Friday, October 28, 2016

Grace Incognito

This is a repost from 2013.

The ladies in my church had a get-together Sunday evening. To break the ice, we were divided into random groups and given several questions prepared by our hostess. These questions weren't the typical "What is your favorite color? What was your most embarrassing moment?" Rather her intent was to encourage us to go beyond small talk and delve a little deeper. Two of the questions were:

- Do you feel you need to portray a perfect front?

- Do you have sin in your life that you are struggling with and need prayer?

My group had a very good discussion, but there were two observations from the pastor's wife that struck home. First, we may be willing to let others know about our struggles but only after the fact. Second, we may be maintaining a front even though it's not the "I am the perfect Christian woman who has it all together" variety. It may take the form of making sure others see how well we handle our brokenness.

Does this ring a bell? It does for me.

We like happy endings and success stories, so it's easy to think experiencing triumph is the epitome of the Christian life. The prayers were answered. The sin was conquered. The problem was solved. We don't have much stamina either, so the quicker God moves, the better. If He comes through according to our expectations, hallelujah! But what if He chooses otherwise? What if the battle with sin is lifelong or the circumstances don't change? If I am only willing to share my struggles when they are over, I could be waiting a very long time trying to hold out on my own. In addition, I may like the idea of portraying the strong Christian woman weathering adversity with a brave face, but I don't get to choose the scene of my martyrdom that will show off my good side. 1

But what if the point isn't sprinting across the finish line in record time, but knowing God in every halting, baby step along the way? So instead of grumbling, "Here we go again", my attitude could be, "Lord, thank You for another opportunity to cast my cares on You." "Thank You for being faithful and just to forgive my sins even if it's for the nth time today." Rather than feeling like a burden when asking for prayer from the church, God could be using a drawn-out situation to increase love among the saints and strengthen the bonds of fellowship.

What if grace not only grants deliverance but gives patient endurance year after year? It may not wear the champion's laurels, but be incognito, dressed in the plain clothes of the long-term struggles of life. God's grace is present and sufficient even when it's hiding in plain sight.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor. 12:9

1. My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers, reading for November 11.

Monday, October 24, 2016

8 Women of Faith

by Michael Haykin

I fell in love with the life stories of people from history when I was a young girl and I still love them. As an adult, I've concentrated mostly on biographical sketches of people from Christian history—short stories of the lives of my spiritual ancestors. But there aren't all that many accounts of the lives of historical Christian women, probably because it's hard to tell a woman's life story when there aren't many written records of her life.

I was eager, then, to read Michael Haykin's new book, Eight Women of Faith. I've listened to most of his biographical lectures and sermons and enjoyed them, so I was ready for more of his stories from Christian history, especially if they focused on women.

It turns out this book isn't what I expected. The chapters aren't really biographical sketches, but essays on the faith of each of the eight woman featured. In each chapter Haykin examines the way one historical Christian woman served Christ and his church in the historical circumstances in which she lived. His purpose is to "remind contemporary Christians, especially evangelicals of the vital role that women have played in the history of our faith.
The eight women featured are
  • Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), the young queen who was martyred for her Protestent faith. Jane is notable for her courage as she faced death and her defense of her own faith and the tenants of the Reformation when the Roman Catholic Benedictine monk John Feckenham tried to convince her to embrace the Catholic faith before she died.
  • Margaret Baxter (1636-1681), the wife of the Puritan Richard Baxter. This essay is based primarily in Richard Baxter's accounts of their marriage and they ways his wife supported him in his ministry.
  • Anne Dutton (1692-1765), a Baptist poet and theological writer. She wrote on many theological subjects, including the nature of the Lord's Supper, Calvinism (She defended it.), and John Wesley's perfectionism (She was critical of it.).
  • Sarah Edwards (1710-1758), the wife of Jonathan Edwards. Haykin looks at Sarah Edward's spiritual experience as presented in her husband's writings.
  • Anne Steele (1717-1778), one of the great hymn writers of the eighteenth century, on par with Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, John Newton, and William Cowper.
  • Esther Edwards Burr (1732-1758), the daughter of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. This essay focuses on her friendship with Sarah Prince. The two woman made an agreement to keep a daily journal they would share with each other, journals which included conversations about spiritual things.
  • Ann Judson (1789-1826), pioneer missionary to Burma and the wife of Adoniram Judson.
  • Jane Austen (1775-1817), well-known author of several novels. Jane Austen's "serious Christian" faith is viewed through one of her written prayers.
My favorite chapter was the one on Anne Dutton, who I knew very little about before I picked up this book. She wrote about theology, something I like to do, and she did it in a time when many thought a woman shouldn't be an author. She found it necessary, then, to also write a defense of herself and her work. To do this she argued that the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12, in which Paul writes, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet," referred to public worship only. Her works, she wrote, were meant to be read "by believers in 'their own private houses.'"

I suspect each reader will be drawn to the women whose circumstances and calling most closely mirror her own, so your favorite chapter will probably be different from mine.
In the end, I wasn't disappointed that Eight Women of Faith wasn't exactly the book I expected it to be. The focus on how these women lived out their faith in their historical time was encouraging to me. Each of them lived in a time when women had less power than we do now, and still, they all influenced others as they lived out their faith. Through their stories, they serve as examples to us.

Michael Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He has authored, coauthored, or edited more than twenty-five books.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

12 Steps to a Happy Marriage

 "There is no more lovely,  friendly,  and charming relationship,  communion,  or company than a good marriage."     Martin Luther

When I  first considered  writing this blogpost I  said to Robert something to the effect,   “I think I  can sum up our marital felicity  these past 43 years in just two words:  'Christ and Grace’  - What do you think?”    Without hesitation he said,   “Honey,  I’ve never known you to say anything in just two words."  

On that note,  these are some things we've learned  together over the years.   

A happy Christian marriage must be a Christ centered marriage.   If  you are a  single Christian  and have considered marrying someone who is not a believer  please read  2 Cor.6:14.  However,  if you’re already married to an unbeliever the Bible says to be content  and  stay put  (with the exception of  special circumstances like  infidelity or abuse).  I Cor. 7:13-14 

 “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11
Always hold God’s Word in the highest regard.  The Bible is God's revealed Word and is without error.   It is the way God communicates with us and is completely sufficient to guide us in all  matters pertaining to godly living.  2 Tim. 3:16.  Read it.  Memorize it. Saturate your mind  with sound doctrine.  Test everything  in life against it. 

 “Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”   1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Susannah Wesley,  mother of  the beloved hymnist Charles Wesley,  had 19 children, nine of which died in infancy.    She was noted for her fervent prayer life  but finding a quiet place for her was impossible.  Nevertheless,  that didn’t  stop her and her children knew it was time to be quiet when she threw her apron over her head to pray. 

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:25
 Plug into a  good Bible teaching church and  be faithful to honor the Lord’s Day by  gathering with His people.  Don’t get flaky about this.     Too many Christians allow sports, recreation,  or a bad church experience to sabotage their corporate worship.     If you have children it is essential that they understand not only the Gospel and sound doctrine,  but why Sunday worship takes priority.  

5.  THE "S" WORD
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” Ephesians 5:22-23
Marriage is depicted   as a beautiful picture of Christ and the Church and is said to be a great mystery.     Wives are to submit to the authority of  their  husbands as the church submits to Christ and husbands are to love their wives  as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.     Both commands  are tall orders,  right?     Showing mutual love and respect for one another is essential to any happy marriage. 

Like the warmth of a cozy fire,  love needs to be rekindled.    Whatever accomplishes that for you,  keep it up.    And never stop dating each other.   Even when  you're broke as a joke most of us can still scrape up a buck to get a cone at the Golden Arches.    Some of our sweetest dates  have been sitting in the car  with ice cream watching the sunset.  
It goes without saying,  if God gives us children they are a great blessing and we are responsible to train  them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.   We are all bound to  make some fumbles,  but one big mistake I've seen well meaning parents do is to create a child-centered home—one where everything revolves around the children's interests.   This is true for both married and single parents.   Our children will have a greater sense of security and be better prepared to face the world  when they understand they are not the center of the universe.   And we will also be better prepared for the empty nest.
 “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”  Ephesians 4:32
Recognizing  that we are just  two  wretched but forgiven  sinners on this  pilgrim journey together really helps when we blow it.   We are all in need of compassion and forgiveness every day.   I’ve tried to make a habit of never going to bed angry,  but I know it's not  always easy to do.
I don’t know how other wives feel,  but I’ve had to resist expecting more from my husband than I should.   Regardless of how knowledgeable in the Scriptures or how kind  our husbands  may be,  they are not perfect and can NEVER fill the need  for us that only Christ can fill.   I love what Ruth Bell Graham  said:
  “It is a foolish woman who expects her husband to be to her that which only Jesus Christ Himself can be: always ready to forgive, totally understanding, unendingly patient, invariably tender and loving, unfailing in every area, anticipating every need, and making more than adequate provision. Such expectations put a man under an impossible strain”  
He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”  Proverbs 13:20
This is so important.   God has blessed us with many wonderful Christian friends  over the years who  have encouraged us and sharpened us spiritually.     Like my mom used to say,  “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.”     Who we hang out with will have a big impact on how we think and how we treat our spouse.
“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.”  Psalm 46:2
One of my life verses is  Job  5:7   “man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward”.    A healthy  marriage will endure the whole gamut of troubles including money, family conflicts,  church problems,  illness, death—you name it.    Run to God  and trust in His sovereignty over all of it.  
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22
David Murray writes,  " Christian hope is a realistic expectation of and joyful longing for future good and glory based on the reliable Word of God." 1

The  Christian has every reason to  be cheerful.    Our sins have been forgiven and  we have an inheritance waiting for us in Heaven!  
1.The Happy Christian, by David Murray, pg. 92


Friday, October 14, 2016

Humble Roots: A review and giveaway

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul, Hannah Anderson, Moody Publishers, October 2016, 207 pages.

When it comes to the twists and turns of life, no one really expects to be able to handle the really big things, so we cut ourselves some slack. The little things should be well within our grasp, or so we think. But when the normal stuff of everyday life overwhelms us, stress and anxiety kick in. If this does not apply to you, praise God, but for the rest of us, we need help. This latest book by Hannah Anderson does just that by getting to the root of the problem - pride.

When we think of pride, boasting and promoting one's self are obvious manifestations. But what about thinking "we are stronger and more capable than we actually are... that we must do and be more than we are able?" (pg. 40) Thus we push ourselves to the limit and find ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. We find ourselves longing for rest, but this rest is only to be found "when we humble ourselves and submit to Him." (pg. 25) Yet humility is more than self-abasement or changing external behavior. It comes from seeing Jesus for who He really is in His person and His work. In that light, we are humbled because "He is the model and the means of our own humility."  (pp. 76, 57) However, the book does not end here. The author applies humility to how we view our physical bodies, emotions, and minds. It also affects the way we steward the gifts God has given us, pursue our desires, and make sense of the brokenness of this world.

I loved Hannah's first book, Made for More, so I was eager to read Humble Roots. I appreciate that she writes from a perspective of wholeness in that we are body and soul and our faith should make a difference in every aspect of our lives. I also appreciate that her books speak across a wide range of age and experience. I gave a copy of Humble Roots to my college-aged daughter who is dealing with academic stress and the new responsibilities of adulthood. (She could not put the book down and had to make herself stop reading and do her homework.) I am middle-aged and tempted to be complacent in the skills that I have acquired over the years. But I am also becoming more aware that it will only be a matter of time before the strength of body and mind will be diminished just with age alone. This book ministered to us both because, even though we are at different stages in life, we cannot shoulder the burdens of life ourselves. Without Him, we can do nothing.

Humble Roots is a delight to read. It is beautifully written with examples from Hannah's life, her Appalachian church community, history, and horticulture. Humble Roots is also theologically sound and grounded in the gospel. It is convicting, but it will encourage you to find the rest that Jesus offers to weary souls. I highly recommend this book.

I will be giving away one copy of Humble Roots. Please enter your name and email address in the form below. The giveaway ends Sunday October 16 at midnight EDT. I will contact the winner the following day. Thanks for entering!

(The giveaway has ended.)

I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

20 Surprising Ways a "Believer" Can Be Self-Deceived

In 1937 Arthur Pink wrote,

The "Gospel" which is now being proclaimed is,  in nine cases out of every ten—but a perversion of the Truth, and tens of thousands, assured they are bound for Heaven, are now hastening to Hell, as fast as time can take them!” 1

And the beat goes on.  Evangelicals en masse believe they will inherit eternal life because they have “asked Jesus into their heart”,  even though many know nothing of  what it means to test themselves to see if their faith is genuine.

In the past the practice of carefully examining ourselves was considered normal and necessary in order to expose self-deceived professors and hypocrites,  rebuke worldly Christians, and assure genuine believers.  

Matthew Meade (1629– 1699), was a Puritan and contemporary of John Owen,  Bunyan,  and Richard Baxter, who lived in a time when Protestantism had spread quickly and hypocrisy was rampant.   But the diligent Puritans had no “lack of fidelity in applying to the churches tests of fearless thoroughness.” 2   Appointed by Oliver Cromwell to the New Chapel at Shadwell, England,  Meade’s works were held in high esteem and are still considered to be some of the greatest writings on Christian living.   “The Almost Christian Discovered” was written as a wake-up call to devout parishioners who believed themselves to be Christians but were not born again.    The book poses four questions giving the most attention to the first—“How far may a man go in the way to heaven, and be almost a Christian?”  Twenty ways an unregenerate person can appear to be a Christian are explained using Biblical examples, raising objections, and comparing the counterfeit to the real McCoy.  

1. He may have much knowledge.
2. He may have great gifts.

3. He may have a high profession.

4. He may do much against sin.

5. He may desire grace.

6. He may tremble at the word.

7. He may delight in the word.

8. He may be a member of the church of Christ.

9. He may have great hopes of heaven.

10. He may be under great and visible changes.

11. He may be very zealous in the matters of religion.

12. He may be much in prayer.

13. He may suffer for Christ.

14. He may be called of God.

15. He may, in some sense, have the Spirit if God.

16. He may have some kind of faith.

17. He may love the people of God.

18. He may go far in obeying the commands of God.

19. He may be, in some sense, sanctified.

20. He may do all, as to external duties, that a true Christian can, and  
             yet be no better than almost a Christian.

Passages like Hebrews 6:4-5 can be difficult for some of us to understand and this study will help to clarify their meaning.

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, an then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” Heb. 6:4-5

For example,  #15 explains how “A man may have the spirit of God, and yet be but almost a Christian."
"Balaam had the Spirit of God given him when he blessed Israel: “Balaam saw Israel abiding in tents, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” Judas had; for by the Spirit he cast out devils; he was one of them that came to Christ, and said, “Lord, even the devils are subject to us.” Saul had—“Behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and be prophesied among them.”
Objection. But you will say, “Can a man have the Spirit of God, and yet not be a Christian?” Indeed, the Scripture saith, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;” but surely if any man have the Spirit of Christ, he is his!
Answer. There is a having the Spirit, which is a sure mark of saintship. Where the Spirit is an effectual prevailing principle of grace and sanctification, renewing and regenerating the heart: where the Spirit is a potent worker, “helping the soul’s infirmities: where the Spirit is so as to “abide forever.” But now every man that hath the Spirit, hath not the Spirit in this manner.”

Meade goes on to prove how this moving of the Holy Spirit in the life of an unbeliever relates to those who commit the unpardonable sin (Mark 3:22-30;  Matt. 12:22-32)
 “A man may have the Spirit of God working in him, and yet it may be resisted by him….
A man may have the Spirit, and yet sin that unpardonable sin: he may have the Holy Ghost, and yet sin the sin against the Holy Ghost;—nay, no man can sin this sin against it, but he that hath some degree of it.
The true believer hath so much of the Spirit, such a work of it in him, that he cannot sin that sin: “He that is born of God, sins not:” to wit, that “sin unto death,” for that is meant.   The carnal professing sinner, he cannot sin that sin, because he is carnal and sensual, having not the Spirit. A man must have some measure of the Spirit that sins this sin: so hath the hypocrite: he is said to be “partaker of the Holy Ghost,” and he only is capable of sinning the sin against the Holy Ghost.”

This book has challenged me on several points.   Could it be possible that I am among the multitudes of religious self deceived  professors who will say on the Day of Judgement “Lord, Lord”?    However,  Meade makes it clear that he has no intention of discouraging  the true child of God and it is those who will respond to such questioning with the deepest concern for their soul.  “Is it I?” was the sorrowful reaction of the disciples when Christ declared that one of them would betray Him.   God doesn’t want His children to be burdened with doubt but desires that we have full confidence and joy in our salvation.  Furthermore, it is this kind of scrutiny that will produce that assurance.   The Scriptures themselves make it very clear that it is possible to know that we have been born again.
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  I Jn. 5:13

Meade concludes,
“Now therefore, hath the spirit of the Lord been at work in your souls?  Have you ever been convinced of the evil of sin, of the misery of a natural state, of the insufficiency of all things under heaven to help, of the fullness and righteousness of Jesus Christ, of the necessity of resting upon him for pardon and peace, for sanctification and salvation?   Have you ever been really convinced of these things?   O then, as you love your own souls, as ever you hope to be saved at last, and enjoy God for ever, improve these convictions, and be sure you rest not in them till they rise up to a thorough close with the Lord Jesus Christ, and so end in a sound and perfect conversion. Thus shall you be not only almost, but altogether a Christian.”

1. Signs of the Times – Studies in the Scriptures,  December 1937
2. Prefatory note by William R. Williams (1850) to The Almost Christian Discovered or the False Professor Tried and Cast,  by Matthew Meade – public domain - A free eBook is available HERE

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