December 2, 2014

A Chain of Hope

This is a difficult season for our family -- not the holidays, just this particular time in our lives. While I won't go into details in this post, I'll simply share that the last month has been a time of unexpected upheaval and uncertainty.

As a wife, it's been difficult for me to watch my husband go through a very trying time. And as a mom, I've been concerned about the effect all of this might have on our one child still at home. The mama bear in me sometimes wants to rise and roar, you know?

In the midst of it all, I'm reminded of Romans 5.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
That's really an astounding passage, when you think about it.

First, our justification has resulted in peace with God through Christ. We who were enemies of God are not at peace with Him, not through anything we have done but through the faith He gave us and through the work of His Son.

As if this wasn't astonishing enough, we now stand in grace. STAND in GRACE. Again, this new standing is not of ourselves, but was obtained through the work of Christ.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. I get that. This is hoping in something far beyond me, yet something that has been promised to me: an inheritance based on this new standing. To be honest with you, I don't fully comprehend this, yet I long for it. Rejoicing in hope makes sense to me.

But now it gets a little tougher: rejoice in my sufferings. This seems completely separate from the earlier part of the passage, and it seems like an impossible way to live... unless we understand what that leads to.

Let's look at verses 3-4 again:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope
Can you see the chain of hope there?
  • Suffering produces endurance
  • Endurance produces character
  • Character produces hope
I'm reminded of a recurring theme in Calvin and Hobbes:

Yeah, that's so me.

Do you remember the great hope you felt when Jesus saved you, when you realized that He had delivered you from a life of hopelessness bound for hell? Do you still feel the strength of that hope today as you walk through the everydayness of life? I know I don't. I get comfortable, complacent, thoughtless even. Like the Israelites, I forget what I've been delivered from and what I've been promised.

But here's what I'm finding. A little wandering in the desert can do one of two things: either lead to grumbling and discontent, or provide some strength training and a longing for the glory of God. My daily prayer and pursuit should be, must be, for the latter. And even as I struggle to maintain this perspective, I'm reminded of Paul's confession in Philippians 3:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
"Only let us hold true to what we have attained." I love the way John MacArthur unpacks this verse:
Look at verse 16, "However," that really means nevertheless, or better, one more thing. It's often used at the end of a paragraph to express a final thought. "One more thing, by the way, let us keep living by that same to which we have attained."

In other words, look, keep moving along the path that has brought you to where you are in your spiritual progress. That's the idea. You'll be interested to know that the verb here is translated "keep living." It actually means to follow in line, to line up. It's what it means. So what he is saying is, spiritually stay in line and keep moving from where you have arrived by the same standard or principle that got you were you are. Fall in step. It's used of armies marching in battle order, stay in line, stay in step, be consistent, keep moving. Wherever you are spiritually by the same principles that got you there, keep moving ahead. Consistency, conformity, live up to the level of your present understanding and by the principles that brought you there, keep moving ahead, stay in line, hold the principle tightly and move down the track. Stay in your lane, if you will, and move as fast as you can from where you are. Whatever strength and energy got you where you are, use it to move ahead. If we were talking about the runner metaphor, we would say you've run this far in your lane with great effort, it's gotten you so far, keep that same effort up in that same lane until you hit the finish. Pursuing the prize.
Studied together, these two passages are a beautiful picture of the perpetual motion that is the Christian life. That's what I want my life to be, even during this difficult season. Because really, as believers, our lives will be a cycle of suffering to hope, sometimes in overlapping circles.

Lord, keep me ever moving forward, ever remembering Your work and Your Word.

Help me continually climb this chain of hope.

November 28, 2014

Review: Samuel Rutherford (Bitesize Biographies)

I first became interested in the Bitesize Biographies series when a friend, John Crotts, released his book on John Newton. When I was offered a copy of Richard M. Hannula's Samuel Rutherford: Bitesize Biography, I felt it would fill in some gaps of my knowledge of the Scottish Reformation.

This book did inform me, but it also inspired me.

As a young man, Rutherford's intelligence and studiousness set him apart. He was also a man of passion and energy. He first invested these qualities in others by teaching at the University of Edinburgh, but it wasn't long before he accepted a pastorate, tackling these duties with his usual vigor. I loved reading of Rutherford's tireless immersion into the lives of his people, learning how best to preach to them, talk with them, walk with them. This sincere affection was returned by his congregants. The mutual bond was so great that when Rutherford's growing reputation brought invitations to preach all over Scotland, he chose to stay home and shepherd his flock.

His passion overflowed in his preaching; it was evident that he wanted his listeners to know Christ as he knew him. "Every day, we may see some new thing in Christ; His love has neither brim nor bottom."

At one point in the book, Hannula tells us that, "Rutherford used extravagant language and large numbers to try to convey the magnitude of Christ and the glories of heaven: 'Therefore come near and take a view of that transparent beauty that is in Christ which would busy the love of 10,000 millions of worlds.'"

"You shall see that one look of Christ's sweet and lovely eye, one kiss of His fairest face is worth 10,000 worlds of such rotten stuff as the foolish sons of men set their hearts upon."

(I must confess, somehow these quotes led me to singing this song throughout the day.)

This passion and energy later pulled Rutherford into controversy, as he stood on principle against monarchs and archbishops to maintain the purity of the church. At one point, realizing he would soon be tried for non-conformity, he wrote a friend, "I hang by a thread, but it is of Christ's spinning."

He faced many years of suffering and persecution, yet sought to serve as he could. And even with all of his passion, he knew the pitfalls of relying on feelings: "Believe Christ's love more than your own feelings. Your Rock does not ebb and flow, though your sea does." He further said, "Your heart is not the compass that Christ sails by."

As others lauded him, he refused to bask in their admiration. His focus was the reputation of Christ and His church, not of Samuel Rutherford. I believe this humility tempered his passion so that he was able to stand firm during trials and persecution.

The counsel he gave others was surely counsel he took for himself: "Grace tried is better than grace, and it is more than grace. It is glory in its infancy. Who knows the truth of grace without a trial? And how soon would faith freeze without a cross?" Even as he faced the loss of those he loved (whether by their deaths or his own exile), he was able to console others in their own suffering.

And as he lived, he died. As he once encouraged a friend -- "Die with all thoughts of Christ" -- so he himself passed from this world. Not a perfect man, but a man aimed at the glory of Christ.

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links. 

October 19, 2014

Review: Good News for Weary Women

When the opportunity arose to receive a review copy of Elyse Fitzpatrick's latest book, Good News for Weary Women: Escaping the Bondage of To-Do Lists, Steps, and Bad Advice , I jumped on it. Years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Elyse teach on contentment at a women's conference, teaching which is summed up in her excellent book, Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone . The teaching was both eye-opening and heart-changing, and more of my weakness is revealed each time I go through the book. I've since enjoyed several other encouraging books by Fitzpatrick, finding her writing to be transparent and encouraging as it points me toward truth.

Fitzpatrick defines the purpose of Good News for Weary Women this way:
In all of this, I pray most sincerely that women will rediscover the profound grace that is ours through the good news; that we are forgiven, loved, and already counted perfect.
As Christian women, this is grace that we all need to be reminded of, often on an everyday basis.

The book is broken into eight chapters:
  1. How Did We End Up Here?
  2. What Ever Happened to the Good News
  3. Laws, Rules, Steps and More Bad News
  4. When Rules Define You
  5. The Delusion of Self-Perfection
  6. Who is Your God?
  7. He Said Us!
  8. What's on His List for You Today?
According to Fitzpatrick, this book was birthed out of responses to a request she posed on Facebook:
Okay, friends ... I need your help. I'd like to know the dumbest things people tell women they have to do in order to be godly. Ready . . . Go!
The response was "mind boggling -- and frankly, pretty troubling. Nearly twenty thousand women read the post,and almost five hundred responded. And that was all within twenty-four hours!"

Throughout the book, Fitzpatrick includes lists of those responses, as well as other lies women have been told about their relationship with God.

I found this book to be part biographical, part exposé of today's church, and somewhat repetitive from chapter to chapter. While the theme of each chapter varied, two things were clear and  constant: the world, the church, and our own hearts place unbiblical demands on us, and Scripture leads us to understand that, in Christ, we are fully acceptable to God.

I feel compelled, however, to point out what seemed to me as two weaknesses of this book.

First, I was concerned that the gospel was not clearly laid out from the onset. For the unbeliever, or maybe even the new believer, the content might lead them toward a sort of easy-believism or even into a let-go-and-let-God mentality. To be sure, Fitzpatrick does share the gospel through her own salvation testimony in an appendix at the back of the book.

Second, I think it would have been helpful to have included some guidance on thinking through progressive sanctification and Christian disciplines. While it's true that once we are saved we are righteous in God's eyes, we can't discard the idea of becoming more Christlike in our living. And because of our fleshly state, there is an ebb and flow to this that requires discipline -- duty, even.

Colossians 1:9-14 encourages us toward this:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  (ESV)

For this reason, there are several other books I would recommend to weary women over this book. Each of these have encouraged and challenged me as I've read them:
Other books which might also be helpful include  The Gospel for Real Life, Growing Your Faith, and Transforming Grace (all by Jerry Bridges), as well as Holiness by Grace (by Bryan Chapell), and Faithfulness and Holiness (by J.I. Packer), which includes J.C. Ryle's classic, Holiness.

Let me close with some words from Ryle's book:

When I speak of "growth in grace," I do not for a moment mean that . . . (a believer) can grow

in safety, acceptance with God, or security. I do not mean that he can ever be more justified, more pardoned, more forgiven, more at peace with God, then (sic) he is the first moment he believes . . . . When I speak of "growth in grace" I only mean increase in the degree, size strength, vigour, and power of the graces which the Holy Spirt plants in a believer's heart . . . . When I speak of a man "growing in grace," I mean simply  this -- that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more of it in his life. He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace.

Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.

June 7, 2014

Review: Active Spirituality

"Is the Christian life about trying or trusting? Would I describe my relationship to God as running or resting? Is my life more characterized by grace or effort?"

When I read this short summary of Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life, I was hopeful that it would help me strike a balance between God's work and my work in living in living out holiness in my everyday life. I hoped it would help me think through legalism versus obedience, going through the motions versus living in a spirit-empowered way. This book did -- and will continue to do -- just that.

I tried to do a very quick read (in order to meet my review deadline) but found myself wanting to linger often. Despite the book's casual style, pastor/author Brian Hedges provides a careful handling of deep biblical truths about living a healthy Christian life.

Presented as a series of pastoral letters written "to a struggling young adult trying to find a church, live a chaste life, and walk with Christ." The tone is conversational and application-oriented. Don't be fooled by the friendly letter format; this book packs a substantial doctrinal punch.

Hedges addresses issues faced by his correspondent such as discouragement, depression, and assurance. Teaching from Scripture, Hedges also draws from the writings of authors such as John Bunyan, John Owen, C.S. Lewis, and -- for a more contemporary source -- Tom Schreiner, Michael Horton, and Timothy Keller, among others. (I always enjoy it when reading one book leads me to another book, and another...)

My somewhat quick read will be just a first read. This is a book I'll need to read again, digest more thoroughly, and apply carefully. I'll be glad to recommend this book to the thoughtful new convert and the struggling Christian alike (and don't we all fall into those categories at one time or another?).

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links. 

June 4, 2014

Me time, or...

I can’t believe we’ve been homeschooling for 16 years. That’s more than half our marriage. That’s more years than our youngest has been alive.  That’s 2,800 days -- if I count only “official” school days (whatever that means).

Small potatoes compared to the number of days I’ve been a mom: 10,037 or thereabouts.

That’s a lot of days spent feeding children, shopping for children, washing clothes for children, cleaning up after children, teaching children, disciplining children, ferrying children, playing with children.

Of course, our oldest has been on his own for quite a while now. But our second child, our only girl, has been racking up the milestones over the last few months. She turned 18, graduated from our homeschool, earned a scholarship, was admitted to her school of choice, and will be leaving our home within the next couple of months.

This leaves me with one at home, for a few more years at least.

I realized a few days ago that we only have about three years of homeschooling left. Three more years, of having a child in our home. Three more years, potentially, before we are empty nesters. Less than 2,000 days. And it hit me.

Me time is seriously overrated.

Somehow, the realization that my daily, intentional opportunities to train up my children are fleeting at best has made me desire to be with them all the more. Not to stifle them, not to lecture them, not to guilt them or control them.

I want to use this time to enjoy them, to learn more about what they enjoy. I want to listen to them, to hear what they think of the world and other people and our Creator. I want to watch them, to see what God is doing in their hearts and lives. I want to read with them, to pray with them, to worship with them, to play with them.

This season will be gone before I blink again. The next season will be good, as my husband and I live together as two again instead of two plus three or two or one. But until then, I want to enjoy this sweetly bittersweet season which the Lord has prepared for me now, while I can.

Not me time, but we time.

April 13, 2014

Review: Guiltless Living

If you've read more than a couple of my book reviews, you might have noticed that I tend to give four- or five-star ratings to most of the books I read to review. Because I'm not a professional book reviewer (or anything else, for that matter), I am able to select which books I'd like to receive to read and review. In order to steward my time, I tend to choose only books that I'm pretty sure I'll find interesting and want to invest time in reading.

With that in mind, I requested a review copy of  Guiltless Living: Confessions of a Serial Sinner by Ginger (Plowman) Hubbard. Years ago, I picked up a copy of her resource, Wise Words for Moms , and found it to be a helpful resource in guiding our children to identify the underlying heart issue when dealing with their sin.

Guiltless Living's introduction is worth reading, as Hubbard takes time to address her conviction of the seriousness of the sin she will be confessing in this book. She makes clear her motive:

Sometimes, when we step back and look at our behavior, we find it so ridiculous that it becomes humorous. But let me clarify one thing here. Sin is not a laughing matter. The things that God sent his Son to die for are not funny. However, I see nothing wrong with laughing at ourselves and how ridiculously we behave at times. My motive is not to make light of sin, but to acknowledge how utterly foolish I can be when I am living out of my sinful nature rather than with Christ. (p12)

Hubbard weaves personal stories throughout the book as she deals with the sins such as being critical, prideful, controlling, impatient, miserly, selfish, and religious. Each sinful attitude is contrasted the appropriate godly characteristic. The stories, while sometimes extreme, are geared to help the reader identify her own sinful attitudes. Hubbard then shifts to scripture to provide biblical teaching on developing a godly heart attitude in that area. A Bible study guide for each chapter is provided at the end of the book.

I think this book may be helpful to many Christian women. Personally, I had a hard time shifting from the personal stories -- many of which could have been part of a stand-up comedy act -- to serious study and evaluation. In fact, I grew a bit weary of the extreme anecdotes and found myself skimming to the end of the book. I'm neither happy nor proud of that, and I would like to go back and glean more truth as I know need to grow in all of these areas.

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.

March 16, 2014

Review: John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

Since our family was introduced to the ministry of 20schemes more than a year ago, I've been intrigued by all things Scottish. Like much of Europe, the history of Scotland is so rich -- especially their religious history. This history is often neglected today, both here and in Scotland.

Simonetta Carr's John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers) is a great introduction to one of our most important Scottish church fathers. This book is geared for children, and the lush illustrations will help to draw the reader into the story. Some are photographs of historical artwork, but many are the artwork of the talented Matt Abraxas. The book is beautifully bound and could easily be a coffee table book (but one you'll actually read).

I have a confession to make. I read children's books. And I like them. There, I've said it. I enjoy reading Beverly Clearly, Rick Riordan, and Lois Lowry. But I read this book completely guilt-free because I learned so much about not only John Knox, but also about the 1500s in Western Europe, especially church history.

(Another confession. I had to take this book so away from my pastor/husband so that I could read and review it.)

This is not a dry history book. Carr makes John Knox come alive as the reader walks with him through from young adulthood through his death. While the history presented is important, I felt that the biggest takeaway from the book was the priority Knox placed on bringing the gospel to the common people which, at that time, involved much more than just preaching and evangelism. It required attempting to change the law of the land, and even risking imprisonment and death when taking a stand. I couldn't help but wonder if today's Christian leaders would be willing to take such a stand.

This book is for:
  • Parents and grandparents who would like to help their children develop a better understanding of church history and Christian faithfulness
  • Homeschoolers who would like to supplement both their history and Christian studies
  • Church leaders who would like to share an important part of church history with their
    congregations, as well as a good example of faithfulness under persecution
  • Moms who just like reading good children's literature (wink!)

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.

March 7, 2014

Review: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection

When I was given the opportunity to receive a copy of Thabiti Anyabwile's new book, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection, I eagerly jumped on it. Anyabwile has been a vocal supporter of 20schemes, of which we're a part. I'd heard

For me, this quote from Chapter 1 sums up the premise of the book:
The truth of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection is a daily reality for those who believe in Him. Yet from time to time, that daily reality requires extended contemplation and reflection, and we should ponder its meaning so that it does not become daily neglected. (emphasis mine)
This is a short book, only ninety-five pages over five chapters, but it's packed. Each chapter is followed by a list of helpful questions "for further gazing and reflection." Here's how it breaks down:

Chapter 1: Is There No Other Way? Anyabwile places the reader right in the Garden of Gethsemane, giving a real sense of the sorrow and suffering that Jesus experienced, including the failure of friends and difficult answer to his prayer in Matthew 26:42. He then asks -- and answers -- "Why is this the only way?" ("This" being the cross.) This is important not only for the gospel, but for our understanding of the very character of the Father as we, too, experience sorrow and suffering.

Chapter 2: Why Have You Forsaken Me? While much could be said about this chapter, I think this quote sums up the answer to the question:
The Father's abandonment of Jesus leads to the sinner's adoption. God abandons one perfect Son in order to adopt millions of sinful sons. It is the only abandonment with any honor and redemption.
This abandonment is explored further as Anyabwile shares more deeply about the nature of the Father's abandonment of the Son through the rest of the chapter.

Chapter 3: Where, O Death, Is Your Victory? Anyabwile explains from Scripture exactly what death is and how Jesus' death "means victory over death for those who believe." The gospel is shared in the last few pages of this chapter, making this a good book to share with both believers and unbelievers.

Chapter 4: Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead? This was the question that the angels asked the women who had come to the tomb to prepare the corpse of their beloved Jesus for burial. Anyabwile shares how this simple question is a sanctifying redirection, both for the women and for us.

Chapter 5: Do You Not Know These Things? It's important how you know what you know, as many means are insufficient ways of knowing the truth about Jesus and the resurrection. Physical senses, facts, and Bible study are all insufficient means without our eyes being opened by God himself. My favorite takeaway quote from this section:
Sitting in a church for twenty years does not make you a Christian any more than putting rocks in an oven makes them biscuits.
If you've been a Christian for a long time, this book will encourage you to think about the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection in a fresh way. If you're a new believer, it's my hope that this book will help you learn more about what this death and resurrection means for you today. And if you're one who wonders what all the fuss is about this man called Jesus, please read this book and pray for God to open your eyes. And let me know; I'll pray for that, as well.

Additional resources:

You can watch a trailer for this book here.

You can listen to an interview with the author here

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.

January 26, 2014

Review: Stepping Out in Faith

One of my favorite memories of our two years at Grace Community Church was the new experience of hearing the testimonies of new converts who were being baptized. It was such a sweet time, so encouraging and refreshing. It was remarkable to me that so many of those being baptized were former Catholics. And I loved hearing how other members of the Grace Community had been so faithful to build relationships with these folks, diligently sharing the only truth that leads to salvation.

Stepping Out in Faith: Former Catholics Tell Their Stories (edited by Mark Gilbert) reminded me of those baptismal services. As each of the 11 stories unfolded, I couldn't wait to see how the Lord had intervened in each person's life. Each story is unique. Some were Catholic in name only; others remained Catholic for a time after being saved, leaving once they grew to see the extent of doctrinal error. Some were slowly drawn by the Lord in the course of everyday life; others became open due to traumatic events in their life or the life of a family member. These testimonies are diverse because people are diverse.

But most of these stories had something in common: the importance of the local Christian church. So many of these former Catholics found their way out of their comfort zone and into a healthy, gospel church. There they discovered two things: people who lived out Christ's love, and pastors who taught from God's Word.

I read this book to evaluate whether or not it would be a good book to pass along to Catholic friends at the right time (and it is that), but I found it challenging me, as well. How willing am I to invest time, energy, and genuine friendship in unbelievers who I encounter in my daily life? How prepared am I to listen, to get to know them, to serve them, to share the hope that they so desperate need? This is my challenge; this is our Lord's command.
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.