Book Update

I’m excited to announce that I have a book contract with P&R Publishing! My book is on the relationship between men and women and how we should live and work together in the home, church, and society. I want to help move the conversation beyond the current focus on authority and submission. Not that those aren’t important, but there are other biblical concepts that I believe are essential including unity, love, interdependence, and service.

My hope is that by studying these topics and how they relate to women and men in the home, church, and society, believers will be strengthened and encouraged. Together then we can be a blessing to families and churches and to our society which so desperately needs the truth of the gospel.

We’re in the editing stages right now, and I’ll share more details later about when my book will be available and how to get a copy. In the meantime,  I also wanted to announce that I’m available to speak at retreats and conferences. If that’s something you’d be interested in talking with me about, please feel free to send me a message on the “About” page here or through Twitter or Facebook.

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

Can men and women be friends? Our society often says we can’t. As Billy Crystal explains in When Harry Met Sally, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” And sex is what everything is about these days. We’re so saturated in it that we don’t realize how much sex has influenced even the meanings of words.

Intimacy? Sex
Relationship? Euphamism for sex
Affection? Sex
Attraction? Precursor to sex
Friendship? Euphamism for sex (friends w/ benefits), a brief stop on the way to sex, or a demotion from a sexual relationship (“just” friends, the friend zone)
Purity? Not having sex outside marriage

It’s like a Freudian Rorschach test. No matter the question, the answer is always sex.

If the world’s right about the meaning of friendship, intimacy, affection, and attraction, then how can godly men and women possibly be friends? Avoiding interactions between men and women would be the safest option if we want to be sexually pure and holy, right?

But what if the world’s wrong? What if the Bible has a better way for us to pursue purity and holiness through our friendships, even the coed ones? Those are the questions that Aimee Byrd answers in her latest book, Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Aimee explains that the reason we get tripped up on the question of coed friendship is we’ve forgotten who and whose we are. As believers, we are brothers and sisters united in Christ (14). We’re family! And as such, we have a shared calling and purpose. We were made for communion with God and with each other (49). That’s true for us here and now, and especially true for us in the new heavens and new earth that are to come (142).

We are called to be “sacred siblings” (174). And when we consider our questions through the lens of family, of brothers and sisters, we can see not only how men and women can be friends, but how we must be friends. Family relationships are the key.

Seeing each other as sacred siblings changes our understanding of intimacy, affection, attraction, friendship, and purity. As Aimee explains, “We know how to promote holiness in brother-sister relationships” (67).

What does intimacy mean in a family setting? As Aimee notes, “We associate all intimacy with the bedroom, so we expect every meaningful interaction between a man and a woman to be laden with repressed sexual desire” (35-36). But, “If we treat the intimacy appropriately as brother-sister intimacy, then everything stays properly platonic and our affections are rightly ordered” (93).

What about affection? When we listen to the world, we see affection through Freud’s eyes, “Freud reduced all affection to erotic desire – to our genitals – meaning that every look, gesture, touch, and thought holds sexual motives. … This view reduces friendship, whether it is same-sex or cross-sex, to role-playing for sexual gratification (35). But, when we remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to communion with God, we can see affection as God teaches us. As Aimee says, “We can share in his love for his people with godly, appropriate affection, and all our affections will be returned to him in fullness of glory” (73).

And attraction? We associate attraction with sexual interest or lust. But that’s a very limited meaning of the word. We’re “attracted” to people who share our interests. We should be “attracted” to admirable qualities in others: kindness, gentleness, joy, humility, generosity. Aimee explains, “Attraction is not impurity … We should be attracted to godliness in a godly way. … Finding someone attractive doesn’t mean that we should pursue them romantically, however, or allow our thoughts to wander into sexual fantasy” (87-88).

What does friendship mean in the context of sacred siblings? Between social media “friends,” “friends with benefits,” and “we’re just friends,” we’ve completely lost the meaning of friendship. “On the one hand, we have trivialized friendship through technology; on the other, we warn against real friendship between the sexes” (96, emphasis original). But as Christians, we know friendship means more. As Aimee writes, “Spiritual friendship among those of us who are united in Christ is eternal and is the highest form of friendship” (98)

What about purity? We should want to pursue purity, but is purity found in simply avoiding members of the other sex? Aimee explains, “Purity isn’t merely abstention. It isn’t practiced by avoidance. Purity isn’t just a physical status for a virgin, nor is it even the success of a faithful marriage. Purity is preeminently about our communion with God – a fountain that overflows into our other relationships (69).

And that’s Aimee’s point. We don’t pursue purity by avoiding each other. “The virtue of purity rightly orients sensuality before God and others. It perceives and responds to the holistic value in human beings” (76).

Does that mean we should just throw caution to the wind? No of course not. We must use wisdom and discernment. We need to be serious about sin, temptation, and our role in promoting the holiness of others:

Of course we promote one another’s holiness, take sin seriously, and realize that we can easily fall into it. We don’t think of a bunch of reasons to be alone with the other sex, we don’t naively assume that everyone is safe, and we don’t overestimate our own virtue. But, rather than creating extrabiblical rules, we are to do the hard work of rightly orienting our affections and exercising wisdom and discernment with others. We live before God in every situation. And in this manner, we will be able to perform ordinary acts of kindness and business without scandal. (77)

Is Aimee simply naive about the way the world works? Not at all. In fact, she offers practical advice on how to exercise discernment.

If we are weak in this area, or with a particular person, we should certainly not put ourselves in situations where we know we will stumble or cause a brother or sister to stumble. We should never feed temptation to sin. Doing so is a red flag that you are not genuine in godly friendship. (88)

If you are married and find yourself romantically attracted to someone other than your spouse, or if you are single and find yourself romantically attracted to someone who is off limits for any reason, then you need to confess this to the Lord in prayer and not put yourself in situations that fuel romantic feelings. You may need to avoid car rides or eating together with this specific person. The same applies if you discern that others have inappropriate romantic feelings toward you. (91-92)

If you are married and your spouse is uncomfortable with your friendship with someone, whether it’s a man or a woman, listen to their reasons. (92)

Is Aimee trying to undermine holiness and purity? Quite the contrary, “We all agree that Christians should care for purity. I wholeheartedly advocate sexual purity and would never want to influence anyone into promiscuity or sexual sin of any kind” (63).

What she wants is to encourage us to pursue actual holiness and purity but not by “pickpocketing purity, stealing unearned virtue at the expense of another’s dignity” (77). What does she mean by “pickpocketing purity”? She means that by avoiding each other we end up thinking we’re being pure but without actually developing purity or holiness. “Many of the hard-and-fast rules that we add to protect ourselves work against Christ’s sanctifying work, because they point to ourselves rather than to dependence on him” (81, emphasis original).

Without spoiling the book, if avoidance isn’t the answer, how should we pursue holiness and purity?

[B]ecause we are God’s people, siblings in Christ, we are to promote one another’s holiness, which includes rousing one another to active, godly love, assembling with our siblings to publicly worship our God, and encouraging one another in godly living. These are the practices of sacred siblings. (174)

How do we do that? “Be a friend and promote holiness in everyone whom you encounter and whom God trusts to your care. Look at one another through the eyes of Christ” (232).

By doing so, we can witness to the world that there is a better way. We can demonstrate the intimacy, affection, and friendship that we can and must have as brothers and sisters in Christ:

The church should be the very place where the world sees genuine friendship, no matter what sex you are. No matter what race you are. No matter what your social status is. This is where the world should be able to look and see what friendship is and how to do it. (232)

Aimee’s book is a much-needed one in our overly sexualized culture. I’m thankful for Aimee’s work and her willingness to step into this particular minefield.

Do you want to know more about how to be sacred siblings, about the challenges and blessings of spiritual friendship? Read her book. Aimee gives a thoroughly biblical answer to the question, “Why can’t we be friends?” Men and women can be friends but only when we remember who and whose we are, brothers and sisters united in Christ. We’re family, and it’s time we start acting like it.

No, I’m Not a Feminist or an Egalitarian

“Watch out for her. She’s a feminist!” “She says she’s not, but clearly she’s a closet egalitarian.” “She’s a thin complementarian” “No, an anorexic one.”

Words are powerful, as are labels. They can be helpful. They can be used to encourage and build people up. But they can also be used to dismiss others. They can be used to belittle and discourage.

In conservative, Christianity, there are few words that shut down discussion faster than the charge of “feminist!” Heresy is another big one, although it doesn’t work quite the same way. Feminist has almost exclusively negative associations in conservative Christian circles.

Some of that is understandable. The modern feminist movement has strong connections with abortion and same-sex marriage. Not all feminists are for abortion and same-sex marriage, but the association is there. When a conservative calls someone a feminist, it can be an attempt to question the person’s faith and commitment to Scripture.

I used to think it was amusing when someone called me a feminist. It had to be a joke. Or a clear misunderstanding. Who me? A feminist? I know some of the nuttier guys out there think anyone who disagrees with them is a feminist. And then there are the CBMW authors who say all women are feminists. But clearly, those aren’t serious opinions.

Why would anyone think I’m a feminist? Let’s consider my beliefs (which I’ve stated before.) I hold to the following beliefs regarding men, women, and gender:

  • God made man: male and female in the image of God
  • In Christ, male and female are equal before God
  • Husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives, loving them as Christ loves the church
  • Wives are called to voluntary submission to their husbands, submitting to them as the church submits to Christ
  • Ordination is restricted to qualified men in the church
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life
  • Men and women need each other and depend on each other

Take particular notice of what I believe about leadership and submission in marriage and ordination in the church. Those right there set me apart. I’m not a feminist. I’m also not an egalitarian, closet or otherwise. I have respect for the egalitarians I know. I appreciate the work some egalitarians have done defending the Trinity. But we have significantly different interpretations of what the Bible teaches about marriage and ordination.

And that’s ok. It’s possible to disagree and still respect other people. If you asked a feminist or an egalitarian about my beliefs, they would say that I’m either complementarian or patriarchal. It’s laughable to say I’m patriarchal, but each end of the spectrum tends towards viewing things as extremes. Just like there are those who say everyone who disagrees with them is a feminist, there are those who say anyone who disagrees with them is patriarchal.

So then the question is, am I a complementarian? I used to think so. I used to call myself one.  After all, I believe that husbands are the spiritual leaders of their families. I believe that wives should submit to the leadership of their husbands. And I believe that ordained church leaders should be qualified men. Isn’t that a complementarian?

Apparently not. To be a true complementarian, you also need to believe:

  • women were created to be submissive, responsive, soft
  • men were created to be leaders, providers, strong
  • men are supposed to be priests for their families
  • women are supposed to be at home and not in the workforce (unless there’s a really good reason, but even then)
  • divorce is wrong even when there is biblical justification for it
  • the eternal subordination of the Son, especially as it is applied to men and women
  • all women are rebellious feminists at heart and men must put down that rebellion (an interpretation of Genesis 3:16)

How do I know this is necessary for true complementarianism? Well, when I disagreed with these beliefs, I was called a “soft,” “thin,” or “anorexic” complementarian. I was also called a closet egalitarian or a feminist because:

  • I questioned what CBMW taught about men and women and the Trinity
  • I defended orthodox Trinitarianism against the eternal subordination of the Son
  • I raised questions about the ESV translation for changing the wording of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7
  • I wrote about abuse as biblical grounds for divorce
  • I believe women can be leaders in business and politics or even cops and umpires

When I took a logic class in college, I didn’t like the way we were supposed to apply mathematical proofs to language. Math is neat and tidy. Add, subtract, multiply, divide. Numbers have intrinsic meaning. Words aren’t as definite and precise as math. But that doesn’t mean that words can mean whatever we want them to mean.

Our society is losing its collective mind when it comes to words and their meanings. We’re told we can “identify” as whatever we want, regardless of reality. Truth and facts? It’s relative. It just depends on what “your truth” is.

As Christians, we have fought against this kind of relativism for years. You’d think conservative Christians would be more careful about using words accurately. Feminist and egalitarian have actual definitions. There are Christian feminist groups and egalitarian organizations with definite beliefs. Feminist doesn’t mean “a woman I disagree with and wish she’d stop talking.” Egalitarian doesn’t simply mean “someone who thinks women can have opinions about theology.”

I’m not a feminist. I’m not an egalitarian. What I am is tired of the name-calling and the attempts to silence me and others like me. No doubt those who need to hear these words the most are the least likely to listen. But I hope that those who are tempted to believe the lies about me will do me the honor of considering what I’ve written here.

 

Top 10 Posts of 2017

2017 has been an interesting year. Looking back over the top 10 posts for my blog, I noticed that the debate over the eternal subordination of the Son continues to be a topic of interest. Unsurprisingly, this year’s salvation by faith alone debate was also one of the big topics as were articles on what women are taught. A couple of older articles round out the top 10 as perennial favorites. Thank you all for your comments and shares. I appreciate you all very much! Happy New Year and may God bless you richly this coming year.

10. ETERNAL SUBORDINATION OF THE SON AND THE ESV TRANSLATION

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou/emautoú as “authority” is apparent in the John 16:13 passage. That passage is speaking of the Spirit. While the Son, after the incarnation, has a human will and a divine will, the Spirit does not. The Spirit’s authority is always the one divine authority. If the Spirit is not speaking on His “own authority,” whose authority is He speaking on?

9. TRUE WOMAN 101: DIVINE DESIGN

There is no good news here. According to Kassian and DeMoss, women are the ones at fault, but if we follow these guidelines for biblical womanhood then we can be holy. That’s not the gospel. In fact, the book is so works oriented and so lacking in Christ’s work of redemption that a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness reading it would probably not be offended in the least.

8. WHY I’M NOT USING SUSAN WISE BAUER’S CURRICULA: A REVIEW OF PETER ENNS’ BIBLE CURRICULUM

Having read the parents’ guide, I can say that there are a few things on which I agree with Dr. Enns. I agree that it is very important to teach our children that the whole of the Bible is about Jesus. I agree that our children should learn from the very start who Jesus is and why the Bible is His story. I also agree that our children should be well-educated in the various challenges to the truth of the Bible that they are likely to face. My concerns, however, greatly outweigh these areas of agreement. The problems that I see with Telling God’s Story can be grouped into three basic topics: methodology, Biologos/evolution, and view of Scripture.

7. DOES IT MATTER WHAT WOMEN ARE TAUGHT?

Since I first began writing, one of my main concerns has been the effect false teaching has on the church, and particularly on women. It is a topic dear to my heart. Because of this, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. Aimee also has a heart for the women in the church and what they’re being taught.

6. THE DESIRE OF THE WOMAN: A RESPONSE TO SUSAN FOH’S INTERPRETATION

For such a short article, it has had a profound influence on conservative Christian teaching. 40 years later, numerous books, articles, sermons, and even Bible translations have adopted Foh’s unique interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Even those who swear they’ve never heard of Susan Foh teach her interpretation as if it is the best or only understanding of the passage.

My concern is that Foh’s interpretation is an example of eisegesis with dangerous implications. I’m always wary of “novel” or “unique” interpretations of Scripture especially when they arise in response to some contemporary situation.

5. CAN’T WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE?!

We should not be afraid to delve into the Scriptures and even to teach women doctrine. I’m sure that some churches and leaders may be hesitant to take this approach with women’s Bible studies. But according to recent articles and studies, the people in the pews are hungry for the Word. And, yes, it may be a stretch for some women who are used to the popular book studies with floral artwork and script fonts and pastel colors that let women know they’re “safe” to read. Women are regularly challenged by popular culture to try new things that might seem difficult or different to begin with. We all know the hardest days of diet and exercise are the early days before we develop new good habits.

4. THE PIPER SCALE OF FEMALE LEADERSHIP

Recently I was re-reading John Piper’s explanation for what types of careers and jobs are appropriate for women. He goes into a long and complicated description of how to determine what types of leadership and influence a woman can have over a man without doing damage to their masculinity and femininity. It occurred to me that his criteria and subsequent explanation sound a lot like the Pritchard poetry scale from Dead Poet’s Society. So with profound apologies to Robin Williams, Dead Poet’s Society, and the authors of the screenplay, I present to you the Piper Scale of Female Leadership:

3. SALVATION BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE

Piper is saying that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone but that there is also a final salvation separate from justification that includes our works. In this way, he says, we are saved through faith AND works. This is not simply sloppiness or poor wording. This is what he is teaching, and it is clear from the context of the article. And it is contrary to Scripture, to the Reformation, and to the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

2. SAYING FAREWELL TO THE ESV

Between the “contrary to” in Genesis 3 and 4 and the missing “only begotten” in the New Testament passages, my husband and I decided that the ESV wasn’t the translation we wanted to use as a family. To be clear, we’re not dogmatic about it. Our church and many of our friends still use the ESV, we aren’t complaining about it or demanding change. But for our own devotions individually and as a family, we’ve decided to switch to the New American Standard (NASB). We have four main reasons for doing so.

1. ANXIETY: MY THORN IN MY FLESH

I woke up last week with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Nothing, in particular, was wrong, but that didn’t stop my mind from racing through every possible thing that I could worry about. And then it latched on to something. And I began to obsess about it. And worry about it. And I prayed and talked myself down. And then “but, what if?” And then it latched on again. And I continued to obsess about it. And worry about it. And I prayed and talked myself down. Again, and again, and again. For days. Every night I’d go to sleep praying about it. Every morning I’d wake up early with the same dread, and the cycle would begin again. It was exhausting.

Want to read the Bible in a year? Here’s my Bible reading plan for 2018

For the last several years, I have been reading the Bible through each year. I’ve used several different plans, and there are elements of each that I’ve really enjoyed. A couple of years ago I decided to do something different. I like the idea of reading each book through so that you get a good feel for the flow of the book. But I really don’t like to wait until the last third of the year to read the New Testament. I love reading the Wisdom Literature, but I think I appreciate them more in smaller portions.

So, after looking through the various Bible reading plans available, I decided to create my own. There’s a decent chance that someone has made one just like this already. If so, please let me know. I’d be glad to share it.

My plan alternates between Old Testament and New Testament books but completes one book at a time. On the weekends, my plan has readings from the Psalms on Saturdays and a chapter from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs on Sundays.

I attempted to portion out the readings so that it wouldn’t be too much for any one day, but I may need to adjust the readings as I go through it again this year. Below you’ll find a link to the pdf document with the full reading plan.

A Daughter of the Reformation Bible Reading Plan 2018

I’m also going to be using the Journibles from Reformation Heritage Books to slow down and focus on a chapter or smaller portion of Scripture each day.

What is Love?

Christmas day has come and gone again. But the themes of the advent/Christmas season, hope, joy, peace, and love, are important all year. Love is an especially important theme. Our society tells us that love means accepting people just as they are. It tells us that love is that warm, tingling feeling we feel for that special someone. But what is love really? Is it a feeling? A verb?

As Christians, we know that love is a much richer concept than the world around us understands. The Bible tells us that God is love:

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8, NASB)

God is love. As such He defines it. He demonstrates His love for us through Christ:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NASB)

 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NASB)

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, NASB)

God enables us to love Him and to love others:

 We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NASB)

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16, NASB)

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11-12, NASB)

God promises that nothing can separate us from His love:

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, NASB)

God sets the standard for how we are to love others:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NASB)

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21, NASB)

Sometimes that love means confronting sin. Sometimes it means forgiving others for how they’ve sinned against us. Sometimes it means leaving family and friends behind to follow Christ. Love can be painful.

Love is so much more than a passing feeling. It’s more than romance. It’s more than blind acceptance. Love, true love, is active and self-sacrificial. It puts the needs of others before itself. It’s a fruit of the Spirit and evidence of the saving love we’ve been given. We love God and others because He first loved us. This Christmas season, may we remember the love that God has shown us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and may we demonstrate that love for others in all that we do.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35, NASB)

Christian, Where is Your Joy?

Four common themes discussed during the Advent/Christmas season are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. The last two weeks, I’ve posted articles on hope and peace. Today, I want to consider joy.

What is joy? As Christians, what is the source of our joy? What does joy look like in our daily lives? Should a believer’s life be marked by joy? And what if it isn’t?

Merriam-Webster defines joy this way, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” I think this is a useful definition. Joy is that wonderful feeling we get when our children smile for the first time. It’s that sense of happiness when our family is gathered together for the holidays. Joy is that emotion we feel when we get a raise or a promotion at work. It’s the feeling comes with knowing we are loved. It’s even that sense of anticipation we have when we look at the presents under the Christmas tree.

Of course, ultimately, joy is more than a transient emotion or feeling. Consider this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the life of believer. That means that it is something more than an emotion we have in the right circumstances. Our joy, as Christians, is rooted in something much deeper. It’s source is in the work of Christ for our salvation.

Consider the angel’s declaration when Jesus was born:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

What is this “good news of great joy?” The Savior has come! Jesus has been born. Of course, that’s not the whole story. Jesus’ birth was just the beginning. He lived and died for us. And most importantly, He rose again. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has saved us from our sins! What a glorious thing! We are forgiven. We are made new. He has won the victory and secured our future. Nothing can separate us from His love.

The Savior has come, and He will come again. In the face of this truth, how can we be anything but joyful? No matter our circumstances, no matter the pain, sorrow, grief, fears, dangers, heartaches we face, we are His, and He will never leave us. And one day, He will come and take us home. That is the source of our joy. And it can’t be shaken.

As a side note, I do not mean to suggest that Christians do not struggle with sadness and depression. Christians can and do suffer from depression. But even in the depth of depression, it is possible to turn our eyes to the source of our joy and to remember that depression doesn’t separate us from Him. We can have joy in the knowledge of our salvation even when we don’t feel it.

Joy doesn’t mean that we go through life with happy-clappy attitudes and smiles plastered on our faces. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for sorrow. It’s appropriate to grieve and cry at times. But in those times, we have not lost our joy. We still have that sense of anticipation. Christ is the only joy that lasts.

So what should joy look like in our daily lives? First, our lives should be filled with worship and praise. We have been saved from our sins. They are remembered no more. We are loved, adopted, children of God. We have hope in our resurrection. Our response should be to worship the One who has called us, redeemed us, atoned for us.

Second, we should share our joy with others. Because of how much we love our families, friends, and neighbors, we must share with them the source of our joy. There is no gift more precious in the world than the salvation we have received through Jesus. There is nothing more joyful in this life than seeing others come to Christ. How can we keep silent?

Given the source of our joy, the reality of His resurrection, the security of our salvation, how can we not be joyful? But what about Christians who aren’t? I’m sure we all know Christians who don’t exactly embody joy.

From grumps and cranks to Eeyores and curmudgeons, there are some believers who seem to be happiest when they’re miserable, cantankerous, and grumbling. While I can appreciate that there are those who are naturally pessimistic and grouchy, I don’t think it’s right to revel in those character flaws. The image of the cranky old man yelling at the kids to “get off his lawn” is comedic, but who wants to live that way? It doesn’t seem to fit with the picture of the believer that we see in the fruit of the Spirit.

The world around us is full of reasons to fuss and complain. Our jobs aren’t going well. Our families are crazy. Our health is failing. The government isn’t doing a good job. The politicians we voted for didn’t get elected. The ones we elected broke their promises. The weather is bad: too hot or too cold. The drivers on the roads are idjits. There are so many reasons to be in a bad mood. But when we’re tempted to give in to our emotions, let’s remember the source of our joy.

Let us sing for joy this Christmas! Joy to the world, the Savior has come! And He will come again!

Articles on Other Sites

I’ve had the privilege the last few months to write for a couple of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelical websites. I’ve been meaning to make note of them here and link to the articles I’ve written. I’ll try to do so more quickly with the next ones, but to catch up, here are the ones I’ve written so far.

Place for Truth has a series called Theology on the Go which interviews authors on various topics. A few articles are also written on the topic of the interview as a way of continuing the discussion. So far, I’ve had the pleasure of writing five such articles. I look forward to having the opportunity to write more at Place for Truth this coming year.

I’ve also had the honor of writing a couple of articles for Reformation 21. One was on the Nashville Statement and my concern that it is going to be used as a litmus test by conservative churches and organizations, which appears already to be happening. The other article is a book review of Christina Fox’s most recent book, Closer than a Sister. I hope you’ll take the time to check out these articles and the Alliance websites if you aren’t familiar with them.

Warfield & Inspiration: The Authority of the Bible

B.B. Warfield, Principal of Princeton Theological Seminary at the turn of the 20th century, is well-known for his work defending the divine inspiration of Scripture. During his time at Princeton Seminary, a debate was raging over the authority of the Bible. Were the words of Scripture actually God’s words, or were they merely the words of men with a “divine element” mixed in?

The New Perspective on Paul: Salvation

Unfortunately, this stress on the importance of the cosmos is part and parcel of Wright’s theology. Wright truly does believe that the cosmos are more important in the grand scheme of things. He believes that we have become far too focused on saving people and lost sight of our role in redeeming the cosmos.

Not only has the church misunderstood the purpose and overarching theme of redemption, according to Wright, the church has misunderstood the gospel. When Scripture says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, Wright believes that the point is not so much about individuals being saved from their moral failures, but rather, that Jesus had to come to put God’s rescue plan for creation back on track.

Westminster & Ordination: The Vows

Some, especially those in non-confessional denominations, believe that having confessional standards for ordination that elders are required to know, affirm, and uphold is unnecessarily strict. Some have called the standards a “straitjacket.” On the contrary, the structure and protection the standards provide should be a great comfort both for elders and for members of the congregation. Each knows what to expect.

Assurance and the Westminster Confession of Faith

“The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.” Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621)

Can we know that we’re saved? That question was at the heart of the Reformation. Rome taught that professing believers could never be certain of their salvation. For this reason, believers needed to be careful to perform all the duties and sacraments required to merit final justification. But even the most dedicated believers could not know for sure if they would be saved.

Prayer: Sovereignty & Prayer

The question should not be “If God is sovereign, why should we pray?” but rather, “If God is not sovereign, why should we pray?” It is only because He is sovereign that it makes any sense to pray to Him. What use would a god be that was powerless to help us or who might not hear us when we pray?

The Nashville Statement: A Test of Orthodoxy?

As Christians and as the church, we must stand strong for what the Bible teaches, in all aspects of life. But we should be careful not to bind the conscience of other believers. The Nashville Statement, for however good it might be, is not the Bible. It is also not part of the confessional standards of my denomination. As such, even if it were a perfectly accurate representation of what the Bible teaches, I would not be required to sign it. Given the many valid concerns that faithful, honest believers have regarding the Nashville Statement, we should be very cautious about making support of it a test of orthodoxy.

Closer Than a Sister

Of course, it takes time and effort to build the kinds of relationships where we can trust each other with our struggles and fears and needs. It’s not always easy, as Christina points out. Not everyone is trustworthy. Sometimes friends hurt us, even our brothers and sisters in the church. When that happens, as it does for most of us at some point, it can be hard to open up and allow others into our lives again. But when we withdraw and isolate ourselves so that we can’t get hurt again, we become increasingly lonely, and we miss out on the opportunities God has given us to serve others and to be ministered to.

 

 

The God of Peace

The second Advent focus is peace. Peace means so much more than the kids are quiet and not arguing so I can read my favorite book. It’s also more than an absence of war between nations. What follows is an article I wrote a few years ago about the true meaning of peace.

In November 2012, my family and I went to College Station for an RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) reunion. RUF has been on campus at Texas A&M for more than 25 years. The best part of the whole weekend was hearing my former campus minister, Chris Yates, preach. I am so thankful for him and his family and for all I learned in my years at RUF.

Pastor Yates preached from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.(NASB)

While I’m not going to summarize the whole of his excellent sermon (you can listen to it here), I want to share and expound on one of the points he made.

Pastor Yates opened by discussing what it means that God is a “God of peace.” Since it comes in the opening or closing parts of Paul’s letters, it is easy to skim over it and not really consider the importance of those words. What kind of peace is Paul referring to? Political peace? No, there wasn’t political peace in Paul’s day any more than there is today. How about world peace? Is there world peace? Was there then? No, there isn’t and wasn’t. Well, since Paul isn’t lying, it must mean something else. What other kind of peace is there?

Pastor Yates then pointed us to the verse in Luke 2:14:

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. (NASB)

And then to the hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

The peace that Paul refers to is the peace of “God and sinners reconciled.” What joyful news this is! As the country preacher once said, “God ain’t mad no more!”

This was such a timely reminder for me. I had had a particularly difficult week, and not just the disappointing election results. In troubled times, it is easy to despair. But when we remember that God, through the work of Christ, has defeated sin and death and has reconciled us to Himself, we can lift our eyes and rejoice. When we remember that God is still at work, in the world and in our lives sanctifying us, we can be at peace. Because we are at peace with God, we can be at peace in our lives. What better news is there?

In our culture, it’s in vogue to treat this glorious gospel message with disdain, and not just outside the church. Plenty of scholars, theologians, and pastors will say that it’s wrong to focus on the salvation of God’s people. As Peter Enns has said, “The gospel is not about how you get saved.” They say we’re missing the big picture of the work that God is doing to redeem the cosmos. As Dr. Tim Keller has said:

The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world. … [T]he whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place. … God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation. Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal.

It seems to me that while it is certainly true that God is at work in the world and that there is an ultimate renewal/restoration/re-creation coming that will include the whole of the creation, that as a culture we’ve lost sight of the depths and seriousness of our sin. The weight of our sins, from Adam down to the believers yet to be born, was so severe, the cost of our sins was so high, the chasm between God and man brought about by our sin was so great, that God Himself DIED to pay the penalty. Let me say that again. God DIED. Because of me. Because He LOVES me. Because He has called me by name and written my name on the palm of His hand. Do you not feel the weight of that? Is there anything that could possibly be better news?

Apart from Christ, we are sinners, separated from God, bearing the weight of our sins, unable to save ourselves, but that’s not the end of the story. The God of peace has come, has redeemed His people, is at work sanctifying them Himself, and will come again to present them as holy and blameless. This Sunday, I was reminded of His love for me, of all He has done, is doing, and will do for me. Oh, what joy!

When we sang “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” that Sunday, these words struck me anew:

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Thank God for the peace He’s given us through Christ!

Christian, Where is your Hope?

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NASB)

Hope is the first of the four themes for advent. All too often we speak of hope in a wishful way. “I hope I make it to work on time.” “I hope you’re feeling better.” “Hopefully, my children will sleep tonight.” This kind of uncertain, wishful thinking is not what it means to have hope in Christ. In Christ, we have assurance. We have security. We have a Savior who has come, fulfilling the prophecies of old, and who will come again! Maranatha!

In this advent season, I began thinking about where I often put my hope, and where it ought to be. To remind myself, I made a list of where my hope should not be:

  • My hope is not in my finances.
  • My hope is not in my health.
  • My hope is not in my children.
  • My hope is not in my husband and his love for me.
  • My hope is not in my career or my professional success.
  • My hope is not in my ability to control my life.
  • My hope is not in my appearance.
  • My hope is not in my self-reliance or independence.
  • My hope is not in those around me.
  • My hope is not in me.

All of these things are fleeting. All will ultimately disappoint. None will satisfy. None will save. None are secure. If I have everything the world offers, I could lose it tomorrow. My only hope is in Christ. He will not fail.

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us where our comfort or hope comes from as believers:

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

Christ is our only sure hope. Our salvation is secure in Him. God has saved us, God is saving us, God will save us. Past, present, and future. All are certain in Him. We have great hope.

As the words of the hymn say, “He then is all my Hope and Stay.” Rejoice today in the hope of Christ!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne. — Edward Mote