Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Gospel and the Shower Curtain Liner

After my daughter was born, the house was a mess. It didn't help that I was so tired and bloated prior to her birth. I just wanted to put my feet up and rest after a day's work rather than attempting to clean while being very great with child. The emergency C-section and the stress of caring for a newborn were the finishing touches to the dust and grime, which were the last things on my sleep-deprived mind.

A friend, who happened to have a house cleaning business, offered to get things spick-and-span. What a gift and what a blessing! But a few days before the date, I noticed the shower curtain liner. In a word, it was gross. Now my friend was an experienced mom who could completely empathize with a new mom's exhaustion. She had cleaned plenty of houses in all sorts of condition, so I doubt she would have been repulsed. She was also my sister in Christ. But pride and fear of man do funny things. I couldn't possibly let her see that I had let it get to such a state and think who knows what about my competence as a homemaker, so I did what any self-respecting person would do. I cleaned ahead of the cleaner to save face, and I still do this but in a different context.

What will they think of me if I share this prayer request or admit that I struggle with this sin? What if I  confess that I thought this or said that? What will they think if I start crying or fumble for words when I pray or don't give the "right" answer to a question? What will they think if they find out that I don't have it all together? I had better do a little scrubbing to make sure everything looks good before I let anyone see into my life.

But what does the Gospel say?
If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliation gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha's hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide.
Thankfully, the more exposed I see that I am by the Cross, the more I find myself opening up to others about ongoing issues of sin in my life. (Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with past and present sin when the Cross already told them I am a desperately sinful person?)…
I give thanks for the gospel's role in forcing my hand toward self-disclosure and the freedom that follows.1

Isn't this encouraging? The fact that I am a Christian and trusting in Christ alone is proof positive of my desperate state. I could never atone for my sins or attain to God's holy standard. But the Gospel declares what Christ has done on my behalf. This changes everything - not only my relationship with God but my relationships with others. So while there may still be grime on the shower curtain liner of my life, because of the Gospel…

- I don't have to clean myself up. I have been washed, sanctified, and justified. (1 Cor. 6:11)

- I have been united with brothers and sisters in a local church who are also works in progress. We are not competitors but companions and recipients of much needed forgiveness. Our unity is in Christ, so I do not have to tailor my persona to be accepted.  (Eph. 2:19)

-  My identity is not defined by the strength of my performance. Nor is it permanently marred by the scars and failures of the past.  God is renewing His image in me toward wholeness and healing. (2 Cor. 3:16-18)

- We have freedom to be honest about our sins and brokenness, which increases our love for God and for one another. (Luke 7:41-50; Eph. 4:15-16)

How does the truth of the Gospel help your relationships with other believers? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

1. A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God's Love, Milton Vincent, Focus Publishing, 2008, pp. 34-35.

Many thanks to Christie Davidson for sharing this quote at our church's women's social and leading the discussion which inspired this post.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Son Came

To save his people
When I named my children, I thought about what their names meant, but meaning wasn't the most important consideration.  Not so with God. When God's Son, the second person of the Trinity, came into our world from his place at the Father's side, God instructed that he be named Jesus, which means God saves, because "he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The meaning of his name pointed to the purpose of his coming: The eternal Son of God came to save his people. This is his planned role in the Triune God's plan of redemption.


The first step for the Son in God's plan of redemption was for him to enter our world as one of us.  John's gospel says, "The Word"—the eternal Son—"became flesh" (John 1:14). This doesn't mean the Son stopped being God, or became a little less God (whatever that would be), for John's gospel is filled with testimony to the full deity of Jesus. Rather, the eternal Son of God was joined forever with genuine human nature, so that Jesus was—and still is—fully God and fully human in one person.

In other words, the Son became human by addition, not subtraction. He took on a human body, a human mind, and a human soul. Theologians sometimes express it like this: "Remaining what he was, he became what he was not." The term Christians use for the union of the eternal Son with human nature is incarnation.

If you're left wondering how the incarnation works, you're not alone. Wayne Grudem writes,
The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.1
Each person of the Trinity had an active role in the incarnation. The Father sent the Son (Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4) and the Son came willingly, "emptying himself," according to Philippians 2:7.

And the Holy Spirit? Well, it's only right that the most profound miracle in the universe starts with a miraculous conception, isn't it? The person Jesus, true eternal Son and true human, was conceived without a human father by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

For Our Salvation

It's because of his miraculous conception that the human Jesus was morally pure (Luke 1:35). Unlike the rest of humanity conceived by ordinary means, Jesus did not inherit a sinful nature from Adam. This is an important detail in the fulfillment of the purpose of the incarnation. If Jesus came "to save his people from their sins," then he himself needed to be sinless. Only another human being, but one without any sin, even a sinful nature, could be an atoning sacrifice to bear our sins and die in our place. (We'll look more closely at how Jesus saves his people, including his atoning sacrifice, in the next post of this series.)

This is one reason our Saviour had to be a human being. But why did he have to be God incarnate? Because, for one, only someone who is both human and God could be the mediator who represents us to God and God to us (1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:9). What's more, because Jesus is God, he is able to accomplish everything he intends to do. He will surely save those who come to him; he can be an effective Savior because he is God.

The incarnation, then, was necessary for God to save us. The union of God and man in Jesus Christ stands at the very center of the Christian faith, because without it there would be no Christians—and no Christianity.

Definition of Chalcedon

The ancient Christians took the biblical data on the nature of the incarnate Son of God and formulated the Definition of Chalcedon, a statement of what all Christians must believe regarding the person of Jesus. Briefly, the Definition of Chalcedon teaches that Jesus has two natures, a human nature and a divine nature. His divine nature is just like God the Father's; his human nature is just like our human nature, except our human nature is sinful and his is not. In Jesus, the divine nature and human nature remain distinct yet united in one person.

Learn More

Here are a few ways to learn more about the incarnation of the Son of God.
  1. Study John 1:1-18, Philippians 2:5-11, and Hebrews 2:14-18.
  2. Study the Definition of Chalcedon.
  3. Read up on the person of Christ in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 25 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Here's the section from Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology. There's also a section on Christ's State of Humiliation which includes information on the incarnation.
  4. Listen to The Doctrine of the Incarnation by D. A. Carson.
  5. Listen to The Two Natures of Christ by Gerald Bray.
[1] Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, page 563.

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Wage war

I have a new blogging rule of thumb: write (if you're going to write) before checking any social media of the day, Twitter in particular. It's a mental deal, no doubt, but on the days I haven't scrolled through all that Twitter has to offer I find I write, when I write, with much more freedom and honesty.

In contrast, on the days I break that rule I sometimes find myself fighting the feeling that my blog is inconsequential and my words insignificant at best, self serving at worst.

Which perhaps is true. I mean, really, I'm a smart girl. I read my own blog and I see the stats. But, bottom line, it's not the stats but my own self consciousness, self doubt, and maybe a dash of selfish ambition that tend to read between the lines of my Twitter feed and sometimes find my small corner of the Internet to be oh so very small and oh so very pitiful.

"I'm taking a break from social media, Instagram especially" my friend confessed to me over scrambled eggs and French toast several months ago. "I just can't handle seeing everyone else's perfect lives and perfect children and perfect homes." My friend is currently persevering through a complicated and messy stage of life and the relative dichotomy between her reality and the appearance of others' perfection on Instagram was too much.

I think my friend is wise.

I suppose I'm trying, in some small way, to adopt a measure of her discipline with my new (and too often broken) blog-before-Twitter rule.

I recently read an article online about Instagram envy. Yeah, it's real and I doubt it's relegated only to Instagram. As I've already confessed, Twitter can have the same sort of effect. For some of us, it's the pictures of the beautifully decorated homes or the exquisitely staged meals that make us bitter. For me, it might be humbly acknowledging someone else's writing to be better and, maybe here's the real rub, better appreciated.

Just keepin' it real.

Years and years and years ago, like when I only had two children and those two only babies at that, I was in my kitchen listening to a syndicated talk show on the local Christian radio station. I have no idea who was being interviewed nor even the subject at hand but the guest on the show that day made a statement I have never forgotten: "Godliness with contentment is great gain but it's comparison that is the beginning of discontent."

What a revelation! Comparison gives birth to my discontent?! As I thought that morning, there in my kitchen, about the areas in my life then prone to dissatisfaction, I began to see the truth of the statement.

And not just then. It's true in today's dissatisfactions too, writing being only a small fraction thereof, the small fraction, that is, which I am willing to confess to you in this space.

Comparison kills contentment. It will either lead us to despair or puff us up with false superiority, both of which are enemies to true gospel contentment.

In Matthew 5, Jesus makes the rather startling command to those who struggle with looking at a woman with lustful intent, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away." He goes on to recommend cutting off the right hand for the same reason. There is, obviously, a wider application than to a man struggling with lust. We all have areas of our lives, Instagram or something else, where we battle temptation and envy and discontent. Jesus recommends what? Dismemberment? Going blind in one eye? I think, and thankfully most commentators agree with me, that Jesus is employing dramatic overstatement here in order to emphasize the point: Sin is serious and requires radical treatment.

We are to be wise and to take whatever steps necessary to put to death...what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5-6) Put it to death. Wage war, as John Piper has said. Can't get much more serious than that.

We tend to think this all a little silly, at least if we're talking about Twitter and blogging and Instagram. Silly and radical and maybe a little, well, you know, "out there." Maybe so. But did you catch what we are to put to death according to Colossians? Impurity, passion, evil desire and, yes, covetousness.

Waging war against sin and temptation and covetousness begins with the wisdom of knowing ourselves and our weakness. We must pray and ask the Lord to search us and expose us. We must be willing to be radical and to do what it takes to fight and flee temptation. Maybe my friend needs to take an Instagram hiatus. Maybe I need to curtail my social media interaction. Maybe you need to throw away the scale or stop buying fashion magazines or lay off the Internet for an extended time. I don't know your weakness but I know mine and I daresay you know yours.

Let's be wise. Let's stop comparing ourselves knowing full well that comparison gives way to discontent. Let us learn the discipline of godliness with contentment. Let us repent of our dissatisfaction that resents the gracious provision of our God. Let us learn the humble submission of gratitude and the joy of freedom that is ours in Christ. Let us glorify Him not by clamoring after the world and its fading treasure but by seeking that which is eternal, His kingdom, His righteousness.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wowed by the Word

In Sunday school, we have been learning about various world views/religions. Our teacher has been covering fundamental aspects of each belief, one of which is "What is its epistemology or source of truth?" Since we've been comparing these world views with Christianity, we've been reminded each week that God is the source of all truth. He has revealed Himself through the Bible, and that ultimate revelation was in Jesus Christ. (Luke 24:27, Heb. 1:1-5)

This may seem like kindergarten material, but think about it. Let it sink in and let it wow you.

The Triune God who is complete in Himself, who has need of nothing, the source of all that is true, good, and holy has condescended to reveal Himself to creatures who rebelled against Him. Truth was personified when the Word became flesh, and truth is now available to us in the pages of a Book authored by God, the Holy Spirit. (John 1:1-4, 2 Tim. 3:16-17)

This is very basic, but sometimes it's good to get a remedial lesson. More often than I would like, I take the Bible for granted. Reading it can be more of a duty than a joy or just a means to get answers to life's questions. I'm the last person to down-play studying the Bible or learning doctrine, but our knowledge of God was never meant to stop at the abstract. Its value lies in the fact that truth objective brings us to love and worship truth personified -  Jesus Christ.

May this wow us every time we crack open the Bible.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review and Giveaway! Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn't Line Up

Perfectionism. It's a loaded word. We largely think of it as a positive thing. Who doesn't want to do all things well? But perfectionism has a dark side. It can become a self-imposed prison where we don't feel like we ever live up to our own expectations. Sometimes, we worry that our imperfections make us unloveable to God.

Even if we know that God loves us, imperfect as we may be, some verses in the Bible can be troubling. 1 Peter 1:16 says "You shall be holy, for I am holy." And also Matthew 5:48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect." How should we read those verses in light of biblical truth that we are all sinners (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23)? Amy Baker wanted to tackle this apparent disconnect in her book Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn't Line Up.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first part, Baker tells the stories of several perfectionists. Since most of us associate perfectionism with people who alphabetize their pantries and straighten the fringes of their throw rugs with a ruler, it's important to see that perfectionism can manifest itself in many different ways. Perfectionism causes some to procrastinate. Others are downright paralyzed from any action. Or they may be angry and controlling. Most readers will find something they can identify with in at least one of these stories. Even if you've never made a bed with hospital corners, you probably have one area where you strive for success at all costs.

The second section reminds us that because of Christ, it is finished. Yes, Jesus death and resurrection is our only hope of escaping God's wrath, but it also saves of from finding our worth in earthly things. We must "preach the gospel to ourselves every day." If we're really doing this, every area of our lives will be changed. That doesn't mean our lives will be easy, but we can rest from striving to justify ourselves by what we do.

Baker does this by focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Jesus words to "be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect." I enjoyed this focus on Christ's perfection—his finished work that frees us. Perfection is, at its root "a heart that fears suffering"(page 70). But when we trust in Christ, we have nothing to fear.

We begin to see perfection both as a gift that Christ has purchased for us and as a process of growing in Christlikeness. Once a source of stress or despair, perfection becomes a wonderful goal. Because of the gift we've received, we want to live a life of love (Ephesians 5:2) because that's what our Savior did (page 68).

The third section focuses on application. Baker zeroes in on things perfectionists tend to struggle with, such as fear, pride, shame, and busyness.

This is an important subject, and I believe it's something we need to be addressing more often. Sometimes, though, we go too far. In our effort to communicate the sin of perfectionism, we might inadvertently leave people with the message to quit trying. This is not, of course, the purpose of God's grace (Romans 6:1). It's a fine line to walk, but Baker does it well. We should still work as if to God (Colossians 3:32), but not as a way to secure what Christ has already secured for us.

I appreciate this book. I recommend it to anyone who struggles with perfectionism. And even if you don't think you struggle with perfectionism, this book will probably reveal to you ways that you do.

Thanks to the generosity of New Growth Press, I have an extra copy to give away. Please enter your name and email in the form below. I promise your email will remain private and we won't spam you. The winner will be drawn on Thursday, July 17, and the winner will be notified by email.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Friday, July 11, 2014

God Saves

His own purpose . . . before the ages began.
It's been more than a month since the last post in this series on truths every Christian woman should know, and you've probably forgotten where we were. We Are All Sinners, our previous post, told the story of the fall of humankind. Adam sinned, and the whole human race inherited his guilt, along with an inner corruption that causes us to sin, too. So we are all guilty before God—both for Adam's sin and our own—and alienated from him. It wasn't a happy place to end things.

But thankfully, it was only the end of a post, and not the end of the story. The story continues with a flashback to eternity past. Way back, before the fall of Adam, before the creation of the universe, God had a plan. His goal for history of the universe was to show his glory, and all the events in history, including the fall, are his means to accomplish this goal. The bad news that we are guilty and alienated is the backdrop for the good news, the centerpiece of God's plan for history: his plan to save sinful people "to the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

The Plan to Save

J. I. Packer calls this plan God's "redemptive project."1 The blueprint for this project is laid out in Ephesians 1.

Before creation, the Father chose people from Adam's guilty and alienated descendants to eventually stand before him as blameless adopted sons and daughters.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons . . . . (Ephesians 1:3-5 ESV)
Christ's role in the redemption project is to make God's chosen people blameless, for it's through his death that their sins are forgiven.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses . . . . (Ephesians 1:7 ESV)
And it's the Spirit who applies Christ's redemption to those God has chosen, and who protects his forgiven sons and daughter until they receive their final inheritance.
. . . you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV)
This plan requires a Triune God; each member of the Trinity has a role. In eternity past, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit agreed to a "division of labor"2 in their work to reconcile sinners. This eternal agreement is sometimes called the covenant of redemption.

In later posts, there will be more on the roles of the Trinity in salvation, particularly the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit. But for now, we can bring in the biblical teaching from other texts and  summarize the agreement for the division of labor in salvation like this: The Father chooses and sends and adopts; the Son comes and redeems and intercedes; the Spirit applies and creates and keeps. In other words, the Father gave the Son a people to redeem, and the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of Christ's redemption to his people.

And the best news is that what God plans, he accomplishes for certain. In the end, God's people will be saved and his glory will be praised.

Learn More

Here are a few ways to learn more about God's plan to save sinners.
  1. Study Ephesians 1:1-14, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and 2 Timothy 1:9-10.
  2. Read up on the covenant of redemption in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 25 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Here's the section from Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology.
  3. Listen to The Covenant of Redemption by J. Ligon Duncan.

[1] Concise Theology by J. I. Packer, page 38.

[2] Systematic Theology by  Louis Berkhoff, page 266.

This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bring us the Book!

The theme for this year's Gospel Coalition Women's Conference (TGCW) was "God's Word Our Story: Hearing from Nehemiah." Each of the plenary speakers addressed a passage from that book of the Bible, all thirteen chapters covered in order in the plenary sessions.

Nancy Guthrie taught Nehemiah 7 and 8, that beautiful passage of Scripture where Ezra teaches the book of the law to the people and all who hear understand. Nancy called our attention to Nehemiah 8:1 where Nehemiah reports that the people "told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel."

"Bring us the book!" Nancy imagined the people crying out and as she did so throughout the auditorium various women echoed the cry. "Bring us the book!" Nancy called out again and again the cry reverberated throughout.

It was obviously arranged beforehand yet striking just the same. As we called out for the Book, Nancy replied with the obvious application: O, that God would raise up women hungrier for the Book! Women invested in a right understanding of the Word of God, convinced of its sufficiency, committed to its authority--this, Nancy asserted, is what we need most.

Yes and amen. It's why I teach Bible study. It's why we do what we do here at Out of the Ordinary. We long for women to hunger for the Word of God, that hunger fueling a desire for knowledge, that knowledge prompting a greater love for the God of the Word, that love in turn creating a greater hunger, and not just a hunger for our personal knowledge of Him but for others to know Him too.

While at the conference I picked up a copy of Jen Wilkin's book Women of the Word. Reading the first chapter was like reading my own mail. It was surreal and a little eerie to see there on printed page my own thoughts and motivations for Bible study, thoughts and motivations that I offer as passionately and as emphatically as I can at the start of any study I teach. And by eerie I mean exciting. How I hope many women will devote themselves to pursuing the knowledge of God through His Word!

Wilkin writes...

Never has the phrase "to know him is to love him" been more true. As we grow in the knowledge of God's character through the study of his Word, we cannot help but grow into an exponentially deeper love for him. This explains why Romans 12:2 says we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. we come to understand who God is, and we are changed--our affections detach from lesser things and attach to him. If we want to feel a deeper love for God, we must learn to see him more clearly for who is. If we want to feel deeply about about God, we learn to think deeply about God.


The heart cannot love what the mind does not know. Yes, it is sinful to acquire knowledge for knowledge's sake, but acquiring knowledge about One we love, for the sake of loving him more deeply, will always be for our transformation.

Yes, Lord. Bring us the Book!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Midlife Celebration

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. Revelation 5:11-14

Stop for a moment and scan your midlife disappointments, regrets, and fears. Ask yourself what you have been hoping in. What is really worth celebrating? What is really worth mourning? Force yourself to use the values of eternity as your measuring tool for the here and now. Let eternity argue with the values of the surrounding culture, which says life is all about youth, appearance, success, material ease, power, and control…

If you listen to eternity, you can stand in the middle of midlife regret and celebrate. Yes, you did many things that you should not have done. And, yes, you failed to do many good things that you should have done. But in the midst of it all God was still working. He was freeing you all along from the one dark, horrible thing that was your biggest problem all along: your sin. He was delivering something to you that was far better than anything you could have ever conceived for yourself: a place in his eternal kingdom. All of our most crushing disappointments are but blips on the map when viewed from the perspective of the never-ending glory of eternity. With the loud songs of eternity in your ears, stand in the middle of the loss of your youth and your fears of aging and celebrate…

God lets you look into then, so that as you face the trials of now you will have hope that is stronger than your disappointment, encouragement that overwhelms your regret, and a dream to motivate you that is better than any dream you could have conjured up for yourself.

Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God, Paul David Tripp, Shepherd Press, 2004, pp. 308, 315