Wednesday, March 08, 2017

I Love Sundays

Hebrews 10:24-25
“24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

A few weeks ago, I found myself standing in church, singing with my church family and fellow believers, thinking, “I really love Sundays.” There is something deeply encouraging about gathering with fellow believers, singing songs that reinforce biblical truth, hearing messages preached faithfully from God’s Word, and joining together to offer praise to our God. I can’t even explain how deeply encouraging this is, but it truly is. Some weeks I feel like I tend to drift along a bit, in danger of drifting along with the world rather than remembering who I am in Christ as strongly as I want to do. Then Sunday comes along, and the Word and fellowship remind me again about our mission, remind again to hold fast, and to ‘Keep on,’ as Alistair Begg says. That particular Sunday I was so encouraged to worship and so moved by how much we need to encourage each other while it is still called today, that I thanked my God for Sundays. 

A few years ago I read the book, ‘Jesus, Name Above All Names’ by Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg. One idea that stood out to me, and still does today, is the thought that when we gather together to worship God, Jesus stands among us, His people, and through Him we are able to offer our praise to God through song and the hearing of His Word preached by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through Jesus, our High Priest, that our praise is made acceptable to God. 

I once heard someone who had just returned from a youth-oriented conference where the music had been ramped up and like a concert most of the time bemoaning why can’t people worship like that at church. Even at the time that bothered me, because there is a real danger in mistaking the emotional manipulation that happens in that kind of setting for worship and assuming if we don’t exhibit that kind of emotional response then we aren’t truly worshiping. Sometimes I think we bank too much on a feeling and not enough on what we know to be true. We don’t have to have emotionally charged music and lights and smoke machines in order to truly worship, and sometimes actually, it’s probably better if we DON’T have all that. 

One Sunday that has stayed with me for a long time happened during the year we got to be members at Parkside Church. Pastor Alistair had just preached a sermon about our hope in Christ and looking forward to His return. The song we ended with was the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul.” Something very special happened that morning that I have never forgotten. There was no emotional manipulation in the music, just the simple musicians playing and the congregation singing, but, oh, what singing when you stand in a room full of people who genuinely, deeply believe the words they are singing and have just been encouraged again through the preaching of the Word with our great hope in Christ. That room swelled with the voices and tears of people as we sang those verses and the praise that rang in that room was surely merely a glimpse of what the praise in Heaven will sound like. 

This past Sunday, I had reminded my son of that moment and he smiled, he remembered. Well, our closing hymn Sunday night after hearing the Word preached and getting to take communion with our church family was ‘It is Well With My Soul,’ and you know what? It happened again. As we reached that verse that says, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!” the voices in that room swelled and tears fell and there is just nothing like that moment when you are reminded again of how great a salvation our Lord Jesus grants us by His grace. How precious it is to be forgiven and have it be well with my soul!

People whose minds are informed by the truth of God’s word and who have been forgiven and set free will worship. Even if it’s a simple piano and a layman with a hymnal open in his hand singing with us, we need no false emotional manipulation to sing out because we worship a mighty God.

I am so thankful for Sundays. I need the encouragement I always find in gathering together with my church family to press on during the other days of the week. And here it is Wednesday, and I’m still pondering and remembering and wanting to be more faithful to put into practice what I’m learning and hearing each week. 

Alistair Begg recently finished a series on the Sabbath on Truth for Life that was challenging and encouraging, and listening to it probably is what spurred me on to write this post. I recommend it!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Thought From My Morning Reading

Proverbs 30:5-6
“(5) Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
 (6) Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.”  

This was part of my Bible reading this morning, and verse five was such a comfort to me that I shared it on my Facebook page. I got to pondering how awesome it is that God has given us His  Word, and what a refuge I have found it to be throughout my life. When I’m discouraged as I have found myself to be recently, I know to turn to God’s Word and to prayer and to dig in and pursue Christ - even when I don’t feel like it, especially when I don’t feel like it. I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am that my salvation and sanctification are not dependent upon how I feel at any given moment. My salvation and sanctification are grounded, firmly rooted, in who Jesus is and what He has done to grant my salvation and sanctification. It is not how much faith I have, it is WHO my faith is placed in, and He will never, ever fail. He came to save whoever believes in Him. Our memory verse for this week’s Bible study lesson in my women’s group at church as we are working through the book of Titus this year was Titus 2:11-12: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age”, and as we looked at Titus 2:11-14 this week, we also discussed our blessed hope in Christ, and we looked at passages in the Bible that encouraged us that Christ will present us who belong to Him holy and blameless to God. 

So, as I thought about Proverbs 30:5 this morning and read on to verse 6, I realized the thought isn’t complete without that verse, too, so I shared it as well. What immediately came to mind for me was that this is just one of the many things that I believe are wrong with certain books that have become popular in Christian circles, specifically books like The Shack and Jesus Calling. In a sense they are adding to God’s Word in a way we really ought not to do. The Shack in that it has God presenting Himself in a way He does not in the Bible, which He gave to us specifically so we would know Him as He wants to be known. We have no right to misrepresent God. I am so tired of hearing the argument that that book helps people to understand God better. Not if what you’re coming to understand is contrary to what He has said in His word, you aren’t. Remember, our feelings are NOT the judge of what is true and right. God’s Word is. And Jesus Calling, well, it’s claiming to be the words of Jesus. I don’t need Jesus Calling when I have the actual, you know, Bible. Tim Challies had some great posts about both of those books here and here, by the way, and another good post about why he doesn’t plan on seeing the movie version of one of them, either. 

I think the reason I’m rambling on about this is that I’ve seen some discussion floating around about the upcoming movie, and what bothers me a lot is how quick people are to defend very strongly these books, but we who are concerned about holding a high view of God’s Word are called legalists and told we’re putting God in a box (um, no). I’d rather be vigorous about defending and sharing God’s revealed Word than some fictional book that has a lot of problems with it. Read it or not as your conscience allows, but turning a blind eye to the concerns people are voicing and claiming these books help you to know God better is flat out dangerous. A friend of mine posted something and got some push back and I private messaged her and encouraged her, but, frankly, I find it exhausting to get into Facebook comment thread arguments over these books. No, I DON’T have to read them so I can be better informed. I just don’t. My dad and I were talking once about how frustrating it is when people spend so much energy defending popular books that have bad theology and tell us to 'eat the meat and spit out the bones,' and who spend more time reading that stuff or fluffy devotional books and not as much in studying the actual Bible, and he said, “Why is God’s Word never enough for these people?” I agree. We Christians belong to God. We need to be discerning in what we allow to shape our thinking about God. There are many examples in Scripture that show us how seriously God takes this. Shouldn’t we take it seriously, too?

My pastor preached a great sermon about the Holy Spirit and the Scripture this past Sunday and he discussed the reformation point of Sola Scriptura. I’m sharing a link to it below. I am so thankful for my church and my pastor and elders who hold a high view of God and His Word and are serious about equipping us to be faithful followers of Christ. They stay on message and encourage us every week. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Books and Reading

I never intended to quit blogging, but as I only posted twice during all of 2016, that seems to be what has happened. I blame Facebook, and I'm not even kidding. I firmly believe smartphones have NOT been a good thing for us as a culture, and me as an individual. I am germinating a blog post on that, so hopefully more thoughts on that sooner rather than later as I'm trying to break my addiction to that dumb thing and retrain myself to think and read in longer chunks like I used to be able to do. I never intended to become addicted to a tiny screen, either, and it's got to stop.

Now that the new year is two months along and no longer new, I've finally gotten my reading lists updated, moving 2016 into the archive list and starting the 2017 list. I did keep a list of the books I've been reading in the hopes I would ever get myself to the computer to put them into my sad little blog, and now I'm up to date.

Several of us were talking around my table on Saturday at the women's seminar we had at our church, and one of the young ladies happened to mention that she and several other ladies in our group are participating in Tim Challies's 2017 Reading Challenge. I had seen his post about it a while back and meant to check it out, but in the haze of the end of the year and the holidays and then getting back into the swing of things again in January, I never took the time to look into it, finally thinking that maybe my legalistic little self didn't need another artificial burden added. Then this conversation happened, and I decided I would at least look at it, though I figured I was probably too far behind at this point, but it turns out that several of the books I've already read will fit nicely into some of the categories and others can probably be tweaked into them, or not. The point being, I'm not actually too far behind to at least try some of it, and that's what I decided to do, so you'll see that noted if you want to look at my reading list.

I had thought about maybe starting a reading group over on Facebook and share reading ideas with friends. I used to be a part of one before that started out well until people began dropping off and all that was left was someone who kept posting about Amish romances (urg), so I let myself drop out, too. But then I thought part of the reason I haven't taken the time to write over here at my blog, something I very much enjoy, is that Facebook tends to sap time and thinking energy in a weird sort of way, so maybe I don't want another thing to tempt me to open it all the time. If there is anyone still reading this blog, feel free to share what you're reading sometimes. If I can make myself take this up again, hopefully once in a while I might blog about a book or two that I particularly enjoy or find interesting along the way. And yes, I do find it ironic that after all my words about Facebook, I'll be posting a link to this blog post there.

Here's what I'm reading currently:

Happy Reading!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Character Matters

Anyone who knows me well knows that we are a ‘band’ family. Two of our boys march in the high school band, and this is not for wimps, mind you. If you are not aware of this, there is a whole subculture devoted to competitive marching band, and when I say ‘competitive,’ I mean it. Our high school band competes at the state level and in Bands of America competitions, and they do very well at them. I say all that to set up this post to share something that got me to thinking about something more important than band this morning.

Last night our boys and over 200 of their closest friends, their marching band, had their first competition of the year. They came off that field feeling great and we parents were so proud of their performance. For the uninitiated, let me just say there is something special about the camaraderie that develops over the hours and hours of hard work these kids put into learning a very difficult show, and the high that comes from a performance well done is incredible. There’s not much else quite like it. They had a terrific night last night.

However, while talking to one of my boys today, he told me about something that happened that has led me to thinking a bit. He said that in the restroom after competition while waiting for finals results, some of the members of the band that ended up winning the entire competition saw the school he and his friends were from and basically cursed them out with language and a rude gesture. Hmmm. My son didn't think anyone from his group had said anything to provoke it, and I sure hope that's true. When my other son heard that, he said that sometime during that same time period, he and his friends had seen some other members of that band and congratulated them on a job well done and he said they completely ignored him. Not cool. Our band members have been taught not to trash talk other bands and to be encouraging and congratulatory, no matter how disappointed they may personally feel. Our band members have been taught that when they have that uniform on, they represent the entire band program and their school, and they need to act in a way that honors that. I can only hope our kids act according to how they've been taught and do better than these kids did as reported by my sons.

We talked together this afternoon during lunch after church about how they really need to be careful not to respond in kind when treated that way, and certainly NEVER initiate that sort of interaction with someone from another band, especially when in uniform. They seem to have handled it ok last night, but I acknowledged how hard that is when all you’re feeling is you’d like to punch the guy in the nose, but that their actions reflect on the whole band’s, even the whole school’s, reputation. We talked about how they (and now I, too) now feel about (that school band). Unfortunately, though intellectually we know it was just dumb kids being dumb, the actions of a few taint how we feel about the whole, right? Don’t be that for your band. They may win, but no one will like them if that becomes their reputation. You want to be the band everyone likes. Character matters a lot more than winning stuff.

All of that got me thinking deeper, though. I started thinking about, and also talked with my sons about, the fact that we who are Christians wear the ‘uniform’ of Christ at all times, no matter where we are or what we ‘feel’ like. We are His ambassadors, always. We represent Him to a lost and dying world. We who love Jesus ought to be the kindest, most gracious of people. When we speak the truth, even hard truth, it should be obvious we speak from a heart that wants the best for people. Our words, our actions all reflect on people’s understanding and perception of Him, whether we realize it or not. We need to be careful that we fight for the right things, not the wrong ones. We need to be Kingdom minded. We need to guard our words and our language and our hearts and our actions. 

Because we are in the midst a very strange (and depressing) election season right now, my mind went this way, but I see some professing Christians online get all spun up about politics and some of the most hateful, desperate-sounding, unbiblical way of thinking stuff can be said. I hear people being Americans first rather than Christians first. I love my country, don’t get me wrong, but patriotism and Americanism ought not to be equated to and elevated above the same level as being a citizen of the Kingdom of God for those who follow Christ. In lots of situations, not just politics, I hear professing Christians use language that isn’t God-honoring. This ought not to be. We bow the knee to Christ alone.  His kingdom transcends all else. We need to remember that people see how we act and they see what we think is important. We need to make sure what they see is a life that makes Jesus precious. That is our number one aim. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We need to guard how we represent our Lord with our words and actions and primary affections, not just in politics, that was just one example, but in everything we do. We need to make sure that what we say about Him - with our words and also with our actions -  is truthful, and that we represent Him well and truthfully, biblically. Once you’ve made a negative impression and garnered a negative reputation, that’s hard to recover.

So, as important as it is for my band kids to represent their school and band well while in uniform, and it is, even more we who belong to Christ need to set as the high priority to represent Him well.  People notice. Character matters.

Colossians 3:17
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Friday, January 01, 2016

Favorite Books From my 2015 Reading List

Well, here we are at the first day of 2016. I hope to make time to blog more in the near future, but I've said this before, so we shall see. For today, though, I think I'll go with what should become a small tradition on the blog and I'll mention some of my favorite books that I read during 2015. If you are interested in seeing the complete list of what I read during 2015, good, bad, and indifferent, I've put the 2015 list on the page at the top with the previous years' reading lists and cleaned up the current reading list page to prepare for what 2016 may hold. One of my criteria for which books I leave on this list for this particular post versus deleting a book but leaving it on the master list up in pages is that if I remember the book at the end of the year and remember enjoying it or gaining something  from it, it stays, but if I don't really remember the book or remember it as kind of so-so, but not remarkable or really didn't like it, I delete it from this list. So, if anyone is still interested, these are the books I liked best from my 2015 reading list, in the order in which they were read, not necessarily in the order of most beloved, with my original comments or lack thereof still attached, and additional comments added today in italics:

  • Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me - Kevin DeYoung (NF). Very good book.
  • Listening Woman (Navajo Mysteries, Book 3) - Tony Hillerman (F). Enjoying this series. This series held my attention all year. I really enjoyed the Navajo Mystery books.
  • Name Above All Names - Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson (NF). This was excellent. So much I'm still thinking about and I am very glad I read this one. On Sunday as I worshiped at church I was brought to tears thinking about what I'd just read about Jesus standing with His people when we worship and offering our worship, making it acceptable to the Father. That has changed how I sing and worship when we gather together in a profound way, causing me to think much more carefully and richly and deeply about worship. I'm planning to reread this book in January 2016 after seeing this and remembering how much I liked it.
  • Risky Undertaking - Mark de Castrique (F). My brother-in-law happens to know this author and gave me a signed copy of this book for Christmas, which is a very thoughtful gift knowing how much I love to read. I enjoyed this one and will look for more by this author. 
  • Standing Strong: How to Resist the Enemy of Your Soul - John MacArthur (NF).
  • People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries, Book 4) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The Dark Wind (Navajo Mysteries, Book 5) - Tony Hillerman (F)
  • The Ghostway (Navajo Mysteries, Book 6) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • Law & Liberty: A Biblical Look at Legalism - General Editor Dr. Don Kistler. This was very good.
  • The Most Misused Verses in the Bible: Surprising Ways God's Word is Misunderstood - Eric J. Bargerhuff (NF). 
  • Skinwalkers (Navajo Mysteries, Book 7) - Tony Hillerman (F)
  • The Maze Runner - James Dashner (F). One of the benefits of being mom to teenage boys is reading books I probably wouldn't have even known about otherwise. I read this one because one of my boys is reading the series and I try to keep tabs on what they're reading. As I told a friend who asked if I liked it, I think 'like' is too strong a word for how I feel about this one. It was interesting, but frustrating and pretty violent. I'm starting the second one, but not really enjoying it very much so far, and it won't be making onto any lists of favorites for me, I don't think.  I see that I said this wouldn't probably make it onto a list of favorites, but seeing as how it stuck with me, and the boys and I still talk about it, I guess I was wrong in that assessment, after reading the whole series. It's probably not the best series I've ever read, but overall we liked it ok, enough so that it remained on this list.
  • The Scorch Trials - James Dashner (F).
  • The Death Cure - James Dashner (F).
  • A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, Book 8) - Tony Hillerman (F)
  • The Kill Order - James Dashner (F). 
  • Alas, Babylon - Pat Frank (F). I debated about leaving this one on the list. It was ok, but I don't care to read it again. It's kind of on the edge. Saying it's a favorite may be a stretch, but I guess it can stay on the list.
  • The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne - Andrew Bonar (NF). This was excellent. I was in tears at the end, such an encouraging and convicting life. May I strive to love Jesus and long for holiness even half as much. I loved this. I'm enjoying exploring biographies, and this was great.
  • If I Should Die Before I Wake: What's Beyond This Life? - K. Scott Oliphint and Sinclair B. Ferguson (NF). I very much liked this. It is biblical and well-written, and as our family is in the process of grieving the death of a young cousin and praying for her family daily as they walk this difficult road, I found this book quite encouraging and comforting. 
  • Talking God (Navajo Mysteries, Book 9) - Tony Hillerman (F). Another good one in this series that I'm continuing to read my way through.
  • The Transforming Power of the Gospel - Jerry Bridges (NF). 
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Iriving (F). This was a reread, and I'm glad I did. I liked it when I read it years ago, but I understood it much better and liked it better this time. It is very well-written and quite a story. I had to sit and cry for a bit when I finished it.
  • Coyote Waits (Navajo Mysteries, Book 10) - Tony Hillerman (F). I'm very much enjoying this series.
  • Trail of Broken Wings - Sajal Badani (F). This was good, but very sad.
  • The Lincoln Lawyer - Michael Connelly (F). Connelly is one of my favorite crime/detective fiction writers. Plus, he's a University of Florida graduate. Go Gators!
  • Sacred Clowns (Navajo Mysteries, Book 11) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The Fallen Man (Navajo Mysteries, Book 12) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • Who is Jesus (Crucial Questions Series) - R.C. Sproul (NF).
  • The First Eagle (Navajo Mysteries, Book 13) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • A Murder is Announced (A Miss Marple Mystery) - Agatha Christie (F). Agatha Christie - what more can I say?
  • Hunting Badger (Navajo Mysteries, Book 14) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The Forgotten Trinity - James White (NF).
  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (F). This was a re-read (don't know how many times I've read this book!) because I thought I wanted to read the new sequel that's just been published, but after reading some reviews, I decided I don't want to read it after all. One of my all-time favorite books. I'm still not planning to read the new one, as I don't want to spoil this beloved book for myself, and I'm pretty sure Harper Lee didn't really want that new one out there. This book is an example of just how powerful a good editor can be in helping an author write well and making sure the right book gets published. I'm so committed to not reading the new book that I sold it to Half-Price Books unread, even though I'd foolishly bought it before reading the reviews.
  • Loving Jesus More - Phil Ryken (NF). This was very good. I found it through Truth for Life, and I very much recommend it.
  • Amazing Grace - Eric Metaxas (NF). William Wilberforce is one of my heroes, and this was a great biography.  I was in tears at the end. Another biography that I loved. 
  • The Wailing Wind (Navajo Mysteries, Book 15) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The New Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan, with notes updated text and notes by Judith E. Markham and Warren Wiersbe (F). This was a re-read of a favorite. 
  • The Sinister Pig (Navajo Mysteries, Book 16) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • Skeleton Man (Navajo Mysteries, Book 17) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The Shape Shifter (Navajo Mysteries, Book 18) - Tony Hillerman (F). I very much have enjoyed this series. This was the last book Mr. Hillerman wrote in the series before he died, and his daughter took up the series later.
  • Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness - Edward T. Welch (NF). I very much needed this one. I found it extremely helpful, especially as I was surprised by a slip into what I think must be minor depression this year. I will be keeping this one on my shelf for future reference. It is biblical and wise and practical counsel.
  • Spider Woman's Daughter (Navajo Mysteries, Book 19) - Anne Hillerman (F). It will take a little getting used to Ms. Hillerman's different style of writing, but I think she did a nice job taking over this series.
  • Judge Not - Todd Friel (NF). This one I definitely recommend.
So there's the short list for 2015. Currently I am reading Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall (1783-1787) by Winston Graham (F). Since I haven't finished it yet, it will have to grace the 2016 list, but I wanted to give it an honorable mention here because I am enjoying this first book in the series so much. I decided to read it because I had recorded the miniseries on PBS and finally got around to watching it recently and liked it so well that I wanted to read the books it is based on. The books came first, and general rule is that the books are almost always better than the movie. I have to say that from what I've read so far, they did an outstanding job with the series keeping to the spirit of the books and I'm looking forward to the next season. I'm also looking forward to reading the rest of the books in the 12 book series, so I imagine they will be appearing regularly in the 2016 list.

Happy New Year, and happy reading!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Silence Was Broken

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power, After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” 
Hebrews 1:1-4

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." 
Isaiah 9:2

I have an admission to make. “Silent Night” has never been one of my favorite Christmas carols. I never really knew why, but it just hasn’t been up there on my top list of favorites. I think I know why after thinking about it some recently. For one thing, I’m not a fan of schmalzy sentimentalism, and this song has a bit of that. I mean, was it really silent and calm? Probably not. But I understand the point and I’m not saying I won’t sing the song with gusto every Christmas, because, “Alleluia to our King. Christ the Saviour is born!” Yes, and amen, I love the last lines. And “Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,” what a glorious truth, even in the midst of the sentimentality. So I’m not suggesting it’s a bad song or that I won’t sing it out. I just like some of the other Christmas carols better.  

Kevin DeYoung posted this yesterday, and the first line in the song, “It was not a Silent Night,” resonated with me. I can’t say I like the song he posted as much as he seems to, though it’s a good one,  but it got me thinking. 

No, it wasn’t a silent night, for the reasons mentioned in the song, but in an even more significant way. Here’s where I went as I pondered yesterday.

It had been about 400 years since the last prophet had received a word from God to share with Israel. Think of it. 400 years of seeming silence from God as the people waited for the fulfillment of His promise to send Messiah to save His people from their sin. Many were looking for Messiah and hoping in God, the time was right, and those who knew the Scriptures, were waiting. Then, suddenly the silence was broken, not by another prophet, but by the cry of a baby, the baby, and the announcement of angels to a group of shepherds in a field, the angels were praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) The silence was broken when God sent His Son into the world to redeem His people. He, Himself, came to rescue His people from their sin. Simeon in the temple was one of those who waited, and He recognized Him, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2: 29-32) Hallelujah! 

Christmas isn’t just about the baby in the manger. What we who know Him are celebrating isn’t just the manger, but the Cross and the Resurrection. We celebrate because Immanuel, God With Us, came to live among us and live out the law that we could not and be righteous, fulfill all righteousness, for us. He is our ultimate Passover Lamb, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21).

The silence was broken when the Word became flesh (John 1:1-4). “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13). 

This is Christmas. This is what we celebrate. This is why we celebrate!

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Slow to Anger

Psalm 86:15
“But you, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” 

Last night our church held a praise service where members were invited to share praise and thanks to God for His faithfulness. Even the children participated. One young child said that he is thankful that God is slow to anger, even when we are not slow to anger. I was very much struck by that. I thought, “Do my children know this? Have I taught them specifically that God is slow to anger, and what an incredible mercy this is? When you think that at any moment what I deserve is to be wiped out because of my sin, yet we are shown such mercy?” 

In Sunday School recently, we have been studying the attributes of God, and yesterday we discussed His faithfulness. Have you truly pondered the awesome truth that God is a covenant-keeping God? Our teacher yesterday took the book of Ruth and taught us about the faithfulness of God. I have to tell you, I was reduced to tears several times yesterday, though I thought I knew the book of Ruth very well and have read it many times, as I pondered in a fresh way how patient and faithful our God is. I was struck by several thoughts as we discussed this book. First of all, and I’ll admit you might want to take this first observation with a grain of salt as I’m not 100% sure it’s an accurate thing to take away, but I was struck by the fact that Naomi suffered due to decisions her husband made for their family. Yet, in her submission, you don’t see her blaming him. Then, when things seemed most dire, she returned home, back to the land of the covenant promises of God, and God rescued her. He was always faithful to her, even when her family left to escape covenant consequences in the land. God gave her Ruth. Then I got to thinking about Ruth. I wonder, what did Ruth see in Naomi and her God that she was converted to trust in and follow God? I wonder, did Naomi teach her about Him? What we do know is that Ruth didn’t only commit to stay with Naomi, but more importantly, she trusted God.

The book of Ruth is a rich picture for us of the Providence of God in the lives of His people, and such a shadow that points us to the grace of God. What reduced me to tears yesterday was when Ruth has this exchange with Boaz, “Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”  (Ruth 2:10) I got to thinking that this is the kind of amazed awe and gratitude I have for God when I ponder the gift of salvation and grace He has granted me. Why me? Why, Lord, have you opened my eyes to see the wonder of Your law and to see my wretchedness and to see the amazing gift of grace in Your Son? Why have You seen fit to shower such grace on me to rescue me from so much of the foolishness and bad teaching that abounds in much of evangelicalism and brought me into the Light and shown me the truth and granted me a hunger for Your word? It has to come from You, Lord, I could never have come to this on my own. 

The second thing that humbled me to tears yesterday was reading what Boaz said to Ruth, “The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12). On reading this, it came crashing in to my understanding in a way I’ve never fully appreciated in just this way before that this is what we do when we trust in Christ. Let me explain what I was thinking through and rejoicing in. Ruth placed herself under the refuge of the covenant keeping, only true God, and she could trust Him. When we are trusting in Jesus, this is exactly what we are doing. We are not striving to earn His favor, we are not having to perform or jump through hoops to get Him to notice us or ‘bless’ us. No. In our poverty and wretchedness, we place ourselves under His protection, trusting in Him alone. We have nothing to offer Him to earn favor. We simply come and surrender and shelter in Him. In this, we are cleansed and counted righteous because He is righteous. He protects us from the wrath we deserve, and He makes us His people, safe in the clothing of His righteousness, no longer aliens and foreigners without hope in the world, but cleansed and adopted and free. What amazing grace! It occurred to me that when we truly trust Him, we are free to obey Him and live as He would have us to live. When we are loved and protected and redeemed like this, why would we want anything else?

So, as I was still pondering all these things, when I heard that child Sunday night express thanks that God is slow to anger, my heart sang, “Yes and amen!”