Putting Ourselves Forward

When should we put ourselves forward?

Some years ago, a former pastor was speaking about the “selfie generation,” drawing parallels between self-promotion, self-interest, self-centeredness, etc. He mentioned in passing our youth pastor, a young man not long out of college who was very active on Facebook. The older pastor didn’t use the younger as a negative example. I think he just mentioned feeling a little awkward speaking about Facebook with one who knew how to use it so well.

It didn’t take long for the younger pastor to reduce his FaceBook presence. The only times he or his wife post anything any more is when they have a new baby. Of course, a growing family and ministry may have lessened his online time as much as the older pastor’s comment. But I miss hearing how the family is doing and seeing their updates. I suppose I could have, and should have, emailed or written them.

This is not a post for or against Facebook or selfies. Neither is sinful in itself. But incidents like these have caused me to wonder when talking about ourselves goes too far.

We’ve probably all known people who post more than we want to know or see on FaceBook.

On the other hand, we can’t help but speak about ourselves, our thoughts, opinions, etc. We can share examples of what other people have said, but mostly we can only share from our own frame of reference.

Sharing ourselves is part of being human, being a friend, ministering to others. 2 Corinthians 1: 4 tells us to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” What we write, speak, and share would sound clinical if we don’t put ourselves into it.

In my Christian college, each person in the dorms had to take turns sharing a devotional with the other members of their “prayer group,” which consisted of three rooms that met every evening. One particular roommate always struggled with what to share. Once she said, “I know what God has been teaching me, but how do I know if that’s what others need?” Well, we can only share out of what God has been teaching us. He’s probably showing us those things not only for our benefit, but also for those with whom we interact.

Once when a guest speaker was invited to speak at our church, he was in the middle of research for a book. He quipped, “If you want me to provide the meal, you’ll have to eat what’s cooking on my grill”—another way of saying he could only share what was primary in his own heart and mind at the time.

In Write Better by Andrew T. Le Peau, he suggests sharing something personal with one’s audience as a way to make a connection. But he acknowledges the difficulty:

Writing is a tightrope because on the one hand we are told as Christians not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and on the other we are told that as writers we should talk about ourselves so audiences can identify with us. By being vulnerable we can draw readers in and so help them benefit from our life and work (p. 190).

Here are some principles that I need to keep in mind.

God promises wisdom when we ask for it. I clearly need wisdom.

Do I listen before I respond? James says, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). We’ve probably all had the experience of someone telling us what we need to do when they clearly don’t understand the issue. Few things are more frustrating. I shouldn’t assume. Maybe I don’t even need to answer; maybe I just need to provide a listening ear or shoulder to lean on.

Do I show interest in others? I have one friend who asks lots of questions. After one time we were together, I realized that we had spent most of our time talking about what was going on in my life. Sure, I was mostly responding to her queries. But I neglected to ask about how she was doing. I have tried to rectify that in our subsequent visits.

Am I the star of my own narrative? Am I, in my own mind, the hero, the one who came up with the right answer or best solution and saved the day?

Now, sometimes we did come up with the best solution, and it’s not wrong to say so. Thomas Umstaddt, Jr. tells the story of Dr. Barry Marshall’s work on the cause and treatment of ulcers. His research led to a different theory than that of prevailing medical opinion. He was denied permission to conduct human trials. So he experimented on himself to prove his theory that ulcers could be treated with antibiotics. Thomas makes the point that it would have been wrong of Marshall to hold back his discovery because he didn’t want to put himself out there and promote his own work. He helped others by sharing his research.

In the apostle Paul’s writings, he had to stand fast on the truth and oppose false doctrine. He did so not because he couldn’t tolerate anyone else’s opinions, but because God’s glory and people’s souls were at stake.

So sometimes it’s right to share my research or solutions or whatever. But I need to make sure I don’t view every opinion or solution of mine in that way.

What is my motive? Am I seeking God’s glory or mine? Am I seeking to minister to people or seeking attention?

Am I operating from humility? As Andrew Le Peau stated above, the Bible does tell us, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). That doesn’t mean we put ourselves down. The verse goes on to say, “but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” I like what C. S. Lewis said about humility: a truly humble man will “not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” Part of humility is acknowledging that all our gifts, talents, experiences, and the truth we know all comes from God.

Can I help? I have an inner, competitive, over-eager student who would squirm in my chair saying, “PIck me! Pick me!” if I weren’t so self-conscious. So, to combat that tendency, I often don’t answer in a group setting. But sometimes the poor teacher asks a simple question that she wants a quick answer to, and we’re all holding back because we don’t want to put ourselves forward. So going ahead and answering–as long as I am not monopolizing the conversation—is sometimes the best help to the situation. Or a hostess asks for people to help themselves to a buffet, but no one wants to go first. And we’re all holding up the evening’s activities and letting the food get cold. Sometimes it’s more self-forgetful in those situations to just do what’s needed. And sometimes God lays a burden to say something or brings a situation to our attention because He does want us to pitch in or share our perspective.

Some of us are like Peter: quick to jump in or to speak. Others of us are more like Moses or Gideon: we need a little convincing before we step out or speak up.

I’m drawn back to Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Letting our light shine involves letting others see us and what we do. But our motive is that they might see Him, not glorify us.

I’m sure there’s much more that could be said on the subject of when and whether to put ourselves forward. But these are the thoughts I have at this time.

How about you? Have you wrestled these issues? What principles help you?

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Sunday Scripture Blessing, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon)

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

Here are a few of the good reads discovered this week:

Why Biblical Literacy Matters. “Such artistry of language—from simple words that convey powerful truth to overarching patterns that direct our interpretation and application—reveals a God who communicates to us carefully and meaningfully through His words.”

Self-Talk and Sanctification, HT to Challies. Have you ever been confused by the thoughts in your head, wondering which are God’s which are your own, and which are Satan’s? This gives some helpful distinctions.

The Character of the Christian: Gentle. I think of gentleness as the forgotten fruit of the Spirit.

Tally On, Dear Writer. Though this is within the context of writing, it’s good in any area to frame goals in an encouraging way.

We Need Balance When It Comes to Gender Dysphoric Kids. I Would Know. HT to Challies. This is not written from a Christian viewpoint. But the writer makes an important point. There’s a downside to transgender treatment. “There is no structured, tested or widely accepted baseline for transgender health care. . . . It is not transphobic or discriminatory to discuss this—we as a society need to fully understand what we are encouraging our children to do to their bodies.”

On Boiling Goats, HT to Challies. Have you ever wondered about that odd prohibition in the OT about not boiling a goat in its mother’s milk? Here are some possible reasons behind it as well as tips on how to view passages like this.

A Bible Reading Plan Generator. Now you can customize your Bible reading plan!

Have a great weekend!

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week
with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Here we are at the last FFF of February already! Let’s jump right in to this week’s highlights:

1. My daughter-in-law’s birthday. It’s always fun to celebrate her special day.

2. Lunch with my son and daughter-in-law. One of our gifts to my d-i-l would not fit in their car, so we brought it over Sunday afternoon in my youngest’s truck. Mittu invite us for a lunch of chili and cornbread, and we also brought over the leftover birthday cake: flourless applesauce cake. Good stuff.

3. Closing on our rental house. We were looking forward to this last Friday, and now the deed is officially done. What a relief. There were a lot of good memories the years my son and d-i-l and grandson lived there. But now they are making new memories in their new house.

4. A celebratory dinner. While we were out for the closing and then ran a couple of errands, my son and daughter-in-law dropped off at our house a dinner of Costco shepherd’s pie and rolls, roses, and a sweet card. That was totally unexpected, and I so appreciated their thoughtfulness. We had already ordered pizza while on our way home, so we put the shepherd’s pie and rolls in the freezer and enjoyed them later in the week.

5. Flowers. For a few days this week, I had four containers of flowers on the counter! I should have taken a picture of them all together. The roses my husband gave for for Valentine’s Day were still there until recently, plus a plant of mini pink roses Jason and Mittu had given me for Valentine’s Day. Then we had the roses they brought for the house closing. And our realtor had given us an arrangement along with a card and gift card to a restaurant at the closing. I especially love having something pretty and growing inside when the landscape is barren.

Bonus: Cancer free eight years. My husband had surgery to remove a cancerous kidney eight years ago on my daughter-in-law’s birthday. Thankfully he has remained cancer-free. Kidney cancer isn’t likely to spread, but it can, so we don’t take being cancer-free lightly.

That’s our week. How was yours?

February Reflections

February seems to have flown by—and not just because it’s a shorter month. It’s been a busy month, but a good one.

Valentine’s Day is always a fun for us with some special treats. We celebrated our daughter-in-law’s birthday last weekend. We closed on the rental house that my son and daughter-in-law had been renting. My husband is so relieved not to have an extra property to take care of. My youngest son found an apartment and will be moving next month. I’m excited for him but also facing the reality of an empty nest.

February is also the time of year when winter starts getting to me: the sky is often grey, the cold seeps into my bones, and I long for spring. Thankfully we’ve had some sunshine and temperatures in the 60s this week. We still have several weeks of winter, but each day brings us closer to spring! My daffodils are blooming already!

Creating

February is a big card month for us!

Early in the month we celebrated my youngest son’s 10,000th day of life. This was the card I made for him:

It took me a while to figure out what to do—I haven’t seen any other 10,000th day cards to get ideas from. 🙂 I printed off a February calendar and had a stencil with the shape for the saying.

Then I made a card for each family member for Valentine’s Day. I had seen several variations of this idea on Pinterest and knew I just had to use it since my husband is a scientist.

I cut out the beakers using Cricut. I tried various background papers, but they made the card look too cluttered.

This was for my oldest son, Jeremy, who likes foxes:

I used a stencil for the heart. I printed off the sayings or captions and inside sentiments from the computer since my handwriting is not good. I cut out this one with decorative scissors and then outlined it in black. I had the hardest time finding the right fox. I have several stickers and looked up clip art, but none of them looked just right. I had some wooden cutouts, but I wasn’t sure if the glue would be strong enough to keep it on, especially as this one had to go through snail mail. Finally I got the idea to scan the fox cutout and print it, and that worked pretty well.

This was for Jason:

The bear was from a scrapbooking paper collection.

This was for my daughter-in-law, Mittu, who likes purple:

I printed out the tree from some free clipart I found online, then used a paper punch on various scrapbooking papers for the hearts.

This was for Timothy, my grandson:

I had seen an idea using the moon on Pinterest, and then saw this moon and stars design on the Cricut.

And this was for my youngest son, Jesse:

I had seen several variations of this idea on Pinterest using typewriters. But since he types via computer, I used that. I cut the computer out with the Cricut and positioned the caption behind the computer “screen.”

And finally, my daughter-in-law also likes sunflowers, so I was looking to use them somehow for her birthday card. In looking for something else on the computer, I stumbled across a file that I had purchased on sale some years ago from Karla Dornacher using sunflowers. Since Mittu also has blue in her home, this seemed perfect. So it wasn’t exactly handmade, except that I printed it off and cut it out. But I liked it, and I think Mittu did, too.

I just checked Karla’s site, and she doesn’t seem to carry this exact collection any more. But she did use the sunflower design in this printable card set.

I made one more birthday card for a friend. But when I double-checked to make sure I had the right date, I discovered her birthday was in June! I thought I saw somewhere recently that it was in February. Oh well—the card is now safely tucked away until June.

Watching

I’m still working my way through the Lark Rise to Candleford series while using my exercise bike. Jim and I really enjoyed the new PBS series of All Creatures Great and Small. I was sorry to hear the story had been changed from the original—but we did like this version.

Reading

Since last time I completed:

I usually read much more fiction than nonfiction, but that hasn’t held true this month.

I’m currently reading:

Blogging

Besides books reviews and almost weekly Friday Fave Fives and Laudable Linkages, I’ve shared on the blog this month:

As we turn the calendar page to March in a few days, we’ll have a busy couple of weeks with my husband’s birthday and my youngest son moving. But life should settle down a bit after that. I hope. You just never know.

How was your February? Any signs of spring yet?

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire,Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon)

Book Review: Write Better

In every writer’s conference, writer’s blog, or book about writing I have encountered, writers are told to continually improve their craft. Wherever we are on our writing journey, we need reminders, encouragement, and instruction. We can too easily grow complacent. Plus, changes in what’s acceptable can occur so quickly, we need to keep on top of current trends.

At the last writer’s conference I attended virtually, one industry professional said she read a book about writing or speaking every month. I thought I was doing good to read one a year!

Last year, several people recommended Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality by Andrew T. Le Peau. Blogger and author Tim Challies said, “It is every bit the book many Christians need as they consider writing, and every bit the book many Christian writers need as they attempt to grow in their skill.” Literary agent Steve Laube called it the “book of the summer” of 2020.

Mr. Le Peau worked for InterVarsity Press for over forty years, spending much of that time as the associate publisher for editorial. He’s also written several books and Bible studies. So he knows what he’s talking about.

He also writes from and for a distinctly Christian point of view.

Le Peau divides his book into three parts: Craft, Art, and Spirituality.

Craft deals with the “nuts and bolts” of writing: creating good openings, endings, and titles, the craft and character of persuasion, narrative nonfiction, etc.

Art goes into creativity, tone, metaphor, restraint, and more.

Spirituality discusses calling, voice, authority, courage, and stewardship.

Several appendices cover platform, editors, coauthoring, self-publishing, and copyright.

I agree with the high praise that others have given this book. Le Peau not only writes well and has heaps of experience: he reads extensively and gives multitudes of examples of what he’s teaching. He writes professionally but without lapsing into academese.

I have many more places marked than I can share, but I wanted to note a few points that especially stood out to me.

After observing that “persuasion is part of almost every piece of nonfiction” (p. 37), Le Peau encourages writers to be honest persuaders.

If we want to be honest persuaders, we will be on the lookout for and stay away from hasty generalizations, false analogies, demonizing opponents, avoiding or sidelining the central issue (that is, using red herrings), and more. Honesty means respecting the truth as best we can know it, respecting contrary viewpoints, giving due credit, and using logic (p. 44).

He points out that “presenting the arguments for these other viewpoints in as strong a form as possible” (p. 55) is not only honest, but doing so actually strengthens our own arguments and the solutions we offer.

Even though this book primarily covers nonfiction, Le Peau encourages using stories. Stories pull us in and touch the heart. Stories “are bound to stick with us long after the information has been forgotten” (p. 60).

His chapter on creativity helped diffuse some of its mystery: “Essentially, creativity isn’t concocting something entirely unprecedented. Rather it is bringing together two things that have been around for a while but previously hadn’t been combined. Innovation almost always involves building on the past” (p. 117).

A few other quotes:

Grammar has one—and only one—purpose: to facilitate clear, effective, powerful, artful communication (p. 129).

Metaphors, similes, and analogies sharpen the sword of our writing. They allow us to cut quickly through the fat to the meat of our purpose (p. 146).

When we are too focused on readers getting our point, we can become didactic and perhaps preachy, engaging only one dimension—perhaps just the mind or just the will. Art engages the whole person—will, heart, soul, mind, and strength (p. 158).

Regardless of what we are writing, however, we must treat our readers with dignity. Don’t announce that you are going to tell a funny joke or story. Give readers the dignity of deciding for themselves if it is humorous. Besides, doing so makes it less funny because you have given away the element of surprise. Don’t say a story will be sad or happy or startling. That inoculates the reader against sadness or happiness or shock. Just tell the story (p. 159).

The goal of writers is not complete originality but to take the past and give it a shake, a fresh look that helps us see  reality differently and better (p. 185).

Criticism is not just something to be endured. It is something to help us grow and improve (p. 214),

Though all the book is valuable, perhaps the most valuable part of it is the last section on spirituality, having the right perspective whether in success or failure, remembering we’re stewards of God’s truth and the talents He gave us. “Remember, my identity is in Christ. I am not defined by what I write. I am not defined by the praise or criticism or sales of my book or the number of hits on my blog. My identity is in Christ, who loves me with an everlasting love, who made me, who put the urge to write in me, and who helped me get it out” (p. 225).

I wish I could read a book like this and keep all of its information readily accessible in my mind. Since I haven’t figured out how to do that, I should plan to reread this one every year. Highly recommended.

You can read more from Mr. Le Peau at his blog, Andy Unedited.

Book Review: Be Loyal

In Be Loyal (Matthew): Following the King of Kings, Warren Wiersbe notes that we don’t have any recorded words of the apostle Matthew in any of the gospels. Even in his own book, he didn’t write about himself: he wrote about “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

Matthew was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He had been a tax collector when Jesus called him to follow. Wiersbe comments, “Being accustomed to keeping systematic records, Matthew gave us a beautifully organized account of our Lord’s life and ministry” (p. 18).

I don’t think I had considered before that “Matthew’s gospel is the bridge that leads us out of the Old Testament and into the New Testament” (p. 17), but I see it now.

The Old Testament is a book of promise, while the New Testament is a book of fulfillment. . . .“God promised a Redeemer; and Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise. Fulfilled is one of the key words in the gospel of Matthew, used about fifteen times.

One purpose of this gospel is to show that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promises concerning the Messiah.

Matthew used at least 129 quotations or allusions to the Old Testament in this gospel (p. 18).

Matthew wrote topically rather than chronologically. He gave the history and heredity of Jesus in His birth and genealogy and then laid out His credentials. “He recorded at least twenty specific miracles and six major messages” (p. 19). He related Jesus’ character, principles, and power. He shared how Jesus taught and trained His disciples and how He was betrayed, suffered, died, and rose again in victory.

A few more quotes that stood out to me:

Jesus also fulfilled the law in His teaching. It was this that brought Him into conflict with the religious leaders. When He began His ministry, Jesus found the Living Word of God encrusted with man-made traditions and interpretations. He broke away this thick crust of “religion” and brought the people back to God’s Word. Then, He opened the Word to them in a new and living way—they were accustomed to the “letter” of the law and not the inner “kernel” of life” (p. 49).

In Matthew 6: 22–23, Jesus used the illustration of the eye to teach us how to have a spiritual outlook on life. We must not pass judgment on others’ motives. We should examine their actions and attitudes, but we cannot judge their motives—for only God can see their hearts. It is possible for a person to do a good work with a bad motive. It is also possible to fail in a task and yet be very sincerely motivated. When we stand before Christ at the judgment seat, He will examine the secrets of the heart and reward us accordingly (Rom. 2: 16; Col. 3: 22–25) (p. 66).

This dramatic incident [in 8:28-34] is most revealing. It shows what Satan does for a man: robs him of sanity and self-control; fills him with fears; robs him of the joys of home and friends; and (if possible) condemns him to an eternity of judgment. It also reveals what society does for a man in need: restrains him, isolates him, threatens him, but society is unable to change him. See, then, what Jesus Christ can do for a man whose whole life—within and without—is bondage and battle. What Jesus did for these two demoniacs, He will do for anyone else who needs Him. Christ came to them, and even braved a storm to do it. This is the grace of God! He delivered them by the power of His Word. He restored them to sanity, society, and service (p. 79).

Why compare God’s Word to seed? Because the Word is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4: 12 SCO). Unlike the words of men, the Word of God has life in it, and that life can be imparted to those who will believe. The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated, and be permitted to bear fruit. It is shocking to realize that three-fourths of the seed did not bear fruit (p. 108).

“Why did Jesus walk on the water? To show His disciples that the very thing they feared (the sea) was only a staircase for Him to come to them. Often we fear the difficult experiences of life (such as surgery or bereavement), only to discover that these experiences bring Jesus Christ closer to us (p. 124).

Many Christians have the mistaken idea that obedience to God’s will produces “smooth sailing.” But this is not true. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Jesus promised (John 16: 33). When we find ourselves in the storm because we have obeyed the Lord, we must remember that He brought us here and He can care for us (p. 128).

As we look into the Word of God, we see the Son of God and are transfigured by the Spirit of God into the glory of God (p. 150).

“Come and see!” was followed by “Go and tell!” (p. 266).

As always, Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary was a great companion through Matthew.

 

Where Bible Reading Plans Go To Die

Our church uses a Bible reading plan that takes us through the whole Bible in about four and a half years. We discuss the week’s reading each Sunday morning. The man making the announcements last Sunday mentioned that we’d be starting Leviticus this week, “where Bible reading plans go to die.”

It’s true, isn’t it? How often have we begun January in Genesis with good intentions of reading the Bible, only to get bogged down by the time we get to Leviticus.

So we tell ourselves all those regulations don’t apply to us any more since the sacrificial system and feast days were fulfilled in Christ, and we move on to something more interesting. That is, if we haven’t given up our reading plan completely.

But there are several reasons New Testament Gentile Christians should still read Leviticus.

It’s inspired of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” God gave it to us and it’s profitable for us even though we don’t observe all the rituals in it.

It’s instructive. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

The New Testament quotes from Leviticus and refers to it over 100 times according to Warren Wiersbe in Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming “Set Apart” for God.

Key biblical truths are better understood with Leviticus as a foundation. Imagine growing up repeatedly bringing sacrifices for sin to the tabernacle or temple. Then imagine being stunned by this news:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-13)

Or imagine reading that the lamb for a burnt offering had to be perfect and without blemish and then finding that “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Or imagine having the whole burnt offering in Leviticus 1 in mind when reading Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Sure, we can get some of these concepts in the New Testament on their own, but we get a fuller picture and a deeper appreciation when we understand the background of them.

It emphasizes holiness. Dr. Wiersbe writes in Be Holy, “The word holy is used 93 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.”

A seminary professor taught a class on Leviticus. One assignment was to try to keep the regulations in Leviticus for a week and journal about the experience. One student wrote:

Every day, I found myself focused on thinking about ritual purity and impurity. Partway through the week, I realized that I was thinking about these things all day long and in every aspect of my life, and that’s when it hit me: God cares a lot about our purity and holiness. Not just from a ritual perspective, but also from a moral perspective. All day long and in every aspect of life, the Lord wants me to pursue purity in my heart, in my life, in my actions. He wants me to reflect his holiness in all that I do. I have been treating holiness way too lightly! O Lord, help me to be holy!

It underscores the pervasiveness and seriousness of sin. We take sin too casually these days, maybe because we seem to be able to receive it easily. But we forget what it cost.

It encourages thankfulness and appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice. We not only appreciate all that He went through, but we’re thankful for His deliverance. Jay Sklar, the seminary professor mentioned earlier, said that after teaching Leviticus, he could hardly sing a hymn about Jesus’ sacrifice without tears of thankfulness.

Israel’s feasts helps us understand our Christian celebrations. The ESV Study Bible’s introductory notes to Leviticus say:

The festal calendar of Israel enumerated in Leviticus (Lev. 23:1-44) has strongly shaped the Christian church’s traditional calendar. The three main national pilgrim feasts of Israel are the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Booths. For those churches that follow the traditional calendar, these celebrations find their climax in Good Friday,  Easter, and Pentecost. To fully understand the Christian celebrations, one must see their initial purpose in the OT (p. 213).

It teaches love for neighbors. Did you know that the first instance of the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” occurs in Leviticus 19:18? We see justice tempered with mercy in the regulations in Leviticus. Justice and fair treatment at large begins with justice and fair treatment on a personal level to our neighbors and acquaintances.

In Mark 12, a scribe asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The scribe responded, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (Mark 12:28-34).

Many hymns refer back to concepts in Leviticus, like “Is Your All on the Altar?” and “Whiter Than Snow.”

Sure, there are some difficulties in Leviticus. Some of the regulations or restrictions that seem most odd to us are thought to have connections with the pagan worship in Egypt that the Israelites had lived with for 400 years. There are a few passages that are hard to understand.

But by and large, Leviticus sheds light on much gospel truth. OT Israel practices these things looking ahead to Christ’s sacrifice, seeing much of it in symbolic form. As the NT church, we look back on the symbols and object lessons to more fully understand.

I’m approaching Leviticus this time with eager anticipation.

(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessing, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot,
Hearth and Soul, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon,
Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements,
Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

Laudable Linkage

IMG_0195

Here are some thought-provoking reads discovered this week.

Now Ravi, Too? “Sin on the level that Christianity Today describes does not happen all at once. It grows gradually over a long period of time as sinful behavior builds layer upon layer. It starts by justifying small indiscretions and then multiplies until we find ourselves surrounded by a wall of hypocrisy. As I read the Zacharias story it prompts me to examine my own life for the ‘little’ sins that I am excusing.”

The Best and Worst of Bible Reading Plans. “In my commitment to continue to read through God’s Word, I’ve borrowed and developed various Bible reading methods and tips. Some worked well and others . . . flopped. In this article, I’ll share my greatest successes and biggest flops along with the single best advice I’ve discovered for faithfully reading and enjoying the Bible.”

You Are Going to Hate It, HT to Challies. “You know that country you’ve been dreaming about? The one that you have been praying over and researching? You’ve been talking about it endlessly these days, building a team who will support you when you move there. You are ready to uproot your family, your job, your entire life to pour your soul into the place you love so much. Call me a party pooper, but today I’m here to tell you something important: Shortly after you finally arrive in that country, you are going to hate it.” True for missionaries, but I think also for almost any calling. It’s not all sweetness and light. There will be times when “Perseverance is the whole battle.”

There’s Something About Your Faithfulness, Sister, HT to Challies. A word of encouragement for everyday faithful believers.

Why Read Full-Length Historic Christian Biographies? HT to Challies. Yes! My thoughts on this as well in a past post: Why Read Biographies? Christian biographies have helped my Christian walk immensely.

Have a great Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week
with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Winter is making itself felt in full force. But thankfully we’re staying warm and cozy inside. Here are a few favorites from the week.

1. Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. We had our traditional “meat hearts,” cheesy potatoes, and salad, and heart cupcakes and exchanged cards. Jim got me pink roses and Jason and Mittu brought us candy and flowers and coffee. A fun night!

2. Good tools. I make cards for the immediate family (I’ll share my Valentines in my end-of-month post). My little paper cutter has needed a new blade for ages, but I just kept forgetting about it. And then, I haven’t been in Hobby Lobby since the pandemic started. I just went last week and got a new blade plus a better glue stick than I had. They made such a difference!

3. Warmth and electricity. My step-father, two sisters, and a nephew live in TX, and they were all without power at different times during the winter storms there this week. Thursday I heard that they all had power back. I hope and pray it stays on.

4. Jesse’s apartment. My youngest found an apartment this week and is moving next month! He’s been looking forward to this for ages. We are excited for him! But it’s also hitting me that he really is moving out and our nest will be thoroughly empty then. We’ve had him home for longer than usual, though, so that’s been a blessing.

5. Jim shopping. Jim asked me what I wanted for Valentine’s Day, and I asked him if he’d go to the store. 😀 With the extra card-making and baking, it was a big help. Then, yesterday at lunch I was revising my grocery list, and he offered to go after dinner. ♥

Bonus: We’re scheduled to close on the sale of our rental house this afternoon! My husband is so excited not to have the responsibility of a second property any more.

That’s our week. How was yours?

Devotedly, The Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot

If you’ve read here long, you know Elisabeth Elliot is a heroine of mine, a mentor from afar.

If you’re not familiar with Elisabeth, her husband and four of his colleagues were killed by a tribe they were trying to reach in the Ecuadorian jungle in 1956. She told the men’s stories in Through Gates of Splendor. Then, a few years later, she and her young daughter and the sister of one of the men went to live with the tribe in the jungle. A few years later, Elisabeth brought her daughter back to the US and became an author and speaker.

Jim and Elisabeth’s love story is unusual because they both thought God was going to send them to the mission field single. Jim was Elisabeth’s brother’s roommate in college and spent one Christmas vacation at their home. Then they had several classes together and began to study together.

They were different in personality. Jim was outgoing and spoke freely and easily (a little too freely sometimes). “The same bold, aggressive temperament that served him well as a daring disciple of Christ could sometimes come across as harsh and abrupt, even meddling, especially when dealing with a woman” (p. 258). Elisabeth was intellectual and reserved. But they thought alike on many subjects and began to find themselves drawn to each other.

Elisabeth seemed willing to take this development as from the Lord much sooner than Jim was. He had taken to heart Matthew 19:12 about some making themselves “eunuchs” for the kingdom of God (remaining single, unattached) and 1 Corinthians 7 about people being better able to serve God without distraction if they are single. He had given other guys in college a hard time about dating. He knew God was calling him to a pioneering field which would include rough living conditions. He didn’t feel he could ask a wife into that situation.

On top of everything else, he wrestled in his journal with the thought that if he loved a woman, it would mean that Jesus wasn’t enough for him. Somehow he missed that God Himself said “It is not good for man to be alone” when He created woman.

But for him, the thought of being romantically involved was a complete paradigm shift. It wasn’t something he could change his mind about in a short time. Plus, as they both graduated from college, each was not sure where God would have them. They worked at different jobs and helped in different ministries until they both felt led to go to Ecuador.

Elisabeth had told their love story in Passion and Purity and used it as a springboard to talk with young people about dating issues. She gave her letters and journals to her daughter, Valerie, to go through “when she had time.”

As a mother of eight, Valerie only recently had time. After reading the letters and journals and rereading her mother’s books, she felt she needed to share her parents’ love story. There was too much to copy entirely, so Lifeway helped her decide what to share. The result is Devotedly, The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.

Valerie tells the story, interspersing the narrative with excerpts from her parents’ letters and journals. At times she adds a word of explanation, a little further insight, her thoughts on different points, or how her parents influenced her own story.

We’re so used to hearing the mature Elisabeth, who did most of her writing and speaking after decades of walking with the Lord. It’s interesting to read her young adult thoughts.

They spent a great deal of their relationship apart, so they got to know each other through letters. They went through the same difficulties as everyone else, with one person taking something the wrong way, the other having to explain, etc. They had no problem taking each other to task when they disagreed, but they did it as kindly as they could.

But mostly they encouraged each other to draw close to God and be and do all He wanted them to.

When they struggled with whether they should even be corresponding, they concluded that “what they shared together, even knowing the possibility they would spend their lifetimes apart, was more than worth it” (p. 42).

Valerie says they handled their love “with extraordinary sacredness” and “modeled—not perfectly, but persistently—the way God intends us to handle love, steward it, and keep it continually under His guidance” (pp. xiv-xv).

It’s interesting (and fun) to note the change in Jim’s writing from wrestling to acceptance that his love for Elisabeth was from God. He found that these two loves enriched each other rather than detracting from each other.

A few other thoughts that stood out to me:

Valerie noted that In the earliest pages of her mother’s journals, the words “though punctuated, of course, with the typical cares and crises of any young woman’s life—would never shift from this due-north orientation. God was first; God was supreme; God was all” (p. 1).

I thought this principle was a good one: comparing Christian life to a railroad, Jim wrote about decisions, “A block signal—a crisis—is lighted only where there is a special need. I may not always be in sight of a ‘go’ light, but sticking to the tracks will take me where the next one is” (p. 109).

Though we consider both Elliots stalwart examples of faith today, they each had their discouragements. Valerie wrote, “When you hear my mother at twenty-two saying she feels ‘useless’ and ‘fearful’ and ‘ashamed,’ recall what she went on to become in life by God’s grace and power. Think what our Father is capable of doing, encouraging you to press into Him, as she did, for His glory” (p. 66). As Elisabeth “grew older in Christ,” she realized she enjoyed “having the floor” and saw her tendency to want to “have the last word” and “straighten people out.” “She could be cut to the quick at times by her own insensitivity towards others who were speaking to her, and she wanted to become more gracious to those who didn’t have their words or facts straight” (p. 104).

Elisabeth had a nice singing voice and was often asked to sing in meetings. She wrote:

Oh, sometimes I wonder if I should not abstain from singing altogether until I know that Christ is my motive. Truly I do desire that my voice, as well as my life and will, be wholly given to His praise. But the flesh is ever with me—it manifests itself in the most singular forms sometimes. I discover that self-effacement, springing wholly from selfish motives, taints my very highest aspirations to act of God’s glory. So I am driven once again out of myself, for I am all unprofitable. . . I am but a branch, and without Thee can do nothing (pp. 138-139)

In Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, Ellen Vaughn mentions almost in passing an article someone had written proposing that perhaps Jim’s strong friendships with other men, his aversion to marriage, and his long wrestling over his relationship with Elisabeth meant that perhaps he was really homosexual at heart. One can’t read much of his writing without rendering such a possibility ridiculous. He wrote often of struggling against lustful thoughts, even more so the closer they got to their wedding. After one such entry, Valerie noted, “Let’s not pretend that my father was above the temptation. Yet, in response to it, he did what all godly men (and women) must do when accosted by strong, unholy thoughts. He called them out, considered it war, and made impassioned pleas that God would be his strength to endure” (p. 164). Even before, his teenage relationship with girls “warned me that my affections go out very easily and are jealously tenacious. Recognizing this fact, that I would lose my heart at every turn if I didn’t discipline myself carefully, I withdrew from dating and even close associations with girls whom I knew attracted me, or to whom I was somehow attractive” (p. 53).

Jim also wrestled with feeling inferior to Elisabeth and feeling “I can never be all she ought to have in a husband” (p. 192).

So we see that neither of them was perfect. That’s an encouragement to me, because I’m not, either. I wrestle with some of the same things they did. Sanctification is a lifelong process. But God’s grace is available every step of the way.

We miss a lot by not writing letters today. These letters are not only deeply spiritual, but they’re often poetic and literary as well. I’d love to include some of the more lyrical entries, but this is too long already.

Some years ago a philosophy started going around Christendom that God did not have a specific will for people regarding life work, location, spouse, etc.; He left it up to individuals to do what they wanted. That never set well with me, for too many reasons to go into here. But I saw anew one reason through these letters and journals: the sanctifying affect that waiting for and trying to discern the will of God could have. Near the end of the book, Valerie records her father’s words: “I have sought slowly the will of God, and the slowness has brought strength into the conviction of it, and joy in the realization of it” (p. 233).

Jim wrote, “The Lord has a certain slow dignity about His movings which constantly shames my fretting unbelief” (p. 163).

It touched my heart that they chose for their wedding verse Isaiah 25:9: “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him.”

Valerie shares that “If I could express my one hope for compiling this book, my prayer is that these entries of theirs would call us to search faithfully for God in His Word. And upon discovering His unchanging, faithful, merciful, and loving character, I pray we would be more fully moved in obedience to Him that we too might leave a lasting legacy of faith as my parents did” (p. 45).

The Elliots’ writing does encourage me in my walk with God and continues to spur me on to seek Him in His Word and find and do His will.

(By the way, last year, Revive Our Hearts did a series of interviews with Valerie about her parents’ story and writing the book here. I enjoyed listening to them then, and they have the transcripts up now.)

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon, InstaEncouragements)