a follower and philalethist

My musings, food for thought, and perspective on faith, family, and culture.

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Born to Die?

On a busy street corner recently, a man was holding a sign that read “Jesus was born to die”. A popular image is circulating of a wreath turning into a crown of thorns with the message “This is the season, this is the reason” as a reminder that Jesus is the reason for the season so that we keep Christ in Christmas.

Was Jesus Really Born to Die?

Was Jesus really born to die? Is that all Christmas is about? Is the only value to Jesus’ incarnation that He would later give His life on the cross for our sins?

If your view of the gospel is primarily that Jesus died for your sins, it’s tempting to ignore all of the significance of Jesus’ incarnation, and skip straight to Easter. But doing that misses everything that Advent offers us as we watch and wait with skeptical hopefulness, a flicker of light reminding us in the midst of our darkness that God may still show up.

A central event of Christianity is Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But it’s meaning is lost if we don’t also allow Christmas to stand on its own. Jesus would later die, but His birth wasn’t to mark Him as a sacrifice as if He were thrown into some kind of divine, cosmic dystopian Netflix series. Jesus entered into our humanity, experienced our suffering and pain, and embodied God and His love for each and every one of us. He showed us how to live, how to love, who to love, how to suffer, and how to forgive. If we jump straight from Christmas to Easter, we’re using Jesus to spiritually bypass our humanity.

God Is Seeking Union

Kelly Edmiston describes Jesus’ birth as “God stooping down low to meet us eye to eye, and to ask us, “Can I love you through this? Even if we had never sinned, God still would have come. The incarnation is God seeking union with humankind.”

You might raise a skeptical eyebrow at the assertion that God will still have come had we never sinned. Edmiston goes on to quote Elizabeth Johnson: “The Word became flesh so that God who is love could enter into a deep personal union with the world, the beloved. This would happen even if human beings had not sinned. The fact that the world is sinful entailed that the suffering and death of the cross become part of Jesus’ story.”

She goes on to describe the relationship between our suffering and the incarnation, and it’s a good, quick read.

The good news of Christmas (or the gospel, if you prefer that language) is God seeking union with us, in all our messy, dark, hurting, joyful, conflicted, mundane humanity. Jesus is the reason for the season, but no, Jesus was not born to die. Yes, He does die, and that deserves our attention too. But reducing Jesus’ coming as only to die misses the beauty of Christmas, the hope and promise of a baby, as God Himself hears and sees and enters into our humanity.

God With Us

After all, Jesus’ birth was to fulfill the words of Isaiah: “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).”

There’s something profound and powerful in the simple statement that God is now with us. Our collective experience had been like Job’s: “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” Jesus reveals God to us. We had only heard about God before, but now we can see Him. God is no longer distant; He is now with us.

Born to die? No, God with us!


This One’s for the Girls

The Unites States Women’s National Team kicked off their 2019 World Cup group stage with a record-breaking win over Thailand 13-0. Time for celebration right? Not so fast (according to some)! What were they thinking, devastating the poor Thai team like that? Why not play keep away, save a few goals, and let Thailand have some dignity?

A few thoughts about that…

An Incredibly Fun Game

This was an incredibly fun game to watch. Who doesn’t like to see goals, and especially goals scored well, from about every possible angle and opportunity and by over half the team? We scored from set pieces, through balls, crosses, headers, build-up, counter-attacks. Other than PKs and corner kicks, we scored from about every place in the attacking third. 7 players scored, setting a record for most individual goal-scorers in a game, and Alex Morgan tied Michelle Akers record for 5 goals in a single game.

Not a Friendly

This wasn’t a friendly. This is the World Cup. Soccer’s biggest possible stage. Germany embarrassed Brazil with a 7-0 defeat in the 2014 Men’s World Cup. I don’t remember anyone criticizing Germany for not letting off the gas after, say, 5 goals. All the criticism was leveled at the (poor) quality of the Brazilian side at the time. I played in a game in college where we set a record with a 21-0 home loss. It was demoralizing, but none of the talk or commiseration after the game was directed at our opponent for running up the score. They were obviously the better team. We knew we were at a different level and needed to make changes. I don’t know any competitive team in a group stage of a tournament that won’t score as many goals as possible. Goal differential matters, so in opening rounds it’s conventional wisdom to run up the score if you have the chance. Sure, in high school and lower levels you might be able to rest players and play the bench, but you don’t have that privilege with limited substitutions at the professional level. Momentum also makes a big difference in tournaments. I coached with a high school team that was seeded next to last. We won the opening game 7-0 and rode the momentum through a district championship all the way to the state 3rd place game. Every tournament is play to win, so why would the World Cup, the biggest tournament in… the world… be different?

Something to Celebrate

This was something to celebrate. Our men’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup last year. It was a crushing blow not to have a World Cup to anticipate to unify our patriotism, when so much of our national narrative has been divisive. With the men’s team also failing to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics, we haven’t had a chance to watch our country play on the world stage since the women’s team flamed out of the same tournament in the quarterfinals. We haven’t tasted substantial victory since winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup a very long four years ago. Our women’s team deserves the chance to make a big impression this year, and they deserve the chance to celebrate. Should they celebrate every single goal? Maybe Morgan shouldn’t have celebrated a hat trick or tying Akers’ record? Perhaps Mewis Lavelle, and Haran, who each made their World Cup debut? Lloyd’s goal in her 3rd consecutive World Cup? Was it “classless” to celebrate? Morgan described it as an “explosion of joy” and that’s an apt description. No celebrations were excessive, directed at Thailand, or in bad taste. It looked like a team giving their all, creating each goal as if it was the first and celebrating out of sheer exhilaration.

What Our Women Can Do

This was a team showing us what our women can do. It isn’t news that our women’s team has enjoyed far more World Cup/soccer success than our men’s team. They have four Olympic gold medals and three World Cup wins. Now they’ve scored more goals in a single World Cup game than our men’s side has scored in the last four World Cups COMBINED. That’s not a small feat. Having grown up with Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers as household names and onto newer dynasties with Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, to the Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe era and the rising stars in Rose Lavelle and Lindsay Horan, US women’s soccer has a strong legacy and a bright future. I like the passion, enthusiasm, and sports(wo)manship this team brings. I want my daughter to be inspired by these women. I want my sons to admire them.

Beyond the Field

Beyond the field, our women don’t deserve criticism for doing their best. They shouldn’t be told to tone it down. This is a bigger conversation than soccer; it’s about what we understand about “a woman’s place”. Would our men’s team have received the same criticism for a similar result? That’s doubtful (we would have been happy to have had the chance to play, after all, so I hope World Cup 2022 shows us a very hungry men’s team). Do we believe that men and women are equal, or that different rules and expectations apply? There’s a lot of talk about equality, but in our post-#MeToo culture, it’s clear that we value women differently, objectifying them or expecting them to fit certain molds. We need to stand with our women. Let’s celebrate their success. Let’s respect their contributions. Let’s encourage their dreams. Let’s empower their achievement. This isn’t a man’s world. It’s our world, together.


Perfect or Pretend?

Sanctification has been the focus of this week’s devotions. Sanctification is the process of growth in holiness; it is how God is making us more like Jesus. Chambers says on July 23, “The one marvellous secret of a holy life lies not in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfections of Jesus manifest themselves in my mortal flesh… Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be holy; it is drawing from Jesus the holiness that was manifested in Him… Sanctification is an impartation, not an imitation.”

Once in 1 Peter 1:16 and five times in Leviticus God’s people are called to “be holy as I (God) am holy.” What’s the difference between acting holy and being holy? Holiness is our identity in Christ. Holiness is not simply being sinless; it’s the character of God, demonstrated through Jesus. Holiness is relational. Holiness is not avoiding sin and doing good. It is being like God. What is God like? He is love. He is just and merciful. He is gracious, longsuffering, and kind. God created us in His image, and He is re-shaping us back into the image of Christ. Holiness is what we are in Christ, not just what we do. When I try to act holy, I end up having to cover up a lot of what isn’t holy in my life. I used to cringe at the idea of “holiness” because I knew, as good as I tried to be, it wasn’t going to be enough. I was trying to imitate Jesus, to act holy, instead of resting in the holiness that Jesus wants to (and does!) produce in me.

If Christ Jesus became to us wisdom from God, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30), He is not just a model of what God expects; Jesus is the means by which God will give us the power to become what He desires us to be. That’s refreshing. My life in Christ is not based on my performance. My life comes from Him, and He gives me what I can never be. What is my role in the sanctification process? It really isn’t any different than it was when I first began following Christ: I need to trust Him. I need to give up my rights to what I want to do and submit myself to Him. Ask Him to produce in you what you don’t want to be on your own. Ask Him to love others through you, to be patient, kind, and self-controlled. Ask Him to let His character be reflected through you.


Coming to Jesus

Several devotional readings over the past week have reflected on coming to Jesus. The call of discipleship is first a call to come to Jesus. We often get the order mixed up. I want to do something for Jesus. Indeed, Chambers emphasized on June 11th that in our stubbornness we would rather do anything than the simple, childlike act of coming to Jesus. This week has been a busy week around Grace with Vacation Bible School. We want to be busy about investing in others, serving in ministry, and loving one another and our community well. But in my own life, busyness often drowns out what God is wanting to do in my heart. Chambers asked a question on June 10th that has resounded in my mind over the past few days: “Are you thirsty, or smugly indifferent—so satisfied with your experience that you want nothing more of God?” Ouch. I’m sure we would all say a loud “no!” But what does my life reflect? Do I allow God to touch my heart? Do I want Him to? Am I satisfied—apathetic—in my walk with God, to the point I’m not letting Him transform my heart? Even spending time in daily devotion can become routine. Am I reflecting on the wisdom of Chambers and the truth of God’s Word?

Jesus’ first invitation in discipleship is to “come, follow Me” (Matthew 4:19, Mark 10:21), and we often reserve coming to Jesus as our initial response in faith to the gospel. My tendency is to come and go, but Jesus invites us to come and be with Him. Jesus doesn’t want us to come to Him and then go about our lives. He continually invited the disciples and the crowds to come to Him:

Come and rest – Matthew 11:28
Come to me and drink, if you thirst – John 7:37
Come and see – John 1:39
Come to me; I will not cast you out – John 6:37
Come away and rest – Mark 6:31

Have you come to Jesus? Will you come now?


Saturated or Squeezed?

Lately I’ve been saturated with the gospel. I’m co-teaching a class on the Gospel Centered Life, my small group is studying the Anatomy of a Disciple, I’m working through a devotional on the New Morning Mercies of the gospel and a book called the Gospel Primer, and as a church we’re going through the magna carta of the gospel every Sunday in Galatians. I love the gospel; I love the theme of redemption and restoration threaded throughout Scripture reminding me of my unworthiness and God’s lavish grace. It is my hope and foundation. But is it enough to be saturated with the gospel?

A sponge can take in water by sitting in a bowl, but water better penetrates it when it is squeezed. I want to grow by positive experiences: listening to a sermon, reading the Word, talking with other believers. Unfortunately we can easily be saturated with the truth without it reaching our hearts. James 1:2-4 reminds us to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The path to maturity–becoming perfect or complete in Christ (Ephesians 4:13)–happens best through trial, struggle, and suffering. I don’t enjoy or look forward to that! However, we should view the difficulties in our lives as a means of squeezing us, by which God can reach our hearts (Romans 5:1-5).

Lent began last week, and while I’ve entertained a fascination with the fasting and practices surrounding Lent, I’ve been hesitant to observe Lent personally. I prefer the celebration of Easter to the reflective and sacrificial season of Lent. But perhaps the gospel is present in the Lenten season, culminating in Easter, in a way uniquely illustrating how God works in us to accomplish our growth in Christ. While the popular focus is on what people give up for Lent, could we simply let it be a reminder that being squeezed (or even crushed) by suffering is not outside God’s reach or care?

How are you being squeezed? How may God be using your struggle to help you grow in Christ?


Providing for Christmas

One of my favorite passages related to Christmas is hardly associated with Christmas at all:
“Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together… so Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Genesis 22:8, 14). In this passage, God is first introduced to us in Scripture as Jehovah Jireh, “the Lord who provides,” or literally “the Lord who will see to it.” Of all the names for God we celebrate at Christmas, perhaps this one is the most understated, yet perfectly sufficient. Abraham knew Isaac was the promised son for whom he had waited (albeit impatiently) for years. God’s own trustworthiness was on the line. Against all logic, Abraham trusted God to provide a sacrifice, and God did provide miraculously and unexpectedly. Moving forward 2,000 years, God once again provided a promised son, in a manner none would expect: the King of Kings, born a humble baby to a poor working class family; Jesus, named so because He would save His people from their sins. He is the God who provides, eventually on a cross near that same mountain, to meet the greatest need of all humanity.
When we consider trusting God to provide, we usually have specific expectations: we have a need, we ask God to meet that need, and we expect that He will respond to our prayer and meet the need. Rarely, in my experience, has God provided in the logical ways I expect. The Christmas story reminds us that God in His goodness knows our needs and lovingly provides. He may not provide in the way we expect or want at the time, but He will perfectly see to it.


Voting Conscience

In evangelical circles, we typically instruct people to “vote their conscience,” avoiding making political recommendations and encouraging people to explore the issues and vote for a candidate based on their values, morals, and ethics. What do we do when we cannot conscientiously support either major party candidate?  My solution was to vote for a write-in candidate. I understand the arguments against voting third party or write-in, and I would have argued them myself in past elections:

  • “A third party vote is a vote for (fill-in-the-blank with the opposing party’s candidate).” If I were considering voting for one major party candidate over the other but chose to go with a write-in instead, that would be valid.
  • “Vote the party not the person.” Also valid if I aligned myself with either party, but I don’t. According to ISideWith.com, I lean toward one party over the other, but I’ve always voted person over party, and smothering my conscience in this election to vote party seems to be the worst possible time.
  • “Vote for the lesser of two evils.” Pragmatism would suggest voting for the least offensive major party candidate because a third party vote won’t accomplish anything. I’ve never been much of a pragmatist, and pragmatism and conscience don’t often make good bedfellows.
  • “When in doubt, vote (fill-in-the-blank with your preferred single issue).” In conservative circles the single issue is overwhelmingly to vote pro-life, but other groups identify single issues as well. Supreme court appointments could fall into this category. I can’t restrict my conscience to any single issue, even though it may be significant and serve to swing my opinion in most cases. I also can’t in good conscience overlook all of the other issues and flaws of a particular candidate and endorse them because they happen to nod toward a favorite single issue or promise conservative appointments.

There are other arguments, of course, and I don’t expect that I will ever align completely with any candidate. Will I vote third party again? I don’t know. Will my vote make a difference? Can I pat myself on the back for making a stand, however small and insignificant? Probably not. Will I end up contributing to the election of the greater of two evils? In this election, I can’t say which major party candidate that would be. I’m sure I will be dismissed by both major party supporters as a misguided idealist, and I am (an idealist at least, although not misguided I hope). If I’m going to exercise my right to vote, which I believe we all should, then I’m going to stick to my conscience and vote for the most qualified candidate that I believe aligns best with my matrix of competence, character, and issues.

My confidence is in God’s control and sovereignty, and regardless of the outcome, I am reminded of His truth and my hope in Christ, which gives me the courage to vote my conscience:

  • The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)
  • The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:1)
  • First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
  • Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

How does the Garden Grow? — Caleb & Courtney Smith

Guest post from dear friends Caleb and Courtney Smith, who are serving with Beautiful Feet Ministries and A Greater Hope Orphanage in Cambodia. I hope you’ll be challenged by their commitment to the gospel and experiences as they participate in the kingdom of God tangibly unfolding in the kingdom of Cambodia! Follow their blog below and take a look at today’s most recent newsletter, describing a family experiencing a small but substantial perspective of God’s making all things new.

“After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the […]

via How does the Garden Grow? — Caleb & Courtney Smith

Refining and Suffering

We often view the situations we face as things God uses to mature us and refine our character. Those circumstances break us or challenge us and lead us to a place of dependence on Christ. But those situations, thankfully, can be few and far between. What if we were to look at our relationships as means of suffering and refinement? Sure, there are people that may intend to do harm physically or verbally, and those are times of obvious suffering. But what about our daily interactions with the people in our lives? We want people to like us. Conflict makes us uncomfortable. We think we deserve to be treated a certain way. Those ideals are not wrong, but what happens when we are treated unfairly, overlooked, taken for granted, or we have to be around someone that’s not easy to get along with? My tendency is to convince myself that I’m in the right, to mope about being misunderstood, and to pick apart what that person is doing wrong. I become selfishly absorbed in the unfairness of it all.

The fruit of the Spirit’s working in us should be evident through our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The New Testament is replete with commands to love serve, honor, encourage, and bear with one another (to identify a few!). The people around us everyday give us the opportunity to do just that, and not only the people that are easy to love or that treat us well in return. If someone is treating you unfairly, see it as God developing patience in you. If someone is unkind or rude, God may be refining self-control, gentleness, and kindness in us. This is not a call to be a doormat, but to change our perspective. A situation may require confrontation or other action, not out of self-righteousness but a genuine desire for the other person’s growth as well. The everyday “sufferings” that we face give God the opportunity to work in us and refine our character into Christlikeness just as much, if not more than the major challenges we may endure.

Much of what God desires for us would be impossible if we achieved our desired goal to have a comfortable life with people that are always nice to us. I would likely become spoiled and selfish. Somewhere along the way I believe that I could be more like Jesus if life were easier. That may be true… MY ability to be like Jesus is only possible when it’s easy. But God uses trying times and people in our lives to shape us like Christ from the inside out. Jesus set aside His rights to serve, love, and die for us. What rights or expectations do I need to set aside so that God can shape me through difficult people? Who has God given me to love today?

Romans 5:3-5

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Philippians 2:5-7

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Influenced by and written as a follow-up to April 22 in New Morning Mercies.


I recently published the majority of this article on our missions blog, but I thought it would be worth sharing here as well. “Partnership” is a word that I have connected with missions for some time now, but through our recent mission trip to Chanku Waste Ranch in South Dakota, the idea of partnership has been stretched far beyond anything I would have anticipated. In addition to our six-year partnership with a church near St. Louis, we joined a team from Indiana consisting of two churches and two additional churches that were staying at the camp and serving in work teams at the camp and around the reservation. We thought we had more than enough “partnership” to go around; however, God knew just what we needed. We had a couple of team members that had to drop in the week before the trip, but the Indiana team helped to fill gaps and probably the greatest role of all: prepare meals for the entire week!

“Partnership” is mentioned in the English New Testament only three times, twice of which refer to ministry and are found in Philippians. One describes a financial partnership (Philippians 4:15) and the other partnership in the gospel in Philippians 1:3-5:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

I was surprised to notice that “partnership” isn’t a word that stands by itself; it’s a translation of koinonia or “fellowship.” In other words, partnering together in ministry is a form of fellowship. In that sense, as the global church, we really have no other option but partnership. As we have responded to the gospel, we enter into the fellowship of all believers. It may stretch us out of our comfort zones at times, but partnership for the gospel may be one of the best representations of the gospel. One of our devotions during the trip came from Ephesians 2, and these verses jumped out as I thought about partnership:

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (v14)

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v19)

The divisions that may have existed prior to our salvation in Christ have been broken down and removed. The power of Christ’s death that broke down the dividing line between Jew and Gentile can also break down barriers among us Gentiles as well, bringing us one and all under the unity of Christ’s death and resurrection. We may reside in different states with different ethnicities (Lakota, anglo, hispanic, even “vikibilly”) but the gospel that we share is what unites us. We are humbled because we are reminded that we are not the only ones who serve or the only ones that care; many believers from many churches are engaged in missions. We are encouraged for the same reason. We don’t compete with other teams for the best camp week; instead we have the opportunity to learn from one another and truly partner together in the ministry of the gospel in one of the hardest, darkest places in the U.S. In the past our focus has been on what God has been doing through us among the Lakota people, but this year is a tangible reminder of simply what He is doing through His people among the Lakota people.