Sneak Peak Interview: Natalie Brand

Read Natalie’s Sneak Peak Interview on her new book, The Good Portion: Salvation, with Melissa Kruger:

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a Christian, wife, mom, and theologian. I just love a flat white in one hand and a book in the other! 

I’m married to a fellow bibliophile, Tom, who I met at a theological college more than a decade ago. Tom serves as the ministry director for the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, and he’s involved in pastoring pastors and supporting churches in the U.K. 

When did you first start writing? What do you enjoy about it?

I read a lot as a child, and my reading has always turned into pen-on-paper. I remember writing “novels” when I was young. They were nothing profound like the juvenile literature of Jane Austen. They were just half-finished stories. 

I always wanted to be a writer—to create something from nothing with words. It really is grace upon grace that I can now serve the Lord in this way.

Is writing ever difficult for you? How so?

Every book has its own difficulties, and each one always surprises me. How can I make this book even more accessible? How can I powerfully illustrate this God-truth? What should I include? What should I not include? Writing is just as much about what you don’t say as it is what you do say. I always struggle with that.

George Orwell once described writing a book to be “a horrible, exhausting struggle” rather like a long “bout of some painful illness.” I know what he means! It gives you such joy but is a hard slog, like pregnancy. 

It’s the mental obsession and ill-timed waves of inspiration that possess you. I think C. S. Lewis understood this when he said, “I was with book, as a woman is with child.”

Read the rest of Natalie’s interview.

Pitiful Christians in a Pandemic

As a brand-new, twenty-something Christian, spending a year doing intern youth ministry, I had just shared the gospel to a class of jaded twelve-year-olds, when a boy swamped in an over-sized school blazer approached me. By the look on his face the cogs of his mind were spinning fast. He politely asked if he could ask me a question and said, “What if you’re wrong? What if it all just isn’t true?”

I was flummoxed. As I floundered for an answer, a forgotten Christian lyric unfiled itself and jumped to the front of my brain:

And if I die with no reward/Then I know I had peace ‘cause I carried the sword.

I hastily quoted the line, trying to sound like some old sage. And although the boy nodded and walked away, I knew he was as unconvinced as I was.

The senselessness and emptiness of my words haunted me. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I found the biblical answer to the boy’s question. And it winded me like a blow to the gut! What if we have it all wrong? What if the gospel is not true? Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied’ (1 Cor. 15:19). No Christ . . . no reward . . . no peace . . . no nothing! Just pity – more pity than the most pitiable!

More pitiful than the new-born baby found wailing in the woods because it was unwanted by its mother. More pitiful than the one long imprisoned and enslaved, denied even an ounce of humanity. If we Christians die with no reward, we are more pitiful than these!

Futile

As the death toll continues to climb and we now see death in a way that for many of us was confined to history textbooks; what peace can we have if we hope in this life only? Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 couldn’t be further from the hollow optimism I had conveyed all those years ago; missing completely the true weight of gospel hope in Christ. Paul, in seeking to defend the resurrection of the dead on the Final Day, is fighting the Sadducees’ denial of resurrection on one side, and the Graeco-Roman ideals of total ‘end game’ or a wisp like half-life in Hades on the other. So, he underscores the necessity of Christ’s resurrection to the gospel and the union of Christ’s past resurrection to the future resurrection of His saints. ‘If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Cor. 15:14). ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (v.17). We Christians are those who declare in joyful song each week that Christ is our righteousness and freedom, even when we are stuck at home in isolation. Paul makes the point that if Christ were just a Nazarene, still lying dead in a grave in Palestine, then we are deceived and our faith is a sham. And ‘those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished’ (v.18). Meaning the belief and comfort that we will see our loved ones again is utterly ludicrous!

This is a real challenge to our spirituality at a time of global pandemic. Does our hope in Christ stretch beyond the grave, second-by-second, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, with such confidence that without it we are most miserable?

We are reminded that confessionally our resurrection hope in Christ is unique and unreserved. So much confidence we put upon the resurrection witness of the New Testament writers (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-8) and the witness of the Spirit to our hearts, that we are kings and queens – conquerors even – awaiting the promise of a mighty inheritance! We will not be left to maggot and decay. Our Lord Jesus, with whom we are supernaturally fused, is our power beyond the grave. His resurrection is our resurrection (vv.20-23). Do you hope in Christ like those who, out of 7 billion, would be the most to be pitied?

Sting!

I have a young daughter nicknamed ‘Bee’ who loves to pretend to be a bee. She buzzes around the house, punctuating her flying with attacks to innocent members of the family. “STING! STING! SHARP! SHARP!” she says to make the point. It always reminds me of Paul’s victory cry at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 (v.55).

Death certainly has a sting. Whether by means of a slow decline or a sudden tragedy, like a scorpion, death delivers a swift, sharp and painful shock. We have certainly experienced this in recent weeks. In an instant, someone we love is gone and we are forced to bury one we don’t want to live without. Yet in the gospel there is life in death. Never before has a grisly execution been the means of eternal life, bringing about the death of death itself! When anxiety drains you of peace during the night, remember death was defeated by the Easter work of Christ, and it will not survive its own final Ragnarok on the Day of Judgement. ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (vv.25-26).

We are not pitiful but those united to ‘the Resurrection and the Life’ (John 11:25). Christ is our comfort, hope and victory in the merciless face of death. Christ is our certain reward!

So now death ‘where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Cor. 15:54-55).

Adapted excerpt from Natalie’s new book, The Good Portion: The Doctrine of Salvation, for Every Woman.

Natalie Brand (Ph.D. Trinity St. David) is adjunct lecturer in historical and systematic theology at Union School of Theology. She is the author of The Good Portion: The Doctrine of Salvation, for Every Woman, part of The Good Portion series published by Christian Focus. Her other works are Complementarian Spirituality: Reformed Women and Union with Christ and Prone to Wander: Grace for the Lukewarm and Apathetic. She is lives with her husband and three daughters, and hopes one day to move to Bag End in the Shire.

*** Look for a Facebook Live discussion with The Good Portion authors, Natalie, Keri, Rebecca and Jenny, on the Christian Focus Publishing page Monday, May 18, 2:00 p.m. E.S.T.

Retiring with Heavenly Treasure

I’m proud of my father. He’s the definition of a self-made man. His parents were hardworking but not highly educated (neither had been to college). His father worked on an assembly line; his mother in an office. Dad didn’t do so well in high school but wanted to succeed, so against his counselor’s recommendation, he went to the local community college. He worked as a clerk in a record store (for Millennials that means music store) to pay his fees. Soon he was doing the job of an accountant and graduated from the state college with a business degree. He ambitiously worked to move up the ladder. If he wasn’t being promoted fast enough in his current company, he would move to a better position in a new one. Eventually, he became a financial vice president and then started his own company. He ran that expanding company for 20 years and is now retired.

That was my dad’s end-goal all along—a comfortable retirement. He kept his eye on the ball, working hard, regularly putting money away and making wise investments. He taught us the key to having a good amount of money at retirement is starting to save when you’re young and continuing that practice over years. My dad reached his goal. He and my mom have a nice house, travel when they want and are generous to family and friends. They live the American dream.

My dad isn’t a Christian, but his life is a parable of what can be accomplished if we keep the end goal in mind. The end goal for the Christian isn’t a comfortable retirement in this life. It’s retirement from this life for eternal life with God. We can store up imperishable treasure for that retirement as we wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

It’s about this storing up treasure while we wait that I want to teach my children. When I was in high school and college, I didn’t think very far out into the future. I thought about the weekend, the paper due next week and maybe, after a couple months into the semester, final exams. I was a foolish student, wasting my time on fleeting pleasures that left me empty inside. My only thought about the afterlife was a hope that I had my fire insurance because I had once asked Jesus into my heart. I certainly didn’t live intentionally with Christ in mind.

But salvation isn’t fire insurance. When we repent of our sins and put our trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, we are truly saved from the wrath of God. But we are also saved for the work of God. Ephesians 2: 10 tells us we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Salvation means we are recreated to do the work that God created for us to do. And the Bible tells us that work actually earns us reward. As Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). With our minds set on heavenly things, our studies, jobs, relationships, time and social activity can actually count for the future.

Moms, even if your teenage children are not yet Christians, you can teach them so that when the Holy Spirit changes their hearts they are ready to make those heavenly deposits. Here are three treasures to teach your children to store up:

Knowing Christ

The apostle Paul called the knowledge of Christ “of surpassing worth” (Philippians 3:8). He called everything else rubbish in comparison. What if our students, as they studied Math or History or Spanish, majored in knowing Christ? What if they regularly read and studied God’s word, thinking through texts and applying them to their hearts? What if they worked toward “reaching all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3)? That would be an invaluable depth of treasure that would last throughout eternity. Mothers who teach and model faithful and consistent time in the Scriptures, and dedication to the teaching and preaching of their local church, encourage those same habits in their children and give those students a gift that will continue giving their entire lives.

Forming Christ-like Character

            The book of Titus tells us that the grace of God not only saves but also trains. It trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Far from “Let go and let God,” this is muscular language. We participate in our sanctification while God works in us to give us godly desires and the ability to fight sin (Philippians 2:12-13). Students who are increasing in their knowledge of Christ can use the stress and trouble of school, the messiness of relationships, and the uncertainly of the future to train themselves to react in Christ-like ways and trust the Lord more deeply. As parents, we can remain involved in our children’s trials and temptations by talking them through difficulty and infusing our conversations with biblical wisdom. Christ-like character leads to being zealous for good works (Titus 2:14) and reaps everlasting reward.

Building Relationships

The teenage and early adult years are times of multiplying relationships as our children move from being socially centered in the home to more independent friendships in the church and world. These relationships can be selfishly used to fill needs and desires, or they can be used for the glory of God. Students are open to exploring the mysteries and meaning of life, giving our children unique opportunities to speak to their friends about what is true and “give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Moms: Regularly point your children (and others in your church) to Christ, and engage in evangelism, then they will be well-equipped to season their relationships in the church with grace and share the gospel with those on the outside, storing up the treasure of Christ-centered friendships that will last into eternity.

The End Goal

Knowing Christ, forming Christ-like character and building relationships for God’s glory is not like putting money in the stock market. There’s no uncertainty in God’s economy. That treasure will reap rewards in this life and forevermore. So let’s encourage our students not to just look forward to graduation or a career or marriage and family but to keep their eye on the end-goal. Let’s teach them to make deposits while they’re young and continue that practice over the years. Let’s encourage them to work hard and let’s work hard ourselves toward retirement from this life, storing up treasure in heaven that will last throughout eternity.