Thankful Thursday

Today I join with other bloggers who devote space on their site each Thursday to gratefully acknowledge the Lord’s providences and blessings of the past week. I thank the Lord for…

  • Weekends. And the opportunities to do things like the “Cirque de la Symphonie” I attended with my husband, mom, sisters/brothers-in-law, niece & nephew, and some friends. It was a variety show of circus performers doing acrobatics, contortions, and juggling along with live classical music. The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra performed beautifully and the acts were breathtaking. Everyone loved it.

Cirque

  • Meeting deadlines. I don’t talk about my “real work” that often (because I don’t want to bore you) but my coworkers and I met a big deadline this week for publishing all the streamflow records for the state of Colorado online. This frees me up to work on other projects and focus on the weekend ahead. Thank you Jesus.
  • Free books. Yes, I know I was thankful for books last week…but this is different because this week I won books! I’m so very grateful to Luma Simms at Gospel Grace for her generous giveaways. I won The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin last Friday and am so excited to dig into it! And then, coincidentally, Byron Yawn put out a Twitter trivia question (asking for the location of a picture) for a copy of his newest book: Suburbianity. I tweeted him back the right answer and won that book too! How blessed I’ve been this week!
I already received this one in the mail!

I already received this one in the mail!

  • Scripture. I’ve had a lot of questions this week (my pastor can attest to this as he has been on the receiving end of most of them). I’m thankful that scripture is inerrant, consistent, and clear. Sometimes it may take work to see “the answers,” but I’m grateful that scripture has been preserved through time as the infallible word of God and that I can trust Him completely.
  • Groomers. Dog groomers to be exact. There’s a sweet lady at our church that grooms the Wendy dog for us. Wendy desperately needed a cut–and doesn’t she look pretty now?

Wendy Cut

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
1 Chronicles 16:8

What are you thankful for today?

Where Will You Be on Friday?

My pastor asked a question on Sunday. Simply:

“Where will you be on Friday?”

It wasn’t a friendly inquisition or even an invitation to our special Good Friday service. It was more of an indictment of my soul. He asked it in the context of the story of the Triumphal Entry, as we call it (Matthew 21:1-17)—what Palm Sunday is all about. The peoples described in the Triumphal Entry are zealous for Jesus. They shout, as my pastor put it, with revolutionary tone. They are ready to overthrow Rome, to fight with Jesus, to die for him. The disciples line the donkey–Jesus’ generals at arms. Peter’s sword is sharpened, poised and ready to take on the enemy.

But where does Jesus march? Straight into the temple. The heart of the revolution! And drives out the money-changers and the pigeon salesmen saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” His actions and his words convey the message: “The problem is not out there. The problem is in here.” Jesus came to conquer the enemy alright: the enemy of sin and self-righteousness. Indeed, where will you be on Friday?

Skyline

We know the story already. Nobody: not the blind men who were healed, the lame men who could now walk, the children who sang his praises, the palm wavers, nor even his disciples; nobody was at Jesus’ side on Friday. They all fled. Why? Fear of course, but also a complete misunderstanding of who he was and what he came to do. And don’t we still misunderstand? We think we know who the enemy is. It’s my boss or “those liberals” or cancer or Satan himself. We stand with Jesus, waving his flag with revolutionary tone: “Down with the enemy!”

But when Jesus marches into the temple of our hearts and start messing things up–convicting us of self-righteousness, showing us where we’re self-serving, pointing out our failings–we bristle don’t we? We’d rather Jesus fix our external problems than deal with what’s inside. And then, sometimes our circumstances not only don’t get better, they get worse! Life is terribly painful and we almost feel like we’re being crucified with Christ.

And that’s when we should ask ourselves: “Where will I be on Friday?” When the going gets tough, when you can’t see the forest for the trees, when your idea of success has flown out the window, when your hero is convicted of blasphemy and is put on trial to be crucified, where will you be? Can you believe that God is sovereign over everything? Can I?

I ponder these things and know that I would not have been nobler than the disciples. I would’ve been right there, cowering under that bush or behind that tree. But God’s grace is so magnificent, we know that eventually they did believe and understand. Jesus left his empowering and comforting Spirit and by him we also can know that God is sovereign over all things. He is sovereign over the temple of my heart, my circumstances, this world, and everything in it.

Soli Deo Gloria

Gates of Fire: Book Reflection

Since so many (alright three) of you requested a review of my fabulous fiction read, it was enough to capitulate me. But here’s my disclaimer:

This is an R-rated book for violence, language, and some sexual content (though not crude or pornographic). If any of these things offend you, do NOT read this book. It is not for the faint of heart or the under-13 crowd. I’ll admit I almost didn’t make it through because it’s rather difficult to swallow (being an epic, gritty war novel), but I was glad by the time I got to the end.

Steven Pressfield launches you into the harsh Grecian world of 480 BC. The story is told largely from the perspective of the slave warrior Xeones (often referred to as Xeo) who serves as squire to Dienekes, one of the Spartan heroes of the book and of Greek history. Xeo has been captured by the Persian enemy as the only survivor of the battle. Their King Xerxes insists Xeo explain how Spartan warriors came to fight so valiantly at the “Hot Gates”—otherwise known as the historic Battle of Thermopylae. So there are really two stories happening: one in “the present” in italics as the scribes narrate and the other, the “historical account,” all from Xeo’s perspective. This storytelling method adds greatly to the suspense as you near the end. The narrative moves slowly at first, but picks up significantly as you move through.

My highest praise for the book is the striking prose and sentence craftsmanship of the author. He is pulling you into a completely different world and his descriptions help you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste it. I stopped multiple times just to reread beautifully constructed sentences. Unfortunately you’ll have to take my word for it since it’s not my habit to annotate fiction (another reason I was reluctant to review…no quotes, sorry!) He may not be writing about beautiful things, but he writes beautifully.

And now I must confess that this is not really a book review, which I seem incapable of. But more of a personal book reflection and further explanation of why I loved it so much.

Because of the time period and the circumstances surrounding the book, Biblical images kept coming to mind. At the beginning of the story Xeo’s hometown is completely destroyed. Pressfield’s description of the devastation of losing ones entire city helped me think about how the Israelites must have felt after the fall of Jerusalem. It gave personality to the book of Lamentations in my mind and helped me empathize as much as I can, being a comfortably suburban American. Also, when the Spartan soldiers are marching to Thermopylae, the author describes the mass exodus of people from the city to escape the pending doom of war with the Persians. I recalled the Biblical scene of the exodus out of Egypt—hasty and chaotic, and perhaps laced with some fear, although not without hope.

Several features about ancient Greek culture in the book struck me in their contrasts with Biblical truth. The book frequently references the mythological gods. Xeo especially looks to Apollo, the Archer God, who appears to him in the woods when he is near death. Xeo’s cousin, another main character, also ends up serving a goddess as her profession. But it’s clear that faith in the gods was optional. They were immortal but not infallible or morally perfect. Humans could have a tit-for-tat relationship with the gods, unless the god decided to be fickle, which they often did. Many characters in the book despise Xeo as foolish for his faith in the gods. How grateful I am to serve the one, true God who never changes and is perfectly good. How grateful I am that our relationship is not tit-for-tat but drenched in grace. And how grateful I am that God is never fickle.

Fear is a major theme in the book. Dienekes, as a Spartan officer and trainer in the “agoge” (school for young warriors), is a student of fear. He believes fear originates in the flesh. There is some Gnostic belief woven in there that the flesh is inherently bad and is something you must train to overcome and finally shed completely. Here I agree with the idea that human nature is inherently evil, but not in the idea that our bodies themselves are inherently bad. Nor do I agree with their methods of overcoming fear, though it was fascinating to read. The Spartan warriors train to steel themselves to pain: to block it out with both physical and mental exercises, to consider loyalty to Sparta first and foremost, and to fear the shame of people more than fear the pain of death. Dienekes is constantly trying to decipher the ultimate way to overcome fear. I wholeheartedly agreed with his conclusion, which he comes to at the very end: the opposite of fear is not courage as one may think, but love.

Finally, The Spartan King Leonidas is the true hero of the book and many of his traits resemble our Lord and King Jesus. Leonidas loves his city and the men he leads. Unlike King Xerxes, Leonidas fights at the forefront, leading his men into the fray, never watching from the sidelines. He is compassionate; he counts the cost of sending men to battle. He mourns with those who mourn and rejoices with those who rejoice. He is humble; he gets down among the people instead of lording his kingship over them. And most of all, *Spolier Alert (if you don’t know the history)* he sacrificially lays his life down for his people.

Overall I enjoyed this book for its literary prowess and its harkening to Biblical truths, either by contrast or by parallel. As Christians we ought always to weigh what we hear, see, and read against the word of God. If you can do that without stumbling over the gruesome, raw nature of the book, then I would recommend it to you. If not, there are plenty of other great books out there!

Thankful Thursday

Today I join with other bloggers who devote space on their site each Thursday to gratefully acknowledge the Lord’s providences and blessings of the past week. I thank the Lord for…

  • Provision. My husband and I are always looking to steward our resources more wisely so that we can use them for God’s glory, but I am thankful right now that we have enough. I’m also thankful that my mom closed on a new house!
  • Good books. I recently finished a great fiction book which I’ve been debating whether or not to write a “review” of …perhaps I will since I see your eager faces.  And now I’ve just begun a superb nonfiction. Unlike many of my blogger friends, I don’t read very quickly and I don’t multi-task well. It’s been a good discipline for me to rotate fiction and nonfiction and by the grace of God my nightstand stack is getting smaller. 🙂
  • Spring. Longer days and slightly warmer temperatures are starting to put a hop in my step—Easter bunny pun not intended.
My board says it, therefore it's true.

My board says it, therefore it’s true.

  • Music. What a gift to both listen to and create music. Everyone who works alongside me on our music team at church are blessings as well.
  • Working vehicles. Forgot to update that both vehicles are back in commission. I’m very thankful for both that and my husband’s diligence and thoughtfulness in cleaning out the garage so I can park in it again.
  • Grace. God’s grace is sufficient for me these last few days of March 2013 and his power is made perfect in weakness.  I am dependent on Him to do the work He has called me to do at my jobs and in my home. I’m confident He will give me my “daily bread” as I’m faithful to ask for it.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

What are you thankful for today?

When I Run Out of Trust

Hosea

I’ve had a burning question for months now and I’ve found it difficult to vocalize even to discuss with others. I read something in a Christian fiction, of all things. I won’t even name the work because it’s not important. It depicted the people of Israel, led by Joshua, preparing to cross over the Jordan River to attack Jericho. A particular soldier was doubtful they would make it across the Jordan and his commander told him something to the effect of: “Joshua speaks for the LORD and this is what the LORD has told us to do. Have faith that it can and will happen.”

“I still don’t know…”

“Trust God. And when you run out of trust, just obey.”

That last statement is the one that stuck with me and created the question in my heart. Is this right and good? Or is this a distortion of the truth? Is it Biblical? At first the statement resonated with me. Yes, I thought, we must obey the word of the LORD all the time. Even if we don’t have the amount of faith we think it requires. If we “run out of faith,” we just obey what we know to be right…and that is the right thing to do. But then in the same proverbial breath I thought—but no, that would not be the kind of obedience God wants, is it? We mustn’t ever “run out of faith” because without faith it’s impossible to please God. Doesn’t God desire I put my faith in Him and his person and character even more than following the letter of the law? If I’m obeying his word “blindly,” with no faith in the person of God, I’m no better than Cain or the Pharisees.

I voiced the question to a person I respect and their answer was: “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” This threw a wrench in my thought process for awhile because I thought they were saying: “Obedience is better than disobedience, even if you feel you’ve ‘run out of faith,’” which I would tend to agree with. That soldier didn’t desert the army for fear that he would drown in the Jordan; he crossed over with everyone else. So was God pleased with that? I don’t know exactly.

But looking at the verse from which the statement “obedience is better than sacrifice” is pulled, I found out that it’s not really talking about the same thing. Saul had been told by the LORD (through Samuel) to destroy an entire people and everything in their land but instead Saul had held back “the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things…to sacrifice to the LORD” (1 Sam 15:21). Saul disobeyed the direct command of the LORD under the pretense that he was giving something valuable to God (a sacrifice). And this is when Samuel counters with:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Sam 15:22).

He’s basically saying, “You should have obeyed exactly what God said instead of assuming that God would be pleased with a sacrifice.” Saul acted out of faith in something other than God’s word—perhaps tradition, or himself, or greed. Whatever it was, it displeased God. The soldier crossing the Jordan would have been obeying God’s word, but without initially trusting God could accomplish it.

Does God NEED our faith in order to act? Absolutely not. You see it throughout scripture and with Jesus especially. The story that comes to mind is the father who comes to Jesus asking him to heal his son’s seizures but doubtful that Jesus will actually be able to help.

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24)

“I believe; help my unbelief!”–a contradictory, paradoxical prayer that (likely) resonates in all our hearts. Our faith is imperfect at the best of times, but that doesn’t diminish God’s power or His compassion. But does this justify divorcing obedience from faith in God? I still think no.

My pastor said something yesterday that sealed the deal for me. He said, “Obedience is not God’s ultimate goal. His goal is for us to enjoy and be satisfied in Him. Obedience is the means to that end.” He is connecting obedience to God not only to honoring and fearing God for who He is (which is right and good), but even extending it to enjoyment of relationship with God. And THAT, my friends, is the ultimate joy and fulfillment! So in this sense, obedience to God is simply an expression of our abiding in Christ. And abiding in Christ, of course, cannot be divorced from faith.

Last point concerning this (you think I’m all over the place and that is very true, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and obviously still haven’t come up with anything very cohesive. Sorry!) Jesus said it in my Bible reading this morning. The Pharisees were giving him a hard time about eating with sinners and he said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:12-13). That quote, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” is pulled from Hosea chapter 6. My translation renders it:

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Hosea 6:6

If this doesn’t seal the deal, I don’t know what else could. Jesus challenged the Pharisees to “go learn what this means.” I think he’s talking to my Pharisee heart. There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As true obedience without faith in God. My ESV study notes express it this way: “God prefers real participation in the covenant on the part of his people, here expressed as steadfast love and knowledge of God, to the polluted ceremonies of the northern kingdom that ignore these qualities.” Furthermore it says: “The prophets often seem to dismiss sacrificial worship, but careful attention to the context shows that they are concerned with faithful use of the divine ordinances and obedience from the heart…Texts such as Isa. 1:11–17; Jer. 6:20; 7:21–23; and Mic. 6:6–8 are addressed to Judah, where the external form of the sacrifices may be proper, but is not combined with genuine repentance and godly living. In such cases the worship is worse than empty; it is an attempt to manipulate God.”

It is wrong to externally obey when you “run out of trust” in God. The fictional commander of that fictional book ought to have told that fictional soldier: “Trust God. And when you run out of trust, pray that God help your unbelief. Then you can obey from the heart.”

Photo credit: MB Photography

Redeeming the Time

Redeeming the Time

Do you have a computer or a smart phone? Of course you do, you’re reading this. Do you also have ears? I sincerely hope so. Then perhaps you can benefit from some of these free audio resources.

One of my absolute favorite things about getting an iPhone was discovering this new world of free audio resources! I believe strongly in the podcast because it can build up your mind to glorify Christ, even passively. You can be listening to something while you’re driving, folding laundry, doing dishes, cooking dinner, sweeping the floor, or changing a diaper. If you find your hands occupied but your mind free, that is a perfect time to listen to something edifying. I love “redeeming time” this way. So here are my recommendations for any and all free Christian audio you can get on your iPhone. I will indicate what’s available for android or online use as well.

Bible Apps

Youversion – iPhone, android, and online. Everyone probably knows this baby will read the Bible to you. It’s nice sometimes to have just a fatherly voice reading to you. I use this one fairly frequently, but I also like…

Bible.is – iPhone, android, & online. This app has an option for a dramatic reading of the ESV called “ESV 2001 English Standard Drama.” The dramatized version uses different voice actors for different characters and includes background music.

Podcasts – All podcasts are available for iPhone and android as long as you have a podcast app. “Onecast” and “Stitcher Radio” are free for Android. “Podcasts,” “Stitcher Radio,” and “RSSRadio” are free for iPhone  Or you can listen on a desktop through iTunes.

The Briefing – “A daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, releases a new 15-20 minute podcast every weekday reviewing major headlines and other items of interest from a distinctly Christian worldview. I listen to this nearly every morning while getting ready for work or sometimes on the drive to work. It’s a great way to keep up with current events if you can’t stand the local news (like me).

Connected Kingdom – Tim Challies and David Murray offer a somewhat weekly podcast with the tagline “connecting truth with life in a digital world.” They’ve discussed many topics and currently are going through an online Old Testament and wisdom literature class.

Revive Our Hearts – This one’s for girls only, sorry guys. Her name is Nancy Leigh Demoss and the podcast is a daily encouraging word from a great women’s Bible teacher. The current series is called “How to Fall and Stay in Love with Jesus.” The previous series on “The Lord’s Prayer” was also excellent.

All About Worship – For worship-types (obviously). Wisdom Moon & Ben Abu Saada (yes, those are their real names, and they are a couple of pretty funny, laid-back guys) bi-weekly put out this podcast meant to equip, encourage, and inspire worship leaders. Their archives include interviews with many well-known worship leaders and other great resources.

Renewing Your Mind – The one and only Dr. R.C. Sproul has his daily radio broadcast of Bible teaching available as a podcast. Listen to one, you’ll be hooked I promise.

Other Apps

Ask Pastor John – iPhone or online only. A quick 5 minute daily podcast put out by Desiring God in which John Piper answers emailed questions from listeners.

Refnet – iPhone, android, and online. A 24/7 radio program, sponsored by Ligonier ministries, that includes Bible teaching, Bible readings, audiobook readings, news, and radio drama. Teachers include R.C. Sproul, John Piper, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Ravi Zacharias, Albert Mohler, and more.

Ligonier – iPhone, android, and online. I mention this because the app contains not only the “Renewing Your Mind” daily broadcasts, but also hours of conference messages, teaching series, and sermons.

Desiring God – iPhone, android, and online. Contains audio for hundreds of John Piper’s sermons, conference messages, and seminars. One feature I especially like is the “Browse by Scripture Index” option that allows you to see what resources are available for a particular book or passage in Scripture.

Audiobooks – iPhone, android, and online. The app is free and there are some free books available for download (many classics) and others available for purchase. Fair warning that the free audiobooks are “Libravox” recordings, meaning that they are read by volunteers, not professionals. But they are entertaining and edifying nonetheless. I’ve listened to Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Heretics by G.K. Chesterton, and Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Do you have other favorite audio resources for smartphones? Please leave a comment and let us know!

Walking in the Light

God is Light

Yesterday my pastor preached a sermon about walking in the light of God out of 1 John 1:5-2:1. The main point of the passage is that God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all–meaning there is no sin in God at all. Several things my pastor said struck me to the heart.

First of all, he spoke about how the Bible uses the concepts of “light” and “truth” interchangeably. Earlier in the week I had read this verse in James:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
(James 1:17)

I knew that our pastor was going to be preaching about “walking in the light” this weekend and wondered if he would bring this verse into play. He didn’t directly, but I still thought about it when he spoke of the relationship between light and truth. One of the characteristics of God, we know, is immutability. This is easier understood by the statement: “God is unchangeable.” I believe this is what James 1:17 is talking about. God is light, but not like a flashlight or a spotlight or even like sunlight because His light is unchanging. It never moves, so it never casts a shadow. Wayne Grudem’s Christian Beliefs gives a working definition of immutability: “God is unchangeable in his being, attributes, purposes, and promises” (p. 23). In light of this, I can rest assured that God’s being, attributes, purposes, and promises are all true. God is light, light is truth, and the truth never changes.

Our pastor also spoke about how light is meant to illuminate our path (Psalm 119:105). Simple as it may seem, it struck me that lighting a path in the dark would only be beneficial if sight is among your faculties. “Light is meant to bring certainty instead of doubt,” my pastor said and I found myself thinking, “Yes, as long as you can see. A blind person wouldn’t be helped much.” And isn’t that exactly what we are before the Holy Spirit quickens us? The light of God’s truth is right in front of our faces, glaringly so (Romans 1), but we’re completely blind to it. In fact, we’re dead to it. We can neither see, nor smell, nor hear, nor feel, nor taste the sweetness of God until we are called out of darkness into light (1 Peter 2:9). We were corpses in sin, not even knowing we were blind; but when God makes us alive then we can truly see the path ahead of us and the world around us. What a glorious truth!

Lastly, when my pastor was explaining 1 John 1:9, he used a powerful analogy. The verse says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” My pastor explained:

“God is in covenant with us. That means he is not moody. He never wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.”

So convicting! God is not like me. He is in covenant with us just like I am in covenant with my husband, but unlike me He doesn’t decide not to forgive us on a whim. It goes back again to God’s immutable character. God is so stable. I need not worry that He’s not going to be there when I wake up tomorrow. And not only do I need not worry about His presence, but the Bible tells me I need not worry about His mercies! They are there afresh every morning! If I confess my sin, He is faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me–that means always, every time, no matter what. And that’s how I should be to my husband. I should be present, merciful, faithful, loving–always, every time, no matter what. May God give me the grace to be a living testimony to His covenant in my marriage.

Thank you pastor for a challenging and Gospel-rich message. Food for my soul!

Photo credit: MB Photography

I have linked this post to “Grace Laced Mondays” here:

GraceLaced Mondays