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Entries in Sanctification (100)

Saturday
Sep232017

What's your normal?

My husband and I have an inside joke. Well, we have a few. But this one is the term "generic red drink."

I grew up eating meals accompanied by drinking either milk or water. His mother always had some sort of fruity drink, the kind mixed with crystals and water. He grew up thinking that everyone had such drinks at mealtime, and I grew up thinking one didn't. I felt kind of cheated that my family didn't have such luxuries. And for us, it would have been a luxury. Such beverages are usually not cost effective.

This idea that the way we grew up is everyone's experiences can be carried over in a lot of different directions, and one that is becoming more significant in my thinking is the consequence of growing up in a combative home. I love my parents, and they loved me and my brothers. They took care of us and did the best they could, sacrificing their own pleasures and wishes more often than I probably know. But our home was combative. The home my mother grew up in was combative, too. 

When you grow up in a home full of conflict, challenge, and arguing, you start to live like it's just a part of life. I found out very quickly after getting married that I was very wrong in that belief. That is probably one of the biggest differences between the way he grew up and the way I did. While his house tended to never confront a thing, ours confronted everything. And while his family didn't often say much, mine said everything without reserve.

When you grow up in a combative home, you frequently feel on the defensive, and that contributes to being thin-skinned. You have to learn that not everyone is confronting you. You have to learn not to take offense. I'm still learning that. 

I read a very good tweet from Lydia Brownback today: "Perpetually sniffing around for every doctrinal misstatement and tweeting about it bespeaks a joyless faith."

I appreciated that comment, because sometimes, I do find that social media can be full of people looking around every corner for some theological bogeyman. I cannot help but wonder if there is a connection between people who grew up in a combative environment and the need to look for conflict. After all, if there is no conflict in our lives, no argument to pursue, or point to win, do we go looking for one? Do we get energized by being involved in a debate because that is our normal? I suspect that I have been guilty of looking for conflict. Or at the very least, being too sensitive about things which I perceive as being wrong. Perhaps my character was predisposed to that already, and being in a home full of argument simply nurtured that. 

I am not saying that theological truth is not important. I'm not saying we should always remain silent and never confront. I think just the opposite, actually. It is not healthy to never confront problems whether personal or theological. However, is my default setting to engage others in a dispute? If so, is that a good thing? Is there not a point at which it is better to simply allow someone to say something I believe to be wrong and let it go? What does always demanding the last word say about what is important to me?

I wish I'd asked myself such questions years ago, but as we know, wisdom is not always appreciated when we are younger.

Saturday
Sep092017

Lookin' for love in all the wrong places

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that there are no little circles in the Christian blog world where I feel like I fit in.

There are groups of women who promote very traditional views of marriage and family. I agree with much of what they believe. I totally support a woman's decision to remain at home with her children if she is able, to homeschool her kids, and to be unashamed because she finds joy in domestic things. That describes me. But eventually, there comes a point where we begin to reveal substantial differences.

There are groups of women who believe in equality within the body of Christ between men and women. They see no disparity between the intellect of a woman and a man. They challenge traditional views. I totally relate to that. I'm a seminary student. I fully support Christian women participating in dialogue with regard to spiritual issues. I would love to see more women engaging in theology proper, not just applied theology or cultural critique. I have no problem agreeing with the freedom of a woman to work outside the home if she desires to. But again, there comes a point when I cannot endorse everything. In some cases, I feel compelled to distance myself from certain places.

So, am I without an online country? 

As quickly as that question comes into my thoughts, reason prevails, and the answer comes: why does it matter? I, like many others, have become so accustomed to making online life a part of my every day habits, that it feels wrong to if I'm not fully engaged in it. It reminds me of being in high school, where I felt the need to find a group to align myself with so I don't get left out. High school is over, and although life online periodically bears a creepy resemblance, I am past that. 

In short, why do I care if I don't fit in with a little group? I need to remind myself to grow up and live the life God has given me. And if I don't fit in with any particular group, what does it matter? The effort in trying to "fit in" can be detrimental to my spiritual growth; just as it was detrimental to my intellectual and social growth in high school. Sometimes, I just want to shake myself, because I've learned the pitfall of the need to "fit in." I ought to have learned from my mistakes.

Ultimately, no matter how wide or influential our online connections are, we stand before God on our own, in Christ. Having X amount of online connections or Twitter followers won't make a difference to God. But am I faithful? That's a better question to ask.

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
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.

Monday
Jan232017

The god of my feelings

It is hard to escape the influence of the world around us. We don't realize how it affects us until we sit back and look at ourselves with a critical eye. I grew up thinking that my feelings were as important as truth. In all honesty, I don't think I gave much thought to objective truth until I was much older. I felt justified in being easily offended because my feelings were important. We live in a world where feelings are exalted. I feel offended so people must tip-toe around me. We have to keep lists in our minds about what offends this person or that person so we know how best to relate to them. It can be exhausting.

When I was struggling with anxiety two yeas ago, feelings were my worst enemy. Even though I poured over the Psalms daily, filling my head with truth, my feeling of foreboding ruled me. I feared just about everything because I felt like something bad was going to happen. I had no tangible reason to explain that feeling. Its origin was in my own heart. Now, some people would say I just didn't have enough faith to conquer that. Some may question whether or not I was really saved. Believe me, that was one fear that plagued me the most: that I wasn't really God's. I read a lot of William Cowper's poetry at that time, too, and I know he felt the same way during his life.

The temptation with trusting my feelings is that I am in control. If my feelings are the arbiter of truth, then I control the shots. I feel offended by something my husband said or did, so I control the situation by being cool toward him. When I get over my offended feeling, I can control things again by warming back up to him. Perhaps I am the only wife who ever does this; if I am, do I get a prize?

There are times when I feel like my kids have forgotten me. Young adult children have their own lives and they are in the process of moving out in the world. When I don't hear from them from time to time, I feel like they don't give me a second thought, that I am no longer important to them. My husband will remind me that I am trusting my feelings, not truth. That is one of the dangers of sitting with our thoughts for too long; we are so good at allowing them to blow out of proportion. Especially when we experience a lull in activity is when feelings can be our enemy, not our friend. This is why we need to fill our minds with good things and keep our hands busy with service. We take the attention away from ourselves.

Ultimately, giving too much weight to my feelings is an indication of my pride, my self-centredness. And it's something I need to work on daily. I love the section of Romans 7 where Paul talks about his struggle between what he wants to do and what he struggles to do. It is my struggle, too, and I think often to myself "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver set me free from the body of this death?" (v.24). 

Emotions and feelings are part of who we are, but apart from regular exposure to truth, they can run away with us. Some of us have more trouble than others. For those of us who struggle with putting aside our feelings, we need reminders of what is true, and we also need patience. After all, my struggle may not be yours, and you may not understand it, but chances are you struggle with something I don't, and I ought to practice patience with you as well.