We Are What We Read

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When my boys were young, they would bring me “junk” books on our weekly library trips. It wasn’t that the books were that bad, but especially during the school year, I wanted them to read better books. I would tell them that just as our bodies grow and remain healthy with good, nutritious food and just a little bit of “junk”, so our minds grow and remain healthy with well-written, edifying books and a small side of light reading (mostly comic books and thriller type books). We added those type of books in sparingly, and the boys soon learned to read them occasionally rather than regularly. A steady diet of “junk”, whether mental or physical, leaves us feeling sluggish and unhealthy. With so many choices of reading (and listening) on the internet, I’ve started instituting the same rule for my online reading.

To help keep your mind and heart full of enriching words, here are some articles and a podcast I found helpful this week:

Busyness and Rest

Jesus knew the difference between urgent and important. He understood that all the good things He could do were not necessarily the things He ought to do.

Suggested Reading List

If you’re like me and are always looking to dive deeper into various aspects of Biblical and Systematic Theology, this list will keep you reading for a long time.

Don’t Let ‘VeggieTales’ Drive You to Neglect Imperatives

It’s so easy to throw out morals when we seek to avoid moralism. Michael Kruger writes about how to see those morals in the frame of the gospel. Great reading!

On Daughters and Dating: How to Intimidate Suitors

Great article on raising strong daughters. I shared it with my boys with the advice that strong young women with good “walls” are the ones they should seek as wives.

Countering Structural Lie #4: What Does ‘Keeping the Sabbath’ Mean?

True rest isn’t found in “doing,” but in “being” – with the lover of our souls in that intimate, sacred place of communion and surrender.

7 Ways To Make Your Next Vacation More Soul-Nourishing

I plan to incorporate these ideas in my upcoming vacation time.

When Regret Knocks

With only a few weeks left of summer, don’t let regret rob you of savoring those moments you do have.

Lane Tipton on Anchoring our Teaching in the Central Themes of the Bible

Whether you are studying the Bible on your own, in a small group, or teaching it to others, listen to this podcast. Lane Tipton and Nancy Guthrie discuss the importance of teaching and studying the Bible in the context of the big themes God has given us in His Word.

 

 

 

Hanging Up Your Harp

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By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? Psalm 137:1-4 (NKJV)

 

In my last post, I talked about how singing can help in hard times. However, sometimes singing seems impossible—our eyes are full of tears, our throats are choked with sorrow, our emotions are so fragile that even a word will cause us to break. 

The Israelites faced a similar situation. In 586 B.C., the Babylonians broke down the walls of Jerusalem, burned the city, destroyed the Temple, and carried away most of the Israelites to Babylon to live. The sorrow of the Israelite captives overwhelmed them. Jeremiah wrote:
    For these things I weep;
    My eye, my eye overflows with water;
    Because the comforter, who should restore my life,     
    Is far from me. 
    My children are desolate
    Because the enemy prevailed. Lamentations 1:16 (NKJV)

How could they sing when they were in a foreign land and most would never see their homeland again? So they hung up their harps and did not sing. Notice that they did not break their harps or throw them away. Even in the darkness of their despair, they put their instruments carefully away so they could use them again.

We see just a flicker of hope in the preservation of their harps. Perhaps they couldn’t sing today, but one day, when they returned to Zion, they could sing again. They kept their harps for that future day when the Lord relieved their hardship.

We can also have hope that our songs of lament or even silence in the night will again turn to songs of joy. Yes, today is full of sorrow, so much so we cannot sing, we cannot rejoice, we cannot even speak without crying. But it will not always be that way. Even if in this life we never reach the point of singing joyfully again, just as some Israelites died in Babylon and never saw Jerusalem again, we know that one day, we will sing again in the New Jerusalem, when we are with the Lord. Then we will join with the saints in songs of praise to our God, our Deliverer, our Savior and King.

The Lord knows our hearts. He knows that we are frail children of dust, as the hymn writer said, and if we are too full of sadness to do more than groan, the Holy Spirit will speak for us, will sing for us, before the throne of God. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26(NKJV)

What a merciful God to provide even words for us when we have none for ourselves. He never leaves us by those willows by ourselves but meets us there. Jesus was there Himself in Gethsemane, and He knows firsthand our sorrow and our pain. The fact that the Lord has endured the most crushing pain of all and has been victorious gives us hope.

Paul wrote, We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed 2 Corinthians 4:8-9(NKJV). When our strength is gone, He will intervene, and the gospel will shine through as we trust in Him in our darkest days.

If you are in a time when you cannot sing, do not despair. Put your harp carefully away, knowing that you will pick it up again when the storm has passed, when your exile is over, when you can once again sing praise to the Lord in the storm’s midst. Do not fear that He will abandon you if you cannot sing right now. Our Lord is tender towards us and will be gentle with our weakness. Isaiah wrote,

A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench;
He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law. Isaiah 42:3-4(NKJV)
He will deliver you out of this difficult time just as He delivered Israel out of exile and brought them back, singing, to Jerusalem:
So the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness;
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 51:11 (NKJV)

Articles I’ve Read This Week

38d28218-ae06-459f-ab84-df393f1e312bThe internet is filled with many things and none of us have time to read it all. However, I do try to read some of what is being published each week in order to keep up with the conversations that are happening in the world as well as to grow in my understanding and knowledge.

Here are a few articles that I found particularly helpful and/or interesting this week:

The Scale is Not The Boss of You by Lisa-Jo Baker

This is a great article for any of us who struggle with body image and weight. I’ve been listening to Lisa-Jo’s podcast with Christie Purifoy for several months now, and she is such an encouragement.

Best Grief Books

This list of books on grief contains several good ones I knew about and some I had never seen before. I look forward to reading them.

5 Reasons Why You Should Start a Bible Study Group

In the midst of reading and studying Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word this summer, I am becoming increasingly convicted that regular time in God’s Word is essential and that studying with others is better than going it alone. This article has good reasons why we should start a Bible Study group.

Afternoon Practices to Cultivate Creativity

Since I am at work all day, it is easy to lose sight of what I was meditating on in the morning, writing the day before, or reading last night at bedtime. This article was encouraging to me and gave me ideas for refreshing my thinking and creative thoughts even in the middle of a workday.

Knowing Faith Podcast#49 – A Conversation with Dr. Ligon Duncan

Anyone who knows me has probably heard me talk about this podcast. It covers theology, Bible knowledge and understanding, and more theology. The banter is fun but not mean-spirited and the three hosts, Jen Wilkin, JT English, and Kyle Worley, know their stuff. This is the most recent podcast with special guest Dr. Ligon Duncan from Reformed Theological Seminary. I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough.

 

 

Singing in the midst of fires and floods

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Image by Ylvers from Pixabay

When life is hard or the way forward seems dark, singing can often lighten the load, if only for a few moments. In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (NKJV)

The Bible is full of songs, particularly in the book of Psalms, but the old hymns, the ones that the church has been singing for generations, also tend to be full of sound theology and Biblical truth. While there are many hymns I love, one that especially helps in times of sorrow is How Firm a Foundation.

1 How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

2 “Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed;
for I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

3 “When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

4 “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

5 “E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

6 “The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.–“K” in Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787

While we don’t know for sure who penned the words to this hymn, it’s almost certain that Isaiah 43:1-3 was in the author’s mind as he wrote the words.

Isaiah writes:
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
3 For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Isaiah 43:1-3 (NKJV)

As I read and sing these words, I am assured that the Lord is with me, and that no matter how difficult times will get, whether floods or fire, storms or attacks, He has called me by name and I am His forever.

This verse and the hymn do not promise us an easy way, but they do tell us that we have a Redeemer, who goes with us, who will be our refuge and fortress (Psalm 91), who will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), who will save us in the end, even if we must walk through fiery trials and the waters of sorrow now.

Are you passing through deep waters right now or walking through the fire of affliction? The Israelites walked through the midst of the Red Sea and were not drowned for the Lord held back the water (Exodus 14). Daniel’s three friends walked in the midst of the fiery furnace and they were not even singed for an angel or perhaps even the Lord Himself walked with them (Daniel 3).

Go to Jesus. He is your refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46).

Flee to Jesus. He will never leave you nor forsake you. You are His precious child and He has not saved you to destroy you, but to refine you and remake you to conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8).

Trust in Jesus. He has called you by name, you are His forever, and no one can snatch you out of His hand (John 10:28-29).

Sing to Jesus. Sing hymns and spiritual songs to yourself, sing them to your children, sing them to your friends who are suffering. Use the words and the truths they contain to comfort your heart and strengthen your resolve to walk with the Lord, knowing that whatever trials you are facing, whatever sorrows are overwhelming you, however thorny your pathway and however steep your road, that God Himself walks with you and helps you to persevere to the end.

What hymns and spiritual songs bring you comfort in times of need? Please share them in the comments so that we all may have additional truths to hold us up in difficult paths.

 

A Spiritual Mother

Nancy and me July 2013Everyone has a physical mother who gave us birth, even if we have never met or known her. Did you know that alongside a physical mother, some of us have spiritual mothers as well? 

What is a spiritual mother? One of the main characteristics of a spiritual mother is that she is a woman who listens to and obeys God. Mothers give birth, feed and clothe their children, nurture, observe, comfort, and teach. They aren’t perfect because no person is perfect, but they seek to love and care for others in need.  

In Titus 2:3-4, the apostle Paul talks about the importance of older women helping younger women: 

…the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children…Titus 2:3-4  

In Judges 4 and 5, we see an older womanDeborah, whom God used to rescue His people from their enemies. Deborah called herself a “mother in Israel” and she cared for the people of Israel by helping Barak. Huldah the Prophetess in 2 Kings 22, Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, in Luke 1, and Anna, a prophetess, in Luke 2, were also spiritual mothers to their people. 

Like Deborah, a spiritual mother has wisdom and courage. Like Hannah, she brings her needs to the Lord and dedicates herself and her gifts to Him. Like Mary, she accepts the Lord’s will for her life with a humble heart. Like Ruth, she chooses God and His people over heritage, culture, and, if necessary, blood family. Like Abigail, she acts with wisdom even when surrounded by foolish people. Like Esther, she chooses to do what’s right even in the face of negative consequences. Like Martha, she serves the Lord and His followers. Like Mary, she worships at His feet. 

I have been blessed with both a wonderful physical mother and a spiritual mother, Nancy. Nancy and I met soon after I moved to Virginia in 2003. However, it wasn’t until our mothers died within a few weeks of each other that Nancy and I grew close. We grieved together that first year, and in many ways, Nancy became a mother to me through that grieving process.  

Nancy loved the Lord Jesus more than anything else, which was evident in her words, thoughts, and deeds. She made you feel that you were the most important person in the world as she listened closely, advised with godly wisdom and Scripture, and always prayed with you.  

We spent many an hour laughing and crying together, cooking delicious food together, working together, and throwing a fabulous tea party for friends. Our birthdays were only ten days apart, and we often celebrated them together. She helped me to prepare for my wedding several years ago, choosing a dress with me, decorating the church, doing premarital counseling, and coming to see me “behind the scenes” before the ceremony.  

Nancy’s wisdom and knowledge of the Word of God were deep, and our many conversations over the years encouraged my growth in my Christian walk. Always she pointed me back to the Lord Jesus. She believed and communicated that there is no situation outside the control of our Father God and that every circumstance is an opportunity to learn more of His lovingkindness towards us.  

Best of all, she loved me with a deep, unconditional love that I never doubted. Her nurture and care for me as a spiritual daughter was evident to everyone around us.  

Nancy fought the good fight and finished her earthly race a few weeks ago. She is in heaven now with her beloved Lord and although my heart aches with missing her, I am overjoyed that she is praising Jesus in His presence for eternity. The Lord has used her many years of discipleship and love, fun and friendship, conversations and work to make me into the woman I am today.  

My prayer is that I would become a spiritual mother to other women the way Nancy was for me. As I look to the Lord to bring those women into my life, I am thankful that He brought Nancy into mine.  

Do you have a spiritual mother? Or would you like an older woman to take that role in your life? I encourage you to pray and ask the Lord to lead you in finding an older woman who could be a friend and helper in your Christian walk. 

Are you a spiritual mother or do you want to be a one? Pray for the Lord to give you opportunities to care for other women, who need someone to come alongside them, to nurture and care for them. 

May we be open to care for one other and be open to God bringing women into our lives to support as we walk out the path He has chosen for us.

 

Finding God in the Ordinary – Book Review

Blue-centered Daisy

I first heard about Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs while listening to the podcast Mortification of Spin. As the author spoke about his book, I knew that this was something I would love to read since looking for God in the small things is an activity I have long practiced.

My copy is a beautiful hard-bound book with a lovely cover and easily readable fonts. However, the treasure is in the words. Pierce Taylor Hibbs takes ordinary events like drinking coffee, shadows, dust, birds on a telephone wire, snow falling, wind, and light and shows the reader how to find God in these every day, ordinary events.

It’s not just that his prose is delightful, but his choice of words approaches poetry in many places within these essays. And his references to the Trinity, creation, language, God’s majesty and providence, and other theological subjects within his musings about “ordinary” events so enrich those events that I will never look at dust floating in the air or shadows on the grass the same again.

Let me share just a few quotes:

In the greatness of God, the smallest of things is given tremendous weight. p. 6

The beating heart of the Trinity is thumping underneath every human word, no matter how trivial or commonplace. p. 16

While darkness is an arena for the light of faith, it is the Lord of light himself that brings our feeble faith to fruition. pp. 26-27

Mistakes are not just markers of our depravity. They are more than that. They are the triune God’s spadework in the soil of the soul. They are opportunities for the great gardener to tend our lives and help us grow. p. 32

I highly recommend this book and plan to re-read these essays over and over again.

His Love is All Around Us

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Almighty Father, Thy love is like a great sea that girdles the earth.
Out of the deep, we come to float for awhile upon its surface.
We cannot sound its depth nor tell its greatness, only we know that it never faileth.
The winds that blow over us are the breathing of Thy spirit;
the sun that lights and warms us is Thy truth.
Now Thou does suffer us to sail calm seas;
now Thou dost buffet us with storms of trouble;
on the crest of waves of sorrow Thou dost raise us,
but it is Thy love that bears us up;
in the trough of desolation Thou dost sink us,
that we may see nought but Thy love on every side.
And when we pass into the deep again, the waters of Thy love encompass and enfold us.
– Anonymous

From The Book of Comfort by Elizabeth Goudge, p. 265