Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Read Any Good Books Lately?

“The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” 2 Tim. 4:13
         I’m never in the company of my older son or his oldest son very long before one or both of them will ask, “What are you reading?” And I sometimes joke that by the time my husband has finished a book, I don’t have to read it, since he’s shared so much of it with me. J It’s safe to say, books are an important part of our lives..
         For the last few years, I’ve kept a tally of the books read each year. For one reason, I’ve been known to forget after a few years, especially when it comes to fiction. I thought it might be of interest to you to hear about some of these books, along with what benefit, if any, they were to me. I’ll share a tidbit or two from them, just to whet your appetite.
         This year, I re-read three books. Two by Elizabeth Elliot and one by Arthur Matthews, who along with his wife and baby, spent four years under house arrest in China, during WWII. His book, Born For Battle: 31 Studies on Spiritual Battle, is a classic on what is involved in our warfare against Satan. I cannot recommend it too highly. Here’s an excerpt: “There are no safe battles—but there are no safe compromises either.”
Elizabeth Elliot is perhaps my favorite female author. Somehow, to me, the modern ones can’t quite equal her depth of probing and spiritual discernment. Begin with her classic Let Me Be a Woman, where you’ll read things like, “Refuse absolutely to compile a list of offenses which you can dump on your husband someday when he complains about something you’ve done. Love keeps a clean slate.”
         For doctrine, I spent time with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, and A.W. Pink, while at the same time savoring devotional books by J.H. Jowett, George H. Morrison, Warren Wiersbe, and George McDonald. Here’s Morrison: “The Son of God dwelt in a human body, and that has clothed it forever with nobility. If human flesh and sin were indistinguishable, do you think the Word would have become flesh?” And from the mystical McDonald: “Thou art my life—I the brook, thou the spring. Because thine eyes are open, I can see; because thou art thyself, ‘tis therefore I am me.”
         One of my favorite contemporary authors is a comparatively young Reformed pastor in Michigan, named Kevin DeYoung. I was helped by two more of his books this year: The Hole in Our Holiness and Taking God at His Word. He lays out old biblical truths in today’s vernacular, always penetrating and sometimes profound. “Regret feels bad about past sins. Repentance turns away from past sins. Regret looks to our own circumstances. Repentance looks to God. Most of us are content with regret. We just want to feel bad for awhile, have a good cry, enjoy the cathartic experience, bewail our sin, and talk about how sorry we are. But we don’t want to change. We don’t want to deal with God.”
         I read two biographical works this year. Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Patton, and Alister McGrath’s biography of C.S. Lewis. McGrath is another favorite. I also read his“Mere Apologetics.” Not an easy read, but in the end, satisfying.“Faith elicits and invites rational consent, but does not compel it. Faith reaches out to where reason points and does not limit itself the where reason stops.”
         I made use of two yearly devotionals: A Year With C.S. Lewis and My Daily Pursuit,by A.W. Tozer, taken from audio sermons. Tozer: “Man has fallen, but not so far that God can’t restore and redeem us. It’s easy for God to do that because God has material to work with that was once made in His image.”
         Several books of fiction were part of my reading, as well, and as usual,  mysteries.J My favorite is spy novels and perhaps the one I most enjoyed was The Perfect Assassin, by Ward Larsen. I’m reading the sequel right now. For now, his style and stories are the most reminiscent of Vince Flynn, my favorite, who died this past year.
         Finally, in our text, Paul, in prison, reminds young Timothy to bring to him when he comes, his much-needed cloak, his books, but “especially the parchments.” I’m not sure what books Paul read, but I do know what the parchments were. They were the Old Testament scriptures. Books—good books—are capable of being a boon, a buoy, and a blessing in our lives to cheer, strengthen, and edify us. We need them. I need them. But, oh, the parchments…the Scriptures! They’re light for my path, food for my soul, and eternal Truth for my mind. I have read the Bible through many times, but this past year, I did something I’ve never done before. I put Romans 10:17 to the test. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  I listened to the entire Bible, as read by Alexander Scourby. What a joy and blessing to my soul. Try it.
         Now, I’ll repeat my question, “Read any good books lately.” I hope so. If not, now’s a good time to get started. These books are not all I read, but I think one or more of them would be a blessing and help to you. Try Amazon first.
         Have a wonderful, blessed New Year, filled with the joy of the Lord, the Word of God…and books!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Swaddled By Sovereignty

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes…” Luke 2: 7
         I remember my mother helping me after my first two babies were born. I loved watching her bathe them, cover them in lotion, put a fresh new diaper, undershirt and sleeper on, then carefully wrap them up tightly in a receiving blanket. Then she would pick them up and gently smother their little faces with kisses. J I asked her once why she wrapped them so tightly and she said, “It makes them feel safe and protected.” This is called “swaddling.”
         When Mary gave birth to Jesus, there was no nice new layette with which to clothe Him, nor a bassinette or cradle in which to lay Him. But she had brought something to wrap around Him, something to use for swaddling. He may not have had a warm sleeper or a soft undershirt; but His little body was aware of someone who cherished Him enough to wrap Him tightly and cuddle Him.
         Some may consider this too constrictive. “Babies need to be able to kick their feet and flail their arms all around, to always feel free!” I understand this; who doesn’t love to see a kicking baby? But I still hold with the swaddling, too, restrictive though it may seem. It’s never too early to learn that in life, we can’t always do what we want to do. And when the restriction comes with a tender touch and a heart of love, the lesson is priceless.
         God tells Israel in Ezekiel sixteen that when He rescued them, they were like an unwanted, unloved baby cast out in a field, neither washed  “nor swaddled at all.” A stark picture of neglect. But in His sovereign love and mercy, He raised them up and chose them to be His own special people. Ephesians two tells us that when you and I were “dead in…sins,” God “raised us up together, and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” Peter calls us “…a chosen generation” (1 Pet. 2: 9).
         This Christmas season, as I was reading again Luke chapter two, I was greatly moved by those words, “wrapped…in swaddling clothes.”  It seemed to me as if God was using them to assure me that His love and protection and care for me are as personal as swaddling clothes, gently binding and tenderly restrictive. His arms that enfold me are not restraints but reassurances of His care and love for me. And, oh, I do feel loved, as though I’m being…swaddled by Sovereignty!  

Merry Christmas, my dear, dear Readers!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Remember Who You Are

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6: 3-4
         Many years ago, I overheard a mother say to her daughter, who was spending the night away from home, “Remember who you are.” This was a Christian family, so the mother may have been referring to the girl’s testimony as a Christian or as a reflection of their own family name. Probably both, I’m thinking. And she was right in both cases.
         I want to give you—us—the same reminder, but not for either of the aforementioned reasons, worthy as they are. No, my challenge today is to remember who you are, not who you were. And I don’t hesitate to say, it’s just as important as the other two reasons. More, perhaps. This is not another look at Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13 about “forgetting those things which are behind.”  This is about being true to who you really are and refusing to be who you are not.
         These two verses in Romans, and an abundance of others, make it perfectly clear that just as you and I were inseparably united to Adam as far as sin, we are now just as inseparably united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15: 22). We rose from the dead with Him to “walk in newness of life.” Not sinless, for we must walk in sinful, not yet redeemed bodies, but as a new “self.” The only self of which we should be conscious (Gal. 2: 20).
         Here are two things to remember about sins in the past, before or after conversion. First, your past didn’t make you who you are; it made you who you were. You decide who you are, so you see why it’s vitally important to know who you are. We may live in sinful flesh, but that’s not our default setting anymore. And each time we sin, we betray not only God but our true selves. We’re completely out of character.
         Second, the past is not nearly as powerful as it is portrayed to be. It has no more power than we allow it to have; and with the resurrection power we have at our disposal, it should be thought about, much less spoken of, rarely.
It’s hard to be who you are when you’re more familiar with who you were.
         One of the characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, says these words: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” I agree. I say to you, as I say to myself, “Be true to yourself—your true self—your risen from the dead self. Remember who you are, not who you were.

“God help me to live in a morally and honest way, without pretending either to be what I am not or not to be what I am.” – J.I. Packer

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Father I See

“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee.” – Job 42:5
         One of the most bewildering characteristics I have observed in grown children is the variation of their perception of a shared parent. To hear one child talk about his or her father or mother, then hear a sibling describe the same parent, one would wonder if they really shared the same parent at all! But even in families where the diversities are only slight, it’s easy to see, each child sees a father or mother in a unique way. It’s safe to say, in most cases, the difference lies not in the parent but the child’s perception of him or her.
You’ve heard the saying, I know, “Perception is reality,” but the only reality is God’s reality as portrayed and personified in His Word. Still, although perception may not be reality, it does create our personal reality. This is why it’s so important to stay focused on God’s Truth.  
My question now is this: How do you see your Father? Not your earthly father; that may affect your life, but it can’t ruin it, unless you allow it to. But how you see your heavenly Father will not only determine how you interact with, and represent, Him, it can truly change the course of your life. Do you consider His commandments and precepts as demands or safeguards? Do you consider His dealings with you to be unfair, or merciful; and His blessings only right, or undeserved? How you answer questions like these paints a picture of your Father. No wonder when we hear some Christians speak of God, compared to how others do, we’re forced to wonder if they both have the same Father.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” This does not require sinlessness, for in the Bible, you will find the adjective given to things such as gold, silver, “the blood of the grape,” words, thoughts, water, a river, etc. It would seem to mean something stripped down to its intended purpose, with all excess removed. This is how I would describe a pure heart, too. For that reason, that my perception of my Father may be true to reality, I seek a pure heart. My love and affections I gladly share, but my heart belongs to Him. I want it to beat with pure, unadulterated adoration for Him. Like Job, I don’t just want to hear about Him; I want to see Him!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Thinking and Turning

“I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.” (Psalm 119:59)

         “I took a good look at myself and didn’t like what I saw.” Someone I know once made this honest admission to me, and he or she was not speaking of an image in a mirror but a reflection of his or her spiritual life. Very much like the prophet Isaiah’s reaction when he got a good look at himself: “Woe is me! For I am undone” (6:5). It’s easy to drift downstream without taking time to notice in which direction we’re heading, only to wake up one morning to realize we aren’t at all where we wanted to be. And we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?”

         That’s just it; we probably weren’t thinking at all. You see, the Christian life requires consideration. Not the feverish introspection of a neurotic, just deliberate, thoughtful reflection. How important is the Word of God in my life? Do I have a healthy aversion to sin? Am I maintaining fellowship with other believers who encourage me in the things of the Lord? Am I under sound Bible preaching? And, most important of all, is there a clear line open between Heaven and me?

         Even the Psalmist had to stop and think; and when he did, he says, he turned. Ah, now that’s where the rubber meets the road. He turned his feet—not just his heart—back to the Word of God. And in the next verse, he tells us he didn’t let any grass grow under them before he did. “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”  Charles Spurgeon, commenting on this verse, observes, “Action without thought is folly; thought without action is sloth. To think carefully and act promptly is a happy combination.”

 Make no mistake; all through our Christian lives we will need to “think on our ways.” Christianity is a thinking man’s (and woman’s) religion. It’s not lived on the fly—or at least, not well. Take time to think; and when necessary, turn your heart, and your feet, back to the testimonies of God. 

  The measure of our spiritual immaturity is how long we stay out of fellowship.