Other places I blog




web stats

Follow Me on Twitter

The appeal of Augustine

Augustine said some pretty wonky things, but he said much that I can totally understand and agree with. One of those things is how he confronted his own sin. Even after his conversion, Augustine wrestled with temptations. One of them was the praise of men. As a trained rhetorician, he would have sought the approval of men. After his conversion, he talks about the remaining struggle:

. . . there is a third kind of temptation which, I fear, has not passed from me. Can it ever pass from me in all this life? It is the desire to be feared or loved by other men, simply for the pleasure that it gives me, though in such pleasure there is no true joy. It means only a life of misery and despicable vainglory . . .  This is why the enemy of our true happiness persists in his attacks upon me, for he knows that when men hold certain offices in human society, it is necessasry that they should be loved and feared by other men. He sets his traps about me, baiting them with tributes of applause, in the hope that in my eagerness to listen I may be caught off my guard. He wants me to divorce my joy from the truth and place it in man's duplicity. He wants me to enjoy being loved and feared by others, not for your sake, but in your place. 

But we, O Lord, are your little flock. Keep us as your own. Spread your wings and let us shelter beneath them. Let us glory in you alone. If we are loved or feared by others, let it be for your sake. No man who seeks the praise of other men can be defended by men when you call him to account. Men cannot save him when you condemn. (Confessions, X.36).

The praise of men is something we can all get caught up in without even realizing it. Yet how often do we admit such a temptation? How often do I consider the approval of others a trap? 

I love how Augustine ends this discussion: by throwing himself upon the truth he knows, that we are his flock.


Because he doesn't want me to grow

On my first day of seminary, I woke up and did not want to go. Despite wanting this for a long time, and despite the fact that I had support from my husband and closest friends, I cried, because I did not want to go. Even as I drove that morning, my stomach was in knots. My first seminary class occurred right in the middle of the worst part of my first really bad bout with anxiety.

I've always tended toward being anxious, but this was much worse than what I'd known before. There were many physical symptoms, and it was simply beyond me. I made it through that class and only through God was I able to get the work done. The class was on writing Bible study curriculum, and one of the studies I wrote had to do with what Scripture said about being anxious, so it was therapeutic. 

I don't know if I'm much wiser than I was two years ago, but I am on the other side of that time. I am not a fool, and I know that I cannot be complacent. I must recognize what triggers my anxiety and deal accordingly with it. Interestingly enough, in the past couple of weeks, I have felt the weight of burdens encroaching on my heart; the kinds of things that can trigger anxiety. And it's the beginning of another semester of school.

Two years ago, a very good friend who understands anxiety well, shared with me that she really believed that Satan does not want me in seminary. He does not want me to have a theological education or growing in the things of God. I thought about that recently when I was studying my Greek vocabulary and my mind began to wander to things I cannot change. I have to learn is how to shut the door on things that are simply going to drag me down.

I've always wanted to fix everything. It bothers me to leave things unresolved. I don't like arguments festering. I want resolution now! That isn't always possible. Sitting and waiting is difficult. We feel powerless; or, rather, we confront our powerlessness. Shutting the door on things goes against what I really want to do. That is probably a good thing. As I sat at my desk, allowing myself to be distracted, I had to mentally picture myself shutting a door to the burdens that I can't resolve. I don't pretend they're not there, and I do have to acknowledge them, but not every day, and definitely not when I have other things to do.

I think Satan wants me to open the door to that closet more often, because then I can start to feel hopeless and discouraged. Then I can start to blame others for things that have happened, or I can blame myself, and make it seem as if I'm the centre of everything. Yes, he wants me to do that because that distracts me from simply trusting God. Fortunately, learning Greek is very methodical and demands memorization. Translating sentences, even the small ones we're beginning with this week, is like solving a puzzle, and that re-focuses me. I will stay in seminary if only to keep my mind from wandering to places where it ought not go. If I'm still having trouble concentrating after Greek is done, I'll just take Hebrew.

God's ultimate goal for me is to be conformed to the image of his son. Burdens have a way of making that happen or they can be a way of ensuring that it doesn't. We don't often talk about Satan in the church these days. But he's real, and he likes it when we're weak. I feel like it's no co-incidence that these burdens are plaguing me now. I must remember the truth: greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world.


When too much parenting preaching is too much

My children are grown and on their own. My role as a parent, which has always been in a consistent state of growth, has changed. The issues of parenting are not pressing in the same way as when they were younger.  My children are on my mind, but on a day to day basis, my thoughts are not consumed with parenting as they once were.

I find it hard at times to listen to regular preaching about parenting. I seldom read parenting blogs, books, or articles anymore. And the reason why I don't it is that it provides a temptation to simply second guess everything I ever did. It seems to be part of the reality of parenthood (at least from my place as a mother; I won't generalize about fathers, since I've never been one) that we bear a lot of guilt for things we did. In many cases, our children share with us when they are older things they didn't like or ways we disappointed them, and we may feel a sense of failure. It's already there within our family dynamics as we remember when we made mistakes or didn't handle something the right way. To insert someone else's view of the way to parent just adds fuel to the fire.

I do understand that parents today feel just as much of a burden for their children as I did, and I appreciate their desire to parent for God's glory. Sometimes, I want to tell them that they are over thinking things, but I did exactly the same thing, and I would have felt discouraged if an older person had said that to me. And yet, I do wish that younger parents would also remember the importance of simply learning about Christ. And while pastors mean well when they do series on parenting, I also want to shout out, "Just teach us about Christ!" So much parenting advice is very individualistic. What worked for me may not work for you. And looking back, I know that most of the infinite number of mistakes I made were a result of my spiritual immaturity and pride. 

And the only remedy for that is learning about Christ, not getting advice from another parent.


Come, Let Us Worship

Another great song from The Shadow of Your Wings. This is based on Psalm 95, one of my favourite Psalms.

Come, let us worship and bow down
And kneel before the Lord, our Maker
Come, let us worship and bow down
And kneel before the Lord, our Maker

He is our God, He is our God
We are the people of His pasture
He is our God, He is our God
We are the sheep of His hand

Come, let us worship and bow down
And kneel before the Lord, our Maker
Come, let us worship and bow down
And kneel before the Lord, our Maker

Worship the Lord in holiness
Let the whole earth stand in awe
He will come to judge the earth
In righteousness and truth


Stuck in our own minds

I really enjoyed my class in Church History yesterday. It was a long day, but very invigorating. Supper was provided for us, and it was nice to sit and chat with others. The prof must have been even more tired, seeing as he had to do a lot of talking. I've not had this prof before, so I was looking forward to getting to know him. He is an enthusiastic lover of Church History, so I can see I'm going to enjoy this class.

One of the really great things we were told is that our term papers are not the kind of papers whereby we have to prove something. Rather, he wants us to choose a topic, probe as deeply as possible, and reveal what we have discovered. I'm going to be researching the development of the doctrine of purgatory in the Middle Ages, so I'm excited to look for some good resources that include some primary source documents from the men who were instrumental in developing that doctrine.

At the end of the class, we examined the writings of Ignatius, who was one of the very influential men from the early church. He was the one who really promoted a hierarchy in the church, investing a lot of authority in the bishops. Of course, as we sit here in 2017, we can see how that contributed to the eventual concentration of power among the bishops in the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.

As we read through Ignatius, we were reminded that after Jesus and the apostles died, there was a vacuum left in the Church. How did they determine the right way to "do Church" without the presence of the apostles? People turned to men like Ignatius, who was a disciple of John. The Church in its infancy was suscptible to falling into quick error as sects and factions developed, not to mention the objection of the Jews. Where was the ultimate voice of authority? Of course, it was in the Scriptures, but they were not even completely compiled in Ignatius's day, and the process of developing doctrine from Scripture was a long process. There must have been a lot of fear in the Church at the time. At one point, in one of the documents from Ignatius, it was clear that he equated loyalty to the bishop with loyalty to God. That stirred a lot of discussion among the class.

It was pointed out that our reaction to the kind of loyalty to authority displayed by Ignatius was not unfamiliar to people during his day. We balk at such a concentration of authority because of our own experience and because we can look back and see how concentration of power was detrimental to the Church. One student was not so quick to let Ignatius off the hook. He felt that Ignatius, having the copies of the Scripture he would have had, ought to have avoided that error.

I think he had a point, but I'm not so sure it's as cut and dried as that. I don't think we can truly understand how people thought in the first century. We can read about what they did or what they said, but if we have not been immersed in a culture which did not automatically suspect authority as we do today, I don't think we can fully appreciate what it was like.

As students of history, we do evaluate it, but at the same time, we do have to be careful not to expect people in the first century, in a very different world than ours, to do what we would do or react how we do. I was thankful that the prof emphasized that. 

Despite Ignatius's shortcomings in the matter of Church leadership, his efforts toward promoting a solid Christology made up for it. It was probably a much different world to go to a Church without a formally established set of beliefs. Biblical texts were still being evaluated and not everyone had them. That God preserved a faithful Church through all that is truly something only God could do.