My 100th Post: A Special Announcement

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Dear blog readers,

This post marks my 100th post since starting this blog in 2009, and I can think of no better way to mark this milestone than by sharing with you all something very exciting!

Many of you know one of the most important areas for me is the theological and pastoral question of women in ministry. I have often been grieved by how many American evangelicals have turned a conversation about women in ministry into a polarizing, negative issue. When speaking from our “camps” we have often defaulted to labeling, mischaracterizing, and caricaturing and as a result there has not been enough true and gracious dialogue.

So it is with great excitement that I share with you a new website that seeks to remedy this problem in part. It is my joy to introduce you to (drum roll please!) …

Passing The Salt Shaker

At Passing The Salt Shaker blog, a group of us — who share the same faith but differ on the gender debate — are attempting to model the kind of dialogue we want to see happen in all spheres of Church, ministry and society. Our desire is to bring up divisive issues relating to gender and to discuss them in the spirit of Colossians 4:6 that reads, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” We want the site to be a catalyst for more of these kinds of dialogues within local churches, denominations, ministry organizations, and the Christian community at large.

Also, we intend to discuss relative and important issues that we hope will not only create conversation in other spheres but also will result in solutions. We as individuals, churches, denominations, non-profits, and society can do better. We can do better in our conversations with one another, we can do better in engaging women in the work of the Lord, and we can aim for a better Christian ethic. It is our prayer that God will use this site to encourage and challenge us all toward self-examination (awareness of sin), biblical exegesis, Christian hospitality and a greater awareness of the issues at hand.

So who are the contributors? You can read about us here. When you click on our names it will take you to a post where we introduce ourselves. You can read mine here.

Currently we are not opening the site to comments but would love to hear feedback, especially in regards to topics or questions you would like to see discussed. You can e-mail us here.

A few of the other contributors also have written about the new site on their blogs. You might be interested in hearing from them concerning the site. You can read Alastair’s here and Bronwyn’s here.

If you are interested in the site and receiving updates on the latest posts follow us on Twitter @SaltShakerBlog and/or become a follower of the site on WordPress.

 

 

ISIS and Boko Haram

Every day it seems as if I hear more bad news coming from Iraq and Syria regarding the terror of ISIS. Today I am hearing reports of ISIS burning 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. A few days prior it was reported that they burned 45 people alive. Before that, they executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya simply because they were Christian. I reflected on persecution, specifically those at the hands of ISIS, in August here.

The following are some recent, relevant and resourceful articles and ideas regarding the pressing issues of ISIS and Boko Haram.

  • As I was getting ready to post last week about how should Christians pray in these times for situations like these, I came across a post written that day by Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on this very topic called, Should We Pray for the Defeat of ISIS, Or Their Conversion. He said everything that I was going to say and said it better, so instead of posting what I had written I want to direct you to his post here. I highly recommend it to you. In short, his answer (and mine!) to this question is to pray for both and leave it up to God to decide.
  • In this season of Lent, fast and pray specifically for those in harms way, both Christians and non-Christians.

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  • Last week on Ash Wednesday I drew a red cross on my hand with the number 21 (see above picture). This served as a visual reminder to pray for the family members of those martyred as well as for those who are at risk of death and persecution. It also served as a reminder to pray for justice and salvation in regards to ISIS members as well as for the Church in that area. Perhaps you can too find a visual way to remind you to pray for what’s going on in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Nigeria and to encourage others to pray as well.
  • I also want to direct your attention to another excellent article. With all the attention on ISIS, we forget about the terror of a group called Boko Haram in Nigeria. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, in his piece called, When Africa Bleeds, reminds us not to forget what is happening in Nigeria, which has the most Christians out of all the countries on the continent! This is a very important read and you can find it here.

This morning in my Scripture reading I reflected on Isaiah 25:8-9 and 26:19.

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. … Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.

The good news is that in Christ the reality of these verses has begun to be realized, but until the second coming of Jesus we will have to wait for it to be fully and completely realized. So we wait in eager expectation and hope of that day and together along with the rest of the saints will pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

 

Broken, Aware of Sin, and Repentant

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A few days ago I celebrated Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a time when Christians historically have prepared themselves for the celebration of Easter by repenting, fasting and reflecting on their humanity and deep need of a Savior. The Ash Wednesday service is meant to remind each person of his or her mortality.

In thinking about the Grace for the Sinner series in light of Ash Wednesday and Lent, I am reminded that we cannot fully understand the grace Jesus Christ offers without first understanding our great need of it. It is when we are aware of our own mortality and sinfulness that the grace of Christ can become a transformative reality in our lives. We cannot be pardoned of our sins without first acknowledging that we have sin that needs pardoning. It is in this broken, aware-of-sin, repentant state that Jesus meets us and pardons us.

This is where we find David in Psalm 51. Unlike his predecessor Saul, when David was confronted with his sin (the one where he killed a man and committed adultery) David acknowledged it and repented (cf. 1 Sam. 12:13ff). It is sometime after the prophet Nathan’s confrontation with David that David composed Psalm 51.

David begins the psalm with a plea for God’s mercy. “Have mercy on me, O God.” This is a cry that probably many of us know well. I am a sinner! Have mercy on me, O God!

Recently I, too, pleaded before God, “Have mercy on me.” I have an inclination to want to control my life. This desire to control materialized in two ways recently. For one, my husband and I have been trying to conceive. For several weeks I was obsessed with wanting to control the circumstances surrounding conception as well as obsessing with signs and tests that would tell me if I were pregnant. I became anxious and tried to exert “control” by talking and thinking about it obsessively. Secondly, I hate flying. I am scared of the idea of falling, but most of all I don’t like the feeling of being completely out of control of the situation. I don’t know how to fly an airplane if a pilot got sick and they needed an extra one. I can’t control the weather to make it so that we have perfect flying conditions. As we were to fly home a few days ago, I tried to control the uncontrollable by again obsessively worrying about the flight. I dreamt about it. I talked about it. I looked at the weather app non-stop. I was physically sick to my stomach as my nerves only increased with each day that grew closer to the day of our flight.

It was in the midst of trying to control two uncontrollable situations that my husband, like Nathan, spoke truth into my life. He said, “Kristen, you trying to control these situations is idolatrous.” His words were like a sharp arrow to my soul. Conviction spread across my body. And as I left that conversation in prayer the rest of the day, God began speaking to me about this area of sin. In my frail attempt at trying to exert some control over these situations I had made for myself an idol. I was trying to sit in God’s rightful place as sovereign Lord of my life. Instead of trusting God, I was trying to manipulate God or rather manipulate the situations as if God had no role and was nonexistent. This is a serious sin and one that I am ashamed to admit to you today.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”

God’s mercy is dependent on and a natural causation of God’s great and abounding love for us. If we get what we deserve according to our sins God is just and blameless (Ps. 51:4)! But mercy gives us what we do not deserve as it acts not according to our sin but according to God’s steadfast love.

David recognizes his sin and his deep, deep need for forgiveness. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”

Over and over again in Scripture God pleads with his children to recognize their sin for what it is so that they might repent and so that he might show mercy (cf. Psalm 103:8-19).

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)

The first step in receiving the grace and mercy of our great God is acknowledging sin and turning from it. And when God pardons you and me from sin it is not a pardoning with strings attached or pardoning that lasts only for a night. No. Grace, like its giver, doesn’t wear out with time or change like the moods of humans but rather is steady and sure. Grace does the work for which God intends it.

David in his prayer says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (v. 10).” The goal of the believer when he or she leaves that place of repentance and pardoning is a clean heart. God cleans up the sin and mess we make and sets our hearts back on him and on truth. He restores the joy of our salvation and places his praise on our lips (Ps. 51:12, 15).

I was still a little nervous when I flew home earlier this week, but I did not want to sin against God in the way that I had before. So I prayed that He would help me to trust in his sovereignty and his perfect will for my life. For those two flights home he placed an off-duty pilot going home across the aisle, a woman next to me whose hand I needed to hold because she was nervous, and a senator from Tennessee who loves the Lord. He surrounded me with people that brought calm and comfort to me. God is so, so good to us even when our terrible sin against him deserves the worst for us. He showed goodness and mercy and kindness to me by not only pardoning my sin but placing people to comfort me in the midst of something difficult. That, my friends, is great, amazing grace.

What areas of your life need cleansing? Is there sin in your life that you are refusing to recognize as sin? Or, are you aware of your sin but afraid to turn to God? Like me, do you sin against God by trying to take control of your life through worry or manipulation? Are you guilty of idolatry? Slander? Failure to trust God? Hate? Greed? Lust? Lies?

Spend a few moments confessing to God knowing that He is ready to meet you with grace and mercy and that He is ready to make your heart clean, your spirit right so that you might walk in truth and righteousness.

Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in. Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared; we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table. But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation, and share your bread with sinners. So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son, that he may live in us and we in him; and that we, with the whole company of Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen. (The prayer of humble access; The Book of Common Prayer)

The God Who Covers Our Shame

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When we sin as Christians, we immediately (should) feel shame.

When I lose my temper with my spouse or child, when I hurt a friend with my words, when I break the rules, or when I lie, what inevitably results is shame. I feel so ashamed I don’t know how to face myself let alone God. What will God think of me? Will he still love me? Will he be able to forgive me again or for such a sin as this?

These are thoughts and questions many of us experience in the heat of our shame. How do I approach God? How will God respond? Many times in my shame I want to run away or hide from God. Have you been to that place?

I think a good place to turn in our Bibles to address these questions is to the very beginning. Prior to the Fall, the author of Genesis describes the condition of the first man and woman in the garden as that of innocence and purity. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25) as a result of being in a right relationship with God.

Then some time later the serpent enticed the first couple with his lies and the woman and man fell for it and sinned against God. Because of their sin, they went from being in a state of honor to a state of shame. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”

They tried covering up their nakedness, their shame, with some fig leaves, but when God came “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” they still hid themselves even though they were “clothed.”

“But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'”

Why was Adam still afraid of being naked if the text just told us he and Eve had made clothes for themselves? There are several possible reasons. Possibly “because I was naked” meant he was now conscious that he was naked. Possibly because his attempt at clothing was poorly done and he still felt ashamed to be naked. Possibly because it signified that he ate the fruit and sinned. I think all three possibilities are very plausible. The point is that when Adam and Eve sinned it caused distrust in their relationship with God that was once full of trust.

But God, after issuing the punishment that was justly deserved, looked upon this first couple whom He had made with compassion and mercy. He saw them in their misery and shame and before sending them away performed an act of mercy. He clothed them. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (3:21).

God takes their shame and covers it with grace. He replaces their poor attempt at clothes with something better that will cover them, protect them and keep them warm. To be sure, though, the garments — this act of mercy — came at a cost; it costed the lives of animals.

The beauty of this account is that it is both historical and universal. The Genesis account tells us the story of our ancestors as well as the story of our own humanity. This story, in addition to being about a particular time in history, is a dramatization of what happens every time we sin.

How often have you hid from the Lord because you were afraid and ashamed over your sin? Our sin breaks a trust that we have with our God and causes us to doubt and fear Him. But what I witness about the character of God from the very beginning proves to be true over and over in Scripture. That is that in our misery and shame God looks down on us with compassion and acts mercifully toward us.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

When you sin, instead of running away or hiding from God, turn to God in repentance knowing that He is rich in mercy and will look upon you with compassion.

Here is the cool thing. When Adam and Eve left the garden they left with clothes stained with the blood of animals. When we as the people of God reenter the garden we, too, will be clothed with garments made by God. But these garments will be white, and they will have come at a different cost. This time it will not be the cost of an animal, but rather it will have come at a greater cost — the blood of God, the incarnate Son.

“‘…For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

God’s mercy which was evident from the beginning continues throughout time, even to today, until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. So when you sin, when you experience great shame, turn to a God full of compassion and mercy who wants to meet you and cover your shame.

Grace for the Sinner Series

Grace for the Sinner

Yesterday, I lost my temper with my son, Philip.

 

After that brief moment where I lost all sense of calm and cool and acted like the child to whom I was directing my frustration, I felt very, very low. I was ashamed. Sad. Broken. Broken-hearted. Upset with myself. I couldn’t lift my head out of my hands to face the shame that I felt and the depth of my sin.

 

This wasn’t the first time I had been to that place of deep sorrow over my sin, and sadly probably not the last. It took recitation of Scripture, tearful praying to God for forgiveness, and apologizing to Philip before I was able to find the strength to leave that place.

 

Have you been to that place as well? To the place where you are broken over your sin? To the place where you feel so ashamed of your sin you don’t know how to face God, others or yourself? To the place that David described in Psalm 32 where because of his sin God’s hand was heavy upon him? “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity.” (Ps. 32:4-5)

 

It is in these moments of realization of sin and confession that God so graciously meets us to offer forgiveness. Yet, most of us still struggle to accept God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is clouded often times by misunderstandings and lies that Satan would have us to believe. The portrait of God as seen in Scripture is many times in conflict with the portrait that we have of God in our minds, and it often comes to a head when we are in that place of deep shame and remorse over sin. (“I know Scripture says that God offers forgiveness to the repentant but [fill in the blank].”)

 

This is where I hope Grace for the Sinner series will be a blessing. In this new series, I want to explore Scripture’s teaching on forgiveness and grace. These will be (or at least should be) short devotionals/reflections that I hope will bring you in deeper conversation with and understanding of God and the gifts of grace and forgiveness that He makes available to the repentant.

 

In this series I hope you will find grace, whether you find yourself as the impatient parent, the self-centered spouse, the disrespectful child, the unforgiving friend, the wannabe perfectionist, the over-controlling individual, the gossiper or [fill in the blank]. Here I also hope you will be reminded of and will find a perfect God who loves and redeems imperfect people.

 

I was first introduced to the song below at our church in England, and I immediately took to the lyrics. The message of the song is to come as you are — a sinner — to Jesus and discover the love and grace he has to offer. “Come, all you vagabonds, come all you don’t-belongs, winners and losers, come people like me.” Jesus offers grace to the sinner.

 

Come all you vagabonds, come all you don’t-belongs
winners and losers, come people like me;
come all you travelers, tired from the journey
wait a while, stay a while, welcomed you’ll be.

Come all you questioners, looking for answers
and searching for reason and sense in it all;
come all you fallen, and come all you broken,
find strength for your body and food for your soul.

Come, those who worry about houses and money
and all those who don’t have a care in the world,
from every station and orientation
the helpless, the hopeless, the young and the old.

Come all believers, and dreamers, and schemers,
and come all you restless and searching for home;
movers and shakers, and givers and takers,
the happy, the sad, the lost and alone.

Come self-sufficient with wearied ambition
and come those who feel at the end of the road;
fiery debaters, and religion haters,
accusers, abusers, the hurt and ignored.

Chorus: Come to the feast, there is room at the table!
Come, let us meet in this place

with the king of all kindness who welcomes us in
with the wonder of love and the power of grace,
the wonder of love and the power of grace. 

(Stuart Townend)

 

 

Advice to Prospective Seminary Students

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Dear Readers,

Happy 2015! I have lots of things to tell you and discuss with you this year. The past month I have been silent because my hard drive crashed on my computer. However, this time has allowed me to think through some topics, posts and discussions I would like to see happen this year. More on that later.

Today, I want to share with you a short video from a former professor of mine at Beeson Divinity School. If you or someone you know is interested in a theological education, Dr. Mark Gignilliat gives some excellent advice before entering seminary. Theological education is not just a discipline for the head. Rather, the best kind of theological education is one that involves both the head and the heart.

You can watch the video here.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what Mark has to say!

Forever and Ever and Ever: Reflections on eternity

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Today is a day that we mark the passing of time and the hope of time to come. It is precisely because we are thinking about time in the form of a new year today that I want to offer some reflections on when time will be no more. We call this eternity.

 

Humans are obsessed with time. One recent example can be seen in the movie Interstellar. We are bound by time. And, we have a love-hate relationship with it. Time moves us toward the end of our days on earth. We hate it. Time moves us past hurtful and painful pasts. We love it. With time comes aging bodies. With time comes new birth. We know no other reality than that which is time-bound.

 

So when we think of a place where time is nonexistent, it can be difficult to grasp. At least this has been my experience.

 

From the time I was a little girl the concept of eternity, living forever and ever and ever, made me upset. I could not wrap my mind around this other reality and it scared me. If you ask my parents they will tell you that many nights I would come into their bedroom crying and afraid because I had been pondering on the idea of eternity.

 

As I grew I taught myself not to think about it and to reign in my thoughts so that I wouldn’t upset myself. Although I was a Christian and looked forward to the day when I would be united with my God who loves me, I still struggled with the idea of living in a world where time did not exist.

 

At some point in our dating or engagement period, the conversation came up with my now husband. He said to me, “Kristen, here is how I think about it. Imagine a moment or moments in your life when you were enjoying something so much you lost all track of time. Perhaps there is a moment in which you said to yourself, ‘I don’t want this moment to ever end.’ I believe eternity with God will be like that but better. It will be a place where you lose all track of time (so to speak because time won’t exist) and where you will enjoy it so much that you wouldn’t want it to end.”

 

What he said was immensely helpful to me. For I realized that even in a time-bound-world I had already experienced many glimpses of eternity, glimpses of what it is like to enjoy something or someone so much that even for a moment time could seemingly stand still or stop.

 

These glimpses were there in the perfect sunrise in the mountains. In the beautiful sunset at the beach. In the first holding of my son. In the embrace of my spouse. In the arms of my mother. In the hands of my father. In the laughter with close friends. In the California weather. In the Spring. In the saying of my wedding vows. In my first kiss with my spouse. In the singing of worship songs to Christ. In these moments where time was forgotten, where I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and where I didn’t want it to ever end, I was given glimpses into what eternity will be like with the Triune God.

 

I say these things by way of analogy to help us reflect on a concept that is in some ways completely foreign to us.

 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev. 21:1-4 (cf. Isaiah 65:17-19)

 

For those in Christ, those who have believed upon Jesus and have found forgiveness of sins, eternity with him is our greatest reward. For Christians, eternity is nothing to fear. We will have never experienced so much enjoyment as we will when we are with him. And oh what joy to know that time will not be able to steal that moment away from us — ever.

 

A few days ago I was sitting on the front porch of my mother-in-law’s home in south Florida at that golden hour leading up to the sunset where the sky has turned to hues of purples, pinks and golds. The weather was perfect, with the temperature sitting at somewhere in the mid-70s, humidity low, and a steady breeze. Her front porch overlooks a small lake surrounded by typical foliage you’d expect to see in south Florida: palm trees, bougainvilleas, bright pinks and oranges. Ducks were paddling in the lake leaving little ripples behind as they swam from one side to the other. I sat there for a long time enjoying the tranquility of the moment including the feast that had been rolled out for my five senses. I worshipped God in that moment and didn’t want it to end. Another glimpse into eternity.

 

I’m no longer afraid of eternity, a world without time. Rather, these moments I’ve mentioned have helped me to look forward to that glorious day “when Christ Jesus I shall see, and I shall look upon his face, the One who saved me by his grace. … What a day, what a glorious day it shall be!” And that day, my friends, will never end.

 

“There is coming a day,
When no heart aches shall come,
No more clouds in the sky,
No more tears to dim the eye,
All is peace forever more,
On that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

There’ll be no sorrow there,
No more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain,
No more parting over there;
And forever I will be,
With the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.”

(Song: What A Day That Will Be; Written by: Jim Hill)