Wednesday, November 25, 2009

God's Best for Single Women

Are you a single woman who is looking for sound theology on what your current life season should look like as you pursue the Lord and His plans for you? I'm in the process of digging into some resources and learning more about godly singleness (whether that's a place of longing to marry one day or if it's God's life call) to help strengthen that area of Mark of Beauty, and I stumbled across Boundless Webzine. It's a resource from Focus on the Family and it looks like the creator, Candace Watters (and her husband), collaborates with many of the women whom I look to for sound resources on godly womanhood, so this looks to be a solid find. As I was scrolling through the list of topics that this webzine covers, I found a nice handful of articles on singleness. To dive in, follow the link and scroll down to recent articles. I haven't read them all yet, but just by browsing through some of them and the titles and descriptions of others, it looks like there's some good stuff here.

For instance, here's a great point that Suzanne Hadley makes in her article, Vessel of Honor:
So how can we adopt a balanced view of God's intention for marriage and singleness?

First we must realize that God's will for people isn't dependent on marital status. Both faithful marriage and chaste singleness proclaim God. Marriage is an earthly reflection of the union with Christ and other believers awaiting us in heaven. Celibate singleness declares that ultimate union by forgoing sexual union on earth for a season — or, in special cases, for a lifetime.

Ephesians 5:25-27 says:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

By loving their spouses devotedly, married men and women demonstrate on a small scale Christ's love for the church. And by keeping themselves pure, singles express the significance of Christ's coming union with His church (a moment fraught with such greatness that the trials of denying the flesh in this life pale in comparison). In both states — singleness and marriage — a believer reflects Christ through a lifestyle of self-giving.

At this time, I do that by serving the people God has placed in my life — friends, the kids in my Sunday school class, my housemate. In the future, I may fulfill this calling by serving a husband and children. Now I minister as an individual; in the future, I may minister through a family unit. In both states, my life testifies to God's miraculous plan as I pour it out for His use.

I think this is right on and worth exploring more deeply. If you have the time to read any of this stuff -- more from Suzanne Hadley or from other authors featured in this section in the Boundless Webzine -- I would challenge you to go for it. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know how the reading goes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The 5:00 Club

Well, I can't say that I'm really in the 5 AM club ... it's actually more like the 6:30 AM club at my house, but either way, here's the jist.

A month or so ago I wrote about my need to get up early, have my quiet time and spend time with the Lord to prepare myself for the day, so that I am on top of my game and in a place where I can put the Lord before me on all my days' decisions, plans, thoughts, emotions, etc. I can't say that I am very successful at giving the Lord all of my decisions, plans, thoughts, emotions, etc. yet ... that probably won't come in this life, but at least I'm starting down that road. For me, this starts at 6:30 AM.

I've been setting my alarm for 6:30 the past few weeks and so far it's working out fairly well. I may hit the snooze a time or two, but for the most part, I've been able to get up, get my coffee, make my husband his lunch and dive into scripture. I may only have 15 or 30 minutes, depending on the internal alarm of my 15-month-old, but it's enough time right now to lay my day at Jesus' feet and ask Him to equip me with what I need for the day -- patience, gentleness, a gracious spirit like Jesus, the ability to love my family well, the ability to manage my time well so that I can be effective for the gospel, etc.

So far, I can see a huge difference in the way my days play out. I obviously have to continue to pray throughout the day or my efforts just become self-centered again -- which happens all too often -- but I'm at least able to start off well and ask Jesus to give me his perspective for the day.

You may be wondering why the tile of this post is call "The 5:00 Club"? Well, I didn't actually know about this until yesterday, but it's a club that the Mahaney ladies of girltalk formed back in 2006 to hold each other accountable to wake up early and prepare themselves for the day. Nicole Whitacre, one of the Mahaney ladies explains it this way: "I want to stress that this will look different for everyone! The point is not that really godly women get up at 5:00 a.m.! Nowhere in the Bible will you find such a principle. The point is that there are great benefits to rising early—both for your spiritual life and the good of your family. And there are Scriptures that encourage this practice (Psalm 5:3, Prov. 31:15, Mark 1:35). But “early” will look different for every woman reading this post!" So, if the Lord is tugging on your heart, like He did mine, to encourage you to rise early and spend time with the Lord, I would encourage you to read more about The 5:00 Club and take the challenge. As I'm finding, it's revolutionizing my days for the Lord, and I think it will do the same for you.

If you decide to give it a try, feel free to post your comments about how it's going for you under this post or on our Facebook page. I think it would be really encouraging for all of us to see how the Lord is working in our lives and how He's changing us to be more like Jesus.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Movement Toward Women's Ministry

We had our first meeting in a long time toward building a women's ministry at Vintage21 Church yesterday. (There have been many attempts to get this kind of thing running over the course of our history ... 7 years to be exact ... but nothing ever quite stuck and things slowly fizzled out.) So, needless to say, I was a little wary going into this meeting, but it turned out to be excellent!

I feel that in many cases, women's minsitry in general seems to be very pragmatic and program-driven and is not interwoven into the DNA of a church and it's mission. It tends to be a ministry that wants to empower and build it's women, but not propel them toward the gospel in everything it does and build the kingdom. Not that I have a whole lot of experience with women's ministry, so I could be wrong, but that's my overall impression.

The beautiful reality that came out of yesterday's meeting is that our elders stated the importance and absolute need for this ministry to be gospel-centered in all it does, and not just be a sin-management program. And so the elders are going to begin building this ministry at the root level by identifying the fruit that the Bible says a biblical woman should possess and move backward to develop systems and structures to make that happen -- one that leads to mission ... pointing women toward the truth of the gospel at all times and equipping them to go out and love other women well so that those women, who may or may not know Jesus, have an opportunity to see Him more clearly. How beautiful! I'm siked to be a part of this process!

Join me in praying for this ministry and that God would bring the right people to begin laboring for it and leading it!

In relation to this, I was reading over some stuff about missionality this morning. If you're not familiar with the term missionality, or missional living, it basically means that we should adapt and reformulate the way we [the church and it's people] do absolutely everything in worship, discipleship, community, and service -- so as to engage with the Non-Christian society around us. (This is very relevant to us as women because we have the beautiful opportunity to share with women who don't know Jesus, or who do for that matter, the beautiful design and purpose that He has for them that is contrary to the feminist ideology that is so present in today's society. We have the opportunity to adapt the way we live, to live and breathe scripture, but to be relevant within our culture so that we can take Jesus to the women around us gently, lovingly, authentically, and humbly.) Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York has a great paper on this (not necessary directed toward women in general, but it definitely applies). If you're interested in learning more, I would encourage you to check it out!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dealing with Sin ... What Fun!

Sin is not something that I like to talk about or much less think about a whole lot. As a follower of Jesus, I obviously believe that I am sinner because Jesus says that I am in His Word and that's ultimately the reason why God sent him to earth, bottled up his godliness into human form to live the life that I couldn't live, died on the cross to pay for the sin that I couldn't pay for and rose again to give my blemished self new and eternal life. I know that I am sinner. But somehow, I live my life as if it's not always a big deal. Society doesn't emphasize it, why should I? (Eww ... so wrong!)

Not that I would outwardly communicate that my goal in life is to sin and gratify my fleshly desires as oppose to glorify the Lord ... but when I look at my behavior and my words and my thought life, I can't believe how easily I fool myself. My own mind is numb to the sinfulness of my heart and many times I can't even identify the sin in my life, much less verbally confess it and repent of it and plead with the Lord to help me not do it again. How terrible! If I'm a believer and spend time in the Word, shouldn't this be a natural out pour of my life? Maybe it's not so natural ... maybe it's something I really have to learn, become disciplined at and grow in. But if my heart was originally created in the image of God, there is hope for me, but it's going to take a lot of sin whittling to get there!

Somehow, the Lord has broken through the numbness of my mind in the last few weeks and has begun to point out the areas of my brokenness and how desperately I need the Holy Spirit to intervene! It's amazing how He can use marriage to reveal this truth in our lives! How great and how frustrating at the same time!

As I was really trying to address some of this stuff this morning, I stumbled across a fantastic sermon transcript from a pastor by the name of John MacArthur, Jr. of Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California. The sermon focuses on dealing with habitual sin. Now I'm always a bit weary to utilize and refer to resources that I am not familiar with, but after reading through this sermon transcript and referencing the scripture behind it, I feel that it is totally legit and worth studying. Funny thing, I have been a believer for about 20 years and I have never come across a better explanation of how to deal with my sin than this. I want to share some of the highlights of the sermon below and then I'd encourage you to check it out for yourself. It's definitely worth your time!

MacArthur focuses his sermon around Hebrews 12:1 by saying, "... let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." He uses this to simply express that as a fallen people, who are separated from God, sin is a part of who we are (Jeremiah 13:23), that our hearts our deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and that sin does not remain separate but it mingles in all of our motives and actions (Romans 7), regardless of how hard we try to separate our goodness and our sin.

This thought is not new to me at all, in fact that's what brought me to this place, but the question that I have and that MacArthur answers so well is, "How do we 'lay aside the sin that so easily entangles us'?" We see in 2 Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 4:22, Romans 6:12 and 1 Peter 2:1 & 11 that we're commanded to do this. Sadly, I find myself wrestling with the same sin over and over. It may present itself in different situations, but when I look at the root of it, it's all the same, and I can't seem to move past it.

Now, I'm not saying that I never confess my sin and seek forgiveness ... that's not true at all, but as MacArthur communicates so well, my confession tends to be more periodic, prior to communion or when I'm seriously convicted rather than ongoing. And when this is the case, MacArthur says that we tend to walk away from those events with very little change in the pattern of our sinning. He says that we want to confess our sins and that we have the confidence that He is faithful and just to forgive, which is true of me, but that we don't take the steps toward a decreased load of sin -- where our list of sins becomes shorter and shorter because we're dealing with it on an ongoing basis. (Not that we ever stop sinning completely, but we're moving toward healthy, progressive sanctification.)

Here are the 8 steps that MacArthur identifies as ways to begin "laying aside our sin" or in reality, leaving it at the foot of the cross and pleading with Jesus to help us not do it again!
  1. Don't underestimate the seriousness of sin. When I first read this, I thought to myself, "Oh, I know that my sin is a serious offense toward God," and began to read on. But darn it, if I really knew how serious the offense was, my life would look a lot different. I would try a lot harder NOT to sin! My heart would be so changed that the out pour of that change into my actions, words and thoughts would be very different. I think this is the same idea as knowing the Gospel. On the surface, we know it well, but when we look to see if it permeates every area of our life as a response to Christ's gift of grace to us, we quickly realize that we know a whole lot less about the Gospel than we think we do. It's time to hit the books (scripture, really) and get down on my knees.

  2. Strongly purpose and promise God not to sin. Now at first, I was a little suspicious of this call. "How am I suppose to promise God that I won't sin again if I know that I am a sinner and cannot live a perfect life?" But MacArthur uses strong commands from scripture to support his point. Not that we won't sin again, but if progressive sanctification is our goal, and scripture says it should be (Romans 6:1-23), we need to seek forgiveness from sin and move forward aiming not to do it again. Psalm 119:106 -- "I have sworn, and I will confirm it, that I will keep Thy righteous ordinances." Psalm 119:32 -- "I shall run the way of Thy commandments, for Thou will enlarge my heart." Hmm, looks like Psalm 119 is just bursting with support and directives!

    In addition, verse 32 brings up a great point about endurance. I typically think of my faith as a growing test of endurance, not necessary my heart's capacity to strive toward righteousness. MacArthur says that this verse communicates the endurance that we need for our heart to push forward, to exceed limitations, or to enlarge. And when I think about this, it makes perfect sense ... God created my heart in His image, therefore my heart has the capacity for perfect obedience, without the existence of sin. I'm not going to get there while I'm on earth, but that doesn't mean that I can't be in training for that day and continually strive to strengthen my heart and it's capacity grow and change for good.

  3. Be suspicious of your own spirituality. MacArthur references Job 31:1 and Proverbs 4:23 here. The verse from Proverbs particularly strikes a chord with me: "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." Gracious, why am I not more careful of the things that I allow in my heart? MacArthur says that we need to "understand that except for the grace of God we would fall into any and every sin and we would be deceived so easily." Praise the Lord His gift of GRACE!

  4. Resist the first risings of the flesh and its pleasures. MacArthur's biggest point here is to stop sin at it's conception not at it's birth. This will root out a great deal of sin and it's ability to penetrate into all areas of our life. MacArthur then reminds us that if we find ourselves sacrificing for ourselves and seeking pleasures that we desire, instead of what the Lord desires for us, we've already given in. This is huge ... I've got to stop and think ... it's not about me and what I want, it's about Jesus and what pleases him!

  5. Meditate on the Word. MacArthur brings Psalm 37:31 to mind here: "The law of his God is in His heart; his steps do not slip." When a heart is controlled by the Word the steps don't slip. Hmm, I remember referencing this idea a few weeks ago in my post on Atheistic Enterprising. This again reminds me that if we're surrounded and immersed in God's Word, that's the stream that will out pour from our souls. If we're immersed in other things -- materialism, selfishness, fame, pride, etc. -- those things will take the place of godliness in our lives.

    MacArthur goes on to say that "It is the constant input of God's Word that begins to fill up the mind and control the thinking, and that alone becomes the strength and resource in us that can resist the initial impulses of the flesh." Psalm 119:9 & 10 and Colossians 3:16 are three great verses here.

  6. Be immediately repentant over your lapses. Here's a big one for me: MacArthur notes that repentance is not just saying, "I'm sorry, Lord, forgive me," but rather, "I'm sorry, Lord, forgive me, and I don't want to do it again." We can't fool God about the genuineness of our hearts. Yikes! This is a tough one for me ... I feel like I earnestly come to the Lord seeking repentance but many times, I sinfully want to hold on to my sin because I like doing it. How awful is that! All that shows is that I'm deeply rooted in my sin and that I'd prefer my way [the sin] than God's way. But in reality, my way only leads to death and there is no life or hope in that! I simply need to realize that my longing for my way, which is sin, is just a false reality. Again, I was made in the image of God, God is not sinful but completely righteous, and I am lying to myself if I say that my heart longs to sin. That's the sin in me that's distorting God's true reality for me.

    MacArthur recommends that we name the sin that we're confessing and the related behavior to help keep our heart and ears accountable. If we hold back from naming the sin, we're essentially saying that we want to do it again and that's hypocritical before God! Yikes!

  7. Continually pray for divine help. Colossians 4:2 is a beautiful reminder here: "Watch and pray for you know not when you are going to enter the hour of temptation." MacArthur recommends praying anticipatory prayer. "Lead me not into temptation today, and pray before the flesh begins to rise and entice."

  8. Establish relationships with other believers to hold you accountable. Now this point is a good plug for accountability. For married folks, we know that marriage is really a litmus test for our sin ... there's not much that can slip by our spouses, but for the stuff that does, it's a good reminder to bring it up and be open and honest. Single and married folks alike, it is equally important to have friends that surround us that are going to hold us accountable to living the life that God calls us to. A staff member at Vintage21 Church, Lachlan Payne, just gave a great talk on this topic, and if you're interested in learning more about healthy, biblical accountability, take some time to listen. The important point he makes here, which is contrary to a lot of teaching on accountability, is that confession and prayer are not the only components, but it's 4 thronged: Intentionality, Confession, Prayer and Healing. Healing being the big kicker ... if you have confession and prayer without healing, it's not really worth the time.
* ADDENDUM: After reading through this post again, let me clarify that dealing with sin is not about US rooting out the 'evil' in our life ... but taking steps to actively pursue Jesus, seeking only his righteousness. If the former was communicated, that was not my intention. Rooting out the sin in our life is part of the process, but not on our own strength. It's really about trusting in Jesus' GRACE as we move forward -- seeking forgiveness and embracing the grace that he's already bestowed on us and not relying on our own strength or will. It obviously takes action to move toward progressive sanctification, not just idleness, but we have to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and dependent on Jesus the whole time or we're just focusing on our own ability not the Lord's to redeem us. (My husband was reminded of a relevant quote from C.S. Lewis on this matter and when he finds it, I'll post it in the comment section.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sanctification in Marriage // A Great Talk

My husband and I are currently listening to a great sermon on the sanctification in marriage by Matt Chandler of The Village Church in Dallas, TX ... yes, a very hot and exciting Friday night :) (It is actually.) But as we listen to this ... it's based on 1 Peter 3, a chapter of scripture that we've visited a lot on Mark of Beauty, and man does he hit it on the mark!

If you're married or not, this is well worth your time! Enjoy:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Revisiting Mary & Martha ...

I was browsing through my blogroll this evening and I noticed that girltalk just published a post called 'A Martha Moment,' and I quickly thought back to my post a few weeks ago about Atheistic Enterprising. I was encouraged to read that I'm not alone in this issue and that there's hope to rise out of a mere Martha-like serving mentality and into a Mary-like devotion to Jesus.

If you're interested in this, I would encourage you to follow girltalk this week. I'm sure that Carolyn Mahaney has a wealth of information to share.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Teaching Good Theology to Our Kids

I just started reading a fantastic book, Big Truths for Young Hearts, by Bruce Ware. (Yes, I do have a couple books going at the same time right now, but it keeps things interesting.) I'm only about a fourth of the way into it, but so far it's great and I don't see how that will change.
Ware is a pastor and father of 3 and has a long history of explaining theology in a way that kids and adults can understand. The preface, which was written by his two daughters, explains how this book really morphed out of the bedtime stories that he told his kids as they were growing up. Can you imagine having your dad use theology to put you to sleep? Well, maybe that makes perfect sense (on face value, it's not so exciting ... but when you get down into it, it blows me a way!). What a cool practice though; to know biblical theology so well that you can piece it down and jazz it up so that your kids are at the edge of their beds yearning for more ... and then their little heads are filled with beautiful truth as they dream! This book is really a gem ... the the way that Ware articulates concepts and relates them to tangible things that we as parents can learn to articulate ourselves and make them tangible for our kids is wonderful! It'll probably be a while until I start having these conversations with my 14-month-old, but I'm anxious to finish the book and to continue processing this information so that when the day comes, when it's appropriate to dive in; I'm ready! But in the mean time, I think it gives me better perspective on theology and is equipping me with a better understanding and to be able to share it with others.

So ... next time you get an extra $10.87 in your cookie jar, pick up this great tool and enjoy a good read that will last your kids a lifetime and beyond! (Price is specked according to Amazon.)