Monday, December 31, 2012

Encouragement For 2013

Some encouragement from the Prince of Preachers as we close out 2012 and look forward to 2013...

And the LORD will guide you continually. 
~Isaiah 58:11
"The LORD will guide you." Not an angel, but the Lord will guide you. He said He would not go through the wilderness before His people, but an angel would go before them to lead them in the way; but Moses said, "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here." [Exodus 33:15] Christian, God has not left you in your earthly pilgrimage to be guided by an angel: He Himself leads the procession. You may not see the cloudy, fiery pillar, but the Lord will never forsake you. Notice the word will - "The Lord will guide you." This makes it certain! We may be sure that God will not forsake us! His precious shalls and wills are better than men's promises. "I will never leave you nor forsake you." [Hebrews 13:5] Then observe the adverb "continually". We are not merely led sometimes, but we have a perpetual guide; not occasionally left to our own understanding, and so to wander, but continually hearing  the guiding voice of the Great Shepherd; and if we keep close to His heels, we will not drift but will be led by a right way to our eternal dwelling. If you have to change your position in life, if you have to emigrate to another country, if it should happen that you are poverty-stricken or suddenly promoted to a more responsible position than the one you now occupy, if you are thrown among strangers or cast among foes, don't tremble, for "the LORD will guide you continually." There are no dilemmas out of which you will not be delivered if you live near to God and your heart is kept warm with holy love. You will not go astray in the company of God. Like Enoch, walk with God, and you cannot miss your road. You have infallible wisdom to direct you, unchangeable love to comfort you, and eternal power to defend you. "The LORD" - mark the word - "the LORD will guide you continually."
*Taken from Morning and Evening: A New Edition of the Classic Devotional Based on The Holy Bible, English Standard Version

Friday, December 28, 2012

Six Books of Theology Every Christian Woman Should Read

As you put together your reading plan for the coming year, consider these books. Each is easy to read, not too long, and of classic quality. If you are new to the study of doctrine, these won't be too difficult for you, and once you've read them all, you'll have an excellent overview of basic Christian theology.

If you're already a theology buff and you haven't read all of these, put the ones you've missed on your reading list. You'll learn something in each one, I promise.

On Scripture
40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert L. Plummer is made up of short stand-alone chapters answering 40 common questions related to understanding the Bible. There are plenty of charts and lists to keep things uncomplicated, and enough humour and stories to keep things unstuffy. I don’t know of any introductory book on interpreting scripture that would be more useful for the lay person who desires to better understand the Bible than this one.

On God's Nature and His Work
Knowing God by J. I. Packer will help you understand who God is, what he has done for you, and cause you to love him more because of it. Years ago when I was writing posts on God's attributes, I referenced this book frequently because Packer has a way of expressing truths about God precisely. This is one of the most frequently recommended Christian books, and there's good reason for it. I know people who re-read this every couple of years, and there's good reason for that, too. 

On the Trinity
Michael Reeves’ passion for the doctrine of the Trinity comes through on every page of Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. It’s obvious that for him the doctrine of the Trinity is not dry, irrelevant, or embarrassing, but the central truth of Christianity, “the truth that shapes and beautifies all others.” Reeves doesn’t assume that the reader has a background in Trinitarian theology, so this is an excellent choice for a student or new believer. And his passion for the subject makes it a good choice even for those who consider themselves well-studied in the faith. None of us are beyond more delight in the Trinity.

On the Work of Christ
Leon Morris wrote the definitive scholarly work on the cross of Christ, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Happily for those of us who aren't exactly scholars, he took the material from his big book and made a version just for us, titled The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance. Here Morris explains the terms associated with the atonement, like justificationsacrifice, and propitiation, so we can understand the meaning and significance of what Christ accomplished for us.

On the Big Picture
I have two recommendations in this category. The first is The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips. It's the whole-Bible gospel delivered to us in an energetic, easy-to-understand, earnest-but-never-preachy style. I suspect this book was written with newish believers and young Christians in mind—and it’s perfect for them—but it is also good for every believer as a reminder of the unabridged Gospel.

Second, there's D. A. Carsons' introduction to the Christian faith, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God's Story. In fourteen chapters, Carson explains the big story of the Bible, the story of God's work in the world from creation through to final restoration. Out of the Ordinary's own Kim Shay wrote that this book assumes
the reader knows very little about the Bible, and would be an excellent tool for sharing with someone interested in Christianity, or even someone who has a lot of pre-conceived notions about it.  Dr. Carson writes like a wise father figure, patiently, carefully explaining very difficult concepts in a way that leaves you thinking with delight at the end, "Hey, I understand that!" 
She's exactly right. If I could say it better, I wouldn't have quoted her!

Even if you consider yourself well versed in the big biblical picture, these two books will help prepare you to communicate the Christian faith.

Are there any easy-to-read doctrine books of classic quality that you would add to this list? 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Immanuel, God with us

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Merry Christmas from all of us at Out of the Ordinary.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"...and THIS is Christmas?"

For our first Christmas tree that first year we were married, my husband and I went to a tree farm and he showed off his manly manliness for his bride by single handedly cutting down the tree carefully chosen after much (much!) deliberation. We hauled it up to our second floor apartment and proudly strung lights and hung ornaments.

We had precious few Christmas items that first year of our married life. Oh, we had several ornaments for our tree, my mom saving and adding to a collection of ornaments from the time I was a little girl. But beyond that there was little else with which to deck the halls.

For that first Christmas, I did purchase a white nativity set at a local craft show during my work lunch hour. Upon returning home from work that afternoon, I eagerly unpacked each piece, carefully placing it in just the right spot in the center of our kitchen table. Yes, the kitchen table. We had no other piece of furniture on which to place it! Mary, Joseph, the shepherd, the angel, the three wise men, the camels, the donkey, the sheep, all took their respective places in the Christmas tableau. That is, except for the baby Jesus. He was missing. Absent. Nowhere in the box. AWOL.

Providentially, the box had a sticker on its side containing the name and contact information of the seller. I called her and described my dilemma. She laughed and said, "It doesn't really make much sense without Him, does it?" She promptly mailed me a baby Jesus figurine.

I thought about her comment a couple of weeks ago as Christmas decorations and boxes and wreaths and other Christmas debris littered my den and dining room in my feeble attempt at decorating (or, not, as the case may be). I thought to myself, "and THIS is Christmas?"

I thought about her comment this week as I've hurried and scurried and rushed all over town to shop, shop, shop and spend, spend, spend, asking myself "and THIS is Christmas?"

Today I stood in (yet another) line, and commiserated with another mom as we complained of the frenzy and frantic busyness that mark Christmas, both of us confessing we hate it and how relieved we are when it's over already and I thought once again "and THIS is Christmas?"

It doesn't make much sense without Him, does it?

May my celebration of Christmas be marked by a sense of gratitude and awe. May I remember, and be thankful to God for, His indescribable gift. May I forgo the false gods of materialism and perfectionism and consumerism and instead worship the Only One worthy. May I rejoice, not in shopping or decorating or in giving and receiving, but that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory full of grace and truth. Let's behold His glory this Christmas season as we look beyond the manger to the cross and to the sacrifice of our Lord that accomplished for us forgiveness and redemption and life everlasting. Let us see Jesus!

Author's note: This post originally appeared on my personal blog in December 2007. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Peace on earth

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 
Luke 2:14 (KJV)

Such was the angelic announcement to shepherds in a field outside of Bethlehem. If I had been one of them, I would have been thrilled to hear this news. After wars, captivity, more wars, and now Roman invasion, who wouldn't want peace on earth?

Our time isn't very different. The world is still broken, and we long for the day when fear, conflict, and death will be things of the past. But where can we find this? Is peace possible through finding our better selves? The bumper sticker tells us to "Visualize World Peace", but even if every person on the globe obeyed, it wouldn't change things one bit. "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me" sounds nice, but it doesn't get to the root because the problem is you. The problem is me.

We've been at war with God since the day Adam fell, and thus began the history of human strife, the rotten fruit of our rebellion against a good and holy God. There was nothing we could do to heal the breach. The debt we owed was greater than the budget deficit. We were without hope and without God in the world. But in a stable in Bethlehem, God intervened, and on a bloody cross, He displayed the full extent of His good will toward men through the death of His Son.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, Col. 1:19-22
This may seem more suitable for Easter than Christmas, but this is why Jesus came. The rightful King descended from His throne to save the rebels who were bent on overthrowing Him. The war was won by the Conqueror dying in the place of His enemies. The Guiltless bore the punishment of the guilty, and the unrighteous are declared justified. Instead of alienation and hostility, we are reconciled to God and to one another. Through Immanuel's death and resurrection, "God with us" is a reality.

Isn't this good news? This should ignite our praise. This should fuel our love for the lost and spur us to share the glad tidings far and wide. Jesus, who was born to die and rise, is hope for the hopeless and peace for the war-torn. Glory to God in the highest!

Note: The Advent series at my church is "Jesus, born to die and rise." This post was inspired by this sermon on Mark 15 by Pastor Ryan Davidson.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas is for the Watchers

A busy weekend kept me away from the computer for several days (not that I'm complaining!). So, like Rebecca, I'm recycling a post from my personal blog. This one from last year, as my husband had just graduated from college and we were waiting for a job.

I light the candles scattered among our nativities, and my soul whispers the familiar word that dominates my thoughts.


As our family keeps watch, I consider how that first Christmas was for the watchers.

Joseph, watching for a roof to shelter his betrothed, great with child. Watching for a place fitting to birth the Prince of Peace. Weariness from the journey did not deter him.  This night - this holy night - was for watching in awe as the Creator came to His creation, helpless and tiny.  

Mary, keeping watch over her newborn son and pondering the miraculous in her heart. Her song was sung long before. She praised God before her delivery. She praised God before her deliverance. This night - this silent night - was for watching over the Lord of All.

Shepherds, watching over their flocks that night. They worked though all of Israel groaned with the years of waiting to hear from God. Carrying out their duties as usual, not knowing that their lives were about to be radically changed.  Not men of much learning, but wise enough to leave the work behind and follow the Lord's proclamation. This night - this glorious night - was for watching God keep His promise in the most unexpected of ways.

Magi, watching the brightest star appear in the sky. At just the right time, it appeared to herald the incomparable work of God. Though they didn't have the Scriptures, they couldn't deny Him.  They left everything behind to find Him. This night - this wondrous night - was for watching God's brilliance overtake the darkness.

I watch the flames flicker, shadows dancing over the birth scenes. Despite Joseph's weariness, Mary's weakness, and the disappointing circumstances they found upon their arrival in Bethlehem - despite it all, God came.

And the world, not watching, missed it.

I close my eyes, think long about my own weariness, weakness, and disappointing circumstances. Then I glance again at the Babe, and I remember that God will come.

And so I keep watching.

Friday, December 14, 2012

In the Fullness of Time

I sat at my desk yesterday, working on a new piece to post here today, while family life swirled around me. The grandbaby was squawking, my son was trying to find a bootie for the dog's still-healing foot so he could take him snowshoeing, and my head was threatening to explode as I tried to keep track of it all. I escaped upstairs to iron the clothes I needed to wear for caroling last evening, and while I ironed, I decided to scrap the new post—which was turning out as disjointed as my afternoon—and enjoy the grandbaby and the wonderful winter weather.

So here's all I've got: an advent piece I wrote several years ago. We view the incarnation from the already-accomplished side of God's plan—and how blessed we are! This is a brief look from the other side, as God's glorious plan played out in redemption history.

In eternity past, prior to his first creative command, God had a plan for the history of his creation. At the very centre of his plan was His own Son, foreordained to redeem humankind from the ruinous results of sin. That God’s own Son would come as Redeemer was at the heart of God’s purposeful will—the plan that he invariably works in all things to accomplish.

It was a glorious plan, but a plan yet to be revealed and a plan yet to unfold in history.  And then, piece by piece, God’s word revealed his purpose, and piece by piece, his command brought it to pass.

We have a hint of God’s redemptive plan in the curse of the serpent: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The plan is there in his promise to Abraham: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

It was according to his plan that God brought his people into captivity in Egypt and then raised up Moses as God's agent of redemption to bring them out from slavery, foreshadowing—anticipating—the greater Redeemer to come. The plan is there, too, when God gave the law—the perfect law written in stone, the perfect law that no one could keep, the perfect law that held people captive under a curse. It was this perfect law that showed the need for the great Redeemer to come. In all this, piece by piece, God’s word was revealing his purpose, and piece by piece, his command was bringing it to pass.

The prophets of old spoke, not according to their own will, but according to God’s plan, carried along by the disclosing work of the Holy Spirit, and moved by him to record those prophecies for us. God’s perfect plan raised up Isaiah, who prophesied of a virgin who would conceive a son whose name would be “God is with us.” God’s Spirit set Jeremiah apart from his mother’s womb to be a prophet to the nations, to reveal the coming new covenant when God’s perfect law would be written on his people’s hearts. These prophets, too, were pieces of the plan, teaching God's people to expect the day when their great Redeemer would come. Yes, piece by piece, God’s word was revealing his purpose, and piece by piece his command was bringing it to pass.

And then the counsel of his will called for the fulfillment of his promise. It was the right time according to his purposeful plan; it was the perfect time for everything to change.

It was the fullness of time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Mother's Heart

I once worked at a store where only one of my co-workers was male. The poor man managed to endure while we discussed shoes and hairstyles, but what he couldn’t abide was our childbirth stories.

He would usually try to protest, but when the conversation shifted, he would find a task that would take him elsewhere.

Women love childbirth stories. Like Melanie in Gone with the Wind, we tend to believe “the happiest days are when babies come.”

Christmas is no exception. We love the story of Jesus’ birth. And though we try to be realistic and remind ourselves of the third-trimester donkey ride and dirty stable, we still focus on the result -- the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.

If you’ve been a mother long enough, your child has disappointed you. Sometimes the disappointment cuts so deeply our hearts are broken. But all mothers, biological or adoptive, remember the joy and hope we felt the first time each child was placed in our arms.

Only one mother never had her heart broken by her child’s sin. Only one mother never had to accept that her child was not perfect. But that mother had her heart broken in a way that we can’t understand. She lived to see her nation reject the Messiah sent to save them. She lived to see her son die a violent, horrible death. As Simeon prophesied in Luke 2:35, she experienced a pain so deep it was like a sword that pierced her own soul.

I’m much closer in age to Mary at the foot of the cross than Mary at the manger. I can’t imagine the grief that flooded her mother’s heart as her son was beaten, spit upon, and nailed to a cross.

But Jesus was more than Mary’s son, he was also her Savior. Her son’s death secured her only hope of salvation. Because of Christ’s death on the cross, we can look past the pain and hurt of this world, past the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1-3) and look forward to the “hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jesus in our ordinary

I have a nativity that belonged to my grandmother. I'm not sure where she got it as I never saw it displayed in her home. Whether it was a gift or a bargain buy she couldn't pass up, I will never know. I do know that I am glad I have it, not only because it was hers but because I think it lovely and unique in that it has no babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. There's a baby, yes, but He is held in His mother's arms.

I have this nativity displayed on an end table in our family room. One day earlier this week I was eating my breakfast and reading my Advent devotional for the day when I glanced over to the nativity. There among Mary and Joseph and the shepherds was also a collection of books, a tv remote, my iPad, my plate of pumpkin bread and, of course, my cup of coffee.

Not to mention a fair amount of dust.

A housekeeper, I am not.

Nor am I a skilled iPhone photographer so please excuse the blurry photo.

My first reaction was one of dismay and maybe a little self-hatred, both in regard to my lack of housekeeping skills as well as our tendency to cover every horizontal surface in this house with all sorts of remnants of daily life: books, newspapers, mail, empty tea glasses, you name it. It doesn't seem right, somehow, for baby Jesus to be surrounded by dirt and dust and the ordinary accoutrements of our day-to-day living. Jesus and the tv remote? It seems almost sacrilegious. Maybe I should put Him on a top shelf somewhere, away, protected, safe, special.

But isn't that just what Christmas is, Jesus in our ordinary? The Son of God not considering equality with God something to be grasped, but making Himself nothing, taking on human form, coming to earth as a baby (Phil. 2:6-8). What an ordinary plan! What humility! We might set out to save the world via the sort of Savior born into wealth and prestige and certainly privy to our modern conveniences of satellite broadcasts and twitter feeds and 24 hour news cycles, not to mention deodorant and tailored suits and air conditioning. And epidurals.

Not so God. When the time had fully come He sent forth His Son (Gal. 4:4), to a family in poverty enduring oppression under a hostile regime. He was born in a stable, among livestock. Can you imagine the dirt and the smell? What a place to give birth! What a place to cradle your newborn Son--in a manger, a feeding trough!

The humility of Jesus' birth, the humility of His life and His death, all are echoed in Paul's assertion that for our sake He who was rich became poor so we through His poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus entered into the dust and dirt of this world so that we might know the glory and the beauty of life in Him and with Him. We are rich indeed, we who have Christ.

While it's certainly not the sort of Christmas decorating that will grace the pages of my Southern Living magazine, I find that a nativity surrounded by real life is in some ways wholly appropriate. Jesus in my ordinary revealing the extraordinary. What grace. What condescension. Hallelujah, what a Savior.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christ Incarnate - The Sinner's Only Hope

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21

"There was no hope for any sinner unless the Son of God Himself should save him. But the apostle Paul, writing to his son Timothy, says, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;.” (1 Tim. 1:15) You may measure the depth of our danger by the glory of the person of Him who undertook to deliver us from it. It is the Son of God, whom angels worship, who has come “to save sinners.” It must be a deep destruction from which only God Himself could rescue man...

"Jesus Christ did not come into the world to help you to forget your sin. He has not come to furnish you with a cloak with which to cover it. He has not appeared that He may so strengthen your minds (as some men would have you believe,) that you may learn to laugh at your iniquities, and defy the consequences thereof. For no such reason has the Son of God descended from Heaven to earth. He has come, not to lull you into a false peace, not to whisper consolation which would turn out to be delusive in the end, but to give you a real deliverance from sin by putting it away, and so to bring you a true peace in which you may safely rejoice. For, if sin be put away, then peace is lawful; then rest of spirit becomes not only a blessing which we may enjoy, but which we must enjoy, and which, the more we shall enjoy it, the better shall we please our God. 0 sinner, the good tidings that we bring to you, in the Gospel, are not the mere glitter of a hope that will delude you at the last, not a present palliative for the woe you feel, but a real cure for all your ills, a sure and certain deliverance from all the danger that now hangs over you!

From Christ Incarnate - The Sinner's Only HopeChrist's Incarnation, The Foundation of Christianity by C. H. Spurgeon (emphasis mine)

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Season of Consecration

The very fact that so many people considered the Messiah's coming more of a fairy tale than a future event was, in itself, a cause for repentance. It wasn't just that God had promised to do it. It was that the reason he promised to do it was like an intimate promise between lovers. God's promised Messiah was a merciful gift of love to a people who needed both mercy and love. He would come to them in all their pain, brokenness, and struggle, and make everything new. They were desperate for this, and the proof of their desperation was perhaps the most evident in the fact that they couldn't bring themselves to live as though this promise was real.
~Russ Ramsey
Are we any different? The promise has been fulfilled, but do we live like it's real? I fully rely on His promise during major, life-shattering events such as the loss of my husband's job or my mom's sudden passing. Yet I confess that it is in the mundane task of day-to-day living that I often forget. God became man and broke the bondage of sin. I should be shouting that with every ounce of marrow in my weary bones. I am desperate, yet I've forgotten how to live in desperation.

As we begin this season of Advent, I want to cling desperately to the Lord and His promise. I want to watch for Him and make ready my heart. I want to remember that the Gospel is not a fairy tale, and I want to stop living like it is.

My fellow ordinary theologians and I are consecrating this time of Advent, stepping back from our normal posting to focus our hearts on the very good news  - Emmanuel, God with Us. We invite you to join us as we journey through the Advent season together.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
~Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Following a Theme to the Manger and Beyond

The Holy Family
by Rembrandt (1634)
A few years ago, I started a Christmas/Advent scripture reading tradition. I began following a theme—one that Christ fulfills—through scripture from beginning to end.

This is not like doing a word study; it's not a word, but a topic or idea that's traced through scripture. It's a rewarding exercise, but it takes a bit of thought and planning, and a general knowledge of the Bible. 

I usually read one passage per day, starting so that I finish right before Christmas. Though I've planned what texts to  read—and even read them while I'm planning—I still get excited as the readings build, first toward the coming of Jesus, then, in some cases, through the work of the Spirit in the new covenant, and finally, in anticipation of the consummation.

So far, I've done lightglorydwelling place (or tent, tabernacle) and miraculous birth. This year I'm thinking of doing king.

Confused? Let me show you by tracing the theme of miraculous birth through the Bible. 
  • The creation of Adam and Eve - Genesis 2:7, 20-22 (These aren't really births, but they are God's miraculous creation of human life, so I've decided they fit. )
  • The birth of Isaac - Genesis 17:15-17, 18:1-3, 9-15, 21:1-3.
  • The birth of Esau and Jacob - Genesis 25: 21-24.
  • The birth of Joseph - Genesis 30:1-2, 22-23.
  • The birth of Samson - Judges 13:2-7, 24.
  • The birth of Samuel - 1 Samuel 1:1-20
  • The birth of John the Baptist - Luke 1:57-66
  • The birth of Jesus - Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-24, Luke 2:1-7
  • The new birth - John 1:12-13, 1 Peter 1:3-5
  • Our adoption as sons and the redemption of creation - Romans 8:19-23
Are there more texts you would add to this list?

I've posted the texts I used to follow the themes of light and glory, too. Can you think of other themes that might work?

You are welcome to use this list or the linked ones for your own purposes. Better yet, choose a theme and trace it through the Bible yourself.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Anxiety and the Battle for the Mind

This morning, we welcome Diane Bucknell, who blogs at Theology For Girls, to Out of the Ordinary.  Anxiety and depression are issues that affect many women, and the issues can be difficult if one is a Christian.  I asked Diane to share her insights with us.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,
 because he trusts in you. Jeremiah 26:3

As I was preparing this I typed “anxiety” into the book search bar at Amazon and pulled up 13,865 results, so we’re obviously talking about a very common problem!

First, I’m one who firmly believes that some forms of anxiety have a biological origin, therefore we’ll be considering two different subjects; namely  ordinary anxiety or worry as spoken of in Scripture, and anxiety that has a biological cause.   These two anxiety states can easily feed on each other, and trying to separate them can be a bit like a surgeon separating conjoined twins. So, let’s take a brief look at each one.

Ordinary Anxiety or Worry

This is defined as worry, fear, fretting, and allowing our thoughts to run wild with the cares of the world. It’s the kind of anxiety that keeps us lying awake at night ruminating on all the “what ifs?” of our situation. This is the anxiety our lovely Lord Jesus exhorts us not to do because He orders all of the events in our lives and cares for us as a loving Father. When we worry and fret we fail to trust in Him and we think somehow if we worry enough about the situation we can come up with a solution. The Lord knows how prone we are to prideful unbelief so He gently encourages us:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Matthew 6:25-27

Diagnosing this kind of anxiety is not rocket science and it doesn't take a doctor, psychiatrist, or prolonged Biblical counseling sessions to deal with it because the cause is obvious.  We worry about money, our health, family, relationships, and this or that.  In other words, we can easily put our finger right on the problem. This kind of worry can become so excessive that it can even lead to panic attacks.

A plethora of books are available on the subject, but we have in our possession something so much better to combat our worries and fears! We have the living and active Word of God which is the only Counseling Book containing supernatural ability to change our thinking habits as we apply it through the power of the Holy Spirit!

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart "~ Hebrews 4:12

One of the problems with psychology that can also happen in Biblical counseling is that people often run to the professionals before they flee to Christ and His Word, hoping the counselor might be able to gaze into their soul, figure them out, and then perform the corrective surgery. Now, please don’t misunderstand me because I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek Biblical counsel, because God has richly blessed the church with people who are gifted to help others in this way. But we must realize that we already have a “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) who says “I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Ps 32:8.). Our heart is so utterly deceived by our own sin that no one can truly understand it but the Lord. At the end of the day, (or session) it will only be Christ who can fix our broken minds and hearts and deliver us from our angst.

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind" ~ Jeremiah 17:9

Biologically Based Anxiety

This kind of anxiety can hit us like a ton of bricks coming virtually out of nowhere, even in our sleep! It can strike when things are going well for us spiritually and we’re prayed up, confessed up, Scriptured up,and trying our best to walk with Christ. In spite of this we can become sidelined with relentless panic attacks, anxiety that won’t let up over time and sometimes dark depression. Like David we cry out to the Lord “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my anxious thoughts!” (Ps.139:23 ) and still we come up empty handed and miserable. Friends, if this were the kind of anxiety that resulted from sinful unbelief and worry; we would know it because our God does not play hide-and-go-seek games with us concerning our sin when we desire holiness!

It is believed that most people will experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime but this is something way beyond the norm. This type of anxiety interferes with a person’s life and well being and can even become disabling. If you find yourself in this place you need not condemn yourself, or ALLOW others make you feel that you’re a spiritual failure, rather you should consider making an appointment with our doctor.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association, although controversial among Christians, establishes specific criteria for coding and determining whether a mental disorder is due to a general medical condition or a psychiatric one:
'There is evidence from the history, physical examination, or laboratory findingsthat the disturbance is the direct physiological consequence of a general medical condition’ (1) When a mental disorder is due to a general medical condition, one does not diagnose the primary psychiatric disorder with the same symptom, but rather codes the symptom secondary to the general medical condition. Thus,with anxiety one would not code 300.02, generalized anxiety disorder, but rather 293.89, anxiety disorder due to a general medical condition.(2)
Anxieties triggered by medical conditions are well documented by the National Institutes of Health and all major teaching institutions. Some of the most common causes of anxiety (and depression) are endocrine disorders, autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s), hyperthyroidism (Graves Disease), heart and lung conditions, gastrointestinal problems and other illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia. Additionally, chronic long term stress, such as being the caregiver for a sick loved one can also upset our chemistry. And then there are those pesky hormonal fluctuations that can trigger panic attacks and depression in women going through peri-and menopause.

If you and your doctor decide medication would be best for you, please understand that it is no more sinful or shameful to take medication for anxiety than it is to take it for diabetes or high blood pressure!

And in the case of hormone or thyroid imbalances, it’s often just a matter of getting those things leveled out with hormone replacement medication. Most of us are already aware that drugs can be doled out too freely, but we’re not talking about that issue here. More often than not medication will only be needed temporarily unless there is a chronic illness.

The believer who desires to live abundantly in Christ will find the struggle with biologically based anxiety to be a very real and serious affliction which can be compounded by the fact that our minds are always engaged with our bodies. In other words, we can easily slip into a perpetual pattern of sinful worry and obsession during medically induced anxiety and panic episodes. This can become a vicious cycle that we must strive to break free from, but nothing is too difficult to sort out for the Lord who made us!

We can benefit greatly from simple things like breathing and relaxation techniques, mentally holding up a big red “Stop Sign” when we feel ourselves slipping into panic mode, and taking a warm bath with a cup of hot tea. Above all we need to pray and use our Bibles to talk to ourselves. Self-talk is very therapeutic! Here’s an example of how the Psalmist did this:

"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." Psalm 43:5

Regardless of the source of our anxiety it would serve us well to write down comforting Scriptures and meditate on them daily. Post them by your bed or on your fridge. Remind yourself of all the wonderful promises of God. He knows our frame because He created us and we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” – even with our imperfections.

Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. I Peter 5:7

(1) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fourth Edition, Washington DC, American Psychiatric Press, 1994, 7
(2)  "Anxiety and Endocrine Disease" by Dr. Richard C Hall: University of Florida, Gainesville

Suggested Resources:

The Peace that Passes Understanding, by Ed Welch
Christians Get Depressed Tooby Dr. David Murray
The Anxiety Cure, by Dr. Archibald Hart
TableTalk Magazine, Anxiety, January 2010
Medical Conditions That Cause Anxiety


Monday, November 26, 2012

Idolatry in the Rearview Mirror

Not long ago I was talking with a young mom who was discouraged by her husband’s long work hours. This happens to be a subject with which I’m familiar. Until just after our second child was born, my husband worked seven days a week for most of the year. I know quite well the frustrations of the long days alone with infants and toddlers, missing my husband and needing a break!

I did my best to encourage her, though if there are magic words to remove such a burden, I’ve yet to discover them. But I sensed this issue had grown so large in her mind that she saw it as the one barrier to her happiness. She seemed to believe if this one problem could be fixed, everything else would be okay. I picked up on this because I used to feel the same way.

It’s often easy for me to see when a younger woman is basing her happiness on the fulfillment of a particular desire, because I used to be such a woman. I thought that whenever I got married, had a baby, got a house, got a new job, etc., THEN I would be content. All of those milestones once loomed large in my mind, and all of them have long since passed. And yet I’m still discontent. I still grumble.

But my middle years have ushered in a new kind of idol -- the idol of looking back. I see all the mistakes I made and roads not taken. If only had a been a better parent, not wasted so much time, bought stock in Amazon when it first went public -- you name it -- then I would be so much better off than I am right now.

Looking back at my mistakes, though, can be just as sinful pining away for a hope deferred. It shows that I’m not putting my hope and happiness with Christ and his grace, but in my own circumstances, or at least, what I imagine my circumstances could have been. I’m not rejoicing that in Christ my sins are forgiven and that he’s working all things for my good and his glory (Romans 8:28), but instead murmuring about what I should have done differently.

Learning from our mistakes is a good thing. Seeing the fruit of our bad choices reminds us of the seriousness of our sin. In the case of the young mother, because I had been in a similar situation and often handled it badly, I was able to share some of what I learned and (hopefully) help her feel less alone (2 Corinthians 1:4).

In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul uses the analogy of a runner in a race to describe the Christian life:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

A runner who is continually looking behind him will not run a good race. In the same way, rehashing all my mistakes and regrets hinders my progress as a Christian. Instead of celebrating Christ’s sacrifice that covers all my sin, I throw a pride-fueled spotlight on the "perfect" life that could have been mine if I had just done better. We need to continually look forward, with our eyes on Christ, trusting in his grace and mercy.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Give thanks to the Lord

Today is Black Friday, that day of unbelievable deals, massive crowds, and record revenues. Of course, I use the term "day" loosely as it seems that Black Friday has expanded to include Black Thursday afternoon. Not only that, I've been receiving emails all week from retailers proclaiming the early start to Black Friday shopping, which in my mind begs the question: can it still be Black Friday if it's really Monday? Hmmm....

Poor Thanksgiving. It's become the forgotten holiday, squeezed as it is between Halloween and the biggest shopping day (day-and-a-half) of the year. I suppose Thanksgiving suffers from a lack of commercial and retail appeal: no candy, costumes, or gifts to drive consumer spending and thus all the corresponding so-called celebratory hype. Pumpkins and mums, turkey and dressing, they can only carry the market so far.

However much the holiday may be overlooked, thanksgiving itself--the giving of thanks--is rather en vogue at the moment, what with gratitude journals and the enumeration of thousands of gifts. Friends are posting things for which they are thankful on their Facebook walls, one for each day of the month of November, and some of us are tweeting our spontaneous thanksgiving marked with the hashtag "novemberthanksgiving". Beyond the month of November and throughout the year, many bloggers devote space on Thursdays to give thanks for the week's blessings and providences.

This is a good thing. Few things evoke my own thanksgiving like others' joyful testimony of the Lord's goodness. In other words, gratitude prompts gratitude. When I see you acknowledge the blessings of warm socks and a cup of coffee, I realize the Lord's grace to me in similar, ordinary gifts.

And not merely in the small and ordinary. Indeed how can I read of Naomi's humble gratitude for the Lord's severe mercy and not be moved to offer my own sacrifice of praise?

As we read in Naomi's beautiful testimony, thanksgiving is not mere acknowledgement of something that we like or makes us happy. Of course, it is good and right and beneficial for us to gratefully acknowledge that which gives us joy; yet if we only make the list or post the status or tweet the appropriate hashtag we haven't engaged in the kind of thanksgiving the Bible exhorts.

"Give thanks to the Lord," the psalmist asserts, "for he is good; for his love endures forever!" (Ps. 118:1) More than identifying a passing pleasure, we give thanks to the Lord. Yes, my morning cup of coffee is a joy for which I am grateful but the joy isn't merely in the coffee itself! Rather my joy is in my God, the Giver of all good things. My giving thanks for His grace to me--in a beautiful fall morning, in the laughter of my sons, in the pumpkin bread in my oven, in His sustaining strength in trial and difficulty--my giving thanks for these blessings and more declares His goodness and proclaims that He is the joy beyond all joys, the true Treasure, the One from whom all blessings flow.

Whatever you are thankful for this season--and I pray your list is long--may your thanksgiving turn your heart to the only One worthy, our kind and gracious Father who loves us with an everlasting love. He has blessed you richly not merely for the blessings themselves, but so that you may know the greater blessing of seeing Him in them. Let us set our hearts to consider His love in the everyday glimpses of grace, yes and amen. Let us also look beyond the lesser joys to the surpassing joy of the cross and His sacrifice and our salvation. He has given us all things in His Son, the indescribable gift! He is good and His love endures forever!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Freedom From Want

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Food, family, football, and shopping frenzies are some of the things associated with this holiday. However, this painting by Norman Rockwell is the image that pops into my head when I think of Thanksgiving. There's an abundance of good food on the table, multiple generations present, and smiles on every face of this one big happy family. There's a wholesome "God's in His heaven, all's right with the world"1 feel to this scene. Interestingly, the title of this painting is Freedom From Want.

I can relate to that. Who wouldn't want freedom from want? No want of material possessions, financial security, health, loving relationships, and happiness. But life rarely resembles a Norman Rockwell painting. Between the exile from Eden and Jesus' return, our families bear fresh wounds and old scars from this broken world. Hardship, estrangement, divorce, sickness, and death have taken their toll, and it hurts. Holidays like Thanksgiving often make the pain more acute because the longing for all to be well is yet to be met.

But even if we could be free from every earthly want, there's a need that goes much deeper. We were blind to it, blind to the sin that separated us from our holy Creator. But in love and mercy, God opened our eyes to see our true condition. The Holy Spirit came to us when we were dead and gave us life. He gave us faith to believe and put our trust in the only One who could pay the penalty for that sin and live the perfect life God requires.2 Jesus quenches our thirst3 and satisfies the hunger of our souls4, which gives fresh significance to the words, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."5

This comforts me when I am tempted to count my losses more than my blessings this time of year. Although life is not what I imagined it would be (and it never is), I regain perspective in light of the gospel. "My best life now" or deliverance from sin, salvation in Christ, and the promises of God? Fleeting happiness or joy that defies circumstances and sweetens every sorrow? No contest.

I'm also comforted by a scene no painting will ever capture - an unbroken family circle, the gathering of all the saints around the throne of God and of the Lamb. Every tear will be wiped away. There will no more sorrow, sickness, sin, or death. All that separated us from God will be gone, and wonder of wonders, we will see Him face to face and dwell with Him forever.6

What a never-ending Thanksgiving Day that will be. I can't wait.

1. Pippa's Song, Robert Browning
2. Eph. 2:1-10, 2 Cor. 5:21
3. John 4:13
4. John 6:48-51
5. Psalm 23:1
6. Rev. 21:1-4, Rev. 22:1-5

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lessons in the darkness

Today, we welcome Naomi Millar as a guest blogger.  Naomi is one of the many wonderful, ordinary women that I have met through blogging.  Her story will bless you.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills - from when comes my help? ... My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

On Sunday March 6th 2011, my husband, Tim and I were thrust into a trial – one which we never expected nor could have imagined. Our 3rd child, Cameron (aged 6 at the time) had been vaguely unwell for a number of months, off and on. He had been having low-grade fevers, intermittent abdominal pain, and just prior to diagnosis he developed fatigue and a rash called Petichiae (a rash which appears due to a low platelet count).

As people talk in detail of their whereabouts on September 11th 2001, the same can be said of the day we were informed our boy had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

We had an inkling that something was wrong when he wanted to be held on my knee at dinner, then lay down after the meal. The low-grade fever came in the evening, accompanied by heavy sweats, then suddenly, a rash which wouldn’t blanch when we held a glass to him.

Tim took him to the local Emergency Room. I stayed home with Cameron’s siblings, still believing that he would arrive back from the hospital fighting fit, and everything would be just fine.

One hour later I received a call from Tim: “Naomi, they have a needle in his arm and they’re doing blood tests.” My reply was “Oh, ok. Phone me, then, when you know more,” part of me not believing it could be anything more than a common childhood illness, and yet another part of me knowing that Leukaemia was a very real possibility.

He called back within a few minutes with the news that it was indeed serious. He had Leukaemia.

Disbelief, utter dependence upon God and emotions I’d never experienced before flooded my soul. I recall asking Tim to repeat it all and saying “What are we going to do?” “I need to be with him.” “What’s going to happen?” I don’t thinking I’ve ever experienced a feeling of needing to be with someone in such a strong sense.

From a healthy, strong and active little boy, we were now nursing a child who was doing very poorly. Our great need and dependence upon God’s help in the next hours, days and weeks was the air that we breathed. Three days after his diagnosis, we were told that he was also high-risk and was placed on the most intensive treatment regimen.  

'Only your restless heart keep still
and wait in cheerful hope, content
in taking what His gracious will,
His all-discerning love, has sent;
for all our inmost needs are known
to Him who chose us for His own.’

‘Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord…’ Psalm 20:7

The Psalms became a great source of comfort to us – there they were, full of examples of David calling upon God for aid in time of need and trial. We didn’t read much else. Most mornings we woke up to emails of Scripture-filled encouragement from God’s people. We found in the distractions of a busy hospital ward that being spoon-fed God’s word was such a help. Dear saints from across the globe upheld us in prayer; those close to us sent meals to the hospital where Cameron spent a month isolated from visitors. His appearance changed on a daily basis from the harsh effects of chemotherapy and steroids.

Tim reminded me of the events which took place in the life of Abraham and Isaac.
Genesis chapter 22:
Some time later, God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
Here I am,” he replied.Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
There he was, this great man being called to sacrifice his son! We can observe Abraham approach this painful trial with much faith. Effectively he said, “Here is the child you blessed me with – I place him into your hands, Lord.” As we know, the story ends well. Isaac was a test of Abraham’s faith.

We found ourselves in a similar situation. We knew all the risks of treatment, but we needed to give him this treatment. It was a matter of life or death, but we HAD to place Cameron into our Father’s hands.

As we cried out to God for His help, His comfort and healing, we felt compelled to remind Him of reasons why He should heal Cameron and give him length of days.

Hannah cried out to God for the gift of a child, so she could give him back to God! We believe that although her situation was different – she was childless – we had children – the same principle applied. We asked God to give us our child – let us keep our son so that we can train him up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and that maybe one day God would use him for His glory.

There were many occasions when we asked God “Why?” We still do at times – but does not scripture command us to trust in Him? Job, The Psalmist and Christ himself all asked “Why?” at times? We learned that is it ok to ask Him “Why?” and for us to wait upon Him to reveal His ways to us - but it is not ok for the believer to be bitter and un-accepting of any situation into which He has placed us. To have freedom to seek His face and ask “Why did you allow this to happen?” “Why did you choose us, and Cameron?” - - this was liberating to us!

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:1-4

Though-out this year and a half, we have experienced His goodness and His great compassion – and we are full of gratefulness.

Half-way through his 3 years of treatment, the intensive phase now over, Cameron has coped well and seems to be responding positively. He is full of energy, at times! (Though his journey is not yet complete, and he still has difficulties due to side-effects) We look back upon this dark, but blessed era in our lives, not with much pain and sadness but as a time when God revealed His ways to us – and while we would not have chosen His ways in this instance – they are always best.

C.S Lewis said, ‘We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.’ He always does the best for those who love Him, but He has promised to comfort us in our distresses!

He taught us (and is still teaching us) to be more appreciative of small things in life which can be so easily taken for granted; just being able to be together as a family was a blessing.

Even in the darkness (the contemplation that we could lose Cameron, and the separation from the rest of our children), we can now say:

‘I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders’ Psalm 77:6

The words of this song are apt.

‘Is the midnight closing round you?
Are the shadows dark and long?
Ask Him to come close beside you
And He’ll give you a new sweet song.

He’ll give it and sing it with you;
And when weakness lets it down
He’ll take up the broken cadence
And blend it with His own.

And many a rapturous minstrel
Among those sons of light
Will say of his sweetest music,
‘I learned it in the night.’

And many a rolling anthem,
That fills the Father’s home
Sobbed out its first rehearsal
In the shade of a darkened room.’
~ Author Unknown

Naomi Millar has been married to Tim, a science teacher, for fourteen years.  They have four children, Bethan (13), Jacob (11), Cameron (8) and Rhiannon (5).    They are members of Magherafelt Reformed Baptist Church in Northern Ireland.  Naomi is a full time mother and a  very part time piano tutor/accompanist.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Radiance of the Glory of God

He is the radiance of the glory of God....

This text is one of seven statements about the Son found in Hebrews 1:2b-3.* The Son of God, writes the author of Hebrews, is "is the radiance of the glory of God."

Glory is a biblical word that’s not been easy for me to nail down and I suspect I’m not alone in this. I’ve collected a few definitions of glory, and they are all different. Even the experts find glory difficult to define. I settled, in the end, on John Piper’s definition. God’s glory, he says, is "the going public of [God’s] infinite worth"—"the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections." You might say God’s glory is all that God is, shining forth. Or it’s what God is, in all his greatness, made known in creation.

God's glory, then, is in the Son, and he beams it out. We could say, given the definition above, that the Son radiates the infinite worth of God so that we can see it and know it. Or we might say that the Son reveals the glory of God in the same way the brightness of the sun shows the sun itself. All that God is, in all his greatness, shines out in the Son.

Athanasius used this statement in his fight against the Arian heresy. He argued for Christ's deity from this text, because, he said, it showed that Christ was co-eternal with God the Father.
Who does not see, that the brightness cannot be separated from the light, but that it is by nature proper to it, and co-existent with it, and is not produced after it?
According to Athanasius, this statement in Hebrews teaches us that the Son is eternal in the same way God is, that he is inseparable from God, just as the brightness that radiates from a light is co-existent with the light itself and inseparable from it. If a light exists, so also the brightness of the light; if God is exists, so too the Son, shining forth God's glory. And if God is eternal, then the Son is eternal, and if the Son is eternal, he is God. 

The Son is eternally the radiance of the glory of God. Even in the incarnation, he continued to shine with God's glory. It's true that while he walked the earth, Christ's glory was veiled, with the veil pulled back just once for a brief glimpse at his transfiguration, when, writes Peter, "we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." However, in a counterintuitive twist—unexpected, but so right when you think on it—it is in the veiling of God's glory in the incarnate Christ that we, as sinful beings, can actually look on the glory of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.... No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (John 1:14, 18 ESV)
The veiled glory of Jesus is glory revealed in a form we can see. As God in flesh, Jesus showed us the glory of God so that we can know him.

What's more (This is yet another twist, an even deeper one.), as he prepared to die, Jesus told his disciples that it was time for him "to be glorified." His whole life manifested the glory of God, but his dying was, to quote D. A. Carson, "[t]he most spectacular display of God's glory...." The cross revealed so much of who our God is: His holiness, righteousness, justice, power, wisdom, goodness, love, grace and mercy were all on show. (Is there more?) Even the crucified Christ was radiating God's glory. Or better yet, especially the crucified Christ was radiating God's glory.

Do you see the glory shining from Christ? If you do, thank God for it, because it is God 
who has shone in [your heart] to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV).
In God's first act in the application of salvation, he shines in to show us his glory shining out from the face of the incarnate Son. At the transfiguration, the appearance of Jesus' face changed so it shone like the sun in a display of God's glory. In us, the heart is changed so we see Christ's face as it really is, shining like the sun in a display of God's glory. I like to think of this as a sort of transfiguration in our hearts: God changes us so that we see that Christ is the radiance of the glory of God.

*I wrote something about another of the seven statements a few weeks ago.

Monday, November 12, 2012

We have a winner!

Congratulations to Juanita Stauffer, the winner in our book giveaway!

Thank you all for participating!

Resting in God's Sovereignty

You rarely notice a significant moment until it has passed. It’s only in the pondering that you realize its importance.

I was helping with Vacation Bible School. My task was to help herd a group of elementary schoolers (who are now adults) from chapel time to Bible story time to game time to snack time. Along the way I noticed another woman had joined us, but I was too distracted to think much about it. She was a member of the church, and I assumed she had shown up to lend a hand.

Then the VBS director came to the door. “Jane*, what are you doing here? We need you downstairs.”

Jane smiled. “I felt led to stay up here.”

I’ll admit, I was impressed by that statement. I assumed she must be really in tune with the Holy Spirit to readily interpret such a calling. The director, however, was having none of it.

“No, you’re committed to help downstairs. That’s where you’re supposed to be.”

I honestly can’t remember what happened next. My attention was probably drawn away by a rowdy child or spilled cup of Kool Aid. The conversation, however, stayed with me for a long time.

I’ve tried many times to write about this subject, particularly this incident. I alluded to it on my on blog in posts concerning an especially trying season after we moved to our current town.

You see, for far too long I imagined that God had plan for me that I might miss if I wasn’t careful. I worried that the sense of dread that I felt before a trip was God warning me that disaster would strike if we left home. I assumed that the sudden thought to go check on the baby was a signal from the Holy Spirit that he might be choking or suffocating. If I awoke in the night I imagined that it was a sign that I was to listen for an intruder.

It’s an exhausting way to live one’s life. What started as an earnest desire to follow God and please him had morphed into a terrifying superstitious existence. (Since the worst of it occurred during the pregnancy/postpartum/toddler years, which in my life was 1996 through 2003, I assume it was partially fueled by hormones and aggravated by lack of sleep.) Hormones or not, though, it revealed my fearful heart and my mistaken belief that God required my help.

But it wasn't always negative things. Many times I felt a strong desire to do something big for God. Something risky and exciting, and yes, often more glamorous than the everyday things I was already doing. I don't recall ever feeling "led" to do the laundry or dust the furniture. Like the woman at VBS who felt called to abandon the mundane but necessary task of working in the kitchen, I wanted a holy stamp to apply to my own wishes and desires. Sometimes, though, it takes more courage to persevere where we are.

I’ve now learned to rest hard on God’s sovereignty. I no longer worry that God is laying out a proverbial trail of popcorn that I’m supposed to notice and follow. If I feel lack of peace about going to the grocery store, I realize that I’m probably dreading the long lines and large bill, and no longer fear that God’s trying to tell me the store’s roof is about to collapse and I better stay home. And while the desire to write is always with me, I can't abandon my primary calling as wife and mother.

When I write about this new peace, however, I can’t help but feel that I’m not communicating it adequately. It tends to come across as coldhearted and Mr. Spock-like: Just use logic! List the pros and cons!

But it’s not like that at all. I feel closer and more in tune with God than ever before. The difference is that I no longer worry that I have to see God’s plan ahead of time, I just trust that whatever happens he’ll see it though.

Trust God, submit to what’s revealed in his Word, and then rest in his sovereignty to work out everything for your good and his glory (Romans 8:28) by the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11)

*Not the real name

Friday, November 9, 2012

Psalm 37:3

I have in my Bible a beautifully rendered bookmark created by a talented artist friend of mine. "Trust in the Lord and do good," it reads, referencing Psalm 37:3. My artist friend sent me the bookmark, and the admonition, during a time of my life in which it was very difficult to do either, trusting the Lord or doing good.

She, my friend, had found that verse to be a source of great encouragement during her own spiritual crisis and out of her empathy--and her talent--she passed that encouragement on to me. This particular spiritual crisis was deeply painful to me and left me feeling weak and fretful, insecure and anxious. My heart had been broken and I could not escape the grief that accompanied leaving our church family of thirteen years. Though I trusted the Lord's sovereignty and was fully confident that this was what was required of us, it was a sharp and painful disagreement, to be sure, that led to our parting of ways. It was hard. It hurt. I grieved.

During those days I honestly couldn't decide which was the more difficult: to trust the Lord or to do good. I knew the Lord was strong and faithful but leaving our church, beginning a new plant, all seemed a little too risky. Will He show Himself faithful on our behalf? Are we crazy to chance this leap of faith? I wondered, and yes, I doubted. Even as our conviction grew, my doubts sometimes loomed even larger.

And to do good? What about those who hurt me, the ugly emails, the vicious rumors, the anonymous letter? What about the reproach and loss of reputation we would now bear? I didn't want to do good, not in certain instances, and the challenge of Psalm 37:3 revealed this insidious root of bitterness and anger that sought to consume me.

Despite my doubts and my reluctance to do good the Lord has been faithful. Even when we are faithless He will be faithful, yes and amen! He has done more than we could ask or imagine and I am humbled by His gracious providence and His glorious plan. It is my joy to boast in Him for it has been the Lord's work from the beginning, glory to His name!

I do not forget, though, from whence He has brought me. I was talking to a friend just this week who is enduring her own spiritual crisis and struggling to trust the Lord and to do good. With heart breaking on her behalf, I told her what my friend told me. I've also sent a bookmark (courtesy of my friend the artist) to another sister enduring a similar heartache. Maybe you too find it difficult to believe, to hope. Let me encourage you: trust Him. Do good.

Trust in the Lord when you can't see what He's doing and when you are tempted to doubt His good, perfect, and acceptable provision. Remember the gospel and remind yourself that He who has given you His Son will also in Him freely give you all things. All things! Nothing can separate you from His love, that love He demonstrates at the cross of Christ. He sees. He knows. He hears. He answers. He works it all out and you will--you will!--see His glory as you trust Him in humble surrender. You can endure these light and momentary troubles because an eternal weight of glory awaits!

And yes, do good, even when it hurts, when you feel that bitterness seeking a stranglehold in your heart, when you are afraid your efforts will be misunderstood, mischaracterized and maligned. In humility love and serve whomever the Lord puts in your path--those who are with you and those who may be opposed to you. Remember Jesus who endured such hostility from evil men and be encouraged to not grow weary in doing good. Recall the riches of His grace that He has lavished on you and be a conduit of that same grace as you seek the good of others through the power and provision of the Spirit within you. You can't but Christ can.

Are you enduring a season of heartache and struggle? Does your heart well up in grief and pain? Are you shaken by difficulties and doubt? What encouragement my friend sent to me I now pass to you: Trust the Lord. Pour out your heart before Him. Take it to Him and leave it in His all powerful hands. Your good and His glory are at stake and He is faithful. And yes, you can do good even to those who may hurt and malign you--how? Because He is good and He is sovereign.

Trust Him, sister. Do good. In the end, He will show Himself faithful in ways yet unimagined, glory to His name...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Remedial lessons

There are some days when I can relate to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. I've learned a lesson on the sanctification road, one that had to be repeated several times, mind you. But rather than mastering it and moving on, I quickly forget, so it's time to go around the mountain again. And again. And again.

"Will I ever get it? Surely I should know better after being a Christian for x number of years. I even prayed this time..."

But instead of repenting, picking myself up, and getting back in the race, I get disappointed, discouraged, and frustrated because I thought I could do better. 

Hmmm. "Because I thought I could do better?" Sounds a bit like performance-based Christianity rearing its ugly head again. 

There's no question that we should express godly sorrow, quickly repent, and seek God's forgiveness. We should have a healthy sense of the indwelling sin we will be battling for the rest of our lives. We should have a holy discontent and a desire to love God as we ought and to grow in godliness. But is it 3 strikes and you're out? Is there a certain amount of wallowing necessary to regain favor with God? 

No! God accepts us based upon Christ's merits alone. Even as we mature in the Lord, the balance never shifts to where we begin to earn our way with God. From beginning to end, our standing is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Period. 

Also, the hope to cross the finish line doesn't depend on finally "getting it" but on the promises of God. Paul doesn't tell us "he who began a good work in you got you off to a great start but you're on your own the rest of the way." Instead he writes, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6)  Likewise grace has been given "to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives." (Titus 2:12) Even the ability to "walk worthy of our calling" springs from "the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe" and "the immeasurable riches of his grace." (Eph. 119:; 2:7; 4:1) "What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2) 

So I may be taking remedial lessons for the rest of my life, but I have hope and so do you. We will be presented holy, blameless, and without reproach. (Col. 1:22). It's a done deal. God has said so in His word and He is faithful to fulfill it.
I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be. I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good. I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon, I shall put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan. And I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’1  ~ John Newton
And his grace toward me was not in vain. 1 Cor. 15:10

1. Quoted in John Whitecross, The Shorter Catechism Illustrated (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1968), question 35. ht: Tolle Legge