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Sunday, October 2, 2016

the instagram bible

Beware the Instagram Bible, my daughters – those filtered frames festooned with feathered verses, adorned in all manner of loops and tails, bedecked with blossoms, saturated with sunsets, culled and curated just for you.

Beware lest it become for you your source of daily bread. It is telling a partial truth.

I saw in my vision by night, and behold, I dreamed of a world in which every copy of the Bible was gone, except those portions we had preserved on Instagram. Consider this Bible, my daughters, if you will:

Its perfect squares are friend to the proverb, the promise, and the partial quote, leaving laws, lists, land-allotments, and long-stretching lessons to languish off-screen.

It comforts but rarely convicts.

It emotes but rarely exhorts.

It warms but rarely warns.

It promises but rarely prompts.

It moves but does not mortify.

It builds self-assurance but balks at self-examination.

It assembles an iconography whose artists, by spatial necessity, are constrained to choose

brevity over breadth,
inspiration over intellect,
devotion over doctrine.

Beware its conscribed canvas, where calligraphy conquers context.


If the Prosperity Gospel offered us all the things, the Instagram Gospel offers us all the feels. It preaches good news in part, but we need the whole. It may move us in the moment, but it cannot sustain us through the storm.

My daughters, do not misunderstand. Like you, I do not wish to pull up my Insta account to find Levitical laws picked out in filigree and flowers. Nor do I desire genealogies superimposed on sunsets. I do not harbor a puritanical hatred of beauty, nor do I detest the illumination of a holy text by an ardent scribe. May I be the first to hit “like” on a timeless word of encouragement.

I do not ask the Instagram Bible to be all things. I can value, even enjoy it for what it is. But drawn by the glow of its inviting warmth, I must ask myself - and you -  to view it with care,
lest we love the part in place of the whole.

Lest we live as those in a vision by night, as those ensnared in a dream.

Beware the Instagram Bible, my daughters. It shines a partial light. We must know it both for what it says, and for what it does not.

Friday, September 2, 2016

on empty nests, christian mommy-guilt, and misplaced identity

I blogged over at TGC about the fear many Christian moms feel about their love for their kids competing with their love for Jesus. While there certainly are idolatrous ways to love our kids, I wanted to explore how our love for both our kids and Jesus could coexist rather than compete. I hope you find it helpful:
Back-to-school time is always a tough transition, not just for kids but for moms. And I’m no exception. I’ve certainly been happy-sad sending them off, though, if I’m honest, the sad is currently winning the tug-of-war by a mile.
For the third time in three years, I left a piece of my heart in a dorm room at a giant university hours from home. There’s only one chickie left in the nest that used to hold four, and his traitorously giant feet are dangling over the side of it. In a short time our nest will be empty entirely.
I walked through last week with a tape in my head chanting, “I miss them I miss them I miss them.” I thought of life after that last baby leaves and could conjure up no vision for what would come next. Meaningless, meaningless. I did the only reasonable thing: I attempted to fill the hole in my heart with cookies—a lot of cookies. I overreacted to things that normally wouldn’t have bothered me. The internal ache hurt so deeply and caused so much distraction that I once again had to face the ultimate Christian mommy-guilt question: Do I love my kids too much?
You can read the rest of the article {here}.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

trading self-focus for self-forgetfulness and awe

I blogged over at Desiring God recently on a pervasive problem within women's gatherings and resources - a preoccupation with self-focus instead of God-focus. I hope you find it helpful!

Women, Trade Self-Worth for Awe and Wonder

If you’ve spent much time in Christian women’s circles, you may have noticed that we have devoted many gatherings to exploring our identity.

Retreats, conferences, and topical Bible studies rush to assure us that we are redeemed and treasured, that our lives have purpose, that our actions carry eternal significance. If we just understood who we are — the message goes — we would turn from our sin patterns and our spiritual low self-esteem and experience the abundant life of which Jesus spoke.

Recently I attended a women’s conference at which this message predictably took center stage. One after another, all three keynote speakers took us to Psalm 139:14, urging us to see ourselves the way God sees us, as fearfully and wonderfully made. It could have been just about any women’s event, with just about any typical speaker. Christian women ask Psalm 139:14 to soothe us when our body image falters, or when we just don’t feel that smart, valuable, or capable. We ask it to bolster us when our limits weigh us down. But based on how frequently I hear it offered, I suspect the message may not be “sticking to our ribs” very well.

Why is that?

I believe it is because we have misdiagnosed our primary problem. As long as we keep the emphasis on us instead of on a higher vision, we will take small comfort from discussions of identity — and we will see little lasting change. Our primary problem as Christian women is not that we lack self-worth, not that we lack a sense of significance or purpose. It’s that we lack awe...

You can read the rest of the article {here}.

Friday, May 13, 2016

our kids and our calendars

On a recent Thursday night I was invited to speak at Living Hope Memphis on the topic of how to keep the family calendar from becoming overwhelmed with activities. Our discussion was framed under the overarching question: 

"As a Christian parent, what is your greatest hope for your child?"

In the Wilkin home the answer was, "That they would grow to know, love and serve God with everything they have." Our family calendar needed to support this hope, not work against it. Because we had four kids in four years, we had to think hard about how many and which activities to commit to. Activity options abound for both kids and parents. How could we sift through our options so that we preserved time for talking of the things of God when we "sit in our house, walk along the way, lie down, and rise up"? 

In my time at Living Hope, I  walked through some diagnostic questions our family used to help discern what constituted an activity that was worth committing to. I discussed how to weigh one activity option against another and suggested the countercultural possibility of the activity-less child (we had one in our home). Jeff and I certainly don't have all the answers on this, but we did see a few consistent principles emerge as we navigated the "busy years" of parenting. I hope you find the talk helpful. As with all parenting advice, take what you can use and leave the rest behind.

You can watch the video here.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

my hope for readers of "none like him"

Today is the official release date for None Like Him! I wrote this book because of two convictions I hold regarding the importance of knowing what the Bible says about God's character. 

Meditating on God's character enriches our understanding of Scripture. When I write my Bible studies, I ask my students to look first for what the text says is true about God. I have found this can be a hard question for them to answer. I know it was for me for many years. The more I learned of God’s character, the clearer it became that the Bible was first and foremost a book about who God was before it had anything to say about who I was. Once I began reading to discover God’s character I was able to see my own in relation to His, rather than independent of His. We don't often take time to meditate on God’s attributes beyond just a passing acknowledgment, but when we do, our time in the Word is enriched. My prayer is that None Like Him would help us become more fluent in our vocabulary of those truths, and that we would see God and ourselves more clearly as a result.

Meditating on God’s character is intensely practical. Our daily lives would look very different if we took God’s character into consideration. God’s incommunicable attributes, in particular, should elicit a worshipful awe from us that causes us to see and embrace our limitedness in light of His limitlessness. Without that reference point, we can become convinced of our own awesomeness and work tirelessly to sustain it. We begin striving to take on the attributes that are not ours to possess, thus committing the idolatry the serpent offered Eve: “you will become like Him.” Once we recognize our desire for limitlessness as destructive, we are better able to submit willingly and joyfully to the God-ordained limits we have been given. And we are better able to worship Him.

If you’re looking for a book to use for a small group discussion time, or just for personal reflection or growth, I’ve structured the book with that in mind. Each of the ten short chapters explores one attribute, and then concludes with verses for meditation, four application questions, and a prayer. I hope you’ll keep a journal as you read, copying out the verses and writing your reflections and personal prayers in response to the questions. But however you use the book, I hope you’ll see God’s character emerge from the scriptures with greater clarity, and that you’ll be drawn to worship Him anew as you meditate on His perfections.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

are compatibility and complementarity at odds?

Owen Strachan has penned an interesting piece in which he states that perhaps nothing has been more damaging to male-female relationships than the notion of compatibility. He opens with this thought: “Compatibility. Has any concept done more to hinder the development of love?” Such a statement must surely have in mind a narrow working definition of compatibility, something along the lines of a Match.com profile and the self-serving search for the perfect soulmate. And I get how that's not healthy. But in complementarian marriage, is the desire for compatibility out of place? In the minds of most, the two terms Strachan juxtaposes would be defined briefly like this:

Compatibility: what is shared between a man and a woman
Complementarity: what is different between a man and a woman

So, do these two ideas live in opposition to one another? We find a carefully constructed story in Genesis 2 that I believe addresses this question directly. It is a story in which God creates man, notes he needs a suitable helper, then commands him to give names to every living creature. The animals parade by: ostrich, camel, alligator. Adam obediently names each one. It must have been a very long line of creatures great and small, as Adam “gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field”. Yet none of them is a suitable partner for him. Though half of them share his maleness, none of them share his humanness. They are beautifully formed, but they are not formed in the image of God.

Imagine Adam’s state of mind as the animals parade past him: “Ostrich: not like me. Camel: not like me. Alligator: not like me.” He becomes increasingly aware that, though surrounded by God’s good gifts, he is in a very fundamental sense, alone. You and I know what the solution to his aloneness will be, but the text takes its time establishing that his state is “not good” before pulling back the curtain. Before Eve can be prepared for Adam, Adam must be prepared for Eve.

And then, after a brief nap, Adam awakes. And there she is, at last.

Adam bursts into poetry:

“Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. She shall be called ishah (woman) because she came from ish (man).”

Don’t miss what Adam is saying. After the animal parade of one not-like-him after another, at last he sees Eve and rejoices that she is wonderfully, uniquely like-him.

Same of my same, same of my same. She shall be called like me because she came from me.”

The Bible’s first word on man and woman is not what separates them, but what unites them. It is a celebration of compatibility, of shared humanness. Ours is not a faith that teaches “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”. Rather, it teaches that both man and woman are from the same garden, created by and in the image of the same God, sharing a physical, mental and spiritual sameness that unites the two of them in a way they cannot be united to anything else in creation. Before the Bible celebrates the complementarity of the sexes, it celebrates their compatibility. And so should we.

To make how-we-are-different our starting point is to reinforce the tired idea that men and women are wholly “other”, an idea that lends itself neatly to devaluing and objectifying, rather than defending and treasuring. It is the very idea that fuels the cultural stereotypes of the incompetent husband and the nagging wife. I push away and discredit what is not-like-me. I cling to and elevate what is like-me. Compatibility is what binds us together, like two Cowboys fans finding each other in a sea of Eagles jerseys.

No one goes on a first date and remarks, “Wow, we had nothing in common. I can’t wait to go out again.” Same-of-my-same is what keeps man and woman in relationship when differences make them want to run for the exit. Same-of-my-same is what transforms gender differences from inexplicable oddities to indispensable gifts. Because my husband is fundamentally like-me in his humanness, the ways he is not-like-me in his maleness elicit my admiration or my forbearance, instead of my disdain or my frustration.

Compatibility. Has any concept done more to nurture the development of love?

So, no, complementarity and compatibility are not at odds. And it is precarious to pit them against one another. Compatibility is the medium in which complementarity takes root and grows to full blossom. Until we acknowledge our glorious, God-ordained sameness, we cannot begin to celebrate or even properly understand our God-given differences as men and women. This is the clear message of Genesis 2, so often rushed past in our desire to shore up our understanding of what it means to be created distinctly male and female. But we cannot rush past it, any more than Adam could rush past the parade of animals that were not-like-him. As Genesis 2 carefully reflects, a world which lacks the beauty of shared human sameness between the sexes is a world that is distinctly “not good”. But a world in which compatibility undergirds complementarity is very good indeed.

Friday, January 22, 2016

FAQ: how should i handle anger when disciplining?

Parenting small children can feel like Groundhog Day: correcting the same behaviors over and over again, often with no discernible improvement. When children disobey a clear expectation, parental anger can surge as a response. What should we do with that anger? Is it sinful? Or is there such a thing as righteous anger over the disobedience of a child? And most importantly, how can we keep anger from corrupting an act of discipline (training and correction) into one of retribution (getting even or vengeance)?

Many parents have a disconnect when thinking about anger and discipline: We suspect that disobedience should never touch our emotions – that good parents are able to correct their kids in an almost robotic, non-emotional way. It's important to acknowledge that we will get angry when our kids disobey, and that our anger is not sinful by definition. It turns sinful when we welcome it and use it to justify an unmeasured response. I do think it is extremely rare that we feel righteous anger of any kind, much less in moments of child disobedience. My anger in those moments was almost always related to the feeling that their disobedience was a personal offense against me or evidence that I was a failure at raising obedient children. That's a dumb kind of anger. And it's a dangerous kind, because it turns discipline into retribution lightning-fast.

Power-brokers and Peace-keepers

I believe the answer is not to be a robot, but rather to take time to calm down and gain control before administering discipline of any kind. We are allowed to get angry, but we are not allowed to sin in our anger. (Eph. 4:26) We are even allowed to express our anger on our faces or in our tone. However, because children are not as good at filtering those expressions as adults, I believe it's the better part of wisdom to control our outward reactions. Most children tend toward one of two categories: power-broker or peace-keeper. The power-broker recognizes emotional displays on our part as a sign that they are gaining leverage. If we show our anger over a disobedient act, we can actually reinforce the behavior. The peace-keeper, on the other hand, sees a display of anger as rejection. Seeing our anger may cause the peace-keeper to cease disobeying, but it may also breed fear and secrecy.

But if we completely hide our anger from our kids in those moments (particularly older kids), we can miss another training opportunity as important as the correction at hand: Modeling how to handle anger well. We can do so by taking time to calm down before disciplining, and by assuring our children (verbally and physically) that our love for them is untouched by their disobedience. We can also model repentance when our anger expresses itself rashly. We can confess it to our children and ask forgiveness, demonstrating to both the power-broker and the peacekeeper the power and peacefulness of humility.

Slow It Down

Proverbs 14:29 warns, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” If ever we need to exercise great understanding, it’s in moments of disciplining our kids. By thinking through what triggers our anger, we can begin to repent of its sinful aspects, working to slow it down to a safer speed. Once the moment of conflict has passed, we can do a personal debrief, asking ourselves what was really at the root of our anger. Did we have a wrong expectation? Did we allow an age-appropriate lack of self-control to get underneath our skin? Is anger our go-to response in general when things don't go as we had planned? How could things go better the next time?

Consider also how our own childhood influences our discipline patterns. For the parent who grew up in an angry home, the combination of disciplining and anger will feel either so normal that we forget to question it, or so inseparable that we avoid disciplining altogether. Neither of these is healthy. Sometimes, agreeing to “divide and conquer” with our spouse can help. If your spouse has better control than you do, consider deferring to them as the primary disciplinarian until you can trust your own responses better. Know your triggers. If neglected chores drive you crazy, hand off discipline to your spouse. If back-talk sets off your spouse, maybe you are the better parent to discipline for that.

In every discipline moment, keep in view that our children are our neighbors, to be loved as we love ourselves. By remembering that they are people, we are more likely to correct rather than avenge. If anger arises, we will temper it with compassion and forgiveness, expressing it appropriately and disciplining out of love.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

strategizing "time in the word" for a new year

With the start of the New Year, many Christians like to put in place some sort of structure to help hold them accountable to the personal habit of spending time in the Word. I’m a big fan of structure and accountability. I need them myself in any area of my life where the good behavior that ought to happen habitually does not. But just as not all diet and exercise plans are equally beneficial or interchangeable, neither are all accountability systems for spending time in the Word. As you lay out your strategy for interacting with your Bible in the coming year, here is a breakdown to help you weigh your options.

Reading Plans

What they are: Reading plans provide a structure for reading the entire Bible over a set period of time. They vary in length and strategy. Some take you from Genesis to Revelation, some go in chronological order, and some combine daily readings from both the Old and New Testaments.

What they do: Reading plans help us cover a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time. They give broad exposure to the Bible as a whole, helping us develop familiarity with it from beginning to end.

Who they help most: Reading plans help believers of any stage of maturity. Many mature believers have never read the Bible in its entirety, and for those who have, doing so repeatedly brings ever-increasing benefit.

What they don’t do: Reading plans don’t allow for in-depth exploration of themes or stories. Their aim is breadth over depth.

Which to choose: Which plan you choose is, to some degree, a matter of preference. If you are looking to grow in Bible literacy, choose a plan that moves through each book of the Bible from start to finish, versus one that combines OT and NT readings each day. I favor chronological plans that move at a slow enough pace to allow time to absorb what you are reading. If finishing in a year means you are reading faster than you are able to retain what you are reading, slow down your schedule. Here is a list of plans you can consider.

Bible Studies

What they are: Because we so often refer to any time we spend in the Word as Bible study, I want employ a distinct definition here for the sake of clarity. Bible studies teach us an entire book or major passage of the Bible from start to finish, taking time to instruct us in context, genre, themes, and theological implications. They do so according to time-honored rules of interpretation.

What they do: Bible studies help us slow down and “own the text”. A good Bible study teaches both method (how to study) and content (the text it covers), and that takes time. If reading plans are a sprint, Bible studies are a stroll.

Who they help most: Like reading plans, Bible studies help believers of all levels of maturity. For the new believer, they impart much-needed tools for ongoing study, as well as foundational comprehension and interpretation of the text. For the mature believer, they hone skills and deepen understanding, preparing them not just for further learning but for teaching others.

What they don’t do: Bible studies don’t move at a pace that allows for broad exposure to the Bible over a relatively short period of time. Their aim is depth over breadth.

How to choose one: Look for studies that ask you to do the work of comprehending and interpreting the text, providing you with the tools to do so. The less spoon-feeding of commentary they do, the more they will help you grow in Bible literacy. Look for studies that ask you to work at personal discovery before they offer you interpretation and application. I like the NavPress LifeChange series, studies by Kathleen Nielson, or you can try any of the studies I have written for FMWBS and LifeWay. For a faster pace with solid approach and content, Nancy Guthrie’s studies are also excellent.

Topical Studies

What they are: Again, clarity of terms matters. Topical studies differ from Bible studies in that they seek to integrate broad concepts by pulling verses from all over the Bible, versus moving systematically through one text. Covering topics ranging from doctrine to finding contentment to how to be a godly parent, they offer a Biblical framework for understanding a particular issue.

What they do: Topical studies help us explore, synthesize and apply broad concepts found in the Bible.

Who they help most: Topical studies offer the most help to those who have (or are working to have) a foundational understanding of the Bible. In other words, you gain the most benefit from them if you have given time to reading and studying your Bible.

What they don’t do: Used exclusively or excessively, topical studies offer limited help in building Bible literacy.

How to choose one: Because they rely so heavily on the footwork of the author/teacher, it’s wise to choose topical studies written by those with a track record of expository (line by line) preaching/teaching. An expository teacher is less likely to pull verses out of context to make a point. It is also vitally important to research the author’s theology. While you don’t have to align perfectly with their theology, knowing their vantage point will help you think critically about what is being taught. Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul are good authors to start with. If you’re interested specifically in female authors, Melissa Kruger, Jen Michel, Hannah Anderson, Megan Hill (forthcoming), Nancy Guthrie and Gloria Furman have written excellent topical offerings in study formats or with study guides.

A Matter of Allocation

Perhaps the most important question to ask at the start of the new year is not “Which should I choose?” but “Which should I emphasize?” All three of the options described above have a role to play in our spiritual growth, as do memorization, meditation, and even devotional reading. A new year often means evaluating where we have gotten stuck in a rut. Sometimes a rut isn’t necessarily a bad practice, but a good practice followed to the exclusion of other good (or better) practices. I suggest you assess where the bulk of your time has been spent when you sit down with your Bible. Then seek to allocate it going forward in a manner that builds both breadth and depth of understanding.

I pray the Holy Spirit brings about fruitfulness and maturity in you as you thoughtfully place yourself under the nurturing authority of the Scriptures, this year and every year. Feel free to fill the comments with additional resources you have found helpful!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

FAQ: should I curtail grandparent gift-giving?

I know, I know…several years back you read that blog post about getting your kids four things for Christmas, and your inner minimalist shouted “YES.”

Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.

Done and done. It was a formula that allowed you to simultaneously be a parent who was awesome and a parent who had more time for Elf and eggnog. You made your minimal shopping trips, wrapped your minimal gifts, and placed them under your minimalist tree, awaiting Christmas morning when your kids would gently unwrap their four treasures (“Remember, kids, Jesus only got three gifts.”) and thank you effusively for not over-indulging them like all the other parents on the block.

But then, the doorbell rang, with a tone less “Silver Bells”-ish and more like the death knell of your conservatively sugared sugarplum dreams. And Gigi and Pappaw exploded into your living room bearing half of Walmart, wrapped in packages that in no way coordinated with your brown-paper-and-twine aesthetic. Their eyes burned with the crazed expression young parents everywhere recognize as a sign of OGS - Over-indulgent Grandparent Syndrome.

The gift haul was mind-boggling. Packaging materials and crumpled paper blocked every exit. There was much squealing, but none of it seemed associated with something to read. Surveying the aftermath, you began mounting your resolve never to let this happen again. Gigi and Pappaw must be stopped.

But must they? Have they really torpedoed Christmas? Looking back on my own experience with dearly loved OGS-sufferers I can see how quick I was to point out the symptoms of their illness: extravagance, impracticality, frivolity. But I was much slower to acknowledge the symptoms of my own illness. It turns out I was actually infected with a pretty serious case of FPS – Fretful Parent Syndrome. It showed itself in three beliefs that, looking back, were absolutely off-base. I offer them for your consideration, with the benefit of a little hindsight, in case you’re thinking about dropping the hammer on the grandparents:

1.   My kids will be spoiled by this.
No, they really won’t. They may indeed look forward to Gigi and Pappaw’s visits for less than selfless reasons, but grandparents don’t typically spend enough time with grandkids to permanently impact their consumption patterns. Your children’s attitude toward material possessions will not be shaped by the way they spend one day in December. The vast majority of their formative days will be spent under your influence, not that of their grandparents or anyone else. If you teach and model delayed gratification, practicality, and others-focus twelve months out of the year, a few hours of extravagance at the hands of a grandparent will be a fun memory instead of a life-altering event.

2.   I have to control this.
No, you really don’t. Resist the urge to start placing restrictions on grandparent gift-giving. Yes, it’s true that a donation to the college fund would have been a more practical gift than a studio-quality Darth Vader costume, but grandparents see gift-giving as a way to connect with their grandkids. Because it is. Gigi and Pappaw want to give a tangible gift that will bring them to mind each time their grandchild uses it. Even if they lack a sense of moderation in the gift-giving department, they are entitled to give the gift of their choosing. If it is not dangerous, illegal, immoral, or an ongoing financial commitment on your part once it is given, you don’t need to step in. Controlling what or how much grandparents can give communicates a lack of graciousness on our part, one our children may pick up on. By placing requirements on grandparent gifts, we can inadvertently model a different, but equally ugly form of entitlement to our kids.

3.   I’ve been upstaged by this.
No, you really haven’t. This is a hard one to trust, especially when Gigi and Pappaw have outspent you by a magnitude of seven. But the grandparent relationship and the parent relationship are simply not in competition. When you refuse to let competition enter your thinking, you allow your child’s love for a grandparent to be what it should be: an extension of their love for you, not a threat to it. Your children will not compare their relationship with you to their relationship with Gigi and Pappaw any more than they would compare it to a relationship with a sibling, friend, or teacher. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you are competing for their love, on Christmas or any other day.

How can you know if you are free from the grip of Fretful Parent Syndrome this Christmas? I knew I was headed for recovery when I was able to welcome grandparent gifts without judging them, bemoaning them, or restricting them. I learned to express genuine gratitude, both in front of my kids and in thank-you notes. And I learned to relax in the knowledge that materialism is kept in check in the everyday moments that God has entrusted to parents.

Perhaps most importantly, I learned to keep in mind that grandparents themselves are a gift to our children, a vital part of the wider circle who will cheer for them through the sun and storms that lie before them. No insecurity of mine should jeopardize that relationship or dictate its terms. More than that, my willingness to defer to their gift-giving choices sets an example for my own kids that you’re never too old to look for ways to honor your parents.

Minimalist parents everywhere, I salute your desire to shepherd your kids toward simplicity. Do your best to pair it with forbearance toward silver-haired, soft-hearted spenders with whom you share a physical resemblance, a last name, or, at bare minimum, a deep love for your kids. Should you find this difficult, eggnog will help.