Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Point of Hospitality

The women in my church have been getting together roughly once a month for Sunday night socials. Different ladies open up their homes for a meal followed by a time of fellowship. These have been fun times to be together and a great way to get to know one another outside of Sunday morning. My turn as hostess will be in October, and I'm already starting to formulate plans in my head. While I am a planner by nature, there is another reason for thinking ahead so early.

Hospitality intimidates me.

I have the usual reasons. I'm an introvert. My house is small. I don't have a dining room table. I'm too busy with work. I'm more of a throw stuff in a crock pot with a can of cream of mushroom soup than a gourmet chef. And so forth and so on. In addition to these lame excuses, there's also a lingering fear in the back of my mind of "not doing it right", whatever that nebulous standard may be. So it's no wonder that I can get caught up in the "how to" of hospitality and forget "who" it's for. Therefore, it's worth refocusing on the big picture and asking, "What is the point of hospitality for believers?"

When we are too functional, we forget the point of hospitality in the home: fellowship, not entertainment. Don't let pride stop you from opening your home. Ignore the cat hair on the couch (or in the mac and cheese). It likely won't kill anyone as decisively as loneliness will.1
Hospitality is not a house inspection, it’s friendship.2

As I was writing this post, this real life example of true hospitality came to mind:

One of the sad realities of being a single parent is you spend some of your holidays alone. I was fully prepared to be by myself that first Christmas several years ago. But as I was talking with the wife of a family who had just started attending the church, she asked what I was doing on Christmas Day. When she heard I was on my own, she insisted that I join them for dinner because "no one should be alone on Christmas." This family among others made sure I was never alone on subsequent holidays. Looking back, I was probably lonelier than I realized or would admit at the time. It wasn't about the food, although it was delicious, or how stylish the table was set. It was about opening their hearts and homes to a sister-in-Christ who needed friends that day. As the recipient, I was greatly blessed, but I think my hosts were equally blessed through this simple act of reaching out. And as the saying goes, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So this is what I need to remember whenever I feel intimidated by hospitality. It isn't about trying to impress but serving those who are gathered around the table no matter what's on the menu. It is extending friendship through an open heart and home no matter the venue. And through hospitality, community is strengthened, and God is glorified.

1. Openness Unhindered, Chapter 7 - Community, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Crown & Covenant Publications, July 2015, pp. 160. (emphasis mine)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Singing in the Fire

“When the fire of affliction draws songs of praise from us, then indeed we are purified, and our God is glorified….Singing in the fire!  Yes!  God helping us, if that is the only way to get harmony out of these hard apathetic hearts, let the furnace be heated seven times hotter than before.”1 - Susannah Spurgeon'
  This blogpost was originally going to focus on physical affliction,  a subject I’m familiar with.   For almost thirty years I have been laid aside off and on with  ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)  and other health issues.    CFS is the illness that has caused Laura Hillenbrand, author of  Seabiscuit and Unbroken,  to be housebound for years and she tells her remarkable story to Elle Magazine.
A stubborn relapse this year has caused me to  spend most of my time in bed again so  I’ve been reading up on the assorted  maladies of  believers  throughout history;   Job,  John Calvin,  both Charles and Susannah Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael,  and others.
 But when I realized  how many of these sickly  saints  had also suffered with a variety of other  serious trials I was reminded  of Job’s words,  man is born for trouble,  as sparks fly upward.”  (Job 5:7)   

 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” James 1:2  
 Note that  James  does not describe any particular  kind of trouble.     Trials  come in all shapes and sizes:   Illness,  disability,  death of a loved one,  financial ruin,  divorce,  a prodigal child,  betrayal,  personal sin or failure,  persecution;  and the list goes on.     Nevertheless,  all adversity that befalls the Christian serves  the  same purpose.    James goes on to say that we are tested through our trials for the purpose of producing an enduring faith.  

The moment we are saved God begins His sanctifying work in us.   Though all of our sins, past, present and future,  have been forgiven because of the blood sacrifice  of Jesus Christ,  the Lord  “disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Heb.12:10)

Because He loves us,  God  prunes us so that we will  bear fruit and it is the Word that acts as  His pruning shears.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”   Hebrews 4:12
But it is through the vehicle of affliction that we are driven to His Word.  
What, then, does affliction do?"  you ask.   Well, if I may say so, affliction is the handle of the knife—affliction is the grindstone that sharpens up the Word of God.  Affliction is the dresser which removes our soft garments and lays bare the diseased flesh so that the surgeon's lancet may get at it.   Affliction makes us ready to feel the Word, but the true pruner is the Word in the hand of the Great Husbandman.” 2 – Charles Spurgeon
The writer of Hebrews reveals what the final product of adversity delivers.
“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  Hebrews 12:10-11 
Did you catch  that the peaceful fruit of righteousness  comes  afterwards?  When James tells us to “count it all joy”,   he didn’t mean that we should be masochists who  enjoy suffering.    It is the end result of  our suffering that causes us to rejoice!   
Consider our greatest example,  Jesus.    No human suffering in the history of mankind  could even begin to compare with the agony that Christ was about to  suffer on the cross on our behalf.     And yet, He was able to endure it because  He knew of the joy that would lie beyond it. 
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:2
The best thing we can do when we are faced with any kind of serious trial is to submit to the loving hand of  God under it and try to rest in the promise that it will ultimately yield many rewards.
  • We will be drawn closer to God:  Psalm 88:9
  • We will learn to depend upon Him:  2 Corinthians 1:9
  • We will be humbled:  2 Corinthians 12:7
  • We will learn obedience:  Psalm 119:67
  • We will share His holiness:  Hebrews 12: 10-11
  • We will  learn that God’s grace is sufficient: 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • We will  share in the fellowship of suffering with others: 2 Corinthians 1:4  
  • We will learn perseverance:  Romans 5:3
  • And in the end...
"This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  2 Corinthians 4:17

1. Singing in the Fire by Faith Cook:  Banner of Truth Trust; 1995; pg. 34
2. C.H. Spurgeon, Sermon No. 774:  October 6, 1867,  delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Simple Being, Whom We Call God

We all believe in our hearts . . . that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God . . . .
(Belgic Confession, Article 1, The Only God)

A woman I know once told me God would never condemn anyone to eternal hell because God is love. If God had wrath, and she wasn’t sure he did, it was only temporary. God’s final attitude toward everyone would be love, because God is love. She kept repeating these three words, emphasizing the “is” each time as if it settled everything. If God is love, she thought, love must be his most important attribute—the one attribute to rule all the others.

Understanding God’s simplicity (or unity) should protect us from this error. When we say God is simple, we’re using the word simple in a technical way to say his being can’t be divided. He is not composed of parts—he is not complex—but exists forever as one unified being. God’s attributes, then, are not added to his being, but are what he is. They are a unified whole identical to his essence.

The woman who saw love as God’s overriding attribute was right about one thing: God is love (1 John 4:8). But she missed that the “is’s” of God’s being don’t stop there. God is also light (1 John 1:5) and spirit (John 4:24) and life (John 11:25) and truth (John 14:26). The biblical statements equating God with his various attributes imply the simplicity of God. God is each of his attributes.

That God is simple also follows from some of his other attributes. For instance, if he were composed of parts, God wouldn’t be independent. He would be dependent on his parts for his being, and on whatever it was that put those parts together. He wouldn’t be unchangeable, either, because what is made of parts can be taken apart. When theologians deny the simplicity of God, it often accompanies the denial of other attributes, like immutability (or unchangeability) and omniscience.

Because God is simple, no attribute is more important than the others. The “God is love” woman overemphasized God’s love, and couldn’t see past love to the reality of his justice, which requires that he condemn sin. Right now, love is probably the most frequently overemphasized attribute, but there are people who give false priority to his justice, too. When I was a child, my family knew an older woman whose childhood had been dominated by a father who spoke only of God’s justice, particularly his condemnation of sin. He imaged a justice-only God to his children, and as an adult, she was too terrified of committing sin to leave her own home. She couldn’t see past God’s judgment to the reality of his saving love.

But love and justice, like all of God’s attributes, belong together. Neither attribute can override the other. The death of Christ is the perfect example of this. The apostle Paul writes that in his love, God sent his Son to die so he could forgive sin without compromising his righteousness—which in this case refers to his justice, especially his just wrath against sin:

. . . God put [Christ Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood . . . to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26 ESV)
God’s saving love did not cancel out his justice, but rather, from his love, he designed a plan to save sinners in a just way. Christ’s death was a propitiation—a way for God to express the wrath against sin that his justice required. The sinner’s own sin was counted as Christ’s, and Christ bore God’s wrath in our place, so God could be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith.” This one act of God demonstrated both attributes—his love and his justice—and they worked in perfect harmony.

Divine simplicity has implications for our study of God. We’ve already mentioned one: Since God is simple, we can’t emphasize one attribute over others or consider one attribute more true to the nature of God than others. That God is simple also means he is the same being with the same attributes throughout history. Anyone who thinks of him as full of wrath during Old Testament times and full of love from New Testament times onward has misunderstood him1. In every time period, all of God’s actions are consistent with all of his attributes. Finally, if God is simple, he can’t limit or set aside any of his attributes, even temporarily. All of his attributes are identical with his being—they are what he is as God—and he can’t limit one without ceasing to be God. 2

1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 180.
2] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, p. 230].

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Trust on the go

Recently, I picked up an excellent little book by Lydia Brownback. It's one of the books in her On-the-Go-Devotionals. The title caught my eye immediately: Trust: A Godly Woman's Adornment.

Through fifty short devotionals, Brownback opens up what it means to trust God. It's a crucial subject, because if we don't trust God, in whom do we trust? Sometimes, we may think we trust God, but when push comes to shove, we realize we are doing nothing of the sort. Closely associated with the topic of trust is worry and anxiety. If we have a lot of those things, it is pointing to the fact that we are not trusting God, and that's a point Brownback comes back to often.

Some of the many themes which Brownback discusses are:
  • God is in control
  • God's ways are better than our ways
  • Trust demands humility
  • Trust means letting go of our idols
  • Feelings are not an accurate barometer of God's love for us
  • Trust involves resisting the devil
  • Worry and anxiety always involve a lack of trust that God is good
  • A lack of trust can harden our hearts and make us blind to God's goodness
That last principle really hit home to me, and I liked what Brownback had to say. She opens by talking about how our hearts can be hardened to sin when we indulge in it. The same happens when we allow anxiety to control us:
The same callousness happens when we continue to indulge in anxiety, which always springs from the belief that God isn't able to care for us properly or that what he provides isn't enough for us. Such a belief is really unbelief, and the longer we live in it, the harder our hearts become to the truth of God's goodness, kindness, love, and desire to abundantly provide
What does it mean to indulge in anxiety? It means we roll over and over in our minds the burdens of our heart. It means letting them sit in the forefront of our thinking day in and day out, chewing over them. When we indulge in that, there is no room left for remembering God is good. I'm not saying I have that nasty habit all figured out, but hearing it presented in that way, that it may harden my heart, really got me thinking.

The series title, "On-the-Go-Devotionals" is very appropriate. These books are small enough to fit into a purse that isn't the size of a suitcase, and each entry is short enough to read while waiting in the carpool line, the doctor's office, or even in the check-out aisle. They are encouraging, thought-provoking, and challenging. Brownback has a lot of wisdom, and she speaks in a warm, encouraging tone, as a friend would. The truths are simple, but important.

There will always be something that challenges our trust in God. As long as we reside in bodies of flesh and blood, we are prone to trust in ourselves rather than God. This book is a challenge for anyone who really wants to get at the heart of whom they trust.

This book in the series has me hoping to pick up the other ones in the series. I'm sure they'll be just as encouraging.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Remembering the Truth in a Time of Cultural Crisis

After 9/11, I was a basket case. The unthinkable happened on American soil, and I was terrified of what would happen next. To keep the panic at bay, no news was good news, so I wouldn't watch TV or listen to the radio. I even averted my eyes when I happened upon a newspaper at the grocery store. Though I had been a Christian for many years, my knowledge of the Scriptures and specifically God's character was weak. Therefore, it was no wonder I had nothing to support me when the towers fell.

Fast forward 13 years.

Diane mentioned in her post yesterday that the moral landscape of our country has been altered beyond recognition since 1973, and it is still undergoing upheavals even within the last three weeks with no respite. Just in the last 24 hours, the news regarding Planned Parenthood reveals an attack on all that is righteous and good, and it is horrifying. Physical buildings may not be falling this time, but "if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps. 11:3)

Unlike my reaction 13 years ago, I know I can't hide from the world in a bunker in the hills. I can't put my hope in circumstances, even as I pray for God's mercy and intervention. There is only one refuge that is safe and sure in this time of cultural crisis. I must run to God's Word and gird my mind and heart with these truths:

God has not abdicated His throne of righteousness

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Ps. 45:2
"Wicked men question the very existence of God, who takes care of the world, who orders the affairs of it, and judges in it. And therefore they cast off the fear of God. Yet at the conclusion of the world He shall make His dominion visible to all, so that even those who have denied Him shall find, that God is their supreme Lord, and Lord of the whole world!"1

In the midst of tribulation, Jesus has overcome the world

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
"The unlimited dominion of King Jesus extends over . . . all things, all events, all circumstances, all people! All are subjected to the sovereign control of the King of kings and Lord of lords! Everywhere on this earthly globe--as far as waves roll, winds blow, sun shines, or stars hold on their nightly courses--does the scepter of Jesus sway the destinies, and control the designs and actions of men."2

The great commission still stands, and Jesus will be with us to the end

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:18-20
"Oh, for the heart, the spirit, and the soul to avail ourselves of the golden opportunity, and to preach Christ where He has never been preached before! All Power, then, we can clearly see, over everything in this world has been given to Christ, and has been used for the propagation of His Truth! But, Brethren, let us recollect that Power is given to Christ in Heaven as well as on earth. All angels bow before Him, and the cherubim and seraphim are ready to obey His high behests. Power is given to Him over the plenitude of the Holy Spirit; He can pour out the mysterious energy in such abundance that nations can be born in a day! He can clothe His ministers with Salvation, and make His priests shout aloud for joy; He has Power to intercede with God, and He shall presently send out men to preach, presently give the people the mind to hear, and give the hearers the will to obey! We have in the midst of us today our Leader. He is not gone from us. "3

1. The Sovereign Ruler of the World, Jonathan Edwards
2. Jesus the Enthroned King, J.C. Philpot
3. The Missionaries Charge and Charter, Sermon 383, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, April 21, 1861.