Expectancy

Expectancy changes everything. One’s perspective, planning, and worldview are all shaped and often altered by the expectation of something or someone’s coming.  I’ve thought much about expectancy recently as we are anticipating the arrival of our third son around Christmas Day. Our expectation of his arrival has altered our Christmas travel plans, affected the arrangement of our house, and even changed the way we think about the future of our family. While Christmas Eve isn’t necessarily considered an ideal due date, it will be special to count down the days until our son’s birth as we simultaneously count down the days until Christmas. As we await the birth of our little boy, we will joyfully celebrate the first coming of our Savior King with hopeful expectancy for His future return.

I’ve been imagining how Mary must have felt as she carried Jesus in her womb and anticipated the day of His birth. She, along with all the people of Israel, had for many years been waiting expectantly for the coming of the Messiah–the Rescuer–the one who would bring salvation and free the Israelites from oppression. Their expectation gave them hope to press on in faithfulness to God, despite hardship and uncertainty. Their expectation enabled them to have joy in the midst of pain and sorrow.

Christmas is the season full of joyful expectancy and anticipation. Everything–from the decorating and shopping to the parties, performances, and baking–is leading up December 25, the big day when we celebrate the season in full with friends and family. The excitement of the holiday season  builds through the month of December and is made complete on Christmas Day. But for believers, the significance of this expectation and anticipation is so much richer than just the gifts, traditions, and even the family. Our expectation and joy in these things is just a pointer to a deeper joy and greater expectation in our hearts. The big day is greatly anticipated and greatly celebrated because it was on this day that God took on human flesh and came to live among us (John 1:14). It was on this day that a light dawned on a people living in a land of darkness (Isaiah 9:2). It was on this day that the many promises of God to His people began to receive fulfillment: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Cor 1:20). Through Adam’s original sin, brokenness and death reigned among humanity. But through the birth of Christ and one day through His death on the cross and resurrection, grace would reign among humanity (Romans 5). Jesus came into the world on that first Christmas Day to conquer more than the oppressive Roman Empire. He came into the world to conquer sin and death–much greater oppressors of humanity.

For believers in Jesus, Christmas is both a season of joyful celebration for what He has already done and a season of joyful expectation for what He will accomplish still. In a world still plagued by terror, violence, sorrow, injustice, and oppression, we celebrate Christmas with joyful expectancy. We rest in the truth that we serve a God who has always shown Himself faithful to keep His promises, and we hold on to the hope that Jesus will return again. This time, He’s coming to judge the world, make all things new and right, and reign forever. And our expectancy for this great return changes everything about the way we live today. 

“Come, thou long expected Jesus, 

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee. 

Israel’s strength and consolation, 

hope of all the earth thou art; 

dear desire of every nation,

joy of every longing heart.”

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Books that shaped my thinking in 2014

download_20150102_2344542014 really didn’t afford me much blogging time because it was the year of READING. But that’s ok. In my book, reading is both an important discipline and a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the few waking hours I have free from chasing the wild things. The hurry-scurry of life and exhaustion of caring for littles can so easily squelch out reading time, so I was glad that seminary reading requirements gave me the motivation–or the excuse, depending on the day–to sit down and absorb some of the books on this list. I even found the time for some good page-turning fiction, which is a real treat these days.

Book choices are really important because the things you and I read really affect the way we think. What we read shapes our worldview(s) and the way we interpret reality. This, of course, is why God’s inspired Word must always be at the top of any year’s reading list and must inform the rest of our reading. I realize I can only read so many things in my lifetime, and I want to pick books that are worth my time. . .books that will make me think and examine myself and human nature. . . books that are going to make a difference in how I live my life. So, in no particular order, here are the books that accomplished those purposes for me in 2014, as well as a few picks on my list for the new year:

1. Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples (Francis Chan): Here in the Bible belt, almost anyone will claim to be a Christian. Nominal, cultural Christianity is still a relatively acceptable norm. But what does it mean to really be a follower of Christ? What does that look like? How does that impact the purpose and trajectory of our lives? Multiply is such an amazing resource to use as we seek to understand and help others understand what it really means to know God through Christ. This book is great to use in one-on-one discipleship settings and in small groups. I am going through the book with a friend who wants to grow in her walk with Christ and also with the ladies in our women’s ministry at church. Chan is very readable, and you will learn a lot regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey.

2. George Mueller: Delighted in God (Roger Steer): This is a biography that truly increased my faith and belief in the power of prayer. George Mueller, a pastor and evangelist, set out to demonstrate the faithfulness of God and eventually built orphanages to house thousands of orphaned children while praying in every penny of the costs. He had no salary and never asked one person for a dime. It’s amazing to read about God’s provision and delight in answering the prayers of His people when those prayers are in accordance with His will and for His glory. This is such an amazing story.

3. Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Gloria Furman): I can truly say that there are many days when I feel as though motherhood is causing me to lose my find. In the midst of craziness and real-life challenges, it’s easy to get frustrated and lose perspective. Gloria Furman’s book helped me get my thinking straight. It took me back to the gospel–to the purpose of motherhood and to the true Sustenance for motherhood. This is my number one book to recommend and give to new moms, and it’s a book I will return to many times through the years.

4. Is God Anti-Gay? (Sam Allberry): Homosexuality is the issue of our day. There are numerous conflicting views on this issue and even conflicting opinions concerning what the Bible says about this issue. So, what does God really think? What does the Bible really say with certainty about marriage, sexuality, and same-sex attraction? How can Christians be a beacon of gospel light, hope, and love to all people in this broken world, including those with same-sex attraction? This book is biblically sound, full of wisdom, and motivated by true Christian love. And it’s short to boot!

5. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Donald Whitney): This is a book that every Christian should read. Truly. Sustained discipline is not easy, but Whitney’s thesis verse is 1 Timothy 4:7 which teaches that growth in godliness is the result of  God working through our practice of the spiritual disciplines. Whitney provides all sorts of practical helps for reading and meditating on Scripture, praying, fasting, serving, etc. This is another book that will benefit you greatly regardless of where you are in your walk with God.

6. Women of the Word (Jen Wilkin): I think so many Christian women genuinely want to read the Bible consistently, but because they have never been taught how to study and interpret it, they often feel confused and unsure of where to start. Jen Wilkin teaches easy, systematic ways to study and understand God’s Word so that it truly comes alive and makes sense. She helps women understand the big story of the Bible so that we can see how our individual stories are a part of that great, grand story.

7. Finally Free: Fighting for Purity by the Power of Grace (Heath Lambert): This is a book about finding freedom from pornography addiction through Christ’s power and grace. I had to read this book for class, but I thought it was excellent and very relevant as pornography is a rampant and common problem even among Christians. If you or someone you know are struggling in this area, this is an excellent, grace-filled resource–full of practical helps and the hope of the gospel.

8. Be Rich: Gaining the Things that Money Can’t Buy (Warren Wiersbe): This is actually a commentary on the book of Ephesians, but it reads like a regular book. I used this as a resource this summer while teaching a small group women’s study through Ephesians. It was excellent. Wiersbe has a “Be” commentary series that includes commentaries for almost every book of the Bible. These are very easy to read and understand and are great for personal study or group study.

9. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (Donald Whitney): Dr. Whitney was my prof this past semester, so obviously I read a lot of his stuff. This is a short little book that will really help you examine your heart and life to determine if you are spiritually healthy or just spiritually busy. There’s a big difference.

10. The Hunger Games Trilogy (Suzanne Collins): Hmm…which book in the list doesn’t fit? Ha :)! I realize  I’m a couple years behind the rest of the world, but these three books were my page-turning fiction splurge when I finished my class. They fall into the category of “books that make you think about the world, politics, and human nature.” They are excellent—very entertaining and brain stimulating. They will also make you thankful that, as Christians, we have a remedy and a true promise of hope for the horrific brokenness in our world.

11. Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Tedd Tripp): I think I actually read this is 2013, but this is my go-to parenting book. This will revolutionize the way you look at parenting and help you give your kids the hope of the gospel by getting into what’s really in their hearts.

Here’s what I have on the 2015 reading list so far:

1. Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

2. The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgement, the Hope of Holy War (Joshua Ryan Butler)

3. The Church Planting Wife (Christine Hoover)

4. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Tim Keller)

5. Love Does (Bob Goff)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books as well as any recommendations you might have for me—particularly good fiction! Happy reading, y’all.

The light of the Gospel shines brightest at Christmas

If I had to choose one word for our 2014 year, it would be gospel. For us, this year has been about learning to live in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ—learning that no part of our lives is untouched by this good news. It is the gospel that must shape our marriage, our work, our parenting, our play, our time management, and our very identity. The gospel must be our ultimate hope and satisfaction. It is the gospel–not our work, our achievements, our income, our children—that defines us. The gospel is not just the spring board that launches us into salvation. It is the pool into which we dive and remain.

So what exactly is this gospel? Whether you’ve heard it many times or never before, understanding and dwelling on the gospel of Jesus is a daily necessity for each of us— often a greater necessity than we realize. In the Bible, the Greek word for gospel (translated euangelion) literally means good news. The gospel proclaimed throughout the Scriptures is simply the good news of what God has done through His Son Jesus Christ to reconcile humanity back to Himself. This good news is the whole reason we started celebrating Christmas in the first place. But the reality is, we cannot fully grasp and appreciate good news until we have a proper understanding of the bad news regarding our helplessly hopeless situation. The good news of the gospel is only necessary and gloriously good when shining brightly against the dark and dirty backdrop of our ultimate human problem: Sin.

We like to believe that human beings are born basically good and are later corrupted by the evil that already exists in our world, but the Bible tells a different story. The Bible tells us that, at the core, all human hearts are deceitful and sick with a wickedness that can’t be shaken in our own power (Jeremiah 17:9). When Adam and Eve, our first parents, failed to trust God and instead rebelled against His good rule in disobedience, sin and death entered the world: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all had sinned” (Romans 5:12). From that point on in human history, all men and women have been born with a sinful nature that leads us to break God’s law and defame His glory by committing sinful deeds (Romans 3:23). We are born into this world physically alive but spiritually dead—separated from God and controlled by our sin nature (Ephesians 2:1). Although our Creator God is a perfect, beautiful, loving, gracious, sovereign King; in our sinful state,we want nothing to do with him (Romans 3:10-12). We utterly reject His good rule in our lives in order to govern ourselves according to the corrupted desires of our own hearts (Ephesians 2:3). The result is a broken world filled with evil, sickness, sorrow, tragedy, pain, and, eventually, physical death for all (Romans 6:23). And the worst part is that we are powerless to fix our sin problem. No amount of good deeds can change the deep-rooted condition of our hearts or keep us from committing more sin. Our attempted righteousness is still filthy when held up to God’s perfect righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). Even our greatest virtue is faintly tainted by selfish ambition and pride—tainted by hearts that love self more than God.  Because our God is holy, pure and perfectly good, He cannot tolerate evil. It is in conflict with the very essence of His being. Left to ourselves, we are destined for God’s just wrath against sin and bound for an eternity separated from Him in Hell.

The picture is grim and seemingly hopeless, but it is against this dark backdrop that the good news of the gospel breaks in as a bright light of shining hope. The Light was foretold many years before He appeared on the scene to shine fully into a dark world. The prophets proclaimed that God would send a Rescuer who would illuminate and overcome darkness, bringing hope to a sin-oppressed people: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. . . For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. . .(Isa 9:2,6). The promise of this Light-to-come flickered in the hearts of God’s people, igniting a tiny flame of hope. And many years later, that promised Light entered the world fully. On the first Christmas, The Word {Jesus Christ} became flesh and dwelt among us. . . In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:14, 4, 9). God sent His own Son from Heaven to Earth to shine light into a dark world and also to shine light into our darkened hearts: For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus came to earth to shine His light on our ultimate problem: sin-darkened hearts. And He came to illuminate the truth that He alone is the solution to our problem. Only Jesus can transform sinful hearts and make them clean and right before God. Only Jesus can bridge the separation between God and man.

Jesus lived the life we couldn’t live–a perfect sinless life. He met all of God’s requirements perfectly. Despite His perfection, He died a death that we deserved to die when he served as our substitute and bore God’s wrath against sin in His own body on the cross. He didn’t stay dead, however, but rose from the grave to overcome sin, darkness, and death once and for all. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). One day, Jesus is coming back to judge evil once and for all and to make all things new and right in our world.

During this season when I enjoy the beauty of tiny white lights illuminating the dark boughs of our Christmas tree, I am reminded of the true Light that shone into a dark world on that first Christmas night. As I watch lights twinkling from bushes, trees, and porches against the blackness of a night sky, I am so thankful for Jesus who shone His light into my own darkened, powerless heart—forgiving and transforming me. Christmas intensifies my longing for those blinded by the darkness of sin to have the eyes of their hearts illuminated by the light of Christ. God’s Word promises that when we repent or turn away from sin and the desire to rule our own lives and trust only in the good news of what Jesus has done to give us clean hearts, we will be saved and made right before God (Mark 1:15). It is the gospel that is that is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), and it is the gospel that is the power of God for daily living. God, through Jesus, has provided the remedy for my ultimate problem and made me His child, bound for eternity with Him. That changes everything in my life. Jesus, the true Light of the World, offers hope for today and for eternity if we will only trust in Him. May the light of the gospel shine brightly in your hearts and from your homes this Christmas. 

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Mother’s Day Weekend 2014

Mother’s Day weekend was really special this year. My entire family came for a visit—a rare and welcomed treat.IMG_1511 I got to spend Mother’s Day with my mom and my boys. IMG_1571 {And just because the outtakes are comical and tell the real story….here you go!}IMG_1523 IMG_1525 IMG_1527IMG_1531 John Wicks was dedicated to the Lord on Mother’s Day. In other words, Adam and I made a commitment before our church family to model for our son what it means to fear the Lord by loving Him with all our heart, soul, and might. Before our church, we promised to diligently teach John Wicks the character and ways of God as we go about our daily living–as we sit, walk, lie down and rise (Deuteronomy 6). We promised to hold up the free gift of the Gospel to our son and exhort him to respond in repentance and faith. We know only God can change our son’s heart. It is God alone who saves. But it is we who teach and tell and walk by faith before his little eyes. We pray that God will draw John Wicks to himself at a young age…all to the praise of His glorious grace!IMG_1575 JW had a bad cold virus and slept through the entire dedication. Bless it. IMG_1538 Afterward, a church member needed to make a family picture of us for senior scrapbooks, so we had the perfect opportunity to document the morning with our families. IMG_1549 IMG_1573 Adam’s sweet parents drove six hours for the dedication. We were thrilled to have them. IMG_1558How blessed I am to be a mom. My two boys are precious and undeserved gifts from the Father. During this season, mothering is non-stop. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It requires all of me. It requires me to constantly look to Jesus for extra measures of grace, strength, patience, and joy. Luke is endearing, smart, loving, creative, funny, talkative, loud, rebellious, {often} destructive, and challenging. John Wicks is cuter than cute, tough as nails, more curious than George, physically strong, strong-willed, and passionate for food. Both boys bring so much joy and adventure to my life. I’m so thankful to get to spend my days caring for them, kissing them, teaching them, playing with them, reading to them, and seeking to point them to the goodness and greatness of our God.

Each Mother’s Day, I am acutely aware that many women are experiencing more pain than joy. I am also aware that some of my future Mother’s Days could hold greater levels of pain than joy. The curse of “pain in child-bearing” comes in so many forms and includes so much more than simply the physical pain of birthing a baby: infertility, miscarriage, stillborn babies, sick children, death of children, wayward children, lost children, and more. On Mother’s Day, I hurt for those experiencing pain, and I pray that God would ease the pain of so many I know and offer rich joy and comfort in the knowledge of Him. More than that, I pray and KNOW that God will use all things, even the painful things, for good in the lives of those who know Him. He will use every form of “pain in childbearing” to make us more like His Son Jesus and to prepare us for “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17). Amen. 

2013 . . .

The year of transition.

The year God placed us in vocational ministry.

The year we said goodbye to precious seminary friends.

The year we moved back to Alabama.

The year we bought our first house.

The year of new life—the birth of John Wicks Rice, our second son.

The year of many new friends— some who already feel like forever friends.

The year of adjustment.

The year of learning.

The year Adam’s sweet Mommaw went to be with The Lord.

The year Will graduated from LSU.

The year of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.

The year Luke turned 2.

The year of the word “no.” (If you know L, you understand this.)

The year we celebrated 5 years of marriage.

The year of deep dependence upon God for strength, endurance, and patience in motherhood and ministry.

And, as always, the year of God’s undeserved grace and continued faithfulness.

1006207_10101482253409151_18672214_n(You can read our 2012 recap here.)

Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

The 2013 Stevens-family-Christmas-card-photo-shoot needed to be recorded in the archives for posterity’s sake. Because future generations need to understand that they come from a bunch of crazies! And fun crazies to boot!

{Disclaimer: some of these photos have dark shadows and heads cut out. We used the self timer for this shoot because who do you ask to come over and take photos of your entire family in footie pajamas? At least we got a few good ones.}

So, Merry Christmas and tidings of great comfort and joy from our family to yours!

2013 Stevens family Christmas card

2013 Stevens family Christmas card

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Luke tells the Christmas Story

This post should actually be titled Luke tells the Christmas Story to Doc and J-J.

I loved my parents’ response to this video. They both loved it and commented to me separately . . .

Mom: Doc was a little jealous that J-J got so much attention in this video! 

Dad: J-J’s head was a little bit puffed up about all that attention!

Each vying to be the #1 grandparent! They crack me up.

So thankful Luke is learning the story of Christ’s coming. Praying it will one day mean the world to him.