Monday, September 30, 2013

And So I Pray

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t pray. From my time in the church nursery on, I was told I could talk to God anytime I wanted to. But I’ve often been confused about prayer.

In my late teens and early twenties, I thought prayer was something I needed to do to manipulate God. Fueled in part by Frank Peretti novels, I began to feel that God needed my prayers in order to act. If I would have thought this through to its logical conclusion I would have realized the absurdity of it, but apparently I didn’t. It was as if my prayers filled some sort of a tank, and if it finally got full enough, God would be able to move.

When realized that a sovereign God doesn’t need my help (Acts 17:25), it was a great relief. I could rest. I didn’t have to worry about someday hearing about all the things God wanted to accomplish but wasn’t able to because of my prayerlessness. That realization was a needed balm to my weary, fretful soul. But I’m afraid I became too lax in my prayer life, to my own detriment.

We should be careful not to presume that the right doctrine lies in the middle of two extremes, but in this case it does. Or perhaps this is best described as a both/and situation. Is God sovereign and able to do as he wishes without our help? Yes. Does God move in response to our prayers? Yes.

I still can’t explain how a sovereign God works through our prayers, but he does. He wants to hear our prayers, and he listens to us. I could spend a lifetime (and beyond) trying to plumb the depths of this glorious truth and never get to the bottom of it. The God who knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) for my good and his glory (Romans 8:28). And one of the means he accomplishes this is through my prayers.

I have seen some wonderful answers to prayer in the last year or so. I have watched God move in situations that I had given up as hopeless. I have seen God provide in ways that I never could have predicted.

But still my heart is heavy. We sin against each other and hurt each other. People receive devastating medical diagnoses. The mountains and obstacles often seem so very tall compared to our feeble abilities.


And so I pray. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, and I don’t know if it will be to my liking, but I know God will move in his time and in his way. For my good and his glory.

Friday, September 27, 2013

In and through it all there is grace

Author's note: It's been a sad week. I am writing this on Thursday and once I finish with this post I will be leaving to attend a funeral of a family member of a very dear friend. Death causes one to ponder and as I've had much opportunity for pondering this week I thought I would revisit the following post from my personal blog. I wrote it nearly exactly three years upon the death of a friend and fellow counselor at the crisis pregnancy center. It serves for me, and perhaps for you as well, as a reminder both of the fleeting nature of our lives as well as the abundance of grace that is ours in Christ. I hope you are encouraged by the truth that we have hope beyond this world, hope that does not disappoint, glory to God!

******************

I didn't attend many funerals as a child and was therefore unschooled in the rite and tradition that accompany the passing of a loved one. As such, when my grandfather died, I, a young mom of a baby and a toddler, knew enough of funeral etiquette to pack the prescribed black dress but neglected to bring anything appropriate for the receiving line during visitation. I wore a khaki skirt and a yellow tee to greet those who came to pay their respects, a fact that shames me to this day.

As I said, my oldest two boys were my only two at the time and babies at that. Unsure both of leaving them with a stranger or taking them to the funeral in the hopes they would be quiet during the service, we decided my husband would bring our oldest, then two years old, and meet us at the graveside after the service. The baby would stay behind with some family members. Without husband or child in tow, I found myself riding to the graveside with my parents and my sister and brother, the five of us as we always were before college and marriage and kids. As we came up to the cemetery, I saw my husband standing there at the entrance in his suit and tie, my son in front of him watching and waiting, held by his daddy's firm grip on his shoulders.

I don't know why that image of the two of them stand in such sharp relief in my mind. Funerals I have learned, now that my naiveté has given way to experience, always carry with them a sense of the surreal and my grandfather's was no different. His death was unexpected--as nearly all are it seems, even those that tarry--and our grief therefore all the more poignant. I don't know why but seeing them there together, my husband and my son, is something I will never forget, their presence grounding me, a ray of joy piercing the haze of my sadness. They were so beautiful to me, still are, beautiful and strong and full of hope and life even then at that moment of our shared grief. They, my husband and sons, are evidence of God's grace to me, grace abundant and immeasurable, goodness undeserved and unmerited. I saw it then; I see it now.

Friday a week ago I stood in line to pay my respects as I have done many times in the years since my grandfather's passing. The line was such that it was forty five minutes before I finally reached the family, before I could tell my friend's daughters how much I loved their mother, her husband how much his wife meant to me. I never really know what to say in those sorts of situations; I try to tell them something I would want to know if I were them. I loved her, I told them. She was a great friend and a mentor to me. I miss her. Very much. I cried as I told them these things and for some silly reason felt embarrassed by my tears.

What I told them was true. I miss her. Very much. I will not forget our Wednesday mornings together at the crisis pregnancy center. We would chat; we would laugh; we would talk of husbands and children and homekeeping (or the lack thereof) and in and through it all we talked of grace and of the things of the Lord. I would watch her as she would pause outside the counseling room before going into to meet with a client. She was praying, that I knew, and I also knew that once she entered the room she would share the gospel--the good news that Jesus saves sinners--with courage and compassion.

I left the funeral home that Friday night and I went to a football game where I yelled like crazy with the rest of the fans and then I went home and went to bed, my day a snapshot of life as we know it: Grief. Joy. Sadness. Celebration. Loss. Hope. Death. Life. And grace. In and through it all there is grace.

Originally posted September 2010 at Lisa writes...

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He bears our sins and our sorrows and makes them His very own.

Yes and amen.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A retraction

They say with age comes wisdom. As I've grown older, I wonder if part of that wisdom is realizing all the dumb things you said when you were younger. It's funny and a bit embarrassing remembering how wise I thought I was at the ripe age of 32 and how quick I was to give advice. I meant well and never intended to steer anyone wrong, but there are many things I would retract, one of which is:

"If God does it, it will be wonderful."

I'm not saying God is not good, but my advice was a mixture of sentimentality, Bill Bright, and a dash of Job's friends. Shake well, chill, serve, and voila! - a combo that was nothing more than a well-camouflaged, more palatable version of the prosperity gospel. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life with wonderful being what is pleasant and happy. Of course, if things aren't going well, you must be outside His will or have done something wrong, implying you have the power to derail this wonderful plan. But I didn't give the implications much thought. This was during one of the "happiest" times of my life, so all the more reason to dispense this gem. And in my naivete, weren't my present circumstances proof that this maxim was true? I fully expected the rest of my days to unfold likewise, but life never turns out according to our expectations.

My desires were the  normal, everyday hopes and dreams most women have. I didn't think I was asking too much, but God had something different in mind. To borrow John Newton's words, He crossed many fair designs and left some of those dreams in the dust. But in doing so, He exposed my self-centeredness and idolatry. Rather than wanting His glory, God was a means to my end - my idea of the perfect Christian life. This was a hard lesson, but despite the heartache, I wouldn't trade the present for the past for any price.

So after 20 years of water under the bridge and even though I may not be much wiser, I would offer this instead:

- God is good, but His goodness isn't measured by our happiness or our circumstances. The full extent of His goodness is displayed in Jesus' finished work.

- God is neither a happy-ending-Santa-in-the-sky nor a divine kill-joy who delights in crushing His children's hopes. God is our loving Father who wants to give us the best - Himself. His Spirit is working in our lives from the moment He saved us to the instant we join Him in glory. He is changing us to be like Christ and using every second of every joy and sorrow to that end. But in the joy and especially the sorrow, absolutely nothing can separate us from His love. 

- God can be trusted because the twists and turns of life don't depend on whether we got it or did it right. God is sovereign and makes no mistakes.

So if anyone from my past happens upon this, please throw out my previous advice, and pin your hope on this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:28-39

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reaping Benefit from the Virtual Company We Keep

At the end of July, I wrote a post about benefiting the virtual company we keep, wherein I shared my struggles with making sure my online presence is a benefit to others. Then we moved into Dead Theologian month (by the way, wasn't that great?!) and then I kicked off September with a review of Aimee Byrd's Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary (and if you didn't win this book in our giveaway, buy it. Now.) But I want to look at the idea of benefiting the virtual company we keep from the flip side, specifically my role in making sure the virtual company I keep is a benefit to me.

Some time ago, Tim Challies wrote an article about using online dating sites. I believe we can apply his words of wisdom regarding romantic relationships to our friendships as well, so I'm using his points of consideration as a guideline.

Pursue the heart. I believe there are two aspects of this point to consider.

First, is my online identity consistent with who I am? In other words, would my family members and church members recognize the online persona I've created? If I have represented myself to be someone I'm not, I may find myself in social media circles of people with whom I have little - if anything - in common. Not that our friends should be identical to us; if that were the case, life would be boring indeed. Still, genuine friendships are built upon common ground. For example, I have many online friends who homeschool even though I do not. We all realize that homeschooling our children isn't a requirement for salvation, but I think it's also important that we respect each other's position on the matter. In my 3D life I would most likely not have a close friend who thinks I'm a terrible mother because I don't homeschool, so why should that be different online?

Second, why am I seeking online friendships? Whether we're stay-at-home moms who yearn for adult conversation, empty-nesters who miss the social connections children bring, or somewhere in between, we must ask ourselves why online friendships are attractive to us. I personally know many women  - myself included - who have felt out of place in their 3D lives and been blessed to find a community of online friends with whom they feel more comfortable. Praise God for that! But I must confess that there have been many times when I've allowed my online friendships to get in the way of my call to minister locally. 

Move offline as quickly as possible. Among my co-writers here, I've been blessed to share coffee with Lisa and chocolate with Kim. Persis and I meet for lunch periodically and borrow books (confession: I do most of the borrowing). Those times of fellowship have strengthened friendships that began online. Of course there are instances when meeting face-to-face is not possible, but I strongly believe that friendships should not be played out for the entire world to see. Group discussions, silly and serious alike, can feed friendships, but private communication (e.g. email, phone calls) are much more nourishing than posts on a Facebook wall or Twitter feed.  It is in these one-on-one exchanges that we truly get to know our friend's heart and mind, and a genuine relationship is built.

Be wise.  There's a lot of quid pro quo in social media. It's easy to get trapped into feeling that we must reciprocate every comment or tweet. Through others, we meet people who we feel would make fantastic friends (they often do). Yet we must beware of the endless rabbit trails looming on the internet and social media in particular. We will do ourselves a great favor if we realize that there's a limit to the number of intimate friends we can have. Jesus kept the number of his closest friends to 12. We would be wise to follow his example.

The internet has allowed us to come in contact with wonderful people we would not have met otherwise. And I certainly don't want to minimize the joy of Christian fellowship that can be found in social media. I have received many blessings from my online friends: cards, flowers & calls when my mother died; financial support for mission trips and my husband's job loss; birthday and just-because gifts; and most importantly, prayers, encouragement and wisdom shared. All reminders that each lady is more than a profile picture or a url address. In order to reap benefit from the virtual company I keep, I must interact with that in mind and require those I allow closest to me to do the same.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Grieving in a Way That Honors God

I'd planned to write a post on Christians and dying well, but the days got away from me. I planned poorly; I didn't account for the thinking, thinking, and thinking some more required before the writing begins. And here I am, at 10 PM the night before my post goes live with only thoughts—and not enough of those. So I'm doing the only thing I can do, posting a quote from a book I'm reading, the book that started me thinking about dying well in the first place.

A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope includes the Puritan Richard Baxter's tribute to his wife written shortly after her her death, and J. I. Packer's commentary on it. (Will you rescind my membership in the Dead Guys Reading Club if I tell you I like Packer's parts more than Baxter's?)

Here are Packer's notes on grieving well. (The words are all his; I'm the one who formatted it as an ordered list.)
Grief—the experiential, emotional fruit of the bereavement event—is . . . a state of desolation and isolation, of alternating apathy and agony, of inner emptiness and exhaustion. How may such a condition be sanctified—that is, managed, lived with, and lived through in a way that honors God? No Puritan to my knowledge addresses the question in this form, but the Puritan answer would be this: 
  1. Starting from where you are, do what you can (it may not be much at first) to move toward . . . thanksgiving, submission, and patience. . . .
  2. Do not let your grief loosen your grip on the goodness and grace of your loving Lord.
  3. Cry (for there is nothing biblical of Christian, or indeed human, about the stiff upper lip).
  4. Tell God your sadness (several of the psalms, though not written about bereavement, will supply words for the purpose).
  5. Pray as you can, and don't try to pray as you can't. (That bit of wisdom is not original to me, nor was it distilled in a grief-counseling context, but it is very apropos here.)
  6. Avoid well-wishers who think they can cheer you up, but thank God for any who are content to be with you and do things for you without talking at you.
  7. Talk to yourself (or, like Richard [Baxter], write) about the loved one you lost.
  8. Do not try to hurry your way out of the inner weakness you feel: grieving takes time.
  9. Look to God as thankfully, submissively, and patiently as you can (and he will understand if you have to tell him that you cannot really do this yet).
  10. Feel, acknowledge, and face, consciously and from your heart, all the feelings that you find in yourself at present, and the day will come when you find yourself able, consciously and from your heart, to live to God daily in thanksgiving, submission, and patient hope once again . . . .
Grieving properly leads back to thinking properly, living properly, and praising properly. God sees to that! "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matt. 5:4). 
If I were going to add one thing, it would be this: Cling to hope. What separates Christian grief from non-Christian grief (or what sanctifies grief) is the certainty of eternal blessings to come. Focus your mind, as much as you can, on the thought that one day you will "ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Truth over feelings

Last week at this time, I was on my way home from one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to: the Yukon. It's actually home to our own Becky. Over the years, she has shared more than once how thankful she is to live there, and I now now first hand why she says it.


For five mornings,  I woke to look out the window and see the mountains with the clouds often just brushing the tops. We were awestruck by the magnificent peaks and the deep valleys, complete with ominous rapids. We were treated to both the bold blue sky as well as the gentle, soft hues of sunrise and sunset. The leaves were beginning to turn, and we could see the fall colours just coming to life, dotting the slopes of the mountains.  Beauty hovered at the ground, too, with wild cranberries, rich lichen, and tall grass along the river. When I am surrounded by such beauty, it prompts me to be grateful to God, to praise Him. At the end of the trip, I felt full to overflowing with gratitude, and all sorts of warm, fuzzy feelings.

When I got home,  it was back to reality. All of the "stuff" was right where I left it.  Unbelieving family members, conflict with friends and loved ones, illness, the struggle to live for God in a world gone mad. I found myself within a few short days having lost that feeling which warmed my heart on the plane ride home.

Feelings don't last. I need something beyond a feeling.

While God's revelation of Himself in His creation causes us to praise Him, and testifies to His glory, it is not sufficient to for lasting peace and contentment. We also need to know His character and His promises.  For that, we need to know the truth as revealed in His Word.  The Word of God reminds us that God is indeed on the throne.
Psalm 103: 15-19:
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it and is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and to those who keep his covenant
and remember his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all 
Whether or not I feel it, God's kingdom rules over all. Even when there are struggles and burdens and conflict, God is still on the throne. When I am frustrated with sin, including my own, and when I rail against the sin-cursed world, or grieve over a burden, that knowledge will keep me on a level path. Even though the world around me seems to have gone crazy,  I must press on and trust God, no matter how I feel.  Maybe I can't see it, but He is ruling. His Word tells me so.

Yes, God's creation brings me joy, and sometimes moves me to moments when I cannot speak. But those feelings fade, and they aren't enough to hold me up when things get hard. Ultimately, I must find my strength in the revealed truth. The truth never fades.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

Monday, September 16, 2013

We have some winners!

Congratulations to the winners of our anniversary book giveaways!

Three lucky people have won a copy of Aimee Byrd's book Housewife Theologian. They are:

Don Haflich
Jan Anderson
John Wiley

We need your mailing addresses so that we can forward them to P&R Publishing.  Please forward your mailing details to outoftheordinaryblog AT gmail DOT COM.

And now, the winner of the six book theology book giveaway is Jessica Little.

Thank you to all who entered the giveaways. And again, thank you for reading!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The discipline of loneliness

I have, at various stages in my journey, suffered from loneliness, some times more acutely than others. It is an interesting struggle for someone like me, me the introvert among introverts. I mean, really, what does an introvert crave more than her morning coffee if not solitude? I have discovered, however, as contrary as it seems, solitude is very different from solitary and those solitary periods of life, however long or however short, can be quite discouraging.

I remember me as a young mom convinced I was invisible. If not for changing diapers and filling juice cups would anyone even miss me? I wasn't sure. Though solitude was an impossibility what with four kids in a span of six years, but the solitariness, the loneliness, of that stage often left me depressed and discouraged. The tantrums, the endless reading of Good Night Moon, the constant pleas for "Mom! Mommy! Mama! Mommmmmmeeeeeeeee!", these were my private, lonely struggles that often comprised my day-to-day life. Oh, those stages passed and soon enough but, still, they were hard.

I find me as an older mom occasionally fighting a similar battle against loneliness. I no longer feel invisible but I do sometimes feel alone. It's a strange stage of life, here in the middle years, a theme we've explored several times here on this site. From the emptying nest to midlife issues to aging parents to menopause, much of what we face in our day-to-day life can feel like a solitary endeavor. We may be grieving a loss, worrying over a rebellious child, enduring a dark night of the soul. Who understands, we wonder. Who cares?

I am currently reading through Octavius Winslow's Consider Jesus in my morning devotions. A few days ago I read the following on loneliness...

How lonely may be your grief, O believer! None share your sorrow, few understand it. You are 'as a sparrow alone on the house-top.' There are none to watch with you in the garden of your anguish--your wounded heart, like the stricken deer, bleeds and mourns in secret. But your sorrow is all known to your loving, compassionate Savior; whose wisdom appointed it, whose love sent it, whose grace sustains it, and who will soothe and strengthen with His tenderest sympathy. Let your labor of love, your lonely sorrow, throw you more entirely upon, and bring you into closer, more believing, and more loving relations with, the Savior; wean you more from the creature; separate you more from the world; and set you more supremely apart from God. Oh! then you will thank Him for the discipline of loneliness as among the holiest and most precious blessings of your life!

Can we thank Him for the discipline of loneliness? Can we trust Him who appointed and sent this stage with its sometimes lonely struggles? Yes. He is faithful. He sees. He knows. He strengthens. He comforts. Yes and amen.

And our faithful God has not left us alone, no matter how lonely we may feel. He has given us the local church, sisters and brothers in Christ to bear our burdens and share our joys. Not only that but it is our desire here at Out of the Ordinary to be a source of gospel encouragement no matter your stage of life. May the Lord show Himself faithful to us all in our lonely times and our times of fullness! He is so good!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Grace Incognito

The ladies in my church had a get-together Sunday evening. To break the ice, we were divided into random groups and given several questions prepared by our hostess. These questions weren't the typical "What is your favorite color? What was your most embarrassing moment?" Rather her intent was to encourage us to go beyond small talk and delve a little deeper. Two of the questions were:

- Do you feel you need to portray a perfect front?

- Do you have sin in your life that you are struggling with and need prayer?

My group had a very good discussion, but there were two observations from the pastor's wife that struck home. First, we may be willing to let others know about our struggles but only after the fact. Second, we may be maintaining a front even though it's not the "I am the perfect Christian woman who has it all together" variety. It may take the form of making sure others see how well we handle our brokenness.

Does this ring a bell? It does for me.

We like happy endings and success stories, so it's easy to think experiencing triumph is the epitome of the Christian life. The prayers were answered. The sin was conquered. The problem was solved. We don't have much stamina either, so the quicker God moves, the better. If He comes through according to our expectations, hallelujah! But what if He chooses otherwise? What if the battle with sin is lifelong or the circumstances don't change? If I am only willing to share my struggles when they are over, I could be waiting a very long time trying to hold out on my own. In addition, I may like the idea of portraying the strong Christian woman weathering adversity with a brave face, but I don't get to choose the scene of my martyrdom that will show off my good side. 1

But what if the point isn't sprinting across the finish line in record time, but knowing God in every halting, baby step along the way? So instead of grumbling, "Here we go again", my attitude could be, "Lord, thank You for another opportunity to cast my cares on You." "Thank You for being faithful and just to forgive my sins even if it's for the nth time today." Rather than feeling like a burden when asking for prayer from the church, God could be using a drawn-out situation to increase love among the saints and strengthen the bonds of fellowship.

What if grace not only grants deliverance but gives patient endurance year after year? It may not wear the champion's laurels, but be incognito, dressed in the plain clothes of the long-term struggles of life. God's grace is present and sufficient even when it's hiding in plain sight.

Oh Lord, give me eyes to see!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor. 12:9

1. My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers, reading for November 11.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Resources for Teens: Housewife Theologian by Aimee Byrd

As part of the Fight Like a Girl series, I encouraged mothers to take an active role in the spiritual growth of their daughters. I admit, this is something I struggle with. I come up with a plan to be more involved in my girl's spiritual growth and we start out full of determination. Then, despite my best intentions, life interrupts us and my plan gets derailed. Discouraged, I back away until the Holy Spirit convicts me - again - that my time with my girl at home is growing short.

This is one of many reasons I'm thrilled that Aimee Byrd has penned
Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary. While the title may cause you to think the book is for adults only, Aimee's message applies to women of ALL ages and stages in life. She is passionate about women learning the Word of God and developing a good theology.

"In this information age in which we live, many women find the conveniences of technology cutting us off from meaningful, mentoring relationships that shepherd us in our unique role." (p. 15) While this is certainly true outside the home, I believe it is especially true in our homes. How many of us are content to let our daughters immerse themselves in their cell phones listening to music we can't hear, having "conversations" we can't hear, and completely tuning us out? Have we allowed technology to dictate the way we parent? Housewife Theologian offers a wonderful opportunity for us to reclaim the mother-daughter relationship.

Aimee writes about biblical womanhood, the Sabbath, carrying the Gospel with us in our daily lives, and hospitality - topics that are vitally important to our girls' spiritual growth. Each chapter includes journaling questions that make the book a powerful tool we can use to disciple our daughters. I've been practically giddy reading the questions and thinking of the discussions they might spark.

The 12-chapter format makes the book perfect for a year of mentoring your girl without being overwhelming to either of you. Each chapter could be a springboard for a month-long discussion of that particular topic. Imagine how much stronger your relationship with your girl might be if you had one year of digging into God's Word together.

Three of you will have the opportunity to do just that, courtesy of P&R Publishing! If you live in the United States or Canada, enter the drawing below. Three winners will be announced on September 16th (along with the winner of our anniversary giveaway).

To learn more about Aimee's vision for Housewife Theologian, watch the book trailer. You can also visit her blog by the same name.

Thanks to P&R Publishers for providing me - and three of you! - with a copy of this book.

*This giveaway is now closed. *

Friday, September 6, 2013

Like an Anchor — or a Rock

That God is immutable means he doesn’t change. There is constancy about him, a steadfast unchangeability in who he is and what he does. One of my favorite passages of scripture is from Hebrews 6, a text that points to two ways God is immutable:
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17-18 ESV)
God’s purpose, or his counsel — the plan he is carrying out in creation — is unchangeable. If God determines that He will do something, then it will certainly be done.

It seems logical that God’s plans are immutable. God’s plans aren't like my plans, which are subject to change because of unforeseen circumstances, like plumbing disasters, for instance, or even unpredictable feelings like tiredness or crankiness. The conditions that make my plans changeable don’t apply to an all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful God.

This text in Hebrews grounds the immutability of God’s purpose in something else. When God promises that something will happen, and doubly, when he takes an oath guaranteeing it, it will surely come about because it is impossible for God to lie. That God cannot lie points us to the unchanging nature of his character: He is constantly truthful and immutably so.

Scripture points to the steadfast character of God in many other places. James 1:13 says God can’t be tempted with evil, and he doesn't ever tempt anyone with evil. His immutable righteousness makes tempting and being tempted impossible for him. According to Isaiah 40:13-14, God can’t be taught anything, so we know his knowledge is complete and unchanging. His mercy can be counted on to be enduringly consistent as well (Psalm 107:1).

Just as it makes sense that God’s counsel is immutable, it makes sense that His character is changeless. God is what he is completely, perfectly. To change would mean increase or decrease, growth or loss, improvement or corruption, and these are are incompatible with completeness and perfection.

When we think of God as immutable, however, we shouldn’t think of him as inactive. His character and his plans are unchanging, but he doesn't just sit back to watch his perfect plans unfold. He is working constantly in creation to accomplish everything he has planned.

And while it seems certain that God doesn't have emotions exactly like ours, according to scripture he does express love, joy, and anger, etc. But instead of showing changeability in God, these affections* reveal his immutable character. He always takes pleasure in righteousness, and is always displeased with sin. What we experience from God, then, is different when we are obedient than it is when we sin, but this is not because God changes. Rather, it's God's unchanging character that assures us that when we change our attitude and actions, his attitude and actions toward us are different than they were.

What does it mean for us that God is immutable? The biggest benefit is that an immutable God can be trusted. In the passage quoted at the start of this post, it says that if we’ve taken refuge in God, his immutability gives us strong encouragement to hold on to his promises to us, trusting that he will keep his promises for sure.  

Because God is unchanging in both his counsel and his character, the hope we have is a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” We may think of hope as something elusive, like a helium balloon bobbing in the wind, dancing away from us just beyond our grasp. But the hope we have in God is no balloon; it's an anchor, because God is like an anchor — or a rock.

Our God can be counted on to be as he is forever, and to do what he says forever. He is faithful because his character is steadfast and his counsel stands.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

(Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)


*I struggle with a word to use. States of mind? Emotions? Affections? Nothing seems quite right. Our emotions are analogous to something found in God, but God does not have emotions like ours. We are like him, but he is not like us.

This was first posted at my personal blog several years ago — although I've changed it so much I'm not sure it qualifies as a "repost." (See! My posts change; I change; but God doesn't.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Happy Anniversary to Us!

It's hard to believe that the six of us have been blogging here at Out of the Ordinary for a whole year. It has gone by so quickly. I think we all rather forgot about September being the anniversary until one of us brought it up.

It has been a great year for blogging for us. We have enjoyed working together, and it's always been particularly edifying for me when our posts seem to dovetail together despite the fact that we generally don't check with each other about what we're writing. The month of August was one of my personal favourites, because I was introduced to new writers that caused me to add to the always growing "wish list" of books. I'm pretty sure the other ladies feel the same.

We are grateful to anyone who has read and shown an interest in what we're doing here. The comments have almost always been favourable.  Just knowing someone has been encouraged is a blessing to us, because above all, we want to encourage. I, myself, have been encouraged by the writings of my fellow bloggers, and I'm thankful daily to have their input into my life.

In this past year, the post with the most views was Six Books of Theology Every Christian Woman Should Read. Imagine our surprise when it was even picked up at the Gospel Coalition.  That was pretty exciting. This created for us, the perfect way to celebrate our one year anniversary.

As a thank you to our readers, we are offering a giveaway of all six of these books.  One lucky individual will receive all six theology books every Christian woman should read. Below you will find a form to fill out to enter. We will announce the winner on September 16th. Entrants must live in the United States or Canada.

Be on the lookout next week for another giveaway!

On behalf of all of us, thank you to those who have liked our Facebook page, followed our Twitter links to this page, or subscribed to this blog. We are blessed by the warm reception we have been given. Thank you all!

*This giveaway is now closed.*

Monday, September 2, 2013

In Defense of Old Books

Our thanks to everyone for reading and encouraging us. September is here. In the United States it's Labor Day, the last holiday of summer. I will wrap up our dead theologians month with a quotation from C.S. Lewis explaining why we should take the trouble to read old books in the first place.
A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed "at" some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ("mere Christianity" as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were a completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H.G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

From God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics by C.S. Lewis.