Friday, March 30, 2018

Christ Crucified

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6

"Faith finds that Christ has made full payment to the justice of God having poured out his blood to death upon the cross. All of his previous acts of humiliation were but preparatory to this. He was born to die; he was sent into the world as a lamb bound with the bonds of an irreversible decree as a sacrifice. Without this, all he had done would have been labour undone. There is no redemption but by his blood. Christ did not redeem and save poor souls by sitting in majesty on his heavenly throne, but by hanging on the shameful cross, under the tormenting hand of man's fury and God's just wrath. And therefore, the poor soul that would have pardon of sin, is directed to place its faith not only on Christ, but on a bleeding Christ, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation* through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:23). Not everyone who assents to the truth of what the Scripture says about Christ truly believes. No, believing implies a union of the soul to Christ with full trust and reliance."

~William Gurnall, Works, 11:3-6

"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26).

Come to Jesus, dear Crumbles. Cling to Him in faith. Treasure Him as your sufficient Substitute and Sin-Bearer. Only in so doing will you find Good Friday truly good.

*propitiation: to use John Piper's term, a "wrath absorber," soaking up like a sponge, as our substitute, all God's wrath which we fully deserve for our sin and rebellion against Him.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Anointing {A Poem of Surrender}

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me."
Mark 14:3-6

Broken, Rabboni?
The brightness of this alabaster dream
Shattered into fragments at Your feet?
What preciousness deserves so great a price?
This is My body, crushed to give for you.

Emptied, too?
Not one sweet drop remaining for myself?
Bereft of fragrance brightening my days?
What gain can justify such costly waste?
This is My blood, poured out for your forgiveness.

Broken, emptied.
Shattered into fragments at His feet.
Not one drop spared, the fragrance fills the house.
The poverty of all my all is dust
Beneath Your feet, O worthy, precious Lord.
"Your sins have been forgiven; go in peace."

from the archives

Friday, March 23, 2018

Loved Just As Much

It has been a month of unexpected urgent problems and upheaval for us. I will spare you the long stories, but they have involved plumbing, health problems (both the ongoing issues and weird anomalies we didn't see coming), phone service, work, family, and household administration. Many times I have felt like Brother Thomas (I think) in The Hardest Thing to Do from the Hawk and Dove series by Penelope Wilcock: "There are no 'alleluias' in Lent."

In part of my Scripture reading on one of those mornings when nothing seemed to go right, the Lord reminded me that Job was no less loved by Him in the middle of his bereavement, bankruptcy, and  boils than he was in his restoration and prosperity. Just so, I am no less loved by God when things go wrong than when things go well. "He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him graciously give us all things?"

All God gives is grace. The unpleasant and inconvenient things are grace to make me more like Jesus, to expose and undermine my idols, and to train me to trust and not to grumble. That any happy things at all come to me is grace, because all I deserve is God's wrath.

And there have been happy things this last messy month too. My dad had the privilege of baptizing two of my parents' ESL students, and I got to be there to see it! One of you crumbles sent an unexpected and perfectly chosen gift. The Lord gave me enough grace to crochet a baby blanket for a new extended family member. Ebony and I experienced His protection when Amore had to go out of town. The Lord gave enough grace for 2+ days without running water (and my parents provided the grace of hot showers). There have been a couple of unexpected and fun breakthroughs in trying to learn more about my dad's family history. The trees are blooming, and the world is greening. Hugs from church friends and texts of prayer and encouragement from long-distance friends are no small blessings either.

Even if the Lord had withheld those encouragements, He is still better to me than I deserve. I am "blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms" in Christ Jesus. That's the reminder I needed that day from Job. I pray it encourages someone reading this today as well.

Lord, thank you for the stresses and strains that force me to rely on You more fully. Grant me grace to glorify You with trust and praise today. Please fight for us on these matters which trouble me and grant peace in the waiting. Thank You for hearing me because of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cowboy Up, Christian!

Be watchful,
stand firm in the faith,
act like men,
be strong.
1 Cor. 16:13, ESV

Falling as those commands do in the final chapter of 1 Corinthians, they are not directed to husbands or young men, but to the whole church in Corinth. The Greek word which constitutes the third command is andrizomai. Essentially, it turns the noun "man" into a verb: "to (be a) man."  The ESV and NASB translate, "Act like men." The CSB and NIV say, "Be courageous." The J. B. Phillips paraphrase exhorts, "Live like men." The Message paraphrase says. "Give it all you've got." In English, a soldier would say, "Man up!" A Texan would say, "Cowboy (or -girl) up!"

The ESV Study Bible notes that, in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, this word frequently occurs in "contexts encouraging people to act with courage and strength in obedience to the Lord and with confidence in his power (see Deut. 31:6-7, 23; Josh. 1:6-7, 9; 10:25; 1 Chron. 28:20; Ps. 27:14)."

Perhaps you, like me, look around at your circumstances and inward at yourself and ask, "How in this mess am I supposed to cowgirl up when I'm shaking in my boots?" To that, I first start speaking truth to myself, "Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is fear walking" (Susan David, in her TED Talk "The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage). Again, "Courage is the resolve to face a fearful threat. And courage is fueled by hope--a hope in something stronger than what we fear" (Jon Bloom, "Be a Human Infusion of Hope", accessed 8:23 AM, CDT, Aug. 17, 2015). Merriam-Webster Online defines courage as "mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty." Courage or "manning up," then, is not the opposite of fear but the resolve to move towards God and His will in spite of our fear.

More importantly, I search the Scriptures listed in that ESV note for principles that would fuel hope and courage in me, even in fearful times:
  • Man up, Christian, because YHWH is with you and will not leave you in the lurch.

    "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).

    Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. (1 Chron 28:20).
  • Man up because YHWH keeps His promises.

    Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deu.t 31:7-8).

    And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you" (Deut. 31:23).
  • Man up because you are obeying God's call and Word.
    "Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go" (Josh. 1:6-7).
  • Man up because today's victory will be tomorrow's courage when the LORD fights for you.

    And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight” (Josh. 10:25).

    Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! (Ps 27:14).

We serve a God who delights to turn Very Small Animals like Piglet and me into mighty warriors for His kingdom. The roots of such courage lie not in our strength but in the character of our God. May He grant us grace to put boots on our fear and walk forward anyway. May He keep reminding us of these and similar truths to preach to ourselves when fear tries to bully us into backing down from obedient faith. Courage, dear hearts!

"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
With blessings on your head."

~William Cowper
(a poet who himself struggled with disabling anxiety and depression),

Monday, March 12, 2018

On Burdens

Dear child of God:

That burden Satan sent to break you,
God in love will use to make you
More like Christ. Take heart!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Hyacinth: A Poem {Guest Post}

My kind and lovely friend Courtney from Growing Is Beautiful shared the following poem on Instagram this week and has given me permission to repost it here for your encouragement and blessing.

Peeking up from the soil
while the world is
still cold and dark,
some might say
you are brave
and strong.
But I wonder
if it's only this:
you know who you are
and that you were made
for exactly this reason--
to soften the bitter edge of winter
with the glorious fragrance of Hope,
reminding every weary soul
that all is not lost.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Glad Tidings at Midnight

First full moon of March 2018

"Faith helps us bear afflictions in the hope of a favorable outcome.
Faith can prophesy glad tidings at midnight
and see quietness and pleasantness out of affliction
as we lie under the burden of dark strokes of God's providence....
Divine providence has two faces:
that which is visible and seems to be against us;
aye, but there is that which is not seen, and there is love, sweetness, and kindness.
Sense judges only the outside of God's dispensations,
but faith looks within the veil.
There are secret and invisible things that God makes known to waiting souls.
True faith can pick love out of God's angry speeches
and draw gracious conclusions from the darkest events.
When there is no apparent comfort,
and there is not a drop of oil in the cruse,
nor a dust of meal in the barrel,
hope can hang upon a small thread.
and look for the favour from God."

~Thomas Manton, By Faith (formatting mine)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

If You Are an eBook Reader and Care About Learning

As longtime readers know, I love books. My husband and family can tell you that "love" is not overstating the case. For decades, I carried a big purse or backpack almost everywhere to accommodate the books I might need to read while waiting at the store, at the train station, for a sister after school,... If I didn't have a satchel of books, I always had at least one.

Then 2010 happened and I developed sudden-onset chest pain caused by autoimmune inflammation of the connective tissue in my ribs and sternum. By the time we found a medication strategy to manage that better, I had developed lumbar and sciatic pain. And so on and so forth until today, when I still have multiple areas of daily chronic pain that make my old habit impossible.

While I still enjoy physical, ink-and-paper books most of all, I can only read them when they are on a bookstand at eye level. Consequently, I was an early adopter of the Kindle e-reader and upgraded to the even lighter Kindle Voyage with built-in light before our 2015 Alaska cruise. My Voyage (code name Dawn Treader) goes with me almost everywhere, and Amore and I both appreciate that it allows me to read myself to sleep at night without a book light burning all night or until I wake up to turn over. When we travel, I can take hundreds of books with me, including a half-dozen study Bibles and some commentaries, and it doesn't break anyone's back or incur an extra luggage fee.

That's the good part.

Here's the not-so-good: I do all right reading fiction or even biography on my Kindle, but I have found it difficult to digest and retain non-narrative nonfiction content on the smaller screen without an easy way to flip forward and back to scan the chapter headings and so forth. I highlight sections and sentences, but the best way I had found to review themwais to use Bookcision to export Kindle highlights for a book I wanted to review or found especially quotable. The series of excerpts here from The Shepherd Psalm last year utilized that app for me to review, select, copy, and paste into blog posts. That still requires intentional effort and time, and it is a book-by-book process.

Enter Readwise. My husband saw an article about this new app (so new it's still in the beta version) and said it sounded like my kind of thing. Although I was skeptical that it would be that much different from Bookcision, I decided to give it a try.

Y'all. It is sooo good.

It was easy to import all my Kindle highlights (although I do need to go back to the Readwise dashboard periodically to sync new ones). One can also import iBook highlights, clippings from Kindle documents, and manually entered passages (such as from a physical book). The highlights are searchable and taggable with the reader's own custom categories, keywords, and themes, like an organized, digitized commonplace book. One can also mark highlights as favorites. All these features should prove very helpful in future research and writing

One of my favorite features so far, however, is the daily digest email. Every day, Readwise sends me an email with 5 randomly selected highlights from the 7 years' worth books I have added to the app. Perhaps I should say "providentially selected," since these have been the most encouraging thing in my inbox on some days.

This is an excellent feature for more than just a daily dose of encouragement, however. It could be a big difference-maker in my long-term retention of the eBooks I read.

Last summer, I listened to (and took notes on) the audiobook Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. That evidence-based approach to long-term retention of what we learn told me that a lot of what I thought I knew about learning was wrong. It also explained why some strategies I stumbled upon for myself in school proved so helpful. Two of the key strategies were spaced repetition or practice and interleaving.

Spaced repetition is fairly self-explanatory. Learning a subject or technique or piece of music in a single intensive period of practice and mastery only achieves short-term retention. To maintain that learning more permanently, review and repetition are necessary, and they are most effective when some time has elapsed and forgetting has occurred. The Readwise daily digest provides a low-effort way to accomplish this with my eBook consumption. Some of the daily highlights are from books I read in January; others are from 2011. I've definitely had time to forget that content!

Interleaving means switching from one subject or topic to another before mastery of any of them have occurred. In my nephew's baseball practice, for example, he will achieve more long-term mastery of the skills if he practices 15 minutes on his batting swing, 10 minutes on fielding balls, 5 minutes on his throw, etc, and then mixes up the order and proportion the next time. Devoting one entire practice to each skill produces much less mastery over time. In the same way, the Readwise digest emails remind me of information from 5 different books, maybe even 5 different genres of books. Today, for example, included a theology book, an Andrew Murray quote on prayer, a sentence I admired from one of the Hawk and Dove novels, a passage of biography, and a thoughtful book on how to use words well in our present culture.

That diversity also invites me to think back to the context of the quote and why I decided to mark it, which is a kind of self-testing and forced recall (a third Make It Stick strategy for long-term learning). The Readwise team is working on some additional features that will intentionally incorporate the principle of "retrieval practice." In addition, the manageable daily selection of highlights provides a natural opportunity to tag and favorite the quotes for future use.

The Kindle Voyage and Make It Stick links above are affiliate links; i.e., purchases made soon after clicking them will generate a small percentage referral fee to me. Otherwise, I do not reap any material benefit from sharing these thoughts with you. Readwise did not request it and will not compensate me for doing so. I just love learning, really love it. Many of you do too, so I wanted to share this new tool that I truly believe will help us learn more effectively from our eBook explorations.

To my thinking, that is a matter of stewardship. I have spent so many hours of my life reading; if Readwise can help me remember, use, and share the best of that content better, it can help me glorify God and edify His people.

Happy reading, crumbles!