The blessing of certainty

Some years ago I caught part of a TV program involving a group of people from several different denominations discussing tolerance. How the conversation progressed was quite interesting. In the part that I saw, they were at first discussing how intolerance can lead to persecution of those who believe differently. Then someone remarked that even the term “tolerance” smacked of arrogance — that one group is right but they are going to tolerate, or allow for other groups. Someone else remarked that in order to tolerate others you must have a seed of doubt that your beliefs are right, that there is a possibility that you could be wrong and other belief systems could be right. The last sentence I heard before turning the TV off was, “There is no room for certainty.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

I do believe in tolerance. The first Dictionary.com definition is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.” I don’t believe “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude” smacks of arrogance: just the opposite. Nor does it indicate doubt of one’s own beliefs.

And I do agree that intolerance has led to persecution and should not have. New Testament Christians, especially, are not told anywhere to persecute in any way those whose beliefs differ from ours.We believe that those of other beliefs have every right to exist and practice their beliefs. We’re to love, both our neighbors and our enemies. We’re instructed to share God’s truth, but if people don’t believe, we leave them to the Lord and hope and pray they have a change of heart. We don’t persecute them.

But what I disagreed with most was that last line about there being no room for certainty. I don’t believe that faith is a nebulous thing, that as long as you have faith in something you’re fine, that all religions are basically the same and lead to the same place. You don’t have to examine them very long to realize they don’t have all the same values and ends.

Our postmodern world wants to move away from absolute truth. “The questions are more important than the answers,” we’re told. Even people who call themselves Christians chip away at doctrinal truth.

It’s true there are mysteries to life and faith. We spend way too much time arguing over things that are unclear rather than living out what is clear.I often hear people say, “We’ll never understand until we get to heaven.” Surely we’ll understand much more than we do now, but I don’t see any guarantees in the Bible that even then we’ll understand everything. God’s mind and ways and thoughts will still be much greater than ours. But our trust will be perfect then.

Yet there is plenty in the Bible that is clear. God communicates specific truth to us. And sure, there are things we don’t understand, things we gain insight on from talking with and reading others, things we wrestle with, things that are hard to come to terms with. Most of us wrestle with a measure of doubt at times and carry around a list of unanswered questions. There are things we wish were more clear.

But reading and hearing the Bible taught shouldn’t lead us into more and more of a morass of uncertainty. There are plenty of bedrock truths to hold onto.

There is a God.

He made everything, including us.

He gave us His Word.

He is righteous, holy, and just, and we have sinned against Him.

He is merciful, kind, gracious, and loving and has provided salvation for those who will believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose bodily from the dead.

There is a literal heaven and a literal hell.

There are clear and definite sins.

Faith is too important an issue to leave up to uncertainty. God doesn’t leave us in a philosophical fog on the most important issues.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31, ESV

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. I John 5:13, ESV

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:16-21, KJV

 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.Hebrew 6:17-20, ESV

That doesn’t mean I feel I have all the answers to every little philosophical question or that I know how everything always works together. But I have a firm foundation, a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”

See also:

Why Study Doctrine?
What Do You Know?
The Foundation of Our Faith.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Faith on Fire)

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Giving Encouraging Compliments

Have you ever received a gushy compliment that made you feel distinctly uncomfortable? As Christians we want to give glory to God, and we know that nothing good is accomplished except by His grace and help, so we struggle with responding to a compliment that acknowledges the encouragement but diverts the glory to God, yet without sounding overly pious.

Evidently this is a common problem, because as I searched online for ways to give compliments that didn’t put people in that awkward position, instead almost all of the results were about how to receive compliments graciously. The only ones about giving compliments that I saw were work related, e.g., how to compliment your boss without making it sound like you’re trying to gain points.

I used to think that the way to handle compliments was to minimize whatever I was being complimented about. But once while thinking about this, I reflected on the pastor’s wife at the church we were attending at the time. She was a wonderful, accomplished, heartfelt pianist, and if anyone complimented her playing and she had said, “Oh, thank you, but I am really not all that good” – that would have rung false and sounded awkward. Plus it either deflates the complimenter or calls forth more compliments, as if the person now has to convince you that you really are that good.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis said:

Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says, “Well done,” are all pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, “I have pleased him; all is well,” to thinking, “What a fine person I must be to have done it.”

That helped me realize it’s not wrong to want to know you pleased someone and it helped show the dividing line between between that kind of pleasure and the kind that puffs up and oversteps.

The conclusion I gradually came to over many years was to just accept the compliment as the encouragement that it was meant to be, and, if possible to do so naturally and without sounding forced, to somehow acknowledge God in my reply. If, for instance, someone said something favorable about something I had written, my reply would often be something akin to: “Thank you. I’m grateful God could use it.” Sometimes, if there was time and the conversation warranted it, I might go into more detail concerning the Lord’s leading in writing that particular piece, but for a brief, passing response to a compliment, that sort sentence or something like it seemed best.

Besides struggling with this just a handful of times myself, I have sensed that awkwardness in others when I complimented them. Some would say something like, “Well, praise the Lord,” but I could sense they almost felt embarrassed and weren’t sure how best to respond.

So I began to think of how to compliment others in a way that acknowledged God’s part in it and yet let the person know their work was appreciated, too. There may be times a general, gushy “You’re so wonderful!” would be greatly appreciated: most husbands or wives would love to hear that! But it would make a church soloist being complimented for her service to the Lord feel quite awkward.

So what are some ways to graciously compliment people?

1. Avoid flattery. Many of the Bible verses regarding flattery depict it as laying a trap or being deceitful for personal gain. Most of us sincerely trying to compliment someone aren’t trying to do that. The Hebrew word for flattery in Proverbs 26:28 (“A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin”) means “flattery, smooth” – not much help. Dictionary.com sheds more light on the English word. Some of the meanings aren’t bad, like a hairstyle that flatters the face, showing it to its best advantage. But most of them convey that idea of deceptiveness. A few of the definitions that stand out to me are effusiveness, excessiveness, playing “upon the vanity or susceptibilities of.” So the first rule of complimenting would be sincerity and appropriateness. Don’t overdo it, don’t appeal to the person’s pride.

2. Focus on encouragement. You’re not trying to puff them up; you just want to let them know you saw their hard work, their growth, their improvement, their doing the right thing in a trying moment, and you appreciated it. Something Elisabeth Elliot wrote arrested me (as her writing often does):

I turned off the radio and asked myself, with rising guilt feelings, “Do I need approval?” Answer: yes. Does anybody not need approval? Is there anybody who is content to live his life without so much as a nod from anybody else? Wouldn’t he be, of all men, the most devilishly self-centered? Wouldn’t his supreme solitude be the most hellish? It’s human to want to know that you please somebody…Sometimes readers of things that I write tell me long afterward that they have thought of writing me a letter, or have written one and discarded it, thinking, “She doesn’t need my approval.” Well, they’re mistaken–for wouldn’t it be a lovely thing to know that a footprint you have left on the trail has, just by being there, heartened somebody else? (From the chapter “The Trail to Shandia” in Love Has a Price Tag as well as one of the email devotionals of her writings that used to be sent out by Back to the Bible.)

3. Be specific. Instead of “You’re such a wonderful writer” or “You’re a brilliant piano player” or “You sing like an angel” or “You’re the best preacher I’ve ever heard,” which all sound effusive and excessive, perhaps focus on the one thing you most appreciated. “The paragraph about (whatever) really helped me understand it in a way that I hadn’t before” or “Your message on (whatever) really encouraged me (in this particular way).”

4. Acknowledge the Lord, especially if the act in question was something done as unto the Lord. So, instead of telling a musician or soloist, “That was wonderful!” or “I loved your song!” perhaps something more like, “God really spoke to my heart through your song this morning” would be fitting

Sometimes a sincere compliment can do wonders in encouraging someone, especially if that person feels unseen or ineffective.

 A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! Proverbs 15:23, KJV

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
 Romans 13:7, ESV

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29, ESV

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11, ESV

How about you? Have you found effective ways to compliment others? Has someone complimented you in a way that blessed and encouraged you?

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God’s Back

I mentioned in my recent review of The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton one quote that stood out to me. While several of the characters are trying to figure out a conundrum, the main character, Syme, says, “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—.” The whole book has had a variety of interpretations since its publication, but I took this observation to mean that we don’t have the big picture. In trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe, even believing that God is at the helm and wisely and lovingly guides and provides, there are still things that don’t make sense to us.

In trying to understand the book better, I came across this article. It provided much food for thought though I am not sure I agree with every point. But I did take note of the connection it made between seeing the back of things with Moses seeing the “back” of God. After the disastrous incident of the golden calf, and that after all God had done to manifest Himself to His people, He is so angry that we wants to consume them. In Exodus 32 Moses intercedes, and God relents. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses to continue on with the people toward the land He had promised them, but God’s presence would not go with them. The people mourn and Moses intercedes again in one of my favorite passages, pleading with God for His presence with them.

When God promises to go with them, Moses responds in worship, “Please show me your glory.” God replies:

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Then the next day:

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

As I pondered these passages once again, this thought struck me:

If this is the back of God – merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love, forgiving sin – what must the front be?

No wonder no one can see His face and live! We’d be overwhelmed!

Besides these verses that refer to His mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness, other passages of Scripture tell us about His wisdom, power, omnipresence, and so many other attributes.

I don’t know exactly what we’ll “see” of Him in heaven, but I do know this: I may not understand everything that happens, I may question why some things have to be and wonder why God does some things and doesn’t do other things, but what I do know to be true of Him helps me to trust Him for what I don’t understand.

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What do you know?

I recently read about a young woman’s experience running into a beloved Sunday School teacher she’d had as a child. As her heart swelled with fondness and gratitude for this woman’s ministry in her life, she opined that it’s the relationships, not the instruction that matters.

While I rejoiced in the relationship this woman had with her teacher and the way it inspired her to teach her own students, I was saddened that she downplayed the lessons. Religious instruction matters very much. The epistles are replete with warnings about wrong doctrine and correction thereof. Yet relationships are important, too. They help flesh out the truth and get it from the head to the heart.

I’ve heard the acquiring of Biblical knowledge downplayed because “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” according to I Corinthians 8:1.  That’s an example of ripping a verse out of its context and not couching it in the overall setting of the whole Bible. Yes, the Bible warns us against becoming proud of our knowledge, but it doesn’t discourage us from gaining knowledge.

Creation reveals knowledge of God’s existence, wisdom and ways. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2.

God was angry with Job’s friends because they had not spoken what was right about Him.

God asked Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Job was comforted by the truth of knowing that his “Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

The psalmist asks, ‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:4-5

The psalmist urges people to “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching,” including “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” – information about Him as a means to knowing Him – and to pass that knowledge down to the next generations.

The first few verses of Proverbs say that Solomon gave them, “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” By contrast, later in the chapter it says fools hate knowledge.

Paul prayed for people who had “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1).

See how many times in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul says, “Do you not know…?”

Paul told Timothy to “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge'” (1 Timothy 6:20).

Peter tells us to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, and other qualities.

That’s just a small sampling of passages that talk about knowledge. If we also look at passages that talk about leaching and learning, we see that God places great value on them.

I have also heard the argument that it is more important to know by experience than to just know facts: for instance, it is better to spend time interacting with a person than just learning about them. It’s true that many of those passages about knowledge are referring to this experiential type of knowledge. But isn’t it also true that in getting to know someone you learn facts about them, their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.? Years ago I saw a comical card for a wife from a husband depicting various domestic scenes. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was, “I may not do A, B, and C that you want me to, and I may do D, E, and F that you don’t want me to, but I sure do love you, honey!” But living with an utter disregard for a wife’s preferences is not a manifestation of love. If husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, how much more should God’s people seek to know what pleases and displeases Him?

God has given us His Word, among other reasons, that we may know Him. We learn about Him that we might think of Him correctly and know how to please Him. Yes, just learning facts about Him is not sufficient and doesn’t take the place of knowing Him. But knowing Him without learning His Word makes for a shallow relationship.

God wants us to love Him with not just our hearts and souls, but our minds, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to gird up the loins of our minds.

It’s true that knowledge can “puff up” with pride, but rather than avoiding gaining knowledge, we need to remind ourselves that If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2), and we need to remind ourselves that the purpose of gaining knowledge is to better know the Lord and serve Him and others.

It’s true there are some things that surpass our ability to comprehend, like the love of Christ and the peace of God.

It’s true that if we have all knowledge, but have not love, we are nothing. But that doesn’t mean we abandon knowledge. That verse also says “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” We obviously don’t abandon faith. But we use knowledge and exercise faith in love.

We do have to be careful to keep things in balance and not become like the Pharisees, who were all academic knowledge and no heart and soul. We shouldn’t stop with just learning facts about God or think of knowledge as an end in itself, but we should acquire knowledge of God through His Word in order to learn to know Him better, to get to know Him experientially, and to show love to His people, our spiritual family, in a way that builds them up in truth, and to answer those who would pervert or distort the faith. Like Paul, we pray that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and that we might “[increase] in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b).

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

 

 

For God’s Glory

Recently I was reading a post from someone who had a child with a disability, and he mentioned that God did everything, including this, for His own glory.

While I agree with that statement, I think non-Christians and skeptics, and even some Christians, have trouble with the idea of God allowing what we would think of as bad to happen for His own glory. What kind of person does everything for his own glory, anyway?

Well, when humans seek their own glory, it’s usually self-motivating and undeserved. Sure, we’re to give honor to whom honor is due, and there may be times an authority has to demand the respect due their position. The latter is usually not for selfish motives, but to be able to enforce the authority they’ve been given to keep whatever order they’re in charge of. But if we say someone is seeking glory, we think of them as prideful and maybe even a bit immature and would probably be quick to think of their faults which would undermine any glory they think they deserve. Everyone wants significance, everyone wants to matter, but that’s different from seeking glory.

God, on the other hand, is perfect. He’s also the sovereign, almighty ruler of the universe. He’s the only One who deserves glory in that sense. But He’s not an egomaniac striving for attention. He is also good and kind and wise and loving.

He doesn’t seek glory because He “needs” it. He seeks it because we need it.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

It’s only when we see His glory that we see our own need and His sufficiency, that we get to know Him better and love Him more. It’s only by beholding His glory that we’re changed to be like Him.

What about those hard things that God allows for His glory, like a man who had been blind all his life, or a man who had been lame for 38 years, or the death of a beloved friend? I remember one time being especially troubled about the man lame for 38 years: maybe I was around 38 at the time and could not wrap my head around being lame for a lifetime. Why had God let him languish for so long before healing him? In each of these cases, the healing or resurrection magnified the Lord even more: their long duration (of the blindness or lameness) or difficulty proved that this wasn’t a trick, a set-up. If Jesus could heal such hard cases, that was a further evidence that He was God. But what about the poor people in such a state? 2 Corinthians 4:18:18 says:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I had a friend one time get offended that God called the trial she was going through a light affliction when it was anything but light to her. It was heavy, weighty, burdensome. But He wasn’t “making light” of it: He was saying that our affliction would seem light compared to the “eternal weight of glory” being prepared for us. We can’t even imagine what that will be like!

What I think most people mean when they say God did or allowed something hard for His own glory is that somehow through those circumstances, people were drawn to Him or learned something of Him that they would not have any other way. Somehow in the least likely situations, suddenly they see Him clearly. Sometimes through someone else’s ministering to them, sometimes through unusual provision, sometimes in peace or a reminder of God’s love from His Word. But all of a sudden, a ray of light pierces the darkness. We see a glimpse of His glory, and then we’re assured of His love and power and ability to take care of anything we’re dealing with. More than that, we see His majesty and greatness, and we’re lifted out of our own fog and doldrums into pure worship.

And [Moses] said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.

And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.

And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth…
Exodus 33:18-23; 34: 5-6

God’s desire for us to see His glory isn’t for egotistical reasons: it’s to show us His goodness.

May this be our prayer:

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Book Review: What Is a Healthy Church?

Healthy ChurchMark Dever opens What Is a Healthy Church? by pointing out that much of what we look for in a church is determined by our own particular culture: the type of music, pastor, preaching, etc., that we’re used to. He encourages readers to consider Biblical marks of a healthy church. Why does he address a book like this to Christians in general rather than church leaders? Because, he points out, most of the NT epistles, which contain much instruction about church as well as personal life, were written to congregations, not just pastors.

Then he explains briefly what a Christian is, what the church is and isn’t, what the church is for, and why Christians need a church. Ultimately the church “is called to display the character and glory of God to all the universe, testifying in word and action to his great wisdom and work of salvation” (p. 48).

The church finds its life as it listens to the Word of God. It finds its purpose as it lives out and displays the Word of God. The church’s job is to listen and then to echo…The primary challenge churches face today is not figuring out how to be “relevant” or “strategic” or “sensitive” or even “deliberate.” It’s figuring out how to be faithful–how to listen, to trust and obey (pp. 55-56).

He then discusses one by one what he considers nine marks of a healthy church, dividing them into three essential marks (expositional preaching, Biblical theology, Biblical understanding of the Good News) and six important ones (Biblical understanding of conversion, evangelism, membership, church discipline, discipleship and growth, and church leadership).

You and I cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway (p. 29).

If a healthy church is a congregation that increasingly displays the character of God as his character has been revealed in his Word, the most obvious place to begin building a healthy church is to call Christians to listen to God’s Word. God’s Word is the source of all life and health. It’s what feeds, develops, and preserves a church’s understanding of the gospel itself (p. 63).

Martin Luther found that carefully attending to God’s Word began a Reformation. We, too, must commit to seeing that our churches are always being reformed by the Word of God (p. 67).

Sometimes, it’s tempting to present some of the very real benefits of the gospel as the gospel itself. And these benefits tend to be things that non-Christians naturally want, like joy, peace, happiness, fulfillment, self-esteem, or love. Yet presenting them as the gospel is presenting a partial truth. And, as J. I. Packer says, “A half truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”

Fundamentally, we don’t need just joy or peace or purpose. We need God, himself. Since we are condemned sinners, then, we need his forgiveness above all else. We need spiritual life. When we present the gospel less radically, we simply ask for false conversions and increasingly meaningless church membership lists, both of which make the evangelization of the world around us more difficult (p. 77).

My thoughts:

I don’t think I have ever read anything by Dever before and was only vaguely aware of his organization, 9Marks. This book seems to be a compact version of what he has written more extensively elsewhere. We received it in a gift bag from a church we visited. Generally I agree with what’s here with a couple of exceptions, one relatively minor.

1) In the chapter on preaching he makes the statement “Has not every step of growth in grace occurred when we heard from God in ways we hadn’t heard from him before?” (p. 66). For me, significant growth in grace has occurred sometimes from being reminded of something I already knew from God’s Word that I needed to return to or refocus on.

2) I think he’s too dismissive of differences in preference of music styles in churches. He seems to consider it almost a non-issue.

Remembering that the church is a people should help us recognize what’s important and what’s not important. I know I need the help. For example, I have a temptation to let something like the style of music dictate how I feel about a church. After all, the style of music a church uses is one of the first things we will notice about any church, and we tend to respond to music at a very emotional level. Music makes us feel a certain way. Yet what does it say about my love for Christ and for Christ’s people if I decide to leave a church because of the style of its music? Or if, when pastoring a church, I marginalize a majority of my congregation because I think the style of music needs to be updated? At the very least, we could say that I’ve forgotten that the church, fundamentally, is a people and not a place (p. 35).

If it were just a matter of preferences, that would be true. What I think he might not understand is that some people consider certain types of music not just not preferable, but wrong. We’ve heard teaching for years about what’s wrong with certain types of music. On the other hand, the Bible doesn’t say anything about particular music styles, and I think some of that specific teaching went far beyond what the Bible has to say about music. But I don’t think that means “anything goes.” So we’re trying to sort out what’s coming from conscience or conditioning, but I don’t think we can ignore conscience or conditioning, either. Music makes up a significant part of a church service, so, while it’s not “the” main issue, or even part of the “nine marks,” it is still an issue.

Aside from those, I thought this was a good overview of what a healthy church should be. I also appreciated his encouragement to both pastor and people to be patient if a church isn’t “there” yet and his reminder that growth takes time. Once when we were getting ready to move to another state, our dear pastor at the time advised us to look not just at where a church is, but where it’s heading, and I think that dovetails nicely with the instruction in this book. No church will be perfect, but we should look for one with a good foundation and growth in these ways.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

My Sin Is Not Someone Else’s Fault

When I have to confess something to the Lord or apologize to someone else, I tend to want to explain the reasons I did what I did, as if that somehow justifies my wrong response.

The very first people committing the very first sin did the same thing.

One day I was totally arrested by this thought:

My sin is not someone else’s fault.

Wait – aren’t they responsible for what they did? Don’t other people sometimes deliberately try to get us to sin?

Sure. And they’re answerable for their own actions.

But what does God tell His children?

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)

When we give account of ourselves to God, we won’t be able to point the finger at anyone else.

I used to take refuge in the King James version of 1 Corinthians 13:5, especially in that word easily in the phrase “love…is not easily provoked.” And then a trusted pastor told us that the word “easily” isn’t in the original text. If you look up the Strong’s numbers for this verse, which link to the Greek or Hebrew words and their translations – there is no link for “easily.” Many other translations leave it out.

So I can’t use that as an excuse: “I tried to resist, you know, and did for a while, but really, it was just too much. Anyone would have reacted that way at that point.”

No, God has promised “a way of escape” in each temptation. Too often I am looking for a reason to give in rather than a way to get out of temptation.

We all fall and fail every day. What are we to do?

1. Accept responsibility. Acknowledge what we did wrong and own up to it. (And if I can interject this here, we also need to teach our children to do this. Yes, we understand that they act out when they’re tired, hungry, etc., and we attend to those issues first. But when they do something deliberately wrong, we need to avoid making excuses for them and teach them to own up to what they did.)

2. Confess it to the Lord.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.  Proverbs 28:13, ESV

I’ve been told that to “confess” means “to say the same thing as.” In other words, call it what the Bible says it is. I didn’t tell a little fib: I lied. I wasn’t just a little out of sorts: I was selfish and irritable and unkind.

3. Rest in His promise of forgiveness.

4. Confess it to anyone else involved. A trusted former pastor once said that the circle of confession needs to be as wide as the circle of the sin. If I spoke harshly to someone in private, I need to go back to that person, apologize, and ask their forgiveness. If someone embezzles funds, well, that’s a much wider circle.

5. Make restitution if necessary. If something was stolen or property was destroyed or damaged, we’re responsible to to return, replace, or pay for it. If someone’s reputation was damaged, we do what we can to acknowledge our own blame and clear the other person.

6. Mortify (kill) the sin. I admit this is a concept I struggle with, because if you “kill” something, then you don’t expect to have trouble with it the very next day – or hour. But Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (ESV; the KJV uses the word “mortify”). A helpful explanation is here, but an idea that helps me don’t give it life support. Do all you can to undermine it, to weaken it, rather than to give it any impetus. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13;14, ESV).

7. Seek victory. Pray and seek God’s Word for His help in overcoming sin. Perhaps memorize applicable Scriptures or copy them and put them on a card in a prominent place as a reminder.

8. Plan ahead when possible. The young man in Proverbs 7 who got taken in by  the wrong kind of woman was where he should not have been in in the first place (v. 7-9). We might need to avoid certain places. If we’re going into a situation where there might be trouble, we can make a plan of action: for instance, if I have a tendency for gluttony and a lack or control around food, before the company Christmas party I can plan exactly how much I’ll allow myself, perhaps eat a little beforehand so I am not hungry, seek to talk to people instead of prowling around the refreshments.

9. Look for the way of escape that God’s Word promises. So often when we’re thinking about doing something that, deep down, we know we shouldn’t, a “still, small voice” will be trying to talk sense to us and talk us out of it all the time we’re trying to justify it. We need to ask the Lord to help us, but we also need to take action and flee.

10. Yield to God. Give Him “the right of way.”

Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God (Romans 6:13).

11. Follow the right way. The same verse that talks about “fleeing youthful lusts” goes on to tell us to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). We need to concentrate as much or more on doing as on don’ting. Erwin Lutzer said in How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit that if someone tells you not to think of the number 8, all of a sudden that’s all you can think about. The best way to deal with a wrong thought is to replace it with another thought. We tend to follow what we focus on.

12. Behold Him.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. II Corinthians 3:18

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Our sanctification as well as our salvation rests on the finished work of Christ. We don’t become any more or less saved or more or less loved when we sin. But sin keeps our relationship from the full fellowship we would otherwise enjoy, hinders our testimony, dishonors the Lord, and so many other things. God expects for His children to grow in Him. So when we do sin, we need to confess it and rest in the love of a Father who is more than ready to forgive.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 103:8

*I’ve been addressing people who are already born again and have become children of God. Forgiveness of sin and grace to overcome it is only possible when we have that relationship with God. If you’ve never believed on Christ as savior, please read more here.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Keeping Minimalism in Balance

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Years ago in a college Home Economics class called Home Furnishings, one thing that stood out to me was that the decorating pendulum tends to swing back and forth between extremes. For example, the Rococo era was characterized by excessiveness, playfulness, pastel colors, and curves, followed by Neoclassicism, which went back to straight lines, less color, and simple forms.

In my early married days, the “country” look was prevalent with a lot of wood and knickknacks. Then a lot of people went to a type of Victorian decorating, more sophisticated and fussy. Now the watchword is minimalism.

Decorating styles often reflect and/or influence what’s going on in society. Minimalism as a design concept actually started after World War II. But these days minimalism is a life concept.

Minimalism is not about ascetic denial, being spartan, or living with as little as you can. It’s about deciding what’s most important and getting rid of everything that distracts you from your core values. That means it will look different for different people. It’s also a reaction against consumerism, the constant pull to get more and have more and do more. With less “stuff” to store, oversee, and maintain, not only our living spaces, but also our minds are less cluttered and more free for what matters most.

And those are all good things! But like anything, it’s possible to become unbalanced one direction or another. As I have read more and more blog posts and articles about it, a few concerns have cropped up. You might be a little off-balanced in your quest for minimalism if:

1. You’re obsessed with it.

Minimalism tends to go hand in hand with simple living. I’ve seen a few people read articles or books on either minimalism or simple living and then feel driven to go through the attic, garage, every closet, every storage space, and I’ve thought, “That sure doesn’t sound simple.” Sure, we all need to sort through and get rid of things from time to time. But to turn the house upside down in a frenzy seems in conflict with the peace many minimalists are after.

I read a blog post just this morning from someone obsessing over, among other things, the fact that she had two whisks. Fine – set one aside to give away. But it’s not that big a deal. I have more than two and in different sizes, because sometimes I need more than one for one meal preparation, and different sizes work best in different containers.

Also, if minimalism or simplifying are near-constant subjects of thought and conversation, you might be overbalanced. The point of minimalism is to free your mind and time of stuff so you can spend it on more valuable things. You can still be obsessed with stuff even while trying to lessen your stuff.

2. You judge others for not being as minimalist as you are.

One of the tenets of minimalism is that it’s about keeping what makes you happy, so someone’s else’s home or lifestyle will not look exactly the same. But if you walk in and inwardly condemn their “clutter,” or somehow feel more self-righteous because of your minimalist stance, then you might have gotten off-balance. The whisk-worrier might see my collection of whisks and think me excessive if she didn’t understand my reasons for having them.

3. You’re constantly having to replace items you got rid of.

I knew a family with four children who sold their baby equipment after every single one and then had to get new. Maybe they didn’t have the storage space for it between pregnancies; maybe they didn’t plan on having more. I don’t know. But it seems simpler, less work, and less expensive over the long haul to store it in some way. Personally, I take a lot of time for certain big purchases, furniture in particular, to look at the options, assess the best deal and what would work best for our family, etc., so I don’t like having to go through that again any time soon.

4. You go without things you need in the name of minimalism.

This is not a tenet of minimalism – that’s one reason it’s a sign of being off-balance. My dear mother-in-law was a product of post-Depression era frugality, but even a good characteristic like frugality can go too far, if you don’t get things you really need or live in an unhealthy way just for the principal of frugality or minimalism.

5. You seek peace in minimalism.

Minimalism can definitely make for a more peaceful mind and household. But it’s not the ultimate source of peace. For one thing, it’s kind of elusive if it is a goal rather than a lifestyle. We have to evaluate our possessions again from time to time as we acquire more (sometimes through gifts) or as other items wear out or outlive their usefulness. But even more than that, we can get to a comfortably minimalist lifestyle and still miss lasting inner peace. True peace comes only through Christ.

I probably would never call myself a minimalist, but neither am I a hoarder. I like stories where kids go up in Grandma’s attic and find old treasures, but I do see the need to sort through things there before I am no longer able to so that my children aren’t burdened with it. (We’re planning on that some day when the weather is neither too hot or too cold). I have decorating stuff I don’t use in a closet because I am undecided about it. I have pulled things out of there to use, so I don’t go by the “if you haven’t used it in x years, get rid of it” mantra. Sir Walter Scott is quoted as saying, “If you keep a thing for seven years, you are sure to find a use for it.” Plus some of it is irreplaceable or would be too expensive to replace, so, since I have space, I hang onto it until I am fully ready to let it go. If we have to downsize at some point, I’d have to go through those things with a more critical eye. We saved some toys from our own kids that my grandson plays with now, but we were careful to dispose of any that were broken or unappealing. Even with that, there are a few things I wish we had kept. One year I bought a Christmas decoration that looked like a old-time Model A type car with a holly leaf on it. I don’t know why – I probably saw it on sale and thought the boys would like it. But then I don’t remember getting it out much, maybe because there was no room for it then. Now, however, it’s one of my grandson’s favorite decorations, so I am glad I kept it even though doing so went against conventional wisdom.

On the other hand, I do get rattled when my storage spaces are too full, and having less to clean and sort and tend to appeals to me. A good article on what minimalism is and isn’t is here. So while I tend to keep more than someone who is truly minimalist, I am evaluating what I have and what I consider acquiring more and more, which is a good thing.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Watching angels

When one of my sons was a baby and was intently staring at the ceiling, as babies are wont to do, my mother-in-law remarked that she thought when babies did that, they were looking at their guardian angels. We smiled – I think we even chuckled. I think she got a little embarrassed, but insisted, “No, really, I think they do see them!” We always kept that as a sweet memory of a sweet thought, and often when we saw a baby staring at the ceiling, we’d observe, “There they go looking at their guardian angels again” with a smile.

When we brought my mother-in-law home from the nursing home four years ago, we thought we were bring her home to die. She was down to 90 lbs., very fuzzy-minded, and not very responsive. But one-on-one care, especially in relation to feeding, and getting her off the narcotic drug we had not even known she was on until we brought her home, all improved her general condition dramatically. She’s 89, though, and one can’t stop the ravages of time. After maybe her first year or so at home, she began to decline more and more, moving less, sleeping more. Over the last year or so, she has become less interactive. She stopped speaking about a year ago, but we could tell by her eyes that she recognized us and followed what we were saying. She’d smile, nod, or shake her head. Though sometimes she still does, more and more lately there’s no light in her eyes when she looks at us, no response.

As we got her ready for bed last night, I noticed her staring intently at the ceiling, and that old sweet thought came back: maybe she’s watching her guardian angel.

Who knows what little babies and elderly people actually see when they fixedly stare at some point like that. I don’t know if each person is assigned a guardian angel, but the Bible does say that God sends angels to help us in various ways. Our pastor saw angels before he passed away, and I’ve heard similar things from others.

There is a sense in which all who know the Lord are getting closer to heaven every day, but the older and more frail one gets, the more imminent it seems. “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2, ESV). Some day she’ll cast off this silent, crumpled frame and see, not just angels, but the One she has loved and faithfully served for decades, the One who loved her, died for her, redeemed her, and made it possible that she and the family she so loved and prayed for could be with Him.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57, ESV

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV

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(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Literary Musing Monday, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday)

Everyday gifts

A few friends linked to this cute video on Facebook.

OK, some might think it a little cheesy. But it made a good point in a fun way. Though it was made with Christmas in mind, I thought it was perfect for Thanksgiving – or really, for any day – a reminder of all that we have. Much that we take for granted would have been considered luxuries throughout most of history, and in fact would still be considered luxuries by a lot of the world today.

This reminded me of an event several years ago when the church we attended then had a testimony time Thanksgiving Eve. Several young adults expressed longing to see God do something “big” in their lives. I couldn’t help but think of the children of Israel in the wilderness. The everyday manna was just as miraculous and just as much God’s provision as the parting of the Red Sea and victory in battle, yet they soon grew tired of that and wanted something else.

I don’t think those young people wanting to see God do something big in their lives that night were necessarily taking the everyday gifts for granted. I don’t know their hearts. But sometimes in longing for the “big” moments we can overlook the everyday evidence of God’s presence, love, and care – maybe a little like a husband or wife waiting for a grand, romantic gesture from the other rather than seeing the love in providing for each other, being attentive to each other’s needs and idiosyncrasies, and all the various little ways we evidence that “You’re the one that I love.”

May we see God’s hand and rejoice in His love and gifts in the everyday as well as in the milestone, once in a lifetime events.

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High: to show forth Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night. Psalm 92:1-2

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses,
Tell His Story, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)