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Archive for March, 2007

Continuing on from yesterday:    

     As I’ve observed my own lack of functional belief regarding my position in Christ and seen how the lives of so many great men of God have been transformed by their own paradigm-shifting discovery of this truth, I’ve come to see the importance of it in a new light.  In fact, it seems to me that, second to a right understanding of how I am saved, a confident comprehension of my unshakable present position in Christ is the most essential principle I can learn.    

     When A.A. Hodge, wrote his Outlines of Theology in 1860, he carefully summarized the nature and foundation of the believer’s union with Christ, and explored the several analogies of scripture that help us to understand this doctrine.  Hodge’s outline is logically appealing: it is clear, concise, and supported with scripture proofs at every turn.  Because of the logical and academic structure of his presentation, one might almost miss the beauty of the truths expressed, but that they are so wonderful to apprehend.   I was especially struck when I encountered in the midst of his careful theological treatise a proclamation of blessing that shook me well clear of dry abstractions. After discussing the nature and establishment of the believer’s union, Hodge asks, “What are the consequences of this union to believers?”  His answer, although as carefully enumerated as what has come before, is like an outpouring of joy that the page can hardly contain. 

  • They have community with him in his covenant standing and rights
  • They are legally rendered “complete” in him
  • His righteousness is theirs
  • His Father is theirs
  • They receive adoption in him
  • Their persons and their services to God are accepted in Him
  • They are sealed by his Holy Spirit of promise
  • They in him obtain an inheritance
  • They sit with him on his throne and behold his glory 

     The list goes on most remarkably.   Hodge’s Outlines of Theology is available in the full text version through Google Books  or there is a reprinted version from Banner of Truth Trust available from monergism.com. 

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On the bulletin board above my desk at work, I have a quote that I’ve always heard attributed to Martin Luther which says:    

“God does not love us because we are worthy, we are worthy because God loves us, and for no other reason!”  

To say I need to think well on these words is to confess my own tendency to believe the very opposite of what they say.  Sometimes I boldly disbelieve them, going about my day with a remarkably pessimistic confidence that God is frowning.  More often still, I don’t even notice for hours how the wrong thinking that’s the antithesis of those words above my desk seeps into my mind and subtly sours my mood or motivation. And this is the way I get it all backwards: I don’t feel worthy, and so I don’t feel God’s love.   The elevation of those feelings above biblical truth creates a chronic underestimation of my own worthiness that I suspect drains my spiritual joy and effectiveness far more than I know.  I’ve become convinced that my wrong thinking is born of not understanding, or at least not rightly believing, the riches that are mine through my union with Christ. 

The doctrine of union with Christ, or some facet of it, has been of key importance to many of the greatest Christian minds of history. Time after time, it seems, radical transformation came for these men at the point when they began to understand the magnificence of what it means for a redeemed sinner to be “in Christ,” and thus began to praise and worship God with a freedom they had previously not known.  Theology, after all, cannot be merely dry abstraction; to study God and His ways is to seek to know the One who has revealed Himself in terms of relationship. As J.I. Packer says, theology is for doxology.   And while I believe we must always be mindful that we ourselves don’t become the center of our study, it seems hardly possible to know God apart from pursuing a thorough understanding of how He knows and relates to us.  Further, because how he relates to us is inextricably linked to how He relates to Christ, our understanding of our position in Christ will determine our estimation of our own worthiness of God’s love, and thus His pleasure, affection, and blessing. This understanding will shape the way we live our lives: confidently, assured that His love and affection for us will never be withdrawn or in fear, convinced that our actions will change the mood and blessing of a capricious God.  Understanding that God’s pleasure in us is based perfectly and irrevocably on His permanent pleasure in Christ is the key to Christian joy. 

How much time do you spend thinking about that union and its consequences for those who are His?  Does it change the way you think today? 

Here are a couple great resources for reading more about  the doctrine of Union with Christ. 

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1955)  

Ferguson, Sinclair, Children of the Living God (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989)

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For several years now, our family has been raising a small flock of sheep.  The breed we raise (Old English Southdown “Babydoll” Sheep) is terribly cute: fuzzy teddy-bear faces and small, stocky statures make them more desirable as living lawn ornaments or pets than as wool producers or meat stock. 

We’ve currently got ten sheep: Milton, Maude, Milly, Tilly, Ajax, Copernicus, Annie, Aggie, Beatrice, and Bertie.  We raise and sell the lambs of this small, registered, specialty breed, and though we’ve yet to become rich from the endeavor, we love this process of nurturing and tending these gentle animals at Saint Stephen’s Fold.

 

It’s lambing season, and when my daughters wake up each morning before school to go out and care for the flock, they know they might find that there’s been a new little one born during the night.  It adds a bit of excitement to the girls’ early morning chores and I’ve gotten so I can tell when I hear their feet pound up the back stairs and the door burst open at a certain speed that they have a birth to announce.

 

Last week, we rejoiced especially at the arrival of our first set of twins: adorable black ewe lambs who seemed at first to be healthy and strong.  We loved watching them nurse and frolic – there’s not much more hopeful than the arrival of warm spring air and playful baby lambs.  They jump about like frogs as they get used to their new, spindly legs, and they wag their long tails in happiness when they nurse.

 

A few days later, one of our new little lambs caught pneumonia and, within a few hours, went from a healthy baby to a pitiful little one crying and gasping for breath.  My daughters and I sat for an hour holding her and trying to warm her up.  We tried every remedy we knew, but eventually she died in my arms.  The weather outside had turned cold and bitter and, as I sat there holding that little body, it seemed that winter and darkness had come back to swallow up the joy of spring.

 

But it’s warm again today. The air has that “blowing away the snow” feel that’s so delicious in March.  One part damp and one part warm and earthy.  The wind smells like promises.   One of the ways God pounds into my head the truth of His faithfulness is with the consistency and dependability of the seasons in His creation.  No matter how many last, exasperating cold-snaps there are, Spring does come.   It can’t not come, in this orderly world created by an orderly God.   As I continue to wrestle with times of darkness that sometimes feel like they just won’t lift,  I have to remember that if God is God, and if I am His, the light can’t not come.  

 

We’re still waiting for more lambs to be born on our little farm.  I’m still waiting for the darkness to be blown away for another season of respite.  Trusting that it will be, because God is God, and God is good. 

 

Happy first day of Spring.

 

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I’m just a few days into the creation of this new blog now, and I’m having fun, but still wondering exactly why I’m doing this.  How much of blogging is a quest for self-validation and affirmation?  How much is a right seeking of like-minded community and encouraging discussion?  How much is me-centered and how much is Kingdom-centered?  Is there real beauty to be found in this type of creational endeavor?  

When I teach art history to my students, one of my chief goals is to help them to see that no painting or sculpture or building we discuss can really be appreciated without an understanding of the culture in which it was created and the history which came before it.  Beauty is built upon beauty, and imitation and novelty are more closely related than we tend to think.  I love to see the spark when a student really begins to know enough to make the connections for themselves: when they can see the pictures behind the picture and the influence of the past on the present.  The masterpieces I project on a screen in a darkened room begin to have meaning when they are connected to something bigger than the sum of the paint on a particular canvas, and my students usually only begin to appreciate beauty after they understand that part of their enjoying a painting comes from enjoying its hidden history.           

The older I get, the more I see the importance of telling my own story correctly and with context, because if there is to be anything rich, anything winsome, anything of beauty to be told, it is only going to found within a history that goes beyond myself and is intimately bound up in a bigger story.  I admit I’m learning this gradually – and sometimes grudgingly.  My idol of self-focus often compels me to think that my life is worth looking at or talking about on its own, but as soon as I begin to organize on a page the events that have shaped me, it becomes embarrassingly clear that they are unspectacular in the eyes of the world.  In the arena of faith, I have no cataclysmic conversion story to tell, and no particularly tremendous tales of tragedy or testing beyond what others have had to bear.  In my career, I have no grand accomplishments to present, nor do I perceive that I am on the cusp of greatness, ready to shake the world but for a few final steps of preparation.  God has worked His grace in my life quietly and faithfully, and I have only grateful and insufficient observations to share.  If there is beauty in this story, it will only come from the sense in which it is a part of God’s bigger story, in calling and preserving a people for His own.  I am one of His, and that is the context that will give my story any goodness.  

Why do you blog? 

 Psalm 115

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Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was, without a doubt, one of the leading Christian thinkers of the 20th century.  He wrote and lectured extensively on Christianity and culture, and modeled compassion even as he challenged a wide range of people to consider the reasonableness of the claims of Christ in every area of life.   

But early in his ministry, Schaeffer went through a time of profound doubt.  He was deeply disturbed by the conflict he saw in the church – the lack of love he saw manifested in the body of Christ. When Schaeffer realized the vastness of the contradiction  (what he called “the lack of reality, the lack of seeing the results the Bible talks about”) apparent in both others and himself, he grappled for a time with a spiritual crisis that sent him back to examine the very foundations of his belief.  He reread the bible and wrestled through the fundamentals of the Christian message for many months. 

What are we to make of such a spiritual crisis in such a great man of faith? 

I sometimes have to remind myself of the long list of faithful men and women who’ve gone through times of spiritual depression and crisis.  Schaeffer isn’t the only one who went through times of profound doubt.  Men like Horatius Bonar, John Newton, Charles Spurgeon, and Hudson Taylor (the list goes on and on!) also wrestled with darkness and despair at different times. 

And yet, ultimately we know these names because God used these people so significantly for his kingdom.  As I acknowledge my own times of doubt, I can’t simply be comforted by being in good company; I also must learn  what the darkness ultimately produced in the lives of these saints.   

Schaeffer reread his bible and found the answers there that moved him back to a place of trust and faith.  The lack of love he saw in the church both sent him into despair and sent him toward a solution.  After his time of wrestling, he and Edith went on to form L’Abri, where people were embraced with dignity and compassion because of their worthiness as God’s image bearers.  Does God allow darkness in our souls to clarify our path when we see it afresh in the light of his mercy?   

Schaeffer went digging in scripture for the truth, even as he encountered the deepest doubts. May God grant me the mercy to do the same: to be hungry for truth even when I’m struggling to trust.     

“Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD;
       may your love and your truth always protect me.”  Psalm 40:11

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I’m taking a class right now, through Covenant Theological Seminary, on the life of Francis Schaeffer.  Prayer characterized the life of the Schaeffers and their work at L’Abri, and I’ve been thinking about how their model of submitting everything to God in prayer can challenge us, both as individuals and corporately as the body of Christ.   

When I read of how Francis and Edith Schaeffer lived and carried out their work from a foundation of continual prayer, I have to admit that it’s tempting to be more discouraged than inspired.  The Schaeffers’ forthright dependence on God at every turn seems, at first, to simply emphasize to me the “spiritual super-hero” status that I envy from a distance.  My own infrequent petitions for aid and guidance seem to hardly register on the scale on which one might measure the Schaeffers’ prayers, both in terms of quantity and quality. But even as I begin to think this way, I’m struck by how very backward I’ve got it – if I study tFrancis Schaefferhe lives of the Schaeffers, or any other Christian, and come away with a measuring stick made of them, which I then use to find myself wanting, I’ve missed the point entirely.  If I compare my faith, or my repentance, or my prayers to anyone else, for the sake of  ranking “how I’m doing,” then I’ve missed the object of that faith, repentance, and prayer and inserted my own self-focus in the way of worship.   

There are, it seems, two types of challenges that can come from looking at great Christian models.  The first is this challenge I’m easily sucked into: the challenge to try to measure up for the sake of ranking myself.  But the other, more worthy challenge, is to learn what it is that the great men and women of the faith saw in God’s character that I need to dwell on more.  What is it that I don’t believe fully about God that keeps me from turning to Him more frequently in prayer?  Do I simply not believe He thinks enough of me to answer?  The Schaeffers’ model ultimately encourages me to believe.  As I read about how the Schaeffers prayed to God for every need, I’m challenged to believe better. 

I’m also challenged to consider how, both within the local and broader church, a commitment to pray for needs with faith might change and strengthen the body.  My prayers are so parsimonious: I ask for such small and such self-focused concerns.  When I hear of the Schaeffers praying for years and years for the individuals they met, I’m challenged to grow in my love for the broader body of Christ.   

God grant that as I continue to study about Francis and Edith’s life, I’ll be challenged to believe better, and to love more deeply.

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