Joy and a Razor

I taught my son to shave yesterday.  I can’t believe I just typed that, much less actually handed him the razor.  But I did, in a quiet, low-key ceremony without pomp, I handed him the razor. And now my mind seems to be stuck in slow motion, as if to rebel against some perceived speed infraction of life traveling by.

“Slow down life!”  No response.  Mist, indeed.

I gaze deliberately around my mind’s corners and see years stacking up like yellowing newspapers towering on a hoarder’s kitchen table.  My eye pauses and strains to see wrinkled headlines of memories past.  There’s one.  It’s the time when Abbigail cut her own hair, hid the evidence, and with a poker face that would have caused the biggest, Vegas high-roller to squirm with envy said, “I did not cut my hair and put it behind the couch.”  A smile.

There’s another.  One of many tea parties with Emily no doubt, filled with high-pitched, but awesome British-ish accents, invisible crumpets, and names like Misses Dinglehoffer and Mr. Farggennewton.  She starts college in the fall.

The problems of then seem so much smaller than the problems of now.

Images flash on.  The happy scenes are many, but the trials seem no less vivid.  Life can be hard on this groaning ball.  There’s real pain here – big, bold pain that brings the gears of life to a screeching halt.  Tears.  Then the gears turn again, slower than before but gaining speed now. Normalcy, but not really.

God says it’s never meaningless.  Questions remain.

We’re here, and then we’re not.  Blink, it’s gone.  So what do we do?  Make mud pies and hope for the best?  I’ll pass.  I want more, I want to give myself to joy.  If joy won’t have me at the moment, if the inn is full, I’ll suffer meaningfully.  May it be so, Lord.

Christ reigns.  He decides, not me.

I want Him to have all of me.  And snippets like yesterday, when I pause and struggle to find my bearing because time seems to be winning, I want north to be Christ.  Always, eternally focused.  I want to spend my life experiencing the awkwardness of being in the world, but not of the world.  Homeless, but homeward-bound.

My story… my mist, is part of His story.  And His story is one of glory and grace, mercy and meaning.  That’s the mast I’m nailing my colors to.  The joy I’m after lies in His story and is of the all-sufficient, deep, abiding type.  No cheap thrills, no emotional highs, no shallow platitudes…

…Joy that can break in on a small bathroom, as a father hands his son a razor for the first time, and sadness lurks near.  Yep…

I did, I handed him the razor.  A smile.

The 26-word Alphabet Gospel Story

I recently came across a creative writing assignment that asks the writer to compose a 26 word story utilizing each letter in the alphabet in order.  No extra words are allowed and it must make sense.  I thought I would give it a go with Christmas in mind.  Feel free to try your own, but this is what I came up with:

(I cheated on the “x”)

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Arriving bundled, Christ descended, entered futility – God himself incarnate.  Jesus, knowing love makes new obedience possible, quietly reaped sins transfer ushering victory with x-alted, yielded zeal.

 

Don’t Settle This Christmas

As the lights of Christmas trees begin to glow and wish lists are being finalized, the lure of materialism grows.  “Newer, faster, bigger, better!”  It’s a daring tactic by the enemy to flaunt his earthly wares at a time when Christians celebrate the arrival of our Savior–the very Savior who came to die, that we might die to worldliness.  So it is appropriate that we not let our guard down this season (or any other time of the year for that matter).

The world’s offerings are but empty boxes of rust and dirt compared to what we have been given in Christ.  Seeking fulfillment in and through these things is like straining to quench a dying thirst from a bone-dry, dusty, cracked flowerpot.  Keeping us distracted and hurried, even with activities that in and of themselves can be good, edifying, and joy-filled, is the world’s aim.  But anything that takes our hearts and minds away from experiencing the all-satisfying joy that is to be found in Christ alone means we settle for less than what God intends.

So let us enjoy the blessings we’ve been given this Christmas.  Let us be thankful for God’s kindness in our lives.  Let us appreciate family and friends being together in this busy world.  Let us even give gifts in honor of the great gift we’ve been given.  But let us do all of these things, being ever mindful of what this “holiday” is truly about.

Christ came.  He died.  He rose again.  He fulfilled God’s plan of redemption.  And He will, one day, come again.

He is our hopeHe is our joy–He is our peace.  He is Immanuel–God with us.

The Call of the Magi

Surreal glow in western sky
Appeared as though to draw us nigh

What wonder does this starlight call
On such as we to leave our all 

And journey forth to unknown lands
‘Twas the star’s summoning hand

Should we tarry to find its source
No, ’tis but One with such force

To steer the heavens against their will
His power deserves our lowest kneel 

Thus we go, unknowing much
But having felt a majestic touch 

Expecting crowds of searchers here
Unknowing faces and silence near

Where is he, the King of Jews
God himself hath brought us news

Do you not know of this great deed
Sir, ma’am – do you not take heed

The Babe’s been born from virgin womb
Awaken from your sleeping doom

The star goes on and thus we do
But plead with all to follow too

We reach the Child and thus bow down
Our gifts we give for His renown

Gazing upon His divine face
Knowing then, ’twas sheer grace

The star He sent across the land
A call that created its demand

The Tension of the Incarnation

As the beginning of Advent draws near (this Sunday), I thought I would share the words* of Melito of Sardis, the bishop of Sardis in the 2nd century. In each of these phrases, he seems to have captured at least a part of the biblical tension we need to have when we think of the Incarnation. May these truths be a blessing to you and cause your heart to turn to our Savior in worship.

Though he was incorporeal, he formed for himself a body like ours.

He appeared as one of the sheep; yet, he remained the Shepherd.

He was esteemed a servant; yet he did not renounce being a Son.

He was carried about in the womb of Mary, yet he was clothed in the nature of this Father.

He walked on the earth, yet he filled heaven.

He appeared as an infant, yet he did not discard his eternal nature.

He was invested with a body, but it did not limit his divinity.

He was esteemed poor, yet he was not divested of this riches.

He needed nourishment because he was man, yet he did not cease to nourish the entire world, because he is God.

He put on the likeness of a servant, yet it did not impair the likeness of his Father.

He was everything by his unchangeable nature.

He was standing before Pilate, and at the same time he was sitting with his Father.

He was nailed on a tree, yet he was the Lord of all things.

(*Taken from Gregg Allison’s rendering of the original in his Historical Theology.)

————————————————————

On a related note, here’s what I wrote last year leading into Advent, and what I wrote the day after Christmas.

Book Review – The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything

In The Deep Things of God, Dr. Fred Sanders has taken aim at what he describes from the outset as an elusive target within modern evangelical Christianity. The doctrine of the Trinity, he argues, has been uprooted from its deep historical foundation within the church’s emphatic teachings and tragically, has fallen into neglect and even misplaced and ignored. What Sanders is calling evangelicals back to through Deep Things is an awakening to not only our Trinitarian heritage, but also to the Trinitarian foundation that continues to undergird our current faith and practice today. His overall goal is “not a change of emphasis but a restoration of the background, of the big picture from which the emphasized elements have been selected” (19). Furthermore, Sanders says that when we can manage to refocus the lens of our faith to its proper Trinitarian strength, we will “change everything in our theological understanding” (45).

Summary

From the introduction to the final chapter, Sanders goes out of his way to emphasize that he is not being novel in teasing out a Trinitarian thread from historical evangelicalism, but in fact is highlighting what has long since been acknowledged and esteemed. However, as he points out early on, evangelicals have in recent years fallen into two problem areas when it comes to how we view the Trinity. First is that for too long we have been implicit in our acknowledgement of the Trinity vice explicitly emphasizing its significance, and second, that evangelicalism has grown very shallow in its teachings across a broad range of doctrines. These two factors have combined to create one bigger problem for evangelicals, namely, a small and even distorted view of the gospel. Nevertheless, Sanders believes that the remedy for this lies not in external sources, but deep within our own evangelical foundation of belief.

The structure of the book is set up in such a manner as to accommodate the excavation of this foundation. In the introduction, Sanders addresses his use of a broad brush with the label “evangelical” and the emphatic nature of evangelicalism, but more importantly he makes his first attempt in describing the framework for why this topic matters. The doctrine of the Trinity does not exist outside of Christianity as some secondary and mysterious issue, but in fact forms the very core of the gospel itself.

With the main argument in mind, Chapters 1 and 2 open the topic by way of a bit of stage-setting in addressing how Christians are already immersed in the doctrine of the Trinity whether they realize it or not. Sanders argues that we do not need to seek out new information on the Trinity; instead, as followers of Christ, “we need only to reflect on that present reality and unpack it” (28). Chapter 2 explains why it is important for Christians to know that the Trinity is at work on a magnificently larger scale within the “happy land of the Trinity” than merely in their own lives. The broader point he makes is summarized by “God minus the world is still God the Holy Trinity” (63). His argument is that understanding this will have far-reaching implications for the way we view God’s completely unmerited act of free grace in salvation. When we are able to think rightly about God and the Trinity, which means from a “center outside ourselves,” we begin to see the ultimate canvas of God’s freedom on which the gospel is painted (82).

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 make up the core component of the book by tackling exactly how the trinity and the gospel relate to each other, i.e. “the Trinity is the gospel” (98). By describing first the gospel’s size, then shape, and finally the Christological nature of our salvation, Sanders attempts to present the gospel in its true God-given Trinitarian dimensions. In looking at its size and with the premise that “a true account of the thing itself will have to start with the living whole,” it quickly becomes clear that the evangelical aperture needs enlarging (111). What this means is that instead of merely being about the moment of conversion, the gospel is “God-sized, because God puts himself into it” by becoming our salvation in order to “worship the God of the gospel” (117).

The shape of this action, which Sanders refers to as the “economy of salvation” is defined by God the Father extending himself through God the Son as a means of reconciling us to himself by the initiative and outworking of God the Holy Spirit. This economy is of great significance when we view how we are literally adopted into sonship through the “two hands of the Father” (159). Furthermore, keeping Christ properly situated in his relationship to Father and Spirit is central to seeing him in truth. Sanders summarizes concisely by saying “the Father puts all the blessings of salvation onto the incarnate Son, and the Spirit unites us to that” (173).

The final two chapters are practical in nature and describe how a correct orientation and application of the doctrine of the Trinity play out in both the personal reading of the Bible and praying. Sanders puts forth both of these activities as strong components of evangelical church practice but argues they are in need of a proper Trinitarian treatment. If understood as ways to commune directly with the Trinity, these two practices can help restore our faith to its proper Trinitarian depth.

Critical Analysis

While in large measure, Sanders has preempted many expected responses to his points, there are a couple of areas that need addressing. For instance, in the first chapter he argues that our approach to the Trinity as evangelicals should be one of immersion into Trinitarian reality. This sounds promising, but he then submits that we should accomplish this not by studying doctrinal truths, but by experiencing the reality (33). The argument is convoluted in that Sanders seems to want to explain deep things without deep words, or any words at all for that matter. He states, “the doctrine of the Trinity is not, in the first instance, something to be constructed by argument from texts” (33).

I understand him to mean that we have to be brought into the gospel and thus the Trinity as born-again believers in order to have something more than an academic awareness of this 3-in-1 mystery. Yet he goes on to say that we should first “recognize as Christians we find ourselves already deeply involved in the triune life and need only to reflect rightly on that present reality” (34). How then are we to reflect on reality without knowing truths about the reality? Again Sanders states that what is needed is an approach “to the doctrine of the Trinity that takes its stand on the experienced reality of the Trinity, and only then moves forward to the task of verbal and conceptual clarification” (34). Ultimately, it seems as though he is declaring that Christians must be Christians in order to even begin thinking rightly about the Trinity.

Also, in an effort to get at the “primal” nature of God, Sanders goes out of his way in guiding us behind the foundation of the world. His point is that when we can imagine God eternally existing within the perfect triune relationship as Father, Son, and Spirit and without adding creation or redemption (his acts) to our thoughts of him, we are more likely to get a clearer picture of his ultimate and unhindered freedom in carrying out those acts. Sanders states, “thinking away the world, makes it obvious that God didn’t have to make a world” (64).

He certainly did not have to, but he did. So while this is surely a worthy exercise and my point is probably more philosophical than doctrinal, if we begin to linger behind the curtain of creation as Sanders suggests, we may run the risk of inadvertently challenging God’s character. More precisely, we may begin to forget that God has granted a double gratuity in creation and redemption. Sanders does well to stress the canvas on which God paints his actions, but when we minimize God’s acting, we minimize his character, because he is a God who acts.

Personal Relevance

The book The Deep Things of God has truly been a blessing to me this semester. I am not currently in formal ministry in the sense of on staff at a church, but I view my daily life with my family and coworkers in the military a mission field in itself. Within this context and on two different occasions, I have had the privilege to share with others direct gleanings from this book. On a personal level, I said to my wife recently that this book has been one of the most helpful I have read in quite some time with regard to how I think about a certain doctrine.

Conclusion

Fred Sanders desires to launch evangelicals back into the once familiar depths of our Trinitarianism heritage. If his endeavor with this book is successful, “the doctrine of the Trinity can and should subsequently recede from the foreground of our attention, back into the background” (19). And O’ what a background it is! The importance of having a clear picture of where the gospel came from and where it is transporting us to cannot be overemphasized. When we as Christians stand firm on gospel truths as we should, our feet rest solidly on Trinitarian footing. I will be recommending this book to friends and family with the highest of commendation.

Author Info

Fred Sanders is the type of theologian you should follow on social media. Always pithy and willing to converse on subjects, he has a rare talent for packaging his thoughts in such a manner as to leave them lingering in your mind well after an interaction. Dr. Sanders is currently an associate professor at the Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University where he has been teaching on a wide range of Christian doctrine, though focusing specifically on the Trinity, since 1999. He has authored several other books including Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, The Image of the Immanent Trinity, Dr. Doctrine’s Christian Comics, and most recently, Wesley on the Christian Life: The Heart Renewed in Love. His educational background includes a BA from Murray State University, an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and a PhD in Systematic Theology from Graduate Theological Union in Berkley, California.

Knowing vs. Feeling

Amen and amen! I couldn’t agree more with Alistair Begg in this clip…

The Two Natures of Christ: Ready, Go.

If you’ve ever wanted an in-depth discussion of Christ’s two natures, here you go.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of these videos and will probably be watching them again in the future.  The lectures were given by Professor Fred Sanders as part of the 2013 G. Campbell Morgan Theology Conference, sponsored by Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute.

God’s Wrath Is Not A Blemish On His Character

In light of the recent decision by the PCUSA to remove “In Christ Alone” from their hymnal because of its reference to God’s wrath (and the ensuing national conversation this sparked), I thought it would be good to review why this attribute of God is and should be central to how we view God.  I’ve written previously about being able to answer the question “Saved From What?” here.  The following is an excerpt from A.W. Pink’s The Attributes of God.

It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight, they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever, If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me” (Deut. 32:39-41). A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; And because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner: Psalm 7:11.

Now the wrath of God is as much a Divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be if “wrath” were absent from Him! Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who hates it not is a moral leper. How could He who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy disregard sin and refuse to manifest His “severity” (Rom. 9:12) toward it? How could He who delights only in that which is pure and lovely, loathe and hate not that which is impure and vile? The very nature of God makes Hell as real a necessity, as imperatively and eternally requisite as Heaven is. Not only is there no imperfection in God, but there is no perfection in Him that is less perfect than another.

The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as the Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.

Overwhelmed by “Helpful”-ness

Almost every day I read blogs.  Some days more time is spent browsing than others, because I do have a job and a family.  But at a very minimum I visit Tim Challies for his daily A La Carte, and usually I’ll peruse several others as well.  Nothing however, like David Murray’s blog reading list, which completely blew my mind.  (How do you have time for that?)  And for the most part, I really enjoy this little routine.  The ability to tap into so many diverse and creative minds on a daily basis is truly awesome.  But I’ve noticed something that has begun to creep in on me as I click away every day.

Besides Challies’ daily summary of his good finds, many other bloggers also make it a routine of linking to other bloggers’ articles.  Some have daily recommended reading lists, others have weekly wrap-ups, and yet others do it on a more ad hoc basis.  Regardless, it is not uncommon to find numerous bloggers habitually linking to the same authors and vice versa.  While this practice seems at times to create a sort of self-licking ice cream cone, it’s for good reason:  there are good writers out there with things to say – mind you, “helpful” things to say.

Almost without fail, amongst all the circular referencing, I find the articles being described as “helpful.”  For example, “I found this to be a helpful article concerning the wrath of God.”  It is here that I’ve begun to notice and quite frankly, be affected by this seemingly innocent word.  Again and again, day after day, I am confronted with an excess of helpful “ideas” and “suggestions” and “ways of thinking” and on and on it goes.  I feel at times as if I’m being overloaded with “helpful”-ness.  What once was a fun and informative way of “staying informed” in the circles of thought which I am interested in, has become a daily “keeping up” and even burden to take all the helpfulness on board.  Read more, do more, be more… It has a certain pharisaical feel to it all.

I will admit that I may be the only one who has had these thoughts.  But I have a feeling there are others who consciously or unconsciously experience an urge to stay current on all of the trending helpfulness.  At the same time, I don’t want to diminish the undeniable positive effects the Christian blogging world has had since its inception.  There have certainly been posts that I have found to be profound and utterly helpful; ones that I can walk away with and apply to my life on an ongoing basis.  The fact that I myself am writing this on my own Christianity-themed blog is itself testimony to what I think can be a positive medium for the faith.

With all of this said, and at the risk of attempting to be helpful, I have had to remind myself of a few things to make sure I can continue reading blogs without feeling overloaded.

1)  The cross of Christ freed, continues to free, and will in the future keep me free from having to add one iota of anything to what God accomplished to magnify His name and reconcile me to Himself.  I could never read another blog post again for all eternity and I will still be just as redeemed and righteous through Christ’s imputed righteousness as I am at this very moment.  Simply amazing.

2)  My everyday priorities are and should remain to be God, my wife, my children, my job… and near the end of that list is reading blogs.  Meaning, these priorities should be reflected in how I manage my time and efforts on a daily basis.

3)  With the first two in mind, I am free to search out meaningful and yes, helpful, brothers and sisters in Christ who through the medium of the blogosphere, can come along beside me and help sharpen my ever persistent rough and sinful edges.  The phrase “eat the meat, spit out the bones” is certainly applicable.  There is no need to feel overwhelmed.

%d bloggers like this: