Only God Gives the Growth

By | June 16, 2021

Yesterday, as I watered my garden, I couldn’t help but notice the difference between two mounds of pumpkin plants. As you can see in my photo, the plants on the right are several times larger than those on the left. Now, I planted both from the same seed packet on the same day, using the same soil, watering them at the same time each day, and each receiving the same amount of sun. So, why would one set grow so much bigger so much more quickly?

I still don’t have an answer to that question, but this conundrum did remind me of a passage in Scripture.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 ESV).

Paul was addressing the jealousy and strife in the Corinthian church as they divided themselves into groups who followed only one teacher. Paul emphasized that both he and Apollos were simply fellow workers together in God’s field, accomplishing God’s purposes. They were workers, but God was the one to give the growth.

As I watered I thought about this truth of the burden of growth being on God (and obviously the individual, but that is not my focus here). When Christians give the gospel to unbelievers or help other believers, when pastors shepherd their flocks, when teachers teach their listeners, there is only so much that the “seed planters and waterers” can do. The burden of the growth of another is not ours to bear.

Perhaps it would be easier if we could control the growth of our family members, friends, and church members. We like to be in control of the whole process. We could see the instant results of our planting and watering. Sometimes (often in ministry) it is frustrating to plant and water and see little or apparently no growth in some, while others grow under the same conditions.

This is where the truth that it is “only God who gives the growth” is so comforting. It not only removes the burden of growth off of our shoulders, but it helps everyone (planters, waterers, and plants) to rely on the ever-faithful God rather than the frail planters and waterers.

If we faithfully plant and faithfully water, we have done our job. Leave the growing to God and rest in his sovereignty and his greater care for the plants.

 

The Fate of Those Who Never Hear

By | June 14, 2021

What happens to people who never hear the gospel?

What an awful question—to consider those who never hear the gospel, die in their ignorance, and suffer for eternity. Their fate is eternal torment by fire. It should make every Christian shudder.

But is it fair for them to be judged in this way? To never hear the gospel and still be punished forever?

Remember that man is sinful and therefore justly condemned by God. God is not obligated to save anyone, and it is a wonder that He saves any at all. Sinfulness begins at conception (Psalm 51:5) and is common to all mankind (Romans 3:23; 5:12; Ephesians 2:3). Sin provokes God’s wrath and punishment, whether the sinner has heard the gospel or not. Those who die in their sins immediately go to torment by fire (cf. Matthew 25:41; Luke 16:23–24) and will reside in the lake of fire forever (Revelation 20:14–15). “Fair” would be for all mankind to be forever in hell with no hope of salvation. Thankfully, our God is merciful, forgives our sin in Christ, and grants the merits of His Son to those who believe.

Remember also that God’s standard for eternal punishment is not whether or not someone has heard the gospel. To be sure, there is a greater accountability and punishment for those who hear and reject the gospel (cf. Matthew 26:24; 2 Peter 2:20–22), but, for those who do not hear the gospel, God still judges them justly. They plainly see and recognize His power and divine nature in creation and yet suppress this truth and fail to give Him thanks and honor (Romans 1:18–21; cf. Psalm 19:1–6). Their consciences condemn their sins and thus provide grounds for God to judge them through Christ (Romans 2:12–16). God judges them for how they have responded to what He has revealed of Himself to them in creation and conscience, even if that revelation does not include what He reveals of Christ in His Word. They can only be saved by hearing about and believing in Christ alone (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:14–15), but they can also be judged on the basis of what He generally reveals of Himself to all.

So, what do we as Christians do about these terrible truths?

First, be thankful that you yourself have heard and believed the gospel when others have not. You can say with Paul, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Second, give the gospel to anyone who will listen. Wherever your feet may take you, take the good news with you, and preach the gospel so that some may believe. Otherwise, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

What an awful thing to consider the fate of those who never hear. But what a mercy it is that we have heard and believed. And may God show mercy to more through us as we share the gospel of Christ.

How to Lead a Bible Study, Part 2

By | June 13, 2021
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series How to Lead a Bible Study

{This post was originally posted on my former blog keeponswimmingblog.wordpress.com.}

Previously, in part 1 of this series, I wrote about whether a Ladies’ Bible study (LBS) is essential for the local church as well as the values of having one, along with the dangers and cautions that we should be aware of.

This time, let’s assume that the leadership team of the church has agreed that a LBS would be beneficial to the women of the church and the church as a whole. . .

 

What should be true about the teacher of a LBS?

Teachers in general

1. They should be loving. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the various gifts that God gives individuals in the church, including teaching. 1 Cor 13 goes on to say that someone who prophecies, speaks with tongues, etc. but does not have love is just a noisy gong or clanging symbol. A teacher who is not loving is just annoying and unhelpful.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-8 ESV).

2. They should “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:12-14 ESV, emphasis added).

If they are not building up the body, aiding in faith and knowledge, helping believers not to be swayed by false teaching, they are not a qualified teacher.

3. They should understand what they are teaching and not promote speculation and vain discussion.

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim 1:3-7 ESV).

4. They need to give sound teaching, not simply telling people what they want to hear.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:1-4 ESV).

5. They need to be skilled in the word of righteousness with their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to discern good and evil.

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:12-14 ESV).

6. They need to be self-controlled in their speech.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (James 3:1-12 ESV).

7. They are not devious, sensual, greedy, manipulative, and dishonest.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV).

8. They are not intentionally hypocritical.

“You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (Rom 2:21-23 ESV).

9. They need to be people in whom the Word of God dwells richly.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16 ESV).

10. One qualification for a pastor is that he is able to teach. Although every pastor should be a teacher, not every teacher is a pastor. But here are accompanying requirements for pastor/teachers:

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Tim 3:1-7 ESV).

11. A teacher teaches others to teach.

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:2-3 ESV).

12. A teacher should be kindnot quarrelsomepatient, and gentle.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:24-25 ESV).

13. A teacher should have good role models.

“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me” (2 Tim 3:10-11).

Female teachers

1. They are not to teach men.

2. Older women who teach younger women (which all older women are required to do) should be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to much wine.

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5).

3. While 1 Tim 3:11 speaks to qualifications for deacon’s wives and not necessarily teachers, it does provide some good qualifications for a woman who will be in a leadership/visible position.

“Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Tim 3:11 ESV).

What should be true about the content of a LBS?

1. It should be Word-centered, truth-centered, for building up and equipping of the saints

2. It should be doctrinally sound; not devoted to myths, genealogies, speculations, or vain discussions (1 Tim 1:3-7; 6:2-5).

3. It should be Scripture-centered.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16 ESV).

4. It should not be that which simply suits the passions of the hearers.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4 ESV).

5. Older women are to at least informally teach what is good. They are to train young women to love their husbands and children, to be self controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their husbands.

“They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:3-5 ESV).

What materials should you use?

1. I believe that if you call it a Bible study, you should be studying the Bible. There is nothing more powerful and effective than the Word itself. There are various studies that help people study books of the Bible.

2. A book can be a helpful tool to study as a group, but it must be chosen with great care. The emphasis of the book should be very biblical, and extra time should be taken to look at what Scripture says, holding the author’s words up to the light of Scripture. (e.g., I led a study through Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It had some great truths, but the content contained a whole lot of stories. I had to take time to go through many of the Scripture references and lead discussion about those.)

{Next time, I will address the audience in a LBS as well as practical issues to consider.} 

Work, Rest, Repeat

By | June 7, 2021

This past Monday, I stayed home and had a real holiday. We grilled burgers, enjoyed God’s creation, and spent time with my parents. The day was relaxed, tasks were undemanding, and deadlines were done and gone. I didn’t brutalize my body with one of the annual holiday routines at my gym, and I slept in the next morning.

The past few months, however, were filled with reading, visits to a library, searching for sources, academic writing, outdoor church workdays, a graduation, and hosting a pastor’s conference. Somewhere in it all God graciously gave me time to spend with my family week by week. Each task was a joy because it was for Christ and His Great Commission in some way.

After my last run to a library near Chicago, I parked my car and pulled up Ecclesiastes 12:12 on my phone: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” That verse has been on my mind a bit these past few months. Especially when that weariness was compounded by a 2-week bout with Covid-pneumonia. What an energy drainer. Thankfully, God’s grace and strength helped me to recover and get through these past months. Hopefully, I’ll be able to better fear God and keep His commandments as a result (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).

My experience is similar to anyone who ministers. You go through a busy season of study and service, soldier through it, drag yourself over the finish line, and collapse on your back at the end. The key is to stay down long enough to recover your oxygen. Work hard, rest, then go back at it.

The disciples had a time like this in Mark 6:31: “Many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So, Jesus commanded them, “Come away by yourself to a desolate place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). They needed the rest—they were soon serving again (Mark 6:32–34).

When it comes to ministry, be diligent, work hard, and realize there are times when you’ll need to lose sleep (cf. Mark 14:32–42; 2 Corinthians 11:27). But realize also that the body can only take so much, and it may need an extra dose of rest after an exceptionally busy time. Like the disciples, sometimes we need to get away, rest awhile, and then get back at it again.

On a personal note, I’ve enjoyed a busy season of study and am grateful to have had some time to recover from the weariness that it brought. And for all the hours it stole from my time to write this and that on this site, I hope to be an encouragement with more posts in the days ahead.

 

All quotes ESV

How to Lead a Bible Study, Part 1

By | May 31, 2021
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series How to Lead a Bible Study

{This post was originally found on my previous blog, keeponswimmingblog.wordpress.com.}

I recently had the privilege to speak to a group of seminary wives about how to lead a Bible study. In mentioning this to a couple of people, they were interested to see my notes, so I thought I’d share them here in smaller chunks (than my 11-page notes I spoke from 🙂). I really enjoyed thinking through the topic in detail, and I wanted to come at it in as biblical a manner as I could. I am not an amazing teacher who has all the answers, but I have learned quite a bit in the ten or so years I have been teaching, writing Bible studies, and leading discussions. Perhaps something here will be helpful.

The first topic I addressed was whether it is essential to have a Ladies Bible Study (LBS). 

1. There is no mention in Scripture of women teaching in a formal setting.

There is actually a command in Scripture that women should not teach. In the setting of the church, Paul tells Timothy, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Tim 2:11-12[1]).

2. There is mention of women teaching Scripture in informal settings.

There is a narrative telling of a woman, Priscilla, and her husband privately taking aside another man to explain “to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

There is a command that all older women are to be an example to and teach the younger women in practical matters of marriage, child-rearing, and godly living.

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:3-5).

3. From Scripture, I would conclude that a LBS is not an essential part of the local church.

Despite my conclusion in number 3, I then went on to discuss the value of a LBS.

1. It values a woman’s personal growth and understanding of the Bible and biblical values.

Women are made in the image of God and have both the capability (for the most part) and responsibility to study.

“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.’” (Matt 22:37-38, emphasis added).

Many women are hungry to study God’s Word, and this can be a means of doing so.

2. It allows for freer, more honest discussion than many women would feel comfortable doing in a mixed group.

I took an informal survey on Facebook and this was important to many who commented. It can be really intimidating for women to interact in a mixed group, so a ladies-only group can really be a help in this regard.

3. It can more bluntly deal with women-specific issues.

The last thing I will mention this time is the third point of my talk with the ladies, the cautions/dangers of a LBS.

1. Having an unqualified teacher. If you don’t have a qualified teacher, you shouldn’t have a LBS. (If the church leadership and ladies still really want a study, the pastor or other qualified male teacher could lead a ladies study, and perhaps they could train a qualified woman to teach.)

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

Bad reasons (as the sole qualifier) to choose someone to be a teacher:

    • She is married to a pastor (a pastor’s wife can be a teacher, but her marriage to her husband does not qualify her to be one).
    • She is an extroverted, likable, talkative person.
    • She is highly opinionated and/or smart.

2. Having a study that is not under the oversight of pastoral leadership.

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women,burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:1-7, emphasis added).

“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:10-11, emphasis added).

A woman can be easily led astray even by a desire to learn and study, but if she is not truly coming to a knowledge of the truth she can be a gateway to false teaching for her family and her church, leading to false teaching being promoted and division.

One of the most dangerous places for a woman can be a typical Christian bookstore. Publishers recognize that there are women who have a desire to be “always learning,” yet they do not always (often!) give knowledge of the truth.

A LBS teacher must be held accountable to the pastoral leadership, and the content of the material must be under pastoral guidance.

3. Having studies that highlight one aspect of a woman’s role to the neglect of another.

Not every woman is a mom or a wife. Single/widowed/childless women may feel out of place in such a study. These studies are definitely helpful and can be a huge blessing, but content needs to be “advertised” so ladies know what to expect.

Studies that emphasize the “pink” passages in Scripture (e.g., Ruth, Esther, Titus 2, etc.) to the neglect of others give a lopsided understanding of Scripture.

[1] All Scripture references from the ESV.

Next time, I will address what should be true about the teacher and the content of a ladies’ Bible study.

Joshua Bible Study: Week 3 {Conclusion & Complete 3-week Study}

By | March 19, 2021
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Joshua Bible Study

Here is the final week in the study of Joshua. Three weeks feels like a small amount of time to study an entire book of good size, but my goal is to help others understand the “big picture” of the book. You can always slow down (as I did) and take more time. Much of the book is taken up with descriptions of land boundaries, so I tried to bring out the significance of the record without being bogged down in the (hazy to modern readers) details of the land. If you’d like to study more on that, many commentaries give great detail about the land and the borders. For what it’s worth, I found that looking at a map of Israel’s allotments was the most helpful to me in visualizing where each tribe landed.

I hope this study is a blessing. I was so encouraged to see once again what God had done. I was especially struck by God’s faithfulness to his promises, thus the title I gave my study: Joshua: God’s Unfailing Promises. Initially, I was going to call it something like “Choose Whom You Will Serve” or “Strong & Courageous.” But, the more and more I read and studied, I came to the realization that the book wasn’t about Joshua or Israel or me. It certainly focused on Joshua and Israel and their responses to God, and it clearly exampled a courage to obey the Lord. But the big idea in my head during and after reading was centered on God. He had made promises. He had overwhelmingly done every word of his promise. And he promised to continue to do so. I hope this study will encourage you to trust in the promises of God who was so faithful to his promises to Israel.

Here is this week’s study: Joshua_Week 3

And here is the complete 3-week study: Joshua_God’s Unfailing Promises_Complete 3 Week Study

(I’m always happy to hear feedback or be made aware of typos or unclear questions. Sometimes I reread my own questions not sure of what I meant myself. 🙂 )

Joshua & James: God’s Promises to Israel, God’s Promises to Me

By | March 8, 2021

I’ve been studying the book of Joshua, and the main theme has been God’s faithfulness to his promises. Over and over God said (beginning all the way back in Genesis 12 to Abraham) that he would give the people of Israel land in Canaan. Over and over in Joshua, God promised to fight for Israel and to give them the land. Multiple examples are given in the book, showing exactly how God did fight for Israel and drive out the Canaanites. And then we have all the lists of the land allotments for the tribes—cities upon cities that were now Israel’s.

As I read and thought about God’s faithfulness to his promises, my mind drifted to James 1. My husband has been preaching through James on Sunday mornings, and I realized that there are many promises there too. There are specific promises of God’s giving too. God gives wisdom to those who ask for it. He gives wisdom so that we can understand that the trials we encounter are to be viewed with joy because they work steadfastness and spiritual growth and maturity. That takes faith in God and wisdom from him to view trials that way (verses 2-8).

God also promises to give eternal life to those who persevere under trial. This requires understanding the nature of God correctly. He is not the one who tempts us to sin under trials. Rather, he is the one who is (as my husband pointed out yesterday) “always, only good.” He gives only good things, and he will always give only good things because he never changes (verses 12-17).

We can be assured that all that he gives is good (even when we need a faith-based wisdom to view these trials as good), because he has given us the best “good thing”: our salvation (verse 18).

I think we can have more faith to ask God for wisdom (thus preventing us from being unstable doubters; verses 6-7) when we know more about the God who is faithful to give what he has promised. I can know God is working trials for my steadfastness because my faith is increased in the God whom I’ve seen be faithful to his promises to Israel.

“You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).

Joshua: Week 2 {Also, “How Do I Apply Joshua to My Life?”}

By | February 25, 2021
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Joshua Bible Study

It has taken me a bit to get through these chapters, but here is the second week of my Joshua study. I’ve learned that studying a narrative is quite a bit different than studying an epistle. In a narrative (especially Hebrew narrative it seems), the stories build and jump from scene to scene (kind of like a TV show or movie) to build suspense and make a point. You really have to read larger chunks of Scripture sometimes to get the full picture. Thus, this week’s study covers 7 chapters. Here is a pdf of this week’s study: Joshua_Week 2.

One of the issues I’ve considered as I’ve read in Joshua (as well as books like Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers), is what my purpose and goal is as I read. If my goal is to find something to apply to my daily life (for me it would be homeschooling my kids and being a good wife, church member, etc.), it’s kind of disappointing to spend time reading through a list of kings that Moses and Joshua conquered and destroyed. Can’t wait to get to that list of land allotments, right?!

But wait–chapter one had some great verses that I can apply to myself and maybe that can get me through the rest of the book! If I leave out the part about getting land, I can focus on the being strong and courageous part and God’s being with me and giving me success if I meditate on his commands and obey him (Joshua 1:5-9).

I think a better perspective when we read Scripture is to say “What is God, through the author, communicating?” rather than “What can I apply to myself to get through today?” When we read to figure out what God is saying, we have a much clearer understanding of the text. So instead of viewing the promises to Joshua and Israel of God’s presence and blessing on them, contingent on their obedience to the covenant, as they conquer the land, as something we try to apply to ourselves (as nice as that might sound, except for the complete destruction of our enemies, of course), we simply view it as a record of God’s words to Joshua and a divinely inspired history of God’s marvelous acts and working out of his plans. And then we can use those words as a template to view the entire book. When the people wholly obeyed, God gave them success and prosperity (e.g., Jericho, for the most part). When they did not obey, they failed (e.g., Ai the first time).

While we can be assured of God’s presence for ourselves from other passages of Scripture (Hebrews 13:5), and we should be meditating and obeying Scripture (Colossians 3:16-17), this is not the immediate application in Joshua for believers today (although Joshua can to a certain degree illustrate and example some of these truths for us today).

Perhaps a better “application” for me today from Joshua is this: Look at what God has been promising to the people of Israel since his promise to Abram: I will give you this land. Look at the obstacles God has miraculously overcome over and over again to bring them to and out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and finally to this land. Look at how God is true to his word. Look at how God repeatedly shows mercy to his chosen people. Look at how God’s plan of redemption was at work. I have a promise-keeping, powerful, merciful God!

I may not have a personal “promise” to claim for the day, but I do have the God who keeps his promises as my God. When I worry about my children’s behavior or a friend’s health or the state of our country, I can be confident that God is sovereign, he is merciful, and that he has a plan that he will without fail cause to happen. My view of myself, my home, and my world is more rightly aligned because my view and understanding of God is greater.

 

When I Don’t Know How to Pray: Praying Through the Lament Psalms

By | February 15, 2021

In our teen Sunday School class, my husband has been teaching on how to read and understand the various types of Psalms. The past two weeks we have looked at the lament psalms. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the verb lament in three ways: 1) to mourn aloud; 2) to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for, often demonstratively; and 3) to regret strongly.  As a noun, the dictionary defines it as 1) a crying out in grief; 2) a dirge, elegy; and 3) complaint.

We have all experienced grief, regret, or complaints to some extent. We talked in our class about how we sometimes view difficulties or try to encourage someone else in the midst of difficulty. For example, one might try to encourage another to “look on the bright side” of a difficulty. Or one might focus only on how one should view a trial (i.e., as a means of endurance and growth resulting in joy as taught in James 1). While these encouragements can be helpful and should be brought to our or another’s attention  eventually, the psalmists example a different initial approach in their prayers.

My husband explained that laments often contain the following elements:

  • Appeal to God
  • Lament (complaint/mourning)
  • Prayer request
  • Expression of trust in God
  • Vow to praise God

These elements may or may not all be present in every lament psalm, and they may be in any order.

The lament psalms are helpful to see how different people responded to difficult circumstances. They did not try to present their situations in the best possible light; they laid it out in all its painful details. They often requested that the situation be taken away or resolved. They mourned, but they also looked to God. They trusted him in spite of the circumstances, and they vowed to continue to praise him even when not knowing how God would respond to their requests.

Psalm 13 is a perfect example of a lament psalm. Verses 1-2a are examples of the appeal to God. 2b record his specific lament/complaint. Verses 3-4 are his request to God. Verse 5 expresses his trust in God, and verse 6 his vow to continue to praise God. Even if a specific prayer was not answered in the way requested, at the very least they could praise God for his salvation, something never taken away.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (ESV)

We concluded by practicing how we could use these prayers as a template for our own prayers during our own specific difficulties. So, let’s use the example of a severe illness and insert this specific situation into the prayer (in brackets and bold print).

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall [my illness continue]?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    [take away my illness],

[strengthen my body

and keep those around me healthy]

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

I thought this would be such a helpful exercise for someone really struggling deeply. Sometimes in these moments it is hard to think clearly, and simply following a lament prayer as a template for one’s own prayers would be beneficial. It can also guide how we help others by not minimizing the horribleness of a situation. Instead, we can recognize and verbalize how difficult another’s trial is, then move on to pray with them and help them as the situation requires.

 

Taco Tuesday: It’s What’s for Dinner!

By | February 10, 2021

I thought I would occasionally share not just a good recipe I’ve used successfully, but a whole meal that works together well and tastes great. That way, if you’re looking for a new meal, here’s everything in one spot. I love to cook, but sometimes figuring out meals is painful, especially when you meal plan/shop two weeks at a time like I do. Typically, when I find a good main dish I like, I stick with the same sides every time, varying the vegetables based on what’s on sale/fresh. So here’s the first “It’s What’s for Dinner” post. . .

Once upon a time, I liked Taco Bell well enough. Then, I moved to Rockford, IL and was introduced to real Mexican food, and let me tell you. . . there is no comparison to the real deal. I don’t claim to make legit Mexican food, but these tacos are much closer to the good stuff than those I used to make (and sometimes still do, because they’re kind of in another food “genre.”)

Main dish: Slow cooker pork tacos with corn tortillas

Side dishes: Lime cilantro coleslaw; chips and guacamole/salsa; limes, cilantro, and green onions (optional)

Slow Cooker Pork Tacos

One of my favorite cookbooks is 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous  (You can usually find it used for a really good price here!) I use the recipe for her Slow Cooker Shredded Pork and Bean Tacos. I didn’t want to share her recipe here to protect copyright, but I did find a similar recipe on her website: Pork Carnita Tacos. This is very similar to the recipe I follow.

I recommend adding paprika and chili powder to your spices, as well as a jalapeno with the onion to make it taste a little spicier. (I leave out the black beans recommended in the cookbook, because I don’t like the mushy texture of the beans in the slow cooker.) I also do one additional step that I think makes these tacos fabulous! I line a cookie sheet with tin foil and place some or all of the meat on the pan. Then I put it in the oven on broil. You can leave this in as long as you’d like (just watch it!), but everyone in my family loves it when the edges and fat pieces get crispy. I honestly think this is what make this recipe so delicious!

Stovetop option with leftover pork: If you already have pork leftovers from a roast or pulled pork or something, I’ve also frequently followed this incredibly quick and easy recipe for the stovetop: https://www.mrshappyhomemaker.com/pork-tacos/. There is no need to broil this recipe as the meat gets crispy enough in the pan.

Warming corn tortillas: Although you can use either flour or corn tortillas, we like corn for this meal (or you could skip if you’re low-carb). If you heat a nonstick pan, simply place the tortilla in the heated pan and warm on each side for 15-30 seconds (depending on how hot your pan is). Keep an eye on it, or they might burn. Have a tortilla warmer or bowl handy to keep them warm while you heat the others.

Lime and Cilantro Coleslaw

Again, this recipe is from 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous. This recipe was also not on her website, but I found two that were similar on other blogs, one of them being dairy free (which is great for my youngest with dairy allergies.) The coleslaw tastes great on the side, but it is amazing right on top of the taco as well.

This recipe is almost exactly like the one I use: https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/cilantro-lime-slaw/. I use sour cream instead of yogurt. When I make it, I mix the lemon juice, honey, and salt ahead of time and take a little of that to mix with a separate amount of coleslaw for my dairy-free daughter. Then I add in the sour cream and mix the rest up for the family. I’ve used both coleslaw mix (easier and faster) and chopped cabbage and carrots (cheaper). Both work great.

If you’re dairy free, this recipe is very similar and would work great as well: https://midwestfoodieblog.com/5-minute-cilantro-lime-slaw/.

Chips & Guacamole/Salsa, Lime, Cilantro, and Green onions

These sides are optional but tasty. We like to put a little bit of guacamole on the tortillas then the coleslaw to hold things together. Then we add the meat topped with freshly squeezed lime juice, cilantro, and green onions.

Guacamole: For every 2 avocados, finely chop about 2-3 Tbsp of onion (or lesser amount of onion powder, to taste) and about 1/2 roma tomato. First, mash the avocado with a fork or potato masher, sprinkle a generous amount of salt and pepper (to taste), along with about 1 tsp of lemon or lime juice per 2 avocados. Mix thoroughly, then gently fold in tomato and onion. You could also add chopped jalapeno and/or cilantro.

Muy Bien!