Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not Especially Helpful

News item: The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, MI, is teaching its students this year to scale back expectations of kiddies this year in light of the bad economy.  Santas are essentially encouraged to profile a kid's financial situation and answer accordingly.  Another news item:  There's a Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, and it's the oldest in existence.  Who knew?!

Wish list: Someone hard to buy for on your list?  I bet he doesn't have a concealment mantle clock!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Van Milestone

The odometer on my van this past Wednesday

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Finally Finished

A year ago I blogged about President George W. Bush's autobiography, Decision Points, at which point I was some 170 pages into.  (See those two posts here and here.)  With only a few chapters to go, I just set the book aside.  Only recently did I pick it up again and finish reading it.

It's a good book, especially for seeing the man and the plan behind all the policy decisions during his 8 years as president.  I did not feel he was especially good during his administration at communicating with the public, and so we were left at the mercy of the news media.  This books helps to explain his point-of-view.

President Bush in a nutshell?  Humble, putting the interests of the country above his own, willing to lead and make tough decisions, guided by principle and not public opinion, always giving credit where credit is due, honest about his failings.

Some points of interest for me included the following:

Admitting little knowledge of stem cells, he investigated the issue thoroughly and interviewed many scientists and lobbyists and religious men to learn all sides of the issue before reaching a decision he knew would be controversial but also he believed right.

Reading his side of the story with regards to the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.  (Remembering his governorship days, he did not want the federal government stepping in with relief until he [the state] had asked for it.  He did not step in until Gov. Blanco signed off on it, though he did press her for a decision.)

Worst moment of his presidency: when it was suggested he was a racist because of the apparent slow response to Katrina.  That was “an all-time low.  I told Laura at the time that it was the worst moment of my presidency.  I feel the same way today.”  (326)

Biggest regret: "I wanted badly to bring bin Laden to justice.  The fact that we did not ranks among my great regrets."  (220)

Greatest achievement: "On 9/11, I vowed that I would do what it took to protect America, within the Constitution and laws of our nation.  History can debate the decision I made, the policies I chose, and the tools I left behind.  But there can be no debate about one fact: After the nightmare of September 11, America went seven and a half years without another successful terrorist attack on our soil.  If I had to summarize my most meaningful accomplishment as president in one sentence, that would be it."  (180-181)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mornings with Condemnation

Mornings I've been slowly working my way through Jeremiah (I'm ready for Jer 13), summarizing verses and noting themes--slowing down just enough to pay attention to more of the details.  Once I get through a chapter, I give it a title. 

I did not realize how relentless Jeremiah's prophecies against Judah's sin were.  From ch. 2 to ch. 11, there is almost no break against the railing against Judah's sins, though there are the occasional bright spots of future redemption.  (And in the darkness of the thick condemnation, those spots are indeed very bright.)

So is the reading of these chapters dull?  No, not at all, because each chapter comes at Judah's sinfulness and her imminent judgment from various angles.  At one level, there is a certain art to this that is satisfying.

The chapter titles read a little like headlines:

Jer 2: Israel's Astonishing Rejection of God and Her Passionate Idolatry
Jer 3: Israel Faithless, God's Call to Repentance and Glorious Promise of Healing
Jer 4: The Almost-Sure, Almost-Total, Deeply Painful Destruction to Come against Judah
Jer 5: Israel's Thoroughgoing Rebellion and the Almost-Total Devastation That Is Coming As a Result
Jer 6: The Judgment That Is Coming Is Deserved
Jer 7: Judah Does Her Own Thing, and God Promises Wrath
Jer 8: No Human Repentance, No Divine Relenting
Jer 9: Why Israel Provokes Weeping
Jer 10: The Folly of Idolatry
Jer 11: The Broken Covenant
Jer 12: The Future of Judah's Oppressors

Too much condemnation? 
  • No, not if God really hates sin. 
  • No, not if sin is really harmful to us ("your sins have kept good from you" Jer 5:25 ESV). 
  • No, not if our souls are in danger if we do not repent (see my paraphrase of Jer 4:1-4 below).
  • No, not if that's what it takes to finally move us off the dime of continuing in our sin.

These passages have reminded me of God's hatred of sin.  (Let me not become comfortable or cozy with it.)  But they've also reminded me of God's incredible mercy to me, a sinner who was immersed in sin and is not yet completely extracted from its filth and repugnance.

("The LORD says, If you return, return to me.  If you get rid of your idols and are not wishy-washy about it, and if you swear by me in truth, justice, and righteousness, then other nations will benefit and glory in me.  Give attention to your souls and not your flesh.  Dedicate yourselves to the LORD from the inside out, unless you want to experience my unquenchable wrath."  Jer 4:1-4, my paraphrase)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Amazing Love

Gracious God,
My heart praises thee for the wonder of thy love in Jesus;
He is heaven's darling, but is for me the incarnate,
              despised, rejected, crucified sin-bearer;
In him thy grace has almost out-graced itself,
In him thy love to rebels has reached its height;
O to love thee with a love like this! 

--The Valley of Vision, p. 138

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Critiquing Christian Mysticism

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Sermon on 1 John 1:3

Two main ways in which men have sought fellowship with God: the mystical way and the evangelical way

Some combine both ways.
·         Bernard of Clairvaux was clearly mystical, and he was evangelical.
·         There is a great deal of the mystic in Charles Wesley, although he was primarily evangelical.
·         Also true of John Wesley

Many subdivisions of mysticism: pagan, religious, and, in a sense, Christian

Definition: Mysticism is the theory that the purity and blessedness to be derived from communion with God are not to be obtained from the Scriptures and the use of the ordinary means of grace, but by a supernatural and immediate divine influence, which influence is to be secured by the simple yielding of the soul without thought of effort to the divine influence.

Basically feeling, not understanding or reason, is the source of knowledge of God.

The evangelical places primacy on the Word of God, but the mystic focuses on his sensations and susceptibilities.

Three main types of mystics:
1.    Theopathic—concerned about pure feeling and sensation
2.    Theosophic—concerned about experience and who want to examine their knowledge
3.    Theourgic—interested in phenomena

The history of mysticism shows that it invariably comes as a protest to formalism and deadness in the church.
·         In the early church, when there was (necessary) wrangling over theological precision—mysticism in Egypt.
·         In the Middle Ages with Bernard, when the Rom Cat Church was philosophizing 
·         The Quakers, in response to the Puritan theologians

Mysticism concerned with the reality of the knowledge of God and communion with him.  How does it do so?  Two main schools:
·         Quietism, pure passivity: Madam Guyon an example
·         Active, introspection and meditation

The evangelical criticism of mysticism
·         It is a claim to a continuation of inspiration.  The mystic claims a new and fresh message.
·         Scripture becomes more or less unnecessary.
·         The Lord Jesus tends to be made unnecessary.
·         It is so concerned about the Lord’s work in us that it forgets the Lord’s work for us.
·         It’s not strong on the doctrine of sin.
·         It leaves us without a standard as to who is speaking to me.
·         It tends to fanaticism and excess.

The evangelical way to come to this knowledge of and fellowship with God
·         It starts with the Scriptures.  Don’t look into yourself but into the Word of God.
·         It must start with Christ’s work for me.  There is no true knowledge of God without Christ.  I must come to God by Christ and by the cross.  Having dealt with the guilt of my sin, then God gives to me life when I put my faith in Christ.
·         The experience of fellowship with God is not something to be sought directly.  It comes as a by-product of following God: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Mt 5:6).

“The evangelical way of fellowship with God, therefore, is to come straight to the Word, to know its truth, to believe it and to accept it—to pray on this basis and to exert our whole being in an effort and an endeavour to live it and to practise it.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Molly and Joyce

Today (actually yesterday by a few minutes), my church family welcomed Molly into the world around 4 A.M., and we said goodbye to Joyce around 6 P.M.

Molly is our pastor's fourth grandchild, his first granddaughter.  We have been praying for her and for her mom for some time, looking forward to this day.

Joyce is our beloved sister in Christ.  She has battled cancer for six years.  She's fought it, and she's fought with a faith and confidence in the Lord that never seemed to waver.  We have been praying for her for some time, trying to stave off this day.

Molly can do little for herself.  For the last few weeks, Joyce could do little for herself.
Molly will require her parents' constant care for some time as she grows.  Joyce required her husband's constant care as she died.

The conjunction of birth and death in one day causes one to think.

It causes one to rearrange one's concept of "birth and death," for in the truer sense, Joyce did not die; today she entered into a new life.  This earthly life was the womb that pushed her into a new life today.

When Molly was born, we rejoiced and she cried.  When Joyce moved on, she rejoiced and we cried.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Today he gave Molly, and today he took Joyce.  But he also gave Joyce--he gave to her joy and rest and so much more.

Birth and death, the bookends of this life.  The conjunction of the two remind one of what's really important.  What is really important?  What is crucial?

It's Christ.  It's one's position relative to Christ, one's stance toward him.  Death hinges on Christ.  Faith in Christ leads to eternal joy in his presence.  Unbelief leads to eternal shame and suffering apart from him in hell.  When one dies, we earnestly hope they were trusting in Christ.  In Joyce's case, we know she was trusting Christ.

Jesus didn't die for nothing.  The cross isn't just a riveting storyline; he died for a reason.  The human race was in a pickle; no other solution for their sins could be produced.  Thus did Jesus take the drastic action he did, going to the cross.  Ignoring the necessity of the cross is a devastating bit of foolishness. 

Molly and Joyce.  We look forward to seeing Molly as she grows up.  We look forward to seeing Joyce when we go up.

In many ways, Joyce's position today is the enviable one.  From one dismal perspective, Molly has entered onto a road that leads inevitably to the grave; but Joyce is past the grave.  Molly's condition is terminal; not Joyce's.

"Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NIV)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Big Boy Article: Learn about Oneness Pentecostalism

T. D. Jakes
T. D. Jakes is perhaps the most famous representative of the United Pentecostal Church, a denomination that is represented in my own city by the large Abundant Life Tabernacle.  But the UPC is not Christian; it is heretical, for it holds to its own brand of the old error of modalism.

Modalism denies the Trinity by teaching that the one God manifests himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not in the orthodox teaching of traditional Christianity, which says that the persons of the Godhead exist eternally and immutably. 

Modalism moves in the opposite direction of the more familiar error of subordinationism.  Subordinationism (held, for instance, by the Jehovah's Witnesses), teaches that Christ is not divine, or at least not divine in the same sense as God/Jehovah.  Modalism holds to Christ's divinity, and to such a vigorous form of Christ's divinity that Christ is all of God that there is.  The Father and Spirit and Son are simply projections of Christ's deity.  As Fred Sanders notes, "while we can easily see how this doctrine [of the deity of Christ] could be under-emphasized, it is hard for us to imagine how it would be possible to over-emphasize it."

Big Boy Article: To understand this heresy better, I highly recommend Fred Sanders' article, Oneness Pentecostalism: An Analysis.

Perhaps the occasion of this article is the controversial invitation of T. D. Jakes by Pastor James MacDonald to attend his next "Elephant Room" conference.  MacDonald has come under attack for thus seeming to endorse T. D. Jakes and his apparently heretical (anti-Trinitarian) view of God.

MacDonald denies that inviting Jakes is endorsement, nor does he believe Jakes to be a modalist, though as I understand it, Jakes has been notoriously reluctant to clarify his theology at this point.

Carl Trueman takes issue with MacDonald's claim that creedal Christianity's conclusions on connecting the divinity of Christ with the monotheism of the Old Testament is overly precise, because the Bible meant to leave such conclusion somewhat cloudy. 

Thabiti Anyabwile deals with questions of separation and association raised by MacDonald's invitation to Jakes.

A. J. Carter (I think that's his name) believes that only T. D. Jakes wins in The Elephant Room.

Where Would You Live?

One of my friends asked me yesterday, "If you could move anywhere you wanted, and everything else (jobs, family, etc.) fell in place, where would you go?"

Well, I know where I wouldn't go. 

Not Florida.  Not Louisiana.  Not Mississippi.  I do not want to be hot and sticky all the time.

Not Arizona.  I realize it's a dry heat, but it's still hot.  Not interested.

I've always wanted to visit San Antonio, and I think there are some aspects of Texas I would enjoy, but the heat would not be one of them.

Before I'd decide, I think I would check out the political, social, and economic situation of the state as well.  (A few years ago, this probably wouldn't have been an issue.)

So not California.

Definitely not a major city, like Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, or New York.  Though San Francisco is beautiful, I understand, I don't think so.

My answer to my friend was "Probably out west, like Montana, Wyoming, or Colorado."  I traveled out west as a teen in the summers of 1984 and 1985, and I loved the mountains.

Honestly though, I love where I'm at.  I love having four seasons.  I love the variety.  I enjoy breezy Springs, crisp Autumns, and white Christmases.  I like warm Summers (though not hot).  The idea that Santa might have to deliver in shorts and a tank top loses something for me. 

Here I don't have to deal with hurricanes or forest fires.  Tornadoes, yes; but they're hit and miss.  The occasional blizzard, yes; but if you're prepared, there's a certain fun in waiting them out.  The power-crippling ice storm a couple years ago: not so fun.  There are down sides to every place.  There are here in northern Indiana, but for me the pluses far outweigh the minuses.