Mother’s Day: The Best Mother

Where would we be without mothers? As a man and a father, I can say that on this side of eternity I will never truly understand everything they do. My own mother as well as my wife cause me to stagger in unbelief at the amount of work they accomplish, the love they shower on the family, and the countless hours spent worrying and caring for us.

Scripture, the Tanakh and the New Testament, was written during the patriarchal period. I doubt many people would argue with the fact that women were treated unequally, to say the least. However, several prominent women stand out as incredible women of virtue. Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, and Abigail, all women of wonderful faith.

But one sticks out to me: Mary. I was raised in a independent, fundamental baptist church. In order to keep from ‘compromising’ they put Mary on the back shelf, in order to not appear to ‘worship’ her, as they accused Roman Catholics of doing (which is absolutely absurd, but let’s stay on task). So I never really thought about her, other than that she gave birth to Messiah.

Mary stands out as the preeminent mother in Scripture.

But when I really began to look at Mary, I was overwhelmed at her simple faith and trust-informed action. I wish to spend the next few moments with you looking at Mary and hopefully encourage our mothers (my own mother and my wife stand as examples of this as well).

Simple Faith

One of the first aspects of Mary’s life that draws me to mirror her life. This poor girl, unknown to the world of first century Israel, became the mother of God, the theotokos. This betrothed young lady is visited by Gabriel, an angel.

Let that sit in just for a moment. Just meditate on the fact that this simple lady, waiting to join Joseph, has Gabriel (consider his history in Israel, that was an incredible honor!) come and declare a wonderful announcement: she would bear the Messiah.

After being told she would bear Jesus, her saintly reply was, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Can you imagine that simple faith? Even when she asked how it would be possible, she was not asking from a position of doubt but of curiosity of means. What simple faith!

Contrast that with our own lack of belief. When God says that he will never leave us, our reply: Why are you so far off God? When God said that he desires to be with us every day, our reply: Only when it is convenient for me, God. But Mary? Her reply: whatever you say Lord! That is the essence of simple faith.

After being told that her Son would die and she would experience a pain compared to a sword piercing her heart, Mary simply believed. That is simple faith.

Another act of simple faith (and should we say profound faith?) is her interactions with Simeon. During a prophetic utterance, he mentions something terrible, “…and you yourself a sword will pierce…” (Luke 2:34). This, of course, is a reference to the horrific torture and death her Son would endure and the pain a mother would be overwhelm with at the thought and eventual sight of it. Now, as a father, I cannot grasp this. How could a parent cope with such an utterance?aaron-burden-21616

How can Mary, after being told such a thing, have simply “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”? (Luke 2:19) Again, this is the essence of simple faith. What a challenge to us! If God were to tell me of some horrific death one of my children were to undergo, I confess that my faith is weak and that I would struggle. I would take them and flee for protection. But not Mary. Mary trusts in God, that God would protect them. This is such a challenge to me, and as a mother she is an incredible example.

Trust-Informed Action

Trust-informed action? What in the world? Let me break this down and then we can look at this in the life of Mary. Action is our efforts in accomplishing a task. For instance, if I want to build a bookshelf I set up plans, procure the materials, and then begin the work. Now, it would be foolish if I were to just grab some two-by-fours and start building. My action would be building, my truth-informed aspect is that planning and procuring part.

Mary’s life was trust-informed. She knew the Scriptures. If one was to compare her song (Luke 1:46-55) with that of some of the songs in the Tanakh (see Exodus 15:1-21, for example) one would see how close they are. Though Scripture is silent to this, I imagine she would think of the many Psalms that speak of the Messiah as her Son grew up. Whether she learned this through Synagogue or attending Temple doesn’t matter, the fact is Mary’s faith was informed by Scripture.

Mary’s actions were informed by the sweet Scriptures.

But it did not stop in her head.  She “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And then she spent her life raising her Son, the Messiah.

Do our lives reflect this? Do we know the Scriptures like Mary, and do we follow through with it?

Mary’s life as a mother is incredible. My wife and mother are incredible. Happy Mother’s Day, and may we all be more like Mary!

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How can I journal my prayers?: The Warm-Up

What is prayer journaling? What is involved? How does it look? What do I do?
Perhaps you find yourself asking these questions. And these are good questions to ask. In fact, when my wife first recommended journaling my prayers I had no idea where to begin. So I set out to find out how! I read different blogs, a few books, and a couple of articles on the web. What I came to find out is that there is no one set way to prayer journal.
At first this disappointed me. I am of a practical nature, and when someone informs me of something that will help I really want a step-by-step list of things to do. So when I saw a variety of ways to engage in prayer journaling, I was not thrilled, to say the least.
However, after spending some time searching for the way that called to me, I found that writing it out in a typical journal format was the best. Since then I have toyed with a few other ways, but I always return to, what I call, the traditional way.
To begin with, let me suggest a few things. If you are interested in prayer journaling, it might be helpful to do the following (this is not exhaustive or a list to be completed in any particular order, so if you are like me, I’m sorry!):
  • Do some soul searching:What makes you you? What causes you joy, sadness? Why do you get out of bed every morning (or evening, if you work overnight)? Some practical suggestions are taking a personality profile. Here is a website that offers a fun, basic personality profile. Spend time, and I mean thorough time, learning about you. When you begin to learn about yourself, how you react and interact, then you can begin to narrow down what type of journaling in which you may be inclined to engage. For example, I am introverted. When I am around a lot of people I get exhausted! I like to think, to contemplate. I enjoy crafting a thought and then writing it down in a journal. The same applies to my prayers. I spend time thinking of what I am going to say to God.

    What makes you you? Finding you is a great place to start on your prayer journaling journey.

    For others who are artistically gifted, art may be the avenue in which they pray. If they need strength for a difficult time, painting a picture of a field with a rock while meditating and praying to the God who is their rock may prove to be helpful. The bottom line is to find out who you are and then proceed to the type of journaling. I’d also recommend taking an Emotional Quotient test and a multiple intelligence test.

  • Find out what method is better suited for you:When you are looking for a certain prayer journaling method, it is important to find one that is best suited to you. I’ve already mentioned discovering the youness of you, so that should be a factor. With that being said, people are at different stages of life. A college student can do things that a married mom with four kids and a job cannot. A stay-at-home dad may be able to spend more time engaged in his method, while the executive wife has little time. So, what stage of life are you at? What is the freest part of your day? Do you have access to a physical journal? Will you use electronic means?
    alejandro-escamilla-10.jpg

    Will you use a traditional journal? A laptop? Or a canvas? The possibilities are boundless.

    Do you have the ability to write? Or do you prefer painting? Not only should the specifics of the journal and the means of journaling come into examination, but also the time. What does your life best equip you for? Does your career demand work regardless of time? Do you maintain a 9-5 job? Learning the best time to journal is as important as journaling itself. Being consistent is the key to helping you in your walk as well as deepening your perception of God.

  • In the initial stages, utilize several different methods for certain periods of time:Begin by finding two or three methods. Research them, explore them, read about how different people do different things. And then set up a time to try them out. Be realistic here, because if you determine to use a certain method for a year you may never branch off and find anything new! Perhaps two weeks would be a good place to start. After you understand the basics of the method, then begin practicing that for two weeks. Avoid the temptation to jump back and forth. Stick with one long enough to where you can work out your own kinks and also get an honest evaluation. If at the end of that period you don’t like any of them, find some new ones!
  • When you truly start, go all in:Once you have found your method, go all in! The time to play it safe is over. It’s the third period (that is a hockey reference, in case you did not know!) with a minute left of play and your chance to bag the game and head home in victory. Now, does this mean that you determine to spend seven hours a day journaling your prayers to God? Well, probably not. Of course you may have that free time, in which case, more power to you! But if you are like the average individual, your time is limited. Once you find your method, that extension of you, then go all in! For example, I love the traditional way of journaling. I’ll share the practical aspects of that soon, but one of the elements I love about journaling is its artistic nature. I love calligraphy, I love drawing.
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    I love felt-tip pens. There is something aesthetically pleasing when writing with one.

    I love the old world: leather-bound books, verbose works, and beautiful handwriting. So I use a leather-bound journal, I have a felt-tip pen (thanks Mrs. Burnside!), and I love crafting the beauty of the written language as I create a prayer to God and an extension of myself. If drawing your prayers is your preference, then get quality materials for the art. Make it a beautiful extension of your soul to God’s.

Imagine the training required for a marathon. A lady trains for months, years, to take on that arduous task. Training, nutrition, proper sleep all play into the success or failure. In a similar way, the ground work for prayer journaling is more important. Our goal is to connect with God on an ever-increasing, intimate way. Like a crazy person, we could just wake up one day and decide to run a marathon. And like a crazy person we would fail. Just as a marathoner spends time in preparation, so you and I need to put in the work of learning who we are, what methods are appealing, how they look practically, and then when to run the marathon. Once you’ve reached this point, your prayer life will change.
What about you? What have you found helpful on your own journey in prayer journaling?

 

Why Should I journal my prayers? Benefits of Prayer Journaling 

Prayer Journaling, as I mentioned in a previous post, completely transformed my prayer life. But how? What are the benefits?

Certainly, prayer journaling is not for everyone. However, I (and others) have found it to be immensely helpful. Here is a small sampling of the benefits I personally found. I’d love to hear yours! Please comment below!

  • It helped with my consistency.

    I am somewhat disciplined. I have consistently worked out since I was eighteen. And when I say consistently, I mean consistently. One year I recorded the temperatures of the room in which I worked out. The high for that year was 118° and the low was 18°. I even woke up early on Christmas morning to get my workout in! With that being said, I struggled with prayer. But as I began to journal my prayers, I began to look forward to it more and more. There is something about writing a letter to God, focusing my thoughts into a meaningful conversation with him. And the desire increased the more I journaled.
  • It helped with my actual prayers.

    A fellow blogger mentioned that journaling helped her not be so repetitive. I couldn’t agree more! When I began prayer journaling, my prayers became more focused. No longer did “Father”, “Lord”, “please help so and so…”, fill my prayers. Now my prayers are focused. They are well-thought out. They are precise. And I love it.

    My prayers are precise. And I love it.

  • It helped with my closeness with God.

    I don’t know if others have found this to be true, but there is, for me, a certain reverence when writing to God. I feel his presence, that calm, still, small voice, right there with me. It is always quiet, as I tend to wake up early to spend time with him.

  • It helps focus my thoughts.

    Sometimes my mind wanders! I know, surprise! This affliction besets us all, I am sure. But prayer journaling has relieved me of the stress and worry of, “What did I say last?” Instead, a brief look down at my journal is all it takes. I see where I last left off, and pick it right up. It’s like a written bookmark of my soul as it is being poured out to God.

  • It provides encouragement for the future.aaron-burden-90144

    Whenever I look back at some of my older journals, I am always encouraged. My prayers become more focused overtime. My walk with God deepens, and I feel a closeness the longer I spend time with him. Whenever I remember a problem I faced, I return to that period in my journals. I am always excited. I saw God work in that time, and now, with that knowledge, I can look forward to what he has ahead.

I ask again, how has prayer journaling helped you? May God sweetly guide you on this journey!

Hebrews 2.1-4

Here are the notes covering Hebrews 2.1-4. This passage is so convicting because we all are tempted to ‘drift away’. What, in your life, has caused you to drift away? What, like the swaying tides of the sea, has drawn your heart further away from Jesus? More importantly, what brings you back? What anchors your soul to the Savior?

I pray that this is a blessing to you!

Hebrews 2.1-4 A Dire Warning

1 Corinthians 10.6

Introduction: We are introduced to this section with a connecting word, ‘therefore.’ Whenever we see such a word we should immediately look back and see what was written previously, in order to place the following section in its proper context. The passage we looked at last time covered the deity of Jesus, that, compared to the angels, God’s Word confirms that Jesus is truly God in human flesh. As this lends itself to the topic, let us look once again at the main points presented by our author.

  • Jesus is better than the angels because He is God’s own Son
    • His Name is better
  • Jesus is better than the angels because He is Sovereign Lord
    • The angels were created to be ministers
    • Jesus is better because His deity calls for worship
    • Jesus is better because His rule is without end
    • Jesus is better because He is creator

It is on this foundational knowledge of the deity of Jesus Messiah that the writer issues what should be taken as a very serious and dangerous warning: do not turn back from Jesus. It is a serious matter, when presented with truth, to either ignore it or to walk away from it.

We read throughout Scripture of similar warnings. In 1 Samuel 5.22-23 we see a warning to Saul. In Jeremiah 6.19 we see another severe warning. In Deuteronomy chapter 28 we see a list of both blessings and curses; blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. It is a serious thing to ignore or work against the truth. James speaks of self-deception when knowledge does not affect our lives (James 1.22-25).
Read Sir Robert Anderson’s quote, ‘Types in Hebrews’ page 38.

Doctrine

The doctrine to which we shall focus our attention is: Rejection of God’s truth will bring judgment.

The Reasons for this Doctrine

Why can we arrive as this teaching? Why can we, from the reading of these verses, render such a terrifying thought? Because…

  1. God’s message through the angels proved trustworthy in every point- vss. 1-2
  2. God’s message through the Lord, witnessed by God, and empowered by the Spirit is trustworthy in every point- vss. 3-4

The Details of this Rejection

  1. This rejection is not an immediate, outright rejection.*This is confirmed by the use of the words ‘neglect’ amelew and ‘drift away’ pararrew. Both words carry the connotation of gradualness. The first word indicates an apathetic relationship with the truth, a simple non-caring attitude. The second word indicates an inclination toward disbelief that occurs gradually. They are both nautical terms. So if you can imagine a ship or small boat being loosed from the dock, it will slowly move away.

    I find it very interesting that those who leave the faith rarely do so from a one-time event. Perhaps after a tragic event one may leave. I think of Bart Ehrman. He is gifted with an incredible intellect and is one of the most recognized scholars of our time. Bart Ehrman began his life as a believer. In his story he explains how the ‘problem of evil’ and ‘suffering’ led him to eventually become an agnostic. I use Dr. Ehrman as an example because he slowly, over the course of many years, left the faith. And this is exactly how we leave the faith, or stop believing what God has said. We don’t typically just flat our deny the Bible. We gradually do so. We may slowly stop believing that God will judge this sin in our lives, or believe that He will indeed be with us, or so on and so forth.

  2. This rejection ignored the tested and provable truth.*The message of the angels presented throughout the Scriptures has proven true. Likewise, the message first preached by Jesus, then His followers, witnessed by God the Father and accompanied with miracles through the power of Holy Spirit have also proven true.

    It is important to note, here, that faith is not without evidence. When we get to Hebrews 11 we will see an abundance of Old Testament saints that prove the validity of faith. But let me give you a personal illustration. I love my kids. They are my little lady and my buddy. But there are times when I, as the father, have to discipline them. Now I may warn them repeatedly, ‘Don’t do that or you will be punished’. And they hear it, stare directly at me, and then proceed to do that which I told them not to do. They face a punishment that is deserved. That is the idea here.

The Remedy for this Rejection

  1. We must make earnest effort- vs. 1The author gravely warns us that we must give the more earnest, “a degree which is considerably in excess of some point on an implied or explicit scale of extent.” This is also a nautical term. It is the word picture of tying the ship to the dock. Throughout Scripture we are told to make every effort, to expend all our energy for several different reasons.

    There is also the connection here to the Old Testament warnings given by Moses to Joshua (and by extension the people of Israel) in Deuteronomy 32.46-47. Moses details the importance of the word he gave the Israelites, and the extension through the author of Hebrews, that the word is our life.

    2 Peter 1.5, 10, and 3.14- Peter encourages believers to develop their faith. He says, ‘make every effort’, ‘be all the more diligent,’ and ‘be diligent’.

    Psalm 119.4- God commanded that His Word be kept diligently (think of the

    Proverbs 4.23

  2. Pay closer attention to the truth of God’s Word-vs. 1Psalm 119.9, 11
  3. We must become thorough acquainted with God’s truth- vs. 1

God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will- Paradox or Antinomy?

Packer began his chapter on one of the most debated topics in theological history with this statement, “All theological topics contain pitfalls for the unwary, for God’s truth is never quite what man would have expected.”[1] No doubt anyone who reads this would grant that the materials he presents, the logic he uses, and the Scripture he provides are fair and consistent. To begin with, he makes the distinction between paradoxes and antinomies. Unfortunately he has to modify the definition he provides from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary of antinomy in order to show his meaning.[2] The added “appearance of contradiction” changes the definition entirely. Later on in his book he defines a paradox as “a figure of speech, a play on words. It is a form of statement that seems to unite two opposite ideas, or to deny something by the very terms in which it is asserted.”[3] This idea of a paradox seems to be more adequate in defining the responsibility of man with the sovereignty of God, especially when one considers Packer’s reconstructed definition of antinomy.[4]

   

Packer continued to change the meaning of words when he wrote concerning paradoxes, “The point of a paradox, however, is that what creates the appearance of contradiction is not the acts, but the words.”[5] As with his change of the definition of antinomy, so his change of this definition of paradox also hinders his ability to rightly describe how God’s sovereignty and man’s free will work together. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines paradox as “something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.”[6] If one takes this definition, without changing or adding any additional words, it should become apparent at once that the sovereignty of God and free will of man are best defined as a paradox. They are opposite things. In other words, God is truly sovereign. He rules the universe completely by Himself.[7] This is a statement of fact, as Packer wrote, about God’s rule in the universe of man.[8] However, the Scripture makes is equally clear that man has a free will.[9]

These two truths seem to be contradictory, for if God was sovereign (i.e. exercised complete and unequaled control of the universe) then man could not exercise a free will. The same applies for the opposite, if man had a free will (i.e. the ability to make a decision without God causing him to make it) then God would cease to be sovereign. The issue is brought into the state of a paradox when Scripture does in fact teach both.[10]

In conclusion, if one were to redefine the words paradox and antinomy, then would could determine that these two truths are in fact antinomy. However, if one were to follow the normal means of scholarship and research, then paradox is the only choice.[11]

[1] J. I. Packer, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1961), 23.

[2] The definition he provided was, “a contradiction between conclusions which see equally logical, reasonable, or necessary.” Packer, 23.

[3] Packer, 24.

[4] Narry F. Santos does a much better job describing what a paradox is and how a writer of Scripture utilizes this unique form of communication. “A paradox is a statement that departs from accepted opinion (the etymological nuance), or an apparently self-contradictory or absurd statement (the derivational nuance). Thus a “paradox” is an unusual and apparently self-contradictory rhetorical statement or concept that departs dramatically from accepted opinion.” See Santos, Narry F. “The Paradox of Authority and Servanthood in the Gospel of Mark.”Bibliotheca Sacra 154, no. 616 (1997): 452-60.

[5] Packer, 25.

[6] “Paradox.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed September 14, 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paradox.

[7] Packer listed the following verses in support of this biblical truth: Gen. 14.8; 50.20; Prov. 16.9; 21.1; Mt 10.29; Acts 9.27-28; Rom 9.20-21; Eph. 1.11. See Packer, 27.

[8] Packer continued to force his own construction of an antinomy when he wrote, “It is not a figure of speech [referring to God’s sovereignty], but an observed relation between two statements of fact.” Packer, 26.

[9] See Mt 25; Rom 2.1-16; Rev 20.11-13. Packer, 27.

[10] The definition of paradox is “something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.”[10]

[11] It should be noted, however, that a doctrine of Scripture should be observed in the boundaries set by Scripture itself. Any doctrine can be taken to such an extent that Scripture nor had God ever intended. When theologians do this often times the readers are left with the impression of a contradiction when no such contradiction was ever there.