All posts by Gloria Furman

Gloria Furman (@gloriafurman) lives in Dubai with her husband Dave, a pastor at Redeemer Church of Dubai. They have three young kids. Gloria is the author of Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home (Crossway, 2013) and Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway, 2014). She blogs at GloriaFurman.com.

Rediscovering the Jewel of Unity in Diversity

Have you noticed how children suffer from short-term memory loss when it comes to their toys? My son dumped out a toy box the other day into a pint-size mountain in the middle of the kids' bedroom. His eyes locked in on something in the pile, then he shrieked, "This is mine?! I love this!" He thrust his little hand into the pile and brought out a plastic triceratops and rejoiced over it like he hadn't seen that triceratops since the Jurassic era.

We are just like kids when it comes to the spiritual blessings that belong to us in Christ. There is so much we have yet to enjoy about God, but we lack the capacity for whatever reason. We're half-hearted, forgetful, desperately sinful, and oh-so-finite. Yet because God is eternal, we will never grow bored as we gaze into the unfathomable depth of his character for all eternity. Boredom will be a thing of the past, even "when we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun."

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Even now, on this side of heaven, we can dive into the treasures of the gospel in all its geometrical glory. Together "with all the saints" we can enjoy "the breadth and length and height and depth" of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:16-19). Richard Sibbes said, "We have a full treasury to go to. All treasure is hid in Christ for us."

When you do find that treasure in a field you have to ask: Who buried the treasure for you to find, and what must he be like? And just like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, if you give a Christian the treasure chest of gospel riches, he is going to ask God for more people for him to share it with. By God's Spirit we are led to count ourselves among the members of Christ's body, the church.

Christ's Pan-Racial Bride

The diversity of the one bride of Christ is one of those treasures we get to enjoy but often forget how unique and special it is. We're like preschoolers with short-term memory loss about the joy that could be ours. We have to be reminded to dig into that treasure chest of gospel riches to discover and rediscover God's heart for unity amid diversity. And when we are reminded of the gift we have in our unity amid diversity through the gospel we can't help but rejoice. "This is ours?! I love it!" The classic text we love to remember to illustrate this gift is Revelation 5:9-10:

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."

This scene of the glorious pan-racial worship of the Lamb is set in the future. And the fully multiracial diversity of the bride of Christ is already/not yet. It's already, because God chose every single one of us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). But the church's full-grown pan-racial quality is not yet as long as "unreached people groups" are a reality.

Not Diversity for Diversity's Sake

All over the world you can find people getting excited about diversity. But the gospel gives us a distinctly Christian affection for diversity. That's one of the reasons why I love Trillia Newbell's book United so much. It's like Trillia was rummaging through that treasure chest of the riches of God's kingdom and she got to this one jewel called Unity In Diversity. In her book she's holding it up for all of us saying, "Wow! Hey guys! Did you see this one?"

Trillia doesn't have a passion for "diversity;" she has a passion for the gospel. She writes:

I have a passion for the gospel. It is in the gospel that we see people as made in the image of God, uniquely designed by God, and brothers and sisters in Christ. We know that every person who ever lived is made in God's image, but for the Christian, there is a new family. My desire is that we would see each other as who we really are---brothers and sisters bought with a price.

I think that as we grab hold of what the gospel does to the discussion of race, it is then that we'll be motivated and stirred to see church communities reflect the family of God. The family of God is diverse. My prayer is that our local bodies and our personal relationships would be too.

If you and I are going to be passionate about something, let's be passionate about the gospel which transforms not only this conversation but each other.

Just think of the brilliant glory of God that is refracted through the jewel of Unity In Diversity as we read about it in verses like Romans 12:5, "so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another." There is no "they" in the body of Christ because they are "we." Our unity in diversity is a reality to embrace---a free gift that belongs to us. But because we are still sinners, unity in diversity is also something that we must work hard to always be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).

Foreign Is Relative

Being a minority in a global city has been teaching me a lot about my own ethnocentricity. One time I was standing in a train station talking with a new acquaintance when she answered her phone and said to the person on the other line, "I am talking with a foreigner." And here I was thinking that I was talking to a foreigner.

There is so much we can offer one another this side of heaven while we are waiting for the marriage supper of the Lamb. I'll never forget one "aha moment" I had when talking with someone from a nearby country about the famous prodigal son passage in Luke 15. I was recounting the story to her when she stopped me mid-verse. "Wait, wait. What? Where is the older brother?" She wanted to know what he was doing before I even finished verse 13. "It doesn't say what he is doing," I answered. "Well, what he should be doing is following his brother to bring him back to their father. If he loves his father he will go get his younger brother." Wow.

Needless to say, when I got to the part where the older brother whines to his father, "Look, these many years I have served you," she guffawed. She thought he was boldfaced lying because if he truthfully served his father then he would never have stood by to watch his little brother shame himself and their family while causing their father so much grief. He would have gone after him and done everything in his power to restore him to the family. I began to see through the lens of her perspective that Jesus was our Older Brother par excellence. He loves the Father, and he purposed to come rescue us from before time began, running after us so that he might live and sacrificially die for us in our pigsty "while we were still sinners" (Rom. 5:8).

The gospel is transforming and will transform men and women and children from every tribe and language and people and nation. Our brothers and sisters are still out there---in suburban sprawls in Dayton, high rises in Doha, villas in Wollongong, and huts in Kokoda---waiting for someone with gospel-swift feet to come preach good news (Rom. 10:15, Eph. 6:15). Our brothers and sisters will waken from their slumbering spiritual death and be given new life in Christ. We have rock-steady assurance from Jesus because he promised us that his sheep assuredly respond to his call (John 10:16).

The message of pan-racial reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ is the message that sends us into those places with confident joy. And in this jewel of Unity In Diversity we can see glimpses of the brilliance of Jesus.

* * * * * *

Trillia Newbell will speak on "United: The Beauty of Diversity in Friendship" at The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference, June 27 to 29 in Orlando. Gloria Furman will talk about "Missional Motherhood," and they will appear together on a panel about "Teaching Our Children About Jesus." Browse the list of dozens more speakers and talks then register yourself and friends.

Treasuring-Christ

God Meets Busy Moms Right Where They Are

When my first baby was born I sensed that my perspective on the nature of my spiritual life was being rattled and reshaped. In the midst of a venting session with a dear friend I confessed that I felt I'd forgotten the Lord since I became a mother. She shared with me 2 Corinthians 9:8: "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." God plans the end from the beginning, and he governs all the time in between, and he is able to give me the grace I need for the times he has planned right when I need it so that I can be about his will. If Jesus has assured me that he is with me to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), then surely he is with me in all of my baby carrying, house cleaning, car driving, nighttime parenting, and husband helping.

When we feel that our environment must be "just so" in order to have fellowship with God, any wild-card elements inherit the name Interruption. A toddler's plea for help with a game is an interruption. The children's early bedtime is an interruption. The baby who refuses to settle down is an interruption.

What if God wants to fellowship with us right where we are—even in the commotion of ordinary life? Most assuredly, he does. Consider how the triune God is working to ensure that you behold his glory throughout your days and nights.

Your heavenly Father is sovereign over all things. A sparrow drops its feather on the ground, escaping the clutches of a curious little boy. A car battery dies in the parking lot after a play date at the same moment your overtired children reach their limit. A pacifier falls out of a baby's mouth just before the baby nods off to sleep. Nothing—nothing happens without the sovereign Lord's ordaining it. He is trustworthy and praiseworthy in every moment in every circumstance.

The eternal Son of God is Immanuel—God with us. Jesus fulfilled God's holy law, was crucified in our place, rose victorious from the dead, and is reigning at the Father's right hand. Jesus satisfied God's wrath against sin and purchased us from the slavery of sin. By faith we receive Jesus' perfect righteousness, and he creates in us new hearts that are prone to love him. Even when you don't feel this is true about yourself, a daughter of the King, it is. Even when you imagine that your life is hell and you have forgotten that you've been transferred into the kingdom of God's marvelous light, you're still his forever. You can be sure that nothing will separate you from God's love for you in Christ Jesus your Lord—"neither death nor life" (Rom. 8:38).

The Holy Spirit of God indwells the heart of believers and writes God's law on their heart. When we meditate on God's Word, the Spirit delights to confirm in our heart that God is who he says he is. The Spirit graciously awakens us to the affliction of our sin, and he enlivens in us an affec­tion for God's holiness. When we put our hand to the plow (or the scrub brush, bulb sucker, and pureed squash), the Spirit enlivens us to work as unto the Lord. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and ignorance, praying for us as we don't know what to pray for. The Holy Spirit is like the neuron that travels from our taste buds to our brain with the message that dark-chocolate-covered orange slices are exquisite. When we taste things such as providence or our union with Christ, it's the Spirit who tells ours heart that the Lord is good.

In our church's weekly corporate worship gatherings, we have what you call the "Call to Worship." Someone stands up front with the microphone and reads a portion of Scrip­ture, inviting everyone to worship God. In line with the "so-called interruptions" idea, mothers hear "calls to wor­ship" throughout their days and nights. If we have ears to hear these invitations, then we have opportunities to wor­ship the Lord, who is nearer to us than we often realize.

Editors' note: This excerpt is adapted from Gloria Furman's new book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway, 2014). Download the free study guide here.

Jesus Canceled Your Mommy Guilt Trip

What mother doesn't want to be a "good mom"?

The proverbial encyclopedia entry for "good mom" varies across cultures. I've seen a variety of mothering ideals as I raise my kids in a global city. For some, a distinguishing mark of a good mom is the food she feeds her children. Or the accolades her child earns in school. Or her baby's accessories. Or her child's behavior. The list never ends.

But I've noticed a common thread that threatens to unravel us all. Moms live with a sense of guilt that we'll never be or do enough.

What, then, can save us from this "mommy guilt"? I've heard moms from different religions answer, "Give yourself some grace." We agree that grace is a freeing thing. But we're worlds apart on our ideas about what this grace is, where it comes from, how it frees us, and how we receive it.

From the Christian perspective, the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the apex of God's free grace toward sinners who justly deserve his wrath. We've staked our eternal life on the guilt-lifting, joy-fueling faith that only Christ is enough to reconcile us to God.

So when the shadow of my own mommy guilt creeps up on me in dark moments, these thoughts remind me of God's grace:

In the wake of a "mom fail" I need to bank on the blood-bought promises of God.

I must draw on strength from the One who promised that he would finish the good work he started in me (Phil. 1:6). I can receive comfort from the One who promised that nothing that can be named or thought of would ever be able to separate me from him (Rom. 8:25). I must depend on the One who promised he would be my God, strengthen me, help me, and uphold me with his righteous right hand (Isa. 41:10).

I need to fight against a legalistic approach to motherhood with the strength that only God provides.

I have to guard my heart against believing that today is my chance to be the best mom ever, in order to be at peace with my guilty conscience tonight. I have an Advocate who put himself forward as a sacrifice for my sin, so I have no need to vindicate myself (Rom. 3:24). In my effort to serve God faithfully in my motherhood, I must refuse to entertain the notion that my work can be done through any other strength but God's and to any other end besides his glory. I'm free to abide in Jesus, bearing fruit to the praise of God's glory as a branch grafted in to the life-giving Vine (John 15:1-11).

My pride-filled ego belongs in an eternal time-out.

Jesus frees me from the need to constantly evaluate myself. Instead of obsessively doing mommyhood mirror-checks, my heart can be taken up with Christ as I fix my eyes on him. With my affections bound up in Jesus, I'm free to look at the accomplishments of other moms and rejoice in the beauty of them, like the way I enjoy the wonder of a newborn's tiny fingerprint without regard to myself. The gospel frees me to be the type of mom who replays the day in her mind and feels neither boastful pride nor wallowing self-pity, but joyful thanksgiving to the praise of God's glory.

Christ Is Enough Forever

Whether our emotions agree, the verdict is in: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). We're free to bank on all the promises of God because they find their Yes in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). We're free to serve with the strength God supplies so that he gets the glory (1 Pet. 4:11). We're free to lay aside every weight and sin and run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2).

No amount of mommy guilt can crush you if Christ was crushed on the cross in your stead. The atonement he achieved is enough to bear away our guilt and shame. The strength of his grace is enough to help us disciple our children like a good soldier/athlete/farmer-Mom (2 Tim. 2:1ff). And the promise of his presence is enough to sustain us through every morning routine, afterschool activity, midnight mothering, and every other season.

God Rules the Mundane

There was no way the crusted blueberry bits were going to come off this cup without some serious work on my part. I started talking to myself aloud. (Do you do this too?) "I don't have time for this," I mumbled. I gritted my teeth and set to scrubbing with vigor, and when my husband, Dave, passed by the kitchen I let out an exasperated sigh and exaggerated my scrubbing efforts. "Gee, I hope I can get this cup clean. You didn't rinse it out."

Dave apologized and said he had simply forgotten.

How rude, I thought. He knows how much work I do. The least he could have done was rinse out the cup. Rude . . . But really, I was the rude one, and I knew it. The Holy Spirit brought to mind the famous love passage in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

The New International Version translates verse 8 as "love never fails."

I knew I had failed to show love. Again. I fail at this every day. What hope is there for me to sacrificially give away my life as Jesus did, when I can't even love others by doing something so menial like washing dishes? My only hope must be in the God who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex. 34:6).

Does God Rule Your Mundane?

This is such a stereotypical example of my life. I'm the wife of a busy church planter and mother to three kids, four years old and under. We live in the Middle East where sand seeps into every crack in the windows and doors and leaves a gritty film all over the floor for me to sweep. I do eight loads of laundry and clip four sets of fingernails and toenails each week.

My life is all things ordinary.

I need this message of grace and hope every single day. That's because sometimes I launch into full-blown pity parties like the one you just read about. I used to think this sour kind of attitude about homemaking was necessary, acceptable, and even a rite of passage. After all, a common encouragement to someone in the midst of the trenches in homemaking or raising children is to console them with thoughts of "this, too, shall pass." We "grin and bear it" and talk about everything we're going to do "someday" when we "get our real life back."

Those colloquial phrases used to be the summation of my hope. I believed that if I could just get through this awful and seemingly interminable season, then I would come out on the other side bruised and worn down; but at least it would be over. Perhaps then I would be free to serve the Lord with gladness, and I would be content.

But I was wrong.

When I attended a marriage conference taught by Paul Tripp, he said something that devastated me. Tripp said, "If God doesn't rule your mundane, then he doesn't rule you. Because that's where you live." Dramatic, life-altering moments come only a few times during our lifetime—that's why they're dramatic. The rest of our lives are lived in the common, ordinary mundane.

Home managing is my ordinary. Regardless of what your normal is, I'm sure we can agree that that's where we live.

Jesus Died for Me—I Can Trust Him

Grace humbles me. That Jesus would allow himself to be led like a lamb to slaughter and not answer those who reviled him it takes my breath away. That God would send his Son to die for me and purchase for me "an inheritance that is imperishable undefiled, and unfading" (1 Pet. 1:4)—I am undone.

The joy of the Lord motivates and strengthens me to give my time to serve others in washing their dishes while looking forward in faith to hear my Savior say to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant." As I joyfully and humbly give my time and energy to do the dirty dishes my husband left behind, I lose nothing and gain everything.

Living in the reality of this gospel and the future promise of glory motivates me to love others as Jesus loves. I have received mercy in Christ Jesus (1 Pet. 2:10). This afternoon at my kitchen sink I must be confident that what he promises for me in the future will come to pass. That's faith.

So here I am at my kitchen sink, scrubbing crusty blueberry bits off the inside of a cup. But instead of grieving over my inadequacies to serve joyfully or gloating with pride that I've restrained my evil tongue from making snide remarks, an entirely different dynamic is at work.

It's faith working through love (Gal. 5:5-6).

God works in me through his Word (1 Thess. 2:13). This gift of grace enables me to praise the Lord and serve others gladly as I confess with tears of joyful relief, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).

Even in my darkest doubts when I do the same thing again the next day, my hope is still built on the righteousness of Christ. The gospel keeps me relating to God on the basis of Jesus' perfections, not on the illusions of my religious achievements. God strengthens me and protects me according to his faithfulness, not mine (2 Thess. 3:3). So I can scrub dried blueberry bits as unto the Lord as my heart is satisfied in God because his kindness to me in Christ leads me to repentance again and again.

Miraculous in the Mundane

Do you see how everyday life presents opportunities for our growth in holiness? God can use the ordinary moments in your life to glorify himself by conforming you into the image of his Son. That is precisely what he intends to do.

Dirty dishes in the sink is not just a worrisome ordeal in your otherwise uneventful day. It's an opportunity to see glimpses of grace.

Excerpt taken from Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman copyright ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

God's Promise and a Petrol Station

It seemed like such a small thing in comparison to the Hebrews' deliverance through the Red Sea. Nonetheless, I felt like bursting into a song of praise like Miriam did when the water came crashing down on the pursuing Egyptian army (Ex. 15:21). The Lord had triumphed gloriously on our behalf, parting the tempestuous waves of our fears. We rejoiced to see the rock-solid foundation that remained unshakeable beneath our feet. My husband, David, and I often reminisce about this story from nearly five years ago. We don't want to forget what the Lord taught us that day.

It had been two days since we stepped foot onto the sizzling tarmac at the airport, with all our earthly belongings strategically packed into six black trunks. "Hey guys! Over here!" we heard an American accent lift above the din of the noise once we were outside the terminal. "I think that's him," David said as he scanned the crowd of people. "Can you see him?" he asked. "I dunno," I replied. I had met our friend Rick* only once, about a year before we landed, plus we were at a breakfast buffet at the time. I memorized all the varieties of pancake syrups, but I didn't remember Rick's face. 

"Welcome to the Arabian desert! You guys must be exhausted." He pushed through the crowd to get us. "Hi, Aliza, did you like the airplane ride?" Our 16-month-old gave him a sleepy once-over and laid her head on my shoulder, where she fell asleep while we walked to the car. We loaded our luggage and drove a few hours into the desert to our new home for the next semester. It was pitch black outside, as there wasn't much moonlight to illumine the dunes. I took notice, though, of Rick's unique sunglasses, which he wore on a strap around his neck. I asked a casual question about the glasses, and received a thorough explanation of the importance of proper eye care in this desert climate.

Running Errands 

I don't remember the next day, since the three of us slept for 13 hours. After we came to, we made a list of urgent errands. We would have to go to the big city to get these things done, so my husband, our traveling companion, our toddler, and I climbed into a Jeep to make the drive. Our hosts gave us good advice for our errands, and reminded us not to eat or drink in public because it is illegal to do so while the sun is up during the fasting month.

The sandy dunes yawned on and on for almost two hours before we saw the skyline on the dusty horizon. Although I was tired, overheated, and nauseous from being pregnant, I was excited about this great adventure the Lord was taking us on.

When we rolled into the city my enthusiasm quickly waned. Everything was intimidating and unfamiliar—the driving habits of other drivers, the street signs, the roads that didn't match the GPS, and the people we asked for help. Lost, hot, hungry, and irritated, we pulled into a petrol station to re-strategize our errands and eat a snack in the bathroom stall. Then we all piled back into the Jeep with no more direction than when we parked the car.

Little Aliza began to cry and complain that she was too hot. Her frustration matched ours, and pulling back onto the main road proved it. Like many of us do when we're lost and upset, the two men in the front began to argue about where to go. Then we saw the sign that meant we were about to pass under a tollgate, and everyone simultaneously remembered that the car didn't have a toll sticker. Now all of us were arguing, and I began to pitch in with my unhelpful thoughts. "This whole day has been useless and pointless."

"Fine. Great—just great," my husband muttered as he changed lanes to get on the next slip road. He pulled up to another petrol station and got in line to refill the tank. The tank was nowhere near empty, but we were empty on patience and hope.

Watching the numbers tick by on the gas pump, my anxious thoughts multiplied within me. Lord, how are we going to do anything here? We can't even get a simple errand done much less help start a church. Lord, how? How? The cares of my heart were interrupted by something I saw out of the corner of my eye. Walking into the fast food joint next door was a man wearing a pair of unique sunglasses. It was Rick, the one man we knew in a city of nearly 2 million people. Was I seeing a desert mirage? Of all the places in the city for us to have a meltdown, the Lord ordained it to be a block away from our friend's house when he had a craving for take-out. We cheered and thanked the Lord for his providence and grace. Rick led us to his house where he fed us, encouraged us in the Lord, and sorted out some of our errands. Some of us even dozed off on his couch.

This incident seems so slight when we consider all that God has done, but it's an illustration of God's faithfulness, which is hardly a small thing. What I needed in that moment was to remember that when the cares of my heart are many, the Lord's consolations cheer my soul (Ps. 94:19). God made it clear to us that by his mighty hand and his outstretched arm he takes care of our family. This is how he will accomplish his work in this place. Scripture reminds us again and again of the rock-steady consolation of God's promised presence as he leads us through frightening valleys, tumultuous waters, and overwhelming deserts.

10 Ways Ecclesiology Encourages Me

As the wife of a pastor and mother of three little kids, I know how challenging it can be to get everybody out the door to go to church gatherings.

I can also empathize with those who struggle with being "present" once you're there. I recall one morning at a church gathering where I spent the entire time either caring for my colicky baby in the bathroom or collecting pieces of borrowed clothes for another child who had multiple accidents involving bodily fluids in children's church.

It's tempting to dive into feelings of futility on these occasions: "Was this morning all for naught?" or even to utter the more faithless despair, "What a waste!"

Personally, I tend to blame my attitude on my circumstances. But the real battle wages in my heart as I fight to cherish corporate worship and engage heart-and-soul in church activities.

As a natural-born sinner, I'm allergic to worshiping the Lord in all things at all times.

As a supernaturally born-again saint, I'm prone to love the God who loved me first.

Praise God that when the dust settles from the war with my flesh that he has the victory!

God's Word instructs us: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25).

Here are just ten of the things I remind myself of when I'm tempted to downplay the importance of corporate worship and ecclesiology in my life:

1. God is glorified in my public profession of his supreme worth. I can't think of a single joy that out-joys this privilege when I consider the grace of God that allows, commands, instructs, invites, and enables me to participate in worshiping him and giving him the glory he deserves.

2. Being part of the church is who I am as all the saints are united to one another under Jesus our Head. The Bible describes me as a brick in a building, a member of a family, a sheep in a flock, and a priest in a priesthood. Remembering who I'm saved to be in the context of the body of Christ helps deal with my prideful independence. I need to be part of the body; isolating myself from the body is to my detriment.

3. The Holy Spirit's indwelling means that my contribution to fellowship has tremendous value for others. The Spirit of God personally leads me to love my brothers and sisters through the Scriptural "one another's." The body needs me, too; isolating myself from the body is to the detriment of others.

4. My particular season of life as a mom to young kids is a blessing not only to me but also to others. Among other things, this time is a visual, tangible, audible (and sometimes olfactory) reminder of our helplessness and need for our heavenly Father to care for us in every way. This unique season is not an inconvenience to me or to others, but a gift that serves to point us to depend on God for everything we need.

5. Participating in corporate prayer allows me to lift up the needs of the body and of the world before our heavenly Father who cares for us. Praying with the church mortifies my pride and engenders humility as we seek the Lord's will together for individuals in our midst, our city, and the world.

6. Corporate worship is a venue to participate in the sacraments of the Lord's Supper and baptism. It helps me to remember the plural "you" when I hear, "Christ's body and blood were given for you." Witnessing baptisms strengthens my faith as I consider what a public profession of identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus truly means. Many of our brothers and sisters risk their physical lives in their profession of faith and baptism.

7. My participation in corporate worship is a safeguard against lackadaisical private worship. How well I know the ease of sliding into nonchalance regarding private prayer and Bible reading when the days and nights are full! Coming together with the body of Christ to worship the risen Christ reminds me that worship is not about me.

8. I can't witness to the unbelieving world of my unity and love unless I am united to others in brotherly love. Our love for one another tells the world about Jesus' love for them.

9. Studying the sermon's Scripture passage ahead of time during the week helps me to be a better expositional listener as I hear the Word of God preached. The Holy Spirit blesses my meditation on God's Word and keeps me from becoming "dull of hearing," even when I'm distracted at times by my baby's cries.

10. Corporate worship is a taste of heaven as the nations gather and publicly adore Jesus together. More tastes of heaven? Yes, please!

Cacophony in the Kitchen Coliseum

Lunchtime with my young children can sometimes resemble a gladiator match.

I'm simultaneously the empress who wants to please the crowd and the gladiator fighting for life.

The juice-thirsty crowd jeers: "I no want dis cheese!" "We ate turkey sandwiches yesterday. Can you make something that doesn't have turkey, ple-e-e-ase?" "[High-pitched shrieking that only dogs can hear.]" "I no like jelly anymo; I only like peanut butter!"

And then all the silverware crashes to the floor and echoes in eternity. The gladiator quells the ravenous lunch beasts by tossing javelins of carrot sticks onto their plastic plates. Sometimes I feel like roaring back: Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?

This description of lunchtime sounds rather extreme, doesn't it? Of course I'm exaggerating (a little), but only to make this point:

The cacophony in the kitchen coliseum seems perilous, but it is nothing in comparison to the ravaging lions of selfishness in our hearts.

"A simple 'thank you' would be sufficient," I claim. But really, that's not all I want. My sinful heart desires worship.

Truth is, I would rather not be bothered with serving rude sinners. My heart is preoccupied with what I don't have but feel like I deserve. If only everyone existed to serve me.

No matter how many turkey sandwiches are flying, lunchtime rush is not the most disorganized chaos. My thoughts that run contrary to the Word of Christ are more rebellious. I'm the biggest, rudest sinner in the lot.

Weapons at the Table

I could always use a more fine-tuned philosophy or practical system for executing graceful lunchtimes. Practical tips abound for how to serve up nutritious foods quickly and cheerfully to hungry little mouths. One friend of mine has said she needs practical tips on how to wade through the Mariana Trench of practical tips!

I'm constantly tweaking our routines as circumstances fluctuate. But what I desperately need more than any new tip that promises to reduce my chaos is the stability that comes from tasting the excellencies of the Lord's love.

In other words, I need to bring my weapons to the table. We took our girls to see the new Disney movie, Brave. In the movie, the queen chides, "No weapons at the table!" The princess had brought her bow and arrows to the family meal. The king retorts, "Princess or not, learning to fight is essential."

Learning to fight our sin is essential in the Christian life. God has given us weapons of warfare that are not of the flesh. These weapons have divine power to destroy strongholds and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). The sword of the Spirit is God's Word (Eph. 6:17) that can take captive marauding thoughts.

Since our joy in Christ is at stake, this fight is personal. Arguments raised against the knowledge of God take no prisoners. Every day I hear echoes of the hissing serpent's lies that God does not love me. I need to renew my mind (Rom. 12:2).

In God's Word I learn about his love for me. I read about the apex of God's love for me demonstrated when the holy Son of God gave his life on the cross as a sacrifice for my sin. I'm awestruck to hear that Jesus died to free me so that I could love him. I'm dumbfounded that Jesus loves me even though I fail time and again to love him back. Jesus' blood cries out to the Father, "Forgive," a request the Father gladly grants.

When I read God's Word the eyes of my heart behold the gospel, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and this vision transforms me into someone more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

Bootstraps and Bread

It's tempting to search for stronger bootstraps to pull myself up with when dinnertime rolls around.

"This time," I muster my resolve, "I will just try harder have a better attitude. I am so blessed---shame on me for being so ungrateful and selfish."

Moralism's bootstraps don't ever break, but they always strangle the person who tries to pull themselves up by them.

Praise Jesus who fulfilled God's law and bore God's righteous judgment for our sin! The Father gave us Jesus, who is the true bread from heaven, and he gives life to the world (John 6:32-35). When Jesus said these words in his earthly ministry, the people responded, "Sir, give us this bread always." The Holy Spirit seals the hearts of believers and assures us that we have Jesus, the Bread of Life, always.

I might need an apron to protect my clothes during mealtime, but more than anything else I need the sword of the Spirit to slay my sinful attitudes. By God's grace he can turn a kitchen coliseum into a buffet where everyone gets to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Sometimes God Doesn't Open Doors

A coffee press and a set of icing tips are examples of gifts that keep on giving. So is Milton Vincent's 97-page book A Gospel Primer for Christians.

It's rare for me to remember how I happened to own any particular book. Books fly in and out of our house like the dusty Dubai air.

This book is different. I remember standing in Kevin and Katie Cawley's living room in Kansas City, and I noticed a thin, brown book on their coffee table. "A Gospel Primer for Christians. What's this about?" I inquired.

"It will change your life! Take it." Kevin likes to give grandiose endorsements for great books, BBQ, and Death Cab for Cutie songs. And I like free books.

I was not aware that in God's providence I would soon be clinging for dear life to the truths in that book.

Fiery Furnace? Nope, Just the Arabian Desert

My husband, Dave, and I stepped off the plane onto the sizzling tarmac in Dubai and walked into a season of some of the most severe trials in our lives---all designed and orchestrated by a loving God.

The thoughts about the gospel on page 31 strengthened my faith:

[T]he gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves his gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials.

We had packed up our lives and moved to the Arabian Peninsula to help start a church planting movement. This had been our dream for many years, but during our first 12 months in the desert we experienced a "rude" awakening.

God, in his mercy, was awakening us to the idea that ministry and life do not always go smoothly. I know some of you just read this and thought, Well, duh.

Sure, I had read the Bible and understood the passages about God's servants suffering. But I hadn't tasted those tears personally and yearned to see the horizon of heaven. I was under the impression that God "opens doors" for his servants to saunter through. Suffering was not a dominant theme in my Christian vocabulary.

A series of circumstances rocked our family and rendered us helpless, depressed, and in physical pain. My husband's health dramatically deteriorated. Our language learning was halted. Ministry doors seemed to be bolted shut indefinitely. The sweat of our brows accomplished little in terms of getting daily tasks done. Our hope felt suffocated. Our toddler also struggled in her adjustment.

God's Faithfulness Will Never Pass

I needed to learn in those early months on the field that sometimes God doesn't open doors. Sometimes God makes the walls fall down flat so everyone can see that he is the one who is doing the work. He is, after all, the God who raises the dead.

The gospel-centered exhortations in Vincent's book helped rip the roof off the proverbial house so that I could see the spiritual implications of suffering in my life. My heart filled with wonder that a holy God would love me, a sinner. What I needed to hear more than anything else was not simply, "This, too, shall pass," but, "God's faithfulness will never pass." Fixating on my circumstances and toying with the "if only game" only eroded my faith. Vincent taught me to begin my train of thought with the one great permanent circumstance in which I live---the gospel.

When the Holy Spirit applied God's Word to my heart, I saw that God in Christ has placed me smack dab in the middle of Romans 8:32 forever. In the midst of a spiritual asthma attack I can breathe easy. My trials bow to God's will and work his "gospel good" in my life for his glory.

The Gift of God = God

That page in A Gospel Primer for Christians changed my life. The gospel is not just the key to appreciating a host of theological -ations; it is also key to understanding personal suffering in light of eternity and God's design to bring himself glory.

The gospel is indeed the gift that directs me to the Giver who keeps on giving the best gift of all---himself.

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The Pastor's Wife and Her Primary Ministry

Editors' Note: This is part three in a series on pastor's wives. Previously:

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An article in our local newspaper announced an airline's new policy---"your fourth wife flies free"---in honor of a ruler who had just taken his fourth wife.

When my husband traveled to India for ministry he brought back an interesting anecdote. He said, "Every pastor I met introduced himself to me like this: 'My name is So-and-so; I have one wife and however-many kids.'" One of our church members from India explained that the rules of English grammar might be the reason the Indian pastors said that they have "one" wife instead of "a" wife.

Even so, in this area of the world, monogamous marriages are not assumed. I suppose it couldn't hurt for married pastors to affirm that they are married to only one wife!

Besides the "only one wife if you're married" clause, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 list nearly 20 requirements for a potential under-shepherd of the Lord's sheep.

But where is the list of qualifications to be an elder's wife? Scripture-based ecclesiology offers no explicit job description for the office of pastor's wife, because there is no such office.

Empty Nesters to Nursing Moms

There is no office for the elder/pastor's wife, yet many wives feel pressure (or even a desire) to function as an honorary elder or unpaid staff member of the church. Direction in ministry for a pastor's wife can take on many forms, but one specific ministry ought to be valued over every other service opportunity she may be gifted to do or feel passionately about---that is, a wife's ministry to her husband and family.

To state it negatively, a pastor's wife's ministry to her husband and family should not be regarded as nominal and diminishing in comparison to other opportunities to serve in the church.

Pastors' wives love Jesus, love their husbands, love their churches, and want to serve the Lord. Of course a pastor's wife wants to be "sold out for the kingdom." But she would be selling the wrong domain if she punted her God-given responsibility of faithfully serving her husband and family. None of us really wants to neglect or disown this main ministry that God has hand-picked for us. Pastors' wives, just like every other church member, need discipleship, intentional care for their soul, and direction in ministry.

The subject of "seasonal ministry" was brought up around the lunch table where I sat with the other elders' wives in our church. Some are empty nesters or nearly empty nesters. Others have nursing babies at home. The nature of our husbands' work varies. Our husbands also have various issues with physical health that limit or redirect their efforts in service.

Between the pasta and Panini, we marveled at how exceedingly difficult it would be for all of us to be called to the same area of formal service in our church. Our gifting and passions differ greatly. But we share one ministry in common, which is ministry to our husbands---to be his one wife with all the power of Christ who so mightily works in us.

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for the Pastor's Wife

As our pastor-husbands "equip the saints for the work of ministry," we must come alongside and support them in this calling. One place to start looking for specific ways to minister to our husbands is the list of elder/pastor qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. We can assume there is reproof and instruction from these passages to apply for ourselves.

One example is immediately apparent but perhaps seldom taught. An elder "must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive" (1 Timothy 3:4). The harrowing task of managing his household is given to Christian men. Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden a man's efforts to lead his family have been met with opposition from within and without. We're sinners who marry sinners and give birth to more sinners. A man who aspires to the office of elder aspires to a noble thing. But first he must die to himself and lead his family likewise. Surely an elder could do this task of managing his household with greater dignity and confidence when his wife is walking with the Lord and supporting her husband, his leadership in their family, and his leadership in the church.

Many women's Bible studies discuss how to become a "Proverbs 31 woman." An excellent wife, who can find! These studies would also do well to caution women against becoming a "Proverbs 21 woman." "It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman" (Proverbs 21:9, 19). I like to joke with my husband that when I am "a quarrelsome and fretful woman" then he is in double trouble. Our roof is less than habitable, and we live in a desert!

Are you a quarrelsome and fretful wife? Are you the common denominator of dissension and strife in your home? Or are you a supportive and helpful wife? Are you building your home by God's grace in order to bring it under the headship of your husband to the glory of Jesus? Or do you foolishly tear down your home with your own hands (Proverbs 14:1)?

There are other general qualities in these passages that every Christian man ought to aspire to. An elder must be "hospitable." How can you support your husband as he invites both strangers and also loved ones into fellowship? An elder must be "above reproach." How can you graciously support your husband's commitment to living a life of integrity? Every wife ought to cheerfully support her husband's grace-driven and grace-sustained efforts in being sober-minded, self-controlled, gentle, and holy.

One character trait unique to men who aspire to leadership in the church is their ability to teach God's Word. An elder must be "able to teach." It might seem wives cannot help their husbands in this regard. Not so! I'm so thankful the Lord started pointing out to me ways that I could support my husband in his ability to teach in our first semester in seminary. Ten years later I still have to ask myself these heart-quesstions as I aim to support him: Do I respect my husband's hard work in study? Or do I resent the time he spends preparing to minister the Word? What are some creative and sacrificial ways I can budget time, money, and resources to help my husband as he seeks to be "able to teach"?

No Matter Your Age, Get Titus 2 Help

Many pastors' wives are young. Some of us are newlyweds. One woman wrote me an email a few weeks ago and said she was a "pastor's wife in training" as her fiancé just started seminary. Like me, she was struggling with fears and insecurities about the role she would assume once they were married and her husband started pastoring. Sometimes a pastor's wife with little experience in life, marriage, and ministry is thrust into leadership roles simply by association with her husband.

Instead of giving in to fear that we are incapable and insufficient, we should rely on the sufficiency of Christ and lean into the older women in our lives who can teach us how to love our husbands and children like Titus 2 describes. Surely a pastor's wife who models humility and teachability is leading other women faithfully in her example of biblical womanhood. A wife who draws on the strength and creative energy of God "who richly provides us with everything to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17) will not lack anything she needs for service to her husband.

Pastors' wives need specific support and encouragement to be excellent wives to their pastor-husbands. After all, she's the only wife he's got!

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Pastors, it's not too late to register your wife for The Gospel Coalition women's conference! There is a special 9marks panel with guests Kristie Anyabwile, Keri Folmar, and Adrienne Lawrence, who will be discussing the particular struggles and privileges of being the wife of a pastor.

The Pastor's Wife and Her First Love

Editors' Note: This is part two in a series on pastors' wives. Click here to read part one, "The Pastor's Wife Is a Pastor's Wife."

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"I just want to take a minute to soak this in." Our cheeky South African friend had a big grin on his face as he approached my husband and me after a church meeting.

"What do you mean?" my husband inquired.

"It's just so strange to see you two standing next to each other at church of all places! Shouldn't you both be working?" He chuckled. Our friend's remark about us rarely being in one another's presence during church gatherings is humorous.

But some remarks aren't very funny.

Someone once told me, "Excuse me, you are the pastor's wife? I expected you to be different."

I'm slowly getting used to the forthrightness of some of the friends we've made here in Dubai. After living in this region for nearly four years, most of my culture shock has become quite mild.

But there are still moments when I'm shocked. Like the time a group of ladies offered to point out some places where I could stand to lose more of my baby weight. One woman stepped forward and gently patted a few body parts to emphasize her point. Another woman advised me, "Stop wearing loose pants or you will stay this way."

At that moment I wasn't trying to treasure the gospel; I just wanted to go to a "happy place." Thankfully, I can laugh about this now. I've come to realize that the openness these women enjoy comes from security in their friendships sealed by loyalty. These women loved me so much to include me in their community where friends speak freely about all sorts of things from expanding waistlines to struggles with sin.

I am continually learning more about different cultures. I am also continually learning to treasure the gospel and its implications for me as the wife of a pastor.

Ministry can be overwhelming with its complex web of relationships and bouts of intense busyness. Factor in cultural complications and various seasons of life and you've got a recipe for potential anxiety, discouragement, and fatigue.

As pastors' wives, our extreme circumstances make it easy for us to forget that our relationship with God is the predominant, defining relationship in our lives.

I forget the gospel because of my sin.

Certainly my own sin is the most persuasive factor in my forgetting the gospel. I know in my heart I feel I am the VIP. I assume this should be the case for the people in my life because in my own mind I am larger-than-life. A friend gently reminds me that people don't think about me nearly as often as I like to think they do!

Because I'm self-centered, I tend to have an unhealthy fixation on things like church drama or our jam-packed pastoral schedule. I can stew over comments about my husband or the church and assume the worst motives in others. This is all the more reason I must continually remind myself of the all-encompassing, life-defining reality of the gospel.

I forget the gospel because of secondary things.

Many a pastor's wife has struggled with expectations for them on the part of the congregation (and perhaps her husband). With input from dozens of fellow church members, "Our Old Pastor's Wife" can become a idealized caricature who wears dozens of hats. Someone told me that one of the up-sides of being married to a church planter is that new believers don't know "Our Old Pastor's Wife." So when these new believers move on from our church to another church then I turn into her.

We should affirm and celebrate how God designed us with a myriad of different gifts for building up the church and loving our neighbors. But the roles we play should be second fiddle to one great reality--- God designed all of us to see and cherish him as our highest good.

Every pastor's wife has this in common: we are all desperate to see God's grace at work in our life, our husband's life, and in the life of our church. Dependency on God's grace is a defining reality for every pastor's wife across the globe.

We are Jesus' sheep, too.

When we get caught up in the work of the ministry and forget our dependence on God, we carry burdens we were never meant to bear. We need to remember that Jesus bears our burdens, just like he bears the burdens of every fellow saint in our church. The greatest burden he has carried for us is our sin.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).

Jesus absorbed God's wrath against our sin so we don't have to absorb church drama and let it define us and rule our marriage.

Jesus governs all things for our good and his glory so we don't have to be control freaks in order to feel safe.

Jesus died to forgive our sins so we could live to righteousness and avoid a world of snares like pride, gossip, and selfishness.

Jesus is sovereignly building his church so we don't have to burn out in frenetic ministry busyness.

Jesus is going to present the church to himself in splendor so we don't have to despair over every negative comment we hear.

Jesus is our tender Shepherd who loves us with undying faithfulness so we don't have to live for people pleasing.

Jesus is the Overseer of our souls; he cares for us! Through his work on the cross, our Good Shepherd gives us his own body as sustenance for us. We ought to take pains to feast on his word every day for the good of our own souls---not just to regurgitate for ministry output.

Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp said in How People Change, "If who I am in Christ does not shape the way I think about myself and the things I face, then I will live out some other identity." The most defining relationship of the pastor's wife is her relationship to the Chief Shepherd who guides, cherishes, and guards her soul.

By grace through faith the pastor's wife is a partner in the glorious gospel. He who began the good work of conforming us to the image of his Son will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ.

And to the praise of his glorious grace we'll become exactly whom he expected.

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Are you interested in hearing more about the role of a pastor's wife? Join us at the 9Marks panel at noon on June 23 during The Gospel Coalition women's conference. Kristie Anyabwile, Keri Folmar, and Adrienne Lawrence will be discussing The Pastor's Wife: First Lady, Piano Player, Hostess, Mother Extraordinaire, and All-Around Wonderwoman? There is still time to register for the conference if you haven't already!