Monday, June 18, 2018

Quotes of Note



Each Monday, we share quotes we found encouraging, convicting, thought-provoking,  or all of the above.

Kim:

Do you know the poetry of George Herbert?  If you don't, why not try it out? Theology is not always expressed in big, dry books. It is also expressed in artistic forms like poetry. In his poem, "The Thanksgiving," Herbert utilizes four line stanzas, ending each one with the exception of two, with with the refrain "Was ever grief like mine?" The other two end with "Never was grief like mine." In these stanzas below, you can see how Hebert connects the tree in the Garden of Eden to the tree upon which Jesus hung.

O all ye who pass by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit but I must climb the tree,
Th tree of life too all, but only me:
Was ever grief like mine?

Lo, here I hang, charged with a world of sin,
The greater world o'th' two; for that came in
By words, but this by sorrow I must win:
Was ever grief like mine?

Such sorrow, as if sinful man could feel,
Or feel his part, he would not cease to kneel,
Till all were melted, though he were all steel:
Was ever grief like mine?

But, O my God, my God! why leav'st thou me,
The Son, in whom thou dost delight to be?
My God, my God --
Never was grief like mine.


Persis:

I am on the launch team for Aimee Byrd's new book, Why Can't We Be Friends?, which will be released at the end of this month. As Christians, we know that we should flee from sexual immorality, but is that the sum total of all that purity entails? Or is that bar even too low and actually diminishes what we are called to as children of God? In the following quote, Aimee states rightly from Scripture that purity involves our whole selves in who we are, what we think, and what we do. Is this something we achieve and maintain in ourselves? No.
The dynamic nature of God’s generosity applies to our purity. Our purity is from God. Think of all that this purity entails. It involves our hearts and our thoughts, proper active love, integrity and holiness, and cleanliness, without being mixed with sin in body, mind, and soul. Can anyone uphold this in herself? Himself? No! But God graciously gave us his Son, imputing Jesus Christ’s full righteousness to every believer. From him we are given everything that purity entails. Everything! And through him we remain pure.
Jesus didn’t just pay for our impurity and give us his purity; he has given us the Holy Spirit! Paul makes this argument when discussing purity: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19–20). God has given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us—to tabernacle with us. Now that is holiness and purity! While affirming God’s ownership of us, Paul tells us that God has given us himself. Talk about divine generosity! He then concludes that we are to glorify God in our bodies. Our purity is from God and through God, and we respond by offering it back to God. Purity isn’t merely abstaining from sexual activity; it isn’t even having sex within marriage. It is offering our whole selves back to the Giver.


Deb:

Melissa Kruger's latest book, In All Things, traces Paul's conversion narrative in Acts and the  subsequent epistle he penned to the young, Philippian church. Through her devotional presentation of relevant Scriptures, Kruger recounts how Paul's words and life helped convey the secret to unshakeable joy and peace -- even during some of the toughest times of trial and suffering.

Early in the first chapter of In All Things, she shared a wonderful quote from the good doctor, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones:
If ever the world needed the witness and testimony of Christian people it is at this present time. The world is unhappy, it is distracted and frightened, and what it needs is to see stars shining out of the heavens in the midst of the darkness, attracting the world by rebuking that darkness, and by giving it light, showing how it too can live that quality of life. 

Rebecca:

Carl Trueman on the difference the doctrine of the Trinity makes in the everyday life of a believer:
[T]he doctrine is, in fact, one of the most immediately practical for Christians. The Trinity is far from being an abstract doctrine, and is not to be relegated to a virtual appendix in Christian theology. On the contrary, trinitarianism shapes everything, from Christian doctrine to Christian practice. If the Christian is one who is adopted by the Father through being united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, then to be a Christian is to have an identity that is trinitarian at its very core. Thus everything the believer is and everything the believer does has to be understood at some level in trinitatian terms. 
From the chapter The Trinity and Prayer in The Essential Trinity, edited by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Five Star Links



Each Friday, we share links we found especially interesting or inspiring during the previous week. 

From Kim:

Youth Group or Frat House

When my daughter was a teen, she went to a day camp where they played a take off of "Fear Factor," and it involved dead animals and seafood. People couldn't understand why I was bothered by this. This article expresses much of how I felt, and still feel.

From Persis:

On Professors and the Cult of Personality

The celebrity culture is nothing new. In this article, Carl Trueman writes about the pitfalls in academia, but you could just as easily substitute pastor, favorite author/blogger, or women's ministry leader. This warning goes both ways - for those who lead as well as those who follow.

From Rebecca:

The Missing Ingredient in Our Parenting

Some excellent parenting advice from Margaret and Andreas K√∂stenberger. (It's an excerpt from their new book,  Equipping for Life: A Guide for New, Aspiring & Struggling Parents (Christian Focus, 2018).)

From Deb:

Acedia: Despair and disdain for life based on the habit of bad thoughts

An old term originally coined by monks during the fourth century, "acedia" (pronounced ah-SEED-e-uh) used to be viewed as one of the most severe afflictions of the soul. Though the word may no longer be in use, its connotations perhaps carry even more weight today.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Quotes of Note



Each Monday, we plan to share quotes that were encouraging, convicting, thought-provoking,  or all of the above.

So to start . . .

Kim:

I'm reading J.I. Packer's Concise Theology. Packer is always excellent reading. In his section on Satan, he gives a comforting reminder about the power of Satan. Sometimes, we feel defeated, but he points out that he is the one defeated:
He [Satan] should be taken seriously, for malice and cunning make him fearsome; yet not so seriously as to provoke abject terror of him, for he is a beaten enemy. Satan is stronger than we are, but Christ has triumphed over Satan (Matt. 12:29), and Christians will triumph over him too if they resist him with the resources that Christ supplies (Eph. 6:10-13; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9-10). . . Satan is a creature, superhuman but not divine; he has much knowledge and power, but he is neither omniscient nor omnipotent; he can move around in ways that humans cannot, but he is not omnipresent; and he is an already defeated rebel, having no more power than God allows him. (p. 70) 

Persis:

When it comes to holiness and sanctification in the Christian life, I spent much of my life wondering if I would measure up to God's perfect standard. Thus assurance was always elusive, and even now, I need to be assured of my assurance. Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, Michael Horton, ed. has been very helpful so far.
As Christ is the answer to our guilt and condemnation (through justification), so he is the answer to our bondage and corruption (sanctification). He takes away not only the verdict, but also the slavery. To justify us in the heavenly court without giving us the gifts that, by virtue of that heavenly verdict, belong to us would be cruel and unjust on God's part. No, he does not simply put money into our bank account and then leave us stranded along the side of the road, beaten and bruised, Holiness is not an option for the Christ. But hold on - I can hear the hearts racing: "Holiness, the impossible dream?" To be sure, "but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). Holiness is not an option; it is a requirement, But this is not a threat. It's a promise. What God began he will finish (Phil. 1:6). In Christ, we already are holy, righteous, sanctified, reconciled (1 Cor. 1:30). Now we are called to live what we are, not to become what we are not yet. (pg. 56)

Rebecca:

In my church, we frequently use the last two verses of Jude for a benediction. You've heard them, I'm sure:
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.(Jude 24-25 NIV)
When we hear or repeat bits of scripture regularly, there's a danger the words will become so familiar to us that we stop really hearing them.

I've been using Douglas Moo's NIV Application Commentary on 2 Peter and Jude for a bible study I'm participating in. Moo ends each section of this commentary with a few paragraphs on the contemporary significance of the verses he has just explained. In other words, he writes a bit about how to apply the truths of 2 Peter and Jude to the issues we may face in our lives right now. Of Jude 24, he writes:
Think of the marvelous security promised to us . . . .  God is able to preserve us so that we can stand before him on the last day spotless, forgiven, assured of an eternal "home in the heavens." Doubt and anxiety are constant companions on our earthly pilgrimage. We worry about our health, about money, about our children, about our jobs. In sober moments we perhaps become anxious about death. God does not promise to take away these worries, but he does take away from us our greatest worry: where we will spend eternity. 
Next time these beautiful words of doxology are recited at the end of a service, I want to really hear this promise.

And I want them to make a difference in the way I live. Moo ends his paragraph of application for this verse with these questions to ponder:
Do we reflect this confidence [that we will spend eternity with God] in the way we live? Do we truly value heaven enough so that our earthly worries, while sometimes pressing, fade in importance in light of our eternal destiny?

Deb:

Being immersed in some heady studies this Summer, I've been encouraged regularly by several Puritan devotions. Authors such as Gurnall, Owen, and Baxter have become regulars throughout the week. Recently, I revisited this one by Winslow for encouragement from Grace Gems :
Christ’s heart is a human heart, a sinless heart, a tender heart; a heart once the home of sorrow, once stricken with grief; once an aching, bleeding, mournful heart. Thus disciplined and trained, Jesus knows how to pity and to support those who are sorrowful and solitary. He loves to chase grief from the spirit, to bind up the broken heart, to staunch the bleeding wound, and to dry the weeping eye, to ‘comfort all that mourn.’ It is His delight to visit you in the dark night-season of your sorrow, and to come to you walking upon the tempestuous billows of your grief, breathing music and diffusing calmness over your scene of sadness and gloom. - Octavius Winslow, Evening Thoughts, Jan. 10.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Five Star Links


We have a brand new feature we're introducing today. Each Friday, we plan to share links we found especially interesting or inspiring during the previous week. 

So to start . . .

Horace Underwood - Korea's "Bundle of Fire"
Simonetta Carr writes about one of "the most influential missionaries in Korea." (Persis)

I am afraid of death
Courtney Reissig reminds us that there are legitimate reasons for a faithful Christian to fear death. Yes, it is the "gateway to life everlasting," but it is also a painful reminder that all is not right with our world. (Rebecca)

Made in His Likeness
We all bear the imprint of God by virtue of being made in his image. Jeanie Layne reflects on the implications of this. (Kim)

A Reminder that God's Provision Does Not Equal His Pleasure
Mike Leake's cautious take on God's provision reminds us that it's by His grace alone that He sustains us -- and leads us to passionately pursue His good pleasure. (Deb)   

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Have You Begun to Sing?

We at Out of the Ordinary have another author in our ranks! Staci wrote The Organized Heart, and now Rebecca has written The Good Portion - God: The Doctrine of God for Every Woman. I have been looking forward to this book for a while.

In her very first post at Out of the Ordinary, Rebecca talked about how theology makes her heart sing. When I knew that she would be writing a book about the doctrine of God, I hoped that the sentiments she shared in that initial post would find their way into her book. And they did. In the conclusion, she exhorts the reader: "Theology should always result in doxology; the study of God should always lead to praise." Her very last question to the reader is: "Have you begun to sing?"

Becky's purpose in this book is to introduce the reader to God: "Most of all, it is my desire that each reader catch a glimpse of His glory. As you read and consider God's nature and His work, I hope you will see how glorious and delight him"

God is so magnificent, so glorious, and so infinite that as finite creatures, we cannot begin to understand everything about him. However, in this book, we are encouraged to seek the understanding God promises to give should we make the effort. To know God is to know ourselves. It is the beginning of worship:
Unless we know God as He is, we cannot see ourselves as we are. And as painful as it is to see an accurate picture of ourselves, it is also necessary for true worship. True worship comes from a heart that sees how glorious He is, and understands its own unworthiness.
Each chapter explains a different facet of God's character, ending with a prayer. Each chapter also includes a number of questions for thought and further study. I really enjoyed the questions. I could see them generating some deep conversation among a group of people studying together. This would be a great book for group study.

Scripture is the basis for this exploration of God, but Becky does not hesitate to use other resources, such as creeds, systematic theologies, and writings of scholars. The end of the book has a very good selection of resources for further reading, and they are accessible resources. Once the reader has given a glimpse of the greatness and scope of the study of God, she (or he!) will want to look further. I love it when authors give book suggestions.

The first chapter discusses the need to know God, the second on his triune nature. The third chapter emphasizes how God is not like us, followed by chapters on his wisdom and power, his holiness, his goodness, his creative power, sustaining power, and saving power. Becky explains things thoroughly and with clarity. The truths build upon each other. She is not afraid to use theological terms, and when she does, she explains them, giving the reader a vocabulary for this subject. I don't think anyone should be afraid to use theological terminology. All subjects we study, whether cooking, science, or economics have terms which give us a language to understand and explain. Theology has a language as well, and I was glad to see Becky introduce the reader to it.

Many of the principles in the book are illustrated through Becky's own experiences learning about God through the regular events of life. I was especially grateful for her wisdom and maturity; the kind one can only get through time and experience. We need more women like Becky speaking out; women who have raised their children to adulthood; who are grandmothers, and who have had the time to see the difference it makes to know who God is. And her illustrations are ones that both men and women can enjoy. Though this book's subtitle is "The Doctrine of God for Every Woman," it is a book men would find very readable. This is not a book for women alone, but a book by a woman for everyone. Everyone who is called "Christian" needs to understand God's character.

One of the things I found most helpful was the principle of God's aseity:
Aseity comes from the Latin a se, which means 'from or by oneself.' To say God is a se means He exists from himself. Nothing caused Him to exist, but He exists uncaused, 'by the necessity of His own Being.' In other words, God depends on nothing outside of Himself for His existence - and he can't not exist.
This is such a crucial truth to understand. That God is from himself means that he is not affected by external factors. His love is not affected by outside circumstances, because his love comes from himself. God's wisdom is not going to change over time because it comes from himself, and nothing from the outside can diminish it. God's power is from himself, and nothing can reduce that power. This is complete contradiction to humans who are tossed and turned by all manner of external factors. This is not only comforting, but convicting. This eliminates any tendency to see God as simply a bigger version of ourselves. I really believe that as Christians we need to know just how great God is, and how small we are.

Does theology make your heart sing? Do you find yourself so awed and amazed by God that you cannot resist the desire to praise him? If not, why not? Do you know him? If you don't feel you know him well, this book should inspire you to start seeking. Though the book is not yet released in North America, you can pre-order it here at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca. If you just don't want to wait (I didn't!), you can order it from The Book Depository. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Bend or bring?

One of the most enjoyable days of my school year was Ministry Leadership Day. In March, a day was set aside for pastors, teachers, and students to learn about an aspect of ministry. The theme this year was doxology; in other words, worship.

The session* given by our President, Dr. Reed, focused on how preaching is doxology. I am not a pastor, but I am a teacher, and as a teacher, I want my teaching to be an act of worship. Dr. Reed opened up the message by stating that not all preaching is doxology. Using John 7:14-18, he outlined what is necessary for preaching to be doxology:  1) the speaker speaks God's words, and 2) the speaker seeks God's glory. In the context of the first point, he referenced Haddon Robinson who said that the test of expository teaching is this:
Do you bend your thoughts to the text or do you bring your thoughts to the text?
That quotation has stayed with me all semester. And I think that test is one we need to apply to ourselves in contexts other than teaching and preaching. I think it should be asked every time we claim our words are based on the Word of God.

Bending my thoughts to the text implies I may have to yield to the text; that I may have to change how I think. If I give my thoughts equal weight to the text, my teaching is no longer an act of worship. Once I start putting my toughts above text, I am not teaching for God's glory by my own.
In John 7:18 we read: "He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but he who is seeking the glory of the One who sent him, he is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him." Every time we speak forth Scripture, it is good to pray for pure motives, to ask God to forgive us for times when we are seeking our own glory rather than his.

There are times when we teach and we already have an agenda in mind. We have something we're all fired up about, and we want to take that agenda and run with it. Oh, we find Scripture to support our views, but it wasn't where we began. To be able to bend our thoughts to Scripture, we seek Scripture first. We ask ourselves, "What does Scripture say?" As we strive to ensure that we learn to bend our thoughts to Scripture, we must first do two things:

Acknowledge our pre-suppositions


We all have pre-suppositions. If we have been in the Church for a while, or have been in a denominational tradition all of our lives, much of how we perceive Scripture will be influenced by how we've been taught. It's unavoidable. We have to be willing to lay aside our pre-suppositions and look at the text honestly. We don't look to Scripture to have our pre-suppositions confirmed. Laying aside those pre-conceived ideas requires humility, because we may have to consider that we are wrong, and being wrong is not always enjoyable.

Understand the focus of Scripture


Scripture is not about me. It is not about you. There is a temptation to believe that we, as God's people, are the central characters. While we are beneficiaries of the central story of the Bible, the story of redemption, we are not the the main characters of the story. God is not incidental in the redemptive story of man; he is the central focus. It will be difficult for me to avoid bringing my own agenda to Scripture unless I see first and foremost that this is a book about Christ.

Dr. Reed said that every preacher (and by implication, teacher) is a glory seeker; the question is whose glory are we seeking? When seeking my own glory, I take away from the glory which belongs to God. When I filter Scripture through my thoughts instead of filtering my thoughts through Scripture, I am taking away from God's glory. But when I bend my thoughts, I will step back, fade into the distance, and allow God's glory to shine. And when one is a teacher -- especially a teacher who commands large, expectant audiences --  it can be tempting to want that glory for ourselves. It is my prayer for preachers and teachers everywhere that we seek the higher glory, the glory of Christ.

* If you are interesting in listening to the message, his speaking begins at the 12 minute mark.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hey Jude! — The Fine Art of Illustration

Gustav Doré - Lot Flees as Sodom and Gomorrah Burn

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. [6] And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—[7] just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 5-7 ESV)
 
An editor once read something I’d written and told me I needed to use more illustrations. I needed to add stories or examples from real life, books, or movies because “they draw readers in,” she said, “and connect with them.” An illustration makes an author’s points more vivid. An illustration draws a picture that can help make an argument—and help make the argument stick.

I am a just-the-facts person. When I read, I usually pass right over all the fluff (yes, that’s how I think—or used to think—of illustrations) to get to the important stuff, like the actual points being made, which I hope the author will summarize for me once she’s finished telling all the stories I’m skimming. Can you see why using illustrations doesn’t come naturally to me?

But the biblical author Jude was a better writer than I am. No editor had to encourage him to use illustrations. As we shall see, he wasn’t afraid to use one (or three) to make a point.

A few weeks ago I discussed verses 3 and 4 of the book of Jude in a post. I was solidifying what I learned from a Bible study I’m participating in. In those two verses, Jude urged the believers in the church he was addressing to strongly defend the Christian faith against the false teachings and immoral conduct of “certain people”—imposters, actually—who had infiltrated this church and were influencing others, drawing them away from the true faith.

This past week, my little Bible study group moved on to Jude 5-7.1 In these verses, Jude used three illustrations to make his point. He drew his readers (or listeners) in by drawing their attention to three stories from the Old Testament. He didn’t need recount the details of each story. No, a few words summarizing each one was enough because his original readers already knew them by heart.

The first story Jude used to illustrate his point is the story of the Israelites who, he wrote, Jesus “saved . . . out of the land of Egypt.” While the reference to Jesus2 as the one who rescued Israel might seem strange, most of us know the basic tale. God brought his people out of slavery in Egypt, and almost into the Promised Land. When the time came for them to enter the land of Canaan, however, the Israelites balked. They were intimidated by the strength of the people occupying the land. They didn’t trust God to give them victory over the powerful inhabitants of Canaan.

And so, Jude said, Jesus judged them. He sent them to wander in the wilderness until every one who had been a responsible adult at the time of their rebellion had died—all, that is, except Joshua and Caleb, the two who had trusted God.

What point was Jude making by reminding his readers of this incident in Old Testament history? He used the Israelite’s experience of God's judgment as a warning to the counterfeit Christians, and also—and more importantly—as a warning to those who were enabling them. He was reminding them that rebellion against God is serious business. Unbelief will always result in God’s judgment.

The next illustration Jude used may be obscure to us, but not necessarily to his first readers. The basic story is found in Genesis 6:1-4, but most of the details Jude refered to came from popular Jewish tradition and the intertestamental book of 1 Enoch,3 a book you won’t find in your Bible. Some angels, it seems, abandoned their God-given place, came down to earth, and cohabited with human women. God judged them for their rebellion against him and for their sexual immorality.4 Right now, he is holding them "under gloomy darkness" as punishment. And they are destined for more and worse punishment after they are judged on the great Day of Judgment.

The point of this illustration is similar to the first, but with the addition of judgment for the sin of sexual immorality. This is a powerful warning that God punishes those who rebel against him, and he punishes those who indulge in sexual immorality. Judgment is certain for both.

And last, Jude used the example of Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m sure you know this Old Testament story. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by fire because of their rampant homosexuality, or as Jude wrote, because they “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” Their fiery destruction foreshadowed God’s eternal judgment. (The site of Sodom and Gomorrah was, after all, still smoking when Jude wrote his letter.) Jude used this story as another example of what will happen to those who indulge in sexual immorality. God will judge them with “a punishment of eternal fire.” It’s a sure thing.

With these three illustrations, Jude bolstered his plea for the true believers in this church to contend for the faith. The so-called Christians who had crept in among them, those who were teaching untruths and behaving in ungodly ways, were already designated for condemnation. Their sins were like those of the Israelites, the rebellious angels, and the people of Sodom of Gomorrah—and their end would be similar, too. There was nothing to be gained, and everything to lose, by joining with them, or placating them, or even simply ignoring them. They must be put out of the church; their teachings and their ways must be rejected. And all the true believers must join the fight to protect “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

Jude began his epistle with a summons:
I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Verse 3, ESV)
These three Old Testament examples explain why his appeal was so urgent. They explain why his readers needed these warnings. Jude wanted them to understand that the consequences of unchecked false teaching and immorality in their church would be deadly—eternally deadly.

His illustrations are warnings to us, too. False teaching and immorality are dangerous.  Are you guarding your own church? Are you on the lookout for infiltrators? Are you preparing to do battle if necessary?

And aren’t you glad Jude used illustrations?


1 I hope this will be a series of posts on the book of Jude. (Unfortunately, I can’t retroactively put Hey Jude! in the title of the first post because the URLwould change.)

2Jude’s reference to Jesus as the one who saved the Israelites isn’t as weird as it might first appear. After all, the apostle Paul says that Christ was spiritually present with the Israelites as they traveled (1 Corinthians 10:4), so that when they complained about God’s provision for them, they were putting “Christ to the test” (1 Corinthians 10:9-10).

3 I believe that as Jude filled in the details of this story, the Holy Spirit, who governed all the authors of scripture, kept him from introducing any error. We can accept Jude’s account of the angels and their fate as completely true even though his source for this info is not Genesis 6:1-4, but rather, Jewish tradition.

4 In verse 6, Jude mentioned only that these angels did not stay within the boundaries God gave them. But in verse 7, he wrote that Sodom and Gomorrah “likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” I think likewise refered back to the rebellious angels of verse 6. The angels, like the inhabitants of Sodom,  "pursued unnatural desire." And they were judged for this sin, too.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Good Part — Preparing for Old Age and Death

We are thrilled to be able to post this piece written by our dear friend and former contributor Diane Bucknell.
“There are two things that elderly Christians, who have many long years believed and lived by faith in Christ, long for when they are nearing eternity. The first is, that all their spiritual backslidings will be healed and that they may be spiritually revived and recovered from all the spiritual declensions and decays to which they were liable in their daily walk with God. The other is that they may flourish in holiness and fruitfulness to the praise of God, the honor of the gospel, and the increase of their peace and joy. They value these things more than all the world.” 1 –John Owen
My boomer generation has a serious problem with denial when it comes to aging and death. It’s driven, in part, by our culture’s worship of youth and beauty—60 is the new 40 and all that nonsense. I think advancements in modern medicine that prolong the inevitable have also contributed. Additionally, death has become so sanitized in western society that many people may never even see a dead person in their lifetime. More than ever before, we have been anesthetized to the reality that life is but a vapor and what we do in our short stay here will have eternal consequences.
 
But preparing for old age and death is something that hopefully, Christians begin doing when God saves us. Our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil will rage against us until our last breath, and so we must continually fight against it whether we are 20 or 80.

So then, how can the Christian live in such a way that we will be as prepared as possible when we’re visited by affliction, the infirmities of old age, and ultimately our own death?

Written at the end of his life, Owen’s The Glory of Christ points us to the absolute necessity of daily meditating on the person of Christ in all His glory.

Some might think of meditation as something only mystics practice, but true Christian meditation doesn’t focus on “silence,” nor does it attempt to receive new revelation from heaven. The purpose of Christian meditation is to turn our thoughts as often as we can towards Him who loved and redeemed us. And what we know of Him can only be found through His Word. We don’t need to find a special place in order to meditate on the ever present person of Christ. Our thoughts can turn to Him wherever we are. And in so doing we will find comfort in our afflictions, hope in our sufferings, and joy in our everyday life. By this we are also preparing ourselves for that day when death, the last enemy, is swallowed up in victory as we pass from this life into His glorious presence.

And yet how easily our contemporary world distracts our thoughts with so much unnecessary clutter. Social media and television have increased our tendency to be distracted to a level the saints in times past could not have imagined. Regardless, there is still nothing new under the sun and the things we fill our minds with each day will guide our course as surely as the helm guides the ship. Our ruminations will impact our emotions, behavior, and can even effect our health. “A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

While it goes without saying that we need to put the brakes on entertaining evil thoughts, we can also veer off course in more subtle ways by focusing more on the good gifts than the Giver himself.
“Others are of a more noble mind and spend their time meditating on the works of creation and providence. This is a work worthy of our nature. But in all these there is no glory to be compared to with the Glory of Christ’s person.

Let us diligently study the Bible and the revelations of the glory of Christ revealed there. This is what Christ himself tells us to do and the prophets in the Old Testament show us how to do”. 2
If we are to prepare ourselves for the ravages of old age and dying, we need to be continually hitting the reset button to focus our attentions on that “good part.”
“but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part,
which shall not be taken away from her." Luke 10:24

1The Glory of Christ, John Owen, Puritan Paperbacks, Abridged, Banner of Truth Trust; 1994;
pg. 141
2Ibid, pg. 31.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Are You a Contender?


Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed . . . ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4 NASV)
A few years ago I read a news story about a British Columbia woman who saved her son from a cougar. She saw a cougar mauling her seven year old son as he played outside, so she ran out and fought off the predator with the kitchen towel she carried in her hand. She courageously risked her own life to protect her boy.

Looking for the news story about this incident, I googled the phrase “mom saves child from cougar,” and on the first page of results I found four other stories of heroic mamas. One mother used a camping cooler, one a water bottle, and another her bare hands to save their children from a cougar attack. The last mother saved her child but died from her injuries.

Faced with a dangerous attack on a beloved child, would any mother simply stand and watch? No, a mother's love for her child compels her to protect and defend—and 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—or, to use his language, he called them to contend earnestly for it. “Certain persons” who claimed to be believers, had "crept" into the church. They looked like ordinary Christians, and they settled into the body like ordinary Christians did, but they had joined the group for shady reasons. We don’t know the details, but it seems that both their actions, which were immoral, and their teachings, which were false, 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 (and handed down) in a not-yet-completed New Testament canon—that Jude didn’t need to flesh out the “the faith once for all delivered.” These early Christians were already united around the body of doctrine that was the faith, so Jude could jump straight to 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 all 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, our fight to defend 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 have no 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, or 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 talking (and maybe 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—even a word war. No, our most 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.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hope in a vale of tears

I just got off the phone with my dad. Today was a rough day for him and my mom. He never knows what the dementia may bring, but the stress ramps up when my mom won't comply with the care that is necessary and good for her. Because of the disease, she will question and argue, and because of the disease, trying to reason with her is futile. This is hard for my dad when all he wants to do is help his wife whom he loves. I encouraged him as best as I could, and we prayed together on the phone.

When I hung up, then I could release the tears I had been holding inside. It's no wonder the Heidelberg Catechism refers to this life as a vale of tears. It's not just family circumstances either. Brothers and sisters in my little local church are weathering heavy trials. If you broaden the circle, there probably isn't a person on earth whose life has not been touched by suffering even if they are not experiencing it at the present moment. It would be easy to throw in the towel because reality is too much to bear. But that's not the whole the story.

26. Q. What dost thou believe when thou sayest: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?

A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that in them is, who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ His Son my God and my Father; in whom I so trust, as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul; and further, that whatever evil He sends upon me in this vale of tears He will turn to my good; for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father.

My pastor preached on this Q&A from the Heidelberg drawing from Matthew 6:25-34. In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his hearers to not be anxious because our Heavenly Father knows what we need. If he takes care of the birds and the grass of the field, will he not take care of us? Even as I typed out that previous sentence, it's easier said than done when anxiety attacks or dementia strikes, but it then becomes a time for "I believe! Help my unbelief!" 

When circumstances are overwhelming, walking by sight is next to impossible because the way seems so foggy, but that's where faith comes in. It's not faith in the strength of my faith or even how well I can recall God's promises. It is the hand that reaches out and clings desperately to the One who is really holding on to me and not letting me fall. He knows I am dust because he made me. And no matter how much the prosperity gospel may distort this truth, my Father loves me. I only have to look at the cross if I wanted further proof, and oh how I need reminding of this fact!

I don't know what your vale looks like at the moment. Mine seems hard to see at times because of the tears, but even though I may doubt and forget, God's care doesn't depend on my memory. I have a Father who will provide all things necessary for body and soul. Whatever trial he sends, he will turn to my good, the good of my family, and the good of my brothers and sisters. He is Almighty God. He is a faithful Father, and he is my hope in this vale of tears.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Who's In Charge Here?


When I was a teenager, the big bad bogeyman of the world was the Soviet Union. While previous generations had been taught to hide under their desks in case of a bomb, my generation watched the nuclear arms' race. Some of my teachers took great pleasure in telling us just how many times over the world could be blown up with current nuclear arsenals, and just how eager our enemies were  to push that button. Those accounts left me uneasy to say the least. The reality of evil disturbed me. Who was in charge, anyway? I believed in God, but I was not converted at that point, and I longed for some reassurance.

I have been a Christian now for 33 years, but I still have moments when I ask myself that same question. I don't think I'm the only one. The bogeymen are not gone; they just have different names. As Christians we face uncertainty about what is happening not only in the world, but to the Church; the Church has its own bogeymen.


In the Lord I Take Refuge


The psalmist in Psalm 11 opens with certainty: "In the Lord I take refuge." Yet, he faces the cries of the naysayers:
How can you say to my soul
"Flee like a bird to your mountain
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
they have fitted their arrow to the string
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?" (v.1b-4)
Do you ever feel powerless? Do you ever wonder "What can the righteous do?" It is difficult not to feel like everything is pointed against Christians. While we don't suffer nearly the kind of persecution that Christians in other part of the world endure, here in North America, Christianity is becoming more and more marginalized, and in some cases morally bankrupt. Yet all is not lost.
The Lord is in his holy temple;
The Lord's throne is in heaven; (v.4)

A Secure Presence


When I was twelve years old, I was able to stay home alone at night when my parents were out somewhere. While I enjoyed having the house to myself, by bed time, I was ready for them to return, and I would wait up until they got home. I wanted to know there was someone in the house. My parent's presence gave me a feeling of security. Just as I wanted to know my parents had arrived home and I was not alone, being reminded that the Lord is in his holy temple gives me a feeling of security. When that helpless feeling comes, I can rest in the truth that God is in control. He is with us. There may be times when we throw up our hands in despair and say "What can the righteous do?" but that is not a solution. Instead, we can be certain: the Lord is in his holy temple. When the whole world has gone mad, the reality is that God is right where he is supposed to be.

Putting trust in people and authorities only provides temporary security. We may think that our safety comes from authorities, political power, wealth, or personal influence. We may look for answers from social media or Christian celebrities, but we have something more sure, God himself.


Divine Favour


At the end of the psalm, in verse 7, we are told:

For the Lord loves the righteous
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.

Alec Motyer, in his volume, Psalms By the Day, comments about verse 7: "It is not by flight (verse 1b) but by confidence in divine favour (verse 7) that life's challenges can be faced." Sometimes, life's challenges are the every day things: work, relationships, family. And sometimes, they are living in the shadow of disturbing news stories, natural disasters, and the fear of what is happening in and to the Church. But the remedy is the same. We must put our confidence in divine favour; in the hope of beholding his face. And that takes faith. It isn't always easy to just sit and wait when things around us are chaotic. But we can pray for the faith to cling to the certainty that God is in charge. And I am thankful that he is.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review: Walking Through Twilight

Walking Through Twilight by Doug Groothuis
A Wife’s Illness—A Philosopher’s Lament by Douglas Groothuis

Four years ago, Doug Groothuis’s wife Becky was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia that begins in the language centers of the brain. Becky Groothuis is in her early sixties and cannot read or write. She has lost most of her ability to speak, too. Sometimes she knows she wants to say something, but can’t find the words to express her thought. Losing language would be devastating for anyone, but as an author, editor, and speaker, Becky’s world was the world of words. Now all of this is gone.

Becky can no longer care for herself, either. She can’t accomplish even simple tasks because she gets confused. She can’t take her dog for a walk without getting lost. She has a hired caregiver, but still, much of the responsibility for her care falls on her husband Doug, who is a philosophy professor at Denver Seminary.

This book is a collection of his reflections on his experience walking through the twilight of a mind and a life—and of his marriage, too. Many of his reflections are expressions of sorrow for what his wife and he have lost. He found permission to lament and a pattern to follow in scripture: “[C]onsider the many psalms of lament, such as 22, 39, 88, and 90, as well as the book of Lamentations.” But it is Ecclesiastes, he writes, “more than any other book of Holy Scripture, [that] has given me the perspective and language of lament necessary for my own sad sojourn . . .. It is a deep well of tough wisdom for the weary and wasted soul.”

Still, even as he cries out in grief, Groothuis knows his time of anguish will not last forever. Most of the biblical laments are ultimately hopeful, and he grieves with hope, too. One day, he knows, everything will be made gloriously right. In the meantime, “God counts our tears before he takes them away . . .. Learning to lament is, then, part of our lot under the sun.” In this world, we will have sorrow. In this world, we will lament. But in the world to come, we will forever rejoice.

Walking Through Twilight is an excellent resource for anyone who is suffering, but especially forthose who are caring for a loved one who is ill and facing death. Doug Groothuis is a Christian philosopher, so his reflections are often philosophical and theological. This is not a weakness, but a strength, because almost everyone who experiences deep trials searches for answers to the troubling philosophical and theological questions that arise from their suffering. And when we are in the midst of tribulation, we long to find meaning in it.

Groothuis grapples with some of the hard questions, like “What do I do when I feel like I hate God?” He admits that he is sometimes very angry with God, but he has come to see that at the heart of his anger toward God is rebellion against him. When we are angry with God because of our circumstances, we are, in effect, saying that if we were God, we would do things differently—and better—than he is. This is, of course, is a ridiculous thought and an idolatrous one. Even though Groothuis understands this, his trust in God “waxes and wanes . . .,” he writes. “When I am outraged at God, I try to think of God in Christ hanging on a cross for me. This sometimes brings me back to theological and psychological sanity if not sanctity. I must work with what I have and seek more as I walk through the ever-darkening twilight.”

Another question he tackles in his reflections is “It is okay to give up—to stop fighting and praying for a cure for a disease?” He finds a piece of his answer in Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to search and a time to give up” (Ecclesiastes 3:6). “To go down fighting an unwinnable war . . . is sheer idiocy—and exhausting,” he writes. There is a time to surrender and accept the inevitable, a time to relinquish our efforts to change our situation and accept the outcome our loving God, who knows what is best, is giving us.

One practical feature of this book is an appendix with suggestions for readers who want to help those who are in the midst of suffering. Groothuis concludes this appendix with an invitation “I am but a babe in this loving skill, suffering well with others,” he writes. “Will you join me in the school of lament? Will you learn to sit on the mourner’s bench before God and with those whom you love?” Reading and learning from Walking Through Twilight is a one way to prepare yourself to suffer with your suffering friends.

Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, where he heads the Apologetics and Ethics masters degree program. He has written numerous books, including Christian Apologetics and, most recently, Philosophy in Seven Sentences.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

My only comfort in life, in death, and in the face of dementia

For the last several years, my daughter and I have been spending Christmas with family. I'm thankful for these times because it's always a joy to be with the people you love. However, there is a practical aspect as well. My parents are aging, so this is an opportunity for their children to reassess their current situation and consider any help they might need in the days ahead. These discussions aren't easy, though, because any increased care will take away some of their remaining independence. It's also a difficult adjustment as the role of caregiver has shifted from parents to children.

My mom has dementia, and although she is functioning to some degree, she isn't able to do what she used to do including simple tasks most people would take for granted. She also doesn't think she needs any help. But the progression of her disease is inevitable barring a medical breakthrough or divine intervention. My dad has gotten more frail this past year, and the weight of helping my mom has taken its toll when he is already dealing with his own health issues. I wish he had an outlet to express what he is feeling deep down because I am sure he is grieving. But given his age and background, opening up is probably not the easiest to do. He is only willing to say but so much before it becomes overwhelming. These changes seem more pronounced compared to the last time I saw them. This was also the first time I said goodbye to my parents wondering how many more times I would be able to see them in this life., and it hit me hard.

As we were driving home, I grieved for my parents. Dementia is so cruel because it robs a person from the inside out, and it inflicts such loss, not just on the sufferer but on the surrounding family too. But as I was praying, I asked myself - is this life and its eventual deterioration all my parents have to look forward to? And as I asked the Lord to comfort us, the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism came to mind:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
As providence would have it, a few Sundays after returning home, my pastor preached a sermon on this very catechism question and answer. While this is not Scripture, it encapsulates so many scriptural truths and the blessings and security they bring. It speaks of the unmerited love of God that would save sinners at the cost of the blood of Jesus. It speaks of full forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. It speaks of a loving Father who will not let a single one of his children fall through the cracks and that all things work together for our salvation. So whether in life or death or in the face of dementia, we are not left to fend for ourselves, but we belong to a faithful Savior. And in the end, we will be with him forever, fully healed from every effect of the fall.

Since that sermon, I've returned to these words again and again as I pray for my family. I can't think of any source of lasting comfort unless we find it in God and the hope of our salvation.  Your situation may be different than mine, but I hope you will draw comfort from these words as well.

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

They are our children, after all

In a perfect world, Christian parents would teach their children the gospel, and it would be embraced quickly, and without incident. Children would go seamlessly from childhood to godly adulthood without a blip on the screen.

As we know, we don't live in a perfect world. And the reality is that good Christian parents raise children who give them some sleepless nights and break their hearts. I know what that is like. If you have children who never gave you a moment's trouble, praise God for it! But for those of us who have had children who stray or struggle in their faith, it can be extremely painful. We feel shame and guilt. We may feel anger. But we must not despair. For those who may be in the midst of that kind of season, here are some thoughts.

Don't Take All the Blame

If you blame yourself for their sins, does that mean you take the glory when they don't sin? Think about that. If you failed to preach the gospel to your children or made mistakes, repent of them. Ask God for forgiveness. If necessary, ask your children to forgive you. But remember that our children make their own decisions. It is part of their spiritual growth to take ownership of their faith.

Don't Compare Them to Others

It's tempting when our kids are struggling spiritually to look longingly at the families who seem perfect. Don't give in to that. It can lead to bitterness toward our own children and it prevents us from feeling gratitude for what God has given us. Would you want your husband comparing you to another woman?

Don't Ask "What Will People Think?"

That is a bad question. And especially don't verbalize that to your child. Our concern is not what people will think of us. What is important to us is our child's relationship with God. Worrying about what others think makes the matter about us, and it's not about us. It can create an adversarial situation between us and our children if we worry about them making us look bad.

Be Discreet

Be careful when you share details of your child's struggle; the fewer details the better. Respect your child's privacy. Find one or two people you trust and who can keep a confidence. Ask people to pray without giving details. We don't always need to know the details. I think it goes without saying that social media is not a place to hash out your struggle with your child.

Focus On Your Own Walk With Christ

While we will always be their mother, there comes a point when we have to step back and focus on other areas of service. Dwelling only on the issues with our children robs us of opportunities to serve and ultimately can stunt our own growth. We're not abandoning them, but really, there is only so much we can do. "Delight yourself in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and he will give you the desire of your heart" (Ps 37:4-5).

Trust God With the Burden

Pray. Trust God. Don't despair. Some days it is harder than others, but is really is the best response. It will remind us of who is really in control. Aren't you glad that God is control and we aren't? I am. Keep looking to Christ. "Cast your burdens upon the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never allow the righteous to be shaken" (Ps 55:22).

And above all, love your children. Love them when you don't understand why they are doing what they're doing. Love them when you're frustrated, angry, and hurt. Think of tangible ways to show love. These children are ours, after all, given to us, not someone else. Remember that God is in control and more than able to bear the burden.