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.