(This article was originally published on MarkInc Ministries. To view the original article, click here.)
In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. Psalm 120:1
In many ways I felt like I was in a ditch with my car broken down and nobody around to help. I was facing different kinds of suffering as well as my own sin and others’ sin. But when I came to these Songs of Ascents (Ps. 120-134) I felt like someone had pulled over on the side of the road, towed me out of the ditch, repaired my car, and put me on my way again. These psalms taught me where to turn for peace, help, unity, forgiveness, restoration, strength, blessing, hope, humility, contentment, and a life of prayer and praise. I hope the same will be true for you this week, as we study the first six of the fifteen Songs of Ascents (Ps. 120-125). These songs are pictures of our journey to the heavenly city we look toward to with hope. More importantly, these songs are about the One who left His home in glory to fulfill His Father’s plan.
In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.
Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue? A warrior's sharp arrows,
with glowing coals of the broom tree!
Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.
I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!
Distress from Deceit (120:1-4). Oftentimes we don’t know where to take our distress, but the psalmist knew where to take his. He turned to the Lord, and he was not disappointed. The Lord answered his cry for deliverance from deceitful lips that surrounded him. Perhaps you have felt the pain of deceitful lips around you. What do we do? The psalmist knew God’s judgment would ultimately come to his enemies. Vengeance is the Lord’s; He will repay (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). Recognizing this is the road to freedom from anger, bitterness, depression, and a host of other emotions that come with holding onto wrongs others have done to us. Christ was surrounded by deceitful lips, and yet He willingly took our place in the judgment seat. We can forgive others because God has forgiven us in Christ, and we can leave judgment to the Judge, Jesus Christ.
Desire for Peace (120:5-7). Have you ever dwelt among people who seem to constantly stir the pot, try to get the final word, and often look for the next fight? The psalmist dwells among those who hate peace. This is hard for someone who desires peace. The Israelites returning from exile would have identified well with the words of the psalmist. They too faced deceit from without and the desire for peace from within, but peace would not come for four hundred more years.
When Jesus was born, there was a righteous man living in Jerusalem awaiting the peace of Israel. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he went to the temple at the same time Mary and Joseph arrived to present Jesus. So he took the Christ child in his arms and blessed God, recognizing He was letting him depart this earth in peace because he had seen the salvation of the Lord (Luke 2:25-32). Before Jesus was crucified He extended His peace to His disciples making it very clear to them that His peace was completely different than what the world offered (John 14:27). Paul tells us that Christ Himself is our peace because He has reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God in one body through the cross (Eph. 2:14-17). Since Christ is our peace and proclaimed peace, we are to extend peace to others and proclaim the gospel of peace. To whom in your life do you need to extend peace today, and who needs to hear you proclaim the gospel of peace?
Father, thank you for Your peace, for the invitation to experience Your peace and the calling to extend that peace to others. I gratefully accept your invitation to exchange my anxiety for Your lasting peace and your exhortation to share the peace that comes from knowing Jesus.
(This article was first posted on enCourage. See original link by Christina Fox here).
Editor’s Note: The following is an interview I did with Sarah Ivill about her new book, The Covenantal Life. Her publisher, Reformation Heritage Books, has offered copies of her book for a giveaway. All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of this post and you will be entered. Giveaway ends 3/7/18.
Christina: Can you summarize your new book, The Covenantal Life?
Sarah: Today, many of us have lost our appreciation for the beauty of both covenant theology and covenant community, and this has had dire consequences, such as individualism and isolationism in the church. I believe that a key solution to this problem is a robust understanding of covenant theology, which will deepen our knowledge of Scripture and enable us to truly serve our sisters by pointing them to Christ. In The Covenantal Life, I have tried to clearly and concisely set forth the beauty of covenant theology and covenant community, encouraging women to learn sound doctrine so that we can think biblically about the circumstances in our lives—and then help our sisters in Christ to do the same.
Christina: What inspired you to write it?
Sarah: When my publisher asked me to consider writing a book last year this topic immediately came to mind. It’s the topic I’m most often asked to speak on at women’s retreats and conferences, so I wanted to be able to put a book in women’s hands that would help them unpack what it means to be in a covenant relationship with God and a covenant relationship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Christina: What did you gain personally through the process of reading, studying, and preparing for this book?
Sarah: Covenant theology deepened my appreciation for Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension; all the spiritual blessings I have in Christ; the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper; how God’s sovereignty and my responsibility go hand in hand; and how Scripture fits together as one big covenant story with Christ as the center of it all. In turn, it deepened my appreciation for the covenant community; my design as a woman; multigenerational ministry; how the cultural mandate and the Great Commission go hand in hand; and the city that is to come.
Christina: Do you have a particular method or routine to writing your studies? Favorite resources/commentaries you consult?
Sarah: When I’m writing Bible studies I begin by reading the book in its entirety in different translations. Then I outline it into smaller sections. Next I go section by section, reading the text, outlining it, consulting the top recommended commentaries on the particular book I’m studying, as well as any other pertinent resources. Then I write the study questions and the notes. Since this was a book instead of a Bible study, the process looked different. The finished manuscript grew from my outlines for speaking engagements. I also used trusted resources that helped me better understand both covenant theology and the covenant community.
Christina: Any advice you can give to women who teach Bible studies in their churches?
Sarah: 1) One of the greatest gifts we can give others as Bible teachers is our own time in the Word of God and prayer, as well as our engagement in and commitment to the covenant community. This fills our hearts with love for God and others, and our minds with sound doctrine, so that we teach faithfully and wisely.
2) Ask the Holy Spirit to open the women’s hearts to the Word of God. No matter how much we prepare we can’t do the work of God, which is to save sinners and make them more like Christ.
3) Proclaim Christ. When women walk away from Bible study they should know more about Jesus than they know about the teacher.
4) Don’t worry about numbers. The Lord will bring who He wants to be there. Prepare your heart and mind the same way for ten as you would for ten hundred.
5) Pray that the Lord will impact the hearts of the women so that Bible study isn’t an end in itself, but a means of growth in the area of their own walk with the Lord, their involvement and love for the covenant community, and their desire to impact the nations with the gospel. We want the women in our classes to walk away with such a wonder of who God is and all that He has done through Christ Jesus that it fuels their worship, their work and their witness for His glory.
Christina: What are you currently reading?
Sarah: The Bible in chronological order, eight commentaries on Ephesians (can you guess what study I’m currently writing?), Calvin’s Institutes, The Heidelberg Catechism, Uprooting Anger by Robert D. Jones, The Christ of Wisdom by O. Palmer Robertson, and Watership Down by Richard Adams (a read-aloud for homeschool).
Christina: Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do for fun?
Sarah: I have been married to Charles for almost 15 years and we have four children—Caleb (12), Hannah (10), Daniel (4) and Lydia (2). During the day I enjoy reading and playing on the floor with my little ones, and homeschooling and engaging with my older ones. At night I love to be in my study pouring over Scripture, praying, reading books, and writing. Last fall our family began a new adventure of kayaking together, which has been lots of fun, but really I enjoy being anywhere outdoors with my family.
Click here to learn more about The Covenantal Life.
Ten years ago, in preparation for visiting a local PCA church with my husband and children, I began researching the PCA’s beliefs, read through the Westminster Confession of Faith, and studied a book on covenant theology. Not long afterwards, my husband and I joined that church. In order to flesh out what I was learning about covenant theology through our new church, I read hundreds of online lectures from a Reformed seminary, and hundreds of Reformed books. I also started writing Bible studies to help me, and hopefully other women, understand the covenantal framework of Scripture and Christ as the center of the covenant story (by God’s grace, I am on my 37th book of the Bible).
It would not be overstating things to say that studying covenant theology was life changing for me. So what is it about covenant theology that captured my heart and mind? And what is it about covenant theology that I want to share with my sisters in Christ both through the session I am teaching at Leadership Training and the book I have written on The Covenantal Life: Appreciating the Beauty of Theology and Community?
Ten Ways Covenant Theology Captured My Heart and Mind
Perhaps no other season exposes our suffering, sin, and shame, more than the holidays. Family and friends, food and fun, mistletoe and magical lights surround us, and yet they often accentuate our suffering instead of relieving it. The same family and friends that can be such a source of comfort can also be a source of heartache. The food and fun that can be a wonderful blessing can also remind us of loneliness and pain. The mistletoe and magical lights that brighten our homes cannot brighten our hearts. So the holidays often come and go leaving us weary instead of refreshed. That is why Psalm 18 is such an encouragement as we head into this time of year. It is a reminder that sin, suffering and shame will not have the final word.
Our Rock (18:1-3). Our love for God is forged in the heat of life. It is when we are weak that we learn God is strong, sinking in sand that we learn God is our rock, fighting for our very life that we realize God is our fortress, in despair that we realize God is our deliverer, facing our enemies that we fall to our knees and call upon the Lord in prayer and praise. We don’t praise the Lord based on our circumstances, but on our confession. David had come to learn this truth well. Whether hard pressed by his enemies on every side, or enjoying peace in his kingdom, his heart worshiped the Rock.
Our Rescuer (18:4-19). In David’s deep distress, he confessed his need for help to the Lord. In words laced with allusions to God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, fighting for Israel against the Canaanites, delivering Israel from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, and parting the waters of the Jordan for Israel to cross on dry ground, David declared that the Lord rescued him from his enemies. Don’t miss the reason why. The Lord delighted in him! The covenant King delights in His people, and delights to rescue them from distress.
Our Righteousness (18:20-24). David was not a blameless man (he committed adultery and murder), but in these verses he testifies of his innocence before his enemies. Though at times he fell into sin, he mostly feared the Lord. We cannot read these verses without recognizing how Christ has fulfilled them. The Lord rewards us according to Christ’s righteousness, not our own, and according to the cleanness of His hands that were pierced for you and me on Calvary.
Our Reward (18:25-29). David knew that his reward was the Lord himself—His mercies that showed themselves new every morning, His blameless character, His purity, His judgment of the Enemy (and enemies), and His light that illuminates all darkness. Christ is our reward and the hope of our redemption. He is the light that illumines our darkness, and the strength that carries us through each day. Apart from Him we can do nothing, but in Christ we can run against the biggest army and leap over the highest wall threatening to undo us.
Our Refuge (18:30-45). David credits the Lord with dressing him for battle and giving him victory. From his feet to his hands and arms, the Lord armed him so that David became the head of the nations. Of course, it is David’s greater son, Jesus Christ, that has made the Enemy turn his back to us and who has become the head of the nations. As those who are in Christ, we have been given a battle plan. We must buckle on truth, put on righteousness, walk in the gospel, cling to the faith that has been passed down to us, guard our minds with the truth of our salvation, fight in the Spirit, and pray that we will stand firm against the Enemy (see Eph. 6:10-20).
Our Ruler (18:46-50). David closed the psalm with how he began. The king sings to the King! The Lord is the living Rock who has saved him from his enemies and shown his steadfast love, his covenant kindness, to him and to all his offspring after him. We not only sing to our heavenly Father, we also sing to Christ, our living rock that has subdued the Enemy on the cross and in whom we are exalted. He is the Ruler of all rulers! Great salvation He brings to God’s people.
For the suffering soul searching for a source of sustenance this holiday season in the midst of searing circumstances, look no further than Psalm 18. Marinate in it, meditate upon it, memorize it, and make it your own. No matter the trial, Christ is where your hope must rest. He is your rock, rescuer, righteousness, and your reward.
On my way to a speaking engagement one weekend I missed a critical turn. Thankfully, I hadn’t gone too far before I realized my mistake and pulled into a gas station where some of the locals helped me find my destination. In that case, taking the wrong turn wasn’t that big of a deal. After all, I arrived on time. But what about taking a wrong turn onto the road labeled anger, beauty, drugs, entertainment, idolatry, envy, food, power, position, prestige, or sensuality?
The day I took a wrong turn onto the road labeled thinness became years of walking on the wrong road. At first I just walked in the counsel of the older girls on my cross-country team who closely counted calories. But it wasn’t long before I stood with them in their convictions, not wanting one ounce of fat to cross my lips. Finally, I sat down and ignored those trying to change my sinful ways, thinking my ways were better than theirs.
Change didn’t come through nutrition counseling, but Scripture. The words of Scripture cut through my seductions, put salve on my sores, cleansed my corruptions, revealed my rebellion, and strengthened my starved soul. In the end, the Lord buried my addiction to thinness with His gracious shovel and put me on the right road again.
Scripture has something specific to say about right and wrong roads. Today I want us to look briefly at Psalm 1.
The Righteous Road (Psalm 1:1-3)
The opening verses of Psalm 1 remind us that there is no true happiness apart from the righteous road. The righteous man is compared to a tree that is continually nourished by the plentiful waters of a stream, so that its fruit never fails and its leaves never languish. The one who is constantly nourished on the steadfast words of the Lord is one who bears good fruit and whose source of strength never shrivels.
The Enemy, the world, and our own flesh will try to capture us by counsel of a different kind. The wicked will tell us that God’s way won’t lead to power, prestige or position. They will try to get us to walk with them, and before we know it we will be standing the same way sinners do, secretly looking for the next seduction that seemingly satisfies. Finally, it won’t be long before we actually sit down and stay awhile, scoffing at the righteous road and pitying those who walk on it.
There is only One man who has never walked in the counsel of the wicked, stood in the way of sinners, and sat in the seat of scoffers. Jesus Christ delighted in the law of the Lord and meditated on it day and night as He lived a life of perfect obedience, died a cursed death for you and me, rose again as the firstfruits of the resurrection, and ascended into heaven where He is exalted at the right hand of God the Father. As those who are in Christ, we are to walk on the road of righteousness by enjoying God, loving Him, trusting Him and obeying Him. How are you walking today?
The Rebellious Road (Psalm 1:4-6)
In stark contrast to the righteous road is the rebellious road. It seems prosperous, fruitful, and lucrative, but like the threshing floor that sifts out the good grain from the useless grain, it reveals rebellion, doesn’t get you anywhere or anything in the end—except burned.
On judgment day, when Jesus returns, the rebellious won’t be able to stand secure in His presence. Instead, they will seek shelter in anyone or anything they can find, but it will be a futile attempt, because the Judge of all the earth knows our hiding places. When He returns there will be a great divide, displaying which road was right. The righteous will be with Christ for all eternity, but the wicked will be separated from Him forever.
Perhaps you can relate to my wrong turn on the road labeled thinness, or another road with the same alluring power. Today the Lord offers us a better road and a perfect Redeemer. Jesus Christ has come to free us from false, futile, foolish roads in order to put us on the right road where we can persevere in faithfulness because we are preserved by the faithful One. No matter what suffering is on your road today, or what sin you’ve committed, or what service you are struggling to complete, the Lord beckons you to choose the right way, the way that will not only delight Him, but will delight you as well. Man’s chief end is not just to glorify God, but also to enjoy him forever.
Interview by Melissa Kruger
I always like to know a little something about an author before I sit down and open up his or her book. Today I’m excited to share about Sarah Ivill’s latest Bible study, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude: Steadfast in the Faith. As a women’s ministry leader at my church, I’m always looking for Bible studies that faithfully put women in the Word and this one does just that. Sarah’s book combines personal Bible study with wise, thoughtful commentary as well as questions to use for group discussions. Her personal research and expertise will help both students of the Bible and those who hope to teach others.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was raised in a Christian home where we attended church regularly, so I was blessed to grow up surrounded by people who loved the Lord. Although I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sincerely sing and believe, “Jesus Loves Me,” it was in elementary school, after stealing fruit shaped scented erasers from my teacher’s desk and being convicted about it that the Lord revealed to me I was a sinner in desperate need of a Savior. (It’s a truth I continue learning today!) I also had the blessing of being mentored through high school, college, and seminary by wonderful godly women who taught me sound doctrine and how to apply it to all of life.
I have been married to Charles for almost 14 years and together we have four children (Caleb, Hannah, Daniel, and Lydia) ranging in age from 11 to 1. We are members of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina (a suburb of Charlotte), which is also where we live. Currently I spend my time discipling our children, teaching a women’s Bible study at our church, as well as serving in various other leadership roles, speaking at women’s retreats and conferences, and writing Bible studies.
When did you first start writing? What do you enjoy about it?
I started writing as a young girl, putting my prayers down in journals or writing poetry. One of the things I have enjoyed about journaling my prayers is that I can go back and see God’s hand of faithfulness in my life, which encourages me in the present, and I hope will be an encouragement to my children and grandchildren one day.
I first started writing Bible studies when I began teaching a women’s Bible study. I learn best when I put what I have learned down on paper, especially when that involves writing study questions. Once I started writing Bible studies I couldn’t stop. (I’m now on my 34th book of the Bible, and since it’s Psalms, it’s taking me awhile!) My hope is that through these studies women will come to understand what it means to study Christ in all of Scripture, and that they will grow in their love for Christ and their love for one another.
Writing is as much a part of my life as anything else I do on a regular basis. Even when I am not in my study writing, I am usually thinking about what to write next. Writing Bible studies also keeps me in the Word, which I desperately need. My theme verse, which is posted on the door to my home study, is Psalm 45:1, “My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the King; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.” I truly desire to “address my verses” to the King instead of to man. Writing is also enjoyable for me. When I write I feel like I am doing what God has prepared for me to do, and even during dry or discouraging seasons, it’s not long before I am studying and writing again.
For a sneak peek here are some quotes from Steadfast in the Faith:
“Perhaps you are grappling with questions today like these: Who am I? How do I find peace? Is there any hope? If God cares about me, why am I suffering? Or maybe you are not sure how to define the true grace of God. I hope and pray that you will find the answers to your questions as you study Peter’s declaration of the true grace of God.”
“If you are tempted to believe that the words we choose to describe ourselves determine our life’s course and that we are able to tap into transformation by affirming our God-given inner strengths, talents, and abilities, hold that thought. If you are tempted to exalt the power of self rather than the power of God, hold tight. If you are tempted to believe transformation will come by your own words instead of God’s Word, don’t go anywhere. If you are tempted to focus on the inner means of positive thinking instead of the outward means of grace, stop.”
“Perhaps you have given up the fight for the faith today, subtly accepting our culture’s call to embrace pluralism. Or maybe you have slipped from your belief in the central doctrines of the faith and are following a different way instead. Perhaps you have given up Bible study for some time now due to difficult seasons in life and need to commit again to a steadfast study of Scripture. Maybe you need a fresh reminder that false teaching is still alive and well in churches today. Or perhaps you need to remember how great God is in the midst of a society that relegates Him to another option in the pool of pluralism. Regardless, Jude has a timely word for all of us. He calls us to contend for the faith and to remain in it while at the same time grounding us in the greatness and eternality of God’s glory and majesty and dominion and power.”
Here’s what others are saying about Steadfast in the Faith:
“Calling Christian women to ‘return to being women of one Book above all others,’ Sarah Ivill provides a rich, faithful, Christ-centered study of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude for those who want to be saturated in the word of God. Sarah is a careful student of the Bible and faithful member of her local church, and these qualities show in her labors to be accurate in the handling of God’s word and helpful to women who want to be grounded in the truth of scripture. I am thankful for her heart and her labors, and I warmly commend her work to you.” —Ligon Duncan, Chancellor, CEO, and John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary
“I am happy to commend these fine studies. Sarah is a sure guide–handling the text carefully, applying the Word wisely, and writing with an eye toward the edification of women in the church. The commentary and questions are marked by exegetical faithfulness and theological integrity. The church will benefit from Sarah’s excellent work (and even more so, from God’s Holy Word!).” —Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor, University Reformed Church
“In the shifting cultural landscape where truth is needed more than ever, Sarah Ivill’s, Steadfast in the Faith-1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude, is solid ground intended to equip the believer to stand firm. She challenges us as elect exiles to find hope as we root our identities firmly in Christ and eagerly await the promise of his return. This study is filled with theologically rich content and gospel penetrating questions designed to prepare us to give an answer for the hope that lies within us.” —Karen Hodge, Women’s Ministry Coordinator for the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) and author of Transformed: Life-Taker to Life-Giver.
If you had an afternoon to do whatever you’d like, where would we find you?
Enjoying the outdoors with my husband and children.
Besides Sunday, my favorite day of the week is Thursday morning. As hard as it is to get four children out the door to women’s Bible study, it is an effort that bears much fruit. I’ve been involved in women’s Bible studies for over twenty years, and over those years I’ve been richly blessed by how it’s anchored me to truth and anchored me to community.
This has been true for several reasons, but here are six:
(1) Scripture alone teaches us what we are to believe about God and how we are to live in relation to Him and others. There is no other book that is more worthy of our study, time or attention than the Bible. We need to challenge one another to spend more time reading Scripture, verse-by-verse, book-by-book. This guards us against empty words that threaten to tickle our ears and starve our hearts.
(2) The Scriptures bear witness about Jesus. We can’t know Jesus without studying the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation each passage of Scripture reveals who God’s Son is so that we might know Him more, love Him more and serve Him more. Such a Christ-centered study of Scripture keeps us from buying into a legalistic lesson (do this and you will live), a moralistic lesson (be a good person and you’ll be saved), a therapeutic lesson (I’m good, you’re good, God’s good, everything’s okay), or an allegorical lesson (I’m going to make this verse about Christ no matter what interpretive principles I have to ignore).
(3) Older women in the faith are to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5). The foundation of older women teaching younger women is sound doctrine. If we don’t have sound doctrine, then we can’t teach younger women in the faith what is good, we can’t train younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, to be pure, to be working at home, and to be submissive to their husbands in a way that will not discredit the word of God. The difference isn’t whether or not we will teach them or train them. The difference is whether or not we will teach them and train them in a Christ-centered way.
(4) Studying God’s Word in the context of community sharpens me. Not only do I learn from my sisters’ answers to the exegetical and theological questions, I learn from my sisters’ shared struggles with suffering, sin, and service.
(5) Praying with my sisters one day a week and praying for my sisters the rest of the week cultivates a love for them rooted in God’s grace.
(6) I am my sister’s keeper. Cain’s question to the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper” (Gen. 4:9) is answered in 1 John 3:11, the context of which is John’s exhortation to the church to love one another. We are to know who our sisters are and what they are doing so that we can encourage and exhort them in the ways of the Lord.
In a nutshell then, Women’s Bible studies help to drive out the individualism and isolationism that has plagued mankind all through the history of redemption, pointing us to Jesus Christ, who took the curse of our sin upon Himself, freeing us from self-reliance to God-reliance, and freeing us from isolation to interdependence in the community of grace.
Bible Studies & Books by