Friday, July 31, 2015

sojourners in the world

Here is a quote that was shared in our 1 & 2 Thessalonians class, regarding how the early church viewed themselves as sojourners (resident aliens) in the world...

"They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world."

-- Epistle to Diognetus, c. AD 130

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

our whole being one vast need

"Every Christian would agree that a man's spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God. But man’s love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love. This is obvious where we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations. But in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing – for it ought to be growing – awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need: incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose."

~ C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

                        Photo by Chloe, BCF Guatemala Mission Team. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

he delays, but comes

"When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified.  But he said to them, 'It is I; don't be afraid.' Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading." (John 6:16-21 NIV)

On this passage William Still writes...

"Presumably the disciples assumed Jesus would return to Capernaum on foot, walking around the shore of the lake.  Clearly the last thing they were expecting was the miracle of his walking on the water.  Jesus had withdrawn to a mountain by himself, leaving the disciples guessing as to what he would do. We learn a few verses later that the crowds that had been fed with the boy's picnic lunch were also left guessing (verse 25). 

"The disciples got into the boat at their Master's command (cf. Mark 6:45), not knowing what would happen to him or to them!  When the storm came, they strained at the oars, making little or no progress.  However, what they didn't 
realize was that as the Lord prayed alone high up on the mountainside, he could see their vain struggle against the wind and waves; but not until the fourth watch (3 a.m.) did he come to them (Mark 6:48).  The shock of seeing him walking on the turbulent waves when they were strenuously rowing for their lives may have demoralized them utterly. He brought to them, therefore, words of unutterable comfort.

"He still sees us in our struggles of faith in the dark, though often he delays in coming to us, while still watching over us.  But when he does draw near in the stormy night, his word to our fearful hearts is, 'It is I; don't be afraid.'"

-- William Still, Through The Year With William Still, July 25 reading. 

The painting above is "The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water", by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1907). 

Friday, July 24, 2015

without him we can do nothing

"The essential, vital, central element in the life of every congregation is the person and work of the Spirit of God as illuminated and structured and judged by the Spirit-breathed Word."

"There is no good in any of us that is not a result of the Spirit’s work. Every virtue we possess, every victory we win, and every thought of holiness are due to the Spirit. Whatever God calls us to do in life can be accomplished only by the Holy Spirit. Without Him we can do nothing. We cannot do any spiritual good without the Spirit. Every new Christian becomes a believer through the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian who finishes the race of life and enters glory has been kept and prepared for heaven by the power of the Spirit. The only sin for which there is no forgiveness is one committed against the Spirit."

[On thinking of the Spirit as an impersonal force..."We must be careful not to do that with the Holy Spirit. He is not merely a background influence in the church like the heating system, or a crowd rouser like a band at a rock concert or an agent of raw power such as electricity or an extraordinary means of communication like the World Wide Web. The Spirit may be heat and influence and power and communication, but before He is any of them, He is a person. He is as much a divine person as is God the Father or Jesus the Son. Many cults deny this."

-- Geoffrey Thomas, The Holy Spirit (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011) 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

not an abstraction

"Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves."  (John 14:10-11 ESV)

"You believe in Christ. You believe that his saying is true: “He that hath seen Me, has seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” On bended knee you confess him as your Lord and your God. But what is the incarnation of the word except that God became man? And what profit can this be to you, unless you realize that in Christ God has come close to you in a human way? Before the days of the Bethlehem birth God spoke to us in the human word, but in Christ God is manifest in human nature. He reveals himself to us as the son of Man. A human heart speaks here in human language and in human ways. As the Apostle John asserts: In Jesus they have not only seen and heard what is God’s, but have touched, that is they have handled with their hands, and have actually seen before their eyes the eternal—Godlike in human manifestation and in human form. Hence the whole Christian faith and Christian confession rests upon the clear and firm conviction that God has not willed himself to be lost to us in endless abstractions, but that in our human nature, in human form and in human language he comes to us ever more closely, in order through the medium of our human heart to establish affectionate and full fellowship with us.

"Our Lord Jesus makes no high-sounding, abstract statements of the infinite in the Eternal, but shows us God as our Father, and calls us to be his children, and with childlike confidence, in a childlike way, and with childlike intimacy to have fellowship with him. Let it be distinctly understood that this rests on sober reality. That this is not mere semblance but actual fact, since God created us after his image. That thus, in the face of a broad difference, Divine reality is expressed in the human. And that, when the Word became flesh, the fact that the Son of God became Man, is directly connected with our creation after God’s image. Would we undo all this, and create a distance between us and God which would exclude all personal fellowship, by putting a whole system of abstract ideas about the immensities of God in the place of this heart-to-heart intimacy which can not be cultivated with God except in a human way? Let us leave this to philosophers who do not pray, and to theologians dry-as-dust who are not children of their Father in heaven. But as for us, let us love God with a devotion which can only express itself in childlike fellowship with him."

-- Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

the ethos of persuasion

Here are a few more highlights from Covenantal Apologetics, by Scott Oliphint. 

"So mystery, for the Christian, is a confession that God, though knowable and known, is never in any way exhausted by our knowledge of him."

"The Christian God, however, is truly great. He is and will eternally be one God—simple, transcendent, necessary, and eternal. But he is also able, freely, to choose to be in a relationship with his creation, for eternity, all the while remaining who he is and has always been."

"If persuasion is the means by which we are to defend the Christian faith, then this requires, in the end, that we must be people who pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). It means, in the first place, that we cannot expect to imbibe the spirit of the age and at the same time to present a credible defense of Christianity. This is the ethos of persuasion..."

"One of Van Til’s favorite phrases was that we are to be suaviter in modo, fortiter in re — mild in manner, strong in matter."

Friday, July 17, 2015

pluralism destroys itself

"This Enlightenment attitude of 'partisanship as pejorative' is based on a supposition of neutrality. It assumes that the very diversity of ideas is itself an end, rather than a means to an end. The problem that pluralism produces is that it destroys itself in the process. Contradictory and opposing ideas, by definition, cannot all be held and applied by one society. Some partisan notion will always dominate and, in so doing, will smother any notion of pluralism."

- Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

reasoning from reality not illusion

Here's an excellent revision (or update) and presentation of Van Til's presuppositional method of apologetics: Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith, by Scott Oliphint (Crossway, 2013). Here are some initial hightlights... 

" your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect..." (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

"...unless one begins from God’s authority, revealed in the world and in the Scriptures, then we will always have an inadequate foundation for our views and our lives."

"Christian apologetics is the application of biblical truth to unbelief."

"...if one is to be adequately prepared to give an answer for one’s Christian faith, the lordship of Christ must be a solid and unwavering commitment of one’s heart."

"The point for the Christian, however, and the point to stand on in a covenantal apologetic, is that Christ’s lordship—which includes not only that he now reigns, but also that he has spoken and that all owe him allegiance—is true for anyone and everyone."

"The weapons of our warfare are divine weapons, and they have their focus in the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17)."

"...the basic principle is this: a covenantal apologetic must proceed on the basis of reality and not on the basis of illusion. We must proceed according to what Christ, who is the Lord, has told us, not according to what our opponents have decided is 'appropriate' for a defense of Christianity."

"So in knowing a particular thing, man knows God who reveals himself in and through that thing (including man himself)... 
True self-knowledge depends on God-knowledge (and vice versa)." 

"...since the fall, given the above, we became, in the truest sense of the word, irrational. That is, we sinfully and deceptively convince ourselves that what is actually true about the world is not true. We create a world of our own making, where we are all gods. What we now seek to do and how we seek to live and think are set in polar opposition to the world as it actually is... we seek the utterly impossible and unobtainable; we seek autonomy."

"This is what a covenantal apologetic seeks to do. It seeks to take the truth of Scripture as the proper diagnosis of the unbelieving condition and challenge the unbeliever to make sense of the world he has made."

"...covenantal apologetic is transcendental. A transcendental approach looks for the (so-called) preconditions for knowledge and life. It does not simply assume that knowledge is the same for believer and unbeliever alike. Instead, this approach asks questions about the basic foundations of an unbelieving position."

"The very reason there is a debate between us is that our respective authorities are in conflict."

know and do

"Throughout Jesus’ teaching these two words know and do occur constantly and always in that order. We cannot do until we know, but we can know without doing. The house built on the rock is the house of the man who knows and does. The house built on the sand is the house of the man who knows but does not do."  

(Francis Schaeffer, No Little People)

lift up your eyes

Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.  Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.  Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor." (John 4:34-38 ESV)

Painting above: "Wheatfield With Lark", by Vincent van Gogh.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

how (not) to be secular

I just finished a most enlightening and penetrating book on the nature of secularism -- what it is and how we got here.  It is James K. A. Smith's How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans, 2014).  Charles Taylor is author of the magisterial volume, A Secular Age, and Smith is making him accessible for folks like me, a sort of Cliff's Notes on Charles Taylor's book.  

Very, very helpful!  Here are some highlights to whet your interest... 

"Our age is haunted. On the one hand, we live under a brass heaven, ensconced in immanence. We live in the twilight of both gods and idols. But their ghosts have refused to depart, and every once in a while we might be surprised to find ourselves tempted by belief, by intimations of transcendence." 

"Most of us live in this cross-pressured space, where both our agnosticism and our devotion are mutually haunted and haunting..."

"But although we are more informed [than our ancestors], we are no more evolved, and certainly no more intelligent than them. What convinces us our knowledge is so final?" (Taylor)

"Ardor and devotion cannot undo the shift in plausibility structures that characterizes our age."

"I mean by this a humanism accepting no final goals beyond human flourishing, nor any allegiance to anything else beyond this flourishing."

"So the shift to a secular age not only makes exclusive humanism a live option for us, it also changes religious communities. We’re all secular now."

"It wasn’t enough for us to stop believing in the gods; we also had to be able to imagine significance within an immanent frame, to imagine modes of meaning that did not depend on transcendence."

"Significance no longer inheres in things; rather, meaning and significance are a property of minds who perceive meaning internally."

"The premodern self’s porosity means the self is essentially vulnerable (and hence also 'healable'). To be human is to be essentially open to an outside (whether benevolent or malevolent), open to blessing or curse, possession or grace."

"The modern self, in contrast to this premodern, porous self, is a buffered self, insulated and isolated in its interiority..."

"Because eternity is eclipsed, the this-worldly is amplified and threatens to swallow all."

"And so the 'god' that governs the cosmos is the architect of an impersonal order. In short, we’re all Masons now."

"We might describe this as 'deistic' religion — if it didn’t look like so much contemporary Protestantism."

"Sealed off from enchantment, the modern buffered self is also sealed off from significance, left to ruminate in a stew of its own ennui... Our insulation breeds a sense of cosmic isolation."

"Inscrutability is no longer an option; so if believers have no rationally demonstrative answer, but can only appeal to something like the 'hidden' will of God, then the scales tip in favor of what we know and understand."

"But in fact, their conversion to unbelief was also a conversion to a new faith: 'faith in science’s ability' ... Such conversions are conversions to a new authority, not the assumption of intellectual independence."

"The expressivist forges her own religion ('spirituality'), her own, personal Jesus." 

"Nothing is given or axiomatic anymore, so one has to 'find' one’s faith."

"In the name of securing our freedom, we swap submission to the priest for submission to the therapist."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

God saves sinners

"This Gospel itself can be summarized in three words: 'God Saves Sinners.' By this we mean that, 

"God—the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing; 

"saves—does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies; 

"sinners—men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot."

-- J. I. Packer, “Saved by His Precious Blood,” in A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), p. 130.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

an open letter to family and friends

Why I Can’t Celebrate This Supreme Court Decision

I am writing this as an open letter to my family and friends who are supporters of same-sex marriage.  I have seen so many harsh comments and posts on both sides of this debate, and I want no part of that.  However, I do want to share where I stand, for clarity’s sake. 

First, I want to affirm my love to my family and friends, gay or not. (Yes, I have gay friends.) We don't have to agree. I believe you have immense worth, having been created in the image of God.  I see your identity as not being defined by gender, orientation, or behavior, but as a unique individual created by God.  I affirm your right to freedom of conscience.  I recognize your rights under the law of our land. 

Our Supreme Court has ruled that the states may not enact laws prohibiting same-sex marriages. Many are celebrating this historic decision. Yet, in my opinion, the Supreme Court has acted rashly against a tradition that has been upheld by many religions -- as well as by natural law proponents -- for thousands of years. It is most certainly a re-definition of marriage. 

Marriage is about love, but it’s more than love. It's a gift from God to be enjoyed according to his design.  It's a life-long, covenant union of a man and woman, providing a secure home for children (as the Lord provides), all for the good of human society, and bringing glory to God who created it.  

For me, being a Christian is not primarily a religious preference, or a private, comforting belief about something I can't see.  It's about truth, about the eternal God who has revealed himself in words and supremely in his Son, Jesus Christ.  Often it is anything but comforting.  

As a child of the '60s I've had to unlearn much of what I thought about love and sex.  My position on sexuality has been re-formed by my ongoing study of the Bible for the past 40 years, thirty of those years in the original languages.  I believe the Scriptures to be the word of God. I do not believe it is a book of fairy tales, nor the product of an evolutionary development of religion. Throughout both Old and New Testaments – not to mention throughout most of church history – there are very clear and unambiguous statements against all homosexual behavior.  (See, just for example, Romans 1:18-32.)

So then, I cannot therefore in good faith betray what I think God's word clearly teaches and what the church has historically, uniformly affirmed for 1900 years. 

Many believe such a religious viewpoint should be kept out of the public square.  I disagree. I do not think that was the intent of Mr. Jefferson's separation clause, nor do I think the founders intended that our government could have the power to redefine such a fundamental thing as marriage. 

For the past fifty years our nation has rejected any ethical standard higher than the measure of ourselves.  There has been little or no appeal to a law above and outside of us, whether divine or natural.  Sometimes our justice just comes down to what enough influential people want to do, and are able to show that others aren’t really hurt by it.  Which can lead, in my opinion, to self-serving studies which have the intent to demonstrate how nobody will be hurt by whatever activity is in question.  I find that family studies, for example, even over ten years to be inadequate to fully understand how this new family dynamic would affect children.  

Now, if the religious viewpoint is automatically excluded from debate, then by default only the non-religious (the secular, the naturalistic, the utilitarian) views gain a hearing and triumph without opposition. The separation of church and state was designed to the end that no church (or religion, or non-religion) would exclusively get its way.  America is a smorgasbord of beliefs – secularism itself being a belief – and everybody should have 
a seat at the table.

I have tried to understand the arguments for and against same sex marriage. I do feel the weight of the desire to uphold the dignity of others, affirming their freedoms, celebrating love and inclusiveness, giving opportunity to demonstrate covenant faithfulness to all, and granting equal access to the public good for all citizens. And, actually, I like rainbows. 

It's just that, when it comes down to it, I really don't believe this decision is morally and spiritually right.  I don't think the high court's decision is ultimately in the best interest of families and children. I don't believe, in the end, our nation will be the better for this.  It may sound presumptuous of me, but I don't think God is pleased with it. 

What I'm saying is that my conscience is captive to a higher law, to a higher court than the U.S. Supreme Court.  That's why I can't really celebrate this recent court decision. I don't think I'm bitter or hateful.  I don't even think I'm bigoted, but you may disagree.  

Again, I don’t expect that we will all agree on this.  If you got this far, thanks for reading to the end.  I affirm your worth and value before God.  I believe Christ came to call all of us – all of us – to repentance, and to die for our sins, yours and mine.  I will love you, pray for you, feed you, give you lodging, and help care for your needs.  

But I can’t celebrate with you on this matter of same-sex marriage.  I can't celebrate that which I feel the Lord himself does not celebrate.