Wednesday, February 28, 2007

John Bunyan on Prayer

I just started reading a book by John Bunyan entitled “Prayer,” and true to the Puritan form, this book has floored me with its biblical truth. In all my (limited) reading, I have yet to find writers who capture the truth of the human condition and the beauty of the Gospel like the Puritans. Here are two excerpts that awakened my soul to the treasure of Christ.

“If you would fully express yourself before the Lord, study, first, your fallen estate; secondly, God’s promises; thirdly, the heart of Christ, which you may know or discern by his condescension and bloodshedding, also by mercy he has formerly extended to great sinners. Plead your own vileness, by way of bemoaning, Christ’s blood by way of expostulation; and in your prayers, let the mercy that he has extended to other great sinners, together with his rich promises of grace, be much upon your heart. Yet let me counsel you to take heed that you content not yourself with words, and that you do not think that God looks only at words. However, whether your works be few or many, let your heart go with them; and then you shall seek him, and find him, when you seek him with your whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13)” (pg.44).

And here is John Bunyan’s advice to parents in the rearing of their children. I don’t think that this would be very popular today.

“For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them of the nature of God’s wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously do, they would sooner teach their children to pray than they do. Men learn to pray by conviction for sin, and this is the way to make our children do so too. But the other way, namely, to be busy in teaching children forms of prayer, before they know anything else, it is the way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride. Teach therefore your children to know their wretched state and condition; tell them of hellfire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation; the way to escape one, and to enjoy the other, and this will bring tears to their eyes, and make hearty groans flow from their hearts; and then also you may tell them to whom they should pray, and through whom they should pray: you may tell them also of God’s promises, and his former grace extended to sinners, according to the Word” (p. 45).

I praise God for the gift of books, and His grace in preserving these great writings from saints of old. They are a conviction to my vile soul, and I pray that God would grant me the grace to be a woman of prayer in even a fraction of the capacity that Bunyan exhorts his readers to. Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Winter Blizzard Part 1

Just when Minnesota was starting to get on my good side with the nearly 50 degree temperatures, it had to go and snow--and not just any snow, 12 inches of snow. This post is called part 1 because I hear it's coming for us again on Wednesday. Take a look for yourself...

The hour it took to shovel the snow off our cars wasn't all bad (it was my first time ever to shovel snow). But I do find it fascinating that so many people voluntarily go outside in this weather. In Texas if you just mention snow the city shuts down for days. Driving in this weather is a new concept, and I am still trying to decide if my trek out in it was really worth the three times I got stuck. Oh well, the time in the snow was fun nonetheless, and it made for good pictures and good laughs.

As a side note, my roommates and I were talking the other night about how roofs collapsed in New York because of the weight from all the of the snow. We then quickly realized that if we get that much snow and our house is in danger of collapsing, I would be the first to go because my bed is at the highest point of the house. Oh well, I guess I'll have to take one for the team.

(Mom: aren't you glad you moved to Florida)

Is Preaching for "Old People"?

I have a friend from college who, when talking about where we both went to church, said that he felt like his “seeker-sensitive” church worked well for him while he was in his twenties. “Maybe when I’m older with kids I’ll go to a church that’s more ‘conservative’, but right now this really meets me where I’m at in life.”

Unfortunately this is a common way of thinking for some people in my generation. Though I am greatly encouraged and strengthened by the rise of young adults embracing reformed theology and holding to the Bible (and for my own church’s commitment to it as well), I can’t ignore the mass of men and women who think that expository preaching is for “old people.”

We put expository preaching into a generational box: the twenty-something’s and younger need stories, the boomers need the preaching. We like relational, communal, topical sermons that meet our “needs” and someday we will gravitate towards sermons, but that’s only when we have kids, right?

This is a devastating predicament that we find ourselves in. If we allow our youth and college groups to be filled with men who simply pay lip-service to God and vaguely throw around Bible verses, we are not teaching the next generation of pastors the importance and power of the Word of God exposited. We are not teaching them to defend the faith when we do not teach them that the Bible really is all they need.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’ve seen too many rooms of college students silenced and attentive when a godly man open up the Bible and preaches with authority to think that this is not a relevant issue for our day. There is power in the Scriptures that cannot be recreated with stories or funny anecdotes.

Preaching doesn’t just start when we have a family—it starts when our families are young. Reverence for the Word of God in our young people comes from a pulpit that upholds the Scriptures and from parents who teach their children that this book is not merely a book a stories—it is the very word of our great God.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Nehemiah 8 when the Israelites asked Ezra to read them the Book of the Law and explain it to them. It wasn’t just adults who came and heard the book read, children “and all who could understand what they heard” (vs. 2b). They stood the entire time the book was read, even their children. These people are a conviction to my sinful soul. I don’t stand when I hear preaching. I sit in a comfortable pew. Often times I get distracted. But these ancestors of the faith were desperate for the Word of God. They begged for the book! We’ve come a long way from the days of the exiles.

And so, I wonder sometimes if the reason why so many of our young people are so flippant with the Word of God and so biblically illiterate is because they have never been taught that the “Word of God is living and active, sharper than an two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It holds the power to save and it contains all we need for life and godliness.

I am so grateful for the faithful men who have opened up the Bible and taught it to me, and for parents who taught me that all we need is the Bible, even when I complained about all of the family times we had to spend listening to sermon tapes. The lessons I learned and the truth that was implanted in my heart is invaluable, and eventually brought me to repentance. May our churches continue to recover the power of preaching, not just in the lives of adults, but in the lives of our young people as well.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Teenage Pregnancy in the UK

I had every intention this morning to post about something not news related. But, when I got on FOX news and saw the link to this article, I felt inclined to write about it, primarily for my own benefit, but also because it directly related to my previous post on the new MTV show (and to share with my friend Samuel something that is going on right on his own doorstep, kind of). I will post on my original intent later this weekend.

The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom came out with an article; on Friday, discussing the rise in teen pregnancy and the apparent “cool” factor that being pregnant seems to bring for these 14 year old girls. This is devastating on multiple levels, but primarily because the Labour party in Britain now has to rethink their sex education program. In their eyes something is seriously wrong, and it shows in the statistics of girls under the age of sixteen who are becoming pregnant.

According to one pregnant teen, the reason why so many girls want to have a baby is because “teenage girls think babies are cute, but they forget the physical side of being pregnant, then having to give up your own childhood to look after a baby.” And now parents, as a result of their children getting pregnant, are wondering what they did wrong. Many parents feel that their teaching on sex education, or even abstinence, is sufficient. As one parent said in the article, “the fact that Kizzy (the pregnant 14 year old) had to help four pregnant girls just goes to show we’re all failing somewhere.”

Now, I am not an expert on the education system in the United Kingdom (maybe Samuel can help me with that), or on the United States for that matter, though I do feel that a situation of this magnitude will require something far greater than simply the Labour Party deciding to teach more abstinence, or better education on safe sex. If we treat abstaining and not abstaining as mere lifestyle choices that we can pick from then we will continue to have children having children. Abstinence without the Gospel will not keep our young girls childless for very long. A heart that has been called out of darkness into light awakens in us a desire to abstain because Christ is now our treasure, and because God commanded it. There is much more at stake then simply changing the teenage pregnancy rate. If we continue to legislate change, instead of the Church proclaiming Christ crucified, then we will not see a change in our moral problem, because the chains of sin will still be wrapped around the hearts of our young people. Souls in bondage to sin cannot do what God commands, because even if they do abstain, they are doing it in their own strength and not the strength that God supplies, which inevitably leads to empty moralism and pride.

These young girls are in my prayers today, and so is the church in the United Kingdom. May the Gospel go forward in the hearts of these children, and their parents, and may they see the power of the Cross to awaken our dead hearts, and free us from sin. I close with my favorite line from my favorite hymn:

“My chains fell off, my soul was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee. Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God should die for me?”

Until this truth is proclaimed, there can be no true abstinence.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

MTV's Saving Sex for Marriage?

MTV’s telling people to save sex for marriage? Well, not exactly. There is a new reality entitled “Engaged and Underage” which chronicles the lives of couples who are young, in-love, engaged, and abstaining from sex until they are married. This should cause evangelicals to jump for joy. At first glance it could look like MTV has turned the tide and steered away from its usual endorsement of promiscuity. But a recent article in the New York Times, which discusses this new show, saddens me and causes me to think about the abstinence movement as a whole.

You see, this television show is not looked at as a model to live by. Like every other reality show out there, it offers caricatures of people who choose to remain chaste until marriage—because, let’s face it, normal people aren’t all that interesting. The author of the New York Times article likened it to “a clever inversion of a rape thriller. Rather than pray that the virgin escapes the glowering lecher, you pray that the young sweethearts surrender their high ideals, go all the way and postpone their terrifying wedding.” Have we so cheapened abstinence that we now joke about it in the context of rape?

I think the most telling, and saddest quote comes from Bre, one of the “brides to be” who says that she actually got the idea of abstinence from Jessica Simpson, and thought “what a great idea.” And now, the Bible is not even our guide for moral living.

As I read this article this morning I asked myself, is God honored in these young couple’s obedience to His command to abstain from sexual immorality? Is MTV contributing to the glory of God in their marketing of these people’s love lives? No. Abstinence for the sake of abstinence is not abstinence at all, and in no way does this show help the wider Christian movement. Abstinence separated from the teachings of Scripture, and most importantly, void of a regenerate heart changed by the Gospel, is still going to send people to hell. We don’t save sex for marriage because we want an MTV show devoted to our moralistic efforts, but because our hearts have been transformed by the power of the Cross and thus made us obedient to God. All of the commands of God to flee from sexual immorality (Leviticus 18:20, 1 Corinthians 6:18, Ephesians 5:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and others) do so not because it is hip and cool, and not even because Jessica Simpson is doing it, but because once we were dead and now we are alive. Once we walked in darkness, and now we walk in light. Once we walked in debauchery, and now we walk in purity. May the Word of our God go forward in a lost MTV generation.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Amy Carmichael and India's Infanticide

My heart broke today as I read the reports from India on the 390 body parts of newborn and unborn babies in a mass grave behind a hospital. The United Kingdom newspaper, Times Online (I would post the link to the article, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet) reported that, according to UNICEF, 50 million girls are missing from Indian society, and 10 million baby girls have been aborted since the ultrasound technology was first used 20 years ago.

The fact that this incident happened in India caused me to reflect on one of my heroes, Amy Carmichael. Carmichael was a missionary to India who devoted her life to rescuing children from moral danger. She began by saving young girls from the horrors of temple prostitution, and inaugurated a children’s home that still stands to this day. She would march into temples, often times at great peril, and would demand for the little girls to be released to her.

Amy Carmichael did for India what the pro-choice movement never will be able to do. She gave young girls back their dignity, and told them that their life was significant to God, even if society told them they were expendable. In our society’s quest to preserve the “rights of women” we are actually annihilating our own gender. And worst of all, we are destroying human beings made in the image of God simply because they were born female.

Where are the Amy Carmichael’s of today? The women who give their lives to rescue the little ones from the snares of death and sin. My heart cries for these little ones who were never given the opportunity to see life, to be adopted into a home, to be held by a mother who loves them. May God be pleased to raise up a generation of committed followers of Christ who stand in the face of infanticide and say that life is valuable and that all babies are a gift from God.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Fun Night at Barnes and Noble

A good friend and I spent our Friday night doing one of my favorite things--perusing the wealth of literature at the local Barnes and Noble. Usually this promises to be a very enlightening experience for me because of my love of reading. But last night's outing brought a different set of feelings and observations. Here are three things I observed:

1. The amount of books that are strictly marketing/ideological tools. Two books in particular stuck out to me, one about the alleged “presidential race” between Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton sadly sandwiched between books on true survivors of the Holocaust and the people who rescued them. Another was a book about Jack Bauer (fictional federal agent on the television show 24) and the spirituality of that show. The most disheartening thing is not that these books are produced, but that people actually buy them. These books won't be here in ten years, especially when one of them is written about a presidential race that is purely speculative, if not imaginary. Where are the books that speak to the soul, that speak to true events and transcend time? The books of the Harlem Renaissance are still here and widely read because they offer us a window into the African-American culture of that time. Most importantly, authors like C.S. Lewis still change lives because he didn’t get bogged down with matters that were irrelevant to the Gospel and the word of God. Books that speak primarily to culture and are mere marketing ploys do not highlight the beauty of the writing process or the great pains it often takes to produce a work of great literature.

2. The amount of books that are auto-biographical. The rise of the memoir has given a tremendous insight into how our culture thinks. We like to talk about ourselves, and it shows. Everyone has a book out about themselves--from Jenny McCarthy to Bill Clinton, these books show the narcissism that has swept over our generation. If you have done anything of relative significance, or gotten noticed in any way you get a book deal, and with the rise of reality television, the book publishers are on to something. We would rather read about someone else, or see someone else's life than read or see anything of substance. But these books are also popular because not only do they fill us in on gossip, but they feed our relativistic ideologies. If Jenny McCarthy’s life is okay and people like to read about her, then its okay if I sleep with my boyfriend. Popularizing sin under the guise of literature and life experience makes sin seem smaller. And no one is really going to argue against someone else’s life experience.

3. The amount of self-help books. There is an answer for every problem, every ailment, every confusion. If we filled the bookstores with the Bible we would see the entire Dr. Phil movement go out of existence. But people don't want the Bible. They are groping for truth and for answers but suppress the very truth that will fill the void in their soul.

So, as I thought today about my experience last night, I realized that everyone is looking for an answer. The store was filled with people who wanted knowledge, but their hearts are darkened. A trip to Barnes and Noble should cause me to pray for my community. Why? Because they are surrounded by words that will never save them. The god of this age has blinded them and in their blindness they grope for hope. Only Christ can save them. The only book that we should be flocking to in our time of despair is the Bible, the very Word of God. It shatters the narcissism in our hearts, it does not need any marketing plan (despite what the publishing houses say), it fills the void in our souls, and it offers the hope of eternal life that cannot be found in 7 Steps to a Happier Life, Job, Marriage, or whatever else is out there. That is something worth reading.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Musings on Valentine's Day

Valentines Day puts people in two camps: the single and the non-single. The single is forced to swarm through the Hallmark propaganda and deal with bitter emotions at all the "happy couples," and the non-single spends the work day dreaming about his or her significant other.

As a single, I have a choice. I can either wallow in my singleness and join the cynical banter of the many other people in my situation, or I can see the beauty of God's sovereignty in in my singleness. Because either way, God is on the throne whether my sinful heart can see it or not. So, here are some truths that have made me marvel at our great God today.

Matthew 19:6 says "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." Though this is often read at weddings, we don't think about what it implies even when we aren't the ones walking down the isle. God is the one who joins. Marriage is far more than people just deciding to love each other and be together forever. It is a holy union, predestined before our births, ordained and created by God. Therefore any attitude of frustration against our marital status (or lack thereof) is actually an offense against God, because it is fundamentally saying "You can't really be trusted in my love life, maybe everything else, but not that."

As painful as being alone can be sometimes, it ultimately is an instrument that is ordained by God to make us rest in Him. To see Him as all. Elisabeth Elliot knew what it meant to be alone, and had to learn, through very hard circumstances, what it meant to trust in the sovereignty of God over all things. In her book Quest for Love, she says "The surrender of the hearts deepest longing is perhaps as close as we come to an understanding of the cross . . . In every form of our own sufferings, He calls us to that fellowship [the fellowship of His own suffering]. Ought we not to be thankful, then, for that?"

So this Valentines Day, I am learning that although I desire to be married someday, I have great fellowship with my Savior because He knows my longings. He knows because He longed for fellowship with His Father on the road to the Cross, yet He had to wait until His will was finished. I can rest in His power because I know that He holds every detail of my life in His hands, and He does all things for our good and His glory.

Friday, February 2, 2007

What is gender anyway?

That is what a German boy and his parents are saying when he became the youngest person to ever undergo gender change treatment. Tim, who is 14, insists that he is a girl trapped in a boy's body, and has been doing so since he was 2. This should break our hearts. Here is a young boy, a child really, who is confused about how God has created him. And who is there to help him? No one. His parents affirm him, the doctors are all for it, and most of the world is embracing this young man's "gender disorder," siting that he is "clearly in the wrong body."

We are not left without an answer for young Tim. Genesis 1:27 tells us, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (ESV). God does not arbitrarily choose gender, nor (most importantly) does he make mistakes when he creates people. Before young Tim was even a thought, God ordained that he be a boy. He created him to be a boy, and to bear his image as a boy. That is the beauty of gender distinctions. That God creates men and women in his image, but he creates them differently, so there can be no confusion as to how you should behave as your God-given gender. And even more crucial than that, he creates complementary genders because it greater manifests his glory and points to Christ. When we abolish biblical gender distinctions, we open the door for more innocent, young people to be confused and socially constructed to think that gender is a non-issue.

My heart goes out to this young man, who no matter what chemicals are given to him, or surgical procedure happens to him, he will still be a man. Because that is how God created him. May God awaken his eyes to the beauty of being an image bearer in the body and role that he was ordained to have by a Holy Creator.