Thursday, November 23, 2017

Countless Gifts of Love


. . . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father (Ephesians 5:20 ESV)

We should, of course, be thankful every day for the many blessings we receive from God. His good gifts come in a never-ending stream, so thanksgiving to him should be a constant in our lives.

But today, Thanksgiving day, is set aside to focus on God's gifts to us and be thankful for them. On Thanksgiving last year we invited you all to participate with us in thanking God and many of you did. Your contributions were a true blessing to us, and one more thing to be thankful for.

We are hoping you'll join us in thanking God this year, too. First, we'll each tell you one or more things we are thankful for. Then you can add your thanksgiving thoughts in the comments of this post or in the comments on our Facebook page. As I (Rebecca) have time, I'll update this post to include what you've written.

Kim:

This probably won't be a surprise to those who know me, but I am so very thankful for being in seminary. I am especially enjoying my Greek class, and even though it often makes me feel like I'm a dullard, I love the class. I'm thankful for having a husband who is very supportive and friends who think learning Greek is exciting. I'm thankful for the leadership of the school, the men and women who have a vision for Christian education and who desire to make an impact on the community. I'm thankful that God had me wait for just this exact time in my life to go back to school.

Persis:

The line “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided” has been going through my head since Sunday. I am thankful for God’s provision that runs the gamut from the little practical things to the big things. It’s been 10 years since my current job fell into my lap when I desperately needed to find work. It will also be 10 years next month since I first stepped through the doors and into the welcoming arms of my church community. I am thankful for God’s keeping then and now, His care over my family, and for His saving and persevering grace. God is good.SaveSaveSaveSave

Rebecca:

The last four months have been difficult ones for me, but in the trials I have seen God's hand. He has provided for me and protected me and eased me through it all. I can think of several times when he sent people (sometimes strangers) at just the right time to help me out of a difficult circumstance. I am very thankful for his mercy to me in the past and thankful that I can trust him to help me navigate future difficulties, too.

At this moment, I am thankful for my warm home. I am thankful for the many windows looking out on the snowy world. I am thankful for my children and my grandchildren, who bring me much joy.

Deb:

This year, I have been so thankful for a busy season of life. The Lord has provided the means for me to continue my education while still working full-time and continuing to serve in the body of Christ. More importantly, I am thankful for my wonderfully supportive church and the Godly elders and pastors who love and serve our congregation faithfully. Finally, I'm truly grateful for deeper bonds that have developed over the past few years with my family members. I continue to pray for each of them, but especially those who remain unsaved to come to know Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Review: Refresh

Shona Murray is inviting us to step back and look at our lives. In her book Refresh, co-written with her husband, David Murray, she encourages us to live a grace-paced life. In conjunction with her husband's book, for men, Reset, Shona has chimed in with this excellent word for women. It's an invitation we as women should accept. She opens the book with words that many women can relate to:
Overwhelmed. Exhausted. Depressed. Panicky. Stressed. Burned out. Broken. Paralyzed. Drowning. Empty. Recognize yourself in any of these words? Maybe in all of them? 
You're not alone. These are the most common words I've heard Christian women useing to describe themselves and their lives. 
Whatever happened to the words peaceful, calm, joyful, content, quiet, rested, refreshed, and fulfilled? Wouldn't you like to exchange the second set of words for the first?
Shona shares extensively from her personal experience with the consequences of her own hectic pace of life. Ultimately, it led to a struggle with depression. Her openness regarding her illness is among the most appealing things about Refresh. Women who struggle with mental illness often feel isolated and alone. To hear how someone else has found healing is always encouraging. In an effort to build a foundation which guards against burnout, the focus of the book lays out principles to establish a grace-paced life.

Shona uses the image of the gym: just as physical health requires a training regimen, so does spiritual health. Each chapter along the way, is a "station" in a training program. We start with a Reality Check, and then move through the remaining stations: Replay, Rest, Re-Create, Relax, Rethink, Reduce, Refuel, Relate, Resurrection.

One of the most compelling parts of the book for me was the initial step of evaluating who we are. In the chapter "Reality Check," she calls upon the reader to examine her life closely for signs and symptoms of burnout. We need to be realistic about ourselves. What may feel like standing on top of the world could actually be standing on the edge of a dangerous precipice.

In my own struggle with anxiety, recognizing my limitations as a human being was difficult, but necessary, and Shona addresses that:
Once I began to see the practical implications of being a limited, complex, and fallen creature, I began to see God differently, I saw myself differently, and I saw life differently.
We don't like the idea of being limited. We are told that we should defy limits or that to refuse to live without limits is living an inferior existence. The truth is that we are limited, and I was grateful for Shona emphasizing that truth. It is often a failure to realize our limits that sends us crashing down.

In addition to promoting proper sleep, rest, and exercise, Shona also encourages us to examine who we are in Christ rather than living under false identities:
The Bible uses many different words and metaphors to describe the Christian: forgiven, redeemed, accepted, justified, adopted, heir, blessed, seated in heavenly places, sealed with the Spirit in Christ, and so on (see Ephesians 1). If I expand "Christian" by adding these grace-driven descriptions to my list, this part of my identity will have much more influence on my self-image. A grace-filled identity will produce a grace-paced life.
We are often more consumed with our identity as wife or mother or are more preoccupied with our work outside the home. Our most important identity in found in Christ. We can be actively serving in the Church and still not be focused on our identity in Christ. Our identity in Christ is the most crucial one, and finding the right balance between that identity and the others may mean making changes.

Refresh is a book borne out of Shona Murray's experience. But it is not a unique experience. Her story is the story of many other women. This book is one woman's encouraging word to those who find themselves burned out and stressed out and looking for some help. Even more than that, Refresh would also help young women seeking to establish healthy habits that will be useful for a long time to come.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Doctrine Matters: Imputation

For decades as a Christian, I was taught and believed that Jesus got me in the door, but the rest was up to me. This was terrifying. I remember crying as a child wondering if I would have the courage to be a martyr for Christ, and wondering if I would lose my salvation if I failed. I remember hearing about the movie, A Thief in the Night, and wondering what would happen if I wasn't ready. I lived with so much uncertainty that current events would strike fear in my heart because I doubted I would be good enough when Christ returned.

Finally one day, I was raking leaves and listening to R.C. Sproul's lectures on What is Reformed Theology?. When he discussed the doctrine of justification by faith alone, it was as though the sun broke through the darkness, and I experienced assurance for the first time in my Christian life.
"In the final analysis, the only way that any person is ever justified before God is by works.  We are saved by works, and we are saved by works alone.  Don't touch that dial..."
"[W]hen I say that we are justified by works and by works alone, what do I mean by it? I mean that the grounds of my justification and the grounds of your justification are the perfect works of Jesus Christ. We're saved by works, but they are not our own. That's why we say we're saved by faith, and we're saved by grace, because the works that save us aren't our works, they're Somebody else's works."1
God takes my sin and places it on the righteous, holy, perfect Lamb of God and expends His wrath upon the Him. But if the story ended there, my sins would have been dealt with, but what about my life? What about God's just requirement that we be holy as He is holy? He takes the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and puts that to my account. This is imputation. There is no question anymore of where I stand before God. The endless cycle of trying to earn acceptance before God is broken once and for all.
The understanding of imputation also holds out the only real hope that real Christians have of maintaining real acceptance with the real God. The reality of imputed righteousness is a real encouragement to ongoing sinners. Even as believers we must admit that sin is mixed with all we do. Even though we are justified believers, we still stumble and fall. We still make backward steps. What will keep a believer persevering in the face of remaining sin? Just this: the knowledge that the righteousness that renders us acceptable to God is not our personal achievement. It is Christ's righteousness achieved for us.
What is a Christian to do when he stumbles and falls in sin?  He must keep looking to Christ by humbly repenting and starting over.  This is how we battle discouragement. This is what keeps us from losing hope. On the believer's worst day this thought can keep him from utter despair: Jesus Christ is my righteousness. To see, remember and believe that God has credited Christ’s righteousness to us and has on that basis accepted us once and for all, is to find the strength and the direction to fight against every form of discouragement and temptation and frustration in life.2
This is why I love the doctrine of imputation. Having lived without assurance so long, it's no wonder I can't forget the day when I realized that peace with God rested outside of me or my performance. I still stumble and my assurance may waiver, but there is someone else that I can look to - Jesus Christ, my righteousness.

Sources:
1. What is Reformed Theology? Teaching series by R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries.
2. Imputation: The Sinners Only Hope - Thomas K. Ascol, Founders Journal, Issue 59, Winter 2005, pp. 1-13.

This is based on a post from my personal blog from 2010.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Testing, Testing


. . . you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV).

I knew a couple—active in their local church and, to all appearances, committed Christians—who stopped believing in God after tragedy struck their family. First, they struggled with trusting God. "If God is good," they wondered, "how could he allow our young son to die? How could he allow this kind of suffering?"

None of the answers they received satisfied them. "What good is faith in God," they asked, "if he won't at least protect us from severe trials like this one?" They were angry with God and stopped going to church. Eventually they stopped believing God even existed. It's been thirty years now and they persist in their unbelief.

The loss of their son showed that their faith had been a quid pro quo kind of faith: they believed, but they expected that God, in turn, would protect them from tragedy. Their faith, despite appearances, was not genuine faith and their trial revealed it.

But true believers keep on trusting in the midst of suffering because they know their only hope is for God to carry them through it. And as they suffer, real believers see that their ultimate hope is not in this world, but in eternity with God. Their trials demonstrate the genuineness of their faith, not so God can see its quality, but so they can. And when they do, they will be assured what they hope for most will be finally be theirs.

So believers (real ones, that is) can "count it all joy" when trials come because every trial they endure shows their faith is true. And better yet, every trial works to make their true faith more true, because as genuine faith endures suffering, it becomes more steadfast and more mature. Suffering, then, both proves faith and improves it (James 1:2-4).

Count it all joy, my sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds . . . (James 1:2).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Think on These Things

The ease and speed of communication are wonderful things. When my daughter went on a trip this summer, I could track her flights in real time and expect an email on her arrival. There was no waiting for weeks on end for a letter assuring me she had safely crossed the ocean. Just a few clicks was all it took. But this ease and speed of communication have a downside.

There are times when it seems as though all the bad news in the world comes scrolling across my screen. Tragedies both natural and instigated by man seem to pile on top of one another until it is overwhelming. When a particular story or issue strikes a chord, my heart aches, and I want to do something about it. But situations are too big and attitudes too entrenched for one woman to make that much of difference, which can lead to discouragement and even cynicism. I've been feeling this as of late, which is why my pastor's sermon on Philippians 4 was very timely.

Given human nature and the state of the world, joy isn't my normal default nor is it something I easily slide into. Joy in the Lord needs to be pursued intentionally, and one way is described in verse 8.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Phil. 4:8 (KJV)
This is more than avoiding the bad like an ostrich that sticks its head in the sand in denial. I've tried that, not literally, but I could only keep but so much at bay. This involves actively seeking  the good, which is also more than the power of positive thinking.

If anyone was a realist, the Apostle Paul was. He had no illusions about his circumstances. He was in prison. He fully expected to die a martyr's death. He was deeply concerned that the believers in Asia minor would remain steadfast in the face of increasing persecution. But even in his incarcerated state, which would have been horrific by today's standards, Paul found true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and good things to think upon. And God has given His people these joy-producing things to think on today.

Just consider these verses in Philippians (NASB):
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 1:6
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 1:12-14
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 2:9-11
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 3:20-21
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 4:6-7
These are words of assurance and hope that are worth clinging to when the world seems so dark. And these are only a few verses from just one book. How much more in the whole counsel of God! 

While it is vital for me to "think on these things" as an individual, the benefit is multiplied in community. For example, my small group met and discussed the sermon on joy. One young sister, more than 40 years younger than me, shared how this sermon seemed tailor-made for the challenges she has been facing in a new school. But this circumstance has also driven her to  pray, seek out other believers, and look for gospel opportunities. I think everyone in the room was moved by her testimony, and we left that evening praising God because we could share "these things" together.

There are still times when I get stirred up and need to deliberately step away from the endless media stream of what is wrong with the world. Yesterday in fact. But stepping away doesn't mean I stop caring. Rather it gives me the opportunity to actively seek the good as I take my burdens and prayers to the One who is perfectly just, righteous, and compassionate. The One who holds the world together and governs its events. And the One who is coming again. 

"if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A face I won't forget

I've told this story before on my personal blog, but I'm too lazy to go looking for the original text. It's a story I will never forget, so it's not hard to remember details.

When I was in 8th grade, I was bullied by a group of kids in my grade. I was not the only one. That same crowd of kids targeted another girl, Kathy. She had a very sweet face, long black hair, a quiet voice, and a very generous bosom. For reasons I could not fathom, she did not wear a bra. She often wore a knit powder blue t-shirt. It attracted attention. She was not a skinny girl, so phys. ed. was particularly bad for her, especially when she had to run laps. I used to wonder why her parents just didn't buy her proper attire, but looking back, I wonder if it was a matter of them not being able to provide those things.

People snickered behind her back and to her face. They taunted her and called her names. However, one of the worst things she endured was when, during a group project, Kathy "accidentally" got glue in her hair. That long black hair, almost to her waist, with glue in it. I remember the name of the boy who did it.

A target for bullying myself, I felt her pain, yet I never said a thing in her defence. In my own immaturity and selfishness, I didn't want to be seen to befriend her because I wanted to keep as low a profile as possible. In my own stupidity, despite knowing that those people were not worth being friends with, I still wanted their acceptance. I don't remember ever having a conversation with her. I was glad when junior high ended.

My high school was big; 2500 students strong. It was so easy to simply slip into anonymity. It was a clean slate, and I forgot about Kathy until one day in 11th grade when I was in the cafeteria. I said hello to her and as she smiled at me, I was taken aback at how pretty her smile was. I'll never forget her saying to me, "I didn't think you'd remember my name."

Kathy, I will never forget.

All these years later, I still remember her face clearly, and I still feel regret for not having reached out to her in friendship. I knew the pain she was going through and I did nothing to show her my sympathy.

I won't forget also because this kind of conduct never really goes away. Teenage bullies often grow into adult bullies. Perhaps the strategy changes, but there are still those who exclude others, belittle others, try to control others, and look down on others. And there are still times when, in an effort not to be rejected by whatever group we belong to, we don't reach to others, or we don't defend those who are bullied. I can't forget Kathy because I see the same kind of thing still happening. I want that memory to remind me that I need to be kind  and show love. I need to reach out to others, something I don't find easy, because I generally find it difficult to trust others. But I have to try.

As Christians, love and kindness ought to be part of our daily expression. Yet, we fail. I fail. But it can be something as simple as saying hello, smiling at someone, and making eye contact. It means remembering that we are to esteem others better than ourselves, not try to reduce them. It means remembering that we are all created in God's image. Within the context of the Church, it means that we are part of the same body. Who abuses her own body? Or dismisses it when it is in pain? It means thinking outside of ourselves and our own desire for attention and approval. Particularly with using social media, we can spend a lot of time courting the favour of the important people; the popular people. But do we reach out to those around us who really need friendship?

I hope Kathy has a good life today. I hope she has friends and family. I pray she found Christ. Maybe she was already a Christian, and had I got to know her, I would have found that out. Wherever she is, I pray God's blessing upon her.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We have a new winner!


Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for Closer Than a Sister by Christina Fox.
We had 86 entries, and Marilyn C. won the random draw!

Thanks to all for your continued interest in our blog!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Hole in the World

There’s a hole in the world tonight.
There’s a cloud of fear and sorrow.

The night my husband died, these words from the song by the Eagles kept running through my head. His death left a big hole that will be forever unfilled, at least in this life.

He left a young son to grow through his teen years without a father, and believe me, every teen boy needs a dad. My youngest son has an empty spot, a hole, where a dad should be, and he will always feel it. I know this because my husband also had a hole, one left by his own father who died when he was a child. He always longed for something he didn't have.

But the hole in the world is bigger than the empty spot left when a son loses his dad, although there’s nothing like the death of someone you need and love to reveal the all-encompassing hole—the big hole made up of all the smaller holes. The hole is bigger, even, than the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack the song was written for, and it's not just there tonight, but always.

When I was younger, I wanted to believe my story would start with “once upon a time” and end with “they lived happily ever after,” but even then, deep down, I knew that none of this world’s true stories are fairy tales. At some point, we all realize that even as we struggle to gain, we are not even maintaining. We strive for stability, but things keep changing, and not for the better. We build buffers against the unexpected, but they are never as strong as we imagine, and we are always one disaster away from losing everything.

Hurricanes come, and fires and earthquakes and floods and debilitating diseases. Evil people harm others in acts of shocking cruelty. Worst of all, death is inevitable, for ourselves and for everyone we love. We live our lives fearing future losses and grieving past ones.

Have you thought about why Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11)? We know he planned to raise him: “I go,” he said, “to awaken him.” Yet he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” when he saw Mary and the others weeping. He wept, I suppose, in sympathy for them, yet he knew their bereavement would be short-lived. In just moments, they would be celebrating like never before. Do you think he wept because he knew that however brief their sorrow this time round, and however joyful the reunion, Lazarus would die again? Their sorrow would return, inescapably, over and over for the rest of their lives. Did Jesus weep because of the hole in the world?

Still, Lazarus and his sisters had hope for the future, and so can we. The one who raised Lazarus has already defeated death, and one day all those who believe in him will have their own resurrection. One day creation will have it’s redemption and everything wrong will be made right. No more hole, not because the world is patched up, but because the world is made new.

But in the meantime, life is painful. The hole is everywhere; we can't ignore it. We grieve, not like those who have no hope, but we still grieve.

Jesus, the one who defeated death, wept in the face of it. We can't do better than Jesus.

This is an edited version of post I wrote 10 years ago. It seemed appropriate to repost it now. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Closer Than a Sister: Review and Giveaway

Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish by Christina Fox, Christian Focus, 2017, 191 pages. Release date: October 6, 2017.


The desire for real friendships is part of what it means to be human, made in the image of God, and something with which many of us struggle. I know I long for rich friendships, yet often I find the idea of having the closeness others enjoy elusive and disconnected from my own experience.

In Closer Than a Sister, Christina Fox tackles the topic of friendships for women in the church by emphasizing the local church (the body of Christ), union with Christ, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Divided into three sections, the book lays out theological, expository, and redemptive perspectives on Christian friendship.

In the first section, the author discusses the theological foundations for Christian friendship, the origins of Christian community, and how unity with Christ creates essential unity between believers. Specifically, for Christian women, our bonds go beyond mere secular notions of friendship, because we have been given a bond and unity in Christ intended to make us a heavenly family. On the one hand, we have been made to enjoy community with one another, but on the other hand, because of sin, community is still broken and still often falls short of meeting that desire or honoring the Lord.

As a competent guide and expositor of the relevant New Testament passages, the author then takes her readers on a journey in the second section through various scriptural examples and instructions that depict Christ-exalting Christian friendships between sisters in the Lord.  Fox presents the text from a first person perspective as trained counselor and seasoned blogger on women's topics, speaking and engaging with the reader using a very personal approach. For some readers, this approach may seem intimidating; however, from my point of view, the approach was a welcome change from the sanitized, non-personal academic writing that I encounter regularly in my graduate research program.

Finally, in the third section, the author approaches some of the downfalls that Christian women often experience, including the loss of friendships that result from moving, changes of the season of life, or even conflict. Struggles with idolatry, unrealistic expectations, and gossip regularly seem to exacerbate our loneliness and longing for community. While not every woman in our local churches will become close friends, the author shows us how we can reach out to our sisters in Christ, in a spirit of love and sacrificial service. Ultimately, if we are in Christ, we're called to remember that he is our true Friend -- the One who will never leave us or forsake us and who will never let us down or reject us.

I would recommend this book for several purposes: (1) if like me, friendship is a struggle for you, this book will likely be a worthwhile read and (2) for anyone interested in cultivating a mentoring, Titus-2 type relationship, I would see this book as an invaluable resource for understanding the kind of relationships we might emulate. If you're already gifted in this area, the book is still a very good reminder of what Gospel friendships look like and of the One Friend Who we all are longing to meet face to face in that day.

The giveaway has ended - Thank you everyone who entered!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

And the winner is....

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway for Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia. We had 43 entries, and the winner is Madel C

Thank you for your continued interest in our blog!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia: Review and a Giveaway

Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia, John Dunlop MD, Crossway, 2017, 207 pages.

Dementia is a word that can strike fear in our hearts. Over 6 million Americans have dementia, and that number is only going to increase. One-third of seniors will die from this disease. In the face of these grim statistics, is there any hope? Is it possible to find the grace of God in the face of dementia?

Author, Dr. John Dunlop, believes this is possible. He is a practicing geriatrician with over 30 years experience. He has walked this path with both of his parents and his mother-in-law. And he is a brother-in-Christ who believes that God's grace is sufficient even for a disease such as this.

Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia covers medical information and practical advice such as:

- How do our brains normally work and what happens when they don't?
- What are the different types of dementia? How are they diagnosed? Can they be prevented and treated?
- What is the progression of the disease? What challenges do patients face and what changes will they undergo? How can we treat them with respect as people made in God's image?
- What is the emotional, physical, and spiritual toll on caregivers? What support can we give them? When is it time to consider a nursing home/memory care?
- How do we provide the best care and comfort at the end?

But in addition, this book addresses the spiritual side of the equation. There is a whole chapter devoted to how the church can help. The author gives suggestions for proactive teaching on suffering and honoring the image of God in all people, even when their bodies and minds fail them. I was especially encouraged that this trial can be a means of strengthening the faith of not only caregivers but for the patients themselves. This is an opportunity to grow in prayer as we grieve and make our requests known, but we can also grow in worship and thanksgiving for God's grace and provision. This gives the body of Christ avenues for demonstrating love through practical service. I also appreciated Dr. Dunlop's reminders from the Word of what awaits the Christian dementia patient when they have finished the race. They have hope for "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting" where disease and death are no more and every tear is wiped away.

When I found out about this book, I was very eager to read it. My mother suffers from memory loss, and it is challenging to support my family from afar. There are decisions to be made and even more unknowns. Thus it seems overwhelming at times. The practical insight in Finding Grace has helped me better understand what my mom faces day to day, what to expect in the future, and considerations for her well-being and those ministering to her. It has reminded me again that God wasn't caught off guard by this diagnosis. He has a purpose, but He is not remote from this situation. The Lord loves her and is intimately involved in the concerns of my family. So I am thankful that Dr. Dunlop wrote this book for folks like me.

I highly recommend Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia for family members, friends, pastors, and for those who are diagnosed with this disease. It offers practical wisdom but also points us to the ultimate source of comfort - the God of all grace.

We are giving away a copy of Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia. Please enter your contact information below. The winner will be announced Tuesday, September 26. Thanks for entering!

(The giveaway has ended.)

You can purchase this book from CrosswayWTS Books | Amazon | CBD | Book Depository

 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

We have a winner!

Thank you all so much for your interest and response to our Journey into God's Word giveaway. There were 53 entries, and our lucky winner is Ann Snider!

Thanks all so much for your interest in the giveaway and the blog!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Journey into God's Word - Giveaway

Last summer, I read and reviewed Journey into God's Word. I've read quite a few "how to" Bible study books, and I believe this is one of the best. You can read the review here.

Fall is upon us, and people are getting back into regular schedules, whether it is school, ministry, or study. In light of that we want to give away a copy of this book. Being biblically literate is one of the most important things we can do as Christian women. Talking about the Bible and about theology is one thing, but getting right into the Word of God is crucial. We cannot be discerning without having a knowledge and understanding of God's Word.

If you would like to enter your name in the giveaway, and you live in the United States or Canada, please see the form below. You can enter until September 16 at midnight. We'll announce the winner and notify her (or him) on September 20th.





Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Layers of Context


This summer, I have been going through the book Inductive Bible Study, by Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Fuhr. While it is not a beginner's book, it is worth the effort to read. Köstenberger looks at biblical interpretation through a triad: history, theology, and literature. I find the motif very helpful. It is a similar approach to that of my hermeneutics prof.

Proper application flows from correct interpretation, and good interpretation pays attention to the context. Early in my years as a Bible student, I was taught to look for the context among the verses before and after the passage in question. That is correct, but there is much more to context. On top of the immediate, surrounding verses, there are layers of context.

Nine Facets of Context

Köstenberger and Fuhr point three levels of context within each of the three members of their interpretive triad:

Historical Context: Geopolitical Context, Situational Context, Cultural Context
Theological Context: Thematic Context, Revelational-Historical Context, Covenantal Context
Literary Context: Surrounding Context, Canonical Context, Literary Genre of Subgenre

This list may seem overwhelming, but it really helps when we consider these levels of context. It is worth slowing down and thinking about them. We live in a world of instant this and immediate that; learning what the Bible says takes time and patience. Delving into a detailed look at the context can reap valuable fruit.

The Example of Corinth

Anthony Thiselton's commentary on I Corinthians provides a helpful example. The opening chapters of I Corinthians talks much about wisdom. From 1:18 until the end of chapter 3, the contrast between the foolish and wisdom is Paul's focus. He expresses this truth in a paradox:
For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (I Cor. 1:22-25).
I have heard Bible study lessons and the occasional sermon where the discussion of wisdom and folly in I Corinthians is used as a springboard to criticize academic study. Fields of study such as philosophy, psychology, sociology, and science are identified as the kind of "worldly wisdom" Paul is talking about, and immediately pushed aside. But when we take the time to examine the cultural context of Corinth in Paul's day, we see that there is more going on.

According to Thiselton, Corinthian society, especially those of the Sophist tradition, loved the pursuit of wisdom, but it was not necessarily the pursuit whose end was truth or understanding. Rather, it was the ability to persuade others. What the Corinthians loved was rhetoric, not truth. They loved the debate, and especially the prestige it could afford one. As Thiselton says: " . . . some provincial centers, especially Corinth, were influenced by a kind of rhetoric that was more concerned with "winning" than with truth."

Paul discourages a wisdom for the sake of prestige:
"When Paul rejected the way of "high-sounding rhetoric or a display of cleverness" (1 Cor 2:2), he was rejecting the status accorded to a Sophist rhetorician to which the Christians in Corinth wanted him to aspire."
Sophist rhetoric loved the recognition, but that was not Paul's desire. His defense in 2:2 is not a rejection of education or learning; rather, it is Paul saying that the wisdom he came with was of God, not the wisdom prized by the Corinthians. By having a close look at the cultural context of Corinth during Paul's time, we can better interpret Paul's words.

The Value of Commentaries

Context is more than the surrounding verses, although those are important. Being able to understand Revelation demands we understand its genre, i.e. prophecy and apocalyptic literature. Accurately interpreting Old Testament narrative sometimes demands knowing the geopolitical context, especially during the days of the Kings and when Israel was captive in Babylon. Remembering that Proverbs is wisdom literature keeps us from turning them into promises. Understanding all the layers of context is very helpful.

I recently had a conversation with someone who discouraged the use of commentaries. She believes that she will allow the Holy Spirit to speak better if she refrains from using them. For my part, I find the background information from a commentary or a Bible background book are invaluable as I work to make sense of what is happening in the text. The Bible was written in a particular context for a particular context. Our goal should be to understand that before we bring it into our own.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Even If He Doesn't

It’s been almost a year since I last posted. I have so much to say, and so much I can’t say. It’s a strange combination that makes blogging difficult.

Ministry—along with life in general—can break your heart. The soft-focus promos for small group curricula don’t typically emphasis this, but some of the people we try to love and lead will reject the gospel. I’ve always known this, but lately I’ve felt the weight of it.

I’ve grieved with parents of prodigals and friends who have had their dreams crushed. I’ve watched helplessly as people made choices that left a trail of devastation in their wake. I’ve seen people push away every offer of help and hope to continue on a needless path of self-destruction. He told us the road was narrow, but I wasn’t prepared for how heart wrenching it would be to watch people I love choose the wide path.

One of my favorite testimonies in the Bible is that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When threatened with death in a fiery furnace for not bowing to an idol, they chose to stand firm:
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17–18)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren't taking a stand because they were certain of a good outcome. In fact, they didn't know until after the furnace doors were opened how it was going to turn out.

Some translations render "but if not" as "but even if he doesn't." I seem to be in a season of "even if he doesn’t." I am not peering into the mouth of the fiery furnace, but I am begging God to do a bunch of things only he can do. These relationships might never be fixed. And even if they aren't, he is still good. Even as the voices asking, “Did God really say?” get louder, his Word is still true.

We can only plant and water, God makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). And this reminder of my human inadequacy actually gives me more hope.

Because the heartbreak is only half the story. I’ve also seen restoration where it seemed there was no hope at all. I’ve seen the person who once had no use for the gospel embrace the truth with passion. I’ve seen marriages restored and families reunited. I’ve been reminded again and again that God is often doing his biggest works when things look bleakest.

I know that God could fix these things in a heartbeat. The test comes when he tarries. He really does have the words of eternal life (John 6:68), but he must give us eyes to see. The waiting just reminds us who is responsible for the victories.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

For Weak and Weary Pilgrims


One of my favorite Christian books is Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. I first read an abridged version when I was young, and I was enthralled by Christian's journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It was an exciting adventure complete with hair-raising escapes and evil villains. But it wasn't until I was an adult that I began to appreciate how much Bunyan drew from the Scriptures as he laid out the believer's journey from the moment of conversion to the final destination of heaven.

I was naturally drawn to the main characters of Christian, Faithful who dies a martyr's death in Vanity Fair, and Hopeful who became Christian's new companion. These are heroic figures who persevere through affliction until they cross the river and are welcomed by the King of the city. But lately I've been encouraged by several of the minor pilgrims in Part II: Mr. Ready-to-Halt, Mr. Feeble-Mind, Mr. Despondency, and his daughter Much-Afraid. Yes, their names don't sound brave at all, but I can relate to these characters in more ways than one.

It's easy to get the idea that "good" Christians experience nothing but victory after victory with nary a temptation or struggle until they cross the finish line in a blaze of glory. But I wonder if the race looks less like a sprint and more like a marathon where the runners are exhausted with just enough strength to drag themselves across the finish line or are carried over by their comrades. It's in these moments of weakness that we realize how much we need the family of the faith to be arms of support when it's hard to take the next step. Whether we are the givers or receivers of this help, we aren't meant to go it alone, and Bunyan gives a moving example of this.

After being rescued by Mr. Great-Heart, Mr. Feeble-Mind confesses that he is a burden to himself and to the rest. However, Mr. Great-Heart responds in this way:
But, brother, said. Mr. Great-heart, I have it in commission to “comfort the feeble-minded,” and to “support the weak” (1 Thess. 5:14). You must needs go along with us; we will wait for you; we will lend you our help (Rom. 14:1); we will deny ourselves of some things, both opinionative and practical, for your sake (1 Cor. 8), we will not enter into doubtful disputations before you; we will be made all things to you, rather than you shall be left behind  (1 Cor. 9:22).1

What is also beautiful is that these weak and weary saints are still pilgrims who finish the race, only leaving their infirmities when they take the last stretch across the river. They are welcomed by the King just as much as Mr. Great-Heart and Mr. Valiant. Why is that?
When Jesus Christ counts up His Jewels at the last day He will take to Himself the little pearls as well as the great ones. If a diamond be never so small yet it is precious because it is a diamond. So will faith, be it never so little, if it be true faith, Christ will never lose even the smallest jewel of His crown. Little-faith is always sure of heaven, because the name of Little-faith is in the book of eternal life. Life-faith was chosen of God before the foundation of the world. Little-faith was bought with the blood of Christ; ay, and he cost as much as Great-faith.2

Regardless of whether we feel strong or weak, the former does not add to our salvation, and the latter does not disqualify us. We are saved in the same way - by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB)

1. The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pp. 229-230.
2. Mr. Ready-to-Halt and His Companions, Charles Spurgeon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Difficult Passages Series: Judges 19 and The Gospel

Identity & the Gospel in Judges 19
Difficult Passages for Women Series



Whenever speakers or expositors read the passage in Judges 19:1-30, they invariably take great care to caution their listeners about the horrific events contained therein. Such is the depth of the concubine’s suffering, degradation, and circumstances of depravity. At the end of the chapter, even the author declares:
All who saw it said, “Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel and speak up!” (Judges 19:30, New American Standard Bible).

Placing the Judges 19 account within the larger context of the book of Judges brings out the doctrine of the depravity of man and the wretched state of the culture in those days, whereby everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes, because there was no king to rule (Judges 17:6, 19-1, 21-25). 


The story of the Judges 19 woman begins with a magnifying glass on her own sinful condition (v. 2), but quickly turns to the sinfulness of those around her and the culture at large. By the end of Judges 19, the concubine's story graphically depicts the reality that in a culture, given over to autonomous self-gratification, the death wages of sin typically pour out on its weakest members.

With that backdrop, I also hope that women will come to see how the truth of the Gospel of Christ can speak into even the dark, hopeless state of the Judges 19 woman. We can and should bring the Gospel message to bear even in these utterly hard passages.


Covenantal Nature of Identity.

First, let’s consider the covenantal nature of our identity. Contrary to covenant, none of the characters in Judges 19 account are named. Each of the participants is essentially an anonymous entity, likely intended to convey meaning on several levels. For instance, the Levite, the stranger, the father, and the concubine are representatives, like the literary “everyman,” who in this case ties us back to the point at the time of the Judges, when everyone was doing what they saw as right in their own eyes. The collective identity of Israel was indistinguishable from the depraved, Gentile surrounding culture. In those days, Israel's depravity had become as bad -- or worse -- than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-29)

In this way, the concubine represents the people of Israel as a whole, individually enslaved by sin, and collectively abandoned to wickedness by the very leaders (represented by the father and the Levite) who were responsible for their well-being. But other layers of meaning concerning the anonymity of the concubine apply here as well. For instance, concubines who were barren or who did not provide a male heir to their masters were not named in the Hebrew Scriptures. A concubine derived her identity in the covenant community from fulfilling the particular role of heir-bearing. Otherwise, she would typically not be remembered by name within the historical covenant narratives.

Individual Nature of Identity.

Similarly, today, women associated with the dehumanizing acts of sexual abuse, or perhaps enslaved to sexual sin, suffer greatly with issues of identity, due to inherent objectification in society, along with perhaps finding themselves defined by past sexual relations. The shame they bear, both spiritually and culturally, often causes women to become silent, hidden, and even go underground. They, like the Judges 19 concubine, become anonymous entities whose lives matter little to their depraved masters, or the culture around them.


But…. these deep issues of identity as women in societies where illicit sexual circumstances anonymize and silence its victims are redeemable by our Lord Jesus, who is our true King.

True Identity.

Even in a land where people are selfishly and murderously doing only what they want to do, Jesus really is the true and better Israel. He stepped up as King, also took the place of the priest — and the concubine. He became the true Everyman, for those who believe on him.

He is the perfect Husband who protects his bride. He doesn’t treat her as a concubine, but rather as his cherished possession. Jesus, unlike the Levite and the stranger, doesn't give his bride over to the enemy to have his way with her and abuse her. Instead, our King Jesus leaves his Father's house to reverse the curse. He comes to his Bride and offers his own body to go out in the bride’s place — to be torn apart for the twelve tribes of Israel.

Instead of allowing her to be given over, without hope or any possibility for rescue and to forever have her name forgotten, Jesus gave himself up on the cross for his bride. Now, her name is written on his hands (Isaiah 49:16) and she is his eternally. His body, battered and bloodied, serves as a reminder to the Church, that we are his people, and that he is our true King, Redeemer, Priest, and Husband.
 Jesus's broken body calls us to assemble together in unity and peace because of his blood sacrifice, much like the oxen Saul cut to pieces to call the Israelites together for war (1 Samuel 11:7).

Remembering and Reminding.

Likewise, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a corporate reminder of the reality of Christ’s rescue. We need to remind one another and to be reminded of this Gospel truth. The prophet Hosea in chapters 9 and 10 looks back to the days of the Judges in order to warn Ephraim that they are behaving as those in Gibeah (Judges 19:15) by going after false gods and idols (Hosea 9:9). They had forgotten who they are; Whose they are; to Whom they belong. They were forgetting their husband, over and over and over.

Do we remind each other that we are his bride and that he has redeemed us as the prophet Hosea was called to redeem his bride, Gomer? That at one time we were not a people (Hosea 1:10; 1 Peter 2), but we too were delivered out of bondage and slavery (Exodus 20:2) and out of the kingdom of death and darkness (Col. 1:13) -- by the One who took our place and has called us by name? 


We are all prone to wander and forget our True King and Redeemer. He calls us to seek refuge in his Father's house; unlike the Levite, the strange, and the father in Judges 19, our Lord will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).


To be continued...

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Letting Go and Letting God

My children are all grown now, and there are many joys that come with this. There have been wonderful sons and daughters-in-law added to the family, and grandchildren, too. I am reaping welcome rewards for the many years I spent rearing my children.

But I will also admit that this is the hardest stage of parenting for me. Rebellious teenagers were still ultimately under my control. But now? I can give advice when asked, but I really don’t have a say in how my adult children lead their lives. I no longer have control over them.

My sons and daughters are, for the most part, sensible and hard-working. There is much to be proud of, and no good reason for me to be anxious, but I am. Each one of my children was my responsibility for eighteen years, and it is hard to let go. It is difficult to see them making decisions I wouldn’t make, taking risks I wouldn’t take, doing things I wouldn’t do. And I still want to protect them. Truth be told, I still want to control them.

My youngest son, who is in his twenties, likes to camp in the wilderness—the kind of wilderness with no cell coverage—alone with his dog. His truck is old, and although it’s been trustworthy so far, let’s be honest: An old vehicle can break down any time. And then there are bears. The bears in the north have been behaving badly this year. Logically, I know that if my son’s truck broke down, he’d be able to hike out. And despite a few publicized bear incidents, it is still unlikely that one will bother him. Yet every time he goes camping, I am anxious until he returns safely.

I have a friend who tells me he was a risk-loving, wild teenager. He once asked his father how he survived his son's daring teenaged years.

“On my knees,” his father answered. “On my knees.”

I’m learning this lesson, too. Persistent pleas to our faithful God are as crucial to parents of grown or nearly-grown sons and daughters as they are to parents of babies and toddlers. Our children leave our care, but they never leave his. They may be beyond our control, but they are never beyond his.

Our good and faithful God is always with us, and he is always with our children, too. He hears our pleas when we can’t voice them to our kids. He can be trusted when our sons and daughters can’t.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God . . . casting your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” — and your adult children, too (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Expendable


I recently finished J.I. Packer's excellent book Re-discovering Holiness. It was convicting. There were many occasions when I was forced to point a finger at myself. One such moment was while reading the chapter "Growing Strong: The Empowered Christian Life."

Packer discusses things we should be doing as we seek to manifest God's power in our own lives. One of those things is meeting the needs of others. He says: "It is right to be a channel of divine power into other people's lives at their point of need." Who doesn't like to feel needed? As he often does, however, he cautions the reader. All good principles can be abused.

We are to find our personal worth in God's redeeming love, not in the feeling of being needed. While we should meet the needs of those around us, deriving our sense of worth from being needed is not wise. Serving others to make ourselves feel good is not love, either.

Packer says:
If I am using my neighbours to bolster my sense of self-worth, I am using them, which is something different from loving them.
How do I react to the truth that God doesn't really need me? Do I believe it? Do I doubt that God can achieve his purposes without me? Do I meet the needs of someone from a heart of gratitude and and love, or am I seeking validation?

Packer then goes on to present a scenario that I found very convicting:
Imagine, now, a devoted and gifted Christian woman, whose ministry has been precious to her, finding that for quite a long period the Lord sidelines her so that her potential is not being used. What is going on? Is this spiritual failure? It is probably not spiritual failure at all, but a lesson in Christ's school of holiness. The Lord is reminding her that her life does not depend on finding that people need her. The prime source of her joy must always be the knowledge of God's love for her -- the knowledge that though he did not need her, he has chosen to love her freely and gloriously so that she may have the eternal joy of fellowship with him.*
How am I at being unnoticed? Being sidelined? About two years ago, my local church lost a sister in Christ who was serving the Lord faithfully. She had been doing so for many years, and the impact she'd had was noticeable. She was sidelined by illness. She was no longer able to do what she had done formerly, and ultimately, she succumbed to the illness. Fortunately, she was a woman who did not find her worth in being needed, but rather in who she was in Christ. How would I react if suddenly I was sidelined from serving? Do I secretly think that a particular ministry or task cannot be done without me? Do I really see that we are all expendable?

We serve the Lord because he allows us to. He works through us despite our weakness and despite our sin. He redeemed us despite what we deserve. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world because of his gracious love, not because he needed to. He works in us based on his love, not because he cannot do without us.

When my kids lived at home, they needed me, and I took joy in nurturing them. Now that the kids are older, they don't need me, but when they come home, I like to do things for them as if they do need me. But if I am looking for validation in being needed by my children -- or anyone else for that matter -- I'm looking in the wrong place. Far better to serve because of what God has done for me than for what I think I can do for him.

* I suspect these words could possibly generate cries of "Why is he picking on women?! Why doesn't he use a negative example of men?" I don't know, and I'm not going to make any assumptions.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Begun in grace and perfected in glory

The coming of Christ has been on my mind of late. Part of it is because my pastor has just finished preaching a series on Revelation. The other part is the lingering sorrow that has been weighing on my heart. I am not a melancholy person by nature, but I can't seem to shake this undercurrent of sadness. Don't get me wrong, there are many moments of joy and laughter. There are many times of encouragement in God's Word and with his people, but there is lament mixed with praise.

What is going on? Am I getting inundated with too much news? Has the optimism of youth been replaced with the pessimism of middle-age? Am I feeling helpless in the face of so much suffering that is not just out there but close to home? Christ's second coming is looking better and better, and yet his return isn't meant to be just an escape hatch from this broken and sin-cursed world.

In my weariness, I turned to the passage that everyone knows and loves - Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28 NASB) Too often I would pluck this verse out of its context. This time I read the whole chapter. I had never noticed Jesus' declaration that the Father had given all things to him right before his call for the weary to come to him. What is the connection between the two? Well, here is what Matthew Henry has to say:

All things are delivered unto me of my Father. Christ, as God, is equal in power and glory with the Father; but as Mediator he receives his power and glory from the Father; has all judgment committed to him. He is authorized to settle a new covenant between God and man, and to offer peace and happiness to the apostate world, upon such terms as he should think fit: he was sanctified and sealed to be the sole Plenipotentiary, to concert and establish this great affair. In order to this, he has all power both in heaven and in earth, ch. 28:18 ); power over all flesh (Jn. 17:2); authority to execute judgment, Jn. 5:22Jn. 5:27 . This encourages us to come to Christ, that he is commissioned to receive us, and to give us what we come for, and has all things delivered to him for that purpose, by him who is Lord of all. All powers, all treasures are in his hand....
Note, It is the duty and interest of weary and heavy laden sinners to come to Jesus Christ. Renouncing all those things which stand in opposition to him, or in competition with him, we must accept of him, as our Physician and Advocate, and give up ourselves to his conduct and government; freely willing to be saved by him, in his own way, and upon his own terms. Come and cast that burden upon him, under which thou art heavy laden. This is the gospel call, The Spirit saith, Come; and the bride saith, Come; let him that is athirst come; Whoever will, let him come. [3.] The blessing promised to those that do come: I will give you rest. Christ is our Noah, whose name signifies rest, for this same shall give us rest. Gen. 5:29 Gen. 8:9 . Truly rest is good (Gen. 49:15 ), especially to those that labour and are heavy laden, Eccl. 5:12 . Note, Jesus Christ will give assured rest to those weary souls, that by a lively faith come to him for it; rest from the terror of sin, in a well-grounded peace of conscience; rest from the power of sin, in a regular order of the soul, and its due government of itself; a rest in God, and a complacency of soul, in his love. Ps. 11:6Ps. 11:7. This is that rest which remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9 ), begun in grace, and perfected in glory.

I so appreciate what this brother has written. I can still long for Christ's return, but I don't have to wait until then to find rest. This Jesus who calls us to come to him isn't a small, weak savior. All authority has been given to him to fulfill the plan of redemption, and his resurrection testifies to that success. After his ascension, Jesus did not leave us to fend for ourselves like a deist deity who is not actively involved with creation. Rather, the fact that you and I are saved and that people continue to hear the gospel unhindered is proof that God is at work in the affairs of men. He carries the government on his shoulders. I just don't have the eyes to see it sometimes. And it is from a position of present omnipotence that he offers a rest that is better than earthly safety and security. He has given us freedom from condemnation, peace of conscience, and a love that casts out all fear. Do I always remember this? No, but thank God it does not depend on me but on him. Totally unearned and undeserved on my part. Freely given on his part. It's no wonder Matthew Henry writes, "This is that rest which remains for the people of God, begun in grace, and perfected in glory." Yes, and amen!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Three Faces of Redemptive Friendships


     Anyone who has ever had a two-faced friend will probably wonder how on earth redemptive friendships could have three faces? These three metaphorical faces of redemption have little to do with our physiognomy or the physical presentation of visages. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that in our approach toward cultivating redemptive friendships we ought to consider three different perspectives or orientations: 1) toward God, 2) toward self, and then 3) toward others.

      Our first priority to God leads us, as children of the Living God, upward, with open face toward the Lord and His purposes. Dr. John Frame called this upward face the “normative” perspective. He wrote in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God that the Bible provides the lens through which we see and ought to evaluate who we are, the world around us, and the truth claims to which we hold.

     Thus, by knowing the Bible, we come to better see the character and holiness of God, to understand ourselves, and to interpret our context. In turn, the epistemological cycle enables us to know the Scriptures and God better. As John Knox once stated in an address to the statesmen in his time, “The Scriptures of God are my only foundation and substance in all matters of weight and importance.” Furthermore, Paul wrote to Timothy, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:15-16, ESV). All things begin and end with the Scriptures, our firm foundation in our relationships with others, both inside and outside of the Church. 

     The first face of redemptive friendships turns us heavenward. 

     Next, with the second face or perspective, we ought to examine ourselves and our standing before our Holy God, cultivating an accurate inward awareness. The inward face represents our existential or experiential perspective, by which we come to understand our lives in light of the normative foundation. Experience bolstered by life in the church, under the preaching and sacraments, play a vital role in developing right knowledge of oneself and encouragement to learn and grow upward and outward.

     In terms of the experiential perspective, Frame wrote that every person brings their dispositions, temperaments, biases, presuppositions, and life experience into the act of knowing and experiencing God and each other. In fact, Frame stated, objective knowledge in and of itself is not sufficient, as that would presuppose a denial of our creature hood and thus a denial of the power of God’s Word for us. Therefore, we must know ourselves rightly.

     As John Calvin emphasized the importance of acknowledging our own sinfulness and our inclination toward idols, he taught that our hearts resemble idol factories because we are so prone toward seeking our own autonomy. He further reminds us that faith and repentance are not merely the beginning, but the whole of our Christian lives. It's no mistake that Jesus exhorts us his followers to remove the log from our own eye first before attempting to help our neighbors remove their speck (Matthew 7:1-5).

     Since we have been made in the image of God, the existential face should reflect knowledge of God's glory as it increases through our sanctification. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18, NASB). Hence, the second face calls us to cultivate a life of knowledge of self, characterized by a life of believing and penitence, in light of the holiness and love of God (the upward face). In so doing, the Holy Spirit enables us then to effectively consider the outward face.

     Our third face, or outward orientation, represents the situational perspective. This third stance refers to our interactions with external facts, things, objects, and people, in light of the normative and experiential – knowing God and knowing ourselves. It includes acknowledging and understanding history, science, civil law, and other tangible information, along with our own contexts and relationships. Viewing people and things from a situational perspective involves understanding how we express the normative (Truth of God’s Word) in everyday life.  Without a robust understanding of and compassion for our context and the world, our attempts to apply Scripture in our interactions risk failure -- or reversion to a futile status: a resounding gong, an echo chamber, or the reiteration of confirmation bias.

     So, how might this work out in specific situations? First, consider the normative command of Scripture -- the timeless, unchanging moral principle from God's Word. Next, all the normative, moral principle to transform our hearts as we assess our own lives in light of God's character. How does heart knowledge of this principle affect my standing with God, my sin, and my relationship with others? Where do I need to repent or possibly become more self-aware? "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him"  (James 1:5, NASB).

     Finally, we apply this wisdom to our relationships inside and outside of the church, as a result of our upward reorientation toward the Lord (love of God) and our inward application in our own lives. Include contextual or situational clues such as legal, medical, cultural, and community (local church) practices that impact our decisions, actions, and consequences. Go before God and seek His wisdom. Then, we effectively live outward toward love of neighbor. We are enabled to step out in faith toward neighbor, enacting the great commission, extending hospitality and kindness, and expressing the love of Christ in our spheres of influence.

     In this way, we reflect back to God, His glory and the knowledge of Him in acts of worship. Rather than basing our friendships on worldly wisdom or empty promises as the two-faced friend might, we cultivate redemptive friendships, based on a lasting foundation, with eternal implications.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Our favorite books of the Bible

Rebecca:

My favorite book of the Bible is Hebrews. It was while studying Hebrews that I began to get a handle on the true relationship between the old and new covenants, something that had previously confused me. The writer of Hebrews put it all together: The old covenant was ineffectual. It didn’t work—not because the covenant was bad, but because the covenant people were. Israel did not fulfill their requirements under the old covenant, so Yahweh promised a new one. And with the blood of Jesus the promise of a new covenant has been fulfilled. The new covenant offers a better hope through a better covenant with better promises and a better sacrifice. And it offers actual forgiveness of sin—forgiveness that is complete and final.

I also love Hebrew’s highlight on the “heavenly city” (or country) reminding us that our ultimate hope is not in this world, but in the world to come. Longing for and living for the heavenly city is what kept the saints before us faithful, and it's what will keep us faithful through all the trials of our lives, too.


Persis:

My favorite book of the Bible is Psalms. This book was a tremendous source of comfort during a very hard trial. I lost count of how many times I read it because when I would reach Psalm 150, I would go right back to the beginning. The psalmists put into words what I was not able to verbalize at the time. This gave me a way to pour out my heart to the Lord. I love how the psalms span the range of human experience and emotion, from spiritual "highs" and celebration to mourning and lament. I love the honesty of the words as the psalmist is wondering if God will ever be gracious again, but in these verses, I am constantly pointed back to who God is and His character. Truly a balm to a weary and tired soul.


Kim:

My favourite book of the Bible is I John. In five short chapters, there is much about who Jesus is, who we are, and what God has done for us. The book focuses a lot on the person of Christ, that he was not only human, but that he was one with the Father. We must know the Son in order to know the Father (5:11). The book also teaches us one of the most important things about what Christ did, that he was a propitiation (2:2; 4:10), that he turned away God's wrath. The book also contains the comforting verse, 1:9, where we are told that when we sin, God will forgive us our sins. We learn about love not only for God but for one another.

Another thing I like about the book is John's warm writing style. He writes in a pastoral, caring manner, as a father to his children. One of my favourite parts of I John is the use of the image of light/darkness. I always notice light in my surroundings, and when I take photos, I notice shades of light. The picture of walking in the light is a beautiful one, which I love. It is a short book, but full of rich teaching.


Deb:
Currently, my favorite book of the Bible is Ephesians. I love Ephesians, because it depicts both the doctrine and practical teaching needed for maturing Christians. The richness of theology in the first chapters establishes the foundations of Christian belief, which in turn fortifies growth in Christ and enables us to live with purpose and calling.

The book of Ephesians is intensely personal and at the same time highly corporate in nature. Beginning in the first chapter, Paul declares who we are as Children of God and followers of Christ, as well as the truth of who God is - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then, with a view to the body of Christ, we learn about the two amazing mysteries of the Gospel. First, Paul tells us how God reconciled two peoples into one-body unity, through Jesus’s atoning sacrifice. Then, he describes the profound mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ. After giving instructions for our relationships in the body and in our families, Paul follows closely with the famous spiritual warfare passages for standing firm in the midst of our daily struggle against powers of darkness. Come to think of it, I need more Ephesians.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Rhythm of the Christian Life


Right now, as I write this, I am sitting in a big rocker on the front porch enjoying the morning sunshine. One of my sons is in the driveway tinkering with his car, and another is in the vegetable garden, nailing together the box for a raised garden bed. I can hear the next-door neighbor, too, using some kind of power tool outside in his yard. The winters are long here—from October through April—so no one wants to waste a moment of the warmer temps and brighter skies. There will be a few Sundays over the summer when there will be no Sunday School at my church because too many teachers and too many children are gone. Yukon families love their summer weekend camping trips! I’m not saying these frequent church absences are good—they're not—but they are what they are. This it the rhythm of Yukon life: eight months stuck indoors, and then four months of freedom in the glorious landscape that surrounds us.

What is the rhythm of your life? Five workdays and then the weekend? Nine or ten months of school and then summer vacation? Or maybe every day is different and it seems like there is no rhythm at all. Still, there are probably patterns to your life, even if you don’t feel them—patterns of work, play, and rest, of wake time and sleep. 

And looking beyond—or deeper—than your daily physical life, do you see a rhythm to your spiritual life? Sinclair Ferguson says “the rhythm of the Christian’s life is always determined by the principle that when the revelation of God in His glory is grasped by faith, the response is to return all glory to God.” [1]  Theology should always result in doxology; the study of God should always lead to praise. 

When our lives and our days are busy, we tend to focus on getting tasks done. We have schedules and to-do lists, and we center everything around them. Is it any wonder, then, that when we think about how to apply the truths we learn about God, our first thoughts are practical ones: “What should I do? How can I serve? What duties should I add to my to-do list?”

This not how it ought to be. This is not—or shouldn't be—the rhythm of the Christian life. Sure, what we do is important, but our first response to knowledge of God and his ways should not be more action, but more praise. Truth, then worship, and then—maybe—action. Maybe, because sometimes an adoring heart is enough.

But always, hearts that sing go before hands that do. Right before his plea for believers to live transformed lives in service to God, the apostle Paul wrote a song of praise:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
           “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
                       or who has been his counselor?”
           “Or who has given a gift to him
                       that he might be repaid?”
          For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Paul urges his readers to pour out their lives in obedience to God because they have seen the glory of God through his work of salvation. They have just read of his "unsearchable judgments" and inscrutable ways." Surely their hearts, like Paul's, are already bursting with praise! “To him be glory forever” is the reason for “I appeal to you . . . to present your bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 11:33-12:2).” Keeping the rhythm, Paul puts a song of praise before the call to service.

What is the rhythm of your Christian life? Are you regularly learning about God? Do you see his acts in creation, providence, and salvation, and glimpse his goodness? And when you do, are you taking time to praise him in return? Are you stopping to rejoice in his goodness? Not because it’s the next thing on your list of things to do, but because it’s what comes naturally. (Or perhaps, since we're talking about spiritual things, we should say it's what comes supernaturally.) Are you grasping God in his glory by faith and then returning all glory to him? Is this the rhythm of your life?



[1] Beeke, Joel R., Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust Publishing 2008), 388.