Monday, August 31, 2015

The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting

I sometimes imagine what life was like in the Garden of Eden. There was perfect harmony with God and between all of creation. There was no illness or death, which is hard to fathom. Yet this was the reality of the state of innocence before the Fall. But that reality is no more. Once sin entered the picture, a new reality took hold. What was once whole and healthy is now broken and dying. Even if you never had a single sick day in your life, the rate of decay is going to eventually outpace the rate of cell growth. Surgery may be able to nip this and tuck that. Medical research may provide new treatments, but there is no fountain of youth. There is no elixir of life.

The sad prognosis of this present reality has been on my mind quite a bit lately because I have a family member with Alzheimer's. The disease is still in its early stage, and I'm very thankful for the quality of life and function my loved one still has. But I know what the expected progression will be barring divine intervention or a sudden medical breakthrough. I grieve because I see a person with a razor-sharp mind having memories whittled away bit by bit. I grieve because dementia impacts family and friends as they suffer alongside the patient. I grieve because I am witnessing the effects of the Fall in action, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Where do we look for hope knowing there is no cure? What comfort is there to give knowing the outcome? As I was discussing this with family, I was reminded of and comforted by these words from the Apostle's Creed:

"I believe in... the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting."

If the scope of our hope is for this life alone, we are to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:19) But in Christ, we have a sure expectation of something far better - the resurrection of our bodies and the life to come. The Fall may have brought in one reality, but Christ has brought in a new and better reality. This is what we are waiting for, and this is the ultimate reality for my loved one even if a cure for Alzheimer's is never found.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep,but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 15:51-57
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.” Rev. 5:4-5

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Encouraging Parents of Prodigals

everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me.”  Ezekiel 18:4
What could be more grievous to Christian parents than to have their adult child reject the Gospel?   Some children go through a season of rebellion and return to the Lord,  but when a grown child makes a cogent decision to forsake the essential truths of Christianity it is heart wrenching.   I’d like to share some things parents commonly experience when this happens  and try to offer a little encouragement for those going through this.   

Any parent who has  faithfully raised  their children  in the Lord will experience a range of emotions when their child abandons the faith.    Self-examination prompts them to consider,   “Had we done a better job of this, or had not allowed that,  would things have turned out  differently?”
Hindsight usually turns up some things the parents  might have changed  yet we know that  David was a man after God’s own heart and Absalom rebelled anyway.    And what about Isaac’s beloved Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew and married two Hittite women in violation of God’s commands (Gen. 24:3)?   Romans 9 gives us the reason for that whole situation.    
Because training in Biblical parenting is often focused on  being a “successful” parent,  there’s usually not much preparation  for the possibility that a child might grow up and reject the faith.  Unfortunately, not many books give attention  to the sovereignty of God in our children’s salvation.
Consequently, when  children fall away the parents can  feel like failures and  may sense judgement from other Christians.   Unbelieving friends and family who don’t understand the spiritual dynamics involved  may  be critical because  of  the parents refusal  to condone their child’s beliefs or practices.    

In short, these are parents who are grieving for their child’s soul and also for the loss of the sweet relationship they once enjoyed,  but may find little encouragement from others.     

When our kids were young,  there was a popular teaching going around  that the sins of the parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents  are somehow spiritually transmitted to their children  and  this alleged  generational bondage needed  to be broken.    As a 29 year old mom this freaked me out until I learned that it was a  misinterpretation of Numbers 14:18.    There's  a wonderful passage  in the eighteenth chapter of  Ezekiel  that debunks this  notion and offers great  hope to everyone,  especially parents. 
“ The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.”  (vs. 1-4)   
The passage goes on to illustrate how every person will  be judged individually regardless of their heritage,  but that any person can be fully forgiven no matter  how awful  their sin  is if they repent and turn to the Lord. 

But did you  notice verse 4?      The Lord said  “every one belongs to me.  The parent as well as the child.”   Yes, even the rebellious and unbelieving belong to the Lord to do with as He chooses.    I find this very comforting.   Parents can find rest knowing that  God is sovereign over their child’s destiny  regardless.    Can we say it often enough?   Salvation belongs to the LORD”  (Ps. 3:8).   If it had been up to me I would have never chosen Christ, and that also applies to my children.   It is God alone who saves whomever He chooses, whenever He chooses, and we know that He is  a good and merciful God.   

So then, if  it is God who determines  our destiny and not ourselves,   what role can a concerned parent have in this?   Pray! Pray! Pray!     If this  describes your current situation,  leave your beloved child at the throne of grace because that is the only place of hope for any of us.   The fact that God continues to prompt  you to pray for your child should be an  encouragement!
“Abhor it as a great sin to faint under this affliction, that is, either to be disabled for thy duty or to sink thy comforts.  It is a sign that thou didst place too much  of thy happiness in thy children, if their wickedness make thee faint under this calamity.  I shall only plead with thee, as Joab did with David when he made that bitter lamentation for his son Absalom, “Thou has declared this day, that thou regardes neither princes, nor servants” (2 Sam. 19:6).  So I say to thee, thou hereby declares that thou regardest not God and Christ, if thy soul faint under the burden of a disobedient child.
This is an affliction that ordinarily befalls God’s dearest children.  Ye must not think of this as if ye were the first godly parents of ungodly children, or as if herein some strange thing happened unto you.”  1 – Edward Lawrence
1. Parents' Groans Over Their Ungodly Children  by Edward Lawrence

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Different Sort of Post

Today's post is a bit unsual. When my fellow theologians and I write a post here, we typically link to it from our individual blogs. I'm reversing that today. The post I've written at my own blog belongs there because it's quite personal. I'm linking to it here because I think it may speak to some of our readers here. I imagine I'm not the only one who needs to stop making bricks.

So join me today at One Quiet Life, won't you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield

(I appreciate Rosaria Butterfield's books very much. I believe God has placed her in a unique position to be able to help the church respond to the difficult cultural issues of our day. Included in this response is the ministry of hospitality to believers and unbelievers alike. What she has written regarding community and hospitality has had a profound impact on me. So as a followup to my previous post, I am cross-posting a review of Butterfield's latest book.)

Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Crown & Covenant Publications, July 2015, 206 pages.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield is one of the most thought-provoking and challenging books I have read. I was convicted of my lack of love for the lost and lack of faith in the power of the gospel, but it also encouraged me to believe that God is able to save to the uttermost. If you haven't read it, read it!

Because of Secret Thoughts, I was eager to read Butterfield's second book, Openness Unhindered. Identity and specifically sexual identity are hot topics and even more so following the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. How should Christians address the issue of sexual orientation and identity? How do we come alongside our brothers and sisters who struggle with sexual sin and have made the choice to live "in chastity with unwanted homosexual desires?" (pg. 144) These are a few of the issues tackled in Openness Unhindered.

This book begins with a brief summary of the author's journey to Christ from feminist, atheist, lesbian college professor to reformed pastor's wife and homeschooling mom. But before jumping into the cultural issue of sexual identity, Butterfield devotes an entire chapter to identity out of union with Christ. This foundation of the gospel must be laid first because who we are and everything this encompasses flows out of Who we belong to. She then tackles the issue of repentance, obedience, and fighting sin. Butterfield enlists the help of Puritan heavy hitters such as Thomas Watson and John Owen. In no way is sin taken lightly, but likewise the glorious power of the gospel to transform isn't minimized either. Her real-life example of mortifying sin when her writing time was interrupted by her children's lightsaber battle is priceless.

Regarding sexual orientation, Butterfield traces this back to Sigmund Freud who rooted identity in sexuality rather than being made in the image of God. This has profound implications because people are now identified in categories that reject Original Sin. She then discusses self-representation in relation to one's sexuality and challenges the use of language that is at odds with the Word of God and our identity in Christ. There is a chapter containing a dialogue of Butterfield's disagreement with another sister in Christ over these descriptors. Although still unresolved, we would learn much from how these sisters handle this conflict with mutual respect and love.

The book finishes with a powerful chapter on community that is convicting, encouraging, and very practical. Why community and hospitality?
[H]ow do we help a young person (or old person) struggling with homosexual desires? My answer is to come to the table together. Stand side by side. Share real life together in real time. We do the same thing we would do with any other sister or brother, any other image bearer, and any other soul. We open our hearts and our homes. We open the Word. We answer the phone at midnight, and we interrupt in a permanent, consistent, and organic way seasons of loneliness for our friend. We find out where the hard places are and bring comfort. And we keep an eagle eye on our own prejudices and assumptions, our privileges and our blind spots... In other words, we listen and we create real and regular friendship. (pp. 140-141)

I loved Openness Unhindered, and I can't recommend it too highly. I was convicted of my own blind spots. I was encouraged again that the Triune God has the power to save and change, even if the journey is fraught with struggles. I was challenged to take community seriously beyond the set meeting times of the church and begin to open up heart and home. I also believe Openness Unhindered will help prepare believers to address the pressing issues of sexual identity and same-sex attraction from the solid foundation of the gospel rather than a mindset of fear. Who knows what God may do in the days ahead? The Supreme Court decision may have just opened a new field that is ready for harvest, and this book will be an excellent resource to that end.

This book is available at Crown and Covenant Publications | Westminster Bookstore

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Obeying God in the Hard Places

“But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.”  Exodus 1:17
Have you ever wondered what might have been going through the minds of  Shiphrah and Puah  on that awful day  when  they were summoned by the king of Egypt?   Here were  two ordinary  God fearing women  dedicated to the care of mothers and their new infants  who suddenly  found  themselves  in  the presence of  their people’s  bĂȘte noir.
Since they are the only women named,  Shiphrah and Puah  may have been in charge of  all the midwives in the burgeoning population of Hebrews.   Imagine how overwhelmed with anguish they must have been upon receiving  Pharaoh's command,
When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him.” Ex.1:16
Knowing rebellion would spell disaster for them and perhaps even for those working under them,   the midwives  must have had to think fast before the next baby arrived.     Their fear of God outweighed any fear of retribution the king might impose on them because  they refused  to comply  with the diabolical decree.    When they  were  subpoenaed for interrogation  as to why they had allowed  the babies to  live,  the women shrewdly convinced Pharaoh  that the Hebrew women were a hearty lot who gave  birth before the midwives could arrive.    Satisfied with their answer, the king moved to Plan B,  insisting that every newborn Hebrew boy be cast into the Nile.
Pharaoh’s relentless persecution of God’s people proved  completely unsuccessful however,  because  instead of dwindling  their population the Hebrews  continued to increase,  just as  God  had promised Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).     Furthermore, the Lord rewarded  Shiphrah and Puah’s fear of God.
“So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.  And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. Ex. 1:20-21
God’s predetermined purposes could not be thwarted by the evil machinations of this or  any other ruler.     The Pharaohs who reigned in  Moses’ day were under the same sovereign directive that our presidents and governments are under today.   Whether good or evil,  those in places of  civil authority are instruments  in the Lord's hands to display His sovereignty  and power and to bring glory to Himself.  
“For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Romans 9:17-18
In these troubling times  when we  become  disheartened by  those ruling over us,   it is good  to know  “The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD;  He turns it wherever He wishes.”  Proverbs 21:1.    Most of us here in the West have never faced serious persecution  for obeying Christ,  but that  may change as the freedom to exercise our religious convictions are restricted.
Historically God’s people have thrived under persecution,  and we see this happening today in places like the  underground church in China.    And  last week’s Voice of the Martyrs email read:
“‘What we’re seeing around the world is really a gospel wildfire.’ … ‘We’re seeing the gospel go forward like never before in the history of the church.’
One of the five keys to the gospel’s unparalleled movement is persecution, which Jonathan says, is the “accelerant” for the wildfire.    The church is persecuted,  but it is thriving and expanding in the world’s most dangerous places.”
The Lord’s return is imminent but until that day  He is still in the process of  building and sanctifying  His people.    If our faith should  be put to an extreme test some day I  pray the Lord will give us the kind of courage  these two ordinary women had.

Addendum:  “How Will Persecution Affect the Church in the US?” (excerpt)  by John MacArthur.   3 min. 37 sec


Monday, August 10, 2015

Rethinking Biblical Friendship

It's been nearly two months since I announced my summer reading plan. I confess I've only read one of those books. Even though I finished it six weeks ago, The Hardest Peace has stayed with me. Hardly a day goes by that I don't think about Kara Tippetts and what I can learn from her life - and her death.
I had never heard of Kara or her blog, Mundane Faithfulness, until news of her death took over social media. Curious, I started reading her blog in the days following her death. I read stories of how friends loved her. Genuinely, sacrificially, with Christ-like love. I want to be loved like that! I thought.

Not long afterwards, the blog began a series entitled Kindred Spirits. Kara's friends - the ones who loved her so well - wrote about genuine, sacrificial Christ-like love. They were talking about Kara's love for them. Many of them met her just weeks before her cancer diagnosis; their relationships were forged during the hardest part of Kara's life. Yet each one feels Kara was her best friend. As I read, it became clear to me that they were able to love her so well because she modeled that very love for them.

Reading Kara's blog and The Hardest Peace have made me realize that too often my love has limits. It is conditioned upon convenience. It isn't the clean-out-the-messy-refrigerator, foot-rubbing, vomit-cleaning sort of love that Kara's friends lavished upon her. I'm sure it wasn't the type of love they envisioned they'd ever have to offer, but they did because she had poured out deep-soul-conversing, grace-giving, no-excuses love on them.

"...friendship flourishes best when we seek to be and embody the type of friend we see in God himself," writes Jonathan Holmes. He goes on to say,
Biblical friendship is intended by God as an all-encompassing spiritual discipline that engages every aspect of who we are: how we think (cognition), feel (emotion), and act (volition). The biblical practice of friendship can be an embodied journey where together we progressively fulfill our calling as God's children.
Holmes' book The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship has been a helpful follow-up to The Hardest Peace. It has caused me to examine my friendships, both online and off. It has convicted me of my selfishness and sinfulness as a friend. And it has caused me to pray diligently for the Lord to provide opportunities for me to have - and more importantly, to be - a biblical friend. It's not enough to be loved as Kara was. I want to love as she did.

Friday, August 7, 2015

There Is None Holy Like the Lord

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
(Isaiah 6:3 ESV)

Several years ago I wrote an essay on God’s holiness, and began by saying that of all God's attributes, holiness was the most difficult for me to define. I reread that old essay recently and realized I’d missed something important: The word holiness as used to describe God has two distinct meanings. Reading now, I can see the old piece is confused because I tried to combine the two different (but related) meanings into one. It’s no wonder I wasn’t satisfied with how I’d defined holiness.

The basic meaning of the word holy is “separate,” and in each of the two definitions of holiness, God is separate from something. In the first case, he is set apart from everyone else by the “infinite distance and difference . . . between Him and ourselves.1 In Hannah’s prayer of praise for God’s faithfulness in answering her prayer for a son (1 Samuel 2:1-10), she used the word holy this way.
There is none holy like the Lord;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God. (verse 2)
There is no one else, Hannah said, who is holy like God is holy. He is the infinite Creator and we are finite creatures. He is above us and beyond us in a class all by himself. Defined like this, God’s holiness isn’t communicable. He can’t share this kind of holiness with us because by definition it’s every way we can’t be like him—or more precisely, every way he is not like us.

Scripture helps us understand this meaning of holiness by linking it with God’s majesty and glory
Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
(Exodus 15:11 ESV)
God’s majesty is simply his infinite greatness, and his glory is the public display of his greatness. According to this verse from the song of Moses, in his holiness, God is nothing like anyone else, including the so-called gods of the surrounding nations. He is set apart because he is far above everyone else, “majestic in holiness.” And the wonders he works—his “glorious deeds”—reveal this.

Louis Berkhof calls this first kind of holiness God’s “majesty-holiness."2 God’s majesty-holiness is not so much a distinct attribute as it is a general description of God. We can think of it as God’s deity or, as J. I. Packer calls it, his “Godness."3 It includes everything about him that sets him apart as the one and only God, everything that puts him in a class above all others. The proper response to the majesty-holiness of God is reverent worship. We worship God alone because he is the only one with the infinite qualities of deity. He is the only Holy One.

The second way the Bible uses holy to describe God points to his complete separation from sin. John is referring to this kind of holiness when he writes, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Gos is morally pure. There is not even a hint of immorality in him. God’s ethical holiness—Berkhof’s term again4—separates him from us because in his moral perfection he is unable to tolerate any sin at all (Habakuk 1:13), and we are all sinners.

When Isaiah saw the holiness of the Lord, this is what he said:
Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Isaiah 6:5 ESV).
This was exactly the right way to respond. As unclean sinners, none of us can remain standing in the presence of a morally perfect God. When we see God’s ethical holiness, it highlights our own sin and makes it clear that we deserve God’s judgment.

Unlike God’s majesty holiness, God’s ethical holiness is communicable. It’s in this sense of holiness that God calls us to be holy as he is holy (I Peter 1:16) and the author of Hebrews exhorts us to strive “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). God’s people must be holy. But since God is the only one who is holy from himself, the holy conduct God demands from us doesn’t actually come from us, but from him. He shares his holiness with us by working in us to make us holy. In the same passage in Hebrews that contains the exhortation to strive for holiness, it also says that God disciplines believers so that they “may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). The Holy God separates us to himself by disciplining us to make us holy as he is holy.

1] J. I. Packer, 18 Words, page 165.
2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 73.
3] Packer, page 165.
4] Berkhof, page 74.