Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Morning Anger Problem

I have a sinful anger problem that manifests itself most intensely in the morning when my children wake me up before I'm ready. I thought it was just because they were waking me before the time I had assigned for them to get out of bed. Then one morning they actually stayed in bed until “seven came back,” and I was still mad at them. I've come to realize the problem is not with them. It's with me. Manipulating THEIR behavior isn't going to solve MY sin problem.

In each chapter of Counsel from the Cross, Elyse Fitzpatrick takes a real life scenario and works through how gospel truths meet the person in it. I know that is what I must do as well. So today I am wrestling through how the gospel equips me to face my sin and deal with my mornings differently.

First, I feel fearful. I love my children. They are sweet, cute, and tender. I want them as adults to rise up and call me blessed. Instead, I fear they will rise up and call me “Troll.” More than most anything else in terms of God-given goals, I want to bless my husband and children. I want them to remember cupcakes and stories read, not ugly outbursts when I get woken up. I want to do unto my kids as I want them to do to others. I fear that they will remember me more as a troll than as a mom that is FOR them.

Second, I feel shame. I write books and get to occasionally speak at women's retreats. Really, shouldn't I be past such angry outbursts? If anyone other than my husband and kids saw my morning anger, I'd be so embarrassed.

Finally, I feel defeated. I've been working on morning strategies a long time, trying to be the mom who thinks ahead and prepares her children for a successful morning routine. And I am defeated at every turn. Mostly, I have finally acknowledged that manipulating my circumstances (or manipulating my children) isn't going to fix my sin problem.

So here I am. How does penal substitution and imputed righteousness prepare me for this struggle—for the sin itself and then the fear, shame, and hopelessness that accompany it? I am tempted to start with lectures to myself on selfishness. “You are so selfish, Wendy.” Which is true. But it doesn't help much. Today, instead, I am starting with the gospel defined. My sin is truly forgiven. And God has promised the lavish gift of a spiritual inheritance that equips me for every struggle, even in the mornings when I'm coming out of a dead sleep.

2 Cor. 9:8  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

The answer to my sense of defeat is really my union with Christ. Abide in Him, for apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5). I am reading The Praying Life, and the Lord has used it to give me a renewed confidence in prayer as the natural outworking of this abiding. Paul Miller gives a number of illustrations of prayerful dependence on God particularly when it comes to dealing with angry gut responses to our children. I have a tool when I am faced with frustration and hopelessness in yet another instance of sinful anger. I don't have it together enough in those moments to pray a theologically informed prayer. Instead, it's more like, “God, I'm angry. Help me! My will is strong right now, but I want Your will to be done.” And honestly, coming out of a deep sleep, that is about all I have to offer. Just, “HELP!” But I smile to myself as I write this, because God doesn't shame me for such a cry. He welcomes it. He wants it. He assures me that I can come boldly and confidently to Him in my need.

I really wish I was a morning person. But I'm not. I really wish my boys slept in until 8 or 9 am. But they don't. My control nature is utterly thwarted by these truths. It's funny how it takes the utter frustration of my attempts to control or fix a situation before I really cry out to God in desperation. But He receives my desperate cry and binds me tighter to Himself through it. And He answers. Usually, it's in a quiet way that I don't at first notice. Though I was woken out of a deep sleep and felt frustration once again, amazingly enough I did not speak to my children in hurtful ways, and an hour later, I realize we are all actually having a good morning together. When I finally notice it, I know beyond any doubt that it was God's GRACE that made that possible.

I don't know what your struggle is. But if it's anything like mine, it's particularly painful because it manifests itself against the ones you most love and want to support. The gospel invitation is simple—bring this need to your Father boldly and confidently. Every last time, bring this need to Him. When you are devastated by sinning again after all your attempts to control the situation better, bring this need to Him. That's actually a decent place to be. YOU can't control sin. But God can. Your efforts to avoid sin are at best coping mechanisms with average rates of success. But they won't change you. Or when you see the sin coming toward you and desperately want to avoid hurting those you love once again, bring this need to Him. You don't need a theologically precise prayer, you just need to cry out your desperation. God hears. This is what it means to abide in Him. Apart from Him you can do nothing.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Vanity of Loveless Prophets

Conservative Christians love their gifted leaders. We love inspirational sermons that make us think. We appreciate teachers who can deconstruct arguments and analyze trends. We love leaders who sacrifice. We flock to hear messages from those who have endured loss or lack for the sake of the ministry. And we LOVE great music—good bands, inspirational choirs, or talented worship teams.

But I'm not sure we really love what God loves.

1 Corinthians 13
 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Paul's words indict our Christian culture. And it indicts me personally. It indicts me when I am self satisfied by how I articulated an argument, when I applaud my abilities to discern a root issue when I see a spiritual conflict, or when I quietly congratulate myself for a sacrifice I made for the ministry. Paul indicts me, and he indicts our Christian culture that fawns over well spoken, articulate, winners of spiritual arguments. Paul makes it clear that giftedness is NOT enough. Musical talent—not enough. Gifted speaking ability—not enough. Prophetic discernment—N.O.T. E.N.O.U.G.H. Hear Paul clearly. When these giftings are not accompanied by love, it is NOTHING. You are nothing. You gain nothing. Paul's words, not mine. Your efforts become only disruptive noise in the landscape of the kingdom of God. Just noise.

I lose sight of this so easily. Giftedness so often gets more attention than love, and it is probably the number one thing that undermines all ministries, including mine. A friend from another state brought this to my attention this week after an eloquent analysis of her struggles to figure out how to think about a ministry in which she was involved. The Spirit finally gave her clarity as she read this passage from I Corinthians. Yes, this ministry seems to be making an impact. Sure, leaders there are gifted speakers able to hold the attention of large crowds. The music reflects great talent and gifting. But they aren't loving. Their ministry is not characterized by the I Corinthians definition of love.

When Paul says that if I don't have love, then I am and have nothing in terms of accomplishments for Christ, he doesn't leave us wondering exactly what he means. He then clearly spells out what he means when he uses the term love.

Love is patient. It has a long fuse and is not easily angered. Which implies something has happened in my relationship with the one I am called to love that tempts me to not be patient and to get angry. Something is wrong, uncomfortable, or aggravating. There is an irritant in the relationship. Yet I keep my temper and deal patiently with the one who is angering me.

Love does not envy. There is a situation in which someone got something I want. Or got something they don’t deserve. And I am tempted to despise them for it instead of rejoice with them.

Love is not rude. It doesn't cut down others with sarcasm. It treats others with the inherent value God has placed on them as created in His image. This is a big one. If someone is gifted enough in how they speak, we often accept very rude behavior from them (until it's aimed at us). But Paul says here that such rudeness undermines completely the value of their giftedness for the kingdom.

Love does not rejoice in evil. We don't gloat over other's mistakes. Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Love is ever ready to extend the benefit of the doubt to someone.

Love, after all, is the greatest command. So it makes sense to me why it is such a deal breaker when we want to accomplish something for God's kingdom by way of our giftedness. Hear Paul's warning clearly. Wherever you see your giftings, it will come to nothing apart from sincere love—not token words but the real, deep love for another that causes you to lay down your sword, endure for the long haul in trying circumstances, ever ready to believe the best of the one to whom you are called to love. For gifted Christian leaders, this often means slowing down—in fact, slowing down is inherent to the meaning of patience. Sometimes, you have to slow down and endure for the long haul, which may seem counterintuitive to your vision of your mission. Yet apart from such love, Paul's warning is sober—you gain nothing of kingdom value. Your efforts just become noise, distracting from mission rather than facilitating it. I recently got to watch a ministry go through this type of slowing down out of obedience to this command to love. It took a great deal of patience, and yet the kingdom results were beautiful to watch.

Now, I'm tempted to end this post there, yet everything in me says that I need to say much more. I know people who are there. I can't leave you (or me) with only an analysis of the problem. So here is the good news of God's answer.

When Paul says the most gifted of people ARE nothing without love, a knife goes into my heart. He's stabbing at our identity and that is a very sensitive place. Yet, he's exactly right. Your giftedness does not bring you sustainable identity. In terms of identity, you are nothing if you are resting on giftedness alone. But repentance is for such a moment as this. And it works! Repent. Find the sole source of your identity in who you are in Christ, which has nothing to do with your talents or giftings. When you know who you are as God's adopted child alone, then you are free to face your sin. You were rude, you didn't bear long in love, and you believed the worst instead of the best of the one to whom you were called to love, all for the “sake of the ministry.” The gospel is for such a moment as this, and it gives us great hope. Simply confess your sin.

And from there, be encouraged to know that love is not a work that you have to muster up in yourself. It is a FRUIT of the SPIRIT. Love in your life will be the overflow of your connectedness to God and understanding of HIS love. Connect to the root, grasp what His love looks like, and then watch it flow out of you as a fruit of this healthy connection you have with Him. Meditate first on God’s love for you, which is definitely most obvious when contrasted to what you and I deserved instead. And from understanding His love, you will be equipped to really love those in your life – not fake, poser love that is a happy smile when all is going well but fades into hopelessness or condemnation when things go south. I Corinthians 13 love is by definition for when things go south – when conflict comes, when all is not well, when you are provoked, when life is not easy, when annoying long term problems continue week after week, month after month. Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” And love IS possible, but only through our union with Him.

*I've linked to this sermon before, but here is a great message on the fruit of the Spirit, love, that has its origins in God Himself.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Gospel Defined Part 1

With great sadness, I have come to realize that the term “gospel-centered” doesn't mean the same thing to everybody. It's the new buzz word in conservative evangelicalism. Yet, like so many good words before it (gospel, Christian, grace, love, etc.), our imprecise use of the term threatens to undermine its true meaning altogether. I contribute to the overuse of the term gospel-centered as much as anyone, so I think it's high time I define what I mean by it. So what is this gospel in which I am centering myself?

I grew up learning short pithy sayings that “summed up” the gospel. I took classes so I could walk someone through the “Romans' Road.” I learned a 5 part flip chart complete with illustrations promoted by an evangelist at a camp where I worked. Now, looking back, I realize that most of that time, I could only articulate a PART of the gospel. Each method focused on the universal nature of our debt (all have sinned and come short of the glory of God) and Christ's payment of my sins on the cross. They focused on the value of Christ's DEATH for me. But they didn't focus on the value of His LIFE. Over the years, I have come to understand that the good news of Christ is not just that, through Jesus, my debt to God is canceled. No—God did not JUST bring my account up to zero, but He also lavished His grace on me, crediting to my account Christ's righteousness (Isaiah 61:10, 2 Cor. 5:21).

I have benefitted greatly from Christ's death, the penal substitution. But oh the benefits to me from His LIFE, this imputed righteousness. Christ's righteousness is in my account now. And that is every bit as precious as the erasure of my sin. Think of an inmate deserving the long sentence he received. Then, by the mercy of the judge and sacrifice of another, the inmate's sentence is paid in full. He gets to walk out of jail a free man. Yet, he's broke. Sure, he's grateful that he no longer has a debt to society, but he faces a long, daunting road. He can't even buy lunch. He can't pay a taxi to take him home (if he even has one). If he doesn't have someone outside who's watching out for him, he can't even pay for a hotel room for the night. He's set up for failure. He's set up to return to a life of crime. His only hope is to pull himself up from the bootstraps. But pitfalls surround him, and he has virtually no safety structure to keep him from utterly failing. And so is the very great difference between a view of the gospel that ends with penal substitution and one that also strongly embraces imputed righteousness.

Paul teaches this view of the gospel in Ephesians. He starts off with a bang – in Christ, you are blessed with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING. And he goes through them all, praying at the end of Ephesians 1 that we'd really come to understand this inheritance in our accounts and power at work on our behalf. Then he gets into the fact that we were dead in our sins, by nature deserving of God's wrath, alienated from God. I think Paul understands, under the Spirit's inspiration, that we NEED to know our bank account is full and that we have resources. Just being spared death does not prepare you for life.

God didn't bring me just to dead even. But now, in Christ, I have an abundant surplus in my account because God sees me wearing Christ's robe of righteousness. I AM RIGHTEOUS! And not by works of my own. God has lavished this righteousness to my account fully by His mercy and grace, and I can REST in it.

This doesn't mean I don't wrestle over how to show grace to my children or to stamp down my own selfishness. There remains a long list of actions and attitudes in my life I long to change. But in the midst, I can rest. I don't have to change myself. Christ's finished work is complete on my behalf. And I have His life of love and good works credited to me.

"Run, John, run. The law commands, but gives neither feet nor hands. Better news the Gospel brings; It bids me fly and gives me wings." John Bunyun

Now, in Christ, I am empowered to do battle with sin, to put to death the old man and live like the new creation I am. I am the inmate set free from my well-deserved sentence who has the bank account and resources of the daughter of the king. I have RESOURCES for every need that comes my way. When I am provoked to anger with my children, I have spiritual resources. When I am tempted with gluttony, lust, selfishness, or gossip, I am fully equipped for battle. As John Bunyan said, I can fly, and I do it with Christ's wings. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is the power at work in me!

Be wary of the “gospel-centered” teacher whose gospel ends at penal substitution, for they have nothing for life after salvation except pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. The gospel becomes the source of OBLIGATION instead of the source of EQUIPPING. You're exhorted to stop gossiping or sleeping around or overeating because it makes the gospel look bad. That's gospel obligation that misses completely the value and power of imputed righteousness. The true gospel doesn't obligate you to do good. No, it EQUIPS you to do good. There is a profound difference. That battle with your weight, the temptation to gossip, anger with your children—the gospel equips you to do battle with sin with the very same power that raised Christ from the dead. You have a lavish spiritual bank account, and this is integral to the very good news of all Christ's life and death has accomplished for you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My prayer for Christian fundamentalist leaders

A story involving sexual child abuse that came to light last year opened the door to the underbelly of Christian fundamentalism in which I spent a number of years in my teens and twenties. The topic hasn't been well addressed by fundamentalist leaders, and it's a ticking time bomb for them in my humble opinion. Many have argued (correctly) that all brands of religion and even life in general are sullied by child abuse, but my firm conviction is that it's the bomb in your own backyard that will most wound you and those around you and from which you have the best chance of rescuing people. So this post reflects my burden for friends that are still in Christian fundamentalism and are now in positions of leadership and influence.

I wasn't personally abused during my years in Christian fundamentalism. In fact, it provided much needed structure at a time when I lacked self worth, self confidence, or any kind of personal security. What disturbs me deeply now is that I knew people who were abused (I was actually very good friends with a few), but both they and I somehow felt that whatever they got at the hands of the fundamentalist authorities in their life, no matter how unreasonable or harsh it seemed to us, must be OK. Why? Because the authorities around us who weren't the abusers seemed OK with the ones who were. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” I don't really care to speak to abusers in this post. Instead, it is the SILENCE by others that I want to address.

To clarify, I'm not talking about general oppressiveness when I use the term abuse. I am talking about genuine physical and sexual abuse, especially of children. I didn't have just one friend so abused, but several, four that are particularly on my mind as I write this. From different states. Beaten bloody and/or bruised by their parents. Sexually abused by parents or siblings or church leaders. And most disturbing of all, telling the appropriate Christian leaders in their lives about said abuse and either being put off and ignored or told that they shared the blame.

In particular, while working at a respectable fundamentalist Christian camp, I had a camper share with me (in repentance, trying to repair her reputation with me), that she didn't mean to have sex with a guy. That she hadn't dressed provocatively. In fact, she had had holes in her undergarments when their sexual encounter took place. Obviously, sex with him wasn't on her mind when she got dressed that day. And she had even protested and said no. But at some point, because of her moral weakness, she gave in. At least, we both kind of accepted that view of it. And she was brought up for church discipline with the guy. She “repented” and was left with a reputation she worked hard to repair.

Now, with the maturity of an adult living in the real world, I think of that with a cold knot in my stomach. She was caught by surprise and embarrassed by the poor condition of her dress that day. She said NO. She was underage. This wasn't sexual immorality. It was rape. But her sexual abuse from her past and the acceptance of it all as her fault by the authorities in her life (her fundamentalist parents, her Christian school, her pastor, camp counselors, and so forth) led her to truly believe it was her fault, as did I. She was CHURCH DISCIPLINED for it.

I say all that simply to establish that there is a problem, and that I'm not speaking from gossip or hearsay on the issue. Children were physically and sexually abused, and when they came forward, they were told it was their fault. Then they were the ones held accountable while the authorities in their lives who either did the abuse or allowed others to do it were not held accountable.

As I've written in other posts, authorities are ALWAYS the one held to the higher standard, the greater accountability. They are called to restrain their authority and use their power as a force for the abused and oppressed. Many leaders in Christian fundamentalism have not held authorities to the higher standard. In fact, the exact opposite seems the norm (and I deliberately chose the word “seems” because I do not know what conversations among fundamentalist leaders are going on in the background, and I am hopeful that genuine change on this issue is taking root privately).

In light of all this, I have been praying a very specific prayer—that leaders WITHIN fundamentalism will start leading publicly on this issue. I'm praying for a few of you by name, though I won't name you here. I'm praying specifically that Christian fundamentalist leaders would do a few important things.

First, I pray that God will move leaders to clearly name sexual abuse as sin (and the disciplining of abuse victims as sin) and especially that they would clearly affirm that statutory rape is still rape. That should be obvious, and I'm disturbed that I even have to write it. Yet, apparently it's not obvious to some. It needs to be stated clearly and boldly.

Second, I pray for leaders within the movement that would clearly teach the origin of sexual abuse as the heart of the abuser. There is an emphasis on women's dress in Christian fundamentalism that teaches that men lust because women dress provocatively. The only problem is that some men are still lusting over girls in denim jumpers and turtlenecks. Lust is a heart issue. Period. This is not to say that a wise woman will have no restraints on how she dresses. Modesty is a very real concept in Scripture, though I have rarely heard it taught correctly in conservative circles. True modesty flows from a woman's heart that is confident in her standing in Christ, the well loved daughter of the most trustworthy Father of all. She has nothing to prove with her dress, but I'll write more on that another day. My point here is that to directly correlate hemlines and necklines with lust and sexual immorality is naive and unbiblical. Which is why 50 men can walk by the same attractive woman and have a variety of reactions in response. They likely all notice her (For Women Only has a good discussion on this topic) and even admire her. But for some it stops there. For others it becomes sin in their minds. And a smaller group won't just think it but actually act out on it. What causes the difference in their responses? You could argue the difference was simply opportunity or accountability. But the Bible says the difference is our HEART. That's why underdeveloped girls in denim jumpers get raped in the back seat of a car. It's not how they were dressed but the heart of the perpetrator.   Fundamentalist leaders need to boldly take the emphasis off of women's dress on the issue of sexual immorality.

Third, I pray that leaders would understand and teach how to minister real grace to the victim. I won't go into details because, honestly, it takes a lot more training than I've had to get a good grip of how that looks. I will say that it begins with an honest affirmation of the truth of what the victim experienced and feels as a result. If you don't know what else to say, at least teach your congregations to say a genuine “I'm so very sorry” to the victim followed by a sincere embracing of them.

Fourth, I pray that leaders would build a culture that gives potential abusers an avenue to get counsel and help BEFORE they act out on things. We attach so much shame to even having these thoughts, that we set up abusers for failure sometimes. Again, I'm getting past my education and experience, so I won't say more on this except that it's a need.

Fifth and maybe the most important of all, I pray for leaders who will teach the value of authentic REPENTANCE. There are many well known situations floating around that leaders seem more interested in deflecting, excusing, and generally talking their way out of than facing head on and eating it. Just REPENT. Just say, “Yes, under my watch, this specific thing did happen. It was wrong. And I did not protect the widow and orphan. I participated in injustice. And I am very sorry.” Then CHANGE. Do things differently. Repair what you can. You know what?! That very gospel we talked about so much in fundamentalism (at least in the schools, churches, and camps that I knew) empowers us to face our sin head on, to admit it, to lay it at the foot of the cross, and to walk away changed. It equips you and I to get up and go in a new direction without shame. Christ's death frees us from the chains of our own sins. And His life applied to our account lets us walk forward in the truest righteousness of all--HIS!

In summary, simply REPENT, CHANGE, and REPAIR.

Oh, fundamentalist Christian leader, if you happen to be reading this, take up the call in Isaiah 1 that is echoed in James. Right wrongs. Correct injustice. Protect widows and orphans. Defuse the bomb in your own backyard before it blows up in your face. The true gospel really does equip us to do this!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Terrible Sin of Eisigesis

If you are not familiar with the term eisigesis, here’s the wiki definition (poorly edited, by the way, yet it at least communicates the basic idea).

Eisigesis means reading into the (Biblical) text; which means that while reading the text, one would understand the text in accordance to his (or her) own presupposition and agendas. Eisigesis is widely used to prove a point rather to search for the truth. On the contrary to eisigesis, exigesis means reading out of the text. That means putting aside all presuppositions, agendas, and ideas, and looking for the truth of the matter, although it might be something we disagree with.

If anyone has a wiki account, that definition could use some serious editing. The idea behind the word eisigesis is best understood in contrast to Biblical exegesis, which is more clearly defined among theologians. Exegesis in the vernacular is letting Scripture set the agenda on how a verse or chapter is interpreted and applied. When a pastor exegetes Scripture, he sets aside his personal agenda as he studies Scripture. He looks at the context of a passage. What was the author talking about in the previous section? How do the previous verses inform the passage in question? Who was it written too? How does their background and culture inform what the author is saying to them? What do the actual Hebrew or Greek words mean? Does the author use those same words any where else in Scripture? Is this passage actually quoted anywhere else in Scripture. And so forth. It is reading OUT OF Scripture.

In contrast, eisigesis is projecting ONTO Scripture. Instead of Scripture speaking out to us, we speak into it. We inform how it is read. Our agendas apart from Scripture inform how we interpret and apply it. And it is a horrible yet common sin. It's a perversion of Scripture. Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself TO us. We don’t get to project our reflections onto it. IT illuminates US. Not vice versa.

The problem with eisigesis is that when we emphasize things Scripture doesn’t, we minimize the focus on what Scripture really does say is important.

After hearing a few sermon series from Old Testament books that were classic examples of eisigesis, I recognize it easily now. But a negative side effect is that I also tense up now when my pastor wants to preach from any Old Testament passage. During a recent sermon from Jeremiah, I sat listening to my pastor trying to figure out why I trusted the applications he was making for today from Jeremiah 29. Why is it that I can hear instructions from 3000 or so years ago on seeking the welfare of some city in the middle east (and not David's example of cutting off Philistine foreskins or Nehemiah's scalping of his enemies) and embrace it for me today?

I have particular baggage on that question after hearing a sermon series from Nehemiah a few years ago that was about the worst example of eisigesis I've yet experienced. The preacher projected his life onto the story of Nehemiah and allowed his personal experiences rather than a gospel hermeneutic to decide how he applied it. The results were devastating. Years later, when my pastor announced he was going to preach through Exodus, I immediately tensed. But after going through a few Old Testament series taught through the lens of the gospel and life of Jesus, I have come to understand that the difference is really quite simple. Correct exegesis and application of Old Testament passages will never deny New Testament explanations or commands. When you have to deny New Testament instructions to make Old Testament analogies, you are in problem territory.

In the Nehemiah example, the preacher drew the conclusion that going postal on your spiritual opponent is Biblical because Nehemiah did. But that conclusion ignored the distinction between what Scripture DESCRIBES and PRESCRIBES. Scripture describes a lot of things that we aren't to do, and sometimes it describes it without commentary. Though the guy in Judges cut up his concubine's corpse and distributed it among the tribes, we know better than to suggest others do that today. Judges described what happened, and be very certain that everything that the Bible describes it does not also prescribe.

In reference to the description of Nehemiah's harsh reaction to his opponents, it was a good day when I read what Scripture in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 actually prescribes when dealing with your opponent.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Weird stories in the Old Testament are very relevant today. Some simply point to the character of our God. While most of us will never go through the same trials that Joseph did, our God is the same, and what others mean for evil, He uses for our good (Gen. 50:20). That's His character. Some OT stories point to our need for King Jesus. For instance, the entire book of Judges, which is a compilation of depressing stories summed up with the phrase, “there was no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” We need King Jesus. We need His life lived out before us because apart from His standard of righteousness, the things we come up with as righteous in our own eyes are woefully inadequate and often quite perverse. Then there are the abundance of stories that reveal little glimpses of what King Jesus will look like when He comes. The entire OT sacrificial system does this. The Psalms give us glimpses. Ruth's story of the kinsman redeemer or Hosea's pursuit of Gomar all do this as well.

The Bible is the best commentary on itself and the most helpful tool for avoiding personal eisigesis. Once we stop projecting onto the Old Testament, it has so much to project onto us. And it is beautiful and redemptive. I'm very thankful to the godly men (and women) who have pointed me to the cross from Genesis to Malachi.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ode to the Single Woman

Single woman, friend of mine, you have come through for me again and again. My life as a wife and mom to small children is chaotic, and when I get sick or have an emergency large or small, it throws my world into chaos. You are the one that I called when I was sitting in my chair crying, overwhelmed at my inability to do all I had to do. And you showed up on my doorstep at a moment's notice ready to take my kids to a playground and out for ice cream afterwards. And then you acted like it was no problem and actually something you wanted to do.

I can not tell you what grace you have ministered to me by your enthusiasm to serve my family. If someone called me up with the same request, I'd do my best to do it without making them feel bad, but it would stress me, and I imagine it would be hard not to communicate it to the one in need. But you have never once made me feel bad about your service to me. I often feel guilty that our friendship seems lopsided. You are the flexible one, while my schedule seems so inflexible. And yet you never make me feel selfish or guilty or ashamed. You treat me like you are just happy to be with me, even if you had to make the majority of the sacrifices to make it happen. I want you to know that I see that and it means so very much to me. And to my children. And to my husband.

I have had several single friends over the last few years who have loved me and my children well, served my family in times of sickness or death, and just generally blessed me. I am coming to the firm conviction that I, married with 2 kids, deeply need my sisters in Christ at different stages of life—younger, older, never married, married, widowed, divorced, with grown kids, without kids. I like to minister to others. And sometimes the outgrowth of that is I'm a little resistant to someone ministering to me. But God has definitely worked that out of me the last year. I am contemplating tonight my need for my sisters and how blessed I have been when I humble myself to them with my need.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Answer to a Works Righteousness Approach to Mission

Our pastor started a sermon series on I Corinthians today with the general theme of Threats to Mission. Today's focus was how a cult of personality can be a threat to authentic mission. The answer was that, not only is salvation by grace, but mission too is by grace (not personality, or gifting, or vision). If you have 30 minutes and would like to hear a gospel centered message on living out our mission in our culture, this is a very helpful one. The text is I. Cor. 1:1-3, 10-17; 3:1-9.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Praying Life

I've recommended a number of books on this blog. Some I like, and I think some of you might find helpful. They may say an intriguing thought that I share with you. But other times, I come across a book that I devour. That I reread. That hangs with me well after putting it down. That the Spirit uses to change me. Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow was one. Counsel from the Cross was another. And currently, I am devouring A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Like Nancy Guthrie of Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow, Miller has endured long term struggles with his children. I have found that authors/teachers saddled with a life long burden have a lot to say. At least to me. Sometimes it's not what we necessarily want to hear. But once your naive notions of how the christian life will play out for you die their painful death, these authors are the ones that can speak the truth of Scripture in effective ways.

I have underlined paragraphs, starred sentences, and turned the corner of pages of this book with the thought of posting a blurb here. But now I have too many to post just one, and I can only say that if you are hurting and your previous view of prayer has been challenged by the struggles you have faced, READ THIS BOOK.