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Friday
May122017

What is piety?

Piety is not a popular word. When we call someone pious, we often use the term as a pejorative one rather than a complimentary one. As with many words, it's a word which has been used and abused to its apparent demise.

In the first book of Calvin's Institutes, he refers to piety in a positive way. In Book 1, Chapter 2, paragraph 1, he emphasizes that piety is something we ought to learn:

For this sense of the powers of God is for us a fit teacher of piety, from which religion is born. I call "piety" that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him -- they will never yeld him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.

"Reverence joined with the love of God." There is that word, "reverence." It's one I've been thinking about lately, especially as seen in the frequently used Titus 2:3: "Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good."

What does it mean for an older woman to be reverent? Calvin links reverence with piety, which in turn is linked to love of God. It certainly must begin with love of God.

These days, women like to avoid appearing old. We want to be cool. We want to look young. We love it when people mistake us for being younger than we are. We want to do everything we can to hold back time. The plate in my ankle reminds me that breaking a bone at 51 was not as easy to recover from as it would had I been 15 when I broke it. It would be nice to stop the aging of my bones, but if it meant keeping a 15 year old mind, I'd say "no thanks."

Do we want to be known as someone with piety? Can we ever recover the good use of that word, or will it along with other good words, gather dust?

Thursday
May112017

Now, this is how books ought to be written

Since school finished, I've wanted to read from my "to read" pile. I started one, got about halfway through, and put it down, disappointed. I don't often do that, but I found it a chore to read every day. Sometimes, in school, I have to read things I find tedious, but reading for pleasure ought to be just that: pleasurable.

After putting down the other book, I took up Sinclair Ferguson's book Devoted to God. I started it while on holidays, but in the wake of my decision to stop reading the other, I've given it more attention. I can understand why so many people gave such resounding approval to this book. There is theological explication combined with eloquence that demonstrates that this man, a minister of the gospel and a teacher for many years, has thought deeply about matters of doctrine for many years.

In the third chapter, Ferguson talks about the "prepositions of grace." When writers bring up the grammar of a biblical passage, I eagerly listen. Specifically, what he does is show the prepositional phrases found in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ
and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;
and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself up for me.

Ferguson addresses them in theological order rather than as they appear in the text: Christ gave himself for us; we live by faith in him; we have been crucified with him; Christ lives in us. His purpose in this is to show us that unity in Christ is a key foundational principle in our sanctification. He points out, especially, that Paul uses the phrase "into Christ" rather than just "in Christ." He says: "Faith brings us into a person-to-person union and communion with Jesus Christ so that what is ours becomes his and what is his becomes ours." This is intimacy that is staggering; that Christ would be this intimate with us is something amazing!

I particularly liked Ferguson's explanation of what being crucified to Christ means:

The heart of union with Christ, Paul emphasizes, is this: when we trusted into him who was crucified with us there is a sense in which we also came to share in his crucifixion. Paul does not mean that we died physically but rather that united to Christ all the implications of his being crucified for us became our possession.

There is much to think about in the rich descriptions Ferguson provides. He points the reader to think about matters that are deep and enduring. And when a writer uses grammar-speak, it's an added bonus.

Wednesday
May102017

Divided families

I was reading Mark 2:23-3:35 this morning. In this passage, we are told that the reaction of Jesus' own people to his ministry was not positive. Mark 3:21 says, "He has lost his senses." It's pretty sobering when the Saviour himself generates a reaction like that.

I am sure my own family believed I had lost my senses when I was converted. It was't the first time I'd had a religious experience. As a teenager, I spent a number of months immersed in the teaching of the Latter-Day Saints. I was a very good Mormon. When I had a very emotional change of heart, it probably came across as having been merely a fad.

However, it was only the beginning of something else. Perhaps some would object, but I see now God's providential hand in directing me to the LDS church. It propelled me forward in a significant way: it impressed upon me the importance of the Bible. After that, my path was fairly clear. Three years later, I was converted. Perhaps the skepticism of my family was understandable. Here we go again *eye roll*.

It is not easy being the only Christian in my family. The reality is that despite spending our lives together, being raised by the same parents and in the same context, my brothers and I live very different lives. We have different priorities. The similar experiences remain part of who we are, but since my conversion, and as we moved into adulthood, the differerence was apparent, especially once we became parents. The place where we begin to build a family is important, and for me, it started with God as the focus of our home. That put me even more on the outside. Now, as my parents are getting older, the reality of aging and death has shown me how I am separated from my own parents. I love my parents and they love me, too We enjoy being together, but the difference remains.

Luke 12:51-53 reminds me of the expectation of division: 

Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Christ's coming would pit people against one another everywhere, including among families. This is a hard truth to live with. Our siblings are our closest biological relatives. We share a common life, a common upbringing. We have memories. I love to sit and listen to my own children remenisce about the fun things they did as children. Those times are part of who they are. But when we are separated by a difference of belief, it can be difficult. In the past couple of years, as I have spent time with two of my three brothers whom I see very little, I am reminded that in some ways, we don't really know one another well, and we have little in common. That saddens me.

The end of the exchange in Mark 3 finds Jesus embracing those around him: "For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother." We find fellowship and a common life with the Body of Christ. And if we are fortunate to have biological family members in the Body of Christ, we are doubly blessed. The church is important. It is a gift to us. That is one of the reasons I struggle with people who say they love Jesus but not the church. The church is imperfect, but it is within that body where I find the opportunity for fellowship and friendship. It isn't always easy, but it is possible. 

It takes work and the grace of God to live peacefully with unbelieving family members. We pray for their salvation year after year. We hope that every time together is an edifying time where we can live Christ before them. Sometimes, our efforts are well received, and sometimes not. Our families know us well, and they often bring to the surface our worst qualities. The temptation to be bitter or dismissive is real. But we must continue to love them, accept the reality of division, and rely on God. It isn't easy, but as I get older, I realize how very difficult the Christian life truly is.

Tuesday
May092017

Grammar is not just for nerds

It's always a little disappointing to read a book which has made it through the publication process, but reveals bad editing. Of course, editors are human, but it can be very distracting when one is reading along merrily, and a poorly used comma stops the reading process, causing the reader to go back and untangle the arguments. When reading a blog, although I would expect a responsible blogger would proof read and make an attempt at proper grammar and usage, it's not as much of an issue. When it comes to a book from a reputable publisher, one would expect that not to be the case.

If we are going to write with the expectation of others reading it, we ought to do the absolute best we can. And that may mean considering help with our writing. It isn't fun to think we are writing without clarity, and we may feel disgruntled taking advice from others, but ultimately, it helps. I recently wrote and handed in a fifteen page term paper. A friend asked if I could send him a copy, and as I did, I proof read it again, and realized that yes, I did hand it in with some unclear writing. I'm sure when it's returned to me, my prof will have taken note. 

Is grammar taught in high school these days? Do people learn how to diagram sentences? My children didn't really like diagramming sentences, but I had them do it before they went off to public high school. They are all good, clear writers. The reason people use "lie" and "lay" incorrectly may be due a lack of grammar instruction. I saw a television commercal recently where the advertisement used "less" and "fewer" incorrectly. Some of the worst examples of writing I've seen is perpetuated by journalists.

Reading well-written books helps in gaining an intuitive understanding of how good writing sounds. but learning grammar is valuable, too. And if we're going to write for others, we should not hesitate to learn more. As a former homeschool mom, I myself, a few years ago, re-visited a grammar program just to sharpen my own writing. I used the program I used with my children in 7th and 8th grades, Stewart English

For an adult looking to improve writing clarity, a high school grammar program would be a good investment. There is a review website by Cathy Duffy where various programs are reviewed. Right now, one of the more popular grammar programs is Analytical Grammar. It came into the homeschool community after my children were homeschooled, but if I was homeschooling today, I would probably use it.

I don't always write with clarity, and when I do, it's probably because I've been rushed or careless. It certainly isn't because I don't know the rules. Writing is hard work, and writing with clarity means being willing to follow a few guidelines and rules so that others will not be distracted by poor writing. The best ideas suffer from being poorly expressed.

Sunday
May072017

Daily Readings - John 10:7-14

Daily Readings - J.C. Ryle
John 10:7-14 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10)

These verses show us, for one thing, the great object for which Christ came into the world. He says, 'I am come that [men] might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.'

The truth contained in these words is of vast importance. They supply an antidote to many crude and unsound notions which are abroad in the world. Christ did not come to be only a teacher of new morality, or an example of holiiness and self-denial, or a founder of new ceremonies, as some have vainly asserted. He left heaven and dwelt for thirty-three years on earth for far higher ends than these. He came to procure eternal life for man by the price of his vicarious death. He came to be a mighty foundtain of spiritual life for all mankind, to which sinners coming by faith might drink, and drinking, might live for evermore. By Moses came laws, rules, ordinances, ceremonies. By Christ came grace, truth, and eternal life.