Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora in June 1525 and although far less is known of her life in comparison to her husband, she has much to teach us today about how to live as a Christian woman. Katharina or "Katie" as Luther called her, was born in 1499 to a family of poor Saxon nobles. Her mother died when she was just a girl and she was sent by her father to live in a convent at the age of 5. She spent her childhood here and at the age of 16, she took her vows and became a nun.
Even in the convent, Katie heard of Luther and his teachings and she and several others determined to leave their life as nuns. Luther himself heard of their desire to escape and he arranged for a merchant friend of his to transport them out of the convent in his wagon, apparently in empty fish barrels! Luther arranged marriages or employment for all the escapees except Katie, and finally married her himself in 1525.
"She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family." Proverbs 31:15
After their marriage, Katie and Martin moved into a former monastery in Wittenberg and Katie began to bring domestic order to Martin's life. Her skillful management of the various animal holdings, vegetable garden, orchard and brewery allowed her to provide for the family and she rose at 4 am each morning to attend to her duties, earning her the nickname "the morning star of Wittenberg". She and Martin had six children of their own and they also raised four orphan children. She provided hospitality for the numerous students who stayed with them and for the many visitors looking to consult with her husband.
"She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy." Proverbs 31:20
During times of sickness in the region, she allowed a hospital to be set up in their property and tended the patients herself.
She was no stranger to sorrow as two of her daughters died, one aged 8 months and another at 13 years of age. She outlived Luther by six years and after his death, was forced to flee Wittenberg with her family due to the outbreak of war. After returning to Wittenberg in 1547, she was force to leave again in 1552 due to an outbreak of the Plague, and during her journey to Torgau she was involved in an accident which left her badly injured. She died in December 1552, her last words being quoted as "I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth".
There is no doubt that Katie's devotion to her duties as a wife freed Luther to pursue his teaching and writing, and apparently the Luthers' family life became a model of a godly home for other German families in the succeeding years.
This October 31st, when so many others are celebrating Halloween, let's thank God for the legacy of the Reformation and for the example that Katie Luther is to Christian women nearly 500 years later.
"Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." Proverbs 31:30
Monday, October 30, 2006
Whatever our own personal 'take' on Madonna and the adoption, it has to be said that women have a tremendous capacity for showing care and compassion - it's all part of the Maker's design. And in many instances it is Christian women who are at the forefront of ministries of mercy, both at home in their immediate localities, and often much further afield.
One such person is Dr. Josephine Munthali, a member of our church who is spearheading her own organisation dedicated to helping A.I.D.S orphans in her own home country of Malawi. Josephine arranges for children orphaned by A.I.D.S. to be fostered by members of their own community, so that they can stay in the environment in which they have been raised, and sends out containers of medical supplies, educational materials , toys, and sewing machines for the women to learn a trade. Last year, the significance of Josephine's work was recognised by First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell, who invited Josephine to the G8 summit where she addressed Cherie Blair, Laura Bush and other leader's wives. The work is continuing to grow and flourish as Josephine lives out her christian faith in practical acts of mercy and compassion.
At the beginning of this year, the Women's Ministry of our church put out an information gathering questionnaire to the womenfolk. One of the questions was designed to find out whether women were involved in caring and compassionate ministries both within and outwith the church. The results nearly blew us away. Alison McPhail, who collated the results for us, eventually gave up trying to find a few categories to summarise the results, and instead presented us with a list of eighty different things the women are involved in. They ranged from involvement at the pregnancy crisis centre, massage for end-stage cystic fibrosis sufferers, cancer support charities, the homeless, to mercy missions and children's camps abroad. Without wanting to be self-congratulatory, it brought a huge lump to the throat as we began to realise the extent of women's care and compassion. It's a tremendous cause for thanksgiving and spur to aim even higher.
Now back to 'Madonna and child'. Personally, I am content to let judgement concerning the celebrity's actions fall to the God who sees and understands each of our hearts. But as Christmas approaches, I can't help but be struck by the contrast of this Madonna and Child story with one that happened two thousand years ago - the 'Really Real Madonna and Child', Mary and Jesus. She was no celebrity, but a peasant girl from a humble backgound with no riches or resources at her disposal. Yet she surrendered herself to God for his purposes, enduring condemnation, shame and the heartbreak of seeing her son Jesus crucified. And unlike the little boy David from Malawi, who has left a life of poverty for wealth and prosperity, Jesus left the riches of Heaven and became poor for our sake, being born in a humble stable - the ultimate rescue mission, with the ultimate price tag, his death on the cross that we might live.
In the midst of the run up to Christmas, with all the attendant rush and busyness of life, why not try to carve out some time to reflect on how, like Mary, we can surrender ourselves to God's purposes, and how we can pour ourselves out in a costly, Christ-like, sacrificial love?
What should our response be to halloween? Increasingly, this is a big question for us in the UK, as the American style 'trick or treating' begins to take over in superstores. Here are some different takes on the discussion. Read these articles and tell us what you think:
Christians & Halloween by John McArthur
Halloween: Evil or Not? by Lachlan Ramage
Halloween Fast Approaches by Tim Challies
An Unapologetically Dark House on Halloween by Motte Brown
Be sure to read tomorrow for a different take on October 31st: Reformation Day.
Like us at titus2talk, Ann rates very highly Carolyn's treatment of these virtues, describing them as "the beauty and pleasure of femininity as God intended."
To read the article click here.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
For those who seek to contend for biblical womanhood, a correct understanding of why Christ died must remain of utmost importance and central to all else. Here is an excerpt from the foreword to the book.
"John Wesley once claimed that nothing in Christian teaching 'is of greater importance than the doctrine of the atonement.' This book is based on the conviction that Wesley was right. It begins with a statement of the biblical doctrine of the atonement, followed by a survey of the broad Christian tradition from the early church to the present day. The deliberate focus is upon one specific aspect of the atonement: that of Christ's death as a divine substitute for sinners.This is a must read book, a vital contribution to recent controversies and one that contends for (what should be) the non-negotiable truth of substitutionary atonement.
In days when immediacy is everything, and when instant solutions are demanded, there is a great danger that in an effort to appear contemporary, Christians in the present generation will lose sight of the rich heritage of church teaching in this area. Rediscovering this tradition helps to counter views, both from within and outside the church, that would destabilise the faith of Christians and lead unsuspecting believers down routes that could prove spiritually harmful.
Viewing the issue of Christ bearing the punishment in the place of sinners, through the lens of Christian history, helps us to appreciate why the church has come to understand the teaching of the bible in a certain way, and why some approaches have been rejected in the past, and others retained. It raises fundamental questions about new developments - why has this not been adopted by the Christian church before? Many modern views of the atonement are a reworking of long rejected ideas, simply presented in contemporary packaging.
The richness of the way in which the Bible refers to the work of Christ upon the cross has been reflected in Christian writings throughout the history of the church. However, at the heart of Biblical teaching about the atonement is the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, bearing the just penalty for sins. This profound truth draws together all the ways of speaking about the atonement; it is the operative principle that lies behind them. What this book shows is that this teaching on the penal and substitutionary death of Christ is not simply the product of one particular time or context. Although distinctive contributions have been made in certain eras, it is a glorious theme that has been taught at every period in the history of the church."
"This the power of the cross
Christ became sin for us
Took the blame, bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross!" Getty & Townend
Friday, October 27, 2006
But when are these things not so good? Nicki and I were talking about this recently during one of our "putting the world to rights" sessions while walking back from our church toddler group. We both recognise a tendency in ourselves to read Christian books or blogs more readily than we study Scripture itself. We may know that there is no substitute for reading and meditating on the Bible, but often laziness wins the day, as we prefer someone else to do the hard work for us.
Can I encourage you, as I challenge myself, not to pick up a Christian book or surf the web on any day until you have spent time reading the Bible for yourself. In one of my favourite books (besides the Bible!) A Quest for Godliness, J.I. Packer talks about the Puritans' approach to reading Scripture:
"The Puritans often echo Augustine's remark that, just as there are shallows in Scripture where a lamb may wade, so there are depths in Scripture where an elephant may swim - depths which the most learned and godly have yet to plumb. All Christians, therefore, should approach their study of Scripture knowing that they know but little, longing to learn more and looking to God himself to open to them his own word."
It is easy to make excuses in each of the various seasons of life to explain why we spend so little time studying the Bible for ourselves. But if we want to become "elephants" instead of "lambs" we need to spend time prayfully meditating on Scripture. The washing-up can wait for a little while longer...
Thursday, October 26, 2006
"Children always have questions about what it means to be a Christian. Do they need a long philosophical answer? Not always and it is simple answers to deep questions that feature in this book. If you have ever wanted to know how to explain the Christian faith to young children in bite-sized chunks then the 114 profound questions and answers, backed by scripture proofs provide an invaluable tool to get you started."
We are working through a similar question book with our 2 1/2 year old daughter and it is immensely valuable for familiarising her with biblical truth. She loves answering her questions after breakfast and she even tries to teach them to her 3-month-old sister (without much success as you can imagine!). They also have a range of books for older children.
Another book available from Christian Focus which I've found very helpful recently is Aren't They Lovely When They're Asleep by Ann Benton, which is full of really practical, helpful advice for parents.
There are also plenty of titles on subjects other than parenting (I'm afraid I'm a bit preoccupied just now!) and in particular, the Christian Heritage section is worth a look.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Her article is tremendously helpful as it explores: the contemporary challenge that faces the church; the biblical vision of complementarity; ministry in the workplace; ministry as wife and mother; evangelistic ministries; prayer ministries; teaching ministries; serving ministries and women in the diaconate.
For a shorter read on this same issue, it is also worthwhile looking at an Introduction to Biblical Manhood & Womanhood also by Sharon James, and her book, God's Design for Women comes with our recommendation.
Sharon James, along with her husband Bill lead the UK branch of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She has also written two other books: My Heart in His Hands (a biography of Ann Judson) and In Trouble and in Joy: Four Women who lived for God. Sharon has degrees in history (Cambridge University) and theology (Toronto Baptist Seminary).
Monday, October 23, 2006
"Operation Christmas Child sends a message of hope to children in desperate situations around the world through gift-filled shoe boxes. The gifts are given regardless of nationality, political background or religious beliefs to children requiring nothing of them, their families or communities in return. Wherever it is culturally appropriate and in partnership with our local partners, we make a booklet with Bible stories available to children in their own language."
Maybe you could make this a special project with your own children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews. You could go together to buy some gifts and then have fun decorating and filling a shoe box, teaching a valuable lesson about caring for others and showing them the love of Christ in action. The Samaritan's Purse website gives you full details of how to prepare your gift and where to drop it off. You can also read some stories about where previous shoe boxes have gone. If you teach Sunday School, then the website even gives you a possible lesson plan so you can encourage your class to be involved.
Let's take this opportunity to show God's love to our neighbour and to make our children aware of how fortunate they are compared to many others throughout the world.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
good sense of humour... fun-loving... chemistry... financially stable...."
Such are the search criteria for many singles when looking for a prospective partner. But as Christians: "Is this the foundational way to evaluate a potential spouse?" Scott Croft, an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, thinks not. You can read his challenging article, Brother, You're Like a 6 at Boundless. Another article well worth a read is: What Does A Biblical Relationship look like? Ladies, some things worth pondering over, and passing on to the boys.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
For the Lamb of God has come;
He has come to rescue sinners,
Come to meet our desperate need;
He was born to bring forgiveness,
Born for Calvary."
Friday, October 20, 2006
While these women are no doubt worthy of their accolades, I would suggest that ordinary Christian women, past and present, have also made extraordinary contributions, leaving their mark on the world. None more important are those women in the bible who God chose to use in the unfolding of redemptive history. I've been reading about these women in Twelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible and What He Wants to do With You, by John MacArthur.
These twelve women were ordinary in one sense, but extraordinary in another. MacArthur writes: "Most of them were unremarkable in and of themselves. They were ordinary, common, and in some cases shockingly low-caste women... All these women became extrordinary not because of any natural qualities of their own, but because the one true God whom they worshipped is great, mighty, glorious, and awesome, and He refined them like silver....They therefore stand as reminders of our fallenness and our potential."
What is even more remarkable in reading this book is how it presents, and rightly so, the way in which the bible exalts women, contrary to many who say otherwise. MacArthur says: "Far from ever demeaning or belittling women, Scripture often seems to go out of the way to pay homage to them, to ennoble their roles in society and family, to acknowledge the importance of their influence, and to exalt the virtues of women who were particularly godly examples."
May we also seek to make a difference in our world, not just with natural qualities and abilities, but with the potential that God alone can bring to fruition in our lives. And let us not forget that it is in our different-ness, as women, that those around us can see what is really important.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Piper bases his talk around Psalm 78:1-8, where Asaph introduces his Psalm recounting the history of Israel and God's faithfulness to them. Piper splits the talk into three headings: God's work, Asaph's act and God's aim.
Piper explains that God has given us a testimony that we can look to in educating our children about him, namely his law. Yet how often do we as parents look everywhere else for advice on bringing up our children instead of examining what God says in his word or going to him in prayer?
Aspah acted on God's command to tell future generations about him by writing this psalm; in the psalm, he focuses on the deeds of God before the commands of God and Piper urges us to impart to our chidren a true and full picture of who God is so that they can understand who they are to obey.
Finally, the aims of this education that Asaph is continuing are to impart knowledge of God so that our children can love him, to encourage our children to put their hope in God and to result in our children obeying God's commands.
The need for us to help our children to obey God was brought home to me afresh yesterday morning as I read Spurgeon's commentary on 1 Samuel 15:22 in Morning and Evening. Here Samuel is reprimanding Saul who has disobeyed the express command of God. He says "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams."
Spurgeon states: "Be it ever in your remembrance, that to keep strictly in the path of your Saviour's command is better than any outward form of religion; and to hearken to his precept with an attentive ear is better than to bring the fat of rams, or any other precious thing to lay upon his altar. If you are failing to keep the least of Christ's commands to his disciples, I pray you be disobedient no longer. All the pretensions you make of attachment to your Master, and all the devout actions which you may perform, are no recompense for disobedience."
We must teach our children about God so that they can grasp the full glory of his character and understand who it is that demands their obedience.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
"Christian single parents are real people living in a real broken world who have to face the consequences of the brokenness, for themselves and their children. The majority are unwilling divorcees having to deal with a Christian spouse’s wrong choices and actions. Others are widowed or were unmarried. But the reality of Christian single parenting is the same for all. It is a hard task for we are not ‘Superdad’ or ‘Supermum’, but weak and frail human beings with needs and desires, like everyone else.
Often we are caught in between two groups in the church: married people raising children, who do not face the unique problems we do, and single people, who may never have married and do not fully understand child rearing. So we are a ‘parent’, but not married, and we are ‘single’, but not footloose and fancy free. Christian single parents, and their children, need non-judgemental understanding and support from both sides: the married parents and the singles without children, and from the whole church family. Most of all, they need unconditional love and acceptance."
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
"What really is the main thing in your life? Only one thing can truly be first in priority; so what's at the top of your list, second to none? Or let me put it this way: what are you most passionate about? What do you love to talk about? What do you think about most when your mind is free?"
I guess we would all have a range of answers to these questions, but Mahaney argues in this book that, for the Christian, the central thing in our lives should be the cross of Christ. He brings us near to the cross by taking us through the main events of the death of Jesus and then shows us that we should never move on from this. We should make a conscious effort each day to bring the message of the cross into our lives. In one very helpful chapter, Mahaney gives practical suggestions for how we can do this by memorizing the gospel, praying the gospel, singing the gospel and reviewing how the gospel has changed you.
This is not a long book and I read it in a couple of days - I encourage you to read it for yourselves as it is time well spent.
"Oh the precious blood of Christ the crucified;
It speaks for me before Your throne where I stand justified."
Peter Gagnon, The Precious Blood
Monday, October 16, 2006
I come to Thee for the grace another day
will require for its duties and events.
I step out into a wicked world,
I carry about with me an evil heart,
I know that without Thee I can do nothing,
that everything with which I shall be concerned,
however harmless in itself,
may prove an occasion of sin and folly,
unless I am kept by Thy power.
Hold Thou me up and I shall be safe.
Preserve my understanding from subtilty of error,
my affections from love of idols,
my character from stain of vice,
my profession from every form of evil.
May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore Thy blessing,
and in which I cannot invite Thy inspection.
Prosper me in all lawful undertakings,
or prepare me for disappointments.
Give me neither poverty nor riches.
Feed me with food convenient for me,
lest I be full and deny Thee and say, Who is the Lord?
or be poor, and steal, and take Thy name in vain.
May every creature be made good to me
by prayer and Thy will.
Teach me how to use the world and not abuse it,
to improve my talents, to redeem my time,
to walk in wisdom toward those without,
and in kindness to those within, to do good to all men,
and especially to my fellow Christians.
And to Thee be the glory.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
The general theme is how we proclaim Christ in a postmodern world. Some highlights include a talk on 21st century evangelism by Tim Keller, and two panel discussions dealing with this same theme. Among the other talks, Carson (profound), Driscoll (amusing), and Piper (enthused) are well worth a listen. If you don't have time to listen to the talk in full, listen to some of the highlights of each talk, courtesy of Desiring God.
"The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World"
> Christ's Supremacy In The New Testament
> Christianity Is Becoming De-Westernized
> Fear In The West Is Not Of Being Unsafe, But Unsuccessful
> Risk In The West Is Not Of Danger, But Distraction
> Contextualisation And Foreign Missions
> Contextualisation And Preaching
> What Christianity Has To Offer
"The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World"
> Four Questions Everybody Asks
> Question #1: Who Am I?
> Question #2: Why Am I Here?
> Question #3: What Is Wrong With The World?
> Question #4: How Can What's Wrong Be Made Right?
> The Supremacy Of Christ In Education
> Argue For The Bible From The Bible
> The Risk In Racial Diversity
> Racism In Christian Cultures
"The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World"
> All Theology Has To Be An Exposition Of The Gospel
> If You Think You Understand The Gospel, You Don't
> The Gospel Must Be Urbanized To Reach The Culture
> Contextualisation makes The Gospel Plausible
> We Must Confront Unbelievers With Compassion
> Argue Against A False Worldview Using Its Presuppositions
"The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World"
> The Bible Is True For Everybody
> Without The Virgin Birth There Is No Jesus
> Christ's Death Saves Us From God
> Jesus Is The Only Way To God
> We Must Stress Both Christ's Humanity And His Divinity
> Everybody Believes In Hell
> Contextualising The Theology We Contend For
> John Calvin's Contextualisation
> Relativism vs. Relevantism
"The Supremacy of Christ and Love in a Postmodern World"
> Encouragment To Press On When You Feel Unsuccessful
> The Value Of Preachers Listening To Other Preachers
> How To Contextualise A Church Service
> Christian Unity Shows The World What God Is Like
> We Must Know Truth To Be Holy
"The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World"
> Encouragement For Pastors Of Small Churches
> Missions And Seeker-Sensitive Contextualisation
> The Personal Effect Of Writing What Jesus Demands From The World
> Affection For Emergents
> The Supremacy Of Christ And Joy In A Postmodern World: Short Version
> Why You Should Be Happy That You Are Less Valuable Than God
A Conversation with the Pastors
You can also watch video of the speaker interviews here
Friday, October 13, 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006
line is: "Because strong families don't just happen." The Family Room has a blog, where those who are not immediate beneficiaries of the ministry can log on and listen to talks given each month. Last night I listened to the first of their talks: What Makes a Strong Family? Three things were mentioned:
1. A strong family finds purpose in God (Eph 3:14).
2. A strong family finds hope in the Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4).
3. A strong family finds a home in a local church (1 Cor 12:18)
However, what I took mostly from the message was the practical ideas that would help towards such a goal. One such tip is ordering a schedule. The idea behind this is that we are all naturally busy, but are we fruitful in our busyness? Are we busy doing the right things, or are we crowding out the important, essential things? Here is a list of essentials which need to take priority in our lives:
1. Meeting with God.
2. Date Night (spending uninterrupted time with our spouse).
3. Family Night (spending uninterrupted time with our children).
4. Training our sons and daughters.
5. Meeting with God's family.
6. Working diligently in the jobs that we have, either at home or in the workplace.
It is only then that we should find time for the other things in life, such as meeting friends, shopping, going to the dentist and other stuff. The lesson is that we must pre-determine when we shall do the important things as it won't always happen spontaneously. In order to do this, we should take 10-30 minutes at the beginning of the week to write down and plan our days. This is something that I don't do well, I certainly don't write down a plan for each week. I find myself going from week to week and day to day reminding myself in my head of the important things that need doing. Colin is better than me! He has a plan for the week ahead, and for each day! Catriona (my fellow blogger) has also informed me that this is something that she has started doing. I'm glad to say that both of them find this a very helpful exercise and something worth making the effort to do.
If you want to listen to the talk, click here. It is also worthwhile looking at the talk outline where it gives an example of someone's planning for the week and the application questions that go along with the talk.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
This is the tag line to the film, The Nativity Story to be released in December this year by New Line Cinema. As the title suggests, the film is about the nativity, focussing on the lives of Mary and Joseph up to the birth of Christ, and two years beyond.
One element of the film that will undoubtedly produce discussion is the way in which Mary, the mother of Jesus, is portrayed. In that vain, I've been reading this week John McArthur's book, Twelve Extraordinary Women. This is what he says of Mary:
"Of all the extraordinary women in Scripture, one stands out above all others as the most blessed, most highly favoured by God, and most universally admired by women. Indeed, no woman is more truly remarkable than Mary. She was the one sovereignly chosen by God - from among all the women who have ever been born - to be the singuar instrument through which He would at last bring the Messiah into the world. Mary herself testified that all generations would regard her as profoundly blessed by God (Luke 1:48). This was not because she believed herself to be any kind of saintly superhuman, but because she was given such remarkable grace and privilege.
While acknowledging that Mary was the most extraordinary of women, it is appropriate to inject a word of caution against the common tendency to elevate her too much. She was, after all, a woman - not a demigoddess or quasi-deiform creature who somehow transcended the rest of her race. The point of her "blessedness" is certainly not that we should think of her as someone to whom we can appeal for blessing but rather that she herself was supremely blessed by God.
She is never portrayed in Scripture as a source or dispenser of grace, but is herself the recipient of God's blessing. Her Son, not Mary herself, is the fountain of grace (Psalm 72:17)....She is certainly a worthy woman to emulate...Her life and her testimony point us consistently to her Son. He was the object of her worship. He was the one she recognized as Lord. He was the one she trusted for everything. Mary's own example, seen in the pure light of Scripture, teaches us to do the same."
There has been an unofficial blog set up following the production of the movie until its release and an interview with Mike Rich the writer of the film in Christianity Today. You can also see a trailer of the film by going to the official website here.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
In his chapter on How to Meditate on the Providences of God, Flavel states "In all your reviews and observations of Providence, be sure that you eye God as the author and orderer of them all". Later he states that we must "Eye the design and end of God in all [our] comforts. Know that it is not sent to satisfy the cravings of [our] sensual appetite, but to quicken and enable [us] for a more cheerful discharge of [our] duty."
As I read this, I was struck by how much I take my comforts for granted; so often I forget to thank God for the home I live in, the clothes I wear, the central heating that comes on at the flick of a switch when the nights are getting colder. However, even when I acknowledge God as the source of all these good things, do I assume that they are provided simply to make me feel better or make my life easier? Here Flavel reminds us that these comforts are given to us to enable us to joyfully fulfill God's purposes for us. He quotes Deuteronomy 28:47, where God rebukes the Israelites because they did not serve the Lord joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity.
This challenged me that often I am all too ready to complain about things even though I live in relative prosperity. Do we look at our washing machine and get annoyed by the never-ending piles of washing, or see it as a gift from God that enables us to wash our clothes and have some time saved to serve God in other ways? Are we thankful for our homes and looking for ways to show others hospitality or do we closet ourselves up, only too happy to escape from other people and their problems? We must thank God for all he has given us but also think about how he may be wanting us to use those things to serve him with gladness.
Monday, October 09, 2006
A few months prior to their marriage, Richard Baxter was removed from his position as pastor, as the established church became more rigid following the Act of Uniformity. As a Nonconformist, now without a parish, Richard married Margaret who was to be a tremendous comfort to him while he grieved as a preacher without a pulpit. Richard redirected his desire to preach into writing, where he wrote around 128 books.
Richard's continuing belief in his calling, with Margaret's support, led them to open their homes to those who continued to see Richard as 'their' pastor. This would eventually lead to Richard's imprisonment under the 1664 Conventicle Act, which banned all religious meetings which did not use the Prayer Book. Margaret chose to join him. After their release, a prohibition prevented Richard preaching within 5 miles of any place in which he lived.
In 1672 a Declaration of Indulgence meant that the penal laws against the Nonconformists were lifted. Now they could preach without fear of being arrested and Richard resumed preaching. However, this was all to revert back after one year. From then on, Richard and Margaret were continually the object of persecution and harassment for their Nonconforming beliefs. Margaret and Richard never had children, yet their lives were just as full as they engaged in ministry together. There is much to learn from this godly couple and in my opinion, from Margaret in particular. Sharon James sums up some valuable lessons in her book, In Trouble & In Joy, a book well worth investing in.
"Margaret lived in cruel times. She loved her husband dearly, and she urged him on in his ministry whatever the cost. She admired him greatly, but was ready to risk telling him his faults if she thought it was for his good. She was fiercely loyal to Richard, but always her highest loyalty was to God. She did not complain at the hardships of being the wife of a Nonconformist minister: insecurity, frequent moves, uncomfortable accommodation, the lack of privacy and the loss of status. Rather, she revelled in the opportunity her marriage gave her to minister; organizing and supporting Richard's preaching, and engaging in philanthropy and educational work. She is especially an inspiring example to ministers' wives. She is also an example to all Christians. For despite natural fearfulness she put Christ first. It did not come easily, and there was often a high price to pay. Margaret exemplified those words that are so easy to sing, but so difficult to live: Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Before marriage, Richard Baxter was a firm believer that he was better off staying single. He believed that in this way he could serve more diligently as a pastor, for there would be no time for the responsibilities of married life. As a sworn bachelor, and 24 years Margaret's senior, they could have been regarded as two of the most unlikely marriage candidates. As Margaret's pastor, Richard provided her with much spiritual counsel (mostly in the form of letters) as she struggled on the road to conversion. An increasing affection grew between them and upon the death of her mother, as Richard drew alongside, feelings developed. One source indicates that it was Margaret who took the initiative in their relationship, proposing to him. The following excerpt is from James Anderson’s book (not Catriona’s James I may add!), Memorable Women of the Puritan Times:
"The spark of love to his person was kindled in her heart. The attachment was ultimately reciprocal, but as may be inferred from allusions in several passages of his Breviate of her life, it began on her part. At first she closely concealed it from others…But the passion caused her an aching languishing of heart, and this acted so injuriously upon her feeble frame as even to endanger her life. At last she made it known to Baxter that while he was ministering to her soul, there had sprung up... an affection for his person, which she could not repress. ‘She being a pious and devout young lady, fell in love with him upon account of his holy life and fervency of preaching, and therefore sent a friend to acquaint him with her respects…His answer was, that since he had passed his youth in celibacy, it would be reputed madness in him to marry a young woman, while he could not discharge the duties of a husband in all respects. She at the door over-hearing entered the chamber and told him, “Dear Mr Baxter, I protest with a sincere and real heart, I do not make myself a tender of myself to you upon any worldly or carnal account, but to have more frequent converse with so holy and prudent a yoke-fellow, to assist me in my way to heaven, and to keep me steadfast in my perseverance, which I design for God’s glory and my own soul’s good.” Mr Baxter was at a stand, and convinced that with a good conscience he could not despise so zealous a proffer, springing from so pure a fountain of love.’I admire Margaret today in a time when many do not seek, as a matter of priority, evidence of a holy and devout life in a prospective spouse. It certainly raises some questions: If you are unmarried, is marriage something you desire that you might more fully live for the glory of God? And if you are married, is your marriage relationship centred around glorifying God, keeping one another "steadfast in perseverence" and assisting one another on your "way to heaven"?
Stay posted for some final insights, this time from Margaret's life and ministry with Richard.
Friday, October 06, 2006
After a move to Kidderminster to sit under the ministry of a young preacher named Richard Baxter (Margaret's future husband), we see the stark contrast between their lives. Sharon James decribes them in her book (see previous post): "If Richard was a sworn bachelor, then Margaret was a confirmed flirt, and vain with it. She was disgusted at the poverty and dreariness of the humble inhabitants of Kidderminster. In rebellion against the move she reacted by dressing as splendidly and ostentatiously as possible. Yet outward behaviour concealed an inner turmoil." Shortly, we find the prayers of her mother answered as Margaret soon thrived under the ministry of Richard Baxter as she was confronted with her selfishness and pride. She became convicted of her sin and rebellion towards God. Her feelings of guilt were written down in her Self-Judging Papers and at the age of twenty she professed conversion. I'll leave you with some of Margaret's own words, extracts from ten marks which reveal her sinfulness before God and what conversion would mean in her life:
Mark 1: "The Spirit of Christ is the Author of the scriptures, and therefore suiteth your disposition to it, and guideth you by it. I fear then I have not the Spirit of Christ; for I yet feel no love to God's word."
Mark 2: "The Spirit of Christ is from heaven, from God our Father, and leadeth us upward unto him. Its work is spiritual, of heavenly tendency, making us cry, Abba, Father, and working the heart by uniting love to God. It is not so with me; for I have a spirit tending only to selfishness and sin."
Mark 3: "The Spirit of Christ uniteth us to Christ, and one another by love, and is against hatred, division, and abusing others. Mine, then, is the spirit of Cain, for I cannot endure any that are not of my opinion and way."
Mark 4: "The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of holiness, and doth not favour licentiousness in doctrine, or in life. Though I am for strict principles, I am loose in practice."
Mark 5: "Christ's Spirit inclineth to love, humility and meekness, and makes men stoop to each other for their good. None more uncharitable, proud and censorious than I."
Mark 6: "The Spirit of Christ makes men little, low and vile in their own eyes: it is pride that puffeth up. My self-conceitedness shows that I am unhumbled."
Mark 7: "The Spirit of Christ doth work to the mortifying of the flesh, even all its inordinate desires, and to self-denial. I am a stranger to the work of mortification and self-denial. I can deny myself nothing but the comfort of well-doing."
Mark 8: "The Spirit of Christ is a prevailing Spirit, and doth not only wish and strive, but overcome the flesh. The flesh prevaileth with me against the Spirit."
Mark 9: "Christ's Spirit is the Author of his worship and ordinances, and suits the souls of believers to them, the word, sacraments etc. They seem not suitable to my soul; I am against them, and had rather not use them, if I durst."
Mark 10: "Christ's Spirit is in all the saints, and inclineth them to holy communion with each other in love, especially to those in whom this Spirit most eminently worketh. It is not thus with me. I desire not the communion of the saints; my affections are most to those who are best to me."
"To go no further, it is now evident that I am a graceless person."
If you like a good romance, stay posted to find out how Richard and Margaret finally got married...
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
So how do we do this? This book has challenged me to use my spare minutes profitably. When I'm standing over the hob cooking the dinner, or sitting on the bus, what am I meditating on? Some TV programme I saw last night, or the odd hairdo on the woman further up the bus?
Better that I use this time to think about all the amazing ways that God provides for me. So next time you have a spare minute, think about the wonders of creation, the way we can rely on the sun coming up every day, the way everything is kept going by God's sustaining hand (read Job 37-39 for more ideas). Meditate on the ways in which God has worked and continues to work in your own life:
"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work and meditate on your mighty deeds." Psalm 77:11&12
"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?" Psalm 8:3&4
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
So what was it that struck me about this sermon? Many things. But four truths in particular, based on the primary importance of God's Word, came home afresh:
1. I must humbly accept God's Word.
2. I must look intently into God's Word.
3. I must not forget what God's Word says.
4. I must do what God's Word says.
Four simple principles that I can apply as I seek to live a life that pleases God. Four crucial areas which I need to address daily as a disciple, in family life, in church life and in the community in which I live. You can listen to the sermon here.