Monday, December 20, 2010

Beautiful Britain

Britain this year has seen some of it's coldest weather. Yet with this Arctic blast has been a country transformed into a winter wonderland just in time for Christmas! I thought it would be nice to share some photos I took of where I live to share with readers. Enjoy!

For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Isaiah 55:10-11

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Some Recent Musings

"I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels." Isa. 61:10

For some time now I have had on my heart many things I wanted to share and write about. I feel sorry for Jen, founder of this blog because I keep telling her of the things which I would love to write about but then something else happens and it’s put on hold! As I press on to know the Lord more my hunger for His Word increases and I could quite happily spend a whole day in His presence. But then life happens and when your routine is interrupted you learn to appreciate those quite times with Him.

...we need Gods grace for the good days and the bad days.Interrupted routine has made me so much more grateful for His grace and my salvation. I mean I began to beat myself up a little for not being able to have the same quality time with the Lord but then I saw the trap I was falling into… AGAIN! Works based righteousness. It’s like what Jerry Bridges says, we need Gods grace for the good days and the bad days. We think that on those bad days we don’t deserve His blessing when in reality we never had any righteousness of our own to please God. It is all because of our Lord Jesus Christ we are blessed, saved and sanctified and it is His righteousness not our own, therefore we are in need of Gods grace everyday, both the good days and bad. I thank God for His loving kindness and Grace.

Our walk with the Lord is as individual as a fingerprint. We all experience different things at different times and are at different stages of our growth in Christ. To my dismay and ignorance I found that because some people weren’t at the same level as I was I became judgemental. I didn’t know I was doing it but I was. A very pivotal point in my life was the moment God opened my eyes to that carnal side which would try to become holy by my own efforts. Since that day there have been so many changes. It was a real eye opener!!! I understand more what it is to abide in Christ and I have come to know Him more intimately. I truly thank God for that.

Since knowing God more intimately, having my eyes opened to the self life and our need for God’s grace, there has been a stronger desire to share this experience with others. I don’t want to be an armchair blog critic but to go out and make Christ known and blog about it, lol. Can we love when we have more of a relationship with a point of view than with the Lord Himself?
But in the blogging world I have found there to be so many critics. They know their theology inside out. They blog about it, arrange debates to debate about it, create forums exclusively for it, fellowship only with believers who hold to it, defend it wherever it is threatened with an opposing point of view and they fall out with their brothers and sisters over it. But when it comes to living it out they fall far short. They argue “We must defend truth!” But what is truth? Truth isn’t an it, Truth is a Person!

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John14:6

There is such a danger of putting our theology before God. Knowing our theology more intimately than the Lord and believing it is that theological interpretation that is the way, the truth and the life…the only way to the Father. But it is not the way. Jesus is the way! Can we love when we have more of a relationship with a point of view than with the Lord Himself? For many years as a babe in Christ I was so hungry to learn that I substituted relationship for knowledge. I remember many years ago now when reading books on the Lord thinking “Why don’t I feel that way about the Lord!”. They wrote like they knew Him so personally. Deep down I knew I didn’t know the Lord like I should. But God knows and brought me through many things to establish that relationship and grow to know Him intimately.

When it comes to a theological interpretation (Non essential I hasten to add yet that should be obvious!) why do we elevate Christian teachers to the point that we name drop them to show what we are writing is sound because so and so holds to it.....but isn’t there a very subtle tendency to elevate our own ego and pride? You bet!

The other day I followed a link to a blog and to my surprise, under the title there was a subtitle which went something like this “A view held by….. , …… & ….. . There were a couple of well known teachers and one not so well known. What did they mean by that? Are they saying that because these people hold this view it must be right? Then there is nowadays an increasing elevation on ones own name over the Lords. Today there is such a danger of elevating ones ministry and name online. Of course we desperately need to spread the gospel and the truth but isn’t there a very subtle tendency to elevate our own ego and pride? You bet! I have seen many out there who take pride in their own name to become the next Paul Washer. We must turn our eyes on ourselves now and then and question our motives!
What is the aim of our blog, website or for promoting our sermons and ministries online? Is it to spread the gospel and to make disciples or is it tainted with vain glory and self exaltation?

All these thoughts have been on my heart of late and I would be interested in your thoughts too. I’m sure …. No in fact I know there are many walking wounded because of pride and stubbornness in the online Christian community but we need to overcome them, forgive and pray for those who hurt us and live out the gospel as much online as we do out there in the world. May we shine as bright lights making Christ known everywhere!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Male Reader Speaks

In September 2008 I published an article which rejected the idea that Christian women need to downplay their looks in order to be holy. The following response was written by one of our male readers (who prefers to remain anonymous). His thoughts are being published with his permission.

Earlier this year, in mid February, I visited a friend’s blog site, Reformed SHEology, and in my browsing through some of the titles from the past therein, happened upon one posting from September 2008 that particularly captured my notice, on the topic of physical beauty in women, and/or lack thereof (“She's . . . but she sure can cook!”). The piece had a lot of humor in it, and I had a few or more good laughs as I read, but really the subject matter was not meant to be, essentially, lighthearted or frivolous in nature at all.

Approximately twenty-five years ago I was reading through Arnold Dallimore’s two-volume Life of George Whitefield. Something I read way back then, from the chapter in Volume II concerning Whitefield’s marriage to a woman named Elizabeth James, arrested my attention in a strange sort of way, and I have never forgotten it. Whitefield, just 26 at the time, was writing a letter to a friend, announcing that he had married, and this is how he described his new bride:

“I married … one who was a widow, of about thirty-six years of age … neither rich in fortune nor beautiful as to her person, but, I believe, a true child of God …” (my emphasis added)

Hmm . . . “nor beautiful as to her person.” Clearly Whitefield was referring to external, not internal, beauty. However, the less than glowing picture of marriage for this great and now famous man of God did not end simply with this emphasis upon the external. Dallimore went on to say, more or less as a summary statement,

" . . . on this basis Whitefield’s marriage proceeded. He proved a concerned and gracious husband and she a dutiful and helpful wife, and though there was probably no strong love on either side, their attitude toward one another was at least one of devotion and mild affection.”

At the risk of sounding a bit on the cynical side, I am not too sure, if the truth were known, that such a description does not fairly well describe a lot of marriages, even successful ones that last, even Christian ones, and even, I dare say, ones in which the physical attraction/ attractiveness IS strongly present, especially in the wife (because men are naturally more enamored by this than women, I have always heard, whereas women are far more interested in a man who will simply, really, love them).

Nearly four months ago, I was finishing up reading and studying through the book of Job. A verse there in the 42nd chapter particularly grabbed my attention, after all the unfathomable sufferings Job had endured:

“And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.” (v. 15)

As I sometimes do, I reached for the commentary of that dear man of God from seventeenth-century England, Matthew Henry, to see what he had to say about these exceedingly “fair” daughters of Job, with the former ones, and their brothers, having all died in the tragedy told of in Job Chapter 1. I can’t speak for anyone else who would read the same, but his words struck me as very moving, very profound (quoting from the online, unabridged commentary):

“Concerning these daughters we are here told, That God adorned them with great beauty, no women so fair as the daughters of Job, v. 15. In the Old Testament we often find women praised for their beauty, as Sarah, Rebekah, and many others; but we never find any women in the New Testament whose beauty is in the least taken notice of, no, not the virgin Mary herself, because the beauty of holiness is that which is brought to a much clearer light by the gospel.”

In the glorious providence and ways of God, it has often amazed me how something so profound, and even so obvious, as this can be veiled from one’s eyes, until such a time that God sees fit to unveil them. Truly, it had never occurred to me before, that the New Testament is so loudly, so curiously silent about this very matter that is indeed given such prominence, at least in places, in the Old Testament: Eve, Queens Vashti and Esther, Abigail, Delilah, Bathsheba, etc. I ended up having a very engaging time discussing the same — Mr. Henry’s commentary on Job’s daughters — that same night at home with our own many “beautiful daughters,” and my wife, in our family devotion.

Well, it is time to get real personal and honest with this, as much so as in anything I have ever written, I do believe. And this is what everything heretofore has been leading up to. While I would never claim to be, or try or pretend to be, a modern-day George Whitefield, I, like he, married a woman not particularly “beautiful as to her person.” Without at all wanting to go into a lot of my history as a young man, more than a few decades ago by now, I would simply sum up those later teenage years by saying that I was terribly bashful with regards to the opposite sex, most especially with the “gorgeous” girls that I surely took notice of. I was pretty well convinced that none such would ever want to go out on a date or any such with me, and so, I never asked. I just “worshiped” from afar (more about this in a few minutes). As I think back on those years - with no regrets whatsoever today, mind you — it was just inevitable, I believe, that when I did eventually marry (at age 27), it would be to a woman who was not, outwardly, particularly beautiful.

All of what I just said may strike some readers as just a bit sad, or bothersome perhaps, I don’t know. I mean, there may be some who believe — naively, from my perspective — that it is almost or even downright sinful not to think that one’s own wife, no matter what she looks like, is the most beautiful woman on earth! All that aside, the infinitely greater reality that was, and still is, going on in all of this, in the unerring providence of God for my life, is not at all sad, I am quite sure. For one thing, God has blessed me and my wife with a good, strong marriage for over 27 years now. We have been through a lot, an awful lot, together. Most specifically, I have been through two exceedingly deep spiritual valleys (dungeons, is more like it) during these years, about eight years apart, and totaling about 4 full years altogether (no adultery, no porn, just immense, spiritual trials in nature). And, although there is no way of ever knowing for certain, of course, I am fairly well convinced that an outwardly beautiful, but likely far less devoted wife, would have never endured all of that, but would’ve said “adios” in the midst of the ordeal, long ago. (Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not of course suggesting that all very attractive women are “empty beauties,” but probably a disproportionate number of them are, especially the ones who spend - needlessly spend - more time in front of their mirrors than just about anyplace else.)

Well, as I was saying concerning “adios” in the preceding paragraph, not so with my wife. True to her wedding vows to me, she stood faithfully by my side through it all. Furthermore, knowing myself as I do, I am fairly well convinced that had I married a “glamour girl” sort of woman, I would have been mighty proud of her, and would have ended up virtually worshiping her, and this, I have come to believe in later, more mature years, is at the same time diabolical, pathetic, and destined for utter futility and disappointment: “worship[ping] … the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:25). I could never state it any more powerfully, or more poignantly, than in the next-to-last verse of Proverbs chapter 31:

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” (NKJV)

I could never end this confession, or call it what you will, without a bit of final commentary on what marriage is intended to symbolize: spiritual union between Christ, the truly and unfathomably glorious Bridegroom, and the Church, the Bride—made up of all true believers, from all over this planet—which, I am quite convinced, will in the end prove no “ugly bride” for such a Bridegroom. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8, my emphasis). Can you even begin to imagine, dear reader, what such a sight will be like, and how that, were it somehow possible to place the most stunning, jaw-dropping “Miss Universe” in history alongside our Heavenly Father and our glorified and resurrected Savior/Redeemer/Bridegroom, she would be, at the very best, a grotesque, fearful, monstrous hag, by comparison? In fact, I believe that analogy would fit, as well, for everyone who will worship and, as part of the Bride, be married to this Bridegroom someday, robed and bejeweled in a glorified body, most certainly to include any dear sisters in Christ who, here in this life, were not, or are not, endowed by their Fashioner, God, with a whole lot in the way of external beauty, and all for His greater purposes for them.

As I draw this to a close, a line from an old hymn, rarely sung any more it seems (“When We All Get to Heaven”), comes to mind: "Just one glimpse of Him in glory, will the toils of life repay.”

I am thankful indeed for a good, faithful woman, a wonderful mother to our many children, and for God’s preserving mercies through all the long years of our union thus far. I would be lying, very honestly, if I were to say that I take no notice of all of the beautiful, and mostly youthful, female faces “out there,” and occasionally even wonder a bit what life would have been like, had I ended up with such a one, instead. I can only restate, as I have already tried to do, that the spiritual reality is the greater, eternal reality. The Creator of the human form, and the human face — particularly all of these lovely daughters of Eve, men — and everything else our eyes behold in this vast and beauteous and mysterious universe, is, we really must realize, infinitely more beautiful than anything these eyeballs can behold, and even these minds can conceive of, or take in. Yes, Moses, in the only psalm attributed to him, said it very well, speaking of this greater beauty:

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90, first part of verse 17).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Never Underestimate Anybody

This past Saturday I was the victim of a pickpocketing team. I am very, very aware of my surroundings, but I was duped by a distraction maneuver. One young man asked me a completely absurd question while the other took my wallet right out of my bag. I noticed my wallet missing a mere 15 minutes later. It took me about another 45 minutes to get home, go online, check my accounts and freeze them -- but in that 60-minute window, the thieves managed to charge $1500 to my accounts.

My parents have always told me "never underestimate anybody." I don't think these crooks are interested in stealing my identity. They probably were only after my money, but I took extra precautions to flag my driver's license. I don't want to underestimate these guys. But you know what? That saying works both ways. Never underestimate anybody. That means, these guys shouldn't have underestimated me, either. And I am confident they did.

You see, when these men stole from me, they underestimated me, but they also underestimated my God.Because I am a complete stranger to them, I'm confident they underestimated my impressive memory skills. They also underestimated my heightened sensitivity for even the most subtle, yet abnormal behavior. They are probably counting on me not knowing how my wallet disappeared, but unfortunately for them I know exactly where and when I was pickpocketed. I have already given the police a thorough description of the thieves. I even gave the manager of the supermarket the exact time to view his surveillance tapes, and sure enough, the whole crime was recorded. I don't know if they will be caught right away, but I have a pretty good feeling that these guys will be caught. You see, when these men stole from me, they underestimated me, but they also underestimated my God.

In December 2009, my car was stolen right out of my own driveway while I slept. The thieves only used it for joyriding, but God used it for His purposes. Out of every car on the block, the thieves chose my car -- the car that had over 5,000 gospel tracts and half a dozen Bibles in the back seat. The car was discovered by the police, abandoned at a neighborhood intersection. When I was brought in to inspect it for damages, I noticed one of the Gospels of John had been removed from the pile, and bent in half, as though it was being made to fit in someone's pocket. Never underestimate God.

Looking back on that situation, I see that God's hand was also in this pickpocketing incident. Three years ago, I gave myself a scare when I lost my wallet. Once I finally found it, I decided to put a few tracts in it so that if it ever was stolen, the thieves would get the gospel. So out of all the customers in that grocery store, I was selected to be a victim. Did these men really select me? Or was it divine providence that the one wallet they chose to steal was stuffed with gospel tracts? Could it only be coincidence that the chosen victim in this situation has been blessed with an uncanny ability to recall details, numbers, and events with impressive accuracy? What are the chances that this same victim is ready to prosecute and visit her trespassers in prison, armed with a Bible?

These two men (and a female accomplice, as I recently learned) may be wanted by the police, but at least one of them is wanted by God. God Almighty always actively pursues His elect. If it takes prison time to capture His sheep, so be it. The Word of God does not return void (Isaiah 55:11) and so this can only end up in one of two ways: these people repent, and God is glorified, or they reject the gospel, and God is glorified. End of story.

We don't want to underestimate anybody. The heart is wicked and there are hundreds of criminals walking the streets every day waiting to prey upon a trusting soul for the very purpose of exploiting her kindness in order to snatch her purse or wallet. However, those same criminals should never, ever, ever underestimate their victims. You just never know what kind of crazy, fanatical, lunatic Christians are running around, seeking to snatch your soul from the fire.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Do You Believe in Miracles? I Don't!

Twice a month, my church goes street evangelizing on a Friday night. This past Friday, I got into an interesting conversation with a 13-year-old girl named Amanda. Amanda told me, "I don't believe God does miracles. I believe you make your own miracles happen." I challenged her on this. I asked her if she could change a person's heart, or if she could cure someone's cancer. She agreed that she couldn't, but added that her lack of ability didn't automatically point to God's ability. "I've never seen a miracle that I couldn't explain somehow through other means. I would have to see one to believe it. And so I just don't believe that God does miracles." At this point, I replied, "Well that's something you and I have in common, Amanda. Because I don't believe God does miracles either!"

Amanda seemed shocked that I would say that. After all, if I am going to approach her on a Friday night and tell her and her friends about God, why would I want to proclaim a God who doesn't do miracles? "Well it's very simple, Amanda," I explained. "God has already shown me many times that He does miracles. I just don't believe it."

It's true. I am no different than Amanda. I have been a Christian now for 17 years, yet I still don't believe. Like Amanda, I say, "I'll believe it when I see it." But even now in my life, I am seeing miracles happen before my very eyes, and I just don't believe that God is at work. For example, I have been praying for 17 years that my Dad would get saved. About two months ago, my father developed an avid interest in the Bible (where there was none before). He has been asking me for so many resources, I cannot keep up with him. The other day, I found my father in his bedroom, listening to R.C. Sproul sermons!

There is no other explanation for this, other than the fact that God is doing a miracle in my father's heart. But do I see it that way? No. The thought crosses my mind of course, that maybe God is actually drawing my father. And then I brush it off and think, "Nahhh. He's just bored and has nothing else to do but check out the Bible," or, "There are plenty of people who have a philosophical interest in the Bible, and my dad is probably just one of them. But that doesn't make them Christians." On occasion, I have even gone as far as to think that this interest in the Bible is as far as it will go, and that my dad will never actually be born again.

I was able to explain to Amanda that the real reason she does not believe in God's miracles is because it is our human nature to not believe. Amanda doesn't believe that God can grow an amputee's legs or raise a dead person to life. I don't believe that God can save my parents, send me a husband, heal my sicknesses, or fix my finances. So what makes me so different from Amanda?

I told Amanda the story about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Remember what happened when the rich man asked Abraham to send Moses and the prophets to his relatives, so that they would believe?

[27] And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— [28] for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ [29] But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:26-31 ESV)

"Amanda," I said. "I am like you. I arrogantly say, I will believe it when I see it. Well I am seeing it every day! My dad is growing in his knowledge of the Bible, but even though I am seeing it, everyday, with my own two eyes, I still have unbelief." Belief is an evidence of grace in our lives. The fact that we believe on Christ for our salvation is an act of grace on God's part. Does that end once we become Christians? Of course not. God continues to give us the grace we need to trust Him at His word. Naturally, this does not mean that we should believe that God will give us everything for which we ask, but we can believe that He still does miracles!

Is there something you are not trusting God for? If so, the reason is simple: you're just like me and Amanda. If God raised Jesus from the dead, and then chose for you to become one of His daughters, why can't you believe that He will also give you a child, save your husband, mend your relationship with your in-laws, or provide for your basic needs? Could it be that you don't believe in miracles either?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Are You Fed Up With Your Church?

Every now and then, I come across some blog posts about how irritated some people are with their church. They've absolutely had it with the pastor, the congregation, the new color that was chosen to paint the walls, whatever. The issue has really got them all hot and bothered, and they tell everyone on the World Wide Web how heinous and awful their church is (taking special care to play the victim so that their gossip will be justified). Then they pose this question to their readers: Should I leave this church and go somewhere else? If you are one of those who is wondering whether or not to leave your church, allow me to share a very personal story, which I hope will put your "crisis" into perspective.

When I was 18 years old, a girl from college shared the gospel with me, and I was born again on the spot. But my new Christian friends told me I needed to be baptized in order to be truly saved. All I needed to do, according to them, was get baptized. Sounds simple enough, right? There was just one problem. I didn't believe for a second that baptism saved me. I considered that to be a work, and the Scriptures tell us that no man is justified by works. Naturally, this caused a great deal of friction in my relationship with my new pals in Christ.

For two months, my new church friends harassed me day and night. They waited outside the steps of my dorm, so I couldn't get in or out without bumping into them. They followed me down the streets, to the point where I had to have campus security escort me to all my classes. Once, when I was window shopping, a loyal disciple of Christ accosted me by getting within inches of my face to tell me I was going to hell. (The only way I could shake him that day was to cause a public disturbance large enough to get mall security to come to my aid.) I was unable to change my phone number, so I had to turn off the ringer. They left horrible messages on my answering machine every day, telling me that I was going to burn in hell because they were the only church on the planet that knew the truth. They also followed me to my job, causing my boss to hide me in a free-standing closet when they demanded to know my whereabouts.

They gave me one last chance to forsake my wicked, sinful belief that baptism is not a requirement for salvation. I refused. And so, they held me against my will for several hours in that apartment.One day they called a truce, and asked me to meet them for lunch. I still remember the address of the four-story apartment where I was served a tuna melt sandwich and greeted with all sorts of awkward, yet obviously rehearsed pleasantries. They gave me one last chance to forsake my wicked, sinful belief that baptism is not a requirement for salvation. I refused. And so, they held me against my will for several hours in that apartment. This was before cell phones, and I couldn't get to a landline. There was only one of me, and about five of them. They locked the doors and told me that the only way they would release me was if I chanted "I am not a Christian, I am not saved, I am going to hell." At first I didn't comply. But after about an hour, I realized that there was no other way out of there. And so I chanted "I am not a Christian, I am not saved, I am going to hell" probably about three or four dozen times before they released me with one last warning that by walking out that door, I was walking out on God Almighty Himself. I don't know how many hours I was there. All I remember is, it was lunchtime when I arrived, and it was dark when I left.

So that was my introduction to the body of Christ. I don't tell that story very often, but I feel inspired to share it all these years later. I remember feeling absolutely spiritually destitute during that time. Growing up, I was constantly under the weight of existential meaninglessness, hoping that by some miracle there was a purpose to this life, and when I am finally introduced to the most beautiful Person my mind and soul could ever imagine, I am told by His "followers" that I couldn't have any part of Him. It took me months to get my facts straight and rest on the promises of God. I'll admit, there was little comfort in the fact that God allowed that to happen to me in the first place. But some people told me that one day, my story might edify someone. Well perhaps that day is today.

Perhaps you are someone that is in this type of predicament. Let me assure you, God is faithful. He will never abandon or forsake you. You will come out of spiritually abusive situations a bit bruised, but intact. And He promises to make you whole.

But for most of us, situations like this are not the norm. Most of us are just irritated that our leaders are not running things to our liking. Most of us have no idea how good we really have it in our churches. We don't know what real corruption is. We have never experienced real abuses of power. We have never been persecuted by our government. We complain because there's too much emphasis on men's ministry, or there's not enough opportunities for singles, or we don't like the way the hospitality committee is functioning, and so on. We need to remind ourselves that the church is made up of flawed, sinful people. And since we are a sinners ourselves, our presence is only adding to those problems. Instead of complaining about what your church is lacking, consider the fact that perhaps God has brought that to your attention so you can begin the work of building up that area in your local church.

Do I get fed up with my church sometimes? You bet! But I know I have it really good where I am. I know that my leaders, although we don't always see eye-to-eye, always treat me with respect. They do not hold me captive in their homes and force me to chant lies. They do not preach a false gospel. And even if they did, God is in control. His Word has survived throughout the ages. Whatever you are going through, it will pass away -- but His words will never pass away!

So where does your issue fall? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a petty disagreement with your church leaders, and 10 being an all-out abuse of power and defamation of the gospel, how would you honestly rate your situation? Or better yet, how would someone else rate your situation?

Monday, May 17, 2010

SHEologian Spotlight: Jean

Today I am pleased to bring you the second installment of our new "SHEologian Spotlight" series by honoring a reader named Jean.

Now just to remind you again how this works, Jean is a total stranger to me. We have never met. The idea is to try to appreciate something about a total stranger as a way to encourage her, but also, to encourage us all (myself included) to simply appreciate the beauty in every single one of God's children. The best way I know how to do this is to view someone's blog. So much of a person's heart, soul, and identity is invested in her blog. So without further ado, here is what I can gather about Jean from her blog:

About Jean
Jean is 27 years old. She enjoys running and monitoring her health through natural means. Jean describes in her Blogger profile that before being saved, she worked as a Mental Health Nurse. Today, she is a full time wife and mother to her three children. Jean resides in Lanchashire, England. She is of Zimbabwean descent.

What Attracted Me To Her Blog
The very first time I visited Jean's blog was in 2008. Someone referred me to a few posts she had written. One thing that I noticed about some (not all) of Jean's posts were that they were very controversial. I did not agree with everything I read, but I admired her courage in posting her thoughts amidst a great deal of backlash. This is something I think we can all learn from Jean, especially when it comes to evangelism. There are many times when we as Christians are faced with tough questions and we are afraid that if we give the truthful answers, people might be angry with us. I cannot say what goes through Jean's head when she reads some of the critical comments she's received from people in the past, but regardless, she's standing up for what she believes in. That's a skill we all need to develop!

Why I am Grateful for Jean
The main reason I have chosen to celebrate Jean in this installment of SHEologian Spotlight is that she has recently posted a very candid and touching confession on her blog. In her March 23 post, "An Open Apology to All," Jean pours out her heart as she admits to sins of pride and legalism. The post is truly inspiring because it illustrates how truly powerless we are in many cases to see our own sin, and how desperately we need God to do the work of change in our lives. What is really truly amazing about Jean's post is that she describes what she was like as a legalist: how she judged others for not being able to pull themselves up from their own bootstraps, only to discover that she was in the very same predicament, unable to pull herself out of bondage to legalism. Here is an excerpt from her story:
To me everyone else became lost. The road had been narrow before, but it became even narrower. Almost impossible. Before long I had come to believe that all the churches out there are apostate. I even believed there was no true Pastor alive today. All bible teachers were deceived . . .I started isolating myself from other believers, and I became a lone ranger Christian, eventually leaving the church I was attending . . . Yet I felt so empty inside. So lonely. Something was so wrong and I could not put my finger on it. I would ask God to help me over and over, yet the next day I would feel worse . . . Somehow deep down I knew these other believers had encouraged me so much. I had never realised it until I was completely cut off from other Christians. I even missed the Christians who had encouraged me on my blog. I had never felt so isolated . . . I realised my error. I realised the lies and deceits I had followed. I realised that I had been so deceived. It felt like I have been bewitched, as if someone had cast a spell on me. And suddenly the Lord pulled me out. There was something spiritually dark and unhealthy about the whole experience. I came face to face with who I really am. I realised what a terrible witness for Christ I had been. I realised how I had gone around calling everyone that did not agree with me lost. I had been so judgemental. I judged people's hearts. Yet no one judged my heart. I was a legalist. I was in error. I was wrong.
Reading this confession from Jean brings tears to my eyes every time I read it (and I have read it time and time again) because it is so encouraging to me. It is encouraging because I know legalistic people, and at times it seems as though they will never change. Jean is the inspiration that miracles in this area do happen. But even more encouraging is the reminder that GOD IS AT WORK! He never leaves us or forsakes us, even when we are marinating in our most ungodly attitudes. He remains with us through every season of our lives, and does not withdraw His faithfulness when we are faithless. And we see from Jean's story, that performing certain actions is a faithless task. James said that faith without works is dead. Likewise, works without faith is also dead. Works without faith is just works, and no man is justified by his works.

I am grateful to Jean for her courage. I think it is human nature for each of us to have so much pride that we don't even admit our shortcomings to one another. Yet this is exactly what the Great Physician would have us to do. Confession is freeing to those who are confessing, and it is a blessing to those of us who are on the receiving end of the confession.

When I first approached her about the SHEologian Spotlight, she protested, saying she did not think she was a good example to others. I thought she might say something like that. It is a pretty typical response of those who are recently humbled, because they do not want to become prideful again, but also because they are truly so grieved over their sin, they cannot possibly see themselves as an encouragement to anybody.

On April 23, C.J. Mahaney spoke as a guest at my home church, and he delivered a powerful message about God's love for us. In his message, C.J. asked, "Why do we have such a hard time believing that God loves us?" C.J. shared his personal theory: it's because we look within ourselves for any redeeming qualities, and we are disappointed, because there are no redeeming qualities that come from within! Instead, we must look to Calvary for the reasons to forgive ourselves and move on.

Jean was right on one hand. She is not a good example, at least, not if we were to measure her actions based on her own merits. But when we look at her story and take the focus off Jean and instead put it on what God has done in her life, then we can't find a more wonderful, perfect example than Jean.

If you would like to meet Jean, visit her blog:
The Virtuous Woman

Please Note: The SHEologian Spotlight series is designed to honor our readers, whomever they may be. We do not necessarily agree with everything that is posted on other people's blogs. We recognize some of these views may likewise differ from yours. Should you desire to pursue these issues further with any of the individuals featured in this series here or on their blogs, we humbly ask that you keep the discussion friendly and irenic in the spirit of brotherly love. Thank you and God Bless!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What Chicken Pox Taught Me about Legalism

I have been very stressed out lately. So much, that last weekend I noticed spots all over my arms - little, red itchy spots. I had the chicken pox when I was a child, and I've been told you can't get them twice. My mother is not a doctor, but she works in the medical field (and she is a mom), so I asked her to look at my spots. After examining me briefly, she said, "I don't know what it is, but if it gets any worse, see a doctor . . . and stay away from me!"

Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV), which causes chicken pox, also causes shingles. Even though my mother had chicken pox as a child, she once experienced a very severe case of shingles as an adult. Knowing her immune system was weak in the face of VZV, she avoided me as much as possible. My father, on the other hand, has an incredibly strong immune system. While my mother ran for cover every time I entered the room, my father sat, undisturbed. The possibility that I might be infected with VZV did not cause him any worry whatsoever. Reflecting upon this situation, I am reminded of a passage from the Book of Romans:
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4, Emphasis mine.)

How does this relate to my unidentified illness? I'll give you an illustration. Let's suppose that every time I walked into a room, my mother wore a surgical mask and sprayed disinfectant on everything I touched. Then imagine my mother looking down her nose at my dad because he isn't as health-conscious as she is! Of course, this would be unreasonable of my mother, because my father has no reason to care about being exposed to my germs. It's not because he's stupid, careless, or even attracted to the idea of getting sick. No, the reason my father doesn't care about being exposed to my germs is because he knows VZV does not pose a problem for him personally. My father can handle my germs because his immune system is strong. My mom, in spite of all her pious displays of good hygiene, would only be performing these silly rituals for one reason and one reason alone: her immune system is weak.

The chicken pox scenario in my family is a lot like the way we behave when we are being legalistic, isn't it? When we judge others, it gives us the illusion that our faith is strong. We think, "Oh look at that one wearing makeup, or cutting her hair short, or having a career, or sending her children to public school or feeding high fructose corn syrup to her family or (insert your favorite example here)!" We shake our heads in false pity and feel sorry for this "carnal" sister. After all, her faith is weak. She is easily lured by the ways of the world. You and I, on the other hand, choose to stay far, far away from those things. This is because we have the strength to resist them, right? Wrong.

Look carefully at that passage again. Who in the passage is described as being weak? Is it the one who eats meat sacrificed to idols? On the contrary, the one who is weak is the one who abstains. I'll give you a personal example. Geraldine is on Facebook, and I am not. There have been times in the past when I have openly denounced Facebook with such a passion that I have caused Geraldine (and others, I'm sure) to feel conflicted about it. On the surface, I appear to be the strong one. After all, I'm the one with conviction, right? Geraldine, who experiences doubt about her choices from time to time (thanks to me and my strong convictions) appears weak in her faith. But look carefully at that passage again. Who in the passage is described being as weak? Is it the one who eats meat sacrificed to idols? On the contrary, the one who is weak is the one who abstains. Why is this so? Because the one who abstains is the one who struggles with something that isn't necessarily unclean! (Romans 14:14,20).

I could argue that Geraldine is weak in her faith because she doesn't have the strength to resist Facebook. But in reality, I am weak in my faith because I don't have the strength to use Facebook without encountering a problem. Facebook to me is like the Varicella Zoster Virus. I know that if I am exposed to it, I will stumble into all kinds of sin. Geraldine is not prone to the same sins I am. She can openly be exposed to Facebook and not get sick. Therefore, Geraldine is the stronger of the two of us. And as a result, she has the freedom to enjoy all the fun that comes with having a Facebook account. I do not have this same liberty. Sure, I miss out on the fun, but I compensate for this by telling myself that I am just a lot more holy than all the people who use Facebook. (Do you see how this works? The flesh is clever, isn't it?)

Readers, do you see how deceptive legalism can be? Not only are we imposing rules upon people who do not need them, we are robbing people of the joy that God has freely given them to experience. It is wrong for us to rob others of the joy that comes with seeing a movie or singing a pop song on the radio or wearing the latest fashion, simply because it poses a problem for us personally. It would be like my mother requiring all of you to wear a surgical mask in my presence when being in my presence is not a danger to you to begin with.

At the same time, we are not to flaunt our liberty in the face of the weaker brother. Romans 14 warns the strong Christian to protect the weak one. In other words, if Geraldine were to brag about how much fun Facebook is, and how much joy I am missing out on, and check her Facebook account right in front of me, that would cause me to stumble and it would be sin on her part. But Romans 14 also acknowledges that an equal problem arises when the weak Christian looks down on the strong Christian for the very liberty God has given her to enjoy.

How many of us have deceived ourselves into thinking we were the stronger Christian? We set up unreasonable rules for people to follow, and anyone who doesn't abide by these rules we label "weak." Could this be you? I've heard it said that the number one sign that we are trapped in legalism is that our joy is gone. Consider the possibility that the years we've spent looking down on others for not homeschooling, or having a career, or wearing jewelry -- or whatever -- were not years spent in pious devotion to holy living. The time we spent pitying those "carnal" Christians trapped in bondage to worldly pursuits were actually years we spent in bondage to our own weaknesses. In a similar fashion, some of us have spent years of our lives under the thumb of these legalistic rules because they were being enforced by someone weaker, who appeared to us to be stronger. Well, appearances can be deceiving!

Remember, God has commanded us: "Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats" (Romans 14:3). In essential things, unity. In nonessential things, liberty. In all things, charity. Let's ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the viruses in our lives, so we can be free of the legalism imposed upon us by others, and in turn free others from the legalism we have imposed upon them.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Prayer: The Believer's Ministry

I met with my mentor last year to discuss a grievous spiritual matter. Sitting on the couch where she has often gently counseled me, I shared with her a struggle I was having to break free of paralyzing doubts to enjoy prayer (not just petitions but really enjoying the Lord) as I once did.

It was all so random. Doubt just sashayed into my soul, took the podium front and center, and began to conduct an elaborate sabotage of my prayer life. From there, I continued to describe how I was suddenly restless to know the "context" through which I would serve God. For everyone around me seemed to be in their position and focused. They seemed clear on their calling in life. But me, I've felt and looked so random, unstable, unfocused, and nomad-like. I feel I’m a jack of all trades but a master of none. My interests are so vast and I believe I can learn anything if I have an encouraging and patient teacher.

Well, in her calm and consoling way, my mentor looked at me and said something profound and epiphany-like, "prayer is your ministry." In other words, prayer is a ministry task always available. It is my first ministry unto God. Aha! Then I thought of Anna, the widow, from the book of Luke. I thought how it is recorded that she ministered day and night, with delight and contentment, in the Temple to the Lord through prayers, fasting, and praise. The thought warmed and endeared me.

So, why give all that personal detail? Well, I hope to stir us up to pray. For I am convinced that prayer is every believer's ministry. Any believer experiencing God, (i.e. seeing and feeling Scripture become palatable, or God's movements in circumstances, or experiencing unusual blessings to the soul or the physical) is NOT experiencing something esoteric and unavailable to any other believer.

Prayer is a gate open to all believers willing to enter it, stay the course to triumph over its challenges, and mine the depths of its treasures. The believer is as Esther and Christ is our King--the golden scepter is forever extended toward us in favor. Why wouldn't we take FULL advantage of this benefit in our inheritance package? Do we understand what it is to have the favor of the King?

There is a saying, if you want to hide something valuable from a person (especially in the 21 century)--put it in a book. For, we seldom take time to read. I think this idea is transferable to some of us in the Christian community. If you want to hide something valuable from believers tell them to persevere in prayer to gain it.

....We are so afraid of the false that we quench what is true. We are people of extremes... There are some that are so orthodox but are absolutely dead, because they are so afraid of false excitement and the excesses of certain spiritual movements that they quench and hinder the Spirit and deny the truth...." --Martin Lloyd Jones

If some of us were brutally honest and courageous enough to reveal our thought-life, prayer is really quite ridiculous to us. We've seen it (we think) make a fool of too many people--believing something abstract and unlikely, by faith, that God "supposedly" spoke or lead, not to mention the damage the charismatic movement has done. There are all kinds of self-serving scams and personal deceptions going on in Christendom as it relates to prayer. So we play it safe. We clutch our prized reputations and vow to never be so risky or look so stupid or God forbid emotionally out of control. And consequently, our prayers remain powerless, perfunctory, and stoic—but, of course, doctrinally correct.

But prayer is indeed so much more than unverifiable abstractions and asking for earthly things we desire and need.

Rewarding prayer is when one comes to mount themselves upon an Altar (Romans 12:1-2) to be broken so as to bond with Christ. That is connect in such a way that we find ourselves praying in concert with the intercessions He is making at the right hand of the Father. That is connect in such a way that we pray in concert with the groaning(s) of the Spirit. That is allowing the Spirit to transfer His affections for the subject of our prayers to us--to the point He weeps or wages war through us. In this connection, we begin to pray His will into the earth for ourselves, the saints, even the world. Absolutely, exhilarating—intoxicating.

Prayer is also an occasion for uninhibited self-examination that produces a fresh brokenness over sin which leads to a spirit of thankfulness, surrender, forgiveness, and renewed joy and peace. It provides a fresh purity of heart and motive that was not present before you prayed. You know, it doesn’t always take some catastrophic event to humble or break us. No one has to know. The scripture says God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud. There is a reason God tells us to humble ourselves as we don’t want Him to do it for us. Prayer alone can humble us.

This is the best part of our salvation!

I encourage us to consider that prayer is a believer's first ministry. It is the launch pad to all other ministry in which we would engage. And one should be terrified to embark upon any place of official ministry in a Church without prayer being a pillar of their lives. If one struggles in prayer, praying with others is a great way to jump start affections that lead to prayer. Let us not quench His Spirit with our fear, pride, and unbelief. Let us go take advantage of this means of Grace. So what are your thoughts on prayer? What are your current obstacles? What step will you take today to triumph over the obstacle(s)?

Copyright © 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Very Same Moon and Stars

Spring here in the North West of England has so far been quite beautiful. Glorious in fact! But as I sit and write today's post it is freezing cold outside, windy with the occasional snowfall. The UK is known for its temperamental weather and constant rain but without it we would not have such a beautiful green land. I love it! In fact as I shared in a previous post I have always felt God speak to me through creation. Somehow it just makes me feel closer to Him.

My friends and family know how silly I get when I see the moon, a rainbow or just some particular stunning scenery. I'm like a child seeing it for the first time. As I was reading some quotes from Amy Carmichael I was struck by how many times she expressed in such a poetic way my very thoughts. I would like to share them here in the hope of blessing others.

Many travel to Israel to see the very places Jesus and His disciples walked. Mainly I suppose to enrich their faith. But you don't have to leave your front door to do this. Let me share one of those Amy Carmichael quotes:

When I was a little child I used to wish I could touch something that our Lord Jesus touched, or see something that He saw. Then suddenly to my delight I thought, But I can see something that He saw. He saw the very same moon and stars that I see. And I used to look at the moon and think, He saw you, He saw those funny marks in your face we call the man in the moon. He looked up to you just as I look up at you tonight.

I had a similar "revelation" only a couple of weeks ago when I came across a scripture verse in Genesis:

And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. (Gen. 3:16, Italics mine)

As I read "and I will look upon it", I realized that every time I see the rainbow and get excited about it, My heavenly Father, who put it there in the first place, is at the same time looking upon it and thinking of us. This thought just overwhelms me.

Then there are those special moments at night just as you go to bed. You have put on your pj's and brushed your teeth and are about to go to bed when you glance out the window and it almost takes your breath away . . . the moon is out, the sky is clear. It is a particularly beautiful night. At times like this I stand in awe of God and say a prayer of thanks unable to move for the next 5 minutes as I try to take it all in. I used to want to take a photo of nights like these but it just wouldn't do it any justice. Again Amy captures my thoughts perfectly in a quote that really moved me:

Night in the East
Who can forget the first nights in the East? There is the night of velvet depths when the stars burn in ordered distances, one beyond the other for ever and ever. And there is the night when the sky, lit with a little moon, is asleep in gauzy blue and the constellations appear in bright groups; and again there are full-moon nights, when every color of the earth shows clear (only most strangely holy) and you feel it ungrateful to go to sleep while the very trees stand awake and conscious and worshipful.

And you feel it ungrateful to go to sleep. That's me! Many a late night I have had because of this! Times where I have been feeling down or particularly tested and only had to take a look at the night sky and instantly my problems fade and my thoughts turn to God. All I want to do is praise Him and give thanks! Thank you Heavenly Father for the wonderful works of Your hands!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. (Psalm 19:1)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

That I May Know Him

Have you ever wondered how to put into words what you want to say? Even if you could, many would still read them and miss the very essence of their content. Unless one has gone through the same experience readers will only understand up to a certain point. For example, a young Christian reading a book written by a seasoned child of God will only glean so much. Picking it up again a few years later when she is older and more seasoned, what was overlooked before is met with sympathy. The Holy Spirit shines light on truths previously missed.

I've pondered for sometime on how to put into words what God has brought me through these past few months and even years. Some may read what I write and not be moved at all. Some may sift every word in a critical spirit looking for something to use in argument, missing any good at all. Then there are those always coming with an open heart, ready to receive and glean something which may be of some help, some comfort, or of some good for their souls. It goes without saying we must pray without ceasing especially when reading anything, asking the Lord to keep us from any error or deception.

I hate rushing any post and quite often it can take hours as I ponder and pray over anything I write. Clicking the publish button is a scary moment! This is one reason I have not posted as often as I have in the past. I also hate posting for the sake of it. There is a great responsibility that comes with anything we share especially online. Our words must reflect the Light within us that we may glorify our God. With all this said I commit all to my God and Saviour with the desire to bring Him glory and honour and to edify the body, His bride.I don't believe for a minute it has to be like that.

Be Zealous!
As a new born babe in Christ I was blissfully unaware of even the word theology. All I knew, with great simplicity, was that God sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to take my place on the cross to die so I can be saved and brought into a right relationship with Him, my heavenly Father. Little did I know of the trials ahead or of having to learn of God as a Father. These days were carefree, full of joy and I felt full of the Holy Spirit. Many have said to me over the years, “Oh yes, that is the zeal we all had when born into the Kingdom. It's the honeymoon period. It soon passes.” I hate that saying! I don't believe for a minute it has to be like that. In fact Jesus tells us to “Be zealous”, Rev.3:19.

Over the years the enemy came and did what he does best . . . steal, kill and try to destroy! Seeing my weak points he used hurt to try and cause unforgiveness and bitterness to grow within. God's strength was made perfect in my weakness. The Lord used this for good and continues to do so. Then came something that caught me off guard. I had the basics (the essential doctrines) of faith, was growing in my relationship with God when suddenly before I even knew it I was in a world of many various points of view of Christian doctrines. Arminianism , Calvinism, Pre-Trib, Post-Trib etc. The schools of thought seemed to never end. Then there are those longing for the "good old days" and trying to bring back the old manna of yesterday even naming themselves after that particular group. Which brings up the issue of the many denominations today. Entering this world and taking hold of what seemed the right point of view at the time I became engrossed in defending that view. My bookshelf showed it. My way of looking at everything did too and unfortunately this resulted in outright judgmentalism, legalism and a critical spirit towards my brothers and sisters in the Lord. This was a few years ago. Now but coming through it, I had lost my zeal and vision. What now?

With the benefit of hindsight I can almost see the Lord looking at me and saying, “Have you quite finished now? Have you come to the end of yourself and stopped striving? OK, now follow Me.” I realized I stopped following the Lord and listening to His voice. Somehow, somewhere I listened to the voice of a stranger. Now was the time to listen to the Good Shepherd's voice, the one I knew so well. So what did He say to me? Well for a while I had on my heart peacemaking. All this time I wasn't in a particular fellowship. I knew I did not leave the last one well and believed relationships needed to be restored including any past hurts forgiven of.

After some time seeking the Lord I found it was my relationship with Him that needed attention first. He was drawing me closer to Himself. I realized I had not been pursuing God but religion. Religion had brought with it a set structure and told you how things were. It was a way of being brought into the bondage of legalism. Man is very good at taking a truth and turning it into a doctrine! It's very subtle at first and only people on the outside can see what's going on. In it you cannot see what it is doing to you. Joy has gone only to be replaced by seriousness. A lightness of spirit replaced by a heavy one and fear, worry and anxiety abound. Worst of all your view of God changes from loving Father to someone you fear if you don't meet with the theological interpretation you are following. Again, I am talking about the non essentials.I JUST LOVE THE LORD!

BUT NOW I AM FREE! Free to love God, to know Him, to grow in my knowledge of Him, to allow self to be crucified so I can become more like Him, and to just abide in Him! I JUST LOVE THE LORD! I am a child of God. And that's it, knowing who you are in Him. To find out who a fellow brother or sister is some will ask, “What denomination are you?” or “What is your theology?” Then if it does not agree with their point of view they will either write you off or categorize you in the hope of one day "converting you"! When someone replied, “I'm a Christian” it would annoy me. But now I understand!Big fat pride kept saying no!

As I continued to listen, the Lord began to reveal His will. Over and over I kept getting the words "keep moving forward: and Phillipians 3:13-14. “But Lord”, I thought, “Forward where?” And that's when I knew in order to move forward I had to go back. Yes, I had to go back to my old fellowship! I knew with all my heart I had to go back but big fat pride kept saying no! Confirmation after confirmation came through my daily readings until one day I surrendered to God's will. The day I went back (I called it a tester day, at this point it was official only between God and I) the whole sermon was on the very scriptures God had been giving me! What has ensued since going back is nothing short of miraculous. The changes in me (zeal is back!), the miracles I've seen with God stepping into situations and most of all I have been greatly humbles by the brethren at the fellowship. The relationships of the saints there with their Lord are beautiful and humbling and I'm always being being challenged by this!

So right now this is where I am. A child of God wanting to be used by Him, for His glory, a vessel of honor fit for the Master's use.

Can I share with you a secret?...
I never intended on writing all this. In fact I was writing a post on something entirely different! But who knows, maybe this is written because it is meant for someone. Someone going through the same situation perhaps? God knows.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Divorcing Myself

All my life I've struggled with the temptation to repress my strengths. Growing up, I was singled out for being smart and talented. I always felt that I had tons of admirers, but nobody to really call my friend. I used to wonder, "If I didn't have the ability to do this or that, would people would still like me? Why can't people just like me for who I really am?"

Once I became a Christian, I tried to find ways to embrace my talents for God's glory. Sadly, I discovered I had a new predicament. Instead of being admired for my abilities, I was hated. Other women in the church were jealous that I was stealing their spotlight. I saw the problems that it was causing, and so I tried not to be too good at certain things. I would purposely sing out of tune. I pretended not to know the answers to questions when I really did. I stopped wearing makeup. I was afraid that if I showed people my good qualities, they would not only fail to see the real me, but they would hate me altogether!

My talents weren't my only problem. My personality came under fire a lot, too. I remember a time about ten years ago, someone told me, "The reason you have no friends is because you talk too much, and people find that to be really annoying. Try to be more quiet and people will like you more." I knew there was some truth to this. After all, the Bible says, "Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house, lest he become weary of you and hate you" (Proverbs 25:17). I decided not to tell so many funny stories. People might find that annoying. Worse, they might think I was self-absorbed. It was probably best not to share so many of my joys with others, or to laugh too loudly about them when I did.

Striving toward these unrealistic self-improvements was a way of life for me, and it was exhausting. On one hand, some people would only like me for my positive traits. On the other hand, some people would hate me for having those very same characteristics. It seemed that the only logical solution and way of escape was to completely divorce myself from my good qualities. And that's exactly what I did, until about three weeks ago.

In spite of the fear that nobody would like the real me minus all the "frills," I was plagued over the knowledge that God had gifted me, and that I was wasting those gifts by hiding them from the world. I begged Him to show me how to manage this dilemma. He said, "My child, you ask why people can't like you for the real you. I tell you, those good qualities are the real you. If I didn't give you those qualities, you'd be someone else entirely."

God doesn't say silly things like, "Oh Jennifer, the only reason you worship Me is because I am all-powerful and sovereign. Why can't you just love Me for who I am?"It's true. Our strengths are part of who we are, and we cannot separate ourselves from them. God Himself is a unique being who possesses many wonderful attributes, and the Bible tells us that He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). If He were any less loving, merciful, powerful, or creative, He would cease to be God! God doesn't say silly things like, "Oh Jennifer, the only reason you worship Me is because I am all-powerful and sovereign. Why can't you just love Me for who I am?" How ridiculous! That is who He is! So it should come as no surprise that our good qualities are part of who we are as well. Should people admire us for some skill we may possess, we need not worry, "If I didn't have this ability, would they still like the real me?" The question is an impossibility. That skill is the real you. Trying to divorce ourselves from that skill would break up the complex combination of strengths that God has brought together in order to make each of us a unique creation.

And what about those people who may experience a little jealousy over our strengths from time to time? Does God allow that to bother Him? Of course not. Everywhere you go, there are people who utterly despise God because He is holy, righteous, and just. They do not like the fact that He is the ultimate authority. And so how do these people manage those aspects of God that they dislike? It's simple: they divorce Him from those attributes. They say things like, "MY God would never send anyone to hell." And they are right. Their God wouldn't send anyone to hell. But their God is not the God of the Bible!

As reformed Christians, we can get so caught up in our awareness of the sin of pride that we end up repenting of things that aren't even sin, for fear that we might become prideful. We put ourselves through a legalistic series of attempts to prevent any possible future occurrence of sin, and we do so in our own strength. Yet this is an exercise in futility because Christ has already taken care of that by dying on the cross. In the case of divorcing myself, I wanted to shut down in order to prevent people from getting jealous over my gifts, and to prevent myself from becoming too prideful about my gifts. So I went around hiding those parts of myself that I felt would cause trouble. I created a fake Jen, and I was essentially saying that the fake Jen I created was a vast improvement upon the real Jen, whom God created. Now THAT is pride!

Are there any aspects of yourself that you have you been trying to divorce? Is it your hearty laugh, your opinionated views, or the wisdom you have to offer? Have you been trying to squeeze your femininity into a one-size-fits-all container? Whose idea of biblical womanhood are you trying to imitate? If it's not sin, don't try to rid yourself of it. God has made you just the way you are for a reason, and there is nothing you can do to improve upon what He has done. So laugh, smile, speak your mind! It's not a sin to shine.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reformed Jerks and Secular Heroines

One of the greatest things about reformed theology is that there is such a tremendous focus on God. Ironically, this is simultaneously one of the worst things about reformed theology. Let me clarify that - the theology is not really the problem. It's the people. People are and always have been the major reason why things get fouled up. We're sinners. We can't help it. And even in our attempts to glorify God to the absolute fullest, reformed folks can sometimes get carried away.

I came across a wonderful article about this very thing two years ago while I was struggling over this paradox. Specifically, if the Doctrines of Grace emphasize the importance of humility in our lives, as we are utterly helpless in our depraved estate, then why do we have a tendency to be so legalistic? It would seem that as we realize God's tremendous grace in our lives, that we would be more patient with those who do not understand or agree with reformed doctrine. But sadly, we are often not very patient with them at all.

In his article, "Are We Jerks?" Scott Clark helps to explain this phenomenon. Scott asks:
How can this happen? After all, of all folk shouldn’t Calvinists know God’s amazing grace? Sure they should. So why do they sometimes “cop an attitude?”

Our very own Latisha has shared some fantastic insights from Thabiti Anyabwile on the very same subject. In a series of posts entitled, "Calvinist Confessions: I am a Pharisee," Anyabwile writes:

There is this tendency to live in our heads. And when that meets with a theological tradition as rich and robust as the Reformed tradition, sparks fly–in our heads. Add to that a pinch of argumentative spirit and out comes the Pharisee.

But you know what’s lost? The spirit, or the Spirit. Sometimes both. The letter kills. That’s what happens with us Calvinist Pharisees. To read all the articles, visit Latisha's blog by clicking here.

I think one of the areas in which "Reformed Jerkism" has done a great deal of damage is in the manner by which women have come to view Biblical femininity. This results in one of two extremes. Some women will flat out reject God's design for modesty, holiness, and submission altogether. Others will embrace it to the point of erasing even the human aspects of femininity from their lives. It has been my experience that most reformed folks I've come in contact fall into the second category. They are often fearful of the natural traits that God has given women which make them unique. Physical beauty, artistic talent, leadership skills, friendliness and intelligence are not sins. Yet many times, women who possess these traits are often treated as though they are harlots.

Secular culture is often criticized as being ungodly, and this is often true, but not always. There are many times secular culture can be enjoyed as a means of celebrating our humanity. As we consider some of the "secular heroines" out there and examine their work, it is my hope that those of us who've been in bondage to legalism can regain our spirit -- the same spirit Thabiti Anyabwile claims many of us have lost. I'd encourage you to pray about what you may have repressed in your own life. Is it your spunk? Your smile? Your charming personality? God has not only brought me out of my shell these last few weeks, He's completely smashed that shell to smithereens! And I am praying He will do the same for you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Sermon A Day....


I want to share something with you that has brought such growth and heightened my affections for Jesus over the years--sermons about Him! Faith comes by hearing. We hear when we read the Word and we certainly hear when we listen to God's Word preached by gifted men and women.

One of my favorites in heavy rotation is Arturo Arzurdia, founder, of Spirit Empowered Preaching. I'd like to put you all on to him. He has a robust sermon catalog. I'd like to suggest a few as must listens. If you have an ipod, then download and if you can, listen online while you work--which is what I do. CLICK HERE to scroll the catalog. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The Ruth Series (a must listen for single women, the insight's oh my--bangin!)
  • The Genesis Series (oh my!)
  • A Clarion Call To A Worldly Christianity
  • Successful or Faithful Shattering the Dichotomy

To whet your appetite, here are a couple of penetrating excerpts from the Ruth Series. These quotes are found at “The Proposal” message, expounding on chapter 3:1-18.

Bro. Arturo shares the following insight about Boaz’s disposition, Ruth 3:7:

...aren’t you glad to know, Beloved, that authentic spirituality is not defined
as a dour, somber, sullen, heavy disposition? Asceticism has no place in
the life of a person who is in covenant with the happy God. Sometimes, my
friends, the people in the Bible make us nervous and uncomfortable because they tend to defy the very ways we have sought to define holiness…

Has Bro. Arturo read the SHEology treatise(s) on modesty and all the error/imbalances that come with it? Ponder Bro. Arturo’s insights on Naomi’s instructions to Ruth in preparation for her providential meeting with Boaz:

…here is the first step in the plan—take a bath. After all we are
not hyper-Calvinist here, let’s not put God’s sovereignty to a foolish
test. You want to make a positive impression on a man and you smell badly?
Take a bath. (She’s been gleaning, by the way) Step two, put on some
perfume. Step three, put on your prettiest clothes—those sandals that
match it so perfectly. Now friends there is a sense in which I’m teasing
and a sense in which I’m dead earnest. It is true that Naomi’s goal is not
merely to make Ruth alluring but it most certainly includes this. Aren’t you
glad to know that spirituality is not an excuse for gaudiness and frumpiness….?

There are so many to choose from.....whatever suits your fancy simply scroll through and take your pick. A sermon a day keeps the enemies (of your soul) away :)

Happy Listening!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Accusing God for the Sins of our Parents

Ever since the age of eight, I strongly have maintained that my parents favored my younger brother over me. Don't get me wrong: I knew my parents loved me. I was just convinced that they loved my brother more.

Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that my recollection of my childhood is shaped by my own bias. I have discussed this issue with my parents at length throughout my childhood and adolescence, and they never agreed with my assessment. (It wasn't until my brother and I were both adults that they began to see some credibility in my claims.) But nevertheless, whether the alleged favoritism was real or perceived, the result is the same: it had a major impact on my view of my parents, and I transferred that over to my Father in heaven.

The main thing that used to upset me was that I felt my brother and I were not equally disciplined. Name any transgression of your choice: coloring on the walls, breaking an expensive vase, throwing a temper tantrum, etc. My position has always been that my parents would discipline me harshly for my behavior. But if my brother were at fault, my parents would find a way to excuse it. "He's so little, he doesn't know any better!" was the justification I was given when he was only three years old. As my brother grew, that line was not going to work, so my parents found other reasons to indulge in his every whim: "It's just easier to give him what he wants than causing a scene in the store," or, "We only gave in because he doesn't deal with disappointment as well as you do." Whether or not I was assessing the situation accurately, it caused me to resent my brother and distrust my parents' love for me. Every discussion about this with my parents would end with my mother saying, "Just remember, you are both my children, and I love you equally." I would think (and sometimes even vocalize): "Yeah. Sure, mom. That could be true in theory, but it really doesn't feel that way in practice."

So Christ died for the little wretch. SO WHAT?Fast forward to today. I hated my sister in Christ. People tried to reason with me in an effort to bring me out of this sin, saying, "Can't you just view her as someone Christ died for?" Honestly, I could see where they were going with this, but it meant nothing to me. So Christ died for the little wretch. SO WHAT? Christ died for me too, didn't He? Does this mean I get to misbehave too? Look, I get it in theory. But when I see people making excuses for this sister's inappropriate behavior, it certainly doesn't feel true in practice.

What did this do to my walk? It drove a wedge between me and God. I did not go to Him for my needs. I figured it is pointless for me to ask Him for things, since there are other Christians asking for the same things, and He'd probably just give those blessings to them instead of me. The Bible says "You have not because you do not ask." But I did not ask because I was convinced that all parents are the same, and that included my Heavenly Father. I read passages of Scripture which describe how God loves to lavish blessings upon His children, and I believed it. But I was convinced that these passages were referring to His other children, not me.

I hated this sister in Christ because I saw her doing things that I judged to be inappropriate. Did God do anything? Nooooo. He just let her get away with it (or so it seemed). But if I were to do those same things, God would discipline me. Yes, I knew the Bible says that those He loves He disciplines (Hebrews 12), but I felt like that's only half the story. I felt that the Bible should also mention that that those He loves more are the ones He apparently lets off scot-free. Never mind that I deserve hell and I'm getting off scot-free myself. All that mattered was that this other person appeared to be getting away with things that I wasn't getting away with, so that meant God loves her more. Makes sense, right?

To make matters worse, I also spent years of my life thinking that God loves His sons more than He loves His daughters. The simple fact that He chose to put me in a woman's body was an act of cruelty, as far as I was concerned. The souls He favored were created as men, given to rule over those children He didn't love as much, created as women. If you are a woman, I assumed that was because He just didn't like you as much. It's just the way it is, because parents aren't fair. I grew up in a very old-school Italian-American family. The women exist to wait on the chauvinistic men. In God's economy, "submit to your husband" couldn't possibly be any different that what I witnessed growing up, could it?

Well I do not deserve it, but God has had mercy on me. He has shown me that these ideas are complete garbage, manufactured in hell's great factory of lies. God is perfect, and human parents are not. Human parents are going to fail us every time. If we insist on judging the character of God based on the actions of our sinful parents, we will never understand God. If we really want to know the true character of God, we must base our understanding of Him on Scripture.

Perhaps you were the victim of physical or emotional abuse. Perhaps you were abandoned. Perhaps your parents repeatedly broke their promises to you. Friends, this has NOTHING to do with God. And so now when Satan tries to feed me this trash, I lash out with my sword. My Bible tells me that God is not a respecter of persons, "for there is no partiality with God" (Romans 2:11). Is God a hypocrite, that He would show partiality but instruct me not to do the same? (James 1). NO. I will come boldly to my Daddy's throne! My requests are not insignificant to Him, for if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe me? (Matthew 6:30). Furthermore, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). How can I possibly cling to this preposterous idea that God favors His other children over me, when He poured out the wrath meant for me upon His son, with whom He is well pleased? (Matthew 3:17).

It pleased the Lord to bruise Christ (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus could at any time have protested and cried "Foul!" It is not fair that He was punished for something I did, yet He did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7). How then, can I complain that God has treated another Christian unfairly by letting them get away with bad behavior while I supposedly suffer under rebuke? How can I hate another when Christ died for me, while yet a sinner myself? (Romans 5:8).

Perhaps you did not experience favoritism in your family (real or perceived), but your parents sinned against you in other ways. Perhaps you were the victim of physical or emotional abuse. Perhaps you were abandoned. Perhaps your parents repeatedly broke their promises to you. Friends, this has NOTHING to do with God. God is not out to hurt you. God will never leave you or forsake you. God will never lie to you!!! When the accuser tries to condemn us, we know there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) So why would we willingly believe these ridiculous, unfounded accusations against the Lord Himself?

This is a call to brethren everywhere to fight the good fight of faith. Sling those swords, sisters. It's time to cut these lies up once and for all and defend the truth about our God, even if it is only to ourselves! That being said, I'd like to report that I HAVE OFFICIALLY BEEN SET FREE OF THE SIN OF HATRED!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SHEologian Spotlight: Abigail

As you may recall from my last post, I recently went through some of the profiles of our followers here on the site, as well as some other venues, just to see what kind of people are reading our thoughts. I mentioned that I'd like to honor some of our readers out there with a series I've decided to call "SHEologian Spotlight." It is my pleasure to begin this series by honoring a young woman named Abigail.

Now just to be clear so you know how this works, Abigail is a total stranger to me. We have never met. The idea is to try to appreciate something about a total stranger as a way to encourage her, but also, to encourage us all (myself included) to simply appreciate the beauty in every single one of God's children. The best way I know how to do this is to view someone's blog. So much of a person's heart, soul, and identity is invested in her blog. So without further ado, here is what I can gather about Abigail from her blog:

About Abigail
Abigail is 21 years old and lives in Connecticut. She is a wife and a mother. Abigail appears to be a serious student of the Word. Her blog postings reflect a sincere desire to not just know the Word, but to apply it to her life.

What Attracted Me To Her Blog
When I first read through some of Abigail's postings, I was immediately drawn to the transparency and humility in her writings. She writes very openly and frankly about her struggles, as well as theological issues or questions pertaining to Christian living in general. As I continued to read, I was taken by her commitment to finding answers to her questions, using Scripture as her foundation. For example, in one of her postings, Abigail wrote about coming to a particular decision regarding an issue of Christian living. As someone who holds the entirely opposite perspective, I was thoroughly impressed by Abigail's ability to make a decision - a solid decision - based on logical reasoning from the Scriptures. When a reader disagreed with her, Abigail did not waver in her position one bit. She stood strong, and did so with grace. I cannot help but admire a person who makes choices based on what she reads in Scripture, but beyond this, Abigail has a real sense of peace about her decisions. Her steadfast conviction is something I admire and I am working to solidify in my own walk with the Lord.

Abigail also seems to have a teachable spirit. From what I can gather, she has some older readers that are more than willing to offer her comfort and advice in a Titus 2 sort of way. When I read through some of the comments of these readers, I can sense that they too, have been taken by her honesty. The comments are lengthy, detailed, and genuinely heartfelt as her readers offer their advice. I marveled at that, not knowing if these people know her personally or not, but if they don't, it says a lot about Abigail's ability to reach across this cyber-divide and express a side of her humanity that speaks volumes to those who are listening. And Abigail is always gracious and grateful in responding to these comments.

Why I am Grateful for Abigail
I am grateful for Abigail's presence on the internet for several reasons. At 21, she has a wisdom that I never had at that age (even though I was a Christian). Reading her thoughts makes me all the more aware of God's grace in someone's life. When I think of what the average 21-year-old is most likely concerned about these days, and then I read Abigail's blog, it certainly gives one cause to rejoice!

Secondly, I have learned a lot from Abigail. Learning from someone younger than ourselves can be a humbling experience. Perhaps my favorite post of hers was a piece about how boring it can be to be in the home at times. The laundry is done, then it gets dirty again, and then it has to be done all over again. These are the mundane moments that I conveniently forget when I am tempted to glamorize marriage and motherhood. I came across that post on a day when I was feeling sorry for myself for being single. Abigail's honesty made me realize that nobody has it "better" than anybody else. We all have our ups and downs, and we need to be grateful for what the Lord has ordained for every one of our steps.

Finally, Abigail's recent search for identity recently hit me at a time when I tend to become reflective about my own life. It is comforting to know that I am not the only one who feels this way sometimes. It reminds me of the second reason I write: I write for my readers. (The first reason I write is for God.)

The blog that I originally read is gone. Abigail has begun a new blog, and from what I can see, it still contains the honesty, transparency, and humility of her first blog, but the new blog is symbolic of a fresh start in Abigail's faith. I am excited to see what God does in her life this year.

If you would like to meet Abigail, visit her blog:
Uniqueness in Christ

Please Note: The SHEologian Spotlight series is designed to honor our readers, whomever they may be. We do not necessarily agree with everything that is posted on other people's blogs. We recognize some of these views may likewise differ from yours. Should you desire to pursue these issues further with any of the individuals featured in this series here or on their blogs, we humbly ask that you keep the discussion friendly and irenic in the spirit of brotherly love. Thank you and God Bless!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I Blog The Body Electric

I am a big fan of the old Twilight Zone Television series. There's this one episode you may remember. It's called, "I Sing The Body Electric." In this episode, three children lose their mother to some illness, and in an effort to fill the void that she left behind, their father decides to get a robot modeled after a kindly older woman. "Grandma" is not just any robot. She is actually capable of love. The three children reach adulthood under electric Grandma's tender loving care, and at the end of the story, just before they all go off to college, Grandma explains that her job is done, and so she will be heading back to the factory to be recycled. The kids thank her for everything and that's pretty much it. There are no tears when faced with the knowledge that they will be losing their dear Grandma. Unlike their real mother, who died, Grandma can never die. She will live on with different body parts, and be sent to another family to help raise those children. But one has to wonder if the lack of emotion is because she will never die, or because the children never really had a true relationship with her in the first place. After all, she is not a real human being.

The title of this episode comes from a poem by Walt Whitman by the same name. Whitman celebrates the human body as something sacred, and ponders the interconnectedness of all human beings. The Twilight Zone, in its traditional fashion, has taken this idea to a place of irony by offering a commentary on what might happen in the future if we forget how precious human beings are. Perhaps one of the reasons I love The Twilight Zone is that I often feel as though someone from the past is trying to warn me about the future. It is not uncommon for me to look around at the world I live in and realize that these predictions, thinly disguised as science fiction, have come true in many ways.

Tonight I spoke over the phone with someone about the fact that there are most likely some folks out there who associate some sort of notoriety with our label. Thanks to Facebook, we're fairly well-known on some level. But in spite of all the people out there in cyberland who appreciate what we're doing here, the truth is there isn't a single person in my church who has any clue that this blog even exists!

It's not that I've kept it a secret. I haven't gone to the other extreme of promoting my blog to my friends, either. From time to time, I've mentioned casually that I have a blog. I may have even given the web address to a few folks. But for some reason, my blog has not really caught on among the people I know personally. And I will confess, that has me feeling a bit empty and lonely this evening. It also leads me to a very interesting thought: What does the future hold for interpersonal relationships, considering that the people who know me best have never heard of this blog, which is such a huge part of my life?

While I am very thankful for the support of our readers, I can't help feeling at times that each of you is like an electric grandmother to me, filling the void that a real human being has left behind. And I imagine there are times I come across as an electric grandmother to you in return. I think of all the stay-at-home moms who don't have anyone over the age of four to talk to all day. I think about how many of them might turn to blogs like this to gain some sense of interconnectedness with other human beings. As a single person, I too have experienced this type of loneliness. I come home from work and there is no one to talk to, no one calling on the phone, and no new emails. It's frightening to think that email is quickly becoming an outdated form of communication in our present age of Twitter and text messaging. If you're not on a social networking site these days, you may as well be living in an isolated bomb shelter.

Cyber-relationships are a lot like the "Body Electric" robots. They provide us with something that we were previously missing, but they can never replace the real, flesh-and-blood relationships that we have face-to-face with the people God has placed in our immediate vicinity. Blogs, Facebook, MySpace and the like are wonderful tools, but they should never take the place of genuine relationships.

Christ died to break down the wall between us and the Father . . . Why then, do we insist on rebuilding that wall, only to work tirelessly to tear it down again ourselves?Christ died to break down the wall between us and the Father. The Bible tells us that when His work was accomplished on the cross, the veil was torn in two from top to bottom. It was not torn from the bottom up. In other words, God himself tore that veil to symbolize the removal of the barrier of sin that not only stood between us and Him, but also between one another. Because of Christ's work on the cross, we can now have fellowship with one another. Why then, do we insist on rebuilding that wall, only to work tirelessly to tear it down again ourselves? In other words, we put up walls with the people in our lives. Then we come to feel lonely about this, so our solution is to communicate with different people through the veil of a computer screen.

I am curious about the people who read this blog. If you are a public follower of this blog, I want you to know that I have looked at your profiles from time to time. I wonder who you are, and why you are reading my thoughts. I may not know you personally, but I do acknowledge each of you is more than an avatar on a profile. You are real, flesh-and-blood human beings, with feelings, thoughts, and opinions. I look through some of your blogs and I am touched by much of what I've seen, even though it is just a mere snapshot of your lives.

For this reason, I have felt led to honor some of you here. In the upcoming months, I may contact you to ask your permission to feature you on this site. Soon, I hope to begin a new series of posts called "SHEologian Spotlight." In the spirit of Philippians 2:3, I want to take an opportunity to esteem each of you as better than myself. My goal is to honor and encourage as many of you out in cyberspace that I can. I realize that I am not a physical shoulder to cry on, and I don't expect to take the place of real, face-to-face edification in your lives.

But I do intend to do everything in my power to be the best darn electric Grandma I can.