Bookmarks 12/10/13

BookmarksStriving to Understand: Matthew Barret encourages us to be diligent students of the Word of God by practicing some simple disciplines.

Hospitality and Those Closest: Erin Davis reminds us to tend to our own families as we seek to serve those outside our homes.

Simple Christmas: Melissa Deming shares how she is seeking to practice a few beautiful traditions with her family this year without getting overwhelmed by busyness.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: Ruth Simons challenges mothers to view the constant repetition needed in child rearing as necessary and beautiful.

The Awe of Christmas: David Mathis encourages us to allow Christmas to point to the cross:

“We stand in awe during this Christmas season, not just because the Word became flesh (John 1:14), but because from his fullness we receive such grace (John 1:16). We marvel not just because he is both God and man, but because he is so precisely for us.” -David Mathis

Sex and College Students: When “Just Say No” Doesn’t Work

ERLC Guest Post

“Mistakes happen; we’ll make them go away when they do.”

This is the message being sold to impressionable teens and desperate college students by Plan B oral contraceptives. In commercials, Plan B promises a one-step process that will “prevent pregnancy before it begins” for those who’ve made the mistake of having unprotected sex. The young, successful looking women pop into their their local pharmacy, purchace a pill and then confidently leave, carrying their get out of jail free cards.

But not all mistakes go away so quickly.

In a recent article, The Huffington Post UK laments the findings of a study which revealed that one in four students contracts an STD their first year at university. Fewer college students are using condoms to protect themselves against sexually transmitted illnesses and unplanned pregnancies, instead relying on treatments after such conditions have already manifested themselves. This “act now and deal with the consequences later” mentality is unfortunately further promoted by products like Plan B. For many, Plan B has become plan A.

For years contraceptive advocates have bemoaned the ineffectiveness of abstinence campaigns. Teens and college students are going to have sex, they say. What really matters is whether or not they protect themselves. It’s simply naive, they argue, to believe to tell young adults that God wants them to wait for their future spouse before having sex. “Just say no!” may have been an effective campaign against drugs, but it is seen as unrealistic for hormone-driven students. And in a very real sense they are right. Obedience to the Lord is impossible without the nature-altering transformation the gospel of Jesus Christ provides. A call to abstinence without the message of forgiveness is futile.

To read my the rest of my guest post at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission click here.

Book Review: The Transforming Power of the Gospel

The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry BridgesOne of the first books I read as a new Christian was The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. I would say–without any hesitation–that Bridges’ book had a profound impact on my spiritual formation. It challenged me to take my spiritual life seriously, to practice spiritual disciplines, and to pursue Christ-likeness. As my young high school self underlined and dog-eared page after page, I was given a vision for what spiritual maturity looked like and how I could practically pursue it. It was a game changer in my life as I know it has been for countless others.

But.

I’ve recently found myself wishing I had been handed a different book in my spiritual infancy. Don’t get me wrong, I will be forever grateful for the lessons I learned from The Pursuit of Holiness and I would heartily recommend it to any of my readers, but I don’t believe it would be the first book by Jerry Bridges I would hand to a new believer or someone who is struggling to understand the bumpy road of sanctification. This is because, apart from the gospel and the grace of God, the pursuit of holiness can easily become what it was never intended to be.

Without the gospel message impacting your life every single day, the pursuit of holiness can easily become a performance that you put on for God, yourself, and other people rather than a natural result of the active grace of God in your life.

For this reason, I think it is pivotal that new believers receive a foundational understanding of how the gospel applies to their lives as Christians. Many of us who have walked with the Lord for years are in desperate need of such instruction because we have lived too long under the heavy burden of legalism that our sinful, self-righteous hearts crave. Christians need–above all else–to know where their ability to obey, grow, and mature comes from. Without this knowledge and the resulting dependence upon the grace of God, the pursuit of holiness becomes drudgery rather than joy.

And so, today I would like to recommend a book that makes this vital connection between the gospel and sanctification: The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges.

Bridges begins this book by explaining how he himself struggled to understand the importance of the gospel in the life of the believer. As many of us do, he initially thought that the gospel message was only for unbelievers and that the Christian had little need of it: “I thought all we needed as Christians were the challenges and ‘how to’ of discipleship. After all, Jesus said go and make disciples of all the nations (see Mattew 28:19).” He goes on to explain that believers “do need challenge and instruction in discipleship, but we also need the gospel every day of our lives because we still sin every day of our lives.” The gospel, Bridges explains, serves a pivotal role in keeping us from the snare of performance based Christianity:

It helps us move from a performance relationship with God to one based on the sinless life and sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ. It daily reminds us that from God’s point of view, our relationship with Him is not based on how good or bad we’ve been but upon the perfect goodness and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the gospel frees us up to honestly face our sin, knowing that because of Christ’s death, God no longer counts that sin against us (see Romans 4:7-8).

After examining God’s holiness and our sinfulness (even as believers pursuing sanctification), Bridges comes to the subject of our union with Christ. This after all, is the heart of the gospel message. I appreciated his clear and practical explanation of the two key elements to our union with Christ: the representative union and the living union. The representative union is the judicial basis of our holiness before God at this very moment. Christ represented us here on earth as a perfect, sinless man and then died in our place as a sacrifice for our sin. The judgement that fell on him justifies us. Because he suffered, we don’t have to. Because he lived perfectly, we are counted as holy–even though in daily practice we continually fall short. It is this representative union that secures the Father’s love and acceptance of us. This truth smashes any fear we might have of God ever withholding love from his children based on our performance. He loves us as he loves his Son!

It was Bridges’ explanation and focus on the the “living union,” however, that I felt was the greatest strength of the book. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, as we wonder how our purposeful pursuit of holiness and God’s grace interact on a daily basis. The living union with Christ refers to the powerful and persistent work of the Holy Spirit within us to bring about our sanctification.

I personally think this is one of the most difficult things for us as believers to grasp and practice because it is somewhat mysterious, but Bridges does a very good job of explaining exactly how dependent we must be upon the Spirit’s work and not our own. He reminds us that, “just as we must look outside of ourselves to Christ rather than our own performance for the assurance of our acceptance by a holy God, so we must look outside of ourselves to the Holy Spirit to work in us and enable us to work.”

In a later chapter focusing on the spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading and prayer, Bridges is careful to remind us that the sole purpose of these disciplines is to allow more of God’s grace to invade our lives. They are not magical potions that immediately make us more holy, but rather an acceptance of our dependence upon the gracious God who has saved us and promised to perfect us.

The Transforming Power of the Gospel is the perfect book to give to someone who has just place their faith in Christ or to read as a seasoned saint who desires to better understand the correlation between grace and discipline. It is easy to read, well structured and above all, encouraging to the soul. I highly recommend it.

You can purchase The Transforming Power of the Gospel here.

Bookmarks 12/3/13

BookmarksWhat a Good Marriage Takes: Many of us go into marriage thinking things will be picture-perfect, but Trillia shares how a good  marriage isn’t marked by perfection, but by hard work.

Christmas Lessons: Christina Fox shares 5 simple lessons to teach your children this Christmas.

Encouraging Community: Andrew Lisi encourages families to engage their communities by living less “private” lives. One suggestion: open the blinds!

Disappointment and God: Courtney Reissig reminds us that life’s let downs are all a part of God’s plan and ultimately point us to the day when all our expectations will be met!

Your Inadequacies and God: Christine Hoover shares some personal struggles and how the gospel impacts her thought life.

Discipleship Within the Family

Q&A with Chelle StireToday, we are blessed to hear again from Chelle Stire–my high school mentor and dear friend–on the topic of discipleship. This portion of the interview focuses on discipleship within the family. Chelle and her husband Kris live in Albania as missionaries with their four daughters ranging in age from 10 to 16.

Can you share a little bit about the joys and challenges of discipling your own teen and preteen daughters? How do you purposefully seek to guide their spiritual formation?

The joys, blessings, and wonders of discipling my 4 daughters are something that frequently bring me to thanksgiving and worship of the Lord.  As they get older and I see each of them growing in their understanding of who God is and in their personal relationship with Him, I am filled with a great sense of awe, that I get to be a part of it.  In my pride, when I was a youth pastor’s wife, I felt that my gifts, words, wisdom, or example were vital to the growth of those young girls.  I saw their growth and maturing in the Lord as something of my accomplishment (although I would have attributed it to the Lord due to my correct theological understanding that it is God who brings to completion that which He began).

However, with my own daughters, I see how often I parent/disciple in sin, discipline in anger or don’t discipline in laziness, portray an idolatrous love for comfort, materialism, and self, and speak harsh, unloving, critical, and slanderous words to or in front of them.  The fact that they are desirous to love the Lord and walk in His ways just amazes me because I model it so poorly to them.  I savor those moments when I find them reading their Bibles, singing a worship song to the Lord, talking about God to their friends, or grappling with the real challenges of growing in the knowledge of the Lord.  I don’t think I really appreciated those moments as a youth worker because they weren’t my own flesh and blood.

I love the quiet hour that I get with each of my girls once a week when we have “our time” together.  With Breanna (age 10) we have been reading through books with a verse/passage at the beginning and then a story/biography that helps understand the verse (like School Days with the Millers and Missionary Stories with the Millers by Mildred A. Martin).  With Whitney (age 14) and Sierra (age 13) I am are currently going through a book called Growing Little Women: Capturing Teachable Moments with Your Daughter by Donna J. Miller and next we will go through A Young Woman’s Walk with God by Elizabeth George.  Kaitlyn (age 16) and I are finishing up Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick and then we will start Seeking Him by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.   I have been amazed at how open and sweet our fellowship has been and how it has transformed our communication during the day.  They really look forward to that spiritual connection and I find that I love to snuggle together and talk about what God is teaching us together.  I Thess 2:7-8 expresses Paul’s heart of love to His children in the faith like a nursing mother who tenderly cares for her young.  Often I just want to sit with them in my lap (yes, even my 16 year old) and enjoy their presence.  At times like those, I can understand and share with them how God must really love for us just to WANT to be with Him and not have to DO lots of things to prove or gain something from Him, but just BE with Him.  I love to hear their concerns, joys, questions, insights, and struggles.  I am a blessed woman to have such wonderful and open relationships with my girls.

Homeschooling has greatly enhanced the discipleship opportunities because I can interact on a spiritual level with each girl about a myriad of different situations each day (why they are having a bad attitude about math, what is the motivation behind their laziness with chores, what time management has to do with worship, what it means to work heartily for the Lord even when it’s just a school project, etc).  Having them at home lets me see and deal with so many more “teachable moments” on a consistent basis.  Kris and I have seen a tremendous increase in spiritual hunger and growth since I have been homeschooling.  (As a caveat, I am not a die hard homeschooler.  We commit each year to pray about the different academic and spiritual needs of our girls and are open to public, private, and homeschooling – we have done all 3.)  The reward of taking those moments and instilling a Biblical understanding of life worship (not just having a weekly youth meeting, discipleship time, and daily quiet time) is vital to a spiritual longevity that will continue when they leave our house for college and to begin their own homes.  Discipleship with my own children has also taken on a more full orbed dimension because I get the privilege of guiding and teaching them in all areas of their lives and make the spiritual connection to the mundane daily duties as well as the overtly spiritual aspects of life.  Those connections are what will help them make the transition from growing up in a Christian home with Christian standards to living for Christ when they on their own and encounter temptations and struggles that we didn’t give them rules about.

This is our goal – worshippers of God, not rule followers that make us look good or make them feel better about themselves.

How has being in a culture of 1st generation believers impacted your own ability to be discipled by other women? How has it impacted your marriage?

There are no older women that I have been able to be discipled by in the past 6 years and I miss that tremendously.  I have peer discipleship relationships that encourage and challenge me, but I sense the loss of older women speaking truth into my life.  On the other hand, I have really had to lean more heavily on the Lord for my spiritual stability (not on a mentor, women’s Bible study, counselor, or program).  I realized, when we had been in Albania for about 6 months, that during my years in American churches I had become too dependent on other women to provide counsel, affirmation, friendship, encouragement, or even exhortation.  Also, Kris and I had to learn how to connect on a spiritual level that we had not done before.  I had usually gone to other women first to discuss my fears, frustrations, lessons from the Lord, questions, or random thoughts.  On some level I thought that Kris wouldn’t really understand me and it was so much easier to connect with women that I replaced him as my spiritual leader and guide with other women or a best friend.

This weakness in our relationship became very apparent when both of us went from multiple gender specific discipleship relationships, Bible studies, accountability groups, and leadership meetings to practically nothing at all.  I had always appeared “strong” and self-sufficient to Kris and I had undervalued the vital ministry of praying for my husband’s spiritual life.  All of a sudden I was a wreck and telling Kris I needed more from him because I was floundering and struggling to make sense of the spiritual wilderness I was wandering in.  He, himself, was navigating his own spiritual, ministerial, and cultural challenges and we didn’t even know how to really help one another because we had become accustomed to other men (for him) and women (for me) to carry that burden.  It was an extremely beneficial time for our marriage once we figured out what the problem was.  I am so thankful to God for deepening my dependence on Him and for strengthening my relationship with Kris during these difficult days.  I do miss those discipleship relationships, but I am thankful that Kris has been able to help me grow and mature.

To read more valuable wisdom from Chelle, visit these two posts:

I look forward to sharing one more post with you from this interview next week in which Chelle shares some final reflections on the topic of discipleship.