REMEMBER HOW YOU FELT THE LAST TIME YOU GOT GREAT NEWS?
YOU GOT THE JOB!
YOU FOUND THE MAN!
YOU LOST THE WEIGHT!
We as children of God have news that outshines all earthly treasures. We have something that can never be taken from us. The one true God left paradise for us. He stumbled to His throne for us. We are His beloved. He woos, He wins, and one incredible day He is coming back to wed. He will put to death all enemies of His children and take us to be with Him forever.
I never tire of Martin French’s drawings. This is my favorite, and when Kathy Troccoli and I commissioned him to draw this one from Revelation 19 for Forever in Love with Jesus, he was hesitant, feeling it was too holy to try to catch. But finally he felt free and it always takes my breath away, and helps me believe: this is true, this is really going to happen. Just as He came to earth as a baby, just as He rose from the dead, just as He ascended into heaven, He is also coming back.
What can change us into joyful Christians? Believing the Gospel not only for forever, but for the here and now.
Philippians 2:5-11 is a passage so worth your time in memorizing. Pastor Henry Brandt told his grandchildren that if they could recite it word perfect every time he came, he would give them five dollars. He knew it was one of those passages that had life-transforming power. This week’s passage is the peak mountain of Philippians. It will help you gaze into the gospel and believe His love for you. It’s an important week to be with Him. The Christian’s secret of a joyful life? Believing the Gospel for the here and now. As we do that, His mind will be in us, we will look to the interests of others, and we will see rivalry fade. We, with His Spirit unquenched, though we will know sorrow, will also experience unquenchable joy.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. What is some of the best earthly news you have ever received? Do you remember how you felt when you knew it was true?
Monday/Wednesday Bible Study: The Mountain Peak of Philippians (Philippians 2:5-11)
3. Using your imagination, what do you think it was like for Jesus before He emptied Himself of His rights, when He was with God the Father and God the Spirit in heaven.
4. According to verses 6-7, what was Jesus like before He came to earth, and what did He do in order to come to earth and be with us?
When we are told He emptied Himself, it is important to know He did not empty Himself of His Deity, but of His rights. In the Greek, as Keller will emphasize, it is “being God, He also became human.”
5. According to verse 8, how did Christ further humble Himself?
6. Christ went from the highest to the lowest. In what ways was a crucifixion the greatest humiliation?
7. What was the one thing that the Lord did not have that made Him willing to make such a sacrifice?
J. D. Greear writes, in his book, Gospel:
Every day Jesus says to us, “You are My Beloved child. I am well pleased with you. Now live that way.” Satan, on the other hand, says, “Look at you. Look at the condition of your circumstances. Look at how poorly you’re living . There is no way you are God’s beloved child. Which voice are you going to believe?
Today, silence the voice of the enemy with the voice of truth each time he hisses at you. Come back here and report, at the end of the day, if you did this and how it impacted you.
8. According to Philippians 2:9-11, what has God the Father therefore done for God the Son? How is this a return to the highest position?
9. What name is given now to Jesus? (Find it in verse 11.)
The initiative for exalting Jesus was all on the part of the Father. The “gave” is “freely gave” (echarisato)
10. To understand what verses 10-11 mean, read Isaiah 45:23-24 and explain the passage.
The emphasis of this passage however, is not exaltation over His enemies, but that Christ will be LORD over all creation.
11. Write a prayer of praise based on this passage.
Thursday/Friday Listen to the free Keller Sermon. Share your thoughts and answer the following questions (LINK).
12. Keller talks about the “earthiness of God.” We do not have a far off God, but a God to whom matter matters. He made a man out of dirt. He humbled Himself and took on a human body. He had a real resurrected body. There are going to be real bodies, real music, and real food in heaven. There are many applications of this to us. Consider:
A. The earthiness of life matters to God, and we can lift our mundane earthy chores of washing dishes, changing diapers, and digging in the garden to Him in thanksgiving. Does this permeate your life? Explain.
B. Because matter matters to God, He is concerned about the poor, the hungry, and the hurting. If we have the mind of Christ, so should we. Is this growing in your life? Explain.
C. Because matter matters, in heaven we will have real bodies, real food, real trees — comment on this.
13. Because Jesus was also fully God, people always had extreme reactions to Him. (John Stott) They were never “lukewarm.” Open your Bible to a Gospel and give an example.
14. What other notes do you have that you’d like to share?
15. What is your take-a-way and why?
It was in a prayer group of mothers that the fight began. One of the women had suggested that we come up with a list of standards on which we could agree for our children. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could all agree we wouldn’t watch R-rated movies in our homes? Then our children would know their friends had the same boundaries.” It seemed like a great idea!
Within ten minutes we became like mother bears defending our cubs.
The tension began immediately. Margaret said: “I’m surprised you mentioned R-rated movies. In our home we don’t watch PG-13 movies.”
Quietly but firmly Hannah said, “In our home we don’t watch movies.”
We each bristled a bit. I suggested, “Why don’t we try dating age? I was thinking not before sixteen.”
“Sixteen! They are babies! They have no business dating before they are ready to marry.”
“In our home,” one said evenly, “there will be no dating.”
One by one my friends left in tears, until all that was left was my dear friend Shell and me. Shell and I have promised one another unfailing love. Our daughters, Robin and Sally, became friends in kindergarten. My soul is knit to Shell’s. But I had always thought Shell was too strict, and I thought this would be a good time to tell her so. She felt I too permissive, and told me so.
Shell left in tears. I was undone. What had happened?
We had forgotten the gospel.
This happened over twenty-five years ago when I was writing The Friendships of Women, ironically. The Lord worked in our hearts so that we did humble ourselves and reconcile, and then God did a mighty work through that prayer group, so Satan did not have the victory. Looking back today, I have more insight than I did then. I see how wise my husband Steve was when I came to him in tears, saying, “Shell doesn’t realize what a precious friend she could be losing in me!”
He comforted me but he also said “I have heard you say that when there is a problem in a horizontal relationship, there is almost always a problem in your vertical relationship with God.”
He was gently pointing out of of the most important aspects of the gospel. We are so depraved, so wicked, that Christ had to die for us, yet sin blinds us. We always think it is the fault of the other person. Usually there is sin on both sides, and even if we think ours is the lesser, God calls us to do whatever we can to be at peace. I had to go, humble myself, and tell her what I had done wrong, and how I had hurt her. And she responded in humility, with the forgiveness of the gospel.
We talked about it later — how the specific issues addressed that day were Romans 13 issues — gray issues — and we shouldn’t have even tried to agree, and simply needed to give one another grace. When Paul says, “Have the same mind,” he wasn’t saying that we had to agree about everything, but that we needed to have the humility of Christ, not clinging to our “rights.” And when Shell and I had quarreled, though there was truth in what we each said, neither of us had spoken in love and we each felt attacked. Why? What causes tempers to flare?
Philippians 2 gives us insight into the root behind our outbursts. It is so helpful. I can’t wait to do the study with you — I need to be reminded of these truths constantly.
(And by the way, I need to credit Rebecca D. with the title for this week, who credits Elizabeth! That was fun — and I had fun with the mother bear pictures!)
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Before you do the study, take a stab at this: What do you think was the root that causes our tempers to flare? (You can review your answer at the end of the study.)
3. Paul begins his plea in Philippians 2:1 by listing some of the sure realities of being a child of God, of being cleansed and embraced by the Lord, of having His Spirit in us. His Spirit encourages, comforts, and can give us a unique fellowship, like we are experiencing here. Slow down and contemplate this verse, and then take just one reality and give an illustration from your life on how it has blessed you recently.
One key aspect of the gospel is “sonship.” Our identity now should not be in the success of our mothering, ministry, marriage, or anything but in being a child of God. If our identity is in something else, we are vulnerable to defeat, division, and despair. I believe, in our situation, our identity was in being good mothers, and so we became defensive and angry.
4. The Philippian church was the healthiest of the churches, yet they too had discord. What request does Paul make of them in Philippians 2:2? What does it mean to be of the same mind and to have the same love? (See Phil. 2:5) Can you disagree about an issue and still have the same mind and same love? If so, can you give an illustration?
Read Philippians 2:3 in the KJV, which Keller says is a helpful translation for this verse:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
5. What do you think “vainglory” means?
6. Where, according to John 17:22, should we find our glory, our identity, our significance?
I realize now that in that mother bear prayer group, we were finding our glory, our identity, in being good mothers. So we erupted when it was attacked. We might have been able to have a constructive conversation about these peripheral issues, but our tempers flared because our glory was in the wrong place. Yet despite all that, God came to us, loved us, humbled us, and brought us back together.
In Keller message he also talks about a “spirit of rivalry,” the one who gets his identity by always disagreeing. He wants to be noticed. Our greatest fear is being unknown, forgotten. But we are known by the One who matters most. If our identity is in Him that spirit of rivalry will fade. I keep thinking of Brennan Mannings words from a few weeks back — do we realize how much God loves us? Or will He one day say to us, “I never knew you?” Let us receive His love now and cultivate that intimacy.
7. What is Paul’s next plea according to Philippians 2:4? (This is a theme in Philippians.) How did Christ do this?
8. Think, if you can, of someone with whom you disagree or tend to disagree. Ask the Lord to help you see her side of things, why she is upset, why he has felt unheard, why she may have been hurt. (Paul is addressing believers, but this could be applied to your view of an unbeliever as well.)
9. What is the solution, according to Philippians 2:5?
10. How might you apply this to your life?
11. Listen to this sermon and share your highlights. (This is $2.50 — but next week’s is free.) LINK
12. What’s your take-a-way and why?
Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
But so often, if we are honest, we would have to say:
For me to live is family.
For me to live is health.
For me to live is success.
And when those things fail us, and we come to the brink of despair, it is a gift from God.
For if we realize that Christ must be our life,
then we can enjoy the gifts without demanding from them what they cannot give.
Last week I was blessed with another gift. A grandson. Born to Beth and Seth.
This child, plump with possibility, had been given to us. We were euphoric.
But mountaintops are for a moment.
We were told he was jaundiced. Had to go under the lights, a blindfold on his wee head.
He wailed and flailed and his mother could only stand and watch.
So she cried.
So I cried.
Finally I took their two-year-old home and left the parents at the hospital. It rained all night and in the morning my basement guestroom was filled with water. I had to evacuate my soggy belongings while Seth hurried home, removed furniture, vacuumed up water, pulled back carpet, and tried to convince his wife, who was experiencing baby blues, that the house was not a disaster, when indeed, it was.
The next night I was attempting to get their two and a half year old, Katherine, to bed. I did everything I could think to do: water, story, prayers, rocking, more water…Still, she kept getting up, wailing, pointing toward the living room. We had begun at 7 and it was nearly 9. Past my bedtime.
“Use your words, Katherine.” (This is the new phrase I’ve picked up from my children and laughed to see it is the “in” phrase when I watched the comedy Parental Guidance.)
Katherine couldn’t use her words. Instead she sobbed, pointing to the air.
“Show me.” We wandered about the house again. She sobbed. “Honey, I don’t know what you want. Use your words.”
She collapsed, WAILING. When I picked her up she had a tantrum, screaming and kicking. Anger WELLED up in me. I held her legs tight, dropped her in her bed, and said, “STAY THERE!” I left abruptly, flicking off the light, slamming the door.
I slid to the floor outside her room, my head in my hands, listening to her heart-broken cries. Her grandmother had turned into Mr. Hyde. I hate this monster in me too, Lord! Help me! Her life has been turned topsy turvy, she probably wants her mother, and I can’t give her that. (An hour later, while she was still whimpering, I spied her pink bear under the couch. Maybe, I thought. I opened the door a crack, waved the pink bear, and she cried out in delight. She clutched it to her heart while I knelt and told her I was sorry I was mean. (She nodded!) Then I stroked her sweaty head until sleep came. Here she is the next day, when her grandmother was behaving better.
In heaven there will be no jaundiced babies, flooded basements, or wicked grandmothers. But we are not in heaven yet. We need the gospel for the here and now, and Philippians shows us how to apply the gospel to the trials of life, whether they are small or overwhelming, as some of you are facing. I so long to become the kind of believer Paul was, who knew Jesus was real and could see through what he called “these light momentary afflictions” (though they hardly seemed like that) to eternal glory.
It is natural to grieve when we lose family, health, ministry — but we should not be devastated, for our real hope is in Christ.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Describe a trial you are facing today. Can you see through it to how it might press you to Christ? How, if you persevere, it might build character? How it might lead to eternal glory? Ponder and then share.
(On a personal note I’m traveling this week to two speaking engagements in Morton, Illinois. The first is a conference for pastors and their wives where Bryan Chappel and others will be speaking. I will be speaking to the women and covet your prayers for quickening, sensitivity to them, health, tech needs. Then I’ll speak Thursday night at the E. Free Church in Morton — if you are in the area, look it up on my website and come!)
MONDAY-WEDNESDAY: BIBLE STUDY
As background, Paul knew the Philippians would be concerned about him, for he had been flogged and imprisoned and chained for sharing Christ. So, he is writing to assure them, and to help them to see through his troubles to what God might be doing. The purpose of Paul’s life was Christ, and to make Him known, and he is aware, indeed, that God has only given Satan enough rope to hang himself. Like the cross, which seemed so bad, eventually showed the mighty power of God.
3. Read Philippians 1:12-14 and find two ways that Paul’s imprisonment has advanced the gospel.
4. Paul says “Most of the brothers have become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment.” Can you explain why this would be?
5. Matthew Henry calls the above, like Romans 8:28, “the alchemy” of God. What seems bad works together for the good to those who love God, to build character, to advance the gospel, to show the mighty power of God. Think about a trial in your life that built character or showed the mighty power of God. Share it, succinctly, here.
6. Read Philippians 1:15-18 and describe two kinds of preaching and what both may accomplish.
I’ve been reading J. D. Grear’s book: Gospel.
Tim Keller writes the forward and it is absolutely filled with the teaching of Keller, whom Grear credits as profoundly impacting him. Grear honestly shares the rivalry he felt with other preachers when his purpose in life was to be successful in ministry. And yet, even then, his preaching, provoked by rivalry, advanced the cause of Christ. This indeed, is the “alchemy” of God. I find comfort in this, for my motives for writing, speaking, have all been pure and impure mixed together, yet I am humbled God has not struck me down, but used some of it for good. He is purifying my heart, but oh, how I need grace. He works with us, flawed as we are, and even when our motives are mixed, He can use it for the good. I used to be confused by this passage wondering if he was saying that even some televangelists who are simply in it for the fame and money could be used for the good — and perhaps they could, but if their message is off, if it is a prosperity gospel, then I think it does more harm than good.
7. How do you interpret Philippians 1:18?
THE PROCESS OF SALVATION (Read Philippians 1:19-20)
Salvation is both an event and a process. We are saved from the penalty of sin instantaneously, but the process takes time.
Read Philippians 1:19 in your version and then see this phrase from it in these:
For I know that this shall turn to my salvation (KJV)
I know that what is happening will be for the good of my own soul (Phillips)
8. How do you interpret the word translated “salvation” or “deliverance” in verse 19? See verse 20 as well. Was Paul talking about salvation from the penalty of sin? Why or why not?
9. Read Philippians 1:21-26 and then explain what you think Paul means by verse 21.
10. Fill it in as honestly as you can — and then pray for your own soul — and we can pray for one another.
For to me to live is ________________________________.
Here is my answer, to pave the way: For to me to live is Christ, yet so often it is really for my own comfort, so help me trust You more, believe Your love more, so that I may glorify You more.
11. Read Philippians 1:27-30
A. What does “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” mean?
B. What two things have been granted to us for the sake of Christ according to verse 29?
The Son of man suffered unto death, not that man might not suffer,
but that their suffering might be like His.
Thursday-Friday: Keller Sermon: Joy in God’s Plan (It is 2.50): Link
You may want to buy next week’s sermon now as well. It is called Be Humble and Make Peace (Keller on Philippians 2:1-4) The following week will be a free sermon.
Share your notes — he has four points:
The hardness of life
The alchemy of life
The definition of life
The dynamic of life
12. What’s your take-a-way and why?
I used to think of the gospel as the baby steps into Christianity.
I was wrong. It isn’t just the baby steps.
It is all of the steps.
It is every step for every day.
It isn’t just for the future.
It is for the here and now.
This is a new way of seeing.
And so I am inviting you to a different kind of study.
We are going to look at Philippians, but it will be through the lens
of the gospel for the here and now.
God has blessed us with a precious fellowship here — one I never imagined was possible through the internet. When Paul tells the Philippians that he thanks God every time he remembers them, he is remembering “their partnership in the gospel.” I feel that way about you who have come on this blog. We are rediscovering the gospel together and it is changing our lives.
I have come to realize that God has given us the privilege of being a part of a revival of recovering the gospel. Indeed, we are “partners in the gospel.”
RECOVERING THE GOSPEL TOGETHER
Our tendency is to forget the gospel — to forget God’s amazing love — and to go back to:
Instead of saying, as Paul did, “For me to live is Christ,” we think:
- For me to live is family
- For me to live is health
- For me to live is happiness
- For me to live is success
The gospel keeps slipping out of our hands, but together we are recovering it.
Every once in a while you meet someone with a gospel-transformed heart — and they stand out. Most people and even many in the church are “seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:21) But I have seen gospel transformed hearts here, and I pray that “our love may abound more and more,” and that as we practice this new way of seeing, of seeing the gospel everywhere, that we will be changed, that we will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:11)
Before we begin, it is so fitting to give a tribute to two men who stood out for their gospel transformed hearts and who died this week. You will hear, in their own words, what transformed them.
THE GOSPEL TRANFORMED HEART OF BRENNAN MANNING
CHRISTIANITY TODAY began their remembrance with:
The first time the late singer-songwriter Rich Mullins heard former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning on tape as he drove through the edge of the Flint Hills in Kansas, his eyes filled with tears. He steered the truck to the side of the road. There, as he later wrote, the message “broke the power of mere ‘moralistic religiosity’ in my life, and revived a deeper acceptance that had long ago withered in me.”
DURING ADVENT ONE OF THE POSTS FEATURED MANNING’S RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL. (LINK)
LISTEN TO BRENNAN MANNING SHARING “THE ONE QUESTION” THAT GOD WILL ASK YOU AT HEAVEN’S GATE (under four minutes)
THE GOSPEL TRANSFORMED HEART OF GEORGE BEVERLY SHEA
Before he sings this song with which we have come to associate him, he tells how it came to be.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Have you read anything by Brennan Manning? If so, share something about it — or something else you know about him that has caused you to ponder or change.
3. Have you studied Philippians before — and if so, do you have a favorite verse? (If you have been with us for a while and are beginning to “get” the breadth of the gospel, does it give you any new light on that favorite verse?)
MONDAY-WEDNESDAY BIBLE STUDY:
THE UNIQUE FELLOWSHIP OF PARTNERS IN THE GOSPEL
Read Philippians 1:1-11
4. From whom does this letter come, according to verse 1, and how does Paul describe their identity?
Paul felt “knit,” to Timothy, as many of us are feeling “knit” to one another. He calls him, elsewhere, “my son in the faith.” When you see how the truths of the gospel that you have shared have the power to transform a heart, and what you are seeing is being passed on to another, there is a feeling akin to giving birth to a child. As I have many of you grow, my heart is knit to you. Then, in turn, I see you mentoring and encouraging one another, as the Spirit moves, giving us this incredible partnership in the gospel. This is a fellowship like no other. Zechariah, in his song of praise when his tongue was loosed, called Jesus “the sunrise from on high.” The power of the gospel spreading through our hearts is like the rising sun, giving light and warmth throughout the land.
5. Compare this fellowship to the fellowship you have with those who share a common interest such as work, children, or gardening — how does this fellowship differ? Contemplate.
6. Learn more about why Paul was so knit to Timothy in Philippians 2:19-21. Meditate on these words. Then answer this challenge question: Why does a gospel-transformed heart lead to the kind of character Paul described in Timothy in Philippians 2:19-21?
7. How does Paul begin his prayer in verse 3? How could you echo that for your sisters here?
8. What is Paul sure of in verse 6, and why can He be sure of this?
9. In a past lesson, Tim Keller said if you don’t have all the fruit of the Spirit, you may not have any. For those who were with us (or who want to attempt an answer!) why did he say that?
10. Those with gospel-transformed hearts are likely to be willing to pay the cost to stand beside others when they are facing trials. How did the Philippians do that for Paul according to verse 7?
11. Share one example of a believer standing beside you in adversity though it cost them to do so.
YOU PUT THIS LOVE IN MY HEART
12. How much affection does Paul feel for them according to verse 8?
As Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is a dangerous error to think the heart can pray by itself.” Scripture saturated prayer is the most powerful prayer in the world. Take verses 9 through 11 and pray it, here, for your sisters, as they begin this study on The Gospel According to Philippians.
THURSDAY-FRIDAY: FREE TIM KELLER SERMON
THE CHURCH PLANT AT PHILIPPI INCLUDED THREE NEW BELIEVERS: LYDIA, A WEALTHY CAREER WOMAN, A SLAVE GIRL WITH A SPIRIT OF “A PYTHON,” AND A SURLY JAILER.
Our fellowship crosses the lines of age, race, and socio-economic standing. The church in Philippi began with a wealthy woman, a girl that is akin to a child prostitute, and a rough and cruel jailer. God moved differently with each to use His gospel to bring them into His family.
13. Share your notes here.
14. How did God initially move in your life to woo you in?
15. What is your take-a-way and why?
Our own Elizabeth wrote:
I have noticed lately how often I lay in bed at the end of the day and feel guilt. Over words said or left unsaid. Actions I could have taken but didn’t, others I regret taking. But the Gospel has washed away all guilt. Perfect love casts out all fear. I have not only been pardoned, but have been given the gift, a new identity. I am no longer a guilty child, but beloved, though broken, I am His beloved.
Yet Elizabeth would be just as quick to tell you that it is elusive. The gospel is such amazing news that we believe it, and then we don’t. We are like a woman picking petals of a daisy, saying, “He loves me. He loves me not.”
At the end of one message we heard on Job this last Lent, Tim Keller astonishingly says: “My main problem is that I don’t really believe to the core that God loves me.” We look at our lives, our “failing Lents,” and see darkness and think, How could He love me? And when we doubt His love, we feel naked, and want to cover ourselves somehow, so we go back to works righteousness, finding our identity in our success in our ministry, mothering, or marriage. Or we go running to our idols, trying to take the pain away.
In a conversation I had with a good friend named Machelle this week, she said, “Rules are a quick fix — the gospel takes a lifetime.”
In another conversation with a woman who has just been through Idol Lies she said, “We see our idols now — but we all want a formula to solve it!” Oh — so true — we want a formula, a quick fix. But the gospel takes a lifetime.
The one thing we can do is behold Christ and His great love, for beholding is becoming. Being in awe of Christ melts our hearts and helps us trust His love. This week we will behold some of the “love songs,” in Isaiah.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. What idol are you running to now most frequently? What is it that you doubt about Christ that keeps you running to this idol?
BIBLE STUDY: MONDAY-WEDNESDAY (Take two or three questions a day.)
He uses every earthly picture of intimacy that we know, and says that He loves us better. He is the Friend who is closer than a brother, He is the Husband who will never forsake us, He is the Father who stands with open arms, and He is the Mother who cannot forget her baby.
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the
child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
Isaiah 49:14-16 (NIV)
When Johnny was two, he unlocked the door and got outside. We lived on a lake and it was early morning. I ran all over the neighborhood in my nightgown, pounding on doors, asking them to help me, crying, praying, scanning the lake, and falling in a thankful heap when a neighbor brought him home on his shoulders. When Johnny was six and some older boys held him underwater at the pool, I became a lionness, charging them, tearing at them.
To think, God loves me more than that.
3. If you are a mother, or have a child in your life to whom you feel knit, share a time when you were ready to do anything to rescue him, no matter how embarrassing or how dangerous. Or when a parent did the same for you.
4. Read Isaiah 49:13-16
A. In verse 13, what does the Lord tell all of creation to do and why?
B. In verse 14, how are God’s people feeling?
C. What word picture is painted in verse 15? What spiritual, physical, and emotional factors make it difficult for a mother to forget her nursing baby?
D. In the end of verse 14, who may forget — and who will never forget? What does this mean to you.
E. Why, according to verse 16, will God not forget us? Can you see the gospel in this? Explain.
For your Maker is your husband
Many of our bloggers have been forsaken by a husband. Martin French based his drawing upon Hosea who said, “I will betroth you to me forever…” There is no greater earthly picture of intimacy than marriage, and therefore enormous pain (which God shows he understands in Malachi) than being forsaken by a spouse. But we have One who will never leave us or forsake us.
In the following picture, we have an earthly image of a young bride who felt the reproach of being abandoned. This echoes Hosea where God does have Hosea withdraw from Gomer for a period to bring her to her senses. God does discipline us for our good, but only for a season. He will always be waiting with open arms. For He is our husband, one who will never break his vows.
6. Read Isaiah 54:4-8
A. What negative emotions is God going to wipe away, according to verse 4?
B. How does He identify Himself in verse 5? (Was there ever a husband like this?)
C. Describe his emotions toward us in verses 6 through 8?
D. How do you see both the truth and mercy of the gospel in this passage?
E. In what ways do you need to repent before Him? Write them here and let him have compassion on you.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
I have told this story in The God of All Comfort, so I will summarize it. My eldest son, J. R. and his girlfriend, Diane, led my mother to Christ the Easter that she was 93. The following September she seemed to be close to death. I asked the Lord to allow me to be with her when it happened. Amazingly, I was. It was three in the morning when I arrived, taking the baton from my sister Sally, who had been at her side. Mother was suffering. Terribly. I couldn’t handle it. I was pacing, crying out to God. I told Him, “Steve was strong in the faith, he could take this, but my little mother is just four months old in the faith. You said, “a bruised reed you would not break.” At five in the morning, Fran, a Christian nurse came in. She was supposed in at six, but God woke her up and told her to come. I lamented to her and said, “I don’t understand why God is putting her through this.”
Fran assessed the situation and said, “Your mother is afraid to die.”
“No! She’s a Christian now. She knows she’s forgiven.”
“We all have our doubts — and she’s just a baby.”
Fran leaned down next to my mother and repeated the truth of the gospel to her. “Mrs Brown. Don’t be afraid. Your sin has been paid in full. Jesus is waiting for you with open arms.”
Suddenly my mother looked up, smiled, and was gone.
What solved her problem? The Gospel.
7. Read Isaiah 42:3
I’ve often wondered where the saying, “God will not give you more than you can bear” came from. I think this is it. He knows our frame, He know what we can take, and He is filled with compassion. How does this minister to you right now?
Luci Shaw once told me of this verse, “It’s for the left-brained person (Come, let us reason together) and the right-brained (A word picture: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”) We all need to drum the gospel into our hearts.
Steve and I sent this verse out our first Christmas as Christians. We offended people, for they didn’t think “their sins were as scarlet.”
Part of the solution to our problems is realizing how sinful and helpless we are. We are more depraved than we could imagine.
Yet — more loved than we dared hope.”
8. How might this aspect of the gospel help you today?
Thursday-Friday: Sermon: Link
9. What are your notes?
10. What’s your take-a-way and why?
Perhaps He names every child. I know He knits every child together in his mother’s womb and has all his days planned out. I know it is a wise parent who seeks God on the naming of a child.
And I absolutely know from Scripture and from life that there are times when He names a child. The stories fill you with awe and hope.
(I am sensitive to the fact that some, and one who has just joined us, so wish they had a baby to name. My purpose in these stories is to show you how personal God is, and I pray this will encourage you too.)
Many of you already know, my grand-daughter Lily Grace was born this Easter Sunday. We certainly didn’t anticipate an Easter birth — but God already knew, had her days planned out before she was born. He knows what she will be like, and the name He gave her fills us with hope for her future. It is also a story she will be told all of her life, a story that will whisper “You are loved, my child, by a God who has your name written on His hand, by a God who knows your name, by a God who has a plan for you to bring glory to Me.”
Annie and David had talked about names all through the pregnancy. I had put “Lily” on a Christmas gift partly in jest. (I am always putting names on presents for future grandchildren, and my children are always laughing at me, for I have a reputation of being controlling.) They were thinking of another name, a lovely name, but didn’t have a peace about it. Annie said in February — I just don’t think that is her name. On March 9th, when Annie was up in the night with false labor, God impressed on her heart: “Her name is Lily Grace.” When she told me, of course, I was delighted — not just because I love the name so much, but because it is such a gift when you know God is naming a child.
Annie was overdue, so weary of being pregnant. We both hoped she would go into labor the Monday before Easter for that fit best with “our” plans. But that was not God’s plan. On Good Friday Annie called me and said, “I’m not in Labor but I need my mom.” That’s all it took, and I knew I could at least have the Easter weekend with them. Saturday night at supper Annie said, “Mom and David — would you pray this baby would come tomorrow?” The three of us prayed, asking God for that mercy. Early Easter morning, while it was still dark, Annie knew she was in labor. (I believe God put that request in Annie’s heart — but it would have happened anyhow!)
It didn’t occur to me until three hours after Lily’s birth how perfect, how providential, how personal was this name for Resurrection Day. “You really did name her, God.” My son J. R. looked at the row upon row upon row of lilies in his church that morning, and he knew. This child was named by God.
David’s mother wrote: “We are overflowing with love and thankfulness for God’s gracious gift of Lily Grace born on the most glorious day of the year–the celebration of our Savior’s resurrection! I was amazed yesterday to learn from David that you had actually chosen her name way before you knew she would be born on Resurrection Sunday!”
Now we are contemplating why God named her Lily. Annie says, “I’m excited for her — that perhaps her life will be a confirmation of what Jesus said about the lilies of the field — they neither toil nor spin, for they know their heavenly Father cares for them.”
I said, “I hope her life will be a confirmation of what I see in Song of Songs. When the Shulamite maiden felt unworthy, ‘dark,’ he assured her, ‘You are a lily.’ Cleansed. Loved. We have so much trouble believing the gospel in our everyday lives — but may this child believe each day of her life that in God’s eyes she is as pure as a lily because of the power of the cross.”
We don’t know why – but we rest in the fact that God knew her before the foundation of the world, loves her, and has a plan for this child of His.
This week I’ve been in the hospital room with Annie. Her pastor and his wife, Chad and Deborah, came. They feel like family for they lived with us for a year when Annie and David were dating. They have been God’s gift of godly friendship to Annie and David. They also have a child who was named by God.
When Deborah was pregnant, they prayed diligently about the name for their son. One day Chad was in prayer and “Barnabas” came to him, but he thought, Deborah will never go for Barnabas. But, Lord, if that is his name, could you have Deborah think of it?
A few minutes later Deborah appeared at his den door and said, “I’ve been reading Acts. What would you think of Barnabas?”
I have never met a child who so fit his name. Despite his tender years, he is such an encourager! (Barnabas means “son of encouragement.”) Miabelle is so bonded to him because Barnabas is so “other-centered” and always encouraging her. He has become truly a brother to her. Oh — how she adores him! This picture made me laugh out loud for Miabelle is so smitten with her encourager.
All of his life Barnabas will know the story of his naming and God’s gifting and calling for his life.
Yesterday I was speaking at “Bloom” a wonderful women’s retreat that represented 105 churches and was so anointed with prayer that I sensed His presence, and did the women, from beginning to end. (And thanks to all of you who prayed!) They sang this song — and I knew I wanted it here.
Perhaps the most fun story I heard this week was the naming of Annie’s nursing school friend, “Hallelujah.” Here she is visiting Annie in the hospital, holding Lily Grace. Hallelujah’s parents thought her mother was pregnant with one baby, and had chosen the name “Hallie” if she were a girl. But after their baby girl was born, the doctor said, “Oh — we have another baby here!” And her mother’s immediate joyful response was “Hallelujah!”
All of her life Hallie will know how welcomed she was into this world! If she ever feared that she was too much for parents who already had an eighteen month old and a newborn, her mother’s immediate “Hallelujah” wipes that away. And they felt confident that God wanted her named that immediate shout of praise. So her sister was named Whitney, and she was named Hallelujah, but goes by Hallie.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Do you have a “name” story that showed God’s mindfulness?
Monday-Friday: The Naming of John the Baptist
3. Read Luke 1:5-20
A. What name did Gabriel say Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son was to have?
B. What was Zechariah’s response in verse 18 and why?
C. What does Gabriel tell him and why?
John Piper preached his last sermon at Bethlehem Baptist on Easter Sunday. Here is a written sermon entitled: “How Not To Talk To An Angel.“
4. What comments do you have on Piper’s sermon?
5. If you were Zechariah, what thoughts might you have had during these nine months when you were deaf and dumb?
6. Read Luke 1:57-66
A. Describe the discussion about the name in verses 57-63.
B. What happened immediately after Zechariah confirmed the name was John? Why, do you think?
C. What reaction did the neighbors have (65-66)
A. If a verse quickened you, stay there — and share what you see.
B. What do you learn about God from this passage?
C. Is there anything that is speaking personally to you?
8. Challenge question: Can you see any facet of the gospel in this story?
9. Sometimes God named a child, sometimes He changed a name. Name can portray hope and blessing — or a curse. Knowing what you know now, what would you suggest to couples concerning naming their child?
10. Sometime I may take us through Ruth, for I love the book — and every single name is fascinating. Today — just consider the names of the three women and read the first chapter. Naomi means “sweet or pleasant,” but she asked to be called “Mara.” (bitter) Ruth means “a woman companion or friend.” “Orpah” means “stiff-necked or double-minded.” Read. Pray. Reflect. Share your observations and thoughts here.
On Thursday I’ll be on Midday Connection talking about Leah — and “the expulsive power of a new affection.” http://www.moodyradio.org/middayconnection.aspx
11. We studied Leah a while back — how did the naming of her children show how God replaced her idols with Himself?
12. Share one way God has been mindful of you in the last few weeks.
13. What’s your take-a-way and why?
The men thought the women’s testimonies “were nonsense,” “an idle tale,” and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:11) Darrell Bock says that the Greek word that Luke the physician used to describe their incredulity means “the delirious talk of the very ill.”(I love this! Thank you Dr. Luke!)
Tim Keller says if this was a fabrication, the fabricators never would have written women into it for women were not considered to be reliable witnesses. The reason women were recorded as the very first witnesses is because women were the very first witnesses.
When the men heard the report, they couldn’t believe — but then, something stirred in their souls — and then, oh, how they ran. Artists have wonderful renditions of Peter and John running to the empty tomb. “Could it be?”
Easter morning is often a time of testimonies to declare the power of God. The same power that brought Jesus back from the dead is the power that changes our lives.
Usually Easter testimonies tell of when one was first born-again. But this Lent we have been considering how the gospel is not only the way into Christianity, but the power to change us every day of our lives. For we all have a tendency to retreat, to turn back to our idols, to use self-salvation strategies, and to betray the Lord of our lives. Peter knew this so well.
Peter had boasted that even if all the disciples denied him, he would never deny him.
But when we get afraid, we often retreat to a “self-salvation” strategy, finding our own way to feel secure, instead of trusting the Lord. But the Lord does not forsake us. Jesus had told Peter that Satan was going to “sift” him, but that Jesus would pray for him. How tender is our Lord when after the resurrection He tells the women, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter…”
And then the moment on the beach when Jesus sought Peter out to tenderly reinstate him.
Peter had denied him three times. Gently, Jesus probed — now that Peter had been humbled, Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?” He humbled him and then reinstated him to “feed my sheep.” What would Peter’s cardboard testimony have looked like? Perhaps:
Elizabeth gave us a link last week on an article about Peter from Julie Silander. These were her closing words:
Yes, I’m comforted by the story of Peter’s denial. It’s the story of us all. His mutiny came as no surprise to Jesus, nor does mine. From the creation of time, He knew that this dark event would occur. It was simply the outer manifestation of the inner battle of all men.
We’re divided, fickle creatures.
We’re in need of a Savior.
So as we dart about cutting off ears, speaking resolutely of our steadfast faith, and proclaiming dedication, there is the inevitable other side to the well-intentioned coin. Eventually, we’ll all find ourselves lurking in the shadows.
Yet we have no reason to fear. The work has been done. We have been forgiven. He sees us in our entirety and cannot be taken by surprise. We can move from the darkness into the light with confidence. Not in ourselves, but in the One who will come again to banish shame, fear, and every other form of darkness into the eternal abyss.
So this is your week to give testimonies. Thanks to all who sent them! Even one from one of our silent bloggers, Cheryl, who is the wife of the President of Moody Bible Institute.
Personal note from Dee: Easter blessings to all. Annie pleaded with me to come and to pray she would go into labor. I did and she did. Isn’t God so good and personal and mindful of us? Appreciate prayers for her and the baby. I’m with her little girl and she and her husband are at the hospital waiting for this little girl to come into the world.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
A. Tell us a way you experienced the presence of this Holy Week or Holy Easter Day.
B. Tell us just one specific way you are understanding the gospel better and how it might apply to a specific area of your life.
The Keller sermon this week is optional. I am always heartened by hearing again evidences that it REALLY HAPPENED. In this sermon he talks about the witnesses — the 500 — the disciples who all gave “Easter testimonies.” He asks, “If the message was this is all a beautiful metaphor — that spring gives us hope, that with every death is a new life — would that have turned the world upside down? I think not!” Here is the link, if you would like to listen — it’s not free.
MONDAY-FRIDAY: YOUR TESTIMONIES
Time to hear and respond to your testimonies! Take a couple a day and respond. And let’s begin with you!
3. Tell us as you look back and review this Lenten journey, one specific way you are being changed. It can be monumental or small — simply an evidence that the Spirit of God is working in you. (And feel free to come back through the week and share another specific.)
Nanci J’s testimony:
4. Comment on Nanci’s testimony. Can you identify? Are you experiencing His approval and is it setting you free? Explain.
5. Comment on Rhonda’s testimony. Can you identify? Our default mode is to build our own “righteousness” in what we do, what we accomplish. Are you being delivered? Explain.
6. Becky’s testimony was interesting to me. I’ll let her comment. One thought I had was in regard to those who have been in prison. Often they truly are changed, as was my nephew, as was the younger brother when he returned — but the family holds them at length. Their God never does. He reinstates. He covers them. Comment.
7. Rebecca’s testimony, like Nanci’s, is about human approval — but with a little different slant — showing us the price our idols demand. Comment. Can you identify?
Cheryl’s testimony (Cheryl is one of our silent bloggers — the dear friend for whom I prayed when I moved to Kansas City — though then her husband was tapped to be the President of Moody Bible Institute and they moved to Chicago.)
8. Comment on Cheryl’s testimony. Can you identify? What help do you see in this?
Jill’s Testimony: (I love seeing her. I told her it helps us to know her, our new blogger, better. I teased her that the red hair goes with the temper, but in Christ, anything is possible! And now — look at the peace!)
9. Comment on Jill’s testimony. Can you identify? What do you learn from it?
Dawn M. S. testimony:
10. Comment on Dawn M. S. testimony. Can you identify?
Joyce from Nebraska (our Barnabas!) sent these two pictures. One of her sweet face, so radiant in Him.
11. Comment on Joyce’s testimony. Can you identify?
This is from Deanna from Ohio:
12. Isn’t it interesting what a common theme we see with acceptance? Comment on Deanna’s testimony and also this theme
The Gospel is like a diamond hung on a gossamer thread from heaven — each time it turns you see another color, another facet. It shows us how bad we are, how loved we are, how prone we are to self-salvation strategies, how He is the One who can really rescue us, how He will cover us with His righteousness — the Gospel has power that we do not have.
11. Challenge question: How can you see how applying a facet or facets of the gospel diamond is the solution to each of the above problems? Give two examples.
12. If you listened to the Keller message, share your thoughts.
13. What is your take-a-way and why?
FOR THE CHILD OF GOD,
THIS IS THE HOLIEST OF WEEKS,
SO LET US TAKE OFF OUR SHOES
FOR WE ARE STANDING ON HOLY GROUND
It was thirty years ago when I was studying to write a book about friendship when I saw the pattern. Important things are said when time is running out. When Ruth thought Naomi was going to leave her and she would never see her again, she poured out her heart with her famous “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest…(Ruth 1:16)
When Jonathan thought he might never see David again, for he had to send David away from his murderous father, David fell to the ground and wept, but Jonathan told him: “Go in peace, because we have sworn, both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between your offspring and your offspring, forever.”(1 Samuel 21:42)
And then, beginning ten years ago, I experienced it personally. I was blessed with a wonderful father who loved his three daughters well. I actually will talk about him this Thursday on Midday Connection as I share how he called me “Deedle” and asked me not to ride my bike down Ridge Hill. (A commandment I broke as soon as he and Mother left for Mexico.) Here he is, before I was born, with my sisters, Sally and Bonnie.
My dad was a man of the highest integrity, but struggled with many things about Christianity. I do believe Christ came to him at his deathbed and rescued him. My sister Sally has said, “There is a presence of God at the deathbed of those for whom so many prayers have been offered.” There was. I will never forget that holy place and the presence of God. Dad was in a coma by the time I arrived, and I sat by his bed day after day and pleaded with God to have him awaken so I could share one more time. When I walked in, that last night, the nurses came running: “Your dad’s eyes are open!” I rushed in, took his hands, and words and emotions and tears tumbled out as I shared with him again the most important thing, how Jesus had died for his sins.He could not speak, but his eyes were fastened on me, piercing, really, and then filled with tears. My heart was bursting with love and I thanked him for many things, but the last was always faithfully meeting me at the gate (for this was before 9/11 and he could) whenever I was getting off the airplane to visit — his eyes searching for me, lighting up when he saw me, and I’d hear his great shout, “THERE SHE IS!” My very last words before he slipped away were:
“Daddy — please meet me at the gate.”
And then Steve…he spoke to each child and to me — some things I have shared, some too holy to ever share. I understand the anger of the mother whose son’s last words on 9/11 from a voice-mail were played without permission in the opening of the movie: Zero/Dark/Thirty. That was holy ground that was trespassed.
I realize how blessed I was to have two men who loved me dearly. Many of you have not had either a father or a husband who loved you deeply or who was able to express it. But you have One who loves you so. Last week Mary from Canada said “I may not matter to a number of people, but I matter to God.” Oh! That is what you will see this week as you meditate on what Jesus said when time was running out.
Last words are holy. During holy week of 2012, we considered three screams of Jesus in the dark. We’ll review those in the beginning of the holy week.
And then, as the week marches toward Good Friday, we are going to look at the very two last things that Jesus said on the cross that shows us two vital aspects of the gospel and will also show you how deeply you are loved.
Take off your shoes, we are on holy ground.
Easter is a time for testimonies, and Easter is next Sunday. Many of you have already given such good testimonies (If you missed the last three comments last week from Mellany, Jill from Ohio, and Diane2 — please go back and read them!) But next week I need help from each of you, and I’m looking for brevity, so I thought “cardboard” testimonies would be perfect! Would you send me a picture of you holding a cardboard testimony? Or just the cardboard if you really don’t want to be in the picture (though we would love to see you!). Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. We know that you will not have “arrived” in the area you post, but you should see some change for which you can give glory to God. For example, I still want to control people, but I know I am changing. This week Sally texted me a picture of Sadie while she was in the salon chair getting her hair cut. I wanted to text back, “Don’t cut off her beautiful curls!” But I saw my depravity of wanting to control, and knew, because of the gospel, that I could let go of this. (I know — I’m so bad!) So, instead I texted,”She looks so excited! Send me a picture of the finished cut!” God helped me not to rain on their parade. (And Sadie looks darling.) SO HERE IS ONE PIECE OF HOW JESUS IS CHANGING ME:
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. How might you approach this week so that you can be still and know He is God? On Good Friday He hung on the cross from 9 to 3. Might you have any way to take time during that period?
Tuesday: He was forsaken so we will never be.
The sermon we listened to last year was from Matthew. It is free but I suggest downloading for smoother playing. (Link)
4. If you have time to listen, share your notes.
5. If you don’t have time to listen, it is still important that you see what Jesus said right before he said, “I thirst.” Find it in Matthew 27:46. Stay there and try to see what it means.
The worst physical pain I ever experienced, more than childbirth, was a burn. I was in a fire as a child and I literally longed to die. They say that death by crucifixion dehydrates you so you are burning inside. Yet Keller says that Jesus did not say “I Thirst” because of physical pain, for that would be the only time Jesus “complained.” Instead, He thirsted for God, for He was cut off from God when He was bearing our sins. Keller takes us to two important passages to help us understand “I thirst,” so we will go there too.
6. Have you ever been burned? Describe the pain. How does the physical pain that Jesus endured for you impact your heart?
7. Read John 4:7-15. What is happening here, and how do you think this might be related to Jesus’ words on the cross?
8. Read Psalm 42:1 — how might this be related to Jesus’ words on the cross?
There is another reason Jesus said “I thirst,” and it is profound. See if you can find it in the text.
9. Read John 19:28. What reasons can you find for Jesus saying, “I thirst?”
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday:
He said, “It is finished,” so let it be!
10. What are the very last words Jesus spoke (John 19:30) and what do you see in these words for your life?
Listen to this message — it is not free — but it is gold. (Link) You do have to give them info and your credit card, but then you will be registered and not have to fill things out all the time.
11. What are your sermon notes? What stood out to you and why?
12. What’s your take-a-way this holy week? Have you “sensed” Jesus? If so, when?
THE SAME POWER THAT BROUGHT JESUS BACK FROM THE DEAD
CAN EMPOWER US TO LOVE
WHEN LOVE IS LACKING.
THE GOSPEL HAS POWER FROM GOD.
Last week I was with my daughter Sally and her two daughters. Sadie, the two-and-a-half year old, has had intense feelings of sibling rivalry toward her new little sister, Claire. She kept asking her parents to take Claire back after she was born. If Claire gets into Sadie’s toys, Sadie gets very angry. When I was there, Sadie had to be disciplined for hitting Claire. I sat in the dining room praying while Sally was in the living room with Sadie, talking to her afterwards. Sadie was weeping and telling Sally she was sorry.
Sally said, “Honey — you can’t help yourself. You feel angry with Claire. The only way that you will stop hitting her is if Jesus changes your heart and gives you love for her. I know — because I always have to ask Jesus to change my heart when I feel angry. Ask Him to help you.”
- Suddenly Sadie lifted her arms toward heaven and cried out:
- Jesus, help me!
My heart melted at her poignant plea. I thought, That’s exactly what I need to do all day long. The gospel shows me how bad I am, because He was crucified for me, yet it also shows me how loved I am, for He was willing to die for me. He is just waiting for me to cry out to Him for help, and I need to keep my eyes on Him all day long.
I wish I had better understood the power of the gospel in parenting when I was a young mother. (I love seeing young mothers here avail themselves of its power. Just last week Angela gave a testimony of how her daughter was becoming a “moralist” and she had to talk to her about her heart. Rebecca is diligently praying for the gospel to permeate her sons’ hearts. Cyndi is continually repenting in front of her children. Elizabeth has had so many gospel-centered discussions with her young daughter. And more!) I realize so many of the things I did as a young mom restrained their outward behavior, but didn’t touch their hearts. I had sticker charts everywhere — they got stickers for being nice and for obeying — and so many stickers led to prizes! I think there is a place for rewarding good behavior, but we must always keep their hearts in mind. How are hearts changed?
Only by God. It is a miracle. You may actually do very well as a parent, and a heart may remain hard. Judas had the best teacher, but his heart remained hard. But, what God does call us to do is to walk in humility before our children, so they see us continually repenting. We must also PRAY and lift up Jesus in all of His splendor. Beware of training your child to be a “good Christian.” The last thing we want to do is be or to raise up “older brothers,” self-righteous moralists, who behave outwardly but who don’t really love God or anyone. Instead, keep lifting up Jesus — there are so many stories and ways you can help your children behold Him. (I plan to do a post after Easter sometime just about gospel-centered parenting.) But for now, I want to concentrate on our hearts.
For here we are two weeks from Easter. We are on this journey toward the cross, this journey to replace our idols with “a new affection,” with the love of God in our hearts. Every single one of us has failed, and every single one of us needs to cry out:
Help me, Jesus!
There is power here. As I traveled back to Kansas City I prayed for Sadie, knowing she is too young to fully understand the gospel, yet the seeds are there. And God can work in mysterious ways. I thought about how when Sally was eleven, we had adopted her sister Annie — a five-year-old orphan from Korea. Sally’s sibling rivalry was so intense it astonished me for I had been so overjoyed God had given Sally to us and we had adored her all of her eleven years. Probably too much! I thought, Doesn’t Sally know how loved she is? But then, helpless, we watched Sally slide into a severe depression: losing joy, losing sleep, losing weight. My husband was wise enough to recognize a clinical depression and we got her medical help — but still, that couldn’t touch her heart. Her anger was real. The Christian child psychiatrist tried to reason with her. He said: “Don’t you think your new little sister needs your parents’ love?”
Sally said, “WELL, SHE’S CERTAINLY GETTING IT!”
I did everything wrong. I was angry at Sally for being angry at Annie! I needed gospel powered grace just as much as she did. One night the girls were rough-housing and I heard Annie cry out in pain. I came running in, my anger bubbling up, and said to Sally, “What did you do now?”
Sally said, “Not only have I been rudely displaced, but now I am being unjustly accused.” (She has always been our “Anne of Green Gables.”)
It was my husband who was full of grace. He sat by Sally’s bed by the hour stroking her hair, praying for her. He listened to her –she told him she felt big, ugly, and had a mouth full of braces. Steve, full of the love of Christ, held her, loved her, wept over her, was Jesus to her.
In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp says the main problem for children is their heart idols. Heart idols lie to us and hurt us. Sally felt like she had lost our love, and that was a lie. My anger didn’t help. But even our reassurances didn’t seem to be breaking the chains of those idols. We could restrain her outward behavior, we could get her medicine that would help her clinical depression, we could reassure her — but we needed the POWER of God to break those idols and change her heart.
One night our family went to a Christian concert. At the end, the worship leader said, “If you have a yuck in your heart that you can’t get rid of, Jesus can help you. Come forward and ask Him”
Sally practically ran up. Her testimony is that God came in His mighty power and took the hate in her heart and replaced it with His love. The gospel has power. He puts this love in our hearts.
As I was writing this blog, this song by Keith Green, “You Put This Love in My Heart,” kept coming to me — so I place it here, realizing it is music that may not be your style. But Keith Green stood out because of his gospel-transformed heart. He died young along with some of his children. The book about him by his widow, Melody Green, is one I’d recommend for teenagers — maybe tucking into an Easter basket. It impacted my sons.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Keith Green sang, “You put this love in my heart.” If possible, share a way the gospel has melted you and is changing you — can you see a change in how you are loving others?
The closer we get to the cross, the more we behold Christ, the more power you will sense.
Monday-Wednesday: IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGING, YOU MAY NOT KNOW HIM AT ALL
I want to prepare you for Keller’s message, for it is powerful, convicting, and life-changing. He looks at John 13, the last supper, but as Keller is so gifted at doing, he sees the forest, whereas so often we miss it for the trees.
When time is running out, and we know it is running out, we say and do the most important things. I know this was true for Steve and me, for Steve and our children. Keller says it was true for Jesus. These men have been with him for three years — they have a lot of knowledge — but has it gone to their heart — are they changed? Or are they like older brothers — like Judas — seeming to love Him, but in it for themselves?
We are mistaken if our confidence is in our Bible knowledge, or even in how many people have been impacted by our lives. We are mistaken if our confidence has been in being in a wonderful small group with a great leader. Judas had all these things. Keller makes the piercing point: “If you don’t have all of the fruit of the spirit — you don’t have any of them.” What does this mean? The fruit of the Spirit is a singular noun, and this fruit is organic, springing from the love of Christ in your heart. If you seem self-controlled, but are not kind, you may simply be unwilling for anyone to see you lose control. If you seem gentle, but are not joyful, you may simply be fearful and give the appearance of gentleness.
Does this mean that if the fruit is not in full bloom you are not saved? No. We are in process. But you should see at least the buds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The shameful things you have hidden should be fading. People should be noticing that you are becoming gentler, kinder, more other-centered. Otherwise — His love may not be in your heart at all. You may be doing the things you do — going to church, doing good deeds — not out of love, but to feed your idols. One of our bloggers (I wish I could remember who!) talked about “fruit-stapling.” We don’t want to staple fruit on — we want it to spring from the love God put in our heart. If it is stapled, you are simply a moralist — an older brother — but you do not know or love God at all.
Jesus is going to show them what the fruit of the spirit looks like. This is both a literal and a symbolic act. Jesus literally humbled himself and loved these men — but He was also showing His whole intent for their lives was to cleanse them and to turn them into servants who carry out His love to others. When we minister to those who are not lovely, are unafraid of the unlovely and dirty parts of them, when our motive is to bless them with the love of Christ, when we forget about ourselves because we are full of His love, we are evidencing a changed heart.
Read John 13:1-21
The Passover is approaching. Jesus knew. In fact, He would be on the cross (9 to 3) exactly during the hours the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. Time is running out, so He is going to say and do the most important thing.
3. What did Jesus know, according to verse 1, and what thoughts therefore were on His mind?
In Jesus high priestly prayer in John 17:20, just before the cross, He reveals He is not only thinking of his disciples, but also for “those who will believe because of them. He was looking down through time. He had you and me in mind as well. Saturate yourself in this love.
4. Keller says this passage is bracketed by verses 2 and 21. This helps us see “the forest.” What common thread do you see?
5. Many would have thought Judas was a true disciple. As Keller says, “you can jury-rig your behavior without a heart transformation.” When you look at how you behave in secret, at changes in your life, do you see evidence of heart transformation?
6. The key to “self-forgetfulness” is knowing how loved we are by God. “Beholding,” John Piper says, “is becoming.”
A. Behold and share what you see of God’s love for you in John 13:1
B. Behold God’s love for you in the portrait of the father of the prodigal sons.
C. Behold God’s love for you in the portrait of the “greater” Job.
7. Keller will quote Psalm 40:6. What does it say?
At first this passage seems confusing, because God did require burnt offerings and sin offerings. That is what the Passover Lambs were all about. Matt Chandler illuminated this for me in his book, Explicit Gospel. He likened it to an abusive husband bringing flowers to his wife after beating her. What she wants, instead, is a changed life.
And that is the point of the whole passage, of the foot-washing, of the things Jesus said when time is running out.
Are we changed?
9. Another mystery that this same gospel writer expounds in his letters is that as we love as Christ loved, His love grows in our hearts. How could you be “washing feet?”
Listen to The Love of Jesus and share your notes here.
(It looks like you will have to pay, but the MP-3 is free): Link
9. What is your take-a-way and why?
THERE IS AN OLDER BROTHER SOLUTION TO SUFFERING:
DISPLAYED IN JOB’S “MISERABLE” COMFORTERS
THERE IS A YOUNGER BROTHER SOLUTION TO SUFFERING:
DISPLAYED IN JOB’S WIFE
THERE IS A GOSPEL SOLUTION:
DISPLAYED IN JOB
The older brother way is to either hate God (for not giving us what we think we have earned) or to hate ourselves (for not living up to the moral standard that would have ensured that God would not punish us.) Job’s “miserable comforters” were sure Job had sinned, or else he would not have been suffering.
The younger brother way is to reject God, to go our own way, to, as Job’s wife advised, “Curse God and die.”
The gospel approach may mean struggling, yet inevitably surrendering, for we know God is our only hope and we know God is good. (We see this so clearly in our own Chris, whose video testimony I will show you this week, in case you haven’t seen it.) We know we deserve punishment, yet we also know that punishment was paid in full at the cross — so we are not being punished. IT IS FINISHED, He cried. (So let it be!) We know also that suffering is inevitable in this life, but for the Christian, it is only temporary. Job, the disciples, and Jesus Himself all suffered greatly in this life — but it was temporary. So we will never curse God, but look forward to the day when all tears are wiped away, death and sin are vanquished, and sorrow is turned to unimaginable joy.
In Gerald Segher’s painting above, see all three of these approaches. His style of emphasizing truth with light reveals Job not only as the gospel approach but points to the greater Job, the One who took our punishment so that we can know that we are not being punished, and the One who is our only lifeline, so we must never turn away from Him.
Many believers revert to either side of the gospel because they have a poor theology of suffering. Matt Chandler is very helpful in this two minute clip in correcting poor theology:
Sunday/Monday (For those of you who are just sharing the gold, we love to hear all your answers during the icebreakers)
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Reflect on Segher’s painting — tell us what you see.
3. How do you tend to respond to suffering?
Monday-Wednesday: Bible Study
THE YOUNGER BROTHER APPROACH TO SUFFERING
4. Do you agree with Keller that Job’s wife (see Job 2:9) represents the younger brother approach? Why or why not?
5. When suffering comes into your life, have you felt tempted to give up on God? Why or why not?
THE OLDER BROTHER APPROACH TO SUFFERING
I think for most believers who suffer, we are more likely to veer toward the error of the older brother than the younger. When my husband died of cancer in his prime. I often had thoughts like: I deserve this. I am so selfish. I forget about the poor. I could have been such a better wife to Steve. Why didn’t I lay down my speaking right away and stay home with him? I deserve this. I was overcome, not just with the grief of losing the love of my life, but with the sense I and our children were suffering because of my failures. Yet, as Chris shares in her testimony, I could not back away from God. I knew He was my only lifeline. I cried, “Help,” and He came running. Truly, I believe He led me to Keller’s sermons. I began with the psalms of lament, and then proceeded through Job. I was arrested when Keller said: When a believer suffers, it is NEVER because God is punishing Him. Jesus took that at the cross. I knew it was true and my soul found rest.
In Luther’s forward to the Galatians, he wrote: For human beings by nature, when they get near either danger or death itself, will of necessity examine their own worthiness. We defend ourselves before all threats by recounting our good deeds and moral efforts. But then the remembrance of sins and flaws inevitably comes to mind, and this tears us apart…
The older brother approach is sinister — and full of lies. When we use it on ourselves, it tears us apart. When we assume that sin is behind sorrow in others, we twist a knife in their wound. The first “friend” to speak to Job is Eliphaz, who has been listening to Job’s honest lament to God. It was Mike Mason in The Gospel According to Job, who alerted me to how the dream that Eliphaz describes to support his accusations is from Satan.
4. Read Job 3:25-26 and describe the closing of Job’s lament.
Read Job 4 in The Message (watch for the lies and the spirit of the evil one!)
Then Eliphaz from Teman spoke up:
“Would you mind if I said something to you?
Under the circumstances it’s hard to keep quiet.
You yourself have done this plenty of times, spoken words
that clarify, encouraged those who were about to quit.
Your words have put stumbling people on their feet,
put fresh hope in people about to collapse.
But now you’re the one in trouble—you’re hurting!
You’ve been hit hard and you’re reeling from the blow.
But shouldn’t your devout life give you confidence now?
Shouldn’t your exemplary life give you hope?
7-11 “Think! Has a truly innocent person ever ended up on the scrap heap?
Do genuinely upright people ever lose out in the end?
It’s my observation that those who plow evil
and sow trouble reap evil and trouble.
One breath from God and they fall apart,
one blast of his anger and there’s nothing left of them.
The mighty lion, king of the beasts, roars mightily,
but when he’s toothless he’s useless—
No teeth, no prey—and the cubs
wander off to fend for themselves.
12-16 “A word came to me in secret—
a mere whisper of a word, but I heard it clearly.
It came in a scary dream one night,
after I had fallen into a deep, deep sleep.
Dread stared me in the face, and Terror.
I was scared to death—I shook from head to foot.
A spirit glided right in front of me—
the hair on my head stood on end.
I couldn’t tell what it was that appeared there—
a blur . . . and then I heard a muffled voice:
17-21 “‘How can mere mortals be more righteous than God?
How can humans be purer than their Creator?
Why, God doesn’t even trust his own servants,
doesn’t even cheer his angels,
So how much less these bodies composed of mud,
fragile as moths?
These bodies of ours are here today and gone tomorrow,
and no one even notices—gone without a trace.
When the tent stakes are ripped up, the tent collapses—
we die and are never the wiser for having lived.’”
5. Describe the tone in which Eliphaz begins in 1-6. What does Eliphaz tell Job to trust in in verse 6? What is wrong with this?
6. How would you answer the question Eliphaz asks in verse 7?
7. Describe the dream in verses 12 through 17. Find evidences that it was not from God, but from the evil one.
My husband had a dream from the evil one when he was battling cancer. He was being carried downward on a stretcher to hell — but he cried, “No — I belong to Jesus and I am forgiven. In the name of the blood of Jesus, turn around.” They turned around and carried him up. (Usually dreams don’t end like that — but I believe God intervened, reassuring Steve that He was greater than the enemy.)
8. What question does this “spirit” ask in verse 17?
9. When suffering has come into your life, have you hated yourself or God? Why or why not?
THE GOSPEL APPROACH TO SUFFERING
Job is lamenting in chapter 13, and by verse 14, he has a question for the Lord. “If a man dies, will he live again?” The Spirit of God answers him, with the gospel!
10. According to Job 14:15, what will God one day do for each of His children and why?
11. According to Job 14:16-17, what will God do with our sin?
Without going more into Job, the Gospel appears in the three “visitations” from God to Job. First, above, assuring him his sins are forgiven. He is not being “punished” for his sin. Then, when he has a vision of God as His redeemer. And finally, in the close, when God points to creation as evidence that He is a God who is in control and when He tells Job’s friends to repent to Job. The Gospel answer from Job that I would summarize for suffering is:
- You are not being punished, Your sins are covered. They have been paid in full.
- Your Lord is your Redeemer — and one day He will stand on the earth, making all things right.
- Your God has not lost control — He will do all things well in His time.
- You may not understand now, but accept the mystery of suffering, for I have died for you, love you, am in control, and will make all things right.
12. Describe God’s words to Job’s friends in Job 42:7-9. What does this tell you?
Our own Chris defeats both the younger brother and the older brother approach in her testimony. You may have seen this before, but I think it is worth watching again to see how she does it. Here it is:
13. How does the gospel help Chris face her suffering? How did she reject both the younger and older brother approach? How did the book of Job help her?
Listen to this sermon and share your notes: Link
14. What is your take-a-way and why?
THE FIRST TIME I READ ECCLESIASTES
I WAS PERPLEXED BY THE REFRAIN:
LIFE IS MEANINGLESS!
I felt that way before I knew Christ.
Then I had so many Ecclesiastes-like thoughts.
Life seemed so repetitive.
Round and Round.
Not only was nature repetitive,
but my life was repetitive.
I felt the Ecclesiastes-like despair voiced in 1:9
“What has been done will be done again”
For before Christ I thought:
Is life going to be simply a series of trivial maintenance duties
punctuated by a dinner out or a new chair?
Are moments like these really going to be the HIGH points in my life?
But now that I knew Christ, my life was filled with meaning…
So why was a book of such haunting emptiness in the Bible?
It will be helpful for you to think of Ecclesiastes as being like a “one man play.” The lead character, the “professor” plays two main roles. Often he takes the “under the sun” perspective where he puts on blinders and limits his view of life only to the visible, to the things he can see under the sun. This is the secular world view — all that exists is the visible.
When he has the “under the sun” perspective, “he can’t get no satisfaction.” Oh — he tries — in the 2nd chapter he plunges himself into wine, women, and song. He builds an amazing home with gardens. Anything his eye desires he takes. And yet, at the end of the day, he asks “What is my life really accomplishing? Meaningless, meaningless.”
Other times, he removes his blinders, and takes the perspective he actually has. He looks up to God and eternity and then sees things very differently. You see all the haunting questions of Ecclesiastes are answered in Christ. Ecclesiastes is the drumbeat leading the way to the mystery that was hidden — the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I think you will find this week’s Bible study fascinating, for Ecclesiastes is written, not just for unbelievers who try to find their meaning in life “under the sun,” apart from God and eternity, but also for believers who revert, when they face challenges, to their idols, to clinging to people or things “under the sun.” Then, the emptiness comes back. Their lives again, are filled with Ecclesiastes-like despair. And then, near the end of the study, I want you to look at a verse from Ecclesiastes that I find fascinating and I think it shows the way of the younger brother and the older brother — and tells us that the one who fears God “shall come out from both of them.” I can’t wait to get your take on it, so finish the study!
God gives us gifts like youth, friendship, food, children, sex, marriage…
all can bring joy to the heart.
But they are gifts, not gods.
If we make them gods,
we will feel Ecclesiastes-like despair,
for they will fail us.
But if we set our affections on things above,
and not on things under the sun
then we also might have some fleeting enjoyment
as we gratefully receive the things under the sun.
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
But do not forget:
This sweet gift is not your life.
Set your affections on things above
not on things on earth
for you have died
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is your life appears,
then you also will appear with him in glory.
I have come to love the book of Ecclesiastes — so this may be my favorite Bible study during Lent!
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. During this Lent our quest is to set our affections on things above. What has been helpful to you and why? (This study, a book you are reading, something you are giving up to have time and energy for Him, a song you are learning…) Share the gold.
Monday-Thursday Bible Study and Midday Connection (Dee: “When the Earth Shakes”)
Sometimes this week listen to the last Midday Connection program on Idol Lies. It aired last week and is about suffering and is entitled, “When the Earth Shakes.” You can find it under past programs: Click Here
(Then share your thoughts under question 7.)
Diane asked me to elaborate on how the gospel is the solution to every problem. I’d love for you to find the answers for yourself. I am going to give you, first, a haunting question of Ecclesiastes. Then I’m going to give you the New Testament answer. Then I’m going to ask you: “What problem does the gospel address here and how could it help you?” Because this is challenging, go ahead and write your answers, and I, or one of your sisters can jump in if we think you need a little help. This is so important. I think about how easily we turn to our idols and feel discontented. I think of the grave injustices those of you like Chris and Krista have experienced. I think of the sorrow that comes when one we love, like Susan’s nephew or my husband, dies. Every problem has its solution in the gospel. I can only give you a few highlights here, but they are golden. You might want to take one or two a day.
3. The problem of meaninglessness: My life is meaningless!
A. This is the theme that permeates Ecclesiastes. Look at the following verses and then summarize (briefly please!) why the professor, when he has the “under the sun” view, finds life so frustratingly meaningless.
- Ecclesiastes 1:2-11
- Ecclesiastes 2:1-17
B. Read John 10:10-11 and explain how Jesus is the answer to meaninglessness. How is the gospel part of that answer?
C. Does your life ever feel meaningless? How might John 10:10-11 and Colossians 3:1-4 provide a solution?
4. The problem of discontentment: There is nothing new under the sun!
A. Another refrain in Ecclesiastes is “under the sun.”
- What famous quotation of discontentment can be found in Ecclesiastes 1:9?
- How do you see discontentment in Ecclesiastes 2:11?
B. God tells us that there is something new — but it is not “under the sun.”
- What is new in 2 Corinthians 5:17? Have you experienced this? Share some way you have been made new.
- What is coming according to Revelation 21:1-4? Do you believe this and hold it in your heart?
C. I LOVE THIS NEXT PART — DON’T MISS IT. Read Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 carefully.
- How, according to Ecclesiastes 2:24, are we to see the gifts under the sun? How thankful are you are throughout the day as you receive these fleeting gifts? Explain.
- In verse 24, there is a phrase: “This, also.” The also refers back to the preceding passage, where we see existential despair. How is existential despair (or a lack of satisfaction for things under the sun) a gift from God?
(Answer the above question before you read this from Eugene Peterson: “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice…or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety and into tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith.” From A Long Obedience in the Same Direction)
- In verse 26, the professor talks about the one “who pleases God.” We know, from New Testament light, that the one who pleases Him is the one who is covered in the righteousness of Christ. When He made us His child, we are intertwined with Him. When He died, it is as if we died. When He was raised, it is as if we were raised. When our life is in Him, we will have “wisdom and knowledge and joy.” But if our life is not in Him, find our fate in verse 26.
- How is the gospel the solution to discontentment?
5. The problem of injustice: Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, there is wickedness.
My dear friend with whom I have the privilege to work in prison ministry tells me stories that make me weep. Racism is still rampant in Texas. Right now there is a mentally retarded black woman awaiting execution. Years ago, my friend nearly succeeded in stopping the execution of a young black woman that was unjustly accused of murdering her husband and little boys. (She came home after a Mafia murder and had her hands all over the bodies in a panic, trying to find signs of life. Her fingerprints were the only evidence Texas had.) The one who accosted Daniel, Chris’s late son, has not been brought to justice. My daughter lost an arm through abuse. There are smaller daily injustices too. People cheat us, unjustly accuse us — we did not get my husband’s life insurance as we should have, and I was too overcome with grief to fight it. But I can walk calmly, knowing God sees, cares, and will do all things right in His time. The professor is right — often there is not justice “under the sun.” Each of us has experienced injustice “under the sun.”
And each of us has committed acts of injustice to others. Last week at my retreat a missionary from Haiti talked about how she was asking a four-year-old if he knew why his blood pressure was so low. He said, “It’s just not my day.” At first she laughed — but then she realized, It wasn’t his day to eat. He only gets a meal every other day. When she said that I thought, I am God’s plan for bringing justice to those treated unjustly — and I fail because of my idol of comfort. I want to walk in repentance, but I am SO grateful for the mercy of the cross. If God gave us the justice we each deserve, there would be no one alive.
- In Ecclesiastes 3:16-17, the professor states both the “under the sun” problem and the eternal answer. Find them.
- What does Jesus tell us concerning injustice and suffering in John 16:33?
- How does the cross show us at once how terrible sin is, yet, how merciful God is?
- As you look at the injustice in your life “under the sun,” how is the gospel the solution? As you look at your own injustice to others, how is the gospel the solution?
6. The problem of death: Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?
Old Testament saints lived in a shadowy world, before the cross. Job, Solomon, and David all had these moments of wondering what lay ahead. If we look only to the visible, it seems man is like the animal when he dies.
- What despair and questions do you find the professor asking in Ecclesiastes 3:19-22?
- What glorious promise does Jesus give in John 11:25-26?
- When you face the problem of your own death or the deaths of those you love, how is the gospel the solution.
7. We’ve been talking, during this series, about two ways of life that miss the gospel-centered life. There is the way of the younger brother, who rebels. We see this very clearly in the professor’s portrait of himself in chapter 2 — trying everything under the sun to try to be happy. But do we see the way of the older brother, who has so many rules, who is outwardly serving God but is doing it to get things from God, but who doesn’t love God? Do we see a picture of someone trusting in his righteousness — his religious ways in Ecclesiastes? I think so! I always feel more confident, with obscure verses, to find someone I respect affirm my finding — and I haven’t found that. So I am keenly interested in your thoughts, you women of depth, on Ecclesiastes 7:16-18. Here it is in the ESV:
Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.
8. What thoughts do you have after listening to Midday Connection? (LINK)
Friday: Classic Keller. Christ Our Life: Link
This is a sermon many of you have already heard — but it is so classic that it won’t hurt you to listen again. I am summarizing it below, but have only caught the high points. Here is the link — and it’s free. I will also give you a second choice or additional option. The Professor’s Disillusionment. (It’s from Kellers Pointers to Christ series, a great series, and it is an overview of Ecclesiastes. Here is that link:
One of the many things I like about Tim Keller is his respect for women. He was led to the Lord by a woman, he has unusual respect for his wife, and he tells how it was a woman who helped him begin to understand that the gospel was not just the ABC’s of Christianity — but the A to Z. It happened in the 1970′s when he was twenty-five. He was making a pastoral visit to a woman in his congregation who had suffered much. She had been beaten many times, having been in a series of abusive relationships with men, and she bore the scars. She had become a Christian, had been seeing a counselor, and was coming to Keller’s church. Keller said, “I would visit her, like the good little pastor boy that I was, knowing almost nothing about the way that peoples’ hearts work.” He drove up the hill to her “trailer-like” house. What she told him that day penetrated his heart, and he went back and wrote down the “weird and amazing truths” that so mesmerized him.
Though this woman was a new Christian, she had a depth of understanding into the gospel that helped her sift her counselor’s advice, keeping the true, and letting the false fall to the ground. Keller transcribed her words into his own, but this is the gist of what she said:
My counselor says I have built my very significance and acceptability and identity on men. That’s why I’ve been defenseless with them. I simply have needed them too much… However my counselor doesn’t have a very good solution for me. She says what I should do instead is get myself an education and have a successful career. My counselor means well, and I absolutely need to do that, but…that would mean I would be switching from one kind of idol for another.
Keller said he’d never thought about this in his life, and asked, “What are you talking about?
For many years my heart has been looking at men and saying, “Unless I’m successful at love, I’m nothing.” But the therapist wants me to look at my career and say, “Unless I’m a successful independent businesswoman, in control of my own life, I’m nothing.” I don’t want to be enslaved to my work as I was to men. …I’m actually being asked to exchange a typical female idol for a typical male idol. I don’t want either.
When Keller asked her what she was now doing, she quoted Colossians 3:
“When Christ who is your life appears, you will appear with him in glory.” When I go to church and worship – when what Jesus did for me is so real and so wonderful, I think of the men in my life and I say in my heart, “I’m glad to know you and I certainly wouldn’t mind being married – but you are not my life. Christ is my life. I would love to have a man, but if I don’t, I’ve got Jesus and I set my mind on things above. You can’t give me any of the things that Jesus has given me.. …A career can’t die for me. If I fail in a career it will beat me up all my life for having been a failure. But if I fail Jesus, He died for me to forgive me.
9. What are your thoughts from the sermon? Can you see how idolatry is the opposite of living a gospel-centered life? Explain.
10. What is your take-a-way and why?
I saw the radiance of Jesus in Mattie the first time we met. God intertwined our hearts and we’d met for coffee. Then she surprised me by turning up at my door, waving apologetically through the window as I ran to let her in. She had Abby in one arm, sleepy-eyed and precious in a furry white hooded coat.
“Hey, Mattie! Oh, sweet Abby.” I held out my arms, itching to hold her. “Come on in!”
“No, no — I don’t want to interrupt, and if I don’t get Abby home she’ll fall asleep and think that’s her nap!” I smiled, remembering. “I just wanted to give you this.” She handed me a book. I looked at its flowery cover — it was about being a great Christian wife and mom. I looked up at my young friend to see distress in her eyes.
We’re doing it at the women’s group at church — and…” she faltered, emotion rising.
I nodded. “I’ll look at it and we’ll have coffee.”
Tears welled up, a quick embrace, and a silent parting look of love. I watched her go, and then turned to her book. I suspected it would make me sad and mad and it did.
We met at the Panera on Englewood, seizing a corner booth. I started the conversation. “It’s so confusing — because I know, Mattie, you want to be the wife and mother God has called you to be. And this book is filled with examples of women who led sacrificial lives and seemed to experience so much satisfaction in their exemplary Christian families.”
“So what’s wrong with me? Am I rebelling? I can’t figure it out because I do — I want a strong Christian family — but when I’m in that group, I just want to run. Most of the women are SO enthusiastic, telling story after story of how they are loving and honoring their husbands.”
“Do you think there are any other women who are uncomfortable?”
“Maybe. A few are really quiet like me.”
“It’s so subtle,” I said, “just like the enemy. He mixes truth with lies, but his purpose is to get us off course, diverting us from the gospel. Let me tell you a story about when I was a young mom and a new Christian. The book I read was less dreary than yours, but the same drum-beat. I didn’t have the discernment you have, Mattie, and I, and more than five million other women, were really excited about it. We thought we’d found the answer.
Total Woman burst on the scene as a Christian backlash to the budding feminist movement of the seventies. She even made the cover of Time Magazine. Marabel defined a “Total Woman,” as a woman who made her husband the center of her world and catered to his special quirks “whether in salads, sex, or sports.” She advised you to have the table set elegantly for dinner and then take a bubble bath at 4:00 P.M. ready to greet him when he arrived home. These methods had revived her own faltering marriage. The book was filled with strong scriptural admonitions about being a submissive wife, about not nagging, and about respecting your husband. All true. My friend Lee and I drove across the state to Mansfield, Ohio to see bubbly, beautiful, and sun-tanned Marabel in person. We wanted to be “Total Women.” We thought, This is it. This is God’s calling for our lives. This is our identity. And this is the secret the women in the world are missing. And to be fair to Marabel — the book had some great ideas about being unselfish and caring for your man in a time when women were being told to hate men. But the book also had hidden dangers. I didn’t see them — I just thought it was great — the way a lot of women will think this book you are doing is great. I even recommended Total Woman to our book club, which was made up of other medical residents’ wives, many of whom were not Christians and were struggling with having their husbands gone so much and bearing all the load of raising the children alone.”
Mattie grimaced. “Fireworks?”
“Huge fireworks. But I simply thought they didn’t get it. Blind, clueless. But I was the blind and clueless one, the Pharisee looking down in pity on those who didn’t have it all together like me.”
Mattie smiled. “So, what happened?”
“An older Christian woman whom I respected tried to talk to me. I still remember, though it has been decades, how gently she confronted me. She told me there were wonderful ideas for unselfishness in Marabel’s book — and there were! This is not an attack on Marabel or the authors of books like this — but on the focus that emphasizes “Do, do, do,” instead of continual repentance and faith. (And honestly, as a Christian author, this danger has only become clear to me in the last fifteen years.) Our only hope of power is not in ourselves but in the gospel. She tried to help me understand — but as Tim Keller says — it takes a while for “the penny to drop.” She told me I should not make my identity in being ‘a total woman’ but as a sinful woman who was loved and rescued daily by Christ. She was basically talking to me about gospel transformation, but I didn’t get it. She also warned me of the danger of making my husband or anyone or anything other than Christ the center of my life, for he might not always be there for me. (I couldn’t imagine that!) She managed to dampen my enthusiasm but not put it out. I still thought “Total Woman” was pretty great. It’s taken me years to see what she tried to tell me and I’m still figuring it out. I remember when I saw Fried Green Tomatoes. There’s a great scene parodying Total Woman. Kathy Bates plays a woman in a desperate marriage who is at a class designed to put “the spark back in your marriage.” She dreams of trying Marabel’s suggestion of fixing an elegant dinner and then greeting her husband clothed only in saran wrap.” Mattie smiled, shaking her head.
Here’s that clip:
Fried Green Tomatoes caught the truth that methods that promise results can lead to enormous disappointment. For you can be an amazing wife, missionary, or mother and still see things end badly. We have to be doing what we do for God — and not for results. One of our own bloggers, whom I will quote during the study, said that these kind of books made her feel more broken than beloved — for it was so hard to live up to the standard. I appreciate how gospel-centered teaching is careful never to say “Be like David. Be like Ruth.” They know we cannot. As Keller says — that crushes us. What we need to see is the greater David — the ultimate Ruth — so that our hearts are melted. I see how many churches study book after book like this one on the woman’s role, but neglect gospel-centered teaching.
I pushed Mattie’s book across the table to her. “I actually liked Total Woman better than this one. Marabel was very humble in admitting what a nag she had been. This book reeks of pride, like wearing a t-shirt or a bumper sticker announcing our character. No wonder you are uncomfortable, Mattie.”
“What should I do?”
“I don’t know. They may not hear you any better than I heard my older friend. Their lives may need to fall apart before they see their faulty foundation. But you can pray and ask the Lord to help you be salt. Maybe you could suggest a study on gospel transformation for next time? Or maybe Keller’s Prodigal God?” Then I paused and shook my head. “You know, I must not tell you how to do it. But I think the Lord may have you there for a reason. We all need to get the gospel better than we do. This book is not without merit, but its methodology, not gospel transformation. And there’s definitely the kind of legalism that we see Paul warning about in Galatians. But I’d keep going, listening, loving, and praying. Mattie, it may be that He brought you there for such a time as this.”
She sipped her coffee pensively, imagining how they might respond if she spoke up. Then a sigh. “And if I perish, I perish.”
We both laughed. (But please pray with me for her!)
This is so relevant to us. Our identity must be in Christ, and we must be wary of books that tell us to “Do, do, do,” instead of allowing the gospel to transform us into the people He longs for us to be.
SUNDAY: ICEBREAKER (Everyone share!)
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Do you agree or disagree that our identity should not be in being a good Christian wife/mom? Explain your stand.
MONDAY-WEDNESDAY: BIBLE STUDY
O FOOLISH GALATIANS! WHO HAS BEWITCHED YOU?
In his prologue to the Galatians in The Message, Eugene Peterson says: “When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do it turn it into an instrument for controlling others.” Our hearts are bent toward moving away from gospel freedom.
Please hear me. There are true principles for women in the Scripture that we must embrace. Our own Elizabeth wrote that studies on a woman’s role made her feel “more broken than beloved.” I asked her to elaborate, and she said:
So many women’s books seem to focus on the outside. “Create a respite for your husband to come home to, greet him warmly…” and then they attach a Bible verse to strengthen the point.
All I ended up with is a list of things to do to better myself, my décor, my cooking, my sewing skills…all centered on my behavior, all about ME. The motivation seemed to be to please my husband, make him happy. My confidence would come not from the Lord, but in my success. Homemaking-righteousness! I never knew why those books irked me. But as I would read a book
specifically for women—whether homemaking, marriage, parenting—I just felt burdened with pressure to perform, fear that I would likely fail, and guilt for not really wanting to try.
(And for those who are interested — Elizabeth gave this link to a fascinating discussion: http://www.theologyforwomen.
Do you see? Continually our default mode is works righteousness. We have the same problem the Galatians had. They thought they needed Jesus plus something else to feel accepted, beautiful, and cleansed. They actually thought they needed Jesus plus circumcision in order to be justified. We can’t identify with that — but we can identify with wanting Jesus plus our ministry to do well; Jesus plus our parents to love us; Jesus plus the people in our church to think we’re Proverbs 31 women. And this default mode makes us easy prey for teachers telling us that a real Christian woman does such and such.
When I was a young mother, I could so easily find my identity in the Christian character of my children. Today I can find it in how well my last book is doing. Or what I weigh. Or how affirmed I am on the blog.
Oh wretched woman that I am. Who can deliver me? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord.
SUGGESTED ACTION ASSIGNMENT: CHOOSE A HYMN OR SONG THAT EXALTS THE LOVE OR GRACE OF JESUS AND LEARN IT THIS WEEK. (I remember when I got teased after telling you to tape it up in your shower and ink was running everywhere — so I won’t tell you how to accomplish this!) Let us know if you do it and what you chose and how it is impacting you.
I recommend The Message as well as whatever your regular translation is for reading in Galatians. In his prologue Peterson talks about how legalistic and judgmental Paul was before Christ encountered him and set him free. He was overjoyed to see the Galatians set free. But now! False teachers have filtered in and told them what a real Christian should look like. He should love Jesus plus be circumcised!
3. Read Galatians 1:1-5
A. Paul is quickly going to confront the Galatians for departing from the gospel. How does he clearly and immediately establish his credentials?
B. How is the gospel described in verse 4, and what is the fruit of the gospel according to verse 3?
4. Read Galatians 1:6-9
A. Describe his emotion and his tone. Support your answer from the text.
B. The Message says: “This is not a minor violation, you know, it is completely other…” Why?
C. Notice how he includes himself — if we or an angel from heaven… What does this tell you about your responsibility on how you listen to sermons?
5. Read Galatians 1:10
A. What do you learn about the danger of trying to please men?
B. As a Christian woman, do you feel you are set free from trying to please those who have a certain image of what a Christian woman should be? Do you feel you can simply ask the Lord to show you — or are you feeling in bondage?
I am appreciating Tullian Tchividjian, Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. I listened to his sermon on this passage in Galatians (his sermons are available for free) and he humbly confessed that he, in the past, had taught verse 10 incorrectly. He said:
Let me tell you how I used to preach through this [Galatians 2:10] I went back and looked at my notes because I had the sneaking suspicion that I was an idiot …and my deepest fears were realized… I said, “You don’t need to do anything to get man’s approval – live to get God’s approval. I don’t care about man’s approval, all I care about is God’s approval.”
Terrible way to preach! Paul warns against living to gain the approval of others – but the deeper slavery – of living to gain the approval of God. This is the basis of this whole letter.
I loved that humility — and can you not identify? It is so hard to believe that we can do NOTHING to gain God’s approval. I loved how our poetic Mellany stood in awe of this when she wrote:
That I already have favor with God.
If God is for me who can be against me?
No one not even myself.
Thank you again precious Holy Spirit ( my Comforter and Counselor) unpaid I might add.
All these long years He has been with me.
He never leaves me nor forsakes me.
I am stunned, quiet and trying to absorb this revelation.
“The Gospel,” Keller says, “is the solution to every problem.” I’m beginning to see it. My real problem is that I don’t believe the gospel. I don’t really believe I’m loved the way the gospel proves I am. And so I bow my knee before the Father and pray that I — and you — would comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us.
6. Comment on verse 10, on Tullian, or on Mellany or on Keller. Are you grasping the gospel better?
A FAILING LENT
Many of you have used this phrase from Ann Voskamp. We fail, but it leads us to the cross. And many of us have discovered anew that the law incites temptation. Melissa, who is giving up internet during the day, said, “I want to go there more than ever!” And Cyndi got so frustrated that she finally fell before the Lord and He told her, “Just go fill yourself up on me.” We want to keep in mind that our purpose is intimacy and transformation — do what works. When you fail, go back to the cross and hear from Him.
7. What thoughts do you have on the above? What is the truth to which we must cling?
Free overview sermon on Galatians by Keller: Link
I also heartily recommend: The Fellowship of the Gospel: (It is 2.50) Click here:
8. What are you notes?
9. What is your take-a-way and why?
THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF LOSTNESS
YOUNGER BROTHER LOSTNESS
IS SO EASY TO SEE
FOR HE IS A
BUT OLDER BROTHER LOSTNESS
FOR HE IS A
BUT HE IS “MORE” LOST THAN HIS BROTHER
FOR HIS HEART IS SO HARD
THE FATHER GOES OUT TO EACH SON
BUT ONLY THE YOUNGER BROTHER
New sisters are adding a sweet richness to our fellowship — so varied, and yet, we are one!
- A bored stay-at-home mom in a one bedroom Chicago apartment who longs for more intimacy with God
- A Presbyterian pastor from Ontario who says “Lent always humbles me to the core”
- A grandmother in a cabin in the woods who loves time with God
- A group of women from my church (GPC) including my dear friend Rachael, and Rebecca’s mother Lila, & sister-in-law Angela!
- And so many more
So much gold — here’s just a few nuggets:
Deanna from Ohio called us:
A support group for idolaters… :-)
Each day I am both brothers. I wake up, read God’s Word and encounter the Savior. then I get up from my chair, start my day. throughout the day, I’m wandering away from the Father to my idols… Oh how grateful I am that the Father loves both sons...
And then she shared this great link — watch it when you have a free four minutes!
That I already have favor with God!
If God is for me who can be against me?
No one not even myself.
There, out in the darkness, a fugitive running
Fallen from God, Fallen from grace
God be my witness, I never shall yield
Till we come face to face
Till we come face to face
He knows his way in the dark
Mine is the way of the Lord
Those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
And if they fall, as Lucifer fell
The flame, the sword!…
Likewise, a beautiful picture of “younger brother lostness” and the gospel melting his heart occurs in the scene where the bishop shows Jean Valjean grace. Jean Valjean, his heart hardened by injustice, has now become a real criminal, for he has stolen from the bishop, who was so kind to him.
Watch — and see in this, a portrait of the gospel of God: Link
What we must see is that the gospel is the solution to every problem. If we are rebels running from God, holding onto control, our life will be filled with pain — and our only hope is to return in repentance to the Father, who will welcome us with open arms.
If we are older brothers (or as Keller put, “older brotherishistic!”) also holding onto control, and are not experiencing intimacy with God, but rather, loneliness and pain, our only hope is to return to the Father in repentance, and He will welcome up with open arms.
I WAS SO EXCITED LAST WEEK WHEN WONDERFUL NEW WOMEN BEGAN TO COME.
But then I began to feel anxious. How could I welcome each warmly? How could I watch over them? And even my helpers, I knew, were sensing it. I felt like a shepherd with so many sheep that many were in danger.
My symptoms that reveal my control idol were back: the stiff neck, the butterflies, the trouble sleeping. I cried out to God, reminding Him that He told me the gospel was the solution to every problem. So I asked Him the question I have learned to ask:
How is the gospel the solution to this problem?
He was just waiting for me to ask. His Spirit whispered: I love them. I laid down my life for them. You are not their shepherd. I AM the good shepherd. I know my sheep and they know me.
And so I felt free to make a change. Instead of posting all our comments, we would do them for our Lord in our secret place. But we would mine the gold and the questions to share with one another! And then Cyndi suggested: PUT URGENT PRAYER REQUESTS IN CAPS.
The knots in my neck began to loosen. I posted the SOS, and you responded. You were relieved too! We love each other, we want to care for each other, but we are not THE GOOD SHEPHERD. He’ll watch over us. That’s the good news of the gospel.
Please believe me how glad I and sisters who have been here are to have you. Please don’t interpret this as not wanting you. Please stay and share the gold, we’ll all be richer. If nothing else, please share the Icebreaker and Take-A-Way!
Sunday/Monday: Icebreakers (There’s always gold to be mined here.)
1. Comment particularly on the picture of God you see in the Bishop in the short movie clip above. What sacrifice did the Bishop make — and why? When you put this into the realm of the gospel and you, how does this melt you? What parallels do you see with the father of Luke 15?
2. One huge red flag of “older brotherishness” is a lack of intimacy with God. This is a primary goal of this study — did you sense any growing intimacy with God last week? If so, share.
3. Have you gotten or made steps to get one of the extra reading books suggested last week? What have you done?
4. Did anything else stand out to you from the above — if so, comment.
Monday-Wednesday: Bible Study
RED FLAGS FOR “OLDER BROTHERISHNESS”
We may not be older brothers, but we all have “older brotherishness” in our hearts, for the default mode of the human heart is to go back to earning our own righteousness instead of trusting His grace. We are motivated to do good things often, not out of a response to God’s love, but in attempt to earn His love, feel good about ourselves, or to look good, or to get something from God. This runs deep within us and we must be alert to the red flags so we can repent and run toward the arms of God. He is there, like the father in this story, waiting to embrace us.
RED FLAG # 1: UNDERCURRENT OF ANGER
If we think by being good God owes us a comfortable life, we will always be angry — either at God for not giving us what we think He owes us, or we will be mad at ourselves for not holding to the standards.
5. Read Luke 15: 25-32
A. Describe the scene in verses 25-27. How does this scene represent the gospel?
B. Find everything you can about the older brother in verse 28.
C. How does he describe his service for the father? (J. B. Phillips says, “I have slaved for you.)
D. What did the younger brother offer to become when he came home? Comment?
The following is excerpted from Tim Keller’s Gospel in Life:
RELIGION: I obey, therefore I am accepted.
GOSPEL: I am accepted, therefore I obey.
RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.
GOSPEL: I obey God to get God — to delight in Him and to resemble Him.
RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself since I believe anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.
GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while God may allow this for my training, He will exercise His Fatherly love within my trial.
6. Read the above contrasts carefully. In what areas do you lean toward religion instead of the gospel?
7. Think about a time when trouble came into your life. Did your reaction show any older brotherishness?
RED FLAG # 2 ALL DUTY AND NO BEAUTY
The older brother sees his service to his father, not as a joy, but as “slaving” for him. Though his father is overjoyed to have his brother home, he does not share in the joy, for he does not love the father. There is no gospel transformation, no gospel joy, no gospel excitement, and no beautiful intimacy with God.
I have older brotherishness in me. What is the solution? Neither guilt nor fear works for long. What works is beholding the beauty of Jesus, and of what He did. That melts my icy heart and transforms me. That is why I want you to listen to the sermon “The True Older Brother” by Keller. Be sure to listen to the end, when you will be drawn by the beauty of our Lord. For then, the gospel can set you free.
Listen to the following sermon: Link
Saturday (Mine for the gold)
IT CAN BE SUCH A RICH TIME,
BRINGING LIFE FROM THE BARREN SOD
WINTER INTO SPRING
THE RICHEST TIMES ON THIS BLOG HAVE BEEN DURING LENT!
IT’S THE UPSIDE DOWN THINKING OF GOD
FOR IN DYING, WE FIND LIFE
THE THING WE FEAR THE MOST
IS THE SECRET TO SETTING US FREE
WE ARE IN SLAVERY TO OURSELVES
TO OUR IDOLS
TO THE LIES OF THE ENEMY
BUT CHRIST LONGS TO SET US FREE
BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE
THERE WILL BE A BATTLE
AS JESUS BATTLED SATAN FOR FORTY DAYS
WE WILL BATTLE HIS LIES FOR FORTY DAYS
BUT AS JESUS CLUNG TO THE WORD
SO WILL WE, AND WHEN WE FAIL, WE WILL LOOK TO THE CROSS
ALLOWING THE GOSPEL TO TRANSFORM US FOR
LENT IS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT FORFEITING BUT ABOUT FORMATION
If you have never observed Lent, or if you observed it by giving up candy or meat on Fridays but never quite knew why, this will be a rich time for you. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which is Wednesday of this week, and continues to Easter. Not counting Sundays — that is forty days — paralleling the forty days Jesus was in the wilderness battling Satan. Often people do “give up” something for Lent, but the reason has often been lost. We turn away from something so that we will have the time to be with Jesus, or so that His life might bloom in us. We die that we might have life.
For those of you who have been sojourning with us for a while, or for those of you who have read my book Idol Lies or have studied “gospel transformation,” in a study, you know that what gets in our way of intimacy with the Lord is our heart idols. Instead of running to the Lord for comfort, approval, and security, we run to one of his gifts and turn it into a god. We may say, for example, that God is our refuge and we know He loves us, but in reality, when we are longing for refuge we run to friends, Facebook, or food. We are enslaved, as Galatians says, to “nongods.” This is not the gospel way of life. It is the opposite.
So the big goal this Lent will be to replace our heart idols with the Lord. But a smaller goal to help us move in that direction, is to replace the time we’ve spent feeding our idols with being in His presence. For example, you may choose any of these or another plan:
- Replace an hour or all of nightly television with this study and the supplemental reading
- Replace three lunches with three walks listening to mp-3 sermons
- Replace Facebook time with endeavoring to seek God’s face through worship music and praying the Word
- Replace staying up late and sleeping in with getting up and being with Him before your day begins
WE WANT TO KNOW HIM AND THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION. WE WANT TO EXPERIENCE HIS BEAUTY AND HIS BEAUTY IN US THIS LENT. THE ONLY WAY THAT CAN HAPPEN IS GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION — BEING CHANGED FROM THE INSIDE OUT.
This year I am so excited about where God is leading — we are going to consider how the gospel is not just the ABC’s of Christianity (the way in) but the A to Z of Christianity — (the way to live in victorious intimacy with Christ every day). As we apply the gospel to all of life and begin to plumb its depths, it will affect how we mother, how we face suffering, how we overcome our besetting sins, and most of all, our intimacy with God. I have only come to truly begin to grasp this in the last ten years. Before that, if you would have asked me if I understood the gospel, I would have been miffed. Of course! But now I so understand what Tim Keller means when he says:
If you think you understand the gospel, that proves you don’t, and if you say, “Oh I hardly understand it,” that means you are getting it.
For some of you, especially in the first few weeks, much will be review, but that is good, for as Martin Luther says, “We must beat this into our heads every day.” The default mode of the human heart is idolatry, either trusting in His gifts or in ourselves — because we don’t really trust His love enough to fall into it. We must keep resetting our hearts to the gospel.
Together we are going to seek His presence, turning from our idols and running toward Him. We will share, on this blog, what we are learning, what we are questioning, and how He is meeting us.
HOW DOES THIS LENTEN STUDY WORK?
This Sunday through Tuesday, we’ll get ready. Beginnings are always a bit messy, and we have an enemy, but I and others are praying you will not only start but stay with it! You don’t have to stay with the suggested time line — in fact this week especially, you’d be wise to work ahead.
I would like you to watch two short (under seven minutes) testimonies from women who found victory over a besetting sin, and also read a post from Ann VosKamp about Lent. Prayerfully consider what you will give up so that you have the time to do this study diligently. You might, as Rebecca did, give up television after supper. Or you might, as Rachael did, give up most of her internet activities for Lent. (But not this one!) You may decide to skip Starbucks or a weekly lunch so you can buy the MP3 sermons I am going to suggest (some are free, but some are 2.50) and have the time to listen to them. (The Keller sermon money goes to help the suffering, who are many, in New York City. ) Idols cannot be removed, only replaced. So our purpose is always intimacy with God in our sacrifices during Lent. In these next three days pray about how you can carve out the time (or the possible 2.50 a week) to better understand how to apply the gospel to your life. By Ash Wednesday, you should have a plan.
If you are new, on my homepage on the right click on the Getting Started and follow those directions. Identify yourself by more than just a first name. You may want to be April from Baltimore or, as some women from my Kansas City church might be joining us, you may want to be Melissa@GPC. (Gashland Presbyterian Church) Some women don’t comment on the blog at all, but keep their answers in a notebook. There are wonderful women on this blog and you are free to have discussions with one another, pray for one another, or not. I am diligently trying to read all the comments, particularly when I see questions about the text or misunderstandings — and there are a few women who have been with us a long time, are grounded in the Word, who help me. And all of you are free to jump in and encourage one another. We see better together than we do alone. Together we find warmth, like many logs on a fire, instead of a lonely log dying. That is the beauty of Christian fellowship — and yes, it can happen on a blog. We are experiencing God here. Idols have been demolished, sins overcome, and grief subdued. You are also free to disagree here. This is a very loving group.
Beginning this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we will start our study by looking at some basics on the gospel way of life. Then next Sunday, and every Sunday, there will be a new post that will help you peer into the gospel and see how it might be applied to every problem you face. Please pray for God’s quickening on us all!
1. Tell us a sentence about yourself and why you have come.
2. What stood out to you from the above and why?
Monday: Testimonies from Rebecca and Rachael:
If you haven’t seen these testimonies (They are from the Idol Lies video curriculum) please watch them and comment on them. If you already have seen them, then you don’t need to watch, but answer the questions. (However, I think they are profound and worth re-watching.)
Rebecca’s story: (This is our Rebecca!)
3. How was Rebecca feeding her comfort idol? How is she replacing her comfort idol? What did God do in her life?
Rachael’s story (This Rachael has been a silent blogger, but will be joining us on the blog during Lent.)
4. How was Rachael feeding her control idol? How is she replacing her control idol? What did God do in her life?
Be praying about what you will “give up” and how you will be replacing it with God. Think about when and where you will do your study, come up with an occasional 2.50 to spend on sermons that are not free, and how you can get the most from this study. I’ll ask you to share your plan on Ash Wednesday.
Skip ahead to Tuesday if you have time.
Tuesday: What’s Lent All About?
Read Ann Voskamp’s discussion about Lent up to her “book list”: Link
5. Ann said Lent isn’t so much about forfeiting but about formation. One needs to be dispossessed of the possessions that possess — before one can be possessed of God. What possesses — obsesses you? Food? Facebook? Television? Texting? (This will help you decide what to give up that you might replace it with God.)
6. Ann failed the very first night, showing her her depravity, and leading her to the cross.She said: A failing lent? It is a good Lent because this Lenten Lament of my sin — it is preparing me for the Easter Joy of my Savior. How will you respond when you fail?
7. What else stood out to you from Ann’s post?
Lenten Book List
I am suggesting you also read, during Lent, one of the following books which will give additional support to living a gospel-transformed life. If you act now, you can probably get them through inter-library loan within a few weeks. The first is basic — if you haven’t read it, then this is your book during Lent:
THE PRODIGAL GOD by Tim Keller:
Watch this two minute trailer to whet your taste:
This is a small book, but a paradigm changing book on the gospel-centered life. You can also listen to eight free sermons on The Prodigal God by going to this link and finding the sermons on Luke 15.
If you have already read or listened to The Prodigal God, then choose one of these books as supplemental Lenten reading:
Bread and Wine Readings for Easter with selections from C. S. Lewis, Luther, Bonhoeffer, John Donne…
WHAT’S SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE? by Philip Yancey.
In Yancey’s classic he says, “Grace is amazing because it’s not natural.” Gospel-transformed living is not natural — it’s supernatural. The natural default of the human heart is idolatry. This is what keeps us from forgiving, from loving well, from the peace God longs for us to have. Grace is another way to describe the gospel – and the gospel is the only remedy to our heart idols.
IDOL LIES by Dee Brestin
We are essentially going on from the concepts in Idol Lies, though we will review — but if you haven’t read it, you will find it helpful to do so. I am indebted to Tim Keller, Martin Luther, David Powlison, and so many others who have helped me understand idols of the heart.
ONE THOUSAND GIFTS by Ann Voskamp
When God changes us, He moves us from guilt, to grace, to gratitude. A transformed heart is a grateful heart. A gospel transformed heart is no longer trying to earn God’s approval, for it is resting in His grace (another way to describe the gospel) and responding with gratitude. But since the default of the human heart is idolatry, then continually being aware of His presence through His blessings, or as Ann calls it, “living eucharisto” can help switch that default mode of idolatry back to gospel transformation.
If you have read all of the above, I also recommend these excellent books that are related to gospel transformation:
Soul Idolatry: What Keeps Men Out of Heaven (David Clarkson)
Spiritual Depression (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
Grace-Based Parenting (Elyse Fitzpatrick)
A Grace Disguised (Jerry Sittser)
The Gospel in Life (Tim Keller)
Go see the movie Les Miserables while it is still in the theatres!
And an easy reading extra:
Pearl in the Sand (Tessa Afshar — light historical fiction in which the author demonstrates an understanding of gospel transformation) Our own Nanci recommended it and I think you’ll like it. But this is not to be your main supplemental reading book!
8. What book will you get for your supplemental reading — and why?
Skip ahead to Wednesday if you have time.
ASH WEDNESDAY — WE OFFICIALLY BEGIN!
Many churches will have a service tonight in which ashes are placed on the foreheads of believers to remind them that they are dust and to dust they will return. This life is so short and we tend to be so earthbound in our perspective. When we are earthbound, we become enslaved to our idols. During Lent we want to set our affections on things above with particular diligence.
9. How is the Lord leading you to approach Lent? Is there something that you tend to run to instead of to Him? How will you replace it? When, where, and how will you meet with Him?
Ann Voskamp said: “I can’t seem to follow through on giving up for Lent, which makes me want to just give up on Lent.” Even this week, as God gives you a plan on what you might give up in order to have more of Him, you will face a battle. You may stumble and even fall, and you will consider giving up. But don’t let the enemy win so easily — for failing will lead you to the cross, and the cross will transform you. Lent is about Gospel formation, so keep repenting, and do not give up on Lent! You will find increasing strength. Prepare a prayer for the times when you are tempted to not follow through. Use Scripture, the Sword of the Spirit.
For example, I tend to run to food when I’m stressed or bored. I am very disciplined at meals, but I can easily wander into the pantry in an almost hypnotic trance between meals to grab crackers or a handful of cheerios. Why do I do this? I am feeding my heart idol of comfort with something besides The God of All Comfort. One of my Lenten disciplines therefore is to fast for some meals, but also, cut out all in-between meal snacking and to replace it with running to Him. I will not buy tempting provisions and I will not grab things between meals, but when tempted, will say this prayer and then run to Him: Lord, only in Your presence are fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. [Psalm 16:11] Yet here I am tempted to find pleasure in snacking. Remove this desire and as I run to You now, meet me, O Lord, and help me wait upon You and trust You to be my comfort. Will I stumble? Most likely. Will I give up on giving up? If I do, I am so deceived — for He is the only One who can rescue me. Lent is about Gospel Formation and learning to repent from my idols and run to Him.
10. What scriptural prayer can you prepare that fits your need for when you are tempted to retreat from your Lenten discipline?
THREE WAYS TO LIVE
In The Prodigal God, which is based on the parable Jesus tells of the two sons in Luke 15, Keller explains there are 3 ways to live:
- Irreligion: As when the younger son, in rebellion, ran away from the father and wasted his inheritance and life.
- Religion: As when the older son, in self-righteousness, thought he could be right before the father by keeping the rules.
- Gospel: As when the younger son returned, in true repentance, throwing himself on his father’s mercy and receive grace.
Too often we fall into the error as believers that if we are not “irreligious,” if we are not being bad, then we are right with God. We may be busy in church, even going to choir and Bible study, but we may not have a gospel-transformed heart. We tend to fall into th error, not of irreligion, but of religion. Instead of resting in the Father’s love, and responding to it in gratitude and service, we try to “earn” our own righteousness. The older son was not resting in the father’s love, and certainly not joyful or thankful, for he said, “I’ve slaved for you all these years…” He was showing, by the bad fruit emanating from his heart, that he had fallen into the other error, that of religion. (Christianity, by the way, is not a religion. Christianity is not earning favor with God, but believing, through the gospel, that we already have favor with God.)
As we will see, this week and next, we all have some “older brotherishness” in our hearts — even if we are not complete older brothers. We can be saved and yet still, on a day to day basis, not really be resting in God’s love. Our prayer lives, for example, may be filled with petition rather than praise, for we are not yet experiencing intimacy with God, not yet having a melted heart that is overwhelmed by His love.
Jesus tells three parables, the parable of the lost sons is the third. But it is important to see whom He was addressing.
11. According to Luke 15:1-2:
- To whom was Jesus speaking?
- About what were they murmuring?
- Which of the three ways of life do you think was true of the Pharisees and why?
12. Read Luke 15:13-16 and find all you can about the “irreligious” way of life.
13. Have you tried the above way of life? What did it bring you?
Read Luke 15:17-24 for The Gospel Way of Life and meditate on Rembrandt’s painting.
14. Remember: If you think you understand the gospel, you probably don’t. So slow down, using both the Word and Rembrandt’s painting, and answer:
- What did the son plan to say to the father, after he “came to himself?” (v. 18-19)
- How did the father respond before he ever heard why the son returned or what he planned to say? (vs. 20-24)
- In Rembrandt’s painting, how does he portray the destitute nature of the son and the love of the Father? Tell us all you see.
- Ask the Lord, through the above, to help you begin to comprehend His gospel love for you. Write what He impresses on you.
15. Read Luke 15:25-30 The Way of Religion (Remember — this is the pit into which believers tend to slip)
A. What does he say to his father? How does he show a lack of love and gratitude?
B. How was the older son not seeing his depravity?
Lent will show us our depravity — and that is a good thing.
THURSDAY (IF YOU ARE FALLING BEHIND, SKIP TO FRIDAY) COME BACK IF POSSIBLE
Read the following from Richard Lovelace, Professor of Religious History:
Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many…have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they are …drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: You are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith in love and gratitude.
16. Contemplate the above:
A. What does Lovelace say most Christians rely upon for feeling accepted by God?
B. What does he say few know enough to do?
C. How does this speak to you?
17. How did the father offer grace to the son who was choosing the way of religion? (verse 31)
18. How did the father give grace to the son who chose the way of irreligion? (verse 32)
Listen to this free MP3 sermon. (You can just play it, but it will be less likely to skip and you will be able to stop and start it more easily if you download it. If this is new, please have a young person help you. It’s not hard to learn.): Link
19. Share your notes from this sermon.
20. What is your take-a-way from this week and why?
IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER
A HUNGER GROWS
FOR THE LIVING GOD
There’s a paragraph from Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” that Steve and I came to love, especially living in Nebraska:
…the painted glass windows shone out at us as we came along the frozen street. In the winter bleakness a hunger for colour came over the people, like the Laplanders craving for fat and sugar… we used to linger on the sidewalk outside the church windows when the lamps were lighted early for choir practice or prayer meeting, shivering or talking until our feets were lumps of ice. The crude reds and greens and blues of that coloured glass held us there.
I can hardly wait to begin Lent — a time on this blog where God has met us in the bleak midwinter. I am as eager as a runner at the starting line to begin, for I have a hunger for Him like the hunger for spring on these cold, cold days. I want you to prepare your heart this week, asking Him, if you do not have it, for that hunger — and for the wisdom to know if you should join us. I am so excited about what we are going to do, for I do believe the Lord has come to me and quickened me. Let me tell you and then you can pray about joining us. I’ll warn you now — there will be a cost. In order to have the time to do the study, you may need to give something else up. Some weeks (as I am this week) I ask you to listen to a sermon mp-3 that costs 2.50. To afford it, you may need to give something else up. So it is good to count the cost before you decide to commit.
I have been meeting with a small group of women in Kansas City, and we have been talking about how the gospel is the solution to every problem. Tim Keller says, “If you think you understand the gospel, you probably don’t. If you think you are just starting to get it, you might be.”As one of the women in my small group said, “This is like a second birth.” It is. Understanding this is akin to understanding idolatry — and will lead to enormous spiritual growth. Understanding how the gospel applies to everyday life will change the way you mother, the way you respond to hurt, the way you confront, and the way you face every problem. I will repeat some of this next week, but without apology, for as Luther said, “We need to drum this into our heads until we get it.” And then we need to keep doing it, for ice tends to reform on our hearts.
One element of the gospel is that it should humble us, for Christ’s necessary death shows us how bad we are. Another element of the gospel shows us how loved we are, for He did die for us. Let me give you an everyday example of how this can give us the power to have better relationships with others.
As I have shared in Idol Lies and with you, one of my heart idols is control, and the bad fruit that comes from that is side-ways comments — guilt trips — manipulation. I am so much better but this idol regenerates. This Christmas was going to be “my” Christmas in that it was the year all the children came to me instead of their in-laws. And honestly, it was so sweet to have them. The day after Christmas we had a photography morning as we had the four little girls who were born all in the summer of 2010 together.
My daughter Sally’s in-laws live right in Kansas City, so of course she was going to spend some time with them as well, for Sally and Phil flew all the way from Washington D.C. with their two little girls. But when it seemed that Phil’s family was getting a lot of time for it being “my” Christmas, I began to get irritable. (I know — this is embarrassing.) When Sally told me she’d be spending the last two nights with them — I did it — the look — the guilt trip. It took me a half hour, but God did bring me to my senses, for I am seeing so much better this sin in my heart — and I told Sally I was sorry.
She thanked me but was also angry and reminded me of my past. As she was doing that, I had to cling to the truth that I was loved by God, that He was changing me, and that He would bring good out of this pain. Then she felt badly and apologized for not making it clearer that she and Phil had decided they should divide their time, for they probably wouldn’t be coming back often anymore.
This may seem very petty — but it is everyday life — irritations with the people we love the most. How does the gospel help us face these daily irritations that come, even with those we love the most, because of our sin natures?
The gospel produces humility. It helps us be more aware of our own sinful hearts and to be quicker to own them.
The gospel gives us strength. When we are unjustly accused or treated unkindly, we can cling to God and His love.
The gospel gives us courage. We can speak the truth in love, knowing God wants us to confront wrong, but do so as He did.
The gospel gives us hope. We know, no matter how the other reacts, that God has the power to bring good out of it.
All this is played out in a very short passage at the end of Genesis when ice is reforming over Joseph’s brothers’ hearts, and he must forgive again, speak the truth again, and cling to God again.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Have you begun to understand that the Gospel is the A to Z of Christianity? If so, share a way that has been true for you. (Looking for some great examples here!)
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study: Ice Returning to the hearts of Joseph’s Brothers
3. Read Genesis 50:15-21
A. What fear did Joseph’s brothers have when Jacob died?
B. So what did they decide to do? Do you think this was the truth? Why or why not?
Derek Kidner writes: The manner of telling the story strongly suggests it was fictitious. It was this, surely, along with the arm’s length approach (vs 16 — they sent a message) telling its own tale of fear and mistrust that moved Joseph to tears.
C. How would you feel if you were in Joseph’s place?
D. How do you see humility in Joseph’s response to them in verse 19?
E. How do you see Joseph clinging to the goodness of God in pain in verse 20?
F. How do you see the mercy of the Lord in Joseph in verse 21?
4. Ask the Lord to show you a relationship in your life that could be improved if you applied what you have learned about the gospel to it. Share here what you could do or will do.
Thursday/Friday: Listen to Keller’s A Prime Minister’s Forgiveness (Link)
5. What comments do you have on the above message?
6. Will you pray for our Lenten study — for me as I write, for your own heart and commitment, and for God to bring those He chooses to commit with us?
7. What is your take-a-way and why?
WHEN I ARISE
IN THE MIDWINTER
THE SKY IS AS BLACK AS MIDNIGHT.
BUT THOUGH IT IS BITTER COLD OUT
IT’S THE SWEETEST TIME IN.
MY TIME TO BE WITH HIM.
I ANTICIPATE HE’LL MEET ME.
ONE MORNING LAST WEEK
HE TOOK ME BY SURPRISE,
FOR GLANCING UP I SAW THE SUN
CATCHING THE EARTH BY THE EDGES —
I WRAPPED MY FLEECY BLANKET AROUND ME
AND STOOD ON MY PORCH
LUCI SHAW SAYS THAT
CREATION ECHOES THE TRUTHS IN HIS WORD.
JUST AS THE RISING SUN CHANGED EVERYTHING
WE NEED HIS POWER TO RISE UPON US,
TURNING OUR DARKNESS TO LIGHT.
WE HAVE NO POWER OF OUR OWN TO CHANGE.
WE NEED “THE SUNRISE FROM ON HIGH TO VISIT US.”
(FROM ZECHARIAH’S SONG IN LUKE 1:78)
In just two weeks we will be beginning Lent. I’m excited to tell you what we will be doing — for this has always been an amazing time on this blog.
We’re going to be “peering” into the gospel to better understand how the gospel is the answer to every problem we face. The gospel is not just the power to be saved from the penalty of sin, but it is also the power to set us free from our idols and to strengthen us for every problem we face. The gospel can change how you mother, how you face suffering, even how you confront people.
He is leading us here — I have truly felt like we are in a kayak in His gently moving river. He is carrying us.
Pray about joining us during Lent. These next two weeks, as we complete where God led us during Advent, you will get a taste of where we will be going during Lent. For every story in the Bible is really a story about Jesus — and hidden in Jesus is the gospel — and the gospel is the mystery that can help us face every problem.
God cares most about developing our character. Though it pleases Him to bless us with health, wealth, and happiness — that is not His primary concern. When you study His family in Genesis, you see He is the Hero for His children are terribly flawed. He is the Potter who is gently molding them over the fire. We saw it with Jacob, with Leah, with Judah — and as we close Genesis, this story continues. Though Joseph ends nobly, he began as a spoiled brat. His father favored him and he was anything but subtle in letting his brothers know that he had a favored position. What changed Joseph into a man of character who reflects our Lord Jesus Christ? The mystery of the gospel. We’re going to look at this and then (and continuing into next week) consider how we might apply this to our own intimate family relationships.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. If you have been on this blog during Lent in the past, could you share a word of testimony on how you felt about it or how it impacted you so I can possibly share it with others? Specifics are wonderful, if you can remember.
Monday-Wednesday: Bible Study
3. How do you see a lack of wisdom in Joseph in Genesis 37:5-11?
4. How did the brothers respond in Genesis 37:18-20?
5. Read Genesis 37:25-36
A. What callousness do you see in verse 25?
B. What callousness do you see in Judah in verse 26?
Derek Kidner comments: Judah will later develop some fine qualities, but at present there is nothing more than self-interest. Profit is a harsh monetary term like “loot,” or “rake-off.” The force of the phrase “and conceal his blood” is two-fold (from man, and by avoiding actually bloodshed, from God).
C. What callousness do you see in the way they confront Jacob?
Derek Kidner sees a parallel between “your son” of Genesis 37:32 and “this your son” of the elder brother in the story of the prodigal sons in Luke 15:30. This was not “their brother,” but “your son.”
Joseph points us to Christ, for like Christ he was betrayed by his brethren. Like Christ, he forgives and rescues his brethren. Charles Spurgeon “The Prince of Preachers,” was considered so, I believe, for he was a master of showing how Jesus is the center of every story, and the gospel hidden in it as well. He has several wonderful sermons on Joseph from which I will quote. (You would be blessed to read them!)
6. Read Genesis 49:22-24 (This was Jacob’s dying blessing to Joseph)
A. How does Jacob describe Joseph’s life? Find everything you can.
In “Joseph attacked by the Archers,” Spurgeon preached:
Oh! the agonies he felt—parted from his father, losing his brethren, without a friend, dragged away by cruel man-sellers, chained upon a camel it may be, with fetters on his hands. Those who have borne the gyves and fetters, those who have felt that they were not free men, that they had not liberty, might tell how sorely the archers grieved him when they shot at him the arrows of their envy. He became a slave, sold from his country, dragged from all he loved. Farewell to home and all its pleasures—farewell to a father’s smiles and tender cares. He must be a slave, and toil where the slave’s task-master makes him; he must be stripped in the streets, he must be beaten, he must be scourged, he must be reduced from the man to the animal, from the free man to the slave. Truly the archers sorely shot at him. And, my brethren, do you hope, if you are the Lord’s Josephs, that you shall escape envy? I tell you, nay; that green-eyed monster, envy, lives in London as well as elsewhere, and he creeps into God’s church, moreover. Oh! it is hardest of all, to be envied by one’s brethren.
B. Yet out of Joseph’s sorrow came beauty — he became a “fruitful bough.” The secret as to how that happened is revealed in Genesis 49:24, and again, in Joseph’s own words in Genesis 50:19-20. It is a two-fold secret — see it you can find it.
Joseph has to be humbled, to see the truth about himself. But he also had to be confident
in God’s love for him. The gospel is unique in that two seemingly contrasting qualities
have “kissed” at the cross. (Psalm 85:10)
Do you see?
We are so bad the Jesus had to die for us. (The truth about our sin)
Yet we are so loved that He did die for us. (The mercy of our God)
7. Now — I want you to apply this by showing how you might use these two truths of the gospel to confront someone you care about in truth and in love. You may have a real scenario or you may need to imagine one.
A. How might you humble yourself in coming, admitting, without excuses, any sin in yourself?
B. How might you speak truth in love?
C. If he or she does not respond as you hope, how might you forgive in your heart through the power of the gospel?
This may be hard to understand, but that is because the gospel is both simple and very complex. We’re going to keep peering into it.
Read or listen to one of these Spurgeon sermons and share your comments.
1) Joseph Attacked by the Archers (I quoted from this one above): Link
2). Rough, But Friendly
Spurgeon shows how the way Joseph dealt with his brothers is the way of Christ. He is rough with us at first, to bring us to our senses, but then shows great mercy. You can either listen or read:
SHARE YOUR INSIGHTS FROM YOUR READING OR LISTENING TO THE SPURGEON SERMON YOU CHOSE
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE-A-WAY AND WHY?
MARTIN LUTHER USED THE PHRASE “CURVATURE OF THE SOUL”
THIS BENT WE HAVE TOWARD REJECTING THE GOSPEL
FORGETTING HOW SINFUL WE ARE OURSELVES
AND HOW DESPERATE FOR GRACE
SO THAT OUR LIVES ARE FILLED WITH “UNGRACE”
HEBREWS WARNS AGAINST “A ROOT OF BITTERNESS”
WHEN YOU GIVE INTO HATE
IT FESTERS AND GROWS
AND TWISTS YOUR SOUL,
TIM KELLER SAYS THAT THE WORD FOR
HAS THE SAME ORIGIN AS
MEANING “TO TWIST”
JUST AS BRANCHES ARE TWISTED TO MAKE A WREATH
SO OUR SOULS CAN BE TWISTED BY WRATH
LIKEWISE THE WORD
DESCRIBES A GHOST THAT WAS SO TWISTED
BY BITTERNESS IN LIFE
THAT IN THE AFTERLIFE HE CONTINUES HIS HELLISH EXISTENCE
HAUNTING AND HATING
WHEN JUDAH, TWISTED WITH HATE FOR HIS DAUGHTER-IN-LAW TAMAR,
DISCOVERED SHE HAD COMMITTED ADULTERY
HE COMMANDED SHE BE BURNED TO DEATH
HOSEA PROPHESIED THAT A DAY WAS COMING WHEN
THAT DOUBLE STANDARD WOULD NOT BE TOLERATED, FOR HE SAID
JESUS FULFILLED THAT WHEN THE PHARISEES
BROUGHT A WOMAN (AND ONLY THE WOMAN) CAUGHT IN ADULTERY
HE WOULD NOT ALLOW HER ACCUSERS TO STONE HER
YET AMAZINGLY, OUR LORD CARES NOT ONLY ABOUT THE OPPRESSED
BUT THE OPPRESSER
HE WANTED TO BREAK THROUGH TO JUDAH
SO THAT HE WOULD NOT BE ETERNALLY TWISTED
BUT SET FREE
This is such an eye-opening passage and sermon from Keller. I have thought about the women participating in this blog who have been deeply hurt by someone. I think about the individuals who have brought great pain into the life of someone I love. I tend to fester and hate. My curvature of the soul leads me to begin to characterize that person as an evil person, throwing darts in them as Judah did with Tamar. That is not to say that there was not real sin involved (as there was in Tamar) but that we can augment it, stereotyping, and refusing to look at the sin in ourselves. We must guard our hearts when we have been hurt and not give the devil a foothold.
Oh Father, may I and each woman doing this study be open to Your reproval, and to turn from the darkness to the light, “so that what is lame may not be put our of joint but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:13) Help our souls to untwist and glorify You
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. Most of us, like Judah, have hated, have experienced this twisting of our soul.
Can you share a time when God “broke through” to help you recognize your own wrong?
MONDAY-WEDNESDAY BIBLE STUDY: THE RESCUE OF JUDAH
(Sing this as a prayer)
(This is a continuation of last week — so if you just joined us, read last week’s blog on Tamar.)
3. Meditate on Hebrews 12:14-15
A. What command are we given?
B. What warning? (Find warnings within the warning!)
Keller traces a phrase “Haker na” or “Recognize” When Judah and his brothers threw Joseph in the pit, they brought his coat to Jacob, saying “Haker na?” — Do you recognize this? When Judah accused Tamar of adultery, she sent him his staff, and asked, “Haker na?” — Do you recognize this?
4. Review Genesis 38:24-26
A. How did Judah respond in verse 26?
B. This statement is both surprising and profound. What are some of the applications that you see in this statement?
C. What change do you see in Judah that indicated the untwisting of his soul? (Look carefully and give phrases.)
Joseph becomes a Prime Minister in Egypt and the brothers do not know it. They travel to Egypt to ask for food in a time of barrenness, and Joseph tests their hearts to see if there has been a change. He tricks them by putting a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack of grain. He tells them he will let them go, but will keep Benjamin. (Benjamin is the only other son of Rachel, Joseph’s full brother.)
5. Read Genesis 44:16-34
Find phrases that show that Judah’s soul has been untwisted — that he now has a heart of compassion.
Thursday-Friday: Listen again to the following and then answer the questions. It’s free. It looks like you will pay, but you won’t have to.
HERE’S THE LINK TO THE SERMON ON TAMAR: LINK
6. Why did Hosea 4:14 say that God would not punish the women caught in adultery? What does this tell you?
7. Keller said that what Judah was saying was not that Tamar was innocent, but that he was more guilty. What thoughts
do you have about this?
8. Keller said that Judah needed to believe bad things about Tamar. He was continually “sticking pins” in her in his mind. Have you done that with anyone? Has the Lord broken through to you?
9. How does Keller (as only Keller can do) have Judah point to the “ultimate” Judah?
10. What is your take-a-way and why?
ALL THE WOMEN IN THE GENEALOGY OF CHRIST
WERE RAGAMUFFINS IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER
TAMAR FASCINATES ME:
A YOUNG WIDOW
A VICTIM OF SOCIAL INJUSTICE
WHO USES SEXUAL ENTRAPMENT
TO GET JUSTICE.
As Tim Keller says, “the story of Judah and Tamar certainly illustrates that the Bible is not a series of moral stories about people that will inspire us to live godly lives.” No, the Bible is not about man but about God. This changes the way we read the Bible.
Up until the 1600′s scientists thought the sun revolved around the earth. That one mistaken belief led to thousands of other mistaken beliefs. When Copernicus discovered that the earth actually revolved around the sun, it righted so many misinterpretations.
In the same way, many misinterpret the Bible, seeing man at the center. They read the Bible as a book of heroic stories, and it leads to a multitude of wrong beliefs. The Bible is not about us, not about a series of heroes, but about God. God does not revolve around us, we revolve around Him. He is a merciful God who sees us as we are — sinful, manipulative, and selfish — and loves us. He wants to refine us and change us, and when we are victims of injustice, even though we are sinful, He fights for us. He is our Hero, our Rescuer, our Wonderful Merciful Savior.
Was Tamar wrong to use sexual entrapment? Absolutely. But it is fascinating when Judah says: “She is more righteous than I.” Perhaps you have heard it said that all sins are the same. While it is true that all sins result in the same guilty pronouncement that leads to death, Scripture confirms that not all sins are the same in God’s eyes. Last week you heard Gary Haugen say that the two worst sins according to Scripture are idolatry and injustice. We need to be most concerned about the sins that break God’s heart and tear us to pieces. It isn’t that we shouldn’t care about all sin, for all sin grieves God and hurts us, but so often we are like the Pharisees, swallowing camels and choking on gnats.
This is a story of how God hates injustice and fights for the widow, the orphan, the abused. This is a story of our merciful God breaking through to a man who was blind. God will bring fire into our lives to refine us, for He cares so much for us.
We’ve already looked at Leah, the girl nobody wanted, and how her heart finally turned from her idol of Jacob’s love to God. When Judah was born she named him Judah because it means “praise,” for she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.”
But Judah, like all of us, had a sin nature. He needed The Potter to put him over the fire.
It isn’t that God didn’t care about Judah’s unhappiness on earth — but He cared more about making him holy. It isn’t that God didn’t understand how Judah had been hurt — how his father had favored his brother Joseph. God knows that the sin of others often exacerbates sin in ourselves. But He still wanted Judah to become the man he designed him to be. Keller thinks Judah began “to go bad” the day that he and his brothers chose to throw their brother in the pit and deceive their father with a “kid.” They took the blood of a goat, smeared it on the coat of many colors, and brought it to Jacob.
Many years later, Judah himself would be deceived with a “kid.” This time Tamar would be the one doing the deceiving. Oh — this is a story!
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
Monday-Wednesday: Bible Study
2. What did Judah and his brothers do to Joseph? (Genesis 37:18-28)
3. In the Keller sermon he will trace a pattern with a Hebrew phrase “Haker Na,” which can be translated recognize, identify, or know. How is it used in Genesis 37:32?
4. When we sin, our soul becomes twisted. If we repent, it is untwisted. How was Judah’s soul twisted here?
5. Where is God asking you to keep short accounts and stay in the light so that your soul does not become twisted?
6. Read Genesis 38:1-11
A. What happened to Er and why?
B. What happened to Onan and why? (The Catholic church calls this the sin of birth control — do you see any validity to this or not? Explain — I’m looking for honest and thoughtful discussion here — not a put down to Catholic theology.)
C. What did Judah then tell Tamar to do, but what did he actually plan to do in his heart? Why?
D. Blaming others
Two weeks ago our own Elizabeth shared how when things go wrong, she wants to blame someone. (Their car needed expensive repairs and she wanted to blame her husband — which she said, “makes no sense.” :-) Let’s consider this, for I think it is a common default of the soul.
1) Do you have this tendency to want to blame others when things go wrong? If so, why, do you think?
2) Why do you think Judah wanted to blame Tamar for the deaths of his sons?
3) When trouble comes into our lives, how do you think God would have us respond?
7. Read Genesis 38:12-23 and describe what Tamar did. Why do you think?
8. Read Genesis 38:24-26 (Very important)
A. How did Judah respond to the news of Tamar’s pregnancy? What darkness do you see in his soul?
B. How does God break through to Judah’s sin?
C. Comment on his statement in verse 26.
9. God is continually finding ways to break through to us and show us our sin. Name a way He has broken through to you recently.
10. Last week in the free message from Gary Haugen, he challenged us: “What are you doing with your lunch?” (Referring to the story of the feeding of the 5,000 — what came from one little boy’s lunch.) Keep praying and pondering about this and sharing.
HERE’S THE LINK TO THE SERMON ON TAMAR: LINK
Just listen to the Keller sermon called Tamar. We’ll go into it more next week. It is so rich, I want you to listen more than once. I’ll have questions next week, but post your comments here.
Saturday: What is your take-a-way and why?
I’VE BEEN TRYING TO PROCESS WHY THIS VERSION OF
IMPACTED ME SO PROFOUNDLY
WAS IT BECAUSE GOD HAS USED THIS STORY BEFORE
TO SOFTEN MY HEART OF STONE?
WHEN I DID NOT WANT TO FORGIVE THE ONE WHO STOLE FROM ME
THE SCENE OF THE BISHOP AND THE CANDLESTICKS FLASHED IN MY MEMORY…
THE BISHOP TOLD THE POLICE THAT HE HAD GIVEN JEAN VALJEAN THE SILVER HE ACTUALLY STOLE — BUT THAT HE WAS SO GLAD HE WAS BACK, FOR HE FORGOT THE CANDLESTICKS! ONE OF THE OPENING SONGS HUGH JACKMAN SINGS HAS THESE LYRICS:
What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
…Have I fallen so far
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate…
…He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate this world
This world which had always hated me
Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!
One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom,
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit came to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
WAS IT BECAUSE I SAW SO VIVIDLY PORTRAYED
HOW A SINGLE ACT OF MERCY
TO ONE HARDENED BY INJUSTICE,
AND RIPPLES OUT
LIKE THE MERCY MY GOD HAS SHOWN TO ME?
WAS IT BECAUSE OF MY THAI DAUGHTER
OR THE WOMEN IN PRISON I’VE MET
WHO WERE AS ABUSED AND DESPERATE AS FANTINE?
WAS IT THE MUSIC AND THE FACT IT WAS SUNG LIVE? (Please watch!)
IS HUGH JACKMAN, WHO PLAYED JEAN VALJEAN A BELIEVER?
I DON’T KNOW. HE SAYS HIS FATHER WAS CONVERTED BY BILLY GRAHAM,
SO HE MAY BE. BUT HIS PERFORMANCE,
I BELIEVE, CAUGHT THE ESSENCE OF TRUE CONVERSION.
WAS IT BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN PRAYING FOR GOD TO HELP ME CARE
ABOUT THE THINGS THAT BREAK HIS HEART?
ALL OF THE ABOVE,
QUICKENED BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD.
I WAS UNDONE.
I realize not all of you have been able to see this version, and may not have seen any version of it. But the concepts are scriptural, and we can talk about those whether or not you have the time or money to watch. Here is a free two hour musical stage version, though you may want to read a plot synopsis on the internet first if you don’t know the story so that you will understand the music.
I had thought we would study Tamar as well this week — but there is just too much here – Tamar was also a victim of injustice, so, Lord willing, we will look at her next week. (I say Lord willing because I’ve been trying to get to her all Advent and God keeps saying, “No — this way!”) Les Mis is packed — don’t feel like you have to do it all — or to read all the comments. Do what you can and you will be thinking about the things that matter most.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. If you have seen Les Mis, name at least one specific storyline or lyric and why it impacted your heart.
3. What Christian or non-Christian themes did you see?
4. If you have not seen Les Mis, take one of these themes from the story and comment:
A. Can you think of a time when mercy shown to you released mercy to another? If so, share.
B. A repeated lyric is “you were never mine to keep…” Can you think of a time when you had to release one you loved, but were able to do so because of trust that you were releasing them to God?
C. Can you think of a time when you misjudged someone because you didn’t know the whole story? If so, share.
D. The bishop lied to the police to spare Jean ValJean. What do you think of this and why?
MONDAY: How Do You Decide What To Watch or Read — and what not to?
Today I’d like us to ponder the above and discuss it together. This is important for our own hearts and for the hearts of our children, to whom we are called to protect and train in the ways of discernment. We don’t want to raise children who define Christianity in terms of the five things you don’t do and sit in their houses with judgmental hearts — we want them engaged in a broken world, operating with discerning and merciful hearts, embodying our Lord.
I realize there are believers who feel we should not see a movie like this for there are impure elements. I have struggled with this myself, and you may disagree with my conclusion, but this is a blog where those who disagree are welcomed warmly and heard. I want us to have an honest dialogue here about how we decide what books and movies to put into our minds and hearts. We may disagree, but I so respect the women on this blog, I know the tone will be loving — and dialogue may make us all come closer in our thinking to the mind of Christ.
How do I decide? I do think we need to be concerned about offensive elements like language, sexual scenes, and violence — but the question I ask is not how many times do they occur (Unplugged simply counts the swear words, act of violence, and glimpses of nudity) but rather: Is the story powerfully redemptive and are the offensive elements essential to the story? They certainly are in Les Mis. There were offensive elements in Roots, The Hiding Place, The Painted Veil, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Amazing Grace — but each of these productions were powerfully redemptive. Are they appropriate for young children? I don’t think so. There is a time to protect innocence, and a time to see the world as it is. Also, until there is a certain level of maturity, the redemptive elements may be lost on them. For example, yesterday I was “hanging out” at my son’s when my fourteen year old grandson Simeon came home and said, “I’ve just been to the WORST movie. They SANG all the way through it.” (The family looked at me and burst out laughing.) But I am going to talk to Simeon to see if I can help him see any of the redemptive storyline. There is a a time to see these mature movies and a time to wait.
But when you think the time has come, watch it with him and process it, asking, “What were the Christian elements?” “The non-Christian elements?” If there are offensive elements, talk about how they contributed (or not) to the storyline so that he or she can begin to develop discernment in his choices. For example, in the stage version of Les Mis, for which I just gave you a link, there is a scene where one of the soldiers is crass, talking about how he’s sure a prostitute is eager to have “a poke,” and actually fingers his genitals. It is very offensive — and yet, when I read Half the Sky, that is exactly how many men view the girls who have been captured and are in the sex trade, somehow thinking they didn’t mind being raped thirty times a day. We need to see the depravity of man and be outraged so that we are propelled to do something. After World War II, so many Christians said, “We didn’t know what was happening.” Well — there is a holocaust happening now, and we need to know it. Anne Hathaway, who plays Fantine, studied the girls in the sex trade so she could capture their pain, their emotion — and she did. This was happening in Victor Hugo’s day and it is happening today — and we need to CARE. May Les Miserables awaken Christians to the need to show mercy to those who have been shown no mercy. How often I have heard unmerciful comments made concerning those in prison — and I want to take them to meet those women!
I also find movies based on real life stories such a refreshing change to the fictional cookie cutter Christian movies. So many of them whitewash life or make Christianity seem like it is all about us — that God exists to help us, that He revolves around us instead of we around Him. This life isn’t just about making our own lives better but about caring about the things that break God’s heart! If children can begin to care while they are still in your home, you may be shaping an adult that will be in instrument of compassion in a cold and hurting world.
Do I agree with everything in Les Mis? Absolutely not — I am always offended by those who equate patriotism with Christianity. And there were definitely elements that could have been skipped — but oh, there was so much gold to be mined. Our natural tendency is not to care — and any movie or book that can help us care, that can melt our hearts of stone, I would consider worth seeing or reading. The perspective that tells Christians not to watch anything other than movies by Christian production companies, or to read no books by secular authors is offensive, I believe to God, who uses whoever He chooses for His message. God used Cyrus, who He said “did not know Him,” to free the Jews. Why, God even used a donkey to speak the truth. Confining ourselves to evangelical authors smacks of legalism to me, the legalism we see in Inspector Javert, in Les Mis. Legalism kills.
Those are my thoughts — but I would love yours.
5. Comment on the above.
6. How do you decide what to read and what to watch? Do you have any goals for this New Year?
TUESDAY-WEDNESDAY: BIBLE STUDY AND REFLECTING ON LES MIS
7. Is there a lyric from Les Mis that particularly impacts you? If so, share it. (Many of the songs are available on You-tube.) Why did it impact you?
8. In the Dec 2 issue of World Magazine, Janie B. Cheaney wrote an article saying (if I understood her correctly) that we are only called to forgive the repentant.
A. Do you agree or not? Explain.
B. How would the story in Les Mis refute that?
C. Did the father in the story of the prodigal sons forgive his younger son before or after he repented?
D. How it it even possible to forgive one who is not repentant?
9. Gary Haugen says that idolatry and injustice are the two things God hates most. In the message you will hear by Haugen this week, he takes us to Psalm 10. Read Psalm 10.
A. How are those who commit injustice described in verses 8-11?
B. What kind of injustices in the world come to mind by the above description?
C. What does the psalmist tell us about God according to Psalm 10:14-18?
Haugen asks, “What is God’s plan for rescuing the oppressed?” His answer: We are. There is no Plan B. I’m eager for you to hear him tell his story, for I think it will encourage you with what can be done.
10. There are so many good articles about Les Mis — here are three, and you may want to recommend others. All are excellent, but the first gives you ideas for how to have discussions with others who have seen it. Why not have friends who have seen it over for soup or dessert and discuss it?
Listen to Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission, designed to rescue the oppressed — especially children and women in enslaved in the sex trade overseas. The talk itself is 55 minutes followed by a Q and A (LINK). All fascinating.
11. Then reflect on these questions:
A. What stood out to you from the message and why?
B. How did Haugen say the two biggest sins are, according to Scripture?
C. How did he define injustice and how is David and Bathsheba and Uriah an illustration of it?
D. Haugen refers to the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 and the little boy’s lunch. What was his point?
E. What might you do with your “lunch?”
12. What is your take-a-way and why?
BRENNAN MANNING CALLS IT
THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL
THE SINNER IN DESPERATE NEED OF GRACE
AND BRINGING DOWN
THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS WHO DOESN’T KNOW HIS NEED
IT IS, INDEED:
This week I saw, with my family, the movie I have been waiting to see and had so hoped would be done well: Les Miserables. It was AMAZING. My family and I were all weeping by the end. It combines the power of a magnificent story of grace with music and wonderful acting. I shook my head when I read in Christianity Today that they were disappointed there were no Christian movies this Christmas. What? Does it have to be a cookie cutter movie filmed by a Christian production company to qualify? God is SO MUCH BIGGER THAN THAT. This is the best Christian movie, if not movie, I’ve seen. Please go see it on the big screen if you have not — for we are going to discuss it here next week. Truly, this is the Ragamuffin Gospel. The story is all about the power of grace — God reaching out to one in desperate need of grace and using that grace to change him. Here is the trailer to whet your taste — see it, ponder law and grace, and the power of forgiveness. Come back ready to discuss next week:
In the genealogy of Christ, we see many “ragamuffins.”
Consider the women listed:
TAMAR WAS A VICTIM OF INJUSTICE
RAHAB WAS A PROSTITUTE
RUTH WAS A DESPISED MOABITE
“THE WIFE OF URIAH” WAS A VICTIM OF SEXUAL ABUSE
MARY WAS A POOR GIRL FROM NAZARETH
BUT GOD CAME TO EACH
AND THEY ARE NOW EXALTED,
LISTED IN THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD
This week we will consider Leah, the mother of Judah, and one of my all time favorite Keller sermons: The Girl Nobody Wanted. Next week we will discuss Les Miserables and look at Tamar, who like the lead in Les Miserables, was a victim of injustice. Next week is Epiphany, so it is fitting that we look at Tamar, the most provocative woman in the genealogy of Christ, and certainly exemplifies The Ragamuffin Gospel.
GOD SEEMS TO FAVOR THE POOR, THE “RAGAMUFFINS”
Leah’s father, Laban, was a wealthy man. He used and abused people, including his own daughters. He fades out of the pages of Scripture, but Leah leaves a legacy. With this in mind, I want you to watch this clip from FIddler on the Roof. Though Tevya’s question makes us smile — it is theologically pregnant.
“WOULD IT RUIN SOME VAST ETERNAL PLAN…
IF I WERE A WEALTHY MAN?”
OH THIS SETS MY MIND SPINNING
SO OFTEN WE PRAY FOR BLESSING FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN,
WHEN SO MANY OF THE GREATEST SAINTS
WERE DEPRIVED OF BOTH
IT ISN’T THAT YOU NEED TO BE POOR TO BE BLESSED
BUT IT IS TRUE THAT CHRISTIANITY MOVES AWAY FROM WEALTH
THAT GOD BRINGS DOWN THE PROUD AND EXALTS THE HUMBLE
AND THAT THE LOVE OF MONEY IS A GREAT SNARE
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. How are you a “ragamuffin,” and how has He come to you?
3. What do you want most for you and your children in 2013? How will this influence your prayer life?
Bible Study: Monday — Wednesday
LABAN WAS A RICH MAN
I love how Keller imagines Laban’s speech — Laban is such a greasy sort of character, conniving and oozing with justifying words designed to fill his pockets with wealth.
3. As an overview, what do you discover about Laban’s character from the following glimpses into his life?
A. In Genesis 24, Abraham’s servant is seeking God’s choice for a wife for Isaac. God leads him to Rebecca, who is the sister of Laban.
Read Genesis 24:29-31. What did Laban notice first? What do you glean here?
B. Laban is the father of Rachel and Leah. Read Genesis 29:1-30 and find anything you can about the character of Laban.
Jacob, Rachel, and Leah all came to distrust Laban — Laban has so much self-righteous talks, but his actions were cruel. There can be a little Laban in all of us. I loved Nanci’s post last week when she said her verse for 2013 was going to be: Create in me a pure heart, O God…”
LEAH WAS THE GIRL NOBODY WANTED
All Leah wanted was her husband to love her, but he did not. Each time she had a son, she thought, “Maybe my husband will love me now.” But he did not. You may have seen this Bonnie Raitt song before — but I so imagine Leah sitting by the fire, coming to the realization that her husband might never love her.
4. Neither her father nor her husband seemed to care about her. But how can you see God’s love for Leah in Genesis 29:31?
5. When Leah had her fourth son, she made a turn. Find it in Genesis 29:35 and explain the son’s name and how it showed her turn.
Our own Susan has often identified with Leah, and felt that not only her husband but his family is against her. During Advent they had a fight they have had before. His mother is giving their daughter the gift she wants most, something Susan wanted to give her. Susan wrote:
After our fight, my husband wasn’t talking to me, I was seething with anger and hurt. Alone in my bedroom, I fell to my knees. Even though I was sinning with my idols of approval and control, with my thoughts, my attitudes, I asked God to just tell me, “I love you, honey,” the way my earthly dad often does. I asked Him to be my One True Lover, my Bridegroom, my approval. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me in my battle with my flesh, to help me forgive.
Usually, even after choosing to forgive, I will go over and over the conversation, the offense, in my mind – it keeps coming back. I asked God to help me refuse to entertain the thoughts. I listened to two Keller sermons as I worked – How to Change I and II, where he talks about the putting off, putting on, and the bridge in between – being renewed in the spirit of your mind. Which he says is our imagination, what we vividly imagine. It helped me because during the day, the thoughts did try to intrude back in. I realized that to hold on to this, means I have to forsake my intimacy with God. I had to ask myself, is it worth it? Have I been wronged in a worse way than Jesus was when they crucified Him? Yet He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”
My hurt seems rather pale and paltry in comparison to what was done to my Savior. It’s a daily battle, more than daily — moment by moment, but I long, like Leah, to choose to praise the Lord.
6. Comment on Susan’s testimony. What can you learn for your own life?
What Susan is doing is endeavoring to replace her idols, and filling her mind with the truth. We all have incidents we need to forgive from the heart, but it is hard. Who of us can not identify with Susan’s struggle to go over the details? In reading Andrew Murray’s Like Christ this Advent, I find, especially in my late husband’s underlinings, how often I am not willing to be silent, to trust God, as Christ did, and to exercise overcoming love. I know I cannot do it, but God has not left me to do in the flesh. He is my Head, and as I crucify the flesh, His resurrection power flows through me.
7. How did God bless Leah according to the following passages?
A. Matthew 1:2
B. Ruth 4:11
C. What were Jacob’s last words, according to Genesis 49:31? Do you see any significance?
Listen to “The Girl Nobody Wanted” and share your thoughts here.
(Many of you may already have purchased this — but listen again!)
8. What is your take-a-way and why?
THE VAST ETERNAL PLAN CAN BE GLIMPSED
IN THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST
FOURTEEN GENERATIONS FROM ABRAHAM TO DAVID
FOURTEEN GENERATIONS FROM DAVID TO THE DEPORTATION TO BABYLON
FOURTEEN GENERATIONS FROM THE DEPORTATION TO BABYLON TO THE CHRIST
THE SEVENTH SEVEN
THE NUMBER OF PERFECTION
LIKE THE ORDER IN THE NIGHT SKY
THIS FILLS ME WITH WONDER
IF YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE A CLEAR NIGHT THIS CHRISTMAS EVE
GO OUT, LOOK UP, AND PONDER THE AWESOME DESIGN OF YOUR GOD
LAST WEEK WE HEARD CHRIS SHARE HOW GOD HAD
DEEPENED HER FAITH AFTER THE DEATH OF HER SON, SAYING:
Before this happened, my level of understanding
was enough for what I needed in this life.
WHEN SUFFERING COMES, WE NEED TO PEER
AT THE NIGHT SKY
AT THE BOOK OF JOB
AT THE VAST ETERNAL PLAN
AT THE ONE WHO LEFT HEAVEN TO COME FOR US
THE ONE WHO WAS THE SEVENTH SEVEN
OTHERS IN THE GENEALOGY FORESHADOWED HIM
BUT WERE SINFUL MEN AND WOMEN
JESUS WAS PERFECTION
THE EXACT REPRESENTATION OF THE FATHER
THE SINLESS ONE
THE LIGHT SHINING IN THE DARKNESS
AND HE CAME FOR YOU AND ME
I promise brevity this week, hoping you will stay with us each day, seeking His face.
SUNDAY/MONDAY (Christmas Eve!)
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. People will often ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?” And I usually reply, if I can, truthfully,
“In my heart!”
Are you ready “in your heart?” Consider:
- Have you been reflecting on the meaning of Christmas? If so, share one pondering here.
- Are you ready to greet family and friends with grace and love? How might you be ready to do so?
- Can you let go of what you didn’t get done? Of any unforgiving spirit? Can you be a vessel of love and grace?
TUESDAY, CHRISTMAS DAY!
MARY, DID YOU KNOW?
I’ve often wondered, as Mary made the long hard 70 mile journey to the home of Elizabeth, did she wonder if she might be having delusions of grandeur? Did she think: Did Gabriel really appear for that instant? Or did I imagine it? Could I, a peasant girl, truly be chosen to be the Mother of God? Mary — did you know? (This video is wonderful.)
4. What stood out to you from the above video and why?
5. For what are you thankful this Christmas day?
Luci Shaw says that protestants so fear worshipping Mary they have abandoned her to an evangelical limbo. But truly, it is important to look at her life.
6. Find a pattern in Mary by looking up these verses.
A. Luke 1:29
B. Luke 2:19
C. Luke 2:51
7. What pattern do you see?
8. I want you to reflect on your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
A. Was there a way God came to you?
B. Mary had to trust God with hard things — with what hard thing will you trust Him?
Thursday: Midday Connection
I’m on Midday Connection today, doing the fourth chapter in Idol Lies: A Shocking Metaphor
To prepare your hearts, I’d love for you to read this past blog post and comment on it.
On a personal note, Ann happened on this post and wrote me. Right after she wrote me, I happened to be discussing this on Midday. And then she did a post recommending Idol Lies, among other good books. It was interesting that what she wrote about Idol Lies had to do with this shocking metaphor.
Here is her post — it has great suggestions for reading other than Idol Lies!
And here is the link to Midday where we discuss this “Shocking Metaphor”
You can listen live at noon central, or after the fact online.
9. If you were able to listen, comment.
Friday: Free Keller sermon: Christmas Message: Link
10. What comments do you have on Keller’s message and why?
11. What is your take-a-way and why?
A TRAGEDY IN CONNECTICUT
RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT
AND AT THE SAME TIME
THE BELLS ARE PEALING
PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN
HOW CAN IT BE, OH GOD?
HENRY WADWORTH LONGFELLOW WROTE THESE LYRICS
IN THE MIDST OF GRIEF
A TERRIBLE FIRE, THE DEATH OF HIS WIFE
AND THEN, NEWS FROM THE CIVIL WAR:
HIS SON HAD BEEN INJURED
I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY
THEIR OLD FAMILIAR CAROLS PLAY
OF PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN
AND IN DESPAIR I BOWED MY HEAD
THERE IS NO PEACE ON EARTH, I SAID
FOR HATE IS STRONG, AND MOCKS THE SONG
OF PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN
THEN PEALED THE BELLS MORE LOUD AND DEEP
GOD IS NOT DEAD NOR DOTH HE SLEEP
THE WRONG SHALL FAIL
THE RIGHT PREVAIL
OF PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN
These days have been filled with horrific news. I have slept restlessly, as I know has been true of many of you.
I woke Saturday morning to see that our own dear Chris had e-mailed me the video she had just filmed for her church, sharing her own testimony two years after her own child was so cruelly taken. When I watched the video, each sentence golden, I knew God meant for us, for such a time as this.
Chris came on the blog two years ago, fresh in grief, to do The God of All Comfort. Her posts filled with palpable pain. Yet she did not retreat from God. In this video she tells how she kept remembering Peter’s response to Jesus when Jesus asked him if he too would be retreating from Him. Peter said:
“Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.”
Many of you are suffering, and many of you will be talking about this tragedy with others this season. Watch the video now and we’ll consider the thoughts more carefully throughout the week.
1. COMMENT ON ONE THOUGHT FROM CHRIS. EXPLAIN WHY YOU CHOSE IT.
2. COMMENT ON THE LYRICS OR THE HISTORY OF “I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY”
MONDAY-THURSDAY: BIBLE STUDY, REFLECTIONS, AND PRAYER
When Daniel was accosted and died, Chris said, “I felt I’d been led into a wilderness and left there. I had to look more deeply into what I believed about God” She wanted something to ease the pain — she cast about for somewhere to turn. And then she knew, like Peter — where else could she go but to Jesus?
What Satan wants to do is cause attachment disorder with our heavenly Father. Attachment disorder is a term used for children who have been abused and have trouble trusting anyone — they put up a wall and will not allow themselves to attach. We have an enemy. He prowls about — and it often seems His attacks grow more fierce during holy times like Christmas and Easter.
3. Read John 8:44
A. What do you learn from Jesus about the devil?
B. What lies has the devil told you in the midst of suffering — even recently — and how can you combat those lies with
Chris said, “I struggled so much with why it happened. I wanted so much to understand if I was being disciplined and if so, then why?” I so identify with this — I had the same questions when Steve died. I so appreciate the humility of Chris — for in truth — we will not know until we see Christ face to face. Whether or not we are being disciplined, we know suffering always does a refining work in the believer who does not back away from God, as it has in Chris.
It humbles us. My own Steve said, “Cancer has humbled me, and that is a good thing.”
We know Satan was behind Job’s suffering, yet God allowed it. God could never tell Job why he was suffering, for God was showing Satan and us that there really was a person who loved God just for Himself, and not for His blessings. As Keller said, “God couldn’t say — this is going to be horrific — but hold on, for you will go down in history, encouraging sufferers for centuries.” God never told Job why — but He did come to him three times, with reassurances of eternal life and sovereignty. At the close of the book God pointed to the sunrise, the stars, and the seasons…
4. Find one picture to which God pointed at the close of Job to illustrate that He is a God who knows what He is doing.
Chris said, “Job didn’t know and I don’t have to know. But I can trust, like a child with his Father. I can be small and trust Him.”
Chris said that she felt like God took her into the wilderness and left her there. But oh — how I see Him speaking tenderly to her and leading her out.
5. What picture is painted in Song of Songs 8:5?
Chris said, “It is very strange that in the midst of such suffering that there is a deeper sense of intimacy. I wouldn’t let Him be the Lover of my Soul. There was pride in me. Not I am really able to take in that He loves me. This stills my fears. There is such a living hope that the promises are true, a longing for heaven, the breaking down of idols, my identity hidden in Christ with God.”
And I loved this sentence:
“I am so much less sure of myself and so much more sure of my Savior.”
6. Now what stands out to you the most from Chris’s testimony — and why?
7. Let’s pray for the families in this tragedy — and for our nation. Write your prayer here.
It is hard not to ask “What is wrong with the world?” After one national tragedy that question was posed by a New York newspaper and one very brief response became famous:
“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,”
― G.K. Chesterton
Though we may never know why that young man murdered his mother brutally and then her kindergarten class, it seems fairly clear he was motivated by hate. The day of the tragedy I made a sideways comment to someone, for though I am battling my flesh, it still rears its ugly head. I hurt my friend. I had to apologize. I realized I made the comment because of malice and a lack of forgiveness. The same seed of malice that festered and grew in the man who committed the massacre on Friday lives in me. Each of us is capable of seeing our Dr Jekyl turn into Mr Hyde. Any finger I point at the world, I must turn around to myself. May we walk before Him with purer hearts and help one another die to our sinful selves and live to Him.
Friday: Dee on Moody’s Milrose Club
Milrose Club is designed to model Christian women in conversation. It was my first time as a guest and they probed me with fairly personal questions! But it was good. If you want to listen — please do — would love your feed-back. If you listen live you’ll hear the Danny Byram Christmas carol I chose: The Borning Day.
Here’s the link to Moody’s Milrose club which is live at noon central time.
If you don’t listen live, but want to hear the carol I chose, here it is by Harry Belafonte.
16. If you can listen, would love to have your thoughts.
17. What is your take-a-way and why?
(I did this post late — and didn’t want to bother David for technical help– but this is a wonderful free sermon on suffering from Keller you can paste into your browser:
And I poured all I knew about dealing with suffering into The God of All Comfort.
I’M SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS WEEK’S LESSON
BECAUSE I’M CONFIDENT IF YOU DO IT
YOU WILL BATHED IN HIS LOVE
WE ARE SEEKING HIS FACE THIS ADVENT
BUT YOU MUST BEGIN WITH THIS:
CHRISTMAS IS PROOF
OF THE PROMISE HE GAVE THROUGH MOSES FOR HIS PEOPLE
I’ve been listening to a free sermon from Keller called BENEDICTION which you will hear this week. As I listened and heard of God’s desire to shine His face upon us and give us peace, I thought, This is why He came. This is the promise of Christmas.
Last Sunday I was back in Kansas City and was so thankful to be able to go to The Messiah with my family and dear friends (such as our own Rebecca and Rachael from the Idol Lies video). Kansas City has a new symphony hall and we waited in anticipation as the orchestra readied to play Handel’s inspired work of art. Every lyric is Scripture — from Isaiah, Job, Lamentations… all the promises of Emmanuel.
And then, it began. The opening strains of Comfort, Comfort Ye My People…
Whether or not you can get to a production of The Messiah this Advent, you can listen in so many ways. This week I’ll give you a link to a You-Tube video of the opening of the Messiah with accompanying lyrics that will help you comprehend that His desire for you is good, and that one day as Isaiah 40 promised:
EV’RY VALLEY WILL BE EXALTED
(THE LOWS IN YOUR LIFE WILL BE REVERSED!)
EV’RY MOUNTAIN AND HILL MADE LOW
(THE TROUBLES WILL BE GONE!)
THE CROOKED STRAIGHT
(HE WILL REMOVE OUR BENT FOR SINNING)
THE ROUGH PLACES PLAIN
(NO MORE SORROW OR SICKNESS OR DEATH)
This has been His plan from the beginning:
to make His face to shine upon us,
to be gracious unto us,
and to give us peace.
This 2nd week of Advent
Come and do a little each day
and let His face shine upon you.
Last week many of you shared wonderful stories of God “ambushing” you, based on the Walter Wangerin quote. We want to hear more stories here! I will share one here. I’ve been missing Steve more acutely lately, but determined to turn to the Lord — and one of the ways I’m doing that is by re-reading some classics that strengthened me so as a young Christian. I went to the basement and pulled out a yellowed copy of Andrew Murray’s Like Christ. When I opened the front cover I was AMBUSHED by Steve’s familiar scrawl with notes to me:
- Dee: read the 4th day twice. Define surety before reading.
- Dee 10th day very good
- Dee Look at page 212 carefully and see how embodiment is the end of the ways of God…
So now, as I read, I am sensing God’s face upon me, and in mystic sweet communion, the face of Steve.
1. Was there a way you sensed the presence of the Lord last week? If so, when or how?
2. What stood out to you from anything in the above and why?
Tuesday: Read Isaiah 40:1-5 and watch the following video. Watch and worship — as a child of God these promises are for you.
4. What from Isaiah 40:1-5 speaks to you and why? Do you know anything about how this magnificent piece of music came to Handel?
Isaiah 40:4 reminds me of a part from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings when Sam Gangee wakes to find his friends all around him and says:
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
Yes! Every valley will be exalted, every mountain made low, every crooked thing straight, and every rough thing smooth.
5. What valley in your life will be exalted about which you are so excited?
Wednesday: Bible Study: Read, Listen, and Watch God’s Desire for you as expressed in Numbers 6:22-26
Watch this short video with this passage put to music and scenes from creation:
6. When you read God’s desire for you in Numbers 6:22-26, what lies of the enemy does it help disperse?
7. In the free sermon you will hear tomorrow, Keller says Moses, who was forbidden from seeing God’s face for it would destroy him, must have been astonished by this promise. Moses did not know what we know according to Hebrews 10:11-14. What does this say and how does this make it possible for God’s face to shine upon us, for Him to talk to us like a Father talks face to face with His child?
Thursday-Friday Listen and Respond to this Free Keller Sermon
Click on the link and download it — it will play more smoothly than if you do not download it: Link
8. What are some things that you learned about the word and the concept “blessing?”
9. Keller turns to the story of Jacob to illustrate the blessing. What stood out to you from this and why?
10. I love how Keller is able to see the Gospel hidden in every story. Find it in Rebecca’s hasty words in Genesis 27:13.
11. What else stood out to you from this message?
12. ACTION ASSIGNMENT: WE ARE NOT ONLY TO RECEIVE GOD’S BLESSING BUT TO BE A BLESSING. CHOOSE ONE OF THESE ASSIGNMENTS AND DO IT — (One is so easy anyone can do this!)
MAKE YOUR FACE SHINE UPON SOMEONE WITH A VERBAL OR WRITTEN WORD OF BLESSING.
- On a Christmas card or other note, write a specific blessing that will delight someone, mentioning their character, their sacrifice,or the fruit in their life.
- On a piece of stationery write a blessing and frame it, wrap it and put it under the tree. This is what my 18-year-old grand-daughter Emily (who is spending this year as a missionary in Japan) did for me before she left and I LOVE IT.
If you think a word of blessing this week (as simple as I love her spirit, I like her warmth, even, I like her hair) say it to her or say it on the blog.
Surprise someone with an act of kindness. When I came home after my long trip, expecting to lug my suitcases into a dark house, my daughter-in-law and grand-daughter had decorated my little house for me for Christmas.
13. Name one way you gave the blessing this week.
14. Name one way you received it as you did the study or listened to resources this week.
IT’S SO EASY TO BECOME MARTHAS AT CHRISTMAS
WORRIED AND ANXIOUS ABOUT SO MANY THINGS
TRYING TO SATISFY OUR RAVENOUS IDOLS
OF COMFORT, CONTROL, AND APPROVAL
THE PEACE, &
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
INSTEAD, THIS ADVENT, BEGINNING TODAY
LET US SEEK FIRST TO BE IN HIS PRESENCE
AND WHAT WE WILL DISCOVER IS THAT
SOME CHRISTMAS TASKS WILL FALL AWAY
AND THE THINGS THAT REMAIN WILL BE TRANSFORMED
WITH A PEACE THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE
MOST OF THE TIME HIS PRESENCE IS GENTLE
LIKE SOFTLY FALLING SNOW
CHANGING YOUR HEART
LIKE THE PRISTINE POWDER TRANSFORMS
THE SOD INTO A WINTER WONDERLAND
YES, MOST OF THE TIME HE WILL COME GENTLY
BUT HE MAY ALSO SURPRISE YOU
FILL YOUR HEART WITH EXCEEDING GREAT JOY!
LORD WE CANNOT SEEK YOU WITHOUT YOU DRAWING US, AND SO I ASK
FOR YOUR SPIRIT TO WOO EACH OF US
TO GIVE US THE DESIRE, AS YOU DID THE MAGI, TO FIND YOU,
TO SEE YOUR FACE,
AND TO WORSHIP YOU.
IF IT PLEASES YOU, DEAR LORD,
MAY WE EXPERIENCE JUST A TASTE OF WHAT THE MAGI EXPERIENCED
OF KNOWING YOUR WORD LED THEM ARIGHT
AND REJOICING WITH EXCEEDING GREAT JOY!
THINK ABOUT THE MAGI AS YOU READ THIS QUOTE FROM WALTER WANGERIN:
Faith is work.
It is a struggle.
You must struggle
with all your heart.
And on the way God
will ambush you.
Oh, how long the Magi journeyed to seek the one born King of the Jews.
It was hard work — but then, when they drew near to Bethlehem,
they were indeed astonished, amazed and ambushed!
They saw the star reappear.
They rejoiced with exceeding great joy!
They knew: it is true!
I’ve shown the following clip of T. S. Elliot reading his poem, Journey of the Magi before,
and I will, if God gives me life, keep showing it at Advent, for it is so rich.
Watch, listen, let it sink in, and share your contemplations.
We are beginning our journey of seeking His presence.
1. What stood out to you from the comparison to Martha — and why?
2. What stood out to you from the Journey of the Magi and why?
BIBLE STUDY: MONDAY-WEDNESDAY
There is always a danger with familiar passages to glaze over, but honestly, I saw new things that are helping me to seek Him. And I’m so praying that His Spirit will do the same for you. So read slowly, with fresh eyes, to discover some of the ways God wooed the Magi and ways they responded that kept them in His presence. It is a clear picture of what Larry Crabbe called “dependent responsibility.”
Perhaps these three responses of the Magi will help you experience His presence:
- WORD (It was the Word that led them to the Savior — may we stay in His Word each day)
- WAY (When given a choice, they chose the right way — not to go back to Herod, but a different way. May we be so sensitive to His Spirit throughout the day that we keep avoiding the wrong way and go God’s way.)
- WORSHIP (Their hearts responded with worship when they saw the star, the baby. May we find ways and quiet moments to worship: using music, poetry, and where we go in our minds.)
3. As an overview, read Matthew 2:1-12 and find ways God wooed them and ways they responded so as to stay in His presence. (See if you can find the Word, the Way, and the Worship.)
4. Read Matthew 2:1-2.
A. How did God woo the Magi to seek the one born to be king of the Jews? (vs. 1-2)
B. What are some ways God wooed you to Himself, both initially, and is continuing to woo you now?
5. Read Matthew 2:3-6
A. The “Good News” doesn’t seem like good news to everyone. How did Herod feel, and why do you think (what idol might have been protesting?)
B. Why do you think “all Jerusalem” was troubled with him? (In the paid sermon, Keller gives detail into the fact that he was a maniacal monster.)
C. With whom did Herod consult? What might have been his motives, but how do you see God having the upper hand?
D. What prophecy did the chief priests and scribes quote, and what wisdom did this give the Magi?
Clearly, one of the ways we seek His presence is allowing His Word to lead us, as the Magi did. That can only happen if we are not too distracted to contemplate His Word. Read this by Sara Young:
Relax in my healing presence. As you spend time with Me, your thoughts tend to jump ahead to today’s plans and problems. Bring your mind back to me. Let the light of my presence soak into you as you focus your thoughts on Me. Thus I equip you to face whatever the day brings. This sacrifice of time pleases Me and strengthens you. Do not skimp on our time together. Resist the clamor of tasks awaiting to be done. “You have chosen what it better and it will not be taken away from you.”
(Jesus Calling, January 2)
6. How can you stay in His presence this week through His Word? Do you have a plan to defeat the call of your idols?
7. Read Matthew 2:7-12
A. What lie did Herod tell the Magi and how did God correct that lie?
B. Discerning God’s voice amongst the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil means taking thoughts captive to Him. The lies will tell you to go one way, but God will tell you to go “another way.” Right now, I’d like you to ask Him to help you discern His voice by asking:
1) Lord — what is important for me to do this Advent and what is not? (Be still and listen.)
2) Lord — I know my idols will fight what is best for me, lying to me, telling me to run to them because I cannot trust You. Help me trust You, hear you, and by faith go in the way You would lead me. What lies are my idols telling me that could lead me into danger?
8. Read Matthew 2:10-11
A. How did the Magi feel when the star re-appeared and why?
B. If you have a recent time when God “amazed, ambushed you,” we’d love to hear it!
C. What did the Magi did when they saw the child? (Find two things)
D. What part does worship play in experiencing His presence? How might you bring worship into more of your life this Advent?
E. Do you think giving to the poor (as the Magi did with this family who was poor in worldly wealth) can play a part in experiencing His presence? (Consider also Matthew 25:35-40)
F. What one thing might you do to bless the poor, the lonely, the prisoner, the least of these this Advent?
G. Is there a poem, a hymn, a carol you might go to in your mind this week, replacing any worry or complaining?
THURSDAY – FRIDAY SERMON FROM KELLER
FREE SERMON ON THE MAGI: LINK
Many of Keller’s Christmas messages are geared toward the non-Christian, as is this, but I find it to be a great blessing to my faith and to my ability to relate to non-Christians.
9. What notes to you have on the above?
OPTIONAL PAID SERMON ON THE MAGI: LINK
This is an important message, but still it is optional. Keller talks about how though Christ brings peace, He also brings a “fight.” Our idols will fight us — where as before there was no fight. People will persecute us if we are living authentically. In the end, we will have peace, but in this world, we will feel discord — as the Magi did, as Joseph and Mary did, and certainly, as Christ did. I thought of you who are married to unbelievers or who had unbelieving husbands leave you — so much pain — you could perhaps have had a temporary peace by relinquishing Christ. But oh — what you would give up. Part of experiencing His presence is a fight — saying no to our very loud idols, and doing what is right, no matter the cost. If you can listen, do! (There was one part of the sermon that confused me — I’m not quite sure how Rachael’s death led to life for her — unless Keller meant simply the life of Benjamin. So I’m eager for your thoughts.)
10. What notes do you have on the above?
11. What is your take-a-way and why?
12. Did you sense His presence this week? If so, share!