July 17, 2016

Book Club: The Marks of Biblical Friendship



Chapter 3 of The Company We Keep took us a bit deeper into the nuts and bolts of biblical friendship. The chapter outlines "four characteristics that distinguish wise friendships": constancy, candor, carefulness, and counsel.
 ...friendship isn't so much a series of things we need to do. Friendship is more about who we need to be.
...friendship flourishes best when we seek to be and embody the type of friend we see in God himself.
Constancy can be described as being dependable "through good times and bad times, in times of prosperity and adversity." We are sharing in one another's joys and sorrows, blessings and challenges (Ephesians 4:1-3). And part of being a constant friend is being available, both physically and emotionally. As we identify and act on biblical priorities in life (more on this in Chapter 4), we'll be intentional about making time for deep friendship -- and we'll build in margin for unexpected opportunities, as well. And as we grow in our own faith, we'll be able to serve others well in friendship rather than serve our emotion-of-the-moment.

Candor is courageously speaking "truth in love for the good of your friend" (Ephesians 4:15). While this may sometimes involve admonishment, more often it can simply be reminding our friend of biblical -- God's faithfulness, mercy, grace, love. Just as we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day, we can candidly encourage one another (yes, even our fellow believers!) by preaching the gospel to them every day. (And if you're looking for a great book that includes this idea of preaching the gospel to yourself, read Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. In fact, it's a great book to read and discuss with a friend!)

Carefulness in biblical friendship "urges wisdom and consideration in how to live out the life of friendship," including including care in speech and timing, as well "wise stewardship of a friend's trust." This requires getting to know our friend well in order to serve them best. As we seek to act in carefulness, we consider the need of the moment (Ephesians 4:29).

Counsel is offered as we seek to build another up through "living out the one-another's of Scripture together" as we journey together toward Christlikeness. It's not a professional relationship, but simply purposeful friendship along life's way.

One of the things we seem to be searching for in life and relationships is to know who we are. And often, we'd like someone else to help us figure that out, to help us find our identity. But what we really need is to know Whose we are -- and we need friends who will help remind us Whose we are. The local church is a good place and natural place to seek out and build these friendships.

 This post is the fourth in a series about a summer book club. If you'd like to read more, click the links below.

Post one: Summer Book Club Reading
Post two: What is Biblical Friendship?
Post three: Everyday Substitutes


This post contains affiliate links.

June 29, 2016

Book Club: Everyday Substitutes



In our summer book club's discussion of Chapter 2 of The Company We Keep, we recognized that, in a fallen world, we often seek out and settle for relational substitutes rather than biblical friendships. As we discussed in Chapter 1, sin turns us inward.
Because of God's common grace, relationships built on these substitutes might even thrive for a time, but they all fall woefully short of God's purposes for true friendship.
Homes identifies three types of relational substitutes: social media friendship, specialized friendship (based on stage of life or common interests), and selfish friendship. Within each of these relationship types, we sacrifice something. And because of what is lacking in these friendships, we never get to the best of biblical friendship. In fact, we often get the worst:
Often, the wounds in our lives are a direct result of insisting that somebody else be our savior and king. (Jonathan Dodson)
We often even turn them into idols, expecting the friendship to do more than friendship was ever designed to do.  Technology, social media, and common interests are helpful contexts and tools to help facilitate friendship, but friendship itself is always more than these.
Truly biblical friendship is embodied in the Trinity, empowered by Jesus Christ, and intended as a spiritual discipline among God's people for the purpose of glorifying him. This is the heart of the matter...
Friendship as a spiritual discipline?  This was, perhaps, the most thought provoking idea we discussed in Chapter 2. Discipline requires intentionality. It requires work. It means we keep the end goal in mind in order to stay the course.

And the end-goal is not me as an individual, or even us as friends. It's the glory of God.

P.S. After reading this chapter, I'm definitely interested in pursuing some of this topic further. The Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family and the Digital World is now on my books-to-get list.



 This post is the third in a series about a summer book club. If you'd like to read more, click the links below.

Post one: Summer Book Club Reading
Post two: What is Biblical Friendship?
Post four: The Marks of Biblical Friendship




This post contains affiliate links. Photo: bossfight.co

June 18, 2016

Book Club: What is Biblical Friendship?

Detail from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti (public domain)






As I shared in my last post, some ladies in my church are meeting together for a book club this summer. Our first meeting was this week, and we discussed the first chapter of The Company We Keep by Jonathan Holmes.

To give us a foundation for biblical friendship, Holmes takes us to Genesis. He points out that the Trinity itself is relationship; the very first, in fact. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in perfect communion with one another. He then reminds us that Adam, created in the image of God, was designed with a need for relationship, human relationship: "... part of our image-bearing capacity entails living in relationships with others -- not relationships built merely around common interests, but relationships that emanate from our very nature as image bearers."

Of course, we don't get far in Genesis before sin is born, rupturing all relationships. Holmes reminds us that without the restoration of our relationship with God, our other relationships are likewise tainted with sin. Our motivation for pursuing relationships with others is naturally marked by a desire for personal benefit. And what does the world see in this?
When a non-Christian peers into our friendships, is he or she able to see the outlines of the gospel story, the good news of Jesus Christ? When our friendships exist for our own pleasure, comfort, and relational happiness, rather than a communication of God's love and mercy in the gospel, we're telling the story badly, and we may be telling the wrong story altogether.
Thankfully, through Christ's work on the cross, our relationship with God can be restored. "As God poured out his wrath on Jesus, he restored the friendship that had been broken by our sin."

This remarkable fact reorients our earthly friendships so that, "No longer will our friendships be situated merely around common circumstances or interests, but will instead become an embodied commitment to live out the image of God together in every area of our life." "...Biblical friendship is explicitly Christ-centered."

As this is a book about biblical friendship, Holmes' focus is on our relationships with other believers; this is not a book about evangelism or being missional (other than the impact our biblical friendships can have on a watching world). These friendships are deeper and stronger than the sweet and simple common fellowship we share with other believers. Even as believers, we have much to overcome (mostly within ourselves!) as we seek to form biblical friendships. God's grace makes this possible.

One last note... after our first meeting, I'm even more thankful for this book club. Not only am I benefiting from hearing other women share what they are learning about God, themselves, and biblical friendship, but the group is actually allowing us to get our feet wet, so to speak, as we practice a little bit of what we're learning each week.

This post is the second in a series about a summer book club. If you'd like to read more, click the links below.


Post one: Summer Book Club Reading
Post three: Everyday Substitutes  
Post four: The Marks of Everyday Friendship




This post contains affiliate links.

June 13, 2016

Summer book club reading



I've never been a part of a book club before, but I've just jumped in with both feet!

A group of women from our church will be meeting weekly to discuss The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship by Jonathan Holmes. The ladies have been asked to consider the following questions after reading each chapter:
  • What most surprised me in this chapter?
  • What scriptural truth did I learn?
  • What was my favorite quote from the author?
  • How am I motivated to change?
These questions, along with the "Digging Deeper" questions found at the end of each chapter, will help to focus our discussions. The plan is to discuss one chapter each week (there are six), then have some sort of wrap up meeting the seventh week.

It's my goal to post a bit about each chapter and our discussion after each of our weekly meetings, so check back to learn more about what we're doing. And feel free to grab a copy (paperback, Kindle and other ebook formats are all available) and join me here in talking about the book.

This post is the first in a series about a summer book club. If you'd like to read more, click the links below.
 

Post two: What is Biblical Friendship?
Post three: Everyday Substitutes  
Post four: The Marks of Everyday Friendship





This post contains affiliate links. 


April 18, 2016

The Day God Shut My Mouth



The kids must have been about five and seven years old. Their friend, Kayla, was hanging out with us that day. Everything was going smoothly that morning as the kids busied themselves with schoolwork and I tidied the house for our church's Bible study that evening. And then lunch happened.

I'd warmed up ravioli  for the kids and served the girls first. Then, as I brought Jared's bowl to him, he unexpectedly raised up in his chair. His little blonde head collided hard with my hand and the bowl went flying, showering ravioli and sauce everywhere.

It was one of those moments in life where everything seems to move in slow motion. I'm sure I saw the sauce adhering to the table, to the floor, to the wall (and to the quilt hanging there) -- and maybe even to the kids. But what struck me most was that my children's eyes didn't follow the ravioli or the bowl. They both looked wide-eyed at me. They were waiting for the hammer to fall, for me to express my exasperation with Jared for rising when he did, for the great inconvenience this would cause in my day -- didn't they know I would have to spend my precious time cleaning this up so that things would look nice before our church family came over to do spiritual things with us?

Those eyes. In that moment, I was convicted of my selfishness, my impatience, my exasperation. I realized that this was just an accident; no one set out to create more work for poor mom. And in that moment, I realized that my children were waiting for an explosion of sorts. Not a yelling mess (I don't think), but more of an angry guilt trip. They could already see it building on my face.

I repented in my heart, right then and there. I don't remember exactly how it all went down, but I think I was calm. I think I took a deep breath and said, "It's okay." I think I simply cleaned up the table area and served Jared a fresh bowl, then set out to clean up the rest of the mess.

Do you know what was most convicting to me that day? I was most convicted by the fact that I was initially more willing to withhold my anger because I didn't want my best friend's daughter to see me that way. Pride: I had an image to guard. But then, in the slow motion of the moment, I realized that if I could find enough self control to do that, I could find the self control to guard my children's hearts, as well. And while I was at it, I could recognize the difference between a childish accident and deliberate rebellion requiring discipline. In this situation, the only one acting in rebellion was me. So I repented, right there in the space of just about 10 seconds.

The Ravioli Incident still comes up occasionally in our family reminiscences. It's told as a humorous story and one of mom triumphing over the ravioli stains. But I know better. I know that the bigger triumph was over my tongue and my heart, and even over my mind as I submitted to the Lord in that moment.

And I'm still thankful that God taught me a big lesson in those short seconds, an unseen moment turned to His glory.




March 18, 2016

Review: The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross



The story of this book is the story of the whole Bible (but a lot shorter!).

The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross is a beautifully illustrated telling of man's rebellion against and God's gracious plan of redemption. As all good stories should, it starts at the beginning:
A very long time ago, right here in this world, there was a garden.
The author, Carl Lafteron, brings the story of the gospel right down to the level of a three- to six-year-old. Honestly, the simplicity and completeness is something that would be helpful to many adults. Lafteron sums up man's problem in this way:
They decided they wanted a world without God in charge. God calls this "sin". Sin spoils things. So sin has no place in God's wonderful garden....
God said, Because of your sin, you can't come in.
Of course, the story later unfolds the remedy for our sinful situation with much celebration.
God says it is wonderful to live with him. Because of your sin, you can't come in. BUT I died on the cross to take your sin...
Without being Seuss-y, Lafteron writes in an almost sing-songy way. After a few readings, I think parents will find their kids "reading" some of this book for themselves.

Cataline Echeverri's colorful illustrations wonderfully set the mood throughout the book. Echeverri is obviously gifted in using color and style to reinforce the prose. I love that the pictures are designed to evoke a biblical-era feel where appropriate, yet bring in a world-art feel, as well. This adds to the cross-cultural appeal of the book.

I recommend this book not only for parents and grandparents (what a great Easter gift!), but also for churches to make available to their preschool teachers to read aloud. The book itself is printed on high-quality, sturdy paper and is hardbound.

This is the fourth in the Tales that Tell the Truth series, all of which were illustrated by Echeverri and was published by The Good Book Company.


I requested and received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review. This post contains affiliate links.

January 23, 2016

Don't Waste Your Snow Sunday


AnnaKate took this photo of Bella two years ago during an unusual snow event in Middle Georgia. This is pretty much representative of Bella's attitude about the snow, which contrasts sharply with my own.

Our church has cancelled tomorrow's church activities, thanks to Winter Storm Jonas. I'm reminded of a time when our oldest was about eight years old. We were staying home from church (due to some complications in my pregnancy), and Jeff told Christopher on Saturday night that we were going to have church at home the next day. When Jeff and I came out to the living room that Sunday morning, we discovered that our son had built a small pulpit out of boxes and books, had selected some songs for us to sing, and had even hand-written bulletins for us! He had a very definite idea of what church should look like!

As I'm sure many of you will be kept home, too, it seemed like a good time to share some ideas for worshiping at home when you are prevented from meeting together (Hebrews 10:23-25). You won't need hand-written bulletins and a make-shift pulpit for any of these, but I have included some links that might be helpful.
  1. Watch another church's live-streamed service. This allows you to see the full service, not simply the sermon. You can still participate to a limited degree, and it's a great opportunity to work with young children on church etiquette. Faith Bible Church and Grace Community Church both offer live-streaming of their services, and you can be certain of God-honoring worship and a sound biblical sermon. Tip: Some live-streaming requires you to set up an account prior to watching. Be sure to check on this prior to the service time to avoid being delayed.
  2. Watch (or listen to) a previously recorded sermon. Both Faith Bible and Grace Community have sermon video available; you can also find audio via their websites or podcasts. Other messages I'd recommend include If God is for Us, Who Can be Against Us? by Don Whitney, and The Church: The Beginning and End of Missions by Thabiti Anyabwile. Tip: Take a few notes to help prompt some discussion afterward.
  3. Read aloud to your family, and talk about what you read. Whether you read a portion of Scripture (maybe from the book your pastor is preaching through), or a book that has encouraged you in your own walk of faith, or a missionary biography (some of these are free to download) share it with your family. Tip: Read enthusiastically -- you and your family will enjoy it more.
  4. Sing together. Find some favorite songs and worship together! If you grew up singing hymns, but your kids aren't as familiar with hymns, this is a great time to introduce them to some solid, time-tested favorites . Or, if you're not as familiar with some of the newer music your church sings, now's your chance to practice together. Maybe there's a song that particularly reminds you of the gospel (In Christ Alone, anyone?); this is a wonderful time to sing it together and discuss its truths with your family. Tip: You don't have to be musically or vocally gifted to do this. Singing together karaoke-style is fine!
  5. Pray together. Really pray together. Tip: Tim Challies shares some wisdom from John Piper about how to pray, and I believe this would be helpful for families praying together.
  6. Enjoy this unique time with your family. Whatever you decide to do, relax and have joy in it. Tip: Remember that the word worship literally means worthness (not workness!). 
 I'd love to hear how your family has worshiped together during times when you've been hindered from going to church. Please share in the comments!


Photo: AnnaKate took this photo of Bella two years ago during an unusual snow event in Middle Georgia. This is pretty much representative of Bella's attitude about the snow, which contrasts sharply with my own.