Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Comfort for a New Year

"The Lord lives!" 2 Samuel 22:47

We lives in trying times. The new year opens, as no new year has opened to us of late. Our country is at war. Provisions are scant. The future, though concealed from our view, appears to be hung with clouds. It is probable that there will be great changes. Many fears will be awakened. Many hearts will be wounded. The faith of many of the Lord's people will be deeply tried. Satan will be busy. Our principles will be put to the test. But amidst all, we, as believers in Jesus, have one comfort, "The Lord lives!" There will be no change in him.

His Word will remain true, his throne will be unshaken, and his purposes rest undisturbed. He will have his way in the whirlwind and storm, and make a path for himself in the deep waters. Yes, Jehovah is immutably the same, and he is our God. Ours by covenant engagement. Ours by promise and by oath. Ours in Jesus, his beloved Son. He is the object of our hope and love. His bosom will be our resting-place, his arm our defense, and his proviilence our friend. Unspeakable privilege! Unparalleled mercy! Jehovah, in all his greatness and glory, in all his goodness and grace, is our God. And as our God he ever lives, ever reigns, and performs all things for us...

We do not know what we may need, nor how much we may need, nor how long we may need — but the Lord knows; and he has provided of his goodness for the poor. In eternity, he laid up for us; and in time, all through our time here, he will lay out upon us. Only let us . . .

exercise faith in his Word,
cleave to his cross,
wrestle at his throne,
watch in his way,
work in his vineyard,
and aim at his glory —
and then let taxes rise ever so high, let trade sink ever so low, let needs increase ever so fast — we may confidently say, "The Lord lives — and my God will supply all my needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus!"

Excerpt from Comfort For a New Year - James Smith, 1856

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Hopes of Reading Well in 2016

January is soon upon us, with its empty calendar blocks and fresh new beginnings. I'm not one to make resolutions, but I do tend to make reading lists. Not that I finish them, ever. I generally get side-tracked by the latest must read, which leads me to even more books I didn't plan to read. Still, I am ever hopeful that a list will keep me focused.

I thought about joining Tim Challies' 2016 Reading Challenge, but I realized I'd only be tempted to buy more books to cram onto my overflowing bookshelves. Which caused me to look at those shelves and cringe at the number of unread books there. Which in turn caused me to think about the place reading has - or should have - in my life. How many books can I realistically read well? What do I need/want to learn? Exactly why do I have so many books I haven't read? And, most importantly, how can my reading be edifying not only to me, but also to others? As I pondered these questions, I also thought about four areas of my life that need the most improvement, the things I want to dwell upon and do well. I started pulling books and before I knew it, I had a reading plan made complete with the addition of just three books from my monumental Amazon wishlist.

My list is a response to Kim's excellent post about digging deep in our reading in 2016. I plan to spend each quarter of the year immersed in single topic. I've chosen 3 - 4 books for each quarter, to give a steady pace that allows for deep thinking. Inspired by this article, I'll also be reading and re-reading one book of the Bible each quarter. I want to contemplate the truths I discover and apply them to my life. I'm hoping that my reading will provide food for thought to write about here and on my own blog. I would also love to have some discussion with you, reader, about what I'm reading. Think of it as an informal book club. If you'd like to read along, I'll be reading and writing about the following books (in order):

January - March: Loving Others/Gospel Living (Bible Reading: 1 - 3 John)
Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands (Tripp)
Love in Hard Places (Carson)
Counsel from the Cross (Fitzpatrick)
Stop Loving the World (Greenhill)
BONUS: A Quest for Godliness (Packer)

April - June: Grace (Bible Reading: Ecclesiastes)
Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith (Walker)
By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me (Ferguson)
The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Boice & Ryken)
BONUS: From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel (Hoover)

July - September: The Gospel (Bible Reading: Galatians)
What Is the Gospel? (Gilbert)
A Gospel Primer for Christians (Vincent)
The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Dever)
How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home (Thomas) 

October - December: Prayer (Bible Reading: The Psalms)
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Keller)
You Can Pray: Finding Grace to Pray Every Day (Chester)
Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (Beeke & Najapfour)
Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Carson)

I also pulled these unread biographies from my shelves:

Amy Carmichael: Beauty For Ashes
John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology
John Knox and the Reformation
George Whitefield: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought
The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards
Spurgeon: A New Biography

Since there are 6, I decided to alternate them with 6 as-yet-undetermined fiction books from my local library. Narrowing my "other" books to 12 should help me keep my focus on my goal of reading well. If I read the bonus selections, I'll read a total of 29 books during the upcoming year. That may be ambitious for some, and not nearly ambitious enough for others. Looking ahead to what I expect 2016 will hold - with my girl graduating from high school and flying the nest - I know this is the perfect number for me.

Finally, I've committed that 2016 will be the year I finally read through the entire Bible. I'll be listening to the ESV M'Cheyne Reading Plan podcast by Crossway. So I won't technically be reading through the Bible, but I'll be listening through it and redeeming the time on my drive to work each morning. I'll close each day with Carson's For the Love of God (Volume 1) to reinforce my listening.

What about you? Do you have reading plans for next year? We'd love to know! Whether you choose to read 2 books or 102, read through the Bible or just portions of it, stick to non-fiction or novels or a mix of both, may 2016 find us all reading well and for the glory of the Lord.

*This post contains affiliate links

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thinking Reverently about the Virgin Birth

"And Mary said to the angel,  “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born  will be called  holy—the Son of God."  Luke 1:34-35
"Let us mark, in these verses, the reverent and discreet manner in which the angel Gabriel speaks of the great mystery of Christ's incarnation.   In reply to the question of the Virgin  "How shall this be?" he uses these remarkable words--"The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you."
 We shall do well to follow the example of the angel in all our reflections on this deep subject.   Let us ever regard it with holy reverence, and abstain from those improper and unprofitable speculations upon it, in which some have unhappily indulged.   Enough for us to know that  "the Word was made flesh," and that when the Son of God came into the world, a real  "body was prepared for Him," so that He "took part of our flesh and blood," and was  "made of a woman."  (John 1:14; Heb.10:5; Heb. 2:14; Gal. 4:4.)    Here we must stop.    

The manner in which all this was effected is wisely hidden from us.   If we attempt to pry beyond this point, we shall but darken counsel by words without knowledge, and rush in where angels fear to tread.    In a religion which really comes down from heaven there must needs be mysteries.    Of such mysteries in Christianity, the incarnation is one."  - J.C. Ryle
________________________________ 


The Gospel of Luke;  Chapter 1;  J.C.Ryle; 1858
Painting:  "Annunciation" - Henry Ossawa Tanner -1898; The Philadelphia Museum of Art
 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Surprise and Joy

When the boys were little, they would wake in the wee hours of Christmas morning. Giggling with excited anticipation they would wait at the top of the stairs until my husband gave the all clear—meaning the lights had been turned on, the coffee pot set to brew, and the video camera poised at the ready—at which point they would descend in a great flurry of laughter and shoving and exclamation and hurry to the gifts and surprises that awaited.

It is not so any longer. Now Christmas morning finds my husband and I drinking cup after cup of coffee wondering when—or if—our young men will finally wake up. Instead of toys arranged in front of the fireplace there are wrapped gifts under the tree, gifts that have already been shaken and prodded and guessed at, gifts like clothes and shoes and books and video games, gifts expressly requested and expressly purchased. No real surprises here.

I miss the surprise and the anticipation and the frenzied fun of Christmas mornings long ago. Don’t get me wrong; it is indeed its own kind of joy to celebrate with grown children. Big joy. Good joy. Contented joy.

Ah, but who can forget the sheer unbridled delight of the two year old seeing his very own “Thinking Chair” (a la Blues Clues) in front of the tree on Christmas morning?

I miss it. There are so few surprises anymore. Just this week my friend and I discussed how gift giving has morphed into me giving you exactly what you ask for and vice versa. I understand the desire to give a gift that is wanted and appreciated but I tend to feel a little ridiculous. I mean, I could just buy my own gift and you yours and save ourselves the trouble of wrapping.

I know, I know. My Grinch-iness is showing.

It’s the thought that counts, of course it does. And as much of a Scrooge as I may be, I am happy to help potential gift givers with lists and links.

This past Wednesday at church we discussed the Incarnation, the mysterious surprise of God becoming man. Letting our imaginations take flight we pondered such questions as Jesus learning to walk and talk. Did He get in trouble at school? What about potty training? Can you imagine raising a sinless child? Or being His younger brother?

The Bible tells us that Jesus was ordinary enough that when He began His ministry in His hometown the residents were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” They were astonished. They had no clue. (Matt. 13:53-57) They had seen Him, they knew Him, but yet they hadn't and they didn't. 

Here is the great astonishment, the great delight, the cosmic surprise of Christmas: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) The heart of the Christmas story is the astounding truth of the gospel: we need saving and God came to save us.

What mystery is this, God as man. What surprise, that God would condescend to empty Himself, take the form of a servant, and be born in the likeness of man. And what joy! Forgiveness, redemption, mercy, grace, all ours because of Jesus, because of Christmas.

And we who belong to Christ know the hope of our real life beyond this one, that fullness of joy in the presence of our God forever. We too anticipate a glorious morning when the light will break forth like the dawn and our hope finally becomes reality. Imagine our surprise then!

My Christmas may lack some of the frenetic fun we’ve enjoyed in years past. For some of you Christmas brings more grief than joy. I understand. But there is joy, good news of great joy—good news! great joy!—for unto us is born a Savior, Christ the Lord. Let us ponder Jesus this Christmas. Let us consider the mystery of the Incarnation. Let us wonder over the grace that goes to such measures to save to the uttermost. Let us be astonished and surprised by the joy of Christmas. 


Thursday, December 17, 2015

He has made Him known

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. John 1:18

When I was a child, there were times when I would lie awake at night and think about God after my parents tucked me into bed. I knew a little about Him from Bible stories and Sunday school, but I still wondered what He was really like. Having been taught that God was already there before Genesis 1:1, I imagined going back in time just prior to Creation or traveling into deep space to find Him. Needless to say, it was more than my young mind could handle. God was so completely other that I felt very small, not just in age but in significance. Well, I had a similar feeling of smallness this past Sunday.

My pastor has been preaching on the doctrine of God. In Sunday's sermon, he touched on God's self-existence, independence, infinity, and simplicity. Everything that ever was or will be, both material and nonmaterial, only exists because God called it into being. We are dependent creatures from the moment we are conceived to the moment we die. Yet God needs nothing from anyone or anything. We are finite and limited by time and space. He is boundless. We are body and soul. We change and grow physically and morally. Yet God doesn't change and has no shadow of turning. (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17) As pure white light is refracted into a rainbow of colors, we see God's individual attributes through the prism of creation. But He is not merely the sum of all these wonderful characteristics. He is the I AM and just is in His divine being. (Ex. 3:14)

As I sat in the pew, I was reminded of those nights long ago when I tried to wrap my mind around the wonders of God. I may be older now, but His otherness hasn't diminished one bit. In fact, it seems to loom even larger than when I was a child. But as we celebrated the Lord's Table following the sermon, I was thankful for my Mediator and Savior, Jesus Christ, perhaps in a fresh way. I don't think I appreciated the size of the chasm that had existed between myself and God until I was reminded again of how other He is, and this humbles me to the dust.  Why would God seek me out? I certainly didn't go looking for Him or deserve His notice. But He bridged that immense gap of His own initiative. (1 Tim. 2:5) No man could see God and live, and yet the light has "shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (Ex. 33:20; 2 Cor. 4:6) The Word who became flesh has made Him known. (John 1:14-18)

So during this Christmas season, I have a lot to ponder. I will try to wrap my mind around the glories of the doctrine of God and the incarnation. But even though I will fall far short, I can still worship.

"I confess, but I do not conceive what I confess, but I do adore." -  John Owen

Sources:
Sermon series: Behold Our God by Pastor Ryan Davidson.
SCRBPC 2015 Conference: Of God and the Holy Trinity - Dr. James Renihan and Dr. James Dolezal. The Owen quote is from the end of lecture 5 by Dr. Dolezal.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pondering Christmas

The reason one does not rejoice in the incarnation is for lack of holy meditation upon the subject, its miraculous nature, the promises, the Person, the fruits and this great salvation brought about by His suffering and death. What reason for rejoicing would he who does not attentively reflect upon this have?
- Wilhelmus à Brakel, as quoted by Joel Beeke

We must both read and meditate upon the nativity.  If the meditation does not reach the heart, we shall sense no sweetness, nor shall we know what solace for humankind lies in this contemplation.  The heart will not laugh nor be merry.  As spray does not touch the deep, so mere meditation will not quiet the heart.  There is such richness and goodness in this nativity that if we should see and deeply understand, we should be dissolved in perpetual joy.
- Martin Luther, as quoted by Nancy Guthrie

These words slay me. They convict me of what I should be should be doing this Advent season. Meditating upon the glory of the incarnation. Pondering these things in my heart, as Mary did. I may celebrate the babe in the manger, but I don't fully consider the impact of his coming.

This doesn't mean I shouldn't watch White Christmas and sappy Hallmark movies. Or shop for Christmas gifts and bake cookies. Or even set out the ceramic Santas my mom painted years ago. I can celebrate Christmas because Christ has set me free. But in the midst of Christmas carols, holiday specials, and halls sufficiently decked there is a miracle to be considered. Every day, Jesus rescues me from my pit of sin. Every single day. And that deserves more than a cursory glance of my Bible, a fleeting thought as I sing along with "O Holy Night", and a quick prayer as I light the Advent candles. I cannot fully meditate upon the nativity, as à Brakel and Luther intended, in one month or even a year.

Persis wrote, "We can meditate on the incarnation and have our minds blown away by the mystery of the hypostatic union in December as well as the rest of the year." Her words remind me that the miracle of Christmas isn't confined to a season. Nor should our celebration of it be. Long after the nativity sets are nestled away for another year, may we, like Ebenezer Scrooge, keep Christmas well.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Who Are You?

It all started with our own Lisa's post, "Writing From the Middle Years. Or not."

Following Lisa's excellent post, Aimee Byrd kept the conversation going with her post, "Where Are the Mature Women Bloggers?" Persis added her thoughts, reflecting on what she wants to be when she grows up. Debi also contributed.

I really appreciated Deb Welch's contribution to the discussion, especially since she's been blogging at least as long I have, eleven years. She brought up a piece of the past, blogging aggregators. Aggregators were a great way to find other like-minded bloggers. That was back in the day when blogging was more social, and there was more discussion. I remember likening blogging to chatting over the fence with one's neighbours. Now, blogs have become almost like editorials minus the letters to the editor. They aren't as conducive to discussion. Perhaps that's better; I really don't know.

I remember being really glad to find blog aggregators, because it introduced me to other bloggers, mostly women who were interested in theology. It was such a relief to know I wasn't crazy for liking theology (well, maybe only a little crazy). The blog world is big, but it's kind of like what happens in local churches: about 30% of the people do 100% of the work. There are a handful of blogs everyone reads, but surely there must be good blog reading we don't see. And there does seem to be a shortage of women in their late 40's and older, hence the discussion begun by Lisa.

The issue has been evaluated and pondered, and there are obviously many reasons why older women aren't blogging; busy lives, the need to guard privacy, or perhaps those who used to blog just got tired of it. Whatever the reasons are, many of us are wondering where the older women bloggers are if, indeed, there are still some out there. We here at Out of the Ordinary would be what I consider "older," i.e. mid-forties, kids grown up, some of us have been married a long time. I'm so thankful to blog with these women. They sharpen me, encourage me, challenge me, bless me, and pray for me. But surely, there must be more out there.

Are there bloggers out there who are just not know to us? Are there older ladies out there who blog faithfully but whom we simply haven't met yet? This was a question I had last week. As an older woman myself, I'm very conscious that the female Christian blog world is a young woman's venue now. Sometimes, I feel like I am not very relevant any longer. I'm getting curmudgeonly. Are there older women who just don't write because they don't feel there is a place for them?

In 2011, one of our bloggers, Diane Bucknell, hosted a blogging "tea party."  She invited bloggers to introduce themselves in the comments, including where they blogged. It was through that post that I got to know Diane and a couple of others. Because it's the Christmas season, and I'm still recovering from a busy semester and need to write something light, I'm inviting older Christian women who blog to share in the comments. Tell us who you are and where you write. Do you know a woman who blogs whom you think we should meet? Share that with us. And even if you are not an "older woman," tell us anyway! Maybe you don't post often, and maybe only your mom or your sister reads you blog. We'd like to hear, anyway.

Social media and the internet is supposed to help with connecting people. It's a big place, and it's not always easy to do that. We would like to connect with more women, so please be invited to share with us who you are.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

When God was Silent

 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,  in these last days has spoken to us in His Son”  Hebrews 1:1-2

I love this season as we  think about  the birth of Christ and reflect on the Old Testament predictions of His coming.   But have you ever wondered what God was doing between the two Testaments?    

  
The gap between the Old and New Testament has been called “The 400 Silent Years” because God had stopped communicating directly with His people.     The book of Malachi was written around 430 BC  and closes with a prophesy  remarkably similar to the  first  divine communication recorded in the New Testament:
Malachi 4:5-6 says,   “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse"
Now fast forward  four centuries to when the Angel Gabriel appears,  
"Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for  your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and  you shall call his name John.   …and  he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and  the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”  (Luke 1:13)
But the 400 years of silence did not mean that God was on vacation.   He was busy fulfilling prophesy and paving the way for the Son's appearance.  During that time  Israel was overtaken   by  the Medo-Persia,  Greek,  and  Roman empires.    After the two exiles (2 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 25:21) the majority of Israelites had not returned to Judah and  were settled outside of Palestine by the first century AD.

THE SEPTUAGINT

The conquest of Alexander the Great  in 332 BC introduced  Hellenism (Greek culture) to every place he had conquered.   One historian notes:   "The Greek language became the tongue of all government and literature throughout many countries where the people were not Greek by birth.” 1

Synagogues sprang up in regions where Hellenistic Jews spoke Greek.     Legend has it that around 250  BC  Ptolemy II,  the King of Egypt,  gathered 72 scholars to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek in 72 days which became known as the Septuagint (LXX),  the Latin word for 70.  

Up until recently many thought Jesus spoke  primarily  Aramaic,  but  scholars now believe Christ was tri-lingual.  One author writes: 
“The evidence available today indicates that Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek were commonly spoken in Israel in the first century A.D. … It seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus could speak Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  …It is reasonable to conclude that the Gospel authors chose to record things which were originally spoken in Greek since they were writing in Greek” 2
And so we  see how God was shaping  events so that  both  Jew and Gentile could hear the Gospel.    For the Jew,  Gabriel’s  announcement of  John the Baptist’s birth  meant  God was  active  once again among His people  and was preparing the way  for the Messiah.   And for the Gentile, the  Old Testament was  widely available  in the  common language of  the people. 

 F.F. Bruce explains the importance of the Septuagint in spreading the Gospel at that time.
“As soon as the gospel was carried into the Greek-speaking world,  the Septuagint came into its own as the sacred text to which the preachers appealed.  It was used in the Greek-speaking synagogues throughout the Roman Empire.  When Paul at Thessalonica visited the synagogue on three successive Sabbaths and ‘argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead’ (Acts 17:2f.),  it was on the Septuagint that he based his arguments.   
 …The Septuagint played its part even when the gospel was presented to complete pagans, like the unsophisticated Lycaonians at Lystra, who mistook Paul and Barnabas for divine beings ” 3
The stage was set and the time had finally come for God to fulfill the promise.    Our Wonderful  Counselor,   Mighty God,  Eternal Father,  and  Prince of Peace (Is.9:6),   was revealed in human flesh in a lowly manger.  The Seed of the woman was poised to  crush the Serpent’s head.    The Son of God came into the world to defeat  Satan, sin, and death,  by  offering Himself as a spotless sacrifice for our sin and then raising Himself from the dead.   With His own precious blood Christ has purchased and redeemed  a people for his own possession”.   

As we gather together to celebrate  let us  joyfully proclaim the “excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Pet.2:9)

Come, O Immanuel, come,
And set Thine Israel free;
In exile from our home,
We long and sigh for Thee:
O Saviour, come, on earth to dwell,
Thou, "God with us," Immanuel! 4
_________________________________________________

 

1. General Sketch of History by Edward Augustus Freeman; pg. 41
2. The Languages Spoken by Jesus by Aaron Tresham   
3. The Canon of Scripture;  F.F. Bruce,  Intervarsity Press; 1988; pg 49
4. Veni, Veni, Emanuel (the "O" Antiphons),  Authorship Unknown, 8th Century Latin
MacArthur Study Bible: Crossway;  2010;  Introduction to the Intertestamental Period
Image:  Ancient fragment of the Septuagint  SOURCE

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

To Christmas or not to Christmas - that is the question

I don't remember where I saw it on Facebook, but at the beginning of November, someone posted that Christians get a month off before we can start arguing again about whether or not we should celebrate Christmas. Funny but true, and I have been on both sides of this issue.

My family celebrated Christmas when I was young, but we stopped based on a change in my parents' convictions. Even though I missed getting the presents, I didn't feel deprived of what really mattered. I don't think my psyche has been permanently damaged either.

I did not celebrate Christmas for many years as an adult because it was very natural to adopt my parents' view. But there were other reasons for non-celebration. During an especially rough time, the thought of pasting on a happy holiday face so I wouldn't be a downer was more than I could bear. It would have been the height of hypocrisy given the current circumstances. But time has passed, and I have changed. Now my daughter and I have our own rather low-key Christmas celebration.

I'm not suggesting we abstain from civil discourse about the pros and cons of celebrating Christmas. Dialogue about differing ideas can be profitable. But there is more to being a Christian than what we do or don't do on December 25.

In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal. 4:4-5) 

We can rejoice that the Seed of the woman came and crushed the head of the serpent even if we don't agree on the month Jesus was born. We can meditate on the incarnation and have our minds blown away by the mystery of the hypostatic union in December as well as the rest of the year. We can be thankful that God has saved us from every tribe, tongue, and nation which includes those who celebrate Christmas and those who don't.

The good new of Jesus Christ far outweighs what we may disagree on regarding a single day of the year. May we hold fast to the gospel, our unity in Christ, and the blessing of Christian liberty. May we give thanks to the Lord for all His wondrous deeds. And we can do this no matter what we do or don't do on December 25.

Monday, November 30, 2015

My Favorite Advent Reading


Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent. I started my Advent reading a few weeks ago, because I desperately need Christmas this year. I've collected some terrific books over the years. In the past, I've read one or two each season. Choosing just a few from among these treasures has proven difficult, so I'm trying to read them all.

Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation by Joel Beeke. These short devotions are part of my morning quiet time. Starting my day with a reminder of why Jesus came (to receive worship, to call sinners to repentance, to bring great joy) focuses my attention on my need for Christ during a season when the world clamors for my attention.

Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey. I finish the day with these slightly longer readings. This Advent Narrative draws me into the story of God's redemption of His people. Written more like a book than a devotional, this powerful little book is packed with Scripture references that give me much to ponder as my day draws to an end.

I generally read for a little while each evening, which gives me time for more substantial readings. I'm working through three excellent resources one at a time.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas edited by Nancy Guthrie. This collection of essays written by Tim Keller, Martin Luther, and others was my first Advent resource, and remains a favorite.

The Christ of Christmas by James Montgomery Boice. This compilation of Christmas sermons was my first exposure to Boice. I really enjoy his teaching.

The Incarnation in the Gospels (Reformed Expository Commentary) by Daniel Doriani. Another wonderful offering from the Reformed Expository series.

Finally, at the dinner table each evening we celebrate by lighting candles and reading Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie, which is perfect for families of all ages.


What about you, reader? Do you have any favorite Advent resources you'd like to share with us? We'd love to hear from you!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Biggest Story

How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung

The children in your life probably know many of the stories in the Bible. They are likely acquainted with Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David, and been taught to apply the stories to their own lives: “Trust God like David did when he killed the giant,” for instance, or “Don’t disobey like David did when he had Uriah killed.” And there’s nothing wrong with using the Bible’s stories like this, because God intended for them to serve as examples for us (1 Corinthians 10:6).

But the Bible is more than a collection of individual stories with heroes to imitate or villains to avoid imitating. It is one big story comprised of all the smaller stories. It’s the story of God’s work of creation; humankind’s fall, bringing with it the corruption of everything; and God’s work to make it all right again.

Do your children know this story, the biggest one? Do they understand how the stories of the Old and New Testament fit together into a grand narrative of a “snake-crushing King” and “destined-to-die Deliverer” who will bring us back to the garden?

Kevin DeYoung’s purpose for writing this book is to give children the whole picture, the one that connects “the dots from the garden of Eden to Christ’s death on the cross to the new heavens and new earth.” This book started as a Christmas sermon for the families in his church, a sermon written to read like a book. Now, in the Biggest Story, DeYoung's text has been joined with the rich illustrations of Don Clark, illustrations even more evocative (if possible) than the text.

Since it's is an overview of the biblical narrative, the book doesn’t go into the individual stories in detail, but assumes the reader (or listener) already knows them. The child who is familiar with the stories of the Bible, then, will understand more than the one who is unfamiliar with them. But a parent reading aloud can fill in what is missing if a child has questions.

Of course, you can’t tell the big story of the Bible without talking about human sin, and some of the sin included in the Bible is shocking. While he doesn’t minimize sin, DeYoung does explain it in ways that are appropriate for young children. For instance, he writes, “Isaac was sort of a weakling. Jacob was a selfish trickster. And Judah did such dumb stuff, we don’t even want to talk about it.”

There are 121 pages of beautifully illustrated text in 10 short chapters in The Biggest Story. For the younger child, reading a chapter or two at a time would work well, while an older child would easily finish in one sitting. But whether it’s read in one sitting or more, the reader and listener will be left longing for the yet-to-come end of the big story, when the Snake Crusher comes “back again to wipe away all the bad guys and wipe away every tear,” when “there will be nothing but the best days, day after day after day after day. And forever and ever it will be a wonderful time to be God’s children in God’s wonderful world.”

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden is recommended for children aged 5-11, but my 2 and 4 year old grandchildren enjoyed it, too. The illustrations kept the youngest one interested even when he might not understand the story. This would be an excellent Christmas gift for preschool or school aged children.

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He blogs at the Gospel Coalition and has authored or coauthored numerous books.

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.

Read


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.