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An outpost of heaven

As Dr. Carson continues discussing Paul's prayer to the Philippians, he make an observation about these verses, 1:9-11:

 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

He points out first that Paul prays for excellence for them.  He wants their love to abound more and more in knowledge and with discernment, so that they may approve what is excellent.  This excellence is to work to making them pure and blameless for the day of Christ.  Carson points out that Paul wants them to be foward thinking.  He prays for them to live in view of the eventual day when they meet Christ.  This means that they are to recognize that they are ultimately citizens of heaven. 

Carson goes on:

The church is to see itself as an outpost of heaven.  It is a microcosm of the new heaven and the new earth, brought back, as it were, into our temporal sphere.  We are still contaminated by faiures, sin, relapses, rebellion, self-centeredness; we are not yet what we ought to be.  But by the grace of God, we are not what we were.  For as long as were are left here, we are to struggle aginst sin, and anticipate, so far as wer able, what it will be like to live in the untarnished bliss of perfect righteousness.  We are to live with a view to the day of Christ.

This is something I have thought more about in recent months, having read some of the Puritans.  They were a people who were much more conscious about the end of their lives.  Earlier today, I was listening to a lecture about John Owen, by Derek Thomas.  One of the things he mentioned was that it is not surprising that the Westminster Confession asks the question about what happes to babies who die.  At that time, infant mortality was very high.  Anyone living past childhood would have seen the good fortune they had, but would have been very aware of the brevity of life.  They thought about the end quite a lot more than we do.

I love that phrase, "the untarnished bliss of perfect righteousness."  I long to have a consciousness that is not burdened over with the effects of sin.  I want to live in light of that glorious day, and have it affect my life here and now.  That prayer of Paul's is something I will pray for myself as well as others.


Excuses for not praying

D.A. Carson outlines some excuses we may have for not praying enough.  The fact that he has included a chapter on this issues is quite telling.   I'm sure I've use on or more of these excuses.

I am too busy.  Carson points out that we must evaluate how we use our time, and if there is something in our lives that can be unloaded in order to make time for prayer, we must do it.

I feel too spiritually dry to pray.  There are two pre-suppositions behind this sentiment.  First, that the acceptability and approachability of God with regard to my prayers is dependent on my emotions.  The second is that the obligation of my prayers is diminished when I do not feel like praying. 

"Are we not casting a terrible slur on the cross when we act as if the usefulness of our acceptability of our prayers turns on whether we feel full or dry?"

I feel no need to pray.  While we may not actually say those words out loud, I think that underlies a lot of our prayerlessness.  Self-sufficiency distracts us, and we don't think about it.  We run back to God when something bad happens.

I am too bitter to pray.  I think the condition of our heart is definitely important as we approach God, but Carson indicates that often people want to hang on to their bitterness, and if they began praying, perhaps they would be convicted about it:

  "... many of us do not want to pray because we know that disciplined, biblical prayer would force us to eliminate sin that we rather cherish."

I am too ashamed to pray.   Shame does indeed create in us a response to hide from God.  But that is a wrong reaction.  Shame ought to take us back to God, because He is the only one who can help us deal with our shame.

I am content with mediocrity.  This is the position where we want to be identified with Christ but not seriously inconvenienced.  Just as praying despite our bitter hearts will convict us of sin, praying while being content with the mediocre may just convict us to begin desiring to know God more and to start praying for things that may involve taking us out of our "comfort zone."

There are study questions at the end of every chapter of this book, and one of the questions Dr. Carson asked was what other excuses we could think of for not praying.  One came immediately to my mind:  we are too burdned to pray.  A few years ago, when I was going through some very acute struggles, I often found myself unable to pray because it seemed like praying out loud about the particular burden made it seem more real than I wanted it to be.  It was as if keeping it inside my head made it less real.  Of course it was real, and of course God knew about it.  One thing I would do rather than praying about that issue was to pray in the Psalms.  They were a great source of comfort in my prayers, because often, that was what my prayer consisited of.  I also used passages from The Valley of Vision.  And eventually, I was able to pray for that burden.

This was a good chapter.  Well, they're all good, but this prompted me do what Carson suggests with each excuse:  ask myself, "What does God say about this?"


Thankful Thursday

This morning, I am thankful for the study that my three friends and I are doing together over the summer.  It is called The One True God, and it is written by Paul David Washer.  It is a study on the attributes of God.  It has been such a rich study.  This past week, we talked about the self-sufficiency of God and the immutability of God.  We read these verses:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24-25)

I am thankful that my God is not a god of need.  He needs nothing, because he is the Creator and has made everything.  I am thankful that my God is not simply a bigger version of man.

I am also thankful for the way God has put our little study group together.  We have differing stories of how we came to faith, and I have been blessed by the things we have shared and learned together.

I am also thankful for the sense of "companionship" I find in studying.  It is not the same thing as fellowship, but I'm thankful that I know how to keep myself occupied when I have time on my hands.  I am thankful that I am not apprehensive about being alone with myself.


Warfield Wednesday

In his discussion of the biblical doctrine of predestination, Warfield observes that the apostle Paul is responsible for the fullest explanation of the doctrine.  Paul's view on predestination is a reflection of how he views God:

... the roots of his doctrine of predestination were set in his general doctrine of God, and it was fundamentally because St. Paul was a theist of a clear and consistent type, living and thinking under the influence of the profound consciousness of a personal God who is the author of all that is and, as well, the upholder and powerful governor of all that He has made, according to those who will, therefore, all that comes to pass must be ordered, that he was a predestinarian; and more particularly he too was a predestinarian because of his general doctrine of salvation, in every step of which the initiative must be taken by God's unmerited grace, just because man is a sinner, and, as a sinner, rests under the Divine condemnation, with no right of so much as access to God, and without means to seek, much less to secure, His favour.  But although possessing no other sense of the infinite majesty of the almighty Person in whose hands all things lie, or of the issue of all saving acts from His free grace, than his companion apostles, the course of the special work in which St. Paul was engaged, and the exigencies of the special controversies in which he was involved, forced him to a fuller expression of all that is implied in these convictions.  As he cleared the whole field of Christian faith from the presence of any remaining confidence in human works; as he laid beneath the hope of Christians a righteousness not self-wrought but provided by God alone; as he consistently offered this God-provided righteousness to sinners of all classes without regard to anything in them by which they might fancy God could e moved to accept their persons, - he was inevitably driven to an especially pervasive reference of salvation in each of its elements to the free grace of God, and to an especially full exposition on the one hand of the course of Divine grace in the serveral acts which enter into the saving work, and on the other to the firm rooting of the whole process in the pure will of the grace of God.

I think Warfield's complex sentences could rival Paul's any day.


A Mother's Heart

In our society, there is a lack of interest in history.  We here in the 21st century do not see how we are connected to the people of the past, other than that we are human beings.  This lack of historical rootedness is just as prevalent in the Church.  Our love of the new and novel often renders as irrelevant the lives of people who have come before us.  Of course the past is not irrelevant.  Anyone who reads history for any length of time will see that there are many ways which we connect with the past.  In Faith Cook's book, Anne Bradstreet, Pilgrim and Poet, it is easy to see that Bradstreet was very much like women today.  She had cares and concern for her children, she knew anxiety and she trusted in her God.  Technologically speaking and culturally speaking, she lived in a vastly different time, but as a child of God, there are some very basic elements of her life that resemble our own.

Bradstreet left a document behind that she intended for her children to read.  One of the things that was quite certain about Bradstreet is that she often looked forward to her own death.  I think this was characteristic of the Puritans; they were much more directed by their eventual death than we are today.  Perhaps that has more to do with the fact that they saw so much more death on a personal level.  Anne herself would see three of her grandchildren die at a young age, as well as the woman who bore them.  She lived to be over fifty years of age; that is quite substantial for the times she lived in.

In this document, Anne reveals quite a bit about what she wanted to leave behind for her children.  While she does not come right out and say, "I want to leave a legacy for my children," it is clear that she did not want to leave this world without passing on some attained wisdom to her children.  And it is clear that she did indeed leave a legacy of faith for her children.

She discusses the reality of God's chastening hand.  Anne knew much physical sickness in her life, and it was at these times where she seems to have seen very clearly God's purpose in allowing her to go through those ill times.  To her children, she says:

If at any time you are chastened by God, take it as thankfully and joyfully as in greatest mercies, for it ye be his, ye shall reap the greatest benefit by it.  It hath been no small support to me in times of darkness whenthe Almighty hath hid his face from that that yet I have had abundance of sweetness and refreshment after affliction and more circumspection in my walking after I have been afflicted.  I have been with God like an untoward child, that no longer that the rod has been on my back (or at least in sight) but I have been apt to forget him and myself, too.  'Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy statutes.'

Anne was also honest with her children about her own struggles, and she shares them.  She knew momentary doubting about her faith, but she wrestled through those things.  I think she did a very wise thing in admitting her own frailties to her children.  Sometimes, as parents, we think we can continue to look invincible to our children, when eventually, they will see that we, too, have feet of clay.  Bradstreet shares some of her struggles in her letter to her children:

Many times hath Satan troubled me concerning the verity of the Scriptures, many times by atheism how I could know whether there was a God; I never saw any miracles to confirm me, and those which I read of, how did I know they were feigned?

Certainly, her sentiments here sound very much like how someone today could verbalize her doubts.  And yet there are those who believe we have no connection with the past.

Anne continues:

That there is a God my reason would soon tell me by the wonderous works that I see, the vast frame of the heaven and the earth, the order of all things, night and day, summer and winter, spring and autumn, the daily providing for this great household upon the earth, the preserving and directing of all to its proper end.  The consideration of these things would with amazement certainly resolve me that there is an Eternal Being. 

Anne ends her letter this way:

Now to the King, immortal, eternal and invisible, the only wise God, be honour, and glory for ever and ever, Amen.

This was written in much sickness and weakness, and is very weakly and imperfectly done, but if you can pick any benefit out of it, that is the mark which I aimed at.

I often wonder if people who think that history is irrelevant or unnnecessary have ever read biographies.  I have found that biographies are completely necessary for an understanding of history.  We need to hear those voices talking to us throughout the ages.  I sometimes think about what the future will look like.  Will there be documents for the future generations to peruse that will help them understand the past?  Will there be an interest in the past?  Will there be people who can read?  I hope that despite the lack of interest in history, there will be some misfits in the future who will want to know.