Showing posts with label Our Saviour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Our Saviour. Show all posts

The One Thing Your Church Needs To Get Right




(The steeple from my childhood church, in case you were wondering.  It was the best church photo I had.)

Let's do a little evaluating exercise, shall we?

I've mentioned a couple of times briefly that Derek and I have had some church upheaval to deal with over the last six months or so.  I won't get into details here, but we decided in light of everything that we needed to take a step back and evaluate our church situation a little bit, and seek where the Lord may have us go.  So we've been trying some of the churches in our area.

This is the second time we have gone through this process in the last few years, so between Derek and me, we have checked out over a hundred churches, either online or in person.  I wish I could say it's been an encouraging process, but on the contrary, it's been incredibly discouraging to me.  The most discouraging part hasn't involved service styles or anything to do with the people in these churches.  So many have been friendly and welcoming.  I've been more discouraged than anything by the content of some of the sermons.

One illustration we heard at a church-that-shall-not-be-named particularly bothered me, maybe because it is an example of everything that I've been discouraged about in our church hunt.  I'm tipping my hand here, but see if you can understand my point after you read the sermon illustration below.  I understand that every illustration is imperfect and falls apart when you try to take it too far, but I was particularly concerned with this one.

This is roughly what was said in one of the sermons we heard.

---

"Let's imagine that a man gets called into his boss's office one day.  His boss tells him that he needs to sell a million dollars worth of product.  He needs to do it in six months, or he'll lose his job.

The man works to sell the company's product.  Six months later, he gets called into the boss's office again.  He sits down, and his boss looks at him.  The man sweats a little bit in nervousness.  He doesn't think he did well enough.   He is fearful that he'll have to go home tonight and tell his wife that he's out of work.

His boss announces that he only sold $7 worth of product in the last six months.

The man hangs his head.  He knows he's going to lose his job.  He didn't do enough.

But his boss looks at him, and tells him that no, he didn't sell enough.  But because he cares about him so much, he's going to give him another six months to sell the million dollars."

"That," this pastor announced proudly, "is grace."


---

Okay.

The only problem is, that is not the Gospel.

I'm going to give that pastor the benefit of a doubt and assume he was merely trying to explain the general concept of grace rather than a Gospel illustration, but I'm using it as an example because the illustration was representative of alot of the teaching we've heard lately.  Let's just be clear:

The Gospel is not that God gives us grace to do better.

The Gospel is not that Jesus is our example.  He is, but He's so much more than just that.

The Gospel is not even about God changing lives.  That is the result of the Gospel, but it's not the Gospel.

The Gospel starts with understanding that we have a sin problem.  Not "messiness", not "mistakes", not "brokenness".  A pervasive, indwelling sin problem that we can never make up for because we are always piling on more sins.

No, nobody is perfect. And that's the problem, because we are talking about a perfect, holy God, full of goodness and light.  And we have sinned against Him (Psalm 51:4).  We have broken His laws.  God must punish sin, or He would not be perfectly just nor good.  We have earned for ourselves death and eternal punishment in Hell (Romans 6:23).  With every disobedience.  With every grumbling or unclean thought. With every "white lie".

That is not a message that some pastors want to focus on these days.  That is not a feel-good message.  That is bad, bad news.  It might even be offensive, because we all have a tendency to think we aren't "that bad" (guilty here).  But even that attitude is the sin of pride!  Even our good deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We're in trouble.

You have to understand the bad news to understand the good news.

God, out of the richness of His loving-kindness, didn't leave us in our sin and death.  He sent His Son, Jesus, who was fully man and fully God, and He was perfect.  He did everything we couldn't, lived a life without sinning even once.  Then because He was perfectly righteous, He took the punishment we had earned upon Himself.  He died in our place.  Then He rose from the dead, conquering our sin and death itself.  He took our sin upon Himself, suffered the wrath against sin that we deserved, and in exchange He gave us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When we recognize who we are, and who Christ is and what He has done, the only thing we need to do is to repent.  We need to turn from our sin and turn to Christ with faith that He will save us.  With faith that He has done everything required for our salvation if we will just turn and trust in Him.

We don't have to be a "better person" to earn His favor.  We don't have to "clean up our lives" to earn forgiveness. We don't have to strive to do things "God's way" in hopes that we've done enough to make up for our wrongs.  We can do nothing to deserve His mercy, we can't make up for our wrongs. But Christ did.  

 "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,  not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior," 

Titus 3:4-6

And when we understand that and turn to Christ, God takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh.  We will respond in loving obedience, because when we understand Jesus died to save us from the punishment of our sin, we will start to hate our sin.  We want to turn our back on it and turn to Jesus because He already saved us from that.  And He enables us to now live for Him (2 Cor. 5:15) through the Holy Spirit working in us, sanctifying us.



---

So if we were going to take that illustration at the top of this post and make it represent the Gospel more truly, it would be something like this.

Your boss comes to you one day and says you have to sell a million dollars in six months or you will lose your job. Worse, you have been embezzling from the company for years, so you have to pay that money back before you can start earning the million dollars.  The total is astronomical.  You will never be able to earn it back.  You are in trouble.

In six months your boss sits down to look at your accounts.  He looks at the papers, and then looks up at you.  You are sweating.  You've done nothing that has decreased what you owe.  You know you deserve to lose your job and be thrown in prison for what you've done.

But he looks at you with eyes filled with compassion.  And he smiles.

He leans forward and tells you he knows what you've done.  He knows what you owe, and that you can never do enough to repay it, no matter how many years he might give you.  But he cares for you like his own child.  You have fallen incredibly short, but His son sold enough to cover everything you owe.  He has credited what his son has earned to your account, and he won't be pressing charges against you for the embezzlement because his son has paid your fine.

You don't have to do anything.  Your debt is payed, your way has been earned.  You can keep your job forever. 

That is mercy.  That is grace.

That is the Gospel.


---

If you have not trusted in Jesus for your eternal salvation, I urge you, please be reconciled to God.  Trust in the One who has done everything necessary to give you eternal life.  Turn away from your sin and turn to Him.

And if you are a believer already, please get this right. And get yourself in a church that gets this right. 

It does little good for church pews to be filled each week, it does little good to hear superficially inspiring sermons, if the message doesn't point us back to Christ and what He has done to save us.  The pure, beautiful truth of what Christ has done for us that we couldn't do for ourselves. Understanding and believing this truth is what brings about actual life change, through God's grace.

I have seen the "gospel" taught wrongly so many times in the past few months, and I don't think I even realized how much of a burden that discouragement was putting on me until a few weeks ago, when we finally sat again in a church that preached everything I just tried to explain above.

I sat there in the pew with tears rolling down my cheeks.  It was such a relief to me, even as someone who is already a believer, after months of "do better" sermons, to hear again from the pulpit the beautiful truth of the Gospel preached clearly.  To marvel again at what Jesus did for me.

We believers still need to hear the Gospel too.






He Is Risen!


"this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it..." Acts 2:23-24

This verse never fails to make my heart jump.  Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, demonstrating His great love for us by paying the penalty we had earned. He died to pay it, even while we were still defiant and rebelling. But it was not even possible for our Savior to be held by death.  Now He is alive forevermore!  He has paid for our sins and conquered death! 

This is everything! 









Happy Resurrection Day, friends. He is risen!


New Orleans And The Resurrection

(Photos taken in April last year, because the trees are weirdly delaying their flowering this spring.)

I'm going to be totally honest guys, it's been a difficult few weeks around here.  Actually, if I'm being totally honest, it's been a difficult year for me so far.

By all measures, this should be a great year.  It's our first year in our new house.  The kids are all getting bigger, and a little easier since we don't have a tiny baby anymore.  Derek is happy in his job, and homeschooling is going fairly well.  It's not an election year (ha!).

But I've been having a hard time.  There is the difficult church situation that is leaving me feeling unanchored.  A couple relationship struggles that are giving me some stress.  Disturbing trends in the culture, and in the "capital-c" Church, that are making me fearful and deeply discouraged.  And my own sinful impulses that make me impatient and irritable with those I love most.

It's not too much, a bunch of (mostly) little things really, but all together it's done a number on my emotional state.

The last couple weeks I hit a breaking point.  One whole week I found myself waking up every hour of each night.  I've never done well on little sleep.  I was completely exhausted, both physically, emotionally, and spiritually as my relationship with the Lord has taken a hit through all this too (no one to blame but myself for that one).

I cried my way through the week, and I just so desperately needed a break.  I could see only endless months of the same ahead, with the only break (vacation) pushed out from May until August this year.  I needed a reset button, and vacation so often is that for me, but I couldn't even look forward to that for a long while.

Derek was due to go on a work trip in a couple weeks to New Orleans, and I could not imagine holding down the fort very well with him gone.  I was so worried about it, I remember shooting up a pathetically short prayer that the Lord would help me to maintain a good and cheerful attitude when Derek was absent.



But then Derek called my mom. And she agreed to watch the kids.  So I get to go with him to New Orleans.

There is something about getting away from my normal surroundings that gives me a clear perspective on life.  It reminds me what I love about home.  It allows me to look with fresh eyes on the things that I need to change.  Vacation almost makes me internally sheepish about how I've been taking my wonderful blessings from God for granted.  It all becomes more clear, somehow.

It's silly, so silly, to write about this during Passion Week.  This is the week that we remember how Christ suffered and died to pay the price for our sins.  For all my sin.  Including my sins of forgetting that Christ is my only anchor and hope, even when the church lets me down.  My sins of selfishness and pride that lead to the relationship struggles I've been dealing with.  My sin of fearing something earthly and temporary when God holds the future in His hands.

I deserved to die and bear the wrath of my own sins, but Christ bore that penalty for me.  He suffered more than I ever will have to suffer, He took my punishment.  And then He rose from the dead, victorious!  He cast my sin away and credited His righteousness to me when I put my trust in Him, and now I'm free of that burden forever.

How silly of me to worry and agonize about the future.  My future is secure for eternity because of what Jesus did for me.  As it is also for everyone who turns to Him in repentance and faith that He alone will save them.

And I'm remembering all this now, as I'm packing a bag for New Orleans.

Maybe it's just a trip to The Big Easy, but planning for that trip at the same time that I'm planning for celebrating His resurrection on Easter has reminded me.  He took care of the biggest thing, the sin that has separated us from Him.  He took care of this relatively small thing of giving me the refreshment of a break that I didn't even dare to pray for.

He's got the rest of it under control too.

"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 
1 Corinthians 15:57



I may try to write again before Easter, but if I don't, Happy Resurrection Day, friends! I pray you know the peace that comes from knowing our Savior.  He is Risen!

And A Merry Christmas To You!



Confession time: Christmas break has not exactly gone as I planned.

I had so many ideas for advent readings and crafts to do with the kids.  We were going to bake, and learn new Christmas carols and Bible verses.  I was going to continue waking up before the kids and get in a rich, meaningful personal Bible study leading up to Christmas Day.

And then the king of all colds struck us last week.  I tell you, if I ever needed a non-serious reminder of the sinful, fallen state of the world, this cold was it.  Even though we are well past being contagious, we still are struggling with scratchy voices and irritating remnants of a cough.  Derek took time off from work, and I rolled out of bed too late every morning for the past week.  Needless to say, my plans did not come to fruition. 

However, I finally felt well enough to get back to my new morning routine again this morning.  I grabbed the Christmas present I bought myself, an illuminated Scripture journal for the book of Hebrews.  I figured I'd just start by checking out the cross-references, and I stumbled across two passages that have helped set my heart back on Christ amidst the Christmas-Eve craziness this morning. (The first one is kind of long, try to take time to read through the whole thing - it's so good!).

"He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created that are in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.  And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have preeminence.  For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in Heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross."
Colossians 1:13-20

"For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
2 Corinthians 4:6


I just love how these passages talk about the light of Christ.  We are lost in darkness, in our sin, without Him - but when we were stumbling around in the dark, God sent us the light of Christ, the light of Himself.  He was born to make peace for us through the blood of His cross.  We are the ones who deserve darkness and death forever because of our sin, but He bore that penalty for us on the cross.  And now if we will merely raise our faces to His light, trusting in His sacrifice and what He has done to save us, we need never be lost in darkness again.





















Merry Christmas, friends.  I pray that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ is shining bright in your hearts this Christmas (and that you have more joy than Georgie in that last picture)!

To Those Who Are Joyful This Christmas




I have found my Christmas joy again this season.

I haven't shared much about it here, but a few years back I struggled with a bit of postpartum depression.  I always say "a bit", "a little", because it didn't feel severe enough to say it without a qualifier.  I never felt suicidal, or like I wanted to hurt my baby.  I didn't stay in bed all day.  I just cried a lot, and struggled with my purpose, and felt like I was viewing my life through a bubble, without being able to feel enough of the joy.  And I just teared up writing that sentence.  It was just "a little", but it was still devastating in it's own way.

I think my struggle manifested itself most at Christmastime.  For a couple years there, when I was going into depression and coming out of it, Christmas was just about the motions.  I tried to listen to the music in church, to let the preaching reach my heart, to meditate on Christ and what He did by coming to save us.  I tried to conjure up an emotion.  But I was mostly just stressed and waiting for Christmas to be over so I wouldn't feel so behind on my to-do list.  So I wouldn't feel the pressure to feel joyful when I couldn't.

It's been a relief to find that I've finally come fully out of that.  That I can enjoy the beauty and joys of Christmas without the same kind of stress and heaviness pulling me down.

I share all this I suppose just to say that Christmas time isn't always filled with joy for everyone.  And I know people who say that seem like they are being killjoys (quite literally), but I have a point here, just hang in there with me.

The other day I stumbled across a Bible verse while I was looking for something else, but it stopped me in my tracks.  This is the verse:

"Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather, and like vinegar on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart."  
Proverbs 25:20

I think we can all testify to the truth of this from personal experience.  But I think this verse really stood out to me this time because I've seen this very situation happen recently, right in front of me.  It's a little different seeing it as more an observer than a participant, and I think it grieves me more.  When you are the one with the heavy heart you are absorbed in the emotion, but when you observe this happening more on the outside of yourself, you see the damage.  And it feels like there is nothing you can personally do about it.

But maybe there is.



Today I was driving in the car, listening to a radio program, and I was reminded of that old song.  It's mournful notes are playing in my head now.  "They will know we are Christians by our love..."

I went home and looked up 1 John and read a couple chapters.  The lyrics above aren't actually in the Bible, but there is plenty about loving one another.  The closest verse to that song is when Jesus tells His disciples that "By this everyone you will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another." (John 13:35)

First John expands on the idea of loving each other:

"My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in action and in truth." 
1 John 3:19

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another."  
1 John 4:7-11

I think it's easy to miss that fact that all this talk about love is specifically talking to us as Christians to love our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ.

This stood out to me more this time I read it, I think because we are currently going through a difficult situation at church that is painful in a lot of different ways.  I think in Christian circles today there is a lot of emphasis on loving non-believers, but on the whole I haven't seen as much emphasis on loving the church.  On loving the people in the church.

The thing is, it's a little easier to love people in the world sometimes, trying to point them to Christ (though too often through mere action, without the necessary accompanying words).  And we pat ourselves on the back for following Christ's command to "love one another".

But if we aren't showing that same love to people in our church, we are missing the whole point.  In the context of these passages, that is what we are being told to do.  To not just love the world, but love each other, love our fellow believers.  That's how Christ says they will know we are His disciples.  If we love our fellow believers.

So how are we supposed to do that, specifically this Christmas, when pain feels like it has to be hidden, and maybe those who are joyful have unintentional blinders amidst all the merriment?

1. You have to be in a church, or some gathering of believers.  Preferably a church though.  That's what the church is supposed to be for, for believers to come together to lift each other up, challenge each other to press on, to encourage one another, to care for each other's needs.  You can't do that as well if you aren't gathering regularly with fellow believers.

2.  Stop plastering on a smile.  We don't gather together on Sunday mornings to pretend we are all perfect and joyful and nothing is ever wrong.  We are sinful humans.  We still struggle with sin as believers.  Life is still hard.  We are still going to go through difficult times.  Jesus promised us trouble while we are here (John 16:33).  We still hurt.  We still hurt each other.  It's okay to show you are hurting or need help, so someone else can lift you up.

3.  Take the blinders off.  Maybe we all hide our hurt or stress so much because we've too often had our pain or grief ignored.  If you are blessed enough to not be currently struggling, maybe keep your eye out for someone who is.

4.  Don't sing songs to a heavy heart.  I think this is about paying attention to other's struggles instead of just our own situation.  There are usually little clues if you pay attention, little signals that maybe not everything is well in someone's life.  Often we don't even respond right when our brother's or sister's pain or hardship is glaringly obvious.  But that's a big reason why we are supposed to be gathering together in the first place.  To take care of one another, and lift each other up.  Singing songs to a heavy heart is not the way to lift each other up (it says so right there, in the verse I shared at the beginning).

5.  Practically - just reach out.  I think at this time of year, it's too easy to just ignore the pain of others, inside and outside the church.  There is merriment to be had, after all!  But I think in doing that, we miss the whole point of Christmas.  We are celebrating, after all, how God Himself reached down to rescue us from the death and judgement we deserve because of our sin.  He sent His Son to be the sacrifice, to pay the penalty for our sin, to give eternal life to those who believe in Him!  We ought to be reaching out to offer that hope to those outside the church, and comfort and help to those inside the church.

6. Share in someone's pain.  We are all really good at rejoicing with those who rejoice (at least outwardly), but I think mourning with those who mourn is even more important.  You can be happy by yourself and be just fine, but mourning by yourself is a terrible burden.  And maybe we reflect the truth of Christmas best when we are willing to reach a hand down to someone else.  Not just in generic, good-deed, pat-yourself-on-the-back ways, but with a heart to share in someone's pain.  It's harder to do that.  It costs more to feel someone's pain with them.  But it's also the way we can maybe lift them a little bit out of it.

The main point is: if you are rejoicing this Christmas, don't forget those who are mourning, even (or especially) those in the church - and take a little time to reach out to them with the love of Christ.  I think that is one of the best ways we could celebrate Christmas.

Have you ever had a Christmas where it was hard to feel joy?

I hope and pray that someone in the body of Christ reached out to you when you needed it.

How We Celebrated Reformation Day (And Why)

(Some affiliate links in this post!  Just on the books you know, so I can buy more books...)

A few weeks ago, we were working through a history lesson, and somehow I got onto the topic of the Reformation.

"So Martin Luther nailed his 95 points to the church door, and there is a thing called Reformation Day now."

"Reformation Day?" Wyatt asked.

"Yes, and it's actually on the same day as Halloween."

Gwen looked thoughtful for a moment.  "Mom, can we celebrate Reformation Day this year?"

And just like that, we were celebrating Reformation Day this year.

---

I already explained a few weeks ago why we choose not to celebrate Halloween in our family, so I am not sure why it hasn't occurred to me to celebrate Reformation Day.  Reformation Day is on October 31st, which is the day that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenburg.  He was mostly arguing against the practice of indulgences at that time, but he came to realize through this process of studying the Bible that our salvation is purely by the grace of God.  We contribute nothing to our salvation, because we have no righteousness of our own with which to approach God.  Christ took the punishment for our sin and gives us His righteousness when we put our trust in Him, and our salvation is completely through His sacrifice and apart from our own works.

You can read more about the Reformation on your own (that was a very surface-y explanation above), but the bottom line is that if you are part of any Protestant Christian denomination, it all started right here.  With Martin Luther and other Reformers, who studied the Bible, through their study rediscovered the truth of the good news of the Gospel, and brought the church back to the firm foundation of the Word Of God.

This is YOUR history, and you are still reaping the benefits of the work the Reformers did in bringing the truth of the Gospel to light. 

I think that is worth celebrating for sure!

As a mom, I really want my kids to know Christian history, and the heritage that has been passed down to us through the sacrifices of people like the Reformers, who fought and died for the truth of God's Word.  I think in Protestant circles, we tend to get a little disconnected from our history, and I'd really like my kids to have a sense of the history and heroes of the faith between the end of the Bible (around 96 AD) until today. I explain these things to them, but I think making a celebration of this part of our history is a wonderful way to help personalize it for my kids.  As I was thinking about how to celebrate Reformation Day, I was trying to think of some ways to have a little fun while we remember our Christian history too.  Here is how we celebrated this year!



1. Reformation Day Shirts 

Several months ago, I stumbled across Diet Of Worms apparel, which makes clothing for "little (and big) reformers".  I laughed out loud at their "It's Hammer Time" t-shirt, and I ordered one for Wyatt and a "Sola Fide" t-shirt for myself.  They have since gone out of business, so I took some inspiration from them and made t-shirts for everyone else in our family myself!  A little guide:

Sola Fide - Latin for "faith alone".  This is one of the five "solas" of the Reformation.


Image via Facebook



1517 - The year Martin Luther nailed up his theses (this year was the 501st anniversary!).



"The Righteous Shall Live By Faith" - the phrase in Romans that led to Luther's epiphany that our salvation is through faith alone.



"On This I Stand, I Can Do No Other" - This is what Luther said at the "Diet Of Worms", which is actually what they called a church council/trial held in the city of Worms, when church leaders asked Luther to recant his writings.  The full quote is here:

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other), my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

The kids loved their shirts and asked to wear them again the next day!  This was fun for me, because it was a like a little Reformation Day present/surprise I could give them.
Speaking of the Diet Of Worms...

2. Worm Pudding
As a play on the Diet Of Worms, we had a "diet of worms" in the form of gummy-worm-and-orea-pudding!  I thought this was really funny and clever of myself, ha!  My kids were a little young to get the joke I think, they just enjoyed the pudding.
3.  A Sausage Dinner
This is in honor of a different sausage dinner, and a sermon preached by a priest there, which kicked off the Reformation in Switzerland.  You can read more about that here.  (Sausage dinner not pictured, but it was really good.)

4. Reformation Day Books
I first toyed with the idea of celebrating Reformation Day last year, for the 500th anniversary, but I was hugely pregnant, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if my kids were old enough to "get it".  This year my oldest two are 7 and 5, and I have to say, it's been really pleasantly surprising to me how much they understand about what the Reformation means!  The got an idea of what we were celebrating just through conversations together, but I wanted to find some books to drive it home.  These are the two I picked:
Reformation ABC's - This is a thorough book for kids, covering a different aspect or hero of the Reformation for each letter.  We didn't read this whole book, since it's probably geared for kids a little older than my kids, but we read several pages, about the Bible, Luther, Hiedelburg and Westminster.  my kids were excited when they recognized a catechism question on the Westminster page!
The Life Of Martin Luther: A Pop-Up Book - This is a pop-up book (obviously), and my kids asked me to read it three times!  It's the story of Martin Luther in a nutshell, and the pop-ups make it so fun.  The only thing I'd change about this book is a line on the last page that mentions Luther introducing "new ideas" - I would rephrase that "biblical ideas" - but other than that, it's just perfect!
5.  Reformation Reading For Me 
This whole celebration of Reformation Day really started with my reading challenge this year.  One of the categories was to read about church history, so I picked up a couple books about the Reformation.  I have been a Christian since I accepted Christ as a child, and I grew up in the church, and it was shocking how much of this history I DIDN'T know!  If you want to celebrate Reformation Day with your kids, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the history too!  Not only has is been helpful in teaching the history to my kids, but it has made me pay more careful attention to different verses in my Bible reading, and really enriched my own faith this year.
The Reformation: How A Monk And A Mallet Changed The World by Stephen Nichols - This book is short and sweet, and most importantly, very readable!  I found this whole book really fascinating, and learned about how I've benefitted from the sacrifices of Reformers I'd never even heard of.  This is a must-have primer on the history of the Reformation, in my opinion.
Why The Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester   -  If the book above is about the history of the Reformation, this book is about the nuts and bolts of what the Reformation was really about.  A lot of the theology discussed is more subtle than I originally thought, but the distinctions are so, so important.  I'm almost done listening to this one on audio, and highly recommend it!

Also a heads up - one of my favorite podcasts/websites has a free "Reformation Day Celebration" for download!  I haven't had a chance to watch it yet because our internet was out last week, but it's still available here!


Stay tuned for Reformations Days in years to come, because I have more ideas already spinning in my head for next year!

Have you heard of Reformation Day?  Have you ever celebrated it (and how)? 

I highly encourage you to give it a try next year!  We had fun with it!









A Point About Evangelism


(A picture from when we visited our friends' ranch in the Spring.  Ranch...agriculture...seeds...let's just go with it.)


Last year I started going to the Community Bible Study I went to as a child with my mom.  I can't express how much of a blessing this Bible Study has been to me since I started back!  It's so encouraging to hear everyone else's insights, and it challenges me to get into God's Word and think about things a little deeper.

Today we talked about the parable of the sower in Mark 4.  To be honest, I didn't love the questions and commentary in the lesson book this week - I felt like they muddied the waters a little.  I was also frustrated with myself for not preparing my lesson ahead of time this week, which limited my ability to contribute to the discussion.  Since I couldn't really get my thoughts out today in class, I thought I'd write them out here since I've had a little more time to think about it.

 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Mark 4:3-8

The parable of the sower is a tricky parable, and I've heard it applied different ways.  But as I've read it, I've always understood it to be a representation of how different people who have not yet believed will respond to God's Word when they hear it.  I did a little more research on it today after our lesson, and I wanted to write out my thoughts for my own clarity, and because I thought about one point in a different way after the discussion today.

"Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satancomes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Mark 4:13-20

These are the categories and my thoughts:


The Hard Soil - Those with hard hearts, who hear the word but it doesn't sink in or take root at all.  Satan immediately snatches it away, and they do not believe.

The Rocky Soil - Those who have an emotional response to God's Word, but who only have superficial, incomplete understanding of it and have never truly repented.  They may even say they "believe in Jesus" in a superficial sense, but we know from other places in the Bible that just acknowledging the truth does nothing.  Even the demons know the truth (James 2:19), but they will not accept it and repent.  When tribulations come, the true colors show, and it is shown that these people never truly believed.  They superficially accepted God's Word because it made them feel good, and as soon as it doesn't anymore, they fall away.

The Thorny Soil - From the way I read this same passage in Matthew, these are the people who hear the Word, and initially want to accept it - but they love the world, they love the things of the world, and as soon as they get back to their lives, it all comes to nothing.  John MacArthur (his sermons were some of my "research" - listen to them here) gave the rich young ruler as an example of this.   They love money and everything else the world has to offer, and that love stifles the Gospel, because we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).


I think the important thing about those second two there is that these people did NOT lose their salvation!  Jesus tells us that once we are His, NOTHING can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:27-30).  Those second two categories of people are those who were never truly converted in the first place.  The love of the world, and misunderstanding of the truth, led to false conversions.

I think the temptation is to try to fit people we know into these categories, but I don't think we should do that.  God knows what kind of soil a person is, and in the end, time will tell, because true believers will abide with Christ and bear fruit (John 15:1-6).  If someone eventually falls away, it's because they never truly let the Word of God take root in their heart and change them, they never truly repented.

I think another important note here is that we shouldn't assume that just because someone "prayed a prayer" that they are actually saved.  God is the only one who truly knows, but if a person has turned away from God, by all means, I think we should preach the Gospel to them again!

Our CBS director said something that was encouraging to me today - she said that no "soil" is beyond hope.  God can pull out those weeds.  God can remove the rocks.  God can break the hard ground.

He can make the soil good.

The final category:


The Good Soil - Those who hear the Word, understand it, and accept it with repentance and faith.  They bear fruit, and spread the truth to those around them, leading to a greater harvest.


All that we have to do is be faithful to spread the seed of the Gospel.  The true Gospel, not a incomplete, feel-good, emotional gospel; not a false, you-can-follow-God-and-keep-all-your-sin gospel.  The true Gospel that we are sinners, people who broke God's law, who deserve death and Hell, but that Jesus, God Himself, came to take our punishment.  He died in our place and rose again to save us from our sin.  We must recognize the truth of who we truly are as sinners and what Christ has done, repent, turn our back on everything the world offers, turn our back on our sin, and follow after Christ alone, with all that we have.

The thing that I realized today is this:

It is not in my power to change the soil of someone's heart.  Only God can do that.

I can't make the soil good by saying things a certain way, or following certain "strategies".  If I am living out and speaking the whole truth of the Gospel, I can't mess this up.  My only job is to spread the seed of the truth of God's Word to those around me.  I can spread the seed, I can water it, but it is God who makes it grow.

"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."

1 Corinthians 3:7

I can't explain how comforting this is to me.  I've lately tried to speak to people about the Gospel more, for the first time in my life really, and I've been shut down, and it breaks my heart every time.  It's easy to worry that I did it all wrong.  But according to this passage, I should expect rejection, I should expect that some will not truly understand.  God is in charge of that, not me.  I don't know how big my personal harvest will be, and I'm not in control of that anyway.  I only need to be faithful to the Great Commission, to spread the seed and pray for God to prepare the ground.

And oh, the joy when some of that seed will take root in good soil.

That's what will make it all worth it.


Evangelism Is Scary



Confession: I've been a Christian for over 20 years, but I struggle with evangelism.  A lot.  I know I'm not alone in this, because I've recently heard a statistic that only 2% of the church shares their faith on a regular basis.  Yikes!  That's embarrassing.

I like to think that sharing the gospel in written form on this blog counts for something, but let's be honest, if I really are about those around me who are headed for Hell, I should be willing to speak up in person too.  But I get scared, and I don't know what to say.  It's a problem.  I've been feeling convicted about this for a couple years, but it's so hard to know where to start.

After praying about this for a while, I feel like the Lord brought a couple resources into my life in the last few months that are making me feel a lot less terrified of evangelizing.  I was going to share about all this in one of my life update posts, but then I thought, hey, evangelism is an important enough topic that it certainly deserves it's own post.  And I know some of you out there have the same struggles as me.  Speak up in the comments!


Resource #1 - Wretched Radio

In December we started listening to a podcast called Wretched Radio.  Derek and I are officially hooked now.  Todd Friel, the host, has a sarcastic sense of humor that is entertaining, but the meat of his ministry is all tied back to the importance of the gospel and evangelism.  We don't always agree with his style or word choice, but he's very grounded on God's word.  Each week he does a "Witness Wednesday" episode, where he gets random people on the radio and witnesses to them right there.  Just hearing how someone else witnesses to people, in real conversations, has made me feel so much more prepared for the moment when I might get a chance to witness to someone myself.  And feeling prepared is half the battle, right?

Resource #2 - Living Waters

On a related note, Friel started this part of the podcast with Ray Comfort, who has a whole Youtube channel where he witnesses to strangers.  His boldness in sharing the gospel is so inspiring, and makes the whole thing seem less scary and more doable.  Derek and I could sit for hours and watch his witnessing videos.  You can see all those here, but be prepared to get sucked in for a ridiculous amount of time.

Resource #3 - Successful Christian Parenting by John MacArthur

I've mentioned Successful Christian Parenting before, but this is my go-to book for refocusing on evangelizing my children - who are the people I want to point to the Lord the most, for obvious reasons!  That's really the whole point of Christian parenting.  I think this book would be great in particular for anyone who has children in their life that they want to lead to Jesus, even if you aren't a parent yet, and the approach he explains in this book would be helpful in witnessing to someone of any age.  I'm reading it again this year.

---

Evangelism is one of those things that I think a lot of us put off because we don't think we have the "gift" of evangelism.  But the thing about spiritual gifts is that they are often things that we are supposed to do whether we have a "gift" for it or not.  We're all supposed to be practicing discernment, hospitality, mercy, etc.  And we're all supposed to be evangelizing.  Plus, this is purely a guess, but I imagine that since we know God is not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), He probably has gifted more than 2% of the church with the gift of evangelism...and maybe a lot of us just don't realize it because we're too scared or lazy to give it a try.

That would be me. But I'm working on it, and I wanted to encourage my fellow sisters in Christ to work on it too.  Checking out these resources is an easy place to start.

Do you have a hard time with evangelism too?  Are you trying to work on it?  What resources have helped you?






How To Explain The Gospel To A Four Year Old

(Forgive me for using springtime pictures in the summer - this is my boy in April.)

When I was six years old, all the girls in my class had seen the Little Mermaid - except me.  My mom had yet to screen that very popular movie, so I really had no idea how to play the Little Mermaid when I visited a new friend’s house.  Her basement was the ocean, and she of course, was Ariel, singing her six-year-old lungs out on the “rock” at the top of the stairs.  When it was my turn to be Ariel, I did not know the mermaid’s songs.  I still have no memory of what I sang instead, but I’m pretty sure the other girl could tell I hadn’t seen the movie.

That visit with a friend I (who I rarely saw again) stands out in my adult memory now - let’s be honest, largely because of the Little Mermaid game that I didn’t really know how to play.  How embarrassing! (Except not really, because I didn’t care that much about the Little Mermaid.)  But it also stands out because of something my friend said.  Don’t ask me how we got on this subject - I think either me or one of my siblings must have asked her if she was saved.  And my friend said she was saved, because every night she asked Jesus to come into her heart.


We Can't Pay Our Own Debts (All The Missing Girls Book Review)



I recently started listening to “What Should I Read Next?”, which is a podcast by Anne Bogel (otherwise known as Modern Mrs. Darcy).  I've been enjoying it - it's the perfect podcast for book nerds!  She puts out a summer reading guide every year, and this year I picked up a few books on her list to check out.  All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda was one of them, and I gave it a try because the story sounded interesting.  It’s a secular book, and I find that reviews of secular books need more breaking down than Christian books, so here we go.

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