This is Love

She reads him a story

He picks her a dandelion

He naps on her shoulder

As she pushes the cart

She wants to protect him

From the pain of this world

He grows and offers

To protect her

The fifth time that night

She holds crying toddler

Lays by her side

Soothes her to sleep

Small moments each day

Given to each other

From the life giving well

Of the one who loves them

Expressive Individualism

At the end of last year, Trevin Wax did an excellent series on expressive individualism on his blog at The Gospel Coalition. He mentions the problem of recasting Christianity according to moralistic and therapeutic purposes which distort Christianity by twisting it into something that will appeal to the longing of personal self-discovery and fulfillment. The reason this happens is our own self-deception. Many falsely believe that personal self-discovery or fulfillment will fill the desires of their hearts. In their search for self-glory, they miss the true joy of our real purpose of “glorifying God and enjoying him forever.”

But many lies come very near the truth. We are unique individuals, but this should not lead to individualism. In fact, our recognition of individuality is important. The Bible affirms both our individuality and the error of an individualistic mindset in 1 Corinthians 12:18-27:

But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

If we want to combat expressive individualism in our churches, we need to be actively living the life of a body. While bodies do have separate parts with different functions, these parts do not function apart from each other.

This article “How Loneliness is Tearing America Apart” shows us where the expressive individualism of our society is leading. His conclusion shows us that the teaching of the Bible has answers where the teaching of our culture keeps driving wedges and not fulfilling on its promises: “And there lies the challenge to each of us in a country suffering from loneliness and ripped apart by political opportunists seeking to capitalize on that isolation. Each of us can be happier, and America will start to heal, when we become the kind neighbors and generous friends we wish we had.”

If we stop to think about the analogy of a body, it helps tremendously with understanding how to combat this problem. If a part of our body hurts, we care for it. If it is unhealthy, we nurse it. If it works properly, we use it. Some parts of the body minister to other parts. Our feet in conjunction with our legs can carry us to a doctor. Our hands can apply a band-aid. Our eyes can see obstacles in our path, but also beauty to enjoy. Our mouth can voice words of encouragement, truth, warning, or even sing praises.

If muscles are not used, they atrophy, but through use they grow stronger, and used rightly we can help build up other parts of the body as well.

We need the older parts, the younger parts, the friendlier parts, the quiet and dutiful parts—we need all our body parts, not just one segment of them. We need parts that challenge us and help us to see things we may not have seen otherwise. We need parts that encourage us when we lose heart.

Whatever part we are, we cannot separate ourselves from the rest of the body and function properly. We were made for specific, individual purposes, but we were also made to be connected. And while our body may be able to continue functioning with missing limb, we absolutely cannot function without receiving our command signals from the head.

So, my suggestion on combating expressive individualism is to actively shepherd the individuals in our churches. I have been a part of many congregations in my life, with various strengths and weaknesses. One congregation struck me when I joined, because although it was the largest congregation I had ever been a part of, they still managed to function as a body so well.

Upon joining, the elders met with our family. They talked with us to try to learn more about us and our gifts. They assigned us an elder who lived nearby, making his task of shepherding us easier. And as they got to know us better, they quickly encouraged us to use our gifts in the church.

I think another problem that leads to people withdrawing from this kind of church life is lack of gospel focus. Every one of us is a sinner. The more involved we are with each other, the more this becomes apparent. When you move that idea over to the life of an American congregation that is not infused with the gospel, people tend to shrink from getting too close. If a congregation seems like a group of “good people” not “sinners redeemed and sanctified by God’s grace” then it can keep struggling sinners at arms-length from one another.

Everyone desires community, but community comes at a cost. It comes with the price of possibly being hurt by fellow sinners in our congregations. It comes with the cost of having to die to some of our personal desires to faithfully serve our congregations. If we are not fully aware that every one of us is a sinner who will potentially make a mess of church life at some point, then we will probably fail at showing appropriate grace and accountability to other members of our church when they sin against us, or simply make a mistake as they are growing in maturity. Too often churches get caught up in senseless squabbles or unrealistic expectations of others. We should expect to see growth and fruit in our churches. But we should also expect to plant seeds, water, weed, and prune.

In the middle of these situations that will inevitably occur, a gentle breeze of the gospel blowing through the church reminds us of our true need, and the true need of each member of our congregation. It leads to short accounts with one another. Those most prone to be critical of others are the ones who sit on the sidelines. When you move people off the sidelines and put them in the middle of the game, they quickly see their own need for grace and learn to be more gracious.

The gospel brings us to remember that the focus is not on us and should not be. One of the greatest pitfalls of expressive individualism is that it puts the focus and burden on the individual, and that is a burden we are not created to bear. We cannot be self-fulfilled. But we can find fulfillment and purpose in Christ. We can leave our burdens at the cross and live for a kingdom greater than our own.

Expressive Individualism can seep over into the church body and the way we see our local congregation. Rather than viewing our church as a part of the Universal Church, which encompasses the body of Christ in all locations throughout all time, we might tend toward seeing ourselves only as an individual local body.

Looking at the prior examples I mentioned, they mostly involved how we serve one another within a church. Certainly, this matters very much. Unless our local body is healthy and flourishing, it cannot do much else than care for itself.

However, this is not the goal of a church body. Often churches believe they are healthy because they have knowledge of sound doctrine and the people in the body seem to be doing okay. I cannot help but think of the church of Laodicea who was neither hot nor cold. Revelation 3:17 says, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”

The church exists beyond the walls of your church building, and even your community. If your congregation is doing “okay” then it should be reaching out to serve the community and even the world. I love reading the New Testament and seeing the interconnectedness of the early church as missionaries and letters were sent from one place to another with words of encouragement or exhortation.

While we cannot allow the expressive individualist mindset to keep us from being involved in the local body, we also cannot allow it to keep us from reaching beyond the local body.

God of Mystery

In a world of positions

It’s difficult

To live in the mystery

I have answers

I have questions

I believe in God and the gospel

Doctrine matters

As I pursue truth

I glimpse his magnificence

It leads to dimensions

Beyond my understanding

He is infinite




Do you know this God?

The New Birth

Why don’t they understand?
I remember Nicodemus

We must have eyes to see
We must have ears to hear

Hearts captivated by idols
Become stone

The heart of flesh hurts
But the pain is living

The perfect one wept blood
The God-man felt forsaken

Battling deception

Why would I expect following him
To lead anywhere else?

We are poor royalty
Comforted mourners
Humble inheritors

Our parched mouths always
Find deep wells and flowing streams
Our rumbling stomachs
Will be satiated

Mercy and peace are ours
In the midst of oppression

The road to Golgotha
Leads to a cross
But the cross leads
To an empty tomb


When she came

Parts of you long hidden



The genuine smile

Pen writing songs

Voice singing


Fingers touched ivory keys


Reflecting the image of God


The part of you

Driven beneath

By the meanness of others


Now that she’s gone

Please don’t lose

Yourself again


In heaven she would want

To listen to your beats

To hear your music


Am I the only one
Who looks at numbers and cries?

The number of children without parents
The number of people in poverty
The number of children starving
The number of babies murdered

Because I know that behind every number
Is a person
Made in God’s image

When I feel alone I am so thankful
He counts every hair
He counts every tear
And one day, he will wipe them all away.

Come, Lord Jesus!

I Choose Love


Sharon, Aaron, and Joy Naik went to be with their Lord and Savior the evening of December 23. This free verse poem is written in their memory.


I want to be alone.
But I don’t want to be lonely.
Is there a way to make the pain go away without giving in?
The world of numbness is already overpopulated.
In the world of the hard,
We soft ones stand out as targets to be trampled.

We are soft but not weak.
They entice us when we hurt,
But they are envious in our joyous moments.
Today that joy is far away.
I must remember lest I crumble
That a life without pain is barely living,
This life lives in the shallows
It abandons the depths of joy, hope, and love.

If I did not feel this sorrow, it would be because I had not loved.
Would I trade it?
For one moment would I forsake the beauty of lives intertwined?
Would I give up laughter?

I would not.

Neither will I give up crying now.
The salt in my tears will escape and bring healing in time.

I choose love.

Advent: A Time of Expectant Waiting

Advent is a time of waiting. As an adult thinking of Christmas, it doesn’t feel like it’s that far away. I have seen it come and go each year, and I fully expect it to come shortly this year as well.

For a child, it may seem longer, but often the entire season of lights and songs and the knowledge that Christmas is coming is lovely enough. In the Chronicles of Narnia, we see the concept of a time of expectancy beautifully described. The snow starts melting and Spring finally arrives after years of only winter and never Christmas. This is a sign to the children that they will see Aslan soon.

When I think back to Jesus’ arrival in this world, I wonder how many people were in this frame of mind. How many knew that he would be there shortly?

As I wrote about in my last post, The World Jesus Enters, things looked a bit bleak. The people were expecting a savior, but I wonder how expectant many of them really were.

Years ago, I was a part of a Bible study and going through an incredibly difficult time in my life. The difficulty in my life in that period was so real that I do not even remember what book I was studying at the time, but I do remember the author mentioning that as a Christian waiting was to be with an expectant attitude.

As I sat in the Bible study and we discussed the author’s definition of hope, I remembered that the word for waiting in Spanish is “esperar” and it is the same word used for hope. I thought about the loveliness of a culture in which waiting was equivalent to hoping. At that time in my life, waiting and hoping were nowhere near the same thing. But, as I began thinking through the concept during my Bible study and afterwards, I realized that this is the Christian culture.

We can certainly wait or hope for the wrong things, and if we do we can be disappointed. But if we are living out the faith of the Bible, then we are supposed to be expectantly waiting for the right things—things we are promised in his word.

So, going back in time to the world Jesus entered, I wonder about the different people during that day. How expectant were they? We know Simeon was expecting him to come soon as it says in Luke 2:26 that, “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Perhaps Anna knew, too. But I must deduce from the way the Bible points to this special revelation, that most people probably did not know.

I imagine most people were going about their daily business in a broken world, some with hopeful expectancy of God fulfilling his promise of the coming Messiah, but many less expectant. Many, after centuries of waiting might have had only a smidgen of hope left. They may not have seen waiting as synonymous with hoping. While a part of them may have believed and trusted God was sending a savior, another part may have been a bit numb to the idea—a bit callous after long years of waiting.

The counting down of advent can be comforting to us, because it points to a certain day when we can celebrate reality. Each year it follows the pattern of the calendar with certainty.

From a human perspective, the first and second advent are not like this. From God’s perspective, these events happen with absolute certainty. But as we anticipate the second advent of Christ, we know that “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)

The celebration of advent is a comfort to us, a reminder of the period of waiting mankind experienced before Jesus’ first coming. It is a reminder that this period of dark waiting had a hopeful and celebratory end.

Now, we follow suit. As we experience this time each year, we remember that Christ came, and our hopes have been fulfilled. At the same time, we are also pointed forward to his second coming, because in some sense we are still waiting.

Some are not joyfully celebrating advent right now. Some may not be in a place of recognizing that we can wait expectantly, because it seems so dreary. Some may be in a dark pit like I was several years ago when the idea of tethering waiting and hoping together seemed odd.

I want to encourage you today, to rest in God’s word. As we await Christ’s second coming, we have more to look forward to than children awaiting Christmas day. We know that after the presents are opened and the lights are taken down and the feasts are digested that many people will enter post-Christmas blues as they see that what they have been anticipating is now over.

We who await the second coming of Christ are awaiting a celebration of perfection that will never be over. We are awaiting Christ making all things new. We are awaiting a time of no more sorrows or tears. We are awaiting the never-ending Christmas feast that will satisfy every longing of our hearts for eternity.

The World Jesus Enters

It’s that time of the year again—the time of the year when we turn our thoughts to the incarnation of Christ. As I returned from Thanksgiving celebrations, I found myself opening my Bible to Matthew 1 and soaking it in a bit. The setting of this chapter is right before the birth of Christ.

The chapter opens with a genealogy, which to many people might not be the most fascinating way to begin a chapter. But if you have done your Biblical homework, you probably understand the significance of this genealogy and why it would be both essential and exciting news.

The people of God had been waiting for a savior. It began in the garden directly after the fall, and then continued later as God made a promise to a man named Abraham, and then to Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. Prophecy tells us the Messiah will come from the line of David. So, if we begin reading this genealogy with the background story of the Old Testament, it can be exciting as we see the unfolding redemptive plan of God throughout the generations. We can wonder at the perfect spacing of 14 generations between Abraham and David, David and the Babylonian captivity, and then from that time to Christ.

But with Old Testament knowledge, we can look at this line of names and marvel in a different way. These names remind us of the kind of world the Messiah enters.
The people on this list were sinful men.

Abraham’s deceit had led his wife to be taken into another man’s house. His failure to trust God had led him to heed Sarah and take a concubine. His son Isaac followed his father’s deceitful example. His great-grandchildren sold their own brother into slavery. The first woman mentioned in this genealogy is Tamar, and we can remember the sketchy circumstances by which she ended up conceiving Perez and Zerah. The next woman mentioned is Rahab, whose occupation would raise eyebrows. The list continues, and we see the King after God’s own heart fell into adultery and murder. The wisest man fell into gross idolatry and things got worse from there as we continue through a line of kings who, despite warnings from the prophets, follow idols and lead their people into the Babylonian captivity.

And yet, we can look at this list through another lens. Hebrews 11 reminds us that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rahab and David all had faith in God.

This list of Jesus’ ancestors brings reality and hope together in the same way the incarnation of Christ does. This list shows us the sinful world Christ would enter. It reminds us that the greatest men of faith did not rest on their own merit but trusted in the future Messiah.

We see the imperfection of our world even as we pass from the genealogy into verse 19:

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

Jesus would enter a world of shame and divorce. Although the angel came and prevented a divorce between Mary and Joseph, he still entered a world of shame and a world where divorces occur.

Do you ever struggle with the reality of your world? I know I do. This world is filled with pain. This world is filled with sin. Every day you face it in one way or another. An argument, unkind words, selfishness, pride, malice, envy, deceit, unfaithfulness, and the list grows from there.

What a depressing thought that is if we don’t follow this knowledge with the hope of the Messiah.

Joseph is in the middle of this kind of situation as he considers divorcing Mary.

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’

Matthew 1:20

If the Bible had failed to show the reality of the world of Jesus’ ancestors, might this have been less amazing to us? If we somehow bought into a sanitized, watered-down version of the Bible, might we miss the truth and power of this message? It’s when Joseph’s hopes are crushed, his betrothed appears to be unfaithful, and he is contemplating divorce that the angel shows up and gives him hope—not just in his future marriage, but for all sinful men for all time!

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet;
‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.’

Matthew 1:22-23a

God with us.

The incarnation.

There are days when I struggle mightily to keep my head up in the world in which we live. The real world is often difficult. But it is precisely this broken and sinful world that Jesus entered. He entered it knowing just what it is like—the very worst of it. He entered because it is like this.

Some days I struggle to enter the hard places of life. I have seen God work and redeem on so many levels, but as we continue in this world, we will continue to see more until his second coming. On these days I am both convicted and comforted by Jesus who willingly entered this world.

I am beyond thankful for the God who despite everything we have done chose to be with us.



In addition to blogging, Stefani Carmichael is an author, counselor, wife, mom, and houseparent to teenage girls.