Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A month of the church

What is the church?

That's an important question. Check the table of contents of any systematic theology, and there will be a section discussing the doctrine of the church.

In Ephesians 1:22-23, we are told that God the Father, appointed Christ as head of the church:
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
If God put Christ as head of the Church, it must be important.

When Jesus was speaking to Peter in Matthew 16, Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus responded with this:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:17-18)
Jesus planned to build his church, and he intended for it to be strong.

Who is in the church? Wayne Grudem, says that the church, "includes all who profess faith in Christ and give evidence of that faith in their lives."1 The church is full people; people who are redeemed, but still sinners.

The church is everywhere, all over the world. Wherever there is a gathering of those who profess the name of Christ as their Saviour and live as his disciples, there are churches. They can meet in expensive, technologically equipped buildings, schools, hotel boardrooms, and old warehouses.

Churches often do things differently from one another. Some churches baptize infants, and some do not. Some have one kind of church government, and some have another. Some have different worship styles, and because of the culture they exist in, looked different from what we're used to. I live in small town, southern Ontario, where the population is not all that diverse. There are churches only an hour away in Kitchener-Waterloo with very ethnically diverse congregations.

While churches are different from one another, our unity is found in Christ. The song The Church's One Foundation reminds us of who is the head of the church:
The Church’s one foundation
  Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation
  By water and the Word:
From heav’n He came and sought her
  To be His holy Bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
  And for her life He died.
As we think of the church and our relationship to it and our fellow brothers and sisters, we must never forget that the foundation is Christ. He is the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20), and we, the members, are the living stones which are being built into a spiritual house (I Pet. 2:4-5). Whatever we do within the church flows from that reality.

The church is not a place to help us become famous, or show off our talents. It is not a place to further our own agendas. It's about Christ, who died to purchase those who would be living stones. It ought to humble us to be part of the church. To be part of building the kingdom of God through local church congregations is a gift. Not everyone belongs to the church.

As I look ahead to this month, I am eager to see what my fellow blogging companions will have to share. I hope you will be edified. Later this month, we'll be doing a group post, where we all share with you the various things we are busy at within our own local churches. And if you don't make a habit to attend a local church, but you are a Christian, don't delay. Start searching right away.

1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), p. 856.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A word to the doubting

I recently finished reading Jared C. Wilson's excellent book The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles. Tucked into this encouraging and thought provoking look at Jesus' miracles is a word to the doubting, specifically five ways to battle the unbelief of doubt.

I've had periods of my life when I've doubted and I imagine you have as well. Like the father of Mark 9:24 I've cried out, "I do believe; help my unbelief!" Wilson exhorts me and you to battle our unbelief in the following ways...

Concentrate on the historical fact of the cross. Read the gospels and read books about the cross and reflect on why Jesus died. 
Do not seek refuge or advice with those who would shame you for doubting. In my doubts I need the gospel and I need the kind of community that neither shames nor coddles.  
Pray. Ask the Lord to increase your faith. Pray as if you do believe. Cry out to Him in boldness and in honesty. 
Refocus your doubts toward your own failings and inability. Wilson writes that we should doubt ourselves, doubt our doubts. In other words, despair of yourself! When you realize your utter insufficiency you are better able to trust the Lord's sufficiency and grace. 
Finally, read your Bible. Meditate on the promises of God. Christ's righteousness covers your doubt! Wrestling with unbelief is actually an indication of belief.

As I've written before, we all go through stages of our journey when the Lord seems distant and we are forced to wrestle with the reality of our faith. May we turn to Him in the smallness of our mustard seed sized faith and cry out for help. The Lord is faithful and we can trust Him to remove all doubt as He brings to completion His good work in us! Yes and amen!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The day I had more faith in the plumber than in God

I am out of my league when it comes to home repairs, so I am very grateful for reliable contractors, plumbers, and all around handymen who can fix whatever is broken. Therefore, I knew who to call when the toilet started running for what seemed like forever before it finally stopped. The plumber got the job done for a fair price in less than an hour the following day. When all was back to normal, I offered a prayer of thanks for this gentleman, his skill, and the relief it was to turn over my problem to someone I could trust. But then this thought crossed my mind:

"You stopped worrying about the toilet as soon as you knew the plumber was coming the next day. Why do you keep worrying about the things you commit to the Lord? It sounds like you had more faith in the plumber than you do in God at times."


Well I was without excuse when it was put like that. It was a weight off my shoulders to leave the plumbing to the plumber. Why don't I experience that same relief when I commit my life and its cares to Almighty God? Why do I continue to stew and fret as though He hasn't heard me or I might have slipped His mind? Granted plumbing isn't quite on the same scale, but then again, this is the Triune God we're talking about. 

This is the God who:

Upholds the universe by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3)
Is the eternal, unchanging Creator. (Heb. 1:10-12)
Laughs at His enemies and their futile plans to thwart His purposes. (Psalm 2:4-6)
Saved me. (Eph. 2:1-10)
Promised to never leave me nor forsake me. (Heb. 13:5-6)
Intercedes. Works all things together for good and will complete His work in my life. (Rom. 8:26-30)
Remains faithful even when my faith fails. (2 Tim. 2:13)

Based on this evidence, is there any valid reason why I shouldn't have faith in God and trust Him with everything? None whatsoever. This doesn't mean that life won't have its troubles, but I'm already in the safest and most secure place there is. I am in His hands and no one can snatch me out. (John 10:28-29)

So I had to repent of my unbelief. It probably won't be the last time, but I'm thankful for His forgiveness and His faithfulness to continue to remind me of the truth. 

The Lord never wastes a teachable moment. Even a running toilet.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Christian and Common Grace

Excuse me, ma'am.

I didn't realize he was talking to me. I kept walking. Someone coming toward me directed my attention to the gentleman calling after me.

You left this. He held out a bag of groceries to me. In my haste to leave the store, I'd left it at the self-checkout station. A quick glance told me he most likely needed the food more than I.

There are still good people in the world, I thought.

Whether it's airline passengers subduing someone rushing the cockpit or someone handing us an item we forgot, sometimes it's easy to forget that people - even Christians - are not inherently good. Perhaps we are so bombarded with the bad news in our fallen world that long to see the good in people. We forget, as Steven J. Lawson writes, there is
...the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, who strives with unconverted men in order to restrain them from being as sinful as their immoral imaginations would lead them to be. This is a general restraint upon their lives, impeding them from being fully engrossed in their sins. (The Problem of Good: When the World Seems Fine Without God, p.5).
I had heard of common grace, but did not have a good understanding of it until reading this primer on the topic. It was a much-needed reminder for me that we are all sinful creatures. If we don't accept this truth, if we only see the good in people, how will we be compelled to share the gospel with them? And how will people who live good, moral lives or have an abundance of blessings see their need for a savior? These question deserve much thought, and The Problem of Good explores them carefully and answers them wisely.

As much as I may, at times, be quick to think that people are basically good, I confess that there is another side of common grace that confounds me. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). I confess that there are days when I wonder at this verse. I see its truth evident all around me, and I'm frustrated by it. Why should Christians suffer while those who deny God's existence reap benefits seemingly beyond compare? What about having our best life, of being blessed if we do and give enough? They are hollow promises that fall woefully short of the Scriptural truth that in the world you will have tribulation (John 16:33).

Perhaps unbelievers living the American dream don't desire God  because Christians so often despair the way of the cross. Why would they choose the lot we bemoan? In The Problem of Good, Ruth Naomi Floyd quotes Charles Spurgeon,
I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your sufferings be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down (p. 82).
Modern Christians seem to have strayed so far from those before us who, like Spurgeon and Samuel Rutherford, held firm to the belief is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bed-side, and draw aside the curtains, and say 'Courage, I am thy salvation,' than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God. (source). In our estimation suffering should belong to other people, not to those who spend their lives serving God.

I wonder, what would happen if we blessed the Lord for our sufferings? What if, instead of begrudging others their good fortune, we fully grasped and accepted that, as John Leonard writes, ...instead of questioning God's fairness we should be praising him for his goodness...the goodness that we see all around us in the daily acts of men should lead us to worship God because it proves that he is good (The Problem of Good, p. 56-57)?

The truth is, as a believer in Christ, I should not be worried with fair. Regardless of what I consider my present sufferings to be, I have received much more than fair.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Temporal sufferings, like temporal blessings, are an opportunity to bring glory to God. If we who have Christ as our model don't believe that, a lost and dying world never will.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Solid Food for Little Ones

or A Short List of Theology Books for Preschoolers.

I’m interested in theology books for children for two reasons. First, I have preschool grandchildren and I want to be like Timothy’s grandmother Lois. I want to help pass on the faith to them.

Second, I’m the librarian for my church, so it’s my responsibility to see that the library has a well-rounded collection of Christian books for children. When I took over the library job, it was built around donated books, and the children’s section was long on fiction, short on Bible story books (because people hold on to those, I suppose), and completely empty when it came to anything that taught doctrine to children. So I’ve added a few Bible story and theology books, and any age-appropriate ones that impress me I order for my grandchildren, too.

Since many of you also have young children in your lives, I thought you might be able to use some recommendations for preschool books that teach good theology. Here’s my short list. (Please add your own recommendations in the comments.)

Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers: The Trinity
by Joey Allen. This is simple Biblical teaching on the Trinity without the use of analogies. (When it comes to the Trinity, analogies—shamrocks, eggs or ice, water, and steam, for instance—tend to confuse rather than clarify. There is nothing else like the Trinity.) For ages 4-6 or so. 

There’s a series of Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers books, including Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers: The Scripture and Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers: The Gospel. I’ve only seen the one on the Trinity, but since it's so excellent, I’d bet the others are good, too.

Update: In the comments below, the author links to another book in this series, Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers: The Mission. What's more, I've discovered that Westminster Bookstore sells all four Big Thoughts books as a set.

God Knows My Name
by Debby Anderson. This book teaches little ones aged 1-4 about God's omniscience—and a few more attributes, too. This one has been a favorite of my grandchildren, who love knowing that God sees them and knows everything about them, including their name.

I also recommend I Love My Bible! and Jesus Is Coming Back!, the two other Debby Anderson picture books in the church library.

Everything a Child Should Know About God
by Kenneth N. Taylor.  I received my copy in the mail yesterday and have already read through it. I wish I’d known about this little gem when my own children were little.

 “The purpose of this colourful book,” Ken Taylor wrote in the introduction, “is to teach young children about God.” Since some teaching on most of the Bible's major doctrines is included, I'd call this a pint-sized systematic theology. There are a only couple of places in 187 pages where I would have phrased things differently—and when it comes to book of theology, that much agreement is a rare thing.

I often give Bible story books as baby shower gifts, especially for second or later babies, but I’ve decided that as soon as my current supply of Bible story books runs out, I’ll be giving this book instead. It’d be perfect for a new baby’s 2-5 year old brothers or sisters.

[This book is not stocked by Amazon, and Westminster Bookstore (linked above) is sold out until May. I ordered from Book Depository, but it looks like they’re out of stock now, too.]

Are there any preschool theology books you would add to this list?