Resurrection Reflections with John Piper

On this Easter Monday, we pray together, asking that the Lord would make us, as women, more like the risen Savior—willing to walk with him wherever He takes us. We pray that the Lord would raise up victorious men, who are empowered to lead in the church and in relationships. And, we pray that God would give the gift of marriage to those who desire it.

I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to have been alive and on the scene on the original Easter Sunday morning. I’ve got a pretty good imagination, but I can’t quite take off my 20-20 hindsight glasses. We have the advantage of reading the story of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection in a few short chapters in the Gospels, seamlessly flowing without commercial breaks for the cliffhangers.

Although I intellectually understand that the disciples must have been devastated and terrified after Jesus’ death, I rarely take the time to pause the story and marinate in that despair. Their prayers for a political savior/messiah were dashed. Their friend was dead. They had all left their jobs to follow this guy, and it blow up in their faces.

The irony is that even though I like to “skip to the good part” mentally when it comes to the Passion story, I am very good at stewing over how God hasn’t answered my prayers. (And, I’m especially good at fretting about my lack of a spouse.) So, while I look askance at the disciples for not taking Jesus at His word, I have no problem doubting the Lord’s promises for me.

Granted, Jesus told the disciples multiple times that He would die and come back to life. And, Jesus hasn’t promised emphatically that I will get married. But, He has made other explicit promises that I still doubt.

When I go into full-on skeptical, cynic mode, I want to hide, and apparently, so did the disciples. After seeing the empty tomb, they went home and locked the door.

How did Jesus react to the disciples’ doubt? How does Jesus react to my doubt?

From John 20:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

John Piper points out a few things about Jesus’ reaction that I thought were poignant.

The doors were locked, but Jesus came in anyway. There is no part of your life and heart that Jesus can’t enter and redeem.

Jesus can go where no one else can go. He can go where no counselor can go. He can go where no doctor can go. He can go where no lover can go. He can reach you, and reach into you, anywhere and any time. There is no place where you are, and no depths of personhood that you are which Jesus can’t penetrate. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead fits him to do what no one else can do. There is no one else like him in all the universe. He is alive, and he is the one and only God-Man. What he is capable of you cannot imagine. And it is a healing wonder to contemplate that all the complex layers of your life, which neither you nor anyone else can understand, are familiar territory to him.

The disciples were afraid, but Jesus didn’t wait. Jesus meets you in your fear and works in your heart now.

And what Jesus is saying in this action is: I come to my own when they are afraid. I don’t wait for them to get their act together. I don’t wait for them to have enough faith to overcome fear. I come to help them have enough faith to overcome fear.

The disciples were alone, but then, Jesus stood in their midst. Jesus is with you in the middle of your joy and your heartache.

He came right into the middle of their meeting. He did not come to the edge and call out through the wall and deal with them as a distant deity. He wasn’t playing games with them. He wasn’t toying with their faith. He wanted them to see him and know him and believe in him and love him… [Jesus] has come to you — close to you, not calling to you from a distance, but coming right into your midst.

We can’t know exactly how the Lord will answer our Monday prayers for marriages, but we can know that Jesus is going to into every locked door of our heart and every fear of being alone and unloved—filling us with all the power of the resurrection.

Happy Easter!

Anna

 

 

Posted in Author: Anna | 4 Comments

Get The Lead Out

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray for men to lead with godly character, for women’s hearts to be softened by grace and trust, and for marriages to be created for those who desire them.

It happened on the second leg of our trip from Pennsylvania to Florida. My sister, then 8 years old, was returning to Florida with me for a month-long taste of the tropical life (yeah, I’m a cool older sister). So there we were in hour 14 of our 16 hour trek humming along Interstate 4 in the barren, swampy wasteland of Florida just before Orlando, when the car starts acting goofy (official car jargon) whenever I put on the turn signal.

Finding and removing large bugs from the house, moving heavy furniture, and fixing car issues are just a few of the times when I particularly desire a man’s presence. So often in lieu of the presence of a man, I resort to a vacuum cleaner for bug removal, ingenuity for moving furniture, and phone calls to my dad or brother for a knowledge base before going to the shop for auto repairs. There is just something about being a woman and dealing with automobile issues that makes me feel vulnerable. Have you ever been there?

I realized that sunny Sunday in June, while cruising down the highway with my sister, that my alternator had died and I was on the last bit of battery power left. Radio and A/C were immediately turned off and the windows rolled down. With a sense of urgency to get us closer to civilization, I sped towards the land of Mickey and Donald with all of the lead my foot could muster. I even stopped using my turn signal; I had to conserve as much battery power as possible to reach any sign of life. These were the days before cell phones were in everyone’s back pocket, so I was without means of calling anyone for assistance until I could reach “land.”

You will never guess where my car died, go ahead, and try!

My car died at the Holy Land! There on I-4 my car died right in front of the Holy Land Experience… my car died in Jerusalem. Could there be a better place to go?

It was also there in front of the Holy Land that my car was resurrected with a new battery, just enough to get me home and to the alternator shop. Now I realize in light of Palm Sunday, and Easter around the corner, it might seem a little sacrilegious to reference my car’s death and resurrection at the Holy Land, but I promise that is not my intention.

We all deal with “check engine” lights, malfunctions and breakdowns because we live in a fallen world, no real surprise there. How we choose to handle these moments will greatly impact our journey. My car wanted to die in the barren wasteland part of Florida, and often this is where malfunctions and breakdowns begin, in the dry or swampy, seemingly barren moments of life. If I didn’t alter how my car was using power and redirect all energy to the engine, my story would have had a completely different ending. Sometimes we need to recognize the malfunction and redirect all of our energy to getting to the Holy Land (to the feet of Jesus).

On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus triumphantly coming into town riding a donkey and people waving palm branches shouting, “Hosanna!” In the course of a week Jesus forever opened the curtain into the Holy of Holies for us to run to Him, with all of the energy we can muster, and leave our malfunctions and breakdowns at His feet.

Jesus sees the malfunctions and breakdowns you experience because of being single, He’s waiting for you to come running to the Holy Land this week… Joy unspeakable awaits!

Get me to the Holy Land!
Michelle

Posted in Author: Michelle | 2 Comments

Strangely Dim and Strangely Bright

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray for men to lead with godly character, for women’s hearts to be softened by grace and trust, and for marriages to be created for those who desire them. 

If there were a Google image search history of your brain, what would be in it? Pretty sure mine would be a lot of food, wine, the cute boy on the metro’s face, my to-do lists, and expensive spring dresses.  Because, really, I’m that deep….(eeeh).  I’ve been thinking of this because a speaker recently made an off-hand comment about the danger of holding lies in front of our eyes…and it has spurred some thinking for me.

The importance of what we look at cannot be overstated. Paul talks about looking at Christ as the path to being transformed into Christ’s likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18) and one chapter later, he reminds us to set our eyes on the things that are unseen and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).  The author of Hebrews tells us that the key to running the race in front of us is to keep looking to Jesus (Hebrew 12:1-2).  And there are several more passages in the same genre — look them up this week!

And so the obvious question: what are we looking at? 

With my actual eyeballs…am I looking at images of…

  • False intimacy: pornography, cheesy romcoms/sitcoms, explicit novels, etc
  • Unnatural beauty: major fashion magazines, Pinterest boards, ads with overperfect faces and bodies promising magical results, etc
  • Socially-valued status symbols: wedding/family photos on social media, engagement rings, picture-perfect Christmas cards, expensive possessions, degrees hanging on walls, etc

And on a deeper level, what am I looking at with my mind’s eye? Are the images mostly about me? Images of my “perfect” life — a different weight, a different outcome from dating, a different house with different friends in a different city and a different bank account balance? Images from the past that bring up unforgiveness or shame? Images of that friend who betrayed us? Images of our own personal triumph over someone? Images of giving the boss a piece of our mind? Images of remembered or imagined physical intimacy with people we’re not married to? (Yep, went there. #awkward).

I am not trying to suggest that anyone quit Pinterest or cancel their Vogue subscription or toss out your copy of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or stop liking our friends’ wedding pics on facebook. Seriously, I’m not. I’ve just been forced to ask myself: if there were a graph of what I looked at all day, how much of it would be taken up by these things that aren’t even really true? With a few clear exceptions, these items aren’t wrong in themselves.  But which images are really true? What has substance, beauty and life that points at Truth?

As believers, the most real, most true thing in our Mondays is Jesus Christ (even if we don’t notice it). All good things come from Him.  All of them.  Am I actually looking at Him and thanking Him for the life-giving beauty that I get to experience today, or do I take shortcuts to cram my eyes full of the poisonous substitutes this world has to offer? How much anxiety in my life would be avoided if I weren’t so fixated on lies? Who would I be if my eyes were captured more deeply and truly by the glory of Jesus Christ?

This world is our not our home.  The good things we have here are our Father’s gifts and should point us to our true home.  I want my eyes trained on Jesus, looking toward that eternal home, enjoying the gifts I’ve been given now, and throwing the lies in the trash!

In His Grace,

Amy

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

(Hebrews 12:1-2) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Posted in Author: Amy | 2 Comments

Practical Truths

We fast and pray for lives and hearts to be changed: for men to lead in the church and in marriages, for marriage for those who desire it, for our hearts to be obedient to the Lord.

I’ve recently heard a number of messages on marriage, from a variety of sources.

While most pastors acknowledge the fact that not everyone in the congregation is married nor will everyone in the congregation end up getting married, that is often their “nod” to the singles in the congregation, and they don’t always provide a more in-depth application for singles other than “wait until it’s your turn and this will apply.”

Frustrating. Especially if you’ve been waiting a long time for your turn, and you’re not sure if it will be your turn.

I decided to come up with a few “For-Now” applications based on what was shared. I found that my defensiveness and annoyance in the fact that singles were yet again being reminded in a church setting about their lack of a marriage partner prevented me from learning some important truths.

Truth: In Ephesians 5, husbands are commanded to love their wives, but wives aren’t commanded to love their husbands. Wives are told to offer respect. Why? Women are naturally wired to need to feel loved. Men are wired to need to feel respected in order to feel valued.

Application: How am I building into the lives of the men around me by showing them respect and in turn, validating their leadership capacity? I think of my relationship with my father – do I tell him I appreciate how he has provided for me? Do I seek to control those around me, or do I allow others to use their ideas and talents, even if their way of doing something may be different from mine?

Truth: Intimacy. Yes, I am going there because pasters are going there. In I Corinthians, Paul tells couples to have a regular sex life to prevent them from feeling tempted to commit sexual sin and be unfaithful.

Application 1: (Yes, I do have two applications for this one!) We are created to love and be loved. Where in your life are you giving and receiving love and connection? Who have you let into your life to provide you with accountability to encourage you to keep following Jesus?

Application 2: Sex and the desire to have sex is not a shameful thing. Yes, the Song of Solomon talks about not “awaking love” until the proper time (within marriage), but sex as God designed it is pure and holy. As I am preparing for my wedding in May, I am finding that I need to reshape my view of sex from this secret, forbidden act to something the Lord has created as a way for me to connect with my (future) husband and enjoy.

Truth: A couple’s financial situation can be an indication of of the health of the marriage as money problems are one of the leading catalysts for conflict leading to divorce. It’s an indication of true priorities, not just claimed priorities.

Application: What does my spending say about me? Does my giving/spending reflect my commitment to Christ or to myself? Do my financial habits invite more stress into my life?

Truth: Marriage is hard and there will be conflict, even between two Christians. In the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7, the house built on the rock stood firm – but it still had to weather the storm, just like the house built on the sand.

Application: Do I unrealistically expect my life and relationships to be easy because I am seeking to follow and honor the Lord with my life? If I am building my life upon the Rock, then I can be at peace that He will preserve me through trials.

What practical applications have you found from teachings on marriages? Married friends who are fasting and praying with us, what truths can you share from your experience?

Learning and growing together,

Emily

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Purity Culture Fallout

On Mondays, we pray—asking the Lord to raise up marriages out of seemingly impossible circumstances. We ask the Lord to build men up, to encourage them, and prepare them for leadership in relationships and in the church. We ask God to make women tender to the leading of the Holy Spirit—making us more like Christ.

If you’re a FastPray regular, you know that we have frequently written about being single and fully alive—without growing bitter; having hope when dreams haven’t panned out; and, acknowledging our natural sex drives—without lusting. In this post, I want to revisit that last one.

In the last few years (and even months), there’s been a growing chorus of people rejecting the extremes of the purity culture of the 80s and 90s. And, I’m not putting my head in the sand. I know that many women walked away from signing True Love Waits pledge cards have felt like any sexual sin in a relationship has been on their heads because they are “alluring” women and that losing your virginity is akin to losing your soul.

Because of all this purity culture baggage, some—even from inside the church—want to jettison the Bible’s call to sexual purity for any number of reasons. Purity culture hasn’t equipped us to deal with an extended season of unintended singleness. People feel ashamed about their sexual sin. Christians are sleeping around and getting divorced anyway.

I’m not condoning the ills or praising the virtues of the “True Love Waits” movement, but I don’t want FastPrayers to get caught up in believing the lie that because living a celibate life is difficult that it’s not healthy, not fully alive, and frankly, not possible.

Living a celibate life is a full life.
The world says that you have to have sex to be alive. Turn on the TV, pick up a Nicholas Sparks novel, talk to girls during a bachelorette party—the lie that sex equals life itself is everywhere. When I am caught up in this lie, I am full of self-pity, complete with a side attitude of “woe is me.” I look at my unmarried friends—both inside and outside the church who are “getting some” and assume that their lives are more abundant, more fun, and full of chocolate-covered strawberries.

The wellspring of your life is not whether or not you are sexually active—but instead is in your redeemed, Holy Spirit-filled heart. Sex cannot restore your soul. Even if you’re celibate, your life can be full of passion, energy, fun, and joy.

Living a celibate life is spiritually and emotionally healthy.
The world says living without sex if you are unmarried is unhealthy. Purity culture may have shamed too many people into openly talking about sexual sin and real temptation, but don’t believe for a second that having sex outside of marriage is your lost key to health for your body, mind, or heart.

I’m not saying extra-martial sex always comes with an immediate consequence, but believing the lie that it will make you more emotionally stable, happier with yourself, and more satisfied with life is going to leave you wanting.

When you are feeling blue or lonely or fill-in-the-blank, the Lord wants to fill you up, to be near you, and to walk beside you. Clamor, noise, and sex may fill some emptiness, but it can’t build you up, answer your questions, or stop up the hole in your heart.

Living a celibate life is possible.
Movies, books, and pop songs are full of scenes of people being overcome by their passions. Our inborn biological desires are powerful and intricately designed, but you are not a slave to them. Your body does not have a mind of its own, but instead, your body has been bought at a price. Your heart has been redeemed, and you have been called to self-control and self-sacrifice.

It costs to be celibate. It’s awkward. There’s that niggling gray line that runs right through the middle of our desire to build intimacy and to be holy. God hasn’t left us in a place of despair or shame over our desire for sex, but I have to remind myself that God hasn’t called His people to impossible tasks just to watch us squirm. We are fighting this battle from a place of victory.

The Lord sees your imperfect struggles and your desire for holiness—and He will bless you. Regardless of past sin or shame, the Lord has paid for it at the cross and will give you what you need to walk in holiness.

Grace and peace,
Anna

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:1-6

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:2-8

 

 

 

Posted in Author: Anna | 8 Comments

“Beam Me Up, Scotty!”

Last Sunday I was awoken at 12:30am with a funny feeling that the burger from earlier was not going to remain where it should. No graphic details here, but let’s just say I found myself kowtowing to the porcelain queen seven times from the effects of a nasty virus. At several points throughout the night I really thought there was nothing more I could contribute to the cause, but my stomach seemed to think otherwise. Lest you think I’m going to divulge all of my health issues, I’m going somewhere with this.

Over the past several weeks I’ve had conversations, read blogs, and listened to sermons all dealing with “discontentedness.” Seems there is a pervasive, gut-wrenching virus that has permeated hearts and minds with discontentedness for present circumstances and its overwhelming demands. Individuals sick of being single, feeling like they have nothing left to give to the cause and desperate to get out, run to any relationship within reach. Irony abounds as married folks proclaim “Enough!” and look for ways out. The most heart wrenching was the story of a young couple who’s marriage ended after only a few years, when one spouse declared “Enough!” and the other, was left reeling to the point of suicide.

This isn’t the productive discomfort of an eagle’s nest which eventually forces the eaglet to launch from the nest and soar to new heights. No, this type of discontentment, if acted upon, leaves heartache, destruction, pain, and sorrow in its wake. The tricky thing about the discontentment virus is that it can be easy to catch (no amount of hand washing will ward it off), because life on this side of Heaven will never meet all of our expectations.

So how is Paul able to write this from the middle of a jail cell?

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel… Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (Philippians 1:12, 19)

Ever feel like you are imprisoned to singleness? For the married readers, ever feel like you are chained to your spouse to the point of suffering? Discontentment would say you don’t deserve to be imprisoned to your circumstances, and most likely, you don’t deserve to be, but what if there was another perspective? What if whatever you are facing that seems overwhelming could actually serve to advance the Gospel? If there is one thing that discontentment hates, it is perspective. Perspective requires us to come outside of self and see our world from a different vantage point. Here’s a little SAT question for ya, discontentment is to tunnel, as perspective is to _____?… Space, (as in the outer one, perhaps?) Perspective, the ability to see the reason or purpose for our circumstances, doesn’t come easy or immediately (I mean, you have to be really smart and have a million dollar rocket to get to outer space for that kind of perspective on things or you could watch Gravity, but that’s not real).

Paul writes in James (1:2-4), “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” For you math majors, did you see the equation there? Trials + Faith + Perseverance = NOT LACKING ANYTHING

Discontentment says you lack everything. Kick it to the curb, because it will never be satisfied. When you are single, discontentment says you need a spouse. When you are married, discontentment says you need freedom or a spouse that loves you better. Recognize the virus of discontentment when it tries to creep into your life and flush it down the porcelain throne.

Spend some time praying for the marriages of your friends and family this Monday. Pray for perseverance to develop so that they will lack nothing. Pray for the budding relationships of spring to flourish and take root in faith. Pray for perspective to guide those infected with the discontentment virus.

Bowing to the Throne,
Michelle

Posted in Author: Michelle | 11 Comments

On Lent and Letting Go

On Mondays we fast and pray (ideally with a friend) for men to be freed to walk uprightly, for women to be softened, and for marriages to be created and given to those who desire them. 

It was several years ago, but I can clearly remember standing in front of my tiny dorm closet with my college bff Erika.  We were discussing such things as men and marriage, and why neither of those realities had shown more than a passing interest in our lives during the years at college. Somewhere in the conversation this snippet:

Erika: What would you do if you knew you were never going to get married?
Me: Hmm, I really don’t know.  Maybe move abroad? I guess I’d have to grieve some things and mourn – like the husband and family I had hoped for.

[We then returned to more pressing subjects like what I was going to wear that day.]

When I said it, I didn’t think twice about what I said.  I really had absolutely less than zero intention of having to actually find out what it meant. Fast forward a few years and a few weddings and a milestone birthday and some wise advice for a mentor, and I realized that perhaps it is actually time.  Time to grieve a thing or two.  Time to mourn what hadn’t happened, at least not in the way or on the time frame I had hoped.

Finding and naming the things to grieve was its own process. I spent the last decade telling myself that marriage and family were right around the corner.  I thought I had met and started dating my future spouse on at least four separate occasions (yeah, that’s with four different guys for those of you wondering). I thought I would get married and start a family around the same time as my friends and siblings did. I thought that dating would be fun and easy and quickly point me and Future Husband toward our shared destiny.  I thought there would be an epic and fun wedding day of celebration for me and Future Husband and our families. It was hard to acknowledge that in each of those things, there was a gaping chasm between my hopes and my reality.

I avoided looking directly at these often-painful facts because it seemed like a waste of time, and I was afraid I’d get all anti-social and stuck in my pain. But I think my mentor had a good point – it’s not a waste of time to admit that things you hoped for didn’t happen, and that that fact causes some deep sadness. Nor do those admissions and subsequent grief have to be an all-consuming process.  To own the sadness – while not negating God’s great goodness to me in a myriad of unforeseen ways – is a process I have been slowly exploring.

The bizarre thing is that, upon turning and facing these chasms, there is some sort of weird freedom emerging. The freedom to say, “Ok, so apparently God is writing a different story with my life than I assumed He was writing…and that’s ok!” It doesn’t make it any easier but there is a strange freedom in opening up the possibilities of the story God is writing, instead of getting frustrated that He somehow hasn’t come through on the story I had written for myself.

The long-dreaded milestone birthday seemed like a giant, very official badge of failure in finding a spouse, but perhaps it’s rather a doorway to getting out of the insane competition I had been staging (and losing) in my head about my social and personal worth vis-a-vis marriage and family. I really have no idea what story God is writing here, but I think that’s the benefit of trusting a good and sovereign God to arrange the pieces of my future. I can live right here, right now…grieving some lost things, thanking God for His generosity, thoughtfully walking through Lent, and finding out each day what adventure God is taking me on today.  And this singleness stuff is part of that adventure – I’m glad to be on that journey with each of you!

Praying that God opens our eyes and hearts today — and that our Mondays are full of grace and truth -

Amy

Psalm 38:9 – O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from You. 

Posted in Author: Amy | 7 Comments