Monday, October 24, 2016

8 Women of Faith

by Michael Haykin

I fell in love with the life stories of people from history when I was a young girl and I still love them. As an adult, I've concentrated mostly on biographical sketches of people from Christian history—short stories of the lives of my spiritual ancestors. But there aren't all that many accounts of the lives of historical Christian women, probably because it's hard to tell a woman's life story when there aren't many written records of her life.

I was eager, then, to read Michael Haykin's new book, Eight Women of Faith. I've listened to most of his biographical lectures and sermons and enjoyed them, so I was ready for more of his stories from Christian history, especially if they focused on women.

It turns out this book isn't what I expected. The chapters aren't really biographical sketches, but essays on the faith of each of the eight woman featured. In each chapter Haykin examines the way one historical Christian woman served Christ and his church in the historical circumstances in which she lived. His purpose is to "remind contemporary Christians, especially evangelicals of the vital role that women have played in the history of our faith.
The eight women featured are
  • Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), the young queen who was martyred for her Protestent faith. Jane is notable for her courage as she faced death and her defense of her own faith and the tenants of the Reformation when the Roman Catholic Benedictine monk John Feckenham tried to convince her to embrace the Catholic faith before she died.
  • Margaret Baxter (1636-1681), the wife of the Puritan Richard Baxter. This essay is based primarily in Richard Baxter's accounts of their marriage and they ways his wife supported him in his ministry.
  • Anne Dutton (1692-1765), a Baptist poet and theological writer. She wrote on many theological subjects, including the nature of the Lord's Supper, Calvinism (She defended it.), and John Wesley's perfectionism (She was critical of it.).
  • Sarah Edwards (1710-1758), the wife of Jonathan Edwards. Haykin looks at Sarah Edward's spiritual experience as presented in her husband's writings.
  • Anne Steele (1717-1778), one of the great hymn writers of the eighteenth century, on par with Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, John Newton, and William Cowper.
  • Esther Edwards Burr (1732-1758), the daughter of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. This essay focuses on her friendship with Sarah Prince. The two woman made an agreement to keep a daily journal they would share with each other, journals which included conversations about spiritual things.
  • Ann Judson (1789-1826), pioneer missionary to Burma and the wife of Adoniram Judson.
  • Jane Austen (1775-1817), well-known author of several novels. Jane Austen's "serious Christian" faith is viewed through one of her written prayers.
My favorite chapter was the one on Anne Dutton, who I knew very little about before I picked up this book. She wrote about theology, something I like to do, and she did it in a time when many thought a woman shouldn't be an author. She found it necessary, then, to also write a defense of herself and her work. To do this she argued that the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12, in which Paul writes, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet," referred to public worship only. Her works, she wrote, were meant to be read "by believers in 'their own private houses.'"

I suspect each reader will be drawn to the women whose circumstances and calling most closely mirror her own, so your favorite chapter will probably be different from mine.
In the end, I wasn't disappointed that Eight Women of Faith wasn't exactly the book I expected it to be. The focus on how these women lived out their faith in their historical time was encouraging to me. Each of them lived in a time when women had less power than we do now, and still, they all influenced others as they lived out their faith. Through their stories, they serve as examples to us.

Michael Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He has authored, coauthored, or edited more than twenty-five books.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Locked in

Do you remember the first time you heard your own voice on a recording? We are always surprised at how different we sound to ourselves. After our initial surprise, we learn that we hear our voices from inside our heads when we speak, and the sound waves are received differently than when we hear it from the outside, thus the difference.

We view the world through our own minds and experiences. One person looks at a spider and screams, and another sees an interesting specimen to inspect close up. One person contemplates with excitement jumping out of a plane with a parachute on his back, and the other sees it as the potential for a quick death. We can see the world through our own view, and it's work for us to see things from outside of ourselves.

As Christians, part of learning humility is understanding that we are not the centre of the universe. It is likely that we will come across other Christians who will look at the exact same situation and come to different conclusions. That may trouble us, because we want to be united with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it is a reality we have to come to grips with. I grew up in a particular family, with a particular set of experiences, but those were not prototypical. I am not prototypical. The only person who can see every side of every person, issue, or situation is God himself. To cultivate humility, we have to recognize our limitations, and we have to begin with who God is.

A couple of weeks ago, in my theology class, we were discussing the attributes of God, and we looked at God's holiness. God is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in holiness (Ps. 99:9; Is. 6:1-7; Hab. 1:12-13; I Pet. 1:14-15). In our discussion, Dr. F. reminded us that God's holiness means above all, his separateness. He is unlike anything else (Jer. 10:6; Is. 45:5; Ps. 86:8). He is unlike us; so very unlike us, despite the reality that we are made in his image. Because he us unlike us, he does not struggle to see through the eyes of another person the way we do. He is omniscient and omnipresent; he sees all. We are locked inside a specific time and place and, unfortunately, locked inside our own perception. Pride becomes an issue when we can't recognize this limitation.

The good news is that the benefit of being in Christ, in being one with this amazing, holy God, is the ability to draw upon the Holy Spirit, and work toward humility. If we pray to God and ask for empathy and the ability to be sympathetic to another view, he will help us. And sometimes, we must simply recognize that we will not always agree with one another, and it doesn't mean that we are compromising the truth.

As parents of adult children, this is an important principle to learn. Despite our desire to see our children embrace everything we have taught them, there is always the possibility that they may not agree, and will take a different view. Our adult children may have different eschatological views, or different views on worship, or the age of the earth. There are times when we have to allow them to have views that differ from ours, and even have the humility to really try to understand where they are coming from. Humility is essential in the home.

I wish I could say that I don't struggle with the desire to be right all the time. It is a ongoing process for me to let things go. I don't desire to compromise my faith, obviously, but part of exercising humility is being open to listening to the views of others. I must begin with God. It is only when we see who is compared to who we are that we can begin to cultivate humility.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

12 Steps to a Happy Marriage

 "There is no more lovely,  friendly,  and charming relationship,  communion,  or company than a good marriage."     Martin Luther

When I  first considered  writing this blogpost I  said to Robert something to the effect,   “I think I  can sum up our marital felicity  these past 43 years in just two words:  'Christ and Grace’  - What do you think?”    Without hesitation he said,   “Honey,  I’ve never known you to say anything in just two words."  

On that note,  these are some things we've learned  together over the years.   

A happy Christian marriage must be a Christ centered marriage.   If  you are a  single Christian  and have considered marrying someone who is not a believer  please read  2 Cor.6:14.  However,  if you’re already married to an unbeliever the Bible says to be content  and  stay put  (with the exception of  special circumstances like  infidelity or abuse).  I Cor. 7:13-14 

 “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11
Always hold God’s Word in the highest regard.  The Bible is God's revealed Word and is without error.   It is the way God communicates with us and is completely sufficient to guide us in all  matters pertaining to godly living.  2 Tim. 3:16.  Read it.  Memorize it. Saturate your mind  with sound doctrine.  Test everything  in life against it. 

 “Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”   1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Susannah Wesley,  mother of  the beloved hymnist Charles Wesley,  had 19 children, nine of which died in infancy.    She was noted for her fervent prayer life  but finding a quiet place for her was impossible.  Nevertheless,  that didn’t  stop her and her children knew it was time to be quiet when she threw her apron over her head to pray. 

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:25
 Plug into a  good Bible teaching church and  be faithful to honor the Lord’s Day by  gathering with His people.  Don’t get flaky about this.     Too many Christians allow sports, recreation,  or a bad church experience to sabotage their corporate worship.     If you have children it is essential that they understand not only the Gospel and sound doctrine,  but why Sunday worship takes priority.  

5.  THE "S" WORD
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” Ephesians 5:22-23
Marriage is depicted   as a beautiful picture of Christ and the Church and is said to be a great mystery.     Wives are to submit to the authority of  their  husbands as the church submits to Christ and husbands are to love their wives  as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.     Both commands  are tall orders,  right?     Showing mutual love and respect for one another is essential to any happy marriage. 

Like the warmth of a cozy fire,  love needs to be rekindled.    Whatever accomplishes that for you,  keep it up.    And never stop dating each other.   Even when  you're broke as a joke most of us can still scrape up a buck to get a cone at the Golden Arches.    Some of our sweetest dates  have been sitting in the car  with ice cream watching the sunset.  
It goes without saying,  if God gives us children they are a great blessing and we are responsible to train  them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.   We are all bound to  make some fumbles,  but one big mistake I've seen well meaning parents do is to create a child-centered home—one where everything revolves around the children's interests.   This is true for both married and single parents.   Our children will have a greater sense of security and be better prepared to face the world  when they understand they are not the center of the universe.   And we will also be better prepared for the empty nest.
 “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”  Ephesians 4:32
Recognizing  that we are just  two  wretched but forgiven  sinners on this  pilgrim journey together really helps when we blow it.   We are all in need of compassion and forgiveness every day.   I’ve tried to make a habit of never going to bed angry,  but I know it's not  always easy to do.
I don’t know how other wives feel,  but I’ve had to resist expecting more from my husband than I should.   Regardless of how knowledgeable in the Scriptures or how kind  our husbands  may be,  they are not perfect and can NEVER fill the need  for us that only Christ can fill.   I love what Ruth Bell Graham  said:
  “It is a foolish woman who expects her husband to be to her that which only Jesus Christ Himself can be: always ready to forgive, totally understanding, unendingly patient, invariably tender and loving, unfailing in every area, anticipating every need, and making more than adequate provision. Such expectations put a man under an impossible strain”  
He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”  Proverbs 13:20
This is so important.   God has blessed us with many wonderful Christian friends  over the years who  have encouraged us and sharpened us spiritually.     Like my mom used to say,  “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.”     Who we hang out with will have a big impact on how we think and how we treat our spouse.
“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.”  Psalm 46:2
One of my life verses is  Job  5:7   “man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward”.    A healthy  marriage will endure the whole gamut of troubles including money, family conflicts,  church problems,  illness, death—you name it.    Run to God  and trust in His sovereignty over all of it.  
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22
David Murray writes,  " Christian hope is a realistic expectation of and joyful longing for future good and glory based on the reliable Word of God." 1

The  Christian has every reason to  be cheerful.    Our sins have been forgiven and  we have an inheritance waiting for us in Heaven!  
1.The Happy Christian, by David Murray, pg. 92


Friday, October 14, 2016

Humble Roots: A review and giveaway

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul, Hannah Anderson, Moody Publishers, October 2016, 207 pages.

When it comes to the twists and turns of life, no one really expects to be able to handle the really big things, so we cut ourselves some slack. The little things should be well within our grasp, or so we think. But when the normal stuff of everyday life overwhelms us, stress and anxiety kick in. If this does not apply to you, praise God, but for the rest of us, we need help. This latest book by Hannah Anderson does just that by getting to the root of the problem - pride.

When we think of pride, boasting and promoting one's self are obvious manifestations. But what about thinking "we are stronger and more capable than we actually are... that we must do and be more than we are able?" (pg. 40) Thus we push ourselves to the limit and find ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. We find ourselves longing for rest, but this rest is only to be found "when we humble ourselves and submit to Him." (pg. 25) Yet humility is more than self-abasement or changing external behavior. It comes from seeing Jesus for who He really is in His person and His work. In that light, we are humbled because "He is the model and the means of our own humility."  (pp. 76, 57) However, the book does not end here. The author applies humility to how we view our physical bodies, emotions, and minds. It also affects the way we steward the gifts God has given us, pursue our desires, and make sense of the brokenness of this world.

I loved Hannah's first book, Made for More, so I was eager to read Humble Roots. I appreciate that she writes from a perspective of wholeness in that we are body and soul and our faith should make a difference in every aspect of our lives. I also appreciate that her books speak across a wide range of age and experience. I gave a copy of Humble Roots to my college-aged daughter who is dealing with academic stress and the new responsibilities of adulthood. (She could not put the book down and had to make herself stop reading and do her homework.) I am middle-aged and tempted to be complacent in the skills that I have acquired over the years. But I am also becoming more aware that it will only be a matter of time before the strength of body and mind will be diminished just with age alone. This book ministered to us both because, even though we are at different stages in life, we cannot shoulder the burdens of life ourselves. Without Him, we can do nothing.

Humble Roots is a delight to read. It is beautifully written with examples from Hannah's life, her Appalachian church community, history, and horticulture. Humble Roots is also theologically sound and grounded in the gospel. It is convicting, but it will encourage you to find the rest that Jesus offers to weary souls. I highly recommend this book.

I will be giving away one copy of Humble Roots. Please enter your name and email address in the form below. The giveaway ends Sunday October 16 at midnight EDT. I will contact the winner the following day. Thanks for entering!

(The giveaway has ended.)

I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why NOT read him?

I'm taking a course on Augustine this semester, taught by Michael Haykin. I love it so far. I'm in the middle of reading Confessions, and although I have read it once (probably about 15 years ago), I'm seeing things I didn't see the first time around. I think every Christian should try to read it at least once. I had someone ask me why I would want to read this ancient piece of literature. I didn't say it, but I thought: "Why wouldn't I?"

I have two bookshelves to the immediate left of my desk. When I look at the shelves, I see more books I have forgotten about than books which I remember well. And the books on these shelves are ones I have picked up in the last 5-10 years. As I have been reading Confessions, I have pondered what separates a book which will be forgotten in a year or two from one which stands the test of time. I haven't got that all figured out, but I do know that some books have a message which is timeless and some books don't. Book like Charnock's Existence and Attributes of God, Lloyd-Jones's Spiritual Depression, R.C. Sproul's The Holiness of God, Jeremiah Burroughs's The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, just to name a few, stand the test of time. These are books I would read again (Sproul's, I have read twice already). I have a lot of books on those shelves which will never get a second read.

Some books written about current issues are helpful at the time, but they often lose their relevance quickly. Think back to some of the books you read ten years ago, and consider their subject matter. Are people still writing about those issues? I have books on my shelves which were purchased because "everyone" was talking about the subject matter. Most of them I have yet to read again, and as I begin to look for space for seminary textbooks, I'm rather wishing I had been a little less eager to purchase. Yes, I know about digital books and saving space, but I don't care for digital books.

I love how Augustine addresses issues that are still pertinent today. He speaks about the struggle of his conversion:
I was held back by mere trifles, the most paltry inanities, all my old attachments. They plucked at my garment of flesh and whispered, 'Are you going to dismiss us? From this moment we shall never be with you again, for ever and ever. From this moment you will never again be allowed to do this thing or that, for evermore.' What was it, my God, that they meant when they whispered 'this thing or that?' Things so sordid and so shameful that I beg you in your mercy to keep the soul of your servant free from them! These voices, as I heard them, seemed less than half as loud as they had been before. They no longer barred my way, blatantly contradictory, but their mutterings seemed to reach me from behind, as though they were stealthily plucking at my back, trying to make me turn my head when I wanted to go forward. Yet, in my state of indecision, they kept me from tearing myself away, from shaking myself free of them and leaping across the barrier to the other side, where you were calling me. Habit was too strong for me when it asked, 'Do you think you can live without these things?'
I remember those feelings myself prior to my own conversion; the knowledge that my life would change, being pulled and pushed away at the same time, and feeling like voices were whispering to me, "Do you really want to do this?" I am sure that myriads of people throughout the history of the Church have experienced similar feelings. The matter of conviction of sin will never be irrelevant.

The benefit of reading older literature is that we are able to see that we are not entirely unique here in the 21st Century. Older literature reminds us that we didn't invent the wheel. Many of the problems we think are unique to our time are simply the same ones dressed differently. Reading literature from all periods of history helps us to discern between the abiding truth and the permutations of that truth.

I would be interested to find out how many Christian books will have been released by the end of 2016. I would be curious to see how many of them are still being read in five years. I do know one thing: Augustine will still have readers. He is one of the most influential theologians in Christian history, and his influence extends beyond simply matters of faith. If you're a reader, and you haven't read Augustine yet, why not give him a try?