Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Thanksgiving Street" by Susannah Spurgeon

"Thanksgiving Street"
"Whoever offers praise glorifies Me."

      "The time of the singing of birds is come," and from early morning until the sun sets, their sweet notes are a constant reminder of the duty and delight of thanksgiving. Out of the joy of their hearts they trill forth their gladness for the sunshine, and the opening flowers, and the unfolding leaves; and I have heard the same tender song when the rain has fallen, and cold winds have blown, and dark clouds have swept across the sky. Many a time have the birds in the garden sung a lesson in my listening ears, and rebuked my dullness or my unbelief, by their gleeful carolings.
   Ah! Dear friends, some of us do not praise our God half enough. We "raise an Ebenezer" now and then; but we pitifully fail to obey the command. "Rejoice in the Lord always." Yet, how much we have to bless Him for, and what sweet encouragement is given to our gratitude by His assurance, "Whoever offers praise glorifies Me!"    How often are we told, in His Word, that He takes delight in our thanksgivings and songs!   The praise we render is dearer to Him than that of angels—for they cannot bless Him for redeeming love, for pardoned sin, and the blessed hope of resurrection glory.

Oh!  Is it not to the eternal praise of a covenant-keeping God, that poor pilgrims, wandering through a wilderness, and having to wage constant war with the world, the flesh, and the devil, should yet be enabled to sing gloriously, as they put their enemies to flight, and overcome by the blood of the Lamb? It is the overcoming ones who learn to praise. The fingers which can most adroitly use the sword, are the most skillful in touching the harp. Each time God gives us the victory over sin, we learn a new song with which to laud and bless His holy Name.

   Does it not make your heart leap to know that your Lord takes pleasure in your praise?   In His ears are ever sounding the eternal symphonies of the universe—that majestic chorus which began "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy;" but He turns from these to you, and with infinite tenderness and love, bends to listen to the grateful songs of His redeemed ones, as they bless Him for all His benefits.

    The feeble notes uttered on earth by a truly thankful and sanctified heart must, I think, swell into anthems of glorious melody as they rise to the throne of God!"


From "A Basket of Summer Fruit" by Susannah Spurgeon (written after the death of her beloved husband,  C. H. Spurgeon).  Courtesy of Grace Gems

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In Need of Christmas

Christmas commercials and decorations started popping up on November 1st. The Hallmark Channel soon joined in with non-stop holiday movies. A local radio station began playing Christmas music. The Christmas season seems to come earlier every year, a fact which has troubled me in the past. I adore November, with its days of giving thanks, trees ablaze, and warm aromas. But this year I've already pulled out a favorite Christmas CD. I've thought about decorating. I've started my Advent reading.

I need Christmas this year.

College applications have been finished. The graduation annoucements have been ordered. The Senior portrait has been framed. The days with my girl in our home full-time are waning. Thoughts of watching Christmas specials and driving around town to look at lights ease the pain of seeing her wings unfurl. This is the last Christmas of my girl's childhood. It's beautiful and heart-breaking all at once.

I need Christmas this year.

Relationships strained by the gospel. Hurts and grievances both, unspoken. Wishing and wishing that I could just cry on Mama's shoulder.

I need Christmas this year.

One Thursday in October, we gathered with dear friends to celebrate the life of a father. The next Thursday, we stood beside those same friends in a blur of uniforms and crime scene tape as the coroner drove away with two more loved ones. It was, and is, surreal. I've never felt so completely helpless. I ache for their loss.

Oh! how I need Christmas this year!

A dozen years ago, my husband and I visited a friend in Paris. We walked through the Louvre, looked out from atop the Eiffel Tower, strolled the streets of the beautiful City of Lights. Today those same streets are lit with candles to honor those who lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. People who were enjoying an evening out, not knowing it would be their last.

Yes, I need Christmas this year.

Not the shopping lists or the decorations. Not the holiday movies or music. What I desperately need is the Christ of Christmas. I need to know that my worries of a girl leaving home, my sorrow for broken relationships, my grief for friends (and their much, much deeper grief), and my fears of the evil of this world have all been taken care of by a baby born in a manger. It's the most unlikely tale the world will ever hear, this story of Christmas. It is the best news a weary woman - indeed, a weary world - could receive. And yet even Christians have romanticized Jesus' birth to the point that I wonder if we truly recognize the full wonder of it. The baby heralded by angels and greeted by shepherds changed the fate of the world. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
When the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords came into this world, he came into a stable. If you do not feel a sense of holy laughter within you, I do not see that you have a right to think that you are a Christian. Thank God, this is gospel, this is salvation. God turning upside down, reversing everything we have ever thought, everything we have taken pride in. The mighty? Why he will pull them down from their seats. He has been doing so. He is still doing so. Let any man arise and say he is going to govern, to be the god of the whole world; you need not be afraid - he will be put down. Every dictator has gone down; they all do. Finally, the devil and all that belong to him will go down to the lake of fire and will be destroyed forever. The Son of God has come into the world to do that. (as quoted here)
Tears fill my eyes as I read those words. Yes, time passes too quickly, those we love often wound us deeply, people die unexpectedly, and our enemy prowls about like a roaring lion (see 1 Peter 5:8), but Jesus' birth and his death give us hope in the midst of this fallen world. This is the truth of the gospel, the reason I need Christmas not just this year, but every year.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
Galatians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Letters from Seminary

School has been keeping me busy judging from the disheveled condition of my house. On the 31st of October I had a mid-term exam, and on Saturday, I had a class which ran from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It was a long day, but I found it an energizing day.

I anticipated that seminary would reveal new and exciting things for me. I knew it would be humbling (don't ask about the bibliography assignment I handed in), and I knew it would give me lots of those "aha!" moments. Just when you think you know God, he surprises you and reveals even more. As I sat in class on Saturday, I felt like I was right where I should be.

This semester, I've been taking a survey of the entire bible. It moves at a very fast pace. We're getting a bird's eye view; according to my prof at about 50,000 feet. There isn't a lot of time to stop, but the benefit of going at a faster pace has been to see the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. As I have seen the way themes run throughout the Bible, I am struck over and over again at the amazing treasure we have in God's Word.

I wish every woman could have a chance to study like this. I know that not everyone wants to, but I wish that those women who do would be able to. Regularly engaging with the course material and my classmates has made me think so much more, and that has spilled over into other areas of study. Is it possible to sharpen the mind of a 50 year old woman? I think so.

Of course, not every woman can attend school, but there are many women who want deeper study. We are fortunate that we have so many resources available. All that is needed is a little time and some determination. Self-study is a great way to learn. I thought I would offer some suggestions for those would like to study more deeply.


That's where it starts. You can start by reading a book about reading. Maybe this sounds as exciting as watching paint dry, but I have to wonder: in this day and age of online communication which is fast and furious, do we still know how to read well? The book How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler is a good resource. It's kind of dry, but it does the job. I also found The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer helpful.

Find good books to read

Our own Rebecca Stark has an excellent post about Six Books Every Christian Woman Should Read. Start there. And when you read, look at the footnotes and endnotes for more books. Keep a notebook or a binder and make notes about what you read. Write down questions about what you read.

Don't forget the Bible 

I recommend Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's books How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, and How to Read the Bible Book by Book. All of that theology we read is based on Scripture, so knowing how to study the Bible well is always time well spent. Also, I love the Reformed Expository Commentary Series to read along with bible reading. They are encouraging and helpful volumes. And no, you don't have to buy the whole set at once!

Take advice from others

Nancy Gurthrie had an excellent article recently about 7 Ways Women Can Grow in Studying and Teaching Without Attending Seminary. She has some excellent book recommendations. Kevin DeYoung also has a list of Ten Systematic Theology Resources. Don't be discouraged by some of the more advanced recommendations. There are a few that are very readable.

Study history

Christianity is part of human history, and its own history of worth studying. Check out The Story of Christianity, Vol.1 and Vol. 2., by Justo Gonzales. If you can't stand the thought of more books, have a listen to Dr. Michael Haykin's sermons on Church History at Sermon Audio.

If you can find a study buddy, do so. I have already benefitted so much from the input of my classmates and the knowledge of my professor. My dream is to have a women's study group where we drink tea or coffee and talk about the nerdy books we read. I would love for someone to start a prototype.

Happy studying! The benefits are worth the work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Trusting God with Our Money Troubles

“I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”

The American Psychological Association recently conducted a study of more than 3,000 adults  to determine the effects of  stress  on people’s health.   They discovered that money was the leading cause of anxiety in America,  in spite of the fact that we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  Financial worry outpaced concerns about work, relationships, and health.
“Nearly three quarters (72 percent) of adults report feeling stressed about money at least some of the time” 1
 When  Christians  experience  money trouble we can rest knowing  the Lord does not want us to lie awake  at night worrying.      And we  know this  is true because  Jesus told His disciples not to worry about their material needs.  (Matthew 6:25)  Likewise,  Paul also  tells us to be anxious for nothing  and to pray about everything.  (Philippians 4:6).   The purpose of this post is not to suggest  resources to help  solve  a financial crisis,  but rather to consider  how we can  minimize  anxiety and maintain a Biblical perspective when going though one.   

Granted,  when  our financial  problems  are self-inflicted we probably want to flog ourselves,  but we need to accept God's forgiveness if necessary,   learn from it,  and move on.     Even those situations are under God's sovereign control and are designed to work  for our good in the end. (Romans 8:28)    But sometimes  no matter how well we try to plan and budget,  unforeseen circumstances  can come up  and we find ourselves in way over our head.    

A major financial reversal  can be every bit as sanctifying  as  other kinds of trials because  it's humbling  and  it forces us  to depend on  God.    I know it’s not easy  keeping calm when the bills are stacking up,   but  learning  to trust the Lord  in  times of  uncertainty is one of the things that sets Christians apart from world.   "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things;  for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”  Matthew 6:32.  

Another problem  with stressing  about  money  is that we can be tempted to covet and envy others.    Asaph was a Levitical choir director who made this mistake  and his envy  led  him to  utter despair and bitterness.
“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;   I had nearly lost my foothold.  I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles;  their bodies are healthy and strong   They are free from common human burdens;  they are not plagued by human ills.”  Psalm 73:2-5
He had falsely believed these people had it all together because they were wealthy and healthy and he just couldn’t grasp why he, being righteous, had to struggle.
“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God;  then I understood their final destiny.”  (vs.16-17)
When Asaph turned to the Lord  he realized that God had set those he had envied “in slippery places” and they were headed for destruction.    In the end he came to his senses and rejoiced in the knowledge that God was all he had,  and all he would ever  want or need.
“Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  (vs.25-26)
Just as “God is good to Israel”,  He is also good to us.   The Lord  doesn’t  promise  us health and wealth,  but  He knows our needs better than we do and  instructs us to pray,  “Give us this day our daily bread”.     He  wants us to  depend completely on Him  because He  is our strength and portion regardless of our circumstances.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Lord who fights

The tenth chapter of the book of Joshua opens with the kings in the southern region of the Promised Land forming a coalition to come against the city Gibeon. The men of Gibeon send an urgent plea for help to Joshua and as he and the mighty fighting men of valor prepare for a night march, the Lord once again assures Joshua of victory:
Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you. (Joshua 10:8)
It is interesting to note that the Lord speaks in past tense though the battle has yet to be fought! The Lord will be gracious to empower His people and to secure the victory for them. The outcome is assured but the people must step out in confident obedience to engage the enemy.

What follows is surely one of the most interesting passages of Scripture! The author of Joshua reports that after Joshua and his men marched all night long in order to launch a surprise attack, it was the Lord Himself who secured the defeat.       
And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them…and as they fled before Israel while they were going doing the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them…and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword. (Joshua 10:10-11)
Verse 14 summarizes the Lord’s intervention: “for the Lord fought for Israel.”

Our God is a warrior God! He fought as the victor who crushes His enemy under His feet. In our pursuit of a kinder, gentler Savior, we sometimes overlook the power and might of our Lord who stores up wrath against those who oppose Him. We forget the Jesus of Rev. 19, he who will judge in righteousness and will make war, wearing a robe dipped in blood.
And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Rev. 19:14-16)
It is this God, mighty and terrible, holy and omnipotent, who fights for His people.

And it is this God to whom Joshua prays in Joshua 10:12 and the Bible tells us “the sun stopped.” Scholars attempt to explain or interpret this miracle as perhaps a solar eclipse or maybe even just poetic license on the part of the author. The emphasis of the text, however, is found in verse 14:
There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man…
This God, this powerful, almighty, sovereign God, the fierce commander of the armies of heaven, He hears, He listens, He answers the prayers of His people. What kind of God is this? What kind of grace? That the Lord of heaven and earth would stoop down, would condescend to hear and answer the prayer of wicked and sinful me.

I don’t know what your battle is. I don’t know where the enemy is coming against you. I do know this: the Lord’s words of comfort to Joshua are for you too. You need not fear. If you belong to Jesus, the Lord Himself fights for you. And your enemy? His doom is sure and his time is short.

Like Joshua, we too can cry out to the Lord, most especially when the battle is heated and our hearts are heavy. Because of Christ, we can draw near to Him in prayer as His daughters. As His child, ask Him for what you need! He is faithful and He will meet your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. He is gracious and He is sufficient.

Just as I don’t know your battle, I also don’t know what your victory will look like.  I daresay it will not be the ease and comfort of your best life now. In fact, it seems to me the victory the Lord most often grants is the perseverance, the grace, to get up and fight another day, another hour, another minute.

We discussed these truths in Bible study on Tuesday. After class my friend confessed through her tears that she is afraid of what the victory may look like. She and her family have endured much for  the kingdom of Christ. She is weary. She fears. And who wouldn't? But her hope is in the mighty Lord who fights for her. He is the fierce warrior, yes, but He is also the gentle Shepherd who comforts her and assures her that she can and will endure.

Glory to God, we have hope beyond this life! Whatever you suffer today as a believer in Christ, you can know that it is only light and momentary compared to the eternal glory that awaits. Keep fighting the good fight, sister. Don’t be afraid. The Lord has given you the victory and He Himself fights on your behalf.