Taking Up the Sword

If you know much about me then you know that I am unabashedly a Lord of the Rings nerd. An obnoxious geekiness overcomes me when I talk or think or read or watch any LOTR related things. I have shamelessly subjected three members of my family to countless marathons (the fourth watches willingly, God bless her) of the fourteen-hour, extended Blu-ray edition of the trilogy. In fact, as I type this, “The Bridge of Khazad Dum” from the LOTR soundtrack is playing in my ears. No shame y’all!

Over time, one of my favorite characters has become Eowyn of Rohan. She is a noblewoman of Rohan described by her husband, Faramir, as both “so lovely and so sorrowful”, and indeed she is. Though she is a work of fiction, I have found particularly inspiring an exchange between her and Aragorn featured in the movie The Two Towers that has in a way shaped the way I think about myself and my goals in life.

Aragorn: You have some skill with a blade.eowyn

Eowyn: The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them. I fear neither death nor pain.

Aragorn: What do you fear, my lady?

Eowyn: A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.

Aragorn: You are a daughter of kings, a shield maiden of Rohan. I do not think that will be your fate.

This dialogue has become for me a way of thinking about how I go about the study of the Word of God. Ephesians 6:13, 17 says that we are “take up the full armor of God” and to, “take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” That indicates to me that I am to become, as Eowyn has, well skilled in handling the sword that is the word of God. This means that I cannot rest in ignorance or as a coquette. I cannot and should not depend solely on others to wield the sword for me, but rather I am to, by the grace of the King, take up the sword and become skilled in using it in battle.

Those who know me know that I believe firmly that all of a Christian’s life is battle. We are fighting daily, hourly, minute-by-minute against our own sin and an enemy who desires to utterly destroy us. And though we are filled through and through with peace knowing that the battle has been won and we stand in the light of Jesus Christ the victor, we fight on still knowing that we will be attacked by a dying enemy until our bodies expire or we see the return of the King.

It is for this reason that I have to come to understand a very particular task to which the Lord has called me: teaching my high school girls to wield the sword. I have become aware these last two years that though they sit under excellent and faithful pastoral teaching they are beginning to understand that there is more to studying the Bible than Sundays and surface reading. I have been asked more times than I remember “I read my Bible, but how do I study my Bible? How do I dig deeper?” In the same way that picking up an actual sword is not something that comes naturally or easily, neither is wielding the sword of the Spirit. So this summer I am eagerly looking forward to teaching my girls how to go about wielding the sword as we walk through John 18.

This is not a task that, in light of James 3:1, I take lightly and so I am anxious as I prepare to teach. I ask that if you have taken the time to bear with my nerdy post and made it this far that you would also pray with me. I desire so much that these young ladies, these future wives, mothers, teachers, missionaries, my sisters, would benefit from my teaching and that over these eleven weeks they would come to know more fully the grace and goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that they would begin to know for themselves how they are to take up the sword of the Spirit.

 

 

 

 

Perfectly Covered

In my commitment to the local church I have the pleasure of serving under the leadership of a spectacular young pastor, Ryan Sears, who has given his life to preach the Gospel to students (and anyone else who will listen!). It’s grace to me to work for and alongside him as he is both a winsome and natural evangelist – two things I am decidedly not. His common speech is peppered with grace and the Gospel, and he is ever mindful to bring the thoughts of those around him to remember what has been done for us through the blood of Christ.

Here of late his favorite phrase in preaching to students has been “Jesus’ perfect __________ covers your imperfect _______”, a solid reminder that in Christ we are the righteousness of God. In Christ our daily failures are covered by His perfection. Our students need to hear this reminder as they fail in obedience to parents, temptation to sin, etc., but the fact of the matter is that I too need to hear this.

While my role in student ministry is that of a shepherd to young ladies, it seems that I never fail to benefit from the same teaching that our students receive, because here’s the deal: I’m still a student! I’m still learning what it means to be saved by grace through faith. I still daily need to be reminded that I am covered by the blood of the Lamb and that there is no possible way for me to earn that salvation myself – though admittedly I fall in to the trap of believing that by my own study and prayer I am earning something (I dunno what, points maybe?).

That’s why it’s so important that not only am I connected to the local church, but that in this connection I am fed by faithful ministers, like Ryan Sears, who remind me that “Jesus’ perfect care for His own covers your imperfect parenting!” I need that reminder and many like it. I need it as a thirsty soul dying in a desert of my own foolish making.

So on days like these when I am weary from much toil and wholly dismayed at my sinfulness I praise Jesus for His mercy and for the grace He has given in that I am told time and time again that Jesus’ righteousness covers me.

What Makes a Theologian

be28ce367331c74101813bd237eaa434Yes, I know I said my next post would be a continuation of Genesis 9:20-23 and I’m working on that, but in the meantime I wanted to share something I came across today. In my work as an administrator I often sit for hours at a time. It’s become my habit to listen to sermons during these hours in order to continue my Bible studying throughout the day. Admittedly I’m not able to maintain the same level of concentration on these sermons as I do at church on Sundays, but I do nonetheless glean much. Today as I continued in listening to John Piper’s sermon series on Romans – a series that lasted eight years and eight months and spanned 225 individual sermons – I perked up as he concluded a particularly challenging analysis of Scripture (namely, determining the two meanings of “the will of God” as seen throughout the Bible in light of Romans 12:2) by talking about what it is that makes a theologian.

“What makes a person a theologian is not a college education, not a seminary education, sure not a doctorate. What makes a person a theologian is seeing things like that in the Bible, getting on their knees, and thinking until they see harmony and unity coming together at the root of their being. They just won’t let it go; won’t let any Scripture go; they ponder and pray and say ‘keep me faithful to the whole counsel of God, don’t let me run off in one direction and ride that hobby horse and don’t let me run off in the other direction and ride that hobby horse. Let me get it all together Lord as much as a human brain can get it together. Help me to be faithful to holding in tension what has to be kept in tension. I want to be true to the Word of God.’” 

This is especially poignant to me as I am not formally educated in theology or any biblical topic for that matter. In fact, I’m a public school grad with a B.S. in sociology from a tiny university in north Texas. I have no formal training in how to understand and interpret the Bible. I do however love the Bible and desire with all that I have to know God through His Word, and with this encouragement from my brother John I suppose that my daily and non-perfunctory prayer that I may know Jesus Christ according to Philippians 3:7-11 is not going unanswered.

You can listen to the whole sermon and series at the Desiring God website.

Noah’s Shame

The story of Noah’s life is a beautiful, and awful one. So much mercy and yet so much wrath against sin. It’s thought-provoking to see the two juxtaposed in one story to say the least. However, my writing will not focus on the part of the story with which you’re quite familiar. You would do well not to create a nursery theme from these verses.vineyard

Take a look at Genesis 9:20-23. The flood has subsided, Noah and his family are living on dry land, and he has now taken to farming. Perhaps this was a task he had occupied himself with before the flood and now was able to return to, or maybe there were so few left on earth that it was a task which he was forced to undertake. Nevertheless, he’s  planted a vineyard and it has prospered such that he has made wine. What we find is that whereas before the flood Noah was able to refrain from drunkenness amidst a vile and wicked people, here he has fallen prey to temptation where it seems there is little need to fight. Now in his drunkenness he uncovers himself in his tent and shame comes upon him. Unlike his father, Adam who ingested the fruit and then sought to cover his shame, Noah in weakness imbibes the fruit and to his shame exposes the very nakedness God sacrificed His creation  to cover. Noah’s shame is real and it is now laid bare.

Sin is like that isn’t it? It uncovers us and reveals our hearts in a way that often leads to shame and regret. In sin we glory in that which should shame us and lay bare what which is private, however brief the incident may be.

What might we learn from Noah then? What are we to think of this account and how might we live in light of it?

Noah did well to guard himself from sin when he was surrounded by sin. He remained steadfast during the hard times and yet fell into temptation when surrounded by a few survivors in a safe environment. It seems that this would speak to the way that we conduct ourselves in the fight against sin in our lives. There are times when we must act with great boldness and strength to share the Gospel and glorify Christ in hostile places. In those times we are fervent in prayer and ever mindful of our temptations, but what about on Tuesday when you’re heading up to Sonic with the kids to get some half-priced burgers and a cherry coke? Are we guarded? Am I guarded? Am I taking every thought, word and action captive? Or have I been lulled into a peace time mentality? Do I believe myself to be “safe” from a sinful heart and a vile enemy? What am I believing about my sanctification in these mundane times? That somehow “I’ve got this”? May it never be! Make war y’all (rather, self)! Do not be fooled into thinking that these things against which we battle are taking a break just because we are. Fight temptation, fight sin, fight the enemy at all times. Be on your guard and ready with the Word of God to go against that which attacks.

We would do well to heed the exhortation of our brother Paul in Philippians 3:17-20:

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”

Whose glory, whose pride and joy are in those very things that should bring about shame! Are we not saturated in culture that seeks to have pride in that which is blatantly condemned by the Word of God? Are we not living in a society that seeks to make mundane that which is despised by the Lord? Brothers and sisters set your minds on the things of heaven, on the things of Christ for that is where our citizenship lies. Seek to be as Noah, steadfast in times of great temptation that you may glorify the Lord; yet seek to learn from Noah and do not fall prey to temptation in times that seem so mundane. Fight for your sanctification that you may grow in holiness and thus glorify our Lord!

In my next post I will continue in my examination of Genesis 9:20-23.

On the Sufficiency of Scripture

Continuing in John, I’ve come across another phrase that has upon further contemplation and study proven quite helpful. I’m in chapter 20 now and have been studying the race to and entering of the tomb of Christ on the Sunday following His death. Up to this point Peter and John have seen that the tomb is empty though the linens still remain. The Word tells us that John entered after Peter, saw the empty tomb and believed. However, we aren’t told exactly what he believed at that point “For as yet they did not understand the Scriptures” (verse 9)

In studying verse nine, I was intrigued by it, but unable to articulate what it was exactly that held my interest. So when I came upon a something that Matthew Henry said it began to make more sense. What he said was this,

“What was the reason of their slowness to believe; because as yet they “knew not the Scriptures”. This seems to be the acknowledgement of his own fault among the rest; he does not say “For as yet Jesus had not appeared to them, had not shown them His hands and his side.” (Emphasis mine)

This is indeed illuminating, for John did not write that they needed anything other than a careful examination of the Word of God in order to understand the purpose of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostles at that moment required nothing more than that which is still available to any follower of Christ today, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and diligent study of the Scriptures. If we genuinely desire to know Christ we need only a mind illumined to Word of God by the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of a need for Jesus to give “something more”, and though they may have desired His presence that was not the reason John gives for not understanding. Let me state this again. The only thing John mentions as being the reason for not comprehending the resurrection was a lack of knowledge of the Scriptures, not a lack of the presence of Jesus.

So what do I do with this? My immediate and overwhelming reaction to this is to affirm what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”. This means, as John Piper has said, “The sufficiency of Scripture means that we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired, inerrant words.” We don’t need something more.

But what if I find myself desiring something more?

What if I find that my reading of the Bible isn’t answering the questions I have?

Then what am I supposed to do?

I have two recommendations that have been powerful in my own life. First, pray. Ask the Lord for deeper understanding of His Word. Cry out to Christ, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Reference Mark 9:24) And our God who does not hesitate to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11) may illuminate your mind as Jesus did with the two men who walked with Him to Emmaus (Luke 24:27). Cling to these promises and ask that the Holy Spirit would reveal the Truth of the Word to you. The Lord is faithful to answer this prayer.

However, this may not happen immediately as I’ve found in my own life. One of the most humbling lessons I’ve learned in studying the Bible is that the Lord opposes the proud (James 4:6). When I have attempted to either come to the Bible to read and study and yet harbor unconfessed sin or have attempted to study the Word as a sort of pick and choose menu to justify the life that I think I should have, I have found myself at odds with the God I profess to love. It is during those times that my attempts to study have been hindered, frustrated and altogether fruitless. So then what?

This brings me to my second recommendation: repent. Repent deeply from a broken and contrite heart. Hate your sin and the distance it puts between you and the Lord. Turn from pride and sin and seek humbly His face. God is faithful, according to Philippians 3:15 to reveal what is that is imperfect in us if we should ask. And when He does break your heart in revealing your sin, be thankful for His reproof and respond in repentance and rejoicing.

I have found often that a heart that is dissatisfied with the Word of God is a heart that desires to see only itself in the Bible, myself included. The Bible is not about you. It is not about me. It is not about us and our best life now. It is about the One True God and His glory. It is only when we see this and the desire of our heart shifts from self-seeking to God-seeking that Scripture will reveal itself to be all we need. Let us be as John, understanding that that which is keeping us from a full knowledge of Christ is not a lack of something more, but a lack of laying hold of that which we already have.

My Writing

Here we are at my blog. I’m attempting to remain faithful to something I think the Lord keep pushing me toward. So I’ll be painstakingly carving out time to make this thing happen. In the meantime here are my other writings:

http://erlc.com/article/find-no-rest-here-saints

http://www.graceforsinners.com/2013/10/altogether-lovely-in-her-mess-by-renee.html

http://www.graceforsinners.com/2013/09/a-mundane-life-in-christ-by-renee-bates.html

http://www.graceforsinners.com/2013/06/review-glimpses-of-grace-by-gloria.html

http://www.graceforsinners.com/2013/02/resting-in-his-sovereignty-and-love.html

Many thanks to Mathew at Grace for Sinners for letting me write over here during my “homelessness”.