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Christian Living

June 24, 2010

It’s easy to grow discouraged at the state of the church. As a person who invests a lot of time and attention to studying the church, her health and what Jesus requires of her, I often find myself prone to lamenting her state. Writers from all backgrounds and denominations have written about the church, and I have read many of these books and publications. The standard book begins with a few chapters outlining all the ways the church has failed with the rest of the book providing the solution. If only we did this or that or the other thing, we would make the church what she was intended to be. I haven’t read too many books that give the church a pat on the back and say “good job!” Maybe for good reason. Maybe not. When I wrote The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment I was deliberate in not doing that, in not giving a long list of all the ways the church has failed. What real value would there be in spreading that seed of discouragement?

Here are just a couple of examples of people who have taken on the church in recent years. Rick Warren wrote the mega-seller The Purpose Driven Church and in it he proclaimed that the church has lost sight of her purpose and that God was calling her to rediscover it. Millions of pastors bought and read this book and began what Warren refers to as the Second Reformation—a Reformation of purpose. A couple of years ago I counted six or seven books in the Christian bookstore heralding “the next Reformation,” yet all of them pointed towards a different basis for this Reformation. The men and women of the Emergent community (does anyone even remember Emergent anymore?) continually wrote indictments of the church, showing how, in their view, she has failed in the modern world and is primed to be an even greater failure in the postmodern world. A person who was fully immersed in the emerging church sent me an email once and wrote about “denominational distinctives that strive to keep us divided” as if churches are purposely focusing on the distinctives in order to drive wedges between them and other believers. There are any number of other authors that identify problems and tell us how to fix them. Many people are proud to be believers, yet are ashamed to be part of the church, the visible body of Christ. They portray the church as being purposeless, intellectual and ancient, knowingly and joyfully trapped in the past, snickering as we watch our neighbors fall into the abyss.

June 21, 2010

It strikes me often how life is cyclical; how things I wrestle with and ponder and pray about will come to the forefront of my life and faith a month or a year or two years later. One of the biggest blessings of having a journal (which is often how this site functions for me) is that I can go back and see how I dealt with these things in the past. It is good to see how situations repeat themselves but how my responses may vary with time and Christian experience.

In the past couple of years I’ve often given a lot of thought to the nature and strength of my faith: the things of God in which I have great faith, and those in which I have little faith or even no faith at all. These times of reflection has been both a delight and a sorrow; a joy and an embarrassment.

I have seen that my faith can be pictured as something like a line graph. Certain points along the x-axis are very high along the y-axis and, I trust, almost unshakable. I believe, for example, that God exists. This is a faith that God has placed in my heart and I do not believe that it can be shaken or destroyed—I never struggle with whether or not God exists. Beside that there are other high points in my faith: the Bible is God’s Word to us and is without error; God has saved me and adopted me into his family; God loves me; there is a heaven; Jesus Christ died to take the penalty of my sin. These are all areas in which I have a good deal of faith and I praise God for this.

As we travel down the x-axis, down towards the long tail (that portion of the graph which skirts the 0 on the x-axis, but doesn’t quite reach it), we come to areas where my faith is not quite so strong. Here we will find my belief that God truly does desire to bring me the best through adversity. Here we will find my belief that God does hear and answer prayer. These are things I believe, but without the strength of conviction of those I listed earlier. They are areas where I tend to see emotion come into conflict with knowledge—with what I know to be true but often don’t accept as truth.

May 31, 2010

Have you ever considered what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to walk and talk with God in the Garden of Eden? Have you thought of the things you might say to God if you were to hear his footsteps today? What Christian hasn’t experienced a pang of jealousy when he reads “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” And what Christian hasn’t experienced a little pang of remorse when he reads how Adam and Eve squandered that unique privilege. There was God, walking in the garden as he had done before. Adam and Eve recognized the sound of his footsteps, for they knew their God. But this time, instead of rushing to him and rejoicing in his presence, they fled and they hid themselves. They had sinned and they knew that there were consequences for such tyranny. For the first time they feared their Maker.

May 23, 2010

A friend recently sent me an old article from John Piper entitled “Why Memorize Scripture?” Memorizing passages of the Bible is something I’ve developed more of an interest in over the past couple of years and, to my surprise, I’ve found that I’m actually able to do it—even to memorize extended sections if I am willing to put in the effort (not always a sure bet).

Piper offers a list of reasons why we should memorize Scripture. They are:

  1. Conformity to Christ - Bible memorization has the effect of making our gaze on Jesus steadier and clearer.
  2. Daily Triumph over Sin - As sin lures the body into sinful action, we call to mind a Christ-revealing word of Scripture and slay the temptation with the superior worth and beauty of Christ over what sin offers.
  3. Daily Triumph over Satan - When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he recited Scripture from memory and put Satan to flight.
  4. Comfort and Counsel for People You Love - When the heart full of God’s love can draw on the mind full of God’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth.
  5. Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers - Actual verses of the Bible have their own penetrating power. And when they come from our heart, as well as from the Book, the witness is given that they are precious enough to learn.
  6. Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and Ways - The way we commune with (that is, fellowship with) God is by meditating on his attributes and expressing to him our thanks and admiration and love, and seeking his help to live a life that reflects the value of these attributes.

These are six really good reasons. On the flip side, I suspect that the primary reason most of us do not commit more Scripture to memory is simply the difficulty involved. It is a difficult and time-consuming process to take those words and force them into our minds.

So how about you? Is Scripture memorization a part of your routine? Is it something you do as a regular part of your devotion to the Lord?

May 17, 2010

Of all the books I read I often feel that the biographies are most helpful to my Christian walk. I developed an early love of the genre from my mother who taught me the importance of reading about and understanding the lives of the great saints of the past, that we might be able to learn from their example. As a child I remember reading biographies of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, Eric Liddell and many dedicated but relatively unknown missionaries. I have little doubt that the lives of such people did much to shape my growing faith and I am forever indebted to them.

I was thinking recently about the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, that “hall of fame” of great men and women of the faith. The author writes about many Old Testament figures—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and others. He seeks to encourage the readers of the epistle to be confident in the certainty of what God has promised but not yet actually given. He encourages his readers to learn perseverance from the examples of these saints. Having done that, he begins chapter twelve with these words: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” He paints a picture of the Christian as a runner. He is in a stadium surrounded by multitudes of people cheering him on as he runs a race. These people who are cheering him have already run and successfully completed this same race. They shout encouragement to those who are still running and encourage them if and when they stumble.

May 08, 2010

In his book Expository Listening (read my review) Ken Ramey offers a list of ways you can “Plan Ahead, and Schedule Your Week Around the Ministry of the Word.”

“For the majority of people, even church members, church is not the priority of their week. Too often school, work, sports, and other activities take precedence over going to church. They make the mistake of letting their time be ordered by the world, which views the weekends as a time to relax, to play sports, to stay up late and sleep in. For Christians, however, Sunday should be the most important day of the week. You should try to schedule your work, activities, get-togethers, and vacations around church. You should live by the principle that Sunday morning starts Saturday night.”

He offers several practical suggestions on how to prioritize the Lord’s Day:

  • Make it a habit to be home on Saturday night.
  • Be careful not to do, watch, or read anything that will cause lingering distractions in your mind the next day.
  • Get things ready on Saturday night to alleviate the typical Sunday morning rush (lay out clothes, set the table, write the offering check, stock the diaper bag, etc).
  • Get a good night’s sleep so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God. It’s hard to listen when you’re nodding off.
  • Eat a simple but adequate breakfast that will hold you until lunch. It’s difficult to hear over the grumbling of your stomach.
  • Work together with the other members of your family to get ready, and to establish and maintain a godly atmosphere on the way to church. Listen to music, sing, and pray together.
  • Arrive at church ten minutes early instead of ten minutes late so you have enough time to find a parking spot, drop the kids off in the nursery or their Sunday school classes, get a cup of coffee, visit with your friends, and find a seat.

“When you fail to plan ahead,” he warns, “Sunday morning ends up becoming a chaotic crisis, and by the time you get to church, you are frustrated and frazzled and your heart is in no condition to receive the Word. But when you plan well and are able to arrive in a relaxed, leisurely way, you will be in a much more receptive frame of mind.”

There is some valuable food for thought as we all look forward to worshiping the Lord tomorrow.

May 05, 2010

It is the Lord’s delight to grant us what we ask of him in prayer. Like David, we all ought to pray, “O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth” (Psalm 54:2). If Christians did not believe in the effectiveness of prayer, there would be no reason for us to ask anything of God. He is the one who tells us that we can have confidence that our prayers ascend to him. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15). While as Christians we pay lip-service to the superlatives in that sentence (“whatever” and “anything”), how often do we really believe it?

The fact is that our prayers are often hindered. There are times when it feels like our prayers are reaching the ceiling and going no further; times when we are lying face-down on the floor and feel that our prayers are rising no higher than the fibers of the carpet. While we can be sure that God does hear our prayers, there are times when he chooses not to heed or answer them. The Bible gives us at least six reasons God may not heed our prayers.

It is important to know from the outset that I am the only one who can hinder my prayers. You are the only one who can hinder your prayers. I cannot hinder your prayers anymore than you can hinder mine. And while we may have done much to hinder our prayers, we are not necessarily even aware of this. So let’s look at these as six warnings from Scripture.

May 03, 2010

It may well be that when we read a history of our day, the beep will be declared the defining noise of a generation. The beep is a purely human sound, one without any equivalent in nature. No animal, no plant, makes a beep.

You know the sound well. The beep begins and ends with the twin plosives “b” and “p” and in between offers a eee that lasts as long as we care to make it. That beep can be a dot or a dash, a mere blip or a long and sustained beeeeeeep. It can make itself known just once or it can repeat endlessly. Beeps come in many different contexts: our phones beep, email beeps, trucks beep while they back up, washers beep when a load of clothes is clean. No matter the context, the message is always the same: “pay attention to me!” Beeps always demand a response, even if that response is only to turn it off. We may need to look up from what we are doing and press a button, we may need to sprint out of the way of a moving car, we may need to throw some clothes into the dryer, but in every case a beep calls us to action; it calls us from one thing and to another.

April 23, 2010

Yesterday morning I was in despair. In the morning paper I had read about a new health curriculum that was to be introduced to the public schools here in Ontario. Beginning next school year, students were to receive a thorough indoctrination in sex education. And as you probably know, my wife and I have chosen to enroll our kids in public schools. We were despairing, wondering how we would deal with this new reality. Would this be the last straw, the situation that would force us to consider alternatives? Would this be a one-day program for which we could easily withdraw our children from school? Or would it be something they would be taught over the course of the entire year? Questions abounded; answers were few.

The current health curriculum in Ontario was put into place twelve years ago, I believe, and to this point (my oldest child is in fourth grade) has proven entirely unremarkable. As Christian parents whose children are in public schools, this is the one area we watch out for more than any other—the one area where we feel most protective of our children. We want our children to know what is right and what is wrong when it comes to sexuality, but we want them to know at a proper time and in a proper way. Currently by fourth grade the most a child will have learned at school is very rudimentary knowledge of what constitutes sexual abuse and how to respond should he or she experience it (i.e. tell your mom and dad).

All that was to change with the new curriculum. Under this new agenda children in third grade were to learn about gender identity (your identity may be different than your physical gender, it seems) and they were to learn that criticizing homosexuality was no different than discriminating against those with physical disabilities. They were to learn that many children have two mommies or two daddies and that they should use inclusive language such as “partner” rather than “husband” or “wife” in order not to exclude anybody. By sixth grade children were to be taught that masturbation is normal and a good way of exploring the body. By seventh grade they would be taught that they need to talk to their sexual partners about good boundaries and they were to learn that abstinence may mean different things to different people—for some it may mean excluding all sexual activity while for others it might exclude vaginal intercourse but include anal intercourse. All this was to be taught to children in seventh grade and younger. As I said, I was in despair.

April 19, 2010

Is error in doctrine always sin? It’s a question I’ve reflected on in the past and one that I think is well worth considering, even if just for a few moments. While this may seem like a petty issue, a petty question, I believe it is an issue of some consequence since it will necessarily impact how I relate to fellow Christians who differ from me on secondary issues. If I feel that my friend is being sinful by teaching that we should baptize infants, I will want to go to great lengths to show him that he is sinning and to see him repent and correct his error. But if I believe that his belief in infant baptism is something less than sin, I can appreciate his conviction while not feeling the need to emphasize repentance and correction. Do you see the difference there? One understanding compels me to emphasize correction while the other allows me to find unity.

Now it is obvious that there are times when differences in doctrine reflect sin. A person who preaches that Jesus Christ is something other than divine is teaching an awful and divisive heresy and that error is sinful, pure and simple. A person who teaches that homosexuality is a legitimate lifestyle that the Bible condones is likewise teaching grievous error and error that can be easily proven so from the Bible. But what happens when the error deals with issues of lesser consequence? What happens when one teacher preaches a sermon defending the baptism of believers while another preaches a sermon defending the baptism of children? Obviously one of the two men must be wrong. But is one of them being sinful in teaching what is wrong? Or think of an issue like eschatology where two very fine and godly men may have completely different understandings of the end times. When they teach their differing conclusions, is one of them actually being sinful?

Here are three principles I’ve found useful and relevant while thinking about this issue.

First, it is clear to me that, regardless of whether or not error in doctrine is always sin, error in doctrine is always a consequence of sin. When the Lord returns and we join him in heaven, there will no longer be disagreements about doctrine. Disagreements about baptism, eschatology and other issues will be put away once and for all. And we all look forward to that day.

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