Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Books for Every Believer--My Top 5 List

I read a lot of books. I evaluate them in light of the Scripture, and, once in a while, I find a book that I would read again, reference frequently, and buy for friends. In other posts, I have listed books on specific topics. I still heartily recommend all of them. But for general Christian living, this is my all-time top five list:

THE most important book I have ever read outside of the Bible, so it tops the list:
1. How Long, O Lord? by DA Carson
Ostensibly about suffering, it is really a book about the nature of God. Know whom you worship.

These two I give as graduation gifts. Extremely important books:

2. Why We're Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
Every generation of Christians is threatened from without. Emergents are wolves in sheep's clothing, and, in my opinion, they are one of the biggest threat to this generation of believing children who are beginning to launch out on their own. Read it for your kids and have your kids read it.

3. Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
For Christians who agonize over decision making and watch for signs in the sky, this is a pointed, pithy discussion on how to make decisions that honor God.

4. The Deadliest Monster by Jeff Baldwin
Baldwin compares Shelley's Frankestein to Stevenson's Mr. Hyde and challenges us to answer the question, "Which monster are you?" In a world of social 'justice,' and fashionable victimization, this is an extremely important worldview book.

5. Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
It's cool to dis the Church as behind the times, uptight, fundamentalist, and shrill. Unfortunately, this is the Bride of Christ. DeYoung and Kluck confront this bad attitude with the correct idea that you can't love your best friend but hate his wife.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Suffering to the Glory of God

Every true member of the Church has given themselves up at the Cross. For without a death, there can be no life. And to give oneself up truly and completely is to give up hopes and dreams and rights, essentially to "sign over a blank check to God," as my husband says. God expects that from us. Jesus said, "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me."(Mt. 16:24)

More and more, I am noticing people who give lip service to glorifying God--but they refuse do die. I am finding this meditation on the glory of God is inextricably linked to death. In fact, I now think that death to self is the necessary condition and glorifying God is the sufficient condition. To put that in logic terms, let me explain.

"If we have rain, then we have clouds." Clouds are a necessary condition for rain. No clouds? No rain. Clouds are the necessary condition. Rain is impossible without clouds. "If we glorify God, then we die to self." (see Mt. 16:24 above.) Dying to ourselves is a necessary condition for glorifying God. If we refuse to die, we choose not to glorify. It's that simple.

On the one hand, I see those who refuse to bend the knee, who refuse to die, but who delude themselves into thinking they can follow along on their own terms, much like Ignorance in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. On the other hand, though, there is a subset of the Church who are faithful rather than ignorant, who have been called to give much, sometimes to give all, and they are doing this to the glory of God.

In the excellent book How Long, O Lord?, author DA Carson says we must have a theology of suffering in place before we suffer. Don't give this book to someone in the middle of suffering, he warns. Read it before any suffering starts. Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church near Dallas, says his young congregation was ill-prepared for suffering. But the reality is that there are stories going on all around us of believers suffering. And the inspiring ones are the ones in which they suffer to the glory of God.

Tracie Klicka, mother of seven, lost her husband, Chris, last October to a 15-year battle with multiple sclerosis. Now a single mom, Tracie walks authentically before the Lord. She pours her heart and her struggles out in her journal, and I am blessed by her determined trust in a sovereign God, despite her adversity.

Matt Hammitt, lead singer of the Christian band Sanctus Real, and his wife Sarah are suffering as their infant son, Bowen, walks through the trials of hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). Matt has been journaling through this journey, and in the midst of his suffering, he continues to build up the Church through exhortation and meditation on the goodness and sovereignty of God. Clearly, this is a couple who leans daily on the everlasting arms.

The Queen family just discovered this past summer that their son, Jeremiah, is now out of remission with leukemia, so back they go to the trials and heartaches of juvenile cancer. But as Sandi documents this trial, it is clear that her eyes are on the Father, rather than on the wind and the waves.

At last spring's Together for the Gospel conference, the most important message was on suffering. Matt Chandler tells his story far better than I can. This young preacher is finding that, in the end, all he has is Christ. I implore you to watch his 50 minute teaching:

Watch to the end. Watch John Piper's fiesty prayer of faith. Watch CJ Mahaney's wrap-up.

Compared to what these brothers and sisters have given up, my little sacrifices are so insignificant. In fact, I am more than edified. I am convicted. I am humbled. I examine my life and wonder if I could ever do what they are doing: suffering to the glory of God.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Whatever the Premises, Let God's Glory Be the Conclusion

What is the glory of God?
God is just. God is holy. God is righteous. God is sovereign. God is love. God is merciful. God is gracious. But God's glory is the sum, yea more than the sum, of these parts. God's glory is more than man can handle. God's glory radiates from His being with such intensity that no man may see His face and live. Moses had to veil his face after being in God's presence because the people couldn't even handle His glory second-hand.

God's glory changed Moses' complexion.

God's glory reduced Isaiah to a puddle of unclean lips.

God's glory silenced Job's self-righteous, albeit fairly accurate, justifications.

"For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever." (Romans 11:36) Seventeenth century theologian Matthew Henry sums it up like this: "(He) is the first cause, the sovereign ruler, and the last end...Whatever are the premises, let God's glory be the conclusion."

We are commanded to do all things to the glory of God. We are commanded to do all things to the glory of this first cause, this sovereign ruler, this last end. I am amazed that I do not cover my mouth and fall to the ground with the patriarchs in abject fear. I miss God's glory on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. I miss His glory nearly every time I open my mouth, pick up my pen, interact with others, think something, think anything. How, then, does this sinner ever glorify God? God's glory is my passion. But how can my passion be something I so completely miss? It would be more intellectually honest to say that my passion is to want God's glory to be my passion.

My kingdom gets in the way.

It is in spite of this stark reality that I must do everything to the glory of God. As I learn to live, I must keep his glory in my sights at all times. As God begins to allow me to do some things that my heart has desired for years, I must not fail to recognize this truth: God is all about His own glory. Anytime He lets me do anything, it is not to glorify myself but to glorify Him.

There are desires of my heart that I lay at His feet years ago that He is only just now beginning to give me permission to use. I have waited for this day for a long time. But now that it is here, my knees knock together and my heart quails. I am nearly paralyzed by the fear of both failing Him and failing others. But even that misses the mark. I cannot be afraid of failing men. My focus must be upward. I must be all about God's glory, even as He is all about His glory. So where I thought I would dive right in, I find I am sitting on the edge, wondering why in the world He has brought me to this point and how He could possibly use me now.

Maybe that is precisely the response He wanted? Maybe He wanted to bring me to a place where I have lost confidence in myself and recognize my utter dependence on Him? Maybe only then can I do anything to the glory of God anyway? Maybe that was the point of dying to me and living to Him?

It is a lesson that sobers me. For unless I do all things to the glory of God, those things are not worth doing at all. Whatever the premises, let God's glory be the conclusion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dying to Live: A Severe Mercy

I've been thinking about the glory of God lately. And it seems that's exactly what God wants me to be thinking about, as I am seeing it everywhere. It is a welcome bend in the road, as for so many years He has been relentlessly pursuing me and teaching me Death-to-Self. For years, the overarching theme in my sanctification has been dying to myself.

Unless a seed fall into the ground and die, it cannot bear fruit. So I have died over and over again. Jesus may have set His face like flint and gone to the cross. But my dying has not been nearly so dignified. I have dug in my heels, clawed at the dirt, and been dragged to my death by a Heavenly Father who knows better than I. He initially carried this rebel to the foot of the Cross, and He continues to keep me there with a severe mercy.

Now as the sun moves across the sky, I sense a change of seasons in my life. I am learning to stay put and hide in the shadow of the Cross. Now that I have learned to die, I am learning to live. And to live for God is to live for His glory. I sense that I have permission to look ahead at what God wants me to do rather than look back at what He wants me to surrender. The focal point must be His glory.

The fact of the matter is that it is the glory of God that slays me. No man can see His face and live. It is the Cross alone that shields me. Unless I learn to live for His glory, and His glory alone, I will never learn to live at all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

She's Got the Cutest Shoes--Courtship Part 3

I threw myself across my bed in a wave of depression and jammed my fists in my eyes to stop the flow of my tears. My mom was digging in her heals on this one. She was not convinced that my suitor was the one. And I was absolutely convinced he was the one. Hadn't I prayed for this man almost my whole life? Hadn't I dismissed most of my male friends as unqualified, choosing to be one of the guys instead of one of their significant others? Hadn't I waited with a high standard for my Prince Charming to come sweep me off my feet?

And here was my own mother, telling me she just wasn't sure she could bless this. It was a devastating moment. My mom is one of my best friends. She is wise beyond description, and we have always been close. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. But, as the storm in my heart began to subside, I made God one promise: "I will not marry this man without my parents' blessing. I know he is the one, and I will wait as long as it takes, but I will not step outside their protective covering."

We were engaged less than three weeks later.

Parental blessing is, I believe, one of the most significant factors in choosing a mate. It is so significant, in fact, that I don't know of any marriage that started out without the blessing and didn't end disastrously.

Courtship is the sure-fire way for the prospective couple to guarantee the parental blessing of their union. Why? The key to courtship is that it involves the parents in this very important decision from the beginning. Voddie Bauchum, Jr., says in his book "What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter" that for a man to be meeting his sweetheart's father after he has already been seeing her for a while is too late. For a man to ask her father's permission to marry her after an emotional connection has already been made is too late. Those introductions should have been made before the couple spent much time together at all.

We are just now entering the season as a family when courtship and marriage could be real possibilities. So I cannot say here how it is going to happen. But I can recommend a few of the resources that are shaping our approach.

"Just Do Something" by Kevin DeYoung
I heartily recommend this (and any) book by this ardent young theologian. In it, DeYoung makes the case that there doesn't have to be "The One" but rather that any number of possibilities could work. He gooses young men who are reticent to settle down with this warning (paraphrased by me): While you, young men, are wasting time living for yourself and putting off settling down, the ladies are waiting, too. While they are waiting, they are most likely getting educated. After they are educated, possibly at great cost, they feel the need not to 'waste' it all, so they go to work and begin a career. Then you finally get off your duff and pop the question. But now they don't want to quit their newfound career to manage a home and raise children. Nice going. Just do something!

"What He Must Be (if he wants to marry my daughter)" by Voddie Bauchum, Jr.
Bauchum does a terrific job in reminding parents what kind of standard they should set in looking for mates for their children. The standards are high, but they are attainable. And we can allow for a lot of sanctification along the way. But his focus are non-negotiables that must be in place before any parental blessing can be given. This is an excellent read for fathers and sons, mothers and daughters.

"Boy Meets Girl" by Joshua Harris
My son read this book first, and we've had some great discussions. This book has a slightly different take as it documents the story of Harris and his then-fiance, who were both living far away from their parents. It won't be conservative enough for some. But the eight "dates" at the end of the book are well worth the read. There Harris lists eight "must-have" conversations for the prospective couple. It's a great way to begin to get a feel for the differences that might turn into points of contention later.

"Her Hand in Marriage" by Douglas Wilson
This was one of my favorites. Wilson approaches this, as he does everything, with a killer wit and great succinctness. It took one evening to read. I am thankful for his high view of the female gender. It is possible to be a complementarian and to see the woman as more than just a uterus with a broom. Wilson's most important contention is that, as our children search for mates, one thing they must do is find their intellectual equal. It isn't enough that "she's got the cutest shoes, and (he) likes the way she moves" (needtobreathe). They must be able to think together. I'm really thankful that Wilson acknowledges in this book that women have an important organ above their shoulders, too. A wise young man will be attracted to her brain as well as her...shoes.

May we raise wise children who seek our blessing and keep their covenants. That's marriage to the glory of God.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blind as I Could Be--Courtship Part 2

"I was blind as I could be
Thinking love was not for me
'Til the night I met the girl named Tennessee." needtobreathe

Let's face it. Love comes upon most of us unawares. It's not as if we have meeting Mrs. Right marked on our calendar among going to the cleaners and finishing the term paper. And that's probably the biggest danger. We don't see it coming so we aren't prepared to respond correctly when it does come. We get swept off our feet in a tidal wave of sweaty palms, thumping hearts, and twitterpation, only to find later that Princess Beautiful is really Miss Dragonbreath.

The current dating scene does not help matters. Aptly described by Voddie Bauchum, Jr. as a series of mini-marriages, each failed dating relationship just sets us up for divorce. Dates are relationships without the foundation of a covenant, and we enter and exit at will. It is a dangerous pattern to bring into the covenant called marriage.

Courtship, however, is a way to find a life partner by making the search purposeful rather than social. There are many opinions on what courtship should look like. And, unfortunately, the mere word conjures up images of Sweetie Pie and Bubba sipping lemonade on the front porch while Ma and Pa look on.

But there are a few things that all courtships, properly done, seek to incorporate:

1. Parents: Both fathers, who are entrusted by God with the stewardship of their children, will be involved, but the father of the female in the relationship will have the loudest say. He is, after all, accountable for delivering his precious daughter to another man's home, his headship, and his bed. It is the job of that father, not to choose a suitor, but to vet him when he does come along.

2. Purpose: It may sound a bit crass, but courtship is a bit like a job interview. It is during this period that parents will look for friendship between the two people, for complementary strengths (and weaknesses), and for sheer attraction. And, above all, look for submission to the Lordship of Jesus.

3. Purity: Courtship picks up the ball that dating drops. Jonathan Lindvoll says, "Sex is like a car built without brakes." The kiss is supposed to lead to touch. Touch is supposed to lead to arousal. Arousal is supposed to lead to consummation. It is both unreasonable and cruel to put our children in a position where they are allowed physical contact, but are expected to be good kids and draw some arbitrary line. Do NOT let them get in that car. And when the wedding day comes, fill up the tank and send them off with God's blessings.

More to come...