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January 10, 2008

Today The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour moves to Adrian Warnock’s blog. In case you’ve missed it on previous days, the tour works like this: the owner of another blog poses a question about discernment and my answer is posted on his or her blog on an appointed day. I follow the comments made on the blog, addressing them as they arise. It has become, I hope, a chance to facilitate a productive and God-glorifying conversation about the issue of discernment through a series of exchanges with others. It allows me to attempt to address questions other people may have about discernment and potentially to address questions that are of particular importance to readers of other blogs. This is an unexpected stop on the tour as there was somehow a mix-up and we had to adapt on the fly. So thanks to Adrian for stepping in.

Today I answer a question that seems to come up whenever I discuss this topic and in just about every interview I’ve done recently: Isn’t spiritual discernment a gift of the Holy Spirit?

Read my answer here

Here is where the tour will go tomorrow and next week:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 09, 2008

I’ve been married for long enough now (it will be ten years this summer!) to realize that I will never fully understand my wife. In fact I’ll never really understand women. Despite knowing Aileen for thirteen years now and despite being married to her for a decade, she’s still a mystery to me in many ways. It’s probably better this way.

Women, it seems, love to receive baskets full of smelly, pretty things they’ll never actually use. This year Aileen came home from one shopping excursion loaded down with these baskets, each of which was stuffed full of strange items I am quite sure no one will use. Ever. There were candles flavored with vanilla and candles flavored with trout. There was soap made with aloe and echinacea and moisturizer made with dolphin mucus and otter snot. And, of course, there were those little round paintball gun bullets meant for the bath that look suspiciously like candy but, as one of my children once found out, taste nothing like it. Each item had been carefully placed on a bed of shredded paper and the whole kit and kaboodle was wrapped in plastic and covered in pink ribbons. These baskets were distributed to female friends, cousins and family members and were received with much joy. Every item was dutifully examined and carefully sniffed. “Mmmmmmmm…”

I just don’t understand. I can’t understand.

Aileen received some of these baskets too. And of course she was tickled pink. She was as glad to receive a basket of this stuff as she was to give one away. She had her own baskets full of candles, soaps, and other pretty, smelly things. When the pretty and the practical collide, err on the side of pretty.

I lit one of those candles a few days ago just to see what would happen. We had just arrived home from our vacation in the States and the house had that stale smell from being closed up too long. I thought a candle might be just the thing. I believe the one I selected was supposed to smell like vanilla, walnuts and roast pork. Within moments Aileen crinkled her nose and blew it out. I think I had violated some unwritten rule by actually using the candle. I later noted that all of the soaps she had received had been carefully placed in a drawer—but not the drawer where we actually keep the soap that will some day find itself being used in the shower. Rather, it was packed away in the “other” drawer—the one we only think of cracking open if we actually run out of real soap. All this pretty pink soap has been relegated to emergency or backup status in favor of the usual Zest.

I learned something important about all of this. As we drove home after an evening of giving and receiving these smelly things, I remarked to Aileen, “But no one ever uses this stuff!” See, I’m the kind of person who is happy to get socks for Christmas. Socks are a good gift because I know I’ll use them. There’s nothing pretty or interesting about socks (or not once you get too old to wear Spiderman socks at any rate) but there’s no doubt that they’re usable. Plus, putting on new socks is one of life’s most underrated and overlooked pleasures. But it turns out that the fact that no one ever uses these smelly things is unimportant. That’s not the point, apparently. The point is that they’re pretty. Or that’s all I can figure.

As I surveyed the gifts I bought Aileen for Christmas this year, I saw that I had bought her mostly things that were practical—the second season of “Star Trek Voyager” on DVD (something else I don’t understand but I’ll leave that for another article!), some items she wanted for the house, and so on. They were good things and things she’ll use a lot, but they weren’t particularly nice or pretty things. And I can’t help but wonder if I messed up. Maybe I thrust what is probably a male-centered understanding of gift giving upon my wife. Maybe I was too practical and didn’t realize that women value prettiness at least as highly as usefulness.

I guess in the female mind the usability of the item is sometimes secondary to the way it looks. The fact that it’s pretty means more than the fact that it’s entirely impractical. I don’t really understand, but it’s something I’m going to have to keep in mind for next Christmas.

January 09, 2008

Today The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour moves to The A-Team Blog. In case you’ve missed it on previous days, the tour works like this: the owner of another blog poses a question about discernment and my answer is posted on his or her blog on an appointed day. I follow the comments made on the blog, addressing them as they arise. It has become, I hope, a chance to facilitate a productive and God-glorifying conversation about the issue of discernment through a series of exchanges with others. It allows me to attempt to address questions other people may have about discernment and potentially to address questions that are of particular importance to readers of other blogs.

Here is what Amy of the A-Team asked:

Which aspect of contemporary Western culture do you think most hinders us (Christians shaped by this culture) from developing the skill of discerning the truth about God and His will? Which aspect of Western Christian culture? What practical steps can we take in our own lives to help us resist these particular cultural influences?

Read my answer here

Here is where to tour will go in the coming days:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Sharper Iron
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 08, 2008

Today marks the second day of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment Blog Tour. The tour works like this: the owner of another blog will pose a question about discernment and my answer will be posted on his or her blog on an appointed day. I will follow the comments made on the blog, addressing them as they arise. It will be, I hope, a chance to facilitate a productive and God-glorifying conversation about the issue of discernment through a series of exchanges with others. It allows me to attempt to address questions other people may have about discernment and potentially to address questions that are of particular importance to readers of other blogs.

Today we move the tour to Tall Skinny Kiwi, the blog of Andrew Jones. Andrew asked me two questions. First, he asked Why all this controversy about having only trained, credentialed professions writing books like this from people that give verbal assent to the priesthood of all believers? He followed that question with this one: The wisdom of crowds in the blogosphere can no doubt help in the self-correction of error but what do you see are the dangers?.

Read my answers here.

Here is where the tour will take me over the next couple of weeks:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Sharper Iron
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 07, 2008

A few years ago Chris and Rebecca, close friends of ours, shared with us that her grandfather, Art, had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The doctors considered it terminal and inoperable, saying that it was one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer. He would have only a couple of months to live and for much of that time, especially as the end approached, he would be in agonizing pain. Like the rest of their friends and family, we prayed for this family, asking that God would strengthen them and that He would either heal her grandfather or take him home before the pain became too much to bear.

Rebecca’s family is spread across three provinces, one state and thousands of miles. Yet in the weeks following Art’s diagnosis, he was able to spend time with each of his children, with his nine grandchildren and their spouses and with his four great-grandchildren. Soon he and his wife found themselves in small-town Saskatchewan visiting Chris and Rebecca and their immediate family. Their little daughter, only a couple of years old at the time, loved to hug him, to sit on his lap and to rub his face between her hands. She squealed with delight when she saw him and the family was able to capture some wonderful pictures and video of them together. Art also delighted to meet his newest granddaughter who was only a few weeks old and who was named after his wife. Rebecca was able to spend some precious, quality time with him; sitting at his feet and listening to him recount God’s goodness and faithfulness in his life. He and Chris sat together playing the piano and singing hymns to the Lord.

Art was at peace with what he knew was coming. He was ready to die. Still, he never doubted that if God saw fit, He might send the cancer into remission and extend his life here on earth.

On the second or third evening he spent with Chris and Rebecca and their family he began to feel tired and went to lie down in the living room. The family slowly migrated to his side and they spent the evening there with him. He sat on the sofa, holding his wife’s hand, reminiscing about how they had met and had fallen in love. He told about his young son who had died many years before. Then he took Chris and Rebecca’s baby in his arms and read her a blessing from the book of Numbers. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” And shortly after, in mid-sentence, as he was answering a question Rebecca had asked him, his head settled back, his chest rose and fell once or twice more, and he was gone.

Perhaps it is more correct to say that he had arrived. He had left his wife’s side—his wife who had shared his life with him—and had gone to the side of His Savior, who had given His life for him.

The family found out later that at the very moment he died, but on the other side of the country, a prayer meeting was underway. The church that Rebecca’s uncle attends was praying that God would take him home soon, to spare him an excruciating end. God saw fit to answer innumerable prayers. He spared Art so much pain, but first allowed him to spend some precious moments with his family—moments that will never be forgotten. Imagine how precious the blessing will be to Chris and Rebecca’s daughter when she is able to understand it. While she will not remember her great-grandfather, she will know how he loved her and will know how he held her up before the Father.

And it was such a blessing to me to hear about this man of God. I do not mean to glorify death, for I know that however and whenever it happens, it is an unnatural passing and a consequence of human sin. Yet sometimes even something so unnatural can excite the heart. To know that a man who loved God and lived life in His service has gone to his home! He escaped all that is unnatural in this life and went to be with the One he was created to be in communion with. He has gone where his heart ached to be. His desire, like Paul’s was “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Such a death is an occasion for both joy and sorrow—sorrow for the departure and the necessity of it, but joy for the arrival and all the blessing that brings.

Though I never met Art, he has often been on my mind. When I heard of his death I prayed for Chris and Rebecca and the family that the Comforter would bring them peace. And I prayed that God would let me stay strong, just like Art. Oh, that death might come so gently when my time approaches. That in a moment I might be able to go from the hand of my wife to the hand of the Savior is almost too precious to believe. Thanks be to God that we can all have such hope and such assurance of eternal life, if only we will trust in Christ, just as Art did.

January 07, 2008

As I mentioned recently, this week and the next will see me participating in a “blog tour” in support of my new book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. The owner of another blog will pose a question about discernment and my answer will be posted on his or her blog on an appointed day. I will follow the comments made on the blog, addressing them as they arise. It will be, I hope, a chance to facilitate a productive and God-glorifying conversation about the issue of discernment through a series of exchanges with others. It allows me to attempt to address questions other people may have about discernment and potentially to address questions that are of particular importance to readers of other blogs.

The first day of this blog tour takes me to Joe Carter’s Evangelical Outpost. Joe’s blog is one of the first ones I ever read and has been a daily stop for years. I’m thrilled, then, that he was willing and eager to participate. He asks What does discernment mean from a biblical perspective?

Read my answer here.

Here is how the tour will shape up over the next two weeks.

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Sharper Iron
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 04, 2008

Next week, to coincide with the recent release of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, I’ll be embarking on a blog tour. “What’s a blog tour?” you ask. Well, the process is fairly simple. The owner of a blog poses a question about discernment, my answer to which will be posted on his or her blog on an appointed day. I will follow the comments made on the blog, addressing them as they arise. It will be, I hope, a chance to facilitate a productive and God-glorifying conversation about the issue of discernment through a series of exchanges with others. It allows me to attempt to address questions other people may have about discernment and potentially to address questions that are of particular importance to readers of other blogs.

I’ve already seen a few of the questions that have been submitted and am sweating a bit as I consider how I’ll answer them. There are some tough ones! So I will be spending my weekend crafting answers and I hope you’ll check in next week as we discuss discernment across the blogosphere.

The schedule looks like this:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Sharper Iron
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 02, 2008

The longer I live and the longer I walk through this Christian life, the more I come to understand what a gift it is to see the world through a Christian lens—through a Christian worldview. A worldview is simply the way we look at the world and the way we understand how life works. The predominant worldview in our day and our society is foundationally Darwinian. Built around an evolutionary framework, it teaches that we are all the result of an evolutionary process that allowed us, through chance and mutation, to evolve above the slime. We’ve come from nothing and have no idea where we’re going. We are in process—not the deliberate creation of a loving craftsman, but merely one result of chance mutations. This is, at heart, a hopeless worldview. It’s an awful worldview, really. I am thankful that, in granting me new life, God saved me from it.

For Christmas my wife gave me Ken Burns’ excellent documentary The War (a great series if you’re at all a World War II enthusiast) and, obviously, the series deals in part with the Holocaust. No matter how many times a person sees images of Jewish people being herded into train cars and sees German soldiers standing guard over emaciated, dying children, he cannot help but be affected. I have read about the war countless times and spent much of my time in college studying it. But those pictures still hit hard; they still hurt. A though that always occurs to me is this: those soldiers and I are not so different. I somehow like to think that, as part of a rational, ordered society like this one, we have developed far beyond such barbarity. Yet it was only sixty years ago and in a society not a lot unlike this one that men, who at any other time could have been authors and web designers, were happily shooting Jewish men, women and children and shamelessly plundering their homes. What happened? How did men sink so low?

As I watch this documentary and as I see Adolph Hitler, who for so many represents pure evil incarnate, I thank God that there is such a thing as justice. It would be easy to think that Hitler largely escaped justice. A person who utterly dominated and destroyed a nation while setting the world on fire, Hitler lived a life that was difficult in some ways, I suppose. But for many years he led Germany and was able to do nearly whatever he wanted. He was the cause of untold death and suffering. Not only did he orchestrate the systematic deaths of millions of Jews, but his actions also led to the deaths of millions (and probably tens of millions) of people from around the world as nations rallied to the cause of freedom and fought to curtail his power. Eventually, when his kingdom crumbled, he took his own life, suffering nothing as ended his life on his own terms. Justice was not served. It hardly seems that the self-inflicted death of an increasingly crazed and decrepit old man can serve as justice for so much death, destruction and suffering.

Without a Christian worldview, we would have no hope that justice would or could be served. If we deny that existence of God, or at least deny the existence of an active, present God, we deny that justice will ever be served to this man or to any other. What a distressing, depressing thought it would be that a man could live a life in which he caused so much death and then escape any meaningful consequences.

But when we look at the world through a biblical worldview, we see that justice will be served. Indeed, it must be served. And we want it to be served. Somehow God has built into us the desire to see justice served. This may be a natural desire some men suppress, but always it is there. We know that evil must be punished. We know that those who commit evil must be punished. Justice is “the quality of being just or fair;” it is “judgment involved in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards and punishments.” But it is more. A Christian definition of justice goes further. Justice is the due reward or punishment for an act. God must punish evil. We know this. We tremble at this thought. Or we ought to.

God must punish evil. When we come to know Jesus Christ, we are shocked at the reality that He willingly paid the penalty for the sins of all who would believe in Him. When I believed in Him I saw that He suffered for me. I deserve to be punished for all those things I’ve done to forsake Him. But Jesus, through His great mercy, accepted this punishment on my behalf.

But those who do not turn to Him must be punished for their own sin. And it is here that we see how justice will be served. The sin of even a man as blatantly evil as Adolph Hitler differs from mine only in degree. He and I are both sinners through and through. We are both sinners in thought, word and deed. But, praise be to God, He has extended grace to restrain me from doing all of the evil I’d otherwise so love to do. And He has accepted Jesus’ work on the cross on my behalf. Justice has already been served on my behalf. But for those who do not turn to Christ, justice is still in the future. Justice hovers just over the horizon.

We do not look forward to the punishment of another person with a sick glee. We do not rejoice in what they must suffer. But we do look forward to the fact that justice will finally be served. God will not and cannot allow sin to be unpunished. And while we are humbled by the grace that is ours through Christ, we still thank God that there will be justice. We do not have unlimited license to sin knowing that death allows us to escape just punishment. Instead we see that death is just the beginning, just the entrance, to the courtroom where justice will be served.