Friday, August 29, 2014

What's the point?

In a week or so I will begin teaching a new unit of Bible study. I'm not sure exactly how many studies I've facilitated and/or taught but I am entering what I think is my sixteenth year of sitting in the teacher's chair so, yeah, you could say I've been around the block a time or two.

I now begin nearly every unit of teaching with a lesson focused on the why's and wherefore's of Bible study: why are we here? What are we doing? What are our goals and how do we propose to accomplish them? What makes what we do important?

I think it's critical that we identify the reason we engage in a particular activity, especially given that for most of us time is a precious commodity and we want and need to use it well. Not only that but casting a vision and setting goals clarify the activity's purpose and serve as a reminder of its relative importance, not just in terms of Bible study but in any task we undertake.

So as I endeavor to offer to my fellow Bible students a vision of our motivations and goals for Bible study, I am indebted to Kathleen Nielson and her book Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word. I had the opportunity to meet Kathleen at The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference in July. I was glad for the opportunity to share with her that this is what I do at the start of each study I teach and I thanked her for helping me succinctly encapsulate what our group strives to be about.

So what are our motivations and goals for the study of God's Word? Here in abbreviated form, with props to Kathleen, is a portion of the vision I will set forth in my Bible study group next week. These goals are framed in terms of truths about the Bible:

The Bible is God speaking therefore Bible study is personal! Our goal then is to know God by hearing Him speak through His Word. Also because the Bible is God speaking, it is authoritative and our goal is to submit to it as authority in our lives. 
The Bible is powerful. It is able to make us wise for salvation, it exposes and judges and convicts, it accomplishes the Lord's purposes. Therefore it is a sufficient Word! It is enough! Thus the Bible will be our primary focus and our main text. 
The Bible is understandable. Therefore we will devote ourselves to seeking and searching and engaging ourselves in the diligent and careful study of God's Word, confident that the Spirit will teach us and grant us understanding. 
The Bible is one story so we will study each passage in context with an effort to discern the author's original intent. We will also seek to understand each passage in terms of this single redemptive storyline of the Bible. We will not immediately seek direct application to our lives but we will first ask what we learn about God and Jesus and the gospel.

To keep it real, I have to tell you that setting forth a vision for Bible study was not an idea that had occurred to me right from the start. It actually began out of an offense.

Years ago I taught a community Bible study much as I do now but on Monday nights. One such Monday evening I was preparing to leave my son's basketball game a little early to make it to Bible study in a timely manner. Seeing me about to leave, one of the parents of a player on my son's team asked where I was going. After I told them about our community Bible study group this individual asked me in all honesty and--to give full benefit of the doubt--without snark: what's the point?

"What's the point?!!?!" I fumed later, to myself and probably to my husband, though I'm sure I offered some nice, nonsensical answer at the time invoking something about Jesus and women and the Bible. Truth be told, I was deeply offended to have my motives so questioned. However, after I recovered from my initial anger, I saw the question's validity. In fact, it has rung in mind ever since though I am quite certain the person asking it had no idea of the lingering influence it would have.

What is the point? Do we have a point?

Yes, friends, we do. In our study we hold the Bible to be God's spoken Word, powerful, understandable, the full revelation of Himself through history, the story of the redemption of a people for His own glory through the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. We want to know this living Word so that we may know the God it reveals. We want to know God and know His Son and we want to love Him more and we want others to know Him and love Him.

This is our goal. This is our motivation. Yes, Lord, by Your mercy may it be so.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Gospel for Square Pegs

I've often felt like a square peg in a round hole, somewhat of an outsider when it comes to the crowd, and I accept this fact. But what about the family of God? I would like to say there is no fear and total freedom, but sometimes I can't shake off my square-peggishness.

Having experienced past rejection, defense is the default. So the shield automatically activates and gets set on withdrawal mode. In conversations, I won't lie, but I may selectively edit what I say in an effort to force myself into the roundness of the hole. But more often than not, my perception of the "hole" is a product of my imagination. I am so afraid of being misjudged that I end up wrongly judging my brothers and sisters by bracing myself for a negative response when there is none. In the end, it's difficult to be built up in love when you hold yourself at arm's length, and I have been the loser for it.

But in reality we're all square pegs when Jesus is the standard. Try and reach that benchmark if you can. But God in His mercy takes people who have been warped and broken by sin and makes them new creations  (2 Cor. 5:17). He takes outcasts and adopts them as beloved children (Eph 1:4-5). We were all misfits but God has made us fit and united us in Christ (Eph 2:11-22). 

The gospel is not just a message of reconciliation with God, but it also heralds the reconciliation of all believers to one another in Christ. Through the death of Christ, God has brought peace where there was once hostility, and He has broken down the racial, economic, and social barriers that once divided us outside of Christ.
Also when God saved us, He made us members of His household, and He gave us as gifts to one another. Each brother and sister is a portion of my gospel inheritance, and I am a portion of their inheritance as well. We are significant players in each other's gospel narrative, and it is in relationship with one another that we experience the fullness of God in Christ.
Hence, the more I comprehend the full scope of the gospel, the more I value the church for which Christ died, the more I value the role that I play in the lives of my fellow Christians, and the more I appreciate the role that they must be allowed to play in mine.1

This is gospel rubber that I need to apply and reapply to fellowship road. How about you?

1. A Gospel Primer for Christians, Milton Vincent, Focus Publishing, 2008, pg. 23-24.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Picture an Ordinary Life

During the time between my grandmother's passing and her funeral, the four granddaughters sifted through photos to put together a memorial collage. Looking at those pictures, many of which I'd never seen, was like walking through my grandparents' life together. As we narrowed them down to create a collage that adequately captured my grandmother's spirit, one in particular jumped out at me.  I couldn't stop staring at it.

There was my grandmother in her mid-twenties, looking as glamorous as a Hollywood starlet in her dress, scarf and sunglasses. Even though she was stunning, what captivated me about the photo was how unpretentious it was.

As I kept looking through photographs, I realized several truths:

The best picture tells a story. 
Every picture I found told the story of my grandmother - a woman who loved her children, a wife who quietly tolerated (and secretly enjoyed) her husband's silliness, a woman who loved to paint ceramics, a sister who was also a best friend. The majority of photographs I see today are quite different - our meals, our homes, our projects. They, too, are telling a story. Is it one worth telling?

The best picture is a true representation of its subject.
In this photograph, my grandmother wasn't trying to look like a beautiful woman having the time of her life. She was simply riding in a boat and most likely turned around to keep the wind out of her face. She didn't select select her attire because she knew someone would be taking her picture. She didn't assume the perfect pose or choose just the right time to smile for the camera. 

In August 2002, Jamie Leigh Curtis was brave enough to allow a magazine to publish photographs of her that were not retouched. A dozen years later, we are still naive enough to believe that Hollywood images are real. Not only do we believe it; we have surrendered to the pressure. How many of us are willing to post unflattering photos of ourselves, our families or our homes on social media? Luckily, we don't have to. Technology allows us to edit and filter our photos to our hearts' content.  Despite all of our talk about being genuine and authentic, we've gone to great lengths to convince others that we live the lives depicted in our perfect photographs and social media posts.

The best picture is a treasure.
As you might imagine, we didn't find a multitude of pictures from Grandma's youth.  Photographs were rare in those days, but I also believe people were more discerning. Not everything was considered significant enough to be documented for posterity; there was far too much work to be done for that. Now we take pictures with our phones. We never have to miss a chance to snap that perfect shot. I wonder, are we so preoccupied with capturing the moment that we miss making the memory? Have we become so accustomed to life behind the lens that we miss the beauty in front of our eyes? Has the sheer abundance of images in our lives cheapened their value?

The best picture points to something other than the photographer.
We didn't find one selfie of my grandmother. Each picture was taken by someone else wanting to call attention to her. We live in age where much of what we do screams Look at me! We are the stars of our own videos and photographs, our social media feeds, and our lives. I don't even have to turn my phone backward to take a photograph of myself; I simply hit a button and the camera rotates to me. The glaring truth of our narcissistic culture.

My fellow blogger Kim is a gifted photographer.  She has an eye for finding beauty in the ordinary. That's a rare gift these days, even among Christians. We've forgotten the value of an ordinary life. We aren't the first. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was blinded by her desire to be like God. She was surrounded by the beauty and gifts of the Lord, yet being an ordinary woman was not enough for her. Sound familiar?

I'm tired of believing the trick photography of our enemy. I want to rediscover the value of a life that isn't picture perfect. I want a life that proclaims the beauty of the ordinary. I want a life that doesn't call attention to me. I want a life that tells the story of an extraordinary God and the treasure of His gospel.
Ordinary does not mean mediocre. Athletes, architects, humanitarians, and artists can vouch for the importance of everyday faithfulness to mundane tasks that lead to excellence. But if we are not headliners in our various callings, it is enough to know that we are called there by God to maintain a faithful presence in His world.
- Michael Horton
Tabletalk, August 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Jesus Is Risen

And we are raised with him
According to the historical record of the New Testament, after Jesus died, he rose again. The risen Jesus appears in the four gospels and Acts, and all of the epistles assume that Christ is alive. The New Testament Christians based their hope on the fact that Jesus who died for their sins had also been raised from the dead. As Paul writes,
. . .if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . [I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17 ESV)
Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no Christianity at all. While Jesus's death lies at the heart of his saving work, his death wouldn't be effective without his subsequent work of resurrection.

And the resurrection really is the work of the Son. Although the Son shared this work with the other members of the Trinity (see Acts 2:24 and Romans 8:11), he also raised himself by his own power. "I lay down my life," he said, "that I may take it up again. . . . I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).

The resurrection of Jesus was not a return to the kind of life he had before he died, but a whole re-creation of his human life. His original humanity, which was subject to weakness and death, was transformed into a new kind of incorruptible humanity with no possibility of weakness or death. He arose in a glorified body, perfectly suited to live forever in heaven, where he is living right now in the same glorified body.

The Resurrection Saves

Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no salvation. For one, the resurrection is proof that Jesus's death worked exactly as intended. If the reason Jesus died was to pay the penalty for our sin on our behalf, once the penalty was completely paid, how could he remain dead? No more penalty, no more death, right? I suspect this is what Paul means when he says Christ was "raised for our justification "(Romans 4:24). Jesus is risen, so we know we are no longer under penalty of death for our sins; Jesus is risen, so we can be forgiven.

And what better way to demonstrate the victory over death accomplished through the death of Jesus than his resurrection from the dead?

The Resurrection of Jesus and The Believer's Future Resurrection

What's more, just as believers are united with Christ in his death, they are also united with him in his resurrection, and there are saving benefits that come to them from this. First, that we have been united to Christ in his resurrection assures us that we too will rise again:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ESV)
Christ’s present resurrected life is a promise that those who believe will be brought with him into the same kind of resurrected life when he returns. Christ’s resurrection included the resurrection of his body and so will ours. Christ's resurrection body is imperishable and our will be, too (1 Corinthians 15: 42-49). We will be raised with glorified bodies to live forever with the One who includes us with him in his resurrection. This is the believer's future hope.

The Resurrection of Jesus and the Believer's New Life Now

Second, the resurrected life that comes into completeness at the believer's glorification already exists within us. We have been made alive together with Christ and a new sort of life has begun—a recreated life:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5 ESV)
Our new life is grounded in our association with Jesus's resurrection. Even now, we have begun our lives in the realm of the resurrection and sin no longer has dominion over us. Our changed lives come to us because we have been united with the risen Jesus. This is another of the saving benefits of the resurrection.

Based on our new reality, believers are called to live a new kind of life.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . . (Colossians 3:1-5a ESV)
Paul urges us to put aside the things we once loved as the old kind of people we used to be. We are living new lives with resurrection power over sin, so we are called to have new loves and new passions—to seek heavenly things. We can do this knowing that there is no reason for sin to defeat us as we work out the victory over sin that has already become reality in Christ's resurrection, a victory that will come to its consummation when we are raised with him when he comes again.

Learn More

Here are a few ways to learn more about the resurrection of Jesus.
  1. Read the biblical accounts of the resurrection found in Matthew 28:1-15, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24, and John 20. 
  2. Study 1 Corinthians 15, which contains more teaching on the resurrection, both Christ's resurrection and the believer's resurrection, than any other chapter in the Bible, and Colossians 3:1-17 on living the new life as one who has been raised with Christ.
  3. Read up on the resurrection of Christ in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 28 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. You can read the section on Christ's state of exaltation from Berkhof's Systematic Theology online.
  4. Listen to Wayne Grudem teaching on the resurrection: The Resurrection, Part 1; The Resurrection, Part 2.

This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:

  1. God Has Spoken (posted at the True Woman Blog)
  2. God Is Three and God Is One
  3. God Is Who He Is
  4. God Had a Plan
  5. God Created the Universe
  6. We Are Made in God's Image
  7. We Are All Sinners
  8. God Saves
  9. The Son Came
  10. Jesus Lived and Died

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Unpacking Pride

I've been reading Chris Brauns's book Unpacking ForgivenessAfter reading and loving his book Bound Together (which I heartily recommend), I bought this one, but only recently opened it up. I'm glad I did.

Forgiveness. It's essential to our life in Christ. His forgiveness gives us new life. There is no redemption without forgiveness. And yet, we struggle with this area, despite knowing how much we ourselves have been forgiven.

So far, the chapter "The Way Up is Down," which talks about humility, has been the chapter I've thought about the most. We cannot approach someone to ask forgiveness or be able to extend forgiveness without it. This means fighting our pride.

Brauns points out that pride manifests itself in subtle ways:
Pride is not limited to arrogance or cockiness; it is not just an inflated opinion of oneself. Pride is any way of putting self into the central focus. This distinction is critical because if we understand it, we can identify more subtle, more insidious kinds of pride.
Brauns suggests some more subtle ways of demonstrating pride:
  • being overly critical
  • insecurity
  • being overly sensitive
  • being impatient with the shortcoming of others
  • presuming upon others
  • being easily embarrassed
  • being given to worry
Compared to being arrogant and cocky, those may not immediately seem like pride, but there is an element of self-focus in all of them.

Identifying our pride means examining our hearts and our motives. It means being willing to admit we offend others and are on occasion too easily offended ourselves. We have to examine ourselves closely, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. There are times when we are oblivious to how we come across.

Sometimes, the best way to identify pride in ourselves is to look carefully at how we react to it in others. I have found that on occasion, the things I find most objectionable in others is actually something I do myself. Do I get impatient with complainers? Well, take a look in the mirror, self; you do it, too. When we react strongly to someone, I think it's even more crucial that we ask ourselves why we react that way.

The perfect example of humility was, of course, Christ. In Philippians 2:5-11, we have that beautiful passage where Paul describes Christ's humility, how he emptied himself, how he gave up what was due him. How often do we empty ourselves, and put aside our perceived "rights?"

I struggle with demonstrating humility, but I know what it looks like. All I need to do is look to the cross. This is why knowing God is so crucial; we cannot model what we do not know. Forgiveness is not negotiable in the Christian life, and neither is humility. I don't know how we can have one without the other.