Friday, May 29, 2015

Susanna Wesley Takes On Aristotle

In his book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Fred Sanders gives a few glimpses into the personal devotional journal of Susanna Wesley (mother of John and Charles Wesley and seventeen more children, nine of whom died as infants) who, at the time she wrote the quote that follows, was "a full-time homeschooling mother."1 In the journal entry the quote comes from, Susanna is engaging the thought of none other than the philosopher Aristotle, who taught that "the world eternally existed along with God."2

Susanna Wesley notes that Aristotle seems to have understood that God was essentially good, and given this, he must "eternally be communicating good to something or other."3 In other words, if God is by nature one who gives of himself, then he must be alway, eternally, giving to someone or something. And this is where the idea of an eternal world comes in. The world is the eternal receiver God's eternal self-giving goodness. But of course, this also makes God dependent on the world to be all that he is—and we can't have a dependent God, can we?

Aristotle's problem, according to Susanna Wesley, was that he had no knowledge of the revealed doctrine of the Trinity.
For had he ever heard of that great article of our Christian Faith concerning the Holy Trinity, he had then perceived the almighty Goodness eternally communicating being and all the fullness of the Godhead to the divine Logos, his uncreated Word, between whose existence and that of the Father there is not one moment assignable.4
She's exactly right about this: Because the true God exists as Trinity, with the Father eternal giving of himself to the co-eternal Son, an eternal world is not necessary for God to be eternally good. God can be good "in himself" and "from himself" because he is Father, Son, and Spirit.

Sanders includes this quote and more from Susanna Wesley to show, in part, that Evangelicals have deep Trinitarian roots. I'm quoting it for another reason—to encourage all of us, even as busy women with many responsibilities, to follow Susanna's example and use our brains to think through the implications of the doctrines we hold, and the implications of doctrinal error, too. If someone who is busy running a house full of children, giving birth to babies and burying nearly half of them, can manage a little time to ponder weighty theological issues, so can we. Our faith will be stronger and we will be less prone to doctrinal error if we engage our minds to the best of our abilities to think carefully and deeply about the true significance of what we know and learn.


1] Deep Things of God, Fred Sanders, page 69.
2] Ibid, page 68.
3] Ibid, page 68.
4] Ibid, page 68.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What, me worry?

Are you a worrier? I confess to being a worrier. Yes, I know all of the injunctions against worrying. I know it accomplishes nothing. I know that worrying steals joy from today because we're too consumed with tomorrow. And yes, I struggle on.

I recently picked up a book that I think is going to be a good one. It's called Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety With Peace, by Tim Lane. You might be familiar with Lane through his books, co-written with Paul Tripp, How People Change, and Relationships, a Mess Worth Making.

I'm only into the first part of the book, but I found this passage very good. Lord willing, when I am finished, I will review the book.
The essence of worry is in attempting to find your ultimate hope, comfort, and meaning in something that is temporal and fleeting. It happens when you treat something in creation as a "god" -- so you rely on it, and seek blessings in it. When you do that, you have set yourself up for worry, because nothing in creation lasts and nothing in creation has everything under control (including you!). This world lacks the stability you need in order to be worry free. If you put your hope in things that are unstable, you will be unstable. Your loyalty is divided between something in creation (money is just one example) and God. Something in creation (even a good thing) is usurping the rightful place that only God deserves in your life. Whenever you put your ultimate hope in anything in this world, you will struggle with worry. The more you do this, the more pronounced your struggle will be.
There is a little snippet to generate your interest. I'm thinking it will be a good read.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Steadfast love in the unlikeliest of places

And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Genesis 39:20-21 (emphasis mine)

This past Sunday, my pastor continued preaching through the book of Genesis with Joseph's ongoing saga in Egypt as the text. After being nearly killed and then sold into slavery by his brothers, he is bought by Potiphar and eventually put in charge of his master's household. It looks like Joseph's situation is taking a turn for the better only to have his master's wife repeatedly harass him and falsely accuse him of rape. Then he's thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit.

I had read the account numerous times, but I had never noticed until Sunday that the writer deliberately makes the point that the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love in the prison.  If I was writing the story, I would have him exonerated of all charges and released immediately. Wouldn't a happy ending be a better demonstration of the Lord's favor? But putting him in prison for an unspecified period of time and then letting him languish for another two whole years? This only goes to show how God's thoughts are far above mine. Joseph needed to be right where he was to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, rise to second in command, and then be the means of saving the people through whom the Messiah would come. 

Although the text is silent, I couldn't help but wonder what was going through Joseph's mind as he was sitting in the pit day after day. If he was a normal sinner in need of a Savior, it couldn't have been easy, and yet, God showed His steadfast love in the unlikeliest of places and circumstances

I find this very comforting because it's easy to lose one's bearings in the middle of a trial. It's easy to wonder, "Where on earth is God in all of this?" "If He hasn't abandoned me completely, am I only an expendable cog in the machine of a higher purpose?" Have thoughts like this ever crossed your mind? 

I remember only too well pleading with the Lord for deliverance from a situation. Surely He would get the most glory if events turned in my favor, but the very opposite of what I had prayed for came to pass. At the time, I wondered, "Where is God? Does He still love me?" But in hindsight, He was with me and demonstrated His love in the unlikeliest place. And the good that came out of the unlikeliest circumstance would never have been realized had my wish for a quick exit been granted.

On the one hand, Joseph's story is unique. He had a special role in bringing forth the Messiah. However, I can take comfort from his story because it tells me about God's character. Yes, He does have an unchanging purpose. But in that purpose, He remains faithful to His own. He is with them to the end, and He will demonstrate His steadfast love in the unlikeliest of places.


Source:
"… Because God is With Us", sermon on Genesis 39-41 by J. Ryan Davidson, Grace Baptist Chapel.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Treasure the Gift

I've been teaching Ecclesiastes for the past few weeks. It's not an easy book to teach. Some of the students in my class thought it was quite dismal after the first week. And yet, in its pages, we see shades of the world we live in, despite its being written so long ago. It has opened up discussion about the differences between a life lived for self and a life lived to please God.

Last week, we studied chapter 3. We saw that the season and time for everything under the sun was a picture of the rhythm of life (Eccl. 3:1-8). God has appointed the times, and it is not for us to know exactly what they are (Act. 1:7). The times and seasons of the world are in God's hands. Even our own individual times are in his hands (Psalm 31:14-15). Isn't that a comforting truth?

In the context of this rhythm of life, God has given to the children of man business to be busy with (Eccl. 3:10). He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has put eternity into man's heart, although man does not have the capacity to grasp eternity from the beginning to the end (Eccl. 3:11). The Preacher concludes:
I perceived that there is nothing better for them to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil -- this is God's gift to man.
God gives us work to do. He provides us with our vocations. We can't see into the future, but we can see right now, and we can see what he has given us to do. This work is a gift. And notice that we're to do more than enjoy things of our own; we're to do good as well.

How often to we look ahead, and wish we had something other than what we have right now? Do we look at jobs and tasks as nothing more than stepping stones to something better? Does the cry of the world cause us to feel discontent? The world tells us we should always be looking for that something better, that something bigger, but that is not God talking. God simply wants us to work the work he has set before us to his honour and glory. Do we often forget that the work, mundane as it may be, as ordinary as it may be, is a gift from God?

In recent weeks, nothing has given me more satisfaction and more comfort than the ordinary things in my life: cooking for my visiting children, a walk with my husband, a day of sunshine to clean the windows, reading the Psalms on the deck while the sun is coming up, hanging clothes on the clothes line. I'm thankful that God has drawn my attention to these things, these ordinary things. I'm especially thankful for the ladies he's given me to teach week by week. This is what God has appointed for me right now. It's his gift to me. Is there anything better?

Let us all treasure the gift of what God has given to do as readily as we treasure every other gift he gives us.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No purpose of yours can be thwarted

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…1

The opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities give an uncanny description of the headlines from the last few weeks. Natural disaster, turmoil, injustice, and the list goes on. If you take all of human history into account, maybe it's not the absolute worst of times, but the current picture isn't pretty. Of course, its grimness could be compounded by the speed with which news travels and the glut of information that inundates us whether we like it or not. But nevertheless, it's easy to get discouraged and fearful when I consider the state of the world. The problems begin to loom larger and larger, and if I'm honest, God begins to shrink bit by bit in my estimation. At this point, it's time to turn off the news, shut down the computer, and refresh my memory with a little history lesson.

My pastor has been preaching through Genesis recently.2 In every sermon, he has been reminding us that each chapter is another step that brings us closer to the fulfillment of God's promise in Genesis 3:15. Despite thousands of years of ups and downs, wanderings here and there, wars, dire threats, and captivity, the "skull-crushing seed of the woman"3 arrived on the scene at exactly the right time and in exactly the right place. Jesus' mission was finished, fully accomplishing God's plan of salvation. (John 19:30; Hebrews 10:5-14)

What does this have to do with news-induced fear? Everything!

Page after page of Scripture clearly demonstrates Job's final realization: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted." (Job 42:2) Isn't this the anchor our souls need in these uncertain times? God isn't a topnotch crisis manager who responds and reacts to events outside His control. He doesn't stay one step ahead of mankind's blunders. His purpose isn't a lone thread in the tapestry of human history that He managed to cleverly weave in. No. God has ordained human history so His purpose can be carried out.4

I will still grieve over the state of the world and pray that righteousness prevails. But in the end, I can't judge the Lord by my feeble sense. He is God and I am not. His ways and thoughts are higher than mine. (Isaiah 55:8-9) But He is good. He is faithful and true. And when I am faced with the onslaught of media hype and tempted to fear, I can point to His track record. I can look at the incarnation, the cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension. God fulfilled His promise in Genesis 3:15. His purpose hasn't deviated one inch, and He will fulfill his promise in Revelation 21:1-4.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

1. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.
2. Sermons on Genesis, Pastor J. Ryan Davidson.
3. Borrowed this phrase from Pastor Ryan.
4. My daughter gets the credit for the tapestry analogy.