Friday, May 31, 2013

Christ Who Sits

I'd planned to put together another post for the Scriptural Lessons from the Natural World series I began a couple of months ago, but it's now Thursday evening and I've got nothing but a few scripture references and some notes scribbled in my planner. So I have a contingency post for you, a re-edit and repost of something posted several years ago on my own blog. 
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14 ESV)
This description of Christ sitting at the right hand of God makes us think first of his exalted position.  He sits beside the Father, coequal with him. He is Lord of All, and every creature is obligated to bow to him and confess this.

But it's not Christ’s placement I'm focusing on in this post; it's his posture.

An old covenant priest stood daily in his priestly work. He was always standing in God’s presence because his ministry was never done. Every day, over and over again, he offered the same sacrifices. His sacrifices needed to be repeated because they were ineffectual: They didn’t actually take away sins. They were, in a way, a stop-gap measure instead of a solution. The old covenant priest’s sacrifices never cleansed completely, and the outward cleansing they provided was only temporary.

There’s a pathetic quality to this picture, isn’t there? I sometimes complain that “a woman’s work is never done,” but I’ve got nothing on the old order priests. Day in and day out they stood to do exactly the same job, and that they needed to keep repeating only served as a reminder that their work was ineffective.

Not so with Christ’s priestly work: He offered one sacrifice of himself and then he sat down at the right hand of God. One sacrifice and his work was done. His work was was effectual — a solution that took care of the whole problem all at once. It “perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” His work never has to be repeated because it cleanses completely and forever. It is finished.

Christ is right now sitting, waiting for his enemies to become his footstool. He can take a resting position because he has already offered the once-for-all-time sacrifice. His enemies are not yet lying beneath his feet, but the work that will bring him certain victory over them is completed.

And because Christ sits, the believer can rest. Our status before God does not depend on our work—past or future—but Christ's already finished work, which has "perfected [us] for all time." This doesn't mean that we don't sin, but that in Christ, we have a permanent good standing before God. Christ's work is completed; we are forgiven; we can rest.

But there's more: Because Christ sits, the believer can come. His sacrifice was completely effective, so
we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV).
Our full assurance and bold approach are grounded in Christ's finished work. There is a dedicated access road just for us. That our Priest is a sitting Priest is confirmatioon that our hearts have been sprinkled clean, our bodies have been washed, we are fully and finally forgiven, and the way to God is opened for us.

He came, he died, he rose, and now he sits, so we can rest from our work and enter his presence. Let us draw near!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lessons from Nehemiah - God's good hand

This is the second post in a series I am doing, studying the book of Nehemiah. You can read the first post here.

Last time, I introduced the book of Nehemiah, and the main subjects, the Jews who were in exile and were beginning to return to Jerusalem. Today, I'm looking at Nehemiah 1:1-2:8.

Nehemiah's Prayer

Immediately, in the first three verses of the book (Nehemiah 1:1-3) we know what the situation is. The walls of Jerusalem are broken down, and its gates destroyed by fire. The messenger tells Nehemiah that the remnant living there are in "great shame."

This is not what God wants for his people. He wants them in the land as he promised, and he wants them to have a house of worship. Nehemiah's immediate reaction to the news is in verse 4:
As soon as I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of Heaven.
Nehemiah was sensitive to seriousness of the situation. Had he been less sensitive, perhaps he would have shrugged off this news. The Jews had been taken captive by people of a different culture and religious system. There was a remnant which remained faithful, but there were others who likely gave in and followed along with the beliefs of the captors;  not Nehemiah. This news was enough to put him into mourning. It also put him into action.

Nehemiah begins to pray. And it is a great prayer. He opens with worship (v.5) repeating back to God truths about him, that he is a God who keeps covenants.  He also acknowledges not only the sin of his people, but his own personal sin (v. 6-7).  After his confession, he calls upon God to remember them, and to remember how he has treated them in the past when they have sinned.  He refers to a time in the wilderness when Moses, too, had to intercede for the people. Nehemiah is praying with confidence, and his confidence comes from what he knows to be true abot God. This is not the prayer of a man who is uncertain about God. This is a man whose confidence is rooted in the knowledge of God.

That is how our prayers ought to be. We will not be confident in prayer if we don't know we can have confidence in God. If we are weak and faltering, we may not pray, because we will not see the need. Either that, or we will half-hearted prayers that give us no comfort or strength.

Notice Nehemiah's humility. Three times in this passage, he refers to himself as "your servant."  He knows not only God, he knows who he is before God. We approach God as his children, but also as his servants. Recognizing who we are before him in prayer increases our dependence upon him.

Nehemiah discerned his call to do something about the walls in Jerusalem. There is a telling little phrase in his prayer.  In verse 11, he is asking for God to give him success, and he asks for mercy "in the sight of this man." Nehemiah then follows up by saying he was the cupbearer to the king. Being the cupbearer meant regular access to the King.  What was on Nehemiah's mind? Was he already planning to ask the king for leave to go to Jerusalem? How are we at discerning a call when God brings a circumstance into our lives?  Are we sensitive to it, or are we so spiritually dry that we don't hear him?

God's Good Hand

Four months later, (Nehemiah 2:1-8) in the month of Nisan, (Nehemiah has been praying for four months!) Nehemiah goes to Artaxerxes. Normally, Nehemiah did not wear a downcast face. People were not supposed to be downcast in front of the king; wasn't the king's very existence a reason for joy? Artaxerxes notices Nehemiah's sad face and recognizes that there is a problem (2:2). Upon questioning, Nehemiah reveals to Artaxerxes his concern.

It is amazingly simple for Nehemiah to get leave from Artaxerxes. This is rather ironic, given the fact that in Ezra 4:20, we're told that it was Artaxerxes who stopped construction on the temple because the enemies of Ezra told Artaxerxes that the Jews were rebellious.  And yet, Artaxerxes is open to listening to Nehemiah's problem. Upon being given the freedom to go, Nehemiah says:
And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of God was upon me.
Nehemiah knows where his help is coming from. That phrase about God's "good hand" is repeated quite a few times in the book of Ezra as well as here in Nehemiah. The success of Nehemiah's request was not due his respectful conduct, although he was respectful. It was because God's good hand was upon him.

When God calls us to do something, and we respond, his good hand will be upon us to accomplish the task. He never gives us anything we cannot accomplish. We may initially feel daunted by the weight of our call, whether it is to mother our children, to be a wife to our husbands, to work at a particular job, or even to witness to our neghbour or teach a Sunday school class. When we are sensitive to God's calling and we obey, giving ourselves over to prayer, we can be assured that God's good hand is upon us.
Philippians 1:6 reminds us that when God begins a good work in us, he will complete it. If you are a child of God today, you have been called to be his, and to serve him.  Whatever it is that he's called you to do, his good hand will be upon you.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman

As Christian women, we often feel a disconnect in our lives. We have our so-called Christian life—going to church, reading our Bibles, and prayer—and our ho-hum lives of laundry, meals, and work. Does Christ’s death and resurrection make a difference in our day-to-day lives? Is there a Christian way to mop a floor?

While there’s not a distinctly Christian way to mop a floor (otherwise I’ve been doing it wrong), being a Christian does affect how we approach our work. The gospel influences every aspect of our lives, even the most mundane. But how?

That’s the question Gloria Furman wanted to explore in her book, Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home. “What does the gospel have to do with our lives in the home? How does this grace change the way we live?” (page 17)

Using personal illustrations, Gloria thinks through how the gospel impacts our lives. But this book is much more than a series of fluffy vignettes. Gloria did some heavy digging for us. In doing so she shows us in an engaging, understandable way that theology is not a dry subject fit only for academics. We all need to understand who God is, who we are, and what life is all about. This is important for every Christian, but for the homemaker who feels that life is just a series of mundane tasks that are undone as soon as (if not before) they are finished, it is an especially needed breath of fresh air.

Gospel-centered has become something of a buzzword among books and blogs. Gloria is careful not to fall into Christianese. In one of my favorite chapters of the book, “Don’t Smurf the Gospel,” she encourages us not to let our Christian life become a series of clich├ęs. She also explains how we can fact check what we hear, and sort the true from the false.

This is a personal book that contains much of Gloria’s personal story. Most of it is set in the context of the mother with small children at home. But even though my children are not so small, I was still blessed and encouraged by this book. We all need the reminder about the ways the gospel changes our everyday lives, whether our “babies” are 5 weeks or 50.

Many thanks to Crossway Books for providing a review copy of this book. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Theology and the non-intellectual (me)

I'm no intellectual. Several weeks ago a couple of friends on Twitter were bemoaning the anti-intellectualism that is seemingly prevalent among evangelical women. I had to Google anti-intellectualism, thus proving their point. And mine. The truth of the matter is, if it weren't for Google I wouldn't understand about half of what you people talk about. I'm serious.

Yet, I'll confess freely and often: I love theology. This passion for the study of God ("theology") has been tepid, or even nonexistent, in years past. In other words, you'd be more apt to find me poring over the Pottery Barn catalog than the Word of God much less any of the theological tomes that now clutter my bookshelves. My love for theology has been a journey, one I stumbled upon by accident. It found me when I wasn't even looking.

I'm a self-described stumbling theologian, meaning that I never set out to become a student of doctrine nor even a teacher of the Scriptures. Talk of this theological truth or that doctrinal interpretation bored me and seemed, frankly, rather irrelevant (see "anti-intellectual", above). I remember years ago chatting on the phone with a long distance friend and the subject of Calvinism entering our conversation. In what context I don't exactly remember; she was a seminary student at the time so maybe she broached the subject. At any rate I remember saying "I just don't see how it matters, really. What's the big deal?"

How little did I know.

To my way of understanding the most crucial theological question had been answered: I was saved. And, hello, I knew it was Jesus who saved me. Beyond that, well, I knew what I'd always been taught and I knew more or less what my denomination was purported to believe and I did love the Lord Jesus and I tried really, really hard to be good and do good. But to me, even though I had no clear idea of what theology was and was not, it had no bearing on my real, day to day life.

How little did I know.

I now know I was a moralist, doing my best to be my best. I was also a pragmatist. Theology didn't "work" in my real life--or so I thought--so I had no need for it. Don't get wrong, I engaged in "bible study" but the sort of hunt and peck approach intended to offer therapeutic answers to my perceived need of the moment.

Ah, but the Lord. Graciously He allowed me to come to the end of this moralistic pragmatism. My do-better, try-harder brand of Christianity left me wanting. I found myself desperate for something more, something better, something stronger, something solid and satisfying. I wanted, I needed, a truer, broader understanding of the Lord and His ways.

Quite by accident, as I said, or so it seemed to me, I stumbled into the sea of theology and doctrine, discovering as I did so there was far more to know of God and His Word than I’d ever imagined. I became determined to know His Word. I was shocked--delightedly so--to discover it affected my reality in profound and unexpected ways.

What a revelation! I'd spent years--years!--trying to make sense of my life based on what I thought I knew about God and His ways. Do not hear me say that all that I'd been taught up to that point was heretical and insufficient. No doubt I was privileged to learn from many serious teachers of the Word who carefully expounded the truth of Scripture. I daresay the fault lay with me and my reluctance to submit to the Word.

But, the Lord. As my understanding grew, I saw that my desperation was not for better mothering practices or five steps to contentment or even a spiritual gift inventory. No, what I needed in my mothering, for example, was the gospel truth that there is grace for desperate, deficient moms. What I needed in my fight for contentment was to realize God owns all and rules all; He is sovereign. What I needed as I looked for my place of ministry was a sense of vocation, that all I do is service to my Savior.

These are theological truths. As I clean house, do laundry, serve in my church, meet a friend for lunch, whatever it is I find to do, it is affected by my theology. How I live reflects what I think about God and what I think about God affects how I live. Theology and reality necessarily intertwine. Thus we are all theologians in one respect or another. The question remains: what kind of theologians are we?

It is true: I'm no intellectual. I am continually reminded of my own lack of knowledge. More often than not I feel rather dumb and a little silly before those who are far more theologically profound. I still sometimes prefer to discuss lipstick and hairstyles than certain Biblical passages. And, yes, Google is my friend.

But the Word of God has changed me far beyond mere therapeutic and pragmatic ramifications. Not only has the study of theology affected my reality but it has transformed my affection. The more I engage in Bible study, the more I know the Lord, and the more I know the Lord, the more I love Him, and the more I love Him the more I want to know Him. Glory to God, theology is not a dry academic exercise reserved for the intellectuals among us. It is for ordinary women too, nay, even the non-intellectuals like me, and by it we are changed from glory to glory as we behold the face of Christ! Yes and amen!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Finishing the Race

It's been a sad week. Two elderly sisters in my church went home to glory. I also learned that a dear friend of my grandparents died last month at the age of 104. These women fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. They loved God and the people He placed in their lives. They will be greatly missed.

As I was thinking about these women, I wondered "What was their secret? How did they endure so well? How did they persevere through the Great Depression, WWII, widowhood, and illness?" This led to another question. "How will I finish the race?" I'm on the plus side of 50 now. I could die today, but I could have another 40 years ahead of me. It would be easy to think, "What do I need to do to make sure I die well?" But that's probably not the right question. A better question would be, "What has the Triune God done to ensure that I will finish the race?"
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. 1 Peter 1:3-5
From Grudem's Systematic Theology:
If God's guarding has as its purpose the preservation of believers until they receive their full heavenly salvation, then it is safe to conclude that God will accomplish that purpose and they will in fact attain that final salvation. Ultimately their attainment of final salvation depends on God's power. Nevertheless, God's power continually works "through" their faith. Do they wish to know whether God is guarding them? If they continue to trust God through Christ, God is working and guarding them, and he should be thanked.1
[W]hat Peter said in 1 Peter 1:5 is true: namely, that God does not guard us apart from our faith, but only by working through our faith so that he enables us to continue to believe in him. In this way, those who continue to trust in Christ gain assurance that God is working in them and guarding them.2
As a recovering moralist, I need to remember this. Even if I tried my best, do I really think it's in my power to keep myself to the end? But it doesn't rest on me, thank God, and it doesn't rest on you either. He will complete the work He has started. (Phil. 1:6) His power guards His own and nothing can snatch them from His hand. (John 10:27-30) But at the same time, His grace enables us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling knowing that He is at work in us. (Phil. 2:12-13)

I wasn't privy to the day-to-day details of these women's lives, but God's power kept these sisters. They were saints but still sinners. They needed daily grace for daily self-denial. They needed the Word for spiritual nourishment on the journey. They needed the joy of the Lord during times of suffering and divine strength to live another day in physical weakness. But at the appointed time, their earthly course was done, and their Lord and Savior welcomed them home.

For those of us still on pilgrimage, the sanctification road seems long. There are high points but deep valleys, too. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces and are tempted to quit. But there is hope. God will complete what He has started, and all His children will cross the finish line to the praise of His glorious grace.
It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.3
                                                                                                                                                    
1. Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, 2000, pg. 792.
2. Ibid. 793.
3. Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhoff, Eerdmans, 1993 reprint, pg. 546.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fighting for Your Girl's Dreams

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

At 14, I dreamed of a big career in a big city 700 miles to the north.  I didn't understand the bemused smile my mother usually wore as I spouted off my grand plans. I had my life mapped out, but I didn't need that map. Although I anticipated having a 10-hour drive to my parents' home, it takes a mere 10 minutes.

Which is why I, too, wear a bemused expression when my daughter reels off  her great plans for her big life in a city 500 miles to the south. I tell her something my mother wasn't able to tell me, The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9) Still, I'm glad my girl has big dreams. Who am I to say that they have not been given to her by God? Her preferred career would give her an opportunity to minister to people in need. It may be that He has a place for her in this particular field for just that purpose.

It seems the blogosphere has recently been inundated with posts about Biblical womanhood and complementarianism. (For the record, I am a complementarian.) I don't want to add to the clamor and I'm not responding to any post I've read. I do want to encourage other mothers to fight for their girl's dreams, no matter what they are.

Some girls dream of impacting the world for Christ through their homes; they have a God-given desire to marry, have children, and work faithfully, full-time at home. This is a noble calling of the Lord and if it is the call our daughter feels, we should not hesitate to offer our support and encouragement in that direction. We should teach her the art of homemaking, procure or provide lessons in different domestic skills, and instruct her in the values and benefits of being a stay-at-home wife and mother.

Other girls dream of living out the Gospel in the workplace. This, too, can be a noble calling from the Lord. Our society benefits when Christian women serve others through their careers. Our support and encouragement is no less important if this is our daughter's inclination. In addition to educating her about her responsibilities as a wife and mother, we can look for opportunities to learn about the benefits - and the pitfalls - of a specific career. We can help her be as prepared and knowledgeable as possible.

In short, we should exhort her to work heartily, as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23) in her chosen vocation. Even if she chooses a path that is not our own.

We should also be honest about our own calling. My daughter has seen the positives and negatives that accompany having a career outside of the home. She also realizes that our home and family mean more to me than my job. I have taught her that a woman has an incredible opportunity to minister to and bless her family by providing home-cooked meals and keeping a clean home. As much as I have tried to model that for her, she has seen how difficult it is to provide these things when employed outside of the home. She knows that stay-at-home mothers face challenges as well. Whatever choice she makes will require sacrifice. Neither situation is perfect, because we live in a fallen world. It is imperative that she realize that.

Finally, we should accept the fact that we don't know what God has planned for our daughter's future. He may call her into the mission field in Africa or in the local hospital. Perhaps she will remain single. Perhaps she will have a husband but no children.  I don't know if God has given my daughter this particular ambition because He's going to allow her to find the cure for cancer or to prepare her to homeschool the one who will. I only know that I will rejoice in whatever blessing the Lord bestows upon her, whether it is a big career or a big family. If she seeks to do everything to the glory of the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31), how could I ask for more?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Scriptural Lessons from the Natural World: All Creatures Eat (Part 2)

You’ll find an explanation of this series here, and the first part of this lesson here.

Scripture uses our knowledge that both humans and animals have food to teach us about God—or, more precisely, to remind us of what we already should know about God. We can know that God exists, and that he is good, wise, and powerful because he feed his creatures.

But there’s more. That God has revealed himself by providing food for us ought to influence what we do. I’ve found four biblical commands based on our knowledge of God's food provision. The first two apply to everyone, but the last two are especially for believers.

We Should Be Thankful
If we know God exists, and know some of his attributes, too—and his gift of food leaves us with no excuse for not knowing—then we also know that we ought to be thankful to him (Romans 1:20-21). That we owe God praise is commonsensical—or it should be. If the mother who serves supper to her family deserves praise and thanks, how much more God, who sends the sun and rain to give fruitful harvests worldwide, who satisfies our “hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:15-17)?

The Psalms instruct us in the proper response to God’s food gifts.
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season. (Psalm 145:1-3; 15-16)
See Psalm 147:7-9, 12-14 and Psalm 104, too. Our God meets his whole creation's need for food. How can we not praise him?

We Should Repent
One of the reasons for universal condemnation is that all people naturally respond improperly to God’s providence. He has shown himself in his good gifts, but we don’t “honor him as God or give thanks to him,” but express our rebellion instead (See Romans 1:18-21).

But God continues to feed us, even in our rebellion, a grace that is an invitation to turn to God in repentance, seeking forgiveness for not acknowledging him and his provision. Speaking to idolaters, Paul uses the existence of plentiful harvest to support a call to turn to the living God (Acts 14:15-17). Then in Romans, he writes that God’s kindness is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2:4). We might say that our food should take us to the gospel: God keeps feeding sinners instead of destroying them because in Christ there is a way of forgiveness for those who repent (Romans 3:25).

We Should Not Worry
[D]o not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! (Luke 12:22-24)
These reassuring words of Jesus to his disciples are an argument from lesser to greater. God feeds the ravens and they’re just birds, so those who belong to him can trust him to take care of their needs, because they are much more important than birds.

This doesn’t mean that God's people will never go hungry. “Life," Jesus reminds us, "is more than food.” It does mean that God will give his own everything they really need. Believers should not worry about having enough. Our God feeds the ravens; he will certainly care for us!

We Should Love Our Enemies

God sends the sun and rain to grow food for everyone, even those who hate him. He gives blessings to his enemies, and those who belong to him will show love to their enemies, too:
I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.(Matthew 5:44-45)
Sons do what their fathers do. Those who are true sons1 of God do what God does: They love their enemies. God blesses those who hate him, and his children pray for blessings on those who hate them, even those who treat them cruelly.

Summary
When I serve dinner, or harvest something from my garden, or spy an eagle with a rodent in it's mouth, it is—or should be—a reminder to me. God’s food blessings tells me he is there and he is good. In his wisdom and power he sustains all his creatures, including me. And in response I owe him allegiance and thanksgiving—and repentance for my failure to give him his due.

That God feeds his creatures also assures me of his care. If he can be trusted to supply their needs, he can certainly be trusted to supply mine. What’s more, his providence for all people, even those who hate him, should spur me, as his child, to love my enemies, too.


1Women and girls can be sons in this sense of the word.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lessons from Nehemiah - 1

Today, I'm beginning a series of posts that focus on the book of Nehemiah.  This is the book I just began teaching on Sunday morning with my ladies' class.  Considering the amount I talk about studying the bible here at this blog, I thought that it might be a good exercise to actually do it!

Please know that I am first and foremost a student myself. I am not a seminary graduate, and other than three semesters of Koine Greek over twenty-two years ago, I do not have facility with the original languages. I can assure you, however, that I do use commentaries and other study tools.  To guide my study, I am using Kathleen Nielson's book, Nehemiah: Rebuilt and Rebuilding. So, without further adieu, let's see what Nehemiah is all about.

The book of Nehemiah is historical narrative.  That means it's about some people who really lived.  We want to know about these people. In the opening three verses of Nehemiah, we're introduced to the subjects of this account:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel,that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
Who were these Jews who escaped?  Who are these people who were in exile, and are called a "remnant?" These people are God's covenant people, the ones promised to Abraham.  In Genesis 12:1-3, God makes a covenant with Abraham. God tells Abram in verse 3: "in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed." We can take note of that promise to Abraham, because we'll see it again later.

The covenant made with Abraham is also re-iterated with Moses and his descendants, and is promised to be continued in the lineage of David.  Second Samuel 7:16 says that David's house will be a kingdom that is secured forever.

Why have the Jews been in exile? They have "breached the faith" according to I Chronicles 9:1. Does this sound familiar? Does this sound like something not unlike what went on in the desert after Israel was freed from the Egyptians? It does. This unfaithfulness comes with a consequence, and that is why they will be taken to Babylon and kept captive for seventy years. This is not a surprise to God.  In fact, it was prophesied through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:1-14).  Even though they were disobedient and unfaithful, God shows mercy not only by promising them they will return, but by warning them in the first place.

Enter King Cyrus in 539 BC. He overthrows the Babylonian King and in 538 BC decrees that the exiles may begin to return home, something which was prophesied by Isaiah long before it happened.  In Isaiah 45:4, we learn that Cyrus is going to be used by God's, even though Cyrus does not know God's name.  That, to me, is incredible! God's mercy ministered by one who doesn't even know His name.

These covenant people have returned to Jerusalem, and are going to rebuild the walls of the city. That is the content of this book.

How is this our story? These people lived in a world so far removed from us. What connects us to them? Aside from the fact that we, like Israel, breach the faith, and receive acts of mercy, and still continue to disobey, it is our story because we are part of the covenant people of God.  Remember the promise to Abraham that all of the families of the earth would be blessed through him?  This is referred to again in Galatians 3:7-9, which quotes that passage. We are included in that blessing. The covenant  made to Abraham is a covenant for us, through Christ.

God's dealings with his covenant people have not changed. He is a God who keeps all of his promises. He promised to free the Jews from Egypt and it happened. He promised to get them into the promised land, and he did it. He said he would release them from exile, and he did it. He promised a Messiah, and he sent one. He has said he's coming again. Don't you think he'll do it? I do.

This is our story because this is our God, a God who keeps his covenants.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Problem and the Cure

This post originally appeared on my personal blog in 2011.

When I was growing up, way back in the dark ages before cell phones, my father had short-wave radios in the vehicles of his employees. We also had two units in our house: one in the living room, and one in my parents’ room. They looked a little like telephones (not a telephone that any of my children would recognize, but like telephones of that era). Talking on them required the use of all sorts of fancy code-talk like “Car One to Base Two.”

They were kind of scary.

Then one day my cousins were playing at my house. One of them decided it would be quite hilarious if I would get on the radio and call for my daddy. I wasn’t convinced it would be that hilarious, and I thought it might get me in trouble, but he was very encouraging.

I was gullible. I was the youngest. It was part of my job to be gullible.

I was probably four. I remember being concerned about the whether I needed to say “Base Two to Car One” first, but he assured me that if I got on there and said, “Daddy! Hi Daddy!” (over and over) it would be just great.

So I did it. It didn’t take long before my dad responded with, “Somebody get her off of that thing.” It might as well have been the voice of God.

It’s ironic to think that this particular cousin is now an airline pilot, because I have a feeling that messing around with the communication devices is frowned upon in his line of work. But I digress.

That was probably the most embarrassed I had ever been. I’ve been much more embarrassed since then, mind you, but at the time it was bad. Now, I don’t want you to read too much into this. I recovered quickly. I played with my cousins for the rest of the afternoon, and I’m sure when my dad got home from work I ran up and hugged him just like always. I don’t want to paint this as a traumatic incident from my past, because it’s not.

I didn’t even think about it much until I got a job with The Drugstore Chain That Shall Not Be Named. On my first day, a coworker asked me to page someone over the store intercom, and I was terrified. Page someone? Over the store intercom? Can’t I do something less scary, like stand in the parking lot and sing a solo?

For the first couple of days I went to ridiculous lengths to avoid using the intercom. Finally I just couldn’t avoid it, so I bucked up and did it. No one was particularly impressed at the sacrifice this required, but I was pleased with myself. By the time I left the company, I could announce prescriptions and call for change with the best of them.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve taken a break (mostly) from reading my beloved dead Puritans to read a couple of the Christian “self-help” books. Both of them contain some insight into why we do what we do, and both of them spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how childhood traumas and disappointments can shape us. It seems that all of us were paying attention in Psych 101.

But I wonder at the format. The authors seem to say: It’s all their fault that you are the way you are (“they” being your parents or the men in your life, usually). The implication is that if you can dredge up all the causes, you’ll be cured.

I’m not trying to minimize the impact of family dysfunction and childhood traumas, nor am I suggesting that the victim is to blame. I do think, however, these books skip a step. My opening example is overly simplistic and a little silly, and purposely so. But even if I take one of my bigger issues and substitute it, I’m still back at the beginning. You see, just as I knew why I didn’t like intercoms, I know why I have a fear of people dying in car wrecks and children being snatched from their homes. Maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime. But none of those things created the problem, they just uprooted something that was already there.

I didn’t like intercoms because I don’t like looking foolish, and once an intercom had made me feel that way. I was eventually able to see that people shopping in your local chain drugstore have better things to do than mock the person on the intercom, so I moved on. The bigger problems may be harder to get past, but the roots are the same as any other problem we’ve had from the beginning: fear, pride, unbelief, distrust, covetousness.

At best, discovering the role the mistakes or sins of others played in your current problems will offer some insight, but they won’t give you the solution. At worst you will go on blaming that person, growing in bitterness, and never get around to dealing with your own stuff. Scripture does contain stern warnings for those who cause others to sin (Matthew 18:6, Romans 14:20-22), but whenever it speaks directly to a person about their own sin, it doesn’t allow any wiggle room. The direct advice is always the same: repent and stop. Trust God and follow him.

Are you fearful? That’s unbelief and lack of trust in God. Fear of failure? That’s pride. We can’t change our past, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can put off the old self and put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24). And that requires more than looking for someone else to blame.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hope that purifies

One evening after a revival service at our church, I sat in front of the window in my room, looked out across the darkness of our backyard, and begged Jesus not to return. At least not any time soon. I don't remember anything at all about that particular revival service: not who preached nor his text nor even any of his pertinent points. Evidently it had something to do with the end of the world as we knew it. I was a young girl, 11 or 12, maybe older, maybe younger, and I was terrified (terrified!) that Jesus would indeed come back as warned, soon and very soon, robbing me of a boyfriend and prom and all of the other childish dreams and aspirations that were close to my young girl's heart.

It seems silly and almost a little sad to scare a little girl half out of her wits to the extent that she could hardly sleep at night for fear of never having a first date. I will say this in defense of my younger self: I believed Jesus' promise to return. Not only that but I realized I much preferred the world according to Seventeen magazine, a realization that I'd like to think scared me as much as life without ever having a pedicure.

Today I still believe Jesus' promise to return and I pretend to be ready but the reality is sometimes I still prefer He would wait.

In 1 John chapter 3 John makes the startling statement that all who hope in Jesus' appearing purify themselves (1 John 3:3). Hoping, eagerly expecting, Christ's return is a means of purification, how? Doesn't this seem contradictory to our usual warning against being so heavenly minded to be of no earthly good?

As I consider the relationship between hoping in Christ and in His appearance and my purification, I draw a couple of conclusions. First, living in the reality of His return makes a difference in how I live. I gain eternal perspective. I understand this world is fleeting and the true treasure in not found here below but above, where Christ is. These truths are reinforced as I wait eagerly for His appearing.

Not only does this eager expectation for the return of my Savior affect the way I live, but its effect is one of purification from sin. Consider Titus 2:11-13 where Paul speaks of renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions by waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My ESV Study Bible tells me that "Certainty about the future enables constancy in the present." Certainty motivates constancy. I will see Him so I want to be like Him. These troubles are light and momentary compared to the weight of glory that is to come thus I can persevere in my fight with sin and flesh and world. Jesus will return. This hope purifies me.

I think of me as a young girl sitting in front of her window and crying and it makes me sad. I thought at the time that Jesus' imminent return would rob me of something precious that, despite me going to heaven, I would lose out. As I weighed the options in the balance I figured my earthly future of greater worth; thus I cried.

I no longer weep at the thought of Jesus' second coming but I operate under the same set of assumptions when I count the pleasures of this world as greater and more important. In this way, what I think about Jesus' return reveals what I love and what I think important. As it exposes the true nature of my heart and my heart's affections, I am purified.

Jesus' return is not a source of hope for all. He will come in judgment and where then will hope lie? Only in His finished work on the cross where He died to secure forgiveness for all who would believe. Is your hope in Him? Do you rest secure knowing He will return? Has this truth purified you? Does it affect the way you live? 1 Thess. 5:23 promises that those who belong to Christ will be kept blameless at His appearing--blameless because He paid the penalty for your sin, granting you eternal life in Him. 

May our heavenly mindedness make us of earthly good as we watch and work and wait. May our confidence in the end of this world as we know it propel us to hope, not fear, as we proclaim the truth in love. May we know our true Treasure awaits--yes and amen--and may our passion be thus directed.

Jesus is our only hope. He will return. Wait for it. Watch for it. Hope in it. By it you will be purified.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Welcome Home

It's hard to walk on eggshells - tiptoeing around certain people for fear of how they will react. It could be the irritable boss or coworker, the customer who can't be pleased, or the neighbor who is upset because you trimmed your hedge too low. At the end of the day, you can leave these people behind when you go home and lock the door.

But eggshell-walking takes on a whole new dimension when it is someone you love. You would do anything to please him/her, but somehow it is never enough. So you brace yourself not knowing whether you will receive commendation or a reprimand, affection or rejection.

Do we act this way towards God? Walking on eggshells because we're afraid we might do something to jeopardize our relationship with Him?

From God's Word:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry,“Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15
From Grudem's Systematic Theology:
God could have given us justification without the privilege of adoption into his family, for he could have forgiven our sins and given us right legal standing before him without making us his children. It is important to realize this because it helps us recognize how great are our privileges in adoption. Regeneration has to do with our spiritual life within. Justification has to do with our standing before God's law. But adoption has to do with our relationship with God as our Father, and in adoption we are given many of the greatest blessings that we will know for all eternity. When we begin to realize the excellence of these blessings, and when we appreciate that God has no obligation to give us any of them, then we will be able to exclaim with the apostle John, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are." (1 John 3:1).1
The doctrine of adoption is something I've been wrestling with. I know it in my head, but I've been reluctant to embrace it with my heart. Perhaps it's because past rejection has made me afraid to receive love in case it will be taken away. Perhaps it's because I see my unworthiness and wonder whether God will think I'm worth keeping in the long run. But doubts and experience, however painful, aren't the arbiter of what is true. God's Word determines that, and verse after verse confirms that He is my Father. Not because Ive earned it or deserved it. Not because I'm securing it's continuance with my good behavior but because He chose to set His love upon me and make me His child.

This is something worth remembering. This is comfort for the lonely soul. God isn't just a kind benefactor to a group of refugees. He did not open an orphanage. Because of the cross, God opens His arms and says, "Welcome home."
What is indisputable is that when the Spirit comes to make His home in us, He comes with grace in both hands. He comes to point to the Son and the extravagance of what has been accomplished for us. He introduces us to the Father in heaven and says: "Meet the Father. He is your Father, too."  
How do you view your present relationship to God? Do you see it as one of slavery, a never-ending attempt to win some favor from an otherwise reluctant Father, or one in which you are a son, knowing that your Father in heaven has always loved you and always will?2  
                                                                                                                                          
1. Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, 2000, pg. 739.
2.  How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home, Derek W. H. Thomas, Reformation Trust Publishing, 2011, pg. 61.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fighting for Your Girl's Modesty: Part III

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

Unfortunately, we don't often let the Cross shape our thinking. We don't stare at it long enough. When the question of modesty comes up, we toss reservation in the trash. We forget the cost of sin. We forget how serious our offenses are to a holy God. By moving on from the Cross, we belittle the opinion of God. We let the world gain a foothold in our lives.
~Hannah Farver,Uncompromising (pp. 112-113)

Modesty is becoming obsolete in our society. In fact, our culture seems to pride itself on its complete lack of modesty. Television shows and advertisements are saturated with innuendo. Magazine covers parade scantily clad women surrounded by copy that should make us blush. Even office conversations are filled with double entendres. We flaunt our sexuality, consider no topic as taboo. How can we instruct our children to be discreet when we have no understanding of discretion ourselves?

Girls are having conversations in front of boys that they should never have. They discuss things with boys that, just a few generations ago, weren't even talked about among girls. They brag about their escapades in hopes of drawing attention to themselves. Oftentimes, they're learning it from their parents.  How can we expect our children to be discreet when we are not discreet ourselves?

And our children's lack of discretion doesn't just play out in their small corner of the world. Often, it's put on the world wide web through social media, for everyone to see. Take a look at your daughter's Facebook feed and you're likely to find her friends have posted photos and status reports that belie claims of innocence and being a "good" girl. The lure of creating a different "on screen" persona can be powerful. Text messaging and social media gives a false sense of freedom to post or write anything, which can be toxic to a teenager who already has a limited capability to understand consequences.

Discretion isn't just about avoiding explicit or suggestive content. Being modest means calling attention to Christ rather than ourselves. Mothers, are we modeling this for our daughters? Are we teaching them to point others to Christ in their speech, actions, and in their online presence? I know I have not been the example that I should be in this regard. I also know I cannot expect my daughter to meet standards of thought, speech and deed that I have not reached myself. The truth is, our daughters are learning from us. If we're troubled by her lack of modesty, perhaps we need look no further than the mirror.

Further Reading:
~Desiring Virtue recently hosted a series on modesty, that can be found here.
~Today at my blog, I'm sharing the guidelines I've established for modesty in social media.



Friday, May 3, 2013

Scriptural Lessons from the Natural World: All Creatures Eat (Part 1)

You'll find an explanation of this series here

Here where I live, we need to lock the lids tight on our garbage cans or the packaging from our food waste will be spread all over the neighbourhood by trash-picking ravens. Once I saw a raven fly off with a whole package of cheddar cheese from a bag of groceries left in the back of a pickup truck in the supermarket parking lot. Ravens are successful scavengers; they eat what they find and they do well.

What's more, in the middle of winter, there are waxwings who eat the berries from my May Day tree. And the lynx I saw on my street in March hunts and eats snowshoe hare. In the fall, squirrels run across my yard carrying big mushrooms in their mouths. Even from my window, I can see that the wild creatures have food to eat.

While I grow a few vegetables in my garden, it's farmers and ranchers farther south who produce most of my food. But whether by grocery store or garden, like the animals, I have food.

All animals and humans eat. There is, generally, enough food to sustain life. Scripture teaches many lessons from this truth, so many that I've put them two posts, starting today with a look at what scripture says we should know about God because we know that creatures and people have food to eat.

God Exists
To the Gentiles at Lystra who worshipped many false gods, Paul said,
"[The one, living, creator God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (see Acts 14:15-17).
The food the Lystrans ate was harvested because God sent them rainstorms and sustained their regular seasons. Their food was a witness to God's existence. The food I eat sends the same message: There is a God—one God—who is giving me "rains from heaven and fruitful seasons" to feed me.

Not only can we know God exists because we eat, we can see some of his character, too. To quote Romans 1:20, a few of God's "invisible attributes . . . have been clearly perceived" in his provision of food for his creatures.

God Is Good
The text from Acts 14 above tells us that in giving us food, God is doing good. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says something similar:
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
That God sends sun and rain, two important factors in the production of the food we eat, is a manifestation of his love. Some call this benevolent provision for all people everywhere "common grace." Whatever we call it, that God feeds us shows us that he is not stingy and evil, but generously good, even to those who oppose him.

God Is Wise
That God's creatures are fed shows his wisdom, too. Quoting Psalm 104:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man's heart. . . .

The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104: 14-15, 21, 24) 
God's work supplying food, including the prey for a lion, and the grass for the livestock that in turn feed us, reveal the perfection of his understanding. (See also Psalm 147:5, 8-9; Job 38:41, read in context.) The food chain (as some call it) is a complex system; the best scientists can't explain it completely. But God knows it inside and out because he planned every detail of it and is always working to to sustain the links of causes and effects.

God Is Powerful
The Bible also associates God's provision of food with his power.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power . . . .
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry. (Psalm 147:5a, 8b-9)
Directing the storm clouds that bring rain to water the crops worldwide is a demonstration of God's great power. So is sustaining the revolution of the earth so the sun shines on crops everywhere. There are other ways God's power can be seen in the ways he supplies food for people and wildlife, but these two are specifically mentioned.

Summary
That God gives creatures their food is evidence of his existence, and it reveals some of his attributes, too. We can know that God is good, wise and powerful—and probably more—because he feeds us. (If you can think of verses or attributes to add to the list, please tell me in the comments.)

Two weeks from now I hope to post a few of ways we ought to respond to God's revelation of himself in his provision of food for all of his creatures.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

In His word and in His will

On a grey, rainy May day in 1996, I headed toward our mini-van, which was packed tightly with our luggage and three children. Through my tears, I walked the length of the driveway and got in the van, about to move 1700 miles away from my family.

The decision had been simple for my husband. It meant a better job, a better future for supporting our family. I, on the other hand, struggled, and though I submitted, it was grudging.

It was a difficult adjustment. We had moved to the place where my husband grew up. It was all familiar to him; it was an unfamiliar and lonely place to me. I had three small children, which can already make one feel isolated.  I missed my parents desperately. For quite a few weeks, after my husband left for work in the morning, I would sit in my kitchen with its ugly wallpaper and cry. I would ask "Why have you done this, Lord?"

It wasn't easy fitting into our church, the one my husband grew up in. While I loved the preaching, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. There did not seem any place for me in this congregation, and I immediately sensed that I did not fit in. I was thankful for the fact that I did have children, because caring for them kept me from giving in to this dragging, sinking feeling, like I was about to slide into a big hole. I would think, "Lord, what is your will for me in all of this?"

A friend of my mother-in-law's suggested to me that I attend a workshop about how to study the bible.  She knew I liked to study and read, and she was involved with the group, so I went.  While I read the bible fairly regularly, I had never learned how to study my bible using inductive study methods.  It was the beginning of something wonderful.

Over the course of the next couple of years, I poured myself into study.  I began to learn the reality of II Timothy 3:16-17. I was being reproved, corrected, and instructed. I was being shown where I was sinning, and what to do about it.  It was like having layers of crusty, dead weight pulled from me.  One night, after bible study, I left the church thinking about the wonder that is the Bible. On that dark drive home, I felt a peace wash over me, slow and comforting, like warm water. It went through my head: "I may not know why I've been brought here, but if I'm in His word, I'm in His will."  And I knew I was going to be okay.

God speaks through His word.  Just think of what that means.  The God of the Universe wants to talk to us! Yes, He speaks to us in Spirit and prayer, but His primary way of speaking is this amazing revelation we call Scripture. Through this struggle, I experienced two of my favourite verses from Psalm 119:
This is my comfort in affliction, that your promises give me life (Psalm 119:50)
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes (Psalm 119:71)
I'm at one of those times where the way seems a little murky.  As I wade through the unfamiliar territory of having grown children, I often sit in the silence of my home, and ask, "Lord, what is your will for me now?"  Some days, I am restless with these questions, but eventually, the answer comes to me as sure as the morning:  I must be in His Word.  I may wonder what my purpose is now that I am at this stage of my life, but I can be certain of this: I will be in His will if I am in His Word. And in His will is the best place to be.