Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The day I had more faith in the plumber than in God

I am out of my league when it comes to home repairs, so I am very grateful for reliable contractors, plumbers, and all around handymen who can fix whatever is broken. Therefore, I knew who to call when the toilet started running for what seemed like forever before it finally stopped. The plumber got the job done for a fair price in less than an hour the following day. When all was back to normal, I offered a prayer of thanks for this gentleman, his skill, and the relief it was to turn over my problem to someone I could trust. But then this thought crossed my mind:

"You stopped worrying about the toilet as soon as you knew the plumber was coming the next day. Why do you keep worrying about the things you commit to the Lord? It sounds like you had more faith in the plumber than you do in God at times."

Ouch.

Well I was without excuse when it was put like that. It was a weight off my shoulders to leave the plumbing to the plumber. Why don't I experience that same relief when I commit my life and its cares to Almighty God? Why do I continue to stew and fret as though He hasn't heard me or I might have slipped His mind? Granted plumbing isn't quite on the same scale, but then again, this is the Triune God we're talking about. 

This is the God who:

Upholds the universe by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3)
Is the eternal, unchanging Creator. (Heb. 1:10-12)
Laughs at His enemies and their futile plans to thwart His purposes. (Psalm 2:4-6)
Saved me. (Eph. 2:1-10)
Promised to never leave me nor forsake me. (Heb. 13:5-6)
Intercedes. Works all things together for good and will complete His work in my life. (Rom. 8:26-30)
Remains faithful even when my faith fails. (2 Tim. 2:13)

Based on this evidence, is there any valid reason why I shouldn't have faith in God and trust Him with everything? None whatsoever. This doesn't mean that life won't have its troubles, but I'm already in the safest and most secure place there is. I am in His hands and no one can snatch me out. (John 10:28-29)

So I had to repent of my unbelief. It probably won't be the last time, but I'm thankful for His forgiveness and His faithfulness to continue to remind me of the truth. 

The Lord never wastes a teachable moment. Even a running toilet.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Christian and Common Grace

Excuse me, ma'am.

I didn't realize he was talking to me. I kept walking. Someone coming toward me directed my attention to the gentleman calling after me.

You left this. He held out a bag of groceries to me. In my haste to leave the store, I'd left it at the self-checkout station. A quick glance told me he most likely needed the food more than I.

There are still good people in the world, I thought.

Whether it's airline passengers subduing someone rushing the cockpit or someone handing us an item we forgot, sometimes it's easy to forget that people - even Christians - are not inherently good. Perhaps we are so bombarded with the bad news in our fallen world that long to see the good in people. We forget, as Steven J. Lawson writes, there is
...the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, who strives with unconverted men in order to restrain them from being as sinful as their immoral imaginations would lead them to be. This is a general restraint upon their lives, impeding them from being fully engrossed in their sins. (The Problem of Good: When the World Seems Fine Without God, p.5).
I had heard of common grace, but did not have a good understanding of it until reading this primer on the topic. It was a much-needed reminder for me that we are all sinful creatures. If we don't accept this truth, if we only see the good in people, how will we be compelled to share the gospel with them? And how will people who live good, moral lives or have an abundance of blessings see their need for a savior? These question deserve much thought, and The Problem of Good explores them carefully and answers them wisely.

As much as I may, at times, be quick to think that people are basically good, I confess that there is another side of common grace that confounds me. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). I confess that there are days when I wonder at this verse. I see its truth evident all around me, and I'm frustrated by it. Why should Christians suffer while those who deny God's existence reap benefits seemingly beyond compare? What about having our best life, of being blessed if we do and give enough? They are hollow promises that fall woefully short of the Scriptural truth that in the world you will have tribulation (John 16:33).

Perhaps unbelievers living the American dream don't desire God  because Christians so often despair the way of the cross. Why would they choose the lot we bemoan? In The Problem of Good, Ruth Naomi Floyd quotes Charles Spurgeon,
I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your sufferings be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down (p. 82).
Modern Christians seem to have strayed so far from those before us who, like Spurgeon and Samuel Rutherford, held firm to the belief that...it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bed-side, and draw aside the curtains, and say 'Courage, I am thy salvation,' than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God. (source). In our estimation suffering should belong to other people, not to those who spend their lives serving God.

I wonder, what would happen if we blessed the Lord for our sufferings? What if, instead of begrudging others their good fortune, we fully grasped and accepted that, as John Leonard writes, ...instead of questioning God's fairness we should be praising him for his goodness...the goodness that we see all around us in the daily acts of men should lead us to worship God because it proves that he is good (The Problem of Good, p. 56-57)?

The truth is, as a believer in Christ, I should not be worried with fair. Regardless of what I consider my present sufferings to be, I have received much more than fair.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Temporal sufferings, like temporal blessings, are an opportunity to bring glory to God. If we who have Christ as our model don't believe that, a lost and dying world never will.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Solid Food for Little Ones

or A Short List of Theology Books for Preschoolers.

I’m interested in theology books for children for two reasons. First, I have preschool grandchildren and I want to be like Timothy’s grandmother Lois. I want to help pass on the faith to them.

Second, I’m the librarian for my church, so it’s my responsibility to see that the library has a well-rounded collection of Christian books for children. When I took over the library job, it was built around donated books, and the children’s section was long on fiction, short on Bible story books (because people hold on to those, I suppose), and completely empty when it came to anything that taught doctrine to children. So I’ve added a few Bible story and theology books, and any age-appropriate ones that impress me I order for my grandchildren, too.

Since many of you also have young children in your lives, I thought you might be able to use some recommendations for preschool books that teach good theology. Here’s my short list. (Please add your own recommendations in the comments.)

Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers: The Trinity
by Joey Allen. This is simple Biblical teaching on the Trinity without the use of analogies. (When it comes to the Trinity, analogies—shamrocks, eggs or ice, water, and steam, for instance—tend to confuse rather than clarify. There is nothing else like the Trinity.) For ages 4-6 or so. 

There’s a series of Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers books, including Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers: The Scripture and Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers: The Gospel. I’ve only seen the one on the Trinity, but since it's so excellent, I’d bet the others are good, too.

Update: In the comments below, the author links to another book in this series, Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers: The Mission. What's more, I've discovered that Westminster Bookstore sells all four Big Thoughts books as a set.

God Knows My Name
by Debby Anderson. This book teaches little ones aged 1-4 about God's omniscience—and a few more attributes, too. This one has been a favorite of my grandchildren, who love knowing that God sees them and knows everything about them, including their name.

I also recommend I Love My Bible! and Jesus Is Coming Back!, the two other Debby Anderson picture books in the church library.


Everything a Child Should Know About God
by Kenneth N. Taylor.  I received my copy in the mail yesterday and have already read through it. I wish I’d known about this little gem when my own children were little.

 “The purpose of this colourful book,” Ken Taylor wrote in the introduction, “is to teach young children about God.” Since some teaching on most of the Bible's major doctrines is included, I'd call this a pint-sized systematic theology. There are a only couple of places in 187 pages where I would have phrased things differently—and when it comes to book of theology, that much agreement is a rare thing.

I often give Bible story books as baby shower gifts, especially for second or later babies, but I’ve decided that as soon as my current supply of Bible story books runs out, I’ll be giving this book instead. It’d be perfect for a new baby’s 2-5 year old brothers or sisters.

[This book is not stocked by Amazon, and Westminster Bookstore (linked above) is sold out until May. I ordered from Book Depository, but it looks like they’re out of stock now, too.]

Are there any preschool theology books you would add to this list?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Find Phrases

This is a bit of a heavy week for me, so I have resorted to the archives of my own blog for today's post. Bible study "how to" and "why to" books abound. On my shelves, I'm sure I've got about ten of them. This one is a little different. Bill Mounce's Greek For the Rest of Us is one that not only focuses on bible study, but introduces us to Koine Greek. I think learning the original language is something more women who teach and lead ought to consider.

The subtitle of the book is "Using Greek Tools Without Mastering Biblical Greek." You won't learn about declining nouns, or translate anything, but Mounce promises a few things:
  1. You will be able to understand why translations are different.
  2. You will discover the meaning of the Greek that lies beneath the English.
  3. You will learn the basics of exegesis.
  4. You will learn to make good use of commentaries. 
The chapter where Mounce discusses why translations are different is very eye-opening and dispels some common misunderstandings about translations. If you read this chapter alone, you will be left appreciating the very difficult and complex process that is translation, and you will understand why good translation is done by committee rather than an individual. This chapter re-inforced my stubborn refusal to use The Message when I study the bible.

The chapters that discuss basics of exegesis rely on something Mounce calls "phrasing." Some people call this block diagramming, and Precept Ministries offers courses (I took them all) based on similar principles, and calls it "structuring." Bible Arcing also resembles this process, but is much more involved.

When we do phrasing, we take a passage of scripture and evaluate its component parts, its thought units. When Mounce calls it "phrasing" he does not necessarily mean the grammatical term for phrase; clauses and phrases alike are thought units, and he refers to them all as phrases when he discusses this process.

The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate each phrase, how they relate to each other, and thus determine the main flow of thought. Phrasing has been one of the most helpful tools I have used in bible study. It forces me to slow down and really engage with the text.

First, the text is broken down into sections by identifying the topics in the passage. This step is especially important when reading an epistle, because that helps us establish the context. After the sections are identified, we separate the individual pieces further.

Here is my initial breakdown of James 1:2-4. This section, obviously, is about what to do when confronting trials:

Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet with trials of various kinds
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect
that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

The bold words are the main phrases. The others are modifiers. When I do phrasing, I write it out by hand, and I put the main phrases at the left hand margin. Both "Count it all joy, my brothers," and "And let steadfastness have its full effect" would be at the left margin. The modifying phrases would be put on a separate line underneath, indented to show how they modify. For example, both "when you meet with various trials," and "for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastnesses," modify "Count it all joy," and would be indented underneath it. They explain why we are to count it all joy when we meet with trials. The phrase, "that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing" modifies "And let steadfastness have its full effect," would be indented underneath to show that. The result of steadfastness is to be complete.

Phrasing can be time consuming, but for passages where we're not quite certain about the flow of thought, it can be worthwhile. If you want to invest in a really excellent commentary, and see how phrasing is done for an entire book, check out the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on 1,2,3 John, written by Karen Jobes. That authors of this series do phrasing for the books they are commenting on.

Greek for the Rest of Us is a book is well worth your time. It's good to recognize that we need to know how to study our bibles better, but for many, they don't know where to begin. This might be helpful for someone. I know it's helped me, and I've been studying my bible for years. We all may not have classes available, but we can certainly start ourselves with the help of some good tools.

Also check out Biblical Training for free lectures of Mounce's material.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Let's be real

You can generally spot an old timer blogger by the title of her blog, her url, her twitter handle, or all three. Here's the key: none of them will contain her real name, certainly not her real first and last name. Hence "lisa_writes" on the Twitter and "lisa-writes" on my first blogspot address.

Back then anonymity was heralded as the blogging best practice. We were warned against, and in response we feared, that nebulous bad guy out there intent on nefarious action regarding our real name. And don't even think about posting pictures of your kids!

It's funny in hindsight, what with the explosion of mommy blogging whose single most identifying characteristic, at least in my unofficial and unscientific observation, is beautiful, professional quality photography of the children.

Which I love by the way. Though they hold up a standard I could never ever hope to aspire to, I do love cute kids in a great pic. Just so you know.

Some habits die hard though. I rarely if ever refer to my kids or even my husband by name on my blog. Not so much because I think you the reader want to do them harm but more because I respect their privacy and want them to be the arbiter of their online presence when and if they choose. Same deal over on Twitter. Two of my children have Twitter accounts but I always hesitate just a moment before I retweet or mention. Maybe I'm hearkening back to those overly cautious early days of blogging but, whatever the reason, I've decided to err on the side of too careful rather than too careless.

Speaking of old timers, any of you who blogged way-back-when remember the meme "I am more than my blog"? The point of the meme was, as is no doubt obvious, that not all of my life is represented on the blog. What you see is merely a sliver of my real life, which incidentally is only the sliver I allow you to see.

I think about that meme when I am tempted to make the following PSA: "Dear Twitter friends, what you see here is not the sum of what I think, believe, appreciate, or esteem." I leave you to determine my tone of voice. There may or may not be a certain level of snark involved. Shocking, I know. Just keepin' it real.

The blog posts and the Twitter feed and the Facebook timeline, while I strive to be as authentic as possible, they are not the sum of who I am. Neither are yours. The virtual life is the virtual life, important, perhaps, edifying, to be sure, fun, of course.

But it is not real life.

My real life has real people in it, a real family that is my privilege to love and serve. There's a real church too where I learn to worship the Lord in accountability and fellowship with other believers. There are real women I meet on Wednesdays at the pregnancy center with real problems that break my heart. They need the real gospel--and here's a news flash: my blog posts or Twitter updates, no matter how wise or witty or well written, will not give that to them. There are real women in the Bible study I teach, real women hungry to know the realness of the Word to infect their real lives with real power and real passion as they grow to know and love a real God.

I am not abandoning the virtual life, not at all. I both enjoy and learn from my online friendships and the interactions I find there. I am the better for the friendships I've made with women from around the world. How else but the Internet? Who else but our God?

What I am saying is this: let's not pursue the virtual at the expense of the real. Serve your online audience and serve them well but do not do so to the neglect of the real people that the Lord has placed in your immediate, real context. And let's remember we are all real people and, as such, more than our blogs, our feeds, and our timelines.