I need a happy post today. I’m sad for friends who had to put their young Golden Retriever to sleep yesterday. So I have given some extra lovin’ to my pooch, Indy.
I also sent this from Indy to my friends, in order for “Moses’ humans to know that dogs understand the special role they play in our lives. Even some humans get it, like Gene Hill, who wrote this:
‘He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds;
my other ears that hear above the winds.
He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea.
He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being;
by the way he rests against my leg;
by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile;
by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him.
(I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.)
When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry,
he clowns to make me smile.
When I am happy, he is joy unbounded.
When I am a fool, he ignores it.
When I succeed, he brags.
Without him, I am only another man.
With him, I am all-powerful.
He is loyalty itself.
He has taught me the meaning of devotion.
With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace.
He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant.
His head on my knee can heal my human hurts.
His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things.
He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him.
And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.’”
But most heart-warming, and heart-healing, was this video that I discovered today. It’s made its rounds on social media for a couple of days but I only now got around to viewing it. (I’ll admit, part of the delay was because I was afraid it would have a sad ending. Nothing could be further from the truth.)
I already knew you were amazing, Indy. Science is proving it about all your species. Only God can make such an amazing animal.
Dedicated to Moses
Tim Challies is thinking what has been on my mind for a while …. and I’ll go further.
The conference culture is promoted by the Christian book publishing industry in that it’s necessary for every speaker to make sure he/she has a new book out in time for the next conference.
Like so many others, I will be heading to Louisville, Kentucky next week, to take in the Together for the Gospel conference. What catnip is to your cat,T4G is for a New Calvinist, and, like so many others, I am looking forward not only to the conference, but to meeting people, spending time with friends, and taking in the wider conference atmosphere. I’ll be honest: My favorite part of the conference is spending time with people. For me, this ranks at least as high as taking in the sessions and the singing.
What I am about to say should not be taken as a rebuke of Together for the Gospel or any other conference. Rather, it is something I have been considering lately as I’ve thought about the conference culture that pervades the church today. (Or, at least, the conference culture that pervades the New Calvinism today.) I think it is clear that this conference culture is directly related to the celebrity culture we have fostered.
Read more of Challies’ post here but don’t miss this point in particular:
Could we consider it a sign of health and growth in the New Calvinism if we had the same level of excitement to learn a book of the Bible from a no-name authority on that book, or to learn about a topic of great theological importance from a no-name authority on that topic? Wouldn’t it be interesting if the situation was reversed? “I don’t know who is speaking, but I am excited to learn about this book or this theme!” This would show that our foremost desire is not to see and hear celebrity preachers, but to have the best opportunity to see and hear God speak to us through his Word.
I agree with Tim that, for the most part, there are great things to learn and ideas to ponder which we can glean from the speakers at good biblical conferences, and the fellowship is grand indeed. My favorite conference — the one that serves as my family’s annual vacation — is the Reformed Baptist Family Conference, hosted by Grace Baptist Church in Carlisle, PA, where Baptists and Presbyterians and others of Reformed leanings gather along the Delaware River in the Poconos. The folks there are like extended family for us, and we look forward to seeing them every year. My kids call this time, “The BEST week of the year!!!!!” (exclamation points unedited). It’s an opportunity to relax — I don’t have to cook! now that’s a vacation! — and indulge in spiritual and intellectual exercise at the same time.
But, what I appreciate most is the dedication to the teaching first, and it goes without saying that it is teaching based solely on the word of God. Crowd draw falls pretty low on the list of priorities when the planners are putting together the details for each year’s gathering, so most of the speakers are unknown outside their own geographical regions and only a few have written any books. They do have a book room, but the majority of titles are by dead authors — looonnnnggg dead, as in a few centuries in the grave — who will never see the proceeds from the sales. We talk around the family-style dining room about “that series on Ruth” from a few years ago or the exposition on John 3 that provoked such conviction and changes in personal Christian practice. We live for a few days alongside speakers and their families and there are no epiphanies; we’ve known it all along: they’re normal everyday Joes like us. It’s the message that is supernatural, that reaches to the stars, that becomes the Celebrity of the Conference.
If you are planning to attend a (or some) conference(s) this year, consider the questions Tim Challies posits in his article. Go a step further, and ask yourself about the complicity of the Christian publishing industry. Do we really need one more book on the Radical Nature of the True Evangelical (not a real title…. I think)? Haven’t plenty of words been spilt on just about every aspect of Christian doctrine, life and thought?
Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of scrounging blogs and social media for the latest title from our favorite new author (with all the right denominational, organizational and seminary credentials) and reading the 7th book of the year on How To Bar the Door To Keep the Youth from Leaving the Church (again, I don’t think that’s a real title), we spent that time in the Word of God? The Bible is timeless. Its lessons on human nature and church governing and true preaching and guilt and sin and gender issues and human differences and worldliness and temptation, when established as the foundation that they are, instruct in every particular and unique situation of life that God’s people encounter in this world.
Should we read nothing else at all? Heaven forbid! My shelves are packed full of books, with both a Kindle and a bookcase loaded with doctrinal and theological books — some of them by speakers at RBFC. I’ve got a lot of friends on those shelves! I admit, though, I have not read them all. Here’s what’s happened way too often: The name and the endorsements were the draw when I doled out the purchase price, but when I delved in, it hit me that the same has been said before. Dang. And I’d go find that other book and start rereading it and it teaches me all over again in ways that I missed the first time. I spent money, and in particular time and mental energy, unnecessarily. And more often than not, that other book was written by someone who was never well known and remains so, or whose star has faded in the Christian marketing sky. To the chagrin of the publishing houses.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of that doctrine! I love to hear it every day. As the hymn goes,
I love to tell the story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story,
because I know ’tis true;
it satisfies my longings
as nothing else can do.
But as we know, the story doesn’t end there. Once we are saved from the penalty of sin, we — and our saved children — discover that the power of sin meets its match in — in fact, is crushed under– the power of the Holy Spirit, who is supernaturally enabling us, day by day, to fight against temptation. We can teach our children to make use of the means of grace to fight sin. Christ Himself instructs us to ask for grace and protection in deaing with temptation and sin (Matthew 6:13), and then shows us how to ask for forgiveness for sins committed while we are still in this practical working out of our salvation (Matthew 6:12, 14). Finally, we can encourage our regenerated offspring that a day has been promised and is coming when we who are called by God and named as His children will be set free from the presence of sin. The hymn’s refrain exults:
I love to tell the story,
’twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story
of Jesus and his love.
Today, we struggle against the flesh because of the ability to sin that still resides in us in this state. But then, when that Day comes, we will not be able to sin because He conquered sin and death for eternity.
And that brings us back to why the Lord gave us the Old and New Testaments: to teach us that the risen Savior will come again for His children.
This month (March 2014) we mark the one year anniversary of the Catechism instruction curriculum in the 4-year-old through 3rd grade Sunday School class. Consider this impressive list of essential and timeless doctrines that these young ones have learned over the past 12 months:
- God made everything – including all of us, His image bearers. God made us for His own glory, and for this reason we are called to love and obey Him, because He made us and takes care of us. (Series A) (Genesis 1:27; John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 10:31; John 14:15; 1 Peter 5:7)
- There is only one God, existing in three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God is a spirit – omnipresent and omniscient – and, as such, He does not have a body like men, so that we cannot see Him, but He always sees us. Nothing can be hidden from Him. As the omnipotent Ruler, He does all His holy will. (Series B) (Deuteronomy 6:4; Luke 4:18a; John 4:24; Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 139:7; Luke 1:37)
- The Bible – God’s Wonderful Library – is the means the Lord has provided for us to learn about Him and how to live in obedience to Him. His Book was written by holy men who were taught by the Holy Spirit, with each Testament given to us for a different purpose: the Old Testament teaches us how God prepared a way for the Savior to come; the New Testament proclaims the good news that the Savior has come! And we learn from both that He will come again for all His children. Doubly good news! (Series C) (2 Peter 1:21; Psalm 119:11; Zechariah 2:10; John 20:31; Hebrews 9:28b)
During a break between series, we also spent four weeks leading up to Christmas learning more about Jesus’s Family Tree and how our Savior’s birth was promised from the beginning of the world. We also discovered how the Lord provided types and shadows of Him and the work He would do for us in life, in death and in eternity. What a poignant and majestic message that provided for us during our Christmas season! (Advent Series)
Now as we look ahead to Resurrection Sunday, the day we set aside (not as a special holy day, but as a marker on our calendar) to consider the journey Jesus Christ made to the cross and the miracle of His glorious triumph over sin and death, the children will be hearing the message of the final lesson in Series C. “What do the Old and New Testaments promise about the risen Savior?” Incline your ear to this astounding answer: “The Old and New Testaments promise that He will come again for all His children.”
Why is this an astounding answer? Because only a reigning, living Savior can rescue His people from this dying world.
Have you heard the good news? He is alive! We do not worship the memory of a good man who lived two thousand years ago. We bend the knee in devotion and cheerful and willing submission to the Son of God, the King on the throne, who is as alive today as He was when He walked the earth. Just as He has released us from the chains of sin’s punishment and power, He will one day snatch us from the presence of sin. Nothing has ever in all of time had the power to do that. Nothing. God has promised that “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).
His word is true.
One of the most frustrating experiences that I know I share with many is the discovery that a conversation you’ve been holding with someone else hasn’t really be a conversation but an exercise in talking at each other. Making points for the sake of making points, triumphing victoriously over buzzwords decoded, poised for the moment you can pounce, “Gotcha!” You know the one I mean:
I heartily recommend this post by Derek Rishmaway at The Gospel Coalition.
Via TGC: Derek Rishmawy is the director of college and young adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, California, where he wrangles college kids for the gospel. He got his BA in philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, and his MA in theological studies at Azusa Pacific University. Derek blogs at Reformedish and Christ and Pop Culture. You can follow him on Twitter.
At some level we’re all Nietzcheans now. During online debate and interaction with those whom we disagree, we often default to a “hermeneutic of suspicion” associated with Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and their later disciples Foucalt and Derrida. For those happily unaware of what that phrase means, it’s essentially a way of interpreting and reading everything with a certain level of skepticism, concerned to uncover the real, hidden motives behind any argument, statement, or position. It rejects the face-value reading, because “what this really means” is probably something else, mostly an attempt maintain hidden relations of power or control.
For instance, claims about maintaining the order of the family made by a politician are “really” about supporting the material interests who profit from current structure of society. In the religious realm, a claim by a pastor about the nature of church government is about maintaining his own clerical position of authority.
When it comes to debating the hot-button issues of the day, it’s quite tempting to resort to “what they really mean” stories about our opponents. For instance, are they opposed to gay marriage? Then it’s not really about the Bible, but about maintaining their own righteousness by comparison. Are they in favor of it? It’s not because of a moral stance, but it’s really about their inability to stand up to the culture for Jesus.
Actually, a hermeneutic of suspicion is necessary at times. Often we see that claims to truth really are pragmatic masks worn by those looking to sell something or increase their own power. There’s a reason nobody trusts politicians. There is good reason to query claims made by “experts” in commercials trying to sell us things. One of Kevin Vanhoozer’s 10 rules of cultural interpretation is this: “Determine what ‘powers’ are served by particular texts or trends by discovering whose material interests are served (e.g.. follow the money!).” In fact, as Christians, we’re called to exercise a sort of hermeneutic of suspicion against our own self-serving hearts, the claims of the world against the truth of the gospel, and so forth.
That said, there are some problems with our stumbling rush to decode the hidden motives of our interlocutors.
Seeing Through Can Lead to Blindness
The first is one that C. S. Lewis pointed out years ago in his classic The Abolition of Man:
But you cannot go on “explaining away” for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to “see through” first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.
When we are constantly straining to “see through” the arguments of our neighbors, we run the risk of never actually seeing them. If we’re constantly tuning our ears to the background hum of power-plays and manipulation, we’ll soon find we’re deaf to anything else. If we’re only ever listening to unmask, we’re never actually listening to understand.
How, then, can we have anything like meaningful dialogue? With a strict “what that really means” mindset, all that’s left is a flurry of counter-accusations and cloud of knowing suspicion between opponents trying to pull the wool over each other’s eyes. In this kind of atmosphere, nobody’s actually open to new information, new arguments, or any kind of intellectual rapprochement, but only victory over the enemy. In fact, this is precisely what we see all around us in the culture, with both sides confidently talking past each other, sure of their own vindication, without ever actually grappling with the other side’s arguments.
If we only hear people by “hearing through” their words, we’re failing to treat others as we’d like to be treated. We want our speech to be taken seriously and our thoughts honored as an extension and expression of our selves. And few things can make us feel more disrespected than to be interrupted, ignored, or misinterpreted.
Hiding From Our Own Heart
The next danger is self-deception and spiritual pride. Jonathan Edwards wrote about the blinding danger of spiritual pride in his work Some Thoughts Concerning Revival:
‘Tis by this that the mind defends itself in other errors, and guards itself against light by which it might be corrected and reclaimed. The spiritually proud man is full of light already; he does not need instruction, and is ready to despise the offer of it. . . . Being proud of their light, that makes ‘em not jealous of themselves; he that thinks a clear light shines around him is not suspicious of an enemy lurking near him, unseen: and then being proud of their humility, that makes ‘em least of all jealous of themselves in that particular, viz. as being under the prevalence of pride.
When I’m playing the “what that really means” game, there’s often a hidden motive lurking within my own heart, which I am looking to avoid by projecting the malice on my opponents. Maybe I fear my own reasons aren’t all that strong, or I’m worried their points are stronger than I’d like to admit. Or maybe I simply can’t countenance the idea that I’ve been wrong this whole time, since I’ve built my identity around this ideological position. And so, instead of interrogating my own heart, my own reasons, I impute false motives to my opponents in an effort to protect my own pride.
Listen to Others, Question Self, Then Question Others
Without abandoning the call to be discerning, I want to reaffirm the need for greater humility in this conversation. Again, we learn from Edwards:
But if this disease be healed, other things are easily rectified. The humble person is like a little child; he easily receives instruction; he is jealous over himself, sensible how liable he is to go astray; and therefore if it be suggested to him that he does so, he is ready most narrowly and impartially to inquire.
Humility does the hard work of actually listening to others. What’s more, humility teaches us to question ourselves. Martin Luther wasn’t afraid of calling out the self-serving interpretations of the medieval indulgence-sellers and pretensions of papal power. Yet he wisely said, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.”
We need not worry that such humility merely invites Christians to go soft on sound doctrine. Because true humility also requires us to test every argument, our own and those of our conversation partners, against the Word of God.
Sin Brings Death.
Let’s start with the misconception that children are innocent. As believers of the word of God and its message to Adam’s fallen race, we know that is true neither doctrinally nor practically. Just consider what it is that makes a baby demonstrate a demanding, impatient, unyielding spirit – often several times a day!
And here we have another example of how perspective can have a significant effect on attitude — oh, and I’m talking about my perspective and my attitude, cause this little boy has it in the right place. Do I even get close to this spirit of joy in the face of lesser afflictions and dilemmas? As Burroughs says,
“Certainly our contentment does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God’s fashioning our spirits to our conditions.”
Last June, Van Bernard performed the Lumineers’ tune “Ho Hey” with his music therapy teacher at the Walk for Muscular Dystrophy in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Now months later, the video starring the 6-year-old is going viral and touching hearts across the globe.
Van was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy Type 2 (SMA) when he was just 10 months old, the family’s fundraising page states. He is full of life and happiness despite the handicap that has had him in a wheelchair since he was 18 months old.
The family is currently fundraising to buy a new wheelchair van for their son now that they have “exhausted all possibilities for funding assistance.” The viral video might help get the Internet’s attention.
“We are blessed that he continues to thrive and grow into an intelligent, funny and always smiling little boy. But as he gets bigger so do our challenges,” his parents wrote on the fundraising page.