The Light of Resurrection

Waiting for spring, hanging off the northeast end of the U.S. mainland, it’s a challenge to get into an Easter frame of mind. The dark is still holding sway over the light, and resurrection-thinking requires a muscular faith. Although the calendar tells me that spring will come, this hope in a future date can seem like a flimsy thing.    

Pressing into a Truth that challenges me to fathom the unfathomable, I leave my heart ajar to the record of resurrection in John’s Gospel. After all, Mary Magdalene had nothing but Sunday morning silhouettes to go on when she visited the tomb.

But this one thing she knew:  stones don’t move themselves. 

The absence of death, the presence of angels, and the sound of her own name carried by the voice of Jesus opened Mary’s eyes to Life, and, reading it again today, my heart is blown wide open to the reality that there is a God at work Who is beyond my understanding.

The power that raised Christ from the dead spreads a layer of clear abundance across the sky, and it rebukes all my tattered scripts of scarcity and inadequacy.  Under the light of resurrection, the myth of “not enough” that presents itself as gospel is revealed for what it is – blasphemy, after all.

When I stand before a class or sit around a table with my weekly women and feel like handing off my notes to someone else and saying:
“Here, you do this. It’s too much. I’m not enough,”
I slam my heart shut like a tomb full of death.

When I reject wisdom that whispers:
“Wait; lean into relationship with Me and stop your ceaseless striving;
When, instead, I soldier on by the seat of my pants–I choose darkness over light; death instead of resurrection.

My faithless frame of mind locks me into a small room … and then sucks out all the oxygen.

This was not unlike the post-resurrection dwelling place that the disciple Thomas had created for himself. He’d been given a whole week in which to savor the bitter brew of hopelessness and disappointment, to hear about Jesus’ appearances to others—always when Thomas was conveniently absent. He had cobbled together his own response, apparently deciding that He was not going to be taken in by all the hype. He would not be deceived by any false messiahs who go and get themselves killed in the most humiliating manner possible.

Locked door and double-bolted heart notwithstanding, Jesus showed up with a fresh supply of oxygen and irrefutable evidence—the marks of crucifixion and his own unique wound, a spear-thrust through the ribs.

Thomas’s skepticism melted into adoration and an astounding confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

Mary’s eyes had been opened by the sound of her Savior’s voice.
For Thomas, it was the sight of His wounds that spoke resurrection.

Millions of us now, following in hundreds of generations behind Mary and Thomas, have never been invited to put our hands on the risen Christ or been treated to the sound of His voice speaking our name aloud, and yet the reality of resurrection and the power of Life over death is so much a part of our creed that we hold it as a mark of orthodoxy. God does not require an empty “faith in faith,” but offers reality, transparent vindication in the form of eye-witness accounts upon which I base my own belief.

“Jesus of the Scars” is Edward Shillito’s poetic invitation for me to join Thomas in bearing witness:

“The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds, only God’s wounds speak,
And not a god has wounds but Thou alone.”

When, through Thomas’s eyes, I see a wounded God, I am brave to come, wounded, to Him, for if it were not for those visible wounds all would be winter.
The stone would still seal in the stench of death;
the door to the upper room would stay forever locked;
there would be no framing of the heart to resurrection truth.

Like Mary, though, I am seen and known.
I hear the sound of His voice through His Word:
a whispered hope,
a release from shame,
a path away from the downward draw of brokenness,
a promise of eternal spring.

//

Today, my family and I are beginning spring vacation (Hooray!) For a few days, things will be quiet here on the blog while we re-connect, relax, and make memories together.  May you also find joy in your celebration of resurrection life and the Savior who lives. 

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine.

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Why Read the Lists?

“I’m glad you’re the one reading this,” said the patient husband.

He was referring to the tongue-twisting list of names in I Chronicles 5 with all their adjacent vowels and unexpected consonant blends.

I could see his point, but, to be honest, I was enjoying the effort of decoding the names and then saying them, one by one, out loud to the air inside our min-van.

As we waded through the names in I Chronicles, I couldn’t ignore the repeated evidence that God keeps records of the names of His people.  When we look at an old year book or at the many pictures that scroll their way through our social media minutes, it’s human nature to look for the faces and names of those we recognize and love.  God needs no news feed to keep track of His beloved, and every face, every name has significance to Him.  This truth is prevalent throughout the Old Testament:   remember Moses begging God to wipe his own name out of the book rather than giving up on his people?  And the lists go on throughout the books of history right into Nehemiah and the years of exile.

In the New Testament,  Jesus told The Seventy (when they returned from their short-term missions trip), “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  His message to them was that God’s cherishing and recording of their name is more reason for them to rejoice than their ability to “trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy,” (Luke 10:17-20).

Just as God sees all time at once, exists outside of time, and yet is available to you in your moment, so He also sees all of humanity at once — and yet He cherishes uniqueness.  He knows you by name.

Multi-syllabic,
Mostly unpronounceable,
They march across the pages.

Trailing their fathers,
Embedded in community,
Their names inscribe the ages.

There are no nameless —
There are no faceless
Followers of God Most High.
Although we read them
With hearts too numb to marvel
At the grace that’s between the lines;

For these are the people promised to Abraham,
The ones for whom God split the sea,
Who sold themselves cheaply
And squandered their chosen-ness —

Just like me.

Seventy servants
Returned from a mission
With tales of demons falling.

Sharing their conquests,
‘Til Jesus gave perspective:
“Your joy is not your calling,

“But you have names
And you have faces
You’re followers of God Most High.
And so your names,
‘Enrolled among the righteous,’
Are written in My Book of Life.”

For they are the people promised to Abraham,
Outnumbering the stars they can see.
When the Lamb’s Book is opened
They’ll hold their breaths, listening.
On their faces, they’ll be listening —

Just like me.

//

Photo credit

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Inerrancy Defined and Defended

 

As one who is eminently shake-able, I look daily and with great need to the unshakeable Word of God.  There’s no better place to turn when your heart has been shaken — Truth (with a capital “t”) is the solid foundation for a life of stability.  The #livefree Thursday community is pondering the word “shaken” today, and I’m joining the conversation.  Be sure to check out their great links as well.

From the earliest days of Christianity, the Bible was accepted as the Word of God, inspired and inerrant.  It was not until the 18th century that this belief came into question, but since that time, many mainstream evangelicals, people who believingly follow Jesus, have been shaken from their conviction that the Bible is truly “the living voice of God.”  In The Scripture Cannot Be Broken, John MacArthur has collected an anthology of fourteen articles, fourteen distinct voices attesting to the truth that Scripture is the very Word of God.  With publication dates ranging from 1946 to 1984, the authors, though diverse in style, are one in their adherence to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978.  The list of contributors reads like a who’s who of twentieth-century theological writers and thinkers, and I would recommend that a future edition include a brief biographical sketch of each contributor, either as an appendix or along with the bibliographical information accompanying their article.

This anthology is no over-simplified pledge-of-allegiance.  The writers acknowledge that our faith in God’s inerrant Word will involve “unresolved questions and difficulties with regard to the very content of this faith.”  Just as the transcendent mysteries of the Trinity and the incarnation “are not incompatible with unshaken faith, so the questions regarding inerrancy are often “the questions of adoring wonder rather than the questions of painful perplexity,” (Murray, p. 51).  Wherever my finite understanding comes into contact with God’s infinite grandeur, theology becomes the gateway to pure worship!

Inerrancy Defined

According to J.I. Packer, one of the murkiest issues in defining the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God is that “both have been so variously employed in theological discussions that they now bear no precise meaning at all,” (p. 97).  The Scripture Cannot Be Broken addresses objections, clears up misunderstandings, and fine tunes the reader’s understanding of God’s authorship and preservation of His words. Hearkening back to Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen, Aquinas, and a host of others, definitions of inerrancy center around the truth that the Scriptures are a reliable witness to the words and deeds of God through His inspired spokesmen and His incarnate Son, (Preus, p. 222).  Articles link inerrancy to inspiration, authority, and infallibility for clarification, since, in defining inerrancy, “we are attempting to do more than merely define a term, we are seeking to formulate a doctrine.”   Gordon R. Lewis offers an important analysis of inerrancy as it relates to infallibility:  The Bible is inerrant, i.e. errorless, in the truths it asserts; the Bible is infallible in its use of language (words) to affirm the truth that it conveys.

Inerrancy Defended

Given that inerrancy is foundational to orthodoxy, it is worthy of the thorough defense it receives from the pens of these fourteen essayists.  Their apologetics center around the witness of Scripture; i.e., the New Testament witnesses to the Old Testament and the organic unity of both testaments provides further internal evidence.  Evangelical biblicists are not dependent upon slick mano a mano argumentation whenever doubters raise a supercilious eyebrow.  To the objection that we are reasoning in a circle by allowing Scripture to speak for itself, John Frame (an author from the list for further study on page 329) replies that there is no system that does not involve circularity. For example,  if one starts with the presupposition that there is no God, every piece of evidence will serve to confirm that belief.

B.B. Warfield masterfully summarizes Christ’s and the sacred writers’ view of Old and New Testament Scripture, and Roger R. Nicole affirms the mystery that human instrumentality and divine influence could combine without compromise.  The authors provide abundant and satisfying argumentation and a rich store of Scriptural documentation for their positions, even addressing individual details such as the fact that although copyists did make errors, these inaccuracies affect no more than one one-thousandth part of the text and are insignificant in content.

Twentieth century writings on the doctrine of inerrancy are essential reading, but not because the truthfulness of Scripture is an end in itself.  As much as the heart craves a sure word, theology can never be a purely academic discipline.  The purpose of the Holy Scriptures is to make the reader “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  This is an intensely practical concern, for, in the words of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

“The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.”

The timeless truth upheld in The Scripture Cannot Be Broken is this: God has spoken, and His Words are preserved for us in the pages of Scripture that we may know Him, obey Him, and love Him in truth.  Thanks be to God.

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my honest review.

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Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him

“Why would God want us to speak to Him?”

William Philip’s question stopped me in my tracks because most authors of books on prayer argue from the opposite perspective:  “Why should you want to speak to God?”  Forever curious about the nature of God and constantly frustrated with my inconsistent prayer life, I found biblically-based and deeply thoughtful reflections in Why We Pray, which focuses on explaining rather than exhorting, and bases the explanation for why we pray on satisfying theological reasoning expressed in four points:

1.  We pray because God is a speaking God.  He spoke the world into being.  He spoke to our spiritual forbearers audibly.  He spoke salvation through His Son (see Hebrews 1:2), and He speaks today by His Spirit to all who seek his words in the inspired Word.  Created in his image for relationship with Him, our highest privilege is communion with God.  Thus prayer becomes “the audible form of that right relationship with God.”

2.  We pray because we are sons of God.    The only begotten Son of God is ultimately the only “true human being” in the sense that He maintained constant communication with God.  As the God the Son, he had direct access to the Father.  And no wonder the gospel is called good news, because the truth is that all who are in Christ Jesus are the sons of God and have that same access to the Father!  An important point of clarification is that because “son-ship” in biblical times implied a certain status, the term “son” should not rankle the female ear.  If “son” offends, a better substitute would be “heir” rather than “child,” because “everything that [belongs to Jesus] by right of birth is now ours by right of adoption.”  The staggering application of this truth to our prayer life is that, as our Father, God “cannot not hear us” when we pray.  Hence, our identity as pray-ers stems from our standing rather than from our merit or performance.

3.  We pray because God is a sovereign God.  Having taken the initiative in calling out to us, and having restored broken lines of communication with humanity in the death of his Son, God Himself is the ultimate reason that prayer is even a logical activity.  John Newton poetically summarizes Philip’s argument:  “Thou art coming to a King/Large petitions with thee bring/For his grace and pow’r are such/None could ever ask too much.”  However, this attribute of sovereignty constantly rides the theological seesaw opposite human responsibility, particularly in relation to prayer.  Why We Pray makes an excellent case for a balanced seesaw:  “God is sovereign, and we are responsible.”  Philip encourages his readers to view prayer as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him,” not as robots, but from a place of privileged partnership, understanding God’s goal for the universe and receiving all the benefits of a working relationship with One who is aware of, concerned for, and able to meet our deepest, truest needs.

4.  We pray because we have the Spirit of God.  It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who aligns our desires with God’s sovereign purposes — and who convinces us that it is not in our best interest to try to align God with our selfish purposes.  The indwelling Holy Spirit’s enabling us to become “real pray-ers” bears out the truth of Jesus’ insistence that it was far better for his disciples that He leave them, for the ministry of the Spirit completes a staggeringly important circle:  the sovereign God who speaks abides in his true sons through the Holy Spirit’s ministry for us, in us, and to us.  As a result, the believer who abides in Him and prays in line with the revealed will of God in scripture will pray with confidence.

An excellent and very relevant and realistic point for “boots on the ground” Christianity is the matter of prayer when the will of God is not clear on a matter; e.g.  the prayer for healing of a gravely ill family member.  When God has not seen fit to reveal his will, “to attempt to drum up lots of faith in order to be sure that God will answer our prayer is self-deception.”  In fact, “often the more fervent the prayer the more pagan it is,” (see Matthew 6:7).  Refusing to lay the matter out before a sovereign God and scorning the words “if it is your will” is not a mark of faith, but of presumption.

Reading Why We Pray, answering each chapter’s Questions for Reflection or Discussion, and realizing anew the nature and motivation of true prayer is an eye-opening experience.  In the foreword, Alistair Begg has written, “In our Christian lives, nothing is more important and nothing more difficult to maintain than a meaningful prayer life.”  I would add to that:  there is no greater privilege than the challenge of becoming a praying person — because of Who God is and because of who we are in Christ.

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review.

Brighter, Better, and More Potent

Resurrecting this book review to join with Suzie Eller’s #livefree Thursday community in which, today, we are pondering the notion that all the things we own, “the things of earth” are just “stuff.”

The Things of Earth:  Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts by Joe Rigney — A Book Review

By nature, I have a war-time mentality.  I wish I could attribute it to a white-hot gospel fire in my bones, but it probably has more to do with seeing President Gerald Ford wearing a sweater and urging us to turn our thermostats back to sixty-two degrees when I was in elementary school.  I could easily justify feeding my family beans and rice, rice and beans so that we could give more to missions.  I would happily go on wearing my 1980’s-era black dress until Jesus comes and forego family vacations in favor of a bigger emergency fund in the bank.  Fortunately, I had the good sense to marry a man with a much more balanced view of life.  (Apparently, he missed President Ford’s speech.)  Thanks to his influence, we eat a wide variety of food, my shoulder pads don’t get stuck in the door, and we go to fun places and do fun things with our children.  However, even with nearly twenty-five years of his sensible voice in my ear, I really needed to read The Things of Earth.

Thoughtful Christians walk a tightrope when it comes to possessions, wealth, and all the good things that God has made.   If we fall off the tightrope on one side, we realize that we are, in the words of Tim Keller,  “making good things into ultimate things” by idolizing God’s gifts.  If we fall off the other side, we are subject to the alienating guilt or self-reproach of trying to define just exactly where the line is between “excessive” and “appropriate.”  Joe Rigney carefully lays a biblical foundation for his thesis, which is based in Christian hedonism, that knowing God makes his gifts “brighter and better and more potent.”  The truth that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him”  is rooted deeply in God’s triune nature.  As a relational being, He has made all things in order to extend and to communicate his fullness and as an invitation into his own triune life.  Therefore, as creatures, we should not only view the whole creation as a revelation of God, but also rejoice in the wisdom of God’s provision for us in this world.

The richness of all this theological truth comprises the first four chapters of the book, and, quite honestly, is sufficient reason to read the book, even if Rigney had nowhere else to go with it.  However, he pushes into the hard territory of practical application.  Given all that we know about God, how do all his magnificent gifts fit into a God-centered life?  Are possessions, comforts, and wealth tools to be used for his glory, or are they obstacles to the radical Christian life?  What is the difference between strategic self-denial and the tragic loss of good gifts, and just exactly how does the demonstration of the fact that our treasure is in heaven and not on earth relate to the Great Commission?

Scholarly and richly researched, The Things of Earth is a challenging read, and will likely yield a few opportunities for the reader to delight in God through Rigney’s fresh descriptions and vocabulary.  Even so, this is no ivory tower project, because the thesis of the book has been hammered out in real life through the author’s own relationships and through some wrong turns he has made along the way.  And speaking of real life, why was the recipe for pumpkin crunch cake not given in the foot notes of chapter five?  Seriously.

Although I pushed through this book like a seeker, my plan now is to live with it over a period of time.  I want to ponder it as I hold my sweet grandson, or as I play Scattergories with my two youngest boys.  I plan to let its words echo behind the sound of the Pemaquid bell as it carols the approach of a nor-easter and to feel the gracious provision of God in the steam on my face rising from that perfect cup of morning tea.  For me, the things of earth might just be growing brighter, seen in the full light of Glory.

Disclosure:  This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review.

Beside Us to Guide Us — and More!

Jesus, Continued . . . by J.D. Greear:  A Book Review

As soon as he started talking about guidance, J.D. had my ear.  You see, I am THAT Christian — the one who becomes paralyzed whenever there’s a big decision on the table, and even though I know that God is not interested in mindless robots (and truly, I’m not interested in becoming one), I still perseverate about making the RIGHT decision, and I want God to tell me what that is.  Basically, I want sky-writing:  “Buy the Ford!” in big puffy letters against a blue heaven.  At the other end of the spectrum of error are those who,  “function[ing] as deists, act as if God rules from the heavens and has spoken in his Word, but does not act on earth or move in their souls.”  Clearly, the truth about guidance and the Holy Spirit lies somewhere between these two erroneous approaches, and in his reassuring and stimulating book, J.D. Greear digs into the Word of God to debunk the myths, set the perfectionist free, and empower the body of Christ to begin functioning as confident, Spirit-led, Christ-exalting children of God.

Part 1:  The Missing Spirit — Christians have a tendency to gravitate toward extremes in their thinking about the Holy Spirit.  Either they over-emphasize the work of the Spirit apart from the Word of God (e.g. hearing voices and finding direction from God in their cereal bowl); or they have no real interaction with Him at all.  The author’s thesis in part one is that the Spirit and the Word work in partnership to guide the believer into truth.  The pattern Jesus gave with the Great Commission is this:  “Do nothing until the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  THIS is dependence, and Greear transparently and most helpfully shares his own frustrations with the ambivalence and lack of clarity this sometimes creates in the seeking heart.  It is encouraging to know that even the Apostle Paul experienced ambiguity from time to time (see I Corinthians 16).

At the same time, the Spirit is described as a mighty, rushing wind and God’s presence came at Pentecost in the form of a flame.  This is NOT subtle, and the Spirit’s presence in the life of a believer is meant to empower for ministry and to inspire confidence that “the Spirit inside you” is the One who does the work.   Unfortunately, believers fail to realize their identity as “burning bushes” who are called to serve and who are equipped with the ability to do even greater works than those chronicled in the New Testament. (Yes, it’s true — see Matthew 11:11 and John 14:12.)  Our ordinary obedience can be translated into extraordinary results when we realize that God doesn’t need us, but chooses to work in concert with us, graciously multiplying our efforts as we cooperate with Him.

Part 2:  Experiencing the Holy Spirit — Christians can be a superstitious lot, making major decisions on the basis of  goose bumps or the mysterious juxtaposition of multiple coincidences.  While it is true that the sky-writing I long for is not forthcoming, there are six distinct ways in which the believer does experience the Spirit’s presence:

  1. The Gospel – As an invitation to relationship, the truth of the gospel is the doorway to intimacy with God and a changed view of the world.
  2. The Word of God – Ninety-percent of the will of God is in the Word.  Given that, J.D. Greear invites us to ask ourselves how much of God’s revealed will we are already following in the shaping of our moral character.  Awareness of the Holy Spirit is a matter of “acknowledging Him in all our ways,” and if we do, He promises to “direct our paths,” (Proverbs 3:6).  Much of this is going on behind the scenes in ways that we see only in retrospect, if at all.
  3. Our giftings – Becoming aware of one’s spiritual gifts (Great definition: “unusual effectiveness in a responsibility given to all believers”) is a great  push in the right direction for working in tandem with the Spirit who gives the gifts.  This does not give the believer permission to put God in a box (“Nope, sorry, I can’t share the gospel with that person who is right under my nose, because I don’t have the gift of evangelism.”), but it should inspire confidence and enthusiasm for taking on the assignments that God gives.
  4. The church – In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit appears fifty-nine times.  In thirty-six of those appearances, He is speaking through a person who is part of the early church.  The Spirit continues to empower prophetic speech today — not “woo-wooey God-told-me-you’re-supposed-to-marry-me” kind of prophecy, but, primarily proclaiming and applying God’s Word to particular situations.  Any strong impression that the believer is tempted to attribute to the working of the Holy Spirit should first be lined up beside Scripture.  With that in mind, the Spirit may use a believer to be His mouthpiece to build up the church or guide in mission.  Refreshingly honest, Greear urges a level of skepticism on the part of the hearer, and presents the challenge of knowing the Word of God well enough to recognize truth (and error) when it is spoken.
  5. Our spirit – Here it becomes evident that the Holy Spirit is indeed a Person, not an algebraic formula or a Ouija board.  His leading, therefore, is not an exact science and our receptors are not flawless.  Greear’s oft-repeated wise counsel is to hold loosely what you think God is saying to you through prayer, through special insights, holy ambitions, or through dreams and visions.
  6. Our circumstances – Again, the word here is, “hold your interpretations [of circumstances] loosely.”  God does use our circumstances to guide us, but we are given to much superstition, flawed interpretation of events, and just plain confusion.  “Hearing from God means balancing what God puts in your heart with how He guides you through other means, and trusting Him all the way.”

Part 3:  Seeking the Holy Spirit —  Inexplicably, believers, at times, experience the silence of God which J.D. Greear terms “white space.”  These wilderness days are further evidence that God the Holy Spirit will not be “managed” by humans, but in retrospect, it may become apparent that God was at work during the white spaces to write something into the seeker’s soul.  At other times the Holy Spirit moves in power and the results are like a flood of repentance and prayer and great response to the gospel.

Jesus, Continued . . . is an important book for the believer who wants to make an impact on his world for the glory of God, because Greear is walking that path himself and is collecting resources, making mistakes, and correcting them along the way.  His sources in writing the book read like a who’s who of Spirit-led followers of Christ from the past (e.g. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Lloyd Jones, C.S. Lewis, John Newton) and the present (e.g. Tim Keller, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Vern Poythress, Henry Blackaby).  A new believer who wants to develop a reading list for fast-track growth in the faith should use Greear’s footnotes as a beginning point.

The huge and inescapable truth is that God wants a relationship with His people and has made every provision for it.  If I find myself wishing that He would communicate in ways that are not part of His nature, I must be wanting something I shouldn’t have.  In my case, I want a guarantee of smooth-sailing and efficiency in a world where one of Jesus’ most verifiably true statements is, “In this world, you will have tribulation.”  Part of God’s provision is the uncertainty and ambivalence surrounding our interactions with the Holy Spirit.  He has provided power, but we want visible results.  He promises his presence, but we want answers.  I am coming away from Jesus, Continued . . . with an increased and focused thoughtfulness about the ways in which God the Holy Spirit is waiting for me to notice what He values and to allow Him to show off His power in my work, my relationships, my failings, and my availability.

Disclosure:  This book was provided by BookLookBloggers in exchange for my unbiased review.