Only Jesus Opens Blinded Eyes

I’ve been reading Charles C. Ryrie’s Basic Theology over the last year with my fellow McLean Bible Church Residents (second year Future Leaders). We meet monthly to discuss different theological topics and gain a solid understanding of where MBC stands doctrinally. I really appreciate that I have the opportunity to learn and grow in my understanding of Scripture – and it’s part of my job!

As this year has progressed, I’ve found myself always eager to dive into the next section of Ryrie’s book. I don’t always agree with him, but I’ve enjoyed skimming the surface of a lot of doctrinal topics this year and it’s built great anticipation in my heart for the coming three years I’ll spend in seminary.

Continue reading

Character Close Up: Abraham, a man of great faith

You should check out Romans Chapter 4 – it’s amazing. Paul discusses salvation and uses Abraham as an example of justification by faith, not works. After a long, hard day on Capitol Hill yesterday, the verses in Rom. 4 were like oxygen to my lungs. Reading Scripture is the best way to do what Hebrews 12:12-13 says – “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (referenced also in this post). It changes and renews me. Totally amazing.

Abram (it’s later that he becomes “Abraham” and/or “Father Abraham,” as you may know him), is first referenced in Genesis 11:26. He’s at the tail end of a long genealogy of the descendants of Shem (one of Noah’s three sons – read Genesis, it’s fascinating!)… I love how with Abram, the genealogy continues, but the story becomes much more important. Scripture begins by detailing his life and his circumstances. He’s married to Sarai (Gen. 11:29), who is barren (11:30), and he lived in Ur but moved to Haran with his family (11:31). His story can be found in Genesis 11-25. To give you a bit of perspective – there are only three chapters in the Bible to describe and detail creation and the fall, while fourteen chapters are given to discussing Abraham and his life!

There is no indication that Abram knew God until chapter 12, which is titled in my Bible, “The Call of Abram.”

But God gives him a huge directive with a tremendous promise (12:1-3):

“‘Now,’ the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'”

And Abram BELIEVES AND OBEYS! Verse 4 says “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.

It’s this kind of faith that sets Abram apart as a hero of our faith. Hebrews 11:1 says that “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

And this kind of faith isn’t seen just once in his life, but many times. God promises him a son and descendants that would be as numerous as the stars (15:5), and Abram believes! This faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (15:6) even before Christ came! There’s too much to Abraham’s story to tell it all here – but he believes God time and time again – even when the command of the Lord will hurt him or those that he loves (submitting to circumcision in Gen. 17 at the age of 99, offering Issac as a sacrifice in Gen. 22, etc.). He’s not always perfect – he definitely fails to trust God at times and gives away his wife twice when he’s scared of kings killing him so they can have her (Gen. 12, 20).

Despite his failings, God gave him a huge amount of faith. I want to have faith like Abraham – enough to simply hear God and obey, with no hesitation or delay, no weighing of pros and cons. Hebrews 11:8-10 highlights the incredible faith that he had, saying, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country […] for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Thus continues the themes of waiting, faith, and patience. Abraham’s life shows that God never fails us. His promises are true. Hebrews 12 clearly shows that we’re to run our races as Abraham and other men and women of faith ran – always trusting and obeying the voice of God. It’s this kind of faith that God blesses – not our works. Abraham was blessed because of his faith, not his circumcision. Look at this:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:18-25, emphasis added).

and all I could say and can say to that is WOW.

Preview – Character Close Up: Abraham

I’m falling behind on posting daily, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking! Up first thing tomorrow morning will be a look at Abraham.

Cool thing about this guy? He’s the one we can look to for confirmation of the idea that salvation is for the world (not just the Jews) and is by grace alone, not by works lest men should boast (Eph. 2:8-9)!

Until tomorrow I’ll leave you with this thought – if it’s the law that saves us, then all of God’s promises are void (Romans 4).

Character Close Up: David

I’ve felt a little lost for about exactly a week now. Sometimes things happen in life that remind us that life is just that – life. It has ups and downs, people are born and people die, some answers to prayer we understand and others we really don’t. It’s like Ecclesiastes 3 says – there is a purpose for everything under heaven. I think recently I’ve felt very overwhelmed at how much I don’t understand and I find myself longing to know God more – to truly understand His heart and His purposes.

With that intent in mind, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Psalms again. There’s literally nothing better for my heart than to hear David crying out for answers and salvation just as I am. So many times he didn’t understand his situation either… but the key to David was his heart (and he’s not called a “man after God’s own heart” without good reason). His heart is so transparent and he doesn’t just follow God – he pursues Him. As I read what he wrote in the Psalms I almost feel like some days he’s been reading my journal, completely understands all that I’m feeling, and could be one of my closest friends. Even when he’s struggling to make sense of his circumstances, David always remembers three very important things: 1.) he is humbled by his own depravity and the seriousness of his sin (and he repents), 2.) he’s overwelmed by the magnitude of God, His purposes, and His love, and 3.) is totally confident that he, as a child of God and his righteousness through Him, can lay claim to a rich inheritance and amazing promises. Seems like his focus always finds its way back to these three points.

And well it should, because David sinned greatly and is one of my favorite examples in Scripture of the extreme redemption offered in Christ. His story is crazy – he kills a giant that every one is terrified of with just a sling and a pocket full of rocks and then he’s anointed the future king of Israel while he’s still just a shepherd boy. God’s hand on him and purposes for his life are clear from a very young age, yet when he finally has everything God has promised him, he seemingly sets himself up to throw it all away. He covets and lusts after another man’s wife, sleeps with her and gets her pregnant, and then has the man killed so he can marry the beautiful girl and cover everything up. Thankfully, God doesn’t leave him there.

When confronted by the prophet Nathan with his sin, David’s immediate response was “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13) and he repents and worships even as he is punished (2 Samuel 12:16-23).

David’s incredible heart is chronicled throughout 1 and 2 Samuel and the Psalms. I love it all. He’s a humble worshipper, always caught up in the beauty of God. He’s real and broken, always asking questions and demanding answers, but always remembering who it is that sustains him.  There’s too much to write about him here… I could go on and on.  Tonight I’m thankful that he consistently remembered that the purposes of God are bigger than anything he could see, imagine, or understand. I’m meditating on the following this evening:

Psalm 86:11-13

“Teach me your way, O Lord; that I may walk in your truth;

unite my heart to fear your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,

and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me;

you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.”

and Psalm 91:1-2, 14-16

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

When he calls to me, I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

LOVE these verses so very much. They remind me that it’s not about understanding my situation, my circumstance, or my pain… life is about understanding the faithfulness and the promises of the God who loves me and is about learning to be faithful to him. David’s story, like my own, is one of faithfulness and faithlessness and unfaithfulness. Thankfully, God redeemed me, just as He did David. It’s something we need to be meditating on always.

Women and the Church, Part II

Excerpts from “The Woman of Valor” by Josh Harris (all emphasis mine):

“Women when you read this passage [Proverbs 31], you need to read it with humility and with faith. Humility in understanding that it’s not all about you and that He is already aware of your deficiencies. And read it with faith, believing that God has good for you in His Word. And there’s joy and blessing that comes as you study His Word. The question I encourage you to ask when you study this passage is ‘What does God want to accomplish through this passage in me?'”

“Proverbs 31 is not a demanding description of every characteristic you should perfectly embody. No, it is a joyful celebration of womanly excellence. Resourcefulness and skill.”

“Proverbs 31 is not a list of all the household chores a woman has to do. It’s a description of what wisdom in motion looks like in the life of a Godly woman… This is what knowing and loving God unleashes in the life of a woman: diligence, service, creativity, boldness, and influence.”

“This woman exemplifies competent strength and these are qualities that every woman, married or single can seek to cultivate… There’s nothing wilting in this description. This is a strong woman. We see that womanhood, according to God’s word, can and should be strong, even valiant. This word valiant means courageous and determined and you sense that as you look at her life – she is throwing herself into different activities.”

Four Characteristics of a Godly Woman:

1. She fears the Lord (Prov. 31:30) – “this is the most vital, essential thing to know about the Godly woman. It’s the key thing that holds up everything else about her – she has placed God at the center point of her life.” She stands in awe of God.

2. She gives her life away (Prov. 31:12, 15, 18, 20) – Proverbs 31 honors a woman who lives an 0thers-centered life. “The point of Godly womanhood is not about a list of activities… it’s all about your heart before God and your motivation for doing them.”

3. She is capable (Prov. 31:13, 14, 26) – She has cultivated skills and has worked to develop these capabilities. This chapter shows the fruit of her faithfulness over the years – this chapter doesn’t show her failures, but definitely occurred over the course of her lifetime.

4. She is influential (Prov. 31:28) – Proverbs 31 shows us a woman who has incredible power – she exerts an amazing influence on the world around her.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

So, the take away?

Well – firstly, be encouraged – God made women with purpose, something I have to sometimes continuously keep in mind. It’s easy to become discouraged, disillusioned, and angry because of the verses we find regarding women in Scripture. But actually, we have a very vital role to play (despite the confusion regarding what that actually looks like in the local Church). We’re half of an amazing, God-ordained partnership – necessary and irreplaceable in the covenant relationship of marriage that God has ordained.

Genesis 2:20-24: “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,

‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.’

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

(and that point will be an entirely different post at some point because I have a remarkable book on the topic of what it means to be a “helper” or “helpmeet” based on the Hebrew word)

Secondly, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” These verses are FOR us… for our sanctification and maturity in Christ. They’re not to constrain us – they’re to bring us joy.

Our job is to do what Josh Harris suggests above – ask ‘What does God want to accomplish through this passage in me?’ Beg the Holy Spirit to make passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-5, Titus 2:3-6, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 clear to you. I know that’s what I’m doing… I can’t even begin to make complete sense of the combination above on my own, so today I’m trusting that God’s sovereignty will prevail and that He will make His will and purposes for the above Scripture clear to me. As long as I’m striving to walk in humility and seek truth in Scripture, I’m on the right path.

Character Close Up: Mary, the mother of Jesus

Happy New Year! It’s a new year and I haven’t blogged in far too long, so I have a lot of writing to catch up on. Although I haven’t done the customary “New Year’s post” yet, I want to jump right into a series of posts I’ve been thinking of writing on different people seen in Scripture who embody character traits I want to develop in my own life this year. I think it’s a good way to set a path for spiritual growth this year and I hope that the Lord will cultivate the strength of character in me that I see in these men and women of the Bible.

This holiday season I found myself thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, a lot. Maybe it’s because Dad always reads Luke 2 before we open our gifts on Christmas morning. Or maybe it’s because every time I encounter her in Scripture, I see a young woman with inexplicable faith in the face of impossibility and unfailing trust in the word of the Lord. She’s obviously favored by the Lord and entrusted with a precious gift – the Savior of all mankind – to carry, give birth to, and raise in the ways of the Lord. And she doesn’t balk. She doesn’t run from change. She isn’t embittered by the responsibility given her or the sacrifice required. She does question (thankfully, because if I had to stop questioning everything, I’d probably fail miserably) – but at the word of the angel, she’s willing to lay down her plans, dreams, reputation, and even her relationship with Joseph to be obedient. She was always willing to follow (she understands spiritual leadership) – she left her home and followed Joseph to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-5), then Egypt (Matthew 2:13), and then to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23).

Just thinking about that gives me chills. I honestly can’t imagine being called to do such a thing. At the same time, we’re each called to follow the Holy Spirit, and while we won’t be asked to raise the King, it’s likely that we’ll each, at some point in our lives, be asked to the do impossible (at least in the natural realm). And when asked, I want to respond as Mary did. As believers we’re all called to do exactly as she did – Jesus himself said so in Matthew 10:37-39 –

“37 If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (emphasis mine).

Two of my favorite verses about Mary are found in Luke.

Luke 1:38 “Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

Luke 2:19 “but Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Thankfully, Mary wasn’t perfect. She questioned Gabriel (Luke 1:34), was upset with Jesus when he wandered off as a child (Luke 2:48), demanded the attention of Jesus while he was busy ministering (Luke 8:19), asked Jesus to perform a miracle just because a wedding ran out of wine (John 2:3), and probably was a typical woman in many ways. Despite this, her life is an incredible example of one lived in obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Three things I think I can learn from Mary are 1.) to be available to be used by God (and to hold everything in life – even my life itself – with open hands by remaining willing to give up everything at any time), 2.) to be responsive and obedient to the Holy Spirit, and 3.) to firmly hold onto God’s promises.

Guidance Needed?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where everyone in your life (including those you trust absolutely, those with whom you have very little true relationship, and all the people who fall in the middle) thinks they alone have the answer and that they know, without a doubt, the path you should take? What serves to make life even MORE complicated (as if it needed any help at all) is that each of these dear advice-givers, who usually do have your best interests in mind, tends to offer a wide variety of different advice and admonitions. Such guidance many times falls to extremes, or you get a few suggestions for all the different options involved, which leaves you once again, where you began.

Not all of this is unsolicited advice, either. I generally seek it out and ask for it… I tend to desperately need to bounce ideas and thoughts off of people and process circumstances out loud.  The results though, of such a practice, can be one of the most frustrating things ever, especially if you’re honestly seeking guidance and wisdom. I’m definitely pretty hard-headed and stubborn… but I like to think that I at least try to be teachable and try to seek out opportunities to be taught. I’m constantly praying that if I’m moving in a direction that isn’t God’s will that He’ll stop me, and that if I’m seeking anything that isn’t in His plan, that He’ll change my heart. In fact, I don’t ask, I beg.

The problem comes when  no one seems to quite understand… I guess I’m learning that each person brings their own biases into a conversation and such lenses provide the filter through which each individual sees the world. No one can truly understand my heart or my life or my situation in the same way I can, which thankfully forces me to turn to the only One who really can. I’m finding more and more that the best perspective is the heavenly one, one that focuses on others, the kingdom, and eternity… and not on me or what’s best for me.

I’m learning that even though I truly crave to communicate and to be known and to be taught, the best teacher is the Holy Spirit Himself. Now, please don’t misunderstand – I am not at all negating the value of the wisdom of those around us… I feel that mentorship by godly men and women is definitely one of the most amazing experiences ever and is so vital to our maturity in the faith. I’m merely saying that at some points in life it is necessary to trust your heart and the promises of God and move and live in faith, according to Scripture, rather than in what people tell you based on the way they perceive a situation. The advice that the world has to offer is false, has no merit, and exists in a sphere that has no idea of the true meanings of faith, hope, and love.

So, when seeking wisdom and guidance, I’m learning I have to be selective with where I turn. And I’ve found the best place to run is to God. Scripture is so full of promises regarding wisdom and understanding… and of God’s promise to let us hear from Him. Here are a few I’m holding on to:

1 Kings 4:29-31: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations.”

Job 12:13: “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.”

and Job 28:12-28:

But where shall wisdom be found?

And where is the place of understanding?

13 Man does not know its worth,

and it is not found in the land of the living.

14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’

and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’

15 It cannot be bought for gold,

and silver cannot be weighed as its price.

16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,

in precious onyx or sapphire.

17 Gold and glass cannot equal it,

nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.

18 No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal;

the price of wisdom is above, pearls.

19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,

nor can it be valued in pure gold.

20 “From where, then, does wisdom come?

And where is the place of understanding?

21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living

and concealed from the birds of the air.

22 Abaddon and Death say,

‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’

23 “God understands the way to it,

and he knows its place.

24 For he looks to the ends of the earth

and sees everything under the heavens.

25 When he gave to the wind its weight

and apportioned the waters by measure,

26 when he made a decree for the rain

and a way for the lightning of the thunder,

27 then he saw it and declared it;

he established it, and searched it out.

28 And he said to man,

‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,

and to turn away from evil is understanding.’ ”

Wisdom is so important that Proverbs tells us many times to seek it above all other things. I find myself praying Colossians 1:9-11 over myself daily (and changing it up a bit to make it personal):

“Lord, I ask that you will fill me with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that I can walk in a manner worthy of You, fully pleasing to You, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in my knowledge of You. Strengthen me with all power, according to Your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.”

These verses all point in the right direction – to the true source of all wisdom and seem to encapsulate all that I need – knowledge of His will, wisdom and understanding, fruit, strength, endurance, and patience.

joy in contentment

We’re working our way through Philippians in small group right now. It’s such a beautiful book. It’s not called the “book of joy” for no reason. Paul’s writing from prison, yet the book overflows with joy, contentment, and praise.

I’m jumping ahead of my small group by several weeks right now, but God’s really speaking to me today about finding contentment in Him alone. It’s an interesting thing to have the Lord say to you, “Yes, I did promise you that… but the fulfillment of My promise isn’t what you should be looking for. Look for Me, seek Me, desire ME first. And the promise will then be released.”

[Philippians 4:4,6-7,11-13

4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.]

It’s true. Regardless of any promise the Lord ever makes me, it is He that is the greatest promise and the best gift, and thus should always be my first and greatest desire. It reminded me a lot of something God said to me two years ago – that restoration can never come in the form of a person… restoration is something God does in our hearts.

In the same way – the promise may come in the form of a person, thing, situation, etc… but ultimately, God Himself is the promise. God makes lots of promises and He has never failed to keep even one. Think of Abraham and Sarah and the promise of Isaac. Even at the moment in which it seemed to Abraham that he was about to lose his long-awaited son who was promised by God, he chose to trust… knowing that God had promised him a heritage in Isaac, and understanding that God was sovereign, had a magnificent plan, and would never break His word. This the faith spoken of in Hebrews 11 – faith that believes even when it doesn’t see or understand the plan, and it was this kind faith that landed Abraham a mention in what is referred to as the faith hall of fame: Hebrews 11:8.

All throughout Scripture God reassures us of His trustworthiness. I love Habakkuk 2:3 – “But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.”

Hold on to God’s promises. They’re true. But hold tightly to Him first. His promises come about in His perfect plan. They are never delayed. We have to seek and find the balance between asking God to “rouse Himself” on our behalf like David does in Psalms, reminding Him of His commitment to us, praying our our desires, and simply choosing to rest, trust, and find contentment in Him alone.

Does God’s Intent Equal His Will

Recently I’ve been thinking and studying a lot about the will of God. I’ve been seeking to understand how we know it, how we follow it, and whether or not it changes (i.e. God himself never changes, but does His will?).

I want to know whether our prayers change Him or change us, and if both happen, why. I see in Scripture that prayers seemingly change both God and man, but are the prayers placed in us by God first?

Essentially, I guess I want to understand all of the secrets of God and life, in a nutshell.

Today, while reading in Jeremiah 18, I ran across verses 1-11 and it appears here that our repentance or disobedience play a large part in the incongruities between God’s intent and His will.

For example – verses 9-10 – “And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do it.”

Very interesting, especially in light of the fact that it appears through Scripture that God molds and shapes the hearts of men (Romans 9). So why would God declare something that was not to be? And does he ‘relent’ on His ‘intent’ or does He passionately pursue His own will?

Ahhh… Headache. Your thoughts?