The Christian Life


One of the reasons I like reading Christian blogs is because it makes me think about issues which I would never normally think  about, but which could very well be a part of my life in future. Children or lack thereof is one of these things. Here, Russell  Moore talks eloquently about infertility, miscarriages, and adoption in the context of his new book, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches, and how writing it affected he and his wife:

“You know, the book helped us to learn gratitude to God, and not just for the happiness adoption has brought to our home. We grappled for years with infertility and miscarriages. Those are horrible things, aspects of the curse of Eden, and they left us battered. But God works all things to good-even horrible things-and that’s just what he did here.

Our Father knew that I wasn’t able to be a godly Christian father. Sure, I would have loved my children, read to them, prayed with them, done family devotions, evangelized them. But I would have taken my children for granted. I would have seen them as the “natural” part of the next step of my “life stage.” I would not have received my children as gift.  I would have assumed, “Well, we’re ready to have children and here they are.” And that’s pitiful.

The Lord-as he always does for his children-disciplined me. He made me hunger, that I might know that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, and man doesn’t have children to whom to give bread except by the blessing and mercy of God.

Now, that’s not the case for everybody’s who is infertile, but it is the case that God in his wisdom knows what is best, and he is up to something, even in the most painful of circumstances.”

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Sometimes I wonder why it is I believe in God. And when I do, one of the things that sustains me is the realization that I do believe the world we end. Anyone attuned to the rhythms and patterns of the human race and of this world we live in can sense that. Someday, the lights will go out – and when they do, the God of the Bible is the only truth I have discovered which, being tested, rings out bright and sure enough to remain when destruction comes. Sturday and steady enough to remain when oblivion swallows what we know.

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind” – Ecclesiastes 1: 14

“Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” – Ecclesiastes 12:6-7

I’ve been listening to this Hilary Duff song(!) and even though its lyrics are the usual bubblegum pop for the most part, in the chorus she’s got one thing right – it is only “one more mile to Jericho”. Thank God.

The Blazing Center has a good article – More Important Than a Dream Job for recent grads looking for work. It’s something you can never hear too many times.

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I’ve also been reading Frans Bakker’s Facets of Prayer and this stood out under “Improper Prayer” –

Think, for example, of Esau. As big and tough as he was, he lay crying bitterly at his father’s feet, begging for a blessing. Alas, Esau was concerned with the benefits and not the benefactor…So it is with those who engage in this prayer. From whom they receive gifts is of little importance. They want the gifts, not the Giver…Such prayer will never be answered. Would the great giver separate the gift from Himself? Then God would not be God.

I was convicted by this because it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately – how I keep failing at seeking God for who He is, not what I want out of him. I think the first step in the spiritual journey of prayer is to actually begin to ask God for things, to seek Him out in prayer believing that He can and will answer and reyling on Him to do so. The second step I think is beginning to pray to Him for other people -moving beyond simple selfish asking just for yourself to be concerned about other people, lift them up to the Great God of the universe too. Since I began seriously praying(not that long ago) I discovered gradually that I actually, for the most part, really do like praying for people. I consider it an act of service for them, and I have faith that God will help them. But there’s two problems with this – number one is, I’ve been questioning my motives in praying for people – is it just out of my love for them, rather than a pure godly love? Do I want to lay some claim on them by praying for them? Am I just praying for them so that I can tell them so and draw closer to them, rather than praying for them for God’s sake? And do I pray only for those I love and am close to, or is my prayer equally frequent and fervent for those in the outer layer of my prayer-intimacy? (I know for certain I fall far short in that last area anyway). So already this second step, at least for me, is clouded by so much selfishness.  But the third step, even beyond the second step, is seeking Him out for Himself, and that is where I fall really short.  I turn to God, at least three-fourths of the time, seeking emotional peace or comfort, or guidance, or asking him to fix things in my life, or praying for my present or future, or often for friends, of course, and their emotional peace, current life, etc. So seldom do I just spend time in prayer with God, listening to God. A friend of mine wrote this a while back –

Prayer is conversation with God…Consider what it would be like to have a one-way conversation with a friend. You tell your friend everything–personal facts, how your week is going, anything you are thinking about–and then you ignore your friend and keep talking when he/she responds. Do you think you could deepen your relationship or learn anything with your friend this way? Wouldn’t this be a lot stranger than a conversation that involves both of you talking and listening? Or if you went back in time to talk to someone famous, would you just talk or would you try to absorb as much as you could by listening to that person? Cliched analogies aside, that could only be a bit of what I’m missing when I don’t let His voice resonate in my heart. The way I’ve been praying is awkward, but counterintuitively listening to God can be spiritually refreshing. For instance, this is what the Lord’s Prayer sounds like when we just “go through the motions” without listening:

Man: Our Father, who art in heaven . . .
God: You called?
Man: Don’t interrupt me. I’m praying. Hallowed be thy name . . .

In contrast, here’s a prayer by A.W. Tozer that Amy Lin posted in one of those inspiring notes:

Oh God, show me Thy glory.
Oh God, show me myself.
Oh God, show me the need of the world.

If we really mean these words, we must actively listen for God’s response. Our loving God wants to share His heart with us, and He wants us to know Him.

I was convicted by the Bakker example of Esau also because I remember vividly how I’ve always despised Esau – he’s always been one of my least favorite characters in the Bible because not only is he sinful, but his sinfulness is of such a petty and childish manner. I remember always feeling contempt and wonder at how he didn’t seem to care for his father or who his father was at all, even though his father was clearly dying/old and whose company should be treasured. He always just seemed concerned with the blessing. I was never able to understand that. And yet – that’s what I do with God. I always want something from God – I don’t want Him. And while I continue to draw from him only things concerning me, my knowledge of Him, and hence my holiness and ability to live a God-centered and God-honouring life, will always be limited, crippled.

Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (italics mine)

And so from the beginning, from the very first story told in Scripture, God presents life, as it is, without escape, with only Himself to cling to.

via Communiqué: An Online Literary & Arts Journal.

I recently finished reading  Brokenness by Lon Solomon. In this book, Lon Solomon details something which he calls brokenness, which he defines as “the process by which God dislodges our self-life and teaches us to rely upon him alone in every facet of our lives”, a term he uses as a sort of loose synonym for what other people would probably call the process of sanctification. Solomon takes a specific aspect of sanctification – that of sanctification through trials – and addresses it, terming it a necessary and central part of the Christian life. He is not wrong in this, but where he does go wrong is in assuming on the one hand that this is the full answer(he mistakes a part for the whole) and on the other hand stopping short of the full implications of his topic and failing to discuss the purpose, the end result of this process of “brokenness”. The end result of brokenness is not brokenness itself, though by portraying it as a state of humility and godly blessings Solomon attempts to reconcile it as such, e.g. when he says after Moses’ time in the desert “Moses is not a fully broken man, but the shattering blow has been delivered and the rest of Moses’s life now becomes a chronicle of God’s deepening and maturing this man’s brokenness”.  The only purpose which he presents, right at the end of the novel, is for an individual’s usefulness for God to be increased.  I would say, rather, that Moses’ story, and all brokenness, is a chronicle of God’s deepening his people’s holiness. A more precise view of the matter would be that the end result is not brokenness but holiness – by the gradual and never-ceasing work of sanctification by the Spirit in our lives, we are granted an ever-increasing holiness. Brokenness, otherwise known as a series a similarly never-ceasing trials, struggles, and problems, is merely a facet of this work of sanctification; clearly, God doesn’t need to bring us to misery every time before he can bless us spiritually! And of course one by-product of holiness is an increased usefulness for God. But that’s not the main purpose of the trials we’re put through here on this earth – God desires worshipers above all else, not servants – he desires faithfulness and love more than works or service, though the latter certainly spring naturally and inevitably from the former.

In summary: Solomon is certainly right in highlighting the purifying through trials and misery which God works in our lives – he simply takes too narrow a look at it, without putting it in the broader Christian perspective.  Overall, I probably would recommend this book.

Some quotes:

“Not every broken follower of Christ will be another Finney or Moody. Such ministries belong exclusively to the sovereign will and plan of God. But any Christ-follower who will allow God to break them will see a new intimacy with God, a new level of relationship with people, and a new power for service in their lives. God will give those believers greater fruitfulness for Jesus than they’ve ever known or dreamed possible.”

“Through brokenness, God replaces:
-our self-sufficiency with a dependence on the sufficiency of God;
-our self-reliance with a reliance on God alone;
-our self-wisdom with a wisdom rooted in the ways and word of God; and
-our self-will with a surrender to the will and timing and plan of God, tempering our human zeal with a deep waiting upon God.”

“Many of us were told to read our Bible, pray, witness and fellowship and God will make our life smooth sailing. So we do all we’ve been told to do and, instead, our life falls apart. We go to our knees and begin searching for sin in our lives, but we find no areas of open, defiant disobedience to God. We search harder and still nothing shows up. At this point, we often become victims of our ignorance about brokenness and trouble sets in. Rather than submitting to the process, we head off in other directions that work against what God is trying to do in breaking us. These other directions generally fall into one of two broad categories: anger and false guilt”

(more…)

Of the two daily devotionals I read fairly frequently, Elisabeth Elliot’s online daily devotional is one(find her in the blogroll to the side), and today’s I found particularly good.  I like her because she writes with terse profundity about faith.

“The God who determined the measurements of the foundations of the earth sets limitations to the scope of our work. It is always tempting to measure ourselves by one another, but this easily leads to boasting or despair. It is our business to find the sphere of service allotted to us, and do all that He has appointed us to do within that sphere, not “commending ourselves.”

Paul said, “We will keep to the limits God has apportioned us” (2 Cor 10:13 RSV). Jesus did that–willing to become a helpless, newborn baby, to be a growing child, an adolescent, a man, each stage bounded by its peculiar strictures, yet each offering adequate scope in which to glorify his Father.

Lord, glorify yourself through me and in the place You’ve set me. Let me not covet another’s place or work or glory.”

Ultimately, I think, the only answer to both suffering and how to deal with suffering is the character of God Himself – who He is. Yes, we know rationally that suffering exists and happens because sin entered the world, because Adam exercised his free will and thus condemned the entire human race to enter a fallen state, but ultimately that doesn’t really help us when in the midst of suffering, because of course then we wonder “couldn’t God have come up with another way”? Why did he let Adam sin, why let the human race take this course, and why is suffering necessary? And we don’t know – we have no answer for the will of God in this instance. The Bible says nothing about why God chose this route over another. Of course God could have created a different future for the human race. But he chose not to, and so as Murray pointed out in Behind a Frowning Providence, it’s pointless for us to conjecture why – the important thing is that he did not, that suffering is what we have to deal with in our reality.

Ultimately, then, the only answer to suffering is the being of God. The only way we as Christians can get through the suffering we face is not by an understanding of why this is happenning, something we will rarely have, but rather by a knowledge of the character of God – a knowledge built up through years of studying Him and pursuing Him in the Word, prayer, and in life. Because if we know God, we will know that He is good, and this blind reliance on our knowledge of His goodness will be the only thing that can sustain us through dark times. We can’t say that of anything or anyone else in the world – of no one else is it true that their character, their being is in and of itself an answer, and answer enough.  But when we reach out, when we come in contact with Yahweh, this infinitely vast and complex and loving being, we are convinced, in that interaction, that He is enough – Him, and Him alone. We don’t know his will or his plans or the logic behind much of what happens in our lives – so much of it seems irrational, pointless, made up of futile suffering. We can only know God – “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” John 17:3, and in knowing Him, know His love, and let that love be our answer to all our suffering, let it become ever more and more our surety as we come to know it more. Knowing God – having knowledge of his character, his being, and how he interacts with both the human race and his people – is the only thing which can really sustain us through suffering. In C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, Orual, the princess who is tormented by the gods all her life and eventually loses her sister to them, seeks them out at the end and faces them, demanding to know why. They give her no answer, only reveal to her a little of their glory and their presence, and when they ask her “Are you answered?” she replied “I am answered”. Job had much the same response. We can never know. Never know exaclty why or for what purpose suffering exists, and our individual suffering in particular. We have to live, not knowing. To know God should be enough.

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