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Thursday
Jun222017

Embracing maturity

I finished J.I. Packer's Rediscovering Holiness. I loved Sinclair Ferguson's book Devoted to God, but I loved Packer's more; he is simultaneously wise, profound, witty, and eloquent.

The last chapter, "Hard Gaining: The Discipline of Endurance," focuss much on the place of suffering in the sanctification process. There were a few passages that really made me stop and think:

This is what self-denial really means -- not a mere cutting back on some bit of private self-indulgence, but totally surrendering one's natural wish for acceptance and status and respect. It means preparing to be rejected as worthless and dispensable, and to find oneself robbed of one's rights.

Ouch, ouch. "Preparing to be rejected." Who wants that?

This is a soft age in the West, an age in which ease and comfort are seen by the world as life's supreme values. Affluence and medical resources have brought secular people to the point of feeling they have a right to a long life, and a right to be fre of poverty and pain for the whole of that life. Many even cherish a grudge against God and society if these hopes do not materialize. Nothing, however, as we now see, could be further from the true, tough, hard-gaining holiness that expresses true Christianity.

I would say that the love of comfort and ease is not confined to the secular world, but is alive and well in Christian circles.

Mature . . . ? Oh . . . yes, I see. And I am a silly child who stumbles and fumbles and tumbles every day. Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, I need your help. Lord, have mercy; hold me up, and hold me steady -- please, starting now. Amen.

" . . . stumbles and fumbles and tumbles every day." Do you ever feel like that? Just yesterday, at a moment when I was feeling sorry for myself, I wondered if I will ever reach a point where I feel like I'm not doing just that. 

This was a wonderful read, and it left me thinking hard about what my priorities are and what kinds of distractions I allow in my life. Packer is always enjoyable to read, and if you choose to read this, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday
Jun212017

Re-visiting Scarlett

When I was 15 years old, a local theatre held screenings of David Selznick's Gone With the Wind, and I went with my mother. Following seeing the movie, I read the book by Margaret Mitchell, and loved it. Over the years, I read it a few more times. Recently, I picked it up again after having watched the movie on TCM.

It's always interesting reading years later a book one loved as a young person. Some reactions are the same, and others are different. I still found the attitude toward the African American population shocking and disturbing. The story really is about Scarlett, and not the slaves, but reading in 2017, one knows of the brutality of slavery. Mitchell's depiction of slavery reflects the reality that she was born only 35 years after the end of the Civil War. She was from Atlanta herself, so she grew up in the culture of Reconstruction. While I cringed at much of what I read, I recognize that the story it is a reflection of its author.

This time around, I saw something else. Scarlett lives in a world where there are clearly defined rules of conduct; rules based entirely on arbitrary judgments, not on any sort of reason, and certainly not based on anything biblical. Scarlett struggles to fit in with other women because she questions the prescribed rules she must follow. Before the war, she accepts them, even while she secretly resents them. After the war, to survive, she must reject those norms. Not only is she engaged in business, but she consorts with Yankees. If that isn't bad enough, she is good at it. Surely, there is something inherently unwomanly about being good at trade. She is outside the circle of acceptable conduct for women, and she is not to be trusted. Women who do not reject those norms judge her:

These women, so swift to kindness, so tender to the sorrowing, so untiring in times of stress, could be as impacable as furies to any renegade who broke one small law of their unwritten code. This code was simple. Reverence for the Confederacy, honor to the veterans, loyalty to old forms, pride in poverty, open hands to friends and undying hatred to Yankees. Between them, Scarlett and Rhett had outraged every tenet of this code.

We have many unwritten codes for Christian womanhood, different depending on which group one belongs to. Women who favour more progressive attitudes have a code and women who are more traditional in their approach have their code. Is it "unwomanly" to love theology as it was "unwomanly" for Scarlett to be good at business? Sometimes, I identify with Scarlett because like her, I am selfish and vain. Other times, I identify with her because I feel frustration that the unwritten codes often have more influence on how women conduct themselves than does biblical teaching.

I don't know how long it will be until I read Gone With the Wind again. But I will read it again. Perhaps if I live to be 80, I'll pick it up again. And I'll be curious about what looks different at that time.

Sunday
Jun182017

Daily Readings - John 12:44-50

J.C. Ryle - Daily Readings
John 12:44-50

He who believes on me does not believe in me but in him who sent me (John 12:44b)

Concerning the unity of the Father and the Son, we must be content to believe reverently what we cannot grasp mentally or explain distinctly. Let it suffice us to know that our Saviour was not like the prophets and patriarchs, a man sent by God the Father, a friend of God and a witness for God. He was something far higher and greater than this. He was in his divine nature essentially one with the Father and, in seeing him, men saw the Father that sent him. This is a great mystery, but a truth of vast importance to our souls. He that casts his sins on Jesus Christ by faith is building on a rock. Believing on Christ, he believes not merely on him, but on him that sent him.

Saturday
Jun172017

Live the life we're given or bloom where we're planted

I always take note of articles about seminary education. Education is a topic which generally interests me, and more so now that I'm a student. I love to hear about good resources for students, and recently I found myself reading blogs by a student who attends Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She was sharing about being taught by D.A. Carson and Kevin Vanhoozer. Big names those. I've only read Vanhoozer, but I've heard Carson speak a number of times, and I can only imagine the richness of his teaching. When I hear about students who attend schools which are well-known or who are exposed to teaching by well-known scholars, it is my natural disposition to think "I wish I could do that." I can be a perfectionist and that means wanting the best; the best resources, the best tools; the best instructors. That, of course, is my pride rearing its ugly head. After all, what is my purpose for education? Is it to say I've been taught by so-and-so? 

For a few moments this past week, I imagined what would have resulted if I'd discovered my love of learning before I became a wife and mother (because that love really came to fruition in such a context). Would I have braved leaving my country and my home to attend a prestigious seminary? I don't really think I would have. It's nice to think of being able to do so, but I don't think I would have done it. I'm not really the adventurous type, and when push comes to shove, I wouldn't want to live anywhere other than Canada. I am a homebody. This is where I'm from and where I want to be. If God should call me elsewhere, so be it. But right now, he has me here.

I love my school. No, Kevin Vanhoozer doesn't teach there. It isn't world renowned. But, again, what is my purpose for attending seminary? Heritage Seminary fits exactly with where I am and who I am. I love being home. I love being with my dogs and my husband, and having my kids close enough to visit with regularly. I love the little town where I live and how close it is to other amenities so that I don't have to live in a big city. I love driving to school in the early morning past corn fields and gently sloping pastures. I love being only an hour away from school. I love every minute of my class time, but I also love driving home along the river road and being back by tea time. God has blessed me.

My profs have all been excellent. They care about the students. One of my profs was at one time offered a position at a prestigious school. He turned it down because it would not have been good for his family. I am thankful to have been taught by someone like that. There is value in learning from excellent teaching, and my school does bring in teachers for special courses such as the one this month taught by Stephen Wellum and the ones taught by Michael Haykin. But I love being able to have a professor on a weekly basis, all year long. Online and modular learning are great, but I do love traditional classroom learning where I can get to know people.

My purpose for seminary is so that I can learn more about God. The benefits also include learning how to think better, how to improve writing, and to be part of a community. I can get all of these right where I am. God placed me in this small town for this time in my life so that I could do what I'm doing. Living the life we're given is the best we can do for God; bloom where we're planted. It's good advice.

Friday
Jun162017

Hoping for the easy life

There is truth in the saying "No pain, no gain." In childbirth, the pain is evidence that the body is at work. Without the pain of contractions, a child will not be delivered. Even the pain which follows a C-section (and I can testify personally) reminds us that we have delivered a child.

The same is true for holiness. Think about those people you regard as spiritually mature. What is the connection between their character and trials they have endured? I have three friends whom have all lost a child, and one of them has lost a spouse, too. Those women have progressed through an aspect of sanctification I have not. It shows in their character. They are women of spiritual depth and integrity whom I trust. Some day, when I experience a serious loss, I know where I will go for counsel.

Often, we want to defer the pain. I know I do. I want to holiness without the struggle. And even as I may know intellectually that I must suffer with Christ, it is not a pleasant thought. J.I. Packer comments on this matter:

Again and again our Lord leads us into situations that are painful and difficult, and we pray -- as Paul prayed regarding his thorn in the flesh -- that the situation will change. We want a miracle! But instead the Lord chooses to leave things as they are and to strengthen us to cope with them, as He did with Paul, making his strength perfect in continuing human weakness (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Think of it in terms of training of children, and you will see my point at once. If there are never any difficult situations that demand self-denial and discipline, if there are never any sustained pressures to cope with, if there are never any long-term strategies where the child must stick with an education process, or an apprenticeship, or the practice of a skill, for many years in order to advance, there will never be any maturity of character. The children (who, of course, want life to be easy and full of fun, as children always do) will remain spoiled all their lives, because everything has been made too easy for them. The Lord does not allow that to happen in the lives of his children.

Life can be hard. But we are so accustomed innovation and devices which make our lives easier that we mistakenly think it should be so with every aspect of our lives. I can make communication easier by digital tools, but I can't stop the reality of illness or suffering. Surely this reality that life is hard is one of the reasons people walk away from the Lord; they are bitter because life is not easy. Isn't life supposed to be easier for the Christian? Obedience is hard, and I don't want hard. It's easier to walk away. 

While life away from God may seem easier at the time, there are ultimately those times when we come to the end of ourselves, and if we can't turn to God, where will we turn? Where shall we go? He has the words of eternal life.