Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seven Things for the New Year

This is an excerpt from a New Year's address by James Smith who was C.H. Spurgeon's predecessor at the New Park Street Chapel. He mentions seven things to experience, to have, to do, to enjoy, and be preserved from in the New Year. When I read his lists, I couldn't ask for anything better for my loved ones or myself in 2015.

May God grant us these blessings for His praise and glory.

*******

[T]here are seven things I wish you may all more fully EXPERIENCE this year:

His Spirit working in your hearts,
His blood speaking in your consciences,
His power subduing your corruptions,
His blessing resting upon your souls,
His presence cheering your way,
His righteousness covering your sins,
His peace keeping your hearts and minds.

There are seven things I wish you may know it is your privilege to HAVE this year:
a name in his book,
a sight of his covenant,
a tear in his bottle,
a place in his heart,
a title to his fullness,
a right to his promises,
and an interest in his prayers.

There are seven things I wish you may DO this year:
weep at his cross,
wrestle at his throne,
cleave to his truth,
walk in his ways,
aim at his honor,
comfort his people,
and spread his fame in every direction.

There are seven things which I wish you may ENJOY this year:
the light of his countenance,
the power of his love,
the hope of his calling,
the blessings of his chosen,
contentment under all dispensations,
liberty in performing his commands,
and victory over every foe.

There are seven things from which I hope you may be PRESERVED from this year:
a hard heart,
a seared conscience,
a Laodicean state,
a proud look,
an unforgiving spirit,
an envious eye,
and distrusting God.

And now, brethren, Jesus can give all that I wish you to experience, to know, to enjoy! And he can preserve you from all I wish you to be kept from...

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

From A New Year's Address, James Smith, New Park Street Chapel, London, 1849.

Monday, December 29, 2014

My Bible Reading Plan for 2015

After Christmas has passed, the Christian blogosphere begins to buzz with suggestions for reading through the Bible in the coming year. I could link to them here, but chances are that you're already seeing some of these posts in your feed reader. If not, Google "Bible reading plans" and you'll find plenty to choose from.

I confess that I've started many and finished none. Does that make me a Bible-reading failure? I don't think so. I'm of the quality over quantity sort. While I enjoy reading certain books together to see how God's narrative of redemption fits together, I learn more when I read slowly and deliberately. When I don't feel the condemnation of the unchecked boxes. It's taken me a while - up until right now - to realize that it's okay if I don't subject myself to this pressure. While it's true there are verses - in fact, entire books - in the Bible I've never read, God won't bar me from Heaven. My salvation rests on the shed blood of Christ, not checks on a bookmark.

I admit I've been frustrated in years past because I can't keep up, but the impetus for my change in attitude has been my pastor. He started preaching on Exodus last January. As of this writing, we are little more than halfway through. Some people may cringe at the thought of going through a book - particularly an Old Testament book - at this snail's pace, but I have learned more than I ever thought I would. Holding a magnifying glass to Israel's exodus to the wilderness has helped me discover Jesus and the glory of the Gospel over and over again.

In 2015 I'll be spending three months with each of the Gospels, focusing on the life and ministry of Jesus. I want to think deeply on these things, and ponder them in my heart as Mary did (Luke 2:19). Of course I'll be reading along in Exodus until we finish, then I'll start whatever book my pastor preaches through next. And I'll also be reading the Scripture recommendations in my devotional resource, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional.

At the beginning of this year Lisa wrote a post about the rewards of reading through the Bible in a year. I encourage you to read it and give it much thought. Focusing on the Gospels is what I need in the coming year, but others will have different needs. If you've found a particular reading plan that works well for you, please share it in the comments as an exhortation to others.

Happy New Year and may you be blessed by whichever plan you choose for 2015. As Lisa wrote, "The goal is not the plan; the goal is reading the Word."


For as the rain and snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
-Isaiah 55:10-11


_____________
*Please note I'm not suggesting that reading the entire Bible in a year isn't a worthwhile pursuit, or that we should ignore portions of the Bible. My 2015 approach is what I feel I need to do at this particular point in my life. The bottom line is to Read.The.Word.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Memories and Christmas Wishes

My grandma used to keep a glass container of peppermint sticks on the TV, right under the starburst clock that everybody’s grandma had in the 70s. (Both my grandmas had one.) It may have been a Christmas thing, and it may have been just one Christmas, but in my mind they were there for a very long time.

We always went to this grandma’s house late morning on Christmas day, and one Christmas I had forgotten to eat breakfast in all the excitement. Therefore I got to have a peppermint stick before lunch. To this day when I see peppermint sticks in a jar I think of that Christmas morning.

Memory is a funny thing. I will be driving along and a song will snap be back to 1988. Today the lady in front of me in the checkout lane was wearing the perfume of a college friend. The scent of a certain kind of air freshener reminds me of my sophomore year dorm room, and the smell of mildew reminds me of the dorm laundry room.

We attach things to our memories. Some are pleasant, and some are not. Some take us back to times of sadness, and some times of happiness.

When it comes to Christmas, I tend to agree with Charles Spurgeon: “I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day…” But, like Spurgeon, I think celebrating it is a good thing: “Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day.”

For a little while, people in the Western world have to give at least a fleeting thought to what we’re all doing. Society is doing its level best to separate our Christmas celebrations from the birth of Christ, but they haven’t managed to sever them completely.

Sometimes all the preparation makes me tired. I once commented to my daughter that when you really think about it, the idea of putting a lighted tree in your living room is kind of bizarre (I may have stolen some of her joy with that remark). But I hope that this season causes people to think, just for a second, about what all the fuss is about. I hope that in the midst of Santa and elves and reindeer, in the frantic purchasing of gifts, that they ponder what it all really means. I hope that somewhere in their minds, the real story of the baby in the manger is there and they think about it. And I hope that if they don’t know, they ask someone, and I hope that they get the right answer.

This post was adapted from a post that appeared on my personal blog.

Friday, December 19, 2014

I need Christmas

It's something of a strange Christmas for us this year. In fact, it doesn't feel much like Christmas at all. I haven't decorated nor do I plan to this year. Nope, not even a tree nor a wreath. I put out some red and white snowflake placemats, hung a "Merry Christmas Y'all" towel in the guest bath, and called it a day. Don't worry, I'm not *exactly* a Scrooge, no more than usual that is, but we are in the process of packing to move to a new home in January so unloading and reloading boxes of Christmas decor is a little more than I care to take on at the moment.

I suppose the most Christmas-y part of the month has been the boxes arriving on my doorstep. Online shopping is my friend, yes and amen.

So, yeah, Christmas doesn't exactly feel like Christmas to me. It's interesting to me how much my Christmas celebration is propped up by the externalities: the tree, the garland, the weather. Don't get me wrong, I love tradition and I think the rituals of Christmas can greatly enhance our observation of the season. At my church, for example, we light the candles of the Advent wreath on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. I always look forward to the Scripture reading and to the hopeful anticipation that marks the coming of our Savior.

This year though. In the busy-ness of the fall, December descended with shock and surprise, I am distracted, my mind is full of everything but the hope of Advent, and I think, this isn't Christmas, at least not the sepia toned version we hold to be the ideal.

My friend and fellow counselor at the pregnancy center died suddenly. Such loss and sudden grief doesn't feel much like Christmas either.

I scroll through my Twitter feed and my heart grows heavy. It doesn't seem much like Christmas there either. Our world is broken. Grief, injustice, heartbreak, wickedness, loss--this is the world we live in. We need a Savior. We are lost, desperate, doomed. We need rescuing.

I look into my own heart and, if I take an honest assessment, I see brokenness there too. Sin, wickedness--I need a Savior. I am lost, desperate, doomed apart from Christ. I need rescuing.

I need Christmas. Our world needs Christmas.

Here is the reason for the season in all its stark reality: we are so wicked and so depraved and so willfully rebellious in our sin that we could never save ourselves. Indeed we would not want to. God had to come get us.

This is the Christmas season. Not because the calendar tells us so but because today is the day of salvation. God the Father sent His Son to be born a baby. Fully man and fully God, He lived the perfect life in perfect obedience and died a cruel and horrible death to pay the penalty for sin. He rose from the grave and He lives to freely offer forgiveness and His perfect righteousness to all who would repent and believe. This is the good news of the gospel and of grace, this is the hope of Advent, this is Christmas.

“…and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:21

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Gift of Gifts


O SOURCE OF ALL GOOD,
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts.
    thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
    my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
    his self-emptying incomprehensible,
    his infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders:
    he came below to raise me above,
    was born like me that I might become like him.
Herein is love;
    when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
        to raise me to himself.
Herein is power;
    when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
    he united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.
Herein is wisdom;
    when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
        and no intellect to devise recovery,
    he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
        as man to die my death.
            to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
            to work out a perfect righteousness for me.
O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
    and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
    and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
    my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
    my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
    to look with them upon my Redeemer's face,
    and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
    embrace him with undying faith,
    exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, Banner of Truth Trust, 2013, pg. 16.
Photo credit: Workshop of Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 15, 2014

Finding What Matters in Christmas

From the 2010 archives of my personal blog.


Even with its candle glowing, the Advent altar looked bare. A new Nativity scene, perhaps? After all, what's Christmas without the baby?

I looked in several stores, finding nothing that fit. Then I remembered my girl's childhood set, given by a friend. It would be just right there.

Can we move it to the altar?

But it's mine. I want it in my room.


And how can a mother argue with that?

I remembered a set in the attic, a small one I don't use anymore. I offered that to her. Once again, I was content to offer my leftovers to this sweet child.  She reluctantly agreed.

When I went to find it, I found another I'd forgotten about. It fit perfectly.

I'm ashamed that I had casually tossed the Holy Family in with other Christmas decorations I no longer use...and there are many. I've tried numerous ways to deck our halls over the years, wanting to find the perfect combination befitting a magazine cover. I ran myself ragged, only to find that shiny baubles and figurines left me empty. Their loud shouts of look at me! drowned out the quiet of the manger.

This season is different.

Yes, there are still a few shiny baubles tucked among a small number of Santa Clauses from my youth.  There are sappy holiday movies. There will be Christmas cookies, parties, and gifts.

But in the hushed glow of the Christmas tree...

I gaze at the past - treasured decorations from my own childhood that bring to mind Christmases gone by.

I see the fiery love that has spanned nearly two decades - beautiful ornaments and trinkets given by my love.

I hear the quiet of the Heavenly hosts holding their breath in anticipation of God becoming man.

I feel the lump in my throat, as I swallow hard & resolve to no longer mar Christmas with my own self-indulgence.

I hear the beat of my own heart as I prepare Him room and wait expectantly for His arrival.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Sure Thing

There was a time in my life when everything was building. I was gaining: more children, a bigger home, further education, a better life. There was hope, not necessarily for big things, but for good things.

But before I got there, the tide turned. The gaining stopped and the losing began: illness, death, and children who wandered. And with the losses came a clear view inside my own heart, because there’s nothing like losing beloved people and cherished dreams to reveal the idolatry in my desires.

This is the way of our world: sin, dark hearts, illness, and death. The whole thing has been cursed. I’ve always known it, but now I know it. I feel it in my chest every morning.

It was here, into this world, a cursed world that steals dreams and makes hearts ache, that the Eternal Son was born and grew and lived. When did he come to understand that so many innocent boys his own age had been slaughtered—and slaughtered in an attempt to kill him? How old was he when he lost his earthly father? How did he feel when his own brothers disbelieved him? When a friend betrayed him? When his people did not receive him? Did the dark hearts around him make his heart ache?

One thing is sure: He experienced more of the darkness of our world than I will. I know the darkness of my own life, but on his cross he carried the whole dark curse.

He carried the curse to turn back the tide. He returned hope, but a better hope—the kind of hope that’s a sure thing. It’s certain hope for big things and good things: healing and life and clean hearts. It’s hope for another world—a new world. Our great gain is a sure thing because God gave and Christ gave up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can Man Forget This Story?

I was not raised in a Christian home, but I loved Christmas. We didn't have much, but my parents always worked to make it nice for us.

While it was a wonderful time, it was never a time to learn about the reason for Christmas. We had a little crĂȘche in the living room, but that was about it. We had a bible, but it was never really opened. To hear about the real reason for Christmas, I relied on what song and story told.

Back then, in public schools, we learned Christmas carols. Yes, we sang about Santa Claus, but we also sang, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and "Joy to the World." We also read picture books telling the story of Christmas. One year, my teacher was a nun, and we heard a lot about the Christmas story that year. One year, I went to the public library to learn more about how other places in the world celebrated Christmas, and I learned more about the birth of Christ from those books. In my room, I listened to Bing Crosby's Christmas album (yes, long before CDs or cassette tapes), and I heard "O Come All Ye Faithful" sung in Latin and English.

I was thankful for what those songs and stories provided for my inquiring mind. I'm thankful there were songs which sung about the birth of Christ. Sometimes, I feel very sad at the fact that today, children know more about "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" than they do about Mary and Joseph, or that Christmas movies depict nothing of people celebrating the Christ child, but instead focus on ridiculous family situations during the holidays, or sappy romance scenarios. One could go through the whole season if he wanted, and never hear about Christ.

I am thankful for poems like this, by Ben Jonson, who was a 17th century poet. I'm thankful they are still preserved. While as a child I enjoyed stories like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and read them to my own children, I am thankful for the stories, songs, and poems which tell the truth of Christmas. I hope that somewhere out there, a child or young person who is wondering about Christmas will find this poem. I read this to my children when we homeschooled. I seriously doubt it's acceptable to have publicly educated children memorize such poems as a class, but hopefully, an inquiring student will find it on his own.

Can Man Forget This Story?

I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
The angels so did sound it,
And like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the soul from danger;
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word, which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.

The Father's wisdom willed it so,
The Son's obedience knew no "No,"
Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made Flesh indeed,
And took on Him our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win?
Who made Himself the Prince of sin,
To make us heirs of glory?
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyr born in our defense,
Can man forget this story?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas lights, worn out moms, and the world

One night, fourteen years ago, we piled the boys in the van and took a drive to look at Christmas lights. The baby was then a mere few days old and his mother an exhausted wreck as all new mothers are. How long had it been since I'd ventured out of the house? For that matter, how many days had I spent in my pajamas? My life at that point consisted of a hazy conglomeration of feedings and occasional naps and the demands of not only the newborn but of a 5 year old, 4 year old and a 2 year old. Bless my heart.

That night we drove around the neighborhood pointing out the spectacular and the not-so-spectacular light displays. I can't remember if the boys were impressed or not. I do know I nearly wept from the few moments of rest. And freedom. And shock. Is it crazy to admit that I was surprised to find that life outside my four walls had carried on as usual? People decorated their homes and went to work and cooked supper, all without any knowledge or concern of the life-altering event I'd just experienced. It sounds silly to admit but I suppose I had forgotten there was a world beyond my own. As I said my life had, to that point, been consumed by the needs and responsibilities within our four walls. When we ventured out and I caught glimpse of the world outside I was surprised.

We concluded our little escape at the drive through nativity put on by a local church in our community. There amid the livestock and the mock stable was a baby. And a new mom. As we listened to the cassette tape intended to accompany the live nativity and as I watched the depiction of Mary and the baby I thought of my own newborn babe and I considered all over again the humility of Mary’s obedience and the joy of the Messiah’s birth, the baby Jesus born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

My need was great in those days and the gospel became incredibly precious to me as I struggled with the sheer physical and emotional exhaustion of being a mom to four. The incarnation—that Jesus became a man—was a comfort. He knew fatigue. He understood weariness. He was fully man and fully God and able to sympathize. He saves worn out moms desperate for grace, yes and amen.

That cold night we spent admiring Christmas lights taught me another important truth: the blessing of the Incarnation isn’t only for me. I am part of a wider story, a bigger picture, a greater world. All around me people are living lives desperate for the truth of the gospel, lives untouched and unchanged by the life-altering, world-altering event of Jesus' birth.

Jesus saved me, glory to His name, but He came to save all who are His. This gospel story isn’t merely about me and my need, it is about God redeeming a people for Himself through the birth, death and resurrection of His Son. There is a world outside our immediate context. May we look beyond our four walls and see God’s sweeping purposes throughout history. Mary, me, you--we are part of the joy God brings to the world through His Son. Let us go and tell.


Author's note: this article originally appeared at my personal blog December 2013. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

God Keeps His Promise

I can't imagine what went through Adam and Eve's minds after they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had lived in perfect communion with God, each other, and creation. But now, by their act of disobedience, sin ruined this harmony forever. Adam and Eve hid from their Creator. They were blame-shifting and about to be expelled from paradise. If I summed up all my moments of regret and multiplied them thousands of times over, perhaps it might come close to what they were feeling. But I also wonder if these words gave them hope even in the midst of the fall.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Gen. 3:15

Theologians call this verse the proto-evangelium, the first preaching of the gospel. One day a seed of the woman will deal a death-blow to Satan. This seed will suffer in the process, but he will be victorious, not just for himself but for all mankind. So God pronounced judgment, but He promised hope as well. 

I wonder if Eve remembered this promise when Seth was born after Abel's murder and Cain's banishment. Could he be the one? But Seth died, and subsequent generations after him lived and died. Yet this hope lived on and was fueled by hints and glimpses of the One who was to come - a ruler from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10) and an heir to David's throne who will reign in justice and righteousness forever (Is. 9:6-7). Despite the ebb and flow of history and the spiritual condition of His people, God would keep His promise.

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. Gal. 4:4-5
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:20-21

So the incarnation fulfills God's promise in Genesis 3:15, the fleshing out of the proto-evangelium. Not just any descendant of Adam, but God the Son taking on human flesh, living a perfect life before God the Father, taking our deserved punishment on the cross, and dealing a death-blow to the Serpent. The Seed of the woman has won once and for all!

We have the benefit of looking back and tracing this thread from Eden to Bethlehem and ultimately to Calvary and the empty tomb. We can appreciate the longing of the Old Testament saints who believed that God keeps His promise even though they didn't live to see its fulfillment. In a sense, we are like them because we are hoping in God's promise, too. 

Jesus came once, but we are waiting for Him to come again. We may not understand or agree on the details of how it will unfold. History and the state of the Church will continue to ebb and flow. We may die and go home before Christ returns, but we can rest assured that God will keep His promise. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thess. 4:16-18.

Sources:
Sermons on Genesis by Pastor J. Ryan Davidson, Grace Baptist Chapel, September 2014 to present.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Double Vision




To understand what my Savior means to me
You must look beyond Calvary.
No, I do not deny the impact of the Cross,
For it was there my Beloved paid the cost
Of my sin; my shame and guilt He did bear
So that I could look at my life and see Him here:

In the hug of a child, so precious and dear;
When she says say “I love you”, it’s His voice I hear.
In the love of a friend who holds my hand tight,
I can hear Him whisper, “My child, I’m here. Everything’s alright.”
When I was ready, He made me a wife
To a husband who ministers to me each day of my life.
So many other blessings I can’t begin to count.
I’m afraid if I do, I’ll leave something out.

But it’s this about my Jesus that I most truly love:
That He left His glorious home up above
To come to this world. My heart can’t comprehend
How He could leave His Father for this place of sin.
Born among animals. He died amidst thieves,
Ridiculed and mocked. Oh! Soul can’t you see
That my Jesus left Heaven that night long ago
Because He knew that years later I would be needing Him so!

I ask you to put the manger beside the Cross.
See them together, and realize God’s loss.
How it must have hurt to send His Son away,
Yet He did so, even knowing there would come a day
He would see Him, covered in blood,
So that His children might proclaim “JESUS IS LORD!”
And reconcile with Him in our Heavenly home;
This is the reason Jesus left His Throne.

Don’t focus on one and lose sight of the other.
To know the whole story, you must put them together;
The manger of hay and Calvary’s tree
Unite with the message: MY JESUS LOVES ME.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful for Small, Ordinary Gifts

Grace by Eric Enstrom
We should, of course, thank God for the great things he does, like healing someone with serious health problems, or blessing us with spiritual blessings, like adoptionsalvation, and the fellowship of other believers. These are all extraordinary gifts from our healing and saving God.

But this short quote from John Calvin is a reminder to thank God for common, everyday things, too:
There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
God's purpose in the ordinary gifts is our joy: joy in the gifts, but even more, joy in the One who gives them. One hair on a head, one wildflower in a field, one bird in the air—or a bowl of oatmeal and a loaf of bread—assure us that God is constantly caring for us and working for our good.

Why not give thanks for your ordinary gifts today? Rejoice over a piece of leftover turkey, maybe, and help it fulfill its God-given purpose.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful Thursday

We here at Out of the Ordinary want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving today! No doubt most of you won't even be reading this post, but will be celebrating with your families. If you do have somewhere to eat, and people to share your meal, be thankful. Some people do not have that and won't spend their day surrounded by turkey and loved ones.

Is there any better time to be thankful than on a day when we gather with family and friends and share a good meal? If any of you are Pinterest users, you may have seen the recent influx of recipes geared toward holiday meals. From now until December 25th, we will be inundated with baking ideas and pictures of lavishly set tables featuring all kinds of meals, from the traditional golden turkey to something a little different. One of the boards I follow on Pinterest had all sorts of ideas for vegetarian options for the season.

We here in North America, for the most part are very fortunate when it comes to food. There have been some years, when I have looked on the holiday table where I am eating and been very aware that the leftovers scraped from the plates would actually feed a family in some developing country somewhere. I am very thankful for the food we eat. I am thankful for fresh vegetables and fruits in the off season, and for local butchers and dairy providers. I am thankful for local food banks, who work to provide for those who struggle financially. I'm thankful for my local church, who participates in food drives for the food bank during Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am thankful that when my children were young, I did not have to wonder where their next meal was coming from. I am thankful for organizations such as Compassion, which provides ways to share with those in other countries.

I recently was given a perspective about food that was a good reminder. My husband and I are friends with a couple who are missionaries in Papua New Guinea. They have only been there since July, and it has been interesting to watch how they have adapted. The husband wrote an update recently where he reflected on what he called the "tropical diet," and how he had lost almost twenty pounds. One of the reasons, aside from the number of tropical viruses which can befall one, he mentioned the cost of food. He's simply not eating as he would at home in North America. What we take for granted as a meal is likely not the norm everywhere.

I am thankful for the fact that despite our occasional grumbling, food prices here in North America are cheaper compared to other places. I'm thankful that God gave us a world where we can produce good things to eat. Today, when you sit down to eat your meal, whatever it is, be thankful for God's provision of food.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thankful for...lots of things

We’ve spent the month here talking about thanksgiving. I missed my turn a couple of weeks ago, and it’s only been in the past couple of days that I’ve had a chance to read everyone else’s posts.

You see, a couple of weeks ago I was awakened by an early morning phone call. It was not good news, as early morning phone calls seldom are. There was a medical emergency in my extended family. My post might not be as polished as the others, but I have a long list of things to be thankful for.

I am thankful for modern medicine. What would have been a grave situation a few decades ago can now be fixed with surgery.

I am thankful for air travel, so that my sister who lives far away can decide at 9 o’clock in the morning that she wants to come, and then be there by suppertime.

I am thankful for the body of Christ. I have a lot of balls in the air right now—family, work, school, church, blog—and I walked away from all of them for a few days. My husband was out of town that week, so I needed more help than usual. Friends took care of my kids for me. People at church picked up my slack. Employers, instructors, and blog friends gave me grace.

Everything is good now. Life is back to normal. And I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thankful for Adoption

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God... 1 John 3:1a (KJV)


Rebecca posted last week on being thankful for salvation. This golden chain from election to the final resurrection is wonderful, but there is one link that is very dear to my heart. I am thankful for adoption.

God could have justified me without adopting me. It certainly would have been more than enough to be forgiven of my sins and given right standing before Him because of Christ's work. 1 He hasn't brought me to His orphanage or enrolled me in His foster care system either. I am not under probation, waiting and wondering if the final papers will be filed in the court of heaven. This outcast has been welcomed with arms of love and given a seat at the family table, 2 and His choice was made even before the foundation of the world. ( Rom. 8:15; Eph. 1:4-5)

God is not like the god of the deists who is remote and detached. He is a loving Father who has compassion for His children. (Ps. 103:13) When I'm tempted to be anxious, I am reminded that He knows exactly what I need. (Matt. 6:30-32) In times of sorrow and rejection, God never forsakes His own. (Ps. 27:10) 

When I sin and wonder if I've forfeited His love and favor, I am reminded that there was nothing I could have done to deserve it in the first place. Yet God demonstrated His love to me, a sinner, and at the greatest possible cost, the death of Christ. (Rom. 5:6-10)

It's no wonder the Apostle John says, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us."!

'Behold what manner of love'! ... The freeness of this love that looked upon us in spite of our sin, in spite of our recalcitrance, in spite of our unworthiness, in spite of our foulness as the result of the Fall and our own actions. Oh, the love that has not merely forgiven us but has given itself to us, that entered into us and shared its own nature with us; stand in awe at the greatness of it all! Think of what it cost Him, our Lord Jesus Christ, to come into the world, to live in the world, suffering its treatment, staggering up Golgotha with that cross upon His shoulders, and being nailed to the tree. Think of Him dying, suffering the agony, and the shame of it all in order that you and I might become children of God.
'Behold, what manner of love' - you cannot understand it, you cannot explain it. The only thing we can say is that it is the eternal love, it is the love of God and is self-generated, produced by nothing but itself, so that in spite of us and all that is true of us He came and died and suffered so much. The Son of God became the Son of Man, that we, the sons of men, might become the children of God. It is true, we are that; we have been made that. Amazing, incredible, yet true!3

Now it's your turn. What are you thankful for today? Please share it in the comments so we can all be encouraged. There is nothing too small for which to praise the Lord.
                                                                                                                                                           
1. Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 739.
2. From Debtors to Heirs, sermon on Romans 8:12-17 by J. Ryan Davidson, Grace Baptist Chapel, April 28, 2013.
3. Children of God, Life in Christ Volume 3, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Crossway Books, 1993, pg. 19.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thankful for the Body

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ. (p. 29)
No church is perfect. Sometimes it is difficult to be thankful for a group of sinners and the inevitable conflicts, attitudes, tensions, and well, sins, that arise. And yet, the church is our community. It is perhaps the only place - other than our homes - where we truly belong, this side of heaven. Gratitude is one of the means for authentic community (Stephen J. Nichols, Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life: From the Cross, for the World (Theologians on the Christian Life), p. 69).

A couple of years ago Lisa wrote a post about loving her church. Her words were a balm to me while my husband and I were looking for a new church family. They remain with me to this day.

Today, I am thankful for my church family.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thankful for Salvation

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15 ESV)
The Apostle Paul is known for his spontaneous expressions of praise in his writing and the verse quoted above is one of them. God gave up his Son to save us—a gift too wonderful to describe—and as Paul thinks about this as he writes, he interjects his thanksgiving into the text. Paul is thankful for Jesus, sent by God to save his people. Without the gift of the Son, we would all remain under God's condemnation, and none of us could be saved.

This past Wednesday, Kim urged us to follow Paul's example in thanking God for people, and today I'm hoping we can learn from him to be thankful for Jesus, his work, and all the saving benefits that we receive through him.

Here's a list of some of the aspects of our salvation to give thanks for:
  • election. I am saved only because God decided in eternity past to set his love on me. There was no foreseen good in me to call out his choice to save me. From the very beginning, my salvation was a gracious act of God—a gift! How can we not be thankful? (See 2 Thessalonians 2:13 for an example of Paul's thanksgiving for election.)
  • calling. In our experience of salvation, it's God's calling that starts it all. God graciously calls us "into the fellowship of his Son (1 Corinthians 1:9)" and we come. 
  • regeneration. The new birth is a gift from God, too (Ephesians 2:5-7). 
  • faith. In Kim's previous post on being thankful for people, did you notice how many times Paul thanked God for the faith within the hearts of other believers? That's because the faith through which we are saved is also God's gift.
  • justification. We are justified "are justified by [God's] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." God imputed our sins to Christ and Christ's righteousness to us out of pure grace.
  • redemption. I'd say Paul thanks God for redemption in Ephesians 1 when he says God's saving work, including "redemption through his blood" is "to the praise of his glorious grace."
  • adoption. In Ephesians 1, Paul also says that "adoption as sons" is "to the praise of his glorious grace." (And adoption as sons includes women, because in Christ, women—not just men—receive an inheritance.)
  • perseverance. It is "to the praise of [God's] glory that we were "sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it . . . ." (Ephesians 1:13-14). Or, to explain it using Peter's words, we are kept "by God's power" for our final salvation (1 Peter 1:5). In other words, we persevere because God keeps us persevering.
  • deliverance from sin. This, too, is God's work: "Who." Paul asks, "will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25).
  • victory over death. Those who are being saved will be raised to eternal life. This is the way God gives us victory over death. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
From start to finish, salvation is God's gift to us. Will you join me in thanking him for all the many benefits of salvation? Do you have something to add to the list?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Here we are again at Thursday. Many are looking forward to the weekend and are probably very thankful for that! Again, I am very thankful for the ladies who shared in the comments.

Persis was thankful for the women of her small group:
I'm in a small group of middle-aged women from my church. It's been good to get to know them outside of Sunday morning. I thank God for them, their wisdom, their prayers, and how they have encouraged me even just last night.
Jessica was thankful for "Hot coffee and happy boys on a cold morning."

Diane was thankful for her church family:
I'm also thankful for the people in my church family and for our pastor and Sunday School teacher . My church has been around for about 40 years and even though it’s small we have families spanning 4 generations. I’m thankful for a humble pastor who has stuck with the flock for more than 35 years. Our Sunday School teacher has been leading us through John Owen’s Mortification of Sin for about 8 months and the class discussions have been wonderful. I’m so thankful for the theological depth and the genuine love and humility of the people there.

I don't have a Thankful Thursday post up at my blog today, so I will be thankful here. I am thankful today for the opportunity I had on Tuesday to teach a group of homeschooled children about Remembrance Day. It was an opportunity to instil in them gratitude for the men and women who fought to preserve our freedom. Plus, it was a lot of fun to play "Octopus" in the gym, too.

It's not too late! If you want to join in the thanksgiving, please leave a comment, and we'll include it in today's post.

Updates:

Becky is thankful for central heating. And considering where she lives, I can understand!
I'm thankful for my furnace and central heating. I know this is something almost everyone has, but a couple of generations ago this wasn't so, and winters must have been a lot more difficult than they are for me, living now. I’m thankful that I don't have to light a fire in the morning and keep putting wood or coal (or whatever) on it. And I'm thankful that every room in the house is warm, not just the area around a heater.
Joyful is learning give thanks in all things:
I am learning to give thanks in all things. I read 1000 Gifts recently and it has changed the way I look at most things. Thankful for THIS place today! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thankful for people

Have you ever noticed how frequently Paul opens his letters with a word of thanksgiving? We can learn a lot about thanksgiving from the way Paul opens many of his epistles.

  • Romans 1:8: Paul thanks God through Jesus for the Romans because of their faith.
  • I Corinthians 1:4: Paul thanks God "always" for the Corinthians because of the grace of God that was given to them.
  • Ephesians 1:16: Paul does not cease to give thanks for them because he has heard of their faith.
  • Philippians 1:3: Paul is thankful for them for their "partnership" in the gospel.
  • Colossians 1:3: Paul uses "we," and he is thankful for hearing about their faith and love for the saints.
  • II Timothy 1:3: Paul is thankful as he is reminded of their sincere faith.
  • I Thessalonians 1:2: Paul remembers their work of faith and labour of love in Christ.
  • II Thessalonians 1:3: Paul says he "ought" to give thanks because of the growing faith of the church at Thessalonica.
  • Philemon 1:4: He is thankful for hearing about the love and faith Philemon had toward Christ.

Paul was thankful for people. And specifically, people who were coming to faith, growing in their faith, and proclaiming their faith.

Are you thankful for people? Are you thankful for the growth of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you thankful when you see others loving and serving Christ, building up the body? Do you notice whether or not someone is growing in the things of God?

To be able to tell if others are growing means getting to know them. In our individualistic world, it's often not easy or natural to get to know someone that well; we often like our distance. But the Body of Christ is not like a social club or a service club. We are one in the body. We have unity. We ought to rejoice when we see someone growing in his faith. When the body grows, we benefit, too. And everyone can get to know at least one person well enough to discern when he or she is growing in the things of God.

Flowing from gratitude is prayer. Every one of those verse references, with the exception of Romans 1:8 and 1 Corinthians. 1:4 mentions thanksgiving in connection with prayer. Paul was led to pray for them as he was thankful. That is one of the benefits of fostering gratitude: it enriches our prayer life. Have you ever sat down to pray and done nothing but say prayers of thanksgiving? I have done that. Maybe it feels like list-making, but consciously having to look at my life to ascertain what I'm grateful for is a good exercise. It goes a long way to helping during those days when we are prone to complain or feel self-pity.

Are you thankful for the gospel today? Are you thankful for seeing growth in people? Are you thankful for the Body of Christ? Are you so thankful that it causes you to pray words of thanksgiving?

What are you thankful for today? Share in the comments; we'd love to be thankful right along with you.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The grace of thanksgiving

My friend's father died suddenly last week. We stood in line for two hours Monday night in order to pay our respects to the family, to hug our friend, to tell her how much we love her and her family, to grieve with those we love who grieve.

Death and loss and grief, these sober us, give us pause, make us think. I've been strangely--or not so strangely--nostalgic all week as I not only contemplate mortality but also as I contemplate life and grace and providence. As I ponder, I am thankful and this gratitude serves to teach me important, difficult truths about the grace of thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving helps me remember that God is faithful. How I am prone to doubt! Thanksgiving reminds me that God was faithful and good yesterday and He will indeed be faithful and good to me today. I can trust Him.

Thanksgiving expresses submission to the sovereignty of God. When I thank the Lord, I say that what He has given me is right and good and acceptable and perfect. Acknowledging the gift in humble, thankful gratitude places me in trust and submission before the Giver.

Thanksgiving teaches me humility. God is faithful. God is sovereign. I cannot be proud before these twin truths. Recounting His faithfulness to me in submission to His sovereignty displays true humility before Him.

I saw Monday night the evidence of a life well lived, a life that served others, a life full of friendship and family and faith. I saw a widow and a daughter both give thanks through their tears for the joy of having known and having loved. In their heartbreak, they yet trust the faithfulness of their sovereign God.

May the Lord teach us to be a thankful people, not just in November but throughout our lives, "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Eph. 5:20)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thankful Thursday

I am thankful this morning for those who participated this week in sharing their thankful thoughts!

Diane was thankful for her children:
I am so very thankful for my children and their spouses who are walking in Truth and raising our grandkids in the fear and admonition of the Lord. When I consider that's what I prayed so hard for since before they were even born - it's a huge cause for thanksgiving - And especially considering how many mistakes I made!!!
Debi was thankful for her husband:
I'm incredibly thankful for a husband who loves God and is faithfully following Him. With so many marriages struggling and women who are married to unsaved men or men who aren't strong believers, I'm very thankful for the blessing of a godly husband. I don't want to take him for granted.
Our own Rebecca was thankful that her recent gum surgery was successful and didn't come with too much discomfort.

Persis's thanksgiving had an appliance theme: for friends who let her use theirs when hers isn't working, and for the appliance repairman who fixed hers. 

Update: Lou Ann is thankful for
my small group, for the young children at the table with a healthy appetite, for the freedom to get in the car and drive without fear. I am thankful for Paul's love for the Philippians and how we too can share that deep affection because of the gospel.
What about you? For what are you thankful? Share in the comments.

Next Thursday, we'll post again. We hope you will join in and share with use your thankful thoughts. Sometimes, hearing how others are thankful is motivation for us to realize how much we can be thankful for!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gospel Reminders

Our theme this month is thanksgiving. Like Melissa, I had debated about making a list of thankful items, which would have been easy to knock out, but I also have a confession to make.

I don't always have an attitude of gratitude. 

In fact, I am downright ungrateful at times towards a kind and loving God. I can quickly forget His goodness and complain like the Israelites in the wilderness. (Ex. 14: 11) I've wondered whether He has forgotten to be gracious. (Psalm 77:9) I've doubted His timing. (John 11: 21) I could use trials as an excuse, but James doesn't let me off the hook either. (James 1:2) In so many ways, I fall short of giving thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess. 5:18) 

There's no doubt that I have not done as I ought, but where I have failed…

God does not deal with me according to my sins. He does not repay me according to my iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)
God is faithful and just to forgive my sins. (1 John 1:9)
God receives me because of Christ, not because I'm thankful. (Heb. 10:19-23)

So even though I am deficient yet Christ is all sufficient. I am still a work in progress, but God is faithful to complete what He has started. And for these gospel reminders,  I am very thankful.


It's your turn now. What are you thankful for today? How does the gospel inform your thankfulness?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Join in the gratitude!

Just a reminder to our readers that the month of November will focus on thanksgiving. We would like very much for you to join with us as we give thanks this month.

Each Thursday, we will post your thankful thoughts. At any time, on any day, if you would like to share with us what you are thankful for, we would love it! Simply leave a comment to share, and on Thursday, we will post your thankful thoughts in a separate post.

Being thankful is so important. It's a way to allow Christ to shine through us.  For what are you thankful?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Giving Thanks When You're Hurting

We're setting aside the month of November to discuss thankful attitudes. I've always felt like I could write thanksgiving posts with one hand tied behind my back. It's not that difficult to come up with some cheesy, schmaltzy post about all the blessings in our lives when we're trying to impress others. We don our Suzy Christian masks and pull out all the right words. After all, Jesus died for our sins and that's plenty to be thankful for!

I'm not trying to trivialize the typical Thanksgiving post. We all mean well, and we know we should be thankful. Indeed, we have much to be thankful for. But the difference between knowing that and living it...well, sometimes that's a chasm too wide to cross.

Such is how I was feeling last week. I was disappointed and discouraged. I was deeply hurt, and I didn't feel like putting on a fake smile and sloughing it off. I needed to mourn a bit. Providentially, my Bible reading the next morning answered some of the questions I was struggling with. I began to see how to handle the situation,  but I didn't understand why it was happening. I wanted comfort.

As I was getting ready for work, I was listening to Pandora's Sovereign Grace station. One of the songs brought tears to my eyes.

Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain?
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain?
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought?
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt?

Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified
~Mark Altrogge


I realized then that too often my thanksgiving is conditional. I am quick to praise God in the good times; it's not so easy when I'm hurting. Yet a life that glorifies God requires me to give thanks equally, in all circumstances. Not that I should put on a fake smile and thank God for the thorn - Paul asked God three times to remove his (2 Cor.12:8) - but that I should thank Him that He is sovereign over the thorn and every detail of my life. Even when I'm hurting.

______________________

Come Weary Saints by Sovereign Grace Music is a beautiful and encouraging compilation of songs for times of pain and suffering

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Bohemian Morning Star

Today is Reformation Day, a day to remember and be thankful for the Protestant Reformation and the men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Tyndale who worked to restore the church to faithfulness to scripture as her ultimate authority. To commemorate, I’m posting a biographical sketch of Jan Hus, who was not technically one of the Reformers, but rather a forerunner to the refomation.

Martin Luther was, of course, the first Reformer. In the providence of God, the Reformation was sparked when he nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. But there were a few men who lived before the historical event we call the Reformation whose teachings were in line with those of the Reformers of the 16th century. One of these pre-reformers was John Wycliffe, the man some call the morning star of the Reformation.

If Wycliffe was a Reformation morning star, then Jan Hus was too, because he followed right along in Wycliffe’s footsteps. While Hus was studying at the University of Prague, he began to read and translate works of John Wycliffe brought back by students returning to Bohemia from Oxford. As he read and studied, he embraced Wycliffe’s teachings.

Hus became a priest and the rector of the University of Prague. He also preached at Bethlehem Chapel, a church in Prague built for the specific purpose of preaching in the language of the people.

Jan Hus preaching at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague by Alphonse Mucha

Hus’s Beliefs

What did Jan Hus teach when he preached?

  • He taught that the Word of God is our highest authority. All of his preaching was based directly on scripture, and when he was accused of heresy, he asked to be shown from the scripture where he was wrong. 
  • He taught that Christ alone is the head of the Church. In Hus’s time, there were three men who claimed to be pope, and the Church was divided over which so-called pope was the true one. Hus said that it didn’t really matter because the church’s only pontiff was the Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • He taught that God alone can forgive sins through the merits of Christ. Hus said, "Let the pope, or a bishop or a priest say, 'I forgive thy sins; I absolve thee of thy penalty. I free thee from the pangs of hell.' It is all vain. It helps thee nothing. … God alone can forgive sins through Christ."
Do you see the seeds of the Reformation in these doctrines?

Hus’s Excommunication, Trial, and Execution

As you can imagine, Hus and his followers—and by now, there were many—were not popular with the powers-that-be in the Church. Pope Alexander ordered that all of Wycliffe’s writings be burned and that Hus stop preaching. Hus didn't follow the Pope's orders, so in 1411, he was excommunicated.

Eventually, after being imprisoned and tried before a church council in Constance, Hus was declared to be a heretic and sentenced to death. He was given opportunities to recant and escape execution, but each time he refused. In his final declaration, he wrote:
I, Jan Hus, in hope a priest of Jesus Christ, fearing to offend God, and fearing to fall into perjury, do hereby profess my unwillingness to abjure all or any of the articles produced against me by false witnesses. For God is my witness that I neither preached, affirmed, nor defended them, though they say that I did. Moreover, concerning the articles that they have extracted from my books, I say that I detest any false interpretation which any of them bears. But inasmuch as I fear to offend against the truth, or to gainsay the opinion of the doctors of the Church, I cannot abjure any one of them. And if it were possible that my voice could now reach the whole world, as at the Day of Judgment every lie and every sin that I have committed will be made manifest, then would I gladly abjure before all the world every falsehood and error which I either had thought of saying or actually said! 
I say I write this of my own free will and choice. 
Written with my own hand, on the first day of July.
Preparing for the execution of Jan Hus
On July 6, 1415, Hus was burned at the stake. The accounts of his death recorded by the best historians say his last words were “I shall die with joy today in the faith of the gospel which I have preached.” Then as he burned, he sang, “Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on me.”

There’s one well-known tale about Hus’s death that's probably not authentic. Before he was martyred, Jan Hus supposedly said, "You, this day, burn a goose, but a hundred years hence a swan will arise, whom you will not be able to roast or boil." It’s a play on words, since Hus meant goose in Hus’s language. The swan that would rise, the story goes, is Martin Luther, for it was a little more 100 years later that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses. It’s a compelling story, but the sources for it are unreliable.

I’d rather remember Hus for his true last words expressing faith in the gospel and trust in Christ anyway. Do you know better words to die by?

Hus's Influence

The Hussite movement continued after Hus’s death, eventually becoming the Moravian church, a church known for its missionary work, particularly in the remote regions of the Americas. I first heard of the Moravian church from friends who attended one in an isolated Alaskan village—and there are Moravian churches in many more Alaskan villages, too.

After the Reformation, Martin Luther acknowledged that his teachings were Hus’s teachings, too. “We are all Hussites,” he said, “without knowing it.” Jan Hus was a martyr for some of the truths that the Reformers would later proclaim, too. He was one of the morning stars who sparked the sunrise of the Reformation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fostering an attitude of gratitude

Have you ever noticed that gratitude is contagious? Have you ever sat and listened to someone share how she is thankful about something, only to find your own heart being inspired to express your own thanks?  This is what we hope to accomplish here at Out of the Ordinary in the month of November.

Many bloggers use their blogs for "Thankful Thursday" posts. Becky, Persis, and I regularly do this. For a couple of years, in the month of November, Becky devoted the entire month at her blog for offering thanks. Why? Because it is good to give thanks to the Lord, and there is always something to thank God for. Offering thanksgiving is part of our love for and worship of God.
The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145:9)
We can be thankful because God is good. That goodness expresses itself in a myriad of ways, daily. Whether it is the food on your table, the central heating (or air conditioning!) in your home, or the fact that you have been born again and have been brought from death into life, there is always something to be thankful for.

Being thankful reminds us of the source of our hope. When I'm struggling with a trial, an illness, or an aching heart, I may not feel thankful, but when I consciously choose to reflect on my life and identify what I can be thankful for, it reminds me of this hope. Learning to be thankful also reminds us of the source of every good and perfect gift: God. It reminds us that we are not nearly so self-sufficient as we think. Regularly giving thanks fosters humility, as we express gratitude for God's love, which we do not deserve on our own merit.

With that in mind, November will be devoted to thankful thoughts. I don't know what the other ladies are planning, but I know we all desire to promote an attitude of gratitude. And we are asking you to participate. Each Thursday, we will share a separate post highlighting your thankful thoughts. If you want to have one (more more than one!) included, simply share it in the comments throughout the week, and we'll compile them all and post them on each Thursday of November.

You'll see; it's contagious. And it's a good kind of contagious.

Monday, October 27, 2014

'Tis the Season


A couple of years ago, I turned forty. There are a lot of things we could discuss about the forties in general, but let’s talk about the mood swings, shall we? Lately I am experiencing emotions that have no basis in reality.

All three of my sisters are around a decade older than I am, so they reached this stage of life first. Several years ago, one of them said to me, “PMS is for sissies. I have full-on mood swings.” Yes and amen. I spent most of my Junior High years feeling like I could burst into tears at any moment, and I’m right back there again.

First I need to put my emotions in the proper perspective. In the book The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God, authors Allender and Longman say, "Our emotions connect our inner world to the ups and downs of life.” For me, I have to think about specific ways in which my “inner world” is mistaken.

Of course, there may be medical things to be done. Address them with you health care provider. God in his common grace has provided medical help for some of this, but that’s another post for another type of blog. For now, I need to focus on what I can fix here and now.

Physical: I didn’t sleep well last night. As anyone who has ever dealt with an overtired toddler knows, it’s harder to maintain self control when you’re sleepy. I haven’t thrown a kicking, screaming fit (yet), but I tend to get overwhelmed more easily on these days. This time there wasn’t a particular cause for my sleeplessness. Other times it’s circumstantial: one child worked late, then another had to be somewhere exceptionally early. But I can also do more to help this. I’ve also noticed if I eat a lot of junk food, I feel awful the next day. I can’t bounce back from these things like I could when I was 25. My lack of self control has always been a bad thing, but now it has more obvious consequences.

Environment: The sun doesn’t rise until noon this time of year. (Not really. That’s only true where Rebecca lives. It’s more like 7:15 here. But still.) It’s hard for me to get going in the dark. The best solution, however, is not sitting around thinking ill thoughts about Benjamin Franklin and his invention of Daylight Savings Time, but turning on the lights and emptying the dishwasher. Getting out of my pajamas is a good idea, too. Complaining has always been one of my besetting sins. Now, rather than simply making me unpleasant to others, it makes me unpleasant to myself.

Fear: Things are changing fast, and change is scary. My oldest will be leaving home soon, and the other two are right behind him. Our kids are “good” kids. (In the traditional sense of the word. I realize, in a theological, Romans 3:23 way, that we’re all sinners.) But they have their own ideas and will make their own mistakes. Some things they will have to learn for themselves (as their parents did). But I am surely wrong about some things, too. I don’t always know what’s best, and only God can sustain and protect them. This has always been the case, it was just easier to fool myself into thinking I was in control when they were little.

In light of that, I have to start talking to myself, rather than listening to my feelings. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says,

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.

So today, I turn my thoughts to truth:

How I feel doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.

This too shall pass.

This world is not my home. Part of my unease is run-of-the-mill longing for heaven.

God is in control, as he always has been.

God has sustained me in the past. He will sustain me in the future.

"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?” (Romans 8:32).

______________________

[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, page 21.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why I love Spurgeon

Painting by Robert Bucknell
God has blessed His church with theologians, past and present, who have equipped the saints through their sermons and writings. Kim wrote last week of her appreciation for the good Doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I am going to borrow her idea and share why I love Charles Spurgeon.


I first heard of Charles Spurgeon from a fellow InterVarsity member when I was in college. I still remember his exact words: "Spurgeon is awesome!" To be honest, my first thought was, "Why on earth would someone want to read anything by a long-dead Baptist preacher?"

Fast forward nearly 30 years. The bottom had just dropped out of my marriage. I wasn't attending a local church at the time, which is another story. I had no idea where to turn for help, so I called a close friend who promptly told me, "You need to read some Spurgeon." I wasn't sure what advice a 19th-century minister could give to a 21st-century woman who was facing a broken marriage, but I was desperate. I googled "Charles Spurgeon" to see what I would find. The first site on Google's list was The Spurgeon Archive. This seemed like a good place to start, so I clicked the link for the daily devotions.  Given my present state, it would not be an exaggeration to say that I had never read anything like this in my life.

Even though I had been a believer since childhood, my view of God was pretty pitiful. Like Job, I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that God would allow His children to suffer, and like Job's friends, there was a nagging sense that if I had been a better Christian, none of this would be happening right now. On top of this, I was spiritually malnourished from the lack of sound teaching and fellowship.

My view of God was small, but Spurgeon's view of God was BIG. The God he described was glorious and awesome in His holiness and power. Yet He was unchanging in His love for and faithfulness to His children. If there was any doubt on that score, look at the Cross and look at Christ. He also ordains every second of our lives, watching over us as a loving Father who has our eternal good in mind.

This was food and drink to my starving soul. I eagerly read Morning and Evening and Faith's Checkbook each day. I printed out sermon after sermon until I had bulging 3-ring binder. Spurgeon's love of God and His Word was so contagious that I began to read the Bible in a new light. My trial did not miraculously disappear. I still shed many tears and battled fear and unbelief, but my view of God changed which changed everything.

I truly believe God used this long-dead Baptist preacher to keep me from throwing in the towel and abandoning the faith. My weak and rather unbiblical understanding would never have stood the test, but He was faithful to give me a bigger glimpse of Himself in His power, His love, and His sovereignty.

So I thank God for His faithful servants down through the ages, and I especially thank Him for Charles Spurgeon.

The Lord and no one else shall save me. I desire no other helper and would not trust in an arm of flesh even if I could. I will cry to Him evening, and morning, and noon, and I will cry to no one else, for He is all sufficient.
How He will save me I cannot guess; but He will do it, I know. He will do it in the best and surest way, and He will do it in the largest, truest, and fullest sense. Out of this trouble and all future troubles the great I AM will bring me as surely as He lives; and when death comes and all the mysteries of eternity follow thereon, still will this be true: "the Lord shall save me." This shall be my song all through this autumn day. Is it not as a ripe apple from the tree of life? I will feed upon it. How sweet it is to my taste!  
Faith's Check Book, August 28

Resources:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Food for Thought

 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 
~Psalm 73:25-26


All the riches of the covenant of grace that Christ has purchased with his precious blood, and all the good that an infinite God can give, you shall have them. God will fill your soul to its utmost capacity. When you have these, you desire no more and quietly rest forever. What a portion is this! The pleasures of sin are for a season, a little inch of time. This portion is forever...Death parts all other portions from the sons of men, but gives you your full portion. Then you will know your portion's true worth. When fire burns up the world it will not even singe your portion. You may stand upon the ruins of the world and sing: I have lost nothing, I have my inheritance, my happiness, and my God still.
~George Swinnock

Friday, October 17, 2014

Believers Have New Life

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation . . . .
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . . 
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved . . . . (Ephesians 2:1, 5 ESV)
God's salvation, Paul writes, brings spiritual life to people who are spiritually dead. Scripture also calls this work of the Holy Spirit being born again (John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23), being newly created (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17), or becoming a new self or person (Ephesians 4:24). Theologians usually call it regeneration.

Everything Changes

This pivotal transformation occurs when God implants spiritual life in someone who, to use another scriptural term, has been spiritually dead. When this change happens, says Louis Berkhof, "the governing disposition of [a person's] soul is made holy".1 If you're familiar with Ephesians 2, you know that between the verses quoted above, Paul says that our natural governing disposition—the spiritually dead one—is decidedly unholy. A spiritually dead person is
following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind . . . . (Ephesians 2:2-3)
Before we are reborn, we are governed by Satan and our own sinful desires, but when we are reborn, we come under the dominion of the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way, in the new birth, the Spirit unites us to Christ, who lives his resurrection life in us.

At the moment our new life begins, everything changes. Without new life, we see no need for repentance, but with new life, repentance becomes a life principle. Without new life, we have no desire or ability to follow Christ, but with new life, we do.

New Life Gives Faith

Someone who has been born again believes Christ, loves him, and trusts him. In the last post in this series, we learned God gives us the faith by which we are saved. He does this by implanting new life within us, and "conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is [the] immediate fruit"2 of this new life. Everyone who has been regenerated repents and believes, and no one repents and believes without it.

New Life Grows Holiness

What's more, regeneration brings ongoing changes in our attitudes and actions. Like faith, obedience is also a fruit of regeneration. The person who has been born again is increasingly obedient to Christ (1 John 2:29); they cannot keep on living a life of sin (1 John 3:9). Yes, sin will continue to be a problem in this life, but someone with new life keeps on growing in holiness.

Theologians call this process—the growing holiness of the one who is regenerated—sanctification. Sanctification is primarily God's work, for the Holy Spirit works within the believer, causing them to want to please God and giving them the power to do it (Philippians 2:13). But the believer has work to do, too (Philippians 2:12). The believer's effort is God-dependent effort, but it's real effort.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Fundamentally, a believer's work in sanctification is to become, more and more, what they already have become through God's regenerating work. Paul exhorts the believer to "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life" and "put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Jesus, the one we have been united with in the new birth, whose resurrection life gives us our new life, is our example as we live out our new life of obedience. In sanctification, we are becoming conformed to his image—and the more we grow in our knowledge him, the more we become like him (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Are you a believer? Then strive to be what you already are—a new person recreated to be like Christ.

Learn More
  1. Study Ephesians 2:1-10 and Ephesians 4:17-32. Read the entire book of 1 John to learn more about the life results of being born again.
  2. Read up on regeneration and sanctification in your favorite systematic theology. In Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, chapter 34 is about regeneration, and chapter 38 on sanctification. You can also read about regeneration and sanctification online from Berkhof's Systematic Theology.
  3. Read the chapters Regeneration and Holiness and Sanctification in J. I. Packer's 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know(previously known as God's Words).
  4. Listen to Wayne Grudem teach about regeneration and sanctification (part 1, part 2, part 3).
1] Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof, page 469

2] Concise Theology by J. I. Packer, page 158.


This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:
  1. God Has Spoken (posted at the True Woman Blog)
  2. God Is Three and God Is One
  3. God Is Who He Is
  4. God Had a Plan
  5. God Created the Universe
  6. We Are Made in God's Image
  7. We Are All Sinners
  8. God Saves
  9. The Son Came
  10. Jesus Lived and Died
  11. Jesus Is Risen
  12. Jesus Is Lord
  13. We Must Believe