Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Created for Companionship

“Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone”- Gen. 2:18

Robert and I are enjoying the History Channel’s fascinating reality survival series “Alone”.  The show is a self-filmed documentary of 10 individuals who were dropped off in different places in the northern wilderness on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They are completely isolated from each other and the outside world and must learn to live off the land with  just a few supplies.  Their only companion, so to speak, is their video camera and a phone to make a single call when they “tap out”.  The last one remaining wins a half million bucks.  

The first couple of weeks is primarily about setting up camp and figuring out how to survive, and some of them bail at this point. It’s been very interesting to see how those who master this challenge become introspective and start contemplating the reason for their existence. For some, the lure of  a hefty prize is overshadowed by their inability to be totally alone as they  realize that life without other people becomes  utterly meaningless.   
God understood this when he created Adam. Unlike the contestants on Alone,  the first man on earth was placed in a perfect ecological environment that had not yet been ravaged by the effects of the Fall. He was given  a Garden to cultivate with a wonderful food supply, harmless animals and birds to name, and had direct communication with the God who created him. And yet God said it was not good for him to be alone and so He made Eve. 
Our first parents were a prototype of a much grander theme that God had in mind when he sent his Son to redeem His Bride. Though God does not will everyone to be married, He has given us a beautiful picture through the institution of marriage between a man and a woman that reflects His relationship with His people (Eph. 5:22-27). This ought to encourage every Christian  as we remember that God did not intend for us to live in isolation regardless of whether we live alone or with others. As believers we  have corporately become part of His Bride, thus we are also members of one another. (I Cor. 12:12;  Rom. 12:5).  We were created so that we might enjoy companionship with God and also with His family. 

 I realized this in a fresh way recently when my husband was away for two months working in South Africa and  at the last minute I was unable to join him because of health problems. In 42 years of marriage we had never been apart for more than 3 days. I hadn’t anticipated how lonely I would be rattling around the house all by myself and was thankful for the  kindness and encouragement I received  from family and friends who were sensitive to my situation. In turn, the experience gave me more compassion for those who are truly alone or unable to get out due to infirmity.
I have known professing Christians who say they don’t need to go to church or to be around other Christians to maintain a vibrant faith, but this is contrary to Scripture (Heb. 10:25).  We are all like sheep and we need to stick together. Regardless of how discouraged we may become with the church when conflicts or disappointments arise,  it is imperative that we worship together and enjoy the mutual encouragement of our faith that  can only be found within the community of  believers.

Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people.” 1 ~ Charles Spurgeon

“We are all called to initiate involvement in each other’s lives… We covenant together to work and pray for unity, to walk together in love, to exercise care and watchfulness over each other, to faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require, to assemble together, to pray for each other, to rejoice and to bear with each other, and to pray for God’s help in all this. 2 ~ Mark Dever

Ah! were their souls fully assured that God had loved them freely, and received them graciously, and justified them perfectly, and pardoned them absolutely, and would glorify them everlastingly—they could not but love where God loves, and own where God owns, and embrace where God embraces, and be one with everyone who is one with Jesus. 2 ~ Thomas Brooks

1,  With the Word; Warren W. Weirsbe;  Thomas Nelson Publishers; 1991; pg 162
2,  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 221.
3. Heaven on Earth, Thomas Brooks, 1667  Ch.4. Grace Gems

Friday, June 24, 2016

He Is Still Upholding the Universe

This is a respost of one of the first things I posted here at Out of the Ordinary. It's still true, but more so. God has upheld the universe—and me—for four more years, although he stopped upholding the May Day tree mentioned during a freak September snowstorm a couple of years ago. 

Right now as I write, and right now as you read, everything in the universe continues to exist because Christ is maintaining it. It is he, says the writer of Hebrews, who "upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). Paul says something similar in Colossians 1:17: It is in Christ that "all things hold together." The laws of the universe are laws because Christ upholds them. He sustains the gravity that sticks everything together.

Christ and his creation are not like a watchmaker and his watch. A watchmaker assembles a watch, winds it up, and lets it run. There is no “letting it run” with Christ; He keeps the universe moving along by his own power. What’s here is here because he made it, and it keeps on working because he continues to make it work.

But the difference between Christ and the watchmaker is even greater than this. Leon Morris says the thought in Hebrews 1:3 is that Christ
is carrying [the universe] along, bearing it toward an important goal. Creation is not aimless; it is part of God's plan and the Son is continually bearing creation along toward the fulfillment of the plan.1
A watchmaker winds his watch and lets it run until it winds down. The watch fulfills its purpose best at the very beginning if its existence when it is new and freshly wound. Someday, inevitably, it will wind down and stop forever, never to fulfill its true purpose again. Not so with creation. Creation is forever fulfilling it's purpose perfectly because it is being moved toward its ultimate aim by the One who made it.

The winding down we see in creation—everything and everyone dies, for instance, and the weeds in my garden grow faster than I can pull them—is purposeful winding down. It's a winding down that's moving forward. The creation, Paul says in Romans 8:20, "was subjected to futility . . . in hope." Hope, biblically speaking, isn't a wonderful future that might or might not happen, but a wonderful future that is rock solid certain. In its futility—or in its winding down, to use the watch analogy—creation is moving toward a day when it will be made new. It will be recreated into something better than it was on the day before the first humans ate the forbidden fruit and the winding down began.

What goes for creation, goes for believers, too.2 My aging and aching body, marching relentlessly toward death, is in the same forward motion, being carried toward resurrection.

And the whole shebang—all of creation and all of us—is being transported into the golden future by Christ’s powerful word. Later, in Hebrews 11:3, the writer tells us that the universe was created by God's word; here, it's Christ's word that bears universe toward God’s goal for it. This is a perfect time to use the word fiat—a command that, by itself, creates or accomplishes what it commands. Christ created by fiat and he upholds by fiat. Christ commands and the universe responds, first by coming into existence, and then by moving forward toward a perfect destiny.

I consider the words in the title to this post to be some of the most intriguing in scripture. God’s powerful word, which is able to bring things into existence out of nothing, was not spoken once in the past at creation, but is spoken for every nanosecond of time and every nanosecond of my life. There is an eternal and personal will keeping the universe and my life together, and an eternal and personal energy source carrying them along. Christ’s command calls up the sprouting seeds in my garden, his command pulls down the crumpled leaves on my Mayday tree, and his command moves my life forward toward death, but also into what will be, in the end, a glorious resurrection. What seems like futility is Christ's powerful word bringing it all—and me, too—toward a perfect fulfillment.

Leon Morris, Hebrews: Bible Study Commentary, page 20.
2 Although scripturally, it's more accurate to put priority on us and say that what goes for believers goes for the rest of creation. We bring creation with us into its future freedom from the effects of sin.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sola versus Solo Scriptura

Sola Scriptura: the teaching that Scripture is the Church's only infallible and sufficient rule for deciding issues of faith and practices that involve doctrines.

A friend on Facebook posted a link to the Heidelblog - Sola Scripture ≠ Nuda Scriptura. I wasn't familiar with the term, Nuda or Solo Scriptura, so I read the post, which says:
Evangelical Christians in North America sometimes misunderstand the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura to mean that the Bible is the Christian’s only theological resource, that it can and should be denuded of its churchly context (hence nuda Scriptura). Such an understanding is altogether incorrect.... Calvin believed that holy Scripture as the only infallible rule of faith and practice should serve as the final authority by which to judge Christian doctrine and practice, but it was not his only resource for theology...He recognized the strategic importance of demonstrating the continuity of Protestant teaching with the core convictions of the early Church.

While believers should be Bereans and search the Scriptures for themselves, we don't do it in a vacuum. Our study of the Word is not disconnected from what has transpired in church history. Even the means by which and the theological grid through which we interpret the Word are influenced by those who have gone before us. 

So given the potential for deception if one is left to one's self, I wondered if any cults or erroneous teachings were conceived via Solo Scriptura. In my reading, I happened upon:
- Caleb Rich "insisted that his own interpretation of Scripture should not be mediated by any other authority, historical or ecclesiastical - a conviction steeled by the competing claims of rival denominations and a new openness to visionary experiences." He begin "having  a series of visionary experiences in which celestial persons counseled him to avoid all other denominations and all other human advice." Rich became the main leader of Universalism in New England at the end of the 1700's. 1
- Lucy Mack Smith came to the following conviction: "I said in my heart that there was not then upon earth the religion which I sought. I therefore determined to examine my Bible, and taking Jesus and the disciples as my guide, to endeavor to obtain from God that which man could neither give nor take away… The Bible I intended should be my guide to life and salvation." She eventually "sealed this individualization of conscience by finding a minister who agreed to baptize her as a solitary Christian without any attachment to any congregation." Perhaps she isn't very well known, but her son is - Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons. 2

I would hasten to add that believers may find themselves in isolated situations because of persecution. A person in a previously unreached group may be the first and only Christian in the community. There may be situations where a believer needs to leave an unhealthy or even abusive church environment and take time to recover. I get that, and my recovery took seven years. But spiritual isolation in the present and from the past can be a dangerous thing.

In my case, I felt betrayed by leaders I had previously trusted, so I refused any form of teaching apart from the Bible, like the people mentioned above. When 9/11 occurred, universalism was very appealing at that moment as I tried to make sense of the world. But making sense was nigh impossible given the weakness of my theological foundation. Looking back, God preserved me from falling into error, but what I thought would keep me from going further astray only starved me spiritually.

I also think a sense of independence is ingrained in the American psyche such that it was easy to disdain the past. "We threw off the shackles of those imperialists long ago! Who needs history?! And who needs church history?!" I was so ignorant that I honestly believed the Apostle John died and BOOM! Instant Roman Catholic Church as we know it today. I had no clue about the early church fathers who wrestled against heresy and sought to defend the truth by encapsulating essential Christian beliefs into basic statements of faith. I fell into the trap of thinking new was better when it came to doctrine, as if I knew better than generations of Christians before me. They were certainly not infallible, and as C.S. Lewis says:
People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.3

Thankfully God has brought me to a very different place in my spiritual journey. Today I affirm Sola Scriptura and agree 100% with Martin Luther that my conscience must be held captive to the Word, but not in isolation. I owe a debt to the saints who lived and died in defense of the truth down through the ages. The creeds, confessions, and writings of the past can be a healthy corrective against the errors of my day. I should not take them lightly but value them as God-given safeguards of the faith.

For further reading: 'Sola Scriptura' Radicalized and Abandoned - Matthew Barrett

1. The Democratization of American Christianity, Nathan O. Hatch, Yale University Press, 1989, pp. 40-41.
2. Ibid. 43.
3. Introduction by C.S. Lewis to On the Incarnation by Athanasius.

This is an expansion of a prior post on my personal blog.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Remembering Cassius Clay

When Bob Dylan sang “The Times They Are A-Changin” in 1964 I doubt anyone ever dreamed  how accurately those words would portray things to come.  The assassination of  President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963  preceded the beginning of a revolutionary era  that brought about many changes in Western culture—both good and bad.  Here’s some trivia highlights that took place in 1964.
The Vietnam War escalated. 
The Beatles made their first US appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. 
The Rolling Stones debut album topped the charts in the UK. 
The first Ford Mustang was unveiled. 
Jeopardy aired its first show on NBC.  
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.   
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Rights Act of 1964 into law, abolishing racial segregation in the United States.  
Nikita Khruschev was ousted as leader of the Soviet Union. 
Francis Schaeffer , worried that "the doors may not stay open forever", gave his first US lecture in Boston to 30 students at Harvard University sharing his concerns about theological liberalism. 1.
Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston and was crowned the heavyweight champion of the world.
I was 13 years old and while our nation was still reeling from the tragic events surrounding our President's assassination,  my adolescent interests refocused on  music,  my hairdo, and boys.    Still,  there was one  newsworthy event  that made a big impression on me.    It  was Cassius Clay’s (who became Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam)  stunning announcement which  he made after his championship  win.  

“I want everyone to bear witness, I am the greatest!  I'm the greatest thing that ever lived. ..I talk to God everyday.  I know the real God.  I shook up the world, I'm the king of the world. You must listen to me. I am the greatest! 2
 Now a statement like this might not seem like such a big deal to younger people,  but at the time such boasting was considered extremely uncouth by everyone.
When we were growing up winning athletes would humbly walk off the field, but now many of them  strut away pounding their chests and doing a victory dance.   Mr. Clay’s braggadocio once considered shocking, has  now  become acceptable to many people not only in sports, but even in the political arena.   To be fair to this man's memory,  Mohammad Ali later became known for his many philanthropic contributions to society.
Nevertheless, it  doesn’t take a Sociologist to trace the changes in how we view ourselves and the significant impact they have had on society today.  
 In 1969 Nathanial Branden wrote a book that became the foundation for the self-esteem movement called  “The Psychology of Self-Esteem: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Understanding that Launched a New Era in Modern Psychology” .    The inside flap states:
     “In the more than thirty years since Nathaniel Branden first published The Psychology of Self-Esteem, psychologists, counselors, educators, and the general public worldwide have come to appreciate the extraordinary power of the ideas expressed in his classic work.   Since the book first appeared, the self-esteem movement has fundamentally transformed our culture.”3

  Dr. Brandon expressed his philosophy in these words:

The first love affair we must consummate successfully in this world is with ourselves; only then are we ready for a relationship.   Only then will we be fully able to love, and only then will we be able fully to let love in—to accept that another person loves us.” 5

The common acceptance of  overt self love and glorification  may be  relatively new  to modern society but it is not new to God and it has always been in direct opposition of what the Scriptures teach.  
“ if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Gal. 6:3  
Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” Phil. 2:3  

And when it comes to boasting about our accomplishments,
      "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;  a stranger, and
       not your own lips." Proverbs 27:2

Moreover, self love, pride, and arrogance are described by Paul as chief characteristics of those living in the latter days.
“For people will be lovers of self,  lovers of money,  proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy”. 2 Timothy 3:2   
It's  no surprise that the attitudes of our culture have permeated the church in many ways,  even  affecting how some present the Gospel.  John Piper notes: 
[Pride] "horribly skews the meaning of the cross when contemporary prophets of self-esteem say that the cross is a witness to MY infinite worth... The biblical perspective is that the cross is a witness to the infinite worth of God's glory, and a witness to the immensity of the sin of my pride." 6

If Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth appeared as a meek and lowly servant on our behalf,  how much more should the Christian exhibit humility  in such a way that our only boast is in Him. 
“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  Galatians 6:14


1.  Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America
   by Barry Hankins;  2008;  Erdmans Publishing; pg. 30, 75
2. Sound and Fury by David Kindred;  pg 58
3. The Psychology of Self-Esteem: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Understanding that Launched a New Era in Modern Psychology,  Nathaniel Brandon; 2001
4.  Our Urgent Need for Self Esteem; Nathaniel Brandon
5.  The Supremacy of God in Preaching ; John Piper; pg 35


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

God sets the stage

My church began a Sunday school series on the history of the Protestant Reformation. In the first class, the teacher gave a 45-minute whirlwind tour of the 1500 years that led up to the Reformation. He covered the eventual decline of the Roman Empire, the threats and attacks from neighboring tribes, and the political instability that ensued. Christianity went from severe persecution to Constantine's blending of church and state, setting the stage for the rise of the papacy. Sadly the church-at-large became a political entity in its own right with all the associated corruption and power grabs.

But amidst the decline, God was setting the stage. The Pax Romana and the system of roads were a means to spread the gospel and expand the early church. Even though Palestine suffered multiple invasions, manuscripts of the New Testament were preserved by the conquerors. These documents became the basis for Erasmus' translation of the New Testament into Latin which in turn was used by Martin Luther and William Tyndale to translate the Bible into the language of the common people

To my limited understanding, these inauspicious circumstances were not very conducive for launching the Great Commission or the Reformation, let alone living a "peaceful and quiet life." But church history bears witness to the fact that God's ways and thoughts are far above mine. Trying to fathom how He has woven the events of the past to bring about His purpose is mind boggling. But this is nothing for an infinite God who is all wise and all powerful and works all things according to the counsel of His will. (Eph. 1:11)

If I jump forward in time from before the Reformation to today, outwardly the situation seems equally inauspicious for the ongoing work of the Great Commission. But which lens am I using? My extremely limited and fallible human perspective or the point of view of an infinite God? If He set the stage for the coming of the Messiah, the completion of Jesus' redemptive work, the birth of the early church, and the Reformation, this is the same God who is still at work. While it is easy to point to the "big" events in history, let's bring it home. What did God do to set the stage so we would come to faith in Jesus Christ? Did you "just happen" to be born into a Christian family where you heard the good news? Or did you come to Christ because someone "just happened" to share the gospel or give you a tract or a Bible? What is He weaving together so that all who are called to eternal life will be brought into His kingdom?

I hope this encourages your heart as it does mine, and it does my heart good to rest in God's all-wise control over human history. Current events are still what they were the last time I listened to the news, but the Great Commission isn't at the mercy of the Holy Roman Empire or whoever will be the next president. Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb, and He is setting the stage to bring that about.

(Thanks to Neil Harding's Sunday school class and Pastor Ryan Davidson's sermon on Acts 1:1-11 for giving me food for thought for this post.)