Saturday, January 31, 2015

Reading List! (January 31, 2015)

Finished this month:

She is Mine by Stephanie Fast
I had to opportunity to meet Stephanie Fast and hear her share part of her story at a conference two years ago. I have been waiting to read this book for about 9 months (since I heard it was going to be released - and then I had to wait till Christmas to get it!). I read it in one day – it’s not very long, but very riveting! This well-written and moving account draws you into this little girl’s story. It is so awful how cruel human beings can be to others, more incredibly to innocent children! If I had not heard much of the story already I probably would have cried the whole way through! Even so, I cried… The hardship, abuse and cruelty she suffered was unthinkable – and yet God preserved her, rescued her and redeemed her. This book is only the first part of Stephanie’s story – she’s working on a sequel that tells of her life as a teen which is when God really got a hold of her life personally. Can’t wait!

Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher
I bought this one almost as soon as I heard about it. I really wish I could have read it 5 years ago, but then it just came out in 2012! This is a book to Calvinists, about Calvinism and if you’re in that camp than this is one you should definitely read! To sum up what this short little book is about, if you believe and love the doctrines of Grace (also known as Calvinism) and you want to see it thrive and be preserved here’s what NOT to do. He writes, “if we don’t live our Calvinism, we might just kill it.” (p. 10). Greg Dutcher is very honest with mistakes he’s made in regards to his attitude and focus when it comes to this area of theology. The truth is that the reason many people are turned off from Calvinism is simply because of the attitude of those who hold to it. “Imagine if the first words that came to mind when people thought of Calvinists were ‘gentle’ and ‘empathetic’ instead of ‘scholarly,’ ‘argumentative,’ and ‘arrogant’.” (p. 99). Are we allowing our belief that God chose us (and not the other way around) to humble us, or do we become proud as if we have some sort of “superior knowledge”? Greg asks, “Do we Reformed folks tend to assume that because we are right on predestination, we are the only ones who can actually be right on everything else? Or can we allow the possibility that God has given genuine wisdom and insight to other kinds of believers from whom we can benefit? Even if they are not Calvinists?” (p. 61, emphasis his).

“I unhesitatingly believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation. Therefore (and thus is only logical), I believe that the Arminian understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation is wrong. But the question of application is a simple one: can I live with this theological conviction and still not look down on those with whom I disagree?” (p. 84)

Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ by Russell D. Moore
This book was so good I read it through twice. In one month. Yup, true story. Really good book! A great exposition of the temptation of Christ with lots of practical application! He discusses the root of what Satan was after in each temptation, how those were real temptations to Jesus and how Satan uses the same ones today to tempt us. He also connects these to the first temptation in Eden, with individuals like Saul and David and with the temptation of Israel in the wilderness (which are set up for us as examples in Scripture). He reminds us of the importance of gratitude (for it’s when we are not thankful that we turn to other things) and humility (the opposite of which is pride which is really resisting God’s authority and rule). May we grow to be more like Jesus even as we are brought through temptations and trials; we can be victorious not because of our own strength, but because of who we are. “You are not what you want. You are who you are. And that’s defined by the Word of God.” (p. 72) This was very encouraging and strengthening, I’d definitely recommend it as you seek to fight temptation and sin in your own life and grow in Christ-likeness.

 “Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, doesn’t just free us from our appetites by crucifying them with him, he also enables us to walk in the freedom of his newness of life.” (p. 94)

“Jesus didn’t come to protect himself. He came for the world. He came for the church. He came for you. He bore your reproach, strapped on your curse, carried your exile. This other-directedness freed Jesus to live out a very different life from the cringing, anxiety-filled lives so many of us carry on.” (p. 113)

“We’re Just Friends” And Other Dating Lies by Chuck Milian
This was a very interesting book – I got it cheap on my Kindle. In this book Mr. Milian has come up with an interesting and seemingly good method of helping bring clarity and health to the area of relationships. While I would probably push the physical boundaries he would allow up a level (or two!) he gives clear guidelines (guardrails) and counsel regarding how you should be interacting at various stages of a relationship. He spends a whole chapter on the importance of honest and open communication and another on how to manage feelings, expectations and thoughts. Both of these areas are CRUCIAL and I very must appreciated his practical counsel. If you want some practical advice on this area of life, this is a good read.

The New Covenant and New Covenant Theology by Fred Zaspel
This is a short little book giving a good overview of New Covenant Theology. This “system” is just a way of understanding the relationship between the covenants in Scripture especially the relationship between the old and new covenants. This system essentially believes that the New Covenant is brought about through Christ and that Christ Himself is the fulfillment of the old. The New Covenant fulfills all the promises of the OT covenants and thus as Hebrews 8 teaches, the old becomes “obsolete” and the new takes its place. While we live under the New Covenant in the present, there is still a fuller completion to come in the future. We have the eternal rest promised, but yet to do not see it fully realized in the present.

The Fear of God – The Soul of Godliness by John Murray
Very short little book (more like a booklet) on the fear of God, but some great reminders of how we should to a degree be afraid of God – He is holy and we are not! We all need more fear of God, we all need to come to see how holy He is, how awesome and perfect. In order to walk before God and be godly you must have a fear, awe and reverence for God.

Currently Reading:
In Light of Eternity (Biography of Leonard Ravenhill) by Mack Tomlinson (note: this is BIG book so my goal is to get through it in two months.)

Additional books I want to read this month:

Counseling the Hard Cases by Stuart Scott, Heath Lambert & others and I might get to this one, we’ll see: The Gospel’s Power & Message by Paul Washer. I’m taking 2 classes this semester so will be busy with class reading and homework, thus my reading list may be shorter for the next 3 months!  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

But God, Don't You Want Me to Be Happy?

Life does not go our way.

I’m not even going to use the word “often” because it really doesn’t go the way we think it will at all. Nothing happens the way we thought it would, and while we can sometimes have a general idea of what’s ahead, the circumstances will still surprise us. More often though, there are times when life goes the very opposite of the way we would have desired. Like Job, we also sometimes begin to complain and question what God is doing. I was in this place recently, and here’s what the Lord revealed to me….

But God, don’t You want me to be happy?

No dear one… at least not if it’s your definition of happy. My child, you do not know for what you ask. You think you ask for what is best and what will bring happiness and joy, but I alone know what is best for you. Your happiness is not MY goal. My glory and conforming you to Christ is MY goal. If your sense of happiness is defined by your expectations than you will live your life disappointed; but if you surrender and trust Me, hold on to both My sovereignty and My goodness you shall have peace and joy that no one can take from you. In this world you will have trouble, but do not fear, for I have overcome the world. I have a purpose and a plan that is bigger than you can see and it is for your good, just not the good that you have in mind. Trust Me dear one, I am good. I love you with a love that is deeper, wider and higher than anything in existence. I have forgiven you your sins, I have made you My child, I have cleansed and purified you and made you righteous. All this was through Christ’s work and none of your own. It is finished and done and you are perfect in Him. There is no spot in you. I delight in you and rejoice over you with singing. I shall never leave you nor forsake you, for I am yours by covenant. Delight in My love and walk in My steps. I am what you need, I am all you need, and I will satisfy you abundantly.” 

But God, don’t You want me to have dreams?

“Oh yes. I have lots of dreams and desires too. Do you want to know what my biggest dream is? It’s that what I desire might be your desire. You see beloved, your dreams come from a heart that is not pure, eyes that are not all-seeing, and a mind that is not all-knowing. Dear one, I know your desires and dreams seem so precious and important, I know that your heart aches with hardship and sorrow, with hurt and disappointment; but there is more that I have for you. I desire for you to desire none upon the earth besides Me. I dream of My glory being displayed in your life; I long for your heart to be fully given to Me. I gave up much for this dream. Actually, I died for it. Christ died that this passion of My heart might be fulfilled, that people could be redeemed from their sin and brought into fellowship with Me. I am the One you desire, I am the creator of all dreams. Beloved, My desire is towards you, will you not put your desire in Me and give Me your dreams?

But God, don’t You want me to be healthy?
But God, don’t You want me to succeed?
But God, don’t You want me to have a spouse?
But God, don’t You want me to have good things?

“My child… I desire to give you many good things… but while there are many things that you and I can both call good, there is one ultimate good that I desire for you beloved, and that is Me. I am the “good thing” that you long for. If I give you something, is it not good being from My hand? Am I not good? If I withhold something “good” from you, am I not still good? If I did give you many other good things in this world you would not long for the greater good, that is, Me. What you think is good for you would lead to your ruin, it would merely feed your selfishness. So I may often withhold good things from you My child, because I desire for you to have what is eternally good – a heart that is undivided in its love for Me. What is your good is that you walk before Me in faith and obedience, for that is the way of life. Trust Me beloved, for I am good.” 

But God, I thought life with You was supposed to be happy!?!?

“Oh beloved, you are still looking at your life based on your feelings. It is faith you need, not happy feelings. Feelings change and deceive. I never change, I am the same yesterday, today and forever. Shall not I, the Judge of all the earth, do what is right? I am faithful. I will fulfill My purposes through you. I am good and will work all things for your ultimate good – conformity to the image of Christ. No, it’s not easy, but I bore the worst of it for you and made it possible for you to walk at all. And I will walk with you and carry you through. I will never give up on you. I will always forgive you, for you are Mine. Trust Me, not your feelings. Give Me your heart. In My presence is fullness of joy and at My right hand pleasures forevermore.”

While Job questioned, He also held fast to the sovereignty and goodness of God. He said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10) and “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). That last sentence always amazed me. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” How can you trust a God who could bring you to your death, even a painful one like it appeared to be for Job? Because He is good. Even when we don’t understand, even when it looks impossibly difficult, even when it hurts, we can trust in a God who is sovereign, faithful and good. We must trust Him, for otherwise we shall find ourselves resisting Him.
May we find the grace to surrender to His purposes and rest in His everlasting love. That perfect love that will never let us go.

 “If we could see what God could see (which we never will, because we will never be infinite), we would see millions upon millions of purposes in every action of the Son of God. God is never doing just one thing in what He does with us. He is always doing thousands of things that we cannot see. He never has only one purpose in what He does. He always has thousands of purposes in everything He does… For those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, all of them – all of them! – work together for good.”  – John Piper

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Grateful for the Thorn

"My God, I have never thanked You for my thorn! I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorn. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed to You by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow."   - George Matheson

Perhaps you’ve been there. Expectation and hope… then disappointment. Perhaps someone died, perhaps a dream died. Shattered hopes, dashed plans, a broken heart… I could write about mine, but instead I’ll share someone else’s story. I read it and cried because she wrote it for me. But I’m glad that now I too can say that I am grateful for my day of disappointment. More specifically, I’m grateful for a God who doesn’t make mistakes, who doesn’t forget, who has a plan for my life that’s bigger than I can see and who can turn all my mistakes into lessons. Hard lessons yes, but life-changing ones. Man plans, and hopes and has expectations, but only God will never fail. Keep trusting Him, even though it's hard. It's worth it. He's worth it. My feelings may often tell me otherwise, but I know it's true. I hope this encourages you and I pray you will come to be grateful for the thorn in your life. 

“Any regrets I may have over that which I have lost are swallowed up in relief over that which I have escaped.” ~Unknown

That quotation has been my annual “mantra” on August 9th. However, I take it one step further and use it to realize that it is because of the goodness and wisdom of God that I can view this day in that way.

Some may read what I am about to share and think that I should “be over it by now.” I am.
Some may read what I am about to share and think that I am in some way bitter. I am not.
Some may read what I am about to share and think that I must somehow despise men. I do not. Unh-unh, no way, no how!
I’m going to share it anyhow—but not to prove anything or to defend myself against those whose thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. I share this because somewhere there is a girl, a family member, a coworker, a friend whose life plans just changed, and I want her to know that she’s not the only one, that joy will come again, and that hope will return.

With my wedding plans nearly finalized for my—you guessed it—August 9, 1986 wedding date, I received a call mid-April that changed everything. The wedding was off, and the reality of an uncertain future loomed before me, taunting me with its emptiness and lack of hope. I had cancelled my contract for teaching the following year (and my replacement had already been secured), and there I was, twenty-five years old, with every well-laid-out plan beyond that minute suddenly erased with the giant pink eraser of “there will be no wedding on August 9th.”

Before I continue, I will be transparent and tell you that it hurt deeply, and that for several months, when I looked at what I was “missing out on,” I was bitter, angry, and, quite honestly, a little ticked off. But when I looked at how God used that one single moment in time to change my life—and my heart—I became grateful, encouraged, and comforted. God knew best. The man to whom I was engaged married not long after, and his wife is the perfect match for him. They faithfully serve the Lord together, and the choice to put an abrupt end to our plans—in the long run and in the big picture—was the right one.

When I was finally able to take the blinders off of my view of things, I saw so clearly that I was in love with love, and he and I both deserved more than that. God’s love runs so much deeper than anything we can “muster up” just because we long for marriage.
Sadly, I primarily received the empty platitude from so many people that I had probably even said more than once myself: “God’s got someone better in store for you.”

First of all, just because he chose not to marry you does not make him a bad person. Though many people use that expression to “console” someone who is sad after a breakup, it’s not a great expression. In fact, it’s kind of tacky and lame to attack “the bad guy” or “the bad girl.”
Secondly, maybe God has singleness, not “someone better,” in store for you. But be careful here. Don’t follow my poor example of saying (as I did more than once at that time) that “I’m never going to get married. No one’s going to ever hurt me like that again.” I feel that I can say this because I’m single, but I can generally recognize the woman who is bitter or desperate because she is so verbal about her singleness—and usually in loud and brash ways, accompanied by sarcasm about the subject. I long to go whisper one simple thing to women like that: “Shh.”

Am I tickled pink about not having an earthly life companion? No, I’m not. Am I thrilled to be exactly where God wants me to be at this moment, in this place? You bet I am! Because His way truly is perfect. God didn’t bop Himself upside the head that April morning of my phone call and say, “Oh stink, I forgot all about Brenda.” He knows what’s best for me. He allowed me to learn things that I would never have known otherwise.

So be careful about the “consolation” you give to others:
“It’s good to be single. Think of all the things you couldn’t do if you were married.” “It’s better to not be married than to be married to the wrong person.”

And on the opposite side, when someone becomes engaged:
“Oh, you’ll love married life. Being married is the best thing ever!” “There are so many more ways you can serve as a married couple.”

Instead, we as the body of Christ need to joyfully serve in whatever way—at whatever time—God has for us. Perhaps what we should simply say (and what we should simply teach our children and those in the church pews) is:
“The best thing you can be is what God wants you to be today, in this moment, in this place. His way is perfect.”

When we view life through that lens, we can, with sincerity and a joyful heart, be thankful for the day that never was because it has been a vital part of making us who were are today.


P.S. If this post resonated with you you might enjoy this song by Danny Gokey "Tell Your Heart To Beat Again":