Take Nothing For Granted

The Basics of Life

Now, more than ever, it seems, Christian families need to take their life-compass readings from the Scriptures and not from society-at-large.  In former generations that may not have been such an urgent and pressing issue.  In days of a more Christian culture being evident, taking advice and getting instruction from society at large may have been less of a danger.  Not so now.

A venerable Christian family’s statement of faith was often seen adorning the walls of many Christian homes:

Christ is the Head of this house
The unseen Guest at every meal
The silent Listener to every conversation.

 It reinforced the truth that for the Christian family, Christ is central.  He is the ultimate family head, its ruler, leader, counsellor, disciplinarian, guide, and shepherd.  The Christian home and family is a holy place.  Not a sinless place, mind.  But a holy place, where everything is dealt with according to the Scriptures.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  [Deuteronomy 6: 4-9]

The norm for a Christian home is that the children will grow up to say that they cannot recall a time when they did not believe in God, but that all their lives they have known and followed Christ.
 Being born into a Christian home is one of the greatest of all possible divine blessings. As Cornelius Van Til put it (reflecting on how he came to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ) he was conditioned to believe, being raised in a Christian home.

This idea may shock some.  Conditioned to believe. Of course, said van Til.  When you are born into a home by the sovereign dispensation of Almighty God, where Christ is the Head of the house, the unseen Guest at every meal, and the Listener to every conversation, and your parents act and live accordingly, every child is being conditioned by God to believe.  (The contrary is also true: children born into non-Christian homes are being conditioned every day to Unbelief. It takes a particular, miraculous divine intervention to reverse that reality.)

Family life has now broken down to such an extent that the modern family often resembles a disparate cluster of individuals who happen to live together.  Many modern families resemble the lifestyle of the shared apartment, not the home.

One of our “foodies” lamented the increasing disparateness of modern “family” living.

The McVinnie food philosophy is heavily influenced by the need for cooking to replace the global wave of convenience foods and by the American food writer and activist Michael Pollan.  “It’s so simple,” says McVinnie. “Cooking means you use better food and you have far more control over what you eat. It also brings a lot of the things to the table – manners, eye contact, social skills, the art of conversation and confidence.”  [NZ Herald.  Emphasis, ours.]

Increasingly common is the “modern family” where families no longer share life together.  There are no meal times, no sit-down and communicate occasions.  The kids are all engrossed in social media and electronic games.  They graze a bit of food on demand.  There are plenty of accounts of teachers complaining that so many of their pupils turn up to school bleary eyed and exhausted.  They have spent most of the night on social media and gaming.  Their parents have little idea, and could not care less.  Welcome to one version of family life in the non-Christian world.

“Let’s get back to the basics of life,” urged one songwriter/poet.  To gloss the old Christian proverb: The family that eats together, stays together.  This leads to an even more fundamental reality: families that pray together and eat together will tear down the citadels of Unbelief, and ultimately leave Babel broken in the dust.

More than ever before, Christian families need to avoid the example of Unbelief when it comes to family life and culture.
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Foundations for interpretation

bible-08Some of mankind’s most enduring questions have been those surrounding the topic of epistemology, or the study of knowledge. What is true knowledge? Where does it come from and how do we obtain it? Are some forms of knowledge more authoritative than others? 

Throughout history, man has sought to understand reality (ontology) and how we can know this is so (epistemology). From the pre-Socratics to their namesake, from Plato to his infamous student, Aristotle, from Kant to Nietzsche – a major part of Western philosophy has been the question of, “How can we know what there is to know?” As we will see below, Christianity is no different.

A  primer in Christian epistemology

A distinctly Christian epistemology is grounded in revelation – God stopping down to our level to communicate truth to us. While modern philosophy believes that man possesses all that he needs (his autonomous reason) to scale the summit of reality, Christianity is a little more pessimistic about man’s ability to reason their way to Knowledge. Due to the noetic effects of sin, we are prone to bias and hubris in our philosophical pursuits. At risk of oversimplifying – we need a helping hand in our epistemology.

In Christian theology, there is a distinction between God’s two books –  general and special revelation. General revelation is the truth of God as revealed in creation and providence – his existence, wisdom, power, goodness, and righteousness perceived through the things around us (Horton, Pilgrim Theology, p41). All man has access to this level of truth through a logical and scientific interpretation of the world. What we choose to do with these truths – suppress or embrace – is an entirely different matter.

Special revelation, or God’s second book, is his authoritative written Word as found in the Bible. This provides particular knowledge about God, salvation and the human condition that we attain through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, correcting our systematic distortion of general revelation at the same time (Horton, Pilgrim Theology, p40).

An important question then arises – how do we, as fallible human beings, faithfully interpret what God is communicating to us through his Word? If God’s general revelation can in some ways be interpreted through reason and the scientific method, how should Christians approach his covenantal Word? To our detriment, various philosophical trends have attempted to answer this question for us and we may not have even noticed.

Philosophy check

The development of postmodern thought in the 20th century has lead to a form of linguistic reductionism where words are removed from their context and given an entirely different meaning from that of the original author. Rather than the locus of meaning being found in the author’s intent, it is now found in the interpretation of the reader. “What does this text mean to you?” becomes an all-to-frequent question at Bible studies.

Christians are naturally affronted by this turn of events and seek to reclaim the meaning of the author for interpreting texts. The reaction to this postmodern hermeneutic is often not balanced – instead of reclaiming ground via a convincing interpretive framework, the reaction to this textual twisting is to force texts through a grid of literalism that the Bible does not require. Passages containing clear figurative language are interpreted literally and much confusion abounds.

Think about your own experience – we use turns of phrase and figures of speech constantly. Do we ever interpret these with the same degree of literalism that we enforce on Scripture?. A few examples will suffice:

  • “Are you getting cold feet?”
  • “I’ve been kept in the dark on that one”
  • “Speak of the devil”
  • “She has a bubbly personality”
  • “You got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning”
  • “He let the cat out of the bag”

Why would we demand a literal interpretation of all biblical texts, regardless of form, if we don’t do this in our everyday use of language?

A more holistic approach is required – one that takes into consideration the original languages, literary features, historical context, redemptive-historical context, and theological truths to name a few. The Bible is definitely more than a text to be critically interpreted, but it is no less than this and so we should seek to interpret faithfully and in a way that does honour to author and Author alike.

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What is the kingdom of God? Part 1: representation

God stands in the divine assembly;
    he holds judgment in the midst of the gods:

“How long will you judge unjustly
    and lift up the faces of the wicked?
Judge on behalf of the weak and the fatherless;
    vindicate the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the helpless and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They neither know nor care—
    they stumble in darkness;
    all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I, I have said, “You are gods,
    sons of the Most High, all of you.
Yet you will die like man,
    and you will fall like any other prince.”

Rise up, O God—judge the earth,
    for you shall inherit all the nations.

John Piper is the first notable evangelical I’ve seen to unambiguously acknowledge what the text of Psalm 82 straightforwardly says. In his article, Putting the Gods in Their Place, he affirms that God is here “talking to the ‘gods,’ not to mere humans.” More recently, Doug Wilson makes the same point in his review of Unseen Realm:

Scripture does not teach us that the pagan gods were non-existent. Paul tells us that there were in fact “gods many and lords many” (1 Cor. 8:5-6), and he tells us that genuine demonic forces were involved in idol worship of the pagans (1 Cor. 10:20).

I am encouraged to see evangelical leaders recovering this view, because Psalm 82, accurately read, is a prominent nexus and anchor-point for a key biblical theme—a theme that stretches as far back as Genesis 1, and as far forward as Revelation 22; a theme that affects every Christian today, in many different ways.

It is a cosmological theme—which is to say that it’s about the ordering and running of the world. It is a geographical theme—which is to say that it’s about the territories or domains into which the world is divided. And it is an evangelical theme—which is to say that it’s about how God is saving a people for himself through the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

These three ideas—cosmology, geography, and evangelicalism—are drawn together in the Bible into the theme of kingdom. Let me summarize how they fit together, and then I’ll spend the rest of this series tracing the threads in Scripture, so we can see the big picture and understand how it works:

The Bible views the spread of the gospel as God’s transforming of Adam’s kingdom, ruled by Satan, into his own kingdom, ruled by Jesus. This new kingdom is a spiritual territory of restored human hearts, no longer separated from God by rebellion, but rather annexed from their previous rulers by God himself to dwell and govern there.

With this thesis established, let’s set about explaining and proving it.

The original kings as the image of God

From the creation of man, we have been defined by our kingship over the world. Genesis 1:26-28 couches our imaging of God in terms of rulership. This is especially clear if we abbreviate each instance of “dominion” with the word “rule” to emphasize the point:

And God said, “Let us make man as our image, and let them rule, rule, rule, rule, rule.” So God created man as his image, male and female, blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and fill the earth, and rule, rule, rule, rule.” Genesis 1:26-28

The term translated “rule” or “have dominion” means to reign—it refers to kingly authority. God is giving man a kingdom on earth in Genesis. This is actually how man images God; how he reflects God. The likeness of God is kingly. Genesis explicitly couches the image of God in terms of representative rule.

This is the original biblical cosmology. I am not talking physics here—the word cosmology is broader than that. I’m talking about the ordering and running, not of the material world, but the human and also the spiritual world.

Cosmology in the Bible is all about rulership—about who is in charge of whom, and what kinds of judgments they enforce. Do they accurately image God by loyally representing him, thus bringing about shalom—harmony and peace—or do they act corruptly in pursuit of their own goals, thus shaking the foundations of the earth (Psalm 82:5)?

You probably don’t tend to be looking for this theme in Scripture, and so you probably don’t often notice it. But once you know it’s there, and indeed that the Bible presupposes it, you will begin to notice that it’s surprisingly important. For instance, biblical cosmology is crucial to a clear understanding of the most well-loved verse of the Bible: John 3:16 contrasts the world—Greek kosmos—with the kingdom of heaven; and does so in such a way that we can only understand it to mean the kingdom of man. Most Christians read “world” simply as “all people”—but in John, at least, it is a kingdom. In fact, when we work through the logic of it, and when you understand what love is all about, John 3:16 can well be translated as follows:

For God desired onetogetherness with the kingdom of man in such a way that he gave his unique son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but enter the kingdom of God. For God did not send his son into the kingdom of man to condemn it, but in order that the kingdom of man might be saved through him. John 3:16

My aim here is not to rehearse what I’ve said about this passage elsewhere; rather, it is to demonstrate up front how the theology I will articulate in this series is right there on the surface of the text, if we only have the framework within which to articulate it. The narrative trajectory of the Bible begins with the kingdom of man, and ends with the gospel promise that God will save that kingdom by transforming it into his own; until in Revelation 11:15 a loud voice in heaven finally declares:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.

Simply put, the whole arc of Scripture is a story about how the kingdom of Adam, the ruined kingdom, eventually becomes the kingdom of God, the restored eternal kingdom. But to understand exactly how this works, we need to understand how extensive the idea of imaging is in the Bible…

If this sounds rather postmillennial to you, I think you have a point. I prefer Ben Askins’ description: “optimistic amillennialism.” That said, there is also a repeated emphasis in the New Testament on believers one day ruling the nations alongside Jesus, which sounds rather like premillennialism (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21; 20:4). So I am, for now, noncommittal on the question. The one point that is clear is that the elect will one day replace the sons of God as rulers of the cosmos. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves.

The created world as the image of the spiritual

If man images God by representing him, the rest of the world also images spiritual realities in various ways. One God created both, and it is no coincidence that when that God becomes incarnate, he has a habit of referring to spiritual things by using their physical images. Knowing how the physical world reflects, and is based on, the spiritual realm turns out to be important for understanding a great deal of what Jesus has to say, because he often takes the spiritual meaning of words as their primary meaning—in confusing contrast to every other human being ever. A prominent example is food, which to Jesus first describes partaking of God through faithful service, assimilating his very nature by the joining of the Spirit—and only second refers to ordinary physical eating (John 4:31-35; 6:27-35, 48-58). Similarly, water means spirit first, and stuff you drink second—eg John 3:5; 4:10-15; 7:37-39.

This is just a simple illustration for the broader concept I want to focus on: that the physical and spiritual realms are linked in unexpected ways. Water is not merely like spirit, but spirit is the original water—what mundane water images or represents. Spirit is the archetype of water. In the same way, we see the tabernacle and temple are constructed according to a heavenly archetype revealed to Moses (Exodus 25:9, 40), where the mercy seat images the throne of God, and the cherubim statues image (literally) the heavenly throne-guardians (Exodus 37:7-9; 1 Kings 6:23-29; cf Isaiah 6:2; Ezekiel 1:22-28; 1 Kings 22:19).

Imaging and geography

The reason this is important for us is because the same kind of imaging or representation takes place with geography. What happens in the “heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10; 6:12) is linked to what happens in earthly places.

Deep places

A helpful example of this in the New Testament is the story of Legion and the pigs (Mark 5:1-13; Luke 8:26-33; Matthew 8:28-32). You’ve probably wondered why Jesus let the demons go into the pigs, and why they then rushed into the sea. The short answer is that, in the ancient world, water was believed to be a natural barrier to spirits. For instance, deceased spirits in ancient lore often had to cross a river, like the Styx, to enter the land of the dead—the water functioned to confine them in their proper domain. In Luke, Legion begs Jesus not to send him into the abbussou, “abyss.” Now, in Revelation 9:1; 11:7 etc, abbusou is often translated, “bottomless pit;” but it is also the word used in the Septuagint to translate the “great deep” in places like Genesis 1:2 and 7:11.

Mark’s account is a little different. There, Legion begs Jesus not to drive him out of the chora, which most translations render “country” or “region.” But chora also simply means the land, as opposed to the sea; it is used this way in Acts 27:27. Given the seaside location of the encounter, understanding it this way nicely harmonizes Mark with Luke: when Legion says he doesn’t want to be driven out of the land, he is equally saying that he doesn’t want to be driven into the sea—the abyss.

So he asks to go into the pigs instead. Why does Jesus allow this? Because he intends to get rid of Legion for good, and letting him go into the pigs first gives a convenient physical form to what’s going on. His disciples can’t see demons go into the abyss. But they can see the pigs go into the sea. So this gives a physical proof of Jesus’ power not just in expelling the unclean spirits, but also in dealing permanently to them. The physical events image the spiritual events.

Now, this isn’t to say the abyss in the spiritual world is somehow identical with the ocean in the physical world. If it were, then exorcism would be as simple as throwing a demoniac into the water! The Bible isn’t out to establish some kind of “map,” but rather to represent the spiritual realm through the physical world.

High places

By contrast, while the sea represents the abyss where demons are confined, mountains represent a place where earth and heaven become “connected.” They are therefore associated with the presence of gods. In vast numbers of religions, mountains are where gods reside, or where they presence themselves on earth. The transfiguration of Jesus happened on a mountain—probably Mount Hermon (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36; 2 Peter 1:16-18). In Ugarit, just to the north of Israel, the high god El was thought to meet in the palace of his vice-regent, Baʿal, on Mount Zaphon. In Greece, the gods met to hold council on Mount Olympus. In Israel, of course, Yahweh presenced himself first on Mount Horeb or Sinai (Exodus 3:1; 19-31), and later in the temple on Mount Zion (Psalm 9:11; 48:1-2; 74:2; 132:13; Joel 2:1; 3:17). The encounter between Elijah and the 450 priests of another Baʿal takes place on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). The Samaritans believed God presenced himself on Mount Gerezim (John 4:20). Altars were routinely built to pagan gods in high places (Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 12:31-32); and these could include man-made high places, built to function as artificial mountains (eg 2 Kings 17:9)—this is the idea behind ziggurats, which is what the Tower of Babel almost certainly was (Genesis 11:1-9).

Sacred space

The presence of deity was important to the ancient worldview in another important way. We see how this cashes out in terms of geography with the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. In verse 17, Naaman says:

…please let a load of soil on a pair of mules be given to your servants, for your servant will never again bring a burnt offering and sacrifice to other gods, but only to Yahweh.

Understanding why Naaman does this gets us to a key concept in understanding the kingdom of God itself.

What’s happening here is fundamentally the same as what’s happening in, say, Exodus 3:5 and Joshua 5:15, where God tells Moses and Joshua to take off their sandals, because the place where they are standing is holy ground. It is fundamentally the same as what’s happening in Exodus 19, when the Lord says to Moses,

Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day Yahweh will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, “Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.” When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain. Exodus 19:10-13

It is fundamentally the same thing that is happening in the threefold structure of the temple: the courtyard, the holy place, and the holy-holy place. And it is also fundamentally the same thing that is happening with Israel’s laws about ritual cleanness, and restoring it when a member of the covenant community becomes ritually impure or defiled.

Certain space is sacred. It is set apart by and for the presence of God. The land of Israel was sacred, because it was God’s land—he dwelt there, in the temple in Jerusalem. So in order to live in the land, you yourself had to be set apart for God by observing the ritual purity laws. And the closer you got to God, the more sacred the ground was. The holy-holy place in the temple, the holy of holies, was so sacred that only one man could enter once per year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The land of Israel was sacred. Naaman knew this. So he asked for enough dirt to make a mini-Israel in Syria—a small space set aside for Yahweh, where he could be worshiped.

Where cosmology and geography intersect

Now that we understand the basic principles of representation or imaging, and how these fit into cosmology and geography, we can start tying the threads together—which, believe it or not, will ultimately create a line right to the gospel. The intersection between cosmology and geography is kingdom. Cosmology is about the order and running of the world. Who is ruling? Geography is about the division and features of the world. Where are they are ruling?

Continued in part 2, on who is ruling where

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Christianity Today got loads of clicks with this one weird trick

Clickbait. Clickbait is everywhere. What happened next will blow your mind. You won’t believe what this guy said. Personal trainers hate this guy for telling everyone this one weird trick to lose weight. OMG, #5 on this list gave me chills! Sometimes clickbait is blatant, as in examples like those. Other times it’s in the wording, […]
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Daily Devotional

Have Done With Fretful Fear

“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”  1 Peter 5:7

Charles H. Spurgeon

It is a happy way of soothing sorrow when we can feel–“HE careth for me.” Christian! do not dishonour religion by always wearing a brow of care; come, cast your burden upon your Lord. You are staggering beneath a weight which your Father would not feel. What seems to you a crushing burden, would be to him but as the small dust of the balance. Nothing is so sweet as to

“Lie passive in God’s hands,
And know no will but his.”

O child of suffering, be thou patient; God has not passed thee over in his providence. He who is the feeder of sparrows, will also furnish you with what you need. Sit not down in despair; hope on, hope ever.

Take up the arms of faith against a sea of trouble, and your opposition shall yet end your distresses. There is One who careth for you. His eye is fixed on you, his heart beats with pity for your woe, and his hand omnipotent shall yet bring you the needed help. The darkest cloud shall scatter itself in showers of mercy. The blackest gloom shall give place to the morning. He, if thou art one of his family, will bind up thy wounds, and heal thy broken heart. Doubt not his grace because of thy tribulation, but believe that he loveth thee as much in seasons of trouble as in times of happiness.

What a serene and quiet life might you lead if you would leave providing to the God of providence! With a little oil in the cruse, and a handful of meal in the barrel, Elijah outlived the famine, and you will do the same. If God cares for you, why need you care too? Can you trust him for your soul, and not for your body? He has never refused to bear your burdens, he has never fainted under their weight. Come, then, soul! have done with fretful care, and leave all thy concerns in the hand of a gracious God.
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In Memoriam

John Wyclif 1320–1384
In his book on the history of England, Robert Tombs provides the following pen portrait of  the significance of John Wyclif.  

Wyclif was, among other things, a critic of Church corruption, which meant mainly its wealth.  His advocacy of Church disendowment won approval in elite political circles and support in Oxford.  His other ideas were even more far-reaching, including attacks in the 1370’s on papal authority and on transubstantiation, the doctrine that the sacramental bread and wine really became the body and blood of Christ.  This caused horror among the orthodox and denunciation of Wyclif as “the great heresiarch,” the first major English heretic and the most subversive thinker of the later Middle Ages, who influenced the Bohemian Hussite movement and indirectly Martin Luther.  Wyclif’s writings were repeatedly condemned by the Pope, but he was sufficiently protected by his patrons to be allowed to retire unmolested to his benefice at Lutterworth, where he died in 1384.  In 1428 his remains were exhumed and burned on papal orders.  [Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), p.133.]

Wyclif’s person and work were protected by his court connection with John of Gaunt.  It is interesting with the benefit of hindsight to see that so many of the issues upon which he wrote and for which he advocated, preceded Martin Luther and the Reformation by 150 years.  Clearly he was a prophet born out of due time.
Consequently, it is not surprising that the Roman Catholic Church responded to the Reformation in much the same way that it responded to John Wyclif a century and a half before. But one of the most significant aspects of Wyclif’s work was to translate the Bible into the common English language of the day.

A crucial part of the work of Wyclif and his followers–insultingly called “Lollards”; that is, mumblers–was to translate the Bible.  This would, some thought, lead to a return to the golden age of Bede and Alfred, themselves Biblical translators.  A first word-for-word translation of the Latin Vulgate appeared in 1382, and a revised, slightly freer and more comprehensible  version in 1388.

As a cultural development, this can hardly be exaggerated: it was by far the most important body of English prose since the Conquest, and–mass produced as far as manuscript-copying allowed–it had a much wider circulation than any other English writings.  It met a desire–so the Wycliffites hoped, and so their enemies came to fear–by laypeople, both nobles and “simple men” and women, to lead a more active an autonomous religious life.  There was a controversy about whether English (“not angelic”, thought one chronicler) was an adequate or dignified medium for the divine Word: one English version translated biblical wine as “cider.”

“The pearled gospel,” lamented one chronicler, was being “trampled by pigs.”  But Lollards insisted that English was suitable, and perhaps even better than Latin. [Ibid.]

The ecclesiastical powers felt the heat, so to speak, and for the first time heresy was made a capital offence in England.

The 1409 Constitutions of Oxford instituted unprecedented policing of belief..The translation into English of any passage or phrase from the Bible was forbidden without the permission of a diocesan council–stricter controls than anywhere in Europe, and which would in theory have condemned a large body of existing literature, including the Canterbury Tales. [Ibid., p.133f.]

As always happens, forbidden fruit is the sweetest.  This placed a great value and symbolic primacy to Wyclif’s English language translation of the Scriptures.

The desire for an English Bible caused “Lollard Bibles” to be treasured and hidden, and the exquisite quality of some surviving copies proves it had an elite following.  [Ibid., p.134.]

Then, as now, putting the Scriptures in the hands of the common man and teaching the Bible in apostolic fashion–that is, clearly and with authority–is a a radical and revolutionary act.  In the days of post-Christian apostasy in the West, an army of modern-day Lollards would be a thing to behold.
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Our Disease of Discontent

The Good Life

Where can wisdom, joy, and peace be found in the monotony of daily life?  The Book of Ecclesiastes has much to teach us about what is, in effect, the daily experience of  most of our lives: the dull drudgery of existence.  But it is teaching not understood by many in the West.  It represents our particular curse.

 For most Western cultures, drudgery is a calling to be pursued by machines, not souls.  Therefore, there is a subterranean discontent, a roiling of soul, because we cannot escape the tedium of life, its repetitiveness, nor its dullness.  For so many in the West, life is one long boring monotony interspersed by seasons of desperate excitement originating from the occasional spectacle of entertainment.  The Western soul is deeply discontented.

Here is the biblical perspective on dull monotonies:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. [Ecclesiastes 3:9-13]

What is God’s gift to man?  It is that he should accept his limitations, as Clint Eastwood so sagely remarked in one of his movies,  and learn to live joyfully all his days, taking pleasure in his eating, his drinking and his toil.  All of these, our entire existence, is God’s gift to man.  Seeing this, learning it, accepting it is the path of life–as we learn to worship God and His gifts in the (otherwise) mundane monotony.  When we do this, the mundane life becomes a glorious uplifting symphony of praise and worship to our Lord.

In his book, Recovering Eden, Zack Erswine takes up these themes. Speaking of our “lot” in life, he remarks:

Our lot is like a ship.  The seasons are like the wind and the waves.  Seasons sometimes put wind in the sails of our lot.  Other seasons toss our lot about so that it can seem at times as if our lot is sinking and that we must abandon ship.  He do we retain our purpose of joy with God amid the portion of food, work, family, relationships, and place that he has given us when the seasons change? [Zach Erswine, Recovering Eden (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014), p. 131.]

The thing is that there is so much about life we do not know, nor understand.  We cannot answer the question, Why? with respect to so many of the circumstances of our life.  “Why did God allow this, or cause this to be?” is the incessant beating drum of the anxious discontented soul. Surely life is meant to be better than this, we frequently tell ourselves–in the upbraiding tone of the malconent.

Erswine makes mention of Benedicta Ward’s compilation of ancient Christian disciples, entitled The Sayings of the Desert Fathers  [1984], citing in particular Saint Anthony, who was discontented with life, restless with his “place” or “lot”.  He was bored, melancholic, with a wandering mind.  Anthony records a gestalt in which he saw  a man like himself sitting down and working, then standing up to pray, then sitting down again to make a plait of palm leaves, then standing up to pray!  . . .  Anthony heard an angel of the Lord saying to him, “Do this and you will be cured.”

Writes Erswine:

When the unknown taunts your mind within the season you find yourself, give yourself to the next thing in the place you are.  Knit your palms into rope.  Then stand for a while and pray.  Knit. Pray. Knit. Pray. Eat. Drink.  Enjoy your family.  And notice the sun.  Give thanks for its light.  Take pleasure in its gift.  God is near.  This small way and tiny rhythm resemble the grand way of life for which human beings were given Eden.  Our way forward more often than not is found where we are.  [Ibid., p.139]

Thus, says the Preacher:

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.  Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.  [Ecclesiastes 11: 6-7]

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allowing evil is not alright

marmsky devotions pics January 2017 (17)


Luke 6:6-11

Luk 6:6 On another Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and was teaching. Now a man was there whose right hand was withered.
Luk 6:7 The experts in the law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they could find a reason to accuse him.
Luk 6:8 But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Get up and stand here.” So he rose and stood there.
Luk 6:9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it alright to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?”
Luk 6:10 After looking around at them all, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man did so, and his hand was restored.
Luk 6:11 But they were filled with mindless rage and began debating with one another what they would do to Jesus.

allowing evil is not alright

The experts in religious tradition were not at all interested in helping this deformed man be whole again. They were only interested in keeping their traditions, and preventing Jesus from upsetting their system. Jesus stopped before healing this man and looked around at each one of them — into their hearts. He exposed their hypocrisy.

My question today is: Am I as interested in helping people out of their bondage and mistakes and pain as Jesus is? Or, am I just interested in maintaining my traditions? When we see evil happening all around us, and we just pick an enemy or two to condemn, we are guilty of the same shortsightedness as these religious experts were. Allowing evil to continue is not alright.

LORD, show us how to overcome evil in our world today.



Vatican Officially Recognizes Martin Luther 

A ‘Witness to the Gospel’


Thomas Williams
Breitbart News

A new Vatican document in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has officially recognized Martin Luther as a “witness to the gospel,” reversing a centuries-old tradition.
“And so after centuries of mutual condemnations and vilification, in 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will for the first time commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation,” states the new text from the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

While welcomed by many, the Vatican’s new attitude toward Luther has met with expected resistance. The real sticking point has not been Luther’s well-known animosity toward the papacy and the clergy (he said that popes and bishops are not bridegrooms of the Church, but of “brothel-keepers and devil’s daughters in hell”), but his hostility toward the Jews.

With Luther’s rabid anti-Semitism, in fact, it is difficult to see how the Vatican can ask Catholics to venerate him unconditionally as a “true witness” to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Luther expected the end of the world to be imminent, and believed that the pope would unite with Jews and Muslims (Turks) against true Christians in an unholy coalition among the enemies of God.

In his On the Jews and their Lies, Luther stated:

Let their houses also be shattered and destroyed… Let their prayer books and Talmuds be taken from them, and their whole Bible too; let their rabbis be forbidden, on pain of death, to teach henceforth any more. Let the streets and highways be closed against them. Let them be forbidden to practice usury, and let all their money, and all their treasures of silver and gold be taken from them and put away in safety. And if all this be not enough, let them be driven like mad dogs out of the land.

Luther, in fact, warned his followers to “be on your guard against the Jews, knowing that wherever they have their synagogues, nothing is found but a den of devils in which sheer self-glory, conceit, lies, blasphemy, and defaming of God and men are practiced most maliciously.”

“In sum,” he wrote, the Jews “are the Devil’s children, damned to hell.”

The new Vatican document, says that both traditions, the Catholic and the Lutheran, “approach this anniversary in an ecumenical age, with the achievements of fifty years of dialogue behind them, and with new understandings of their own history and theology.”

In this new stage of their relationship, “Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today,” it reads.

The real challenge may be for Christians to successfully separate Luther the Jew-baiter and pope-hater from Luther the “true witness” to the gospel of Jesus.

[Most Protestants who have confronted these issues  separated out these two Luthers long ago.  There is no doubt that Luther was an irascible fellow, particularly in later life.  One can speak of an Early Luther and a Late Luther.  Moreover, one has to be cognizant of the rhetorical style deployed widely by most educated rhetoricians of the time.  It is usually quite different from more formal writings on systematic theology and in personal correspondence.  But, separate out these personal failings, Luther’s commentaries on Romans and Galatians, and his clear proclamation of the essential doctrine of Justification by Faith remain watersheds which preserved the very essence of the Gospel.  As one sage observed, God can strike some very straight blows using crooked sticks.  Ed.]

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Monday quote

How quickly death unrobes the great.

Charles Spurgeon, (1834–1892).
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