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.