Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Renée of France by Simonetta Carr: A review and a giveaway

Please welcome Christina Langella, our guest blogger today, with a review of a new biography by Simonetta Carr  plus a giveaway!

In what is the tenth addition to the “Bitesize Biographies” series published by Evangelical Press, Christian biographer and author, Simonetta Carr casts yet another historical figure to life with a masterful portrait of Renée of France.  Renée of France, The Duchess of Ferrara, a lesser-known but no less dynamic woman of the Italian Reformation has the distinct honor of being the first woman to grace the series. Ranking alongside the likes of Augustus Toplady, John Knox, Francis Shaffer, and Martyn Lloyd Jones, the duchess finds herself in good company. The “Bitesize” series aims to tell the stories of both well known and lesser-known people from history ranging from the early church fathers right through to the late twentieth century. Despite the inherent suggestion of the title, these works are anything but “bite size” and Carr’s latest contribution is no exception. Consistent with other titles in the series, Carr readily admits her work is not an academic study.  Yet students, teachers, and historians will easily discover an overflowing treasure trove of church history.

Relying largely on correspondence between Renée and John Calvin, and also secondary sources, Carr presents, what I believe to be, an especially timely portrait of a profoundly passionate yet deeply conflicted woman of faith. From a historical perspective readers get a front row view into the weighty issues confronting the fledgling Reformed church – issues like the acceptance or refusal of the Catholic Mass, the fear of making a public profession of faith in Protestant doctrines, and the relationship between church and state.

From a personal perspective, Carr lifts the window and offers a glimpse into the life of a Christian woman pressed upon at all sides by self-serving political motives and agendas. Amidst the dramatic political and ecclesiastical events of her time, Renée’s personal frailties and shortcomings are not hard to sympathize with. What mother does not have compassion on a woman who faces the painful prospect of losing her children for not recanting her faith? Or, what true believer has not grappled with the seeming tension between refuting false teachers and “loving our enemies”? Or, who among us, has never struggled with the temptation to remain quiet over our faith in order to keep the peace? Renée’s story humbles us.  It causes us to recall the warning of the apostle Paul, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”[1] It then compels us to cry with the Old Testament prophet, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”[2]

The correspondence between Calvin and Renée also reveals a not-so-well-known side to the Reformation stalwart.  His letters betray the gentleness of a faithful shepherd not just preoccupied with gospel purity but overwhelmingly concerned over the soul condition of the little flock. No one knows the urgency of the hour better than Calvin.  No one perceives all that is at stake more than him.  Yet his letters to Renée reveal a shepherd “in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed”[3] in the child of God entrusted to his care. Furthermore, we see the French Reformer’s willingness to be vulnerable in sharing details of his own physical ailments and weaknesses. For those in the Reformed tradition who rightly esteem this central figure of the Protestant tradition, this side of Calvin will make you love him even more.

The Reformation was a time of crisis for those who longed for a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ”[4]. Moments of crisis have a way of forcing us to define what is central and essential. It’s where the rubber meets the road. In this way, even though Renée hailed from nobility (and most of us don’t), her story underscores the same faith issues that all Christians – though unlikely in such a dramatic form as Renée, can expect to confront.

It is with great pleasure that I recommend Renée of France. In her own right, Simonetta Carr is a woman called for “such a time as this”[5].  She continues to equip the body of Christ with the tools necessary to pass our Reformation heritage to our sons and daughters.

Evangelical Press has graciously contributed 2 books for a special giveaway contest. Please fill out the form below if you would like to be entered in the drawing. The winners will be chosen on March 5.

(The giveaway is closed.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Christina Langella lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, Steven, and their 3-legged Pit-Bull, Jake.  She leads the Young Women’s Fellowship for teens and pre-teens, and also teaches women’s Bible studies at her local church.


For more information, here is an interview with Simonetta Carr about her latest book.

[1] English Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 10:12
[2] New International Version (c 1984), Micah 7:18
[3] English Standard Version, Galatians 4:19
[4] English Standard Version, 2 Corinthians 11:3
[5] English Standard Version, Esther 4:14

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fighting for Your Girl's Friendships

Note: This is part of the Fight Like a Girl Series. Other posts are found under the series tag.

In a few short days, I'll be spending the weekend with a group of ladies. Some, I've hugged in real life. Some, I've spoken to on the phone. Some, I've never interacted with outside a computer screen. They are all dear to me, sisters in Christ with relationships forged through long emails, Facebook threads, blog comments, and mutual prayers. And though they are not a part of my everyday, 3-D life, they are women who "spur [me] on to a mature, vibrant love for Christ." (Hannah Farver, Uncompromising, pg. 205)

My girl recently told me she's received several friend requests on Facebook from people she doesn't even know. I told her she shouldn't accept such requests (thankfully, she had already come to that conclusion on her own.) Am I being hypocritical? I don't think so. As an adult, I understand that not every Facebook friend or friendship is genuine. I have also set boundaries regarding the information I share online. Sadly, many teens (and adults) don't take such precautions.

"...in our culture, we often think of friends as people we spend time with exclusively for amusement - and nothing deeper." (Uncompromising, pg. 208) Social media and text messaging have done little to make us think otherwise. We enter into relationships too lightly and make them intimate too quickly. We are careless with our privacy and our emotions.

As a parent, it's my job to protect my daughter from being reckless in this regard. "Teenagers need to learn the skill of wisely choosing friends. They need to understand the powerful influence of friendship upon them...We need to ask good questions that help the child examine his thoughts, desires, motives, choices, and behaviors with respect to friendship." (Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, p. 85).

If we are going to motivate our daughters to make good choices concerning friendships, we must first teach them what genuine friendships are. I can't remember how many times I've told my girl that she is to be friendly to everyone, but to be a close friend to a few who share her Christian beliefs. I want her to have Hebrews 3:13 friends, who encourage her, pray for her and hold her accountable. I want her to be that kind of friend as well.

It's not easy. I've said many times that parenting teenage girls isn't for the faint of heart, and I think that is particularly true where friendships are concerned. It is difficult to raise a girl to be different in a world that prizes fitting in. Drama runs rampant. Pressure is great. But, as I keep reminding myself, God is greater.

And so I keep fighting for my girl. Won't you join me and fight for yours?


Keep Fighting:

~Think about your own friendships. Does your girl see you model Hebrews 3:13, or does she see you encourage your friends to sin by gossiping, complaining, scheming, etc?

~Webster’s dictionary defines “quality” as “degree of excellence; superiority in kind”. Ask your girl how many of her friendships she would define as quality friendships and why.

~Scriptures to read together and discuss:  Proverbs 27:6, 9, 17; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Proverbs 13:20; James 4:4; and 1 Cor. 15:33
 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Redemption: From What Are We Redeemed?

This is the second post of a series of three on biblical redemption. 


In him we have redemption through his blood....

If redemption means release from bondage by payment of a price (and it does), and Christ redeemed sinners by his death (and he did), then we know that unredeemed sinners are slaves. And believers, those of us who have been redeemed, are former slaves. What's more, we weren't just ordinary slaves, but triple slaves, if you will, because scripture tells us there are least three ways we were in bondage.

We Were in Bondage to the Power of Sin
Jesus said, "Everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). The root of our sin lay deep inside, in our nature — and we can't change our nature, can we? Unredeemed, we were stuck. We couldn't not sin, because we were in bondage to the power of sin.

 But Christ's death releases those who are united to him from captivity to their natural born sinfulness.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7 ESV)
In our natural state, our "old self," we were dominated by sin, but at the moment we were united with Christ in his death, we were freed from sin's dominion. Christ's death redeems us from the power of sin.

We Were in Bondage to Satan
Ephesians 2:2 tells us that Satan, "the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience," once dominated us all. In 2 Timothy 2:26, Paul says that those who don't know the truth are ensnared by the devil and are being held captive to do his will. Satan's specialty, it seems, is deception. Those he holds captive can't see the truth and believe his lies instead (2 Corinthians 4:4).

On the basis of Christ's redemption, God frees us from bondage to Satan and transfers us to Christ's kingdom.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14 ESV)
If you read this and think of God and Satan getting together to make a deal for the release of Satan's captives, think again. Do you remember how God redeemed the Israelites from Egypt? He didn’t make a ransom payment to Pharaoh. Pharaoh received nothing but crushing judgment at the hand of God, and then he let his Israelite slaves go free. Christ’s redemption of sinners from the power of Satan is something like that. He redeems sinners by his triumphant defeat of Satan, a victory won through his death and resurrection.

We Were in Bondage to the Legal Ramifications of Our Sin
Sinners are condemned to death because of their sin, and Christ's death redeems believers from this legal judgment. The background for this practice is in the Old Testament law:
But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. [30] If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. (Exodus 21:29-30 ESV)
A man who owned an ox that had a tendency to gore would be sentenced to death if his ox killed someone, but he could pay a ransom price to free himself from this legal judgment.

Similarly, Christ's redemption sets sinners free from the legal sentence for their sin. Galatians 3:13 says that we have been redeemed "from the curse of the law," and Colossians 2:14 tells us that Christ "canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us." And anywhere the New Testament sets redemption in the context of forgiveness of sin or justification (Romans 3:24-26, for instance), the focus is redemption from the death sentence that results from our sin. Even 1 Timothy 2:5-6, by connecting Christ's ransom for sinners to his mediatory work representing people before God, has release from legal judgment in view, since it is God's own condemnation of our sin that separates us from him.1

Summary
That Christ's death for us was redemption tells us that we were in bondage. We were slaves of sin, slaves of Satan, and under a sentence of death. By dying in our place, Christ redeemed us from all of this and more.

Two weeks from today I plan to post a something on what Christ's redemption means for us — how it changes our lives and what it demands of us.

1Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, page 194.

Sources 
Paul: An Outline of His Theology, Herman Ridderbos.
The Atonement: It's Meaning and Significance, Leon Morris.
The Atonement (from Redemption — Accomplished and Applied), John Murray.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Word My Life

I have a picture tucked away in my memory.  I am ten years old, coming home from school on a late spring afternoon with my friend, Cathy.  Earlier, our class was visited by the Gideons, and now we each hold in our hands a red New Testament with Psalms.  We are going to get started reading that very afternoon, but being unregenerate ten year old girls with short attention spans, we don't make it past the third chapter of Matthew.

Fast forward to my last year of high school.  It has not been a good year.  Last year, I was heavily immersed in Mormon teaching.  Now, I am merely confused, in a new school, and angry about life in general. I pull out that little New Testament and I find the Psalms.  I love the Psalms.  They are poetry and prayer all rolled into one.  I don't really understand them, but I love to read them.  Sitting on my bed, cross-legged, I read Psalm 4:  "In peace I both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety."  I love that idea; that God could make me dwell in safety. I just know that the Bible is very important.

I don't really understand the bible yet, but I want to know more.  Two years later, I am given a bible by the woman who will become my mother-in-law.  I sit on that same bed where I read the Psalms, and I flip through the pages she has told me to read. Romans 6:23 hits me like a 2 x 4 over the head:  "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  A couple of weeks later, struggling with the gnawing reality that I cannot call myself Christ's child, I bend by my bed and ask God to forgive me and make me His own. Slowly, I begin to realize how crucial the Word is.  Without it, I didn't understand; now I see.

Throughout my life, the most profound moments have occurred when I have confronted God through His Word.  Whether it is moments in my past where I have seen how God orchestrated those circumstances so that I would be taken to His Word, or whether it has been times of trial where I have found guidance and truth to get through the trial and to be completed, nothing has changed me as much as His Word.

This is a message I repeat often, and perhaps I should feel apologetic about repeating myself.  However, it is a message that needs repeating: we need His word desperately.  It is our lifeline to God. If we are not probing the depths of God's Word, how can we know Him more intimately?  Without His word, we cannot even come to saving knowledge of Him; apart from it we will simply not grow.  The Spirit always speaks to us through the Word, and it is that Spirit that teaches us, refines us, and comforts us. It is in the pages of God's Word that we understand who we are, who God is, and how we may properly relate to Him.

Psalm 119:130 says: "The unfolding of your word gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple."
I love that image of the word being unfolded to take away my darkness.  When something is unfolded, it is a gradual revealing, and that is what understanding the Word has been like for me. As I have aged chronologically and grown spiritually, more and more of His Word has been unfolded to me.  As a simple woman, I have been given understanding through that process.  It has removed my darkness and shown me the truth.  It is my very life.

I don't have a lot of valuable advice to give, but I can give you this:  get into the Word.  Do more than just read it.  Study it, pick it apart, listen to others expound it, apply it to your heart, roll in it, soak in it. If you have limited time to read, choose to make the Bible the thing that you do read, first and foremost.

Yes, I sound like a broken record.  This is not a new message, and in a world where we have short attention spans and desire to have something novel everyday, this message may seem tired and overdone.  It isn't. It's a message we need every day, because we are so prone to forgetting.

I want to long for the Word above all else.  I want to cry with the Psalmist:  "Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all the day" (Ps. 119:87).  Don't you?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Generation Gap

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)

This weekend was Disciple Now in my community. If you’re not familiar, Disciple Now is a mash-up of church camp, small group, and slumber party. We hosted seven high school girls over the weekend.

The command for the older women to teach the younger doesn’t have any conditions attached. It’s not something reserved for a select, specially gifted few. I’m not saying everyone has to start helping with the youth group, but all of us should be reaching out to the women coming along behind us.

And yet we don’t. We think we’re too busy or too tired or just don’t have anything to offer. We not only fail younger women when we do that, we miss out on the blessings that come when we build relationships with them. We also need to actively seek out those ahead of us. I still have a lot to learn. Being a 40-year-old mother of teenagers is not uncharted territory. I'm far too independent for my own good.

I was blessed immensely by having these girls in my home. I wondered why we cut ourselves off from other generations. As I mused over this, here are some of the things I considered.

Rumors of the generation gap are greatly exaggerated.

I was sixteen in 1988. No, I didn’t know what the internet was, and if you would have tried to explain a smart phone to me I would have thought you were talking about an episode of the Jetsons. But I was struck by how everything these girls did and said was just like my friends and me at the same age. They painted their nails and braided each other’s hair. They discussed boys, school, and menstrual cramps. They simultaneously crave and fear the freedom of adulthood. Pretty much like every generation that’s come before them.

No age group is inherently more sinful or righteous.

I started working in drug stores at the age of seventeen. The first shoplifter I ever encountered was a little white-haired lady who was older than my grandparents. Laziness, dishonesty, and general foolishness are human problems, not special sins reserved for young people.

Older people have been lamenting “kids these days” for decades (perhaps forever). I hated it when I was a kid, and I hate hearing people my age doing it. If you think the younger generation is a lost cause merely because of the date on their birth certificates, you are making far too much of your own era and far too little of the power of the Holy Spirit.

They’re not going to get everything right.

Our job as we mentor those younger than us is to teach them and point them to the truth. This, though, is a process. It took me years to obtain what little wisdom I have. Why should I expect these young girls to pick it up in a single Bible study session? Yes, they will sometimes say things that are foolish. So do we. Yes, they will have erroneous ideas about God and his word. So do we. We shouldn’t hold them in disdain just because they’re not as far along in their faith as we are.

We see this idea in Philippians 3:14-15: "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you." (emphasis mine)

We should always be pressing forward in our walk with God. We need to exhort and correct others. But God will reveal himself to those that are his. Some people insist on learning things the hard way. We should do what we can, but the end result is in God’s hands.

Though they need us, they need Jesus more.

People need to be loved. They need someone to tell them why they’re here. They need a Savior. The people who had the biggest influence in my life were not the ones who tried to be cool or cutting edge, but the people who listened to me and loved me, who offered gentle wisdom but still supported me when I ignored it and screwed up.

It’s a miracle that God could save a silly girl like me. It’s also a miracle that he can use a foolish, flawed woman to do his work. But that’s how he does things. To him alone be the glory.

Friday, February 15, 2013

This is not the life I dreamed of


A year or so ago I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon honoring distinguished alumni of our local high school. From educators to athletes to businessmen, fifteen alumni who had achieved distinction in their particular field were honored with a place in the newly chartered Wall of Fame. It was fascinating, to say the least, to learn of each receipient's various successes and accomplishments. Fascinating and exciting and inspiring.

I couldn't help but think of my own life and, quite frankly, how it pales in comparison. Should someone compose a list of my achievements it would be a short one indeed. And quite boring:
Lisa graduated from college in 1990. After two semesters of graduate school, she gladly forfeited the pursuit of her advanced degree in order to marry a wonderful, godly man she still loves dearly after all these years. Not long after moving to Alabama she gave birth to her first child, with three more to follow within less than six years. From then on, for the last nineteen years, her greatest accomplishments include raising her four sons without (yet) losing her mind and having a working knowledge of the offsides penalty in soccer. Other noteworthy feats include nineteen years of washing limitless loads of laundry, packing innumerable lunch boxes and maintaining a (somewhat) sanitary home. All children entrusted to her have yet to starve to death.
I'm being silly and I know it. I do realize that what I do is important. Sometimes, though, I've grown so accustomed to seeing my life in micro segments that stepping back and grasping the macro view tends to overwhelm me just a little. I'm okay with thinking in terms of what must be accomplished today and maybe tomorrow: laundry, dishes, car line, soccer and band practices, grocery shopping.  But when I see all of those today's lined up, nearly twenty years' worth, and they are virtually identical in their struggles and frustrations and responsibilities...well, sometimes, and only some times, I think to myself: this is not the life I always dreamed of.

Indeed, if one were to plan out her dream life, who would envisage two decades of cooking supper and washing dishes and cleaning up all sorts of unmentionable gross-ness? Surely my twenty year old self whose greatest aspirations, though not clearly defined, included among other things a power suit and the Wall Street Journal, surely she would not have guessed that at 44 hers would be a life of the sort of mundane ordinariness that has not and will not accomplish anything the world will value. She could not. She still sometimes cannot.

I hear women, usually women who have achieved some sort of success--however you may define it--encourage me to dream and do. That if I do not follow my vision, reach for the stars, maximize my potential, dare to risk--well, then, I will somehow miss out. One may infer, from their admonishment, that God is merely waiting on my acquiescence to grant my wish, answer my longing, fulfill all my dreams.

I once had such a dream, what I thought was the Lord's unmistakable call on my life, and, interestingly enough, in this dream I knew all sorts of success and accolades, not to mention the admiration of many. Reality has proved to be quite different. Obscurity, not fame. Work, boring, mundane work, not recognition and acclaim. Yes, I can--and seek to--do all things for the glory of Christ and that in itself is the highest and best calling but, still, cleaning the bathroom is cleaning the bathroom. I know that the Lord, in His gracious providence, has granted a measure of success and influence to some and I am grateful for the ministry of many such women. It is not so for most of us. Most of us are cleaning the bathroom.

Yesterday the bagger at the grocery store asked me if I worked. "Nope; I'm just a mom," I said and I was glad for it. I'm just a mom, a very ordinary and flawed mom. I'm a wife, also ordinary and flawed. I know that my accomplishments, such as they are, will never be lauded at a luncheon nor will my picture adorn a wall of fame. Though I sometimes wince at that realization, ultimately I know that my calling is not about achievement. Quite the opposite. It is the call to die to myself and to live to Christ. To love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind and others as myself. To serve in selfless humility. To do all in the name of Jesus and for His glory. To give thanks to God the Father. To forget what is behind, straining toward what is ahead. To confess and repent of my sins. To joyfully proclaim the gospel. To suffer the reproach of Christ. To eagerly await His appearing.

So I'm sitting at the luncheon, duly impressed with the accomplishments of these new Wall of Fame honorees, thankful for their success in their chosen fields. Despite my initial panic over my own perceived lack thereof, I learn something from their example. I learn that excellence is a worthy pursuit. I learn that discipline and hard work are critical whether one is a CEO of a major corporation or of a family of six. I thank the Lord for the blessing of obscurity and for the privilege of serving Him in anonymity and I ask Him to grant me the discipline and delight I lack. Whatever I find to do, I want to do all for His glory. I am the humble jar of clay and He is the Treasure. May I be found faithful.

Author's note: this post has been adapted from a post originally published on my personal blog in November, 2011

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

No condemnation

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

This verse is a bold declaration. It would almost be hard to believe if it wasn't in the Bible. It seems on the verge of audacity especially when you consider who penned those words.

Paul - the man who guarded the cloaks of Stephen's executioners, the pharisee of pharisees who was determined to stamp out the followers of The Way, someone with the blood of at least one saint on his hands and perhaps culpable for more. And here he is saying there's no condemnation? How does he dare say such a thing?
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34-35
Paul made this declaration because he knows where he stands. He stands in Christ justified by God. He is not condemned because Someone else was condemned in his place. He didn't minimize what he had done. He didn't try to make up for it. He embraced the gospel with open arms and held on tight.

Let's fast forward to 2013. Is this declaration for you and me?

Now in the spirit of keeping it real, I debated about posting this because I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. The gospel occupies a lot of my thoughts, not because I'm a profound and brilliant theologian but because I need the truth every day. I am tempted to fall into legalism when I sin, which also happens every day. I know in my head that my only hope is what Christ Jesus did on my behalf, but I find myself wallowing as though I need to do something as payback. But the gospel doesn't need my wallowing. Only a pig needs a good wallow. If God has justified me in Christ, why on earth would I dispute that? Who would dare contradict or add to what God has done? Any takers?

Rather let's embrace the gospel with open arms and hold on tight. For then, we can stand with Paul and every believer on the basis of Christ's work and God's Word, which cannot lie, and say, "No condemnation!" 

[Note: This post is based largely on this sermon by my pastor Ryan Davidson on Job 26-31 in which he gave a powerful exposition of the gospel.]

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fighting for Your Girl's Spiritual Growth

Note: This post, originally found on Melissa's former blog, Breath of Life, is being recycled as part of the Fight Like a Girl Series. Other posts are found under the series tag.

As I look over the youth ministry landscape, I see a lot of events meant to entertain rather than educate. Ravi Zacharias, speaking of youth in the August 2012 issue of Tabletalk, said it well:  "Building their faith is not a prime strength in our churches today. We seem to think that we need to entertain them into the church. But what you win them with is often what you win them to."

Today's active youth group seems more focused on fellowship and service than discipleship. I don't discount the benefits of spending time with believers or our calling to serve others, but I question the profitability of a youth group that doesn't balance these activities with in-depth Bible study. 

Sadly, many churches shy away from such Bible study. Perhaps they fear they will scare kids away, or that it will be too much for them to handle.  I agree with Danny Aikin.
If our schools can teach our children chemistry and biology, physics and geology, algebra and geometry, political science and economics, then we can certainly teach them theology and apologetics, Christian ethics and philosophy.
Yet youth ministry seems to follow so many other ministries that promote quantity rather than quality. It's a mentality that seeks to keep us so busy that we don't notice what we're missing.

Parents cannot rely on the youth group as the sole source of our teen's spiritual nourishment. We must be actively involved in their theological education. However, the church also bears some responsibilities to its members, regardless of age (see Ephesians 4:11-16 and Matthew 28:19-20).

I believe our responsibilities to youth go beyond discipleship and equipping. In Titus 2, Paul instructs Titus of these additional responsibilities.  Women are charged to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,to be self-controlled, pure,working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (vv. 3-5) We cannot wait until girls are in their 20s before we begin teaching these concepts. Girls develop their ideas about dating and marriage while they are still teenagers. It is imperative that the older women in the church invest in the lives of teen girls to instruct them on Biblical womanhood.

Likewise, Paul instructs Titus that older men have a responsibility to train the young men. A boy needs to be instructed in Biblical manhood long before he can register to vote.

Teens need time dedicated to this instruction, apart from one another and the pressures of male/female relationships. Giving them this valuable time in a single-sex setting offers a safe environment where honest questions can be asked and forthright answers given. Ideally, such teaching will enhance and reinforce what is being taught at home; however, in many cases it will actually give youth vital instruction they aren't receiving from their parents.

Even though the concepts of Biblical manhood and womanhood may not draw the numbers churches might want, we cannot overlook the fact that the Holy Spirit compelled Paul to give Titus these guidelines for the Church. When youth ministries do not encourage teaching according to Titus 2, they shirk the responsibility of discipling participants and leave the future generations to reap the consequences.

Keep Fighting:

~Get involved with your church's youth ministry. Even if you don't teach, volunteer to help in some capacity.

~If your church isn't offering discipleship to teens, have a discussion with leadership about implementing such training.

~Don't wait for formal, scheduled discipleship. Take advantage of daily time with your girl; invite her to help you prepare a meal, instruct her in proper home keeping techniques, weave Biblical principles into your conversations.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Redemption: What Does It Mean?

This is the first post of a series of three on biblical redemption. At least that's what I have planned. Look for the next post in the series two weeks from now when it's my turn to post here again.

In him we have redemption through his blood....

What do you think of when you hear the word redemption? It isn't a word we use much except in a religious context. Sometimes people talk about redeeming coupons or bonds, but that usage is not as common as it once was. My mother may have redeemed her coupons and bonds; I use my coupons and cash in my bonds.

My dictionary defines redemption, used in the religious sense, as a synonym for salvation. But biblically, those are not exact synonyms. Yes, redemption is salvation, but it is salvation accomplished in a particular way.

Christians who lived when the New Testament was written would have understood the more precise meaning of redemption, because that's the way the word was used in their everyday language. For Greeks, to redeem meant, first, to buy back a prisoner of war by paying a ransom, but it was also used for other ways of freeing people. When a slave was set free, for instance, they might say he was redeemed, even when no money was exchanged.

Early Christian writers, with their Jewish backgrounds, would have understood how words of redemption were used in the Old Testament. When they read the Septuagint, they saw Greek words related to redemption used to translate certain Hebrew words describing the release of someone or something by the payment of a price. This Old Testament usage probably influenced their use of the word redemption even more than Greek cultural usage.

The idea of payment is not obvious every time redemption language is used in the Old Testament, because sometimes the language is used metaphorically. For instance, the text says God redeemed the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, but nowhere does it say that Pharoah received money or any other benefit from God in exchange for the Israelites' freedom. It wasn't really a business transaction, was it?

But as Leon Morris points out, there are a few intriguing phrases that accompany Old Testament mentions of God's redemption of the Israelites, phrases that show us that while it might not have been a redemption exchange, it was still, in some sense, a payment. God redeemed his people "with an outstretched arm" (Exodus 6:6, see also Psalm 77:15). It is God's might or power that's in view; God exerted his power on behalf of his people. 
. . .[B]ecause he loves his people he puts forth his power. He saves them at cost. It is this that gives the use of the redemption terminology its point. . . . The term may be used metaphorically but the metaphor retains its point. The idea of price-paying is not out of mind.1
You might say that God expended his power to deliver the Israelites from slavery. He used something of great value to free his people.

Against this Old Testament backdrop, early Christian writers and their readers would have understood that redemption meant "release by the payment of a price." It wasn't simply deliverance in general, but deliverance accomplished at cost to the one redeeming.

The New Testament tells us that believers have been redeemed "through [Christ's] blood," and that Christ gave "his life as a ransom" (Ransom is also redemption language.) Christ freed us by giving something of great value — his own life — in exchange for us.

In two weeks, I plan to follow this up with a post on what it is Christ freed us from. What does his redemption deliver us from?

1The Atonement: It's Meaning and Significance, Leon Morris, page 114. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why I Am Thankful for Common Grace

This year, my father will turn 76 years old and my mother will turn 71 years old.  According to Stats Canada, my father is just about to reach the average life expectancy for a man living in his geographical area.  My mother has had health issues of late, and I am mindful that they are not young anymore, and they won't live forever. Whenever I hang up the phone after talking to them, I am thankful for God's common grace.

What is common grace?  Is there more than one kind of grace?

Grace is a facet of God's character, and it manifests itself in different ways. This post does not attempt to highlight everything about common grace in all its ramifications. If you want to know more, do check our Rebecca's theological term page, especially the resources at the end of the definition of common grace.

Common grace is not saving grace.  Common grace is bestowed to everyone, regardless of whether or not he is redeemed.  It emanates from God's goodness, especially directed to his creation.  Wayne Grudem defines it this way:
The grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation.1
Michael Horton defines it this way:
God's bestowal of a variety of gifts and blessings on Christians and non-Christians alike, such as health, intelligence, friendship, vocation, family, government, art, science, etc.  Common grace upholds fallen humanity, but it is not saving.2
The word "common" refers to the very ordinary good things God gives us daily.  Psalm 145:9 tells us that "The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made" (emphasis mine).   God's common grace is seen abundantly through creation, how he upholds and sustains it.  Psalm 145 goes on:
The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works. (v.14-17)
Common grace manifests itself in many ways.  The beauty of the world is common grace.  Food to nourish us, beautiful music, literature, clean drinking water, warm homes in the winter, and the harvest in the fall are all evidences of common grace.  We could go on and on. We recognize that unbeliving people also enjoy these gifts from God daily. This is part of his goodness, but it is not saving grace.  It does not flow from the atonement, but rather, from his character.

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. suggests some further benefits of common grace:
Common grace curbs sin, it maintains moral order in the universe, it distributes gifts and talents among men.3
Another benefit of his common grace is in how it relates to sin.  As Johnson indicates, common grace restrains evil.  The world is not as bad as it could be. The conscience that lives within men and women is also part of common grace (Romans 1:19-20).  Authorities, governments, and rulers help restrain evil.  Living in a country with laws to protect people is common grace.

Another way common grace is seen in God's dealing with sin is the fact that God does not judge us immediately.  Adam and Eve, after they sinned, did not immediately die.  They did eventually experience physical death, but they were also allowed to live and enjoy the things that God created. In being given life rather than immediate judgment, we have the opportunity to hear the gospel and be converted.  By not judging us immediately, God extends grace. That the Lord tarries is not slowness, but grace. Second Peter 3:9 tells us:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
So, why, for the sake of my parents am I thankful for common grace?  My parents do not know the Lord, and they are both over seventy years of age.  Their continued good health is part of God's common grace extended to them. They have access to health care without fear of being turned away.  They have medication available to them when they do get sick.  They are retired, but have enough money to live on comfortably. 

I attend a church filled with many seniors.  I have seen and heard the health issues they have and the challenges that accompany them.  My parents have not had to deal with anything like that; things like heart disease, stroke, or cancer, the things that can kill.  When they have been sick, they have recovered.

God was gracious to them when I was a child.  Through God's grace, I had a home to live in, food to eat, protection, and love.  It was modest, but we were never hungry. I knew I was loved and cared for. His extension of common grace to them generated benefits that I shared in even before I was redeemed.

And now, God continues to extend grace.  There is still time for my parents to come to know Him.  Every day God gives them is another opportunity for them to respond to the gospel.  It isn't easy to be a witness to them, because they live across the country, but there are still opportunities.  It is a challenge to me, knowing that God continues to demonstrate this grace; a challenge to find ways to be a witness.

If you have unbelieving family members, thank God for his common grace.  When you share your faith with them tell them this undeniable truth:  God is good to you, but He's good to them, too.

_________________________________

1.  Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, p. 481
2.  Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, p. 992
3.  S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., The Doctrine of Common Grace

Monday, February 4, 2013

Caring for Our Bodies for the Glory of God

When it comes to our children, mothers learn early the connection between our kids’ physical health and their emotions. Anyone who has dealt with a tired, hungry, or sick child knows how much those things affect children’s moods. Often, however, we tend to forget those things for ourselves.

Several months ago I went through a season where several stressful events happened in rapid succession. It wasn’t so much the amount of turmoil each one brought, but the pace that nearly did me in. Just as I was catching my breath, something else was popping up that I needed to deal with. When the storm clouds cleared, I found I wanted to do little more than sleep.

I realize now that much of my problem was how I had been neglecting my physical health. It eventually became a negative feedback loop. I felt rushed and stressed, so went without sleep. In my fatigue, I found myself reaching for food that was quick and easy. My poor diet made me feel even worse, and the cycle continued. These things didn't phase me when I was twenty, but things are different now.

We tend to fall into two extremes when it comes to our bodies. Sometimes we become obsessed with our health, mostly because of our appearance. Healthy eating becomes our functional god and a source of pride. But we also can find ourselves going to the other extreme. We neglect our bodies and tell ourselves that it’s really just the spiritual that matters.

Scripture, though, never tells us it’s okay to neglect our bodies. Instead, we are to care for our bodies. In God’s common grace, we understand that getting enough rest and eating healthfully affects our moods, emotions, and energy levels.

Now that I’ve gotten a better handle on what I’m eating, my entire outlook has changed. I no longer get up in the morning feeling groggy and sluggish. I’m sleeping better at night. I’m able to work more efficiently during the day. In other words, I’m better able to serve God and bring glory to him, whether it’s mopping the floor or teaching Sunday School.

I realize some women have health issues that are completely out of their control. If you are such a woman, you need to rest in God’s sovereignty and understand that he has a purpose for you in a season of illness. But many of us could be doing better. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made. Let’s be mindful of how we care for our bodies as we offer ourselves up for the Lord’s service.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I am saved, glory to God!

Most of us are familiar with the Biblical account of Moses before Pharaoh, the ensuing plagues, and the miraculous exodus of two million Israelite slaves. As we consider Moses' plea to Pharaoh we often picture in our mind the Charlton Heston film version with the dramatic demand to "let my people go!"

It was a rather audacious command. The children of Israel had suffered cruel bondage for hundreds of years as well as the horror of infanticide. Truly it was a desperate, helpless, horrible time to be God's chosen people. Even as they cried out to the Lord in their suffering they must have surely wondered if He saw their afflictions or heard their cries. Exodus 2:23-25 tells us He did see and He did hear and He remembered His promise. In Exodus 3 He meets with Moses at the burning bush and makes the following promises:

I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt...I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain. (Ex. 3:7-12)

So Moses and his brother Aaron go before Pharaoh and demand he let the people go. Not only that but Moses is clear that Pharaoh is to let the Lord's people go so that they may serve Him. Consider the following:

The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness. (Ex. 7:16)  
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Ex.8:1)  
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Ex. 8:20) 

Exodus 9:1, 9:13, 10:3, and 10:7 all repeat the familiar refrain: "Let my people go, that they may serve me."

Think on this: mere freedom from bondage is not the Lord's purpose. Yes, He will redeem His people with mighty wonders and an outstretched arm, but He does not do so for their sake alone. The children of Israel were saved to worship. The Lord sovereignly works in the Exodus to save a people not just because they need saving--and they desperately do--but He does so to set apart a people for Himself, for His own glory.

In The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made Mark Dever writes "Exodus directly challenges the idea that God does everything for humanity’s sake. Human are not the ultimate purpose of creation. God’s own glory is!"

Hello, it wasn't about the Israelites. It's not about you. And it's not about me. WE are not the ultimate purpose!

We see this same truth in the New Testament. In fact the Exodus of the Old Testament provides a striking picture of the spiritual exodus proclaimed in the New Testament. Apart from Christ we are in bondage, slaves to sin, and desperately unable to save ourselves from the cruel oppression and condemnation of sin. Yet the Lord sent a deliverer, His Son, Jesus, and when the Son has set you free, you are free indeed!

But it is not only our freedom at the heart of the Lord's purpose to save. There are benefits aplenty inherent in belonging to Christ--yes and amen--but we are not saved for ourselves. We are saved to the Lord, for His glory. The theme of Exodus is the theme of the Bible, Old and New: the Lord redeeming a people for Himself and for His glory. We see this truth beautifully expressed in Ephesians 1:3-6,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Paul, the author of Ephesians, continues the thought by reminding his readers that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory...sealed with the promised Holy Spirit...to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:12-14).

I was once a part of a Bible study that encouraged participants to recite who they were in Christ based on Ephesians 1: adopted, redeemed, forgiven, chosen, and so on. It is a good exercise to remember my identity in Christ, indeed it is, so long as I also remember it is not for my sake alone I am adopted but to the praise of His glorious grace. I am not only forgiven because my sin is heinous and horrible and I need forgiving--it is and I am--but also so I will praise and worship and serve the Forgiver.

Dever continues his thoughts on Exodus,
According to Exodus, God sovereignly saves a special people for his own glory. That is why God brought the Israelites through the circumstances in their lives, and that is why he brings you through the circumstances of your life too. You are not dead yet. The story of your life is not over. You could be at the same time in your life that the Israelites were as they toiled away in that year before Moses came. Do not give up hope! Do not give up faith in the promises God has spoken. [May] you too learn to fear him alone and to serve and love him alone—not to your glory and fame, but to his. His glory was seen in the Exodus; it is shown even more clearly in Christ; and today it is displayed in the lives of his people. What a responsibility! What a privilege! Why else would we live?
Why else indeed? I am saved, glory to God!