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Romans 7 Nice And Short

Some introduction and explanation of where all this comes from first:

I love Romans 7. I return to it over and over. I love Paul’s gavel-bang of a last verse “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I lost it today. Bad bad bad severe red-faced flip-out mad dad session. I gotta fix the wall.

But, strangely, I could see through my anger where normally I would sort of go numb and blind and desire above all to rapidly depart the scene. Instead, my heart was some kind of heavy, haunted weight in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. I wanted to weep for the sinful situation at which I was so angry. I was suddenly not venting my anger. Rather I was seething and angry with an immense desire to clearly communicate the Lord’s standard and the raw, but beautiful solution to the sin.

So I thought, in the middle of all this, oddly, of the sermon on Sunday, which was on John 3:13-22.  Of course, in these circumstances, my thoughts switched rails to Romans 7, which pointed me to Galatians, where all sanity was lost and I became a bizarre sort of raging, Scripture spouting bull. Weird. But how could I stop? I hit a groove of passion for God’s commands and the meaning behind them and the need to trust HIM to save us that wouldn’t shut off. I ain’t braggin’ here, unless it’s braggin in the Cross and our Lord.

I wasn’t seeing red anymore. I was seeing the Cross. About as vividly as if it had actually been a vision – it was that powerful.

Okay. Enough introduction. I waste your valuable time.

The letter to the Galatians has put it succinctly.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

This insane tension ebbs and flows like some completely unpredictable river. It’s not like the Nile, which floods in season. It’s more like a desert stream, far from the rainstorms of spring which may have nothing but sand in its bed one moment, and a rushing torrent of rage and destruction the next.

Our sinful desires are not gone once we’ve put our trust in the Lord for our salvation. The miserable qualities that we have lived with up to the point of our regeneration are not eradicated by our regeneration. They still lurk, waiting for just the right moment.

I’ll confess that the same sinful ways I had before are still the same ones now. Some of them have become far more insidious and difficult to deal with. They get me in such subtle ways that I don’t always catch them. Sometimes they flare up and there’s no way to catch up to the sin until it’s too late.

Almost the same though, and this should be encouraging, the Spirit that we have been given also ebbs and flows – just as trustworthy in his steady presence as the sin is in its persistent presence. The desires we have for God and loving and obeying Him are achingly weak sometimes, and overwhelmingly, blessedly intense.

It’s this war.

Sometimes we are angered as Christ was at the irreverent abuse of His temple in Jerusalem. He was incensed at the short shrift His Gentiles, who were very soon going to be re-instated into the covenant family, were getting at the hands of their “spiritual superiors”. Unlike Christ in that case, we can become so enlivened at sin that it’s hard not to sin in the process.

Sometimes we are so passively disengaged that our sin of being lazy or uncaring is barely noticeable. And this is not always distinguishable from a holy desire to preserve the peace and unity of the church. Christ exemplified the latter, passing over and refusing to engage many of the battles that offered to meet him.

We mistake one sin for another grace. We are under extreme pressure. This is the suffering that we must bear. And it is the suffering that we must willingly bear, being considerate of it and deliberate about it. It is why we study our Bibles and listen to the preached Word to find both our sinful selves and our Savior. We seek them both, to know them both. One to deal with and the other to be able to deal with the first. Trusting Him, we can bear to discover our terrors and vileness so that we may stare them down, rip them to shreds, wait patiently on them, love Him in spite of them.

Sinner: Know thy enemy in this way. Know thy Savior in this way. Trust Him, mistrust sin. Therein is our perseverance.


On That Which Was A Good Time

ImageThe winds of vacation found us far to the North in my Beloved’s old neck of the woods. We rounded a tour of the NorCal Renaissance Faire, apple picking at Gizdich Ranch, visits with old friends and family.

The primary purpose of the trip was to celebrate Molly’s birthday and make Roen’s birthday wish come true (Faire).  As with all our trips, much more happened than the original plan, which makes it well worth the while.

We enjoyed visiting two fantastic churches on Sunday, which reminded me of how important it is to keep the great, world-sized church of Christ in perspective. There are far more Christians out there than our own “personal” collection where we live and worship.

Both churches underscored another thing that’s been on my mind for a little while, too. Local body of Christ. Particularly, the PCA church, Silicon Valley Grace, which is a campus sort of organization with multiple sites, stood out. Up until this weekend, I’ve pretty much poo-pooed multi-site churches as being market-driven or seeker-sensitive. The explanation Grace offered was that they believe in the idea of a local body worshiping in the place where they live and work. So the folks that attended were, at least to my understanding, those who were from the nearby area. Pretty neat. This sort of arrangement offers a solution to be the community of believers who are in personal contact with each other more than just on Sunday and planned get-togethers. Most of all, both churches were no-nonsense, straightforward, “here’s the Gospel” sorts of churches with good folks and no worries about us strangers fitting in.

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Fun at the Renaissance.

Other things that went on in my head during this trip were mostly just fun. Fun like just plain fun.

We had fun at the Renaissance, worrying about little but avoiding spending too much money on the awesomeness that was everywhere for sale. We caroused (as much as sober people can carouse), oohed and ahhed all the great artisans’ work and goofed off with the fun folk who walk around the faire with nothing more important than to have fun. We spoiled our girls with treats and keepsakes and it was cool. We flirted with the locals and laughed with the silly actors, merchants and hang-abouts. It was fun.

We had fun picking apples (I had more fun taking pictures of the apple picking) and sorting through a real Antique store. We sat around a wood-fire until the late hours, barbecuing, burning smores and singing silly songs. Nothing more weighty than trying to out-quote each other with lines from books, movies and whatever else we could drum up.

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Fun with Pizza!

Dinner at Applebee’s was just fun. Dinner with my folks was just fun. Dinner with Anika’s folks was just fun. Dinner with Anika’s Aunt and Uncle (pipe and wine-glass included) – no worries, just fun.

Dad and I explored a few dozen woodcraft ideas that we’re saving away for that day when we can get together for some real hard labor in the shop. Staves, woodturning, carvings and tons of other stuff await us on that blessed day of sawdust and shavings, should the Lord see fit to tarry. That was great fun.

ImageI had the fun of getting a dumb computer to work right (I always have fun when the computer decides to have problems I can fix). Anika and I had the joy of celebrating our First Daughter’s 17th birthday – and her first as a college kid. We saw happy grandparents with their grandchildren. We saw swimming pools, BBQ, goofy board-games and long talks. We had a good time.

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Fun with the Grand Owner of Gizdich Ranch.

Did I say we had fun? Yeah, it was fun. It was good. I’m glad.


A Wall I Might Not Climb

I haven’t explored much me in recent times at this blog. So suppose there’s still a place for such things. I think it’s a trap. OTOH maybe I can record it and revisit in hopes I can work it out. As may be seen shortly, however, I haven’t much confidence of success here. Conversation seems to fail me – I cannot bring up the terms and phrases that make all this clear, so discussing this in person just doesn’t work at this point. Of course I wonder if it ever has in my short history.

Something that frustrates me greatly is my lack of mental acuity to know what to do in a situation involving conflict. Specifically I mean conflicting personalities or motives. I’m tied up in some sort of blinding bubble that seems to prevent me from thinking clearly how to respond to direction or make decisions based on how others respond to me. I am tempted to back into a shell. In some regards, I think my head is still spinning from the buzz of three very intensive weeks of change. Things are very different from what I remember of all my previous assignments, even the other ships. Granted, I’m in a different paygrade and therefore position of authority, but what I remember from before does not reflect in what I see now. So things are confusing.

All that being said, I see my typical failures coming right through, amplified in some cases, but consistent. I can’t seem to employ tact in giving direction or making decisions. I can’t seem to communicate in a way that appeals to others. In fact, I’ve done a fair job of ruining others’ good impression of me in a couple of cases and I’m not sure there is a quick way to repair that. That, however, is something I think I can handle, for I’m aware of the method by which I may seek restoration: humble patience. I’m not necessarily good at that, but I know to pursue it; and for as long as necessary. But I keep stumbling over my own intentions and desires, my own understanding of these conflicted situations and mixed personalities. And it’s highly discouraging. I simply do not know what to do at any given moment. I wish I could explain the circumstances in which I find myself with a little more detail, but due to the professional nature of the situation I cannot.

So why is it that I can’t seem to get things right? One would think that, after 16 years of experience in this field, variety in many aspects making me supposedly well-exposed to a great variety of character and wisdom-building events, I would have learned how to deal with these conflicts. I am highly tempted to fall back on my old belief that this simply isn’t the place for me. Perhaps I’m not really cut out for this role. But in many ways I love it. I do enjoy the technical work and caring for others; trying to help with the labor and profession of this team. Every team with which I’ve been associated has seen me wanting to do for them. But I think every time I have seen the same failures on my part. This one may well be up there for contention as the worst 3 weeks of them all.

I know the fault of mine. But I cannot trace the fault of mine to every corner of the trial I find. My sin has undone some things which will take time and continued repentance to repair (Lord willing). But I still can’t escape my weakness. I can’t seem to overcome this inability to make wise decisions and time them correctly. And I can’t respond correctly when the conflict comes. Once upon a time everything was easy. I didn’t have these responsibilities. But that was long ago and now I have it, have had it for quite some time. And I have not experienced any improvement over that time. It appears to me as though I was still fresh into the pool with no stroke or rhythm whatsoever. This is a race I just don’t think I can run. Now that the overconfidence that stems from selfishness and newness has been crushed, I’m back to zero again. It seems to happen that way every time. I’m 37. I know there are a lot of years left in the maturity scales (should the Lord be kind to me in my aging). I have plenty of time on the job but from my perspective I show no remarkable improvement.

I swear that I am not a leader of men and right now I regret that I am again in that position.

The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor,
but the lips of a fool consume him.
The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness,
and the end of his talk is evil madness.
A fool multiplies words,
though no man knows what is to be,
and who can tell him what will be after him?
The toil of a fool wearies him,
for he does not know the way to the city.
(Ecclesiastes 10:12-15 )


Of Dusty Footpaths and The Last Homely House

I’ve been thinking about old pubs, long hikes, greeting people on the road. Simplicity and true social interaction (as opposed to this electronic thing). A blog I am following has stirred this post and imagery up in my mind – called up stuff from almost 30 years of thinking and reading.

So I guess I still pine, sometimes, for an era I never saw, where it wasn’t buzz-buzz-buzz all the long day. When a man took a constitutional hike, had time to meet folks, didn’t quaff coffee en-route a 15-16 hour day that ended six hours into the next one. Sometimes I’ve been told, and even occasionally had a fleeting belief that such utopian silliness is just that, and there has never been such an age where things were simple, low-key and real.

Tolkien, Lewis, Herriot, Graham. They set the scene for me way way back and it never left. Just gets clouded over or burned out by the days in which I find myself. Ever think about just walking, for an hour or six, with just a friend, talking when it happened, or just breathing the air and taking in the land? Reading The Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, the Hobbit, The Trumpet of the Swan and a multitude of other books, mostly titles forgotten, contributed very early on to the building of a little corner in my mind that is quieter, lonesome and sort of at peace; entirely contradicting the normal routine of my days.

Not that I’m advocating monasticism or a mass retreat back to some golden age. There really are plenty of folk out there who are thick in the midst of the global glob, right where they belong. And there’s where many or maybe most should be. What’s to hurt if one guy who dreams about this stuff drops off the grid and lets the rest sort of spin around him. I suppose that would require a receptive environment (IOW unlike Sandy Eggo). Just being tangled up in my family and a local job, knowing the neighbors and having little, if any knowing of the guys a thousand miles away.

Doesn’t the world ever get just a little too big? Like you’re a little wood-chip floating on the surface of Lake Tahoe or something? Could there not be some guardians, last little homes on the edge of the wild? I can easily daydream of overgrown cottages, virtually invisible in the clutter of hay and weeds, all but forgotten. Except the quiet folk who inhabit those little places.

Quiet folk that simply are. They’re there in the world, yet not in everything. They hold opinions on what they need to and nothing more. They can tell you where the food is best or where to find a quiet day. They can  take you to the little church where a similar man maintains the homely place, preaching on Sunday and helping others the following six days. 1 Thessalonians 4, though not directly dealing with my theme, still serves to quench some of the intensity of my days, leading me back ’round to all these images.

”…But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

But I think maybe sometimes we spread ourselves too thin. All over a city rather than a local circuit. We’re so commonly cruising the globe on an airship made of electrons where some might really need to be hiking a countryside that’s limited to how far a man can walk in a day. I get overwhelmed more often than not, with the immensity of all the world. 

Sometimes I’d like to think that, one day, people will think of me as a sort of fixture, a fitting part of a place, only knowing what’s worth knowing and maybe just a little center of homely peace. Surely quite unlike what I am right now.

Heinlein said specialization is for insects. I think that’s pretty much right, but it does break down at some point. You can spread yourself so thinly over a broad enough area (culture, society, issues, skillsets) that there is no longer any value in any one of them. I think I’ve done more “outside” my life than in it. And it’s become ingrained too – high speed/low drag, as we say in my occupation.

Tolkien leads me to wonder what more could I be to my little life-realm if it was all reigned back in and could be found on a map of the shire. Hobbits didn’t mess with the rest of the map unless they were, and few were, called to the outside. Funny thing is, I still don’t “feel” called. Though I’ve been here for so long. 

To think of what I could think of,
were my thoughts thought so much closer to home.
Instead of spread like a spider’s web
across the sea and stone.


We don't deserve all this

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve mustered up anything to write about. There are dozens of topics and issues mulling around in here, all worthy of coverage, some even really important. There’s just no forming up enough to get it together. Well, I have something, actually.

How God has worked out many, many things over the last 37 years.

I look on my pagan life – years, not distant enough, of denying the God of the Bible His right place as sovereign of all things – as the preparation and set-up of that which would come in 2003. Being a good Calvinist, I can’t see how everything just “worked out” the way it did prior to my becoming property of the King of Kings. I always was, just not in the validated, personal, realized way that is only reached by acceptance, submission, repentance and baptism. The Holy Spirit hadn’t flipped the switch that connected me to the kingdom.

I fell in love with a girl. She was absolutely the worst possible choice for me. A Christian kid, too young and too good for me. A witch should stick to his own kind. But God didn’t have that in mind. He drew me right to this perfect match out of the blue. A friend of a friend, letters, a couple of phone-calls and suddenly we were together, in the middle of a bunch of messes from parents to baby-on-the-way. No job, no future, nothing but this man and woman together with their heads spinning. That’s just the start. But the end state was Anika praying for me and God answering her prayer.

From the first time I pondered marriage and kids, I’ve wanted a daughter. Never had much interest in a son. Might be a result of my un-man qualities like despising organized sport, chest-beating, all-things competitive, whatever. So God gave me one. And this daughter was/is the most amazing one. She was the hardest thing I’d ever encountered in twenty two years of life. Molly’s arrival, I think, began the process that broke my back. When Anika and I got Molly, we got a package of life that was incredibly intelligent, capable, endlessly amazing, and beautiful. Only God could have stuffed so much into this brand-new person who suddenly came under our stewardship.

And God worked His redemptive theme right into my life through the arrival of Molly. She wouldn’t have had a Daddy if it hadn’t been for a moment of absolute insanity, a split-second of decision for which I cannot claim credit. God gave us the desire to keep her. That’s how it has to have worked. She needed a family. Sickly sinners don’t make decisions like that on their own.

Then Roen came. Roen had a very messed up leg when she was born. And she needed surgery right away to fix it up. but God put doctors and parents in place for repair work and love this little girl needed; who didn’t deserve a stitch of the hardship she got. And she walks now, bouncy and silly as if there had never been a problem. There’s a scar and a little bit of funny shape to that leg. A reminder of how valuable life is to God, and how He shows mercy and grace on the lame, broken, dysfunctional sinners in this world. Even before Roen met Christ, before I met Him, God was repairing damage, giving life.

Then Gwendollyn came. Almost didn’t. Gwen came out blue and purple, her life nearly snuffed before she opened her eyes the first time because of the tangled mess of cord. But again, the Lord had mercy. She breaths today by God’s goodness and grace. And God has added to her blessing a mind that is tuned to capture His creation in amazing pictures and other art.

And Joscelin. By the Grace of God, this surprise baby wasn’t safe from the curse of this fallen place. But through the capable, loving hands of a crowd of people, God assembled a resolution that turned a girl from isolation, a life scarred by autism into a beautiful, hope-filled, beam of sunshine who talks and hugs and helps and loves.

And to them, all four, He has given His Son. Jesus died for them and they know it. My girls belong to Christ’s church and have a place reserved for them in the new Heaven and Earth.

So I got just what I wanted. Four of them. And they’re, each one, nothing less than God’s grace and bountiful generosity wrapped in flesh and bone. I couldn’t have asked Him for them – couldn’t pray, couldn’t trust or believe. But that didn’t matter so much, because God works His will regardless of people’s opinion.

Had Christ subjected His life, death and resurrection to a vote, it would’ve been unanimously rejected. Nobody consulted with God about the atonement. And so, in a little-bitty way, neither did the Lord need my request or anything else from me to give this gift. Like salvation. I didn’t ask for it, I tripped over it when God put it in front of me. Now? I want it every day. Savor the reminder every Sunday and feast with my Savior at His table. Relish the memory of my baptism.

We don’t deserve all this. We can’t repay it. My girls have a Christ-loving home, however imperfect it is (dismally, most of the time), not because of their parents, but because of the Lord. We are all healthy and alive not because of our care for ourselves, but because of Him.

  • Economy crashed? I have a job that sticks.
  • Ran out of money? He drove me right into a second job.
  • He led us through all sorts of confusion and the misleading modern world to a church that honors Him and teaches the Truth.
  • He has preserved us through hurricanes.
  • He has kept us warm and safe in a blizzard after wrecking our car on the highway.
  • He has saved our lives by parents, Christians, doctors and soldiers more than a few times.
  • We’ve been kept safe in planes and ships and cars. From dogs and weapons and thugs and disease.
  • He has held our family together through long separations, war, hopelessness and helplessness. For about 15 years now, we’ve grown as a family. No attrition.
  • My kids are surviving public school. They have been protected day in and out from the sickly stench of drugs, immorality, vulgarity and God-hating culture. An unhappy side effect is that reminder that we’re still sorely messed up and still in dire need of a Savior, even if He has shielded us from the extremities of Sodom.

Yeah, today is my birthday. I don’t deserve any of this. Gifts throughout the year, every year, have come down from On High. By God’s grace, I’m here. Rich beyond all measure.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! – Romans 7:25

And… If you survived the really long read, here’s a treat that can only be enjoyed once in a lifetime:


Common Grace or Providence?

 

I took this down on the previous posting. Here it is again, minor revisions, but essentially un-changed. I couldn’t figure a way to revise for better coherence without losing my own train of thought. I do appreciate that I had a reader seriously take time to critique my work here.

Is divine judgement manifest in the good things God provides? Does goodness ultimately mean wrathful justice in the arena of the unregenerate? Paul tells us to return evil with good in Romans:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:17-21

I was asked if I believe in common grace, and what it means. This has been mulling around in my head since I first heard of the term, which wasn’t too long ago, maybe three or so years. I think it’s kind of ambiguous – a term that’s used to blanket a lot of ideas about what’s good and beneficial. Maybe it’s just human nature to generalize terms as soon as possible just to avoid misapplying them.

Such generalization is a ridiculous practice, because eventually it leads to Rob Bellicosity and mysteriofication of everything important in theology. Better to have a specific term for specific ideas, even if it means technical, archaic, hard-to-say or lengthy and unwieldy. Get your labels clear and your package will be received intact and by the right person. This is why I’m a firm believer in confessions and creeds. Keeping straightforward, consistent interpretations of the Bible makes for safer navigation of theological waters.

In doing some definitions reading prior to this post, I came across the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) idea about the Gospel being a matter of common grace. This is not, in my opinion, the appropriate term for what is also called the “well intended offer” of the Gospel. Preaching Christ and Him crucified for our sins is an honest call for all sinners just doesn’t seem to be common grace. It seems more like common preaching. I think a better term should be in place of that idea. This, however, is probably above my knowledge level so I offer a couple of links for further reference:

I think I’d rather treat with what I think is the common version of common grace, a positive view of God’s providence.

Before I’d heard of common grace, I think I operated in a sort of concept where God “just did stuff.” I always tried to apply meaning to whatever happened, looking for a root cause or purpose to every in life. I suspect that this is a holdover from my witchcraft days which is equivalent to a distilled, hopped-up kind of superstition which pervades most religious or “spiritual” parts of culture. I was raised in the light-weight version of it, as a baptistic evangelical type, anyway, looking for purpose in God’s dispensational dealings with His 2nd family (the church). This leads me on a bit of a diatribe here, off-track for a minute.

We Christians need to dispose of the mindset that everything happens to us or because of us. It’s a bloody pagan idea. Essentially, this preoccupation with God’s “meddling” with everything under the sun is a biblicized form of karma or fortune-telling. We have so meshed our minds with “simple-minded” culture that we’ll jump at black cats, rainy days and traffic jams, looking in the Bible as if it were a deck of tarot-cards for meaning to every little stitch of an accident in our lives that applies to us in some way.

This is not a Biblical approach to life. We are not the center of all things, and Christianity is not a purely personal experience. I’d rather say that the personal experience in belonging to Christ is the icing on the cake, like having a best friend, which includes the icing of good feelings and hugging. This general error of “it’s all about me” is making a tiki-god out of our One True God. I’m serious. I actually have prayed for a good parking spot before, and when failing to find one, it actually crossed my mind that perhaps I was being punished because I cut that guy off on the freeway on the way to said parking spot. I kid you not. Now this is an extreme example in my case, though true, and harkens back to my witchcraft days, which brings me back to the real train tracks.

Witches, in my sphere of experience – though I’m sure I don’t speak for all, just most – seek to influence or downright control what’s happening and what’s going to happen through magic. Everything from charms to crystals, ceremonial magic to chanting, all are designed to make something go right for the practitioner. This religious practice is applicable to the mundane (worldly, secular or common) as well as the holy (spiritual, sacred, theologically significant). And it comes from a need for personal meaning, significance and power. Like I said, this is a hyper-ized kind of superstition. I would liken it to the word-of-faith movement in the church world, which is sheer idolatry and mysticism just with a Christian-like context. I doubt I need to go into detail.

So all that superstitious mysticism  didn’t just disappear when I was made a child of God. It has taken some serious time and still causes me troubles with things like the Lord’s Table and Baptism. Means of grace in general are something I have to be careful with because it was such a part of my life, ritual and magic and ceremony that were almost analogous to some ideas in sacramental language, that I tend to want to “feel the energy” so to speak. I’ve also had to wrestle with the fact, common to most of us, that I’m not the center of every jot and tittle in the bubble that is my experience.

Anyway, all that is not common grace. Common grace, in my understanding, is God’s providential care for all of His creation. In Calvinism, we tend to think about the elect and non-elect, but as Spurgeon said (my paraphrase), there is no E on the back of every regenerate head in the church. I think this is how God operates as well. ALL thing belong to Him. He cares for His creation, regardless of the fact that some are raised up as vessels for His wrath. God has instilled in all people some measure of the capacity to know right from wrong.

And He has given even the vilest of us the capability to act with kindness and mercy. Even Hitler or some other fiend in history had to have done some kindness toward his wife or dog or some such at some point. The rain brings healing to a ravaged land, whether the people within are unregenerate pagans or not. The same sun shines on the garden of a hoary-headed Bible preacher destined for glory as well as that of a die-hard liberal nutjob destined for the great eternal ideologue pyre (had to put in my personal opine, there).

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:7-11

I don’t like the idea that every act of God that is good for His Chosen People is also a proclamation of judgement on those who hate Him. I think it’s reaching too far into the pages to find such a belief. Does it work? Yeah, I guess so. But it’s probably more like Occam’s Razor (a favorite theme of mine, anyway). There is judgement implied in God’s favor. To An Extent! A sweet call to repentance instead of a condemnation of sin is still a call to repentance. God works in both ways. He can and does call the cops as well as the robbers.

Jonah was the speaker for Nineveh’s call to repentance. It was a threat of judgement. Jesus dealt sweet mercy to the sick and bereft during His ministry, a call that was hardly a threat of judgement (not at all to say that Jesus had any alternate theology from Jonah whatsoever). Goodness wins over the masses just as often as a good “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon (though I’ll beg to wonder about what is beginning to look a lot to me like emotional manipulation and crowd psychology in that era of revivalism, but that is for another day).

Okay, so here’s the rub. I think this is a problem of terms. Common grace isn’t really the right term. In reading Berkhof, who needs much more attention from me (poor me, without a book fund – sniffle), I find that grace should be more like Grace. Grace really seems to be better suited to relating to God’s special intervention in our lives in either a soteriological or sanctifying manner.

For example, being hit over the head by the 2×4 of belief after reading Romans is grace. Also, being hit over the head by Covenant Theology is grace. Both are a seriously definitive event beyond the mundane. Perhaps a revision is in order, at least in my dictionary. Providence sounds like a better word. I’d like to redefine, however, or prefix a meaning to providence, making it to say “beneficial providence” and “detrimental providence” instead.

I’m not talking about any kind of effect or dealing from God here that is salvific or leading to salvation, though certainly either of these providence types can be instrumental in conversion. The subject is really just the daily ordering of an ordered creation. God is organized, holds things together, and with His hand deals both trial and blessing upon all His creation. So it is a fundamental of our routine existence we’re dealing here, not a soteriological issue.

Beneficial providence is that event which is to be considered good by the common judgement of common people everywhere, from cleansing rain to hearty food and good company. Detrimental providence is everything from lost keys to a miserable flu that just won’t stop making the rounds. I don’t think we can assign degrees to these, per say, defining when providence crosses over into grace, for that is relative to the individual. It’s just that we can’t say that everything is a catalyst for the end-times. I hope that isn’t too extreme an analogy to make the point.

In summary, the issue is really whether God is kind to just Christians or also to those who are not and never will be. Which introduces another question, does God reserve His wrath for the reprobate only or do Christians have to face it in their lives as well? I would hazard a rough guess (not too rough, actually), that there’s a lot going for God dealing both sweet and sour to both saved and damned. The problem, if we come to the conclusion that God is just and loving, should end up at the cross. As our pastor said so well, Justice and Love kissed at the cross. God poured out His full measure of wrath upon the innocent Jesus and simultaneously poured out the full extent of His love on His fully guilty creation.

Here’s a section from Berkhof (from http://www.theologue.org/CommonGrace-Berkhof.html)

3. Another objection to the doctrine of common grace is that it presupposes a certain favorable disposition in God even to reprobate sinners, while we have no right to assume such a disposition in God. This stricture takes its starting point in the eternal counsel of God, in His election and reprobation. Along the line of His election God reveals His love, grace, mercy, and long-suffering, leading to salvation; and in the historical realization of His reprobation He gives expression only to His aversion, disfavor, hatred, and wrath, leading to destruction. But this looks like a rationalistic over-simplification of the inner life of God, which does not take sufficient account of His self-revelation. In speaking on this subject we ought to be very careful and allow ourselves to be guided by the explicit statements of Scripture rather than by our bold inferences from the secret counsel of God. There is far more in God than we can reduce to our logical categories. Are the elect in this life the objects of God´s love only, and never in any sense the objects of His wrath? Is Moses thinking of the reprobate when he says: “For we are consumed in thine anger, and in thy wrath are we troubled”? Ps. 90:7. Does not the statement of Jesus that the wrath of God abideth on them that obey not the Son imply that it is removed from the others when, and not until, they submit to the beneficent rule of Christ? John 3:36. And does not Paul say to the Ephesians that they “were by nature children of wrath even as the rest”? Eph. 2:3. Evidently the elect can not be regarded as always and exclusively the objects of God´s love. And if they who are the objects of God´s redeeming love can also in some sense of the word be regarded as the objects of His wrath, why should it be impossible that they who are the objects of His wrath should also in some sense share His divine favor? A father who is also a judge may loathe the son that is brought before him as a criminal, and feel constrained to visit his judicial wrath upon him, but may yet pity him and show him acts of kindness while he is under condemnation. Why should this be impossible in God? General Washington hated the traitor that was brought before him and condemned him to death, but at the same time showed him compassion by serving him with the dainties from his own table. Cannot God have compassion even on the condemned sinner, and bestow favors upon him? The answer need not be uncertain, since the Bible clearly teaches that He showers untold blessings upon all men and also clearly indicates that these are the expression of a favorable disposition in God, which falls short, however, of the positive volition to pardon their sin, to lift their sentence, and to grant them salvation. The following passages clearly point to such a favorable disposition: Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Matt. 5:43-45; 23:37; Mark 10:21; Luke 6:35: ROM 2:4; I Tim. 2:4. If such passages do not testify to a favorable disposition in God, it would seem that language has lost its meaning, and that God´s revelation is not dependable on this subject.


Updated Theology Status Report

Note, this post is actually post-posted to fit an appropriate date in the past. It was originally written as an update to my “Where I’ve Been” testimony page, but I think should also fit into the timeline of my journaling at LAH. So you’re reading the future as it happened in the past.

The development in my life in regards to theology has taken a strong direction in the last three years and I think I need to address it here, at least to a limited extent. In the majority of my posts from 2010 through Spring of 2011, it’s fairly clear that my family and I have grown very close to Covenant Theology, which has drawn distinctive lines in our denominational relationships for the first time in our years as a Christian household. Up until now, we’ve been under the division/separation radar network. Of course, up until now, we’ve not been under the authority of a specific church, either. Life is different all of a sudden. We’re members of a local church with all of us baptized as believers. And we’re in a potentially controversial state, being of what at I at least consider to be a minority: a Reformed church.

I’ve not had to defend my position as a “particular sort of Christian” before, nor really explain what makes me commit to the particular church of which we are a part. So here I am, a newly made Presbyterian at a PCA church, fully committed to confessing the Westminster Standards. The story of my growth is, to me, very exciting and clear. I’m not sure if everyone can relate or agree with this, but I see the path from first believing to now as leading to a destination that is actually somewhere, doctrinally speaking. I’ve come to a position that looks at Scripture, church, practice and relationships that’s particular. A couple months ago, we could’ve gone to any number of churches and looked for Biblical preaching and teaching. Now, we’re looking at this church. It’s a particular church with particular standards.

It’s been made pretty clear to me that I’m a fairly unsettled type of person. I go with the bandwagon all too easily. Since Christ called me, that has become a painful but present label applied to me. First it was a “temporary phase” for me to be a Christian. Then my development underwent numerous philosophical and theological reforms, going from nominal Christianity to semi-fundamentalist to semi-reformed and now I’m “into” full-blown Reformed Covenant Theology. I must assure readers that my progress has not been some spontaneous fad-phase sort of thing. I think the systematic development of my theology is fairly obvious and it has led just to where it is right now, not by my particular interests, but by sequential encounters in churches and theological studies. I’ve been led by the nose through increasingly accurate theologies until I’ve got to this place. Do I think I’ve arrived? In so many words, Yes. And I cannot foresee changing my mind. This is the first time I’ve met what I think is a thorough course of study and trustworthy system of doctrine.

If that makes heartburn for some readers, I must publish my regrets, but I think 7 years of laboring through the mire of quirks, false-teaching, truth-seeking, prayer, disappointments and denominationalism, this really is my home. I, due to my own desire to be relevant, humble, man-pleasing and self-preserving (cardinal sins in my department, mostly), am almost afraid to say it but I’m pretty much, no really much, a Staunch Presbyterian. I believe in the oh-so-unmentionable practice of infant baptism and that there is no future provided in the Bible for the nation-state of Israel. I just can’t see it. I love the PCA, love learning about it and love learning about those denominations with whom the PCA has close fellowship. I have no love of infighting nor inter-denominational hostilities that exist throughout the visible church of Christ, but I believe that I was dragged to one side, which most probably happens to anyone who attempts to read more deeply than John 3:16.

The Reformed church has been so kind to me, so honest and filled with clear teaching. I love the Word, so lovingly and faithfully served, containing both Law and Gospel in measure that reminds me of where I was and where I am now. I greatly desire the forgiveness that is proclaimed by the faithful minister of God’s Word every Sunday right after we, individually and corporately confess our sins. I love the sacraments, the weekly nourishment that Christ provides in His Supper and finally a freedom from the seemingly empty memorial system in which I grew up. I love that I may look back upon my baptism with hope and joy that God has made me a part of His Church, His Bride and that all His promises are sealed to me and finally a freedom from the personalized statement of public self-centered commitment that was integral to my Baptist upbringing. I love the idea of Covenant Families who are brought through the waters of baptism into Christ’s Church and are all treated, from months-old babies to generations-old hoary-heads, all as the same Chosen People under Christ’s headship. Therein, in this church, is a people who are all together in the covenant, for good or bad, with one label: Christian. And though it hurts, I love very much that we can deal with apostasy and “backsliders” in the way Christ taught and Paul executed: Discipline of the Church. I love that my church claims the Keys and does not hide them under the mat so any thief may put on some wool and break in without notice. Christ is preached here; His life, suffering, obedience, death, resurrection and ascension in clarity and bringing conviction. That is what a church should do and I thank God that this is where my family worshipped today.

There may well be plenty of occasions and reasons to be members of other types of churches. But our choice to join this church certainly sets us to one side. Our dispensational friends and Baptist friends see Reformed types now, and I’ve had to respond to that change.

For more explanation, I’ve uploaded a paper I wrote regarding my position and I’ve started blogging my way through it in small bites. It’s free for the reading and critiquing. My words and research entirely:

CovenantTheologyPaperByDumbGuy


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