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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What to do and what not to do when your child dates an unbeliever

My seminary schedule is quite heavy at the moment, so I'm taking time to re-post this. 

I recently read a woman's view that as long as one sheltered her children from unbelievers enough, she would never need to worry about kids dating unbelievers or dabbling in the world. I still squirm at the notion that our children's spiritual development is simply a matter of controlling their environment. The reality is that good parents raise kids who do unwise things. When we're young, we're tempted to think our kids will never do that! Sometimes, they do. I hope this provides encouragement for some today.

In a perfect world, our children would do everything we said without question and give us very few moments of concern. Of course, we do not live in a perfect world. Our children make choices that we recognize immediately as bad. One of the struggles many parents confront is the news that their child is dating someone who is not a Christian. It can be a terribly stressful time for the entire family when this happens. Our reaction may be anger, self-recrimination, despair or all three. None of those reactions will help us handle the situation in a godly way.

I have been on both sides of this matter; I was the unbelieving girl who dated someone's son, and I've been the mother of a child who dated an unbeliever. The purpose of this post is not to teach about the issue of being unequally yoked. It is, rather, to offer some suggestions to moms who find themselves unexpectedly dealing with their adult child dating someone who is not a Christian.

Temper your reactions. If you react with uncontrolled emotion and reproach, your child may retreat fast and keep things from you. Reacting with "What will people say?" (aside from being the wrong question to ask), will simply not help. Express your concern, by all means, but be calm about it.

See the friend's need of Christ. Instead of seeing him or her as an interloper, see a person who is facing eternal judgment.  Whatever happens, we should want this person to come to Christ. If we look at the person as a threat, it will show in how we treat them. Remember, the friend is spiritually blind, and will not understand why you object to the relationship.

Give the friend a bible. If there is a special occasion such as Christmas or a birthday, give her one as a gift. When you give the gift, offer your availability to answer questions. It could be the means of building a bridge. My mother-in-law gave me a bible and marked passages for me to read. Four weeks later, I was converted. The friend may take it politely and then throw it away, but then again, she may not.

Encourage your child to bring the friend home for a visit. Let the friend see a Christian family up close and personal. Encourage him to attend church with you. If the friend is uncomfortable and doesn't want to, be patient, and keep inviting. Special occasions like Christmas and Easter are good times to extend an invitation.

Avoid nagging and combative dialogue. The fastest way to chase away a child is to nag. You don't have to withhold the truth, but there is a time when you must speak and then let things be. Constant badgering will only chase your kids away. Avoid the temptation to engage in constant shaming of them, or reminding them of your anxiety over the situation. Your disagreement with the relationship is not about your feelings; it's about your child being in a relationship that is, ultimately, not biblical, and dangerous to his spiritual life.

Remember your child is your child for life. The dating relationship may end, but you will still have a relationship with your child. The way you conduct yourself while he's dating this person could cause estrangement, and you don't want that. When I confronted this situation as a mother myself, my husband's continual advice to me was not to do anything that would cause long term damage to my relationship with my child. It was good advice.

Be patient. Our children are adults, and sometimes, they need to come to their own conclusions, even if means getting stung, or living with hard consequences. They are growing and developing, and what may seem an obviously serious situation to you may not to them. Pray for your child and his friend; pray for God's will to be done. And pray for your own heart, that you would know when to speak and when to be silent, and that you would know that God is sovereign over this situation.

My mother-in-law could not force her 20 year old son to stop seeing me. But she was able to see me as someone in need of a Saviour, someone she needed to love. She was careful to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) toward me, and I never forgot that. When it was my turn to go through this, it was her example that I followed, and I'm glad I did.

As parents, we need to set an example. It does not mean we forget the truth and make excuses. It does mean recognizing when we must allow our children to be the adults they are. We can only control our responses, ones that are guided by grace, love, and kindness.

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  
“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD. ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD. THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”  Romans 2:1-12 

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 8, 2016

On the beach with a commentary

There is no doubt that a good book makes a lazy summer day even better. Whether it's the beach or a lake or your back porch, a book is a wonderful companion. While a good novel is a great take along on a summer holiday, why not consider taking a biblical commentary? Understanding the Bible is crucial for Christian women, and a good commentary provides a richness to our Bible reading. Alongside the great fiction you relax with, why not spend a summer with a book of the bible and a good commentary?

Reading commentaries is an opportunity to watch someone with a lot of knowledge and experience interpret a text. If you're a Bible teacher, an opportunity to watch someone open up a passage and explore its depths is a great way to become a better teacher; we can learn a lot by watching others. Commentaries spend a lot of time with the text, and that means when reading a commentary, we will spend more time in the text. That can only be a good thing.

There are various levels of commentaries, and I find the site Best Commentaries very helpful for identifying them. Commentaries are identified according by a "T" for technical, "P" for pastoral, and "D" for devotional. The pastoral and devotional type commentaries are probably the best for general reader. The site also links to locations to purchase books. I discovered a very helpful feature here: I was able to use the links to help me find which local libraries hold these books. Tim Challies' commentary recommendations and Ligonier's recommendations provide helpful input as well.

Before your purchase, read reviews or ask someone who has read the book. Sometimes, not everyone reacts the same to a commentary. I bought and read the Reformed Expository Commentary on Ruth and Esther because it came highly recommended, and I really didn't like it. It's frustrating to invest in a commentary you think you'll never read again. I am going to make some recommendations below, but don't just take my word for it; ask others.

Commentaries that read like sermons are the Reformed Expository Commentary series, the John MacArthur Commentaries, and The Bible Speaks Today series. Commentaries by Martyn Lloyd-Jones are excellent, especially his series on Romans  and  Ephesians. His book on the Sermon on the Mount is a great read, as is his volume on I John. Of course, one would have a hard time finishing the Romans or Ephesians commentaries in a summer, but why not try to finish one in the series? For a source of older commentaries, like those written by Calvin, Spurgeon, and the Puritans, have a look at Banner of Truth.

Another reader friendly series is the NIV Application Commentaries series. The layout of these is really good. Each passage has a section discussing Original Context, Bridging the Contexts, and Contemporary Significance. I don't regularly use the NIV, but the text is printed in the commentary for ease. Karen Jobes's volume on Esther is excellent, as is David Garland's commentary on Colossians. These volumes also include a select bibliography, which is a great way to find out about more commentaries on the same subject.

Commentaries will get you thinking. The writers will point out things you may not have noticed. They may have explanation about the cultural context of the book which provides insight. Reading a commentary along with daily bible reading means we may slow down a little. We are often in a rush to get to the "application" phase that sometimes we don't interpret carefully, and that can lead to wrong application.

Commentaries help me a great deal with preparation for teaching, but they also open up God's Word to me in deeper ways. Even in the midst of a more technical (e.g., D.A. Carson's commentary on John) commentary, there are wonderful insights that enlarge our understanding about God. They may not seem like holiday reading, but you may be surprised.