Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: Contend

I had the privilege of reviewing Aaron Armstrong's new book Contend, published by Cruciform Press. I was excited to do so since I have enjoyed reading Aaron's blog for quite a while now...plus, I just really enjoy books, particularly books that don't cost me anything. Thankfully I wasn't disappointed.

Using the book of Jude as his foundation, Contend addresses three main things: what is contending and why we ought to do it, what we should contend for, and how to contend well for the glory of God.

In American culture, we are really good at segregating - church stays at church and it doesn't affect the rest of our life. We like to just be able to go along with everything and not cause "problems". But Aaron argues that if we truly know who God is and what He has done and if we truly take our faith seriously, we will contend against anything or anyone who comprises the truth of Christianity, specifically the authority of Scripture, the nature of God, and the gospel. He says:
To face inward, affirming and clarifying among and between orthodox believers everything God has done for us—this is a necessary, ongoing activity of the church. But that must not and cannot be our exclusive preoccupation. We must also at times—as a necessary complementary activity—be intentional about facing outward, contending with those who deny who God is and what he has done, whether these voices come from within the church or without.
I was blessed by the clarity with which he explained and defending contending. He illustrates how willing we are to contend for what is important to us in every other area; our love for the Lord ought to bring out the same response:
This idea that we don’t need to defend—or at best rarely need to defend—something we love is ludicrous. If we are willing to offer defense for our families, our political preferences, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, how much more should we be willing to offer a defense of the gospel? If we truly love Jesus and if we truly care about the well being of the Church then we must contend. 
Overall, Contend was well worth reading. It is a clear and concise application of Jude that is both theological and practical. What Aaron Armstrong set out to do, he did well. I left with a better understanding of what I should contend for, why and how.

But, at least for me, the best thing about Contend is that it gave me a vision of the joy that is found in contending for truth. I am sometimes loathe to speak out because I am afraid of offending or turning people away from the gospel. And sometimes, I'd rather just keep quiet - it's simpler. But Contend reminded me of the glorious truth that I get to contend for these things, by the Lord's strength and His glory:
So it is and will be in our every act of contending; it is God who will give the increase—not our strength, persistence, persuasiveness, charm, or cultural relevance. Despite our foolish words and wavering hearts, God delights to use us as his instruments. Let us delight in this as well!
Contending is, as Aaron puts it, both a sacred duty and a great delight. Contend was well worth my time, and I believe yours, because it reminded me of that truth.

(I was given a free copy of Contend to give an honest review. There were no obligations other than I read the book and share my thoughts here.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

He Grips Our Soul

Another gem from Samuel Rutherford.
"And withal, consider how, in all these trials (and truly they have been many), your Lord hath been loosing you at the root from perishing things, and hunting after you to grip your soul. Madam, for the Son of God's sake, let Him not miss His grip, but stay and abide in the love of God." 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Face to Face

I have just finished reading through the book of Deuteronomy, and I was struck by the description of Moses at the end of chapter 34:
10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
 I love the description of the relationship Moses had with God: face to face. While the people of Israel had only a secondary knowledge of God through His messengers and His works, Moses knew God face to face. Additionally, God used Moses powerfully - none of the other prophets even came close to experiencing the same work of God displayed through their lives...until the Son.

Jesus is so clearly the true and better Moses! While Moses' knowledge of God is called face to face, it really wasn't, at least not in the fullest sense of the phrase. Moses talked with God, of course, but he did so through a burning bush or through prayer. Moses asked to see God, and he did - but only his back. Although what Moses experienced was a much greater revelation than the rest of the people, it was not a full glimpse of the glory of God. But Jesus is different. He truly did know God face to face, in the most intimate sense. He was and is God. What Moses was not allowed to know because of his sin, Jesus knows because He is the standard for holiness. What Moses was not allowed to see, Jesus has seen in its fullest glory.

What Jesus has done is also true and better! Yes, the greatness of God was displayed in what Moses did in Egypt and everywhere else. But Jesus displays God's greatness to the entire world. He displays the most perfect picture of justice and holiness and mercy and grace. The signs and wonders that He performed were greater because they did not just lead to the freedom of an enslaved race, but to the freedom of all mankind who will come to Him. This is the good news.

And because of Jesus, the true and better Moses, we can behold the glory of God. The veil between God and man was ripped in two because of the cross and we can be very bold. 2 Corinthians 3 reminds us that:
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end... 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 
Because of Jesus, we have a much clearer picture of the glory of God. But there is an even greater truth found in 1 Corinthians 13.
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
One day, we, like Moses, like Jesus, will see the great and glorious Creator of the Universe face to face. What that looks like, I am not sure. I only know that it something that I long for and desire.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

He Completes the Work

That's how it goes - He completes it. Not me. His timing - not mine - is perfect. So frustrated today by how far I still have to go. So overwhelmed by the sin that I see. Just when I feel like I'm making progress I see so much more that still needs to be accomplished. But I'm reminded that He will complete the work. Someday I will be fully sanctified, fully glorified. But that is not right now.

He is gracious, though, abundantly so. I do not see all my sin right now nor do I need to. What I do see gives me plenty to practice my obedience on. He reveals what I need to know when I need to know it. His goal is not to condemn me but to transform me.

And because of the cross, there is hope! I do not have to be discouraged when I see my sin - it doesn't change my standing before the Lord. Rather, I ought to be encouraged that He is revealing it to me as sin and is gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) loosening my grip on all that my sinful heart holds dear.   Even my grief over my sin is evidence of his gracious work.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Never Grow Old

I've been listening to this song on repeat all morning. Beautiful hope.

Friday, October 12, 2012

On Loving Regardless

Earlier this week, I really was struggling with a friend of mine - she has been cranky lately and it doesn't seem to matter how much I tried to do to love her so that she felt loved, she still wasn't treating me like I felt that I deserved to be treated based on all that I had done.

When I went for my run one night, I was fuming. How could she treat me like this? Surely if I had been in the same situation I would have been more kind and considerate. But then I remembered. I am in that situation. The Lord has loved me graciously and abundantly in spite of all that I have done. And even though I know that I am the recipient of his love and I have experienced it in so many ways that I can see and point to, I still do not respond in the way that the Lord deserves.

So I was wrong. I'm not very good at loving people when it doesn't benefit me or I don't see a response. When I enjoy spending time with someone, loving them is easy. But I am called to love regardless. What that love looks like is different in different situations. But my response must not be to base my love on the love that I feel I am receiving. In Jesus, I am more loved than I can ever describe or imagine. And that is enough. And so by the grace of God, I am growing in my loving.
"Here is a spiritual principle: We cannot exercise love unless we are experiencing grace. You cannot truly love others unless you are convinced that God’s love for you is unconditional, based solely on the merit of Christ, not on your performance. John said, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love, either to God or to others, can only be a response to His love for us." - Jerry Bridges

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If He Comes, It Is Well

I've been reading through a collection of Samuel Rutherford's letters lately and have been blessed by his wisdom and perspective. One letter in particular has encouraged me greatly, and I thought I would share some of my favorite parts.

"We may indeed think, Cannot God bring us to heaven with ease and prosperity? Who doubteth but He can? But His infinite wisdom thinketh and decreeth the contrary; and though we cannot see a reason for it, yet he hath a most just reason...Nay, whether God come to His children with a rod or a crown, if He come Himself with it, it is well. Welcome, welcome Jesus, what way soever Thou come, if we can get a sight of Thee." - Samuel Rutherford
Amen! If He comes, it ought to indeed be well with our souls.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Don't Nullify the Grace of God

Many mornings when my alarm goes off early enough to allow me enough time to spend time in the Word before work, I groan, turn it off and sleep for another half hour. But each time that happens, I go through my day feeling guilty that I slept rather than woke up. And honestly if I do take the time to read and pray later, I usually do it to somehow maintain the Lord's favor - clearly if I chose sleep over Scripture then He must not be happy with me. And I struggle with this in so many areas of my life - I obey the law because, even though I know that I am saved, God is more pleased with me when I do those things.

In the weekly Bible study, we've been discussing the book of Galatians. It's been interested to dissect and consider the depth of Paul's argument for the gospel and most nights I have left feeling significantly more conviction than I anticipated. Last week we finished chapter 2:
19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
                                                                                                                                                   - Galatians 2:19-21

Did you catch that ending? "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." For so long I skipped over this verse - of course I'm not nullifying the grace of God - I fully believe that I am saved by the blood of Jesus alone. But then I realized that even though I do not nullify His grace in salvation, I often do in sanctification.

Because of Christ's completed, finished work on the cross, there is nothing I can do that will make God love me more and nothing I can do that will make Him love me less. And when I read my Bible so that God will be pleased with me, I nullify His grace. When I don't do something because it make God love me more, I nullify His grace. It's not that those things are bad! But I ought to read Scripture because I love the Word and, more than that, the God who gives the Word. I shouldn't do something that I believe is wrong - that is honoring to the Lord. But I should do it because of who I am in Jesus, because I am saved by His blood, and righteous before the Lord, not because it gives me special standing with God.

My friends, may we never nullify His grace in salvation. But may we also never nullify the grace of God in our living. We are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). When God looks on our works, He sees not what we have done, but what Jesus has done. And there is nothing that we could ever add to that. Praise God!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Five Things Friday

1. I am so glad that the weather is finally cooler...my love for running has finally awakened itself again. I did my longest run in four months this week and it had lots of hills too!

2. The more you know people and places the easier it is to see the sin that is found there. The Lord has been gently reminding me that I know and see those things so that I can pray and so that I can be reminded of the importance of my obedience. He will do the changing in His timing.

3. It is now October 5th and I have still not had anything pumpkin. Rest assured, however, that my grocery shopping tomorrow will include pumpkin and I will baking this weekend - pumpkin spice bagels, pumpkin frozen yogurt, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread - who really knows what I will choose? But it will be good, whatever I end up making.

4. Lunch dates are a great thing. Breaking up the work day with friends is more of a blessing than I ever realized it would be.

5. I have been listening to this song over and over. Beautiful harmonies, beautiful truths.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Content to Sit at His Feet

(Sorry it's been a quiet week on the blog...I've been busy and haven't had a lot to say.)

When I read the story of Mary and Martha in Scripture, I've always sympathized with Martha. I love to move - I love to be busy, to be serving. I know what it feels like to think that you are the only one who is accomplishing what needs to be done while everyone else merely sits.

But I'd always thought that Martha's sin was found in the fact that her priorities were wrong. And certainly that was part of the issue. But this past week I've begun to wonder if maybe there wasn't something deeper going on, something that I have realized is a sin that is in my heart.

You see, I am not content to just sit at the feet of Jesus. I don't feel as if that is enough. I want people to see me moving and serving, going the extra mile. I want them to see  how much I love the Lord through the way that I live. And that isn't bad! It is good to display the abundant grace of God. But that is often not my motivation, to display the greatness and glory of what God has done. Rather, I want people to see me, to see how sanctified I am and how much I serve.

And that is why I am not content to sit and just be in His presence. Not solely because my priorities are wrong, but because it means I will be giving up an idol. When I sit at His feet, no one sees me. They see only Him. And my sinful, rebellious heart is not satisfied with that.

I have always struggled being alone. I begin to feel lonely so quickly. And though friends and people are a blessing from the Lord that is a good thing, when I feel dissatisfied being alone for even a few hours one night a week, that reveals sin. It reveals that Jesus is not enough for my heart. Sometimes, as silly as it is, I feel like if people who I like and respect are spending time together and I am not there, I am not as legitimate, loved or valued as everyone else. And that is often why I dread being alone - because no one sees me, because I find my worth in other people.

But then today as I was thinking through why I don't like spending time by myself, the Lord brought this story to mind, and reminded me of the sufficiency of Christ. To sit and learn from Him, I have to know who I am - a precious treasure of the Lord's, not because of who I am, but because of the all-surpassing greatness of the price that was paid for my life and salvation. It is a treasure in a jar of clay. I am hidden in the Lord Jesus - when the Father looks at me, He does not see what I have done, but what Christ has done. I will never be more or less loved by God. My identity is secure in Jesus Christ.

I want to be like Mary, able and desiring to sit at the feet of my Savior - she knew what the best thing was, and it did not matter who was looking or who was not. I don't know whether Mary and Martha felt these things...but what I do know is that the Lord gently reminded me today through their story that He is enough. I do not need to prove myself to other people or to Him through the way I serve or love; I do not need to always be with people in order to be assured that I am valued and loved. He is sufficient for those things - Christ is sufficient for me. He is the one who makes me worthy by His infinite worth. Praise Him.