Topical Study, Uncategorized

Lament or Complaint? Consider the Difference.

Although “lament” and “complaint” have some things in common, biblically they cannot be mistaken for each other. Time after time, we see God’s dissatisfaction with complaining and grumbling; most evident are the grumbling Israelites in Exodus. Lamenting, however, seems common and acceptable. How can we express ourselves openly and honestly to God without being offensive? Lament or Complaint? Consider the difference.

Complaint reveals belief in a God who is unreliable. His Word clearly distinguishes complaint as a sin and stumbling block (Philippians 2:14). The grumbling Israelites did not have faith that God was good (Exodus 15:22-24; 16:1-3), and their grumbling led them into wandering 40 years in the wilderness. Complaint does not please God, it offends Him.

Far different from faithless grumble, words of lament are the words of one trusting in the God to whom he cries out. An example would be Psalm 22, which begins with cries of anguish but moves on to praises for a God who has worked in the past. The lament shows reliance on the Lord for his provision and protection. Psalm 22 is directed to the God who answers prayers. Lament does not offend God.

Psalm 22:1-21

Psalm 22-31

Psalm 46

Author of Tyndale’s Commentary of the Psalms, Tremper Longman asks the question, “While it’s wonderful that God invites our laments, how often does he answer them?” His answer: “Not all the time—so what are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to lament forever? ‘The general teaching of Scripture is that a more mature level of suffering is to move from lament to confidence, just like Psalm 46 does.”

In the words of Michael Card, “It’s easy to praise God when things in your life are going well, but what about the other times? What happens when mountaintop experiences cascade into seasons of struggling in the valley? God expects us to pour out our hearts to Him, whether in joy or pain. But many of us don’t feel right expressing our anger, frustration and sadness in prayer. Our personal worship experience is not complete unless we understand the lost language of lament.”

As Christians, we are a blessed people to have the stories of biblical characters to use as a guide for daily living. From examples of Job to David, we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that our Savior has not forsaken us – In the darkest of times, He is often seen the brightest. Yet, we need not pretend all is well when it comes to our personal prayer. Important to note: Complaint talks about God. Lament talks to God.

Have we lost the practice of lamenting in Christian worship? We can praise our God with laughter and tears in all seasons of life! His glory is seen no less.

Discernment, Reading

Developing Discernment in Choices for Reading: Why it Matters

“I think I will just read dead people,” I remarked as the penned words (freshly planted in my memory) hit the trash can. Confirmation of early morning news revealed the deplorable acts committed by a popular author, grandson of an evangelical icon. Yet, the flow of his work, piercing words camouflaged as wisdom, lurked in the crevices of my mind. Developing discernment in choices for reading is vital.

Reading Christian authors can help guide us into growth-producing habits fostering well being. Although, when lacking theological wisdom, they can distort readers’ understanding of the gospel and encourage practices that foster spiritual ill being. Sadly, reliance on a best seller’s list or label is not helpful – Popularity is no indicator of solidity. How can Christians learn to discern which books are worth reading and which to avoid?

TIP ONE: Never judge a book by its cover.

Do your homework.Jackets are marketing ploys using catchy titles and trendy graphics. Drawing the reader’s eye, they rarely offer hints to an unbiblical worldview promoted by some well-intentioned Christian authors. Today’s publishers meet responsible Christians with a need to do research beyond summaries and endorsements: At the very least, Google the author’s church membership and education. Remember, guard your heart and mind: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7

TIP TWO: Question modern-day writings. They are not the Gospel.

Today’s authors often prey on emotions and vulnerability of women. Mysticism and felt-needs psychology are woven into writings, subtly leading the reader to a spirituality more about experiences than beliefs. Publications undermining Scripture (masked in “I feel” and “I think” and not what God’s Word says) warrant rejection. These unhealthy core teachings of a writer’s work spill over into the reader’s thinking. Stand guard against the enemy: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” – Romans 1:21

We’ve become reckless and lazy in our choices, reading memes of positivity and superficial devotionals. Despite their use of biblical language, the voice of many authors is not the Gospel. Whitewashing our sin and desperation of forgiveness diminishes the central message of the Christian faith. The uniqueness of salvation and our identity in Jesus Christ is at the heart of spiritual growth.

Above all, any book distorting the gospel has no place in the hands of a Christian reader. Quite the contrary, works on the attributes of God, apologetics, and spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are faith building! When coupled with Scripture, Christ-centered reading inspires awe and prompts change. Seeking God-honoring life enrichment, rooted in biblical truth, acknowledges He has spoken amidst the pages of Scripture. Period. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

TIP THREE: Read!

Return to the classics. Pick up a novel. Read for sheer pleasure and have a heart of gratitude for all of God’s good gifts to us! That is to say, not all books at our bedside must bear the name of Christ. In the event they do, His name deserves being represented rightly.

For additional help, see: https://debbieswindell.com/2019/04/30/read-but-read-well/

Biblical Counseling, Reading, Uncategorized

Love and Marriage

The chasm between the biblical vision and society’s view of love and marriage has never been broader. It rings true that previous generations’ view of marriage was never high enough but we have reached a low, casual attitude of both what constitutes marriage and warrants it disposable. What would seem ludicrous in generations past has become the norm. Marriage is fundamentally God’s own design, confirmed by Jesus in Mark 10:8.

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 19:4–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 2:24–25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 10:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Love doesn’t come easily and as a counselor, I see women who’ve become tired and frustrated in marriage. It takes intentional work and time to model God’s good design. Much like other relationships, love is best shared when applying biblical principles. It’s shameful that many couples are no longer willing to exercise patience, preferring to simply throw in the towel. David Powlison said it best, “It’s no accident “Love is patient” comes first in 1 Corinthians 13. Patience isn’t very dramatic, but it counts.” 

If we are to be biblical Christians, God will be honored in our relationships. The book titles I refer to time and again are: God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger, Preparing for Marriage by by Boehi, Nelson, and Shadrach (edited by Dennis Rainey), What did you Expect? by Paul Tripp, and The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller.

Below are words penned by Timothy Keller in his book, The Meaning of Marriage. Whether you are long-time married or merely contemplating marriage, I suggest you read Keller’s book.

“Our culture says that feelings of love are the basis for actions of love. And of course that can be true. But it is truer to say that actions of love can lead consistently to feelings of love.”

“Within this Christian vision of marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!” 

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” 

“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” 

“You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love “in the bank” to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.” 

“Only with time do we really learn who the other person is and come to love the person for him- or herself and not just for the feelings and experiences they give us.” 

“What marriage is for: It is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be.” 

Theology

Ancient Truths for our Modern Age

Along my journey of lifelong learning, I can say with confidence that I’m not merely storing up knowledge for myself. God has blessed with opportunities to build up the body of Christ; whether within the walls of my local church, ministry of the Word from my home, or on the mission field, I’m compelled to share ancient truths for our modern age.

Age old biblical wisdom is passed from one generation to the next in the form of systematic theology and it is with that legacy in mind that I lead a group of women on Sunday evenings at FBC Russellville. We will begin our third semester studying the core truths of the Christian faith this weekend.

In an attempt to meet women where they are, in the throes of work life and motherhood, each week picks up a brand new topic and carries over absolutely no homework to return the following week. To put it simply, we are a group of women studying theology for the glory of our God. Author and Pastor Kevin DeYoung penned six points of why we should study systematic theology. He writes:

Reason 1: The Bible’s interest in truth demands it. Systematic theology is nothing if it not the pursuit of truth, and truth is essential to biblical Christianity. Jesus said the truth will set you free (John 8:32). The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). The work of the Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles into all truth (John 16:13). Eternal life is to know the only true God (John 17:3). Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified in the truth (John 17:17). Paul warned that for those who do not obey the truth there will be wrath and fury (Rom. 2:8). We are to be transformed by understanding the truth (Rom. 12:2). People can go to hell for preaching what is not true (Gal. 1:8). People within the church should be corrected when they believe the wrong things. “[An elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). People are sometimes to be kept out of your house for believing what is not true (2 John 9-10). The wicked perish because they refused to love the truth (2 Thess. 2:10). The workman of God must rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). In other words, no Christian worthy of the name should be indifferent to the pursuit of right doctrine. As Louis Berkhof put it, “They who minimize the significance of the truth, and therefore ignore and neglect it, will finally come to the discovery that they have very little Christianity left” (Systematic Theology, 29).

Reason 2: Our view of Scripture demands it. All of Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that everything in the Bible matters. It also means that everything in the Bible possesses a fundamental unity, coming as it does from the same author (Matt. 19:4-6Hebrews 3:72 Peter 1:21). Systematic theology seeks to make the comprehensive unity seen and savored.

Reason 3: Realism about the human intellect demands it. One way or another, we will come to conclusions about the most important religious questions. Who was Jesus? What is the human predicament? Is there a hell? How can we be saved? How should we treat each other? What does it mean to be a good person? Why is there something rather than nothing? As soon as we set out to answer these questions we are engaging in systematic theology. The human mind can’t help but synthesize and organize.

Reason 4: The history of the church demands it. Why can’t we just let the Bible speak for itself? Because that’s not what we see in the Bible or in the early church. In Nehemiah 8:8, the leaders “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to the tradition they had received from him. God has always given his people teachers to not only read Scripture but to communicate and guard the truth of Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13-14). This is why the early church naturally wrote creeds and confessions. They did not consider it sub-biblical to explain, defend, and protect the truths that were handed down to them in the Bible.

Reason 5: The unity of the church demands it. True ecumenicity is not possible apart from robust theological fidelity. Church unity requires doctrinal agreement: “There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). How can we contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) if we do not have a deep understanding of that faith?

Reason 6: The duty of the church demands it. Why waste time on systematic theology when there are people who need to hear the gospel?! Because those people need to hear the true gospel. If we are to proclaim the message, we must know what that message is. We owe it each other, we owe it to other churches, and we owe it to the world to give a clear articulation of our faith. “An open statement of the truth” is what Paul called it (2 Cor. 4:2).  “The Church of Jesus Christ,” Berkhof observed, should never seek refuge in camouflage, should not try to hide her identity” (31).Clarity requires carefulness, carefulness requires precision, and precision requires systematic theology. Get into it. Stick with it. Pass it on.

Goal Setting & Decision Making, Uncategorized

Happy New Year!

And so it is that the current decade is coming to a close. For many of us, 2019 leaves with a mix of joys and sorrows, goals achieved and opportunities missed, friendships gained and relationships lost. Though not a Christian holiday, New Year’s Eve is an opportune time to pause for reflection, repentance, and renewal.

The Bible reminds us of reflection’s importance: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom, from Psalm 90:12. Before posing new ideas and resolutions, we would do well to consider how we use our days. Reflecting past and present realities gives clarity and wisdom for the future.

Beyond reflection, may we evaluate our shortcomings as we bring them to the foot of the cross. By confession and repentance we gain strength from the Giver’s fresh grace. 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us, But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. We can begin anew with confidence that in our weakness we rely continuously on the strength of our Lord.

Godly living focuses on Christ. In doing so, we become evidence of the one who made us. The blood sacrifice of Jesus was not that we might be a people serving ourselves but to become His people, saved out of this world. As followers of Jesus, we are to make distinctions between ourselves and those of this world. C.S. Lewis penned, “Glory is an all pervasive reality that surrounds us every day and beckons us to belief and delight.”

Renewing commitments, love, friendships, and faith creates new possibilities. Our God himself provides new experiences and opportunities in his steadfast love. Isaiah 43:19 reads, Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. But are you sincerely setting God highest in your thoughts? Do you hold him in the highest possible position? And asking, Do my resolutions match my priorities? is a tool in determining sincerity in your new year’s commitments. Keep in mind, if we desire to know God more, to experience an intimate relationship with him in 2020, we must learn from him and about Him.

As Christians, it is appropriate for us to establish and keep certain priorities and principles as we strive to love and follow Christ. Jonathan Edwards remarked, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.” When our resolutions align with scripture our efforts glorify God and that time will be redeemed.

Each year’s passing serves as a reminder of the frailty of life with the breath of a new year – a miracle, a gift given to us. Closing 2019 with reflection, repentance, and renewal offers promise and potential for 2020. May we approach the Lord in humble reliance on His grace as we seek not merely the blessings but the One who blesses.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Note: If you are unsure in making God-honoring decisions, you will find this previous post helpful. https://debbieswindell.com/2019/05/24/seeking-gods-will-in-decision-making-a-topical-study/

Reading, Reading List

Top Ten + Two

Throughout the year I’ve shared book titles for pleasure and purpose. I am grateful for published authors whose education far exceeds my own; many good men and women have spent the bulk of their lives learning, teaching, and sharing through writings as their life’s vocation. Aside from my own continued learning, I am an advocate for women to learn, enjoy, and share God’s Word. In this blog post I will share the top ten book titles aiding my Bible understanding, expanding my knowledge of theology and the church, and those offering wisdom that speaks to the Christian life.

10) Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson reminds us of how living our lives in the present should be shaped by what is certain at life’s end. Seeing life as God’s wondrous gift frees us to live wisely and faithfully, Gibson engages the reader with his retelling of Ecclesiastes. I found this book especially helpful with long-term planning and decision making.

9) Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith by Joel R. Beeke is a book that will bring comforting peace to the child of God who is trapped in doubting her assurance of faith. Tackling the hard topics of both easy believism and hard believism Beeke presents a thorough biblical case.

8) Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul David Tripp is an honest yet compelling book of comfort. Tripp offers an empathetic ear without trivializing our own sufferings. Personally, I found this book timely and helpful. This is an important book in the life of the church as we come alongside one another.

7) Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson focuses on the important lesson the New Testament has to teach us about the process of Christian growth to spiritual maturity. Rooted in the reality of the Christian life, Ferguson seeks to show what maturity is and how it is to be obtained. For me, this book prompted reflection time and again.

6) Knowing Christianity by J.I. Packer turns our attention to the central doctrines of God, the Bible, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As the author explores the principal elements of the Christian life, his book offers help and hope from the unchanging truth of God. Packer offers much more than the latest self-help books, laying out a vast picture of the Christian faith.

5) Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church by Michael J. Kruger is a readable and well-researched book. With little writing for the lay person on this time period, I had great appreciation for the author’s work. Through Kruger’s summaries, the reader is presented with practical data of the transitions faced by Christians in the second century that would determine the future of the church. I gained better understanding of Christianity as well as the church we know today. My only regret is that I had not read it sooner.

4) The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre is written specifically for counselors and shepherds. A Professor of Biblical Counseling, Pierre provides biblical truth as he shows how to carefully make diagnoses. While sharpening the counselor’s skills in remedy by way of scripture, he takes us into sound doctrine while equipping us to help with wisdom and love. This book is a discovery of a dynamic relationship with God and how it changes the way people respond to every other aspect of life. Pierre’s work is endorsed by Ed Welch, Bruce Ware, Russell Moore, and Alistair Begg.

3) The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders is a readable book on the Trinitarian shape of evangelical faith and practice. Sanders writes, “Nothing we do as evangelicals makes sense if it is divorced from a strong experiential and doctrinal grasp of the coordinated work of Jesus and the Spirit, worked out against the horizon of the Father’s love.” With a personal study guide included, I believe this book would be ideal for life application and group discussion. This book was a staple when teaching the Doctrine of the Trinity.

2) Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper is a reminder that Christians often pit thinking and feeling against each other. This book’s focus helps us to consider how thinking and things of the heart glorify God together. This book is helpful to any woman whose desire is to learn and grow in the Christian faith. I highly recommend Think to those who attend the Sunday evening class, Let’s Do Theology. My personal copy is on loan to my granddaughter. It’s an important read!

1) None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett addresses how Christians have domesticated God, bringing him down to our level. Rightly lifting Him up as the Creator rather than the creature, Barrett presents the attributes of God as the most perfect, supreme being. This excellent book lays out clear, accessible terms in his glossary (helping the reader track the argument throughout the book). I found Barrett’s glossary superior to others in the comprehension of these particular theological terms. Without question, this was my best read of 2019. None Greater was an excellent resource in preparing to teach the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God.

+2) Last but not least, I would be remiss if I did not list two recurring titles in my yearly reading. Knowing God by J.I. Packer and The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer are two classics. Whether reading Tozer’s focus on the attributes of God, or J.I. Packer’s significant book on the glory and joy of knowing God, each time I am left better equipped to deal with basic spiritual truths in a practical way.

I hope my list encourages reading the works of these skilled authors. May you grow in grace and knowledge in the upcoming year.

Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness – all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible. – J.C. Ryle