Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weekend filler

I'm at a weird place. I guess you could call it writer's block. I've got a huge row of back burners on slow boil, but nothing up front. I'm hoping to post soon about Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio. I've got a book I received for free in exchange for a review on my blog. I'm hoping to start reading that in the next few days. I've got a few other books in process. Also, I'm still trying to decide on a regular study to focus on.

Daily life has been really full. Our vagrant issue came to a head yesterday with Paul once again getting sworn at and given the finger, this time for the crime of sitting on our front porch on the most beautiful afternoon of the year thusfar. These are substance abusers who live in campers, eat at the soup kitchen down the street, and park in front of our house pulling out lawn chairs and getting drunk and doing drugs with all their visitors right there on the sidewalk, across the street from our front door. He decided that this is not what a man should come home to after 10 hours at work, or what his wife should be 20 feet away from while he's away, and called the police, who came and urged them to move along. They pretended to do so until the cop left and then stayed the rest of the night. Thankfully they left in the morning and have not been back. There was some concern on our part that they might retaliate, but so far nothing.

The weather, as I mentioned, has been beautiful. I've been able to open my front door for most of the day. Yesterday Paul and I bought a tulip tree, and two new books in honor of our tax refund (the rest of which pays our property taxes). He planted it while I watched and the vagrants across the street drunkenly looked on. Yesterday and today I pruned the neighbors' bushes that block all sunlight from my kitchen windows, and were also hanging over my roof. I planted to seeds to start in pots. I did all sorts of wonderful house puttering for the rest of the day. I told Paul how I'd love to spend a whole month right here at home just puttering. The kitchen is just about finished. There's some detail painting left to do, and one large print that needs framing. Today I hung the window treatments. I'll see if Paul will put some pics up for me. We're hoping to start on the spare bedroom next. (Question to any local friends: does anyone own a belt sander they'd be willing to lend for an afternoon sometime?)

In case anyone remembers that one of my New Year's resolutions was to memorize Romans, and wonders how that's going I'll give an update. First, I was amazed at how I could learn a verse a day. At that rate I should be able to memorize at least the first 12 chapters this year. I said "should". I found that after I memorized Chapter 1 I couldn't retain it if I didn't recite it daily, which I couldn't seem to remember to do. Then I fell off for what I thought was a couple of weeks and realized was really a couple of months! So, now I'm re-memorizing Chapter 1. It's ridiculously frustrating! It may take me the rest of my life to commit Romans to memory, but I don't guess I have anything more important to do.

Okay, time for bed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Suggestion Box is Open

As I believe I've mentioned before, I've decided to take a break from teaching in our church setting while I seek to grow for a while in my understanding of God's grace. I'm hoping for these truths to be more deeply established before I lead a group again. I had been scheduled to begin a new series this spring. The timing proved to be perfect for me to step back as there is another woman in our body who is gifted to teach whose time has come to step forward. Seeing God arranging all this is a great relief and comfort. It looks as if I won't be doing a study for six months or more. After that, if the Lord wills it, I intend to lead a study through Jonathan Edwards' Charity and It's Fruits.

So, my point in bringing all this up is that my husband insists that during this interim I do some kind of study on my blog. He says he profits when I'm working on a study and would like for that to continue. So, my friends, do you have any suggestions? Is there a book or book of the Bible you would like to study through here with me? I'm open to all sorts of suggestions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Great Physician

I feel like sharing a little more hope for sinners from C.H. Spurgeon
"The way of loving trust in the Savior is illustrated by a lady who is the wife of the most eminent physician of the day. She is seized with a dangerous illness and is smitten down by its power. Yet, she is wonderfully calm and quiet because her husband has made this disease his special study and has healed thousands who were similarly afflicted. She is not in the least troubled, for she feels perfectly safe in the hands of one so dear to her and in whom skill and love are blended in their highest forms. Her faith is reasonable and natural; her husband, from every point of view, deserves it from her.

This is the kind of faith which the happiest of believers exercise toward Christ. There is no physician like Him; none can save as He can. We love Him and He loves us. Therefore, we put ourselves into His hands, accept whatever He prescribes, and do whatever He bids. We feel that nothing can be wrongly ordered while He is the Director of our affairs. He loves us too well to let us perish or suffer a single needless pang."

Monday, March 23, 2009

All I have to offer

As much as I love my life - precious gift from God that it is - and my way of life, the truth is my lifestyle is my own, unique to me and my own family situation. You can't live the way I do, nor should you want to, nor should you try. You have your own dwelling place, likely very different than mine; your own husband (or wife - or lack thereof), in any case very different from mine; your own children (or none), your own parents, your own income level, your own degree of education, your own set of skills, your own manner of employment, your own besetting sins, your own history of suffering, your own shame, your own weakness, your own inability. I cannot ask you to do things my way, nor do I expect you to, nor do I encourage you to. Honestly, I can't see why you would want to. You've got your own life to live, and you answer to God for how you live it, not me.

This is, in part, why I don't write much here about my lifestyle. I assure you that's not because I've got anything to hide, or any extraordinary thing to be ashamed of - no drunkenness, sexual immorality, violence, greed or verbal abuse here. It's a quiet life, a lifestyle suitable for a Christian. It's just that lots of people live such lives - and even more wholesome ones - without being Christians at all. Even my skills are not unique. Although I'd be happy to tell you, you don't need me to tell you how to hand-stitch a bed for your dog. If you want to learn how to do any of the things I do around here you can find a web-page devoted specifically to those things somewhere on the internet. Even within my own small circle of friends there is always someone better qualified to answer such questions than myself. Even among professional house-cleaners I'm sure you could find some with better techniques and more capable than myself. That said, let me now come to the heart of the matter: none of these things, amount to a hill of beans. It is all vanity, a chasing after the wind.

There is one thing that gives lasting significance to life - one thing that will last beyond the grave - one thing that lends significance to my time here on earth. This is also the only thing that distinguishes a true Christian. This one thing is not lifestyle (though lifestyle must not contradict it). This one thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's the good news of God's grace to unworthy sinners, of forgiveness for sins, of freedom from guilt and condemnation, of a new life of love for God instead of hatred and dread of Him. Our days on this earth are limited. I want to devote them to the Main Thing: Him and the people He came to save. I want to heed the urging of Spurgeon:
"Let us stir one another to praise. Let us spend today, tomorrow, and all the rest of our days in praising God. If we catch one another grumbling a little or being coldly silent, let us in kindness to each other, give the needed rebuke. It will not do to murmur. We must praise the Lord....Behold redemption accomplished, sin pardoned, salvation purchased, hell vanquished, death abolished, and all this achieved by your blessed Lord and Master! Can you see all this and not praise Him? His precious blood is falling on you, making you clean, bringing you near to God, making you acceptable before the infinite holiness of the Most High! Can you see yourself thus favored, and behold the precious blood that did it, and not praise His name?"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sacred Cows

"There will be general lamentation, tearing of garments, and wailing, at the following statement, but it must be made. Spurgeon was not infallible. I will pause so that those currently experiencing shock, dismay and hopelessness, may recover their senses. Second amazing statement coming up. You can actually gain great edification from someone with whom you have disagreements. Again, a brief pause. It is a sign of maturity, in my opinion, to be able to analyze a writer of the past, thank God for his insights and testimony, while at the same time, recognizing differences of viewpoint and even belief. No one could turn a phrase like Spurgeon. The term "wordsmith" does not do him justice. The prince of preachers indeed. But I risk much to add that quite often the prince of preachers' exegesis of a particular text suffered in the service of over-all sermonic excellence. We all know that there are some great sermons out there that are exegetically atrocious. They seem to get recycled all the time. And there are times when anyone who has turned to Spurgeon for comments on a particular passage has come away with significantly less than they may have expected. I do not believe this is even a disputable assertion. Spurgeon was a fallen human being, like all the rest of us." (Emphasis in bold is my own.)

The preceding was a quote from apologist, Dr. James White. I've pulled it from its context to share here because it stands well on its own and speaks to one of the most valuable lessons I've learned over the last few months. Dr. White uses Spurgeon for the sake of his own point, but you could easily substitute any individual whom you hold in very high esteem - with John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, John MacArthur, John Piper, J.I. Packer, G.K. Chesterton, and Martin Luther, just to name a few. We quote them as though their words are the authority which should bring an end to all argument, and God forbid anyone should dare disagree with them. We fallen humans have a long history of turning those we admire into sacred cows.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Get "graced again"

As many of you know, I've been focusing on God's grace for a while now. I hope you will understand even if this is all I ever speak of again. It is all I really have that is of any lasting value to offer you. It is God's grace that makes the Gospel truly good news. It is also the very idea of grace that I, like most people, am very inclined to resist. We are proud creatures; and that is not a good thing. We think we are basically good, and, at the very least, a lot better than a lot of people. We got our goodness by our upbringing and/or our bootstraps. We don't want something for nothing as if we were lazy and shameless. We not only want to earn our own way, we want to merit everything we have - well everything good that is. Everything good that comes our way, we want to be able to think it came to us because of what we've done right. We want the control over our futures; we want the credit for our successes. In short, we want the glory - we want our outcomes in life to be reflections of who we are rather than who God is. This does not go away when we become Christians. Grace is at the heart of our faith. Grace means the favor of God which can not be earned. There is nothing we do which causes God to favor us - to smile upon us, to do good for us - but His own decision. This teaching of God's grace is always under attack. We start off simply wanting to obey God because we love Him as our Father and adore His beautiful holiness so much that we want to emulate it in our own lives. We want to reflect His glory, because we finally see that there is no greater thing any created being could hope to do. But sin wastes no opportunity to subvert this work of grace in our lives. For instance, our desire to predict and control the future coaxes us into trying to use God's Word as a predictor of outcomes in this life, and to strive for and expect those outcomes. The outcomes we hope for are generally very good things: mental health, happy marriages, faithful spouses, healthy churches, fruitful ministries, adequate incomes, favor with our employers, absence of debt, obedient children, physical healing. When we experience good outcomes, our sin leads us to credit our good works - God honoring our obedience - which we of course acknowledge that God enabled us to do. Like the famed Pharisee we stand giving a prayer of thanks and glory to God that, "I'm not like other men..." (You do understand, don't you, that the sin of the Pharisee was in thinking that he was not like other men.) A good temporal outcome has become the goal of our obedience, and we thus view the good outcome as the result of our works. Grace has been subverted.

And that is the sunny side, where we can sometimes walk along quite nicely. The dark side comes, when by God's grace the outcome of all our plans and good works is a bad outcome, when the things we've believed God for and hoped for in this life do not come to pass. Then we find ourselves in a predicament. Were we hoping for the Kingdom of heaven, or this life? Were we trusting in God or our works? If it is in our works, we will feel that God was unfaithful. He did not keep up His end of the bargain. But, and this is where most of us sinners will find ourselves, what if we failed in our good works? What if we did not do everything right? What if we did not repent of all our mistakes? What if we still sin every day, and not always notice? What about all the sinful thoughts and attitudes that others see in us that we haven't even noticed, and the things we've done as a result and haven't repented of, and never will because we've long since forgotten them? Then all the bad outcome is our fault. We've failed in our end of the bargain and experience the angry frown of God. We must find out how to get back into His good graces. We look for fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and where we lack them we seek to manufacture them ourselves, through hypocrisy. We act like we're loving, or patient, or kind. We feel guilty and try harder. When that doesn't help we feel our guilt even more keenly. We know we must grieve for our sin - but that may not be enough - we must grieve hard - no harder. You've got to be really, really grieved to the core of your being to be forgiven, right? Perfect forgiveness must require perfect repentance, right? Grace comes through repentance, right? Wrong. If you are repentant, it is an evidence that God's grace and favor already rests on you. If your repentance is perfect, it is evidence that you have died and gone to heaven - the only place where anything any of us does will be perfect. To try to earn God's favor through repentance, is not repentance, it is penance. It subverts grace.

Nothing we can do can earn us God's favor. Nothing. Every work we do is nothing but wood, hay or stubble unless it is done in the absolute freedom of the gospel. Every act motivated by slavish fear or guilt will perish. Every ounce of God's favor toward mankind for all of time was purchased by Christ on the cross of Calvary. Every time we try to earn anything from Him we diminish the work of the Cross. And this brings me to my point. To believe that God accepts us purely on the basis of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice is the hardest thing in the world to believe. Because of this we all need to hear the gospel every day - every hour of every day. To that end, I would like to introduce you to the e-mail ministry of Graced Again. "Gracedagain is compiled by Tom Wood, Church Multiplication Ministries, a non-profit, whose mission is starting, strengthening, multiplying grace-centered churches through consults and coaching church planting pastors, leaders and emerging leaders." They send weekly e-mails with gospel quotes like the one below, which I received yesterday:
To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil...goes about seeking to devour us by roaring: 'God is angry at you and is going to destroy you forever.' In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses... The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts of the devil...the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts, 'Abba, Father.' And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God. The Spirit cries because of our weakness...(and) is sent forth into our hearts...to assure us of the grace of God." Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians
This ministry has been a real blessing to me. I know it will be to you as well. You can sign up here: http://www.gracedagain.com

Many thanks to my friend Deb at Philippines Journey who introduced me to this ministry.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Three cheers for duct tape!

Way to go Duck Tape! Apparently there's not much you can't do with it and a creative and resourceful spirit. To prove it Duck Tape brand duct tape is offering college scholarships to the kids who can make the most wonderful prom outfits almost entirely out of their product. The contest is called "Stuck at Prom" and the results are absolutely delightful!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jellyfish

How do you feel about "dogma"? What is your reaction when doctrine is discussed. Boredom? Nervousness? Crawling skin, or raised hackles? Perhaps a more pleasant sensation, self-righteous pride. I think I've felt all of these at one time or another, depending on my fickle human moods. Well, apparently a distaste for firm doctrinal beliefs is nothing new. Jellyfish have been around for a long time. The following quote is from J.C. Ryle (1816-1900). It could have been penned yesterday.

[Dislike of dogma] is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and specially among young people…. It produces what I must venture to call…a “jelly-fish” Christianity in the land: that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. A jelly-fish…is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jelly-fish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.” We have hundreds of “jelly-fish” clergymen, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have not definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of “extreme views” that they have no views at all. We have thousands of “jelly-fish” sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint. We have Legions of “jelly-fish” young men annually turned out from our Universities, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth. They live apparently in a state of suspense, like Mohamet’s fabled coffin, hanging between heaven and earth…and last, and worst of all, we have myriads of “jelly-fish” worshippers-respectable Church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors. They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad, every clergyman is sound and no clergyman is unsound. They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine”; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to “render a reason of the hope that is in them.” …Never was it so important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to “enunciate dogma” very clearly and distinctly in their teaching."

Thanks to Tim Challies for this timely quote.

God and government

I’ve been thinking about government a lot lately. Some of the reasons are probably obvious, given the state of our nation at the moment. Some of it has to do with our current Sunday school church history series. We’re studying the Puritan era – a colorful period in the Christian church, which also happened to be pivotal in the formation of the modern ideal of separation of church and state. Some of my thought is just the cumulative effect of a lifetime of political discussions of all kinds. Let me tell you, there’s plenty of good reason why for years religion and politics were not considered polite conversation! There are no more potentially divisive topics under the sun. As a Christian, I cannot - and should not - ultimately avoid discussion of religion, though I do attempt to approach it with as much gentleness and respect as possible. I do, however, because I’ve seen the needless harm that can result, avoid discussion of politics – particularly among my brothers and sisters in Christ. I also avoid such discussion on my blog; and I do not intend for today to be any different. I would like to discuss God and government – not politics. I assure you, there is a difference.

A couple of days ago I read an excellent little article entitled “The Authority of the State” by Cal Thomas, in this month’s TableTalk Magazine. In it he made a statement with which I both agree and disagree, and which has helped give some direction to my thoughts. He says, “Why do authorities exist? It is because we live in a sinful and fallen world, and without authority everyone would do ‘what is right in his own eyes,’ resulting in chaos.” Well, yes and amen… and no. I would like to begin by explaining what I disagree with and then move on to what I found helpful.

I do not believe authority is a result of the fall. God has been exercising it and delegating it from the beginning of creation. In the naming of man, for instance, God was establishing symbolically His authority over him. In bringing animals to man, to be named by him, God was demonstrating that he had given man authority over them. In naming his wife, Adam demonstrated his God-given authority over her. God ordained all of this and called it good. (This pattern is perpetuated after the fall in the naming of children, in which we demonstrate our authority over them as parents. And it was a frequent practice throughout the rest of Scripture, when God wanted to establish a more direct and particular rule over the life of an individual, He would give him, or her, a new name.)

Government, likewise, is not a direct result of the fall. Man, created in the image of God, was created to both submit to and exercise authority. Mankind was never intended to live ungoverned. From the beginning, in the Garden, before sin entered the world, God established government. God retained rule over Adam and his wife, which He demonstrated by designating where they should live, what should be their vocation, what they were to eat, and a single prohibition which if violated carried the death penalty. God governed Adam directly. Adam was the governor of Eve. Together they were to govern the rest of creation. Man’s sin was a rebellion against God’s established system of government. Adam allowed himself to be governed by the words of his wife rather than those of God. Woman’s sin was likewise a rebellion, she obeyed the serpent and her desires rather than her husband – God’s representative in her life. And mankind, has been rejecting the authority of God and government ever since.

And there has been government ever since. It continues in spite of the fall. And this is where I begin with my “amen” to Cal Thomas. It is a mercy of God that He did not leave us without it, or else, there would be chaos. We cannot know, and it would be sheer speculation to guess, what the world and its government would have looked like if man had never sinned. But notice that in the garden there was only one prohibition, and apart from that there was freedom. Mankind, for a brief time enjoyed very minimal government. Once sin entered the world, however, the floodgates of evil were opened, and along with this came the need for much more extensive and heavy-handed government in order to prevent chaos. Another unpleasant consequence is that all the humans who God raises up to rule as His representatives are as fallen and sinful and separated from direct relationship and willing obedience to Him as the people they are called to govern.

Rebels govern rebels, yet in spite of all this, God manages to rule and reign supreme, to accomplish all His purposes (Job 42:2, Is. 46:10). Even in sin and rebellion, fallen man is directed and restrained by God, via the “laws of nature” (which both drive and limit human behaviors), the moral law which He has written on their hearts and is experienced as conscience, His mysterious providence, and as we’ve been discussing, via human government. All of these are means God uses to govern humankind, and prevent them from being as evil as they would be capable of if unrestrained. (see: Rom. 2: 12-15; Jer. 10:23; Ps. 33:10-11; Prov. 16:9, 19:21; Daniel 4:34-35; Lam. 3:37-38) Each of these, though we desire to resist or pervert every one, is a great blessing to sinful humanity.

Finally I would add that when a society undergoes intense moral decay it can expect more heavy handed government. In fact, it requires it. Our own nation, at the moment, has ceased being a society that can be trusted to regulate itself. The latitude we once had is being taken from us. It is an agonizing thing to watch – to suffer. But it is a severe mercy. I grieve over what’s becoming of America, but am thankful that God has not taken away government and left us in chaos. Rather than complaining about government, let us remember to be respectful of it, thankful for it, prayerful for it, and subject to it, insofar as it does not require us to disobey God, recognizing it as an institution established by God Himself for our good.
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, and avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." Romans 13:1-7

Friday, March 13, 2009

A timely message on parenting

I was just having lunch with a couple of sisters in the Lord this afternoon. Both are raising small children. One, like me, already has grown children, and is relishing this opportunity to raise children in a godly home. We had a great discussion on what that means. When I got home, this e-mail from my pastor was waiting for me, so I thought I'd share it here.

Your Child's Greatest Need

by

John MacArthur

Adapted from What the Bible Says About Parenting: God's Plan for Rearing Your Child by John MacArthur.



If you've been a parent for any time at all, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that your child came into the world with an insatiable faculty for evil. Even before birth, your baby's little heart was already programmed for sin and selfishness. The inclination toward depravity is such that, given free reign, every baby has the potential to become a monster.

Original sin is the biblical doctrine that explains your child's sinful proclivity. It means children do not come into the world seeking God and righteousness. They do not even come into the world with a neutral innocence. They come into the world seeking the fulfillment of sinful and selfish desires. Scripture also teaches a doctrine called total depravity, referring to the extent of original sin. Although the outworking of the sin nature does not necessarily attain full expression in everyone's behavior, it is nonetheless called total depravity because there is no aspect of the human personality, character, mind, emotions, or will that is free from the corruption of sin or immune to sin's enticements.

Put bluntly, sin is not learned—it is an inbred disposition. Your kids got their sinful nature from you, you got it from your parents, your parents got it from their parents, and so on, all the way back to Adam. In other words, Adam's fall tainted the entire human race with sin. Both the guilt and the corruption of sin are universal. The apostle Paul wrote, "Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added). "Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men" (v. 18), meaning we inherited the guilt of sin. And "through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (v. 19), meaning we inherited the corruption of sin. No one is exempt. No one is born truly innocent.

That means that left to themselves, your children will pursue a course of sin. And left entirely to themselves, there is no evil of which they are incapable. You may find that hard to swallow, especially when you see them as newborns. Infants seem to be the very epitome of chaste, precious, childlike innocence. But don't let the cute cheeks, the playful coos, and the bright eyes fool you — those children are a miniature version of you! The depravity that lives in their hearts is just waiting for the opportunity to express itself.

So how should the doctrines of original sin and total depravity impact your parenting? Before I answer that, let me show you three parenting approaches that miss the mark.

Focus on Behavior
Many parents go off track by focusing all their efforts on controlling their child’s behavior. Be careful. If you concentrate all your energies on correcting external behavior, or staving off misbehavior with threats of discipline, you may be doing little more than training a hypocrite.

I've seen that happen repeatedly. I know Christian parents who think their parenting is successful because they've taught their children to act politely on cue, to answer with "Yes, Sir" and "No, Ma'am," and to speak to adults when spoken to. While that kind of behavior control may appear to work wonders for a time (especially when the parents are nearby), it does not address the root problem of depravity. Sinful behavior is a symptom of a sinful heart.

Focus on Environment
Other parents try to control their child's environment. They attempt to build a cocoon around their kids to isolate them from bad influences. They restrict their children's exposure to television, ban popular music from the home, and sometimes forbid contact with children whose parents may not share their same parenting philosophy.

While I do think you should shield your kids from the experience of evil, you need to teach them to be wise and discerning when confronted with evil. They won’t learn those lessons if they are completely isolated. The isolationist approach merely produces naïve children who are gullible and vulnerable, defenseless in the world.

Try as you might, you won't be able to isolate your children forever. When the day comes that they venture out into the world, they need to be prepared with discernment skills and wisdom to detect and resist the enticements of the devil and the world. If you choose to shield them from an evil environment, you are ignoring the enemy within them — a depraved heart. But if you win the heart, you win the child.

Focus on Self-Esteem
A very prevalent approach today is to build a child's self-esteem. That method assumes that if a child sees himself as good, noble, and wonderful, he'll not only behave better, but he will also treat others better. This method turns self-love into a virtue.

The truth is that much of the modern effort to spark kids' self-esteem is simply pouring gasoline on a runaway fire. It encourages already selfish kids to think they are justified in wanting their own way. It makes you as a parent think you have to defer to the child, no matter what, because the child has a right to express himself freely, so he feels good about himself. All of that only escalates out-of-control behavior and feeds the worst tendencies of human depravity. Want to ensure that your child will become a delinquent? Feed his self-esteem and then compound the problem by refusing to correct him when he is wrong.

Self-esteem is based on an unbiblical perspective that denies original sin and the doctrine of total depravity. The Bible has nothing positive to say about self-esteem, self-love, or any other variety of self-centeredness. It teaches your child to deny himself, not love himself (Luke 9:23).

Focus on the Heart
There's only one remedy for your child's inborn depravity: the new birth—regeneration. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, "That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit… [Therefore,] you must be born again" (John 3:6-7). "Born of the flesh" with a sinful bent, your children have no power to free themselves from sin's bondage. They lack the Holy Spirit and thus have no capacity to please God or obey Him from the heart (cf. Rom. 8:7-8). Until your children are born again, they are dead in "trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1).

So your top priority as a parent is to be an evangelist in your home. You need to teach your children the law of God, show them their need for a Savior, and point them to Jesus Christ as the only One who can save them. If they grow up in your home without a keen awareness of their need for salvation, you have failed as a parent in your primary task as their spiritual leader. Teach them the gospel and ask God to perform His sovereign work of regeneration.

One word of caution about that — if you try to force, coerce, or manipulate your kids into a profession of faith, you may pressure them into making a false profession. The new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit, and your child's salvation is a matter that must ultimately be settled between him and God.

Don't approach parenting by focusing on the symptoms rather than the heart. If you attempt to modify your children's behavior, isolate them, or bolster their self-esteem, you will not only exacerbate the problem, you will fail to reach to the heart of the matter. But if you teach them about their sin and need for the Savior, and if you live a life that models what you are teaching them to be, you can rest your hope in God's grace for the salvation of your children.

Adapted from What the Bible Says About Parenting: God's Plan for Rearing Your Child by John MacArthur.
© 2000 Grace to You.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ever find your mind wandering?....

Ever get feel guilty for doodling when you "should be paying attention"? Ever find yourself totally checked out when you really do need to listen? Well this article may give you a new perspective. Now I don't feel so ridiculous for taking sermon notes even though I never, ever look at them again.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Let us pray

Let us pray that God will be honored in our nation and world, that human lives, created in the image of God, will be held precious and sacred. My heart grieves that such a thing as "surplus" embryos exist. I know God will care for the souls of those helpless ones that the ruthless ones are destroying. But let us love and pray for the souls of the ruthless ones. They are the ones most urgently in need the hope of the gospel.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A reminder of grace, out of the mouths of babes....


...well, a twenty year old college junior. This is my daughter, Gina. She's currently working on a double-major, liberal studies and linguistics. She loves to read - well usually.

The other day she was visiting for dinner, as she is wont to do. While I cooked, she poked around in the refrigerator in search of a Diet Pepsi and made a statement she had no idea I'd still be thinking about two weeks later. Her words were to this effect:
"Nothing ruins a good book like having to read it for a class!"
In a breath she captured the human condition. Reading a good book is a good thing. Being required to read a book...well, shouldn't being required to do a good thing be a good thing? Not if you're human - a sinner by nature. The only thing that can rob us of the joy we find in our most loved activities, besides being forbidden to practice them, is being required to practice them. Our deep desire really is to be a law unto our own selves. Our natural inclination is to oppose all other authority. This is at the very heart of what it is to be a sinner.
"For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me..." Rom. 7:8b-11

"For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Rom. 8:7-8
And it is to this very heart that the gospel offers its great hope.
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit...For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God..." Rom. 8: 1-4; 15-16.

Those who are led by the Spirit of God are not driven by slavish fear, but by the desire and delight that comes from love for our Father. Do you, brother or sister in Christ, ever find yourself motivated by guilt, or fear? I know I do. Do you ever find yourself doing good, not for the love of God and delight in what is good, but to make up for something you've done wrong? Have you ever seen your sincere repentance subtly becoming penance - an attempt to earn God's grace and forgiveness by afflicting yourself - trying to work up more sorrow so you can feel more forgiven? Have you ever compared yourself with others to gauge where your are in your Christian walk? These are all symptoms of slavery, not the freedom that comes from the Spirit of God, from knowing with certainty that you are accepted in the Beloved and loved by God your Father.
"Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?..." Gal. 3:2-3

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Gal. 5:1
When the joy disappears from a joyous task, we need a return to grace - a return to the cross, where Christ bore the condemnation for our sin. He bore all the guilt, for all our sin. Nothing we can do can add to what He's already done. We have been set free.

Thanks to Gina for the reminder.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A letter to Bart Ehrman

Dear Mr. Ehrman,

I've lived the last four years as a Christian, with Christ as my hope and the Scriptures my guide. They have been the source of all hope, joy, and meaning in my life. They have instructed my thoughts and attitudes. My faith has made me the person I am today. I listened to your interview on NPR on Wednesday morning with great interest, and a degree of distress. I am a person devoted to truth. I can think of no fate worse than to learn I've based my entire life on a lie; and that appeared to be just what you were trying to tell me.

You are a textual scholar. I am not; but am also not entirely ignorant of Biblical textual criticism. The rudiments of it were explained to me two decades ago in Bible college (back when, much like your younger self I was a professing fundamentalist who'd had a teenage so-called "born again" experience and wanted to become a Bible scholar). And I read on the subject here and there even now. So I listened to hear what new information you might be bringing to the table. I was rather surprised to hear nothing new at all, just the same theories put forth in the books I still have on my shelves from 20 plus years ago, albeit with a spin - that the different gospel writers presented different religions and had entirely different views of who this Jesus really was. (I found especially interesting your remarks about John, which seemed to imply - correct me if I misunderstood - he had developed gnostic tendencies which led him to regard Jesus as God rather than man. I find this an odd twist as it was John who wrote epistles specifically aimed at combating the gnosticism which was creeping into the church.) You pointed out many "discrepancies" in the gospel accounts. As the owner of at least two volumes dedicated to comparison of the gospel records, none of that was new to me either. People have been discussing these things for generations. I, for one, would be more troubled if all the accounts, though written in different places and times by different men,  were exactly the same, but that's a discussion for a different day.

So, by pointing out how different the four gospels are, in spite of their similarities, you set about attempting to discredit the message entirely. You also made mention of other "gospels" which are not included in the canon of Scripture. You clearly feel the very existence of these is another reason to discredit Scripture, and the Christian faith. Yet these are nothing new either. They are not obscure. They've not been kept secret or hidden. The church has co-existed with these writings for millenia. I have copies of most of them on my own shelves. They are still in print, and though interesting, are still not viewed by Christians as Scripture. The church has by-and-large rejected them as Scripture all along, and not without reason. My own Christianity has co-existed with these "contradictions" all this time. I just kept listening, and thinking....what are you doing? There's nothing new here. What is this all about? Why all this heat? Why the passion?

Apparently you felt a need to explain that too, or was it a question from the interviewer that drew you out? I don't recall.  But you finally gave a bit of your testimony. You had been a "fundamentalist" originally, but your studies in Greek and textual criticism eventually led to this "liberal" (your word) view of Scripture which you now espouse. In fact you held this position for quite some time while still professing to be a Christian. I began to wonder then, as you relayed your experience, what brought about this big change, this "loss of faith". You denied that your low view of Scripture had anything to do with why you are now a professing agnostic (though I would suggest that your degree of conviction, passion, and dogma are more in keeping with an atheist's). No, it wasn't that..... it was because of the problem of suffering in the world that you stopped believing the Bible. Well, this is certainly nothing new either. How can any human being escape the question, "If God is a God of love then why is there suffering in the world?" Who in his right mind, has not wondered? And the Bible does not fail to address it. It is the entire theme of that ancient book, Job. Suffering is indeed at the very heart of the gospel message itself. The God of the Bible did not skirt the issue. He took it upon Himself, quite literally, to do something about it. No, it is not that the Bible does not have an answer for this difficult question. It is that you do not like the answers it gives.

So, the real heart of your unbelief, the passion which drives it, lies in that natural distaste for the things of Scripture which every one of us is born with. It's nothing new. It's as old as the hills - that innate hatred ever on the lookout for excuses to doubt the veracity of God's Word. "You don't have to believe that because...." or "Did God actually say...?" I believe this is why you approach the witness Scripture with the vengeance of a man seeking to destroy a thing he hates rather than a man seeking truth.

You've devoted your life to undermining the authority of Scripture - to destroying, if possible, any faith that has been placed in it. I doubt you would express it in those terms. I believe you feel you're doing a good thing. You are setting people free from slavery to superstition. Yet I couldn't help but wonder, nor could your interviewer, what's left in the absence of faith. She asked you where you now find meaning in life. And you went on to proclaim your own gospel - a gospel of freedom from the knowledge of God. You described how your hope now lies in, well, the knowledge that after this life there's nothing - no one to answer to, nothing to account for, nothing to fear, nothing to anticipate. You describe the freedom that comes from knowing that - freedom to live each moment to the fullest, freedom to work to alleviate the suffering around you, etc.

This freedom you speak of has captured my imagination these last few days. I've thought long and hard, wondering what would be the way to live if this is all there is, if there is no God, no judge of the universe, no standards, no accountability, no ultimate right or wrong, no punishments, no rewards. There would be no sin, it is true. There would be no guilt, also true. There would also be no reason to respect human life or laws, other than to avoid arbitrarily established penalties. If men are not all created in the image of God, then there's no reason for me not to detest any person of a color not my own, or of lower intelligence, or one who is uglier, or crueler, or kinder, or more beautiful, or richer, or weaker, or older, or sicker.

And please don't speak to me of human dignity, of the higher good and the perpetuation of the species. What on earth difference does any of that make? If it's all just random, what the hell difference does any of it really make? There is no benefit, or lack thereof in the continuation of any species, or of this world as we know it. There is no reason for me to watch my language, to be kind, or to seek not to offend. As for those who suffer around me - there is no reason to feel anything but glad that it is them and not me who is suffering - unless of course I could think of something tangible to be gained in assisting them. There is no reason for me to love anyone except to the extent that they please me, and only for as long. There is no reason for me to love my children or care for them. There is no reason to refrain from abusing them, so long as it gives me relief or pleasure. There is no reason for me not to seek revenge if I feel "wronged" - though how I could be wronged, when there's no such thing as right - well.... (If I don't make it "right", who will?) In a godless world all there is for me, a being formed by random happenings, is my moment by moment sense of pleasure and pain (though why I would interpret one as "good" and the other as "bad" would also be a mystery) - or, as the Scripture so succinctly puts it: "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die".

I could go on like that, but I hope I've made my point. Your godless gospel, if wholeheartedly embraced and consistently applied, leads to destruction and death. But then, if your view is true, I suppose it doesn't really matter after all. And then, if it is true, it shouldn't matter so much to you what I believe either.

Sincerely,
Laurie Mathers

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What if Paul (the apostle) wrote his letter to the Galatians today?

Here's a nice bit of satire for a Thursday. Lord willing I'll be posting a bit of my own tomorrow.

Friends, I've missed you all, but have been too busy making ends meet the last couple of weeks to spend much time visiting.

(Denise - if you haven't given up on me by now - I'm back to my old cell phone #. Hope you still have it. I'm hoping to get to talk to you tomorrow, Friday.)

HT goes to Tim at www.challies.com

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Speaking of love - and where I've been...

It seems appropriate that during this time which I've devoted to growing in my understanding of the love and grace of God for His people (and me), that I should be "interrupted" in my studies by the wedding of two of my dearest and most favorite people - Bryan and Rachel. Friday, during the time I would usually be blogging, I was working on their gift. Saturday, yesterday, was the long and much anticipated event. It was quite a day!

Every once in a while, you meet a couple so perfectly suited to each other that you can't imagine an unsuccessful marriage. This is one of those couples. Another reason I think these two strike such a chord with me is that they remind me so much of me and Paul. Only in our case the husband is the free-spirit and the wife the straight-laced one. We've both benefited so much from each other, and learned so much from each other. I'm so excited to see these two do the same.

Fortunately for the happy couple, my brother-in-law (our pastor) was able to officiate. Unfortunately for Paul and I, Paul had to cover his brother's shift at work and so couldn't attend the ceremony. He was, however, able to finish up in time to attend most of the reception, though still dressed in his work boots.

And here are a few pictures:

The newlyweds







The free-spirited Rachel







I wish I had better pictures of the gown. My incredibly talented sister-in-law, Andi, made it. Having never done anything quite so elaborate before, she started with a very basic two-piece wedding gown Rachel found at a thrift store. Then some of us gals from the church accompanied the bride to a fabric store and selected some beautiful oyster colored silk (I think it was silk) and some stunning sage lace with beading. From that Andi created exactly what Rachel had in her imagination. Two very daring ladies, if you ask me, but it certainly paid off in the end with a one-of-a-kind creation for a one-of-a-kind girl. What I really wish you could see is the lace peeking out from beneath the flounces - so lovely. I'm surrounded by awesomely talented women in our tiny little church - and the more I learn about God's love for me, the more I love and appreciate them. Who'd have guessed?!