Friday, May 30, 2014

We Are All Sinners

"You will be like God . . . . "
Yesterday morning the three grandchildren, all under three years old, visited me, and we walked down to the shallow pond behind the house. On the way back I bribed them with the promise of chocolate milk when we returned because we needed to get home quickly. One-year-old grandson had tripped at the edge of the pond and was soaked in stinky pond water—and I was carrying him back. I wanted to avoid our usual stops to consider the wildflowers, birds, butterflies, and best of all, gopher holes, that can make a five minute walk take half an hour.

The bribe worked and after I cleaned up grandson we all sat in the front yard drinking our chocolate milk, except for the two year old, who was more interested in starting a toddler fight than drinking. She stood facing us, scowling, sippy cup extended, and pronounced, "You can't have my chocolate milk!" She repeated it a few times, but the others were too focused on their own drinks to hear her.

Then she placed her cup on the ground and walked away, pretending she had no interest in it, but still alert, ready to run back to grab it when someone else tried to pick it up. Her plan, which didn't work because the other kids were too busy to notice, was to start a scuffle and also be its victim.

This may seem like sophisticated strategy for a two-year-old, but it isn't. Every new parent I know is shocked at how soon children learn to manipulate to get what they want and how often their wants are despicable. Toddlers are living proof that we're born sinners. (And that some parents don't see this is evidence that sin corrupts human thinking skills, too.)

The Fall

The Bible tells us that it all started with Adam, from whom we've descended. The previous two posts in this series centered on the first two chapters of Genesis in which God created the world and created human beings in his image. Everything was perfect until Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve listened to the serpent in the Garden of Eden and rebelled against the one prohibition God gave them.

There is much we can learn about sin and temptation from this true story, but I'll simply note that Adam and Eve's disobedience was more than just breaking a rule. To quote D. A. Carson,
That is what a lot of people think that "sin" is: just breaking a rule. What is at stake [in the garden] is something deeper, bigger, sadder, uglier, more heinous. It is a revolution.1
After all, the chief motivation for Adam and Eve's rule breaking was a desire to "be like God" (Genesis 3:5). They were setting themselves up as their own gods by doing what they thought was best for them instead of trusting the rightness of the their Creator's rules. To use Carson's term, they were "de-godding" God.

We call this one rebellious act the fall of humankind, because the Bible teaches that Adam, as the first human, represented all of his posterity before God, so the consequences that came from this single sin—a disordering of the creation order, and death (all kinds: physical, spiritual, eternal)—affect all humankind.

And because he represented us, every human being has inherited sin from Adam. Since this inherited sin exists within us at our origin, right at the point we are conceived, the most common name for it is original sin.

Inherited Guilt

The first part of original sin is inherited guilt. The sin of Adam is counted against every one of his descendants. Wayne Grudem writes that "God thought of us all as having sinned when Adam disobeyed,"2 so each of us was born guilty and condemned for Adam's disobedience.

Some complain that this is unfair: How can we be blamed for what Adam did? There are a few ways to answer this objection, but it seems clear to me is that since Christ's representative obedience is necessary for our salvation (a truth we'll get to later), it does us no good to argue that a representative system is unfair. We'd have no hope without it.

Inherited Corruption

The other part of original sin is inherited corruption. We are all natural-born sinners. At birth, the corrupt seed that will grow and blossom into bad fruit is already there waiting to sprout (Psalm 58:3).

This is the reason no one had to teach my little granddaughter to manipulate others to get what she wants. It's an innate ability—or perhaps more accurately, an innate disability. Like the rest of us, she was born with the desire to rule her own life and the lives of those around her—to be her own god, if you will—and as soon as she could express herself adequately, that's what she began trying to do.

Inherited corruption means that every one of us is a sinner, first in our inner being, then in our actions, adding to our guilt before God. So original sin packs a double guilt whammy—guilt inherited from Adam, and more guilt resulting from our inner corruption and all the sins that flow from it.

It's our guilt that leads to our principal sin problem. We are guilty before God, and as a result, alienated from him. And we can't repair the relationship; we can't reverse the revolution.

Thank God our true story doesn't end here.

Learn More

Here are a few ways to learn more about our human sin problem (and as always, I welcome your suggestions for additional resources):
  1. Study Genesis 3, Romans 1-3, and Romans 5.
  2. Read up on sin in your favorite systematic theology. It's chapter 24 in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, which is the one I relied on most to research this post.
  3. Study Chapter 6: Of The Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment Thereof in the Westminster Confession of Faith (pdf).
  4. Watch or listen to The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels by D. A. Carson.
[1]The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God's Story by D. A. Carson, page 33.

[2]Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, page 494.

This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:
  1. God Has Spoken (posted at the True Woman Blog)
  2. God Is Three and God Is One
  3. God Is Who He Is
  4. God Had a Plan
  5. God Created the Universe
  6. We Are Made in God's Image

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Just do it

Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes.
I am your servant, give me understanding that I may know your testimonies.
Psalm 119:124-125

As Christians, we know we should read God's Word. This is His revelation of Himself. It is living, powerful, encouraging, comforting, and convicting. We may genuinely want to spend time in the Word because we know we can't live without it. But some days, it seems like everything conspires against us.

You may not have this problem, but I do. I have high hopes of getting a good night's sleep with every intention of waking up early, all bright eyed and bushy tailed. I will brew a cup of tea and sit at the kitchen table with my Bible and notebook. My mind will be alert and focused. I will have plenty of time to soak in the Word before the day starts rolling, and I will be spiritually refreshed and raring to go. But more often than not, I wake up bleary eyed and mentally foggy. I get distracted by this or that. My workload is more than I expected so I barely remember to eat breakfast let alone feed my soul. This leads to discouragement that I've blown it yet again.

There's no question that I should continue to pray for more discipline and orderly days. But when the morning doesn't go as planned, this should not keep me from grabbing the Bible and reading it whenever and however because this is when I need it the most. 

Maybe I need to forgo the idea of the ideal and just do it - plodding on with the desire to be in the Word. And when I fail, then repent, confess, pray, believe, and pick up the Bible anyway. 

Repeat as often as necessary.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Story

I love a good story.  Books, movies, and television shows earn my admiration based on plot rather than gimmicks and giggles. My favorites are so because the writer has the gift of story telling.

Although I rarely attended church as a child, I have vivid memories of attending Easter sunrise services with my grandmother. The story of the resurrection captured me, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. When I attended Vacation Bible School with my cousins, the teachers made the stories of Jesus, Zacchaeus, and young David come alive. Still, I didn't know how those stories applied to me.

Perhaps that's why when I started going to church as a young adult, I was easily swayed by teaching that put me in the center of God's Word. I was more concerned with what the Bible said about me and my life than what it teaches about God. I looked to the Bible as my ticket to Heaven, not as the revelation of the God of the Universe.

Thankfully, the Lord opened my eyes to see that His Word is not just a compilation of moral stories. It is not  a list of do's and don'ts, or a set of promises for a better life. The Bible is the story of how a loving, holy God saves a fallen but chosen people.

I'm blessed with a pastor who knows - and teaches - that Scripture should be read as a whole. If not, we miss important and precious truths. For example, Exodus 9 tells the story of the hailstorm that was the seventh plague to befall Egypt. It's a powerful story and we may be tempted to stop there and be content with what those verses teach about God. But if we did, we'd never realize that Psalm 78 was a song written about Israel's deliverance from Egypt and that verses 47 - 48 are specifically referencing Exodus 9. We wouldn't recognize that when Paul wrote Romans 9:16-18, he was quoting Exodus 9:16. We wouldn't know that the hailstorm all the way back in Exodus was a preview of the hailstorm in Revelation 16:17-21.

The Bible is filled with wonderful stories of God's power and glory. We may read them separately and learn a great deal, but it is when we read them together that we get a full view of the majesty and sovereignty of God. It is then that we have a true appreciation for the greatest story ever told and the Storyteller behind it.

For further reading:

~The Promised One (A 10-week Bible Study): Seeing Jesus in Genesis (Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament) or any of the other studies in this series
~Discovering God in Stories from the Bible

Friday, May 16, 2014

We Are Made in God's Image

"Let us make man in our image . . . . "

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)
God's Image — What Is It?

The words "in God's image" have always been a bit mysterious to me. I remember, way back in Bible college, text written on a blackboard summarizing what, supposedly, it meant to be made in God's image. In God's image was in big block letters with a four-point ordered list beneath. I remember only two of the four points: We, as image-bearers were given the ability to make judgments and dominion over the earth. You've may have seen similar lists, perhaps with the same items, or maybe different ones.

Since my college days, I've read a little more about what it means to be an image-bearer, enough to know that throughout history, there's been much discussion about how to define the image of God, and no complete agreement. That's not surprising, because scripture doesn't tell us exactly what it means; at least, it doesn't give us a list of things that comprise the image of God in human beings.

There's no reason to stop with a list of four items that make us in God's image. Any way scripture says we are like God—any similarities between genuine human nature and God's nature—should, in my thinking, be included as an element of our image-bearing. Here is a list collected from various theologians, not intended to be conclusive, as ways human beings image God:
  • Communication. God speaks, and so do we.
  • Creativity. God makes things, and we do too—not out of nothing, like God does, but still, we create.
  • Intelligence. God thinks, and we think.
  • Relationality. The persons of the Trinity are in a relationship with each other, and God relates to us, too. Like him, we were created naturally relational, desiring connection to God and other human beings.
  • Morality. God is perfectly righteous moral being, and we were created as moral beings. We are no longer righteous, but before the fall the first man and woman were.
  • Spirituality. God is a spirit, and we are spiritual beings. 
  • Dominion. God rules creation, and he has charged us with ruling creation under his authority as his representatives.
The bottom line is that human beings were created with qualities that reflect God. We are copies of our maker in ways that the rest of God's creatures aren't. At the climax of creation, God set apart his next creative act with these words, "Let us make man in our image," and he did exactly that. Male and female—all humankind—were created as image-bearers, and that gives us status and value above all the other creatures.

God's Image After the Fall

Humankind was created in God's image, but if you know the whole story of the beginning of the world, you know we didn't remain as we were created. Adam disobeyed God, and nothing has been the same for the human race since then.

Are we still image-bearers? Scripture says we are. Even after the fall, God refers to us as "made in his own image" (see Genesis 9:6). We know the reflection is marred—defaced is my favorite word for it—because the New Testament tells us Christ's redemptive work is needed to restore it.1 But it's still there, and serves as the basis for God's commands to us regarding our treatment of creation and other people.

Because We Are Made in God's Image

I understand Genesis 1:26 (see above) to be teaching that the dominion over creation given to humankind is based in our image-bearing. I wouldn't include it in my list of capabilities that make us like God, but rather, I understand it as the purpose of our image bearing. We are made in the image of God so that we can be agents of God's providential care for his creation. He reigns in his world, and because we are like him, we serve as his vice-regents. It's the assignment he gave us as creatures made to represent him in the world.

Or to use Luther's language of vocation, we wear the mask of God as we do our God-given work. God cares for what and who he has made through the work of his image bearers, whether they are aware of it or not.

That every person is made in the likeness of God is the foundation for God's commands about how we ought to treat other people. God forbids murder because every human being is made in his image.(Genesis 9:6). All human life is highly valued, for human beings are uniquely like God, so that killing another person is destroying a reflection of God himself.

What's more, James writes that it is hypocritical to bless God and at the same time curse another person (James 3:9-10), because that person is made in God's image. A mouth that blesses God should speak respectfully of those made in his image. And those who love God should love their neighbor because their neighbor is God's own image-bearer.

Learn More
  1. Study these biblical texts: Genesis 1:24-28, Genesis 5:1-3, Genesis 5:9-6, Colossians 3:10, James 3:9-10.
  2. Read the chapter on the nature of man or the creation of man in your favorite systematic theology. There should be something included on what it means to be made in the image of God. Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine is particularly thorough (Chapter 21, Section C.)
  3. Read Made for More by Hannah Anderson, which Kim reviewed two weeks ago. Update: Persis suggests Created in God's Image by Anthony Hoekema, too.

This post is one of a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:
  1. God Has Spoken (posted at the True Woman Blog)
  2. God Is Three and God Is One
  3. God Is Who He Is
  4. God Had a Plan
  5. God Created the Universe

1Don't worry, there will be more on this in a later post in this series.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Not About Me

Although I cooked a lot for Todd’s single friends when we were first married, hospitality isn’t something I’ve done enough of since my kids were born. I’m being stretched in this area, from the teen boys that wander in with my son to the groups that now meet in our home. Many times we’re just getting started when I realize I have a cobweb in the corner or dog nose prints on my windows. I have to swallow my pride and soldier on. I am happy to report that the sky has not fallen, nor has anyone mocked me for my imperfect housekeeping skills. It also seems that just when I get comfortable, something comes up that stretches me more.

That's how it goes when you serve. I no longer freak out about nursery duty, mostly because I’ve had some of the grossest experiences of my life there and lived to tell about it. The week of children’s camp that had me hyperventilating in the days leading up to it turned out to be fun. And the third year of children’s camp, when it was 108 in the shade and kids were wilting from the heat, well, we all got through that too.

It makes me nervous when we start surmising apart from Scripture on why God does this to us. I’ve heard many sentences that start with “I think God does this because…” that ended up making us the center of things and not him. It also sounds ridiculous to be discussing banal things like nursery duty and Junior High Sunday School when Christians are being martyred in China and missionaries are risking everything to bring the gospel to closed countries.

But when I read Ephesians 3, I’m reminded that this has always been God’s way. Paul’s writing from prison, and he’s assuring the Ephesians that it’s okay, that God’s got it all covered. The same God that gave him the grace to bring the gospel to the gentiles will enable him in his imprisonment and them as a church. He reminds them (and us) that God’s love is greater and deeper and more wonderful than we can ever imagine, so regardless of what they’re up against he’s using that to fulfill his purposes. He’s building his church and enabling his people, and through the church his wisdom is made known to a degree that even the angels are amazed at the sight.

Americans are accused of making church too complicated, and I agree that there’s truth in this. Christians worshipping in underground churches aren’t arguing over what color to paint the sanctuary. But even the simplest meeting requires acts of service. Someone has to sweep the dirt floor of the hut, bake the communion bread, and make sure there are candles to light the room after dark.

God is there where Christians gather in secret for fear of their lives. He’s also there when the nursery staff realizes they’re dealing with a particularly nasty case of rotavirus, and with the Sunday School teacher when the Junior Highers just sit with their arms crossed, scowling at the floor. He’s there when the speaker at the women’s retreat realizes that she’s not only lost her train of thought, she’s lost her place in her notes as well.

Anyone who’s been there comes out of it feeling that he or she knows God just a little bit better, but we’re mistaken when we think it ends with what we’ve learned. It’s about a Holy God, using sinful people to do a thousand little things, but letting those little things add up to a giant demonstration of his wisdom that’s so glorious even the angels are compelled respond with praise that echoes through the universe.

If I try to make that just about me, I make far too little of God.

This is an edited version of a post from my personal blog.

Friday, May 9, 2014

All things

I write from my back porch. The day is breathtakingly gorgeous. I have walked my dog, I've been to the hairdresser, and I now sport a new 'do. I bought groceries and my pantry and fridge are full. I am headache free, yes and amen. My men are well and happy and my college student has been home all week.

Life is good.

Praise comes easy on days like today and I am grateful. All these, and more, are gifts from the Father's hand. As I enjoy His blessings, I enjoy Him, yes and amen.

Maybe it's my inner melancholy, but when life is good and thanksgiving flows free and easy, I can't help but wonder who and what I would be apart from the good things the Father has bestowed. If I lost it all, what then? Would I still believe? What if I were hungry? Or homeless? Would my faith stand strong? Could I praise Him? How much of my faith depends on my stuff and my circumstances?

In Matthew 6 Jesus instructs His followers to not be anxious about what they will wear and what they will eat. Just today I spent an agonizing amount of time making out next week's menu before I grocery shopped and I won't even tell you how many times I changed tee shirts before going to the hairdresser's. Somehow I don't think these are the sorts of anxieties Jesus is addressing.

Our #firstworldprobs blind us to the true necessities of life and to the provision the Lord promises. We worry over what flatters and what fattens and yet Jesus has promised that our Father knows what we need. He not only knows but He will meet them all according to His riches in Christ Jesus!

I wear on my wrist a bracelet that reminds me to pray for my friend who has brain cancer. Not that I require reminding as she and her family are never very far from my thoughts but it's nice to have the visual. The bracelet also references Philippians 4:13, Paul's bold assertion that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.

All things! As I think of my friend and her very real fight for her life I realize how little I know of true need. And what of my sisters and brothers in Christ around the world who face persecution, even martyrdom? The call to not be anxious and to trust the Lord's provision is no sentimental catchphrase for these believers. It is life. It is hope. It is strength to persevere.

And for me too, even on gorgeous days when life is good and thanksgiving flows free and easy.

My friend can persevere through this illness--regardless of outcome--because of Christ's strength and sufficiency. Same for you and me. Whatever trials come your way or mine, we too can face them without anxiety or worry. A sure confidence in our Lord no matter our circumstance is our privilege as His children.

Are you facing opposition? Maybe you struggle with depression. Or maybe, like my friend, you suffer physically from cancer or some other debilitating illness. Perhaps your heart is broken over a wayward child. Or maybe your fight is more subtle as you struggle to choose gratitude and contentment in the midst of materialistic abundance.

No matter our present circumstance, we can be confident that He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all will also in Him freely--freely!--give us all things. The all things He gives He gives for Christ's sake. In loss, in gain, in deprivation, in abundance, in sickness, in health, our Lord provides and in His provision we find that Christ is enough and He is everything.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Encouragement doesn't have an age limit

Kim started an interesting thread on Facebook yesterday. She wrote that middle-aged women need the voices of older women who have experienced the challenges we are facing now. We need their wisdom. We need their advice. I agree completely, and this got me thinking.

Our responsibilities have changed as we've grown older. A few decades ago, it was praying the baby would finally sleep through the night or that potty training wouldn't result in too many tears on either side. Now it's the reality of aging parents with failing health or grieving their loss. We aren't trying to slim down post pregnancy but wondering what this year's mammogram or colonoscopy may uncover. When we were younger, there were new opportunities and new horizons. Now that we've approached or crossed the half-way mark, life is winding down, and it may not have turned out exactly as we planned. This can get disheartening, which is why we need support just as much as the young mom or newlywed. And besides, encouragement doesn't have an age limit.

If you have an older woman in your life who can speak into your middle-agedness, praise God. These sisters are a blessing to the church. Perhaps we need to be more active in letting them know we want and need to hear what they have to say.

Of course in an ideal church in an ideal world, there would be an older for every younger no matter how old the younger person is. But often this is not the case. So what are we to do?

I would humbly submit that God does not ask us to traverse the uncharted wilds of Middle Age alone even if there isn't an older woman to lead the way. He has given us the local church.

I may not have a senior sister who can give firsthand advice on how to love and serve my aging parents long distance, but I do have a faith family. These sisters and brothers may be half my age, but they can offer encouragement in the Word and point me to Christ. They may not fully understand my middle-aged woes, but that doesn't keep them from praying. Nor does it prevent God from hearing and answering their prayers according to His good pleasure.

So if God gives you the opportunity to be discipled by an older woman, go for it! But if this is not in His current providence, seek relationships with those He has already provided - your sisters (and  brothers) in your local church.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review & Giveaway: "Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl"

When I first heard about Paula Hendricks' book, Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey From Neediness to Freedom, I knew I wanted to read it. As a former boy-crazy girl myself, I was interested in what Paula had to say on this subject. And she has a lot to say.

Paula is painfully straight forward about the roller coaster her boy-craziness kept her on. Starting at age 10, she began craving male attention. The cycle of unhealthy attachments, lies, schemes, and heartbreak were eerily familiar to me. There was one striking difference: Paula was a Christian girl in a Christian home. Christian girls are not immune to neediness.

Paula's story doesn't have the fairy tale ending we might expect. She hasn't found an earthy prince charming. She has found a deeper relationship with the Lover of Her Soul, but it was a long road. I admire Paula's openness and honesty about her struggles. Her concern for girls is evident; she genuinely wants to spare them from making the mistakes she made. The journal questions that follow each chapter are perfectly suited to help the reader understand her heart and admit her own struggles in this area.

Even if you haven't noticed that your girl wrestles with boy-craziness, Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey From Neediness to Freedom and Paula's website are valuable resources for both you and your girl.

Two of you will have the opportunity to find out for yourself. Paula has graciously agreed to give two copies of  Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey From Neediness to Freedom to our readers! If you are a U.S. resident, leave a comment below and tell us who you'd like to win this book for.  Winners will be announced on Monday, May 12th.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Before We Die and After, Too

This is a repost of something I posted on my personal blog four years ago. (The friend mentioned is doing very well, by the way.)

A couple of weeks ago I went with a friend to her chemo appointment. There were a few others receiving chemo at the same time, and there was excited discussion in the treatment room about their bucket lists. I listened to them talk, but didn’t contribute, since I don’t have a bucket list, and as far as I know, have no pressing need for one.

My friend has a bucket list. She hasn’t told me anything about it except that it doesn’t include sky diving because it's too risky.

Cancer patients, she said, are encouraged to make bucket lists as part of their therapy. A bucket list can give someone something to live for — a few dreams to keep them going through treatments that can seem worse than dying. And I’d say that, therapy or not, most people with potentially terminal illnesses think about the things they want to do before they die.

I know my husband thought about it, but it turned out that what he wanted most was to keep on living his ordinary life. He delighted in the day he recovered enough from his first brush with death to walk to the curb and carry in the garbage cans. What he really wanted was to keep on providing for his family, raising his children, and caring for his students, with a summer fishing trip, a few visits from out-of-town relatives, and a round of golf now and then thrown in.

There were two things he added to his schedule once he knew he would likely die from his cancer: helping with the soup kitchen and lying on the couch every evening while the rest of the family took turns reading aloud to him from the Bible. We made it, in the time we had, through the whole New Testament except for Revelation; and through Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Psalms and Isaiah in the Old Testament.

We’d talked, before his illness, of going to Norway or Slovenia to see where his grandparents came from. We’d talked about visiting the Vietnam memorial. If he'd wanted, we could have done any one of those things after his diagnosis, because for some of the time, he was well enough to travel. But for him, the terminal diagnosis took items off his before-I-die list, and the items added were not spectacular, one-time activities, but new ordinary tasks. Tasks, now that I think about it, of discipleship.

The sermon last Sunday was about believers as disciples. We’ve been recreated, we heard, to do the good works planned for us beforehand. Afterwards, my friend with the bucket list was weighing things. Good works or bucket list? Which one should be her priority? For a believer, the answer is obvious, isn't it?

I told her, because she asked, that I think she should keep her bucket list but remember that she has no looming deadline. There is no time limit on her joyful activities. One day she'll be able to do the things she loves in the new creation, although she won’t be calling it a bucket list there.

Maybe she'll put sky-diving on her after-I-die list. There will be no risk to it then.