emotion. It’s not just a stagnant melody line, but a layered musical jewel, at the same time simple and profound.

I love this idea for blogging. May my writing be one same melody line, repeated over and over and over again, but played at different tempos, with a variety of instruments, at all times simple truth.

And while I’m at it, shouldn’t this be my life as well? It might make for impractical sermons, blog posts, or coffee dates, but it’s all I’ve got. Christ is all. May it be so, here in this space, in my own home, and in my heart.

 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Phil 3:7-11

Waiting for Your Wedding: Reflections on Advent

'waiting at the door' photo (c) 2006, Joe Flood - license:

This post is dedicated to my husband’s cousin, James, and his precious fiancee, Malia. They are quickly approaching their wedding date of December 21st, and as I thought about their final preparations, I was inspired to spend some time meditating on the similarities of advent and engagement.

Dear Jimmy and Malia,

There are seventeen days left in your engagement. As my children count down the days until Christmas morning, you are counting down the days until you are “man and wife.” As I thought about the excitement and anticipation of the final days of my engagement, I realized I was just a bit envious of you both. This is a special time, unlike any other we experience in human relationships. And yet, as with so many things, it’s just a shadow of something so much greater.

It’s hard to explain to young children what it might have been like for God’s people to wait hundreds of years between prophecy and fulfillment. It’s hard even for me to understand. We sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and talk about the anticipation of Christmas day and how that’s just a tiny bit like what the people awaiting Christ felt as they waited and waited. But we don’t fully understand it. We’re not a culture that waits well. We demand instant gratification, determining worth by an object’s immediate availability, rather than its inherent value.

But you two–you’re getting a glimpse now of what it means to wait. You’ve awaited this day for so long already. And yet you continue to wait–just a few weeks more. You are blessed to know the day and the time, but that only eases the waiting slightly. I remember wanting to just hurry and get married already! There is a yearning–a longing for oneness–that only the arrival of the wedding day can satisfy. For millions of people, December 21st is just another day. But for you, it’s the day. The day it all changes. The day of joy and celebration, the culmination of years of prayers and tears and laughter.

On this day, friends and family will rejoice with you. They will witness something remarkable–the union of two people becoming one. But you two will experience something more.

Jimmy, you’ll know a piece of the joy of our Bridegroom, Christ. You’ll know what it is He sees as He looks on us. As your bride walks toward you, your heart will swell with happiness. You chose this bride and you love her dearly. And this is just the tiniest shadow of the love Christ has for the bride He redeemed with His own blood.

Malia, you’ll know in a new way what it means to be the bride of Christ. You will be clothed in white, walking toward your groom. You will be united with him, finally his bride. As he watches you coming toward him, you’ll know how dearly you’re loved. You’ll see it on his face and as you take his hand, you’ll feel it there too. And this is just the tiniest shadow of what it means to be the bride of Christ.

During Advent we rehearse waiting–remembering the anticipation of the Messiah’s first coming, readying our hearts for His second. We feel longing and yearning for oneness. We linger in the “already, but not yet,” just as you two are promised to one another, but not yet one. Even so, we know the joy of being found in Him, but not yet with Him. So we wait, and we invite others to join in the waiting along with us.

I’m jealous of you two as you wait during these next seventeen days. You are living out a beautiful metaphor. I pray you wait well, that in His grace your Father will give you joy and peace in the waiting. I pray for joy and peace on the wedding day as well. And I pray that all present on that day will know your love not just for one another, but for your Savior–your true Bridegroom.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,


For the Lord our God

the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult

and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself

with fine linen, bright and pure”

Revelation 19:6-8

On Interfaith Marriage and Weddings

til faith

Over the weekend I spent some time reading Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America by Naomi Schaefer Riley. This book is fascinating in its description of modern marriages, 45% of which are interfaith unions, and the religious beliefs of  various married couples. Riley discusses everything from the wedding to raising children to divorce rate comparisons, and she writes from a first-person perspective based on her own experience of meshing her Jewish background with that of her husband’s Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. Riley points out what she perceives as both weaknesses and strengths of interfaith marriage, although at times I found it difficult to view the “strengths” as such.

This post is not a review of the book, but as I read, one particular quote in the Conclusion chapter stood out to me:

[…] it is easy to see why interfaith marriage is growing by leaps and bounds. We like diversity; we believe members of other faiths are not only decent, but can get to heaven; we see marriage as a largely individual decision; we will meet our spouse and marry him or her with little forethought about his or her religious beliefs; when we find a potential partner, we believe the relationship between spouses will be an all-consuming one and that our families and communities do not have any kind of competing claims on our loyalties; we think religion is important but it is for kids and parents, not for young, single adults.(p.205)

As I set the book down, I wondered, “So what do we do with this?”

Parents may be raising their children with certain religious convictions or participation (or not), but we read and hear many reports stating that college students are widely prone to leave whatever faith system they were formerly part of. Whether this means a period of religious experimentation, or, as the author purports above, no importance at all placed on religion, we see it increasingly is not a make-or-break factor in many marriages.

The book described spouses from various backgrounds (LDS, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, mainstream, evangelical Christian) in marriages with those from other backgrounds. Many of those interviewed thought of their religion very little until time to make decisions for the wedding or when determining how to raise children. I found the author’s description of how couples celebrate holidays (such as Christmas) fascinating. She writes, “I have heard many interfaith couples use the analogy of a birthday party to explain the celebration of holidays to children: You can help your friend celebrate his birthday by going to his party and singing and eating and giving him a present. It’s not your birthday, but you can still participate. We can help dad celebrate Christmas even if it’s not our holiday.” (p.99)

I confess it’s difficult for me to imagine all of this. I know there are many couples who experience changes after marriage in their religious identity–some deny the faith they formerly claimed, others convert–but the thought of starting out marriage from such different points of view seems to be an enormous challenge.

Of course, the assumption in all of this is mentioned in Riley’s quote above: “We like diversity; we believe members of other faiths are not only decent, but can get to heaven;” This belief opens us up to marry whomever we wish–if he/she is a good person, why not? But then the questions come:

“Should we have mass at the wedding if one spouse is Catholic and the other Protestant?”

“Should we mention the name of Jesus if one spouse is Christian and the other Jewish?”

“Is it possible to raise our children in both faiths? If not, how do we choose which one?”

So how do we respond to this in our own churches and homes?

I can’t speak to other faith traditions, but I can just a bit to evangelical Christianity. So here are a few reasons why I think we’re increasingly seeing interfaith marriage as a possibility in the Church:

First, we don’t know what Christianity is. We don’t know what it means to truly follow Christ. We’ve reduced our “faith” to a common experience–to traditionalism. If this is the case and if all the “take up your cross” and “deny yourself” (Matt. 16:24-26) stuff is merely a suggestion for the truly devout, then Christianity might just be compatible with various religious systems. But if “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil 1:21), then our lives mean far more than many of us realize.

Second, we don’t know what marriage really is. What does it truly mean? If it’s a social construct, then by all means we should marry whomever we wish. But if, as the Bible states, it was created by God to demonstrate a far greater reality, then our marriages mean far more than many of us realize.

But maybe you’re reading this and feel I’m simply stating the obvious. And here’s where the third observation comes in. IF the Christian life is about more than moralism and tradition, and IF marriage is meant to represent a far greater reality, how do these truths apply to our weddings?

The third truth is this: We don’t know what a wedding is. We don’t realize that not only did God create marriage, He orchestrated the first wedding. Running through the pages of Scripture is the beautiful metaphor of marriage, a picture of an intimate, loving husband and His bride, awaiting their ultimate union. Our weddings should reveal this expectancy and excitement, the tension of the already/not yet of the Kingdom. Marriage is common grace, God’s good gift to the world, but Christians should “get it” in a different way. And if we did, our weddings might reveal this truth to all those in attendance. We might rejoice in the greater reality of what we’re truly doing. And we might see how incompatible this reality is with faith systems that deny the deity of Christ–our true Bridegroom.

So I write all this not to motivate us to despair or try harder, but to encourage us to truly see Christ and point others to Him. We shouldn’t respond in fear of the future of evangelicalism, but maybe with a mix of hope and sadness. Love compels us to see what our friends and children are missing–we’re not fearful for the future of a “system” from which they’re turning away, but rather heartbroken that they haven’t truly seen the love of Christ.

From the outside, we may seem exclusive or intolerant. But the love of Christ compels us to share with others this great truth–Christ is all! A life, marriage, or wedding without Christ misses the point. This realization spurs us on to love and good deeds, powered by the gospel truth and the Holy Spirit to demonstrate through our imperfect lives and marriages that there is a far greater reality to come. So as we await that reality, we invite others to the ultimate wedding celebration to come.

The Gospel and Sex

'Mazzali: SWEET bed' photo (c) 2007, Mazzali - license:’ve talked on the blog before about pre-marital counseling, and I’ll be writing about it again soon. One of the facets of most counseling sessions is a conversation on sex. Maybe we talk about the purpose of it, what inhibits it, how we use it to negotiate or how we come to it selfishly. Frequently, though, sex is separate from our other gospel-centered marriage counseling. I know I’ve read plenty of articles or book chapters meant to motivate me to serve my husband through sex. These things might work for a time, but I’ve realized they only go so deep. We know we should do it, but the “why” is left at “because he needs it,” and the “how” is “by being open and vulnerable and willing.”

But these statements leave us still wanting something deeper. I can’t muster up the courage to be vulnerable and open with my husband. I can tell myself I need to, but that only makes it harder, stacking feelings of guilt on top of each other and making it even more impossible to be vulnerable.

My dear friend, Marci, wrote a fantastic article about this topic that is a must-read–whether you’re engaged to be married, newlyweds, or married for years. Even for teens it’s a great description of the purpose and beauty of sex.

Here’s one quote that captures the angst we often feel as we look at sex in marriage:

Christian couples want to be uninhibited with each other but it’s not safe. We have perverted what God intended to be pure and we’re not quite sure how to go back. Both husbands and wives long to return to the garden of Eden when the two could be naked together and unashamed, but our sin keeps getting in the way, marring our marriage beds with shame and mistrust.

I encourage you to take the time to read this post today–it is joyful and freeing good news!

Gospel-Centered Sex? by Marci Preheim

Book Review: Found in Him

I confess I’m not a great book reviewer. My reviews are far more subjective than objective, and I struggle to point out negative aspects. So normally I just review books I agree with and love.

And…today is no exception. While writing A Christ-Centered Wedding, I did a lot of research into and thinking about what our marriage union with Christ really means. When I heard that Elyse Fitzpatrick was writing a book on this very topic, I was anxious to read it, only to discover it wouldn’t be out until well past the due date for our book. This was probably a gift from the Lord so that I wouldn’t be tempted to plagiarize all of Fitzpatrick’s book.

I had the honor of hearing the author speak last year at the True Woman conference in Indianapolis. When we go to conferences, there is a tendency for us to make mental to-do lists of what we need to do and change when we return home. We hear a convicting message, determine to change things, and go home with renewed resolve. Or maybe it’s just me. But then Elyse Fitzpatrick spoke on our identity in Christ and talked about her desire to give women “No fluff, no bricks, just Good News.” I walked away refreshed, encouraged, and knowing how dearly I was loved in Christ.

This is the same feeling I had after reading Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with ChristThe entire book is about Christ. We’re so used to the “now that you know this, go do this” section of books that I kept waiting for it. But it wasn’t there. The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 deals with the incarnation of the God-man, Jesus Christ; Part 2 with our union in and with Christ.

This is a book that needs to be slowly chewed and reflected on. I received a digital copy from the publisher in exchange for a review (which is not required to be positive), but I will be ordering a hard copy just so I can write all over it and come back to it, a bit at a time, to really think it through. Fitzpatrick’s writing is accessible and understandable, but not watered down or overly sentimental. It’s like someone walking you through Scripture and constantly reflecting–“Can you believe this? This is the Christ who has loved you. This is what He did and is still doing.”

My eyes were opened and my heart rejoiced as I read about the deep significance of Jesus’ faithfulness and the purpose of His perfect life. I better understood the resurrection through the lens of childbirth. In fact, here’s just a small quote–I highlighted half of the book on my Kindle, so I’m really restraining myself not to share quote after quote:

When we read that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:9), we really don’t have much of a clue what that means, do we? Think of it: a virgin shall conceive. A desolate unmarried man sings because he gives birth and sees his children. A new humanity is born in a new garden, but this time it is not from the dust of the earth but from the flesh of God, once dead but now alive, that they come. God labors! The Son cries out in pain, and we are born again! He thought nothing of the shame of the cross because of the joy of our birth in him (Heb. 12:2).

There is some great stuff in the second part of the book, as well. The author discusses what it means for us to be the bride of Christ and spends some time reflecting on the fact that in Christ we are all (male and female) in a way feminine in comparison to the masculinity of God. This might be a somewhat controversial concept, but in context it points us to rejoice in the loving Bridegroom and our union with Him:

Whenever anyone got around Jesus they felt both welcomed and in need of protection and provision, and they all came to know that he had initiated the relationship and was completely in charge.

The final chapter is as close to a “to-do list” as it gets, but in fact it’s much more like a “to-think-on” list. It’s an application in a way, as if to say, “If all the preceding thoughts are true, what implication does this have for my daily life?” But, unlike many other books and teachings, it’s not focused primarily on change. As Fitzpatrick writes:

For many people the entire point of Christianity is found here in the topic of change. No matter how one might define that word, many of us are primarily interested in how to get better, to be better, and to do more. Rather than spending most of our time reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ, the majority of messages and books in the Christian marketplace are about what we’re supposed to be doing. The deep and life-transforming message of the incarnation and our union with Jesus is trampled under the stampede of believers trying to find the secret to being a better you.

So this final chapter shows how doing just that–reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ–powers and inspires us in daily faithfulness.

I love that this book came out in time to meditate on it before and during the Christmas season. I highly recommend it. It’s not just a “woman’s book,” but Fitzpatrick’s writing style is such that I think anyone would greatly benefit from a thorough reading. Maybe an early Christmas gift for a friend or family member (or yourself?).


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