Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Am Not Yours

By: Sarah Teasdale

I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love -- put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Need of Christians to Live in God's Presence

I bought a 1400 page book that is 12 of Andrew Murray's books compiled into one.  Andrew Murray is one who understood that salvation is a gift of God, the breath of life that God breaths into a dead man who has no hope of saving himself, but that there is also a proper human response to this new life.  Or in other words, he understood the purpose for which God breathes new life through faith in the act of salvation and he always encouraged Christians to live this new life.  This is the end of the first chapter of his book "The Two Covenants".
The great lack in our religion is that we need more of God.  We accept salvation as His gift, but we do not know that the only object of salvation - its chief blessing - is to make us fit for and bring us back to that close relationship with God for which we were created and in which our glory in eternity will be found.  All that God has ever done for His people in making a covenant was always to bring them to Himself as their chief, their only good, to teach them to trust in Him, to delight in Him, and to be one with Him.  It cannot be otherwise.
If God is indeed nothing but a very fountain of goodness and glory, of beauty and blessedness, then the more we can have of His presence, the more we conform to His will, the more we are engaged in His service, the more we have Him ruling and working in us, the more truly happy shall we be.  If God indeed is thereby Owner and Author of life and strength and of holiness and happiness, and can alone give and work it in us, the more we trust Him and depend and wait on Him, the stronger and the holier and the happier we shall be.  And that only is a true and good religious life, which brings us every day nearer to this God, which makes us give up everything to have more of Him.  No obedience can be too strict, no dependence too absolute, no submission too complete, no confidence too implicit to the soul that is learning to count God Himself its chief good, its exceeding joy.
In entering into covenant with us, God's one object is to draw us to Himself, to render us entirely dependent on Himself, and so to bring us into the right position and disposition in which He can fill us with Himself, His love, and His blessedness.
" you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us...Come near to God and he will come near to you." - James 4:4-10
" first his kingdom and his righteousness..." - Matthew 6:33
"...without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." - Hebrews 11:6

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Struggle Through Limited Atonement

This is in light of a recent series of posts that I did on the attributes of God and my struggle to understand how God can create people with the intention of sending them to Hell.  There was a book recently published by Rob Bell which deals with this issue, and is said to go way off the deep end on the topic.  I have not yet read this book, although I intend to, and so my views expressed in this post are simply based upon previous exposure to Bell's works and a one hour interview I watched of him talking about the book.  Also, this post was originally an email amidst a conversation, as will be further seen as you read it, so please be aware of this as you start.

I believe in limited atonement, simply because when I read the Bible there are too many verses I would need to completely ignore in order to believe otherwise.  However, there are also those verses (like the Ephesians one [Eph 1:10]) that cause me to struggle.  Not that they cause me to doubt limited atonement (well, at times they actually do, but I know I could never embrace it, especially on the basis of a few verses, because I would need to rip half my Bible out in order to do so) but they do cause me to wrestle with what these verses mean in light of limited atonement.

I feel that this is what Rob Bell is doing as well.  The interesting thing is that he ONLY talks about these “difficult” verses and entirely leaves out the other verses (although he at times hints at them).  I question whether he has fallen into the unlimited atonement camp, or whether he still firmly believes in limited atonement but thinks that it will be helpful in the stream of Christian thought to “reopen the box”, so to speak, on limited atonement, not for the purpose of uprooting or overthrowing it, but rather for the purpose of further understanding and comprehending it.

Last thought on all of this, the last paragraph may more properly state where I am at this point than where Rob Bell really is, and perhaps I am simply projecting my thoughts onto him.  I have found “answers” in other areas, such as predestination, which are satisfactory enough to handle those passages which seem to support and those which seem to deny predestination, and I see that all of them, in fact, are in line with this doctrine.  However, I have not yet found an “answer” sufficient to explain the texts “for” and “against” limited atonement.  I have placed answer in quotes because the “answer” to predestination is, in fact, the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, which is in itself a mystery.  I firmly believe that the “answer” to limited atonement is also a mystery, but I have yet to find it, or having heard it I have yet to recognize it as such.  This is my current search, for the mystery of God which allows him to be both loving and wrathful; just and merciful; righteous and patient with wickedness; kind and punishing (not in the Fatherly sense, but rather in the judicial sense).  I have not yet found this mystery that allows these things to be held in tension…even though I firmly believe that they can and should be held in tension, because this is God.

So there, I didn’t really feel that I concretely expressed that, so I just wanted to let you know where I am really at, and perhaps this is why I struggle to throw the towel in on Bell because there is a part of me that wants to believe that he is in the same place, that he has not entirely left evangelical Christianity, but is rather wrestling with a difficult topic and will, at some point in the future, come to reconcile them and perhaps lead us to a greater understanding of the mystery of God (which must include limited atonement).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Does Digital Technology Impede or Assist Social Interaction?

I have a bad habit of daydreaming.  I'll think of a scenario and "live out" an event taking place in that situation, not typically in extreme detail for the purpose of entertainment or enjoyment, but rather because the entire scenario is based on an idea and allows that idea to be fleshed out.
I also have a somewhat new-found appreciation for quilting.  Ok, I'll be honest, I've come to love quilting.  The previous Music Director would go sit with the quilting ladies on Tuesday mornings for an hour or so and I have kept up that tradition, only, I quilt.
So, the other day I mixed my guilty pleasure with my bad habit and started daydreaming about quilting.  Yes...  I saw myself and the White Cross (the quilting ladies at church) all sitting around the quilt talking together as we worked on the project before us (which right now is a rather brightly colored, at times gaudy, purple and green triangle pattern).
Now, as with dreams themselves, daydreams are often disjointed, and so the telling of them requires foreshadow and backtracking throughout, at varying intervals.  At this point I must interject the thought that placed me in this particular daydream.  I have been considering making a quilt of my own, a fairly small one that could fit in a 3 foot hoop so that when I am sitting around talking with friends I could be quilting.  There were people coming over that night, and I really wanted to quilt as we sat around and talked, but considering my lack of a quilt to work on I contemplated other possible ventures during the evening.  Unfortunately all I could come up with was reading a book, which would result in not much talking taking place.
It was this thought that landed me in this daydream, which, by the way, appeared somewhat as a satirical youtube video in my head (which I may seek to facilitate the development of at some point).  I was sitting around this quilt with these ladies and they were talking, as they do at times, of the detrimental effects of handheld digital technology (i.e. phones, ipods, ipads, etc) on the social interaction of today's youth.
In this daydream appeared Lady 1 talking about how her grandchildren all sit around not even looking at each other but simply staring at these devices in their hands as they talk.  While she was talking about this everyone around the quilt was looking down at what they are doing rather than looking up.  Lady 2 then chimed in that she absolutely understood this and it bothered her very much, along with their excessive tendency to break conversation at odd intervals to mention what was on their screen rather than adding to the conversation at hand.  At this point Lady 1 brought everyone's attention to some stitches that a newcomer from the week before put into the quilt that it seemed would need to be taken out.  The group spent about 3 minutes talking about the new lady who was there the week before until Lady 3 piped up, "I think the worst thing about this new technology is that young people no longer know how to hold a conversation.  They are so engrossed in their own thing that they don't even hear when those around them speak."  There was no response to Lady 3's comment, all the other quilters just continued on with what they were doing.  Lady 2 added after a few minutes a comment about how, with social media, the new generation has lost the ability to have face-to-face communication.  At this point Lady 4 shared that she had not had a meaningful conversation with her husband in 4 years or so but didn't know how to break through the time gap because conversation makes both of them so uncomfortable.  The Ladies continued to chat about life, and their quilt, and their grandchildren's social woes, all caused by these newly invented gadgets which will be the downfall of society.

However, what struck me as I viewed this picture (and I hope you already saw this) is the similarity between the handheld devices and the quilt itself.  In ages past, did people sit down and simply "hang out" or did they have some purpose for gathering together?  Do people have deeper social connections when they remove all distractions and engage in conversation or when they gather around some common or communal activity in which they are all partaking?  Is the use of handheld digital devices during conversation really a new phenomenon or is it rather the reinventing of lost social mediums, such as quilting or softball or campfires or gardening or hunting or fishing?  Is my desire to quilt while "hanging out" with friends really that different than friends who may do things on their ipod while "hanging out" with me, and if I am going to quilt during this interaction can I give them a hard time for their preferred activity?

I am not so sure anymore that playing around on our phones while all sitting around talking is an entirely new idea or that it is even that harmful of a practice.  Either that or perhaps quilting circles were the bane of society for the past 300 years.  In any case, I would love, at some point, to make a video of the above scene, but I'm not sure that the ladies in the quilting group at church would let me get them on video, at least if I were to share it on youtube....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Parable on Sin

The teacher came across some children of God living in sin.  They said to him, "Since God is so loving and forgiving, we see no need to stop sinning or to change our ways."

He answered them, "There once was a CEO of a very wealthy company.  He took very good care of his employees and looked after them as he would his own children.  Some of his employees took advantage of this, though.  They became lazy, even to the point of not doing any work for weeks.  They would come in and sleep on company time, some even began to bring alcohol to work and get drunk during their working hours.  They became so unproductive that the company began to lose money and the CEO's savings were poured into these lazy employees."
"After some time, these drunkards began to act out, fighting amongst themselves and breaking property around the building.  This cost the CEO so much money that he needed to put his own son out on the street in order to pay for repairs to the damages caused by these employees that he cared for so well."
Someone from the crowd called out, "This man was an idiot!"
"Why do you say that he was an idiot?" asked the teacher.
"He should have fired those worthless employees and found some who would appreciate the things he did for them."
The teacher answered, "And so should God fire you in the pit of Hell for your lack of a hatred for sin and your indulgence in rebellion against Him, even after He sent His very Son to die for the sin you now commit."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: "Raised With Christ" by Adrian Warnock

Raised With Christ (2010) by Adrian Warnock  This book deserves every one of 9 stars.  It is a little slow starting up, dealing mostly with apologetic and theological implications of Jesus' resurrection, but around page 100 it becomes much more applicational and you won't want to put it down.  There are not many books on the nature of the resurrection of Christ and the effects this has in the daily life of the believer, but Adrian has filled that void with a book that is sure to last centuries to come.  He starts every chapter off with a section of Scripture, and the book as a whole is saturated in Scripture.  He also quotes many other authors who are in the forefront in their fields.  He quotes a wide range of Christian theologians from different backgrounds and different vocations.  This is a book I will be encouraging many others to read.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of Making Many Books There is No End

I walked through the book section of Ollie's recently.  I love walking through cheap bookstores, whether it be a used bookshop, a discount bookstore, or an online bookstore.  As I walked through the Inspirational section at Ollie's, though, I couldn't help but notice the shear number of books.  Books on every topic from how to have a fulfilling marriage (I think there were 30 different books with 30 different opinions) to how to read the Bible the right way (again, 30 books with 30 opinions) to who Jesus would be if He walked the earth today (insert comment with numbers) and what we should look like as followers of Christ walking the earth (I think this was more like 120 books with 120 different opinions).
The funny thing about book shopping at Ollie's is that you have two different types of books.  There are those that are written by well-known authors who either wrote a dud book that didn't sell, or had a case of books that got slightly damaged or were perhaps overprinted and therefore overstocked somewhere.  Then there are those books written by a no-name Joe Schmoe who decided he had something worth saying to the world, wrote a book, and then discovered that no one really cared or wanted to read it.  I've bought both types of books, and the interesting thing is that neither is guaranteed to be a good or bad read.  Sometimes, its the books that are written by some nobody just putting thoughts down on paper that are the most insightful and worth-while reading while the one written by a somebody in the book-writing world is full of already read ideas that are not helpful in the least, and sometimes the scenario is entirely switched around.  I try not to buy a book unless I've heard of someone else that read it, or I know the author particularly and have confidence in their style and thoughts, or the table of contents and preface seem particularly interesting.  I try....but sometimes I still leave these places with much more to read than I could possibly complete before the next buying venture.
I write this, though, because today I went onto Berean Bookstore's website and was browsing around.  They have a section on the books that they sell with about 35-50 tabs on the side with the names of different topics.  Scrolled down to the bottom and saw the heading "Worship", so I decided to check it out.  Now, I have read at least 5 books on worship (probably more) and have taught two seminars on worship, written a paper, and taught a 3 week Sunday School class on the topic.  I thought I was well-read on the topic and had a good grasp of what Scripture teaches.  Wrong.
I found that there are around TWO HUNDRED books on the topic of "Worship" on Berean's website alone!  As I browsed through the titles I couldn't help but notice the overlap, the number of books that seem to be on the same topic, using the same Scripture, saying the same things.  I couldn't help but notice the cliches, people who had heard someone say someone said something and had a thought inspired by it and didn't take the time to find that someone else had the same thought before them.  I couldn't help but notice the inconsistencies, one person writes about why they stopped singing hymns while another writes about why they stopped singing contemporary Christian music (really?  who cares?!).  And the question arose to me - Why?
Why have these people written these books?  Why did they feel the need?  What was so important to them or pressing that they felt they must put it down in words and try to SELL it for someone else to ingest their thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions, and research?
It made me think of the end of Ecclesiastes "The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd.  Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.  Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body."
And this, it seems, is why there are so many people saying so many things in the written word.  The words of THE WISE are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails.  Well, I want to be wise!  I want to write goads!  I want, in another 300 years, for my thoughts and God's revelation to me to be part of a collection that comes to be known as firmly embedded nails holding the whole structure of something together!  So I'll write, right?  I'll just write and this all will happen?
"Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them."  Of anything in addition to the words of THE WISE.  There are those who write who have nothing worth saying.  There are those who write who simply repeat what they've heard and been told.  There are those who write simply to write with no real purpose or meaning or understanding.  There are those who add to the sayings of the wise without really adding anything.  God, I don't want to be like them.
But yet, have I just done this?  I just wrote 874 words about the excess of writing, when someone much wiser than me, with much longer lasting thoughts, said the same thing in 43 words.  Have I really contributed anything or did I simply just waste your time and weary your body?
"Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to [the words of the wise].  Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body."
God, teach me what is worth writing, what is worth spelling out for others to see, and what is better left unsaid.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Living Vicariously Through Another's Experience

I have a friend who bemoans the Christian tendency to "live vicariously through others' experiences" rather than "experiencing life for themselves".  At times I have been sympathetic to this notion and even entertained the thought at times that we need to get out and experience things that may be dangerous or even wrong.  However, today as I contemplated the resurrection of Christ I began to wonder, is not vicariously experiencing life through the experience of Another the very core and heart of the Christian message?
Rather than receiving the penalty for our sin - death - we instead vicariously experience death through Another.  And rather than living our lives, we vicariously live through the life of Another.
So it is inherently unChristian to talk about "experiencing life for oneself."  Rather, we are to surrender our will and desires to One who is much greater and then to live through Him.
Let us stop trying to make something of ourselves.  Let us stop lying to ourselves, telling ourselves that it's about us: our life and death; our will and desires.  And let us instead submit to the will and desires of Another.  Let us lay down our lives and pick up His, in order to vicariously live through Him.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Review: "Why We're Not Emergent" by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) (2008) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck  This book would land somewhere around 7 stars.  It is a bit of a slow read, especially at the beginning.  The chapters alternate - one by Kevin followed by one by Ted.  Kevin's chapters are very deep (although not always that content laden...) while Ted's chapters are very fluffy and fun (and definitely not content laden).  They definitely make a good case against the Emergent teachings, although the book is written specifically for those in Emergent circles and therefore is a bit weak in some areas.  Overall, it is a good book with a good message and hopefully one that is widely read amongst young, dissatisfied evangelicals as well as those solidly in the Emergent camp.

Some Thoughts on the Amish - A Response

A good friend recently read the book "Amish Grace" and wrote a blog post in response to it.  I would strongly suggest that you read his blog post first before reading this, because what I am about to say is mostly in response to what he said.

I appreciate this post, since these are all things I grew up learning about in the Mennonite Church and often times struggle to maintain now that I find myself in an evangelical church that tends not to emphasize such things.  This is one reason that I love Pastor Jeff, because his goal is to be Biblical and he therefore tends to stress all of these things.  In fact, on Sunday night after a discussion on politics, evangelism, and our purpose as Christians, someone commented that Jeff would make a good Anabaptist (in case you don't know church history, the Amish come from the Anabaptist tradition).
I do have some disagreements with you, however.  I'm not sure where you got the idea that the Amish do not use technology in order to preserve community.  Perhaps it was in the book that you read, but I have heard entirely different things from within the Amish community.  At the time of the Enlightenment, when technology started taking off, the Amish felt that these things were all inherently "worldly" and that it was wrong to partake in any of them.  Many Amish people despise "the English" for their use of such modern conveniences and consider them to be inherently sinful.  I have heard of Amish communities responding so extremely against anything "modern" that they ostracize members of their community simply for wearing underwear.  (When Aaron was out West on the harvest crew there was an Amish guy who was publicly shamed by his father in front of the church for having worn underwear).
Also, on the note of forgiveness, while the Amish community does stress forgiveness as extremely important it would be wrong to assume that every single one of them gave up their right to anger and resentment after the shooting.  Also, while the Amish communities paint a nice face on the exterior, their communities have a similar amount of hate and unforgiveness running within them as modern American families, they are just better at hiding it many times.
All of this aside, I must say that I also highly respect the qualities of the Amish that you mention above and feel that many Christians today ignore these things in the Bible.  I agree that we can learn from them and SHOULD learn from them.  However, it is important that we don't become more Amish, but rather that we become more Biblical.  This should always be our goal.
One last note (sorry, I'm going long), while the Amish have a lot right as far as understanding Christian morals and some aspects of the Christian life that mainstream Christianity has forgotten, I fear that they have lost the most essential element of Christianity - the Gospel.  There is an extreme spirit of legalism that is rampant among the Amish, to the point that I wonder whether we can legitimately call them "brothers and sisters" at this point.  I am in no way qualified to stand in judgment over another's soul, so I say this with fear and trepidation that I may be stepping out of line, but the Bible says that by their fruits you will know them.  And while their response to the Nickel Mines shooting was both heartwarming and inspiring, I believe that their response was, as you perhaps unknowingly implied above, more a matter of culture and tradition than it was a matter of Gospel transformation.
So what do I mean when I say that I do not see Gospel fruit in the Amish?  I could write more than this, but I will try to keep it short.
1) There is an extreme lack of evangelism among the Amish and even a hate for anything not of them (although this does not appear at a cursory glance).  This is entirely unGospel-like - since Jesus did not go to the religious but rather to the sinners, the dirty and notoriously bad sinners.  It is an acknowledgment of our sin that causes us to be willing to go to sinners, and whenever an individual or group stand back hostile and appalled by another's sin, it is simply because they are not willing to recognize their own.
2) The same legalism that shapes many "Old Order Baptist" communities also shape the Amish and "Old Order Mennonite" communities - namely the condemnation of cards, alcohol, television, etc - and if we're not going to be supportive of one group's legalism and cry out that they have departed from the Gospel because of it, we must say the same for another group.
3) Ok, this is getting too long...I'll just wrap it up.
Long story short, I fully agree with you that we could learn more about community, forgiveness, and other things from the Amish, but I also fear that the Amish have so departed from Biblical Christian faith that I would struggle to call their beliefs Christian or even assert that their practices are rooted in the Gospel (they may be rooted in Scripture, but there is a difference between something being the result of the study of Scripture and something being the result of Gospel transformation).

Ok, I'll stop rambling now.  Your thoughts were just too good, they inspire so many more thoughts (which you said was the goal of your post anyways).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Praying for Our Enemies

I recently came across, through Philip Yancey's blog, a website devoted to praying for terrorists.  It's an interesting thought.  I've heard people talk about praying for terrorists before in reference to Jesus telling us to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us.  When I've heard it talked about I always think, "Well I agree with that, I think that's good and right." But I've found that it's very hard to follow through with, mostly because I don't know any terrorists and therefore struggle to know what to pray.
This site understands this dilemma and has very nicely made a database of terrorists so that anyone can "adopt" any terrorist they want, for the purpose of praying for them.  By "adopting" a terrorist, you are committing to praying for them daily, and there is information about their personal life and any terrorism they have done so that you know what to pray for.
The website has therefore been named Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer (  It has received both positive and negative feedback from Christians and non-Christians alike.  There was actually a story put out on CNN about it, and the comments on the story were approximately 1/3 positive and 2/3 negative.
It's interesting to me how Jesus was so adamant about loving our enemies, and that his purpose in coming was reconciliation, and that we are not called to build a physical kingdom here on earth but rather to save souls to a kingdom that is from above, but yet so many of his followers are still so focused on the kingdom they are building right here right now.  It is interesting how many of the moral and ethical principals of Christianity have been woven through our culture, so that those who support gay marriage in the US are still a minority, but yet the idea of loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you has never really taken off.
It reminds me of when Jesus says "He who has been forgiven much, loves much."  It's easy for the world to take some Christian principles and add them to their lifestyle, but to love one's enemy.....well, you can't really do that unless you've experienced love when you were yet an enemy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Under-Emphasis of the Resurrection

I am currently reading "Raised With Christ" by Adrian Warnock. After my series of posts at the beginning of last month this quote seems fitting.

Most of us are not intentionally neglecting the resurrection.  We do appreciate its importance and value it highly.  But the resurrection has not been explored as fully as many of the other doctrines and has not been given the attention it deserves.
Paul states emphatically that without the resurrection we would still be in our sins.  Without the resurrection we are lost and there is no hope!  There is no salvation without a living Jesus.  We need the resurrection to have its power-generating effect inside of us if we are born again... We need a change within us that only the resurrection can produce...
The degree to which we neglect the resurrection is also the degree to which we neglect to think about Jesus as he really is, now.  Jesus is enthroned in heaven and is reigning inside every believer.  His powers are limitless, and he is at liberty to do as he wishes... The world seems blind to the Bible's description of the resurrected Jesus, full of power and authority.  This description is highly offensive to the world.  But to worship Jesus as the artists have portrayed him, instead of as the Son of Man in all his glory, is nothing short of idolatry.
To meditate on the reality of the risen Jesus promises to be of great benefit to us.  Hope, optimism, enthusiasm, and certainty are likely to result.  Angst, uncertainty, and complexity, as well as attempts to deny ourselves legitimate pleasures in an attempt to carry our own cross, might be the result if we neglect to meditate on Christ's glorious victory over death.  This kind of condemnation and legalism is widespread in the church today.  In the modern world, many accuse the church of being dead.  This impression will merely be confirmed if they only hear us preaching about a Jesus who was crucified for them, speaking about him and acting as though he is still dead.  Colossians 2:6-4:1 contrasts the legalism of religion with the resurrection life that is ours in Christ Jesus.  Without setting our minds on our living Master in heaven we will never be able to live as God intended.

What's interesting is that he connects a lack of focus on the resurrection to legalism within the church.  In my previous posts I made the point that I feel like we don't focus on Christian living enough because we are afraid that we will introduce legalism and because we do not teach the resurrection.  But maybe it would be more appropriate to say that to teach Christian living without a proper understanding of the resurrection MUST result in legalism.  We have properly recognized that in the modern evangelical movement, but rather than correcting it by teaching Christian living AND the resurrection, we now teach neither Christian living NOR the resurrection.  And so we are left with something far short of the gospel of the Bible.