Friday, March 29, 2013

Weekend Links 3/30

Did Luke Write Hebrews - This is fascinating, absolutely fascinating, especially since my Bible study is now working our way through Hebrews.

The Old Man and His Big Book - Wonderful stories from the life a faithful saint.

10 Things I've Learned about Church Drama - "Drama. Gossip. Back-stabbing. Politics. Jockeying for power. Rumors. It’s destructive and has no part in the local church. I've seen lots of it. And, along the way I've learned a few things."

Tired of Gay Marriage Debates - "So I ask you to consider these questions. Don’t fall prey to your emotions or the tide of opinion – on either side. Don’t make the mistake of using the wrong medium for ardent thoughts. Above all, be a witness, not of your political views but of your faith. What will make Jesus more beautiful, hopeful, and joyful in the eyes of those who have yet to meet Him?"

10 Reasons to be Thankful for Feeling Broke - "I use the word “broke” really intentionally. We’re not poor. We’re just in one of those seasons where things seem extra tight, and we feel extra frustrated by the lack of freedom we have financially. But the more I obsess over it, the more I realized that living with less is actually a blessing. Here’s why."

It's the Little Things; Ok, It's the Big Things Too - I am so thankful for how R.C. Sproul, Jr. is walking through his grief.

Holy Week and the Insomnia of Jesus - "Why could Jesus sleep so peacefully through a life-threatening sea-storm, and yet is awake all night in the olive garden before his arrest, crying out in anguish? Why are the disciples pulsing with adrenaline as the ship is tossed about on the Galilee Lake, but drifting off to slumber as the most awful conspiracy in human history gets underway?"

Don't Let Systematic Theology Mess with Your Head - "Should we study systematic theology? Of course! It’s invaluable. But when reading God’s word, let each passage speak for itself first. Let it cut you and heal you, bind you and break you."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Cup He Drank

Today is Good Friday; a sobering day for quiet reflection. The theme of my church's service tonight is, "He drank our cup that we might drink His." The Old Testament speaks often of the cup of God's wrath that the wicked will drink:
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed,and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)
Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’ (Jeremiah 25:27-29)
But then in Isaiah 51, we are given the first glimmer of hope, the first hinting of the cup that Christ would later drink for us:
Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: "Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more." (Isaiah 51:22)
And then, many years later, we find Jesus in Gethsemane, praying that the Lord would remove this cup from Him. He knew the fullness of the wrath that He would drink, and yet, His prayer was, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matthew 26:42).

And He did drink it, the cup of God's wrath. And when it was empty, he declared, "It is finished," and the curtain in the temple was torn in two, split from top to bottom.

The wrath that we could never satisfy was drained dry by the One who could never deserve it. And now we drink of His cup, an inheritance that Peter describes as "imperishable, undefiled and unfading". This is a glorious thing. 

Song: My Hope is Jesus

This song has the most plays of any on my I-Tunes account, for good reason. This is the perfect time of year to be reminded that our hope is only found in the Lord Jesus! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Seasons...

On Monday, I was officially accepted into seminary! I have been thinking about grad school for a while now, and I finally decided that I might as well pursue it. I have both the time and the money to do so right now and I love structured learning. I want to be better equipped to serve at my church and to minister to the different people that the Lord has placed in my life. Additionally, I believe we need more women in the church who take their theological education seriously, whether through studying at home or through organized school. Either way, it's essential that we are able to speak truth to each other, our families and friends.

The biggest reason I finally decided that it was time to apply was because I realized that even if I only take 5 or 6 classes and then stop for whatever reason, it won't be wasted. I don't have to have a degree for learning to have been worth the effort.

So I applied to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. And on Monday I was accepted. I start in the fall, although not much will change, since I will be attending part-time, long-distance online. The bills still have to be paid! My hope is to attend long distance for several years, and then spend a year in KY finishing my degree...which could be one of many options. At this point, it is a Master of Arts in Theological Studies for Laypeople, which is wonderful because I get five elective classes. I can take anything that I would like! However, while this is my declared major, I have by no means officially decided. There are too many things I would like to learn!

So there you go...a new season begins soon. A season of school and full-time work. But I am excited to learn and study more intentionally again. I'm sure that I will have lots to share as this new season begins!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Give Thought to Jesus

If you have read this blog for any time at all, you have probably figured out that I thoroughly enjoy reading anything by C.S. Lewis. While I by no means agree with his views on everything, he is one of my favorite writers. I spent some time this weekend reading through papers that I wrote during my senior year of high school and came across one about The Great Divorce. It was interesting to see what quotes have changed the way I think, even though I had forgotten about them. This was one:
There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself…as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity they never gave a thought to Christ.
I struggle with this. I love knowledge and learning, and by nature I love rules - the structure that they provide is comforting and safe to me. But my desire always is that I would not just know about the Lord, but that I would know Him. I want to know Jesus, to boldly sing of His sweetness in all things, because I know in the deepest way the truth of His goodness. Defending the faith is good, but it is only good to the extent that it leads us to the Source of all truth and goodness.

Weekend Links 3/23

I'm posting these a bit early this weekend because when I get off of work today, I'm headed camping with a few friends from church, where I will gladly give up all computer access for the joy of hiking, campfires and friendships. See you all in a few days!

Sibling Rivalry in the Church - "As soon as I see her as sister, I must see her as my equal. That's a hard pill for many of us to swallow. If she is my sister, there is no hierarchy--not one of us better than the other, not one prettier or more deserved or more important or more worthy."

It Is Not We Who Can Sustain the Church - Marc Cortez shares a wonderful reminder from Martin Luther.

After Steubenville: 25 Things our Sons Need to Know About Manhood - "When the prevailing thinking is boys will be boys — girls will be garbage. And that is never the heart of God."

I am not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter - This comes with a strong language warning, but it is an important reminder. "The truth is that I am someone’s wife. I am also someone’s mother. I am someone’s daughter, and someone’s sister. But those are not the things that define me, or make me valuable in this world. Those are not the reasons that I should be able to live a life free from rape, sexual assault or any kind of violent crime."

An Open Letter to the Church from A Lesbian - "We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not what we shall be, but thank God, we are not what we were."

The Sentence Against God - Beautiful, beautiful truths. Don't miss this.

Confessions of a Woman Who Didn't Like Theology - "Nevertheless, I'm convinced you should care, and here's why: I represent members of your church. Maybe a large segment, maybe a smaller one, but I guarantee they're out there. With this reality in mind, l'd like to offer three insights from an unnatural theology lover."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: Galatians for You

I was excited to have the opportunity to review Tim Keller's newest book, Galatians for You. As many of you know, my Bible study recently went through the book of Galatians. This was the perfect follow-up in helping me to expand upon and apply what I had learned during that study.

Keller devotes two or three chapters to each chapter of Galatians. Each chapter has two parts, with the first part addressing the more technical and theological issues relating to the text, and the second applying the passage to issues around us. Keller's goal is that we, like Paul in Galatians, would see the gospel not only as the starting point for the Christian life, but as the center point of our entire walk with the Lord. He says, "We are not only justified by faith in Christ, we are also sanctified by faith in Christ. We never leave the gospel behind."

And that is really what this book does - helps us to not leave the gospel behind in any area of our lives. This book is Keller doing what Keller does best: applying the gospel to everything. How does the gospel influence our work? Our view of race? Our interactions within the church? Keller answers each of these questions, and many more, using the book of Galatians.

One of the best parts of this commentary is its simplicity. While Keller doesn't shy away from any difficult or controversial issues, he addresses them in a way that is easy to follow and easy to understand why those issues matter. The content is engaging, but doesn't move away from the text.

At one point, Keller quotes an old hymn, which says:
Lay your deadly "doing" down -
Down at Jesus' feet.
Standing in Him, in Him alone -
Gloriously complete. 
Ultimately, I think that is what Galatians for You helps to accomplish. By pointing us continuously to the completed work of Christ on the cross, Keller helps us to see what the Lord's words are to us through Galatians: find our sufficiency in Christ alone. It is a glorious theme.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekend Links 3/16

Wurmbrand - Wonderful stories from the bold witness of Richard Wurmbrand.

When We Lie About Praying to Others: 7 Thoughts - "Someone approaches me and asks for prayer. It might be right after I've spoken somewhere. So I tell them I will most certainly pray for them. But I don’t. I forget about their heartfelt request as soon as I start talking to the next person."

On Looking - Thought-provoking article that forces you to consider what you have been missing as you see the world around you. So many things to learn and explore!

Learning Not to Learn from your Mistakes - "Much of maturity is learning how to learn without needing mistakes to do it, especially not the intentional missteps."

Missing Out on Beautiful - "I used to think that the world was the objective observer and my view of Penny was skewed by my love for her. I now believe that love is the only way to see the truth, and that for years I was simply missing out on beautiful."

'Imago Dei' in a Nursing Home - "But in practice, does our own culture demonstrate a similar devaluing of personhood? Do our actions indicate that deep down we believe life is worth less when an older adult can no longer live independently or contribute to society? Do we consider people less valuable the day they can no longer feed and toilet themselves, the day they fail to recognize the face that stares blankly back at them in the mirror?"

What to Do When You Can't See Straight - "When God opens the eyes of our hearts then we can see him for who he is. And when we see who he is then we understand certain things that will change the way we look at ourselves and our situations."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

He is the True End

I just finished A Grief Observed; I would highly recommend it. It's a very honest journey through Lewis' grief and very helpful as we consider how to respond Biblically to the tragedies that we will experience here on this earth. One of my favorite quotes comes near the end. He says,
Am I, for instance, just sidling back to God because I know that if there's any road to H. [his wife], it runs through Him? But then of course I know perfectly well that He can't be used as a road. If you're approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you're not really approaching Him at all. That's what was really wrong with all those popular pictures of happy reunions "on the further shore;" not the simple-minded and very earthly images, but the fact that they make an End of what we can get only as a by-product of the true End. 
And this is the truth...Scripture makes it clear that the Lord Himself is the point of everything. Everything is because of Him and for Him.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Video: An Adoption Story

I love this beautiful story of a domestic adoption that I came across a few days ago. Cue the tears...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brothers and Sisters in Eastern Europe

My home church has partnered with a few different missionaries and ministries in a small, poor country in Eastern Europe for several years now (I'm not saying the name for the protection of my dear friends). While the Soviet Union is officially no more, the government in this place continues to operate in a very similar way. There is very little religious freedom and very little spiritual interest.

This past week, two pastors and one of their wives were here with us. It is always such an encouragement to see them. They claim that they are so refreshed to come and visit us, but I hardly think that they are more strengthened than we are.

Their ministry is hard. Most churches have between 10-30 members; several pastors have been in an area for 15 or 20 years and still have only seen 10 people come to know the Lord during that whole time. Christians are not treated well and their are many legal restrictions on their activities. Additionally, the economic state of their country often means that churches cannot support their pastor part-time, much less full-time. They usually work multiple jobs to provide for their families. Life is difficult.

But...their faithful service and their commitment to the gospel are so honoring to the Lord and a blazing testimony to His grace. One of the things that they repeated over and over as they were sharing with us yesterday is that their ministry in their home and our ministry here in the States are not two different ministries, but one unified proclamation and display of God's grace, in response to the gospel, for His glory. It is so sweet and beautiful to be reminded that God is working worldwide. We have the opportunity to truly love and support our brothers and sisters in prayer, in training, in encouragement, in finances and more.

But in our loving and supporting, we are not the losers, not by any means. Instead, as we share the Lord's blessing with them, they share His blessing with us. I left church yesterday reminded of how firm the gospel remains in the midst of tragedy and heartbreak because I had seen the testimony of those who lived it. I left reminded that the most important thing I can spend my life and my resources on is proclaiming the truth about Jesus because  they give everything to do that.

So today, I ask and encourage you to pray for our dear brothers and sisters. Pray for God's provision for them, for encouragement and strengthening in the truth of the gospel, for open hearts and fertile ground, for training in the Word of God, and most of all, that God would be glorified by them. I know that they appreciate your prayers!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Weekend Links 3/9

Create a Contrast Culture in Your Church - "So how do these embassies of Christ's rule cultivate a culture of discipling, of evangelism, of mutual care and hospitality?"

Interview with David Platt - "I corresponded with Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, about unconverted believers, whether the gospel's a call to life or to death, creating a culture of discipleship in our churches, and more."

A Gracious Recipient: The Flip Side of Hospitality - Helpful thoughts on how we ought to respond to being shown hospitality. "As I ponder more on hospitality, I've discovered that recipients of hospitality could use a little more refining as well. Whether because of a love of independence or pride or misplaced humility, those being served are often flat-out rude!"

Moving Signs - Thoughtful reflections on moving and transitions, both physical and otherwise.

The Young Goat God - Did the older son in the story of the prodigal son truly know and trust his father?

That Heavenly Ache - From Mark Altrogge. "To set our minds on things above is to set our minds on Jesus. And the more we do that, the more we become like him. So go ahead, be as heavenly-minded as you want. That heavenly ache will make you that much more earthly good."

Church Should be a Place of Undistracting Excellence - Another great article from the Blazing Center, this one from Stephen. "Our goal should be to serve the church and the Lord with undistracting excellence. We want to serve with a level of excellence that is not distractingly bad, but is also not distractingly good. Our goal is not that people would say, 'What an awesome worship service,' or, 'What an awesome preacher,' but that they would say, 'What an awesome God!'"

Friday, March 8, 2013

Testing the Strength of Our Belief

The older I get, the more real grief becomes to me. When you are a child and the worst you have experienced is a friend moving away, it's hard to truly understand the nature of how real sorrow and pain are here on earth. I still haven't experienced many trials. But as I watch others walk through the valleys where the Lord has them, I hurt for them in a way that I never have before. It forces me back to the truths that I know to consider whether they withstand griefs like these. As I've been reading through C.S. Lewis' book A Grief Observed, I have been struck with how honestly he writes about his wife's death. He writes,
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
The beauty of deep pain and sorrow is that it forces us to come to Scripture and the Lord to see if we truly believe the gospel. Are we willing to count everything, even the best things, as a loss for the sake of Christ? He will not be found wanting. And that was it what Peter talks about at the beginning of his first letter.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, 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 1:6-9 ESV)
May sorrows truly be something that reveals the genuineness of our faith, resulting in the glory of God.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Just His Work, Please

I stopped at Starbucks to get a cup of a chai tea this morning after an early hike with a friend. Most people, it turns out, order chai lattes rather than plain tea. When I ordered tea, the lady behind the counter said, "A chai latte?"

I said, "No, just the tea, please."

She smiled and said, "Oh, would you like it misto?" (Misto, I was thinking - what is that? Tea with steamed milk, apparently. Clearly I don't stop at a coffee shop very often.)

"No, thank you. All I want is the tea bag and some water." She said, "Oooooh, ok." A few minutes later, she added, "Would you like honey with your tea?" I said, a little frustrated now, "No, I would just like tea, please."

Finally, I received my cup of plain chai tea - just a tea bag and hot water. Certainly, like black coffee, plain tea is an acquired taste, and apparently not one that many Americans have based on my experience. We love to add sugar and milk to make something a little more interesting or tasty.

I wonder if we often choose to do this to the gospel. I see it my own heart. Like the Galatians, I want Jesus. But I want my work to count for something too. Tea with milk and honey; the gospel with Jesus and my obedience. You know - if I read my Bible, that means the Lord is more pleased with me and more likely to listen to my prayers, right? But the gospel is Jesus only, not Jesus and anything else. My standing, our standing, before the Father is based solely on His work. My works are because of Jesus and because of my standing, not to earn them.

And praise God that it is, since our work isn't very impressive anyway, and is only a result of His grace. So may we not ask for our gospel with anything else - no milk or honey to make it sweeter to our ears. Today, may our prayer be, "Just Your work, Jesus, and none of mine. May I know the Father's satisfaction through Your life and death, not my own."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Song: I Believe

JJ Heller has been one of my favorite artists for a while now. Quiet, acoustic, reflective, and grounded in truth. Beautiful.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Loving Selflessly

Last week, I was on my old college campus four days in a row for different activities. I realized while I was there that it isn't always a comfortable place for me. There's a lot of people that I know and love, people that I know but haven't really talked to in 6 or 8 months, and then a ton of people who I don't even recognize. Especially when there are large groups of them all together, I start to shut down - I don't know who I should talk to, what to say, and whether or not they even remember who I am or want to talk to me.

But I was reminded that I am always blessed when someone unexpected goes out of their way to say hello to me. When someone asks me how I am, my response is never an angry one. I always feel cared for and loved. But so often my default when I go back on campus is to only talk to the people who reach out to me first - they are are safe.

But how selfish of me! That really shows my lack of true love for my dear friends at school. Rather than living in fear of rejection (fear of man), I ought to be so concerned with glorifying the Lord in my interactions with others that my default is to always ask how I can demonstrate love towards them.

It's interesting because this topic came up in Bible study as we were discussing how to live out Hebrews 3 in exhorting one another daily as long as it is called today. Turns out a lot of us struggle to reach out to other first, to pursue them regardless of whether they have talked to us.

But if our hearts are truly content and sure in Jesus in the way they ought to be because of the gospel, it really shouldn't matter to us how we are being treated; we are simply called to love, encourage and speak truth to our brothers and sisters.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Weekend Links 3/2

Transcript of a Snow Day - I don't think a blog post has ever made me laugh this hard. Please enjoy...

God's Love and Evangelism - "Recently I was asked by a young lady, a lover of the gospel as well as people, this question, 'Does God love unbelievers?' She obviously was wrestling with working out her theology which stresses the sovereign love of God revealed in Christ to the elect with the very practical matter of sharing Christ with unbelievers, which she is doing."

Everywhere Worship for Everywhere Grace - From David Murray. "Worship need not be confined to our private devotions and our corporate worship. Yes, these are the times when we should expect to see the character of the Lord and bow before Him with joyful and reverent praise. However, we can see traces of the Lord’s character and beauty in all of His creation, and especially in the apex of His creation, humanity."

It's Time to Quit Your Job - Very tempting...

It's God's Drama, Not Ours - "So I heard a comment the other day that I’m sure you've heard occasionally as well, 'You just need to put Jesus in the center of your life!' Let me tell you why that bugs me."

A Story of Suffering - Beautiful testimony to how we ought to respond to grief. "In times of suffering you flee from what brings pain and run to what brings comfort. Suffering, in a way, shows us the core of who we are, where our hope is and where we find security."

The Lost Sheep - Great spoken word piece about how the Lord transforms lives. "I was the sheep that put Him on the crucifix to fix the death from which I am dismissed." Praise God!