Friday, March 29, 2013

Remember and worship

The Easters of my growing up years are some of my happiest memories. Several weeks before Easter Sunday we would go to the fabric store, first perusing the pattern books, marking the pages of the dresses we liked with a torn slip of paper (this before the wonder that is the post it note). After looking at the McCall, Butterick, and Vogue books, we would then attempt to narrow down our favorites, finally choosing just the perfect one.

We would then walk up and down row after row of fabric, unrolling bolts, cutting swatches, comparing favorites until just the right fabric was chosen. From fabric to thread, buttons and zipper and then home where my mom would get busy cutting and sewing and hemming, thus creating our custom, one of a kind, made to order Easter dresses.

My mom is incredibly talented, no doubt about it.

I also remember Easter lunch, consisting of ham and variety of sides but always, always potato salad. Sadly enough, this is a tradition I am unable to continue in my own home. The ham, yes; potato salad, no. My husband considers eggs and mayonnaise, and particularly the combination thereof, grounds for divorce.

You think I kid.

Egg hunts are another favorite memory, and not the big corporate church hunts, but hunts at our home, in our backyard and sometimes in the den. Our hunting fun took on a variety of forms: my dad hiding the eggs, me and my sister hunting. Me hiding, my sister hunting. My sister hiding, me hunting. Me and my sister hiding for my brother to hunt. You get the idea. We never tired of it, at least not in my memory.

One Easter we came downstairs and our baskets were hidden! Another year the Easter bunny, that trickster, hid our eggs himself while we were sleeping. Because of the aforementioned love of the hunt, we knew exactly how many eggs were to be found but we never did find them all that day. It was a great curiosity to us as to where and when the rogue egg would show up...

Thankfully, we hunted the plastic egg and not the hard boiled variety.

When I was a young girl, maybe 8 or 10, I remember us watching one of the Jesus movies while seated on the floor in front of my grandmother's console tv. Then, as now, I had loved Jesus for as long as I could remember and certainly knew the details of the Easter story. That year something happened to my heart as the depiction of the crucifixion scene reached its climax: my heart, it broke. I wept inconsolably and rushed from the room.

I couldn't bear it.

Suddenly the story was more than a story. I knew in the deepest part of me that it was true and the awfulness of its truth overwhelmed me.

My mom followed me into the bedroom, assuring me, comforting me, coaxing me back to the movie, to see that the ending is good, Jesus lives, it's not the end, not yet.

Many years later I sat in a darkened movie theater and cried again as I hid my eyes from the terror of the cross as depicted in a motion picture. The ending was good, Jesus lives, but, oh my word, the cross...the blood...I couldn't bear it.

Every Easter I ponder the unimaginable horror that is the cross as well as its incomprehensible grace. My wickedness, Christ's mercy. My depravity, His forgiveness. Did ever such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown? He redeemed me by His blood; He bought me with a terrible price. I am His. He is mine.

See how He loves us? While we were yet sinners Christ died! Behold the cross of Christ! See your sin and your utter depravity. See His mercy and His grace.

I think of my heart breaking as a young girl before the horror of the crucifixion and I ask that I not forget. I want to remember and worship the glory of my Lord Jesus as revealed in His cruel death and His glorious resurrection. This Easter Sunday. On Monday. On Tuesday. On every day. From now through eternity.

My prayer is that you too would remember...and worship...with hearts broken before the grace and mercy of a holy God. He alone is worthy!
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Cor. 4:6 
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor. 5:21
He is risen! He lives! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Author's note: This post is based on a post originally published at my personal blog in April, 2009.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When the Bubble Bursts

God never promised His children an easy life. Jesus told his disciples "In the world you will have tribulation." (John 16:33) not to mention the numerous scriptures on suffering in the Christian life. It seems easier to accept this reality when we're a bit older. We've seen more of the world and had a taste of affliction.We've learned to trust God in the hard times, grown stronger through the struggles, and endured by the grace of God. But what about our children?

Like normal moms, we love our kids. We want them to grow up strong in body, mind, and the Lord. We want them to be happy and healthy. I don't think these are sinful desires or a sign that we've bought into the prosperity gospel, but you know as well as I that we can't keep them in a safe little bubble forever. They will feel the affects of sin just like the rest of us. If they have come to faith in Christ, they will not be exempt from the suffering of the people of God. So if we can't protect them, perhaps God will intervene. The situation will be reversed and it will be a win-win for everybody. The trial will end, and God will get the glory. But sometimes our prayers are answered very differently. He chooses to glorify Himself in their perseverance instead of their deliverance.

This is harder to watch than going through yourself. My natural instinct is to step in and save my daughter from those heart-level hurts, but I can't shield her from hard providences. God loves her too well to let her rest on her mom's faith. I can tell her of my Ebenezers, but He wants her to plant her own and say, "hitherto the Lord has helped me." (1 Sam. 7:12) Lessons about His goodness, sovereignty, and unfailing love can't be learned by osmosis but can only be learned firsthand and often in the valley. But don't we want our children to say, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you." (Job 42:5)?

So I will still pray with her, for her, and strive to give godly practical counsel. I will point her to what God has said about Himself in His Word. But I'm learning to let go and entrust her in greater ways to her Father's care. I'm just her mom and her sister-in-Christ. I'm not supposed to be her savior. She already has one, and His name is Jesus. 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.1 Peter 1:3-9

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fighting for Your Girl's Modesty: Part I

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

...we have become desensitized to modesty as a culture. Modesty is seen as the rough equivalent of prudishness, and who wants to be a prude? Our culture is naked and brash and boastful and unashamed, and when you see enough skin and hear enough bragging, it all turns into white noise. In a culture of immodesty, immodesty becomes normal."
~R. W. Glenn and Tim Challies

Clothes shopping with my girl makes me cringe. Not so much because we battle over what she wants to wear (thank you, Lord). The bigger challenge is finding attire that is appropriate yet "cool". Teen clothing stores don't subscribe to the concept of modesty. Sadly, our culture doesn't demand it of them.

Open a teen magazine, walk down the beach, tune in to a prime time television show, or scroll through your girl's Facebook feed.  You will certainly find girls in garb that can scarcely be considered an outfit. They're posing for the camera, flaunting their bodies without the first thought of any potential repercussions.

If you have a tween or teen girl, you've most likely had discussions - maybe even heated arguments - about modest clothing. Perhaps you're frustrated with her response or her willingness to set aside modesty in order to be fashion-forward. Don't give up! Realize that, as with most sins, the outward manifestations (immodest clothing) are revealing a heart condition. Our girls are sinners living in a sinful world. It is our responsibility to instruct them in the truths of the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts.

This is not a subject that can be easily addressed in one blog post. For the next few times we meet, I'll be discussing different aspects of modesty and practical applications. In the meantime, it is imperative that we start by looking at our girls' hearts - and our own.

Keep Fighting:
~Start by reading Romans 12:1-2 with your girl. Discuss what ideas about clothing you may need to sacrifice in order to present yourselves to God. How can you make certain your clothing choices don't merely conform to this world, but honor God.
~Over the next two weeks, read the following Scriptures on your own, and then with your girl: Proverbs 31:25, Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 6:11, and  1 Peter 3:3-4. Discuss them in depth. Pray together for God's grace to make these things your "clothing".

Friday, March 22, 2013

Experiencing the Resurrection

We're approaching Easter — or as some prefer to call it, Resurrection Sunday — and I've been thinking, once again, about the resurrection of Jesus. His resurrection is like a giant billboard proclaiming that he is God's powerful reigning Son (Romans 1:3-4) who has the authority to judge everyone (Acts 17:30-31). Christ's resurrection is a loud pronouncement that he is Lord of all.

But to those who believe in him, Jesus's resurrection is more than a message about who he is. Because believers are united to Christ, they experience resurrection, too.

Those who belong to Christ will experience resurrected life when he comes again. 
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
In the same way being included with Adam brought death, belonging to Christ brings resurrection. It will happen when Christ comes again — after death for believers who die before he comes, and without dying for those who are still alive. Christ's present resurrected life is a promise to those who belong to Him that when he returns they will be brought with him into resurrected life.

Christ's resurrection was a resurrection of his body; so, too, the resurrection of believers. Paul tells us that the kind of body Christ had when he walked the earth after he rose again, and with which he ascended and is now ruling from heaven, is the same kind of body those who believe will have when they are raised at His coming.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:42-49)
Our resurrected bodies will be reproductions of the one the "man of heaven" has. Just as our identification with Adam brought us perishable bodies, our identification with Christ in his resurrection will bring us imperishable ones.

I love this truth more now than I did fifteen years ago because I know from experience how much I need an imperishable body. I have loved ones whose bodies have already perished, and I am reminded daily that mine is in the process of perishing. The annoyances that come as my physical abilities decrease with age have taught me the value of the body. To live life fully, we need to touch, to walk, to work, to hear and to see; yet we live in perishable bodies, bodies that begin to lose these abilities, and bodies that will die.

But there is hope in the resurrection of Christ. Those who belong to him will one day have imperishable bodies just like his, bodies that do not decay or age or die. There is no downhill slide with glorified bodies; they don't even catch common colds! What a glorious day it will be when believers are all raised with incorruptible bodies to live forever with the One who takes them with him in his resurrection!

Those who belong to Christ experience resurrected life already.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . . (Ephesians 2:4-6)
The resurrected life that comes into completeness at glorification when believers receive resurrection bodies is already here, right now, within us. Believers have been made alive together with Christ and a new kind of life has begun — a recreated spiritual life:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 
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. (Romans 6:4-5)   
This new life is grounded in our union with Christ's resurrection. Because we are in Christ, we are new creation. We have already begun lives in the realm of the resurrection. Sin no longer has dominion over us: The old things have passed away and the new things have come. This changed life — the life of the Spirit — comes to us because we have been raised with Christ.

Based on our new reality, we are called to live a new kind of life.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. . . . 
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . . (Colossians 3:1-3, 5a)
Paul urges us to put aside the things we once loved as the old kind of person we once were. We are called to have new passions,  to seek heavenly things. Those who are raised to new life in Christ really can "put to death what is earthly," because the power of the resurrection, the power of new spiritual life, the power of life in the Spirit, belongs to those who belong to the resurrected Christ.

If you are a believer, then there is no reason for sin to defeat you as you work out the victory over sin that has already become reality in Christ's resurrection, a victory that will come to its consummation when you are raised with him when he comes again.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What is apologetics, and why should I care?

Why do we believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven?  How do I answer the question of a Muslim, who believes in Jesus as prophet, but not the Son of God? What do I say when I witness to someone and she responds immediately with "I don't believe in God"?  How do we answer these questions?

Apologetics is the field of study which helps us with such questions. An apologetic is a reasoned defense for a belief. Christian aplogetics is the defense as to why we as Christians believe what we do.

Why should this matter to me as a woman?  Isn't that something just for pastors and theologians?  No, it isn't.  At least, it shouldn't be.  As Christians, we are all called to be able to give an answer for the hope that lies in us (I Peter 3:13-15).  It isn't enough to say "I believe this because I had a conversion experience." We must be able to articulate our reasons for why we believe.  Recently, I read a book which addresses this issue as it relates specifically to women.  Defending the Faith is written by Mary Jo Sharp, who is Assistant Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University.

We all have moments of doubt.  Doubt is not wrong; but we must not stay there. A woman who can address her doubts will have a very strong foundation. Sharp encourages women to know why they believe, how they have arrived at that belief, and from where their source of knowledge comes.  The first part of the book is an explanation of why she believes apologetics are necessary, and the second half provides some practical things we can do, including an excellent section about how to ask questions of people about their beliefs, and to listen as well.

The most compelling part of this book is Sharp's reminder that our beliefs are an issue of heart and mind, so a life of the mind is essential.  Sharp says:
Women can only live accordingly to what they truly believe, so to experience transformation, we must attend to the life of the mind with a renewed passion.
She continues:
Instead of digging deep into our theological and philosophical questions, we may be living out a bogus belief in Jesus that is all about personal comfort and peace.  It is not the truth about reality. If we want women's ministries to be effectual in aiding the transformation of people's lives, we must address some hard, fundamental issues.  This means we will have to stop behaving as though God exists to meet our emotional needs and personal goals, and to get serious about nourishing our minds and affirming that we exist to learn the truth about Him so that we can live for His glory.
One thing I experienced with my daughter as a young adult was questions I couldn't answer.  Young people are smart, and as more and more women enter into upper levels of education, including graduate studies, they, too will face difficult questions. As women, teaching our children how to defend their faith is part of our role as mothers. For those who don't have children, there are young women who could benefit from your help.

There is more than one approach to apologetics.  I refer you to Rebecca's Theological Term page, where you can read about two approaches, presuppositional apologetics and evidential apologetics. Judging from the generous list of resources that Sharp includes at the end of the book, she would not lean toward the presuppsitional view.  If you are someone who does, however, you can still benefit from her book.  This is not a book to train someone in apologetic methods per se, but rather an apologetic of its own, for the need to include apologetics in women's ministry. If you have no idea which approach you subscribe to, this is a good time to look into that.

If you are interested in other reading, Sarah Flashing of the  Center for Women of Faith in Culture,  in her book Preparing to Women to Walk Worthy of the Call (another good book), recommends Every Thought Captive for an introductory book.  Two books I have read on the subject are Reasons We Believe, by Nathan Busenitz, and Always Ready by Greg Bahnsen.  Bahnsen's book is not introductory, and is not a light read, but worth the effort, I think.

For the mother of young children who finds it difficult to get bible reading completed in the course of the day, the idea of pursuing the study of apologetics could seem overwhelming. This is where I see older women who have more time stepping up to help teach younger women.  Perhaps a weekly or bi-weekly study time to learn these things. There are times and seasons for us as women, and for those who have the opportunity to learn, being able to articulate why we believe can only help us be better witnesses for Christ.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dying to Myself

It was one of those days, and it was happening in the middle of one of those years. We were exhausted and under a tremendous amount of stress. My husband said something that got under my skin. This wasn’t due to him so much as, you know, it being one of those years.

And there, right into my head, came the perfect comeback. The phrase that would show him how hurt and tired and stressed I was. It would remind him he wasn’t the only one being worn a little thin by life.

But before I said it, I was convicted it would be hurtful and wrong. (Usually I’m not convicted until after I’ve already spoken—that’s part of what makes this story memorable.) So I shut my mouth and continued to empty the dishwasher. My husband went on to work, never realizing what a paragon of self-control I had just been. No witnesses were there to see it (until now that I’m blogging about it. Don’t think I’ve missed the irony in blogging about humility.)

Jesus said we have to die to ourselves to follow him (Mark 8:34-37). Sometimes it’s dramatic. Sometimes it comes at great cost, and sometimes people are encouraged. Most of the time, though, we die to ourselves quite privately. So privately, in fact, that even those closest to us don’t know. We die to ourselves by keeping our mouths shut, forgiving others when they slight us, and moving on.

I don’t remember the details of that morning. That perfect comeback is lost forever. And I have failed to keep my mouth shut a thousand times since then. It’s a process, and I’m a work in progress. For some of us, the big, dramatic occasions to bring God glory will come. But even if they don’t, we have a thousand little chances to try to get it right.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The world at my doorstep

Today I wrote a check and popped it in the mail (yes, snail mail, if you can believe it). A friend of mine, one of my Bible study girlfriends, is making preparations to head back to the mission field. She and her husband are in transition at the moment, spending these last few months stateside raising funds for their new assignment. As I write the check I can't help but be grateful both for her eager obedience but also for the ability to offer some financial support, however small. Our gift is an investment in the kingdom and my husband and I are glad for the privilege.

We, along with our church, support several missionary families serving the Lord overseas, some of them in parts of the world considered risky, maybe even dangerous, some in areas that regularly make the evening newscast. We not only send our money but we also pray for them, our friends and partners in the gospel. At many a Wednesday night prayer meeting we as a church ask the Lord to grant them boldness and courage as they take the good news of Jesus to the far corners of the planet. We speak of their exploits, as well as their challenges, with a kind of reverent amazement and we boast in the Lord's faithfulness to call and to send and to save. They are real believers, it seems to me, as I compare my comfortable timidity to their courageous sacrifice.

I have a friend here, a mom like me, someone I admire very much and not just because she is smart and funny and gregarious and able to make everyone feel as if they are her very best friend (and they probably are). I certainly do admire her for all of those things (that I am not) but I think I admire her most because she has a circle of friends who are not Christians but who unequivocally know she is and yet they remain the very best and truest of friends. She will laugh at herself and say perhaps she argues a little too much but the truth of the matter is that there's a reason they know exactly what she believes: she tells them. Not just once in some sort of awkward "now sit down and be quiet and let me ask you about what would happen if you died tonight" sort of conversation. No, she speaks the gospel into their lives with courage and compassion. And, yes, maybe she even argues with them a little. Her faith is clearly defined and lived and told.

I think of my missionary friends and how fervently we pray for both boldness and opportunity for them but how little I ask for or seek such opportunities for myself. If I am honest I must admit I am quick to think of the gospel as for the world: Yes, Lord, please help my missionary friends and yes, please, save the people groups they serve, the Muslims in the Middle East and the college students in the former Soviet bloc and those in the jungles of South America who have never heard of You--save them for Your glory and Your kingdom! When I pray for the world I ask for a great harvest for the kingdom and I believe the Lord can and will use these missionaries, my heroic and hopeful friends, to make the kind of difference there, in their mission field, that will ripple throughout eternity.

In this I am correct. The gospel is for the world, yes, indeed. My missionary friends will tell you the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. Our praying and giving and going are important, critical, to the advancement of the kingdom of Christ.

But sometimes I forget the gospel is for car lines and soccer games and play groups and neighbors across the street. In other words, my world. The good news that Jesus saves sinners is for me, praise be to God; it's also for the world across the oceans as well as the world at my doorstep. The harvest is plentiful here too. We who believe on the Lord Jesus each have a mission and a message and an opportunity, no matter our address. Our courage to go and tell is just as critical and as necessary, even if we are only going across town.

I am a wimp, I told you, a comfortable and timid wimp. How I want the boldness of my friends! How I want a faith that is clearly lived and told! Maybe I won't take the gospel to the nations but I can take it to the pregnancy center and to the bank and to my son's soccer game and to Bible study and to wherever else I go, whatever it is I find to do. Here am I, Lord. Send me.

What about you? Are you a bold witness like my friend? Or would you say you're like me, timid and comfortably so? Do you find it easy to speak of the gospel with friends who do not believe? What encourages you to be generous with the good news? How can we learn to be bold in our testimony of Lord's saving grace?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Words and The Word

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11

I've been thinking about my words, both written and spoken. My pastor recently completed a sermon series on Job. Although I had read the book several times before, I winced when I listened to the advice from Job's would-be comforters. They probably meant well. They probably wanted to help him see the light. But boy were they insensitive and clueless. They also have the distinction of having their counsel preserved on the pages of the Bible as a glaring example of words un-fitly spoken.

Since those sermons, I've had a harder time writing because there's a new awareness of the weight of my words no matter how little my sphere of influence. Have I inadvertently torn down rather than built up? Caused confusion rather than conveyed truth? Have my words been more about me, myself, and I or about Christ? And have they been about the Christ revealed in the Word of God or a "Christ" defined by my experience?

As I've prayed and pondered, there's been conviction but encouragement as well. Forgiveness is available not only for sins of thought and deed but for every careless and idle word. Thank God that "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."(1 John 1:9)

Given that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34), the best way to guard what comes out is to be careful of what goes in, and what is better than consistently feeding on the Scriptures? But the point of this diet is more than becoming a Bible Answer Ma'am™. The Holy Spirit uses the words He has authored to transform the source of our words - the mind and heart. His Word has the power to dismantle our excuses, expose our motives, and discern our thoughts and intentions (Heb. 4:12). His Word enlightens our ignorance and is "able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim. 3:15). And by grace, our words can give grace to those who hear. (Eph. 4:29)

So my prayer is...
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! Psalm 119:10-12
Believing that...
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 
The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple. Psalm 119:130 KJV 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fighting to Make Your Girl a Priority

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

Her name jumped off the sign up sheet. The pencil marks bold, as if written in black permanent ink IN ALL CAPS and highlighted for good measure.  I knew she wanted to go.  We'd talked about her going.  Somehow, I wasn't quite ready to see my girl's name on that sheet, in her own handwriting.  Only 11, yet she'd taken the plunge and signed up to go on a mission trip without her parents.

The previous summer, she'd cried as I left for 10 days in Peru. This time, I'd be the one in the parking lot waving goodbye, crying on my husband's shoulder as our girl journeyed across the state to minister in Jesus' name.

God had orchestrated in my daughter that, a few short months earlier, I would not have thought possible.  I am humbled and grateful that He used me as one of many instruments in that process. Her first year of middle school was filled with adjustments.  Drama weighed heavily on her large group of friends, straining some bonds and severing others.  I was distraught.  I complained.  I attempted to control.  I wanted my daughter to have strong friendships with Christian girls, not stormy relationships with drama queens.

I felt the Spirit nudging me.  What are you willing to do about it?

Realizing I needed to be more proactive, I broached the subject of a group Bible study.  An only child, my girl loved the idea of having her friends over every week.  I carefully selected the material and the other girls who would participate.  We spent the next few weeks learning how to find and to be a godly friend.  I watched these girls, apart from the pressure of their larger social circle. Gone were the quiet, perfect "company" manners.  They openly discussed the pitfalls of being a tween girl.  They entrusted me with their fears, spoke their hearts, and listened intently as I shared my testimony.  What surprised me most of all was my daughter's boldness, her willingness to confess her sin in the presence of her friends and to share what God was teaching her.  Listening to my child bare her soul, not caring if there were any ramifications, took my breath away.

And to think, I could have missed it. 

Throughout my daughter's life, she'd heard me talk about teaching youth and adults in Sunday School.  She'd seen me invite women into my home for Bible study.  I am ashamed that, until her 6th grade year, she'd never been the focus of my ministry to women. I'd allowed the popular notion of women's ministry - and my own desire for a thriving, important ministry - to decide to whom I would minister.  As a result, I neglected the calling on my life to mentor this young woman in my home.  She, the one female I am charged to minister to, care for, love and teach the most.  I needed to make a change. It was time to fight for my girl.

I decided to minister to my daughter by being available to listen and pray.  To laugh and cry. To give advice.  To cover wounds with the balm of soothing truth.

I vowed to teach my daughter how to be a godly wife and mother.  A woman who knows how to make wise choices.  A woman who understands her need for Jesus above all else.

I determined to disciple my daughter by demonstrating what it means to be a woman of prayer and of the Word.

I committed to lead by example.

Nearly three years later, my girl and I have a much stronger relationship. It's not perfect. We have our differences. On any given day, we might drive each other crazy. Yet deep down, I know she's aware that she's the most important female relationship in my life. She knows that even though I fight with her sometimes, I fight for her all the time.
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
~ Deut. 6:5-7 (ESV)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Redemption: How Does Redemption Change Things for Us?

We've defined redemption (It's deliverance by the payment of a price.), and thought about what it is Christ delivers sinners from (There are three things, at least: bondage to sin, bondage to Satan, and a death sentence). That sinners are redeemed changes everything for them, and that's what we'll look at in this last post of the redemption series. What is the new state of those who have been redeemed by Christ?

The Redeemed Are Free
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV) 
Those who have been redeemed were not redeemed just to go back into bondage to another form of slavery. If you have been redeemed, then you are truly free. Paul warns us, then, to be careful to guard our freedom. In the context of the book of Galatians, the slavery Paul warned against is bondage to the law, but the principle in this verse can be applied to any system of rules or regulations to which we might obligate ourselves. Leon Morris warns:
It is one of the curious things in life that Christians have all too often neglected this . . . . Again and again it is not liberty in Christ which has characerized believers, but strict conformity to some new rule they have made or found. This may involve a rigorous asceticism or the firm conviction that the way forward is by the observance of some sacramental discipline or the like.1
The heart of the spiritual life of the redeemed is not rule keeping, because the redeemed are free. We are defined by Spirit-worked faith which produces love for God and love for other people, not obedience to regulations.

This doesn't mean we have licentious freedom. Licentiousness, after all, is just an outward expression of bondage to sin, something we left behind when we were redeemed. No, the freedom we have results in Spirit-worked obedience; it produces fruit, the fruit of the Spirit. Redemptive freedom is true freedom, but it’s also a freedom that is, in another sense, quite demanding. That’s why we find the state of the redeemed person described in another way, too.

The Redeemed Are Christ’s Slaves 
Romans 6:22 tells us that the redeemed have been “set free from sin and have become slaves of God”. We are freed for freedom, yet freed to be slaves of God. It's intriguing paradox, especially as expressed in 1 Corinthians:
For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. [23] You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:22-23 ESV)
As redeemed people we are both freedmen and slaves—Christ's slaves. We are bought with a price, so we should remain free; we are bought with a price, so we belong to God and should serve him.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV)
That the redeemed are bought with a price sets us free from slavish obligation to the law, but at the same time it obligates us to shun immoral behaviour and glorify God instead. 

Putting It Together
How is it that we are, on the one hand, free people, and on the other, Christ's slaves? Somehow, being a slave of Christ is equivalent to being truly free. Perhaps it's because being Christ's slave is what frees us from sin's power over us. Belonging to Christ means being controlled by the Spirit rather than "the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience." Maybe we are free because in the new life of the Spirit we obey our master from the heart. Maybe real freedom is obeying because we love the one who redeemed us and owns us.

The bottom line is that the redeemed are delivered to a life of freedom and, at the same time, delivered to a life of service to Christ.

1 Leon Morris, The Atonement: It's Meaning and Significance, page 126.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Getting into the Word

This past weekend, I was blessed to spend the weekend with two of the ladies here from Out of the Ordinary.  Persis and Melissa and I, along with some other wonderful sisters, met for a weekend of fellowship, fun and food.

Amid much conversation (there were eight women; you can imagine!), we repeatedly went back to the reality of how much we need Scripture. As we reflected on our challenges, joys, and biblical roles, the consensus was that we desperately need the Word of God.

In keeping with that, I thought I would share some of my favourite resources for bible study. While prepared bible studies are good, sometimes we must come to the word without them, and read on our own; study on our own.  Here are some things that I have found useful.

The ESV Study Bible.  If you don't like the ESV, you can still benefit greatly from the articles and study notes.  Each book of the bible has an outline and introduction that is useful for providing a bit of an overview before reading.  Yes, it is big, and no, you may not want to carry it around, but it's a good resource.  You can also access it online.

Reading the Bible For All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.  What I like about this book is that the authors deal very thoroughly with the genres of biblical literature.  While there are general principles for all genres of study, there are differences from one to the other which we must take into account.  They aslo emphasize the importance of authorial intent.  What was the author's purpose for writing?  They actually go through bible passages to demonstrate their  principles.

Bible Study:  Following the Ways of the Word, Kathleen Buswell Nielson.  This is an excellent book if you're new to study, and you only want to buy one book.  She, too, discusses genres of literature.  Her seven questions to ask the text is my favourite part of the book.  She also emphasizes why we study, what the Word is, and what the implications are.

40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, Robert L. Plummer.  Each chapter of this book addresses a particular question about biblical interpretation.  It focuses on general questions such as "Why is biblical interpretation important?" to more specific questions like "How Do We Interpret Proverbs?" and "Is the Bible Really All About Jesus?"  Each chapter finishes with questions for application and understanding, and suggested resources for further study.  Books that provide further reading suggestions are always big winners with me.

The Message of the Old Testament, Mark Dever.  I really like this volume.  I know there is one for the New Testament as well, but I haven't got it yet.  Dever provides an overview of the themes and topics found in all of the Old Testament books.  It is done in a very pastoral way.  Technical commentaries have their place, but biblical teaching from this perspective is also beneficial.  I hope to get the New Testament volume at some point.

An Introduction to the New Testament, Douglas Moo and D.A. Carson, Editors.  This is a more advanced, more technical approach to introductory work than is Dever's.  I like this book for setting the context and discussing possible interpretive issues, but it definitely has a text book feel, so if that's not something you're looking for, don't buy it.

Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem.  If you don't want a big, fat book on your shelf, Grudem's Bible Doctrine is a condensed version of this.  This book is useful for definitions.  There is a glossary in the back which directs the reader to the relevant sections in the book.  When we come across bible terms such as sanctification, propitiation, mercy, grace, or whatever, it is always helpful to find clarification.   Bible Doctrine is intended for study use, and has excellent questions for discussion for the student who wants to explore something further.

The Let's Study series, by Banner of Truth.  These excellent little books are like commentary and study guides in one.  There is explanation in them, but there are also good questions to generate study.  I think an individual could use these to help her go through a book of the bible on her own if she didn't have someone to study with. I'm using them for reading Galatians and I John.

Concordances.  I use the ESV, so I use the Crossway Concordance of the Holy Bible, by William Mounce.  It is a very thorough volume.  Whatever your version of the bible, find a concordance to help you see how the words you are studying are used in other sections of the bible.

Recommended Commentary page at Ligonier.  Ligonier has a page where commentary recommendations are given for every book of the bible.  There are some technical recommendations, but they always give something that is for a general reader.  I have found their recommendations to be very good.  A new series of commentaries, The Reformed Expository Commentary series by P&R, edited by Dan Doriani are really good from the ones I have seen.  I have volumes on Acts and Matthew.  Dale Ralph Davis is an Old Testament commentator who writes very readable books.  They are not cumbersome, but are edifying and helpful.  I have his commentary on Joshua, and I found it really helpful.  Commentaries are not only good for explaining things to us, but by reading them, we can learn how to interpret from someone who is a scholar and knows his material well.

Two resources I hope to comment on in the future are Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach, and and D.A. Carson's Exegetical Fallacies.

Of course, there is bible software like Logos to help, but I don't know much about those at this point.  One certainly doesn't need a huge array of resources, but it is good to gather materials to help us study God's Word, because it will be an ongoing process as we grow in our faith.  You don't need to buy everything, but it is at the very least good to have some guidance as how to study and interpret Scripture.  We all interpret even if we are not aware of it.  The moment we ask ourselves how to apply something, we are interpreting, because we can't apply devoid of meaning.  Basic skills to study are useful, and will help us for years to come.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Renee of France giveaway winners

Congratulations to Elaine W. and Maria D for winning the two copies of Renee of France by Simonetta Carr! Thanks to everyone for their interest in the giveaway.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Grieving With Hope

Saturday we made a quick trip to my hometown. On the way there, I was telling Todd about going to my grandma’s house. She always met us on the front porch. Clapping her hands together she would say, “How’s Grandma’s girl?”

Tears pricked my eyes as I told him. She’s been gone three years now. The memory of those last years, when age ravaged her body and robbed her of her memories, has faded. Now I remember her as she was, that wonderful woman who remained vigorous and vibrant past the age of 90. I think that’s part of why I miss her now more than ever.

My grandma was no stranger to tragedy. She lost her father when she almost sixteen, just before the Great Depression. In one of the last lucid conversations I had with her, she told me of the death of her 18-month-old brother. She described how her father had gone to town in the wagon to get the casket. The casket was so small that it fit on the wagon floor next to his feet.

She was not yet four when this happened, and it had occurred at least 90 years before her telling me, but the memory remained strong to her. We are marked by our tragedies.

I was seven the first time I lost someone I loved. A family member who was quite dear to me was killed in a car accident. I spent that night with my grandparents. I remember standing in their kitchen, next to the table that held the telephone, and crying. I was overwhelmed by the finality of the loss. It seemed impossible to grasp that I would no longer see or talk to this person in this life, but I assumed that this was something everybody else understood perfectly. I looked at my grandma and said, “I’m not used to this!”

My grandma took me in her arms and said, “You never get used to this.”

I realize now that there was a wealth of wisdom in her words. Death, loss, and sadness are part of living in this fallen world. But as tragic as those things are, we shouldn't get used to them. These things are reminders of the effects of sin. This world is broken, and we long for restoration. Our grief in response to the sad things in life shows us our need for a savior.

I will see my grandmother--all my grandparents--again. This heritage of faith is a blessing I don’t take lightly. In my imperfect, human state, sometimes I long to be reunited with my lost loved ones more than I long to see my Savior. But even though my thinking is often flawed, Christ died to fix that as well.

Sometimes Christians think we should to get to a point where we no longer grieve. That is a mistake. Many things in this life are worth grieving. Broken marriages, wayward children, death...they all bring piercing sadness. Instead of grief plunging us into a pit of despair, though, it should remind us of our ultimate hope.

Christ died to secure our salvation, and for that I am very thankful. But he also died to bring restoration. And while we are on this earth, we will groan for this restoration, for the fixing of those things in the world that are broken. (Romans 8:23) We grieve, but we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Friday, March 1, 2013

The fleeting nature of the fashionably chic and the beauty that never fades

Last week we watched one of the (many) iconic films from the 1980's, 1986 to be exact, the year my husband and I both graduated from high school. While we enjoyed the comedy of the movie itself it was the stroll down memory lane that I found even funnier. The clothes, the technology, even the interior design all represented true 80's style, which, in other words, meant they were horrendously ugly and, in terms of the technology, so outdated to be hilarious.

From the shoulder pads to the ginormous cordless phones to the Waverly floral wallpaper--in every room--this movie served as a sobering reminder of the passage of time and the fleeting nature of what we deem beautiful and desirable.

A month or so ago I spent considerable time and effort repainting my dining room. I had last painted it some thirteen years ago when we first moved into this house. It was due for a repaint and I was due for a change. At the conclusion of my efforts, gone was the deep red, here to stay (for awhile) a light stone color. The funny thing is, back when I first painted the room, jewel tones were all the rage and I thought the existing pale gray a true horror of interior design.

Yes. Pale gray. The color of current interior design. Just goes to show what goes around tends to come around. Yesterday's horror becomes today's trend.

It's good to realize both our disdain for the previously fab fads (the aforementioned shoulder pads, for example) as well as the ebb and flow of these fads, a particularly wise practice in this day and age of information overload. Pinterest, Polyvore, blogs, and even Facebook and Twitter provide us with a wealth of opinions on everything trendy, and everything not, be it fashion or crafts or decorating or you-name-it. There is increasing pressure to keep up and stay "with it," whatever the current "it" may be.

These are fun pursuits, don't get me wrong. There is nothing moral or immoral about painting a dining room or pinning a super cool pair of boots. In fact, creating a beautiful home could be part of--but not the most important or even the best expression of--caring for our homes according to the Titus 2 mandate. But, as with all good things, there is potential not only to waste our time searching Polyvore for cute outfit ideas but for that very pursuit to become idolatrous.

There is no end to our capacity as humans to turn any good thing--fashion, decorating, exercising, cooking, crafting--into an idol of the heart. How can we expose this tendency within ourselves? Whether you struggle with a Pinterest problem or something totally unrelated to paint chips or proper scarf tying technique, here's some questions that may help:

  • Where am I seeking my greatest happiness? Why do I think this will make me happy?
  • How much time and money do I spend pursuing this?
  • How often do I think about this to the exclusion of other things?
  • Do I associate value judgment with this (good/bad, cute/ugly) and does that value constitute worth in my mind?
  • Does this consume my conversations with others?
  • Do I think I need this or do I merely want it?

Of course whether or not my answers to such questions constitute a dangerous and spiritually unhealthy compulsion is a matter of personal conviction. For me, the $20 skinny jeans could represent a much deeper idolatrous issue than for you. These situations, like much that is good and permissible for the believer, require self examination as I surrender to the Spirit's good work of sanctification.

For me, the best question has to do with my reaction when I don't get whatever it is I want. When other kids' Valentine's bags are more elaborate than my kids'. When my friend gets the new sofa I've been wanting for years. When the budget doesn't allow for a cute pair of leopard print flats. What then? My reaction will do much to expose either my contentment or my idolatry. In fact, an even better question may be: how will I treat those who have what I think I want? Do I treat her with bitterness or resentment or maybe avoidance? If this is my reaction then it's a good bet I have an idolatry problem.

Hear me: I am not advocating we all live austere, ascetic lives. Necessarily. I enjoy pretty things as much as the next girl but I'm also as susceptible to getting my priorities out of whack. We need to be wise both about the fleeting nature of all that the culture deems fashionably chic as well as about our propensity for idolatry. May we pursue not the kind of beauty that fades but the everlasting joy and contentment that's found only in Christ. He alone satisfies and He alone is worthy!

For a better and more thorough exploration of idolatry I highly recommend Elyse Fitzpatrick's book Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone.