Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Wise and the Fool

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man holds quietly back.” –Proverbs 29:11

Most of my life I would have been characterized as the fool in Proverbs. Some people are naturally more quiet and reserved. That is not me by any stretch of the imagination. I have been known to give full vent to my anger on a number of occasions. I can be harsh. I can be mean. And I can destroy with my words. My tongue has been my downfall and is still a constant struggle. I would imagine that many probably see themselves in this passage.

Often when we talk about controlling the tongue it comes across as a flippant imperative. Just stop it. Just learn how to not be angry and stop having outbursts. It sounds so simple, right? Anyone who has struggled with anger and their words will know that this is impossible. You spend the morning memorizing verses about the heart and anger only to have to apologize to a friend later in the day because of a harsh word spoken. But there is something more going on in this proverb than simply learning how to not be angry. In fact, the writer assumes that anger is going to be felt. The real challenge is in our response.

It’s not that the wise man has somehow learned how to feel less angry, as if wisdom means numbness to all emotion. Rather, the wise man “quietly holds back.” Wisdom is embodied here as self-control. But what the writer is getting at is that the fool and the wise feel the same indignation, yet one has learned the way of holding back. We are emotional beings and we get angry. God knows that and he has given us these emotions. Wisdom is not a character trait. It is a product of the fruit of the Spirit.

So how do we learn to be like the wise man who “quietly holds back” when he is angry?

First, there is a time to speak and a time to be quiet. Notice how the fool is one who gives “full vent to his spirit”. I don’t think he is saying that wisdom implies never speaking. It’s about discerning the right time to speak. There are occasions that require a clear, decisive voice and others that do not. To learn wisdom is to learn how to discern these moments.

Second, and most importantly, it means clinging to the only wise One. Not only is he the perfect example of what it means to quietly hold back when appropriate, he is wisdom. We aren’t wise and self-controlled because we learn techniques for dealing with anger or handling our emotions. No, we are wise because Jesus is our righteousness, Jesus is our hope, and Jesus is our wisdom. We can hold back from giving into every impulse and feeling because Jesus held back perfectly on our behalf. Even more than that, when we fail and behave like the fool we have a perfect advocate before the Father. Our seemingly righteous acts of wisdom are like filthy rags before him. We never do it perfectly, but Jesus did. What glorious hope for us!

So if you are like me, struggling through this life failing in living the way of the wise more often than you want, take heart, dear Christian. Jesus is wisdom. Jesus did it perfectly so you could be cleansed from every full vent of anger done yesterday, today, and in the future. Trust in him and lean hard into him, the truly wise Savior.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Missions Wednesday: Argentina

I have a horrible confession to make. Growing up I thought that all countries south of the United States were the same. So if someone said that people were Mexican I assumed that meant South Americans too. By God's grace I have since realized the error of my ignorant ways. So doing these missions focused posts is as much an exercise in my own understanding of other cultures as it is for my greater blog audience.

Argentina fascinates me. I'm not really sure why, but it does. While Argentina is a South American country, like so many countries to our south (and even our own country) many of the native peoples are no longer the majority. Native Argentinian people are the minority and 80% of the people in Argentina are actually European. The population of Argentina is over 40 million and only 9.1% are evangelical. The majority of Argentinians would call themselves Christian, but this is mainly Catholic or nominal at best. Like many large nations poverty is a tremendous problem with 13 million living in poverty and 43% of children living below the poverty line.

Ways to pray:

Pray for the one million university students. Many live in poverty. Pray that God would use their physical poverty and quest for knowledge to lead to an understanding of their spiritual poverty leading to a knowledge of Christ.

Pray for the rural areas. Many of the churches are growing in the cities, but there is a need for churches in rural parts of Argentina. Pray that churches would feel compelled to plant churches in these regions.

Pray against false teaching for the spiritually hungry. People are hungry for spiritual truth and while some are turning to Christianity, others are turning to cults and false truths. Pray that God would give the Argentinian people eyes to see the true and living God and that they would trust in Christ alone.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sproul on God's Justice and Mercy

I just started reading The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul and it has been changing my life. Once I finish I will write more about all that I've learned, but for this Monday I want to leave you with a section that really convicted me this morning. Sproul is talking about how we grow familiar with God's mercy and therefore are surprised by his justice. When we get mercy from God we, in our sinfulness, grow to expect it. When he gives justice we cry "this is not fair," when in fact we deserve much worse. I've had to wrestle through my own sinful feelings of unfairness and thinking I deserve more than what I'm getting this past year. God has really had to purge me of a lot of wrong thinking about God's mercy towards sinners like me. This book has helped in that regard and for that I'm so thankful.

To give some background for this quote, Sproul is referring to an experiment he did with some of his students one year. After giving a couple of rounds of mercy to students who failed to turn assignments in on time, he gave a failing grade after the third assignment was not delivered on the due date. Many cried "not fair." And this is where the quote begins.

"The normal activity of God involved far more mercy than I showed those students with their term papers. Old Testament history covers hundreds of years. In that time God was repeatedly merciful. When His divine judgment fell on Nadab and Uzzah, the response was shock and outrage. We have come to expect God to be merciful. From there the next step is easy: We demand it. When it is not forthcoming, our first response is anger against God, coupled with the protest: "It isn't fair." We soon forget that with our first sin we have forfeited all rights to the gift of life. That I am drawing breath this morning is an act of divine mercy. God owes me nothing. I owe Him everything. If He allows a tower to fall on my head this afternoon, I cannot claim injustice."

He goes on to say:

"One of our basic problems is the confusion of injustice and mercy. We live in a world where injustices happen. They happen among people. Every one of us at some time has been a victim of injustice at the hands of another person. Every one of us at some time has committed an injustice against another person. People treat each other unfairly. One thing is certain: No matter how much injustice I have suffered from the hands of other people, I have never suffered the slightest injustice from the hand of God."

Praise the Lord that, in spite of our sinfulness before a holy God, we are given mercy. And praise Him for the fact that we get mercy because his Son, Jesus, took the full weight of his wrath for us. This was injustice. The perfect Son of God in place of wretched sinners. He choose injustice so we would not receive justice. How great is our salvation.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On Wrestling Well

I’ve been camping out in the Psalms a lot lately. I know that I’ve said this before, but the Psalms are filled with such raw emotion. There are words for people who are joyous and words for people who are in deep despair. And they are all God’s words to his people. Last week I listened to a couple of excellent messages on our emotions and I was reminded that God did not create us to be emotionless beings. He gave us our emotions, but sin has corrupted them and therefore we must wrestle daily through our feelings—feelings that can be up one day and down the next.

This is why I love the Psalms. In the Psalms we learn how wrestle. We learn how to fight the fight of faith. We also learn about our God and his great faithfulness to us. Psalm 73 was a great help to me the other day. The context of this Psalm is the prosperity of the wicked. The psalmist says that his feet almost slipped when he saw the wicked prospering. To him it seemed that the wicked go through this life carefree. Now we know that there are many suffering pagans in this world, but isn’t it true that we can look at the seemingly fruitful lives of the unbelieving around us and feel a twinge of jealousy? I know I have. I see women with multiple children and throw a pity party for myself and my empty womb. I see people who have nice homes and I envy all their fancy things while I sit in my little one-bedroom apartment. I feel with the psalmist when he says “all in vain I have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (verse 12). But, like this psalmist, I need a good dose of biblical reality. And I can’t find it by sitting on my couch wallowing in self-pity. Notice where the psalmist goes from here:

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (verses 16-17).

It was only when he went into the sanctuary, God’s house, that he was able to gain a right perspective on the wicked and their seeming prosperity. It was in the fellowship of God’s people that he heard God’s word proclaimed and was able to see the future-minded actions of God. He was also able to see that his envy and pride were turning him away from God (21-22). Isn’t that how it always works? When I am by myself I can make any thought sound like the right one, but when I’m in God’s house and am penetrated by his word through preaching and fellowship my evil thoughts are brought to light. How kind of God to do that for us.

But it doesn’t end there. He realizes that God is the one who keeps him. Even when he is faithless and faltering, God upholds him and preserves his life (23-24). And for those of us who are in Christ, he does the same thing. How often have you felt the pangs of conviction over something only to be met with the sweet fellowship with God upon your repentance? He is keeping you. He is holding you up. Even when you wrestle with the circumstances of your life, he is working all of those things to bring you to himself.

All of this wrestling leads the psalmist to say one of the more famous verses of this Psalm:

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (25-26).

He didn’t get there overnight. Nor do we. These beautiful words of joy in all that God is for us do not come by the mere flip of a psychological switch. It takes wrestling. It takes living life. Sometimes it takes tears and deep anguish. The beauty of it all is not that we pick ourselves up and proclaim these truths. Rather, the most glorious thing about these verses is that God is the one who gets us to this point. Left to ourselves we will continue envying the prosperity of those around us. But God in his great mercy has made a way for us to wrestle well so we can say with the psalmist:

“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”

And those are mighty works, indeed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Missions Wednesday: Bolivia

Bolivia is a South American country with over 10 million people. They are landlocked in between Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. While over 90% of the country is considered Christian, only 16% is evangelical. The instability of the Bolivian government has led them to be one of the poorest countries in the Americas. In addition, Bolivia grows 50% of the world's cocaine, only increasing the instability of the country. The children of Bolivia face the brunt of these problems. The majority of children live in poverty and many are addicted to drugs. All of these circumstances present an opportunity for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed among the people of Bolivia.

Ways to Pray:

  • Pray for the evangelical Christians in Bolivia. Pray that they would teach Christ to the Bolivian people and would not shrink back from ministering to them in the name of Jesus.

  • Pray for the government officials. Pray that they would fight the temptation to abuse the natural resources for illegal activity, such as growing cocaine.

  • Pray for the children of Bolivia. Half of the population is comprised of children. Pray that God would use the heartache of extreme poverty to soften their hearts to riches of grace available to them in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Sexting Adultery?

In the wake of the Anthony Weiner debacle the media has been asking countless questions about how we should respond to this situation, including the all important question: is sexting adultery? Sure we’ve seen the reports of the dangers of sexting among teenagers, but consenting adults brings a whole new dimension to the argument.

The Early Show on CBS, one of the many who have discussed this, facilitated a conversation on Saturday morning asking this very question. The woman interviewed said that men and women see this differently. Women tend to feel betrayed and see this behavior as adulterous, while men are less inclined to say it went that far. The man interviewed said that men don’t want monogamy, basically that men need an outlet. This can be that outlet, and in their eyes it’s not always adultery.

It’s hard to expect secular therapists to really think biblically about the whole thing. Their answers reveal their spiritual blindness. Left to themselves men don’t want monogamy. Women don’t really want it either. But left to ourselves we are no different. By God’s grace we are not left to ourselves. The natural response to the overwhelming urge to sin is to give in to the temptation. In the eyes of the world, the feeling is natural, therefore it should be acted on. Christians are not natural people. We have a new nature. We don’t have to live by our “natural” urges any longer. But I think there is something far more involved going on here than simply a question of adultery. The question actually reveals a flaw in our thinking as a culture.

Christians have an opportunity here to not only condemn the actions of Representative Weiner, and others, but also present a bold, biblical vision for marriage. When we think through the implications of a sexting scandal and whether it is adultery we must look to Jesus and his response in Matthew 5:28, where he says that “anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus sees lust (sexting and any other lust-inducing activity) as adulterous. He was turning the commandment on its head. He cares about the heart, which leads to the action.

But even more so we must go back to the start of marriage, the Garden of Eden. God created marriage: one man for one woman (Gen. 2:18, 24-25). Sin corrupted this beautiful union, but the sin is not the end of the story on marriage. He redeemed marriage, and everything else, through the blood of his son, Jesus Christ. God never intended for anyone else to be brought into the marriage covenant, whether by physical contact, emotional contact, or cyber-contact (Heb. 13:4). Why? Because marriage was not created simply for the two marriage partners, rather marriage points to something greater. When God created marriage he had something far more glorious in his mind, namely Christ and his Bride, the Church (Eph. 5:25-32). When a husband and wife join together in marriage they are telling a story about the greatest marriage of all. And Christ never lets other lovers into his marriage.

So the question of whether sexting is adultery isn’t enough. And we can’t expect CBS News, or any media pundit, to answer that question for us. As Christian we have a much greater answer than simply “yes or no”. We have a picture of the perfect marriage that sets the foundation for all other marriages. And it is this marriage that Christians must proclaim when we talk about our own marriages, and mourn the demise of marriages around us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Studying Ephesians

One of the reasons I decided to go to seminary a few years ago was because of a firm belief that women need theology and serious Bible study. I wanted to gain a solid foundation so I could teach women the Bible someday. I'm always excited when I see a new resource for women that helps them dive into God's word and equips them to study theology. That's why I was so thankful to review Wendy Horger Alsup's book, By His Wounds You are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman's Identity, for The Gospel Coalition Reviews.

If you are looking for a serious study that is geared towards women, this is for you. It would be fine for personal study or even a larger group study with women. Either way, it's a really great resource and a gift to women in the Church. Read the review for yourself, but I'm sure you will find it as helpful to you as it was to me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Missions Wednesday: Afghanistan

After a (too) long hiatus, Missions Wednesday is back! I really want to be disciplined with posting these because they are so helpful in opening my eyes to the nations. I need that. So I hope they help you as much as they help me!

We've all heard a lot about Afghanistan. I'm reading George W. Bush's book Decision Points right now, and as you can imagine, he talks a lot about Afghanistan. And while the Afghani people are not necessarily the people we are warring against personally, we still have been in combat with their country for almost a decade. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). How much more should we pray for the ones who are blinded to the precious truths of Christ and his atoning work.

Afghanistan is 99.85% Muslim, and prior to the toppling of the Taliban, Afghani women were not allowed to go to school and were forced to hide every part of their body (including their face) with a burqa. While they enjoy greater freedom today, their freedom is still within the context of the greater Afghan culture.

Because Afghanistan has been ravaged by war for over 20 years, over 4 million children have been left orphaned by the tragedy. Afghanistan continues to be a closed country that greatly persecutes (even to the point of killing) anyone who attempts to bring Christianity into their midst.

Ways to Pray:

  • Pray that the freedom the women of Afghanistan have been promised will become a reality for them. Pray also that this freedom would provide them with opportunities to hear and be receptive to the gospel.

  • Pray that the political instability and poverty will be a means of softening the Afghani people to the gospel.

  • Pray for the Christians in Afghanistan. Pray that God would give them courage, protection, and resolve to proclaim Christ in a desperate situation.

    • Tuesday, June 7, 2011

      Life is Not a Deadline

      By nature I’m not a very disciplined person. It’s taken a lot of years for me to get a system in place that works for me. After conversion, my desire for discipline grew, but it’s still something I have to work at. So I create lists. If a task is written down in front of me I will do it. And there is something so satisfying about crossing something off a list. My most recent job was very deadline driven, so I had to learn to operate on a deadline every day when I went into the office. It was good for me and I seemed to thrive in an environment that demanded daily action on my part. In my personal life I create deadlines for myself in order to complete tasks and stay disciplined. All of these efforts are good as general rules for getting things done, but what happens if my list doesn’t get done at the end of the day? Well, let’s just say in my quest to become a disciplined person my self-imposed deadlines can often make me a slave to my own ambitions.

      Discipline and executing tasks with excellence are good things. Doing things well brings God glory. Keeping my word honors him. But they aren’t ultimate. In fact, they can be downright sinful if I let them take over my life.

      In this particular new season of my life I’ve been given a lot more free time than I’m used to. That kind of freaks out my non-disciplined self. The thought of waking up without a task makes me twitch. I know what I’ve done with free time before and I don’t want to become an unproductive blob. So I make lists and lists and lists. And feel guilty when I don’t complete all of the tasks I’ve given myself for the day. I mean, I used to get so much more done in the office. What’s wrong with me now? I can be a ruthless boss of myself and I was trapped in this vicious mental cycle until Daniel, in his great wisdom, told me something last week that made me stop, “you don’t have to always be productive during the day. Your job is much different now.”

      It was a profound moment, a sort of sweet release that living my life as a keeper of my home is not one constant deadline waiting to be met. There must be balance as I strive towards productivity and excellence. Now I firmly believe that being a keeper of my home means doing it with excellence and using the full force of my God-given skill set to make my home a haven for my husband and for ministry. But it’s a different sort of work. It isn’t always a list with countless tasks waiting to be checked off. Sometimes it’s visiting a friend in need or driving around with my husband while he makes cold-calls for his job. Sure it’s cooking, cleaning, managing our calendars, and all sorts of domestic tasks. But it’s also so much more than that. It’s about time and availability, especially taking time to stop and help my husband in whatever way he needs. For us, in this season, it’s the little things like reading and proofing letters to his potential accounts, helping him think through our church plant, and eating lunch with him.

      There will come a day where the season isn’t so carefree, and that’s okay. Until then, I want to enjoy these moments and soak them in, knowing that they won't be here forever. But this struggle to find balance will always be about my heart and my constant battle with the to-do list.

      Monday, June 6, 2011

      Suffering Produces Faith in Future Grace

      "When your faith is threatened and tested and stretched to the breaking point, the result is greater capacity to endure. God loves faith in future grace so much that he will test it to the breaking point so as to keep it pure and strong."

      "God so values our wholehearted faith in future grace that he will, graciously, take away everything else in the world that we might be tempted to rely on - even life itself. His aim is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence that he himself will be all we need. He wants us to be able to say with the psalmist, 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever' (Psalm 73:25-26)."

      "We learn through pain that God is faithful and that our faith is real. The people who are most unwavering in their hope are those who have been tested most deeply. The people who look most earnestly and steadfastly to the hope of glory are those who have had the comforts of this life stripped away through tribulations. These are the freest of all people. Their love cannot be daunted by threats or calamities."

      "Through suffering God is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond death, and he is working out his infallible purposes to gather all the elect from the nations of the world and bring in the consummation of his kingdom. The critical point is this: the suffering that seems to threaten future grace is, in reality, grace upon grace. To know this, and to see how it can be so, will help you believe that when all around your sould gives way, the Lord is all your hope and stay."

      -John Piper, Future Grace, "The Future Grace of Suffering"

      Oh, Lord, let this be me.

      Friday, June 3, 2011

      Friday is for Food: Shrimp Tacos

      I have only recently started making seafood related meals. For most of my life I have had an aversion to all things seafood, especially fish. Shrimp sort of freaked me out too, but I would occasionally eat them if I was forced, I mean encouraged to. Daniel really enjoys seafood and has helped me to branch out and try new things, which I have to admit has been a really good thing for me. I never realized how many things I would like. I've really been missing out!

      Last week, my friend Laura told me about these shrimp tacos that she had at her sister's house. They sounded delicious, so I tried them this week. They were amazing! So if you like shrimp and Mexican food, here is a super easy and yummy recipe.

      Shrimp Tacos

      What you need:
      -Half a bag of medium size cooked shrimp (I think if I had bought large shrimp I would need less, so it's worth a try)
      -1 ripe avocado
      -1 lime
      -some sliced red onion or cilantro (I don't like cilantro and I had red onion, so I substituted)
      -Mission Homestyle Flour Tortillas (the best!)
      -1 chili in adobo sauce, chopped
      -1/4 cup of sour cream

      How to make:
      -Thaw shrimp according to instructions, heat for a few minutes in a skillet with a little oil and juice from the lime (I also added a little Kosher salt and cajun seasoning for flavor)
      -Cut up the avocado, set aside
      -Cut up the chili and mix in with sour cream
      -Heat tortillas in microwave until warm
      -Serve shrimp, avocado, sour cream mixture, and onions in warmed tortillas
      Makes 4 tacos


      We had chips and queso for a side. But rice or a vegetable would work well too.

      Thursday, June 2, 2011

      What You Can't Learn on an Island

      The saying “no man is an island” is cliché and overused, but the gist of it is true. God made us to be relational beings. He didn’t create us to be autonomous, self-sufficient, loners. He created us for fellowship, and togetherness. And to use another cliché, he created us for community. Not so we can tout how community focused we are, or even that we are authentic, real people. These are good things to strive for, in fact they are crucial to living life as Christians. But community and authenticity don’t exist simply to make us cool and relevant to a watching world. It’s not a program we can implement in our church hoping it will catch on and motivate our church members to want to suddenly “do life” together while they sip lattes at Starbucks. I think there is something much deeper going on here.

      Titus 2:3-5 is a mantra for passing on godly womanhood to the next generation and with each passing season of my life I am reminded of why I need it so much. After going through the list of ways the older woman is supposed to train the younger, Paul ends verse 5 by saying “so the word of God may not be reviled.” That is the motivation for our discipleship. That is why we live in community with one another. The world around us wants nothing to do with Christ and his call on our lives. We are bombarded on multiple fronts with false gospels and lies about how we are supposed to live. God has provided a way for us to fight the battle within our own souls through his very word. And one of the ways his word takes root in our lives, apart from the preached word of God, is through consistent fellowship with other believers.

      So if we need it so much, what does it really look like?

      For a long time I thought it meant having an official mentor, someone who would meet with me regularly, teach me the Bible, and show me how to be a godly woman. I thought it was a program. And sometimes it is. But often it’s not.

      Passing on the legacy of biblical womanhood takes various forms and can be applied to multiple contexts. By God’s grace he has opened my eyes to the wealth of knowledge around me in the friends I have who are even just a few years ahead of me. Sometimes discipleship looks like the spiritual mother type who invites you over to share your heart and study Proverbs 31 over coffee. But sometimes, and most of the time, it is in the little things, like visiting a godly older friend in the middle of a busy day with three little ones.

      For a long time I would get really discouraged that I didn’t have a “mentor” and would search frantically to find the perfect, older woman to meet with me. Instead what I needed to understand is that I don’t need a program as much as I need to see life lived. I needed, and still need, to see godly women living what it means to love their husbands, walk through suffering, wipe snotty noses, clean again and again and again, and do it all with little fanfare or recognition—at least on this side of eternity. I need to see godly women hoping in God when everything else around them seems hopeless. I need to see stories of God’s faithfulness in the lives of my friends. And that’s why I need community. Not for community’s sake, but because I desperately need to see someone farther ahead than me show me through their life that God is not finished with me yet, and he is still working for my good. This past year has taught me that I need the body of Christ more than I ever realized. And not just in women’s programs on Saturday mornings, but in the daily realities that this Christian life is hard and we need to hold each other’s arms up in this fight of faith.

      We really aren’t meant to be lone rangers, and if we stopped and thought about it we wouldn’t want that life anyway. God created us for relationships and community with each other, and ultimately with him. We need to live life with other people because God in his kindness has ordained that people are one of the ways we are more conformed into his image—in the end we are drawn closer to him.

      I’m so thankful that God has placed women in my life that will walk this Christian road with me. I honestly don’t know where I would be without their persistent, gracious, care for me through the dark, and even happy, times. I’m glad I’ve been able to see the fruit born out of circumstances very similar to my own. It gives me hope. It teaches me how to pray and lean hard into the Lord. More than anything else, it shows me that Jesus is the best thing I could ever hope for. And these are things I could never learn on a lonely island.