I Am a Church Member — A Book Review

Not too long ago, I read two fantastic books on church membership: I am a Church Member by Thom Rainer and What is a Healthy Church Member by Tabiti Anyabwile. Until reading these books, I really hadn’t thought too deeply about the implications of church membership except that I knew it was important and that “it is imperative that I be involved and serve where I am able to.” However, after reading these books, I am more convinced than ever of a few things:

Church is a big deal.
Going to church is a big deal.
Being a church member is a big deal.

If these things aren’t a big deal to you, they should be, for Scripture has a lot to say about the function of believers within the context of the local church.

With only 79 pages, I am a Church Member is an easy read and provides a concise and practical discussion of what it means to be a member of the local church and not just a member of the Body of Christ.

But why church membership? Is it just a technicality that really committed Christians do? Is it an admissions ticket to special privileges? Does it bring us greater favor with God? Is this an issue of earning our salvation? Is it just for the sake of the church leaders to be able to report a growth in numbers? In fact, isn’t membership just an old-fashioned idea that people did in generations past?

I would say no, no, no, and NO!! Being a church member isn’t about any of these things!

So then, if it isn’t about any of those things, what is it all about? What are the Scriptural reasons for why a believer should become a member of the local church they attend?

Answering this question is the purpose of I am a Church Member. In this little book, Rainer endeavors to help us gain a better grasp of the importance of membership by discussing what it means to be a member and what it does not mean. In doing so, he outlines six key attitudes every believer should have concerning his responsibilities as a church member.

While clearly this is not an exhaustive list, here are six key attitudes Rainer argues that every church member should have:

1. I will be a functioning church member

2. I will be a unifying church member

3. I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires

4. I will pray for my church leaders

5. I will lead my family to be healthy church members

6. I will treasure church membership as a gift

Key to this entire discussion of being a church member is the passage in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 where Paul lays out how the physical body has different members and then compares this to the spiritual Body of Christ also having different members. Each of these bodies desperately needs every member within the body to do its part so that it can function properly.

While in the broader sense this passage does apply to the universal Church–the collective group of believers all around the world that makes up the Body of Christ–the specific application of this passage seems to be for the local church, for Paul makes mention of specific roles that are set within the local church. While one could argue that “we are all working together, around the world, using our different gifts to further the cause of the Gospel” it truly is in the context of the local church that we see most clearly the various giftings of each believer: Susie loves teaching the children’s Sunday School class; John brings encouragement to the the sick and elderly; Amanda serves in the area of hospitality; Joe is particularly gifted in the area of preaching; Jennifer finds joy in keeping the church bathrooms and foyer spotless.

Yes, God has given each individual believer something to contribute towards the edifying and building up of the body and this happens as we interact on a more personal level.

So wherever you are in your journey, I believe I Am a Church Member will grow your understanding of why the local church is so unique and why every believer should be making it an intentional priority!

(A version of this post was originally posted on Angie’s personal blog)

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Taking God at His Word — A Book Review

Have you ever wondered why it is important that we read the Bible?

Or why we spend so much time at church studying the Bible?

Or why we believe that the Bible is superior to any other book that has ever been written?

Or does the Bible really address all the needs and questions that we may encounter in life?

If you’ve found yourself asking these kinds of questions or have had someone ask you these kinds of questions, Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung would be a great book to read. Having a total of 124 pages, this little book is a powerful reminder of the importance of Scripture in the believer’s life.

To lay the groundwork for the rest of the book, DeYoung starts the first chapter by pointing us to Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is filled with statement after statement about what God’s Word does in the life of the one who reads and treasures it. DeYoung then directs us toward specific attitudes a person should have towards God’s Word: we should delight in it, desire it, and depend on it.

To summarize the objective of Taking God at His Word, DeYoung says that “the goal of this book is to get us believing what we should about the Bible, feeling what we should about the Bible, and to get us doing what we ought to do with the Bible” (pg. 22).

It is with these points in mind then–what we should believe, feel, and do about the Bible–that DeYoung proceeds to walk us through what could be described as a layman’s study of Bibliology. The majority of the book then discusses why the Bible is enough, why it is clear, why it is final, and why it is necessary for life. Or, if you want the more theological terms, DeYoung discusses the sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity of Scripture.

While the style of this book lends itself to being an easy read, DeYoung does not shy away from digging into passages and explaining words from the original Biblical languages in order to show from Scripture why the Bible is so vital for the believer’s life! For this reason, I would suggest reading this book slowly and devotionally, for ultimately, Taking God at His Word is more about learning to love and treasure God’s Word than turning the last page and having a bunch of facts to rattle off about the Bible.

After my husband finished reading this book, he made the comment that “it would be hypocritical to say ‘that was a good book’ and not proceed to then immerse oneself in the Bible.” And it is true: This little book elevates the sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity of the Bible to such an extent that we cannot miss the point that the Bible is the Word of God and as such, we would do well to make reading it and studying it an intentional priority in our lives!

As each of us go about life in whatever role God has called us to, may we remember that the Bible is a divine book that God has given for us to love, treasure, and study so that might grow in our walk with the Lord. God’s Word is indeed clear, final, necessary and enough, for our every-day life!

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Learning to Number Our Days

A few weeks ago, we took down the 2019 calendar and hung up the 2020 calendar. We began a new year and a new decade.

Shortly after the New Year, I began to do what many of us often do at the beginning of a new year: my mind’s eye saw a brand new calendar, open for new goals and opportunities. However, my heart was simultaneously weighed down with question marks about what these new goals and opportunities should look like. The uncertainties of the upcoming months caused me to feel like I was literally carrying around a physical burden on my shoulders.

Perhaps some of you can identify with such emotions as you look at 2020, and you, like me, have wondered how to deal with them. Do we just try harder to “make our goals happen”? Do we give up before even trying because it is just too overwhelming?

Soon after the New Year, as I was pondering these things and feeling overwhelmed with uncertainty, I read Psalm 90. As my eyes read the divinely-inspired words of Scripture, my heart was encouraged by the chapter’s reminders of how we should approach our day-to-day life; consequently, these reminders also serve as timely instruction for how we should view our goals for this year.

God is everlasting
Verses 1-2 depicts God as everlasting: from being our “dwelling place in all generations” (90:1), to being God “before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world” (90:2), God always has been and always will be. He is everlasting.

Man is but dust
Verses 3-11 then remind us of who we are: we are but dust. God is in control of man and has power to return man to dust (90:3); thousands of years are but a short while in God’s eyes (90:4). In comparison, our years are limited–seventy, or maybe eighty–and filled with toil and trouble (90:9-10). Compared to God, we are but a vapor, an early-morning mist that vanishes when the sun’s warmth wraps around it.

But that’s not the end of the story…
It is easy to follow the tension in the Psalmist’s line of reason. The first part of the chapter outlines who God is. He is great and powerful, outside of creation for He is Creator, from everlasting to everlasting, He is God. In contrast then, the Psalmist portrays who man is: man is a vapor, subject to God’s wrath and anger; our iniquities are exposed to the light of His presence. A fearful thing indeed.

After reading these verses then, one could easily succumb to a fatalistic mentality: “Well then, what’s the point in life? What are we even doing here on earth? Our lives are just a blip on the radar of time, only to be soon forgotten. What does God even care about what we do from day to day?”

The Psalmist seems to anticipate such a response, for the final section of Psalm 90 gives us the answer to these very questions. In response to who God is and who man is, the Psalmist makes several requests of the Lord:

“So teach us to number our days” (90:12).

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (90:14).

“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us” (90:15).

“Let your work be shown to your servants and your glorious power to their children” (90:16).

“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us” (90:17a).

“Establish the word of our hands upon us” (90:17b).

While each of these requests remind us of the reality that God is eternal and man is dust, they also point towards the reality that man has a purpose here on earth!

As I read these verses, my heart that had been weighed down with question marks about this coming year was encouraged by this reminder to live life purposefully and intentionally for God’s glory. No, I may not have all the details figured out, but I can have my heart focused on glorifying God’s with each new day, come what may.

So as we head into 2020, may we keep these verses in mind as we go throughout the year.

As we begin each day, may we number our days and be mindful that our time here on earth is, indeed, short.

When life feels like it is filled with toil and trouble, may our hearts turn to His love for our satisfaction. May we then rejoice and be glad in Him, praising Him even in the midst of affliction.

As we go about each day, may our lives reflect His works and His power so that all may see.

When we consider the responsibilities that lie ahead of us and our dreams and goals for the year, may we desire that the work of our hands be established by Him.

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Miscarriage: When You Have One

My last post on miscarriage, When Your Friend Has Onegave a few ideas on how to minister to your friend who has gone through a miscarriage. However, because of the statistics, it is likely that you yourself may have also had a miscarriage. In this post, I’d like to share a few practical things that ministered to my heart in a very specific way as I worked through the loss of our twins

1. Music

I don’t know about you, but music is a incredible balm for the soul. Shortly after our miscarriage, several songs became very special to me, for they reminded me of who my God is. Those songs, along with some select albums, are now part of a special playlist. I like to think of those songs as my go-to songs to help “lift my eyes to my Savior” when the emotions flood my soul or when I am tempted to wallow in a private pity party. This playlist has played so many times…and over and over, I’ve wept as the words remind me of who my God is. Through the tears, these songs have helped me worship my God who is forever good and faithful towards His children, even in the valley.

2. Special Memorabilia

Because our miscarriage was pretty early on in the pregnancy, we didn’t have any physical souvenirs to indicate that our twins had ever even existed: no ultrasound picture, no special outfits, no wristbands from a hospital stay, no indication of whether they were boys or girls, no names picked out. Nothing.

In some ways it felt like they had come and gone and it was all just a figment of our imagination.

But of course it wasn’t.

After months of struggling with this emptiness, I finally got to the point where I just really, really, really had to have something physical as my special reminder of the little ones God gave us for such a short little while: I decided to go with a simple heart necklace. It is the only necklace I ever wear and I love wearing it.

However, now that I think about it, there are other items scattered throughout our home that remind me that our twins have not been forgotten: dried roses in a vase from a bouquet that friends sent, that
small stack of cards from friends and family, a wall plaque my mother-in-law gave around the one-year anniversary of our miscarriage.

So perhaps you have a name ring, a Christmas ornament, a necklace, an ultrasound picture, a special onesie for a souvenir box, or something altogether different but it holds special meaning to you. Whatever it is, find something that reminds you of your little one. As strange as it sounds, there is an element of comfort in having something more than just a memory to remind you of your little one.

3. Topic-Specific Reading

While there is an abundance of articles and blog posts on the internet discussing personal experiences with miscarriage, be careful of those that are absorbed with all the emotions surrounding miscarriage, particularly if they come from a secular perspective. I agree that there is an element of encouragement in knowing that “you’re not the only one going through this,” but this encouragement is only temporary. As a believer, your ultimate comfort should not be in the warm emotions of fuzzy feelings and virtual group hugs from people you’ve never met or who may not even know Christ as their Savior. Rather, as a believer, you have access to a lasting comfort: the comfort that is found in your Savior.

With perfect timing, God brought along the book Inheritance of Tears by Jessalyn Hutto, as well as Courtney Reissig’s blog. Both of these ladies have gone through multiple miscarriages and have written on the subject to help point other ladies towards a gospel-centered comfort. The truths that these ladies have written were instrumental in refocusing my heart on my Savior in the midst of the sorrow.

Another resource that was highly influential in showing me more of the character of my God in the middle of my sorrow was the book Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. While not specifically about miscarriage, Trusting God deals with learning to trust Him in our sorrow, even when we don’t understand His ways (which is exactly what we struggle with, is it not?).

One last resource that I am currently reading is Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul Tripp. This book is an incredibly down-to-earth look at how we are to view the suffering that God takes us through in this life. Even though it has been almost five years since our miscarriage, Suffering is beginning to unpack and shed new light on so many of the hard emotions of grief that filled my heart after our miscarriage.

If you are longing to make Biblical sense of why God has called you to walk down this road of losing a child too early, I believe these resources can help point you in the right direction. I highly recommend them!

4. Scripture

This is perhaps an obvious statement, but I cannot emphasize it enough. If you don’t remember anything else that I have written here, please do remember this: saturate—and I mean soak in, marinate in, drench, flood–your soul with God’s Word.

As emotional of a journey as a miscarriage may be, don’t get caught up in just the emotions. Fight the tendency to wallow in the emotions and offset it by rehearsing to yourself the unfailing truths from God’s Word.

God’s Word is true and living–the only source of lasting comfort–for it reveals the character of it’s author.

It the Word that reveals the one who created the little one you lost.

It the Word that reveals the very nature of the one who knows your every thought and emotion going through your heart during this time.

It is in the Word that you will begin to see more clearly the God who is sovereign over all things, even your miscarriage.

It is in the Word that you will begin to understand the reason for the sorrow and suffering that we have in this world.

And it is in the Word that you ultimately will find true comfort–because it will point you to finding your comfort in God.

So read the Word, listen to sermons, study the Word, read it some more, write out passages that God uses to cause your heart to worship Him, pray the Word back to God, read the Word some more.

If you’re at a loss as to how to saturate your soul with the Word, start reading the Psalms. Over and over again, the psalmist depicts a state of sorrow, despair, and anguish—all emotions we can identify with as we try to make Biblical sense of our sorrow. However, after sharing his heart’s state of despair and anguish, the psalmist points his reader to the specific character of God that upheld him in his darkest hours. And that is what our souls need: a rehearsing of who God is. The Psalms remind us that even though our world feels like it has just crumbled around us, we still have our unchanging God, good and faithful in all of His ways.

So cry out to God. Plead with Him to make His Word to be living waters for your parched soul to drink from so that your heart might rejoice in Him.

Pray that He would be true to His character and show you His goodness in the sorrow of your miscarriage.

Pray that He would cause you to again sing praise to Him and give thanks to Him forever (see Ps. 30:12).

Pray that you would experience that He is, indeed, good and that His steadfast love is everlasting (see Ps. 118:29).

Pray that you would be able to testify that it is His steadfast love that is the very thing that upholds you when you are about to slip (see Ps. 94:18).

Find your ultimate rest and comfort in the God who is sovereign over all of creation and who very purposefully and intentionally created your little one for His glory.

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Miscarriage: When Your Friend Has One

Because miscarriage is so incredibly common, chances are high that you either know someone who has had one or you have had one yourself. I’d like to share a few practical ways God used others to be an encouragement to me when He called me and Isaac to walk this path ourselves, almost five years ago now. While there are many, many ways to do this, I have limited this list to the specific things that I personally experienced. Hopefully some of these ways can help you know how to better interact with and comfort a friend who has had a miscarriage.

1. Say something

We’ve all had those thoughts of “I don’t really know what to say” when someone we know is grieving the loss of a loved one; the temptation to just not say anything is great. When it is a miscarriage, the temptation to not say anything is even greater. For some mysterious reason, the situation just seems incredibly awkward and tricky and we don’t want to make things more difficult than they are. So “mums the word” often becomes the default course of action.

However, I am learning that we tend to over-analyse the need to have the perfect words of encouragement to say to a friend who has miscarried. Because of this tendency, we then fail to take advantage of an opportunity to show our love and care for her.

When a friend loses a little one, the glaring need at hand is not to be the one to speak the words that will somehow magically ease all pain. Rather, more often than not, we need to extend intentional encouragement and comfort by simply being there for her. In many cases, this action comes in the form of saying something…anything. In fact, it’s ok to stumble with the words, perhaps even as they come out of your mouth. It’s ok to be honest that you don’t really understanding what they’re going through. It’s ok to keep it simple. It’s even ok to say “I don’t really know what to say.”

But please say something.

Yes, it might be awkward, but please, say something. Even the words “I don’t know what to say” can be some of the sweetest words to the ears of one who has lost a baby—that baby who was fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s sight, even in its most undeveloped and unperfected state. Even if it has been months or years since your friend has miscarried, it isn’t too late to express your care for them and acknowledge that the baby’s life mattered.

Saying something is one of the most significant, yet simple, ways to do that.

2. Be willing to just listen

This one comes on the heels of my previous point. For some reason, the topic of miscarriage is kind of hush-hush. No one talks about it…at least not very openly. While there may be many reasons for this, I don’t believe it is because people don’t care. Instead, I think it is mostly because people just don’t know how to react to a miscarriage: they don’t know if the mom wants to talk about it, if it will make her cry, or even if it is too personal of a topic to bring up.

However, I don’t think it is too broad of a generalization to say that most of us who have gone through a miscarriage do want to talk about it. Yes, there probably will be tears, even if it happened years ago. Yes, it is an intensely personal subject. But we want to talk about the precious life (or lives) that changed our lives forever.

The day after our miscarriage, one friend asked if she could come over and just be with me, since I was home alone for the day. She brought something hot for us to drink, and then we sat on the couch and just hung out for the afternoon. It was a simple action, but it still means the world to me that she was willing to give of her time to sit with me during those lonely hours immediately following our miscarriage.

Another friend, despite having her own burden that God has called her to bear, wasn’t afraid to ask me, even months later, how I was doing with it all. In so doing, she provided me with rare opportunities to talk about it. And then she listened while I talked. She was such an amazing blessing from God.

Don’t be afraid to be the one to bring up the subject.

3. Pray and send a card

If you don’t live nearby, do something to express that you care: send a note, a card, a text, a special song, some flowers, or even a care box filled with some special dark chocolate. Even if the person isn’t a particularly close friend, if you feel led to do something, don’t hesitate to act: small actions communicate a lot!

When we miscarried, we received numerous cards from people we had met maybe once before, but who wanted us to know that they were praying for us. Several years later, I came across that small stack of cards that had been stashed away in a drawer. As I read them all over again, I was once again reminded of the very specific way God poured out grace, strength, and comfort on our hearts through those cards.

4. Remember dates

There can be multiple days that stand out in a mom’s mind when she thinks of her miscarriage: the date of the actual miscarriage, the due-date, or the day she took that positive pregnancy test, to name a few. For the grieving mom, sometimes these dates are commemorated on a yearly or monthly basis. Sometimes even a particular day of the week could be hard. Each mom is different in how she handles these days.

Take some time to find out what days and dates might be hard for your friend and then remember them. As those days come around on the calendar, take a minute to let your friend know you’re thinking of her. Send a text or give her a hug the next time you see her. These are small actions that can speak volumes.

5. Be an encouragement when there’s a new pregnancy

Finding out that we were pregnant again was one of most exciting things ever: we’re going to have a baby!

But I distinctly remember one day at work soon after we found out. I was terrified—absolutely terrified–that it would happen again. I began to panic. I had to share this burden with someone.

And I had to do it now.

I hid in the bathroom for a few minutes of privacy and pounded out a desperate text to a friend, telling her that we were expecting and then begging her to pray that God would give me a peace and a quiet trust in Him, despite my fear that the worst would again happen. It was a subtle yet certain comfort to know that not only was she rejoicing with me with the news, but she was also praying.

A new pregnancy is an incredible roller-coaster ride of emotions for the mom–emotions about the past pregnancy, emotions about the new pregnancy, emotions about so many what-could-have-beens, emotions about so many what-might-yet-bes.

Let your friend know that you’re rejoicing with her, but that you haven’t forgotten about the past.

Pray for your friend. Pray for the life of the new little one. Pray for a confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness, no matter what. Pray for a peace that surpasses all understanding. And pray that the Lord would deem it to be a good gift to grant your friend the gift of holding her baby, alive and healthy.

During this month of remembering pregnancy and infant loss, let us be intentional about reaching out to those moms around us who have lost precious little ones. May we be the hands and feet of God’s love and comfort to them.

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