Friday, December 30, 2011

Retracing Our Steps

Being back home this past week has been awesome.  A few days ago I met my best friend Melissa in Oxford, Ohio to visit Miami University.  I hadn't been back to my college campus in over four years so I was excited to see how much things had changed.  Melissa and I have been friends for years and we have a few things that we tend to do every time we get together for a visit.  We thought it would be appropriate to sort of retrace our steps from our college days since we planned to spend the day in Oxford and Colerain.

Miami is one of the most beautiful campuses anywhere, and even while I was a student there one had the impression that the brick buildings had been dropped into the middle of a park.  Walking around campus brought memories flooding back, and it was fun to relive those moments with Melissa.  College was by far one of the most fun times of my life!

After traipsing around Oxford for a few hours we headed out of town to Colerain for our typical day of shopping and lunch.  Melissa and I don't have to be doing anything to have fun together, and that's the best kind of friend to have!  Having Melissa in my life has been a tremendous blessing.  We share our faith in Christ and are able to encourage one another in many ways.  Friends like her are few and far between, and I'm thankful that the Lord brought us together during our college days.  I know that she's one friend that will walk with me for the rest of my life!

One thing I loved about revisiting and retracing my college steps was the opportunity to reflect on how much I have grown and changed over the past four years.  For me it's often difficult to see how God is working in my life until I look back at the past couple of years.  Then it is much more clear to see how His hand has guided my life and shaped who I am becoming.  And it always makes me wonder how I will grow and change over the next few years of my life!


Monday, December 26, 2011

Stepping Out of Eternity

A couple weeks ago Patrick and I watched a Stephen Hawking video on his ideas about how the universe formed.  He, of course, doesn't believe that God is the creator of the universe, and actually never did answer the question of where things come from in the first place, but that's another story.  What I appreciated about the video was getting a slightly better view of the enormity of our universe.  The more you zoom out from our tiny planet the more you can appreciate the creative hand of God.

What with it being Christmastime and all, I've been thinking more and more about how incredible it is that God himself chose to leave his throne in Heaven and come to Earth.  God left the glory of the world to become a helpless infant.  An infant who would one day grow up to become the ultimate sacrifice in order to bring his people back into a relationship with himself.  It's an incredible story really, and I never cease to be amazed at how much God must love us in order to go to such lengths to save us.

Second Corinthians 5:21 says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."  That kind of love is incredible and completely undeserved.  I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that God, the creator of the universe, came in the form of a man.  It's almost too much to imagine that a human body could even contain the glory of God.

I hope during this Christmas season you will take the time to contemplate God's love for you.  It truly is the greatest gift of all!   

Sunday, December 25, 2011

In the Arms of the Red Army

The Red Army during the Christmas concert
No not the Russian communists.  The Red Army was the nickname given to the choir at the church where I grew up, since they wear red robes and it's a huge choir.  When they come marching down the aisles in church it does sort of give the effect of being infiltrated by an army.

I grew up in the same church pretty much my entire life, and I can't remember a time when my mom wasn't part of the Red Army.  Some of my earliest church memories are sitting in the front two pews surrounded by choir members in their flowing red robes.  It always felt safe there.  I grew up fortunate enough to be part of the music program at church and was constantly surrounded by supportive people in the choir.  Throughout middle and high school I was ever grateful to have such an incredible group of people that were encouraging and loving.  There were many smiling faces and hugs; a wonderful environment to grow up in.

Patrick and I made it back to Louisville in time for the annual Christmas concert (always a big deal at our church.)  It is always such a worshipful experience and is a good reminder of what Christmas is all about. There are many new faces in the choir, but it's always fun to visit with friends who are still there.

Now that we're back in the States (and moving back to Louisville in six months) I'm looking forward to reconnecting with many friends from choir.  God has blessed me with some wonderful friendships, and I hope I can give back to them what they have given to me!  So to everyone who has been such an encouragement to me for so long, thank you for blessing me so abundantly!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: "Revolution in World Missions" by KP Yohannan

KP Yohannan was born in India and fell in love with Jesus at a young age and had a desire to serve the Lord as a missionary.  After spending many years on the field working in North India, he came to the US to study at seminary.  During his time in this country he founded Gospel for Asia, an organization that is committed to supporting native missionaries.

The crux of the book is that native missionaries are the most effective when it comes to evangelizing other nations.  Yohannan presents a solid argument including the fact that native missionaries are already familiar with the culture and understand how the gospel can be presented in culturally sensitive ways.  They do not require language training and are already accepted by their peers in their own country.  Western missionaries often face greater challenges because of the necessary training, language acquisition, and facing racial or ethnic barriers.

Yohannan writes about the new chapter in missions history and how there is truly a revolution happening as more and more native missionaries take up the call of Christ.  He encourages westerners to support missions overseas through prayer and financial giving.

While I absolutely agree with what Yohannan says in his book, there were many things that made me cringe.  He basically says that western missionaries are completely ineffective in foreign mission fields.  Supposedly he has seen many missionaries from America or Europe who live in mansions with servants, fancy cars, and imported foods.  He tells stories of these types of missionaries who have been serving in foreign fields for years on end and have made no converts to christianity.  This is a completely unbalanced view.  I know many missionaries in foreign areas who are making vast inroads with the gospel message and are seeing many lives transformed as people accept the salvation of Christ.  These missionaries aren't living in walled mansions but live lifestyles similar to that of the people whom they serve.

There is still a need for western missionaries overseas, and I'm thankful that so many Americans are answering God's call to take the message of the gospel to the farthest corners of the earth.  That being said, I do think that native missionaries have many advantages over westerners.  Our goal in missions isn't to import an American brand of christianity and expect foreign nationals to adopt it without question.  Our goal should be to bring the gospel to unreached areas, making disciples who will then continue on the work.

Even though in his book Yohannan said a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, overall I think his message is one that the American church needs to hear.  We need to focus fewer resources on building expensive church buildings and creating frivolous programs, and concentrate more funds toward missions.  Too small a percentage of church budgets are going toward the sharing of the gospel in unreached areas.  We are called to be good stewards of the resources God has given us, and I think we will all be held accountable to God for how we used what he has blessed us with.

For more information on Gospel for Asia check out their website here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Preparing the Way

During the advent season we hear the phrase "prepare the way of the Lord" quite a bit.  But I started to wonder, what exactly does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord?  How is this manifested in our lives?

I began with John the Baptist, though you could go back even farther to Isaiah or any Old Testament prophet.  At the time of Christ's birth Israel was a nation in waiting.  They awaited the coming of the Messiah who would bring salvation and freedom to God's people.  John the Baptist came on the scene proclaiming the words found in Isaiah 40:3-5, "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.  And all mankind will see God's salvation."  John is not preaching about physical or geographical features.  Preparation for the Lord is a heart issue.  

In order to receive the salvation of God our hearts must be ready.  I think this begins when we come to terms with the depth of our depravity.  "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:20-21)  Even just seeing God's fingerprints in his creation point to his glory.  And when we come face to face with the Living God, we also come face to face with our sinfulness.  Only when we understand our need for mercy will we accept it.  Then our hearts are ready for a savior.

John the Baptist preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  His listeners understood their sinful nature and their need for Christ.  In this way John prepared the hearts of many people to accept Jesus as the sacrificial lamb of God.  

So what does this look like today?  How can we prepare our hearts for the Lord?  For nonbelievers, the way of the Lord is prepared by having a repentant heart and a realization of their need for a savior.  For believers, we are still preparing the way for the Lord as we await his second coming.  We wait with a sense of joyful expectation that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)

This Christmas season my prayer for you is that you would wait expectantly for the Lord, and experience anew the glory of God and the incredible love he has shown us in sending Jesus to be the savior of the world. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book Review: Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

I'd had a few friends recommend this book and a few who cautioned that some of what Shane Claiborne has to say is not always biblical.  And I'll admit, I was a little nervous when I saw the book had been endorsed by Rob Bell.  So, I read this book with a somewhat critical eye.  (Really, shouldn't we read everything a bit critically?)  I enjoyed the relaxed writing style Claiborne uses, and throughout the book felt like he's a pretty relatable guy.  Someone you could sit down and have a cup of coffee with and not feel awkward.  He had a lot of good things to say in his book as well, things I think a lot of Christians need to hear.

The purpose of writing is to be a wake up call for the church to get back to a Biblical kind of christianity.  He calls for a revolution of love in which we truly do love our neighbors as ourselves, and live with a servant's heart among the poor.  The way this plays out in his own life is to live communally in one of the worst parts of Philadelphia.  The community that they have established is one that is welcoming and loving to all people, be they business men, drug addicts, or prostitutes.  That's a pretty powerful witness when you think about it.  After all, Jesus spent most of his time hanging around the kind of people we would deem "unlovable."  These are the people he came to save.

Claiborne is an activist for many social issues and has had his fair share of involvement in protests and the like.  He's been arrested more times than he can count, but he's been a part of some pretty inspiring stories of social change.  While I might not agree with all of his methods, I do agree that as christians we are called to take up the case for the poor, the widow, and the orphan.  This is something he does a good job of.  

One critique I have of his ideas is I think he gets too caught up in dealing with the issues themselves and sharing the actual gospel gets pushed to the side.  Claiborne is a big fan of Francis of Assisi who said, "Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words."  The issue I have with that is the gospel is news to be preached not just acted out.  You can shelter a homeless man or give food to the hungry, but if you don't fill their soul with the gospel of Jesus Christ, you aren't doing them any good in light of eternity.  We cannot forsake the telling of the gospel as we confront social issues.

Claiborne will convict you to get out there in the trenches with the downcast and destitute, all to make known the glory of God and the Good News of Christ.  Christians shouldn't live insulated lives, never crossing paths with the poor.  Jesus calls us to love the poor because in so doing we love Christ all the more.  Let us not forget Matthew 25 where Jesus separates the sheep and the goats.  To the righteous he says they fed him, gave him a drink when he was thirsty, and clothed him.  When asked about this he says, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."  

A few quotes from the book:

"Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death."  

"Today the church is tempted by the spectacular, to do big, miraculous things so people might believe, but Jesus has called us to littleness and compares our revolution to the little mustard seed, to yeast making its way through dough, slowly infecting this dark world with love."

"We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved."

"While the ghettos may have their share of violence and crime, the suburbs are the home of the more subtle demonic forces --numbness, complacency, comfort -- and it is these that can eat away at our souls."

"True generosity is measured not by how much we give away, but by how much we have left, especially when we look at the needs of our neighbors."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

God's Reluctant Servant

Reading God's Word is like looking at a mirror into our hearts.  I tend to recognize in myself more of some characters than others.  This week I'm relating well to Jonah.  This book is only four chapters long, but it is a beautiful picture of God's love for the nations and his desire that they turn to him.

Jonah was a prophet in Israel when God called him to preach to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria.  It's hard for us to understand what a difficult request this was until we understand that Assyria was Israel's greatest national enemy at the time.  The Assyrians had sinned against God and flaunted it.  They sacrificed to and worshipped false idols and in general wanted nothing to do with the Hebrew God.  Jonah knew it, and he didn't think they deserved God's grace.  When I take an honest look at myself I find that sometimes I think the same thing about people today.  Do bad people really deserve God's grace?  Are they worthy to hear the message of the gospel?  The answer quite frankly is no.  But neither do I!  None of us deserve the love and mercy that God bestows upon us; it is a gift.  Jesus didn't come to earth to save angels, he came to save the sinners.  If we were all perfect and righteousness we would have no need for a savior.

Jonah did not have a heart for the nation of Assyria so he tried to run away from God.  It's laughable to think that we could ever hide from the Living God.  Psalm 139:7-8 says, "Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there."  God is always with us and bids us come ever closer to Him.  God knew Jonah would run from him, but the Lord pursued him even to the depths of the sea.

The amazing thing about this story is that as soon as Jonah began preaching in Nineveh against the sins of the people, they repented!  Though their sins were great, they recognized that they needed God's saving hand.  Rather than rejoice at this, Jonah despaired.  In chapter 4 he prays, "O, Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?  This is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."  What a sad commentary on Jonah's outlook.  Jonah missed out on understanding the grandeur of God's plan for the nations.  He forgot that Israel was God's chosen people through whom the savior of the world would come.  The good news of salvation isn't for us to keep closed up in our hearts.  It is to be shared with the world, whether we think the world is worthy or not!

Jonah was about the most unwilling servant God could have chosen, yet he chose Jonah anyway for this rescue mission.  I'm thankful that God uses people like Jonah to make known his glory, because it means that God can use me too!  My prayer is that I would always have a heart for the lost people of this world, and be willing to go wherever God calls me to bring his good news!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Greatest Love Story

I finished my reading through Isaiah this week, and it was quite a ride.  This book has always been somewhat intimidating to me since it is so long and often has difficult to understand prophecies.  However, reading straight through with the help of a Warren Wiersbe's commentary, I have a newfound appreciation for what Isaiah has to say to us today.

The overall story of Isaiah is really the story of God's love for his people even though they turned their backs on him.  It is about God rescuing his children even in the midst of their sin.  Though Isaiah prophesied about the destruction of Judah and the Babylonian captivity, within these pages we have a beautiful picture of the Messiah.  Even among the shame and ruin that sin brings to our lives, God is still with us.  He still wants to redeem us from our current state of rebellion and make us right with him again.  Isaiah 1:18 says, "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord.  'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'"  

Isaiah prophesied during a turbulent time in Israel's history.  The nation was vulnerable and sought refuge from surrounding countries.  God had warned the people to trust in him alone and that destruction would follow if they were to look to other nations for their strength rather than the Lord.  God's punishment of Judah was a way of bringing them back into obedience to Him.  God often allows us to suffer consequences of our own sin as a means of bringing us back to Him and showing us his great love for us. Hebrews 12:6 reminds us, "The Lord disciplines those he loves and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."  Just as a parent who loves his child disciplines them, so too does God discipline his children whom he loves.

As I read through this book I realized yet again that God is truly in control over everything that happens.  There are no accidents; everything is orchestrated according to God's plan.  God reminds us that he alone brings salvation and hope.  "'You are my witnesses' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.  Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.  I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.  I have revealed and saved and proclaimed- I, and not some foreign god among you.  You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'that I am God.  Yes, and from ancient days I am he.  No one can deliver out of my hand.  When I act, who can reverse it?'" (Isaiah 43:10-13).

My favorite portions of Isaiah were the prophecies about Christ.  It was with great hope and anticipation that the nation of Israel looked forward to the birth of their savior.  The words of Isaiah give a wonderful picture of the peace of Christ.  Isaiah 53:4-6 tells us, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted,  but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

Some days it may seem like God is far away, but remember that He is always near.  He might be calling you to obedience through discipline, but he does so because he loves you.  You are part of God's love story, and he will pursue you to the ends of the earth for you to know it. "Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." (58:9)

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

"Come, all you who are thirsty; come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without costs.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live."  (Isaiah 55:1-3).

What sweet words these are from the Lord's mouth!  In this passage God speaks of things that will sustain us, not material provisions, but God's love and pardon for our sins, and His love does not cost us a thing.  We cannot earn or buy his love in any way.  No amount of good deeds or hours spent at church could earn us a place with Him in eternity.  What strikes me about this passage is that while our righteousness before God doesn't cost us anything, it cost God everything.  He was willing to sacrifice his only Son Jesus Christ on a cross so we could attain salvation.  Apart from Christ we are utterly lost in this world.  We have no claim to righteousness without his saving grace.

God calls us to "come buy wine and milk without money and without costs."  Though it may be free for us, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.  Someone somewhere must pay the price.  On a much higher level, the same is true for salvation.  We deserve eternal punishment since it is against a holy, infinite God that we sin.  Since God is a God of justice, before we can stand before him in right relationship, our sin must be atoned for.  Rather than making us take the punishment, Christ bore the sins of the world when he died on the cross.  With his death our sins were put to death as well, but with his resurrection, we too were raised to new life!

I doubt I will ever fully understand how God can love us so much as to come to earth to die for us, but I will be eternally grateful for this gift.  He truly is the delight of my soul!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scandalous Love

I'm reading through the book of Isaiah these days, and I must say, I love it.  In these 66 chapters the prophet has condensed practically the whole of God's story of redemption.  This afternoon I came across a verse that struck me in its simplicity yet great depth.  Chapter 57 tells of the rejection of God by his chosen people.  They have turned from him and followed man-made gods instead.  (Not so unlike us today.)  Then we get to verse 18 which reads, "I have seen his ways, but I will heal him."  It's short enough that you might read right over it without stopping to feel the weight of what it said here.  In this chapter the Lord is calling to his people who have sinned against him to repentance.  What is so beautiful about this verse to me is the reminder that God sees everything I do, good and bad, and he still loves me.  He knows every foul thought in my mind and every careless word I speak, yet he still wants to restore me to himself!

In these nine little words God has summed up the story of salvation.  He knows the wickedness in each of us, but he offers us hope that we can be made right with him.  Here healing doesn't constitute physical healing but spiritual healing and restoration.  What an incredible picture of love we are given!  God loves with unconditional love that I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around.  It's scandalous really.  When I think about the punishment my sins deserve and how God declares me righteous because of Christ, it's nothing short of a scandal.  I think the beauty of the gospel is all the more precious as you realize how desperate you are for God and what it is exactly that he is saving you from.

Another thing that struck me about this passage is our utter dependence on God for salvation.  The ways of man lead us to attempt to save ourselves on our own.  We create idols for ourselves and set up lists of do's and don't's that we think make us acceptable for heaven.  When we compare this to the glory and majesty of the Living God we quickly see the foolishness of this.  But God has seen.  And He desires us to be right with him.  He alone is capable of making us righteous.  Praise God for his infinite mercy and love!  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Called to Non-Conformity

I used to think that non-conformity was a bad thing.  I used to think that non-conformity meant being a rebel or a bad person.  I used to think that it was safer and easier to go with the crowd.  WRONG.

This past year has been a lesson in what it means to be a radical disciple of Jesus Christ.  It all began last winter at our church in Okinawa when all the community groups went through the book "Radical" by David Platt.  It's a book that changed my and Patrick's lives, and many others from what I've heard.  (Perhaps a book review will follow eventually.)  Nowhere in the Bible will you see Jesus talking about settling down into a nice big house with a picket fence, and living out your life in quiet oblivion.  Nowhere does He say that you should look out for your own welfare and safety above all else.  Jesus doesn't say it because that's not what Christians should be about.  We should be about sharing the gospel and bringing the salvation of Christ to the nations who haven't yet heard about Him.

God calls us to non-conformity.  Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  Why doesn't God want us to conform to the world?  Because the world doesn't know God.  "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." (John 1:10)  We are to be people who seek God and love and obey him.  We are a people set apart from the world to bring glory to our Father.  1 Peter 2:9 tells us that, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  

Christians should be the epitome of non-conformity, or at least when compared with the rest of the world.  There should be a light that shines through us that is clearly different from the darkness all around us.        My constant prayer is that people would see something different in me and want what I have.  Any ounce of light that comes from me is not because of anything I did, but it is the work of Christ in my life!

So what does non-conformity have to do with being a radical disciple of Christ?  Plenty.  Jesus calls us to a life lived in antithesis to the world.  Where the world cares about health and wealth, we are to give up the material things of the world to gain that which is treasured in heaven.  We are to cast aside our anxieties and lay them at the foot of the cross.  We are not to be busy to the point of exhaustion, but sit at the feet of Jesus learning who he is and who he wants us to be.  But most importantly he calls us to GO.  Rather than store up for ourselves money and possessions on earth, we are to be willing to leave it all behind so we can go to the unreached people groups of the world and share the gospel.  That's pretty radical if you look at it through the eyes of man, but through the eyes of Christ this is what all christians should do.  We aren't supposed to keep the joy of the gospel to ourselves, but we are to share it with everyone around us!  When you look at the early church; the persecution and suffering, the boldness and preaching, these people wouldn't call themselves radical.  They would call themselves christians.

Somewhere along the way, we lost track of this idea of what it means to be a christian.  If being a christians means following Christ, even when it looks crazy to non-believers, I would stick with Jesus any day.  What about you?  How radical are you ready to be?

Sunday, November 20, 2011


If someone asked you to define yourself how would you answer that question?  Would your answer be your job?  Or maybe where you live?  Perhaps you define yourself by your political beliefs?  Initially my brain would jump to things that describe my life: military wife, daughter, friend, teacher, reader, writer.  Then I might start thinking about specific details that make up who I am and past experiences that have shaped my life.

What I've been discovering recently is how much I define myself by the externals.  Too often I define myself by the things I do not who I am.  Things like being a military wife, or a teacher, or even where we live.  While this might not seem like an overtly negative thing, what happens when that is taken away?  Who am I if I'm not a military wife, or a teacher?  My identity should not be wrapped up in these things but in Christ.  Because I am made in the image of God, it is God who defines who I am.  On a daily basis God is transforming me into the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ.  Second Corinthians 3:18 says this, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

The beautiful thing about God is that he doesn't simply absorb us into Himself; he allows us to reflect his glory while still maintaing our individuality.  Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him." God didn't create us to be robotic clones, rather, he created us to be unique image bearers of Himself.  We are made to bring him glory by being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.  "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:29)

Sometimes I get caught up in worrying about what I can do to bring God glory.  It is here that I must stop a minute and remember that God is more concerned about who I am than what I do that brings Him glory.  Scripture tells us that we have been made alive with Christ (Eph 2:5) and that we are being renewed in knowledge in the image of God (Col 3:10.)  These verses are not describing acts that we perform or deeds we do.  Instead, they encourage us to be open to the work God is doing in us.  "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil 1:6.)  God is able to use me for his glory when I allow myself to be transformed by Him.

It's easy to get so worked up about doing things for God that we forget to pay attention to how he is molding us.  Being the kind of person that God created me to be will enable him to use me for the purpose of glorifying Him on earth.  So, what's your definition?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Power of the Gospel

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been reading through the Bible one book at a time.  I've been taking notes and doing more highlighting so I can have a better understanding of the purpose of each book and how it fits in with the meta-narrative of God.  Last week I read through 1 and 2 Thessalonians, which are two letters Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica (a city in Greece.)  Though short, these books pack a powerful punch dealing with the power of the gospel and warnings against false teachings within the church.

One thing that struck me about 1 Thessalonians was Paul's focus on the fact that there is power in the gospel message.  1 Thess 1:4-5 says, "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."  The gospel of Christ is hard to hear because in order to be transformed by it we must first come to terms with the fact that we are sinners in need of a savior.  No one honestly wants to own up to the fact that they are flawed or that they are incapable of saving themselves, but without this kind of introspection, we cannot be saved.  The realization of sin in our lives is painful and most want to avoid it.  However, when we realize our need for Christ, the Holy Spirit comes upon us with power to transform a life of sin into a life of grace.

1Thess 2:13 says, "When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe." Christianity is not a man-made religion as some think it to be.  The word of God is just that, God's actual word to his people, and through that word there is transformative power.  God doesn't save our souls then leave us to flounder on our own.  He breathes life into us through the Holy Spirit and gives his word to us to show us the way of sanctification.

One of my favorite verses of all time is 1Thess 5:16-18 which encourages us to, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  This kind of joy and thanksgiving can only come through the power of the gospel.  It's no easy task to be joyful and thankful in every circumstance of life, but the grace of God gives us power to see the world with an eternal perspective; to see that this life is not all there is, but we are destined for eternity.  Only through the lens of the gospel do we find strength to give thanks even in our weakest moments.  In closing his letter Paul reminds his readers to live holy and blameless lives, and that, "The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it."  It is not by our power that we are sanctified but by the power of Christ Jesus!  Amen!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Letter from a Disgruntled Teaching Assistant

Dear Old, Crusty, Burned out Teacher who Should have Retired Years Ago,

  Hi, I know you don't know me, but I have a bone to pick with you.  I just spent 2 1/2 years working my butt off in graduate school to become a teacher, and now that I at long last have my certification, there are NO teaching positions available.  Would you like to know why there are no teaching jobs Mrs. Crusty?  Because teachers like you refuse to just quit already!  Admit it, you don't have the drive to teach like you did 100 years ago.  In fact, you don't even like kids anymore!  You've been teaching the same grade level forever, and nothing about the way you teach has changed since you first started.  You still use a chalkboard and have all the desks in rows for crying out loud! 

Why are you taking up valuable classroom space when fresh, bright-eyed teachers like me could take your place?  I actually like children, and unlike you I have something to offer them that you seem to have given up on long ago.  I have creative ideas that would get kids to love learning!  My classroom would be a fun place to be where students feel welcomed and loved!  I have the motivation to work late nights and weekends planning lessons that are fun and engaging.  When was the last time you stayed late?  When was the last time one of your lessons was actually fun?

  Face it, you had your turn at the chalkboard, and now it's time to clean the apples off your teacher's desk and make room for some new blood in your school.  Trust me, your students will appreciate it.  And so will I.


A New Teacher who is Tired of Waiting on the Sidelines  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review: Let the Nations be Glad! by John Piper

Let the Nations be Glad  has been called one of the foremost books on modern missions, and I can see why.  Piper is incredibly thorough in presenting his argument for why missions is necessary and why it is a joy to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the gospel.  Piper offers scriptural evidence for his viewpoints, and gives real-life stories of the mission field bringing a personal depth to his writing.

"Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church.  Worship is.  Missions exists because worship doesn't."  We live in a world that does not glorify God as it should.  When we understand the greatness and glory of God, it is only fitting that we should share that knowledge with the world.  When we find salvation in Christ, we should desire that others find salvation in Him as well.  The gospel of Christ is not something to be hidden away, but is something to be shouted from the rooftops!  Psalm 67: 1-4 says, "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.  May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.  May the nations be glad and sing for joy."

One chapter in particular was extremely powerful for me and that was the chapter on prayer.  Piper reminds us that we are at war.  Not a war of flesh and blood or of guns and steel, but of spiritual forces.  Second Corinthians 10:3-4 says, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  Piper says, "Life is war.  That's not all it is, but it is always that.  Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth.  Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the power of darkness and unbelief."

The war Piper refers to is one between the spiritual forces of good and evil.  The battle is for lost souls.  God desires to bring all people to himself through belief in His Son, but Satan struggles to bring us under his control through the bondage of sin.  It truly is a desperate situation requiring a desperate reliance on God.  In wartime there is urgency and a dramatic shift in the way we live and the way we pray.  During times of peace and prosperity we let our guard down.  We are now living in a time of war as if it were a time of peace.  Piper poses that the reason so many of our prayers are ineffective is because we do not view prayer as our lifeline to God as we accomplish our wartime mission.  "Until we feel the force of this, we will not pray as we ought."

Through this book Piper offers incredible and detailed insight into many areas of missions, making it a staple for anyone's library who plans to help fulfill the mission of God in the nations.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Sweetness of God

It saddens me to hear people talk about Christianity as if it were a punishment.  Somewhere along the way people started thinking that to be a follower of Christ meant that there was no joy in life.  The idea lingers that if something fun, God hates it and will condemn you to hell for it.  Yes it is difficult to come face to face with the reality of my sin, but the grace I find in the arms of Jesus makes the pain worth it.  And let's not forget that God is the creator of pleasure and goodness!  He meant for us to have abundant life in which we enjoy the good things in life!  John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  God created pleasurable things for us to enjoy.  The problem comes in when, in our sinful nature, we distort what God meant for good and turn it into something destructive.

Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him."  There is a sweetness in a relationship with God that, once tasted, makes everything else taste bitter.  I wish I could say that my whole walk with Christ has been characterized by this sweetness.  There have been moments where I didn't feel God's presence and questioned his faithfulness.  But through difficulties and trials, the Lord has brought me through to a point where I can lean on Him and know that he will never forsake me.  I know that I was created for more than plodding along with a mediocre faith till the last days of my life.  "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created." (James 1:17-18).

I long to know more of who God is and I am so thankful that he has chosen to reveal himself to us not only through his glorious creation but also through his word and through prayer.  Every day when I read my Bible and have my quiet time I am amazed that the book I hold in my hands is truly the word of God.  How incredible is that?   The more I soak in scripture the more I can't live without it.  The more time I spend in communion with the Living God, the more I don't want to go a second without praying to him.  And by praying I don't just mean bringing my list of requests before God but really listening for him to speak to me.  Learning to listen for God is a difficult process, but when I truly quiet my heart, I can clearly hear Him speaking to me.  It's been incredible to see how being in a relationship with God has completely transformed my life.

God is not a crutch as some think he is.  He is not a figment of my imagination that I made up to feel warm and fuzzy inside.  God is.  He created the world and everything in it and is active within his creation.  He calls his people to salvation and saves those who come to Him in humble submission and love.  He loves his children and wants to bless us abundantly and offers a life sweeter than you can imagine.  Taste and see that the Lord is good!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

If you have read anything by C.S. Lewis you know what a brilliant writer he is.  From the whimsical tales of Narnia to the theology-based apologetics of Mere Christianity, it is clear that Lewis has a gift for showing readers a different perspective on what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ.  The same holds true for The Screwtape Letters.  This is a book I think every christian should read; it will change your thinking in drastic ways.

Screwtape is a demon corresponding with his nephew Wormwood,  a young tempter.  In his letters Screwtape gives advice and admonishment to the young demon as he works on his "patient" trying to lure him away from following Christ.  Though fictitious, it is striking to see the world through the enemy's eyes, because so many of the thoughts and actions of the human in the story coincide with everyday experiences of all people, and many of these are propagated by the demons.

One quote that sticks with me every time I read this book is this: "Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."  The  chief end of the demons is to drag the human away from the Lord and into hell.  They do this by manipulating the mind with subtle tricks rather than overt theatrics.

One chapter deals with the idea that there are troughs and peaks as we walk through the christian life.  After becoming a believer in Christ we do not experience a continual spiritual "high" or a conscious experience of God.  Rather, He wants us to learn to trust in who He says He is even when we cannot feel his presence.   As Screwatpe puts it, "He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles."  He goes on to say, "Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."  Though we don't always feel the presence of God, we are still called to obey his will for it is through this obedience and knowledge of Him that brings eternal life.

Spiritual warfare is a reality that many are not prepared to deal with.  God is clear in scripture that we are at war with spiritual beings.  Ephesians 6:12 says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground."  

I think the idea behind Lewis' writing Screwtape is to give us a glimpse into the spiritual world.  Yes, it is fiction, but I think he might not be too far off course with what he is saying about the spiritual forces at work in the world.  The devil wants us in hell and will stop at nothing to tear us away from following Jesus.  We must be prepared for these attacks in whatever form the present themselves.  This book will give you a different perspective that, while at times difficult to read and terrifying to think about, will help you stay on guard against the work of Satan himself.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lounging on Quicksand

Lately we've been talking a lot about missions and our future plans to move back overseas as full-time missionaries.  There are several verses of scripture that have been on my mind lately in regard to all this.  One is from Matthew 19 when a rich young ruler comes to Jesus asking how he might enter the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus replies, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me."  When you have surrendered your life to Christ and abandon all creature comforts of this world to go to the nations to preach the gospel, this verse hits pretty close to home.    While I don't believe God calls everyone of his followers to give up absolutely everything they have, I do believe that this verse applies to our mindset as believers.  A second verse that has been on my mind is Matthew 6:19-20 which says, "Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

How easy it is to become comfortable on this earth by surrounding ourselves with material wealth and possessions.  This is an area that I still struggle with, if I can be perfectly honest.  While I want more than anything to be obedient to the call of missions, I still find it difficult to part with all the "stuff" in our lives.  I'll give you an example.  When we moved back to the US we bought a new couch.  And oh, I. love. this. couch.  My living room has become my favorite place in all of Beaufort.  I look forward to coming home form work everyday and putting my feet up with a good book all snuggly warm on our couch.  This might not seem bad on the surface, but what scares me is the idea that I allow earthly treasures to take the place of heavenly ones.  Someday all our material possessions will be gone; destroyed by moth or rust or thieves.  That much is clear.  So how foolish it is to put our hope in such things.

When we actually let go of the stuff that we think keeps us so happy, we're free to really live our lives fully surrendered to Christ.  He wants all of us.  That means he also wants the part of our hearts that have a tight hold on the things in our lives.  Otherwise we'll get to the end of our lives and what will we have to say for ourselves?  "Well, I enjoyed my couch.  Enjoyed it so much in fact that I didn't live in obedience to Christ.  I was comfortable, but the world isn't any different because I lived."  Ouch.  I don't want that to be my life. God calls us to live lives that glorify Him.  Jesus calls us to abandon the comforts of this world and follow him with all we have.  It's time for me to get off the couch.  What is Christ calling you to do?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chasing After the Wind

I'm slowly making my way through the books of the Bible, yet in no particular order.  Last week I read through Ecclesiastes, and I must say, it was a difficult one for me.  Not because it was hard to read or the theology was too deep for my understanding, but because of the despair that Solomon expressed in his writing.  In Ecclesiastes Solomon chronicles his search for meaning in life.  He looks in all the usual places: work, wisdom, pleasure, and even folly.  No dice.  At the end of each section he laments that everything is like chasing the wind.  There is meaning in nothing.  In chapter 1 verse 14 he says, "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind."  One thing I thought of as I read the phrase "under the sun" was the fact that Solomon was looking at the creation for meaning when he should have been looking at the creator.  He was looking under the sun when he needed to look over the sun.  In God we find our ultimate purpose.  In God alone is there meaning for life!  When you look anywhere but to God for your purpose in life you will come up short.  Trying o find meaning in the things of this world will disappoint you again and again.  Our purpose is to glorify God in all that we do!

Another verse that stuck out to me was 3:11 which says that God, "has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  We were created for much more than just this life on earth.  We were created for an eternity spent with our heavenly father.  The limitations of our flesh keep us from seeing the true nature and glory of God, but someday it will be revealed to us.  By setting eternity in our hearts God has shown us that we are meant for an eternal dwelling place with him.

The wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes abounds.  Chapter 5 verses 1-2 say, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few."  How often it is that I go before God in prayer with a lengthy list of requests.  Sometimes I talk to God as if what I have to say is more important that His words to me.  How foolish!  These verses remind me that prayer is two-way communication, and I must spend more time listening to my heavenly father, because it is through these intimate moments of prayer that he reveals himself to me most clearly.

I praise God everyday for his infallible Word to us.  Again and again I'm thankful that I can hold in my hands words breathed by God himself!  What a privilege it is to be able to study and understand scripture.  I hope that you will find a similar joy as you delve into the pages of scripture yourself!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Marine Corps!

  This weekend Patrick and I drove to Hilton Head for our last Marine Corps Birthday Ball.  And thus began the process of saying goodbye to many a Marine Corps tradition.  I must say, I'll miss the dress blues when Patrick is no longer a marine.  I'll miss the ceremony and all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with it.  But rather than get all bleary-eyed, I'll just say that the night was a lot of fun.  We got to spend some time with some new friends and get to know them a little better.

It was fun to get out of Beaufort for a night and stay in a nice hotel right on the water in Hilton Head.  Too bad it was too cold to go to the beach.  We actually stayed in the hotel where the ball was held, so my hair wasn't completely wind blown by the time we got there.  Bonus!

Us with Sarah and Mike 

For those of you that aren't familiar with the traditions of the Marine Corps, here's the scoop.  The USMC was created on November 10, 1775 and every year around that date marines all over the world get together to celebrate.  There is a ceremony that commemorates the heritage of the corps, a big dinner, and dancing.  This was our 9th ball (13th if you count the ones in college), and also the biggest. All of the Recruit Training Regiment was there and that was a couple thousand people.  Crazy!

It's a little hard to believe that we won't be going to another birthday ball since Patrick will be getting out of the marine corps next June.  Hopefully this time next year we'll be on the mission field in Zambia!  Quite a change from formal gowns and dress blues, but we're looking forward to it!

Alpha Company Marines
Alpha Company wives

Adventures in Teaching

Second graders excited to perform their readers' theater!
This past week I had a wonderful opportunity to teach during the Extended Learning Time our school offers to students who are below grade level.  I taught 2nd grade ELA (English and Language Arts), and we had a blast!  I had two classes of 12 students each and team taught with another second grade teacher who taught math.  It was quite challenging simply because the majority of the students who are below grade level tend to be behavior problems as well.  Thankfully there were only two students who were really difficult.  The rest of the students worked hard, and for the most part were able to focus well.

I'll be honest, I didn't enjoy every moment of last week.  There were some days when I came home exhausted and frustrated, feeling like I wasn't making a difference at all with these kids.  There were moments where I felt like maybe I'm just not cracked up to be a teacher at all.  All those feelings vanished by Friday though!  All week I'd been working on a readers' theater with the kids, and they performed it on Friday for the other class.  They did such a fantastic job in that five-minute performance that I suddenly felt like all the headaches and frustrations of the week had been worth it.  Last week was a chance to reaffirm my desire to teach and have my own classroom someday.

It's going to be difficult to go back to work tomorrow as just a teaching assistant.  It's always hard to let go once you've had a taste of what you really love!  I've been praying for a teaching position of my own and yesterday I felt God telling me that I'm exactly where he wants me right now.  The word "strategic" kept coming back to me.  As a teaching assistant I'm in a unique position to get to know the students on a different level since I'm not in responsible for all the duties of the full-time teachers.  While talking to God I also felt him saying that he is preparing me for future teaching opportunities, they just might not be what I expect.  I have a wonderful peace about where I am right now, but I look forward to the future with hopeful anticipation to see where God leads me!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sidestepping the Cafeteria Line

I have been called many things for being a christian, but one that stands out is being called closed minded because I believe that scripture truly is the word of God.  I've been called an idiot for believing that everything in the Bible is actually real and is actually inspired by God.  Upon reflecting on this conversation I realized that what many people do is tease apart scripture into bite sized chunks, and believe only those chunks which are easy to digest.  The rest, they leave on their plate.  I call them cafeteria christians.  They take only what they want from the Bible, what makes them feel good, and claim that the rest isn't worth believing.  This is a dangerous path to tread.  The problem with claiming that portions of scripture are true while others are not is who is to say which is which?  Who has the authority to claim that one verse was actually inspired by God but another wasn't?  When we start to doubt the authority of scriptural truths, the foundation for faith quickly crumbles.  When you start doubting the word of God what basis for your faith are you left with?

We are living in what RC Sproul calls an anti-intellectual age.  Too many christians aren't taking the time to study and think through what the Bible says, and contemplate what they believe and why.  Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  We need to dig deep into God's Word and unearth His truths there.  But we have to start with the authority of scripture itself.  Why do we believe what this book says?

There is vast amounts of evidence to prove the authority of scripture.  External evidence such as archaeology shows the historical accuracy of biblical accounts.  One noted archaeologist Nelson Glueck said, "No archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference."  I've read of countless instances where the Bible has been held up under historical and archaeological evidence.

There is also plenty of internal evidence in scripture where we see that the Bible really is God's inspired word to his children.  2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."  Hebrews reminds us that, "the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  The Bible is more than just a book of stories.  The word of God is living and transformative.

Another aspect of scriptural authority that I find interesting is the unity of the scriptures.  The Bible was written over a period of 1500 years by 40 different authors on 3 continents, yet they all tell the same story!  Think about that for a minute.  If you asked 40 different people living in America today to write about one theme, you'd get 40 completely different viewpoints.  The Bible is not that way.  We can read the whole book and see God's theme of redemption for man on every page.

I absolutely love the word of God, and the more I read it the more I realize I can't go a day without it.  Scripture breathes life into me each day, and in its pages I am reminded of God's intense love for me, and what He was willing to sacrifice that I might be saved.  When you really start to see the Bible as God's words to you you won't be able to put it down.   And though there are some hard truths found within scripture, we know that it is all from God.  He had a purpose in speaking each word that we read, so we cannot discount it as irrelevant or obsolete.  I would rather have the whole truth of God than a lie, and anything less that then whole truth of God is a lie!

So instead of taking the cafeteria approach, approach all of scripture as God's inspired word.  See the Bible for what it is: a love story between God and his people.  Work through the difficult passages to find the truth of God within them rather than writing them off.  You will have a deeper understanding of who God is and his plan for salvation.  Trust me, you'll be glad you did!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.

While everyone else is running around in Halloween costumes trick-or-treating, or being scared out of their wits at haunted houses, I am reminded of a truly world-changing event that took place on October 31 in 1517.  It started with a young monk, a hammer, and an idea that would change the face of Christianity forever.

Martin Luther was born into a wealthy family in Germany.  His parents expected him to follow in their footsteps of pursuing wealth and prestige, but God had a different plan for his life.  When caught in a terrifying electrical storm, Luther pleaded with God to save his life promising to give his life to God if he were to survive.  That's a pretty bold thing to do, bargaining with God and all, but the Lord honored his vow, and shortly thereafter Luther entered a monastery.

For much of Luther's life as a Catholic monk he struggled with the realization that the corrupt church could not offer him salvation.  He had witnessed the degradation of the church, especially in the selling of indulgences to the poor.  The people were told that indulgences would save them from the torment of hell, or would save a deceased loved-one from purgatory.  After coming face to face with this kind of evil corruption, Luther lost hope in the church and turned to the pages of scripture for guidance.  It was in Paul's letter to the Romans that he found hope of redemption.  Romans 1:16-17 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"  These words resonated with Martin Luther, and his eyes were open to the beauty and grace of God.  By faith alone are we saved, not through legalistic moralism or corrupt rituals.

Having been renewed in God's love and grace, the actions of the clergy were that much more appalling, and something had to be done.  Reform was the only answer.  Luther set about writing his grievances against the church, and thus was born his 95 Theses.  He nailed the pages to the cathedral door in the small German town of Wittenberg, a moment that would alter the path of the church forever.

The corrupt Catholic officials were not about to take Luther's defiance lightly, and he was brought before the clergy at the Diet of Worms during which he was asked to recant his writing.  It was during this hearing that Luther spoke his famous words,

“Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds and reasoning—and my conscience is captive to the Word of God—then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other.  So help me God.”

Luther's reliance on the grace of God brought on a reformation whose effects have lasted for centuries.  Not only did Luther spur on the reformation, but he also translated the Bible from Latin into German, the common language of the people.  For the first time, the Word of God was in the hands of people who were desperate to hear the story of redemption.  

Though the work Luther did was revolutionary, the church is far from being completely aligned with God's will.  There is still false teaching in the church, and there are still people who are led astray by false doctrine; people who sit in pews week after week thinking they are saved.  In some churches, reform is still needed, and it will be the Christians who hold fast to the Word of God who will make it happen. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Heavier Things

In a book I read recently by John Piper titled Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose for the Glory of Christ, Piper discusses how coddled Americans are, especially Christian Americans.  Many people sit in pews Sunday after Sunday, but they still don't truly understand the implications of their own faith.  They like to think that God is pocket-sized; someone they can turn to when times are tough.  But they don't believe that God really is or that he will actually call us to account for how we live our lives.  Many pastors are afraid to preach about the difficult truths of the Bible, because they want to maintain a healthy-sized congregation and a full offering plate.  No one wants to hear a sermon on hell fire and brimstone.  But maybe it's time we think about the heavier things.  As Piper said, "Wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians."

I recently listened to a talk given by David Platt at the Desiring God conference (which Patrick was fortunate enough to attend.)  His talk was titled "The Glory of God, the Lostness of Man, and the Gospel of Christ."  It was a stirring talk that I've listened to several times now.  I have included a link to the video at the end of this post, and I encourage you to listen to it.  Though he's not exactly preaching hellfire and brimstone, Platt reveals the depth of scripture that points to the sinfulness of man and our utter need for a savior.  The Bible paints a vivid picture of the reality of hell, one that we would be wise not to ignore.

Have you ever thought about the reality of hell?  I mean really pondered it in your heart?  If you are a Christ follower who has put your whole trust in Jesus for the redemption of your sins, the thought of what you have been saved from should bring you crashing to your knees in humble gratitude every day.  Like it or not, hell is a reality, and one that thousands of people face anew every day.  This idea isn't popular; the idea of suffering for all eternity for the choices one has made on this earth.  Most people are much more comfortable saying that everyone will go to heaven, they just have to find their own way to God.  The Truth of God and His Word contradicts this view point.  If God created man in His image and wants us to choose to love and obey Him above all else, why would he allow someone who hates Him into heaven?  If someone chooses a life apart from God now, they will experience eternal separation from God.  That's what hell really is; the total abandonment of the presence of God.  In a weird way, God is giving that person exactly what they want: no God.

As Isaiah says in Isaiah 6:5 after coming face to face with God, "Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips."  We are a sinful people who desperately need the grace of God to save us from the eternal suffering of hell.  It's clear from scripture as well as a look around us that we are lost.  What does it mean to be "lost?"  It means that we are cut off from God and cast away from his presence.  Romans 3:11 says, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."  Romans 1:21 says, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God no gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."  In John 8:34 Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin."  John 3:20 says, "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."  The scriptures go on and on regarding the sinfulness of man and our need for a savior.

I think it's all too easy to focus only on the aspects of God that make us feel good.  God is love.  God forgives.  God reconciles all things to Himself.  This is all very true, and I'm thankful that I serve this God, but there is another side to Him that we often forget.  While we might not like to think about it, God displays wrath as well as love.  In a talk I watched recently by David Platt, he discusses the fact that God hates sinners.  Psalm 5:5 says, "The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong."  God also loves sinners.  We can look to the cross of Christ as proof of this holy hatred and holy love.  The torture, pain, death, and separation from God that Christ endured was meant for us.  We deserve it because in our sin, we chose to ignore God's commands.  There is a hatred of sin and sinners that cannot be denied.  We like to think that our sin is something outside of ourselves, when really, we are sinful to the very core of our nature.  Our pride, lust, greed, etc. is part of who we are, and God will judge that sin.  The flip side of this is God's incredible love for sinners.  Again, look to the cross.  While we deserved God's wrath, Jesus Christ endured it for us.  God poured out his wrath on his only Son, not us, so we could be made righteous.  Romans 5:8 says, " But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  That's the purest kind of love there is!  Not only are we forgiven of our sins against God, but Hebrews 8:17 tells us, "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."  Psalm 103:11-12 we read, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."  That is pretty incredible news! 

While the reality of hell is terrifying, as a Christian I have great peace and joy in knowing that God loves me so much that He would step down from His throne in heaven to save me from an eternity apart from Him.  My sins have been atoned for and have been replaced with the righteousness of Christ.  So while God's wrath toward sinners is great, His love is just as far reaching!

David Platt's talk titled "The Glory of God, the Lostness of Man, and the Gospel of Christ

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: The Missionary Call by David Sills

Patrick brought home a huge stack of books from the Finish the Mission conference, and I'm slowly making my way through them.  This week I read "The Missionary Call" by David Sills.  Sills is currently a missions professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  I appreciated Sills' academic approach to missions because he does so in such a way that developing the idea of a missionary call remains personal and Christ-centered.

The big question of the book was "what is the missionary call?".  This can be a gray area for many missionary candidates who feel that God is leading them in a specific direction but haven't had a vision or lightning bolt from heaven.  God's calling isn't always as dramatic as we might think, and actually often comes in the still small voice.  A call to missions might begin with an interest in a specific people group, language, or country.  Psalm 37:4 tells us, "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."  God places in us certain interests and desires, which he will ultimately use for his glory.  In the case of the missions-minded Christian, these interests often lead to spreading the gospel among the unreached people of the world.

One quote from the book that does a good job of summing up the idea of what exactly a missionary call is says, "The missionary calls includes the profound sense of a God-stirred ought, a burden for lost souls in a dying world, a burning desire to see every people group in the world prostrate in worship before the throne of God.  It is a recognition of the gifts and abilities that God has given you mixed with the desire to go where your life can be best spent "to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you (Philippians 3:12.)"  We must remember that every tongue, tribe, and nation will be represented around the throne of God, and we have been given the Great Commission which calls us to go to them and bring them to Christ!

I appreciated Sills' wisdom in finding the call to missions, especially since in the past few years Patrick and I have felt God calling our hearts to the nations.  This interest began small, but the more we gaze upon the face of God and delve into deeper relationship with Him, the more undeniable his heart is for the nations.  How can we love God without heeding his call to GO?

While this book doesn't give specific stories from the mission field, it gives practical advice for possible hindrances to getting to the field, and living there.  Sills is upfront in the realities and dangers that missionaries face on a daily basis, and he wants his readers to be prepared for life on the mission field.  Whether you are interested in going as a missionary or sending others to the field, I would recommend checking out this book!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Heart of Stone

This week I have been reading through the book of Hebrews.  Tucked within this book are some of my favorite passages of scripture.  The writer delves into issues of deep theology that are important for Christians to grapple with and make sense of.  Sometimes the Word of God is difficult to understand, and I'll admit that many times while reading Hebrews I've had to reach for various commentaries to shed light on the topics at hand.  However, one issue that is clearly stated is that of hearing God's voice.

Hebrews 3:15 says, "As it has been said, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.'"  How often do we hear the voice of God speaking, whether audibly or in our hearts, and yet we  turn away?  With every instance of turning from the voice of God, our hearts become a little more numb to his love.  Imagine a lifetime of turning, avoiding, or rejecting God's Word.  Imagine the state of one's heart after such rebellion.  Eventually the hardened heart becomes like stone and is no longer able to glorify God at all.

A Biblical example of turning away from God is the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years after the exodus from Egypt.  God had freed them from oppressive slavery and was leading them to the Promised Land.  Even with visible, tangible evidence of His presence and sovereign grace, the people turned away.  They begged Aaron to give them a golden calf to worship even as Moses was atop the mountain receiving God's commandments.  Not surprisingly, God did not allow this generation to enter the Promised Land.  Their hearts were not in tune with God's and were therefore unworthy of His blessings.  Hebrews 3:18-19 says, "And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief."

Likewise, those who call themselves Christians, yet refuse to heed God's voice will not enter God's rest.  Hebrews 4:1-2 warns, "Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith."  These verses really hit home with me, because I know too many people who sit in church every Sunday but who have no faith in the Living God.  Church attendance doesn't equal admittance into heaven.  Simply hearing the gospel doesn't mean we will spend eternity with God.  One might even read the Bible everyday or do every good deed conceivable to man, but without faith, they are still lost.  Without active faith, our efforts are in vain.

Perhaps it's time you examined your own heart.  Are you simply going through the motions or do you have a real relationship with the Living God?  Are you receptive to the voice of God, or has your heart become calloused and unyielding?  Do you have a passion for the Word of God and for His commands?  Psalm 119:10-11 says, "I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you."  I pray that you will know God intimately and know Him more fully through reading and obeying His Word.  There is no greater delight that this!  It is only through faith and a relationship with God that we will enter his rest at the end of our lives.  May it be so in your own life!