Going to The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference this June?
Join Keri Folmar, Margaret Kostenberger, Jenny Manley, Courtney Reissig and Mary Willson as they discuss why understanding doctrine is crucial for life and ministry.
Do women in your church seem to be living for the moment instead of in light of eternity? Does your small group Bible study skim the surface without going deeply into the Word? Do you want to help women know how to suffer life’s trials with joy?
Fall is a spectacular time for the senses. Our Creator’s glory splashes the world with vivid colors and woodsy smells. It’s also the time of year when I’m reminded that God is in charge of the seasons of our lives. As Christians, we know and trust that God ordains all things and is working out our sanctification as we move through these seasons. So whether you’re resting or wrestling in a season of quiet ministry as a woman yourself or you’re shepherding those in a quieter season of ministry, I hope to encourage you to delight in God’s timing. Jesus told us, “The Father who sees in secret will reward you.” There is much to gain in seasons of serving quietly.
As a woman, I’ve had to wrestle with God through some of the seasons where ministry opportunities took the backseat, where they were almost invisible. Days would go by when the only person who would see my labors was God himself. Those were challenging days. They were challenging for me because I longed to teach and train others in the truths of God’s Word. I wanted to be more active in the life and ministry of the church in a more visible and vibrant—at least to me—way.
Frustrations surfaced when I had women into the chaos of our home. Nap revolts, potty accidents, and distractions of every sort all seemed to come whenever I was trying to disciple another sister in the Lord. Wiping up messes or repeatedly correcting one of my children felt more like interruptions than opportunities. I wanted to be able to sit quietly over tea and discuss God’s word. But God was doing other things with those years. What I would later come to learn was how vital those “interruptions” were for others. By struggling to stick to God’s good design, I was teaching and training in ways I still don’t think I fully appreciate.
Erin Wheeler is a pastor’s wife, mother and nurse who is writing a book on the doctrine of the church for The Good Portion series. You can read the rest of her article here.
A young pastor’s wife sat across from me in tears, wondering how she would partner with her husband in ministry with three little ones in tow. She had a head for theology and a heart for women, but two babies had slowed her down in the last few years and now she was pregnant with her third.
I can remember the days of wanting to partner with my husband while running after little ones. When I was a young assistant pastor’s wife, I asked an older, wiser woman how to have spiritually encouraging conversations after church with tired and hungry kids clinging to me. Her answer wasn’t filled with the practical advice I expected. “Sometimes you just have to go home,” she said.
Often pastors’ wives feel like what we do is trivial compared to our husbands’ eternally significant work. It’s not just young kids that slow ministry wives down. Chronic pain, rebellious teens, or sick parents can drain time and energy. Or we may just be introverts who need time alone with our thoughts. Our husbands are at it full-time—studying the Bible and theology, preaching, discipling, sharing the gospel, and more. And what are we doing? There may not be much on our to-do list that feels very important.
The self-help industry is flourishing. Isn’t that ironic? The industry is built on the premise that all you need for happiness, success, and contentment is within you, yet it peddles self-improvement programs as the key to becoming a better you. The endless supply and demand for the latest life changing-book betrays the fact they never actually deliver the transformation we long for.
The question is have we taken on a self-help approach to reading the Bible? The Bible is brimming with words of hope and encouragement, wisdom and guidance. So it’s easy to place ourselves at the centre of our reading, importing our desires and dilemmas and listening intently for ‘God’s word to me today, in my particular situation.’ But the words of scripture are not written primarily to encourage, inspire or direct us in this life. These words are written that we might lift our gaze from our own navels and focus instead on the glory of God in the cross of Christ.
The bible is about God and has Christ at the centre.
Yes, it is also about us, our creation and fall, our redemption and restoration. But first and foremost this unfolding narrative reveals the character of God. If we place ourselves at the centre, we read selectively, creating a skewed picture of who God is. We distinguish his love from his wrath, his patience from his judgement and his faithfulness from his jealousy, we embrace what we consider to be the ‘nice’ traits and ignore the less appealing ones. But the character of God is indivisible, he is all things at all times. He loves us fiercely and uncompromisingly, despising the sin which keeps us from him. He is patient, wanting to spare people from his righteous judgment. And he is faithful, stopping at nothing to jealously guard his beloved children, even sending his Son to the cross to endure the punishment we deserve.
This is the gospel of grace and it is the antithesis of the gospel of self-help.
The gospel of self-help says: ‘You are in control!’. The gospel of grace says: ‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.’ (Rom 5:8)
The gospel of self-help says: ‘Because you deserve it!’ the gospel of grace says ‘He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done but because of his mercy.’ (Tit 3:5)
The gospel of self-help says: ‘Be the best you can be!’ The gospel of grace says: ‘And we all … are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.’ (2 Cor 3:18)
But Jesus had this to say about self: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23-24)
As we deny ourselves and hunger after him instead, we are liberated from the treadmill of self-improvement and find ourselves being transformed by the sanctifying work of his Spirit. As we shoulder the weight of our own cross and follow in the footsteps of Christ, we are less burdened by our current circumstances as we understand that Jesus’ death and resurrection has won us an imperishable inheritance.
And here is the real irony, as we read the Bible in this way, to know God better and to seek his glory, we find that the very benefits that the self-help philosophies promise (but don’t deliver) are ours for the taking. So we read, bringing ourselves before the throne of God, not bringing him into our own little kingdoms. Instead of grasping at future blessings and drawing them into the present, we read with joyful anticipation for the day when Jesus returns, saying ‘Behold I am making all things new!’ (Rev 21:5)
Ruth ministers at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia, where she has a particular focus on training and discipling women. This blog first appeared in the Australian Church Record.
If you google the phrase “mom saves child from cougar,” you’ll
find stories of other heroic mamas. One mother used a
camping cooler, and another a water bottle to rescue
their children from an attacking cougar. One brave mom managed to save her
child but died
from her own injuries.
Faced with a dangerous attack on a beloved child, would any
mother simply stand and watch? No, a mother’s love compels her to protect and
defend her children, and to fight to the death if necessary.
When Jude wrote his New Testament letter to one of the early
Christian churches, he urged the members to fight to protect and defend the
faith. “Beloved,” he wrote,
“although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4 ESV).
“Certain persons” who claimed to be believers had “crept” into
the church. They looked like ordinary Christians, and they settled into the
church like ordinary Christians would, but they had joined for shady reasons.
We don’t know the details, but it seems that both by their actions, which were
immoral, and by their teachings, which were false, they attacked “the faith
which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
The believers in this church (the true ones, that is) knew
enough about the doctrine of the apostles—the teachings that were probably
already set down in a not-yet-completed New Testament canon—that Jude didn’t
need to flesh out the “the faith once for all handed down.” These early
Christians were already united around the body of doctrine that was the faith, so Jude could jump straight into
his appeal for them to defend it.
The sneaky false teachers were attacking this church from within, and Jude’s letter is a plea for every single true believer there, everyone “called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1), to rise up and defend the apostles’ gospel. And because Jude’s letter is scripture, it is, by extension, a plea for every true believer down through the ages and across the world to be ready to protect and defend the gospel. The call to defend the faith is not just for pastors and deacons, but for laymen and laywomen, too. God calls us all to be defensive warriors, fighting against imposters within the church who destroy others by distorting the truth.
Like the brave mothers who snatched their children from the
cougar’s jaws, a believer’s fight to defend the faith is compelled by love. We
fight, first, because we love the truth, and second, because we love people and
want to save them from certain death. We fight to “save others by snatching
them out of the fire” of God’s judgment against unbelief and apostasy. We
defend the truth as an act of mercy toward “those who
doubt” (Jude 22-23).
But we can’t contend for the faith if we don’t know what it
is. We won’t recognize infiltrating false teachers if we don’t know what the
apostles taught. We can’t discern a destructive false gospel if we don’t
understand what the real gospel is.
Step one for contenders, then, is to know the truth. Jude’s first readers (or hearers) had a partial canon of scripture, yet he assumed they understood what the faith once for all delivered to the saints was. We have a complete canon, and our own personal copies of scripture, so we don’t have an excuse for not knowing the whole body of doctrine handed down to us from the apostles. If we don’t know it, we can learn it as we study the Bible, and as we read or listen to faithful Bible teachers.
Step two is to step up and defend the faith we know. Although there may be cases in which false teachers need to be physically removed from the body, fighting for the faith is mostly a war of words. We fight for the faith by speaking—or like Jude, by writing. And while we may sometimes be forced to use strong language as a weapon against wolves in our midst, most of our contending won’t look like a war, not even a word war. No, our most common defense tactics will be teaching and reminding.
We contend for the faith when we teach the truth to those
among us who don’t have a firm grasp of it. Our hope is that as they learn,
they become more grounded in the faith and less likely to be snatched away by
false teachers with a false gospel.
And for those who are already established in the faith? As
we remind each other of the beauty of the truth we already know, we encourage
faithfulness to it (2 Peter 12-13). We fight for the faith by helping each
other remember how lovely our gospel is, because those who are busy basking in
the glory of the real gospel aren’t fooled by a false one.
Our family took a
drive up the coast of California one summer. Out of all the beautiful
scenery we saw, the most amazing was the Redwood Forests, home to the biggest
trees in the world.
A redwood tree is quite a sight. The first giant we saw was a famous tree whose girth was wide enough to drive a truck through. As you can imagine, it was huge. But driving through a single tree doesn’t compare to the experience of driving into the redwood forests. Hundreds of towering trees with enormous, deep red trunks surrounded by beds of lush ferns created spectacular scenes that made us feel we had entered into a magical fairyland. We explored in and through the trees, enjoying the quietness, interrupted occasionally by the melodic click of an insect or frog. We marveled at how great and beautiful our God is. He spoke these majestic redwoods into being, along with the hawks that nest in their branches and the chipmunks that run at their feet. The beauty and wonder of the forests must pale in comparison to him.
In those enormous trees we couldn’t help but see some analogies to the life of faith. For one, redwoods start from an amazingly small seed about the size of the head of a matchstick. Faith also starts with the small seed of the gospel. The gospel is proclaimed, like seed being spread, and when that seed enters the soil and is watered by God, a sinner repents of her sins and believes the gospel—that Jesus gave his life as a substitute for her, taking the punishment she deserves for her sin (Luke 8:15). This seed grows by the means of grace, including reading Scripture, sitting under preaching and serving the church, into a huge tree that in turn spreads her seeds, spawning new saplings.
Second, redwoods are rugged trees. As we walked through
the forests we saw many with deep grooves and bark rubbed raw. Some trees
had been hit by lightening, some had been partially burned and some had been
blown sideways by strong winds. Those trees had weathered many storms but
they did not look weak or ugly for all their battering. On the contrary,
walking among those mammoths we were in awe of their strength and
majesty. Isn’t that like our faith? As we are beaten and bruised by
the trials of this life, our faith becomes strong because we come to know by
experience that nothing—not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, not
famine, not nakedness, not danger, not sword—“nor anything else in all
creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our
Lord” (Rom. 8:39). And in the trials our faith
is made beautiful and glorifying to God, “more precious than gold that perishes
though it is tested by fire” (1 Pet. 1:7).
Third, some trees had grown so old they had toppled over. Their roots were so huge they left craters where they were wrenched from the ground. These horizontal trees were natural playgrounds where the kids (and John and I) could climb, jump, tunnel, and seesaw in and over sturdy trunks and planks. Out of the middle of these dead trees, live new redwoods with green leaves on their branches would grow. The dead redwoods were still giving life to new redwoods. What a legacy! Just like the baby redwoods (which, incidentally, were about the size of a regular tree) get nutrients from their dead forefathers, we get nutrients from saints who have gone before us (Hebrews 13:7). Most importantly from the apostles through the scriptures but also from men in the history of the church who have written on doctrine and the Christian life and from saints we have known personally who have fed us wisdom from their lives. Don’t you want to leave a legacy? You don’t have to expire to enrich others with wisdom from the scriptures. You can teach your children. You can encourage other women in your church by reminding them of the gospel. You can reach out with the love of Christ to co-workers and neighbors.
The last analogy that struck us was the contrast between a lone redwood and a redwood forest. That lone redwood tree we drove through was impressive, but the forests were spectacular. Similarly, a lone Christian standing up for the faith in the workplace or her home can be impressive, but a whole church of people of different generations, colors, and cultural and religious backgrounds loving one another is a spectacular display of the glory of God. It is “through the church the manifold wisdom of God [is] made known” (Ephesians 3:10). As Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Your forest is your church. As we love one another in our local churches as Jesus has loved us, singing together, praying together, sitting under the preaching of God’s Word together, serving together and spending time together, we will, like the redwood forests, look spectacular to the outside world.
Faith is not just like
a redwood, it’s like a whole redwood forest.
This blog is a slightly edited version of a 2013 blog by Keri on CBMW.org.
I’m proud of my father. He’s the definition of a self-made man. His parents were hardworking but not highly educated (neither had been to college). His father worked on an assembly line; his mother in an office. Dad didn’t do so well in high school but wanted to succeed, so against his counselor’s recommendation, he went to the local community college. He worked as a clerk in a record store (for Millennials that means music store) to pay his fees. Soon he was doing the job of an accountant and graduated from the state college with a business degree. He ambitiously worked to move up the ladder. If he wasn’t being promoted fast enough in his current company, he would move to a better position in a new one. Eventually, he became a financial vice president and then started his own company. He ran that expanding company for 20 years and is now retired.
That was my dad’s end-goal all along—a comfortable retirement. He kept his eye on the ball, working hard, regularly putting money away and making wise investments. He taught us the key to having a good amount of money at retirement is starting to save when you’re young and continuing that practice over years. My dad reached his goal. He and my mom have a nice house, travel when they want and are generous to family and friends. They live the American dream.
My dad isn’t a Christian, but his life is a parable of what can be accomplished if we keep the end goal in mind. The end goal for the Christian isn’t a comfortable retirement in this life. It’s retirement from this life for eternal life with God. We can store up imperishable treasure for that retirement as we wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
It’s about this storing up treasure
while we wait that I want to teach my children. When I was in high school and
college, I didn’t think very far out into the future. I thought about the
weekend, the paper due next week and maybe, after a couple months into the semester,
final exams. I was a foolish student, wasting my time on fleeting pleasures
that left me empty inside. My only thought about the afterlife was a hope that
I had my fire insurance because I had once asked Jesus into my heart. I
certainly didn’t live intentionally with Christ in mind.
But salvation isn’t fire insurance.
When we repent of our sins and put our trust in the finished work of Jesus on
the cross, we are truly saved from the wrath of God. But we are also saved for
the work of God. Ephesians 2: 10 tells us we are “created in Christ Jesus for
good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Salvation means we are recreated to do the work that God created for us to do.
And the Bible tells us that work actually earns us reward. As Jesus said, “Do
not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and
where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in
heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and
steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). With our minds set on heavenly things, our studies,
jobs, relationships, time and social activity can actually count for the future.
Moms, even if your teenage children
are not yet Christians, you can teach them so that when the Holy Spirit changes
their hearts they are ready to make those heavenly deposits. Here are three
treasures to teach your children to store up:
The apostle Paul called the
knowledge of Christ “of surpassing worth” (Philippians 3:8). He called everything
else rubbish in comparison. What if our students, as they studied Math or
History or Spanish, majored in knowing Christ? What if they regularly read and
studied God’s word, thinking through texts and applying them to their hearts?
What if they worked toward “reaching all the riches of full assurance of
understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are
hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3)? That
would be an invaluable depth of treasure that would last throughout eternity. Mothers
who teach and model faithful and consistent time in the Scriptures, and
dedication to the teaching and preaching of their local church, encourage those
same habits in their children and give those students a gift that will continue
giving their entire lives.
The book of
Titus tells us that the grace of God not only saves but also trains. It trains us
“to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled,
upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Far from “Let go and
let God,” this is muscular language. We participate in our sanctification while
God works in us to give us godly desires and the ability to fight sin
(Philippians 2:12-13). Students who are increasing in their knowledge of Christ
can use the stress and trouble of school, the messiness of relationships, and
the uncertainly of the future to train themselves to react in Christ-like ways
and trust the Lord more deeply. As parents, we can remain involved in our
children’s trials and temptations by talking them through difficulty and
infusing our conversations with biblical wisdom. Christ-like character leads to
being zealous for good works (Titus 2:14) and reaps everlasting reward.
The teenage and early adult years
are times of multiplying relationships as our children move from being socially
centered in the home to more independent friendships in the church and world. These
relationships can be selfishly used to fill needs and desires, or they can be
used for the glory of God. Students are open to exploring the mysteries and
meaning of life, giving our children unique opportunities to speak to their
friends about what is true and “give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Moms: Regularly point your children (and others in your church) to Christ, and
engage in evangelism, then they will be well-equipped to season their
relationships in the church with grace and share the gospel with those on the
outside, storing up the treasure of Christ-centered friendships that will last
The End Goal
Knowing Christ, forming Christ-like
character and building relationships for God’s glory is not like putting money
in the stock market. There’s no uncertainty in God’s economy. That treasure
will reap rewards in this life and forevermore. So let’s encourage our students
not to just look forward to graduation or a career or marriage and family but
to keep their eye on the end-goal. Let’s teach them to make deposits while
they’re young and continue that practice over the years. Let’s encourage them
to work hard and let’s work hard ourselves toward retirement from this life,
storing up treasure in heaven that will last throughout eternity.