Growing in Grace: July 2016

How to Pray When Your Soul is Bone Dry - "You know you ought to pray. You know that God invites and even commands you to pray. He loves to hear from you, loves to know you. Yet there are times when your soul feels bone dry, when even opening your mouth to pray seems an impossibility. What do you do?"

Why Single Is Not the Same as Lonely - True and wise words from a single man.

A new book of Christian comics - I frequently share comics from Adam Ford (Adam4d), and he has a brand new book of them out. The endorsements are excellent.

You Cannot Out-Dream God's Plan for You - I found this abundantly encouraging. "In front of the mountain of purpose and happiness hidden for us in his glory, every other dream and ambition begins to look pale and stale."

How Should I Process the Current Violence and Tensions? - Even in Canada, I'm tuned in to the racial tension, division, violence, and conflict going on in the States. I appreciated Kevin DeYoung's post regarding processing it all.

Does the Husband Have the Authority? - Thought provoking. "It is not the husband’s right to force or coerce his wife to submit. Submission is voluntary on a wife’s part, and her choice entirely."

Pray for Christians in Russia - This is pretty crazy and terrifying. "[On Thursday, July 7], Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law an “anti-terror” package that includes measures eviscerating religious freedom. The new law requires government permits to preach and teach the gospel, and restricts evangelism essentially to registered church building sites."

The Majority of Americans Recommend Cohabitation. That's a Problem. - "Looking at this cohabitation trend, if we are to understand it and respond in love, we should ask three questions: What are you seeking? What will you find? What are you meant for?"

9 Traits of Truly Curious People - I like it. "Curiosity pointed in any direction is marked by the same traits. Whether we are investing in a marriage, a co-worker, a project, a sermon, a mission trip, a friendship, or a crisis a truly curious person shares these."

5 Reasons Why Teens Need Theology - In case you missed it, this was my latest article for The Gospel Coalition.


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Are You Happy Today?

It's easy for me to say that I'm happy in God when I'm actually just happy in circumstances.

It's the most elementary of Christianese, and it sounds enormously spiritual. "I find my happiness in God." So we say it or think it when we actually don't believe it.

When you woke up this morning, were you happy? Maybe you were for a moment and then reality came tumbling in. Or maybe you were and still are. Or maybe you just weren't.

In each of those scenarios, ask yourself: why do I think and feel this way? Is it because I am fixing my identity on God or my own immediate comfort? Is it because I'm gazing on God's beauty or social media? Is it because I'm pouring myself out for the kingdom of God or fighting for personal glory and achievement? Is it because I'm making life about God or me?

And right there, that's my problem. I make life about me. And so my happiness waxes and wanes based on the fickleness of my heart. Life is great, so I'm happy. Then life is not so great, and I'm filled with despair. (And I'm not talking about the grief and sorrow that are natural parts of the Christian life.)

True and authentic happiness in God starts with God, not with us. See, we're subjective. We're moody and motivated by feelings and flimsiness. If we want lasting and soul-deep satisfaction, we need an objective source of happiness outside of ourselves. Once we remove our feelings from the picture, we're free to fix our hope on a rock.

God never changes. He is eternally happy and unfailingly joy-giving. If we base our happiness on Him, nothing can shake it.

When I woke up this morning, the sky was very blue, and I thought, "It's going to be a good day today." And then I thought about my to-do list and ordinary troubles, and my mood dampened. So I asked myself: "Why do you feel and think this way?" Which led to this piece.

I want you to do the same. Why are you happy or unhappy today? And what are you going to do about it?


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Without the Gospel, Life is Useless


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Your Saturday Smile: T-Rex ANW Edition

We're big American Ninja Warrior fans in my house, and we were especially impressed by this epic run.

(HT: Kevin DeYoung)

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An Update on My Book

Since people have frequently been asking about my book's progress (and seeing as today is a rather exciting day in that process), I thought I would give you an update on where things are at.

The deadline to turn in the manuscript (the whole book) of This Changes Everything is August 1, but I've actually prepared to turn it in today! While I could tinker and tweak forever, I'm at the point where I'm ready for my editor to tackle it and make it so much better. I need a break from the project for a little while. So now the book goes to the editor, she edits, and then she sends it back to me for my final edits. That will be the last time I work on it.

The publication date for TCE has been scheduled for April 30, 2017, with a tentative plan to launch it at The Gospel Coalition National Conference on April 3.

I've been in steady communication with the graphic designers at Crossway, and they've almost completed the cover of the book. I can't wait to share it with you. It's different in design, but I think it's quite compelling and definitely bright!

In these months that I wait for the manuscript back, and then ultimately for the book to come out, I get to pour my time into promo/marketing/other fun stuff. There's some writing for other publications, there will be some interviews, I'll be guest teaching in Brett Harris's new online course for young adults, Do Hard Things University, and we're in the process of teaming up to launch a video series for where I'll be interviewing some well-known faces in the Christian world. 

Who knows what else may come up? 

I continue to covet your prayers. Pray for wisdom and direction in this next year -- and beyond. I went from being the 12-year-old who had her entire life planned out to being an almost 19-year-old who has no clue what her life will look like in six months. Pray that God would be glorified throughout this whole process, the writing, the waiting, the editing, the marketing, the interviews, everything. Pray that I would have humility and grace. And please pray that This Changes Everything would be used to impact individuals for Christ. 

So today I turn in my book. Then I'm making pancakes and watching movies. Because it's the little things in life. 


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Sin Is Like a Rhinoceros

I'm reading Openness Unhindered right now, a beautiful book on sexuality and union with Christ written by Rosaria Butterfield (author of the incredible Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert). In a recent chapter on repentance, she included a startling analogy by G.K. Chesterton.

He compared sin to a rhino. He explains it like this:

"If a rhinoceros was to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever."

Rosaria Butterfield commented on this with these words:

"Like a rhino, sin has power without authority, but it can bully and sucker-punch the strongest Christian into doing its bidding" (83).

I found that a remarkably helpful analogy. For the Christian, sin lays no claim on us. But it still beleaguers us. It plagues and bullies us. It clings like a heavy, wet garment and tries to wedge its way into the cracks of our hearts.

Yet we should be the first to rise up and say, "Sin, you have no authority whatsoever here." Our authority is Christ. Our joy is Him. Our duty is obedience to Him. Christ rules our lives, not sin.

And I think that's pretty encouraging.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Rogers and Flickr Creative Commons


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Why I've Fallen In Love with Throwing Things Out

It started with a YouTube video, as so many great things do. This video, to be exact. One guy talking about a concept called minimalism.

And then I read a book. It was called The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life, and it was by Francine Jay. 

Minimalism, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is a lifestyle where you pare down your stuff to just the essentials, just the things that make you happiest, and just the things you use the most. 

And suddenly this started clicking for me. This was my thought process: I have a lot of stuff. I have a few things I use all the time and a few things I love, but a lot of stuff that sits on a shelf or hangs in my closet that never gets touched. I don't like that I'm so cluttered. So why do I still have this stuff?

Hence, the throwing things out. First, my clothes. Then, my books. Then, my desk. Then, my closet. I went through every item, removed it from its home, and asked: "Do I love this? Do I use this? Will I miss this?" Two giant bags of clothes are gone. Three giant bags of garbage are gone. One giant bag of stuff has been given away. My room has never been so clean, so organized, and so loved. It's refreshing being in here, with everything in its place.

Having less stuff is kind of lovely. I wear all of my clothes and jewelry and scarves and sunglasses. I love all my books. It's easy to keep the place clean. 

I've also been forced to reckon with how owning a lot of things I neither use nor like glorifies God. Paring down my possessions has genuinely made me less reliant on them. And it's made me less eager to go out and buy a bunch of new things I will soon have to store -- and eventually get rid of. I believe owning less stuff is a little step I've taken that's personally benefited me spiritually. 

As I get older, I'm realizing that life is about so much more than stuff. And I've seen that stuff can take hold of your heart and actually rob it of happiness. In a culture that's told possessions are the key to joy and fulfillment, the Christian knows that's just not true. For me, owning less things is a little way to remind myself that contentedness, comfort, and satisfaction are not rooted in stuff; they're rooted in Christ.

No matter how much you own, the point of life is still the same -- glorify God with what you've been given. Be a good gospel steward. If you don't need to get rid of anything to do that, great. If you do, great. 

But don't be a thoughtless and unengaged steward. 


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Your Saturday Smile: Evolution of a Book Edition

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It's the Last Day of VBS

It's the last day of VBS ... and I'm tired. Whenever I have a private moment and children aren't talking to me, singing to me, grabbing my hand, or watching me, I yawn.

It's the last day of VBS ... and I'm grateful. For the good group of kids we had, the kind and fun volunteers, the gospel freshly -- newly! -- imparted to young ears, no major catastrophes, no blood, and no emergencies.

It's the last day of VBS ... and I'm relieved. My sky high, sword-sharp mental energy has steadily depleted over the week, and a part of me is eager for a rest from VBS.

It's the last day of VBS ... and I'm sad. I'll genuinely miss (most of) these kids and their silliness and their sweetness and their stories and their drawings and their questions and their smiles.

It's the last day of VBS ... and I'm happy. I'm glad to have joined in it all and glad to be done for another year.

It's the last day of VBS ... and I'm hopeful. We plant seeds, but God gives the growth -- and many seeds were planted this week.

It's the last day of VBS ... and I'm ready for a nap.


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Millennials' Biggest Problem: Comparison

I appreciated this piece on RELEVANT today by Paul Angone. It was convicting in a striking way, but it was a healthy reminder.

Obsessive Comparison Disorder is the smallpox of our generation. Nine out of 10 doctors agree Obsessive Comparison Disorder is the leading cause of devouring a whole box of Thin Mints while watching reality TV.

So what exactly is Obsessive Comparison Disorder, what are the side effects, and more importantly, is there a cure?

Obsessive Comparison Disorder

Obsessive Comparison Disorder is our compulsion to constantly compare ourselves with others, producing unwanted thoughts and feelings that drive us to depression, consumption, anxiety and all-around joyous discontent.

Now, obviously the lure and danger of comparison didn't just start. Comparison started when sin did.

The first murder recorded in the Bible was a byproduct of comparison. Two brothers brought God an offering. God approved Abel's and disapproved of Cain's. So in Genesis 4 Cain invites his brother out to the field, and he attacks and kills him.

During Jesus' last supper with his disciples, he tells them shocking news that will forever change history—one of them is going to betray him. How do the disciples respond? Do they do whatever it takes to find and stop the culprit? No, in Luke 22 they start an argument about which one of them is the greatest disciple.

Comparison has always been around. But now with the internet and social media it's taken our comparison problem to global heights.

Just a few decades ago, you used to have to wait until your ten-year reunion to look each other up and down to see how much worse or better off you were than them. And all you had to do was fake it for one night.

Rent a BMW. Borrow a spouse and a few kids. Go on some insane weight-loss program you bought on an infomercial, along with that machine that shakes the fat out of you. Do whatever it takes. Just pull off some fabricated version of your life for one night to show everyone that your made-up life was obviously better than theirs.

Comparison has always been around. But now with the internet and social media it's taken our comparison problem to global heights.

Then you could leave your reunion and take that rented BMW straight to Little Caesar's. Two Hot-N-Ready pizzas later, life could start going back to normal.

Now with the joyous invention of online social media, who needs a ten-year reunion? We now have the opportunity to compare ourselves to everyone. Every. Single. Day. What a blessing.

Every day we are trying to pull off a branded, dazzling, filtered, edited, impossibly epic and other worldly life that no one could possibly be living.

"My job doesn't even feel like work!" "My kids couldn't be cuter, they never misbehave and they are the only ones on their team to ever score a goal!" "My spouse and I constantly walk around cheek-snuggling like we're doing in this photo!"

Yet, what effect is Obsessive Comparison Disorder having on us?


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