Right In My Own Eyes

One of the things that has been really apparent to me recently is how often I am “right in my own eyes.”  It’s one of the things that the Bible warns against.  More than once!

For example, the downward spiral of the children of Israel in the book of Judges occurs because, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6 and almost repeated word for word in Judges 21:25)

We’re also told in Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.”  So, I find that my predilection to be always right and never failing in my opinions makes me a fool.  That stings a little bit.

However, Proverbs also makes me realize that it’s just part of the human condition.  Proverbs 21:2 reads, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.”

I guess I’m not along in considering myself right in my own eyes.  That’s an attitude that is prideful, selfish and can so easily be obnoxious that it’s embarrassing.

I drew a little more comfort this week that I’m not alone in my struggle of always feeling that my way is the right way. I have been reading Philip Jenkins’ The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.

In the book, Jenkins shows how each side of the war felt like God was on their side.  They then, from the rightness of their own perspective, begin to vilify the other side. They accuse the leaders of conspiring with Satan. It turns into a war where victory for their side is victory for God.  All sides did this to some respect in the war effort of World War I.

The quote that really brought this out for me was this one:

Other much-reproduced British military images of the war years bore titles such as The Great Sacrifice, The Greater Reward, and Greater Love Hath No Man. That final phrase also appeared regularly on Russian military graves, implying that the dead man had laid down his life for his friends. In practice, though, this commitment to suffering and sacrifice meant serving in uniform, taking up weapons, and inflicting death upon others. So constantly do such accounts portray soldiers undergoing sacrificial death that it is sometimes hard to tell who, if anyone, is actually attacking, rather than merely dying nobly. Somebody, surely, must be firing the shells and wielding the bayonets.

It occurred to me that when everyone is the victim, no one thinks that their actions are wrong.  That’s probably the kind of attitude that leads to huge world wars.

Sunday Sharing

Welcome to Sunday Sharing!  This is the place where I share all my favorite articles and other cool things I’ve come across this week!

First up is Finding Your Homeschool Tribe. I don’t know who else struggles with this, but we’ve been homeschooling five years, and I still haven’t found the “tribe” that I fit with yet.  Reading articles like this one give me hope that it’s still out there.

As someone who used to be attracted to Neo-Paganism, I find myself really feeling sensitive lately to the current mystical trends in my own beloved Christianity. So, I really appreciated the post Mysticism, We Don’t Need You. It takes a good account of some of the current trends in Christianity. Speaking of the topic, I also used to feel like I was less than spiritual because I didn’t have dramatic tales of the Lord speaking dramatically to me, but then I matured as a Christian and learned the advice set forth in How are we led by the Spirit? How do we know God’s will?. The Bible is truly sufficient for all my needs!  Along this note is also the excellent article on The Five Tests of False Doctrine.

I think it’s important to examine Why We Neglect Teaching the Bible To Our Children.  Even though I try to make it my priority, I often slip into complacency. Along these lines, I wanted to share this article on Long Hours and Laziness.  I recognize myself in this because I often allow myself long hours of working on things for my CBS class, the house, etc. because it’s easier than parenting my children. Mea culpa.

I often find myself wanting to work and glorify God, but I also want to glorify myself at the same time. This made the article Photobombing Jesus especially convicting.

I also really enjoyed the article Capturing Weak Women because I have been pondering these verses from Timothy a lot lately. I am starting be be very careful about certain women’s authors. Enough said for today on that.  While I’m on the subject of favorite posts from Tim Challies’ blog, I have to admit that Do I Really Need to Suffer? is something I’ve been pondering for a while, mostly because I always feel like such a whiner because my suffering is so slight to other peoples’ comparatively speaking.

There is something I do write with my children, and so I was delighted to read the post When Mother Reads Aloud this week. One of my children is a dreamer, and I teach a bunch of other children the Bible, so I really appreciated this article on How to Reach a Daydreamer.  Lots of good ideas here!

As someone who occasionally struggles in this area, I really appreciated this article on Christian Women and Erotica. The struggle and the battlefield of the mind are really undercooked places for sins to hang out. I’ve had to completely revamp my reading and viewing habits over the past few years as I’ve attempted to purify my mind.

How Indwelling Sin Affects My Parenting

There’s no denying it. I’m a sinner.  I’m saved by the grace of God and by the blood of His Lamb, but my sin nature still holds power of me in insidious ways.  Every time I think I might be breaking free, I find a stronghold that I hadn’t even considered existed.

This continued journey towards sanctification unfolds continually as I struggle to uproot sin in my life and my flesh struggles to cling to it. I have the ability to avoid sin and it’s power over me, but some days I’m sunk before I ever get out of bed.

The only answer, of course, is to constantly to cling to God’s word and to continue always in prayer. To choose to do acts of righteousness and avoid sin. To submit my will to God.

I’m being totally transparent here when I say that it’s a struggle. A daily struggle.

However, I don’t always share that struggle with my children. Instead, I find myself holding myself up as a self-righteous example of perfection that I expect them to follow.  Jesus has a word for that in the Bible.  He would call me a hypocrite. See Matthew 23 if you have any doubts.

How do I find myself acting like a hypocrite or a super-religious, self-righteous pharisee?

First, I find myself being hypercritical and pointing out each flaw that my children have. Yet, I ignore that same flaw in myself.  Ugly tones of voice and unkind speaking in my children often inspire me to the same ugly tones and unkindness in my correction. No wonder my kids are confused.

I often assume that if someone is handling something wrong in the house that it’s my children. Guess what?  It’s not always the children.  I just can’t seem to acknowledge my own need for Jesus.

I often focus on the children’s outward behavior instead of reaching their hearts.  I fight sin from the outside in, and as everyone knows we must “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:26)

If, instead, I could just admit to them that I have a problem with sin, this is what I would do:

  • I would not act shocked and horrified at my children’s sin.  Instead, I would expect their sin.  I wouldn’t overreact (in an often sinful manner) to their sins.
  • I would remember that their enemy is inside them.  Often, the my first response to my child’s sin is to ask “Where did you learn that?”.  They don’t need anyone to teach them to sin.  It’s what comes naturally.
  • I would remember that even a child who is well-behaved on the outside will be dealing with sin on the inside.  My personally most heinous sins are the pride and self-righteousness that is so often buried deep within.  Why would I not expect them to struggle?
  • I would not be so quick to make excuses and defend when someone tells me about my child’s misbehavior.  I would not let it make me feel like a bad parent. I would just use it as a place to discuss with my child how their sin is visible to those around them.
  • I would be honest about my own pull toward sin and affirm them that they will be pulled toward sin too.  Just because my child has been saved, it doesn’t mean that they will never be pulled into sin, and feeling that pull should not give them doubts about their salvation.  I know my eldest especially struggles with his temper making him feel that he is not saved, but if he could see his struggles from my point of view, he would never doubt his salvation and his earnest wrestling with God again.
  • I would make it to where my children could confess their sins to me without fear of my condemnation. I’ve been the world’s worst mom to try to get my children to tell me what’s on my heart, and then for me to lecture and condemn them for what they have told me.
  • I would be more proactive in setting up safeguards in places where there’s a pull towards secret sin (such as the internet) because I know that the flesh is only so strong and has only so much will power.
  • I would deal with my sin and help my children to deal with their own sins while the actions and deeds are small before it can grow (James 1:15)
  • I would help my children to understand the power of the Holy Spirit.  We would learn together to lean on His power in our lives to put our sins to death.
  • I would not let my guard down for myself or for my children, but I would put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6) each day and teach my children to do likewise.

So, this is my super-long list for battling indwelling sin in my life and in helping my children to do battle with it.  One of my favorite Sally Clarkson quotes is when she’s talking about her frustration with her children’s behavior and her husband stops her and asks her “So, when did you stop sinning?”  As a parent, I need that reminder each time I find myself feeling harassed and unhappy with my child’s sin instead of using it as a teaching opportunity.

Each time I find myself surprised and annoyed by my child’s sin, I am treating them as if I’m less sinful than them, as if I think I’m better.  In pride, maybe sometimes my sin makes me feel like I’m better.

I am thankful to Chap Bettis’s book The Disciple-Making Parent.  This post is about me working out and responding to some of Bettis’s writing about dealing with indwelling sin in parenting and with his ideas about how often parents act like pharisees in their parenting. I stand convicted by both ideas, and decided to take some time to work through these ideas, and realized that if I posted them on my blog, they might be a help to others.

Another post I wrote a few years ago that deals with some of the same ideas is A Little Sin, and you might find it helpful if you’re struggling with your own sin in parenting.

No Little Women

No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of GodNo Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once I was leading a Bible study group and I encountered something in the Bible study that made me exceptionally nervous. A doctrine that had been clearly stated from our church pulpit was completely distorted in the book. It was to the point that the Bible study author said that this principle that I had been clearly taught did not exist. It was not major point of doctrine, but I was still nervous about how I would handle it. I wondered what the ladies would say and how I would deal with it. Then, on the night of Bible study, not a single lady brought the doctrinal error up. In fact, the prevailing topic that the ladies in my group wanted to discuss was the Bible study author’s clothing selections in the video lecture. . . . and such has been the case in more than one Bible study I have led in my ensuing years in women’s ministry. Although I’m not completely ready to give up on my church’s ladies Bible study, I will freely admit that I have often had the cynical thought that Bible study seems to be as much an excuse to get together and socialize as to truly study the Bible.

So, when I heard about Aimee Byrd’s book, “No Little Women,” on a blog that I follow, Byrd’s topic resonated with me. There are authors and publishers, many with good intentions, but others with the bottom line in mind, that are publishing many books that are at best light and fluffy, and at worst, harmful to the theological upbuilding and discernment of the very women that they claim to serve.

So, where does Byrd start?

Byrd starts by promoting the strong value of women. She gives very little time to explaining the position that is devaluing to women, but she strongly asserts the value of women, starting with their creation. In Byrd’s words, women are created to be a necessary ally to men, and as such, they have some clearly defined roles in relation to the men in their lives. Byrd also spends much time explaining how Eve sinfully violated her role as a necessary ally and acted like an enemy to Adam in the garden.

(Well, actually, if I wanted to start at the beginning of the book, I would start with her exegesis of 2 Timothy 3 and the passage where her title “no little women” is drawn from. You can read that yourself in the book 🙂 )

Once Byrd has established a woman’s scripturally defined role she begins to look at some more practical concerns. These include how the church ministers to every person, and why women’s ministries cannot take the place of regular ministry in the church. She explains that women’s ministries often take the place of regular service and growth for women in the church. In my experience, there are not truly many places for women to serve in the church outside of women’s ministry and dealing with young children, so often feel like some unwanted outcast that has no true place in the church. As someone with a teaching gift, I find that I often lack a place to teach at church, and women’s ministry groups sometimes help to provide an outlet for that calling. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why women’s ministry is so popular.

As someone with a teaching gift, I have participated, and currently have my main area of service at a parachurch organization. Byrd devotes some space to parachurch organizations, and she is very supportive of them, but wants to ask the question of how we can utilize these resources and still keep the local church as our priority. It’s a difficult tension and balancing act. However, I really love these words, “Women are thirsty to learn and be discipled–so much so that we have looked outside of our local churches for help. That’s not a horrible thing–churches cannot do it all! Church officers need resources too, and parachurch organizations can help to provide them.” I wonder if women would be better off belonging to some of the parachurch organizations, such as BSF or CBS, that put the focus on the words of the Bible instead of spending their money and discipleship time under the feet of specific popular authors.

Byrd devotes a whole chapter to the question of whether or not men can learn from women. She gives examples of prominent women in the Bible, and shows that, if we value women, women can have a meaningful role in teaching and writing that men should be able to learn from. The also spends some part of this chapter discussing women and sketchy theology because she finds that women are often not taken seriously and that their ideas are often not viewed critically under the scripture. The standards should be the same for anyone who teaches, and we should be able to correct faulty doctrinal lenses because teachers answer to God for the words that they say and write. These words have the opportunity to affect many lives.

So, as a part of the attempt to hold women to the same doctrinal standards as men (which is a good and necessary thing), Byrd then gives some answers to what women should be doing . She discusses feminism, complementarianism, and the impact that women have. Byrd circles back around to the ideas of necessary allies she expresses early in the book, and she comes full circle with what our roles are as necessary allies in the church, in discipleship, and in our homes.

Once Byrd has done this, she spends the final part of the book showing women some of the skills they need and how to use them to examine the books, teaching, and ideas that they come in contact with. She draws heavily from Adler and Van Doren’s “How to Read a Book” in this section, so if you’ve read their book, you might find yourself skimming some of this information. However, Byrd presents in a very gentle and fresh manner, as well as directly applying that to the questions that we should be asking about theology.

Then, she comes to a question I had been wanting her to answer the entire book, and that is “When do we know that this is book that we shouldn’t allow to speak to us?” Not surprisingly, Byrd does not give a definitive answer. She discusses the questions that we should ask about the authors and the books that we read, but shies away from clear recommendations. As a reader, I was hoping for something a little more definitive in recommendations for good, strong theology works written specifically with women’s concerns in mind, so I found myself a little disappointed with this ending.

However, she does take some snippets of passages from very famous and popular authors (Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Lisa TerKeurst, etc.) and hold up the snippets to show where they have come into false doctrinal claims and poor exegesis in their writings. That part is really quite interesting.

I don’t feel like I have all my questions answered that I came into the book with, but that does not mean that this is not the best book that I have read this year. I hope that I am able to apply what I have learned and to read some of her source books in hopes of learning a little more in areas where I did not feel that she addressed as well as others. To be perfectly blunt, this is a book that pokes a lot of holes into current women’s ministry, women’s literature and church roles, but does not always provide satisfying solutions going forward, and I hope that other authors can take the great things that Byrd has written and build upon it.

There are several minor issues that I feel the need to address at this point before I stop writing (even though I really feel like I still have only scratched the surface of interacting with her ideas).

The first is that Byrd writes from a strong Reformed perspective. Many people that I interact with will be turned off by that perspective, and they will be looking for doctrinal errors in Byrd’s writing. I highly recommend that those people look to the impact of the message and to her specific concerns with women’s ministry and the way that women are treated as second-class citizens in their ability to learn and teach the Bible. I think Christians all of theological persuasions will find some valuable information in this book.

Second is that those from egalitarian congregations are going to take offense at Byrd’s continued assertion that the roles of pastor and elder are not for women. Those women should look to their Bibles and see if they can truly find Biblical support for their positions because I don’t see any, and I would love to know where these egalitarian congregations derive their theology for who can be pastor, elder or deacon.

Third is that she takes some time to debunk the idea that certain forms of popular women’s products, such as Christian coloring books and Bible journaling make you closer to God. It’s what’s in vogue right now, and I get her arguments. I will say that I think there’s a component of worship to Bible journaling that Byrd does not get. However, I admit, as someone who has phased into and phased out of Bible journaling, that there is a strong materialistic, product driven component to Bible journaling, and that it has become its own industry. I know that’s not a good thing.

Fourth is that she holds up some very popular and influential authors and finds their doctrinal statements to be Biblically incorrect. Although I feel that this is a good thing, and I believe that we should look at all authors through the eyes of correct doctrine and not popularity, some readers are going to be offended. I also feel that there are some areas where one small snippet might not give a complete picture of these authors’ theological leanings and writings. Further research on my part is needed into these authors.

Fifth is that she acknowledges the fact that not all women who are Christians are wives and mothers and that these women are often overlooked and ignored by the church. Since I’m raising two daughters, this concern has been something that has become close to my heart. I never want them to feel that something is missing in their lives whether or not they ever get married or become mothers. I want them to feel their sufficiency in Christ. Despite Byrd’s acknowledgement, she gives no real recommendation for these women or for how women’s initiatives should handle Bible study groups where so many women are looking to be “the Proverbs 31 woman” or the “submissive wife.” There’s a whole group of women that normal women’s ministry is alienating, and those women need to be able to connect with other women on the basis of something outside their potential future husbands and progeny.

Sixth is her dislike of the use “ministry” for roles outside of the Biblically described roles for pastor and elders. I couldn’t agree more. It seems that lately everyone “has a ministry,” and when everyone has a ministry, the idea of what ministry truly is will be destroyed by it’s redefinition.

Overall, this is definitely the best book I’ve read so far this year, and I think that Byrd asks some hard questions. I am very excited to see a book that takes women and their theology so seriously. It’s not the norm in my experience. I think that men and women both often feel that women who are well-read and deep thinkers are lacking some basic form of femininity, and that’s an idea that just is not true. It is heartening to see Byrd take on such stereotypes head-on, and I applaud her for it.

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The Holiness of God

The Holiness of GodThe Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Often, we find that our Christian life feels shallow. We find that we are struggling along in our relationship with God. We feel anger and we feel entitlement, and we find that we feel apathetic towards God. R.C. Sproul’s assertion is not that there is a problem with God. Instead, we must look to ourselves to find the problem. According to Sproul, our problem may be that we have an improper view of the holiness of God.

Spanning eleven chapters, Sproul takes different topics related to God’s holiness and shares examples of different Biblical personalities, as well as discussing Martin Luther and Johnathan Edwards as relates to their perspective of God’s holiness.

He discusses God’s total holiness. He discusses justice and mercy. He discusses our sin in relation to God. He discusses our inclination not to seek God because even our good acts are even tainted by our impure motives.

He discusses how holiness is what sparks the hatred of people towards us. They want none of our God, and they reject us as part of rejecting God.

There is much to like about this book. There are many sound theological points. I was especially taken by Sprout’s exegesis of Isaiah 6, and how Isaiah, even as a good person, was a man of unclean lips. I was amazed how the weight of my own sin hit me and how, even though I consider myself good, I am truly a wretched and awful and unclean person. Woe is me!

I was also shaken to the core by the discussion of God’s grace and how we cheapen it by being presumptuous with it. I am guilty of feeling like God owes me for my service and for my faithfulness, when I am a sinner, who deserves nothing more than death. I can only stand in awe of how God redeemed me.

There are some things here that are a theological stretch, especially for those of Arminian position. Sproul describes total depravity in several passages, and I think dismisses the complexity of the issue that Arminians have with total depravity. Right now, I’m going through a point in my faith walk where I am overly sensitive to the Arminian/Calvinist differences of thought, so your milage may vary on this one.

I also rolled my eyes a little at the whole chapter on Luther. I feel like I can’t read any Calvinist work that doesn’t contain too many references to both Luther and Calvin. I’ll never forget the quote I read in one of N.T. Wright’s works that reminded me that just because Luther, Calvin and the other reformers started the reformation, sola scriptura doesn’t mean interpret the Bible exactly the way Luther did. However, I will grant that Sproul’s discussion of Luther and his deep respect for God’s holiness was actually perfectly written, so that’s just my personal prejudice coming out.

Overall, this is an excellent book, and I have enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it. I’ve saved many, many quotes from the book to ponder over the next few months as I read other books and think about God’s holiness. This was a perfect book to read for my Reading Challenge’s book about holiness. I came away from this book much more in awe of God, and as I continue to ponder Sproul’s writing and quotes that I selected to save from this book, I find myself feeling more and more of a respect for God’s holiness.

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Genie in a Bottle

Genie in a Bottle (Whatever After #9)Genie in a Bottle by Sarah Mlynowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Abby is still trying to think of ways to help Maryrose. She is competing in a read-a-thon at her school in hopes that, if she is the winner, she will be able to request that her school library stock some books that will help her to break Maryrose’s curse.

However, it does not look like Abby is going to win. So, instead, Abby decides to go through the mirror on an adventure to see if she can free Maryrose. At first, Abby and Jonah feel like they’ve hit the jackpot. They’re in the story of Aladdin. Surely, they can just wish for the genie of the lamp to free Maryrose and all would be better.

As usual, they mess up Aladdin’s story. They mess up dealing with the genie of the lamp. They end up with an inexperienced ring genie named Karimah, and hilarity and fun ensue. Eventually, the story ends well in the fairy tale land, and when Abby and Jonah come back to their home, Abby finds that one of her friends has won the read-a-thon and is allowing her to help choose the books that she asks the library to order.

As usual, these books are very formulaic and simple. Yet, I read this one with my children, and they wanted to give this book five stars because the genie is funny, and all the things that go wrong and truly amusing. I also admit that I enjoyed the book, although I would like to see some further resolution of Maryrose’s story because this book provided very little information on Maryrose, and I thought we had gotten to a place (ten books into the series) where we were deeper into a “real” story. Oh well. Maybe in the next book.

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Cutting Ties with Darkness

Cutting Ties with Darkness: 2 CorinthiansCutting Ties with Darkness: 2 Corinthians by John D. Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I prepare to teach and lead Bible study, I find myself drawn to commentaries and books that involve the topics and books of the Bible that I will be interacting with. This year, one of the books that I have been thinking about and studying as a teacher is the book of 2 Corinthians. So, when I saw a Kindle deal on the book “Cutting Ties with Darkness,” I knew that I couldn’t go wrong by reading another commentary on 2 Corinthians.

There are two things that make this book unique as far as commentaries go. The first is that the remarks are actually quite brief on each topic. This is a commentary that you can cruise through, and not just that, it is a solid introduction to the ideas that are central to 2 Corinthians. If you read this book, you will feel that you have a thorough grounding in the central theme of 2 Corinthians.

The second unusual choice for Barry’s organization of this book is that he chooses to start his commentary in the middle of the book of 2 Corinthians. He starts with chapter 6’s comments on being “unequally yoked” because this is where Barry finds the pulse of the book. The Corinthians will never be the church that God wants them to be, and they will never follow Christ the way that should if they do not “cut ties with darkness.”

I was completely entranced by Barry’s organization of this book because I had never considered how central that theme is to 2 Corinthians. If the Corinthians do not choose to forsake evil and follow Christ, this church is not going to make it. In fact, all the difficulties that Paul addresses in both 1 and 2 Corinthians could be fixed if the Corinthians would make the conscious choice to follow God and to not yoke themselves with other gospels, pagan practices and immorality.

Why hadn’t the Corinthians been able to that? Because it was painful and difficult to give up those close associations that kept them from Christ.

Once Barry establishes this as his thesis, he returns to the beginning of 2 Corinthians and goes through it section by section. Although he does address most verses in the book, he does not do a traditional verse by verse running commentary. Verses are addressed out of order, and most verses are handled briefly. This isn’t the book that’s going to explain to you everything you need to know about 2 Corinthians, but there is a lot of great, inspirational insight into the book as you go through its pages.

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