The Conference I'm Going To in December

Yesterday registration opened for a conference I have been looking forward to for months. It's CROSS.

In 2013, this student missions conference hosted their first conference in Louisville, Kentucky (which I live-streamed from my basement in Halifax). Then, a year and a half ago they held a one-night simulcast, and, after watching it, I wrote about it here. But this December they're hosting a full four-day conference in Indianapolis, and I couldn't be more excited to attend in person this time.

From December 27-30, dozens of godly men (like John Piper, David Platt, and Kevin DeYoung) and a few godly women will speak to thousands of college-aged kids about the global cause of Christ. Musicians Trip Lee and Matt Boswell will lead worship, and Dad and I will soak it all in.

This is what the website says about CROSS:

"CROSS aims to mobilize students for the most dangerous and loving cause in the universe: rescuing people from eternal suffering and bringing them into the everlasting joy of knowing and worshipping Jesus.

CROSS is not a church. It is not a new campus ministry. It is not an offshoot of any existing ministry, as thankful as we are for so many likeminded movements and organizations. The aim of CROSS is simpler and more focused: We are a conference that, we pray, may be used of God to mobilize students in the cause of frontier missions for the glory of Jesus Christ. That’s our passion, our purpose."

Something tells me you'll be hearing more from me about this conference as it draws closer and especially once I've attended. After going to TGCWC last month with 7,000 other women, I'm pretty psyched to attend a conference full of passionate Christian guys and girls my age. I'm eager to hear truth preached and see the glory of Christ lifted up in light of the call of gospel work. 

And I am now counting down the days: 153 sleeps until CROSS.

If You Want to Know About the Persecuted Church, Watch This

As I mentioned last week, I was privileged to attend The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference in Indianapolis from June 16-18. My mind is still flipping and flopping with all the heavy truths, rich worship, and striking joy I encountered, and a post is brewing in my mind on all that the experience was for me.

One of the most unexpected moments of blessing and enlightenment came during a panel on the persecuted church. Led by Nancy Guthrie, four people sat on it: D.A. Carson, K.A. Ellis, Mindy Belz, and Nastaran Farahani. Together they discussed the persecuted church. It was horrible and wonderful all at once. The persecution they talked about was horrible, but the hope they highlighted was wonderful.

Take just an hour out of your day and watch (or listen to) this deeply moving and enlightening panel.

*Also, all the media from TGCW16 is now available here. You can watch every plenary session and listen to every breakout.

Those Days You Want to Punch the World in the Face

Don't act like you don't have those days too. 

We all have those frustrating, tinglingly irritable days. Nothing is wrong, and everything is wrong. The world is out to get us at every twist and turn. Every stop light, every customer, every family member, every inanimate object is part of a global conspiracy to ruin our day. 

And it works. We're about ready to punch the world in the face.

My question is: how do we honor God on those days?

I actually hate that question. At least, my sinful self does. Because who's the focus of it? Not me. Not my bad day. The question answers itself. In those frustrating days, we're not "let off the hook" from honoring God. These are the days when it counts the most. When we're wrestling with sin and selfishness, that's when our faith is tested. 

Do we really believe God is more worthy than us? Do we really believe our happiness is in Him? Do we really believe He's better than anything? Do we really trust Him more than our feelings? And will we really act on that trust?

Those days we are tired and angry at life, the ones where everyone and everything bothers us, will we honor God? Will we pray? Will we soak in the peace-inducing words of Scripture? 

Those are the questions we face. The way we answer them changes our day. 

Even more, the way we answer them changes our life. 

How to Pray for Africa

I am stoked that in three weeks I get to see Conrad Mbewe preach live. Nicknamed "the African Spurgeon," I am sure it will be soul-stirring and deeply edifying. (If you're in the Halifax area, visit here for more information.)

In the video below, Mbewe gives North American believers some practical advice on praying for Africa. I know that this will motivate me to pray for this vast continent more and give me wisdom on how to do that.

Wondering at the World

Do you ever wonder at the world? Not in a tired way. Not like you're upset and frustrated. Like you're in awe. We live in a world of marvels, glorious complexities and breathtaking beauties. Every day we are surrounded by them.

Yet we drink them all in without a shred of wonder or an ounce of awe. We are bored. How poignantly G.K. Chesterton assesses our condition:

We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.

Consider with me just for a moment the sky. One day it's grey and cloudless, the next it's deep blue and crowded with puffy whites. Then it's black. Then it's red. Then it's pink. Then it's yellow. Then it's orange. Then it's navy flecked with silver stars.

The sky is cloudless. Then there are millions of clouds. Then they drop rain, billions of pellets of water. From the sky. Though really, this was actually condensation from the earth that was somehow sucked up into the clouds which hung onto it until they got too heavy and dumped it back on the earth.

When it gets cold, it snows. Every snowflake is unique. Right now trillions of snowflakes are outside my house. There is a nine foot snow bank facing my front door. Every snowflake in that bank is different.


What about the mechanics of the human body? The playfulness of our pets? The taste of food? God didn't have to make food taste so good. We didn't have to have taste buds. But He created them, and He gave them to us for sheer pleasure - to bring the glory back to Him. For good food.


Look around your house. Look closely at whatever technological device you're reading this on. Computer, smart phone, tablet, iPod - how amazingly inventive this technology is. How gratitude should flow out of us for a fridge or a microwave. How blessed we are for the people God has used to create. Looking around my living room alone I am awed by not one but three laptops, a beautiful Heintzman piano, a cat perch, an electric fireplace, a coffee table, two coffee mugs, books, a phone, a rocking chair, three electric lamps, picture frames, fake plants. and speakers.


Daily we are surrounded by wonders. Pine trees and sunsets, running cars and coffee, pillows and thunderstorms, hand cream and chicken nuggets - don't waste them. Take a moment to truly wonder at God's glorious creativity and the marvelous, intricate world of beauty He has created.

It is wondrous.

The Simultaneous Beauty and Horror

The cross was an image of utter horror and, at the same time, a moment of blinding beauty. We see its ugliness in the sinless Man brutally beaten and mercilessly, painfully murdered for sin not His own. But we call it beautiful because we know what was accomplished - we see the perfect Lamb on the tree, sacrificing Himself to secure the redemption of His people.

The cross was the most vivid example of unjust brutality in all of history. Yet at the same time, Jesus became our curse willingly. He did it so that we wouldn't be eternally damned. And then in a stunning victory, He conquered sin and death and rose undefeated. That makes the cross wondrous. There is a happy ending. It truly fills our hearts with a thousand songs because "by our Savior's crimson flow, holy wrath has been removed."

Now we can sing the glories of Calvary.

Lord, You’re calling me to come
And behold the wondrous cross
To explore the depths of grace
That came to me at such a cost
Where Your boundless love
Conquered my boundless sin
And Mercy’s arms were opened wide

My heart is filled with a thousand songs
Proclaiming the glories of Calvary
With every breath, Lord, how I long
To sing of Jesus who died for me
Lord, take me deeper
Into the glories of Calvary

Sinners find eternal joy
In the triumph of Your wounds
By our Savior’s crimson flow
Holy wrath has been removed
And Your saints below
Join with your saints above
Rejoicing in the Risen Lamb

For all eternity we will sing worthy
Our God has set us free
To sing the glories of Calvary

Jesus is Better than the Super Bowl

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman may face the most difficult decision of his life on Sunday. Or, at least according to The Washington Post blog. His girlfriend Ashley Moss is due to give birth to their first child sometime this week. What if it's Sunday, though?

"Over the past couple of decades, athletes have increasingly recognized the need for, and been granted, time away from their sports to attend the births of their children. However, rarely does that time away come at the expense of an opportunity to compete for a championship. 
For many readers, this will probably seem like a no-brainer: You go and be by the new mother’s side. ... On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that Sherman will ever again have the opportunity to play on this stage, while it’s likely that he and his girlfriend could produce many more children if they so choose. And doesn’t he owe something to his teammates?"

The author poses this question for his readers: "Would you attend the birth of your first child or play in the Super Bowl?"

Sixty-seven percent said play in the Super Bowl. Welcome to America.

And then there's Rocky Seto, Seahawks assistant coach who says: "Jesus is better than the Super Bowl."  His comments on winning last year's Superbowl and on heading to this year's:

“This Super Bowl thing, it’s such a big deal to the people of the Northwest. You can see how the Seahawks provide identity for so many people. What’s cool is that God has opened up a platform through winning to talk about Jesus Christ, the greatest treasure of all. Why do we want to win? I know the brothers on the team, they want to win to glorify God and tell more people about Jesus Christ.”

Two nights ago I heard an ad on the radio that said: "How do you know you're a fan? You wake up and pray to the [sports] gods." What that (wildly misguided) commercial recognized is that we are fundamentally religious people. We all pray to some god, many, though, a figment of their own imagination. This Sunday we're reminded how many people pray to a pigskin and the tendency of our own hearts to idolize our enjoyments, to turn our hearts from the one true God. 

It may not be football to you. It may be books or media or your cat or your family or food or your body or money or school or your car or, or, or. The list of potential idols could go for miles. 

Take this weekend to focus your heart and adjust your priorities. Search your soul for idols and trust and obey the good God who gives us gifts to enjoy. And enjoy those gifts this weekend - enjoy the Super Bowl - but don't idolize. 

You Are Not Strong

There are many moments when we are weak and our stark inability drags us to humility. We feel that our only recourse is to rely on strength not our own. When we are weak, we have faith and we lean on God for repose. We enfold ourselves in the everlasting arms.

But then we have another moment. And we are strong - or at least we believe that we are strong. And suddenly, suddenly leaning doesn't seem so necessary any more. Humility becomes a degradation. If weakness drives us to our knees, strength drives us to our feet, our tiptoes, at our tallest, where we think nothing, no one, can touch us.

Meet Rehoboam, king of Judah.

"When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him" (2 Chronicles 12:1).

The pride swelled within him, his own desperate self-trust, his magnanimous self-esteem. And then his strength crumbled and he learned the hard way that in the face of a holy, righteous, wrathful God, we are not strong.

"In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. ... And he took the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem. Then Shemaiah the prophet came to Rehoboam and to the princes of Judah, who had gathered at Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said to them, 'Thus says the Lord, ‘You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak’'" (2 Chronicles 12:2; 4-5).

And then Rehoboam thought that he got it and he humbled himself (v. 6) and said, "The Lord is righteous" probably because he didn't know what else to say. That day, the Lord extended mercy and did not let Shishak destroy him. Nevertheless, for his pride, Judah was forced to go into service for Egypt - as a reminder: we are not strong, and pride goes before destruction.

I am just as wont as King Rehoboam to pridefully deceive myself into self-importance and strength. I am just as wont to slip into idolatry, to lead others into sin with me, to feel self-righteous, proud, and strong. To feel like humility is beneath me.

Rehoboam's story did not have a happy ending. Shishak razed Jerusalem and put the nation in bondage, and Rehoboam lived out the rest of his days in disobedience to God. Our stories need not end so unhappily. Humble yourself before God. It is not a degradation; it is a right response in worship. Lean on the everlasting arms. Trust and obey.

Rejoice in your weakness, for then, you are strong.

Here Is Our God: A Review

I've already mentioned in a couple of posts that I've been reading Here Is Our God: God's Revelation of Himself in Scripture. This book is an edited collection of the eight plenary speakers' talks at the 2012 Gospel Coalition National Women's Conference. And so Here Is Our God offers eight chapters with each of the talks by these eight speakers/authors: Tim Keller, Paige Brown, John Piper, Carrie Sandom, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Jenny Salt, Kathleen Nielson, and D.A. Carson. Nielson and Carson edited this collection and put it together into this book.

There are many good things to talk about in regards to Here Is Our God. First is its emphasis on leading women to worship. As this book began as a conference for women, Here Is Our God is aimed at and written for women (of all ages). Yet, as Carson and Nielson wrote in the introduction,

We said repeatedly that the 2012 conference was for women but not all about women. The conference was about our God who reveals himself in his Word and redeems his people through his Son. [...] We want to be raising up women who shine forth Jesus, the one who shines from the Bible's pages from beginning to end. We want the church to be full of women whose lips and lives declare: "Here Is Our God!"

Second is its central importance on Scripture. Even though the subtitle is "God's Revelation of Himself in Scripture," there could have been lots of rabbit trails or at least "supplements." But there weren't. These chapters are scarce on stories and heavy on Scripture. This is sadly a bit of a rarity among lots of non-fiction written for women today, and so I found it rich and refreshing.

Third is its excitement about Scripture. These women and men love the Bible and that sings through the words they write. Each chapter is on a different portion of Scripture, covering Exodus 19, 1 Kings 8, Isaiah 6, Psalm 40, Matthew 17:1-15, 2 Corinthians 12, Revelation 4-5, and Revelation 21-22. These sparkling, thrilling accounts in the Word of God were not minimized or drained of life or cocooned in illustrations and funny stories. It was the Word that brought excitement and joy to this book.

If there was anything I had to criticize in Here Is Our God it would have to be that John Piper's chapter ("In the Throne Room: The God of Holiness and Hope" on Isaiah 6) was too short. Okay, that's merely personal, but I thought that this chapter was the absolute highlight of the book. Yet it was half the size of every other one! But do not not buy this book because of that. Please. Here Is Our God is a rich resource for women of all ages who want to dive into the Word and know our glorious God more. I would definitely encourage you to pick a copy up!

Buy Here Is Our God here.

*I received a copy of this book from Crossway through their Beyond the Page review system. I was not required to give a positive review

Image Credit: http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-ee2/articles/here_is_our_god_book_cover.jpg

I'm Better than Jesus (I Think)

I usually consider myself a very spiritual Christian. You see, I have this invisible rule book in my head with lists of esteemed religious rules. I pretty much obsess over them - that's what we truly spiritual people do, right? And all of this is out of strict obedience to God. These rules cover many important topics, like:

- exactly what is acceptable behaviour during (and before and after) a worship service
- what people should say on Twitter
- what books people should read and what movies they should see
- how they should teach a Bible lesson
- what they should be praying for (specifically)
- what tone of voice they should use

You know, ridiculously important things like that. Recently I discovered that the Bible even has a name for really spiritual people like me, with my regiment of self-imposed, extrabiblical rules.

I'm a Pharisee.

In other words, I am like the hyper-religious leaders in Jesus' day. I have a strict moral code (made of dozens of rules that reflect mere personal opinion) that I judge others by. I can be hypocritical. I can be proud. And the worst of all, sometimes I think I'm better than Jesus.

What a horrible, horrible thing to think, is it not? But I do. And I wonder sometimes if you do too. I would never necessarily say that, but I act like it. I act like what Jesus did and said was not enough. I need more rules. More specific. Better. And sometimes Jesus got His hands dirty when I just washed mine, and He condescended to serve sinners when I think I'm too good for others, and He showed grace when I would have exacted vengeance. And He is holy, and I'm darkly sinful.

But there is good news for the sinful twenty-first century Pharisee today. That man who we judged has shown us grace at the cross. He died for our hypocrisy, our self-righteousness, our false vanity. And so we can cling to the hope He gives, the mercy He extends. So let us not trust in ourselves, but rest solely in Him.

"Do not trust in yourself, lest sin thereby have much more power over you." - Augustine

"The place where God has supremely destroyed all human arrogance and pretension is the cross." - D.A. Carson

Chocolate Hearts and More Jesus

"We will never learn how to love by working it up from our own hearts but only by having more Jesus in our lives." - Philip Ryken, from Loving the Way Jesus Loves

Today is Valentine's Day. You either love it or you hate it or you're really rather ambivalent about it. Whether single or in a relationship, you have our own ideas about what Valentine's Day is and what it should be. You have your own conceptions of romance and chocolate hearts. But no one will argue that today marks a reminder (however cheesy and commercialized it may be) that we are called to love, not just romantically, but in all of the areas in our lives, be it familial or friendly.

We think we can work it up from our own hearts, don't we? Despite our firm belief in justification by faith alone, we think our works can still buy us some grace. We can love like Jesus loved - without worrying about the power of Jesus. Yet the only way that we're going to love, wisely reflects Phil Ryken, is to have "more Jesus in our lives." What does that mean? It means that our lives become more gospel-focused. We think about Jesus. We read about Jesus. We talk about Jesus. We sing about Jesus. We memorize Jesus' words. We know Jesus better, and when He becomes the centrality of our life, then we will learn to love. For He gives us the grace we need.

Valentine's Day may be a scam, but it is nevertheless a reminder to love. Love is a necessary component in a Christian's life and ought to mark it not just on February 14th, but every day of the year. And the only way that we can love is by having more Jesus. So make Him the focus of your life - and your Valentine's Day.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love." (Galatians 5:22a)

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

Tony Reinke on the second Sunday of Advent:

Bethlehem was, is, and likely always will be, just a small town — a small town steeped in ancient history. In the first century, the historical marker at the center of town — if they posted such historical markers — would have commemorated it as the birthplace of the mighty giant killer, King David. The cherished son of Bethlehem put the town on the map 1,000 years earlier, and perhaps, perhaps, one day the village on top of the quiet hill will pull off the feat again. Dusty scrolls left by ancient prophets told of such a thing (Micah 5:2). But tonight, silence. The prophecies are distant memories. All is now hushed and quiet, the hope of a king only a memory muffled by the pressing priorities of life: raising grain, raising sheep, raising children, and paying taxes. But this night the town finally sleeps, though crowded. The hustle and bustle of census travelers, returned home to be counted, now has dissipated.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Read the rest here ... 

What is Idolatry?

"Who knows what idolatry is?"

The question was asked of two girls, four and six, in a quiet room on a quiet Thursday night in the middle of a lesson from the book of Joshua. The six year old remained quiet, but it was the four year old's hand that shot straight up.

"It's an animal or something that people say is God ... but it's not God." She shook her head emphatically, dead serious. And despite stifling giggles at her solemnity, I, sitting next to her, couldn't have said it better myself. This smart four year old already knows what millions of adults have yet to understand: Idolatry is saying God is anything He's not. That could mean worshiping an animal, an image, a statue, money, fame, family, friends, food, sports, physical pleasures. Or it could be a redefined version of God, a god who doesn't send anyone to hell, a god who is not all-powerful, a god who is not sovereign, a god who is not loving. Worshiping these gods is just as idolatrous as worshiping a statue or money.

The definition of idolatry seems so simple. Even a four year old can understand it. But why is it so hard to live out? Why are our eyes drawn away from the True God to gods fashioned by men, gods made up in overactive imaginations, and gods built around physical pleasure? Why do our wayward hearts tempt us to go astray? The simple (yet oh-so complex) answer is because we're sinners, and sinning is what we do. Of course that doesn't make it right, and so crying out to God in repentance is the only appropriate response. When we're attracted to the gods of the world, there is just one thing we can say and we say it with Eleanor Hull,

"Prone to wander, Lord I feel it / Prone to leave the God I love / Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it / Seal it for Thy courts above." 

An Explanation

Well if the Garden tends to be a little less busy these next ten days, I feel I ought to offer an explanation now. The short answer? I'm heading to Vancouver on Monday. The longer answer? My grandparents are flying Dad and me out to celebrate my birthday with them. We have a jam-packed schedule planned, including lots of shopping, lots of family and lots of fun! (Oh, and hopefully lots of White Spot too; I hope you're reading this, Grammy!) Tomorrow is part one of packing, and then part two is Sunday evening, and part three is early Monday morning (before we head to the airport, of course!)

So all this to say that though I'm going to try to keep up the Garden as best as I can, if the posts get a little sporadic over the eight days I'm away, now I've given you an explanation. Tomorrow's Saturday, so there will be a Your Saturday Smile, of course, but I thought I'd explain myself now. Summer's speeding by fast; enjoy these last golden days of warm vacation and relaxation while you can! Rest is good. Our God is a God of rest (while also a God of work), but let us never forget to take some time to give our tired bodies a break and worship God in rest.

War and Peace

Last night in Bible Study we were in Revelation 19. This chapter of the Word of God describes in graphic and vivid language when Jesus will return for the second time and judge His enemies. There's a lot of controvery about the end of time and the book of Revelation, but all Christians agree that when Jesus returns, it will not only be to bring peace, but to make war. 

But this makes us feel a little weird. As my mom brought up last night, it changes our view of Jesus. So often we think of Jesus as this meek and mild, emaciated prisoner who goes to the cross just to bring peace and love. We think of Him with tears in His eyes, slowly dying, wishing there was another way to save the world. But that would cause the picture painted of Jesus in Revelation 19 to cause a bit of a problem. This is what it says about Jesus' return:
"Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and He judges and makes war in righteousness. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on His head. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. He wore a robe stained with blood, and His name is the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh: KING OF KINGSAND LORD OF LORDS." (19:11-16)
This is Jesus. The same Jesus who died to bring peace is now making war. When we separate Christ's judgement from His love, we're maligning His character. We like to focus on His love because it makes us feel good. Jesus in a bloody battle makes us uncomfortable. The only blood we see Him associated with is His own. But to distinctly separate the cross and His second coming, His love and wrath, His war and peace is to paint a false picture of Jesus.

There was a clip from a Voddie Baucham sermon going around, on "A Sissified, Needy Jesus." Dr. Baucham said wisely,
"I despise the picture that is painted in our culture of this sissified, needy Jesus. ... He's just yearning for you. He's just longing for you. He wants friendship and relationship with you. He needs you. Oh, you're just breaking his heart. No. He's going to break you. ... By definition, God is self-sustaining, self-sufficient and self-existent. Therefore, by definition He needs nothing. God does not need you, and He's gonna prove it one day."
And then he read Revelation 19:11-16. Culture can handle needy Jesus. They can handle a good teacher, who teaches good morals, and dies for peace. What they can't handle so much is Jesus coming back to make war, to destroy His enemies with the sword and to bring final and lasting judgement.

If you think about it, Jesus could have skipped the cross, done it another way. He could have called down armies of heaven and stormed death's gates. But instead, He created the cross and chose that as His means of victory. He did this to bring love and to make war. The cross was a war act. It wasn't big and bold like we think of war being. But it was bloody. And it was the pinnacle of all human history. It was this that was the rescue mission. When Jesus returns to bring judgement, it will be no rescue mission. It's an all out war. And there will be no prisoners.

I don't know about you, but I serve no sissified, needy Jesus. I serve the Faithful and True.