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September 03, 2008

Talk!Admiral Lord Nelson once said, “Every sailor is a bachelor when beyond Gibraltar.” They are profound words and ones well worth thinking about, and especially so in our modern context. I’ve written in the past about issues related to accountability and anonymity. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking a bit about these issues in a way strikes a little closer to home.

I recently had a discussion with a friend who was asking if I think husbands and wives should keep secrets from each other or if they should even have private realms to their lives. This is a broad topic, but to narrow it down, we discussed just the issue of email and asked, “Should husbands and wives have full access to each other’s email accounts?” Obviously this might not apply to pastors or counselors or spymasters who may have a special need for privacy. But for the rest of us, I think it is a question worth asking and I’d love to get your feedback.

Should husbands and wives offer each other free and open access to their email accounts? Or should there be an implicit level of trust that makes such a measure unnecessary or perhaps even just plain wrong? Let’s talk!

Incidentally, this is the first of what I hope will be many opportunities to discuss topics in a more interactive way.

August 30, 2008

I don’t know what the Catalyst Conference is and I don’t know how they know who I am. A few days ago I went to my post office box and found there are a rather large package. I do not receive a lot of large boxes at the post office—it is usually either books or mysterious letters from conspiracy theorists who just *have* to let me know who is taking over the world and why (no joke). The rather large box contained a strangely-shaped triangular box which, it turns out, was an advertisement for this upcoming Catalyst Conference. Because of the sheer originality of the package, I snapped a few photos and figured I could post them here.



So here is the funky triangular box that was inside the rather plain brown shipping box.



And here is a close-up of one of the sides of the box.



Cracking the box open, I found all kinds of interesting things.



And here they are. A basketball and hoop, magnets, fliers, temporary tattoos, paper footballs, some kind of weird foam stuff, a deck of triangular cards and so on. Almost all of it was branded with the Catalyst name and logo.

I don’t think I’m going to be heading to this conference. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m too old to do so. But at the very least, I’ve got to give them kudos for the originality of their advertising…

August 21, 2008

This morning brings us to our sixth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week we had a rather long reading of the first sign of authentic affections—the first chapter where we really get to the heart of the book.

Summary

This week’s reading dealt with the first authentic affection. Here is what Edwards sought to prove: “Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural and divine.” It took him forty pages to do so!

Discussion

This chapter surprised me a little bit. While this was to be the first of the “positive signs” and the first to follow the section dealing with the many “signs of nothing,” the chapter had a clear negative tone to it. It seemed that Edwards proved “something” primarily by disproving “nothing.” That may not make much sense but perhaps you see what I’m getting at. He proved his point by spending page after page disproving other things. It seems that the back story for this chapter involves people in Edwards’ day attempting to prove they were true Christians by stating that God had given them such knowledge, through feelings or through Scripture or through any other means. He responds by showing that such means can be brought about even in unregenerate men. Thus true affections can only be brought about by truly spiritual, supernatural and divine operations.

Edwards distinguishes here between the spiritual man and the natural man. Those who are spiritual are those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; all other men are natural. The Holy Spirit may influence them in various ways and even work certain things in their hearts and minds, but they are not men who have undergone that supernatural act of regeneration. This is a good distinction to make in our day as we live at a time when anyone who acknowledges some kind of a deity or who has some kind of faith is called spiritual. Oprah Winfrey is as “spiritual” a person as you’ll find, but she utterly rejects Christianity. Edwards reminds us that no one can be spiritual unless he is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence we can acknowledge other people as religious, but, when we look to Scripture, must deny that they can be spiritual; there is no Spirit in them.

This is not to say that the Spirit is unable to influence people who are unregenerate. “The Spirit of God, in all His operations upon the minds of natural men, only moves, impresses, assists, improves, or some way acts upon natural principles; but gives no new spiritual principle.” In other words, He can work even in natural men by using natural means. “He only assists natural principles to do the same work to a greater degree which they do of themselves by nature.” This was something I had never really considered in the past and I found it valuable to think about.

Now maybe I missed something in this chapter—maybe my mind was mush by the end, but I found few points of application. Perhaps it is that I have never really encountered people in life whose claim to Christianity is some inward voice or the fact that verses of Scripture have come to their minds. But somehow I struggled with really applying this portion of the book to my own life. I am hoping that someone can leave a comment offering a few points of application.

Next Time

For next week we will read the second distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. This is quite a bit shorter than this week’s reading, so should not pose quite as much of a challenge. In my book it comes out at only fourteen pages.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been very helpful and engaging.

August 20, 2008

I made my children cry. A short time ago my son and daughter came to me and Abby, representing both of them, I suppose, asked the kind of question little girls ask. It was a question they must have been thinking, or perhaps arguing, about. “Daddy, who do you love more, Mommy or us?” I thought for just a moment and told them the truth. They cried.

The fact is, I love their mother more than I love them and I told them as much. I did so gently and lovingly but with confidence that I am right to feel this way. I love my children desperately. I love them with the kind of love that wants only the best for them and which seeks to protect them from the pain and anger and evil that are so prevalent in this world. I pray for them continually, asking that God would protect them even from me and from my ineptitude and sin and ignorance. I never chose to love my children. From the moment Aileen and I learned that they were growing inside her, I loved them. I spoke to them and sang to them and prayed for them before they were born; I walked the house with them night after night when they were tiny; I love them fiercely and love to spend time with them. And still their mother has first place in my heart.

There are undoubtedly different kinds of love and we cannot necessary equate the passionate, romantic love I have for my wife with the parental love I have for my children. Where I never chose to love my children, I did choose to love Aileen, or I did as much as anyone can exercise his will in such matters of the heart. There came a time when I set my heart on her and committed myself to loving her for better or for worse.

When my children asked me who I loved more, I explained to them that the primacy of my love for their mother is a good thing that will give stability to all of our lives. They may be too young to really understand this, but some day it will make sense to them. If I were to love my children more than my wife, I might allow them to stand between me and her; were I to love them more, I might allow them to disrupt my relationship with my wife and divide our family. I have seen that happen in too many families. Because mom and dad are not first and foremost committed to each other, a child can stand between them and divide them. Too many family have been torn apart in exactly this way. Mom chooses daughter over dad and the family is ripped apart.

But I am not going to allow this to happen in my family. Because Aileen is my first love, I will not allow anyone or anything to stand between us—even people we love as much as our very own children. Our love for each other does not enter us into some kind of competition with our children; rather, it is an expression of our love and concern for them. It is exactly what they need most to grow up in a stable home where mom and dad will remain together, committed under God to each other and to them. And I pray that some day they will find loving spouses whom they love more than us and more than anyone else.

So tell me. Would you have answered the question as I did? Or is it really the kind of question which, because it crosses categories, should not be answered at all?

August 15, 2008

On Wednesday evening I was coaching first base when, from behind me, I overheard a chat between two of the parents from other team. “That first baseman was so nice. He would tell our guys, ‘Nice hit!’ even though he is on the other team. What a nice boy!” With just a bit of pride I smiled, knowing they weren’t talking about just any first baseman; they were talking about my boy.

It was a bit of a tough season for Nick. It started off well enough, with him collecting a few hits over his first couple of games. This year his team was facing a pitching machine flinging the balls at 40 miles per hour. It was a big adjustment from the year before when the boys saw nothing more than soft tosses from their own coaches. But once they made the adjustment, they began to hit well. I worked hard, with the other coaches, to help them work on their swings and by the end of the season we saw some remarkable progress. But Nick struggled. Around the mid-point of the season our team was playing the Red Sox when one of their players, a friend of Nick’s from school, was hit by an errant pitch (though, honestly, the machine threw it straight—it was the kid who stepped in front of the plate and hence in front of the pitch). There was no great damage done to the boy, but something clicked in Nick’s mind and he determined that the machine was out to get him. For the rest of the season he struggled to hit, subconsciously stepping away from every pitch, obviously worried that he would be hit as well. He collected a few hits through the rest of the season but mostly he flailed away, striking out time and again.

We prayed with him a lot. We assured him that God cares even for things as silly as little league baseball. We did not want him to become too discouraged with striking out and prayed that God would let him hit, at least occasionally. Nick is an above average fielder and loves playing defense. He often wished that his team could have a designated fielder just like American League teams have a designated hitter. But if he wanted to play, he would have to bat. And so he did, facing that machine three or four times every game. Mostly he struck out.

If Nick became discouraged, he did not often let it show. The boys on the team would occasionally tease him about his inability to hit, but he would brave it out. He was the boy on the team with the best head for the game and he was the one with the most enthusiasm. While his teammates were goofing off behind the bench, Nick was cheering for the one at bat and the one or two on base. When the boys came off the field after striking out, Nick would give them a high five and tell them, “Nice try!” He cheered the loudest and the longest. But still he struck out.

With only a couple of weeks left in the season, the head coach announced that he was going to hand out three team awards. He wanted the boys to vote for one another to decide who would win the award for the Most Valuable Player, the Most Improved and the Most Sportsmanlike. He gave no stipulations—just that the boys could not vote for themselves and that they had to realize that these awards meant a lot because they came not from the coaches or the parents but from the boys themselves.

Wednesday’s game was a tough one. It was the last game of the season and one we would need to win to have any hope at all of making the playoffs. Even then it was a long shot. The boys played well but faded at the end, unable to hold off a stronger offense. Twice Aileen heard boys on our team making fun of Nick, laughing at him or calling him names for his inability to hit. Twice Nick choked back tears and put a brave face on, continuing to cheer for his teammates.

At the end of the game, a loss, the coach handed out the awards. The MVP went to the obvious candidate—a boy who was our best hitter and among our most skilled fielders. The Most Improved went to a boy who had a lot of trouble throwing and catching at the beginning of the season but, who by the end, was hitting regularly, making solid contact; his fielding had improved significantly as well. And then it came time for the Most Sportsmanlike award. I’m not one of those parents who values sportsmanship above all else; I don’t adhere fully to the “as long as we all have fun” philosophy. I figure that if we are going to play sports, we ought to try our hardest and do our best. If I held to the “as long as we all have fun” philosophy in web design, I would not run a successful business! When Nick plays baseball, I expect that he will give it his best effort. Yet sportsmanship matters. It is the award that reflects character more than skill. And as a Christian parent, I value character much more highly than skill.

TrophySure enough, when the coach announced the winner, he announced Nick’s name. Taunting comments were forgotten, at least for a few minutes, as Nick accepted his trophy and accepted applause from his team, his coaches, and the parents. Though his teammates may have made fun of him at times, they had to acknowledge his love for the game, his loyalty to his team, and his character. As we walked off the field and headed home, Aileen and I told him how proud we were. We told him that we would much rather have a son who shows character—who stands brave in the face of trials and who is encouraging to his friends—than a kid who can hit the ball all over the diamond (though we wouldn’t complain if he could do both!).

It was a tough year for my boy, but a good one in which he showed a lot of growth. As Aileen said afterward, Nick is learning a skill, and that is being encouraging teammate with a good attitude and strong character. And really, that is going to get him a lot further in life than hitting a baseball out of the park. Of course this won’t keep us from spending some time in the batting cages during the off-season…

August 04, 2008

It is a holiday in most parts of Canada today. It is known as the “Civic Holiday” throughout the nation and may have other names assigned locally (such as “Simcoe Day” in Toronto). It is one of those holidays that seems to have been created mostly just for the joy of having a summer day away from the office. We’re not complaining. We’ve decided to make this a quiet day and we have no plans to run to any of the area’s tourist attractions, the only kind of businesses that will be open today.

Last week we actually made a rare venture to one of these spots. Marineland is Canada’s answer to SeaWorld. It combines roller coasters and rides with dolphins and whales. After riding the coasters and ferris wheels you can feed the bears and watch the dolphin and whale shows. (You can buy Corn Pops to feed the bears—throwing it down on them from about 15 feet up. Poor bears) It’s a fair bit of fun as it needs to be when it costs a family of four $160 to get in. I had no intention of riding the roller coasters or going on any of the rides. But we had a young Aussie guy hanging out with us for a few days and he wanted to ride a coaster—the world’s largest steel roller coaster, apparently. I told him I’d walk with him to the start of the ride to gauge how long the wait was going to be. After I walked all the way up there I was feeling too prideful to walk the pathway back, with all the people no doubt laughing at me as if I’d been too scared. So I rode the ride after all and even enjoyed it a bit. But my favorite part of the day was watching those whales and dolphins performing. It is amazing to me that with nothing but a whistle and a hand signal, humans can make whales and dolphins and seals and walruses and just about any other animal do the craziest things.

Throughout the summer those of us who attend Grace Fellowship Church have been enjoying a summer series on the book of James. The pastor’s assistant Julian is preaching in the absence of our pastor who is on sabbatical. In the last couple of weeks we’ve been studying the well-known words of James 3. “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” I couldn’t help but think of those words as I watched the whales jump and splash and kiss spectators. And I couldn’t help but think of those whales as we read the words in church yesterday morning. Human ingenuity has taught us to tame even whales so we can climb into a pool and swim with them and so with nothing more than a whistle we can make animals so much vastly bigger and stronger than we are do our bidding. And yet, as we saw those whales obey the command to splash the crowd, we heard swearing and cursing; we saw people lashing out in anger and frustration. Everywhere we looked we saw the evidence that James is exactly right.

Every beast and bird, every reptile and sea creature can be tamed. But that tongue remains a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

August 03, 2008

It was been far too long since I’ve had a new King for a Week around here. King for a Week is turning into King for a Month or more. Somehow it just seems to skip my mind. But today, because of the insistence of some friends and their reminders that I really do need to update this feature, I’m nominating a new King for a Week. If you’re new to these parts you should know that King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers…or sometimes just because I really like them. It is simply a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every now and again I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making the readers of this blog aware of other good sites.

The new King for a Week is Take Your Vitamin Z, a blog owned and operated by Zach Nielsen. The blog is something like a Jr. version of Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds, but with a greater range or variety in the articles. Zach scours the Internet and finds all kinds of interesting articles to point to. They range from theology to music, from comedy to consumerism. I try to check his headlines each morning before I post A La Carte as I often glean some interesting news from his blog. He has a ridiculous man-crush on John Mayer, but if you can see past that, I’m sure you’ll come to enjoy his blog as I have.

In the coming days (and/or weeks) you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to look around.

July 08, 2008

As I continue reading through Waltke’s Old Testament Theology I continue to dig up pure gold. Today I’ll share yet another example.

In one of the earliest chapters Waltke writes about man’s fall into sin and discusses “the shape of temptation.” Here he shows how Satan’s original act of temptation is an archetype or sorts. All of the temptation that would follow through the long line of human experience would mimic this one. Satan tempted the second human being in the same way he tempts the 20 billionth (or whatever I happen to be). As I read this portion of the book and reflected on it, I could see that this really is the model of temptation. It is not just Satan who works in this way, though, but all human beings. We are prone to following Satan in luring others into sin in the same way.

Here are five steps to leading someone into sin.

Be a theologian. There is little doubt that Satan is a theologian, and a skilled and outspoken one at that. He has had a very long time to study God and, as a leader among angels, once enjoyed free access to Him and close communion with Him. Satan knows God and knows about the character of God. But unlike the theologians we seek to be, Satan is a theologian who despises God with every bit of his being. When he turns to Eve and says, “Did God really say…?” he brings Eve into a dialogue that opens her mind to a new realm of possibility, one she would not have thought of on her own. He knows God well enough to know what God has said and done.

But there is more. Satan is not only a student of God but also of men. From the moment God first spoke of man, Satan must have been watching and observing. Knowing that man was the crown of creation, Satan was surely looking for an opening, a way to destroy this jewel. He became a student of the ways of men. As a theologian, a psychologist and an anthropologist, Satan has unique skill at leading men astray.

Turn commands into questions. Satan takes the command of God and rephrases it as a question. “Did God really say?” What was a clear statement suddenly becomes hazy. Posing as a theologian he asks, “Are you sure about this, or is this only Adam’s testimony as to what God said? Are you sure? How do you know? Is this really a command? Can we discuss this a little bit? Is it possible that you misinterpreted what God said? Is it possible that there is some context here we’ve ignored?” Waltke says, “Within the framework of faith, these questions are proper and necessary, but when they are designed to lead us away from the simplicity of childlike obedience, they are wrong.” And so we see Satan raising questions of interpretation and authority necessarily designed to create doubt and confusion and to lead away from the simplicity of a childlike obedience.

Emphasize prohibition over freedom. Satan carefully and deliberately distorts, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” into “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” He overlooks the great freedom God gave Adam and Eve and instead overstates the one prohibition. He gets Eve to focus on the prohibition rather than the gift and the freedom. Instead of focusing on the Tree of Life, from which she was free to eat, and on the millions of other trees available to her, Satan got her to focus her heart on that one tree from which she was not allowed to eat. And Eve began to focus not on what she had been given, but on what had been forbidden. And suddenly nothing but what was forbidden could satisfy her.

Doubt God’s sincerity and motives. Satan casts God’s motives as self-regard rather than love. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He convinces Eve that God is limiting her, that He is not giving her the full measure of humanity. He is holding back, reserving for Himself things that she deserves to know and to experience. As Waltke says, we hear this message all around us today. “Be liberated! Be free! Self-actualize! Unleash your inner potential! The Serpent’s message even echoes in the church. Instead of sanctification, the church seeks self-improvement. Instead of holiness, the church seeks happiness.” When you hear such things, you can rest assured that the Serpent is once again at work seeking to convince you that you need to be something other than what you were created to be.

Deny what God says is true. In the final step, Satan flatly denies what is true. “You will not surely die.” The fruit of all of the doubt and the resentment is unbelief. If God’s words happen to hinder us from becoming what we want to be or from doing what we want to do, Satan convinces us that we can safely ignore them. In the church today many people de-emphasize sin because it may hinder the quest for self-actualization or it may make people feel guilty or damage their self-esteem. “Sadly many evangelical churches are in the process of buying into a guilt-free, pain-free, judgment-free gospel.”

In the face of such temptation, the woman yields to Satan’s denials and half-truths. “Having stripped Eve of her spiritual defenses, Satan’s work is done.” Without God, the decision will be made purely on the basis of pragmatism, of what works best to bring about the desired end, on the basis of aesthetics, of what is beautiful, and on the basis of self-improvement, of what will bring her supposed wisdom. It is only one short step from here to outright disobedience.

And so Satan works through questioning, doubt, focusing on what is forbidden and finally on outright denial of the truth. And Eve is only the first to be drawn in and to succumb to the temptation. Every one of us has fallen for the same old trap. If you think of your own life, I’m sure you will think of examples where this pattern was used against you, perhaps just in your own thoughts or perhaps in a book you have read (and there are many books in the bookstores, both Christian and non- where this same pattern is used). Satan’s first tactic worked so well that I don’t think he has ever felt it necessary to modify it too much. The shape of temptation has not changed.