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Entries in Holiness (11)

Wednesday
Jun282017

The temptation of the academic exercise

Many years ago, a friend and I spent some time at a summer camp teaching the Bible to women. The camp was held in early August, and we began preparing in the spring. We met often to pray about what we would be doing. One thing my friend prayed often was that our study would not become mere academic exercise. That is a prayer that I have to repeat to myself often since beginning seminary.

Last year, I took systematic theology over two semesters and each time we began a new topic, I took note of resources for further study so that I could go back and re-visit the topics. It is not hard to see how theologians ultimately focus on a specific area of study. Recently, I began my foray into the world of Logos software, and as I began browsing and compiling a wishlist, I saw how easy it is to investigate every fine of point of theology we want. It is tempting, however, to poke and prod at theological issues without ever addressing my own heart. 

No matter what kind of theologian we are -- the ordinary kind or the professional kind -- there is a responsibility before God to be holy because he is holy (I Pet 1:13-16). It is easy to think we are holy because we are engaged in deep study of theology, but pursuing holiness means we have to actually look away from the study and examine ourselves. I love the study. I love following the bunny trails. But if the end result is nothing but a head full of facts without any heart impact, I may as well study something other than theology.

Last semester, as we studied sanctification, it became apparent to me that there were holes in my understanding. When school was over and I had time, I started reading Sinclair Ferguson's book Devoted to God and then J.I. Packer's Re-Discovering Holiness. I'm glad I read those books. I'm glad I took the time to look at my own heart; to get to that place where the rubber meets the road. 

It's easy to become immersed in doctrine while checking my heart at the door. What good does a reading list of ten or twenty books on a subject if I'm not pursuing holiness? Does all of the doctrinal study I do lead me ultimately to praise God? To love his word more? It's actually quite easy to know a lot of theology, to read a lot of books on the subject, and maybe even write eloquently about it, but never actually spend a lot of time in the Bible itself. There are so many experts out there who have done the work for us that it's easy to just take their word for it and never engage scripture with any depth.

My mother used to say two contrasting, but complementary things: "A little knowledge is a light load to carry," and "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Knowledge can be a benefit, but used incorrectly, it can become a source of pride. Study is good, but if we're not paying attention to our own sanctification in the process, then all of that knowledge is a hollow accomplishment.

I want my studies to make a difference in the every day. I want them to make me more thankful, more prone to praising God, more yielded to God's will, more gracious, and more at peace. It is still my prayer that study will not be mere academic exercise.

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.

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.

Tuesday
Jun132017

Boys will be boys and girls will be girls

Sometimes, my husband acts like a big kid. When my boys are around, or perhaps when he's biking with his buddies, he will occasionally forget to assess the risk before doing something. These are not frequent occasions. Some day, his tendency to let his little child rear its head will mean he's a good grandpa. That said, there are times when despite being adults, we don't behave in a mature way.

The Struggle to Grow Up

The purpose of this post is not to recount the struggle for men to grow up. Delayed adolescence is something we're all aware of. And it's not just confined to men. In all honesty, I get frustrated when women imply that men never grow up but we do. We may roll our eyes at men for behaving like boys, but having two sons and a husband, I can assure you, men roll their eyes at the way women demonstrate their lack of maturity. 

Young girls are often petty, cliqueish, competitive, and catty. They hold grudges with one another. They get offended easily. They gossip. They envy. Of course, there are exceptions, but these are things I'm sure many of us remember as part of life as a teenage girl. Do these vices magically disappear from us when we hit 18? Are these habits completely absent in women over 30? Check out a Twitter or Facebook thread where complementarianism and egalitarianism are being debated and you will have your answer.

I say all that to say this: emotional maturity is something that will either hinder or help us in our pursuit of personal holiness. If we feel like we're not making any progress in our sanctification, instead of wondering if God is really working in our lives, perhaps our first line of inquity ought to be our own emotional maturity. 

Spiritual Maturity Needs Emotional Maturity

In J.I. Packer's book, Rediscovering Holiness, there is an an excellent chapter which deals with practical ways to pursue holiness. He ends the chapter with a section called "Avoiding the Peter Pan Syndrome." We struggle to mature in our present culture. Packer says:

It has been truly said that the greatest social problem of the modern world is extreme emotional immaturity masquerading as an adult lifestyle . . . Affluence allows childish self-indulgence to become a lifestyle from one's teens onward, and the results in later life are painful.

Of course, we as Christians are shaped by our culture. We may think we're not, but if we really look closely at ourselves, we can't really deny it. If we want to be spiritually mature, we have to be emotionally mature. Spiritual maturity requires willgness to put aside our own wishes. It means doing things we don't want to do. It means self-denial. It means loving others and living the fruit of the Spirit. And it means facing the ways in which we are still immature. Packer says:

Maxims and disciplines of devotion cannot help us if we are not prepared to be changed at this point. Am I willing to learn whether I need to grow up emotionally? Are you?

Christians Need to be Mature

One way we as Christians can live counter culturally is to be mature men and women. One does not want to be legalistic in this, but there are many obvious ways in which people display maturity: taking responsibility for one's actions; being teachable; owning our sin; making amends when we've wronged others; controlling our tongue; putting aside childish things. These are only a few things which are basic evidences of maturity that if absent, may make it difficult to grow spiritually.

There is nothing wrong with remaining young at heart, but at the same time, there is nothing wrong with acting our age and not going into older age kicking and screaming. Growing up is part of our design as humans. I'm not 25 years old any more, and that ought to be reflected in my conduct emotionally. I am no longer a baby Christian, and that ought to be apparent as well.

Saturday
Jun102017

Living without the back patting

In Rediscovering Holiness, in the chapter "Growing in Christlikeness: Healthy Christian Experience," J.I. Packer discusses some of the signs that show we are growing in Christ. One of the signs of growth is that we will take a "growing delight in praising God, with an increasing distaste for being praised oneself." (emphasis mine)

We may not be aware that we seek the praise of men simply because we don't actively seek the spotlight. However, there are many ways we reveal, at the very least, a tendency to generate attention for ourselves rather than God. Perhaps I teach a Sunday school lesson and no one says "good job!" Will that make me disgruntled? Perhaps I write a blog post and no one comments, or no one notices. That happens a lot these days, and that has been very good for me.

What is my motive for telling people what I'm doing? Is it for the attention? That is a hard one for me, because I do like to share my joy at things. And yet I don't want to come across as looking for validation. That is difficult these days because places like Facebook and Twitter are full of voices soliciting attention.

Many years ago, my husband and I were watching his cousin's little girl play out in the yard at my in-laws' house. She was a cute little thing and she was running about with a dog. When she came into the house she said to us in her 3 year old innocence, "How did you like me out there?" She was very aware that she was cute and she was very aware that we were watching. How often do we have that thought, even if it is lurking in the background?

Sincere praise for God is the goal, and in order to give sincere praise to God, we have to forsake it for ourselves. Packer's way of describing it is that we have to have a "distaste" for it. Don't we all like to have someone pat us on the back? Tell us how good we are at something?

I have been very convicted about the things I say on Twitter. When I see others come across as self-promoting or self-aggrandizing, I have to wonder how I come across. I'm beginning to understand more fully my husband's motto for living: words are over rated. While I can't see myself ever fully embracing that maxim, perhaps I'll take more seriously the principle of less is more.