Monday, January 23, 2017

Women in Scripture

A few years ago, our own recently retired Diane hosted a series on her personal blog about women in Scripture. Some of us here participated in that series. Now that she will no longer be blogging, we wanted to re-post those articles and have a place to make them available. Over the next number of weeks, every other Monday, we will feature one of those posts. The first one is by Candy Webb.

The Valley of Trouble
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.
I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;
She shall sing there,
As in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
Gomer is considered one of the dishonorable women in the Bible. Gomer was an unfaithful wife to a faithful husband. God used her as an example of unfaithful Israel, spurning His love and chasing after other lovers (idols). The decision to look to other means for sustenance, unmet needs, or affirmation, led Gomer to the edges of the wilderness, and finally plunged her into it. Skirting the waiting silence, desolate expanse of land, and bitter isolation, Gomer imagined bread and water, wool and linen, oil and drink (Hosea 2:5 ) at the hands of her lovers, forgetting that God was the provider of everything she needed. In her mind, other lovers would fill her emptiness, dispel her restlessness, or satisfy the lust she allowed to take control of her life. The Bible states that God hedged her way with thorns, and walled her in so that she could not clearly see the path she had foolishly chosen. He actually made it hard for her to find the lovers she actively sought.

The Bible speaks of wildernesses many times as places of testing, exile, or sojourn. Time in the wilderness was never void of valuable lessons of dependence on God. It is interesting that the Bible used the word “allure” to describe Gomer drawn by God into the wilderness. He had exposed her wretchedness, stripped her of everything, caused her laughter to cease, and taken away his gifts to her. It was in her bereft state that God offered comfort. He spoke kindly to her heart and wooed her back to Himself. He used the Valley of Achor (Valley of Trouble) as a “door of hope” in her life. The Valley of Achor was where Achan was stoned to death after he saw, coveted, and took spoils from Jericho, “accursed things” which God had strictly forbidden. Joshua told Achan to give glory to God by confessing his sin. Hosea 2:5 (Joshua 7:19-26) The Valley of Trouble was a place of death, but also a place of renewal. In the difficult times that God providentially provided for Gomer, she learned to love Him again. She loved Him so much that she forgot the names of her former lovers.

It is not difficult to understand Gomer. We have struggled with unfaithfulness, and found ourselves drawn to idols, believing them to be more substantial than the Lord. Many of us have been to the wilderness too. We come to understand our wretchedness and recall the hymn “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” To be in the wilderness is an opportunity to draw closer to the One we love because He Himself will work that love in us. We shall even sing in the most isolated and barren places in our lives. The promise and transformation in Gomer’s life was a declaration from God

"I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.Then you will know the Lord.” Hosea 2:19-20 

About the Author: Candy Webb lives in Northern Nevada close to the Sierra mountain range, her favorite wilderness. She raised three children, and she and her husband Bruce have seven grandchildren. Candy teaches fifth and sixth grade at Grace Christian Academy in Minden NV, and paints, hikes, and reads good books in her spare time.  

Note: This post originally appeared on October 2, 2013.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Even As Our Father Is Merciful

This year my church began sponsoring a family of refugees from Syria. The Canadian government will provide half the income they need for their first year here in our city, but we are responsible for the other half. This family was, of course, eager to leave the refugee camp behind for the safety of life in Canada, but they don’t know English, have no experience with winter — especially our extreme northern winters — and left all of their extended family and friends behind. Can you imagine how difficult their new life is? How lonely they can feel? It’s the job of a group of volunteers from the church to ease their transition to life here, and they need help with all these things and more. A few weeks after they settled into the home prepared for them, the mother spoke for the whole family and thanked the church. “We are not of your religion,” she said through a translator, “but you have shown us mercy.”

She was using the word mercy in the same way the Bible does. When the authors of scripture use this word, the focus is on the helplessness of those receiving mercy. In his mercy God is good to those who are in trouble and cannot help themselves. From his mercy he helps the helpless and gives hope to the hopeless.

Mercy includes God’s pity for those who are in trouble, but it’s much more than mere pity, because his mercy has all of his power behind it. A leper once came to Jesus, and asked to be healed. “Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘. . . be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him” (Mark 1:41-42). Jesus saw this man’s predicament, sympathised with him, and used his infinite healing power to cure him. This is how it works with God’s mercy. From his mercy, he helps those no one else can help. His mercy accomplishes what is impossible for anyone but God.

In his mercy, God heals the sick, provides for the needy, and rescues those who are exploited and mistreated. From his mercy, he delivers people from affliction, oppression, and poverty. He is “[f]ather of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5; see also Psalm 10:14; Hosea 14:3) because he is merciful. Since everything God created is dependent on him, everything he does to sustain his creatures is an act of mercy. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and everything else that keeps us alive, are gifts from the mercy of God. Can you see why David’s psalm says “his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9)?

God’s ultimate act of mercy was sending his Son to die to deliver people from sin. If you are a believer, you were once helpless and hopeless, but in his mercy God sent his Son to be your Saviour (Luke 1:76-79). Could you have saved yourself? Freed yourself from slavery to sin? Could you have opened your own spiritually blind eyes? Raised yourself from spiritual death? No, you were completely dependent on God to rescue you. In mercy Christ died for you, in mercy God cleansed you from sin, and in mercy the Spirit empowers you to obey (Titus 3:3-5). You had no hope until your merciful God “caused [you] to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). You have been saved because God is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4-5), and you belong to him because you have received his mercy (1 Peter 2:10).

There is no limit to the mercy of God. “His mercies never come to an end,” but are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Every day is a fresh opportunity to experience new mercies from his never-ending, never-run-dry supply. From God’s infinite mercy, there is always more help for you.

And every day is a fresh opportunity for God’s children to “be merciful, even as [our] Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).” Indeed, one of the reasons God chose to be merciful to us is so we will be merciful to others. He “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). In his mercy, God saw our need and rescued us, and now he invites us to imitate him by helping those who need our help.

When you care for your sick children — rocking them to sleep, giving them medicine, wiping their noses, or mopping up after they throw up — you are reflecting the mercy of God. If you help your elderly neighbor with yardwork he’s too frail to finish on his own, you are showing him mercy. When people from my church donated clothing, furniture, or money to support the Syrian family, they were instruments of God’s mercy. And when we share the gospel, the story of God's mercy to sinners, we are giving hope to the hopeless like our merciful God gives hope to the hopeless. Any poverty, weakness, illness, pain, or hopelessness we see is an opportunity for us to show mercy because God has shown us mercy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Is this book healthy?

I wouldn't call myself a health fanatic, but I try to eat a reasonable diet. There was a brief period where my go-to snack was a granola bar because I assumed that granola was healthy. Can't go wrong with whole-grain oats, right? I thought so until I bothered to read the nutrition information and discovered these "all natural" granola bars were high in sugar (corn syrup too!) and low in protein. Since then, I've learned to put less stock in what manufacturers advertise and read the labels.

If I care about the nutritional value of the food I put into my body, then what about my spiritual diet? An author's claims about his/her book may look promising on the cover, but is it really going to nourish my soul or just give me the emotional equivalent of a sugar rush? It would be nice if there was a labeling system for Christian books just like the nutritional guidelines for food. Each label would give me information such as the author's hermeneutics (method of interpreting the Bible) and the ratio of exegesis to eisegesis (drawing meaning out versus imposing meaning into the text.) But alas there is no such thing. Also  there aren't convenient "genre labels like "fluff" and "I may look like I have my life together more than you but I'm about to wreck your theology.""1 But that doesn't mean we can't do a little research on our own.

I've been reading No Little Women, the latest book by Aimee Byrd (review forthcoming Lord willing,) but I skipped ahead to Chapter 9 "Honing and Testing Our Discernment Skills." She gives four essential questions to evaluate what we read.2

1. What does the author say about God's Word?

Is the Word authoritative or optional? Can we trust the Bible, or does the author instill doubts? Are verses taken within context and interpreted properly or misused?

2. What does the author say about who man is?  

And related, what does the author say about sin? Do we need a Savior to save us from sin and the wrath of God or a life coach to help us reach our full potential? Is there a ladder we need to climb or a formula we need to follow to achieve the desired end apart from the gospel?

3. What does the author say about God?

It's sad that this question even needs to be asked, but just because someone uses the word "God" or "Jesus" does not necessarily mean they are accurately teaching the Triune God of the Bible.

4. What does the author say about what God has done and is doing?

What is the author's worldview and his/her stance on creation, fall, redemption, and restoration? Is he/she offering our best life now or our best life then?

It would be nice if we didn't need to ask questions such as these and be able to trust what is marketed as "Christian." But reputable publishers have been known to print less than sound fare. An author may be the sweetest person imaginable who we'd love to chat with over a cup of tea, but orthodoxy consists of more than having an engaging personality. The bar is set high for those who would be teachers and rightfully so. The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans for verifying what he taught against Scripture, and he wrote a good chunk of the New Testament! If any writer objects to his/her books being scrutinized against the Word, then maybe we shouldn't be reading them in the first place.

The saying goes, "You are what you eat." Well, we may be what we read or, at the very least, strongly influenced by it. All the more reason to be wise and evaluate the spiritual nutrition of what goes in our heads. Ultimately, Aimee's questions reflect not a disrespect for an author but a right reverence for God because the last thing we would want is to have Him or His word misrepresented.

1. No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, Aimee Byrd, P&R Publishing, 2016, pg. 49.
2. Ibid., 223-230.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Digital Downsizing

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions but this year I have resolved to reduce  my online involvement  as much as possible. I began digitally downsizing last summer by deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Connecting with friends  was great but  it  had become  too  addictive for my liking. I had failed several attempts to scale back,  so  I decided it best  to avoid the temptation completely.   
Right away I discovered that unplugging was surprisingly liberating. The freedom  to  quietly enjoy  life's simple moments without  having the urge to grab my phone and broadcast it  has been refreshing. I have also noticed that my concentration has improved and that  I'm not as stressed out.  So far,  I  have  no desire to return to it and  hope that it stays that way.
My biggest concern was losing touch with friends, but alas!   In our modern world there are  other ways to communicate with people. Fancy that! Email,  texting , and phone calls  may  take a little more effort,   but they can also be more meaningful. And who knows?  Maybe I’ll even make good on  this challenge. 
Most of us are keenly aware of  the good and  evil of  social media so I won’t bother going there except to say that I really appreciated David Murray’s thoughts on the subject last week:   2017: A Year of Digital Detox . He is following this theme throughout the year and has posted some helps for those who want to cut back.   
I have also decided to retire my personal blog and discontinue posting here.   This was a hard decision that I debated for a long time but I have finally accepted  that I have entered   a new season of life.  As much as I enjoy writing and the blogging community,  it's  time to slow down  and devote my full attention to my home,  family,  and local church.   
Blogging has  been an extremely rewarding  venture.  It has given me the opportunity to  expand my knowledge  in new ways and has provided a means to share my faith in Christ,  for which I am  very grateful.  I have also made some wonderful friends from around the world—yes, Internet friendships can turn into real friendships.   
I want to thank my friends here at Out of the Ordinary for inviting me to be a part of this terrific team. These women are such an inspiration to me and  I pray that God will continue to use this blog to His glory.    
And many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my blogposts here and at Theology for Girls. The kindness  of those who have encouraged me over the years has been very much appreciated!   
 If I have accomplished  one thing in my  blogging efforts, I would hope that  God has used it to point others to our wonderful Savior Jesus Christ and encourage women to dig deeper into His marvelous Word.  

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.”     
Psalm 19:7-10

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Stay Strong to Serve

Strong Women Stay Young is the title of a book recommended to me after I broke my ankle. It deals with the benefit of weight bearing exercises in the prevention of bone loss. After three broken bones in three years, I figured I need to be proactive. Despite the title of the book, being strong won't really keep me young. I was created to age and eventually die. However, I can stay strong while I age.

We live in society that loves youth. It's tempting to want to stay strong in order to pamper our vanity; to have people mistake us for being younger than we are, or to proudly say we can still wear a particular size. But there are better reasons to stay healthy and strong: so we can serve God.

When I was recuperating from my broken ankle, my mother-in-law, who is a diminutive 75 year old woman with osteoporosis and arthritis in her hips, came over, got down on her hands and knees and washed my kitchen floor. My mother, a year younger, could never do that. She has health issues which make it impossible. My mother-in-law is a strong 75 year old woman, and an actively serving woman. Serving others is an important part of our life in Christ.

Serving connects us with people. Christianity is above all, a people-oriented faith. We are redeemed and adopted into a body of people. We are commanded to love our neighbours. We are called to worship with others. We are commanded to take the gospel to all peoples. Service provides opportunities to connect with people, whether it is in our local church or in our communities. Serving without fanfare and without hope of reward is good for us. It gives us an opportunity to love others through action.

Serving reveals our weaknesses. Service is often difficult. Working with others presents challenges. We may be called on to be gracious, patient, and deferential. We may be faced with a task we feel utterly incapable of performing. Those times are when we must actively seek dependence on God. A number of years ago, my husband and I were the administrators of the youth group at our church. That was a very difficult couple of years, but I'm glad we did it.

Service puts feet (or hands!) to our knowledge. What good is theological knowledge if we are not living what we learn? It is entirely possible to have a lot of theological knowledge without ever putting those principles into practice. I love the verses in Romans 12; they are among my favourite. Paul spends eleven chapters talking about the gospel and with that wonderful "therefore" in 12:1 (NASB), he gives us the implication of our salvation: to present our bodies a living sacrifice, which is our spiritual service of worship. Our faith is reflected in our acts of worship through service.

In 2017, let us seek strength in order to serve. Even within the contexts of our home, we need strength to serve our families. Service can be the smallest of things. It need not be grand or elaborate. Sometimes, it is the smallest thing which provides the most blessing to an individual. We hear a lot about women's discipleship, and the need to direct women to good teaching. Surely, learning to be a servant is part of discipleship.

Ultimately, our bodies will age, fail, and die. That doesn't mean we shouldn't stay as strong as we can, though. But the motive is important. If the motive is for the feeling of looking young, I think that's a hollow victory. It's far more worthwhile to stay strong to serve.