Friday, February 28, 2014

Thus Saith the Lord

Our own Lisa Spence has been busy teaching a series on the Old Testament prophetic books for a ladies' Bible study in her community.  Fortunately (in a providential way, of course), she is recording her overview lessons on the minor prophets. I  listened to her podcast on Obadiah earlier this week and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll probably listen to another later today while I paint some bathroom trim.

Since Lisa is unable to post here this morning, I asked her if I could share the podcasts with you as a replacement for her regular post. I've linked to the individual PodBean podcasts below—and I'd link to the iTunes podcasts individually if I could figure out how to do it.
At this Podbean link and this iTunes link, you'll find all the podcasts. You can also subscribe at either place so you can listen to future podcasts as they become available.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

One Story

My church's most recent women's social was the Sunday after Valentine's Day. The topic for conversation was how we came to Christ. So far, so good. But as our hostess kicked off the discussion, she suggested that we also share our engagement stories since it was so close to Valentine's Day.

Fear of woman stepped in, and my heart sank. Oh great. Not only did I have a rather uninteresting conversion, I have a real downer of a Valentine's Day story. In my mind's eye, this combination seemed like a wet woolen blanket guaranteed to dampen the rest of the discussion. Maybe I could go last and not ruin the evening.

As I waited for my turn, I prayed, "Lord, You're going to have to help me. I don't have a happily-ever-after story, and I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not." He answered my prayer by gently reminding me that my story isn't about me, it's about Him.

It's not about who has the most exciting conversion or the most romantic engagement or the best this or that. There is no competition. What is important is the fact that God reached down in time and space through the power of the Holy Spirit and brought dead women to life. He custom-tailored our lives to bring us to Himself and transform us into the image of Christ, so nothing is wasted.  And as we share life together in the body of Christ, our stories overlap and intertwine. God is glorified as He weaves them together when we encourage one another and share our joys and sorrows.

So there was no damper that evening. I left with a greater appreciation for my sisters and also a greater wonder that we are part of something even bigger than this local church in this little slice of time. Our stories are part of the One Story that God has been writing from Creation until the final consummation. There have been many saints before us and perhaps many more to follow. Each story is precious. Each story is unique. But they find their place and true meaning in God's story1.

Each of our lives is a story. And with each new person we meet, we become a part of their story, and they become a part of ours. The God who created the universe has somehow woven together these billions of stories into one story which is the greatest story ever told…2
1. Inspired in part by the 2014 Theology Conference with Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, particularly sermon #4 - Passing on a Story that Leaves an Impression.
2. The Greatest Story Ever Told, Shai Linne, ©2008 Lamp Mode Recordings.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A True Friend

My Sunday School class is studying Job. I don't leave class with warm, fuzzy thoughts about a god who just wants me to be happy and is willing to do anything to make that happen. (As my pastor said in last week's sermon, "Nowhere, nowhere, NOWHERE does it say in the Bible that God's plan for your life is to make you comfortable.") Studying Job has made me think deeply about God's purposes and His sovereignty. It's also sparked some good conversation with my husband.

One such discussion centered on Job's friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Were they terrible friends? We agreed they were not. Certainly they were misguided. They were no great comfort to Job. But there was no malice aforethought. In fact, Scriptures tells us that they came to Job to "show him sympathy and comfort him." (Job 2:11) They wept for him, grieved with him. And they did perhaps the best thing anyone can do in times of trial - they sat with him for seven days without saying a word (see Job 2:12-13). The problems came when they did speak.  These men were not Jews. Surely their knowledge of God was limited, at best. They sincerely wanted to help Job, but were ill-equipped to do so.

How many times have I been an Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar in someone's life? I've had good intentions. I've sincerely wanted to help. Yet my knowledge of God has been limited. I've given platitudes that I've read or heard. Modern church vernacular is full of them.

When God closes a door, He opens a window.

 God needed another angel in Heaven.

God won't give you more than you can bear.

Nice as these thoughts may be, they are counter-Scriptural. When we share them, we are perpetuating misunderstandings of God's character and purposes for our lives. We are not encouraging others to seek the true God of the Bible. Is it because we don't know Him ourselves?

The remedy is simple: stay in the Word. Only when we know God as He reveals Himself through the pages of Scripture will we be able to truly encourage our friends and to give them wise advice. In those times when the Spirit doesn't give us words, we should follow the example of Job's friends by just being there and being silent.

True, it's not as easy as spouting off some greeting card sentiment that makes our friends - and us - feel good, but it's the mark of a godly friend.  And that's the kind of friend I want to be.

Friday, February 21, 2014

God Is One and God Is Three

One "what" and three "whos"
When you saw the title to this post, did you immediately think of the Trinity? If you did (and I'm betting you did), it's probably because you were reading it as a Trinitarian. Or we could say it's because you were reading as a Christian, for Trinitarianism is fundamental to Christianity. It's simple: The Christian God is triune, so a religion that's not Trinitarian is not Christian.

However, the title you read isn't necessarily Trinitarian—or Christian. It's true that the Triune God is both one and three, but he is one and three in a specific way. He is not one God who merely appears in three different roles in relation to creation—or who has three manifestations, as more cunning unchristians teach. A single god with three roles or manifestations is the god of modalism—and modalism was condemned as heresy a long, long time ago.

The Triune God is not three gods who work together in a unified way, either. That would be tritheism, a form of polytheism.

A Trinitarian Title

To make the title of this post specifically Trinitarian, I should have written this: God Is One Being and God Is Three Persons. That's the most common formulation of the Trinity in English—and it's precisely right, given correct definitions of the words being and person.

But the way we use those words in everyday English works against us, especially when it comes to the meaning of person. We use person to refer to separate individuals and it's difficult to see beyond that—at least it is for me. But the persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are not separate; they are not individuals. The three persons are always only one being. Distinct, yes; but never separate.

One What, Three Whos

I prefer to think of it like this: God is one "what" and three "whos." My pea brain grasps those terms immediately and I can understand something of God's triunity without stopping to think about proper definitions. That formulation (if we can call it that) is also a way to explain the Trinity to children without using one of the awful analogies—cloverleaf, egg, water, etc.—which are actually better illustrations of the modalist's or tritheist's god than our Triune One.

J. I Packer says that each person (He calls them "centers of self-awareness.") is "'I' in relation to two who are 'you'."1 This statement helps me, too, but it needs to be held in tension with the thought that the three "whos" are always together as one "what."

Coequal and Coeternal

There are two other English words used to express the doctrine of the Trinity. Orthodox formulations say that the three persons in the one being of God are coequal and coeternal. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God; there are no lesser gods in the Trinity. And all three persons have always existed together as God; there is no beginning or end for any of the members of the Trinity.

Safeguarding the Teaching of Scripture

These trinitarian words—person, being, coequal, coeternal, and even Trinity itself—are not used in scripture, but they are thoroughly biblical because they come from the biblical data, and are meant to safeguard the biblical teaching about God. Everywhere in Scripture, Old Testament and New, we read of only one God who must be worshipped exclusively; and yet, in the New Testament, we're taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God. The Son, the text tells us, prays to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit, which rules out the modalistic understanding of the being of God. Drawing from scripture, then, we know that God is triune: one being and three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—coequal and coeternal.

Trinity is Greater

Because the Christian God is triune, he is greater the so-called gods of other religions. He is, for instance, loving by nature, something a single-person god cannot be. Before creation, the persons of the Trinity loved each other, while a single-person god cannot love unless he creates something to love. To love, a single-person god needs his creation. The Trinity, on the other hand, is eternally loving and needs nothing in order to love. Love flows out naturally from the Christian God, who can, then, be the source of all love. "Love is from God" (1 John 4:7) will only be true of the Trinity.

It's the Triune God who can save us completely in a way no other god could. The Father chooses and sends and adopts; the Son comes and redeems and intercedes; the Spirit applies and creates and keeps. Our whole Christian life depends on our three-person God.

Learn More

There is so much more to be said about the beauty of the Trinity. A blog post on the doctrine of the Trinity is a bit like serving up a few crumbs from a lavish cake. Do you want more? Here are a few ways to learn more about our Triune God:
  1. Read the chapter on the Trinity in your favorite systematic theology. Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine is fairly easy to read and understand.
  2. Read Romans 8:26ff and make a list of everything it tells us about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To get you started: the Spirit helps us in our weakness in verse 26; the Father searches hearts in verse 27; and the Son is the image to which the believer is being conformed in verse 29.
  3. Do the same thing with Ephesians 1:3-14.  
  4. Study Tim Challies' infographic on the Trinity.
  5. Read a whole book on the Trinity. I recommend James White's The Forgotten Trinity and Michael Reeve's Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (If you have other book suggestions, leave them in the comments.) Update 1 : On Twitter, Luma Simms recommended The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders.  Update 2: I just remembered an excellent book for young children: Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers: The Trinity
[1] Quoting from the entry on the Trinity in Packer's Concise Theology.

Monday, February 17, 2014

More Than Just the Here and Now

Our church hosted Disciple Now this weekend. After church on Sunday, I was talking with a college student who helped. He was there when a young boy accepted Christ as his Savior, and he said it was the sweetest thing he had ever witnessed. As he left I told him I was glad he had that blessing. He shook his head, “That’s what I was thinking. I mean, who am I?”

The story stuck with me throughout the day. I thought of that young man, and how he would be a part of this boy’s story for the rest of his life. I’m embarrassed to admit that it was late into the afternoon before it dawned on me that he would be a part of this boy’s story for more than just this life, but for all of eternity.

When I am asked to give advice to young moms (and sometimes when I’m not asked), I tell them that the problems that seem so big at the moment will someday be a distant memory. The baby will eventually sleep through the night, and the toddler will eventually be potty trained. I once thought my child’s night terrors would be the death of me, but now it’s just a story, something mildly interesting that was once part of my life. Now it is no longer a problem.

But I am still far too invested in the here and now. Things like home repairs, college costs, and taxes loom large in my mind. So much so that I can even forget that our testimonies are not just stories for this world, but part of God’s eternal glory. As we’re reminded in Ephesians 3:10, God uses the church to make his wisdom known “to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

Our response to this should be like that of the college student: “Who am I?” He’s exactly right. Who are we to be a part of this? I can’t say, other than to point back to Scripture. Because God in his wisdom ordained it to be so.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A new song for a new season

I am in an interesting stage of life.

I say "interesting" stage of life because that sounds so much better than "confusing" or "depressing" or even "gloomy" or "melancholy" or just plain "down in the dumps."

You can just call me Eeyore. I'm just that much fun these days.

A funk, a struggle, a dark night of the soul, I don't know what it is, exactly, and I even hesitate to admit it to you because, really, there is no direct cause and effect, no circumstance I can blame and therefore fix, no ailment I can seek to heal.

And besides, I know quite well that some of you are enduring real heartache and real pain and your struggle is exhausting and demanding. I humbly esteem your perseverance and I am heartily ashamed of my pouting.

I want to get over myself. I have tried to snap out of it, to ignore it, to pull myself up by my bootstraps as it were. But no matter my approach or my self talk, the funk lives on.

While I can't name a cause and effect, I do think there are complicating factors. Winter, for one. February, to be more precise. My second son's senior year of high school and the year of last's we are experiencing. Some physical nuisances like headaches and the prescribed solutions and medications. The end of parenting as I know it in four short years and the transition therein. Who will I be then? I've lived so long in the today of my life doing laundry and taking kids to school that the tomorrow looming so close surprises and overwhelms me.

It's a mess. I'm a mess.

So I'm talking with my friend and lamenting my pitiful state of being (woe is me) and my friend reminds me that women's lives fall into seasons, who can know what God has planned for the next season that will bring hope and excitement?

Who can know indeed?

I well remember the early years of mothering, that season I was so sure at times would kill me. I survived but not without a healthy dose of repentance, humility, and grace. Much, much grace. And yes, hope and joy found me there.

I will survive this season in the same way, with a healthy dose of repentance, humility, and grace. Much, much grace. And, yes, I believe that hope and joy will find me here too! The Lord is faithful! I will hang on in hope and He will give me a new song for a new season, glory to His name...

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
~ Ps. 43:5

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jesus isn't my Valentine

It's taken a few years to get to this point, but Valentine's Day doesn't bother me. Honestly. Get a baby sitter this Friday. Go out with your spouse and have a wonderful romantic evening. You have my blessing. However, there is one aspect of Valentine's Day that I could do without - Jesus as my Valentine.

Perhaps this is to remind single women like me that we are loved and not left out. So if you are solo on Valentine's Day, there's always Jesus, right? Now I'm sure people mean well, but at my age, I can't envision myself being swept off my feet by a divine Prince Charming. I'd probably slip and fall, ruining the moment. But God's love for me in Christ isn't sentimental. It's founded in the truth.

God has no illusions about who I am apart from Christ. He didn't set His love on me because I was inherently lovable. Quite the contrary, I was in the "no one seeks after God" crowd. But when I was His enemy, Christ died for me - a death that wasn't a dramatic gesture to show my worth, but to pay the ugly cost of my sin. (Rom. 3:11, 5:6-11, Isaiah 53:4-6)

Jesus did not promise me a happily-ever-after rose garden. There will be tribulation in this world, but He has overcome. It's not a matter of if I suffer but when I suffer, but absolutely nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ. (John 16:33; 1 Pet. 4:12-13; Rom. 8:38-39)

There are many times when my love for God engages my emotions. It's wonderful when that happens, but there is a foundation that remains whether the feelings are there or not.

God does not lie. His Word is sure. And this is where I rest.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sin's Ugly Cost

The LORD said to Moses, "Give this command to the Israelites and say to them: 'See that you present to me at the appointed time the food for my offerings made by fire, as an aroma pleasing to me.' Say to them: 'This is the offering made by fire that you are to present to the LORD: two lambs a year old without defect, as a regular burnt offering each day...On the first day of every month, present to the Lord a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect.
--Numbers 28:1-3, 11

Two lambs a day seems like a meager sacrifice for sin. Even the monthly sacrifice of 10 animals is a small price to pay.

I gossipped, but it's okay because my husband took our lamb to the priest this morning.

I cheated my fellow countryman, but I was the first one at the Tabernacle this morning, so I'm covered.

I coveted my brother's wife. Sure am glad I paid my sacrifice today!

Am I any different? Certainly there are times when I sin without counting the cost. I trivialize the weight of what I've done, quick to tell myself that I'm forgiven, so everything's okay. I am far too prone to skip over the penalty and payment, rationalizing that it's already been taken care of. Praise God, it has!

But that doesn't diminish the price of my sin.

There were 601,730 Israelite men over 20 years old (see Numbers 26:2, 51).

1,203,460 lambs sacrificed every day.

6,017,300 animals slaughtered on the first day of each month to pay for the sins of their masters.

And it wasn't enough.

There was only one sufficient payment for sin. "For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21). The propitiation was horrific. Isaiah 52:14 tells us that the Suffering Servant would be "marred beyond human semblance". 

Alec Moyer writes,
The thought is not that the Servant suffered more than any other individual, or more than other humans but that he experienced disfigurement "from [being] an individual...from [belonging with] humankind," so that those who saw him stepped back in horror not only saying "Is this the Servant?" but "Is this human?" (source)
The Word became flesh. That flesh had to be disfigured and put to death. My sinful nature marred the Divine Man beyond human recognition. Yet He subjected Himself to that suffering in order to reconcile me to God.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Love of God

Sometimes scripture uses the word love to mean God’s general providence—his sustaining care for creation—but most often, love is used in relation to God's saving work. In fact, John tells us that sending Christ to save is the way that God loves.
God is love. . . .  In this is love, . . .  that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:8b, 10 ESV).
And again:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .  (John 3:16 ESV).
Redemption is the supreme example of God’s love. God is love, so he saves people even at great cost.

His Love Is Great

The cost of redemption reveals the depth of God’s love. He saves sacrificially, giving his own Son. What's more, his sacrificial giving is done, not for people who love him back, or are even neutral toward him, but for people who hate him. 
[B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  . . . [W]hile we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. (Romans 5:8,10 ESV)
God's love is the kind of love that gives something infinitely precious to rescue those who are rejecting him. You can see why the Psalmist writes that God’s love is "great to the heavens." 

His Love Is Free

God’s love is also free. It is not compelled or called out by anything within the object of his love. The reason God loves is simply that he is, by nature, loving.
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you . . . . (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a, ESV).
If you strip this sentence down, you get this: "The Lord set his love on you . . . because the Lord loves you." God’s own love is the cause of his love, not anything desirable within the objects of his love. It is unforced and uninfluenced love; it is free and sovereign love. He loves because He is love. 
As I write, I'm trying to wrap my mind around it, but it's not easy. Human love is not like this. Love, for us, is an emotion of response; it is drawn out by the ones we love. We make a connection with the object of our love and love grows from this connection. The love of God works the other way around. He loves and so he connects; he loves us and so he draws us to him. We love him back only because he loved us first. 
We love because he loved us first, but he loves because he loves. When you think about it, this is the only way it could be: God's love, like God himself, must be free and sovereign. If God could be compelled to act by something outside himself, whatever compelled him would be controlling God. It is perfectly right that his love loves the unlovable for his own loving purpose (2 Timothy 1:9). 

His Love Is Unchanging

Like all his other attributes, God’s love is eternal and unchanging. The Father loves the Son, and if these two are co-eternal, then their love must be eternal. We know that his love for his people is eternal, too, for he lovingly chose them before the foundation of the world. And there are many references in scripture to the steadfastness or faithfulness of God’s love (see Lamentations 3:22; Psalm 59:10 and more), an unchanging quality that, as we shall see below, gives security to those he loves. 

His Love Is Particular

God’s love is particular—not persnickety particular, but particular in the sense that it is selective rather than simply generally diffused. There is a sense in which God’s love toward mankind is general love, for out of his love he provides and sustains us all; but at the same time, God has a special love for his own. God’s love was with those within the nation Israel in a way it was not with those in the nations around them.
Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day (Deuteronomy 10:15, ESV).
In the New Testament, we see God's particular love for his own people. He loved his church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). Out of his special love, God disciplines those who are his own children, and that we are on the receiving end of God’s disciplining love is proof that we are belong to him (Hebrews 12). 
And God’s loves each of his children individually. Most often, scripture refers to the objects of God’s love as a group—us, or the church, or his people, or the world; but  those who belong to him can rejoice along with the Apostle Paul that the Son of God "loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). 

We Love Because He Loves

God is the only source of true love, so any love we have for others comes from him. If we are his—if we belong to the One who is the source of all love—then we will be loving. 
[L]ove is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8, ESV).
From 1 John 4 we also learn that the love God’s children show to others is a work of his Spirit within them:
[I]f we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit (1 John 4:12-13, ESV).
It is also through the Spirit that we come to understand something of the greatness of God's for us. Paul's prayer for the Ephesians is 
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19, ESV).
Think about it: The "love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" can be comprehended—known!—through the power of the Spirit. In the power of the Spirit, measureless love can fill us. 

We Are Safe Because He Loves

That God loves us is our security. 
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39, ESV).
If God did not spare the Son he loves because he loved us, his love is a love we can count on to give us everything else we need. God’s love for us has already cost him his own son; he will not give up on us, ever. Nothing—no person or power or circumstance—can take God’s love from us, and we can rest in that.