Monday, April 29, 2013

Reconciliation


A few years ago I was on the outside looking in at a conflict between two sets of believers. It was a painful conflict, with hurt and anger and broken relationships all around. 

There was certainly sin on both sides of the issue, but from my vantage point it seemed that the side most at fault was getting the most sympathy, while the injured party was forced to take it on the chin. Since it was one of those messy situations where defending their honor would bring more dishonor in the long run, they suffered in silence.

I prayed a lot for that conflict. A. Lot. And I was quite specific on how I thought God needed to handle it. The person in the wrong deserved what we call around here a "come to Jesus" moment. A road to Damascus, Nathan-esque "YOU ARE THE MAN!" speech. I was generous, though, in telling God that the repentance could be private, but I did expect begging and tears. Justice demanded it.

Years have passed. The wound, which was once an angry red, is now somewhat healed, but the scar remains. Believers who should be joined in fellowship, whose encounters should be marked with joy, are stiff and polite. Everyone present is reminded of the hurt. It’s clear that the less right people are not going to believe the best of the less wrong people. And while the less wrong people could probably still try harder, they have decided to withdraw in hurt rather than make themselves vulnerable yet again.

Maybe it's just me, but I spend far too much time worrying about how other people need to repent. This case might be slightly more noble, because I was just a bystander. The justice I wanted was for someone else, not me. But before I get too far in the right versus wrong tally, I am forced to remember the times I have ridden in on my own high horse, with relationships so tangled that I can’t even think where things started to go wrong.

In Philippians, Paul tells Euodia and Syntyche to get along, and he doesn't say anything else about it. I don't mean to imply that Paul was against justice, but I think it's interesting that justice isn't mentioned. They are just to get along. The relationship is more important than who was right. This command is sandwiched between reminders in in 3:20-21 to keep focused on the Savior and the coming glory, and in 4:4 to rejoice. When conflicts come, do we focus on our common Savior, on how much we have been forgiven, or do we focus on who has the bigger part of repentance? We seem to wait for the other to do their part before we’re willing to bend.

Reconciliation is not just a Christian phenomenon. Non-Christians reconcile all the time. But there’s always an accounting. Non-Christians simply decide that the relationship is more important than being right. They weigh their options in the balance and see that what would be lost is far more valuable than what could be gained.

Only the gospel can allow reconciliation where it shouldn’t be. It’s only when we look to Jesus can we see that he absorbed all our hurt and pain on the cross. It’s only when we see what he suffered for us can we see that the scale will never be balanced by human endeavors. And so for his sake, and for his sake only, are we willing to forego justice for the sake of relationship. Even if the earthly price seems too high, we can look past that to the heavenly reckoning secured for us by Christ’s death and resurrection.

I wonder what heaven will be like, when all of us, with our petty grievances and disagreements, will be laid bare before the throne. We will stand, side by side, with those believers with whom we couldn’t get along. The hills we were so sure we needed to die on will be leveled by a holy gaze, and our right opinions will be purged of our pride and self-interest.

Will we remember what all the fuss was about, or will we be too busy worshiping before the throne?


Friday, April 26, 2013

Finding encouragement and community as an old-er woman

At 44, I am what many (myself included) would consider an older woman. Not old necessarily, but old enough to be old-er. The distinction is important, at least to my vanity.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not aging well. I do, of course, suffer from the usual physical effects of forty plus years on this earth: the gray hair and the corresponding appointment with my hairstylist every 6-8 weeks, the wrinkles, the hormonal migraines that take me down for nearly a whole a week at a time, just to name a few.

Growing old, it's not a pretty sight.

But it's the unexpected repercussions of these middle years that have me reeling: the sudden grief over an emptying nest, the regrets of past failures and deficiencies, the question of "What now?"

Don't get me wrong. I like my 40's. Life is good here in the middle years, good and rich and happy. Yet there is also much that is confusing and stressful and surreal and, well, hard. It can be a lonely stage of life and a difficult one.

I've mentioned before my entirely unofficial and completely unscientific observation that there is much being currently written for young moms: blogs, books, and so on. The worn out and weary mom knee deep in toddlers and diapers--and I have so been there--can find much encouragement and community among the many resources and blog posts written to her and for her (and, in many cases, by her). This is totally a good thing. I do not deny the benefit or the blessing of these resources--not at all! I know I, and my mothering, could have greatly benefited from the gospel wisdom of these young mom bloggers. Being a young mom can be a lonely stage of life and a difficult one and young moms are right to seek out the encouragement and community offered via social media and other outlets.

Yet, and also as a result of my entirely unofficial and completely unscientific observation, it seems there is a deficit of similar resources for the older woman. We too are in a lonely stage of life and a difficult one and yet similar resources of encouragement and community seem harder to find online. Over on my personal blog, I surmised why so few of us are blogging through these middle years of our lives. I don't have all the answers but it's an interesting phenomenon to ponder. In the interest of full disclosure, my own blog has suffered a similar fate. I too have been part of the deficit.

Whatever the reasons behind our blogging reticence, we older women are also desperate for encouragement and community.

Our challenges in the middle years no longer include tantrums at the grocery store (ours or our kids') but, like the younger mom, indeed like women of all ages and stages, we well know our own insufficiencies. In fact, we see them in sharp relief, particularly as we compare ourselves to the current directives for younger moms. All that I should have done and didn't, as well as the burden of all I did do and shouldn't, I grieve both. But the gospel tells me neither I nor my failures are beyond the Lord's capacity to forgive and redeem. Because Jesus paid the penalty of my sins, all of them, whatever it is I see as I reflect on my past (or present), there is no condemnation, glory to God!

Additionally, many of us older women are enduring one transition or another, be it empty nest, retirement planning, or caring for our aging parents, or all three. For example, those of us who are old-er moms know that much of our parental influence has now passed--not all, mind you, but much. With this realization in mind, we must cling to the sovereignty of a God who seeks and saves His own and we must trust Him for our children.

In all transitions inherent in this stage of life, we need to exhort ourselves and each other to stand strong in the Lord and His sufficiency. We can trust Him for what we need, no matter how uncertain our days may seem nor how overwhelming our obligations feel. We have this confidence because of the good news that Jesus has saved us and He will indeed give us all things in Him.

The middle years can also be lonely ones. However, even if we aren't blogging or writing books, we often have more freedom in terms of how we spend our time than our younger friends. I've found it's important for me to be intentional in seeking and creating community with women from all ages and stages. I have my husband, yes and amen, and he is my closest friend and an incredible support and encouragement. I am profoundly grateful for him but I also find great blessing in my friendships with other women.

Sometimes, though, this kind of community is not so easily accomplished. I'm busy, you're busy, our young mom friends are busy, and sometimes it's just easier to neglect our need for community. Maybe it's the introvert in me, but I often have to repeat to myself, "The Lord is about people, Lisa!" To that end, I teach Bible study, I volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center, I am friends with many from the younger mom set--these are important outlets as well as critical opportunities to experience the kind of gospel community that fosters discipleship and accountability and, yes, commiseration. A shared journey is an easier journey, yes and amen!

I am grateful for blogs like this one and the friends here who offer both encouragement and community as they point me to Jesus. But beyond the blogs there is great encouragement in the truth of gospel grace and in the relationships the Lord has afforded me. Both help me as I navigate my older years.

Are you an older woman? Do you find the middle years difficult? Why or why not? How does the gospel encourage you in the unique struggles of your stage of life, old or young? Where do you seek community? Let us know in the comments below; your comments and conversation are important to us!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fighting for Your Girl's Courage

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

The United States has been a scary place these past two weeks. A bombing in Boston. An explosion in Texas. Floods in the Midwest. We can easily become discouraged and frightened, wondering if God's been napping while countless people are suffering.

If we face these struggles, think how much more difficult it is for our girls. The teenage years are fraught with hormones and enough uncertainty to keep a girl in a constant state of panic; and that's on the days when only her hair isn't quite right. Imagine how much more those feelings are magnified when simple things like running in a marathon or going to work are no longer safe.

On Monday, as part of the Because of Easter Series at  Desiring Virtue, I shared about an intense season of fear in my own life and 5 instructions from Jesus regarding fear. I encourage you to share these with your girl. Talk to her about living them out. Work diligently to model them in your own life. A courageous mother is a tremendous blessing to her daughter.

Walk through Ephesians 6:10-18 with her. Pray these verses with her and over her. Teach her to be a warrior for Christ.
Return to the cross and defeat the accuser of the brothers and sisters. Incessantly and in every venue bear witness to Christ, and defeat the accuser of the brothers and sisters. Retain courage and integrity in the face of opposition, because death cannot frighten those who follow the Prince of Life - and thereby defeat the accuser of the brothers and sisters.


We haven't finished our discussion on modesty, but recent events compelled me to address this topic.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Mosaic


It would be a fair statement to say that women care deeply about what is important to them. As believers, our affections have been renewed, so we are learning to love God with all of our heart, mind, and strength. From this flows a love for our families, the church, and our neighbor. But in addition, there's another subject that moves and motivates us - what it means to be a Christian woman.

All you need to do is visit the web site of a Christian bookseller and you will find books, books, and more books on this subject. Biblical womanhood is a popular blog topic and the focus of numerous ministries. It's also the subject of heated debate. If you ask one women, it means this and, if you ask another woman, it means something else. What is a Christian woman supposed to look like?

If I took a cross section of the women in my church, there are ladies from their twenties to nineties. Widowed, married, divorced, and single. No kids to many. Everything from empty-nesters and great-grandmas to first-time moms. Women who work outside and in the home. Some raised in Christian homes and some not. New believers and saints who have been on this pilgrimage for decades. Introverts and extroverts. Girly and nerdy. Different ethnicities. Different views on eschatology. Different trials. Different struggles. Different strengths. All this variety in one small church.

Now zoom out and consider the Christian women in your community/state/country. Widen the scope even further and imagine your sisters on the other side of the globe, fellow members of the invisible church. If I could interview each one, there are probably a host of differences just by virtue of our cultural and ethnic backgrounds. There may be a host of similarities as well. But even if I could tally up all the areas where we are alike, I would argue that the greatest common denominator isn't the uniformity of our female experience, it's the uniting power of Gospel.

So to go out on a limb, here's my definition of what it means to be a Christian woman:

A women chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 1:3-10, Titus 3:4-7)

A woman who has been saved by grace through faith and is growing in holiness by training grace. (Eph. 2:1-10, Titus 2:11-14)

A woman who has the promise of God that He will complete the work He has started in her. (Phil 1:6)

You may read this and think - "But she didn't mention anything that was unique to women at all!" And you're right because I believe what God has declared me to be in Christ has the greatest impact on who I am as a woman. I've been saved by the work of the Triune God, and that same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are actively at work transforming me into the image of Christ. How this looks for me may look different for you, because our lives are different, but the final result isn't up for grabs because it's not dependent on you or me to get it right. I love the perseverance of the saints because I have hope that my faith will not fail in the end. But this perseverance isn't only in my theology. It carries over to who I am as a woman because it will be fleshed out in every area of my life. Whether it's a homeschooling pastor's wife in Kalamazoo, the new convert in Kampala, the single missionary in an unnamed country in the 10-40 window, or the elderly sister in an underground church in Beijing, if you are in Christ, sister, God will complete what He has started.

So when I consider my sisters around the world, I see an intricate mosaic. Its beauty lies not in its uniformity but the wide variety of colors, shapes, textures. Each woman has been appointed in her ordained time and place by God. She has been redeemed and made righteous by the work of Christ. She has been sealed by the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of her future inheritance in heaven. And this finished work of art will be to the praise of His glorious grace.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Scriptural Lessons from the Natural World: Living Things Die So You Can Live

You'll find an explanation of this series here.

My husband loved to take our children fishing, so they've understood since they were very young that when we eat fish, we're eating something that was, not long ago, a living, breathing creature. My youngest son went bison hunting with his school class when he was 12 or so. They got their bison, helped butcher it, and served it fresh as bison burgers at a community feast. These children knew from experience that burgers don't come from a fast food joint—ultimately, anyway—but from living animals killed so we can eat burgers made from their flesh.

Berry picking and gardening taught a similar lesson. The lettuce lived and grew until we picked it to put in our salad. The raspberries ripened on the bush until we plucked them for our buckets. Lettuce and berries, like most food, were living things that died so we could eat.

Human life is sustained by the nourishment that comes from living things that die. D. A. Carson uses this principle from the natural world to explain the mysterious words of Jesus recorded in John 6:

I am the bread of life . . . .
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.  . . . [U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:35, 51, 53 ESV)
Here's what Carson writes:
Jesus says he is the Bread of Life and unless we eat him we will die. At a superficial level, the notion of eating Jesus might sound jolly close to cannibalism. Or those of us who are more religiously inclined might think, "Maybe it's the sacrament of holy communion or something like that." Originally, that was not what Jesus meant at all. We must not forget that in the ancient world just about everybody worked with their hand or on farms, so they were closer to nature than we are today. . . . [I]f you were to ask anybody in the first century where [food] came from, they would reply, "From plants, fish, and animals." They have grown or caught this food themselves. So anybody in the first century knows that you live because the chicken died. . . . All of this organic material that we feed ourselves with—which we must have or we die—has given its life for us in substitution. . . .
Either you die or something else living dies so that you may live. Jesus picks up on that language and says, "Unless you eat my flesh, you will die. I die so that you may live."1
Jesus used a principle known experientially by anyone who hunted, fished, farmed, or gathered to teach about himself and his mission. He is bread from heaven, dying so we can live, just as the food we eat has died so we can live. He was speaking prophetically of his death—the task he came to accomplish—when he said "I am the bread of life . . . If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever."

But he is so much better than the physical food that sustains our physical life. The life he gives is eternal. And we eat of his flesh by trusting in him (John 6:47), especially in his death for us.

1The God Who Is There by D. A. Carson, page 145.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Twenty-six

Tomorrow will be my 26th wedding anniversary.  I've been married more than half of my life.  I don't know as if this qualifies me to be a source of advice our counsel or not.

However, as my own children reach the ages where marriage may be in their future, I think about what kind of advice I would give a young bride should she ask me.  For what it's worth, here are two things that have really helped me, and they are the two things I have struggled with the most.

First, resist the urge to make changing your husband the benchmark of a successful marriage.  Honestly, I hear young wives talking, and phrases like, "be patient, he'll change," occur quite a bit, and "just pray that God will change him."  The truth is that there are ways your husband will change, but there are things that may never change.  My husband is a terrible procrastinator, and is forgetful.  I tease him that should he die before I do, I'm going to put the words "Where are my car keys?" on his headstone.  This has not changed much in 26 years.  What has changed is me.  I have learned to make this less of an issue than it needs to be.

Don't misunderstand me; I'm not talking about enduring abuse at the hands of your husband. Abuse ought not ever be tolerated.  I'm talking about everyday things.  The one way my husband has changed is that he calls me almost every night before coming home from work to see if I need anything.  Yes, your husband may change; but he may not, and you have to be okay with that.  If all you want out of a husband is to change him, become a personal trainer instead.  It may be less frustrating in the end.

Second, marriage is about becoming one flesh (Ephesians 5:22-33).  It isn't about following a carefully executed plan of getting from A-Z.  Sometimes, the plethora of marriage manuals and marriage blogs out there make it seem like that.  My husband and I are still here after 26 years because of God's grace, not because we studied and underlined the significant passages of a marriage book.  The reality is that a woman can do everything right and work hard and things can still go very wrong.  I have a friends who are widows, but I also have friends who are divorced; friends who don't know what happened.  They thought they did everything right, but their husbands went their own way, anyway.  Ask anyone with a good marriage what the secret of their success is, and they will likely tell you it's quite simply the grace of God.  My husband and I don't have a perfect marriage, but we know we rely on His grace daily, because it is only through God's grace that we can forgive each other, be kind to one another, stay committed, and practice grace ourselves.

The day my husband and I were married, before I came into the church, a very good friend of ours sang these words:
A time for joy a time for cheer
That is why we are gathered here
To see the union of two we love
Led and blessed by God above
And as the church is loved by Christ
So the man must love his wife
And as the Church for Christ is to live
So the wife her life to her husband she'll give
From the beginning of time it has not been good
For man to be alone
And now before our eyes we see the blessed plan
For the marriage of a woman and a man
For the mystery of ages now again is done
For the two shall come as two
And leave as one

"For the two shall come as two/and leave as one."  Beautiful line.  While we are one in union of marriage, we still have two sinners.  That is where the conflict arises from. And that is why we must throw ourselves upon the mercy of God daily.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Help for the Crummy Days

We talk a lot about suffering. How will we react? What are we to do? What can we do now to be ready for the tragedy that may come?

But often it’s the daily stresses of life that grind us down. God is our rock in times of tragedy—yes and amen—but he’s also our rock in the days that are just crummy: the day the teenager comes home with the bad report card. The month where you and your husband seem to be continually getting on each other's nerves. The week when the entire family endures the stomach flu.

Each has her own problems and temptations, but the answer for each is the same. God is in charge He knows what he’s doing. He allowed it, and he will give you what you need to get through it.

I would not presume or imply that the crummy day is the same as the tragedy. The degree of pain, the distress, the grief and emotions vary greatly. Even though the pain is different, the answer is the same.

We need to cling to God in the midst of devastation, but we also need to cling to him in the crummy days, too.

The key is to remember to do so. We often get caught up in the emotion of the event before we can start thinking of the answer.

We need to have our minds prepared for these days. Let’s face it, you can’t prepare for the life-altering tragedy (that’s what makes it life-altering). You’ll know immediately that you’re out of your depth. But we all have the “blah” days—lots of them—and we need to learn to rejoice in them.

Not that I have mastered this—not even close. When things start going wrong, the irritation comes blasting to the surface before I realize it. It's a constant battle to remember God, remember his goodness, and remember his love for me.

He is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). And help for the crummy days, too.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sisters, we are not muzzled

Awhile back I cleaned out one of the cabinets in our bookcase. While sorting through various papers and notebooks and whatnot, I stumbled across an envelope containing a letter and a paper bookmark, the letter typewritten, the bookmark worn and a little crinkled with "To Lisa From Sue" handwritten on the back, both the letter and bookmark dated August 1990.

That summer of 1990 I participated in a small group study led by a young married woman a few years older than myself. I had just graduated from college and was spending the summer at home before I left for graduate school in the fall. I was also dating a very handsome young man that I would soon promise to marry.

Unbeknownst to those of us in the study, our leader had asked other women--older, godly women--to pray for a specific member of the group. Our leader's mom had received my name and over the course of that summer she prayed for me and for my future and for my future husband and for our life together. She prayed for me to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. At the close of the study, in August, she gave me a letter outlining many of the verses she prayed over me as well her hopes and prayers on my behalf. With the letter she included a paper bookmark with both our names written on the back and the date.

This is the letter I found these twenty some odd years later. I confess I had forgotten all about her praying for me and as I read her letter tears sprang to my eyes. So much of what she had asked the Lord to do in me He had done. I wondered what she would think if she could see me now: an ordinary wife and mom of four, a Bible teacher, a lover of the Word, a humble and grateful pauper to the grace of the Lord. As I reflected over my life, with all its failures and victories both, I saw her legacy to me, a legacy passed down through the faithful, hidden intercession of a godly woman on her knees.

I wrote a post recently at my personal blog where I announced I was more than my motherhood. In that post I mentioned the seeming prevalence of women in current evangelical discussion both as subject and object: we discuss, we're being discussed. I quickly admit that my observation is just that: merely my observation and certainly not an official survey of the whole of the internet landscape concerning women. But, in the course of that same observation, I read much about women and their voice, more specifically the lack thereof.

I'm not sure exactly what is meant by voice, and surely it varies depending on who is writing and what they are lamenting. The plea for a voice seems to occur in two main contexts: 1) the cry for the female voice in our churches usually meaning a place of authority (the pulpit, more specifically) or 2) the mandate to use one's gift often implying a public voice: writing, blogging, speaking, and so on. In the second scenario the argument is often presented along the lines of "you've been gifted and the world needs your voice so get out there and _____" (fill in the blank with whatever sort of public platform one is supposed to engage with the gifted voice).

I think of the women like my faithful interceder, women who had a voice in my life and my spiritual journey, women the Lord used to grow me and teach me and challenge me and inspire me. Women like my mom who sat on the back porch in the early morning with her bible in her lap and prayers on her heart for us, her kids. Or the senior adult who taught me Sunday school back in one of my elementary years. I don't remember her name but I remember her love for the Lord, the dioramas we made, and that she cried when I told her my grandmother had died. I think too of the young college student who taught one of my high school Sunday school classes and her eager enthusiasm for the Word. Or my college minister's wife who modeled to me a strong woman of faith, a woman who knew the Word and who taught me by example that the Lord called women to serve Him too.

There have been so many women through the course of my journey who faithfully served me as they served the Lord. I am part of their legacy and their voices ring loud in my life and my heart. They had no large platform, no pulpit, no book or blog or speaking circuit. Most of what they taught me was not in some sort of official capacity but fleshed out in real life, one on one, their speaking the truth with love and conviction. They loved me and they loved Jesus and they were not silent. Their voices were strong and sure as they spoke grace and hope and joy to whomever and wherever the Lord granted opportunity.

And some of them prayed, their voices silent before men but loud before the throne of God.

Sisters, we are not muzzled. You have a voice. Maybe it's not the voice you think you want nor the audience you think you deserve. Be careful of falling into the trap of thinking gifting determines vocation. Love to teach? You don't have to have a pastorate or a podium to teach. Find a young mom or a group of college students and speak the truth in their lives. The world isn't necessarily awaiting your gift but someone in your sphere of influence is.

Years ago I taught a ladies' Bible study during the Sunday evening discipleship hour at my church. One Sunday night only two ladies showed up for class. I can't tell you how embarrassed I am to confess this, how heartsick I am over my selfish pride, but the truth of it is I didn't teach. You read that right. We didn't have class. We sat around for awhile--I suppose I was waiting for more to arrive--and finally we dispersed until time for the evening service to begin. I called my husband in the intervening break and when he asked how the class I went I said, "We didn't meet. No one showed up."

I am heartily ashamed of myself and I should be. I had a voice and I had two eager to hear and instead I despised the smallness of my ministry. I decided those two lives were no one. I'm certainly not claiming that my lesson would have been the end-all, be-all in those two young women's lives. What I am saying is this: I missed an opportunity to be a voice because I was blinded by my pride.

Speak. Serve. Declare the excellencies of Him who saves. You have a voice. Use it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Respect the Author

Carrie Sandom opened her talk at The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference 2012 by mentioning a whodunit she recently read. As much as she enjoyed the book, it couldn't tell her how to bake a birthday cake for her sister or give her directions to the Orlando Airport. Why not? Because it wasn't written for that purpose.

Well, what about the Word of God?
In order to understand it, we need to know the purpose the authors' had in writing it. The Bible is not going to tell me how to bake a cake for my sister's birthday. It's not even going to help me get to the airport tomorrow. but what it does tell me is absolutely life-changing. In fact, it is more important than any novel, any recipe book, or any city map. We need to let the Bible speak to us and not come to it with the wrong kind of questions. 1 (emphasis mine)
Her statement gave me cause to ponder. I don't know about you, but for most of my life, I approached the Bible with wrong questions and wrong assumptions. My favorite method was this - read a passage which fits my current situation "perfectly", aided by the sacred shoe horn of allegorical interpretation, and then assume the outcome of the text is going to be paralleled in my life. But God did not ordain Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem with me in mind. Or the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. Or countless other narratives where I squeezed myself into the text like the step-sisters' feet into the glass slipper. I can laugh at myself in hindsight, but I completely misunderstood the point of the text. Rather than God being the central theme, I became the star of the show.

I was missing something in my interpretation of the Bible. I was missing the concept of authorial intent.
Every document has an author, and the resulting text is shaped by his or her intention. It is the authorial intention the interpreter must aim to recover. The text is not "just there," left to be interpreted any way the reader chooses...
There is, therefore, an important ethical dimension to interpretation. We should engage in interpretation responsibly, displaying respect for the text and its author. There is no excuse for interpretive arrogance that elevates the reader above the text and author. The "golden" rule of interpretation requires that we extend the same courtesy to any text or author that we would want others to extend to our statements and writings. This calls for respect not only for the intentions of the human authors of Scripture but ultimately for God who chose to reveal himself through the Bible by his Holy Spirit.2
We would never dream of playing fast and loose with the instructions for the 1040 tax form or an important memo from the boss. We know what the consequences would be if we interpreted those communications incorrectly. But if we treat an employer or the IRS this way, doesn't the Author of the Bible deserve better?

So if I'm going through a difficult time and happen to read the story of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem in Isaiah 36-37, my task isn't to cast myself as Hezekiah and my troubles as the Assyrians. My task is to find out why Isaiah wrote what he wrote and what it would have meant to his original readers/hearers. There may be implications from the text that lead to personal application, but those should be drawn after discerning the author's intent. This isn't saying we won't derive personal comfort from passages like this. But the greatest comfort may not be from reading my situation into the text but from seeing who God is in his covenant-keeping faithfulness and knowing He is my God as well.

I will never be a preacher but that doesn't mean I shouldn't make an effort to interpret scripture correctly. There's a greater reason that should motivate all believers - our love for God, His Word, and His people. And this begins with giving the authors and the Author of the Word their due respect.
Why would we want to take the time and exert the effort to learn to interpret scripture correctly? First of all, we will want to do so because we are seekers of the truth and because we realize the truth sets free while error enslaves... There is an even more powerful motivation, however: embarking on the quest for accurate biblical interpretation out of our love for God, his Word, and his people. If you and I truly love God, we will want to get to know him better, and this involves serious study of his Word.
As seekers of truth and as lovers of God and others, then, we set out to discover revealed truth and to acquire biblical wisdom as one sets out to mine gold and precious stones.3 
________________________________________________________________________________________
1. Equipped for Every Good Work: Profitable Handling of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:17), Carrie Sandom, TGW12.
2. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Richard D. Patterson, Kregel, 2011, pp. 57-58.
3. Ibid. pg. 59.

(Based on a prior post from my blog.)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fighting For Your Girl's Modesty: Part II

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

If there's anything in life that we should be passionate about, it's the gospel. And I don't mean passionate only about sharing it with others. I mean passionate in thinking about it, dwelling on it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world.
...modesty isn't just motivated by the gospel, it's an entailment of the gospel - it flows naturally from a solid grasp of the good news of the gospel.

How many of us have had discussions (or arguments) with our girls about modest clothing? We've given a list of requirements for appropriate attire. We've discussed how much make-up is too much. We've clearly given the rules. And the rules get broken, because rules always do. Modesty isn't about rules.

But what if...

...we encouraged our daughters to choose strength and dignity (Prov. 31:25) before choosing a bathing suit?

...we challenged them to pick up the armor of God (Eph. 6:11) before picking out an outfit?

...we inspired them to paint on a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4) before painting on their cosmetics?

Last time, I left you with Scriptures to read with your girl; Scriptures that define what we are to wear, not in terms of clothing, but rather our heart attitudes. God does not give us a list of acceptable clothing, but He does command that we clothe ourselves with qualities that display His glory. Modesty starts in the heart.

A heart wise in the gospel realizes its depravity.  "Clothing bears witness to the fact that we have lost the glory and beauty of our original sin-free selves. It confesses that we need a covering - His covering - to atone for our sin and alleviate our shame...[God's] covering makes us decent (Galatians 3:27). Without it, we are indecent. The physical clothing we wear is supposed to bear witness to that fact. It testifies that the Lord covers our sin and makes us presentable." (Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, p. 100)

A heart that wants to glorify Christ does not call attention to itself. "[Modesty] shows there's a deeper fiber in a girl than yearning for attention, and more individuality than a need to accept each and every trend that bares itself on the runway. Modesty reflects that there are higher things than vanity on the priority list of the wearer. It suggests you're not guy crazy."(Uncompromising: A Heart Claimed By a Radical Love, p. 116) 

A heart secure in the love of Christ does not vainly pursue the affections of men. "A woman should examine her motives and goals for the way she dresses. Is her intent to show the grace and beauty of womanhood?...Or is it to call attention to herself and flaunt her wealth and beauty? Or worse, to attempt to lure men sexually?" (First Timothy MacArthur New Testament Commentary, p. 80-81)

These lessons will not be learned overnight. We must be diligent in teaching them to our girls at every opportunity. We must keep fighting.

Keep Fighting:
~Review Proverbs 31:25, Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 6:11, and 1 Peter 3:3-4 again with your girl. Discuss how "putting on" the characteristics in these passages might help them make wise choices in clothing and make-up.
~Work with her to make a "modesty checklist" to tape inside her closet door and consider as she dresses. Since males see things differently than we do, you may encourage her to seek input from dad or an older brother.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Scriptural Lessons from the Natural World: Nothing Material Is Permanent

Photo by Andrew Stark
I know from experience the value of time spent in the natural world. My kids grew up running around the neighbourhood and in the nearby bush, and their childhoods were better for it. Every morning I walk the dog in the Yukon wild, no matter how cold it gets. (I just shorten the walk when it's very cold.) I have a large yard and garden, and in the late spring, summer, and early fall, I work in it daily. The natural world that surrounds me is a reminder of God's providential care. Even in this harsh climate, veggies grow in the garden, berries ripen in the forest, and all the wild animals are fed. 

As I anticipate the warmer weather of the coming seasons, I've been thinking about what we can learn from the natural world, and more specifically, about what scripture teaches us using what we know—or should know—from the natural world. It seemed like a suitable subject for a blog post until I began a list; then it became a suitable subject for several blog posts. So this post begins a series of posts on scriptural lessons from the natural world.

Lesson One: Nothing Material Is Permanent
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:6b-8, ESV)
Right now, everything is dead outside my window. It's not yet spring, but it might be where you live. Whenever it comes, spring brings life, but the life it brings is temporary.

The first flower of spring here is the pasque flower. It will bloom in late April or early May, and be gone by the first of June. Pasque flowers start a cycle of wildflowers, blooming and then fading, until mid-August, when they will all have faded. By then the wild grasses that sprouted up in spring will all be withered, too.

Trees live longer than flowers, but they die eventually, too. The dead trees standing or lying in the forest demonstrate this. And you don't have to be outdoors long before you'll see a dead creature of some kind, perhaps just an insect, but as for the insect, so for the rest of the creatures. They all live for a while and then they die.

James 1:9-11 alludes to the quoted passage from Isaiah to teach that material wealth and human lives are temporary. Whatever we own, whatever we build, can be taken from us at any time, and it will surely all be taken from us when we die. Everything material, everything created, perishes.

It's bad news, but it's bad news that sets us up for good news. Everything in the material world dies, but not God's word. "The word of our God will stand forever"—unfading, unwithering, undying. And better than undying: imperishable. By it's very nature, God's word cannot die.

Peter quotes the Isaiah passage to assure believers and spur them on to good works.
...you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25, ESV)
Believers have been born again by the word of God, and God's word is unlike anything we experience in the natural world. The good news that birthed us spiritually cannot die. Peter likens it to an imperishable seed—a seed that cannot die and so produces life that cannot die. Our new life, like the gospel that birthed it, is eternal.

The natural world reminds us that nothing material is permanent, but scripture teaches us that spiritual life, new life birthed by the gospel, is different because God and his word, unlike anything in the natural world, remain forever. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Praise for expository teaching

Recently, I was reminded of the great benefit of expository bible teaching. Wait, you're saying, isn't all teaching expository? I can tell you it most certainly is not. I would say a huge amount of teaching in bible study groups and from the pulpit is topical, not expository.

What is the difference? Topical teaching takes a topic and examines what Scripture has to say about it. I may want to teach about anxiety, so I get out my bible and I find relevant passages that will discuss that topic. Bible studies for women of this nature are in abundance. Whether it is prayer, financial giving, parenting, or submission, for example, topics are popular.

Expository teaching, on the other hand, takes a passage of Scripture and explains it, revealing the teaching in context. Remember, the word "expository" has the same root as "expose." When we teach in an expository manner, we are laying out what the text says.  The beginning point is not the topic, it's the text.

I listened recently to an excellent discussion about how this kind of teaching benefits women. It comes by way of Jenny Salt, who delivered this originally at the Gospel Coalition Conference two years ago. I was in another session when she delivered this one, so I'm really glad the sessions were taped and are available for free at The Gospel Coalition. You can listen to Salt's talk here.  I recommend that you do so.

Salt points out that one of the benefits of expository teaching is that it helps us to "avoid our soapboxes." I really, really liked that. When we a study in an expository manner, rather than us picking the topics, the topics are revealed to us, and in context. That helps us to avoid studying only our particular fascinations or arguing against our bugaboos of the moment. We may be prone to letting Christian pop culture tell us what is important for us as women; studying in a expository manner directs us right back to the text, where we should begin.

Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying topical studies should never be undertaken, but they are a whole lot more work than one might think. If I do that study on anxiety, for example, each and every passage I use must be studied in light of its historical, literary, and theological context. I cannot simply pull out a random verse to "prove" my point. If I'm going to do a topical study, I'd better be prepared for a lot of work.

I recently taught through the book of Philippians in an expository manner, and some of the topics that we looked at were joy, unity, humility, godly leadership, prayer, anxiety, our thought life, and sanctification. They came out in context as we studied, and we were able to jump around to other parts of Scritpure to get further explanation. It was a rich study, and all done by just opening the text and letting it direct us.

If you have a study group and you want to do something that will really excite your students (and you!) do expository study. Don't know where to start?  Again, click here for Jenny Salt's discussion, and you will be thrilled at how the ideas start forming.

In the context of Salt's presentation, she mentioned Bryan Chapell's book Christ Centered Preaching.  I caved and bought it.  No, I'm not planning on becoming a preacher, but another point she brings up in this message is that when we teach, we are proclaiming, so calling it preaching isn't entirely misleading. When I get a chance to start reading it, I'm sure I will have tidbits to share.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Jesus Christ and Him Crucified

Years ago, I was in a Bible Study where one of the lessons was about guilt. In the discussion time, one woman shared her struggle with some guilt she had dealt with in her life.

Her story was tearful and heartfelt, and her struggle was real. However, I happened to know that some of the women in the group had some serious sins with far-reaching consequences in their pasts. Her story was akin to sitting down next to a person whose drunk driving accident had killed a bus full of children and saying you know how they feel because you once backed into a parked car and scratched the fender.

There's a lot of emphasis on sharing your stories with others. The reasoning is that people won't dismiss a personal testimony as easily. I think there is some value in that, because it helps people see that they're not alone. And how else can you explain "the hope that you have" without sharing your story? But if we let ourselves get too wrapped in our story, it can become more about us and less about God. To a person who is wrestling with some big issues, we can inadvertently make them feel worse.

The other danger is when sharing turns into a game of "top that testimony." I think that sometimes people feel that they can't be an effective minister to others unless they've got a closet-full of ugly sins to share. That's very dangerous ground to tread. I also think that our sinful nature enjoys hearing the gory details, and we certainly don't need to feed that monster.

I was told a few weeks ago by a non-Christian that I was sheltered and naive. I didn't take it personally, and for what it's worth, I don't think that I'm either one (I attended a secular college, work with the public, and teach children's Sunday School. I have drawn the same conclusion from each experience--we're all sinners). He didn't say that in response to anything particular I had said, but just as a general conclusion. Based on past conversations, I think he's determined that I'm a "good" person, but that it's only because I've been protected from the "real world." The irony is this person also goes to a lot of trouble to try to convince me that he's really not that bad of a guy. If he really thinks I'm sheltered and naive, I don't know why he would want my good opinion.

I guess that's why I've grown weary of being told of the best way to witness. It doesn't matter what approach we take, we're going to muck it up. It's the Holy Spirit that saves, not our "lofty speech or wisdom." (1 Corinthians 2:1) Salvation is a miracle, just as much for the person saved as a small child who never strayed as it is for the hardened criminal. It's still the power of God working in a life. It's still the heart of stone being replaced with a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

I think we're better off just listening to Paul:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

Author's note: a version of this post originally appeared on my personal blog in March 2008.