Thursday, April 27, 2006

Between Two Lines

[My mother] taught me to live my life between two lines of "Amazing Grace." The first line: "'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far." The second line: "And grace will lead me home." ...believing the first line fortifies faith in the second line; and believing the second line empowers radical obedience to Jesus.
--John Piper, Future Grace

I've had the book Future Grace for a while; I only got about halfway through it four years ago. But now, in a totally different season of life, I feel compelled to try again. And the "grace awakening" I have experienced since the last time I picked it up is making everything fresh and astounding.

John Piper proposes that for too long, the church has set forth "gratitude" as "the driving force in authentic Christian living." While in reality, the Bible teaches that although gratitude is crucial--indeed, how could we be anything but grateful for what God has done for us?--it cannot be this "driving force." It does not have the power. Instead, "faith in future grace" is what can and must propel us to follow Christ wholeheartedly and faithfully.

This seems nearly revolutionary to me. Gratitude has certainly been at the heart of my thinking. And yet, as I ponder, it seems that God is fleshing out more deeply one of the "life themes" He has placed on my heart over the last year. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've heard me talk about "forget not." I have been thoroughly convicted of the desperate need for remembering God's past faithfulness--in my own life and as recorded in His Word.

But now I am beginning to realize that this theme God has stirred up in me is really another way of saying, "live between the two lines of 'Amazing Grace.'" It is remembering what God has done so that you can have a bolstered faith in what God will do. It is seeing how God has kept His promises so that you can believe that He will continue to keep His promises!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The One With All The Plants

Steve and I are gardening. Well, let me rephrase that. Steve is gardening. I am supervising ;)

How are we gardening, you ask? Don't we have a second-story apartment? Yes. We have bought lots of cheap plastic pots from Wal-Mart. We are determined to have fresh vegetables this summer, yard or no yard. So if you drive into our apartment complex, our place is now easy to spot: it's the one with all the plants.

Currently we are growing two kinds of onions, two kinds of spinach, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, garlic, rhubarb, and bell peppers. Unfortunately we will not be able to harvest the rhubarb until next summer at the earliest--maybe even summer 2008. So we will have to get some from Steve's parents' monster rhubarb plant when we go home. Our little plant is just starting to peek up though!

My contribution to the garden is a hanging plant that's supposed to produce strawberries and a cute pink gerbera daisy plant. (I am no Sugarfused when it comes to floral photography, but the flowers are pretty.)

Steve, ever the scientist, had to buy both Miracle-Gro potting soil and regular potting soil, just to see if it really does make a difference. And you know what? It does. Here are the tomatoes with regular soil:

And here are the tomatoes with Miracle-Gro:

Friday, April 21, 2006


Out of all the things we could spend time doing, says A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy, seeing and loving our Creator makes us seem "less in [our] own sight." It fills us with reverence and awe, with fear of the LORD, with humility, and with love for our brothers and sisters. We decrease, and He increases. I don't know about you, but I know that's what I need.

So after an introduction and a warning, we begin to study the attributes of God--defined by Tozer as "whatever God has in any way revealed as being true of Himself." Before delving into familiar descriptions like "love," "justice," "infinity" or "omnipotence," Tozer offers one more preface of sorts: God is indivisible.

He explains that humans are "the sum of [their] parts." Think of how you would describe your own character, or the character of someone you know well. Isn't character, as Tozer says, "the sum of the traits that compose it"? People have varying degrees of several character traits--and in certain situations or in certain stages of life, they may display more or less of each trait. At times I may be quite selfless and generous; at other times I might be a whole lot more grudging and unwilling to give. At times, when I interact with someone, kindness and grace triumph over anger; but when I interact with someone else (or, when I interact with the very same person at another time!) anger dominates over kindness. My character is unstable. It varies.

Not so with God, Tozer explains:

[God's] substance is indivisible. He has no parts but is single in His unitary being. ...The harmony of His being is the result not of a perfect balance of parts but of the absence of parts. Between His attributes no contradiction can exist. He need not suspend one to exercise another, for in Him all His attributes are one. All of God does all that God does; He does not divide Himself to perform a work, but works in the total unity of His being.
Go ahead and read that one more time if you need to. I can only read Tozer about half as fast as I read most other books, and then I have to stop and process :)

The beauty of the character of God is that it is uniform. The concepts we use to describe Him are inseparable from one another; He does not act sometimes with more of one quality and other times with more of a different quality. Everything He does is 100 percent love, 100 percent holiness, 100 percent sovereignty. It's kind of like the posts I wrote a couple of weeks ago about justice and mercy. He isn't sometimes more just and other times more merciful; everything He does is somehow, wonderfully, at the same time both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. It's been that way from the beginning.

Tozer concludes:

The divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures. Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being Himself. And so with the other attributes."
What a beautiful comfort and assurance! Though my love may wax and wane; though I may at times be very loving and at other times quite unloving, God's love is not this way because love is not something God possesses. Love is who He is. I am thankful that in the midst of an ever-changing world, God is a constant Rock. I never need worry about which "part" of His character I will face, because in His unity and perfection He will never deal with me in a way that's inconsistent with any aspect of who He is.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I'm pondering this statement today:

"No battle has ever been won by retreating!"

What are the implications of this?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Observations from a Weekend at Home

  • Pizza Oven in West Unity, Ohio, makes the world's best pizza subs. I defy anyone to find a better one.
  • The only kind of ham to get for your Easter dinner is a Honeybaked Ham.
  • If Steve and I had The History Channel, we would watch too much TV.
  • My dad makes the best homemade ice cream. Lemon is one of his specialty flavors. I defy anyone to find a better lemon ice cream.
  • Purple hyacinths are beautiful, but smell slightly odd.
  • Every church should have someone sing Nichole Nordeman's "Why" on Good Friday.
  • If your partner in a card game brags excessively about how unbeatable the two of you are, you will get trounced in the next game.
  • There's nothing like the comfort level you enjoy with old friends.
  • Easter weekend is not conducive to eating healthy/losing weight.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

He Is Risen!

Happy Easter!

Eric Schumacher at An Infant in a Cradle has written lyrics for a beautiful Easter hymn. Click the link at the bottom to hear the tune and sing along. Enjoy!

He Is Risen!

O trumpet sound a vict’ry call!
And tongues proclaim good news for all:
He is risen! He is risen!
O! Let a thousand hymns break forth,
Proclaiming our Redeemer’s worth!
Give Him glory! Give Him glory!
He is risen! He is risen!

He who was slain on our behalf,
Suff’ring beneath His Father’s wrath:
He is risen! He is risen!
He who was hung upon the tree,
Rose from the tomb in victory!
Give Him glory! Give Him glory!
He is risen! He is risen!

O Christian, are you filled with gloom?
Then look inside the empty tomb!
He is risen! He is risen!
Here there is hope for ev’ry fear!
Here there is joy for ev’ry tear!
Give Him glory! Give Him glory!
He is risen! He is risen!

O! Let the nations sing the fame
Of Christ the Lamb who once was slain!
He is risen! He is risen!
Now we await the coming day,
When all those raised in Christ will say:
Give Him glory! Give Him glory!
He is risen! He is risen!

Text: © Eric Schu­mach­er. Tune: "Lasst Uns Er­freu­en" (click to listen)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Joy in All the Cross Achieved for Us

"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed."
Isaiah 53:5

John Piper comments on the beauty of the cross and all that it achieved for us. Meditate on these glorious truths this Good Friday!

"There's a great hymn that says, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." The blood means that the Lamb has been slain in my place, so I don't have to be slain. The righteousness means that a perfection has been provided for me, so I have a standing before God in perfect righteousness.

"Our fight is fundamentally to appropriate all that the Cross has already achieved for us: a total acceptance with God, a total righteousness, a total forgiveness, a total deliverance from wrath, a total escape from hell, a total removal of guilt, a total inheritance of everything good that we ever hoped for--especially fellowship with God. The Cross bought all of that. It's so central, so precious. We should sing about it every day."

(Full article is here. All emphases are mine.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Cost of the Celebration

I've been pondering a remark Amanda Drury made earlier this week on the practice of those who attend church twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. She noted that at her church, the Easter visitors have also been coming on Palm Sunday:

While these people will attend both Sunday services, they tend to be absent at Maundy Thursday/Good Friday services. This means that they get the triumphal entry and the resurrection, but no cross.

"Is this a problem?" she asked to provoke discussion. YES.

As I've blogged before, the cross was absolutely central to Paul. It wasn't merely one component of His understanding of the faith; it was the core, the Main Thing. An article I read today pointed out that the cross and the resurrection aren't just two points in a sequence of events; the cross takes priority over all other salvation history.
"Paul's emphasis on the cross appears intended to stress that the cross cannot be bypassed on the way to resurrection. Before sharing in the resurrection life and all its fullness, believers must first pass through the shadow of the cross."

So why do so many people come to church on Easter, but find other things to do on Good Friday? And I'm not just talking about "C-and-E"s here, either. How many of us who faithfully attend church every Sunday of the year, and wouldn't think of missing Easter, aren't planning to bother to worship with the Body tomorrow? (I ask myself the same question--over the years, I have certainly not been a faithful participant in Good Friday worship services.)

It's a sign of the times, I think. We want the pleasure without the pain. I'll take the easy way that's going to demand the least from me, thanks. But the reality is this: We can't live unless we first die.
"The cross brings home the full seriousness of sin, declares the powerlessness of fallen humanity to achieve salvation and exposes human delusions of self-righteousness."

Maybe that's why so many of us want to skip Good Friday and celebrate on Sunday morning. We'd rather not deal with the seriousness of sin; in fact, we aren't convinced it's all that serious in the first place. And surely we aren't completely powerless, are we? "In fact, I'm generally a pretty good person, when you get right down to it."

Nobody likes to be told he is weak and helpless. Nobody likes to think about such a "downer" subject as the wrath of God or the way our sin offends His holiness. We'd rather push it out of our minds. In our pride, we would rather believe we're not doing so bad.

God forbid the thought. Our resurrection came at an infinite price. And we could do NOTHING to achieve it. Our freedom from sin is free to us, but was not free to our Father in heaven. How can we celebrate without acknowledging what it cost our Father to invite us to the party?

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14)!

(Quotes from A.E. McGraith, "Theology of the Cross." Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Intervarsity Press.)


I said last week that I would blog through our Sunday school study of A.W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy. I think it will be fruitful for me to go back through and recount what I'm learning--and I pray it will be edifying to you as well! After our introduction two weeks ago, last week's lesson was on the incomprehensibility of God. This fundamental truth colors the way we study all of God's other attributes.

Before studying the character of God, we have to start with a full measure of humility. In essence, we have to understand from the outset that we cannot understand. God is transcendent--wholly other than us, high and lifted up above us--and so any way that He reveals Himself to us is by necessity limited. Our finite minds cannot comprehend Him as He is, so He condescends to relate to us in terms we can better understand. But He is so much more!

We can say, "God is loving" or "God is just"--but in doing so, we sometimes tend to think of Him as "the most loving of all creatures." To think this way is dangerous. God is not merely the highest of all created beings. Though we are made in His image, we reflect only a tiny part of His image. He is not simply the most just of all beings--He IS justice itself.

Tozer explains:
Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.

When Moses was on Mount Sinai, receiving the Law from the LORD, the Israelites wanted to reduce God in this way. They wanted a god they could see and touch and fully understand. So they told Aaron: "Make us a god." We must not do this--we cannot make God in our image!

But don't believe that because you don't bow to a golden calf, you are immune to idolatry, Tozer warns:

Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place.

Avoiding "thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him" starts with understanding that He is above and beyond even our highest thoughts. He is incomprehensible. So what does that mean? Is He unknowable?

NO! The Bible says we can and must know Him--in fact, we will be held responsible for knowing Him and knowing that He alone is God. Psalm 100:3 says it simply: "Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture." God has made Himself known to us through the natural world of creation, through His Word, and through Jesus Christ.

In Christ, God provided a relational, personal way to know Him. To know Jesus Christ is to know the Father. And knowing Him sets us free! He replaces our rebellious hearts of stone and says, "I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD" (Jeremiah 24:7).

Yet the Bible also teaches that in some ways, God is beyond our knowledge. His thoughts and ways are not ours; His are far higher. "Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom" (Psalm 145:3).

If anyone could explain God, you'd think Paul could. But after three complicated and difficult chapters of theology in Romans 9-11, Paul concludes by saying, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34). It's as though he's saying, "I've just explained it all to you--and yet I don't understand it! God is far bigger than I can comprehend!

I love this quote from Charles Spurgeon:
As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God. A God whom we could understand would be no God. If we could grasp him he could not be infinite; if we could understand him, then were he not divine.
It is a paradox. We can (and must!) know God, but we cannot know Him PERFECTLY, FULLY, COMPLETELY. And I am glad! For if I could dissect God and package Him neatly in a box, He would not be God at all. Nichole Nordeman's lyrics are beautiful here:

It is easy to insist
On what is packaged and precise
And dismiss the clear suspicion
That You're bigger than we'd like
It is tempting to regard You as familiar
In so many ways
I know I can't explain You
I would not even try to
And yet it's clear that You are here beside me
I marvel and I wonder
So near and somehow still so far
What makes You who You are?
--"Who You Are" (from the album Wide Eyed)
The bottom line: We have to be humble. Though we can gain much from studying the attributes of God, we can never say, "I have God all figured out." There will always be more and deeper riches of God to explore and discover--even in Heaven!

Seven: Seven

Seven friends I think should do this list of sevens:

I'll go with some of my favorite bloggers who are a bit sporadic/downright delinquent in posting--in hopes that this will inspire them...(though I'm not holding my breath)

  1. Kelly
  2. Maria
  3. Julie
  4. Dottie (*by the time I published this, she updated--but oh well)
  5. Aeron
  6. Stephanie (*also updated after I wrote this--maybe I am influencing a trend!)
  7. Jeff (who certainly won't do this...but it would be fun if he did)

I may now win the award for meme-killing...but I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Den of Robbers

Travis Burkhalter had a great post the other day about the familiar Passion Week story of Jesus clearing the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple. He asks: Who is Robbing Who?

Here's the story as found in the Gospel of Mark:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written:
" 'My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations'?
But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching (Mark 11:15-18).

What is Jesus really upset about here? Is it that the merchants are cheating the Israelites--"robbing" them as they buy animals to sacrifice? To understand this better, Travis studied some OT passages about the Temple. He writes:

While looking at the inauguration prayer and speech of Solomon in I Kings, I noticed a curious reoccurrence. The Temple was undoubtedly to be a place of prayer...go back and look at this if you have time...the word prayer is found over at least 9 times. And interestingly and most relevant, the Temple was to be a house of prayer for not only the Israelites, but also the Gentiles (check out I Kings 8:41-43). If you can see the picture above, you will notice that the Temple had a place of prayer for the was called the court of the Gentiles and is on the outer edge. Even more relevant is the fact that this is where Jesus walked in and saw the "money changers"...that is, in the court of the Gentiles...

At the core of this story are Jesus' words "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations"--quoting Isaiah 56:7. In Isaiah 56, God speaks of bringing people from all nations to Himself. He will not exclude those outside the nation of Israel from His Kingdom; He will welcome all foreigners who seek to worship Him.

As the study note in my Bible puts it, "Isaiah 56:7 assured godly non-Jews that they would be allowed to worship God in the temple. By allowing the court of the Gentiles to become a noisy, smelly marketplace, the Jewish religious leaders were interfering with God's provision."

Travis summarizes:

1) The court of the Gentiles was to be a place of prayer for the Gentiles
2) The court of Gentiles was now a place of business
3) The One being robbed in this passage is God
4) The ones robbing God of His due worship were those allowing this "business" to occur and the ones performing business.

In other words, Jesus wasn't just upset because there were "shady business deals" going on in the Temple (though there could have been). He was angry because the businessmen and the religious leaders who allowed it were robbing God of the worship and prayer due Him--and they were robbing the Gentiles of the opportunity to reverently worship the one true God.

I'll leave you with Travis's closing questions:

"So, how do you 'rob' God of worship? What 'tables' would Jesus overturn in your life?"

Seven: Six

Seven activities I enjoy doing:
  1. reading
  2. riding roller coasters (but only at Cedar Point)
  3. cuddling
  4. singing
  5. journalizing (that one goes out to my Canadian friends :)
  6. eating
  7. talking one-on-one with a close friend

Incline, Open, Unite and Satisfy

I was inspired this morning by a pattern of prayer John Piper offers: IOUS. He describes this in a recent article from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (the entire article is saturated with wonderful truth--it's a great summary of John Piper and Desiring God Ministries). Maybe you'll take a moment to pray with me:
Incline my heart to Your testimonies - Psalm 119:36
"I plead, 'Lord, don't let me not want to pick up the Bible.' "

Open the eyes of my heart to see wondrous things in the Word - Psalm 119:18
"Make Your truth glorious and beautiful and attractive and satisfying and delighting."

Unite my heart to fear Your Name - Psalm 86:11
"My heart is fragmented and going every which way...I'm worried about [fill in the blank]...So I ask God to get my heart together to have a reverential demeanor toward Him."

Satisfy me with Your lovingkindness - Psalm 90:14
"Make my heart so content in You that [fill in the blank] is not attractive... I want an attraction to You to dominate my life."
Piper also adds one more "S": Spread. He explains, "The mission statement of our church is, 'We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.' "

One more quote I love is Piper's comment on 2 Chronicles 16:9:

"For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him" (2 Chronicles 16:9, ESV).

"I love to think of prayer as giving God an occasion to show off how broad His shoulders are."

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Seven: Five

Seven things I hate:

  1. crying when I don't even know why I'm crying
  2. getting to the end of the day and realizing I've wasted a lot of time
  3. pride
  4. getting up early
  5. feeling lonely
  6. an empty mailbox/credit card offers
  7. mold

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Seven: Four

Seven places I would like to visit before I die:

  1. Israel/Bible lands
  2. Italy
  3. China
  4. Africa
  5. Indonesia (visit my Compassion child)
  6. most of the rest of Europe
  7. Australia

The Best Source of Encouragement

Bob Kauflin has another grace-filled, cross-centered post up at Worship Matters. He writes:
Here's what happens to me. I'm doing well for a season. Quiet times are going great, I'm experiencing grace in resisting temptations, and seeing some fruit in my ministry. Then something, I'm not always sure what, takes place that shakes my "firm" footing. I wake up tired. My wife points out some sin in my life. Counsel I've given goes unheeded. I have a "hard" day. Whatever the reason, my zeal for God wanes. I'm not as motivated to pursue the things of God, and my spiritual life could be labeled as "borderline apathetic."

Sound familiar? Kauflin shares his experiences with attempting to get out of the slump, then gets to the real remedy here.

Don't just mentally assent to this truth--let it permeate your soul.

Is the Resurrection of Jesus Credible?

The Life Training Institute blog has a fantastic post today that poses the questions: "Are New Testament accounts of the resurrection reliable? Is the basic story line credible?" Here's a taste:

The NT shines better than any other document of antiquity. For example, the earliest biographical accounts of Alexander the Great were written nearly 400 years after his death, yet historians consider them generally reliable. The gospels, meanwhile, were written during the lifetime of the original eyewitnesses, long before there was time enough for legends to appear. In short, it would not have been easy to invent or distort the historical events of Christ's life when hostile (and living) eyewitnesses could easily refute the story. These eyewitnesses would not have allowed the disciples to lie or invent careless legends.

The disciples, meanwhile, proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus in the very city--Jerusalem--where He was crucified. Again, to disprove the disciples' claim, all the Jews and Romans had to do was produce the body of Jesus. After all, they knew exactly where he was buried. They couldn't do it. Contrast the compelling evidence of the empty tomb with legendary myths--like reported sightings of Elvis or JFK--which always transpire in a far-away place with virtually no reliable sources to verify the claims.

Check out the full post here.

Seven: Three

Seven things I say most often:

  1. Oh my word!
  2. Wow. (usually either as in "wow...I have no words" or "wow...that's very special")
  3. Lord, by Your grace, enable me to...
  4. Lord, please teach me to...
  5. Sad! or Sad day! (picked that one up from my old coworker Natalie)
  6. That's what I wanted...
  7. I love you

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Seven: Two

Seven things I cannot do:

  1. read a document without mentally editing it (at least spotting typos/errors)
  2. run long distances (and by "long distances" I mean a mile or more)
  3. design something from scratch (though I can look at it once designed and see, to an extent, what works/what doesn't)
  4. tell a short version of a story, without details (case in point: see the first three items above, all with explanations, as well as the first paragraph of "Seven: One." why do you care about all those details?!)
  5. listen to music without tapping or wiggling some part of my body to the beat
  6. peel potatoes
  7. play soccer

Friday, April 07, 2006

Seven: One

I don't normally do memes. Not necessarily because I hate them, but because I'm lazy, I guess. Just a few weeks ago, Kat tagged me for an interesting one that I started, and fully intended to post, but never got around to finishing. At any rate, Aaron tagged me for "Sevens" and since I was first on his list, I figured, I should really do it this time. I think I'll follow Liz's cue, though, and break it up into seven brief posts.

Seven things I would like to do before I die:

  1. have children
  2. go back to Hawaii for a big anniversary trip
  3. have a book published--either as the writer, ghostwriter or editor
  4. learn to sew
  5. take a photography class
  6. learn sign language
  7. consistently fear God and not man

What do YOU want to do? Check out this site for some interesting ideas.


Carolyn McCulley posted a quote from Elisabeth Elliot this morning that flabbergasted me. It obviously makes so much sense--yet I'd never thought this way before.

We often talk about waiting on God. When we're unsure what course of action to take, or we want something but aren't yet in possession of it, we wait--wait for guidance, wait for blessing, wait for God to move. Sometimes, I confess, I have the mental image of waiting like I would wait on a friend who's late to meet me. I'm sitting back, checking my watch somewhat impatiently, wondering when in the world this person is ever going to show up.

Elliot, in her book Quest for Love, suggests a different kind of waiting:

"It is on God that we should wait, as a waiter waits--not for but on the customer--alert, watchful, attentive, with no other agenda of his own, ready to do whatever is wanted."

We don't wait FOR God...we wait ON Him. A little preposition makes a big difference. That's something I need to chew on for a while today!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bad News First

I spent much of March blogging about the gospel and what it means to live a cross-centered life. But as I began Tozer's book, I realized something important: If the bad news doesn't come first, the good news is not good. The bad news is that we are all sinners--that all our good deeds, all our attempts to measure up and earn our way to heaven, are like filthy rags. The bad news is that on our own, we stand condemned before a holy God who cannot look upon our disgusting sin. We have betrayed and offended the Creator of the universe; we can do nothing to reconcile ourselves with Him.

Until we understand this, the good news of the gospel means nothing. You cannot appreciate a Savior until you recognize that you need to be saved. You cannot embrace a mediator until you realize that you are hopelessly separated from God.

Tozer puts it this way (emphasis mine):

"All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we are moral beings must do about Him.

"The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems, for he sees at once that these have to do with matters which at the most cannot concern him for very long; but even if the multiple burdens of time may be lifted from him, the one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing than all the woes of the world piled one upon another. That mighty burden is his obligation to God. It includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably. And when the man's laboring conscience tells him that he has done none of these things, but has from childhood been guilty of foul revolt against the Majesty in the heavens, the inner pressure of self-accusation may become too heavy to bear.

"The gospel can lift this destroying burden from the mind, give beauty for ashes, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But unless the weight of the burden is felt the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them."

--A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

The Most Important Thing About You

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

Our Sunday school class at church has started a new study on A.W. Tozer's book The Knowledge of the Holy. The book delves into the character of God, a subject Tozer proposes is crucial to Christian living ("It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate," he says) and grossly misunderstood by most believers: Tozer thinks "the Christian conception of so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity."

Who do you think God is? How would you begin to describe Him? You might rattle off some Sunday school answers, even Biblical ones, but as Tozer poins out, the creeds we profess to believe often don't line up with our real thoughts about God. What we say we believe and what we truly live like we believe are often vastly different.

I'm really excited about this study, and I plan to blog through it as we study the various attributes of God. For now, after reading the first chapter, I'm struck by one thought about the gospel. That's coming up in my next post.


Why is it that Blogger is always LESS functional after "scheduled maintenance"? Or is it just me?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Grace in the Kitchen

A year ago, I was three months from my wedding day, and I was feeling pretty scared. Not of getting married, mind you--I was counting down the days until I would be Steve's wife and had no second thoughts--but of the domestic responsibilities that would go along with being married. Specifically, cooking.

Those who know me well know that cooking has never been one of my major interests or strong points. I never really had a desire or a need to learn--so I was completely overwhelmed at the idea of having to cook for Steve every night. I had no idea where to start when it came to planning a variety of healthy meals, grocery shopping, budgeting for food, etc. My cooking repertoire was pretty limited, and it wasn't all that long ago that I was clueless when it came to even basic things like frying bacon. (I tried to put grease in the pan first--I didn't realize bacon makes plenty of its own grease. Duh.)

Frankly, being in the kitchen did not put me in a very good mood. At the root, it was--what else?--pride. I don't like being in situations where I feel incompetent or unsure of myself. I have an unfortunate tendency toward perfectionism. I don't want people to think I'm stupid when they see I have no idea what I'm doing. (I even hesitated to share the bacon thing above.) On and on it goes. So, I generally avoided cooking whenever possible. Pride kept me from even trying.

Steve was wonderfully encouraging as I voiced my fears; he reassured me that he didn't expect me to be Betty Crocker. He enjoys cooking, so he said we could cook together. Also, thankfully, he's not picky--he'll eat just about anything. But I was still nervous. And come last July, I had no choice but to get in the kitchen and start cooking.

The resulting nine months of marriage have brought nothing less than an astounding outpouring of God's grace in my heart. By and large, He has changed my attitudes about cooking. I can even say that most of the time (though not always), I *gasp* enjoy it. (Excuse me while I spoon another large helping of crow into my mouth.)

Grace is the only way to explain it. I have no choice but to say humbly, "I was wrong about this--God really can, and does, give me what I need to be able to do what I need to do." I now find myself eagerly cutting out and trying new recipes. I experiment with adjusting ingredients (sometimes too much). I've had plenty of flops, but I often find myself actually wanting to bake something. (It helps that my aunt, uncle and grandmother bought us a KitchenAid mixer for our wedding--I love that thing :)

Case in point: last Friday, I made a cheesecake for Steve, complete with pain in the you-know-where homemade raspberry sauce. Cheesecake isn't one of my favorites, but Steve absolutely loves it, and rather than spazzing about how it would turn out, or avoiding the prospect of failure altogether, I gave it a shot. And it turned out wonderfully (not because of me, but because it was a clear, easy-to-follow recipe from my old friend Bethany the way, are any of you IWU bloggers still in touch with her?).

I say all this not to boast in myself. Left to my own efforts and attitudes, I would still be wallowing in resentment and self-pity, pride and fear, hating the responsibility of cooking dinner every night. And I have not "arrived," either as a godly woman OR as a chef--I still have plenty of growing to do! But I am boasting in God, because by His grace, I am serving my husband and thriving in the role God has given me. I don't have to cook begrudgingly, out of duty and full of complaining; I can find joy in blessing Steve and honoring God. This is a change that only He could have produced--and so I praise Him for His grace!

Justice and Mercy at the Cross

God's promise finally came to fruition. His justice demanded payment for the penalty of man's sin; His mercy dictated that He provide a way for man to live. Justice said mankind deserved death and separation from Him. Mercy said we would not get it--God's Son would get it instead, so that we could receive life abundant. It came together in Jesus Christ, perfect man and holy God incarnate:

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

How I praise Him that thanks to His Son, mercy triumphs over judgment for the believer! My hope and my peace rest in the fact that because of the cross, "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Just and Merciful From the Beginning

As I read Randy Alcorn's newest book, Heaven, recently, I discovered another astounding picture of God's justice and God's mercy intertwined. I had never considered this, but look at God's words in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned and brought the knowledge of evil into the world:

"And the LORD God said, 'The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever'" (Genesis 3:22).

This is just. The first man and woman have disobeyed God's command, and they must be punished. Yet Alcorn explains how this is also merciful:

"As a result of the Curse, the first Adam could no longer eat from the tree of life, which presumably would have made him live forever in his sinful state. Death, though a curse in itself, was also the only way out from under the curse--and that only because God had come up with a way to defeat death and restore mankind's relationship with him."

Wow! God in His justice would no longer let man live forever. God in His mercy had something far better in store than living forever under the curse of sin: He had already foretold the gospel.

"So the LORD God said to the serpent, '...I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel'" (Genesis 3:15).