Monday, March 31, 2014

Help for the Path

Are we in great trouble? There is a promise that works for our good, "I will be with him in trouble" (Psalm 91:15). God does not bring His people into troubles, and leave them there. He will stand by them; He will hold their heads and hearts when they are fainting. And there is another promise, "He is their strength in the time of trouble" (Psalm 37:39). "Oh," says the soul, "I shall faint in the day of trial." But God will be the strength of our hearts; He will join His forces with us. Either He will make His hand lighter, or our faith stronger. [1]

Or, as Corrie Ten Boom said, "If God sends us on strong paths, we are provided strong shoes."

Part of the problem with trials is the uncertainty of it all. We can't fathom how it's going to work out, and we don't believe we have the strength to see it through. Setting out into the unknown is terrifying—we want to know the way. And that's what a trial is, for the most part: venturing out in the unknown.

But like Watson said, God does not bring us into it to leave us there. He will be our guide. We might not be able to see the way, but he knows the way, and he will not abandon us. He will bring us through. Often in ways we don't expect, and often not the way we would choose, but always in the best way for us.

[1] Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, page 16.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Privileges

From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions...

O LORD GOD,
Teach me to know that grace precedes, accompanies,
and follows my salvation,
that it sustains the redeemed soul,
that not one link of its chain can ever break. 
From Calvary's cross wave upon wave of grace
reaches me,
deals with my sin,
washes me clean,
renews my heart,
strengthens my will,
draws out my affection,
kindles a flame in my soul,
rules throughout my inner man,
consecrates my every thought, word, work,
teaches me thy immeasurable love.
How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus! 
Without him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast;
in him I draw near and touch his kingly sceptre. 
Without him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes;
in him I gaze upon my Father-God and Friend. 
Without him I hide my lips in trembling shame;
in him I open my mouth in petition and praise. 
Without him all is wrath and consuming fire;
in him is all love, and the repose of my soul. 
Without him is gaping hell below me, and eternal anguish;
in him its gates are barred to me by his precious blood. 
Without him darkness spreads its horrors in front;
in him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon. 
Without him all within me is terror and dismay;
in him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace. 
Without him all things external call for my condemnation;
in him they minister to my comfort,
and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving. 
Praise be to thee for grace,
and for the unspeakable gift of Jesus.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Middle-agers need older women too

When reading Titus 2:3-4, it's easy to assume that "younger" only refers to single women, new wives, and young moms in the 20 to 40 age bracket. But we middle-agers still have much to learn and need the example of older women, too. As I considered who were the older women in my life, these three sisters came to mind. So let me introduce you to my role models:

The first woman is a widow. She has no children by birth, but she has many "adopted" children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She doesn't use the Internet, but she stays in touch by writing letters to her many friends. Her notes and conversation are often punctuated with "Praise the Lord!", but it's not just Christianese. She really means it.

The second woman has one of the sharpest minds I've ever known. She has been an active servant in the church, but age and the effects of the fall are beginning to take its toll. However, this has increased her dependence on the Lord and has given her family the opportunity to serve her in new ways. But even with this limitation, she doesn't miss an opportunity to be with the local church.

The third woman is also a widow who suffers from chronic health issues. It is a severe trial for her, yet she perseveres in the Lord. It has not kept her from serving her family selflessly. She has not lost her wonderful sense of humor and still loves to tell stories of her youth.

These women are in their eighties. Their hair has grown white. Their faces reflect the years, but they are beautiful to me because I see Christ. They probably would never sit me down and give a formal lecture on the perils of midlife, but their lives speak volumes. Through the hard lessons of life, these sisters have learned to rely on God's grace. They have treasured His word and not outgrown the simple message that Jesus lived and died on their behalf. They are not perfect and have had their share of struggles, but God has kept them in the race to this day.

So praise God for the older women in the church. They are a testimony to His preserving power. May we not take our sisters for granted but pray for them, reach out to them, hug them, and encourage them in the Lord.

Who have been your role models? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Defending a Lion

Several "Christian" films1 are opening in theaters this year, one of which centers on a philosophy student's attempt to prove to his classmates that God exists.  I haven't seen the movie; I've only read this review, which brought to mind a passage from Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Authority:
I am not sure that apologetics has not been the curse of evangelical Christianity for the last twenty to thirty years. I am not saying that apologetics is not necessary. But I am suggesting that, with a kind of worldly wisdom, we have been approaching the world on the grounds of apologetics instead of (with the apostle Paul), determining not to know anything 'save Christ crucified'...We assert Him, we proclaim Him, we start with Him, because He is the ultimate and the final authority. We start with the fact of Jesus Christ, because He is really at the centre of the whole of our position and the whole of our case rests upon Him. It is to me interesting and rather extraordinary that Evangelicals should ever seem to forget this...I am convinced that most of our troubles today are due to the fact that we have become so immersed in secondary details that we have lost the main picture. We are missing the whole, because of our interest in the parts. If we could but stand back and just look at the New Testament and the whole Bible with fresh eyes, I believe we would be rather amazed at the fact that the really big claim, which is made in the whole of the New Testament, is for the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. If what they say about Jesus is not true then they have nothing much at all to offer us. (pp. 14 -15)
I've been pondering this idea quite a bit lately, that believers (myself included) are often more prone to speak based on their assumptions about God rather than relying on God's Word itself. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the necessity of staying in the Word so that we can offer biblical, sound advice to others. As my Sunday School class has gone further in the Book of Job, I keep coming back to this key concept. For example, when Job tells his friends that they "...lift me up on this wind; you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm" (Job. 30:22), I think of Ephesians 4:12-14. Paul exhorts us to pursue spiritual maturity "that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.."

Why is it that instead of giving others pure spiritual milk, we offer the theological fluff that's so plentiful these days? Is it our belief that the sugary stuff is easier to swallow? Or is it our own lack of devotion to the Word that makes us feel inadequate to defend it?

Even if we guard against offering fluff, there is the danger of believing that our words - rather than the Word - can bring people to salvation.  Yet the apostle Paul tells us that "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). And the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, "The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation." (Q. 89) (see Nehemiah 8:8-9, Acts 20:32, Romans 10:14-17, 2 Timothy 3:15-17)

Spurgeon said, "The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself." I don't believe he was intimating that apologetics is not necessary; rather, I believe he knew this truth: that if we speak the Word, we won't have to rely on man-made defenses of God. Why would we want to use the dull knife of our own logic, when we have the two-edged sword of God's Word? (Hebrews 4:12)

Which is one reason this blog exists - to encourage women to know the Word and to know Whom we have believed. As Rebecca wrote in her first post here,
If you were to ask me what practical use there is for theology, this is the answer I'd give. Right living begins with right theology; solid theology builds solid women. 

But theology is much more than motivation for right living. It soars above the practical to the doxological; it is down-to-earth—and up-to-heaven, too. The overflow of the love for God that grows from theology learned well is praise. Theology writes the hymnal of the Christian heart. (emphasis mine)
Studying the Word of God isn't as easy as reading the latest how-to guide or popular devotional. But the rewards will be greater than anything we can imagine. And with that goal in mind, we ordinary theologians keep writing in hopes that we will exhort you to make this your first priority: "...know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2)

__________________________________
1I have not seen any of these films and make no claim as to their "Christianity"; I use the term as the films themselves are labeled.

Friday, March 21, 2014

God Had a Plan

He unchangeably ordains
I made a plan for today—or what is today as I write, but yesterday as you read. It started like this: Make coffee, straighten up the house, drink coffee while catching up on some reading, take a shower, take the dog for a short walk, and begin writing this post. Some of these things needed to be done early because I also plan to watch my youngest granddaughter while her mother works. There's a deadline for the writing, too, if I'm going to post here on my scheduled day.

Right now, as I write, it's so far, so good. The plan has unfolded almost as I anticipated, with only one short phone call to interrupt. But this could all change on a dime, because each item on my list of things to do depends on other things outside my control. For one, it's a toddler I'll be caring for. They're not known for helping plans go smoothly.

God's Plan for the Universe

God had a plan, too. Before he created our world, he decided what was going happen in it, from the moment of creation on into eternity. The Westminster Confession of Faith, in the section on God's eternal decree puts it like this: 
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass . . . .
God's eternal decree is his all-encompassing plan for the universe. That God ordains things simply means that he planned for them to happen. According to the WCF, God planned from eternity past for everything that will happen to happen.

The Westminster Divines got this truth from scripture. God's plan is mentioned in Ephesians 1:11:
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will … . (ESV)
The counsel of God's will is his plan for the course of history and, Paul says, he works everything according to this plan. Whatever you call it—God's decree, his purpose, his plan, the counsel of his will—God has one, and he's unfailingly bringing it to pass.

God's Plan and My Plan

There are ways my plan for today is little bit like God's plan. I chose the actions and events I put on my list, and I had reasons for each of them. I had a few small goals—this post is one of them—and if things go according to my plan, I'll achieve them.

God has goals, too—or, more properly, purposes—and his plan was chosen to accomplish his purposes. God's ultimate purpose is to display his own glory (Romans 11:36). The universe was made to "declare his glory" (Psalm 19:1); God planned to save people to show his glory (Ephesians 1:3-14). Everything in his plan—and his plan included every single thing that has happened and will happen throughout the unfolding history of the universe—works toward the goal of making God's glory known.

But my plan is different than God's plan in so many ways that they're not really comparable. While I tried to be wise when I planned, some of the choices I made may be foolish in hindsight. God, on the other hand, has perfect wisdom, so from the start, his plan was perfect for accomplishing his purposes.

What's more, everything in my plan depends on things I can't know for sure, and things I don't control, so my plan will undoubtedly change as the day progresses. But God controls everything and knows everything, so nothing can foil his plan. His plan never changes because he knows how to arrange the chain of causes and effects to accomplish his purposes, and he has the power to bring all the causes and effects into existence.

God's Plan for My Life

If God planned everything, then he planned my life, too. To use the language of my favorite psalm, every single day of my life was written in God's book before I existed (Psalm 139:16). Right now, God is unfolding his plan for my life, working in every circumstance to conform me to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29)—and this work of sanctification fulfills God's ultimate purpose, too, by showing his glory, especially the glory of his grace (Ephesians 2:7, 10).

And now, as I write this paragraph, my day is ending. It went, more or less, according to my plan, although my granddaughter's nap was shorter than usual so I did less writing during the day than I'd hoped. But one thing is certain: My day was exactly as God planned it way back in eternity past. Nothing catastrophic happened, but if something tragic had occurred, it, too, would have been what God had planned for me.

This truth gives me comfort and hope. It means no matter how I feel about my day (or week, or year), everything is in control—God's control. Everything is working according to God's plan; every circumstance is accomplishing his purpose. There is meaning in every minute of a toddler's nap, and in every single tear, too.

I won't know all of God's reasons for any particular circumstance, but I  know this: The ultimate purpose for every circumstance is his own glory. And for those who love God, all circumstances are working to form Christlikeness within. For those who love him, these reasons are enough.

Learn More

Here are a few ways to learn more about God's eternal plan:
  1. Read up on God's decrees in your favorite systematic theology. In Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine it's section D in the chapter on God's providence. Section C on God's government is useful, too.
  2. Check out A Doctrinal Study: The Decrees of God by James P. Boyce. 
  3. Study Chapter 3: Of God's Decrees in the Westminster Confession of Faith (pdf).
  4. Read the first three chapters of Ephesians to learn about God's eternal plan to save and what he is accomplishing through it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again

Back in 2005, I wrote a post about John 17. It was during the weeks leading to Easter, just like now. Reflecting on John 17 is something I like to do every year. It's such a beautiful passage. Here is an abbreviated and modified version of that post.

Then as now, I am struck by the word "give," both what God gives and what Jesus gives:

God:
Has given Jesus authority over all flesh (v.2)
Gave work for Jesus to do (v. 4)
Gave Jesus people out of the world (v. 6, 9)
Gave words to Jesus (v. 8)
Has given Jesus His name (v. 11)
Has given Jesus glory (v. 21)

Jesus:
Gives eternal life to all who were given to Him (v. 2)
Gives the words God gave him to the people God gave to Him (v. 8)
Gives his disciples God’s words (v. 14)
Gives glory to those who will believe in Him through His disciples (v. 22)

Giving implies that the giver possess what he will give; therefore, God possess what He gives: glory; the words Jesus spoke; the people to whom Jesus spoke; His name. These were all given by God to Jesus because they were God’s to give. The reason He gave Jesus all of these things was so that Jesus could give them to us. We are the recipients of God’s Word and eternal life. We are not given the name of Jesus or God, but we are given the identity of being children of God. Someday, we will share fully in the glory God gave Jesus. We have done nothing to merit these things. We have not acquired them for ourselves; rather, they have been given to us.

After Jesus's prayer in John 17, he gave his life, the ultimate gift. It wasn’t taken from Him. It was given; given for me and you. The gift is for the here and now and for the future. Each day as we walk with Christ, we live in the light of his gift.

I am reminded of the song "He Giveth More Grace." The chorus says:
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure
His power no boundary known unto men.
For out of his infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again. 
This highlights the vast difference between God and us, his people. We have limits to what we can give. He has no limits. And this is our God. When we feel like we are empty, we really are not, because He has given us so much, and keeps on giving.

Monday, March 17, 2014

When Life Leaves You Reeling

I was talking with a friend about various trials we sometimes encounter. “It’s the surprises that get me,” she said. “The things that come up when you assumed everything was fine, only to realize they weren’t.” I knew exactly what she meant. Such trials feel like a punch in the stomach, and I’m often sent reeling and gasping for breath.

You think things are fine at work, only to learn your boss had been unhappy with you for quite some time. You think things are good with your marriage, but suddenly your spouse tells you he’s leaving. You assume your kids are doing well, and then you realize that serious problems had been simmering below the surface. And then, one day, it all falls apart, and you are left to pick up the pieces.

Sometimes we realize we weren’t really innocent bystanders. Perhaps we had been too complacent, too careless, and taken too many things for granted. Perhaps we knew things weren’t quite right, but we didn’t want to make the changes we knew needed to be made. But whether we could have prevented the disaster or not, we have to deal with the fallout as it is.

I’ve endured several of these surprise trials, and they still leave me reeling. I struggle with anger and despair. A complacent person by nature, I often have to repent of my own laziness and deliberate blindness. I often see in hindsight how I could have been a better steward of my time, energy, and responsibilities.

But what better time to apply to the gospel, than the times we have sinned? What better time to remember afresh that Christ had to die because we were going to continually mess things up? What better time to rejoice that we serve a God who is bigger than our sin, who has promised to work all things together for our good and his glory? (Romans 8:28)

And even if it's not the result of sin, just the problems that come with living in a fallen world, he still works those things for our good.

It’s the redemption that I need to cling to most tightly. I like how Jimmy Davis puts it in Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life:

Suffering for the Christian is neither the result of God’s punishment nor a sign of his rejection. The word discipline is used to indicate training, growth, improvement, advancement. It is for our good, an essential part of the continual redirection of our hearts away from our own me-first path and back onto God’s you-first path. Those who have been born anew into Christ’s kingdom must take up their crosses and die daily to their me-first hearts, following the one who took up his cross and “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, see also Luke 9:23-25, Hebrew 2:10, Philippians 2:8).

We must endure—and by grace we can and will endure—whatever means God may choose in order to do us good through discipline. Part of the wonder of our salvation is that for each of us there is a unique and foreordained plan (the farthest possible thing from a series of random or pointless circumstances) by which God is committed to seeing us live a cross-shaped life (Hebrews12:3-7a). [1]
Whether my suffering is a consequence of my sin or not, it is never random, it is never purposeless, and it is never beyond God’s redemption.

I haven’t mastered this. Far from it. And though many have endured far worse trials than any of mine, I still struggle with resentment when they happen. Many times, like Peter, I only turn to God because I don’t have anywhere else to turn. (John 6:68–69) [2]

We can’t predict or stop our trials, but we can change how we respond to them. We can shake our fists at the heavens and walk the path resentfully, or we can trust that God has a purpose beyond what we can see. We can use the time to grow in holiness or to harden with bitterness. I haven’t learned much in my 42 years—and sometimes I forget and have to learn it all over again—but God’s way, the way of holiness, is always best. And not just because we don’t have anywhere else to turn, but because he loves us better.

[1] Jimmy Davis, Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life, p 101.
[2] Ibid, p 98.


Friday, March 14, 2014

A word to the weary

Last week I wrote a post on my personal blog ruminating on the number of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I'd made over the course of my life and lamenting the sameness of my days represented therein. Same old, same old; day in, day out. It's wearying. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes in his must-read book, Spiritual Depression, "this [tendency to weariness] is what we may call the danger of the middle period. It is something which is true not only in the Christian life as such, it is true of the whole of life." Speaking specifically of the Christian journey, he says "No longer are we surprised at things, as we were at the beginning, because we are familiar with them and know about them...nothing seems to be happening, there does not seem to be any change or advance or development."

I'm in the middle period, I think. Nothing seems to change. No advancement, no development. Same old PB&J sandwiches, same old loads of laundry, one right after the other. Same old failures, same old sins.

I'm weary.

Lloyd-Jones offers a good word of encouragement (and conviction) to those of us worn out in well doing, who wonder if our perseverance will pay off, who feel lost in the drudgery of the sameness of our lives. Actually, he has much to say in his chapter "Weary in Well Doing" and I highly recommend not only the chapter but the book as a whole, whether or not you feel as if you struggle with spiritual depression. There is much gospel truth in its pages to encourage all believers!

In regard to weariness Lloyd-Jones reminds us...
If you and I come to regard any aspect of this Christian life merely as a task and a duty, and if we have to goad ourselves and to set our teeth in order to get through with it, I say we are insulting God and we have forgotten the very essence of Christianity. The Christian life is not a task. The Christian life alone is worthy of the name life. This alone is righteous and holy and pure and good. It is the kind of life the Son of God Himself lived. It is to be like God Himself in His own holiness. That is why I should live it. I do not just decide to make a great effort to carry on somehow. Not at all, I remind myself that is is a great and good life, it is 'well doing.'
Lloyd-Jones asserts it is important to consider how this great and good life began in us...
How have I got into this life--this life that I am grumbling and complaining about, and finding hard and difficult? Let me press this question. How did you get into this Christian life? Here we are in the narrow way, how did we come from the broad way? What has made the difference? These are the questions; and there is only one answer. We have come from that to this, because the only begotten Son of God left heaven and came down to earth for our salvation, He divested Himself of all the insignia of His eternal glory and humbled Himself to be born as a babe and to be placed in a manger. He endured the life of this world for thirty-three years: He was spat upon and reviled. He had thorns thrust into His head and was nailed to a cross, to bear the punishment of my sin.
And if this is the life purchased for me then my weariness in well doing reflects upon my Savior...
That is how I have come from that to this, and if I ever, even for a fraction of a second, question the greatness and the glory and the wonder and the nobility of this walk in which I am engaged, well then I am spitting upon Him. Out upon the suggestion! 'Be not weary in well doing.'
What am I to do? Remember the gospel!
My friend, if you think of your Christian life is any shape or form with this sense of grudge, or as a wearisome task or duty, I tell you to go back to the beginning of your life, retrace your steps to the wicket gate through which you passed. Look at the world in its evil and sin, look at the hell to which it was leading you, and then look forward and realize that you are set in the midst of the most glorious campaign into which a man could ever enter, and that you are on the noblest road that the world has ever known.

When I am weary, when I wonder how in the world I will find the energy to fight the good fight even one more round, or make one more peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I need to look to Jesus. I need to remember the gospel. I need to hear and heed His invitation in Matt. 11:28, "Come to me all who are labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." This is the good news, the gospel! Jesus Christ saves sinners! May I remember my lost-ness and marvel in the grace and mercy shown to me at the cross where Jesus took my sin and I received His righteousness. The life I now live I live in Him! My weariness is relieved when I embrace the rest He offers, when I rejoice in His saving grace.

Am I weary? I need to remember the gospel!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

To whom shall we go?

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life...” John 6:66-68

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't know of anyone who had a crisis of faith when all was going well. But when suffering comes across our paths, then the "Why" questions start.

Why did this happen? Where is God in all of this?

The suffering could be personal or that of a loved one. It could be the inhumanity of humanity against itself at home or abroad. But when tragedy or injustice strikes, we can't help but ask these questions. Just read the book of Job. It's normal to try to make sense of what has happened. It's normal to try to reconcile this with our understanding of God. But just because it's normal doesn't make the resolution any easier.

People have abandoned Christianity because these questions could not be answered to their satisfaction. Some have adjusted their understanding of God as in "Well, my God would never…" Others may pick and choose what they will believe from the Scriptures. If the Old Testament bothers us, we will only read the New. If Paul bothers us, we will only read Jesus. If Jesus bothers us, maybe we should take a vote to see if He really said all those things.

Even though I don't agree with these responses, I can sympathize because I've wrestled with this in the past. A trial cut to the heart of what I believed, and I was left floundering. What was God really like? Did He love me or was it a Sunday school fairytale? It was as if I had to grit my teeth and hold on with all my might because it would have been so easy to give up. Looking back, I know that my determination didn't keep my faith. God was preserving me the whole time and part of that preservation was directing me back to His Word for the answers to my questions.

But today I find myself in a similar struggle again. I am trying to make sense of issues of justice, and I feel the tension as I try to reconcile what I see with who God is. But for His grace, it would easy to take the path of least resistance and modify God and His Word to ease my discomfort. But I come back to John 6. Jesus just finished saying some very hard things to his disciples. Many of them walked away because they could not bear it. And then Peter responds:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

This is where I find myself because again there is nowhere else I can go. I can research to my heart's content. But as potentially helpful as blogs, articles, books, and commentaries may be, those words are not ultimate and infallible. There is only one place I can go to make sense of God, man, and sin. There is only one place where I will find hope that one day all will be made right. I must return to the Word of God.

So even as I grapple with this issue, I'm encouraged. I believe God is still guarding my faith far better than I can guard it myself. He does not lie. His Word is true, and it is tough enough to stand up to the closest scrutiny. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Emperor's New Prayer Robe

I am not an issues blogger. In fact, I don't just not write about issues; I've had to learn to ignore them altogether. I've seen one too many fractious internet debates and social media harangues, so I generally steer clear of them. Otherwise, they would feed my criticial spirit.

Having said all that, this could be seen as an issues post, and I guess it is. D. A. Carson writes, "There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals." I pray that this post will not be the wounding sort. It's not written with a critical spirit or an intent to pick a fight. Rather, it's the result of my own observations and questions as I've tried to work through the theology that holds many women captive today.

As a young evangelical in the 1990s, I was capitvated by Experiencing God. The book became a bible study, became a daily devotional, became a bible, became a musical. The Prayer of Jabez soon followed, as did t-shirts, wall hangings, and a children's book. Two decades later, only the titles have changed.  Jesus Calling and The Circle Maker - and their associated products - are sweeping the evangelical landscape. They promise to revolutionize our prayer lives, bring us closer to God, and cause us to fall more deeply in love with Him than we could ever imagine. 

What makes us crave the spiritual high? The obvious answer, of course, is the Fall. I believe it's a woman's sinful nature to be easily swayed by passions (see 2 Timothy 3:6). And what could be more passionate than a meaningful, loving experience with God?  The inner workings of our wicked hearts have made us easy prey. In our eagerness to go deep with God, we forget that He has already given us everything we need to have the relationship He created us for.

His Word shows us how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13) and when to pray (1 Thess. 5:17). He has provided the blueprint of the Christian life (i.e., Micah 6:8; 1 Cor. 10:31).  Yet we continually look to man-made programs for an easy way to achieve intimacy with God. (All the while, the money changers are in the temple, hawking their latest spiritual wares. It's nothing new. Luther fought against the Catholic church's sale of indulgences in his day.)

It's certainly no sin to read books on bible study or prayer. I often use Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions as a resource for guided prayer. I do so because the Puritans didn't promise some new experience of God. They offered up heart-felt prayers, cries to the Lord from sinners who recognized their need of a savior. No gimmicks. No guarantees.

In Chapter 13 of Hebrews, the author encourages us to
 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith...Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. (vv. 7, 9)
We need to sit under leaders who point us to the Word of God, not the latest best-seller or how-to method. Rather than devoting themselves to pure spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2), the masses are consuming sugary fluff posing as theology. The resulting decay is inevitable.

There is something in us that is greedy for the easy, new-and-improved way to get to God. We are fascinated by thoughts of finding the latest no-fail method. Have we forgotten that Jesus is the same yesterday, today & forever (Hebrews 13:8)? We should be looking to the unchangeable Word of God as our guide. Anything else is like the Emperor's new clothes; writers, publishers, and advertisers may convince us that what they're offering is revolutionary, but there's no substance.


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For Further Reading (by those much wiser than I):

~Jesus Calling by Carl Trueman
~Movements and the Means of Grace by Todd Pruitt
~The Truth is Never Sexy by Aimee Byrd
~Out With the Old? by Aimee Byrd

Friday, March 7, 2014

God Is Who He Is

"I am who I am"
(source)

At the burning bush, Moses asked God what his name is, and God answered him like this:
I am who I am . . . . Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’  . . . Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exodus 3:14-15, ESV).
The italicized "Lord" is a (sort of) translation of the divine name Yahweh, the most important of all God's names. What Yahweh means is explained by what God says before it. It means  "I am who I am," or possibly "I will be who I will be," or just "I am," for short. The idea could be something like this: I am who I am and I always will be who I am. No matter how you cut it, the name Yahweh and God's words explaining it are mysterious, not because we can't know something of what they mean, but rather, because there's so much possible meaning.

God Exists

At the very least, "I am" means that God exists. We live in a physical world, surrounded by physical things, and it's easy to live our lives as if what we can see and touch is all that exists.  God is not physical; we can't see or touch him, but his name "I Am" assures us that he there, as real—no, more real—than the stuff around us.

God Is Eternal

Where did God come from? As "I Am," he just is; he didn't come from anything. He had no beginning, and he will have no end.  He is the One “who is and who was and who is to come" (Revelation 1:8 ESV). He existed forever in eternity past and he will exist forever in eternity future.

God Is Unchanging

When a person (or Popeye, perhaps) says, "I am what I am," it means we have to take them as they are, warts and all, because they aren't going to change. "I am who I am" is a little like that, pointing to God's unchangeability; but unlike a stubbornly flawed person, God is perfect, so with him, not changing is a good thing. All God's perfections—his love, his faithfulness, his holiness, etc.—are constant. He always be what he's always been, and we can count on it.

God's eternal purpose is unchanging, too, and this is the aspect of God's unchangeability that God is pointing to in the passage from Exodus quoted above. God was the God the Israelites' fathers and he will be their God, too. As "I Am," he will always be faithful to them. He will keep his promises.

God Is  Independent

The name "I Am" tells us God existed when there was nothing else, so he is not dependent on anything. He needs nothing from anyone or anything to be who he is.

No, the thread of dependency has to run the other way. God existed by himself before the universe did, so the whole universe and everything in it had to come from him. Absolutely everything is dependent on God for its existence. We need him, but he doesn't need us.

What's more, since he is not dependent on anything, nothing outside of him can constrain him. Whatever he plans, he can accomplish. This is yet another reason he can be counted on to keep his promises.

God Is Near

We might think that the independent, eternal, unchanging God of "I Am" would be a far off God, but that's not how he is. The passage from Exodus 3 ties God's name "I Am" to his covenant faithfulness. "I Am" promises to be with Moses and the Israelites just as he was with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And it's by his name "I Am" that they are to remember his faithfulness in the generations to come.

And then there's Jesus. Jesus was "I Am" dwelling right here with us. John Piper says
when Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I AM," he took up all the majestic truth of the name of God, wrapped it in the humility of servanthood, offered himself to atone for all our rebellion, and made a way for us to see the glory of God without fear. 1
Through Jesus Christ, we can draw near to the God who is who he is. Through him, we can know the independent, eternal and unchanging God of "I Am" as our Father, too.

Learn More

Here are a few ways you can learn more about the attributes of our God whose name is "I Am."
  1. Read the chapter on God's attributes or perfections in your favorite systematic theology. Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine is fairly easy to read and understand.
  2. Study Tim Challies' infographic on the attributes of God.
  3. Read J. I. Packer's Knowing God.
  4. There are also a few related posts here at Out of the Ordinary: on our unchanging God; on God's independence; on God's love; on God's goodness.
[1] Quoted from this sermon.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Ladies

For Jews demand a sign and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (I Corinthians 1:22-24)

Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you desire cannot compare with her. (Prov. 8:10-11)

Once there were two ladies, Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly.

Lady Wisdom lived in a beautiful house (Prov. 9:1) and was a gracious hostess. She prepared bountiful meals with a carefully laid table (Prov. 9:2). She sent her maidens to issue her invitation (Prov. 9:3). Lady Wisdom called out to those who were simple and naive, "To all who lack sense, come in here!" She offered a bounty of bread and specially mixed wine (Prov. 9:5). "Leave your simple ways, and live," she cried, and "Walk in the way of insight." All who went in received what she promised.

Lady Folly had her own home, too. Although she knew nothing, she was seductive (Prov. 9:13). Like Lady Wisdom, she called: "Whoever is simple turn in here!" (Prov. 9:16). Like Lady Wisdom, she offered a meal, although she lacked the hospitality of Lady Wisdom: "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant" (Prov. 9:17). There was no specially mixed wine or delicious meat. Unlike Lady Wisdom, Lady Folly had a secret. For those who went through her door, there was a surprise: the dead are there (Prov. 9:18). Lady Folly's guests are in the depths of Sheol. Those who accepted her invitation did not know what they were getting into until it was too late. She promised them sweet water, but in reality it led to death.

Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly both gave invitations, and they sounded similar, but they led to different ends. Lady Folly's call sounded attractive: sweet water, secret bread. For a time, perhaps it was enjoyable. But the crucial difference was the consequence of eating such a meal: death as opposed to life. Lady Wisdom offered life, and she offered it openly and freely to those who would take it.

Everywhere, in public and private, God's wisdom, perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ, calls to us. At the same time, counterfeit versions of wisdom lurk around every corner, and they sound tempting. They offer "sweet" water, but its end is death.

How do we know when we are following Lady Wisdom or Lady Folly? How do we discern between real wisdom and counterfeit?

We must return to the wisdom of Christ as revealed in his word. If perfect wisdom is found in Christ, then his word is where we can re-visit that wisdom daily. And we must look with scrutiny at the competing wisdom. Even if it does come from someone who names the name of Christ, how does it measure up with Scripture? If we do not turn to the objective word of God to evaluate any competing wisdom, we will merely follow the wisdom of our own minds.

Lady Folly's offer pales in comparison. Lady Wisdom offers something that is better than the most precious jewels. Nothing compares to her. Don't settle for the wisdom that leads to death. Choose Christ, the wisdom of God.