Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Praising the Lord this week for:

~Friends who join me in prayer.

~The God who answers. Not always in the way I expect, but always for good.

~Family time

~Dinner out with a friend I rarely have the pleasure of seeing

~Wise words from our pastor on resolving theological differences of opinion

~Garden bounty. I believe I could almost be a vegetarian in the summer months.

~Traveling mercies for my husband as he commutes to work each day

~The Lord's timely provision

Blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Prayer for Wednesday

Resting on God
O God most high, most glorious,
The thought of thine infinite serenity cheers me,
For I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed,
but Thou art forever at perfect peace.
Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment,
they stand fast as the eternal hills.
Thy power knows no bond,
thy goodness no stint.
Thou bringest order out of confusion,
and my defeats are thy victories:
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
I come to thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,
to leave every concern entirely to thee,
every sin calling for Christ's precious blood;
Revive deep spirituality in my heart;
Let me live near to the great Shepherd,
hear his voice, know its tones, follow its calls.
Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,
from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.
Give me an intenser faith in the eternal verities,
burning into me by experience the things I know;
Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,
that I may bear its reproach,
vindicate it,
see Jesus as its essence,
know it in the power of the Spirit.
Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;
unbelief mars my confidence,
sin makes me forget thee.
Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;
Grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to thee,
that all else is trifling.
Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy.
Abide in me, gracious God.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mark #5 of a Healthy Church: A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Evangelism is a topic that makes many Christians - myself included - uncomfortable. But why?

Why do I - a woman with a degree in communications - get tongue-tied when an unbeliever asks me about Christ?

Why do I - a woman who's not given to fear - quake in my proverbial boots when given the opportunity to share the Gospel?

Why do I - a sinful woman who's been given much grace - not shout from the rooftops, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29)

I don't believe I'm the only one. Evangelism may be one of the most misunderstood practices of the modern church. Mark Dever lists common misconceptions we have regarding evangelism. I believe the first three are the cause of my fear. We mistakenly believe that evangelism:

~is imposing our beliefs upon others, rather than simply telling someone the truth
~is defined by its results, rather than the faithfulness of the message preached
~is sharing my personal testimony, rather than the story of the life, death & resurrection of Christ
~can be accomplished through political involvement or social action, rather than focusing on meeting spiritual (not physical) needs
~is merely answering questions & defending the faith, rather than intentionally sharing the Gospel

Without an accurate understanding of evangelism, we will be ill equipped to actually evangelize the lost. Dever offers these biblical guidelines, many of which seem to be missing in churches today:

Tell people with honesty that if they repent and believe they will be saved - but it will be costly. Are we handing out easy-believism tickets to heaven? If we aren't honest about the cost of discipleship, are we sharing the truth of the Gospel?

Tell people with urgency that if they repent and believe they will be saved - but they must decide now. No one knows when they will take their final breath. We may be giving them the final opportunity to be saved.

Tell people with joy that if they repent and believe the Good News they will be saved. However difficult it may be, it is all worth it! The blessings of salvation far outweigh the costs of discipleship.

Use the Bible. Let people know we're not sharing our own words or ideas, but those of God Almighty.

Realize that the lives of individual Christians and of the church as a whole are a central part of evangelism. To quote Dever, "Our lives, individually and as church congregations, should give credibility to the Gospel we proclaim." (p. 129)

Remember to pray. Salvation is God's work, not ours. Prayer is vital.

I don't yet know if our new church offers formal evangelism training or programs geared to "soul-winning " (a term I do not care for, at all). I do know that in the past four months our pastor has been going through the book of Acts, he has consistently highlighted Paul's methods of sharing the Gospel and encouraged us to put these methods into practice in our own lives. He has given me a much clearer understanding of what evangelism is and isn't. The implementation of the lessons is up to me. Perhaps Dever's words will help me to overcome my trepidation,
We need to understand how radical the Gospel is, and how radically bad the human situation is, because if we do not understand this we will obscure the Gospel. Evangelism isn't all about our ability to hawk our religious wares. I know that the discouragement can be painfully sharp sometimes as we do our best to share the Good News and it is received either as unimportant or incredible. But that's where we must remember that it is our part simply to give out the message; God will bring the increase. (p. 143)

This summer, I'm blogging through Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Find out why here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Battle

The Quiet Life isn't always easy. There are days when my fingers long to take to the keyboard, when I am filled with wanting to

...pound out my frustrations with other people's hypocrisy/drama/ignorance

...loudly proclaim my accomplishments

...itemize my husband's attributes

...praise my daughter's achievements

...let everyone know where I've been and what I've been doing

Yes, it is a struggle - sometimes of nearly epic proportions. Yet I strive, with everything that is in me, not to give in to those temptations because

...I have enough hypocrisy/drama/ignorance of my own, even though I try not to put it on public display, and much of what frustrates me isn't worth a personal confrontation (translation: UNIMPORTANT) accomplishments are nothing - NOTHING - compared to what's been accomplished for me through Christ relationship with my husband is between us and the Lord; no one else needs to know details

...I'd rather praise my girl face-to-face rather than screen-to-screen

...I cannot expect my daughter to practice wisdom & employ boundaries in social media if I do not model these concepts for her

Living quietly requires effort, a continual dying to self. By no means have I perfected it, so I keep plugging along.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mark #4 of a Healthy Church: A Biblical Understanding of Conversion

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith.
~Ephesians 2:1-8 (ESV)
A church that rightly preaches the Gospel should also have a biblical understanding of conversion. Salvation that has been reduced to repeating a prayer is no salvation at all.

Mark Dever writes,
If our conversion, our turning, is basically understood to be something we do instead of something God does in us, then we misunderstand it...Scripture presents us as needing to have our hearts replaced, our minds transformed, our spirits given life. We can do none of this for ourselves. the change each human needs, regardless of how we may outwardly appear, is so radical, so near our roots, that only God can bring it about. We need God to convert us.
Prayer by rote will not save our souls. Sadly, tragically, churches are filled with people who have repeated words without understanding them. They believe they have a ticket to heaven though their lives have remained unchanged, not marked by the grace and glory of God. 
In his popular book, The Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren represents conversion in these words: "Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you" (p 59). There is a pit of false hope in placing our faith in our words rather than in God's compassion to receive sinners to himself. Warren falsely (and dangerously) assures us of our salvation. He writes: "If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!" (p 59). How do I judge my own sincerity? The saving grace of salvation is located in a holy and electing God, and a sacrificing, suffering, and obedient Savior. Stakes this high can never rest on my sincerity.

The Christian life is a life imbued with the supernatural power and authority of God. God is the God of salvation. We do not control God by saying magic words or attending church. Conversion is a heart-affair.
~Rosaria Butterfield,
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (p. 35, 36), emphasis mine

In searching for our new church home, we wanted to find a church family whose lives were obviously different from the world. We were not looking for, nor have we found, a church filled with perfect people. More than outward appearances (friendliness, kindness), we were seeking individuals living out their conversion with the understanding that sanctification is an ongoing process. Our new pastor frequently closes his prayers with a plea, "God, help us." To me, this simple cry is a beautiful prayer; we need nothing more and nothing less than God's help as we are transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18, NASB). 

A church with a biblical understanding of conversion will be filled with those who can echo John Newton: "I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I wish to be. I am not what I hope to be. Yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was. By the grace of God, I am what I am."

This summer, I'm blogging through Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Find out why here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Comfort Food for the Soul

Pondering these words, long & hard.

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it - the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge about him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me, and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort - the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates - in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way  I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

There is, certainly, great cause for humility in the thought that he see all the twisted things about me that my fellow humans do not see (and I am glad!), and that he sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough). There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, he wants me as his friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given his Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose.
~J.I. Packer, Knowing God (41-42)