Posted on Friday, December 19, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’m currently reading through O. Palmer Robertson’s short little book, God’s People in the Wilderness. It is tying in well with the reading I am doing on the Parable of the Ten Virgins. The premise of his book is that “For the writer of the Hebrews, the church of today finds its most proper definition in terms of the historical experience of the old covenant people of God ‘in the wilderness’ during the days of Moses” (8).
A little over halfway into the book, Robertson uses a phrase that I’ve probably read or heard numerous times, but it has just stuck out to me with a new significance: “participate in God’s promises” (75). It sounds simple enough, but I think this is such a good description of the Christian life. And when you think of it in terms of God’s people in the wilderness, you see how participating can be both exciting and scary. It is wonderful to receive God’s promises, but hard to hold fast to them.
But that is exactly what the writer to the Hebrews bids us to do. And he gives us a sense of urgency by quoting from Psalm 95. We are called out of our sin and into Christ’s righteousness. We are promised rest in Christ now, as well as a Sabbath rest that is to come. But the same words David uses to exhort his generation to participate in these promises are used by the writer of the Hebrews to his own generation: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness…” (Heb. 3:7-8).
Today.
Isn’t that a powerful word? It not only connects the wilderness generation to David’s and the generation from Hebrews, but ours as well! “The gap between Israel’s wilderness experience which they had undergone over a thousand years earlier is bridged instantly and dramatically by a revitalization of the ‘Today’ of the psalmist” (67).
Robertson highlights the admonitions in Hebrews that lay out how to participate in God’s promises:
Heb. 3:8,15; 4:7: Since we hear God’s voice in his Word, we aren’t to become hard-hearted like the Israelites in the wilderness.
Heb. 3:12,13: “As long as it is called ‘today,’” the church is to exhort one another. Unlike God’s people in the wilderness, we need to take our duty to one another serious.
Heb. 4:1,2: We are to be united by faith, with a godly fear that we could fail to enter God’s rest like that rebellious generation.
Heb. 4:11: We are united in Christ and we have a singular goal to persevere. The horror of the Israelites not entering their rest is a warning for all those who profess Christ. His people will be given a fighting faith to enter his eschatological rest. 
The gap between generations is filled by a single word. We are to strive together as we persevere to enter God’s rest. Today. God’s people participate in his promises together. Not only that, Christ himself is our companion. Roberts explains that we are the new wilderness community. We acknowledge a tension as we live under the new covenant in this age. But as we profess faith in Christ, we will participate in his promises and persevere. He bids us to be prepared for the tension. These exhortations from the writer to the Hebrews help us to be ready for that great day, beginning with today. 
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Twas just days before Christmas and in the bunker underground
The spin was still spinning, but the Ref Pack could not be found.
Extra paper clips and gum held their stockings with care
With hopes that the Puppet Master soon would visit there.
The cohosts were doing some last minute shopping
Taking a break from their work but the spin wasn’t stopping.
They thought about all they had mortified this year
It was a bit overwhelming so they stopped for a beer.
Patriarchy, plagiarism, baptism, and Big Eva
How Aimee can be one of the guys, but still such a diva.
The IPA glistened and the Christmas music played
As they thought about all of the friends they could’ve made.
When all of the sudden they heard an altercation
And arose from their break to inspect the situation.
They looked left and looked right, yet the shoppers seemed unconcerned.
But as they looked towards the Christian bookstore their fear was confirmed.
Then what to their wondering eyes did they see
But the MAD woman climbing the Christmas book tree
Outraged at the “Christian” trinkets and books on display,
Her madness must have grown two sizes that day.
It happened so quickly, in the blink of an eye,
I can hardly describe it, but I’ll give it a try.
The trio ran rapidly, weaving in and out of the crowd
To come to her rescue and for once make her proud.
She shouted their names with her fist in a clinch
While she trampled on Steven Furtick, Ed Young, and Carl Lentz.
Her curls were exceptionally boisterous and her cheeks were quite rosy
The Christian retailers were alerted and starting to get nosey.
Resolute she continued to cry, “On Carl! on Aimee! on Todd!
Cut through this spin and expose the facade!”
That’s when her foot slipped and the tree began to crash.
She threw out their gifts that she’d been carrying in a stash.
Jack Daniels for Aimee, and for Todd a new pipe
And to remind Carl of home, a big dish of tripe.
Carl and Todd distracted the workers with their balding glare
While Aimee swung garland and lassoed MAD right out of the air.
Book covers boasting sparkling white teeth peppered the floor
As security ushered the Ref Pack right out the door.
MAD pleaded, “There’s plenty of writers that should never go to print!”
But on their way out she grabbed a Testamint.
With a puff of his pipe, Todd held onto his belly
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
Carl warned that spin is never far away
And bid them back to the bunker without delay.
The shoppers heard them exclaim, ere they were whisked out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
 
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Now there is a leveling question. It is asked by Thomas Shepard in The Parable of the Ten Virgins. The question is part of his sermon notes on the visible church of God. Shepard opens with the point that the church is the very place that God prepares his bride to meet Christ, and that it is not the kingdom of this world, but rather the very kingdom of heaven. “The estate of the visible church will be like ten virgins” (16).
In this sermon, Shepard wants to press the point “that the visible church of God on earth, especially in the times of the gospel, is the kingdom of heaven upon earth”(17). Some of the reasons he gives is that the King of heaven reigns as the King of grace as he is present with his church, his law is given, his promises are proclaimed, we gather with fellow heirs of heaven, and the visible church is where we see “the very glory of heaven begun” (18). 
As I was reading through each of these reasons explained further, I thought about how easily I take the church for granted. But Shepard pleas for us to be grateful for the honor that has been bestowed on us, to be “called out of the world, and planted in his church. What hath the Lord done, but opened the way to the tree of life, and let you into paradise again?” (19). We were so unfit for heaven, and yet God has brought heaven down to us. He has betrothed us to his Son, and washed us clean. 
Sure, we wait for the new heaven and the new earth, where we will have glorified resurrected bodies without sin. We wait for our Bridegroom to come for us. But we have a foretaste in the church. Shepard rebukes us by asking, “Do you know where you are?” (20). 
Is heaven not good enough for you? Are we not satisfied in the love of the Savior and the fellowship of the saints? The holy God has called us, the enemy, into his kingdom. We were in utter darkness and despair and he has rescued us and made us fellow heirs. 
What is our response? Do we love the earthly kingdom more than the heavenly reign? Are we indifferent to our brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we jealous over the truth? Do we live according to the reality of the kingdom of heaven?
Is not heaven good enough for thee? Can not that content thee which many have desired to see, and could not see, even the Lord Jesus, the King of glory in his beauty, in the assemblies of the saints? (20)
Or are we mere pretenders, fools, who have lamps with no oil?
Posted on Tuesday, December 09, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

 Yesterday I gave a critique on the lack of good readers in the church. Today I want to offer a very practical suggestion to get people reading and sharpen their discernment skills. It's something I have really enjoyed doing. This article was oringinally published in 2011. I took a year off from hosting these and I look forward to starting a new one with the new year:

How can you learn about the philosophy of Confucius, the birth of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Lady Jane- the nine day Queen of England, a psychiatrist’s journey through post-partum depression with electroconvulsive treatment, and the essentials of biblical worship, all in one night?  I’ll tell you how, and I'll throw in coffee and brownie sundays. The answer is in the book review club.

One of my goals for last year was to get more women both reading and talking about good books. Although I love to read, I’ve always found the ordinary book clubs unattractive, mainly because I didn’t want to read their books (I know this sounds horribly postmodern, but bear with me). It’s not that their books were bad (albeit a bit predictable), but as a busy mom of three I wanted my precious reading time to be more purposefully invested than the top ten, best sellers list. And herein lies the genius of the book review club…everyone reads a different book. That’s right; you read whatever book you would like to share by review for the monthly meeting.  

There are many benefits to this eclectic method. Many of my friends and family would express interest in being more disciplined readers, but never really make it a priority. When you know that you have thirty days to read and prepare a review for your book, the motivation takes on new significance. Not only will you begin reading more, but you will become a more active reader. When we share with someone else, we enhance our own memory, understanding, and critiquing skills; all the while encouraging one another to read, think, learn, and get together for coffee.

As rewarding as it is to benefit from our own reading, our compensation is multiplied as we profit from what others are reading. My friend Dana’s passion for the Tudor family has been very insightful. Although it is not a passion that we share, I have a new appreciation for her interest. Her book review on Lady Jane Grey, by Faith Cook, was very thorough, providing a timeline throughout the family tree of the Tudor line. Shockingly, some women in the group never knew Bloody Mary was anything more than a brunch beverage. Dana opened up her review asking if we could name any martyrs of the faith, and ended by detailing the hard, much forgotten life of a sixteen year old girl whose knowledge and steadfastness to the Lord puts most of us to shame. Dana’s passion that evening rubbed off on my eleven year old daughter, a passer-by who was captivated by her presentation. She has now read most of the Young Reader’s series on the Tudor women. 

This leads to yet another benefit in finding new books to read that may never have been in your radar. The interesting thing about it is that I get to know my friends and family in a more intimate way. Sure, we might mention in conversation something about what we are reading, but this is an opportunity to really share our thoughts and interests with people who genuinely care. My cousins, Crystal and April, are both moms continuing their education in college. With no time to read books of her own choosing at this time, Crystal reviewed one of her assignments for her Eastern History class. It has been very enlightening for her to compare and contrast her own faith with eastern religion taught in a secular university. April just received her Masters in counseling. As someone who has a special compassion for those struggling with depression, she connected on a deeper level with her read through a licensed therapist’s serious battle. Since the meeting, I have found more to talk to my cousins about than the usual tired-mom stuff. I believe the book review club is strengthening my relationships.  

Whether we realize it or not, we are always continuing our education. The question is, how are we being shaped and formed? Where are we getting our information from? Your education didn’t stop with a diploma, degree, or specialized license. It’s time to evaluate our main sources of learning. Unwittingly, it could be the likes of Dr. Phil, Facebook, reality T.V., or talk radio. In saying that, books for pure entertainment are welcome reviews in our book club as well.  But now we are discussing things like what the author is glorifying, our own presuppositions and expectations, truth, genre, and execution. You may have read for entertainment, but now you are sharpening your critiquing skills in the process.  So this is not a revolutionary idea, but a great way to engage in sharing our reading interests with one another as well as sharpening our minds a bit.

Posted on Monday, December 08, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
So this is interesting. This weekend I began reading Karen Swallow Prior’s fantastic book on the life of Hannah More titled Fierce Convictions, and I stumbled upon a paragraph lamenting the quality of women’s reading material in the mid 18th century. I could have written something similar today: 
Even in their reading, More charged, too many women were prone to superficiality. In search of a passing knowledge of books and authors, many read anthologies of excerpted works that selected the brightest passages but left out deeper contexts---eighteenth-century versions of Reader’s Digest were quite popular. More cautioned against a habit she viewed as cultivating a taste only for “delicious morsels,” one that spits out “every thing which is plain.” Good books, in contrast, require good readers: “In all well-written books, there is much that is good which is not dazzling; and these shallow critics should be taught, that it is for the embellishment of the more tame and uninteresting parts of his work, that the judicious poet commonly reserves those flowers, whose beauty is defaced when they are plucked from the garland into which he had so skillfully woven them.” (23) 
Immediately, you may notice the irony of me now offering you a bright passage to indulge in without having to read the book. And if you agree with me that this is indeed a bright passage, I am relieved. But I do commend you to read the whole book so that you can take in the entire beautiful garden. It’s one of those books that you just don’t want to finish because it is such a great companion. But I do offer you this plucked flower for the purpose of reflection.
Although so much has changed, so much has remained the same. In More’s time, women were not afforded the same education as men. It was unusual for a woman to have a well-rounded education. Those who were able to get an education were to learn in the arts, instruction on manners, and maybe a foreign language to help them catch a man, or to be of good company for a brief conversation with a man. They were not to contribute anything intelligent to the conversation. Hannah More protested that these were mere “ornamental accomplishments” that were very superficial in nature. 
While I read these pages with a gratitude that I do not live in such a sexist age, I find myself enveloped in much of the same superficiality when it comes to what many women in the church (and men too) are reading. I can’t tell you how many wonderful friends I have, friends who actively read and post and share on Facebook, who will unashamedly tell me that they don’t read books because they aren’t “readers.” I find this preposterous. Of course they’re readers. They’re sound-bite readers, gatherers of plucked flowers that die in three days. They only want what is quick, interesting, and handfed. 
But they refuse to see the garden.
And so, just as More observed, “’There are more who can see and hear, than there are who can judge and reflect’” (22). We have access to an education our ancestors could barely dream of, technology to bring much of it to us at our fingertips, and a plethora of books! We have a feast of wisdom and talent to read, and too many women are junk food binging (changing metaphors here). The result is a loss of discernment of a good meal, and an insatiable sugar tooth. 
It’s all so ironic. More and more women are investing time and effort to homeschool their children for the purpose of teaching under a Christian worldview. This is commendable. But while many are busy combatting secular education, I find a significant portion of adult women are lacking the discernment to be good readers themselves. I don't want to target home school moms here or offend their vocation in general. Many moms work hard to provide an education for their children. I'm aiming to poke at ALL women in the church, even those who appear to be dedicating their lives to education. Women often get pulled in by the same sentimentality that we fear our kids will be snookered by in secular ideologies. And so when they finally decide it’s time to read a “good book” they often choose a popular Christian title that appeals to their emotions, unaware that mysticism and other bad doctrine has snuck right in the back door. 
And what about good writing? This also worries me. Shock and verbal emoticons seem to catch our attention, so authors are spinning out tweetable lines. It’s becoming harder to keep the reader’s attention because the necessarily plain good lines, the ivy, tall grasses, and evergreens that border the flowers, are no longer valued. 
Which brings me back to the title, Fierce Convictions. It took aggressive convictions to change the way people think about education for women. We take all that for granted now. But maybe we should have some fierce convictions of our own about the quality of what we are reading now. Much has changed, but unfortunately, much has remained the same.
Posted on Friday, December 05, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
There are quite a number of books that I have bought over the years with every intention to get to reading one day. They sit waiting for just the right time to crack open. Some people like to stock pile emergency items for their pantry in case of some sort of national disaster. I may not have any freeze-dried food and purified water ready for such a time, but I have some good books to keep me going. 
I decided to finally get to one of them that I give that “I haven’t forgotten about you” smile to when passing by on the shelf: The Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Thomas Shepard (1605-1649). 
I was ready for a new commentary to go through for some personal Bible study, and now it looks like I am going to be spending a great deal of time going through thirteen verses. After all, Shepard preached for four years on it and this book consists of 635 pages of his edited sermon notes. Of course, the original title of his sermon series, in typical Puritan fashion, gives us the full “elevator-pitch,” as we’d call it today: “Wherein the difference between the sincere Christian and the most refined hypocrite, the nature and characters of saving and of common grace, the dangers and diseases incident to most flourishing churches of Christians, and other spiritual truths of greatest importance, are cleverly discovered and practically improved.” With a subtitle like that, you can forget about capitalizing the words! But, I was captivated by how relevant these words are to the church today.
This parable of the ten virgins, found in Matthew 25:1-13, has always been a haunting warning to me. Shepard points out from the beginning that it is not enough for us to be watchful. This parable persuades us that “continuance and perseverance in [watchfulness] from a prudent foresight of the coming of Christ” is needed to make it into the marriage feast (14). These ten virgins had much in common:
1. They are all virgins; virgin professors.
2. They were all awake and watchful for some time, ready to meet the bridegroom; and hence it is said, “They took their lamps.”
3. They all had so much faith as to go out to meet the bridegroom. (15)
And yet, there were clear differences:
1. Generally, “five were wise” and “five were foolish,” verse 2.
2. Specifically, the foolish took lamps, but no oil; the wise did both, verses 3, 4. (15)
You don’t read anything about the lifestyles of the five being given to licentious sin. Rather, I think Shepard’s phrase “refined hypocrite” from his title gives us a lot to think about. Wisdom suddenly takes on a more urgent importance to the saint. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5)! We need wisdom to make it into the feast. And this parable suggests that a great number of professing Christians in the church are foolish. This is how Shepard describes the state of the visible church when Christ returns:
They shall not be openly profane, corrupt, and scandalous, but virgin professors, awakened for some reason out of carnal security; stirring, lively Christians, not preserving their chastity and purity merely in a way of works, but waiting for Christ in a covenant of grace; only some of these, and a good part of these, shall be indeed wise, stored with spiritual wisdom, filled with the power of grace; but others of them, and a great part of them too, shall be found foolish at the coming of the Lord Jesus. (16)
This is a sobering reflection. It reminds me of the serious warning in Hebrews 6:4-6:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
There are many in the church who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. They have participated in the means of grace. They even fit in. They walk with us and talk like us. But they turn away from the truth, do not continue to exercise faith by actively engaging in the gospel truths that have been revealed to them in God’s Word, and they do not endure to the end. They turn away because they never were really one of us. Their faith was not real. You can’t pretend in your own strength and make it to the end. 
Every true believer will persevere to the end, but faith is a fighting grace. Waiting isn’t enough. We fight to hold fast to our anchor, our Bridegroom, who is holding fast to us. As we wait for his return, we prepare for it. And fruit will be produced in us. We will become wise.
These warnings are real. They are true. But God’s people will hear them like a child who heeds his father’s admonitions, or like a sheep that knows their shepherd’s voice. And yet this parable is not merely a warning. It also holds out that glorious day approaching which we are waiting for. We are invited to the marriage feast. The visible church, the ten virgins, has been called out to meet the Bridegroom. Who wouldn’t want to be ready for this great day?
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

I wrote this article a little while after signing my first book contract. About a year after it was published, a friend asked me if I regret writing the article. I can honestly say that I don't. As a matter of fact, I stand behind it even more now. Sure, I participate in marketing and think others should as well. But we should struggle with our methods, we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously, and we should always remember we are human beings and so are the people reading our books.

I'm bringing this all up because today's Mortification of Spin podcast got me thinking about it again. I certainly have a hard time admitting regrets. One thing that helps is to distinguish between brand and reputation. If I am being tempted and pulled into the branding ideas that the market spins, I will not want to admit regrets. It damages the brand. But if I am concerned about my reputation, particularly as an ambassador of Christ, then it is a no-brainer. People aren't brands.

It's also wonderful news because we can express regrets and say we are sorry, even when we fall for the hype. So after originally posting this on March 13, 2013, I am reminded again of it's truth today:

So I wrote a book. Amazingly, I found someone good who wants to publish it. But I’m finding that authors these days need to be a lot more than good writers. Some people say, “I don’t care if my book isn’t a ‘best seller.’ If it really helps one person to know the Lord better, it will be worth it.” That’s not me. I’ve spent way too much valuable time on this project to settle for one better life. My goals are bigger. I want women to get passionate about theology. A lot of women. I want to improve the quality of our conversations. I want to facilitate an avenue for mentoring to blossom in our churches from high school age all the way to 93-year-old Buella. I want to help equip women—more than one. Hopefully the Lord will bless my work. 

If you want to get your book out there, marketing is essential. So I’ve recently began “following” a few people on Twitter that write about how authors can better use social media to communicate their work to a broader audience. They have blue checks next to their names, so they must be pretty important. Some of them have “difference maker” on their profile, or “NY Times best seller.” I have to tell you that some of their vocabulary creeps me out.

I’m sure their methods are beneficial. But after reading a handful of articles, I come away feeling cheapened. I mean, how would you feel as a reader of my blog if you knew that I read an article yesterday referring to my readers as my “tribe”? In one word, you’ve been reduced from a free-thinking, human being to someone to manipulate. Sure, I have my favorite authors, but I don’t want to be in anyone’s tribe.

Another article encouraged me to have a comprehensive brand strategy. All the sudden, I also feel less than a thinking human being with worth, and more like a victim of the infamous “hot” or “not” site. I’m not a pair of shoes, I’m an author. Sure, people are buying more than my book. When I buy a new workout DVD, the trainer’s personality makes a difference in my workout. Same with writers. But we still have to be careful about making the person the product. And then there’s the language about leadership. Many of my blog readers are also bloggers, writers, or leaders in their church. As leaders of different sorts, honesty is important. No one wants a huckster for a leader. So I was taken aback when I read these two sentences next to one another:

While leadership and marketing are both about influence, leadership is influence without self-interest. This is what makes leadership the most powerful kind of marketing possible.

How contradictory is that? The article ended with this question:

How do you see leadership changing in this new era?

According to this article, I would say it’s becoming a manipulative marketing tool instead of a positive influence. So when these social media advisors tell me to indiscriminately go fishing for Twitter followers and Facebook fans, not to bother moderating any comments on my blog, and treat my website as a writing lab, I don’t want to be in their tribe. It just makes me feel desperate. Especially when the same article ends with, “be authentic, they can smell a phony a mile away!”  I do believe that last line. I don’t want to question the motives of these consultants, I just feel like social media may be confusing the people with the machine a bit. I think part of the answer is in the Jerry McGuire mission statement:

And now we get to the answer that Dicky Fox knew years ago. The answer is fewer clients. Less dancing. More truth. We must crack open the tightly clenched fist of commerce and give a little back for the greater good. Eventually revenues will be the same, and that goodness will be infectious. We will have taken our number oneness and turned it into something greater. And eventually smaller will become bigger, in every way, and especially in our hearts.
Forget the dance.
Focus.
Learn who these people are. That is the stuff of your relationship. That is what will matter. It is inevitable, at our current size, to keep many athletes from leaving anyway. People always respond best to personal attention, it is the simplest and easiest truth to forget.

It also reminds me of a C.S. Lewis essay called "The Inner Ring." If we are striving to be in a certain ring, we are missing the point. But if we are passionately pursuing the ways to use our gifts and share them with others, we will find ourselves already in a circle with like-minded people. So we need to be discerning about what we are marketing and whom we are marketing to. I am a person, not a brand. I am marketing my book, even more so, the thoughts in my book. And my readers are also people whom I care about. I am serving them, not the other way around. You are more than a tribe. Circles form, but they are interactive. They organically move, expand and contract. But they don’t need to be fear-based. So I respectfully ask the marketing gurus to quit trying to draw the circle for us.

 

Posted on Monday, December 01, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’m headed up the road to participate in tomorrow’s live Mortification of Spin panel at Cairn University. This is going to be an interesting conversation. The topic is “Getting Through College Without Becoming a Heathen.” 
Again, I find myself coming to the discussion with a noteworthy difference from my two cohosts, and probably many of the students attending a Christian university. I went to a secular university and, for the first 2+ years, was not living anywhere close to the Christian that I professed to be. While I may have looked like I had high standards compared to the “heathens” that I hung out with, you could look at my college life and predict that I was going to be one myself by the time I graduated. 
But that’s not what happened. I was partying with my four roommates one night my Junior year, and it hit me. What hit me? Well, it wasn’t a voice from God and it wasn’t a snowball with rocks in it (got hit with a couple of those this weekend). It was the meaninglessness, the outright rebellion, and stupidity of what I was doing. I remember thinking that I just plain wasn’t living according to who I am. I thought I was being authentic, having been sick of hypocrisy. I thought I got a pass because I was young. I had all along been planning to eventually straighten up my act and become a responsible Christian adult when it was time to settle down and get a real job and all that good stuff.
But that’s not how it goes.
And even in the pathetically immature state that I was in, I could see that a little more clearly that night. You don’t live in sin and then magically develop Christian character to be a good wife, mom, neighbor, or coworker. I was becoming someone whom I didn’t profess to be. I professed to be a sinner rescued by the almighty Son of God. But I was living like someone enslaved to sin. Things had to change. That wasn’t who I was. 
And I believe the Holy Spirit had been pressing me to that honest self-evaluation. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. Although I hadn’t been there in close to four years, the ministry of the Word was still powerfully working in me. It was powerful enough to work in me in the middle of a night partying with a group of college girls.
And so I found a church. I wish I could say that church greeted me, that someone invited me over or asked me to come to one of their study groups. I wish I could say that I could even remember the pastor’s name, or one sermon that he preached, or even remember one face that I sat beside in a pew. I don’t. It was actually a pretty crummy church in that way. I’m sure that inviting me to be a part of the church life and community would have made a wonderful difference in my growth and decision making as I finished at the university. I was ignored, albeit a few greetings and smiles.
But I kept going, even though my roommates were beginning to wonder what the heck had gotten into me. I began reading my Bible again, found a Christian bookstore, and even did Bible studies with a roommate. God’s Word didn’t go out void.
It took a long time for me to get a good understanding of the church. I didn't know about the beauty of the covenant community of God's people loving and serving together. But I can say that I’m one who came into college looking like a heathen, and left looking like a stumbling, growing, eager Christian. I think there are many out there like me, who grew up in the church and for one reason or another faded out. That kind of person probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. But if you live near a college or university, your church has an opportunity. You can bring the gospel to many who may have never heard it. Or you may be able to call some back who are backslidden. 
Reach out to the colleges. Offer rides. Offer meals. Offer friendship. But most of all, offer the faithful ministry of the preached Word and administration of the sacraments. After all, it is he who promised who is faithful.
Posted on Wednesday, November 26, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’m really looking forward to a Mortification of Spin interview we will be doing with Todd Billings on his upcoming book, Rejoicing in Lament. Todd has been diagnosed with a rare, terminal cancer at the age of 39, and his book explores how living in his condition relates “to the abundant life that we enjoy in Christ.”
While I was listening to the part of our discussion on today’s podcast about what Christians are to look for in a pastor, I remembered a great question I had just read in Billings' book. In his chapter on “Death in the Story of God and in the Church,” he shares a reflection he had while teaching a Sunday school class on lament, promise, and the life of Christ, from the perspective of his experience with cancer.  
In speaking to members of my congregation on this topic, it forced a level of honesty that I found striking: this is
 a place where funerals take place on a regular basis; in this room are cancer survivors who have gone through chemo; and there are others who have lost spouses and other loved ones to cancer and other disease and tragedy. The congregation is the only place (that
 I can think of!) in Western culture where we develop relationships, celebrate our faith and life together, and also extend those same relationships all the way through death and dying. A place of employment, a hospice—they have indispensable roles, but in neither is a community life that celebrates the birth of babies and the growth of young and old and extends these same relationships all the way to death. It’s a gift, really. It’s a marvelous gift that the church who baptizes and celebrates new life in Christ also does funerals, mourns with the dying, and celebrates the promise of resurrection in Christ. For some young people, the church is one of the only places that they are exposed to death in a real, personal way—where someone they knew has died. And I think that is a gift of the church. I would go so far as to say that a top recommended question from me for “church shoppers” might be this: who would you like to bury you? Think about that one for a while! (101)
I have been thinking about that one for a while. On several occasions Carl and Todd have emphasized the duty of the pastor to include preparing their congregants for death. The church is a gift in both celebrating life and in facing death. We embrace our confession of hope together. As a creation of God’s Word, we know that death is not the end, but look forward to our resurrection in Christ. 
However, we also live as we are called as theologians of the cross. As we follow our Savior, we can be angry at death. We can express our deep lamentation that things are not as they should be because we know our God and we know that he is good. We don’t hope in good feelings but in an eternal life of holiness before the Lord. Our ultimate expectation isn’t in a better world here, but in a new heavens and a new earth. 
Reading these words from Billings also reminded me of a sermon Paul Wolfe preached. Pastor Wolfe urged us saying, “The gospel makes us recognize the size of the gulf between the way things are and the way they are supposed to be.” He defined groaning as “the sound at the intersection between pain and hope.” That’s who I want to bury me, someone who is intimate with that sound.
We are ambassadors of Christ, bearing witness to a different kingdom. The church experiences true joy and honest groaning because it is rooted in real hope, knowing he who promised is faithful. 
Posted on Monday, November 24, 2014 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

This is the month of Thankfulness. All you have to do is log on Facebook to affirm it. Many friends participate and show their gratitude by posting a different thing they are thankful for each day leading up to Thanksgiving. While it’s good to give thanks for our blessings, Flannery O’Connor’s short story, "The Turkey," made me reflect on both the grace God provides in ordinary life, as well as what he asks of his disciples.

The story begins with Ruller, an 11-year-old boy “playing by himself” in the woods when he spots an injured turkey. He figures it must be at least ten pounds. Once Ruller realized that it couldn’t even fly, he determined he was going to get that turkey. What a gift God was giving him! Immediately, he began to think about all the glory that would come his way when he came home with a wild turkey over his shoulder. This news would surely make the list of things his parents would talk about in bed. Unbeknownst to them, Ruller stayed awake, carefully hanging on to every word of their pillow talk. Eventually dad would ask, “How are the boys?” each night. Although a bit peculiar, he was faring better than his older brother Hane, who was wearing his mother “to a frazzle” with his rebellious behavior. “Hane played pool and smoked cigarettes and sneaked in at twelve-thirty and boy he thought he was something.”

Now Ruller was really going to be something to talk about when he victoriously brought home this turkey. Until the chase ran his head straight into a tree branch that cleaned his clock. By the time he realized what he had done, Ruller was on his back and the turkey was nowhere in sight. “It was like somebody had played a dirty trick on him.” That turkey was dangled in front of him as a prize that he couldn’t have. As Ruller now conceded that he was going to go home beat up and empty-handed, the cursing began. First it was just “nuts,” and then “Oh hell.” But this bad providence sent Ruller into cursing God’s name in a way that would make his grandma’s “teeth fall in her soup.” The turkey that got away had Ruller considering, even relishing, the glory he would get as a bad boy. Hane had nuthin’ on him. 

But wait.

The turkey hadn’t escaped after all. It was just behind the thicket. Ruller began to think maybe God had put the turkey there to keep him from going bad. When he finally captured that turkey, he decided to take the long way home through town. Now that he was getting the glory for this spectacular hunt, Ruller grew thankful for this gift from God. In fact, he pledged to give the dime that his grandma had given him to a beggar on the way home. What a good boy he was.

Aren’t we so often the same way? God gives us our heart’s desire and we soak up all the glory for ourselves, parading our accomplishments over our shoulder through town. When God is handing out the blessings, we acknowledge his great favor. But perhaps God’s greatest gift to Ruller was knocking him upside the head with that branch, exposing his sinful nature when he thought his pursuit was for naught. As he was fantasizing about the acclaim of his family members and townsmen, it never occurred to Ruller that God didn’t want the dime from his grandma. God wanted the very thing he gave him. And God was to get the glory.

That’s the ironic twist to the story as Ruller was showing his turkey off to some country boys. In the midst of his own glory as a hunter and giver to the poor, his foolishness didn’t see it coming. Only this time, it didn’t take a branch to clean his clock. Just some country boys who tricked him into handing them the turkey.  Now all he had to show was a bruised and dirty body.

What kind of boy was he going to be now? Our God is good, but it isn’t because of the things he gives us. A studier of his Word will know that the cross comes before the crown. The life of the disciple is one of self-denial. God always deserves all the glory, even in his severe mercies of taking away what we treasure above him. The almighty God is our ultimate blessing. He is our great reward.

 

*Originally posted on 11/16/2012