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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Psalm 139

After finishing Wendy Alsup’s book “Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes A Difference in Our Daily Lives” (reviewed below), the Holy Spirit led me to Psalm 139. I had been contemplating what Wendy discusses in her book, that God is sovereign, wise, and compassionate. As Wendy points out, the fact that God is sovereign (supreme authority), would not be comforting if He were not also all wise (knowing all right) and compassionate (loving, kind, merciful). These three characteristics together give us reason to have much confidence in our God.

In many ways, it is easier for me to believe that God is sovereign, compassionate, and wise in the big things of life. God is ruler of the universe, He has compassion on mankind, and the “great mysteries” of life are no mystery to Him. In reading Psalm 139 though, I can see that these qualities of God apply to my life individually as well- God is Lord over me, He has compassionate love for me, and He knows every detail about me and has all the wisdom to know my every need. Imagine if I remembered this truth all the time- in every joy, in every challenge, and in every heartache! It would result in peace in my heart and praise on my lips. Read for yourself how worthy He is of our trust and adoration!

Psalm 139
Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
3You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
11If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,"
12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
13For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
17How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.
19Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!
20They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.
23Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
24And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Book Review of Wendy Alsup's book “Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives” (published by Crossway)

If you are wondering whether “Practical Theology for Women,” is a euphemism for dumbed-down theology or pop-psychology, let me assure you it is not. To the contrary, the major theme of this book is that seeking to know the “deep things of God” from Scripture empowers Christian women in daily living- from the mundane to the events that shake our world. Throughout the book, Alsup quotes robust sections of Scripture to draw out themes such as God’s love for us, the role of trials in giving us greater glimpses into God’s glory, and the role of discipline in conforming us to the image of Christ. Laying a sturdy foundation from Scripture, Alsup highlights key truths about who God is: 1) as the Father who lovingly adopted us into His family and who desires for us to come to Him with all our needs; 2) as the Brother who sacrificially gave His life for ours, bought our freedom and access to the Father, and who demonstrates by example how we ought to live; and 3) as the Spirit who is our counselor, comforter, sanctifier, and the guarantee of the redemption that awaits us. Humbly using examples from her own life, Alsup goes on to challenge women to examine whether our responses in daily life reflect what we know to be true of God in Scripture. She asks:
What enables one man to face open-heart surgery with calm assurance, while another man is devastated because his car transmission needs to be overhauled? What force drives one woman to near hysterics as she contemplates flying in a plane, while another woman seeks to encourage her family even as she shares the news that she has breast cancer? p. 30
Her answer to these questions is biblical faith- knowing the God of the Bible, trusting Him, and subsequently living like we do. As Alsup reminds us, our God is sovereign, wise, and compassionate, and believing this by faith impacts our daily lives. Alsup’s book exposes how our unbelief is often revealed in our common responses to trials by the way we manipulate our circumstances or sink into despair. Rather than settling for this way of living, Alsup urges women to “stop,” “get off of the emotional roller coaster,” and take our thoughts captive to make them obedient to Christ. She then takes us by the hand and walks us through the ways we do this by accessing God and the exceedingly great power that is available to us through the Word and through prayer.
The biggest legacy of this small book is its rich reference to Scripture, and the simple, practical, and empowering application of Scripture to the everyday life of women with everyday struggles. It can be read cover to cover in an hour or two, or it can be read chapter by chapter in about 5 to 10 minutes per day. Alsup not only employs helpful illustrations from her own life and the lives of other women, but she offers Biblical and practical tips on how to study the Bible and how to pray.
After reading this book, I am left with this truth that Alsup draws upon throughout the book: God does not leave us as orphans but rather gives us direct access to Him and to the same power that raised Jesus from the grave! As Alsup’s book reminds us, this truth means something for us everyday at the breakfast table, in our school, in our workplace, in our cars, at the gym, at the mall, in our churches, and in our neighborhoods. It also means something when we lose our job, when our friends betray us, when we lose a loved one to death, or when we face our own impending death. Alsup’s book leaves me convicted, inspired, and empowered as I seek to call on, honor, and image the God of the Bible moment by moment in my life.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"The Unwasted Life" a book review of Carolyn McCulley's book "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?: Trusting God with a Hope Deferred" (published by Crossway)

In our efforts to untangle ourselves from a culture that disparages the Biblical standard of femininity, so often we women in the church tragically trade in our “worldly” idols of self sufficiency and independence for new “Christian” idols of the perfect husband, children, and home. In doing so, we not only audaciously tell God that He is not quite good enough for us, but we also often cause our single sisters in Christ to stumble as they lament being the “less than” female image bearers of Christ. In her excellent book, “Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred,” Carolyn McCulley urges single Christian women to rejoice in the goodness and sovereignty of God while stewarding their singleness as a God-given gift intended for fruitfulness. While acknowledging the loneliness and hardships that come with living with the deferred hope of one day being married with children, McCulley, a single woman in her forties, addresses her fellow unmarried sisters with dignity, humility, honesty, and loving firmness, often drawing upon illustrations from her own struggles. Rather than relegating female singleness to a pre-Proverbs 31 holding pattern, McCulley urges single women to cultivate Biblical feminine virtues to the glory of God in their current season of life. Using Scripture as her guide, McCulley explores the Proverbs 31 qualities that should increasingly characterize any female follower of Christ, irrespective of her marital status. Accordingly, her book is a treasure to both married and unmarried women who desire to submit to the Biblical standard of femininity. McCulley premises her book with the concept of treasuring and trusting God above all. Recognizing that our Heavenly Father works in and through all of our circumstances for our good, she asks the wise question, “What is God doing with and through my singleness?” (Indeed, similar questions can be asked of married women as well: “What is God doing with and through my marriage? What is God doing with and through my motherhood? What is God doing with and through my infertility?”) Viewing her singleness as a “gracious endowment” for the good of those around her, McCulley goes on to describe how the Proverbs 31 picture of femininity applies to the single woman in a way that blesses others. She discusses how a woman can be trustworthy and begin to do her potential future husband good and not harm all the days of her life by guarding her heart and seeking purity now. She calls single woman to submit to what scripture says of marriage, the roles of husbands and wives, and the characteristics to seek out in a godly husband. McCulley gives practical examples of how single women can practice homemaking and hospitality in ways that bless others in their lives now. She directs single women to be wise stewards of their finances and make career decisions that are congruent with their Biblical femininity, taking into account both their current seasons of life and their future. McCulley shows single women how they can seek to be a blessing to children, even if they have none of their own. She urges single women to cultivate inward and outward beauty while guarding against the deception and vanity of charm and outward beauty. She discusses the ways that single woman should be wise and kind in their speech, guarding against disrespect, sinful judgment, and gossip. She offers examples of how a single woman can extend her arms to the needy in her community and in the world. Finally, she concludes with how a single woman can laugh at the days to come, knowing that there is joy in what is to come with or without the blessing of marriage and children. Although I am a married woman, I was deeply convicted and edified by McCulley’s teaching on Biblical femininity. She states what is obvious in scripture- we derive our worth and true joy from God himself, not the gifts He chooses to give us (like marriage and children, for example). We must steward the season of life in which we are. Rather than yielding to what our culture or own desires dictate, we must let scripture guide us in our femininity regardless of our circumstances. The reward is fruitfulness to the glory to God and joy for us in each stage of our lives as daughters of the King.

Monday, July 21, 2008

John 15: 1-17

From John 15: 1-17, Jesus speaking to the disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another."