Studying God

Do not be overcome by evil……

Julie / January 20, 2016

Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
-Romans 12:21

Another verse to add to the “Julie always thought of this wrong” pile! 🙂

The context really lends itself to thinking the “evil” here means “evil people,” and surely that is one valid meaning, but… life has taught me there’s a lot more evil to overcome within myself than there are evil people waiting to persecute me!

It continually delights me how God uses children’s music to work in my heart, and this morning we were listening to Steve Green’s “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” in the car, and this verse is one of the songs.  When it came on, my heart was heavy with thoughts of various conflicts going on, and my own tendency to react to such conflict sinfully—impatiently, unkindly—and our human tendencies to respond to disagreement with slander and bad-temperedness and selfishness.  (A musing itself inspired by an earlier track on our adventure this morning, Andrew Peterson’s “I Want to Say I’m Sorry.”)  How desperately real is the struggle to “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26), to “let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6); how true is it that “when there are many words, sin is unavoidable” (Proverbs 10:19)!

When that moment of conflict comes up, it is so very hard to beat back the instinctive reaction of my tongue.  James says (3:8), “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  And yet we must.  Proverbs 10:19 concludes, “but the prudent hold their tongues.”  Proverbs 17:27, “the one who has knowledge uses words with restraint.” James 1:19, “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  In that very first moment of a disagreement—how the temptation of evil is so near!  Especially when someone has done us evil, the temptation to retaliate is so strong and so hard to resist.  And yet such is evil; vengeance belongs to God, not to me.  There is never a justification for speaking even a little bit uncontrolled, or even a little bit selfishly, even a little bit vindictively.  With our tongues, surely sin is indeed “crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).

At the beginning of a disagreement, evil is lurking.  Lurking in my heart.  Vying for control of my tongue.  Trying to overcome me, to turn the conversation—even the relationship!—to evil.  But as David begs in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”  In that moment, we can restrain our tongues, we can overcome the evil of the encroaching conflict with good, with the fruit of the Spirit, with patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.

Do not be overcome by evil—but overcome evil with good!

Mothering, Pregnancy

2 Timothy 1:7 for Expectant Mothers

Julie / November 7, 2015

2 Timothy 1:7, hcsb:

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

No question at all that this verse is not talking about labor and pregnancy.  It’s talking about the Spirit, about faith, about not being ashamed of the Gospel.

And yet: our faith in Christ does inform and mold Christian childbirth.  This verse has meaning to anyone who is struggling with fear.

Our identity in Christ necessarily transforms our approach to birth.

God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness

Right out of the gate, here’s a thing to cling to: God didn’t make us fearful.  Fear is not a “natural” thing or a good thing—fear is the opposite of what we’re supposed to be.  Fear is not resting in God’s sovereignty.

Further, we’re commanded multiple times not to fear.  Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

We don’t fear because God strengthens, God helps, God upholds.  And God is mighty.

Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God.”

We don’t fear because we pray.

Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

We don’t fear because we trust.  We don’t fear because God has promises.

Joshua 1:9: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

We don’t fear because God is with us, everywhere, always.

But one of power…

So we don’t have a spirit of fear—we have a Spirit of power.  This calls to mind the contrast of Romans 8:15: “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  We don’t have a spirit of fear, we have the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit that brings us into union with our Father.

The Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), guides us into truth (John 16:12), gives us freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), and causes us to abound in hope and peace (Romans 15:13).

We have been given the Spirit of power not the spirit of fear.  It is this Spirit who goes before us and with us into delivery rooms.  It is this Spirit who calms our minds and assures us that God is trustworthy, that God is mighty, that God will keep His word, that God is with us.  It is this Spirit who gives us endurance through hardship, who helps us resist the temptation to fear and sin in the middle of suffering.

…of love…

How do we love in labor?  The same Spirit of power is a Spirit of love, teaching us to love.

First of all, we can love God.  We can love by seeking His glory in our births, by praising Him—as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances”—even contractions.  We can bear testimony of Him.  We can obey His commands.  We can testify that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Secondly, we can love our neighbors.  We can put others first even in the midst of great tribulation.  We can live according to the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  We can beat our bodies into submission so that we do not sin against those around us even in the most trying moments.

…and sound judgment.

I really love this part, it’s so encouraging.  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but… of sound judgment!  So much of birth is about decisions and terror and distraction and yet—we have a Spirit of sound judgment.  We have a great long book of Scripture with many, many principles that apply to birth.  We have Proverbs.  We have so many verses, truths to turn to, about suffering.  About endurance.  About rewards.  We have testimony that children are good.  We have this encouraging little testimony from Jesus: “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

We have countless comparisons of birth that experiencing it can help us understand better—creation is groaning as in childbirth (Romans 8:22) and we are groaning similarly waiting for the redemption of our bodies (v. 23)?  Now, we understand that groaning better, as we have groaned.  And we understand the joy that awaits.

We have Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”  We plan.  But God is sovereign and does the ultimate work, brings it all together, to the conclusion He chooses.

As Christian women facing the worst travail of most of our lives (and praise God for even that!), we rest in Him, and are encouraged and strengthened and have HOPE because our Spirit is not one of fear—our Spirit is the very Spirit of God, and He goes with us and upholds us and strengthens us and girds our minds—even in the midst of great physical horror.

I write this a day over-due with our own son, so I’m entirely talking to myself here. 🙂

Homeschooling

A Guiding Verse for Homeschool

Julie / October 8, 2015

There is one verse in the Bible that has become very central this year to the way we do homeschool—Ecclesiastes 12:12.  Here it is in context (vv. 9-14):

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

There are many other verses, of course; Deuteronomy 6:7, for instance, is at the very forefront as well, but Ecclesiastes 12:12 cuts against homeschooling “culture” in general.  “School” is not about amassing the most knowledge or meeting lofty academic goals.  Nor is it about pursuing our own passions or teaching kids to love learning.

The Words of the Wise

The first thing we’re about, here, is the words of the wise.  Solomon says these are the truths given by one Shepherd.  This isn’t just random wise words, the wisdom of the ages and the sages, but rather, the wisdom of God Himself.  And there’s a promise here, as well—that these sayings are like goads, pushing us to do what we ought, and like nails firmly fixed, of great duration.  This is what we should be studying: true wisdom.  James 3:17:

…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Beware of Anything Else

This is huge: if it isn’t wisdom from God, beware.  When we study worldly philosophers—Plato, Socrates, the great men of the Renaissance, those in other religious traditions—do we teach them in a positive light, or do we teach beware?  The Hebrew here carries the connotation of admonishing, specifically, not just be “wary” but actively caution against them, teach, shine the light on the falseness therein.  This is especially relevant when we come to classical education: we must be careful not to lift up these worldly and ultimately inadequate philosophers.  It is one thing to know what they teach, but we must not be caught up in it.  It isn’t Scripture, it isn’t God’s wisdom, and we must teach it and teach against it.  We must remember that even the best philosopher of the world is an enemy of God.

A Weariness of the Flesh

“Much study.”  This is a great temptation of mine, both personally and in teaching.  I love knowledge.  I love reading books and learning new things.  I want the children to know all the things, too.  But, there’s a very selfish angle there, and I think that’s exactly what Solomon is getting at when he says much study is a weariness of the flesh.  It springs from our sinful natures.  At a certain point, a certain approach, studying is a fruit of the flesh, not a fruit of the Spirit.  At a certain point, studying is not “setting your minds on things above,” but it actually begins to detract from that focus, both temporally (we ought to study “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15, not for worldly knowledge) but also in subject matters it can draw us away from God.  We have to be careful of what we study, why we study it, and how much time we’re devoting to studying it.  We are called to prepare for heaven, not to be philosophers much learned in the worldly arts.

The End of the Matter

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”  Having affirmed the good and warned against the bad, Solomon offers this final conclusion, and says, this is it.  Fear God, and keep His commandments.  The end, the book is closed, there’s nothing to say beyond that.  This is why we’re here.  This is why we homeschool.  This is is what we homeschool.  This is what we care to have our kids walk away with: fear God, keep His commandments.  Everything we do and teach must be tightly focused on those two things.

Of course, Ecclesiastes 12 just led us straight back to Deuteronomy 6 after all:

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…

Homeschooling, Recommendations

Our School Year, 2015

Julie / August 29, 2015

S asked me to put together a list of what curriculum we’ve found useful, and—overwhelmed at the magnitude of that task, it finally occurred to me that probably the simplest way to do so is just to explain what we’re actually doing, and a couple sentences about why.  One caveat, this is more like “this very month,” because different kids are in different parts of their grades… some of these we JUST started and some are almost finished. (more…)

Old Wisdom

A Song for Suffering Saints

Well, I have had terrible morning sickness and been a) behind on my reading, and b) not blogging it even when I am managing to read it!  What should have been finished in March is just now wrapping up, on that score.

But I wanted to turn back into an English major for a minute here and extol the virtues of what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite hymns: How Firm a Foundation.

As a good cradle Baptist ;), I grew up singing this hymn—to the point that I can recite the lyrics without struggle.  Apparently, however, I never really listened to them, and very mistakenly thought the hymn was about the usefulness of the Bible.  “How firm a foundation…is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!”  And I suppose I tuned out the rest of the verses, and failed to consider that Word here means Jesus, not the Bible, and the song is about comforting the suffering, not “yay, we believe the Bible.”

Anyway.  Enough about my inattentive errors.  Onto the song.

First fascinating thing: it was brought into the public eye by no less than John Rippon, the Particular Baptist pastor who succeeded John Gill, wrote the biography thereof, and was eventually followed along himself by Charles Spurgeon.  Rippon made up a very influential hymnal, known widely as “Rippon’s Selection,” which was used in combination with Isaac Watts’ hymnal in Particular Baptist churches until the late 19th century.

Considering what a popular hymn it  has become, it is curious that no one is quite sure who wrote “How Firm a Foundation.”  Possibly Rippon’s church’s worship director.  Rippon credited it merely as “K.”

I first really noticed the song last Wednesday, in the car, trying to drive and not throw up.  Tiny sufferings, even by my experience, and yet meaningful enough to drive the beauty and theology of the words home.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

What more can He say than to you He has said?  Such a gentle, encouraging rebuke to one struggling: God already assures us, flee to Him and be comforted!

Then it switches to God talking, words echoing Scripture.  “Fear not!”  And why do we not fear?  Is it because God will pluck us out of our trials?  No—“I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”  He doesn’t remove us from our trials, he strengthens and upholds us through them.  Because God never gives us more than we can handle?  No, because God is omnipotent and can uphold us through  more than we can handle!

So by now the suffering hearer is wondering—so You promise to uphold me, and You can, but… why the trial?  Why the suffering?  And the hymnwriter addresses this, too—“when through the deep waters I call thee to go…” and even more, that He will “sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”  Who is ordaining and leading the suffering?  The sovereign God!  And what is accomplished? That even this suffering will become holy to us.

But why?  The hymnwriter has even more biblical answers for the sufferer, and even more comfort, straight out of 1 Peter 1:7:

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

And Psalm 66:10-12:

For You, God, tested us;
You refined us as silver is refined.
You lured us into a trap;
You placed burdens on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but You brought us out to abundance.

Or as the hymn-writer puts it, “the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy God to refine.”  The metaphor is in Scripture many more places than this.  And the comfort—“My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.”  It’s enough!

Still the hymnwriter promises no removal from suffering, yet closes in the most resoundingly comforting stanza imaginable: “the soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to its foes!”  “Though all hell should endeavor to shake” it, God will “never, no never, no never forsake.”  Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Isaiah—this hymn is so like Isaiah 43—

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.

The final comfort is the Word, that He will never leave us, that He is always sufficient, that no matter what the suffering, no matter how extreme, that it never hurts us—just our dross—but that it refines us, that it has purpose, for His glory, for our good, and that we will even learn to praise God for the suffering!

In short, this song is a great sermon, abounding with really useful, Christ-centered theology and an absolutely keen practical application.  I find myself humming it often now, and am thankful for the reminder of the biblical truths therein.

Study Notes

Grace to Nineveh

I am doing a terrible job of blogging my reading.  The biggest thing that struck me this week, though, was as I was reading through the book of Jonah: God is gracious.

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation; and look–something greater than Jonah is here!

Matthew 12:41

Jonah is one of those stories many of us know from childhood.  Our four-year-old could probably give you the bare sketch; there’s a Veggie Tales of it, after all!  And yet as I read it this time, I found myself struck by many things I’d never really thought about before!  I love how the Spirit makes even old stories have fresh applications. 🙂

First: God sent a messenger to Nineveh rather than just annihilating them.

We are talking about a wicked people, so wicked that their wickedness was said to have “confronted” God (1:2).  God would have been just to have rained fire on them like on Sodom and Gomorrah, or any of the other many pagan kings.  And yet God—who knew they would repent—sent a messenger.

Second: Jonah’s disobedience indirectly led to the eternal salvation of the sailors in the boat.

Here, again, God could have picked an obedient prophet!  But Jonah disobeyed and tried running off to Tarshish.  When the seas grow stormy (another act of God!) the sailors demand of Jonah, who are you? What is your country?  And Jonah answers with a great little piece of evangelism: “I’m a Hebrew.  I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9 hcsb)

So, they’re in the middle of the storm, and Jonah tells them there’s this God named Yahweh who made the sea.  Important piece of information, there, because in Jonah 1:14, these very same men—who apparently couldn’t even recognize an Israelite beforehand—are praying to Yahweh.  They are affirming His sovereignty, and appealing to Him for mercy.  Jonah 1:16 says they “feared the LORD” and they offered a sacrifice and made vows.

God used even Jonah’s disobedience to bring new sheep into His fold—Gentiles, no less!

Third: Jonah’s message was not one of hope.

Jonah 3:4 tells us the very bleak message Jonah gave Nineveh from God: “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” Nothing about “unless you repent,” and in fact not even anything about “because you are so wicked.”  These people are so evil that their evilness has come up against God, and Jonah foretells their destruction.

Fourth: Despite this, the people repented.

The message was not one of hope, and they weren’t sure hope was in the offering (“Who knows? God may turn and relent,” they ponder in Jonah 3:9), and yet they saw their evil, named it as evil (Jonah 3:8), and stopped doing it!  Jonah 3:5 says every single man fasted and dressed in sackcloth, even the king.  They even made their animals fast.  They even fasted from water.  They repented, very thoroughly.

And God relented.  And these same Ninevites will rise up on the last day as witnesses for Him.

Fifth: Jonah knew there was hope.

This was the most significant thing to me.  It’s so easy for me to read the Old Testament and see that “smiting” God that athiests poke fun of—many, many wicked people are indeed punished, and often without a lot of extra chances, at least that we see.  And even here, Jonah’s message didn’t seem to offer an extra chance—and yet, Jonah, who was surely aware of Israel’s own history and the history of the way God had dealt with lawless people throughout it… Jonah says, “I knew You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster!” (Jonah 4:2, hcsb)  He’s complaining, but that these words of God’s mercy come so quickly to his lips—that he is so confident that God is merciful that he fled to Tarshish from the beginning—this is so insightful and wonderful that someone sent to preach destruction to a city was still so sure that God relents from destruction!  He preaches a message of punishment while cradling in his heart (even if he wasn’t happy about it) the certainty that God is merciful.  His conviction of God’s mercy had to be so incredibly strong.

Sixth: God cared about Nineveh.

He compares Nineveh to the plant that grew over Jonah (Jonah 4:10), and asks Jonah, if you cared about this plant, even though you weren’t even the one who labored for it, how much more should I care for Nineveh (which was, of course, His own creation)?

This, again, is an amazing testimony of the mercy of God. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” God asks in Ezekiel 18:23.  “Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?”  Nineveh is a beautiful illustration of this verse.  This incredibly wicked city—Jonah himself is revolted—and yet God “cares” (Jonah 4:11).  It tells us He even cares about their animals!  And so He sends a prophet, and rejoices over their repentance, and keeps them till the last day.

So much mercy and encouragement in this little book!