Bookmarks 1/22/14

BookmarksQuote of the Week:

“So long as the Father is looked on under any other apprehension, but only as acting love upon the soul, it breeds in the soul a dread and aversion. Hence the flying and hiding of sinners in the Scriptures. But when he who is the Father is considered as a father, acting love on the soul, this raises it to love again. This is, in faith, the ground of all acceptable obedience.” (John Owen, Communion With the Triune God, emphasis mine)

Links of the Week:

What Abortion Shows Us: John Knight shares a very insightful post highlighting the mindset our country has toward abortion, and thus human life in general.

In Light of Eternity: Jani Ortlund shares some personal thoughts on nearing the end of your earthly race and making the most of the time you have left.

7 Tips for Improving Women’s Ministry: Hilary Tompkins offers some helpful advice on women’s ministry and improving its impact on the community around it.

Disposable Friends: Lindsey Carlson encourages us to love our friends for the long haul, even if they don’t meet our requirements for the “perfect friend.”

Purity Pushers and the Value of Virginity: Katie McCoy challenges the church to view virginity from a biblical perspective–putting God at the center of all our sexuality.

Valentine’s Devotionals for the Whole Family: My friend Sarah Dees is selling some fun devotionals for the month of February that focus on loving God and people. They are just $.99, so be sure to pick up a copy for your family.

I Am One Man’s Wife

I Am One Man's WifeI recently sat behind a deaf man and his wife during a church service. It was an incredibly encouraging experience as I watched them passionately sign through the songs the rest of the congregation was singing out loud, pacing themselves to the rhythm of the music. As we sat down to hear the announcements made by one of the pastors and then as the sermon was preached, I watched her husband turn slightly toward her so that he could watch as she translated all that was said.

As I observed the beautiful and natural way they interacted, I couldn’t help but think about how dependent he was on her. From the timing of his signs while we sang, to his ability to understand what his pastor was seeking to teach him, everything was dependent on his having a wife who was willing to serve him in this way–to love him in this way. Though he is the God-ordained leader of their family, for much of his interaction with the hearing world, he relies upon his beloved’s pivotal help.

I thought about how different her daily life probably looks compared to my own and how her role as her husband’s helper differed from my role as my husband’s helper. Both of us are married to unique men with unique personalities and strengths and weaknesses. Our husbands are very different and thus require different kinds of service. Though we are both called to love, honor, and submit to our husbands in Scripture, the way in which we do that will be unique to the specific needs of the men we have been called to serve.

I was convicted as I thought over these things because I realized how I often chafe at the specific requests my marriage asks of me. I have this picture in my mind of how a typical husband and wife should be interacting and what their list of responsibilities and priorities should be. When something different than this picture is asked of me, my selfish flesh makes me reluctant to submit.

But I am called to love, honor, and submit to one man and that is my husband. In God’s providence and grace, I’m the wife of a unique human being who is seeking to submit to a unique calling. My responsibilities as his helpmate are not defined by others or by some perceived “normal,” but by God himself, who has perfectly fitted my husband and I to one another.

This does not mean that our relationship will be easy. On the contrary, part of God’s perfect fitting of us together is for the purpose of our sanctification. You could say that part of our “fitting” is the fact that we don’t really “fit.” Indeed, many of the ways that I am called to serve my husband will rub against my very nature as the Lord lovingly smooths out my many sinful imperfections through them. A husband and wife’s unique personalities, strengths, and weaknesses are designed by their Heavenly Father for the other’s good–in every way.

And so, as I sat behind this couple I was challenged to have a heart that seeks to serve my own husband in the ways he needs, not the ways that other husbands might need. For this, I must seek the Lord’s guidance and grace, for he is the Sovereign over all of life and the one who has placed me in this marriage for specific reasons.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12, ESV)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24, ESV)

photo credit: PowderPhotography via photopin cc

Yes, We Come Messy, But We Always Leave Clean

According to Merriam-Webster, a buzzword is defined as “a word or phrase that becomes very popular for a period of time.” There are lots of buzzwords within the Christian community that fill books and blog posts: gospel-centered, grace-based, and missional are just a few.

Today, I want to draw our attention to a particular buzzword within Christian women’s circles: one that I see used over and over again, and wonder at times if it is being misused or misunderstood. The word I’m referring to? “Messy.”

No, I’m not referring to the messy that a house can be, or the messy that a car can be (Oh if you could see my van’s floors. If you have, I’m very sorry), or even the messy that our appearance can take. Rather, the “messy”  I’m talking about is the word that has come to refer to the imperfect character of a believer.

You hear it in phrases like this:

“We are all hopelessly messy people.”

“I invite you to know me in all my messiness.”

“I want to share my messy life with you.”

“Let my messy point you to Christ.”

“Jesus loves messy people like you and me.”

Now, let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further. There are usually two different meanings behind the use of this word for women. The first carries more of a “complicated” or “disorganized” or “not-pinterest-picture-worthy” kind of meaning. We women gravitate toward this kind of language because we desperately long for a reprieve from all the perceived perfection around us. We long to be accepted for the simple, blemish-plagued, stretch mark bearing women we are. We’re tired of comparing ourselves to supermodels posing in pristine model homes. For this reason, authentic, honest, down-to-earth writers appeal to us. (Did you catch all three of those buzzwords? Just checking.)

This is not the meaning I hope to address here. But rather, what I would like to address is the kind of “messiness” which is often confused with the former because they are often used interchangeably and without clear definition. The meaning I am referring to is simply “sinful.”

Ah, now we’re moving away from buzzwords. You won’t see many blog post titles trumpeting the word “sinful” in all caps. No, “messy” sounds much more pleasant: both cute and honest, with a good old fashioned dash of humility mixed in. Truly, describing yourself as “sinful” rather than “messy” in your twitter bio might keep you from attaining more than a few new followers, but it might be a little more biblical and a little more “honest.”

When it comes right down to it, this is often what we mean when we say our lives are “messy,” isn’t it? What we really mean to say is that we ourselves are sinners, living in a family of sinners, fellowshipping in a church of sinners, who often all sin against each other. This is the “messy” we are referring to–the imperfection we are trying to get across to our friends. Though, I would venture to say it might be better to describe ourselves as all-together dirty because in reality our lives don’t need a simple “straightening up,” they need a full-out cleaning. Truly, we need to be completely washed, not just organized. But for the sake of this post, we will continue to use the buzzword “messy” as a euphemism for “sinful.”

Boasting in Our Messiness

I see the rise in the popularity of this term connected to the gospel-centered movement, which seeks to glory not in our own good works (as if we had any), but instead in the holiness of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who both lived and died in our place. The ability to describe oneself as messy without shame is a fruit of the freedom found in Christ. We needn’t be worried about how we appear to others, or that our friends might see our imperfections, but only that they know the One who was perfect for us, for he has completely forgiven us and made us holy before the Father.

And so, there is great freedom for “humility” and “transparency” between sisters in Christ. We can let each other in; yes, we can let each other see our “messy.” In this way, we can join Paul in boasting in our weaknesses and proclaiming our utter sinfulness to the world because our desire isn’t to point others to us, but to the perfect Christ.

The Christ Who Washes Away Our Mess

The difficulty in the term “messy” however is that it is indeed a euphemism and euphemisms by definition blunt the forcefulness of the words they replace. While we can all agree that “messy” means sinful, calling it a mess instead of sin effectively lightens the weightiness of the idea. As I mentioned earlier, we need much more than a straightening up, we need cleansing! We are full of sin before Christ saves us, and continue to struggle against our sin nature after Christ saves us. Sin. This is the mess we are speaking of: SIN.

It was sin that separated us from God and this sin that demanded the sacrificial death of the Son of God. There is nothing cute about it, only serious, brutal, painful truth. But for the grace of God interceding on our behalf, we are sinners sentenced to an eternity of hell for our acts of rebellion. And what glorious grace it is!

It is the kind of grace that allows a Creator God, filled with love, to lay aside his garments and physically wash the filthy feet of his sinful creations. We cannot fathom this type of love, this kind of condescension, which is why Peter urged his Master to stop. “You shall never wash my feet!” he said. But the loving Savior rebuked him saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13). Every one of us needs to be washed by the cleansing blood of Christ in order to be forgiven.

But what about the sin that remains? What about the messy lives we continue to find ourselves in? Yes, Christ has washed us, but it seems like each time we get out of bed in the morning, we can’t help but get ourselves all muddy again with the filth of this world!

How gracious our Lord is to forgive our every offense! 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” As we bring our sins to him, he promises to forgive and to cleanse, no matter how many times we mess up. He is not intimidated by our dirtiness. He lovingly bids us to come, daily bringing our sins, failures and weaknesses and exchange them for his righteousness and to walk in newness of life.

See him wash your dirty feet time and time again, dear sister. This is what our Savior does.

So, yes, we all come messy, but those who encounter Jesus do not remain messy. They are cleansed, continually cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus. We who were once considered unclean, are now counted clean and beckoned to live in freedom, putting to death the sin that still remains.

We proclaim our sinfulness only as a means of revealing Christ’s great and mighty grace. In every other respect, we loath and vehemently fight against it because it is rebellion against God and it cost our Savior his life.

photo credit: demandaj via photopin cc

Bookmarks 1/15/14

BookmarksQuote of the Week:

“How would the great work of sanctification go on in a man if he had no trial? Trouble is often the only fire which will burn away the dross that clings to our hearts. Trouble is the pruning-knife which the great Husbandman employs in order to make us fruitful in good works. The harvest of the Lord’s field is seldom ripened by sunshine only. It must go through its days of wind, and rain, and storm.” (J.C. Ryle, Holiness)

Links of the Week:

These Fallen Wombs: In my guest post at Credo Magazine this month, I am examining the painful roots of reproductive trauma. Why do so many of us suffer from infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth? Is there a theological reason that will help us make sense of it and give us hope in times of great loss? Come on over to Credo where I’m sharing my heart on the topic.

Egalitarianism and the Functional Authority of Scripture: Denny Burk talks about the backlash agains Candace Cameron Bure and the common, but faulty arguments of Christian egalitarians.

6 Deadly Enemies of Marriage: Tim Challies takes a look at six areas of our marriages that are easy to neglect, but vital to a healthy, intimate marriage.

Redemption for Our Memories: Christina Fox shares about her darkest days and how the light of Christ’s love saved her from herself.

Seven Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Being a Pastor’s Wife: Christine Hoover shares some helpful advice for pastor’s wives and those hoping to serve their pastor’s wives.

Meet Walter Joshua Fretz-A Human Being: Here are some stunning images of a beautiful baby boy born at 19 weeks gestation. Our own daughter, Anastasia, was born a few weeks earlier than Walter, but looked so similar. These are humans and they deserve our protection.

Evangelicals and Hollywood Muck: Trevin Wax wonders how much of what Hollywood dishes out should be consumed and justified by Christians. We must always seek to use discernment in the area of entertainment, asking the Lord to guard us from impurity and dishonoring him.

The Woman in C.H. Spurgeon’s Shadow

Free Grace and Dying Love, By Susannah SpurgeonC.H. Spurgeon is known by many as the Prince of Preachers. Though his ministry ended over a century ago, his powerful, gospel-centered sermons continue to draw readers closer to our Savior. Indeed, I have found it impossible to read a single sermon by this incredible servant of God without having my affections for Christ deepened and enlivened.

I have always wondered, however, who his wife was. Who was the woman behind the man whose sermons took England by storm and whose fame eclipsed all of his contemporaries? Was she a positive force behind his ministry? Was she as passionate about Jesus as he was? What was her spiritual life like?

When I unwrapped Free Grace and Dying Love for one of my Christmas presents, I was brimming with anticipation; just aching to get to know this woman who in many ways stands in the shadow of her prestigious husband. Boy was I in for a treat!

In this one book there are really two separate works. The first is a collection of morning devotions written by Susannah Spurgeon herself and the second is a short biography of Mrs. Spurgeon written shortly after her death. Having both of these works in one volume was a blessing, as it allowed me to get a full picture of the life and heart of Mrs. Spurgeon. For review purposes, I will treat them separately.

The Life of Susannah Spurgeon

This short biography by Charles Ray is positioned second in the book, but I decided to read it first in order to know the woman behind the devotions I would read later. As I mentioned earlier, this biography was written shortly after Mrs. Spurgeon’s death and for a very specific purpose: to shed light on the life of a woman who impacted countless others.

Of course there are many reasons that would warrant a biography on a woman like Mrs. Spurgeon. For instance, she was married to one of the most famous preachers of all time. This alone would cause us to be interested in her personal, home life because it would shed further light on C.H. Spurgeon, himself. But beyond her famous husband, was a devoted follower of Christ who lived in a body that was plagued by extreme sickness–so much so that much of her life was spent as a shut in. Her trust in the Lord’s sovereignty and determination to still be of use to Christ’s church naturally leads us to be curious about her personal devotion. This, leads to Ray’s purpose in writing her biography: to chronicle the life of the woman who created and sustained the Book Fund.

The Book Fund was a precious ministry Mrs. Spurgeon began as she realized the need many pastors–particularly poor pastors– had for good, theologically robust resources. When it came to her attention that many pastors were unable to buy even a couple books for their own personal study, she knew that something must be done. After all, the spiritual lives of these men and their congregations were hanging in the balance! And so, she began the Book Fund with her own small fortune and then opened up the opportunity for others to contribute as well. This work had a tremendous impact on the pastors it blessed, and as you can imagine, the congregations they shepherded. It also provided the perfect avenue for Mrs. Spurgeon to be able to serve the Lord from her own home.

Though the creation of the Book Fund is the climax of this biography, the many details of Mrs. Spurgeon’s life found within its pages brought life to this woman and her incredible marriage. Above everything–even the Book Fund–I was impressed by the intimate and incredibly romantic relationship she and C.H. Spurgeon shared. Though they were often forced to be away from each other for large periods of time, their love for one another never wavered and their affections for one another are eloquently recorded in the many letters C.H. Spurgeon wrote to his treasured “wifey”. It is clear that Mrs. Spurgeon was a precious encouragement to her husband, both in word and in devotion to the Lord. Her content spirit, even in such trying circumstances, was an anchor for the man whose great many responsibilities would have chafed at a great many wives (myself included!). This of course leads perfectly into a short review of the devotional portion of this book.

Free Grace and Dying Love

This morning devotional was originally published under the title, A Carillon of Bells. Considering that I had to look up what a “carillon” was, it is probably a good thing that the title was changed.

There are 24 short devotionals in all and each one of them deserves thoughtful, meditative reading. It became obvious to me after the second devotional, that Mrs. Spurgeon was a force to be reckoned with in the area of writing. If you are a fan of C.H. Spurgeon’s sermons or his devotional, Morning and Evening, you will not be disappointed by Mrs. Spurgeon’s similar ability to draw your heart toward the Savior. Her intimate relationship with the Lord is exquisitely illustrated through her artful use of the written word. Indeed, I found her words hanging with me for days at a time, as it quickly became evident that she was just as “quotable” as her husband.

I would say that her words are particularly suited for those who have known, or are are currently walking through trials (which, would we not say includes everybody?). Mrs. Spurgeon writes from the struggles and joys of her heart, which belonged to a body plagued by infirmities. These difficulties obviously influenced the tone of many of her devotionals, but it is also clear that they were written shortly after her dear husband’s death, which created a major vacuum in this devoted wife’s life. The maturity of her character and the doctrinally rich foundation of her relationship with God shine through as she navigates the murky topics of pain, suffering, and death.

The hope she expresses in the Son of God, even in the darkest of circumstances will spark a similar joy within your own heart as you read this wise woman’s words. Here is one such bit of the encouragement:

Come again to your dear Lord, my soul, and bring to his feet all that perplexes and grieves you; you will surely hear him say, ‘Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid; all your sorrows are known to me, and I am guiding and directing all that concerns you. Is it more difficult to trust my love in earthly sorrows than for eternal joys? (Emphasis mine)

There are even greater gems to be found in this work, but I will leave them to you to discover and embrace on your own. Obviously I would encourage you to read this book; it is one that I will treasure and go back to over and over again. I know that you will find great blessing within its pages.

You can purchase Free Grace and Dying Love through Amazon, here.