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Words of hope for worried parents

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Back to school can be a worrying time for parents – especially for those sending Christian children into secular schools. It’s natural to be nervous about what they will be taught, how they will be treated, and whether they will stand firm as followers of Jesus. If you’re feeling anxious about sending your kids back to school – or to school for the first time – here are a few of Jesus’ words to encourage you as you pray for them:

‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.’  John 6:37-39

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’  John 10:14-16

‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’  John 10:27-30

‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.’  John 17:1-2

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’  Matthew 28:18-20

‘Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.’  Revelation 22:12-13 

 

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Spiritual disciplines are for others

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I’ve always been part of the reformed evangelical church. Most of my Christian experience has been in fairly conservative spaces. I’m grateful for those who taught and modelled before me a right reverence of God – an understanding of his holiness, and a sense of awe in relating to him. I’m also grateful for teachers who encouraged me to learn the spiritual disciplines of bible-reading, prayer, meditation, giving, fasting, etc. Practised regularly and sincerely, these disciplines enhance spiritual growth and foster greater intimacy with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But what if their purpose is not only, or even primarily, to enhance relationship between us and God? What if their aim is broader? What if the disciplines are designed to enhance our horizontal relationships with others, as well as deepen our vertical relationship with God?

In Practices of Love, Kyle David Bennett turns the disciplines sideways. He shows how our everyday practices of feasting and fasting, speaking and listening, working and resting, owning and giving can be expressions of love towards – and for the benefit of – our neighbours. It’s easy to focus on the first great commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and to ignore the second great commandment, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Kyle Bennett argues that the spiritual disciplines are how we learn to obey both.

God loves our neighbours. If we love God, we will love what he loves too. The disciplines can help us. Practised frequently and thoughtfully, the disciplines correct the harmful ways we do many of our mundane, daily activities. We are often blind to the ways in which we oppress, neglect and ignore our neighbour – through our owning, our consuming, our working, our resting, and our socialising. I confess I have been blind to the ways in which I unintentionally mistreat my neighbours – at church, in my community, even within my own home – through selfish daily living. The disciplines reorient us so we learn to live life outward.

‘We can either lift ourselves up with our daily deeds, or we can love our neighbour through them. We can either do them selfishly, or we can do them sacrificially. We can either help others with these activities, or we can harm them through ignorant, negligent, or oppressive ways of doing them. We can either positively impact our shared world with our neighbour, or we can negatively impact it. We can either do these things in ways that benefit us, or we can intentionally, strategically, and creatively do them in ways that are advantageous to our neighbour.’

Practices of Love has shown me how spiritual disciplines can benefit those around me as well as myself – how they can be expressions of love towards those God has placed in my life, as well as to God himself. My times of solitude and reflection are not only for my benefit. Their purpose is not only to orient my heart towards God and to hear from him – to give me a spiritual boost or pick-up. They should also benefit my neighbour as I reflect on my words, actions and attitudes towards others, as I consider how my presence and absence, my engagement and withdrawal impact our shared life together. As an introvert, it’s a challenge for me to remember that my solitude must be limited and purposeful – that it should equip me to live better in community.

My mind, my stomach, my hands, my feet, my tongue must be disciplined for the purpose of loving God by loving my neighbour, to bring life and light into the shared spaces I inhabit, to pursue justice, to work towards the common good of society. The disciplines show the way to live out this vision carefully and consistently.

‘The Christian life is a consistent and integrated life. It is one in which piety is inseparable from public justice, spirituality is inseparable from ethics, devotion is inseparable from deeds, worship is inseparable from fellowship, and evangelism is inseparable from discipleship.’

I usually read books pretty quickly but this one has taken some time to digest. Each chapter has rebuked and encouraged me in equal measure. Each one has challenged me to consider the everyday moments of life, and how they can be lived with and for my neighbour. Each one has given me a hopeful vision – renewal of the mundane moments for the glory of God and the benefit of his creatures. Viewed sideways, the spiritual disciplines are tools for God’s “agents of repair” – those on mission to rebuild the ancient ruins and raise up the age-old foundations (Isaiah 58:12). I want to practise them for the good of my neighbours.

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How to be content with our circumstances

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‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ The Apostle Paul, Philippians 4

Is it really possible to be content ‘whatever the circumstances’? To be as content in times of hardship as in times of ease? To be content while knowing illness, injustice, depression, divorce, betrayal, bereavement, loneliness, longing?

Paul learnt how to be content in every situation because he had lots of opportunities to practise. He lists some of the more difficult circumstances he faced in his letter to the church at Corinth:

‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’ 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

It’s quite a list. But, in addition to all this, Paul also struggled with an on-going trial – his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know exactly what this thorn was but it was a source of distress to Paul – he prayed three times for God to take it from him. God’s answer, however, was not to take away the thorn. His answer was not to change Paul’s circumstances, but to renew Paul’s perspective.

‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ 2 Cor. 12:9-10

If I’m honest, “My grace is sufficient for you” sometimes seems like an insufficient answer to suffering. But that’s because my view of grace is small, insufficient. Jesus says his grace is enough in every circumstance. And it is.

His grace brings us joy in sorrow, peace in pain. It enables us to face the most difficult circumstances with hope rather than despair. It teaches us to view our weaknesses as opportunities for Christ to reveal his power. That’s why Paul boasts in his weaknesses – not because the weaknesses themselves are praise-worthy, but because they showcase the glory of Christ’s power.

We often want to hide our weaknesses or struggles. But Paul was content to let people see the difficult circumstances he faced, his physical weaknesses, his discouragements. He was content with weaknesses, because he knew Christ’s power would strengthen him in them. He could say,

‘For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Cor. 12:10)

This is super-natural contentment. It comes from knowing Christ; from experiencing his grace and his power. It comes from trusting that God has a purpose for our suffering – Paul knew his thorn was given to keep him from becoming conceited, to stop him boasting in himself. And it comes from being confident of Christ’s return and the glory that is ahead for those who are in him. It’s only possible to delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties if we know they are temporary – if we’re confident something far more glorious is ahead.

‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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5 Books about men, women & the church

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A few months ago I took part in a question panel at my church’s women’s conference. As usual, some of the women submitted questions about the role of women in the church. Their questions were thoughtful and sincere. They reflected the desire of these women to serve God in a way that honours his word, and their confusion about what his word actually teaches.

I reminded my friend Susie – our speaker for the weekend – that we answered the same questions on a panel at a women’s convention 15 years ago. That was the first occasion I taught formally on the role of women within the home and church; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve taught on it since. Susie has also taught extensively on this issue over the last 15 years. She’s spoken on national television, and has been publicly criticised for her unwavering commitment to the bible’s authority. I’m so grateful for her example of courageous faith.

As we chatted together, we shared some of the discouragements we’ve experienced as we’ve engaged with this issue. Not from brothers and sisters with egalitarian viewpoints, but from complementarian ministry friends who, either quietly avoid the issue and hope the women in their churches won’t cause a problem, or who confidently assert viewpoints they can’t adequately defend from scripture.

As women who speak on this issue, we read widely and study carefully so we can teach clearly and helpfully. And we’re heavily invested in getting it right. As I, perhaps rather dramatically, blurted out during our conversation, “We’ve betrayed the sisterhood!” It does sound dramatic, but it’s also true. We know that by believing and defending a complementarian viewpoint we deeply offend women we’ve grown up with, studied with, worked with, and even served in ministry with. When non-Christian friends find out what we believe we risk friendship. It’s costly to hold to this counter-cultural position.

We understand why some of our complementarian brothers may feel less equipped to engage with the issue (there are so many issues that require deep thought and study), but it’s frustrating when there appears to be no desire to dig deeper. Comments such as, “I don’t know why but I’m just not comfortable with women doing that,” aren’t an acceptable response to years of study and, in Susie’s case, a lot of flack! We need to be patient with our friends as they wrestle with the issue. But they do need to wrestle with it. Not to satisfy us, but for the good of the church – so women and men may flourish as they serve with the gifts God has given them. And so he is glorified as his good design is celebrated and displayed to a watching world.

So this month I’m recommending 5 books about God’s design for men and women, and how they relate within the church. The books vary in detail and style, but all are helpful in thinking through the issue. I’ve also recommended a couple of books that present alternative viewpoints. I’m not persuaded by the arguments in these books but it’s helpful to understand where others are coming from.

I know there are some notable absences from my recommended list of complementarian books – I just don’t agree with them! Too many complementarians go beyond what the bible teaches and present implications that aren’t justified from scripture. This is unhelpful at best, damaging at worst. So, while those books may contain sound doctrine, I believe the ones listed below are more helpful. Why not put one on your Christmas wish list and read it in the new year?

December’s Books: 5 Books about men, women & the church

  1. God’s Good Design by Claire Smith
  2. God’s Design For Man & Woman by Andreas & Margaret Köstenberger
  3. Different By Design by Carrie Sandom
  4. Women & God by Kathleen Nielson
  5. Women in the Church (3rd Edition) by Andreas Köstenberger & Thomas Schreiner

God’s Good Design

claire smithIf you’re only going to read one book about God’s design for men and women, this is probably the most helpful. Claire Smith teaches through seven key bible passages about men and women and how they should relate to each other. She addresses common objections thoroughly, and presents truth with depth and clarity. She applies the bible’s teaching practically, showing how relationships within the home and the church should reflect God’s good design. This book is thoughtful and comprehensive, and models faithful handling of God’s word – in context, and without adding or subtracting from its teaching. It will challenge men as well as women, complementarians as well as egalitarians. Claire Smith writes as one who has wrestled deeply with these issues herself, and her example of humble and joyful submission to God’s word is refreshing.

God’s Design for Man & Woman

kostenbergerMost books about the roles of men and women focus on a few key passages; this book traces the pattern of male and female relationships throughout the Old and New Testaments. It’s rigorous, compelling, and thoroughly biblical in its presentation of complementarianism as God’s good and wise design for men and women. It is a more academic study than some of the other books but is pastoral and practical in application. By working systematically through the bible’s teaching on this issue, readers will be equipped to understand more fully the significance of being created in God’s image and how this truth must inform our relationships, our corporate worship, and our mission.  There are two issues that aren’t dealt with comprehensively enough in my opinion (and I’m often wrong!), but this is still one of my favourite books on the issue. I read it in a weekend because I couldn’t put it down. If you’re looking for a detailed study this is a great book.

Different by Design

carrie 2This is the book I’ve returned to most often when thinking about or preparing to teach on this issue. Carrie outlines the bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women clearly and graciously. She shows how men and women are designed to reflect God’s own nature – the equality, order, diversity and unity we see at work within the Trinity. She explains how western culture in particular has redefined equality as sameness, and how this has impacted family relationships and relationships within the church. Carrie provides practical wisdom for living out God’s design as men and women but, unlike some complementarian writers, she doesn’t go beyond what the bible says. This book is immensely helpful for women and men, single or married.

Women & God

KathleenKathleen Nielson’s writing reflects her speech – warm, clear, compassionate, gracious. In this book she seeks to show the wisdom and beauty of God’s plan for women throughout history. She begins with creation and the fall, then works through some of the gritty Old Testament “Texts of Terror” to show God’s tender-hearted care towards women. She invites her readers to wrestle with hard questions about God’s design and purpose for women, and points to the beautiful truth found in his word. I’ve read books that offer a more comprehensive treatment of the topic, but what makes this one particularly encouraging is Kathleen’s enthusiastic and persuasive conviction that God is good, and that embracing his design for women brings joy and fulfilment.

Women in the Church

schreinerI know this won’t appeal to everyone but I believe it’s an important book. Its authors offer an in-depth study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, carefully analysing the context, grammar, and sentence structure of Paul’s statements.  They engage with a variety of viewpoints, clarifying issues and evaluating evidence thoroughly and graciously. The last chapter focuses on practical application of the text and includes contributions from a variety of women and men. It’s worth buying the book just to read that chapter, but you’ll appreciate it so much more if you’ve read the previous work. Of course, not everyone will agree with the authors’ conclusions, but it’s clear this book is written out of deep love for Christ’s bride, and sincere passion to see her flourish in the way God intends. I’m very grateful for that, and challenged to make sure I share this motivation in my studies.

Further recommendations:

Jesus, Justice & Gender Roles by Kathy Keller
(It’s helpful to note that male non-elders don’t preach at Redeemer Church, NYC. I agree that, in her context, Kathy Keller can – and should – use her gifts in any ministry area open to male non-elders. That isn’t the case in my context. However, the issue has prompted some lively conversation with my pastor!)

Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley

God’s Design for Women by Sharon James

Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, & Bobby Haircuts by Michael F. Bird
(This book presents an alternative viewpoint arguing a case for gender equality in ministry. I didn’t find it rigorous or persuasive, but it’s good to read a different perspective.)

Two Views on Women In Ministry (Revised Edition) edited by James R. Beck

Hearing Her Voice by John Dickson
(John Dickson argues that women should not hold the office of elder but are permitted to preach sermons in formal church gatherings. I don’t agree with his conclusions, but it’s an interesting read and I appreciate his gracious tone.)

Women, Sermons and the Bible edited by Peter G. Bolt & Tony Payne
(This is a series of essays written in response to John Dickson’s book, Hearing Her Voice.)

Continue reading “5 Books about men, women & the church”

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Praying for my husband’s wicked wife

prayer handsFor the last few years I’ve tried to block out some time each week to pray specifically for my husband and children. I’ve always tried to pray for them every day but, most days, I find myself praying the same things and I often focus my prayers on the issues facing them that day rather than intentionally bringing each area of their lives to the Lord. Now, as well as praying for the smaller day-to-day details, I also have time to pray some big-picture prayers – for their spiritual growth, their sin struggles, their friendships, fears and futures. It’s a precious time.

As part of my prayers for Richard, I use Prayers Of An Excellent Wife by Andrew Case (you can buy it here). It’s a great book that turns passages of scripture into bold, faithful prayers a wife can pray for a husband. I find it helpful to start my prayers for Richard with God’s own words – it’s too easy to come with a list of self-serving requests, and this book helps me focus my prayers so they are biblical and consistent with God’s desires for him.

I’ve prayed through the book a few times now but, when I started again a couple of weeks ago, I was caught a little off-guard by the third prayer:

‘Grant him continual patience and forbearance to live with me, a wicked wife.’

Really? I can’t be that wicked – I’m spending the afternoon in prayer for my family!

‘For I have sinned against you; I have acted very corruptly against you by forsaking my duty to help my husband lead our home in righteousness and the fear of you; I have not kept your commandments, your statutes, or the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.’

Hmm. Maybe.

‘Give him boldness and wisdom to rebuke and exhort me when I am unfaithful to your word, when I neglect prayer, fail to redeem the time, speak carelessly, walk foolishly, fail to hope in you, seek great things for myself, become anxious about tomorrow. Do not let him cease praying for me when I am beset with the fear of man, the cares of the world, or the love of money. May he never lose confidence that, in spite of my many iniquities and shortcomings, I am your servant whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.’

This is me. I am a wicked wife – perhaps not by the standards of the world; there’s always someone doing a worse job. But faced with the holiness of God, I see myself as I am – so naturally inclined to sin that I can’t, and won’t, choose righteousness unless God’s Spirit moves me to do so. I am unfaithful to God’s word. I neglect prayer. I waste time, speak unkind words, seek glory for myself. But, by his great power and strong hand, God has redeemed me. Despite my ongoing sin, I belong to him. And he hears my prayers – not because I am faithful and not because my prayers are perfect, but because of the faithfulness and perfection of the one who is in heaven to receive them.

It’s humbling to be reminded that I am in great need of God’s mercy – and my husband’s patience! It’s good to remember I need Richard’s prayers at least as much as he needs mine. And it’s precious to know that,

the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, has his ear attentive and his eyes open, to hear the prayers of his servants who delight to fear his name.

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Beating the Back-to-School Blues

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It’s the last day of the summer holidays so the children and I have been getting ready for the new school year and trying not to be sad that summer is over. It’s always a low point in the calendar for me. I know mums who struggle to enjoy the long break and look forward to the first day of school with joyful anticipation, but I don’t. When my kids were at primary school I would be found on the edge of the playground grumbling with my friend Sam about the nasty teachers who “stole” our children from us for the best hours of the day, while other mums celebrated the return with hugs and high fives. I’m not quite so grumpy now – my kids are teens so they’re often doing different things during the day anyway, but I’ll miss having them around.

There are, however, many things to be thankful for as I think about the new term and the opportunities it brings. I’m grateful for free, comprehensive education. I’m grateful to live in a time and place where my daughter’s education is understood to be as important as my son’s. I’m grateful for teachers who are passionate about their subjects and committed to helping my children develop a wide range of skills.

I’m also thankful for the opportunities my kids have to live out their identity as aliens and strangers in this world. The holidays provide a welcome break from many of the pressures they face as they live as followers of Jesus in an environment filled with his – and their – enemies. The Christian Camp they attend every August encourages and equips them to live courageous, committed lives – centred on Christ and his gospel. They love spending the week with friends who treasure Jesus and his word, and it’s a joy to see them grow in faith and love. And they enjoy being at home, knowing they can express themselves freely without fear of rejection or unkindness. It’s been good for them to have a short break from some of the struggles they face at school. It’s been good for them to refresh and recharge – physically and spiritually. But it’s also good for them to get back to school. Because they need to remember that until Jesus returns and establishes his reign on the New Earth, they live in enemy territory.

Studying alongside peers who are either dismissive or hostile to the gospel reminds my children that this world is not their permanent home. They are looking forward to eternity in a perfect world where they won’t experience mockery, discrimination, hatred or harm. But they are not there yet. In this life, they will experience difficulty, pain and persecution because of their faith in Jesus. Their parents can’t – and shouldn’t – shield them from that because it’s what Jesus promises all his followers.

My children need to be in situations where their faith is tested and proved genuine – so that it will result in praise, glory and honour (1 Peter 1:7). They need to experience trials – so they will become mature and complete as believers (James 1:2-4). They need to learn to persevere through trials – so they will receive the crown of life Jesus promises to all who love him (James 1:12). It’s not easy to watch our children struggle. It hurts us when they are hurt. But it’s also good that their first, small experiences of hardship occur while they are young and while they live with parents who can encourage them, pray with them, and help them to stand firm in their faith.

As I prepare my children for back-to-school day, I remind them that Jesus is their victorious champion. He has defeated death and triumphed over the powers and authorities in the heavenly realms. He has won an eternity for them that is more glorious than they can begin to imagine. He will be with them in every situation and he will equip them to stand firm in his will, mature and fully assured (Colossians 4:12). He calls them to take up their cross, to die to themselves – their comfort, their popularity, their reputations – and follow him (Mark 8:34). And he has promised them a reward that is worth any sacrifice (Revelation 22:4).

I also prepare myself to work hard for them in prayer each day, and to trust God to fulfil all his good purposes for them. Back-to-school is an opportunity for me to grow in faith as I look to him, trust in his promises, and depend on his grace to sustain me as I seek to parent with eternity in view. Happy Back-to-School!

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Just a Season?

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“It’s just a season!”

If you’re a mum, you’ve probably heard that expression a lot. People often say it to encourage new mums – struggling with the exhausting demands of their babies and preschoolers – to look ahead to the easier season that is coming. A few weeks ago, I found myself repeating this phrase to a friend after she’d been called out of our Bible study and into the creche…again! I wanted to encourage her that one day she will be able to take part in the study without distraction, without wondering when she’ll being called away to her crying toddler. And I think those words were encouraging to her in the moment. But I don’t think they were the greatest encouragement I could have given. They offered temporary comfort but didn’t serve to remind her of the wonderful reality of her present circumstances.

We can spend a lot of time anticipating the next season of life – hoping it will be easier, calmer, more fulfilling than the season we’re currently in. When we are discontent in our present circumstances we comfort ourselves by day-dreaming about the next season. We become obsessed with the season that is coming instead of embracing the season we’re currently in. We dream about the things we’ll do when we are less tired or have more time or less responsibilities. We tell ourselves we will be able to serve more, give more, learn more in that season We give ourselves permission to drift through our current season because, we believe, we’ll make up for it later.

But we forget that every season is a gift from our good and wise Father. And our response to his gifts should be thankfulness and a desire to glorify him with them. Every time we complain about our current season of life, every time we compare it to another, every time we covet a season that hasn’t been given to us, we reject God’s good and generous gift to us. We are ungrateful children – sulking because we didn’t get the present we were hoping for, envious of our friend who has what we want.

We need to remember we are currently in the season God has ordained for us. Whether we’re studying or approaching retirement, caring for small children or supporting aging parents, single or married, this season is a gift from our loving Father. Our goal is not to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. It’s not “just a season” – a time to be endured, rather than embraced. Our motivation to persevere in it is not the hope that it will soon be over and that the better season is coming. This is the season God has given us. Our goal is to honour and glorify him in it.

So how should I encourage my friend as she struggles with the demands of motherhood? What truths can I speak to my heart when I’m tempted to compare my circumstances with someone else’s? What will help us embrace our current season of life rather than coveting a season we’ve not been given? Our circumstances may be varied, and our challenges and struggles are different. But, if we are in Christ, our encouragement is this: we are all in a season of GRACE, we are all in a season of HOPE, we are all in a season of OPPORTUNITY.

A season of GRACE

Every day is a gift of God’s grace. Every day is an undeserved opportunity to live as God’s people – in his world, under his rule and blessing. Because of our sin we deserve death. Because of grace, we have life. We get to live in God’s world – without shame, without fear of condemnation. Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden – afraid and ashamed because of their sin. We approach God’s throne with confidence, knowing there is mercy and grace for us. We are unashamed – because our sins have been forgiven, the record of our debt against God has been nailed to the cross, and we are in Christ! We live every day knowing we are free from slavery to sin, redeemed by Christ’s blood, sealed by his Spirit, and anticipating our eternal inheritance. Our mundane moments are transformed as we remember we have received grace. Our perspective on our challenging circumstances is changed as we view them in the light of God’s grace. We enjoy grace in the present, and we live with hope for the future.

This is a season of HOPE

We live in a season of hope. We live this side of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we joyfully anticipate his return and our eternal future with him. We struggle with the difficulties and disappointments of life in a fallen world. But we do so with hope that one day Jesus will return and restore this world and everything in it. We live with hope that our bodies will be resurrected to become like Christ’s glorious body – no more pain, weakness or sickness. We live with hope that our relationships will be restored – no more comparison, coveting or conflict. We live with hope that our hearts will be completely undivided, our service eternally joyful, and our worship perfectly acceptable. We live for a short while in this broken world with hope that we will live forever in the New Creation – finally free from the presence of sin and able to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. And we are on a mission to share our hope with the people God has placed around us, because we also live in a season of opportunity.

This is a season of OPPORTUNITY

Jesus is coming back – soon! And we can announce his coming – to our friends, to our family members, to our neighbours, to our work colleagues, to the nations. Every day is an opportunity to “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” Every day is an opportunity to invite others to join us in worshipping King Jesus. Every day is an opportunity to share the good news that he has triumphed over sin and Satan by his death and resurrection. Every day is an opportunity to extend his offer of life to people who are dead in sin. In every season we can share the joy of knowing our sins are forgiven, the peace of knowing God is sovereign over every part of our lives, and the delight of being in an intimate relationship with him. In every season we can witness to the grace of God in our lives and the hope we have in him. Every season is a season of opportunity.

So when we’re discontent in our current season, when we’re tempted to covet a season someone else is in, when we find ourselves day-dreaming about the better season that’s ahead, we can remind ourselves there is no such thing as “just a season.” Because we are in Christ, every season is a season of grace, a season of hope, and a season of opportunity.

5 Books on the bible’s big story

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I’m counting down the days until my holiday officially starts and I can switch off for a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to some time with the family – and also to reading some of the books I’ve stockpiled over the last few months. Summer is a great time to get into some books that require a bit of concentrated time – the evenings seem longer and there are less meetings scheduled.

Last summer I tried to work through a few thematic biblical theology books. I love studying the big themes of the bible and seeing how the different threads are woven together throughout the big story of scripture. And I’m often surprised and encouraged by the way these studies impact my day-to-day life. Below are a few of my favourites. I plan to re-read at least one of these in the next few weeks – why not try one too?

 

July’s Books: 5 Books on the bible’s big story

  1. God Dwells Among Us by G. K. Beale
  2. From Eden to the New Jerusalem by T. Desmond Alexander
  3. Better than Eden by Nancy Guthrie
  4. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts
  5. From Creation to New Creation by Tim Chester

 

God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth

Beale-Kim-God-Dwells-Among-Us

This is my favourite biblical overview. The book traces the themes of tabernacle and temple throughout the bible story – starting in Genesis 1-2 with the creation of the world and finishing in Revelation 21-22 with the consummation of the new heavens and new earth. The central focus is to show how this theme of God’s presence is intertwined with the mission of God – to expand his dwelling presence to the ends of the earth. The authors show how, despite Adam and Eve’s failure in the first sanctuary, God established his presence among his people in the tabernacle and the temple, and how he continues to establish his presence today through the church. They help the reader understand how Christ and the church fulfil and complete what the Old Testament temple represented. This book is clear, compelling, comforting and a joy to read. I plan to re-read it several times.

 

From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction To Biblical Theology

eden

This is a great introduction to biblical theology. T. Desmond Alexander seeks to answer two fundamental questions – Why does the earth exist? and What is the purpose of life? He does this by exploring some of the central themes of the bible. With warmth and clarity he walks the reader through a study of themes such as presence, sovereignty, evil, and redemption. He shows how they are intertwined in the bible’s meta-narrative, how each one finds its fulfilment in Christ, and how they will be consummated in the New Jerusalem. Although detailed, this book is not a difficult read. It’s more concise than God dwells among us, but just as rich and compelling. It is packed full of hope and delight in the character of our awesome God.

 

Even Better than Eden

Image result for even better than edenNancy Guthrie is one of my favourite bible teachers. She is passionate about helping people understand individual bible passages in light of the big story of scripture, always pointing to the beauty and glory of the risen Lord Jesus. This book traces nine biblical themes from their beginning in creation, through their ruin by sin, to the ways in which Christ perfects and completes each one. With warmth and enthusiasm Nancy shows how Jesus leads us to a better identity, a better rest, a better sanctuary, a better life, and a better city than we can begin to imagine in this present world. She shows how the goal of Christ’s work is not merely to enable us to return to Eden, but to lead us to the new creation that will be so much greater. And she shows how hope in this future glory transforms everything about the way we live today.

 

God’s Big Picture

Image result for god's big pictureThis is a shorter overview and very easy to read. Vaughan Roberts traces the theme of the kingdom of God  – God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and blessing – throughout the bible, showing how each part of the story fits together around Jesus Christ. He shows how the theme of the kingdom develops and progresses throughout the Old Testament and into the New, and how understanding this theme is key to understanding the bible as a whole. This book is ideal for newer Christians or for those who lack confidence in studying the bible by themselves. I’ve also used it with women I’ve been discipling – the bible study questions at the end of each chapter provide a great starting point for discussion. If biblical theology seems a bit intimidating, this book is the perfect place to start.

 

From Creation to New Creation

Image result for from creation to new creation tim chesterThis is another fairly easy read. Tim Chester aims to show how each part of the bible relates to the whole – how each contributes to the big picture. He leads his readers through God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses and David, exploring different elements and showing how they apply to us today. In particular, he unpacks God’s promises to save a people for himself, to provide a place of blessing for them, to re-establish the rule of his chosen King, and to bring salvation to the nations through him. Tim packs a lot into this relatively short book. He includes bible passages, tables, timelines and diagrams, which all contribute to the book’s clarity and usefulness.  This book didn’t excite me as much as the first two books above, but it is clear, simple to understand and a shorter read.

 

Further recommendations:

Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy

According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

The Mission of God by Christopher J. H. Wright

The City of God and the Goal of Creation by T. Desmond Alexander

The Temple and the Church’s Mission by Greg Beale

A New Testament Biblical Theology by Greg Beale

The King in his Beauty by Thomas R. Schreiner

Echoes of Exodus by Alastair J. Roberts & Andrew Wilson

Kingdom through Covenant by Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum

Unlocking the Bible Story by Colin S. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “5 Books on the bible’s big story”

Introducing Jesus (from Revelation)

purple grapes

One of the things I love about the book of Revelation is that it pulls back the curtain on the cosmic stage and gives us a greater glimpse of who Jesus is. It maybe difficult to understand everything written in its pages but it’s worth spending time in because it inspires worship of our risen and ascended King. Below are some of the ways Jesus is described in the book of Revelation. Why not choose one to meditate on and praise him for this weekend?

Jesus Christ is:

  • the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth
  • the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father
  • the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty
  • the First and the Last, the Living One; who was dead, and is alive for ever and ever, and who holds the keys of death and Hades
  • the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands
  • the one who has the sharp, double-edged sword
  • the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze
  • the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars
  • the one who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open
  • the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation
  • the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has triumphed
  • the one who is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!
  • the Lamb at the centre of the throne, our shepherd
  • Lord of lords and King of kings
  • the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
  • the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star

At the end of the book he tells us he is coming soon! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

The Dignity Revolution

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It’s early to nominate a book of the year but I read Daniel Darling’s latest book, The Dignity Revolution, a few weeks ago and I can’t see it moving from the top spot. The book is a call for followers of Jesus to demonstrate our belief in the intrinsic dignity and worth of every one of God’s image-bearers, by proactively seeking to defend and act on behalf of those whose dignity is denied by society.

I was challenged before I’d finished the foreword. Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S, writes,

Jesus calls us to reach into the pain and brokenness of our world. He wants his people to be like firefighters – rushing toward the fire of human suffering instead of away from it.

This isn’t my default response to suffering. I’m moved by brokenness but often not broken-hearted enough to proactively respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. I hold firmly to a theology of human dignity, but my theology rarely leads to activity. Daniel Darling challenges my apathy with his impassioned call to live out the Great Commission by valuing and protecting human life – in the public arena and in our hundreds of daily interactions with fellow image-bearers whose dignity is ignored or devalued.

He challenges us to see people as God does – and to live out human dignity in the way we speak, think and act towards others. He compels us to run toward those whose dignity is under assault. He shows how a right understanding of our God-given image has implications for our engagement with a wide range of ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia, race and immigration, poverty, justice, sexuality and religious freedom.

I won’t summarise each chapter – you need to read the book. But here are a few of my favourite quotes:

If we will not live out the kingdom, why would we expect anyone to listen to the news about its King?

A church that moves toward the vulnerable, using its power and influence on behalf of those who have seen their dignity ignored or denied, becomes a powerful witness to the nature and reality of the kingdom of God.

Those who are disabled, those who are poor, those who might not neatly fit into our modern notions of success should have a prominent place in our assemblies, not simply because they have full human dignity as image-bearers of God but because each one is a future king or queen of the universe who will one day reign with Christ.

We are most human when we live according to the ways God designed his image-bearers to live in the world he created.

Death is an assault on the dignity of God’s image-bearers. Jesus, as the eternal Son of God, the creator, reverses the curse and raises the dead to new life.

There is no season of life that erases the image of God in humans.

In every society, Christians should be the most active in using their talents on behalf of those the society considers marginal or unworthy. (quoting Andy Crouch)

When Jesus calls us to come and die he is also inviting us to come and live. Here is the great paradox: it is in denying ourselves that we find ourselves, because it’s in denying the temptation to worship ourselves, build our own identities, and bow down to our feelings that we are able to enjoy worshipping God, bow down to him, and live out our true identity as his image-bearers.

When we live our lives for Christ, we are saying, “There is another King and another kingdom. No leader in this world is the greatest king; no creed from this world is ultimate truth.

Before we are activists, we are worshippers. But equally, if we are truly worshippers, we will be activists; because we worship a great God, and it is his image that we see in every person – for every person has God-given dignity, no matter their utility.

The Dignity Revolution’s strapline is: Reclaiming God’s rich vision for humanity. This is a revolution I want to be part of. What will this mean? A commitment to respect and value the life of every person I meet – especially the weakest and most vulnerable. Proactively seeking opportunities to promote justice and mercy – privately and publicly. Intentionally walking towards suffering – holding out the hope of the gospel. Imagine how our churches and communities would look if every follower of Jesus lived out the call to value human dignity!

5 Books on Prayer

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I’ve always got a few books on the go at a time – a novel; an old favourite for the car; one to read alongside my daily devotions; some to help me prepare for talks or writing projects; and one or two to help me grow in my love for God and the church. I’m not very good at keeping my mind focused on one thing for more than a few hours at a time, so it suits me to be able to flit between them all. But sometimes it’s good to especially focus on one area of discipleship, and to spend time reading and studying with a view to growth in that particular area. So this month I’m recommending five books about prayer.

There are lots of good books written about prayer – my “further recommendations” list is longer than usual! These are five I’ve found particularly helpful in shaping the way I pray. They’re not the most comprehensive books on the subject but they are scripture-soaked and practical, and have impacted the way I pray.

 

March’s Books: 5 Books on Prayer.

  1. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God  by Tim Keller
  2. Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell
  3. A Praying Life by Paul Miller
  4. Prayers of an Excellent Wife by Andrew Case
  5. Prayer and the Voice of God by Tony Payne & Phillip Jensen

 

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

kellerI think this is my favourite of Tim Keller’s books. He combines teaching on the theology of prayer with practical wisdom for deepening our prayer lives. He is realistic about the struggle to move from duty to delight in prayer, and honest about his own journey in learning to pray. He helps the reader work through the tension between relating to a holy God in awe and knowing intimacy with him as a loving Father. At the end of the book are a couple of simple prayer plans to help the reader practise praying in response to God’s word. My favourite quote: ‘When you struggle in prayer, you can come before God with the confidence that he is going to give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.’

 

Praying Backwards

chapellThis book is liberating. Bryan Chapell removes the burden so many Christians feel – that for our prayers to be effective we must know, desire and articulate all the right things. This book helped me understand the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer – stirring my heart to speak to the Father, and transforming my weak, limited prayers into prayers that transcend time and space to engage with the perfect will of God. It reminded me of his work in making me more like the Son so I learn to desire the things that are most pleasing to the Father. Bryan Chapell encourages his readers to “pray backwards” by taking the “in Jesus’ name” we tend to tag on the end of our prayers and placing it at the beginning. His point is not that we need to say the phrase in order to pray well, but that by recognising who it is we come through we are more careful to pray prayers are consistent with his nature, work and glory. This is one of the most encouraging books I’ve read on prayer.

 

A Praying Life

praying lifeI’m surprised I like this book as much as I do – it’s not the style I usually enjoy. But Paul Miller is fresh and inspiring in his approach to the study of prayer. With raw honesty, biblical wisdom, and genuine delight in grace, he applies the gospel to prayer. He helps his readers learn how to respond to the Father’s love in the everyday moments of life. He connects our small stories to the great gospel story, calling us to joy and intimacy in our relationship with the Trinity. In many ways this book is Paul Miller’s testimony – his struggles, his habits, his challenges, his encouragements. The book is full of personal stories and practical examples which help the reader see the blessings of a prayer-filled life. It’s definitely the book that has most radically transformed my prayer life and is probably the one I’d recommend first to someone struggling to pray.

 

Prayers of an Excellent Wife

excellentI’ve been using this book to pray for my husband for a few years and I love it. Andrew Case has compiled a rich, deep collection of prayers based on the words of scripture to help wives pray thoughtful, beautiful prayers that resonate with the heart of God – they are his words! This book helps me pray consistently and passionately. It helps me pray big, kingdom-centred prayers that are not focused on my own small, selfish desires. These prayers have made me more thankful for the gift of my husband, and more committed to loving and serving him through faithful prayer. They have also made me more aware of my own sin, and grateful for God’s grace in giving me so much I don’t deserve.

 

Prayer and the Voice of God

prayer voiceThis is a great guide for new Christians wanting to learn what prayer is and how to pray. It would also encourage those who struggle to be consistent and enthusiastic about prayer. I like that the book begins by focusing on the character of God. This is important because a healthy prayer life is not achieved by mastering specific techniques but by cultivating a relationship. The authors then explore what the bible says about why we should pray, and address the reasons we often don’t pray. There are a couple of chapters on what to pray for and what happens when we pray. This book is easy to read, practical and motivating. It encourages the reader to think rightly about God and about how he communicates with us through his word, so that we communicate with him in the way that pleases him.

 

Further recommendations:

You Can Pray by Tim Chester

Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney

Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves

Praying Together by Megan Hill

5 Things to Pray Series by Rachel Jones

Prayer: Does it make any difference? by Philip Yancey

Prayer by John Bunyan

Prayer: How praying together shapes the Church by John Onwuchekwa

Prayer and the knowledge of God by Graeme Goldsworthy

Prayer by Ole Hallesby

The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett

 

 

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