Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Waking Up in a Puddle of Mud is Not the Worst Place to Be

Put yourself in this situation. Go play in a muddy field but don't get dirty. Impossible! It’s no wonder then that those struggling with life-dominating/indwelling sin issues often conclude, “Sometimes I feel that no matter what I do, I am displeasing to God. I am perpetually dirty.”  (Illustration taken from The Journal of Biblical Counseling Volume 28-3. Page 26)

In this illustration, the person who experiences overwhelming desires of the flesh and who is without the hope of the Gospel, will find the law of God simply impossible! They may merely try by the power of self-will to straighten up and fly right, then only to find that the best they can muster is the aesthetic management of outward appearances and avoidance of blatant overt acts of commission by white-knuckling abstinence. But eventually, if the Holy Spirit is working in this person, the matters of the heart will surface and will need to be dealt with head on. Are we equipped?

Some believe that the pastoral implications of and the compassionate approach to dealing with such overwhelming guilt and shame and sense of moral bankruptcy is to backpedal on the law of God and the sinfulness of sin (as previously addressed in my posts quoting John Calvin on indwelling sin and Matthew Henry on Matthew 5:28-30). Rather than walking with our predecessors, Paul, David, Isaiah, and so many others given in the scriptures, many of our contemporaries are actually going the way of what the prophet Jeremiah warned against in Chapter 8:11, "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace".

Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden where all was very good and only one thing forbidden. But after the fall, this world is polluted, like a muddy field. We are surrounded by unclean things, not only in the world, but also in our flesh. So, every one of us struggles and fails to keep ourselves cleansed in the muck and mire of our fallen surroundings.

God bless the man or woman who comes to the end of his or herself and is able to cry out to the Lord as did Isaiah, David, Paul, and the tax collector:
"Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
"For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, "My sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3-4)
"Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24)
"But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’" (Luke 18:13)

To feel that weight and burden of sin -- to be awakened by the Holy Spirit to the puddle of mud in which we have been wading  - is the ideal place to find the mercy and repentance found in the good news of the Gospel message. As David wrote in Psalm 51, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." We too should have compassion and not despise those who bear heavy hearts broken by their sin and stained by the sin of the muck of life in this world.

However, if the message we are giving is little more than moralistic therapeutic deism (as it often tends to be), then of course we are heaping nothing but shame and guilt and remorse onto the broken and needy sinner. Moralistic therapeutic deism teaches people to try to find life by digging their own cisterns in their fields of mud. But no life can be found in such places. Eventually, that puddle of mud will increasingly feel more like quicksand, leading the way straight down to Sheol and away from salvation in Christ alone.

Having experienced the result of living in the dark of moralistic therapeutic deism, that feeling of fighting against a quicksand that never seems to end, we can then find ourselves prone to swing to the other extreme.

In some Evangelical circles, this may be partially why various forms of antinomianism have cropped up.  And if not full blown antinomianism, then perhaps a lower view of sin has been preferred, so as to attempt lighten the stain and guilt of sin (without the blood of Christ).

If we try to ameliorate the burden of sin by minimizing the deceitfulness of sin, then we risk losing the opportunity to share the full Gospel, the forgiveness and healing of Christ. For a Biblical example, consider the testimony of David in Psalm 32, verses 3-5:
"For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;  
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you,  
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,'  
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin

So, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and offered to those condemned souls who have come to feel the weight of their sin, then and only then, is freedom and newness of life possible for those who embrace Him as Lord and Savior. He assures us:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matt. 11:28-30
Let's not forget the Lord's wondrous works toward Isaiah, David, Paul, and the tax collector who cried out to Him for deliverance. Each of these men were blessed by the gift of conviction and repentance unto the Lord and the Lord saved them out of the miry pit of their guilt and shame, and even more out of the very pit that leads to hell. This is what they say:
Isaiah: "Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
David: "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) 
Paul: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25) and "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin," (Romans 8:1-3)
The tax collector: "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14) 

In his new book, "Hide or Seek", John Freeman writes in Chapter 6: Letting the Gospel Disrupt You and Dispel the Lie that You're Powerless:

"What enables us to progress from one stage to another, to boldly and radically be honest about the state of our hearts? It comes from knowing you've nothing to lose but everything to gain by trusting it all to Christ -- trusting your hardened or confused heart, your corrupt desires, and your love for your sin, to him. It also requires trusting in the finished work of Christ for the past, present, and future for you -- just where you may find yourself right now. It means trusting his record instead of yours. It means realizing that we all, at any given moment, are in desperate need of the grace that is found in Jesus. It's a grace that isn't manufactured or self-produced, but one that comes from above as a gift from God.
It's an excellent book that is Gospel-centered and extremely helpful.

And finally, in the process of writing this post, I came across Carrie Sandom's plenary from The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference 2012, which speaks directly to this topic:

 (Note: Carrie Sandom will be the featured plenary speaker at Women in the Word: A Workshop at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA (just north of Philadelphia) this October!

Monday, January 26, 2015

John Calvin on Indwelling Sin & Lust of the Flesh

This is a continuation from my previous post where I quote Matthew Henry's commentary on Matthew 5:28-30.  The issue at hand is a very unfortunate trend in Evangelical circles by highly regarded seminary professors, reformed authors, and prominent speakers who have weakened their view of the sinfulness of sin in an effort to appear more compassionate in the public debates, especially with regard to sexual sin. 

Several authors make the distinction between willful/consensual sin and the experience of indwelling sin a dividing point (their meaning is that indwelling sin is not culpable, and that it simply is the outcome of the fall and just happens to people, like getting cancer), which I hold is not based on scripture, nor as the traditional reformed view of sin. 

John Calvin, in particular, speaks rather clearly on these in several places in "The Institutes of Christian Religion". Here is an excerpt to that end:
"It may be alleged that human laws have respect to intentions and wishes, and not fortuitous events. .. They consider the animus with which the act was done, but they do not scrutinise the secret thoughts. Accordingly, their demand is satisfied when the hand merely refrains from transgression. On the contrary, the law of heaven being enacted for our minds, the first thing necessary to a due observance of the Law is to put them under restraint. But the generality of men, even while they are most anxious to conceal their disregard of the Law, only frame their hands and feet and other parts of their body to some kind of observance, but in the meanwhile keep the heart utterly estranged from everything like obedience. They think it enough to have carefully concealed from man what they are doing in the sight of God... Here the principal thing  which the Law requires is wanting. Whence then, this gross stupidity, but just because they lose sight of the Lawgiver, and form an idea of righteousness in accordance with their own disposition? Against this Paul strenuously protests, when he declares that the "law is spiritual"    (Rom. 7:14); intimating that it not only demands the homage of the soul, and mind, and will, but requires an angelic purity, which, purified from all filthiness of the flesh, savours only of the Spirit." - The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book II, Ch. 8 para.6.

Additionally, Calvin's commentary on Matthew 5:28-30 is exceptionally informative, as well:

MATTHEW 5:27-30
27. You have heard that it was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not commit adultery. 28. But I say to you, That whoever shall look upon a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29. And if thy right eye shall be a stumbling block405 to thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is better for thee that one of thy members perish, and that thy whole body be not thrown into hell. 30. And if thy right hand shall be a hindrance to thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is better that one of thy members perish, and that thy whole body be not thrown into hell.

Matthew 5:27Thou shalt not commit adultery. Christ proceeds with his subject, and shows, that the law of God not only has authority over the life, in a political view, to form the outward manners, but that it requires pure and holy affections of the heart. We must remember what I have already stated, that though Christ quotes the very words of the law, it is the gross and false meaning, which had been put upon it by dishonest interpreters, that he blames. He has already told us, that he did not come as a new Legislator, but as the faithful expounder of a law which had been already given. It might be objected that, through long practice, that interpretation had grown old. Christ expressly admits this, but meets it by saying, that the antiquity of an error ought not to be allowed to plead in its favor.

28. Whoever shall look upon a woman. The design of Christ was to condemn generally the lust of the flesh. He says, that not only those who have seduced their neighbors’ wives, but those who have polluted their eyes by an immodest look, are adulterers before God. This is a synec-doche:406 for not only the eyes, but even the concealed flames of the heart, render men guilty of adultery. Accordingly, Paul makes chastity (1 Corinthians 7:34) to consist both in body and in mind. But Christ reckoned it enough to refute the gross mistake which was prevalent: for they thought that it was only necessary to guard against outward adultery. As it is generally by the wantonness of the eyes that temptations are presented to the mind, and as lust enters, as it were, by that door, Christ used this mode of speaking, when he wished to condemn lust: which is evident from the expression, to lust after her.This teaches us also, that not only those who form a deliberate purpose of fornication, but those who admit any polluted thoughts, are reckoned adulterers before God. The hypocrisy of the Papists, therefore, is too gross and stupid, when they affirm that lust is not a sin, until it gain the full consent of the heart. But we need not wonder, that they make sin to be so small a matter: for those who ascribe righteousness to the merit of works must be very dull and stupid in judging of their sins.

29. If thy right eye shall be a stumbling-block to thee. It might be thought that, considering the weakness of the flesh and of nature, Christ pressed too severely on men, and therefore he anticipates all such complaints. The general meaning is, that however difficult, or severe, or troublesome, or harsh, any commandment of God may be, yet no excuse ought to be pleaded on those grounds, because the justice of God ought to stand higher in our estimation, than all that we reckon most precious and valuable. “You have no right to object to me, that you can scarcely turn your eyes in any direction, without being suddenly drawn away by some temptation: for you ought rather to part with your eyes, than to depart from the commandments of God.” And yet Christ does not mean, that we must mutilate our body, in order to obey God: but as all would readily wish, that they should not be restrained from the free use of their senses, Christ employs an exaggerated form of speech to show, that whatever hinders us from yielding that obedience to God which he requires in his law, ought to be cut off. And he does so expressly, because men allow themselves too much liberty in that respect. If the mind were pure, the eyes and hands would be obedient to it; for it is certain, that they have no movement of their own. But here we are deeply to blame. We are so far from being as careful as we ought to be, to avoid allurements, that we rather provoke our senses to wickedness by allowing them unbounded liberty.

Matthew Henry on Matthew 5:28-30

More and more evangelicals are back peddling on the sinfulness of sin in an attempt to be viewed as more compassionate toward those who battle sexual sin. Over the past year or so I have heard so much softening on this text that I thought I'd research some of the classic commentators to get their take on these verses (Matthew 5:28-30):

27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

And here is the excerpt from Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary (with my highlights added in):

"We have here an exposition of the seventh commandment, given us by the same hand that made the law, and therefore was fittest to be the interpreter of it: it is the law against uncleanness, which fitly follows upon the former; that laid a restraint upon sinful passions, this upon sinful appetites, both which ought always to be under the government of reason and conscience, and if indulged, are equally pernicious.I. The command is here laid down (v. 27), Thou shalt not commit adultery; which includes a prohibition of all other acts of uncleanness, and the desire of them: but the Pharisees, in their expositions of this command, made it to extend no further than the act of adultery, suggesting, that if the iniquity was only regarded in the heart, and went no further, God could not hear it, would not regard it (Ps. 66:18 ), and therefore they thought it enough to be able to say that they were no adulterers, Lu. 18:11 .II. It is here explained in the strictness of it, in three things, which would seem new and strange to those who had been always governed by the tradition of the elders, and took all for oracular that they taught.1. We are here taught, that there is such a thing as heart-adultery, adulterous thoughts and dispositions, which never proceed to the act of adultery or fornication; and perhaps the defilement which these give to the soul, that is here so clearly asserted, was not only included in the seventh commandment, but was signified and intended in many of those ceremonial pollutions under the law, for which they were to wash their clothes, and bathe their flesh inwater. Whosoever looketh on a woman (not only another man’s wife, as some would have it, but any woman), to lust after her, has committed adultery with her in his heart, v. 28. This command forbids not only the acts of fornication and adultery, but, (1.) All appetites to them, all lusting after the forbidden object; this is the beginning of the sin, lust conceiving (James. 1:15 ); it is a bad step towards the sin; and where the lust is dwelt upon and approved, and the wanton desire is rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, it is the commission of sin, as far as the heart can do it; there wants nothing but convenient opportunity for the sin itself. Adultera mens est—The mind is debauched.Ovid. Lust is conscience baffled or biassed: biassed, if it say nothing against the sin; baffled, if it prevail not in what is says. (2.) All approaches toward them; feeding the eye with the sight of the forbidden fruit; not only looking for that end, that I may lust; but looking till I do lust, or looking to gratify the lust, where further satisfaction cannot be obtained. The eye is both the inlet and outlet of a great deal of wickedness of this kind, witness Joseph’s mistress (Gen. 39:7 ), Samson (Jdg. 16:1 ), David, 2 Sa. 11:2 . We read the eyes full of adultery, that cannot cease from sin, 2 Pt. 2:14 . What need have we, therefore, with holy Job, to make a covenant with our eyes, to make this bargain with them that they should have the pleasure of beholding the light of the sun and the works of God, provided they would never fasten or dwell upon any thing that might occasion impure imaginations or desires; and under this penalty, that if they did, they must smart for it in penitential tears! Job. 31:1 . What have we the covering of the eyes for, but to restrain corrupt glances, and to keep out of their defiling impressions? This forbids also the using of any other of our senses to stir up lust. If ensnaring looks are forbidden fruit, much more unclean discourses, and wanton dalliances, the fuel and bellows of this hellish fire. These precepts are hedges about the law of heart-purityv. 8. And if looking be lust, they who dress and deck, and expose themselves, with design to be looked at and lusted after (like Jezebel, that painted her face and tired her head, and looked out at the window ) are no less guilty. Men sin, but devils tempt to sin.2. That such looks and such dalliances are so very dangerous and destructive to the soul, that it is better to lose the eye and the hand that thus offend then to give way to the sin, and perish eternally in it. This lesson is here taught us, v. 29v. 30. Corrupt nature would soon object against the prohibition of heart-adultery, that it is impossible to governed by it; "It is a hard saying, who can bear it? Flesh and blood cannot but look with pleasure upon a beautiful woman; and it is impossible to forbear lusting after and dallying with such an object.’’ Such pretences as these will scarcely be overcome by reason, and therefore must be argued against with the terrors of the Lord, and so they are here argued against.(1.) It is a severe operation that is here prescribed for the preventing of these fleshly lusts. If thy right eye offend thee, or cause thee to offend, by wanton glances, or wanton gazings, upon forbidden objects; if thy right hand offend thee, or cause thee to offend, by wanton dalliances; and if it were indeed impossible, as is pretended, to govern the eye and the hand, and they have been so accustomed to these wicked practices, that they will not be withheld from them; if there be no other way to restrain them (which, blessed be God, through his grace, there is), it were better for us to pluck out the eye, and cut off the hand, though the right eye,and right hand, the more honourable and useful, than to indulge them in sin to the ruin of the soul. And if this must be submitted to, at the thought of which nature startles, much more must we resolve to keep under the body, and to bring it into subjection; to live a life of mortification and self-denial; to keep a constant watch over our own hearts, and to suppress the first rising of lust and corruption there; to avoid the occasions of sin, to resist the beginnings of it, and to decline the company of those who will be a snare to us, though ever so pleasing; to keep out of harm’s way, and abridge ourselves in the use of lawful things, when we find them temptations to us; and to seek unto God for his grace, and depend upon that grace daily, and so to walk in the Spirit, as that we may not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; and this will be as effectual as cutting off a right hand or pulling out a right eye; and perhaps as much against the grain to flesh and blood; it is the destruction of the old man.(2.) It is a startling argument that is made use of to enforce this prescription (v. 29), and it is repeated in the same words (v. 30), because we are loth to hear such rough things; Isa. 30:10 . It is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, though it be an eye or a hand, which can be worse spared, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Note, [1.] It is not unbecoming a minister of the gospel to preach of hell and damnation; nay, he must do it, for Christ himself did it; and we are unfaithful to our trust, if we give not warning of the wrath to come. [2.] There ar some sins from which we need to besaved with fear, particularly fleshly lusts, which are such natural brute beasts as cannot be checked, but by being frightened; cannot be kept from a forbidden tree, but by cherubim, with a flaming sword.[3.] When we are tempted to think it hard to deny ourselves, and to crucify fleshly lusts, we ought to consider how much harder it will be to lie for ever in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone; those do not know or do not believe what hell is, that will rather venture their eternal ruin in those flames, than deny themselves the gratification of a base and brutish lust. [4.] In hell there will be torments for the body; the whole body will be cast into hell, and there will be torment in every part of it; so that if we have a care of our own bodies, we shall possess them in sanctification and honour, and not in the lusts of uncleanness. [5.] Even those duties that are most unpleasant to flesh and blood, are profitable for us; and our Master requires nothing from us but what he knows to be for our advantage."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reflections on "Heirs of the Covenant" by Susan Hunt

Series: You Are What You Read
Heirs of the Covenant by Susan Hunt

As a north-easterner and one not brought up in the church or in the Christian faith, I have to admit that when I hear phrases like "Heirs of the Covenant" or even just the words "Heirs" and "Covenant" in church, my initial reaction is to run. For one thing, the idea of thinking of people as "Heirs" either sounds to me like an archaic backdrop to one of Shakespeare's tragedies or it conjures up notions of southern aristocracy, complete with the plantations, estates, and deeply competitive sibling rivalries.

And whenever I hear the term "Covenant" used, I hearken back to some of my earlier Presbyterian days when "Covenant" was an adjective used for everything that I didn't have: covenant children, covenant marriages, covenant families, covenant schools, and so forth).
Rick Phillips wrote an article about this phenomenon some time ago for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals called Covenant Confusion in which he quips about having been given a bag of covenant coffee beans, which he received as an effectual means of grace. Today when I hear the term "Covenant" used, I still have flashbacks of Duggar-like images.

ByFaith Magazine, our PCA denominational magazine, just recently published an article by Susan Hunt titled, "Heirs of the Covenant" that I had delayed reading as long as I could, until the other day, when I was looking for some inspiration for a women's ministry assignment. I knew Susan could always be counted on for providing godly insight into issues of women's ministry in the church. So, I finally prayed for the willingness to read, and opened up the page with a resolve to push through what I expected to be at a minimum somewhat irrelevant and possibly even somewhat painful to glean some useful content.

Much to my surprise, I am so grateful to have read every word on that page so carefully crafted by Susan! So much wisdom! So much grace! And so much love for the body of Christ!!

And most surprisingly, her article is just so relevant, too.

What rich teaching is here! Theological depth and scriptural balm for life in as the body of Christ and as women in the church!

Below I've copied five of the excerpts from the article that I was able to share with our Women's Bible Study last night. The article generated some great discussion, as well as some ideas for our group to be more intentional in getting to know each other and to cultivate covenant community as women doing life together in the church:

  • "The Gospel of grace is the Good News that the Sovereign, Triune King of the universe enters into a relationship with His people. How could such a thing happen? It took a covenant.
    Covenant is a compelling idea. Covenant is the storyline of the grandest of stories, a story that began before the beginning of time when God chose us in Christ to be His own (Ephesians 1:4), that exploded into time and space when God created us in His image (Genesis 1), was scandalously lost when our first parents rebelled (Genesis 3:1-7), was graciously restored when God promised a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15), was gloriously fulfilled when the Word became flesh (John 1:14), and will reach its spectacular consummation when we hear “a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” (Revelation 21:3)."
  • "The covenant is Trinitarian. In the pre-creation covenant of redemption the Father chose a people, the Son redeemed them by His blood, and the Holy Spirit applies what the Father purposed and the Son accomplished and seals our inheritance (Ephesians 1). There was diversity of function but unity of purpose — “to praise His glorious grace” (vv. 6, 12, 14). The inspiring implication: “Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 1)."
  • “Covenant is a promise that stretches from Genesis to Revelation: I will be your God, you will be my people, I will live among you.  (Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 29:12-13; Jeremiah 24:7; Zechariah 8:8; John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 21:1-5)
  • “Scripture clearly teaches that the content of God’s covenant is to be contextualized in the covenant community. If the covenant is taught in a purely academic way, it will be anemic. God never intended the passing on of the covenant to be just a mental exercise. The covenant is corporate. Our relationship with God is personal and individual, but when that relationship is established, we are immediately in community with others who are in relationship with Him."
  • “The church should be zealous to cultivate community among believers. But unless the members of the community understand that the covenant community was established by an act of God’s free grace and that their existence and purpose is about His glory and not their personal happiness, they will lack the substance to sustain the structures they put in place.”

Read the article at ByFaith Magazine>>>

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top Reads for 2014 - Part 2: A Year of Perspicuity

For the past two years (2012 and 2013), my top reads lists have included numerous weighty tomes, such as several systematic and biblical theologies containing more than 1100 pages, academic biographies, apologetics treatises, and original doctrinal works.

In contrast to the past couple of years, my personal reading for 2014 was marked primarily by some marvelously clear and concise contributions that effectively and winsomely simplified deep historical truths and doctrine. These authors have been a blessing to me in many ways, not the least of which is by providing such perspicuous teaching models! Enjoy this list (and don't miss my Top Reads for 2014 - Part 1: The Year of Reformed Women Authors)!

1. Taking God at His Word:  Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What that Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung

2. Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery by G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd

3. Calvin on The Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael S. Horton

4. Everyone's a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology by R. C. Sproul

5. Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids by Jack Klumpenhower

6. The Triune God (a collection of essays by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals from leading pastors and preachers on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit)

7. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller.

8. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes by Zack Eswine

9 The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs [Kindle Edition] by Sebastian Traeger and Greg D. Gilbert. (Don't miss my Top Reads Part 1 - The Year of Reformed Women Authors, in which Carolyn McCulley's book is highlighted:

10. How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith. This helpful, insightful, and thought-provoking book makes a good pairing with George Marsden's The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950's and the Crisis of Liberal Belief .  Both books provide interesting cultural analysis, but I found Smith's more workable and practical.

Published prior to 2014, Read this Year. Each of these deserve to be on one of my top reads lists:

Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas (2012)
A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture by Keith Mathison (2013) - free for Kindle
Malcolm Gladwell
Fallen: A Theology of Sin (Theology in Community) [Kindle Edition] by Christopher W. Morgan (Author, Editor)

One final note: After spending time this week reviewing the books I've read this year, as well as some books I still need to read or wish to re-read, I've had a few thoughts about how I might merge my reading and gleaning and this blog a bit more. One concept in the works is to do a series called: You Are What You Read, which is a phrase partially co-opted from Rosario Butterfield's blog at The Gospel Coalition early last year here. I hope to say more about this in a later blog post.

Top Reads for 2014 - Part 1 - The Year of Reformed Women Authors

I'd like to officially dub 2014 the year of reformed women authors!

Truth be told, quite few authors blazed the trail before them in the year(s) just prior. Authors like Aimee Byrd, with Housewife Theologian, Melissa Kruger, with The Envy of Eve, Wendy Alsup, the Gospel-Centered WomanKathleen Nielson's Bible Studies, and Nancy Guthrie's Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series certainly got the ball rolling for reformed women authors. Yet, the list of books listed below is a huge testimony to the enormous surge in the quality and quantity of female biblical writers. They're truly impressive, don't you think?

Transcending the list, in a category all its own is: The Women's Devotional Study Bible published by Crossway.

After sifting through my Kindle and rummaging through my bookshelves, here are my top 10 books by reformed women authors published in 2014, listed in no particular order:

I hope you also agree that this was a most prolific year for women authors. Praise God!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Christmas Gift Exchange (TBT)

My first Christmas as a Christian in 1996 is memorable for many reasons. But at this time of year, I am especially
reminded of my very first “White Elephant” gift exchange and how that experience taught me a little bit more about the Gospel. God’s gift to us in Christ came to us in an unassuming package, one which we esteemed not at all. He gave His cherished Son for us and we rejected Him. We have envied and stolen from our neighbor to avoid Him. Even worse when we crucified Him, we literally sent the gift back to the Giver. We said no thanks, God, you can have Him back; we've got our furry slippers right here. We're good. Then Lord goes further. He says, here, let me take your filthy rags. You give me your worst, and I will give you my cherished gift. By the ministry of His Holy Spirit, He reaches down and takes away our junk and sin and graciously, gently, lovingly gives us His most beloved possession, His only begotten son, Jesus Christ. And By His Spirit we now receive this most precious gift, which we neither deserved nor desired, apart from His mercy and grace. Thank you, Jesus.

Read the story here>>>

Friday, November 21, 2014

Have You Joined the Thanksgiving Parade?

In a blast from the past, Dr. Michael Horton writes at The White Horse Inn "Join in the Thanksgiving Parade":
"We need not wallow in our unworthiness, but join the thanksgiving parade that is already in progress, until one day we join our voices with the rest of redeemed creation. The vision of the heavenly kingdom in Revelation is a restored liturgy, with every part of creation performing its ordained role. It is a universal city without man-made walls or a man-made temple, for the Lord surrounds it in safety and the Lamb is its temple. At last, the symphony resounds throughout the empire: 'Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!…Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord (Ps 148:312-13).' " 

Read the entire article here>>> 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Joy in the Autumn of Life (God's Faithfulness in Every Season)

Being immersed in the "Autumn of Life" may bring a sense of an unexpected loss of identity, an uncertainty about the future, new responsibilities for aging family members, and even questions about finding new purpose and energy in life. For some this season may just feel a lot like a pile of fallen leaves, on the ground waiting either to be swept away or to decompose.

The temptation can be strong at this stage to just sit down in the middle of the pile, while looking back at the end of a life-long vocation, trying to examine every dry, shriveled leaf and wishing they were not all gone from the tree. We can doubt the goodness and sovereignty of God as loved ones may become terminally ill or incompetent. Perhaps we look around at all the empty nests of ours siblings and peers, wondering how we will all survive the sparseness of the seasons to come. After all, even if we make it through the winter, real spring time is still a long way off.

The autumn of life can also be a blessing to us, as our vulnerably and sense of brokenness reminds us of how very much in need we are for our Savior -- for the truth of the Word of God made flesh who dwelt among us.  When we read the account of the nativity in the gospels, the gentleness and pureness of the Christ’s birth speaks afresh of our newness of life. As newborn babe, Jesus came for us wrapped in the meekest and most precious of packages ever imagined. In our weakness and vulnerability, perhaps Christ is calling us to die once again to self, as He teaches us further about our utter dependency on Him. Perhaps in this season we are blessed with a closer walk and reliance on King Jesus, whose goal is to remake us more and more into His image as we seek His face in our time of need.

In the celebration of the first coming of Christ, we are reminded that our God is the Lord of new seasons and new birth. The one and only begotten Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, comes to make poor, old, tattered, naked, and vulnerable trees new with a growth bright and adorned with new beautiful leaves.

Jesus Christ takes the tatters of our broken lives and remakes them by covering us with His own righteousness, which is better than any of the leaves sewn in this world. Our leaves, even the best ones, will never be sufficient. It is only by Christ’s righteousness that the autumn of life always turns the corner to Advent for those who abide in Him.

Monday, November 10, 2014

On Single Women in the Church - Neither Pity Nor Envy (God's Faithfulness in Every Season)

As someone who has been single and without biological children all of my life and who will be turning 50 next month... {was that a gasp? }...I find that some of the messages being given about this station and season of life leads many of us to think about being single in at least a couple of unhelpful ways. Here are two:

1) Oh, you’re a single, older Christian woman! You get to do anything you want! or
2) Oh, you’re a single, older Christian woman... You don't get to do anything you want. You don't get to have fun.
Let me explain...

Envy for Singleness?
So the first fallacy goes something like this: "You're a single, self-sufficient, Christian woman -- you get to do anything you want!" "If you want to go out to the movies or the mall, you can do it anytime you want. Or if you want to travel or go on a missions trip halfway around the world. No one is holding you back. What a carefree life you must have."

{In this view we imagine that our freedom can be ultimately found in autonomy and independence. It's an individualistic, self-absorbed, immature view that single people can be especially prone to. I know I often find this false view alluring and tempting in my walk.}

Granted, this view is more commonly held by worldly people and the secular media than overtly in the church. And yet, when I interact with Christian women, sometimes faint hints emerge that would indicate an undercurrent of envy for the detached lives of single people in the church. Sometimes. 

Pity for Singleness? 
More and more often though, there is a predominant view that I seem to be hearing over and over again on the internet and in the church generally. It goes like this: 

Oh, you're a single, older woman without a romantic partner, your life is incomplete.  You can't be really fulfilled or get to do the things that you really WANT to do. You poor dear, you. You must be so repressed. 

Others are prone to pity us and when we buy this unhelpful view, we start to pity ourselves, too. In fact, The Gospel Coalition published an article recently that received a tremendous amount of attention and support because of the author's candid portrayal of the sacrifice and suffering in which she finds herself as a single woman. I think I might be the only person who read the article and felt compelled to provide a counterpoint.

{It's important to note that in this view we imagine that if we single people could just get married our most pressing desires could be met, including the end of loneliness and heartbreak. That somehow having a romantic relationship would make us more mature and complete.)

All of you married women can report back to us on that. I don't know, but would you say that now you have a spouse, has your life reached a whole new level of perfection? No more heart-ache or loneliness in marriage, right? I didn't think so.

In all of this - especially those of us who are single -- we are prone to these false views, but...

God's Word tells us that His truth is better! 

God's Faithfulness - An Introduction
God's faithfulness over the course of my life has been teaching me that these are merely temporal things. As important as they are, they either (in the case of marriage) merely foreshadow and point toward our ultimate reality or  (in the case of self-sufficiency) distort and point away from our ultimate reality and satisfaction, which is found in Christ alone.

God's faithfulness has been teaching me that my faith in Christ alone is not just a theory, but: -- He is the source and promise of my present and eternal status, substance, and security. Christ is the focal point for singles and all believers and He rallies us together to proclaim these excellencies to one another.

And so, rather than share my testimony, which is what I was asked to do, I want to share with you the Truth that I preach to myself on these matters. As Martin Lloyd Jones wrote in his book "Spiritual Depression", we need to take ourselves in hand and preach truth - the Word of God to ourselves when we find ourselves succombing to either pity or pride. We must wage Spiritual Warfare over falsehood and untruth by the Word of God.

So, as I prepared to share this today, I found myself slipping into discouragement and fear. As I immersed myself in the Word of God, 1 Peter Chapters 1 and 2, as well as Ephesians Chapter 5 pointed me to what I needed to hear and what I subsequently need to share with all of you. 

Our Status in Christ
a. First, with regard to Our Status - We belong to Christ - ekklesia - we are the called out ones, the assembly of God's chosen, Holy, privileged people - to know, love, and serve Him. Not out of arrogance, but in humility, we are saved, gathered, and knit together (John Murray) as one people. Called out of Egypt and the world. Called into covenantal relationship with the Lord and His people. Called to worship God in community and rejoice in our future inheritance with Him and His people. 

I am not my own, but I have been bought with a price, by His precious blood. All who are in Christ have this calling, and so we should not live as Lone Ranger Christians. Plus, we have deeper ties than biological family. By His promise and His purpose, we have been bought and brought together by His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:19) Paul says that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. For us.

William Gurnall (the puritan author of The Christian in Complete Armor) stated, Jesus Christ's atoning death is the dowry that He paid for His bride, the Church. “The church is taken out of dying Jesus’ side, as Eve [was made] out of sleeping Adam’s” side. We must remember that incalculable dowry of suffering and blood when we are tempted to slight the church, take her for granted, or neglect our duties toward her. If the Lord Jesus Christ cherished the church so much that He died for her, is it too much for Him to ask His followers to cherish the church and live for her?

b. Our True Substance. Jesus is the Substance of our faith and our present reality as the Church is founded on Him.
Christ is the chief cornerstone of what we believe and who we are as His Body. 1 Peter 1.
He is the Rock on which the Church is built. He is the rock of our faith.

In the past few years, I have come to develop a love of the richness of the hymns of the church (which is kind of odd, because I never really thought much about them before). But this one verse rings true to me all of the time:
"On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,  

All other ground is sinking sand."

When we speak of substance, we're not merely talking material/tangible reality, but "essense". Substance means the core of who we are - Identity. This is crucial because our identity is found first and last in Christ and Christ alone. He Is our Rock.

And collectively, we are His body and His bride. 

To me, to many of us, this concept of Jesus as our bridegroom and our ultimate reward can sometimes feel distant, out of reach, pie in the sky theory.. But this is exactly why the Church as the assembly of the saints is so important. The body of Christ is Jesus' hands and feet and members - the tangible, here and now representation of Him.

And our worship services point us together toward Him, our ultimate, substantial reality. In Worship our leaders administer the means of grace which have been appointed by God for our well-being and edification. We are a means of grace church.

During our Bible studies and fellowship times, God's Word works its way into our hearts and lives for His glory. In our one-on-one friendships, we grow in grace and both receive and give accountability to one another. 

All of these faith supplements remind me of a verse from last stanza from the great hymn "It is Well With My Soul": And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
One day, our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be made sight and all of the promises of God will be yes and Amen in Him.

Our familial relationships -- marriage, as important and sacred as it is, and children, who are ALWAYS a blessing from the Lord -- are only temporal relationships that point us toward a greater future reality in the family of God. Our human relationships find ultimate significance and value only when grounded in Christ and Christ alone.  He is the only one that can really satisfy and that will never fail us.

c. God's faithfulness continues to teach me about Our Security - As Christ's people, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that WE are His workmanship - that includes me, as I must often remind myself.   The perseverance of the saints rests on the fact that We are His workmanship.

And 1 Peter 2 - reiterates that Christ is the foundation and the chief cornerstone... But Peter goes on to say that we are the Church - living stones built up together in Him... a holy priesthood of believers.  We are the temple -- yes, individually we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, but Peter is saying that together with all the Church we make up God's Holy Temple built on Him as our foundation.

Jesus tells Peter in the Gospels that HE (Jesus) WILL build His Church and; the gates of hell will not prevail against it. 
Indeed, our Security is Sure, sisters!

Yet, many of us who are single know all too well from personal experience that a slow separation from the church can happen in us when we are discouraged or distracted. This is one of Satan's main strategies. When I make my faith individualistic and self-absorbed, it leads me away from the Lord and His people. 

But I have also learned that God's faithfulness, working through His people, continues to remind me of that JESUS will build HIS church - He will complete the work that He began in me - in us. This is an objective reality. It is true whether I believe it or not. Even when I don't feel like it's true, I know that it is. "The gates of hell will not prevail against Him."

And God's people -- you all -- remind me of His promise. You see, this is a community project and it is more important and more powerful from an eternal perspective than any biological family alone will ever be. It's true whether it seems like it right now or not.

Joel Beeke  has said that "The church, then, is .. like... a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. We dedicate our lives ...  to a work in progress: to what Christ has promised and paid for with His own blood; it IS worthwhile...  and (it) will be successful in the end, though there will always be (flaws along the way). The church’s work, therefore, is never in vain. It is the product of God’s sovereign grace in Christ, not the product of ... men.

"One day Christ’s work will also be finished in us, and our Bridegroom will present us to His Father in glory, sanctified and perfected by His work in us. ... all sorrow will be forgotten, all sighing will flee, and we will forever praise the Lamb who sits on the throne. John Murray wrote that, 'It is both the privilege and obligation of believers to appreciate more and more the complementarity of Christ and His church.'”

Marriage, sacred institution that it is, points us all to a greater reality - the relationship between our Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church.  Paul calls this a profound mystery in Ephesians 5:32, but it's one that everyone in the church should embrace - the married and the single. 

Because - there are no lone rangers in the church - we do not live for ourselves. I am not my own, I have been bought with a price - Jesus precious blood.

We are made for relationships in this temporal, fleeting world, but all of those relationships - including marriage -- will pale in comparison when we are face to face at the wedding feast with the one who we've been longing to be with all along - our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Neither Pity, Nor Envy: Rather Praise God's Faithfulness in Every Season!
Because of this great truth, single Christian women need not be envied, nor pitied.

Rather we should be reminded and be reminding others that Jesus has given us and promised us greater things in Himself. He is our great reward. He is our eternal bridegroom who builds us up together as His Church, and we will ultimately be with Him in His heavenly home that he prepares for us. 

Believe it. Share it. Thank you, Lord Jesus.