Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Theological perfectionism = bad

Good reading for the more theologically minded among us:
I suspect many Reformed people will find it difficult to sympathize with my claim that theological perfectionism is a problem. Most Reformed people would argue that lack of concern for theological precision is a much bigger problem facing the church today. And when one looks at the state of modern evangelicalism it is hard to disagree. There is too much error, not merely on the finer points of theology, but with regard to the very foundations. How many evangelicals can articulate the gospel clearly and accurately? But without denying the dangers of theological imprecision, I have come to believe that theological perfectionism is another problem we should be concerned about, especially we who are Reformed.

You should read the rest of the article. I highlighted the first paragraph because I think he nails his point there. There is immense need within the church for a deeper commitment to theology, but there is also a danger of swinging so far in the direction of valuing theology that we value it for its own sake. When we start to care more about being accurate than about knowing God and sharing His incredibly good news with those who need it, we've completely missed the boat.

HT: Justin Taylor

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marriage

I find it difficult to put into words just how much has changed since last I sat and began to write in this virtual space.

In many ways, of course, I'm the same as ever I was. (Including, probably, a hint of verbosity. See?) At the same time, I've changed. I'm not who I was, never will be. I'm married, for one thing - to the most beautiful woman I've ever met. It was a marvelous ceremony. It's been a better marriage.

Not perfect. Never that. Though my marvelous wife (I rather delight in saying that, you'll find) is certainly a better woman than I deserve, God sees fit day by day to supply me with grace enough to serve her, and grace enough to serve a little better than the day before. I begin to see and understand, just a little, how a life with a family will transform my understanding not only of service to others but indeed of service to God. (Being married hasn't changed my delight in use of non-colloquial words and phrases, either, you'll note.)

Many of those who follow this blog were at my wedding - and it was a delight to see you there. For those of you who were not, however, I'd like to share here the Scriptures that God laid on our hearts as we prepared and that we had read aloud in the course of the ceremony: selections from His everlasting word that, we thought, helped paint a picture of how great this mystery is, and then comment briefly (yes, briefly; don't laugh!) on why these verses. Some of them may be obvious, others less so.

Genesis 1:27-28
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”


Genesis 2:18-24
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.


Song of Songs 4:9:
You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.


Song of Songs 5:16
His mouth is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.


Song of Songs 8:7
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.


Song of Songs 8:6
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.


1 Peter 3:1-2,7
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.


Matthew 22:30
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.


Ephesians 5:31-32
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.


Revelation 21:1-5a
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”


Revelation 19:6-9
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”


There is a flow here - a flow from the moment of creation, when God made man not to be alone, to the shocking close of history, when God comes to dwell forever with man whom He made. These passages also tell us something incredibly important about what exactly marriage is: a picture of Christ and the Church He came to redeem to Himself, that He is redeeming to Himself.

Marriage is not, as we all too often proclaim, some eternal state in which we will remain for all time. It is inherently temporary, because it does not exist merely for its own sake. It is meant to be a glorious, shocking truth that represents a far greater Truth. The unity of man and God through the redeeming work of Christ is a deep mystery. Then again, so is marriage.

How can two people from completely different backgrounds leave behind their families and become one? And how is the becoming one flesh - joining together in every possible way - even possible? How is it that our joining in marriage is not merely a lifelong commitment to mate only with each other for social stability but a real spiritual unity that transcends the mundane and reaches to the deepest parts of our nature? It certainly does. Jaimie and I have already experienced ways in which our being married ties us far more closely than ever we were before. Most of all, we affect each other spiritually. It is, as Paul says in Ephesians 5, a mystery.

God, in His wisdom, has chosen to use this mystery to help us understand a deeper puzzle yet: How can immortal, omnipotent, omniscient God who knows us, our thoughts, our deeds better than we ourselves, relate to us? How can we and He who are so very different ever be joined in any degree of relationship? How can His transcendence meet our very thorough smallness? How could there ever be more to that relationship than distant dictator and abject subjects? How could there be intimacy? Most especially when we are so abjectly fallen, so utterly depraved in our thoughts that we run to every kind of evil whenever we can!

No, this marriage is a temporary one, so that we can glimpse the greater one that awaits: the union of God and man, Christ and His Bride. There will be, as there was in our wedding, a feast to whom all are invited. There is only one acceptable garment at that feast... the garment provided by the Lamb that was slaughtered, choosing from the foundation of the world to redeem us to Him, to make us His, to cover our transgression and make us white as snow... white as the dress a bride wears to her wedding. Our righteous deeds, prepared for us by God, will be the shining linen worn by the Church as a whole as she joyfully runs into the arms of her God-King on that last day.

This is what our wedding and our marriage are about, not some nonsensical idea of eternal bliss together. We will strive every day to be a faithful picture of Christ and His Bride. I will strive to die for Jaimie as Christ died for the church. And we together will be part of His church, striving ever to purify her for the day of His return, starting with our own hearts and reaching out to every man, woman, and child that He places in our path.

Our marriage is about the good news that Christ has redeemed for Himself a people who will share all eternity with Him.

Our marriage is about Him!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trust

It's been a while. No apologies, though. I've decided to stop feeling guilty about how much I'm not writing and to simply enjoy writing when I am in the mood. And right now, I'm in the mood.

You might be surprised to find a recent college graduate (praise God!) up at midnight tapping away at the keys of his laptop, pondering his life in front of the whole world. Doesn't work call early? you ask. Funny you should bring that up. It doesn't, because my only job right now is finding a job. Well, that's not perfectly true, either. I have a couple jobs. First is chasing Christ wholeheartedly. Always that, always first, always most. Second is building my relationships with others in a way that reflects Him - with Jaimie, with my family and hers, with friends at Wildwood, and soon with neighbors. Third is finding a job. Interestingly, I've been recognizing even more of late just how deeply tied all the other tasks of my day rely fundamentally on my walk with God. Do I put Him above all else, or do I put everything else first?

"Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil."

Prayer. It's a funny thing. God answers every single prayer we pray. People usually think God doesn't answer their prayers. That's silly. The real problem is that people expect that they're praying the right things -- that what they want is in accord with their Father's will just because it's what they want. In other words, they expect God to say yes, and if He doesn't say yes, then He hasn't answered. Which is, of course, nonsense, but rather attractive nonsense to our sinful nature. We wouldn't usually put it in those words, but it's how we operate. It is, thankfully, not how He operates: for our good and His glory, He often says no.

Oftentimes it's not difficult to see why, looking back. I look at the young women I was interested before I met Jaimie, look back and her, and thank God from the depths of my heart that He always said no before her. I ached from His noes at the time, struggling to see a reason for them, fighting to believe that His plans really were better than mine. They were, of course. They always are. Even when, unlike my example above, it's harder to see -- as it often is. Some things we may never have an answer for: God's reasons may remain ever mysterious. Are we okay with that? Are we okay waiting to see the final fulfillment of His promises, and to rest in the assurance that what He does is good?

For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in that which I create...

They shall not labor in vain
or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent's food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord."

A good deal of relationship is trust: trust that the other party in the relationship will be good on their word. Whether that's a business arrangement or a marriage, it's still true. There's more than an intellectual assent to the idea that the other person will uphold their side of things. Trust is as much a deep emotional commitment as it is intellectual assent, because when you trust someone with anything, you bare your soul a little bit. You leave yourself open to being hurt, betrayed, left hanging by your fingernails at the edge of a chasm.

And all the more so when it's life itself you're trusting, and God you're being called to trust it to. Faith is so easy: it's not of us, a gift of God given freely, and a good thing, too. Because faith is hard - impossibly hard, harder than any of us could ever manage. The dead infant, the slow creep of dementia, the blow of a stroke at 45. We ask why, cry out to a God we think isn't there, and get no answer. No answer we want, that is.

He does answer, of course. He tells us that it is for our good and His glory, that all things work according to His purposes.

So we come full circle. I'm looking for a job. Not finding one, either. Though I've been looking since August, looking hard since November, I've had only one interview, and it went nowhere in a hurry. I'm marrying in 53 days. I have bills to pay: rent, utilities, a car payment, and -- very soon -- a few student loans. The questions rise. Will God provide? Will He take care of me? Will He take care of us? Will the bills get paid? Will we have food to eat? When will it happen? Why is it taking so long? Why are all my efforts seemingly in vain?

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The real question? It's whether we believe Him. He's already answered.

Do I put Him first? Do I seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, trusting Him? Do I, no matter the circumstances, rest in the Truth that took on flesh, or do I flail about in a panic, relying on my own strength to accomplish these tasks?

Every task I am set is ultimately answered only in Christ. He provides, not me. He takes care of Jaimie, not me. He sets the course of my days, and no other.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Amen.