A Little Book on the Christian Life

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I just finished reading this book last night. It’s by John Calvin (really, it’s an excerpt of his Institutes that authors/translators have made into its own treatise, as it’s THAT good). It’s no secret now that I’m a fan of Calvin.

Here’s a quote to whet your appetite (one out of many…I had post-it notes ALL OVER the book with sections I thought I might share on this blog. Painfully, I limited it to to one.). I appreciate how he describes the tensions and balance of striving toward the goal, while also understanding that perfection won’t be reached this side of Heaven:

“Of course, none of us is capable of running swiftly on the right course while we remain in the earthly confinement of our bodies. Indeed, most of us are so oppressed with weakness that we make little progress– staggering, limping, and crawling on the ground. But let us move forward according to the measure of our resources and pursue the path we have begun to walk. None of us will move forward with so little success that we will not make some daily progress in the way. Therefore, let us keep trying so that we might continually make some gains in the way of the Lord, and neither let us despair over how small our successes are. For however much our successes fall short of our desire, our efforts aren’t in vain when we are farther along today than yesterday. So let us fix our eyes on the goal with sincerity and simplicity, aspiring to that end–neither foolishly congratulating ourselves, nor excusing our evil deeds. Let us press on with continual striving toward that goal so that we might surpass ourselves– until we have finally arrived at perfection itself. This, indeed, is what we follow after and pursue all our lives, but we will only possess it when we have escaped the weakness of the flesh and have been received into His perfect fellowship” (p. 16-17).

“Jesus Loves the Little Children”

Image result for jesus loves the little children bookI just finished “Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children” by Daniel R. Hyde. If you’re looking for a short (key word being short, as I do better with short books these days), concise book on this topic, I highly recommend it. However, I must acknowledge that the issue of infant baptism can be very controversial and express that my goal in posting is not to offend or divide. But with this baby boy on the way (eek!), I wanted to make sure I really combed the Scriptures and read from trusted theologians to help discern, as best I can, what the Lord says about it. We may disagree, beloveds, and that is okay. I pray our unity in Christ would not be marred!

My general feeling after reading this book has been excitement over such rich nuggets of wisdom. And so what to do with this excitement (I know I’m nerdy)??? 🙂 I MUST share it with you! Hyde says these things way better than I could, so I’ve picked out a few choice quotations that may bless you and ones that I, selfishly, want to record so I can go back to them in the future. Bravo to you if you get through them all, bravo still if you just skim through them, and bravo to you even if you bow out now. It’s always great to have you visit inkdrops, whether you linger or dodge quickly in and out. Enjoy, beloveds!

Quote 1:

“While we have said that baptism is a sign of God’s saving grace, baptism does not necessarily follow chronologically after a sinner is saved…Since baptism is a tangible way that we have experienced the grace and mercy of God in Christ, it can be a very emotional aspect of our experience as Christians. Many of those for whom this book is intended were baptized as adults in a public setting. I share the same experience. Yet we must not think that our personal experience of testifying to God’s grace before many fellow believers is the litmus test of anyone’s theology of baptism. While baptism can be an intensely moving experience, it doesn’t mean adult baptism is the best way or the only way God intends this sacrament to be used….

…the New Testament does not teach that there is necessarily a chronologically simultaneous relationship between the reception of the sacrament and its spiritual benefits. Consider the way a person heard the Word preached. That person may hear hundreds of sermons before ever receiving the benefits promised in the preached Word. I can testify to this. I grew up in a Christian home, heard Bible stories, attended Sunday school, prayed with my family, heard the Scriptures read, but did not consciously come to faith until I was over seventeen years old. Are we then to conclude that everyone must undergo years of hearing the Word first and before coming to faith? The answer is no. One’s personal experience is not to become the doctrine of the church….Just as the Word of the gospel might be preached to someone at one point but the benefit of salvation may come at a much later point, so too it is with baptism. A long period of time may pass between the time a child receives baptism and the time God brings that child to a saving knowledge of the truth of which baptism is a picture.” (pp. 25, 26)

Quote 2:

In reference to 1 Corinthians 7:14 when Paul says a believing spouse can sanctify an unbelieving spouse: “With regard to children, this text reorients us from an individualistic mindset to a covenantal mindset. Scripture makes it clear that God is a covenant making God, and covenants include children. Thus our individualistic ideas of “making Jesus our personal Lord and Savior” and having a “personal relationship with Jesus” must be augmented. While we and our children are personally to embrace God’s promises, the fact remains that God chooses to work through families. Thus 1 Corinthians 7:14 says that children of believers, or even just one believer, are “holy” to the Lord. Just as the children of Israel were called “holy seed” (Ezra 9:2; Isa. 6:13), so too the children of believers are called “holy” in the new covenant era.” (p. 41) 

Quote 3:

“Even as infants do not understand what it means to be a sinner, to place their faith in Jesus, and to live godly lives, so they do not need to understand what baptism is about. Put plainly, we do not need to know what it means to be a sinner in order to be a sinner. On the other hand, they are received in the grace of Christ’s covenant people even before they can know what that means. Infant baptism, then, is a testimony to the sovereignty of God’s grace, in which he loved us before we loved him (1 John 4:10)….In baptism, we see that God always initiates grace! He “came” to us first in eternity in his plan of election; he comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit in regenerating us from death to life; and he comes to us before we were even able to believe in him, by giving us the gift of faith so we may be justified. So too in baptism he comes to us first, even as we were helpless children, making a promise of grace to us.” (p. 52)

 

Another Anti Self-Esteem Post

Image Source: Psychology Today

I’ve blogged on disliking the goal of boosting one’s self-esteem before, but I’d like to add another analogy to the mix. I hope it’s helpful to you, beloveds. When I was growing up, the conversation of battling low self-esteem problems was highly popular. Though the term may not be as front-and-center right now, I think the underlying notion of “self-esteem issues” remains fixed in our current culture: We hear the call to think positively of ourselves, we must build ourselves up, do what’s best for you and only you, etc. And while these aren’t horrible things in themselves, I think this type of thinking and particularly counseling from this type of perspective is misleading and harmful. If these things become the main focus, they ultimately leave us feeling empty (we know that our “self” is tainted by sin and no amount of positive thinking can hide that), it tempts us toward self-centeredness and pride (where does our need/dependence on God come into play?), and though there may be immediate/temporary boosting effects from positive self-talk, it offers no lasting hope (again, we find that we continue to fail and our salvation has to come from a Source outside of ourselves). Good ole’ John Piper in “Don’t Waste Your Life” has an apt analogy:

“For most people to be loved is to be made much of. Almost everything in our Western culture serves this distortion of love. We are taught in a thousand ways that love means increasing someone’s self-esteem. Love is helping someone feel good about themselves. Love is giving someone a mirror and helping him like what he sees.

This is not what the Bible means by the love of God. Love is doing what is best for someone. But making self the object of our highest affections is not best for us. It is, in fact, a lethal distraction. We were made to see and savor God– and savoring him, to be supremely satisfied, and thus spread in all the world the worth of his presence. Not to show people the all-satisfying God is not to love them. To make them feel good about themselves when they were made to feel good about seeing God is like taking someone to the Alps and locking them in a room full of mirrors.”

I love that Alps/Room full of mirrors analogy! It captures the problem well. To clarify, I don’t validate self-hatred. Some could argue that my position leads us to hate and despise ourselves. That is not at all what I’m advocating for here. We are made in God’s image and because of that we are inherently valuable. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”  (Ephesians 2: 10). If we are in Christ, when God sees us, He sees Christ. We are clothed in His robes of righteousness. Keeping with the Ephesians 2 passage, but before we received Christ, we were in sin: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). That’s why, beloveds, I hope to emphasize with others and remind myself that my sin and failure is important to see (not to wallow in it NOR to wish it away), as it drives me to the beauty and amazing saving grace of Jesus Christ. The final result is, as Piper says, to worship and savor and delight in God Himself. To love Him is to truly love ourselves! Awareness, confession and repentance of sin is actually good because it drives us to see our insufficiency and need for Christ. He then begins to take the starring role in our lives.

Romans 5:6-11 connects this transition from sin leading to God honoring worship and rejoicing: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (my italics).

Tim Keller has a great little book about this (see below). I’d definitely recommend it to anyone intrigued by this conversation! We shouldn’t desire great self-esteem nor should we hate ourselves, our aim is self-forgetfulness as we desire God’s glory most of all. We become less and He becomes more in our hearts and lives. God, please help us point people away from themselves and to You, Creator of the Alps (more satisfying than the Alps could ever hope to be) and the most glorious of all.

The Cultured Artist

I share convicting things sometimes and basically 100% of the time those things are what I’ve been convicted of; they’re things I’m learning about. I read this C.S. Lewis quote today and immediately said, “YES, this is for me.” Maybe it’s for you too, beloved?

I consider myself an artist. I grew up loving the theater, literature, music, dance, journaling, scrapbooking, letter writing, decor and all things that move me to my emotional, relational, and spiritual core. I still love artistic endeavors dearly, as I see so much of my Maker in them. However, I’ve noticed how tempting it can be to make these good gifts into bad gods (props to David Powlison for that phrase). Yee-ayah DP! Sometimes art and artistry subtly and sneakily saunter their way to the top of the ladder of my heart. They become almost religion-like to me. C.S. Lewis articulately warns against this temptation, but also reminds me of the truth of what is infinitely more valuable than art:

“The Christian will take literature a little less seriously than the cultured Pagan…The unbeliever is always apt to make a kind of religion of his aesthetic experiences…and he commonly wishes to maintain his superiority to the great mass of mankind who turns to books for mere recreation. But the Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world: and as for superiority, he knows that the vulgar since they include most of the poor probably include most of the superiors.”

-C.S. Lewis, “Christianity and Literature”

Our Bedraggled and Muddy Condition

This book is rocking my world right now. Thanks to my dear friend, Marilyn, for sending it “just because:”

“Poor Much-Afraid, who knew that she had been slipping and stumbling in the most dreadful way, indeed worse than at any other time, flushed painfully all over her face. She said nothing, only looked at [the Shepherd] almost reproachfully.

“Much-Afraid,” said he very gently in answer to that look, “don’t you know by now that I never think of you as you are now but as you will be when I have brought you to the Kingdom of Love and have washed you from all the stains and defilements of the journey? If I come along behind you and notice that you are finding the way especially difficult, and are suffering from slips and falls, it only makes me think of what you will be like when you are with me, leaping and skipping on the High Places.”

Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

It’s Great To Be Weak

“An interviewer once asked Edith Schaeffer, author and wife of evangelist and philosopher Francis Schaeffer, “Who is the greatest Christian woman alive today?” She replied, “We don’t know her name. She is dying of cancer somewhere in a hospital in India.” I’m talking about that woman. Underneath her obedient life is a sense of helplessness. It has become part of her very nature…almost like breathing. Why? Because she is weak. She feels her restless heart, her tendency to compare herself with others. She is shocked at how jealousy can well up in her. She notices how easily the world gets its hooks into her. In short, she distrusts herself. When she looks at other people, she sees the same struggles. The world, the flesh, and the Devil are too much for her. The result? Her heart cries out to God in prayer. She needs Jesus…

…Less mature Christians have little need to pray. When they look at their hearts (which they rarely do), they seldom see jealousy. They are barely aware of their impatience. Instead, they are frustrated by all the slow people they keep running into. Less mature Christians are quick to give advice. There is no complexity to their worlds because the answers are simple–“just do what i say, and your life will be easier.”

Surprisingly, mature Christians feel less mature on the inside. When they hear Jesus say, “Apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), they nod in agreement. They reflect on all the things they’ve done without Jesus, which have become nothing. Mature Christians are keenly aware that they can’t raise their kids. It’s a no-brainer. Even if they are perfect parents, they still can’t get inside their kids’ hearts. That’s why strong Christians pray more.

John of Landsburg, a sixteenth-century Catholic monk, summarized this well in his classic A Letter from Jesus Christ. He imagined Jesus speaking personally to us:

“I know those moods when you sit there utterly alone, pining, eaten up with unhappiness, in a pure state of grief. You don’t move towards me but desperately imagine that everything you have ever done has been utterly lost and forgotten. This near-despair and self-pity are actually a form of pride. What you think was a state of absolute security from which you’ve fallen was really trusting too much in your own strength and ability…what really ails you is that things simply haven’t happened as you expected and wanted. In fact I don’t want you to rely on your own strength and abilities and plans, but to distrust them and to distrust yourself, and to trust me and no one and nothing else. As long as you rely entirely on yourself, you are bound to come to grief. You still have a most important lesson to learn: your own strength will no more help you to stand upright than propping yourself on a broken reed. You must not despair of me. You may hope and trust in me absolutely. My mercy is infinite.”

-A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller

A Hopeful Tomb

Today I read Ezekiel 23– one long, shocking metaphor of two adulterous sisters (Samaria and Jerusalem). I was struggling to find the hope as I read of their continual lust and defilement. Iain Duguid helped me with this in his NIV Application Commentary:

“There is no message of hope in Ezekiel 23. The stone is rolled away to reveal the gaping mouth of the tomb, which is ready to swallow up defiled Jerusalem, just as it had earlier swallowed up defiled Samaria. But for those reading Ezekiel 23 from a NT perspective, the opened mouth of another tomb speaks a word of comfort even to those as defiled as Jerusalem. Because Christ has died in our place, and more than that has risen from the dead, there is now no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus! My death is swallowed up in his victory; my defilement is replaced by his purity, credited to my account. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I too have been washed, I have been justified, and I am being sanctified. What is more, this is true in spite of the sins that I continue to commit daily. Although I am unfaithful to my commitment to God and continue to sin against him regularly in thought, word, and deed, the gospel continue to be good news for me, a sinner.”

Amen! The gospel never gets old. The gospel continues to be good news for me, for us. Beloveds, let’s keep pondering in our hearts that open tomb which displays all our hope and salvation. 

Surprised by Ezekiel

ezekielSSSSS….LOW….L…..Y….I have been working my way through Ezekiel; turtle-style. My intention is to camp out for long periods of time in one book of the Bible with the aim of understanding its themes and practical implications. The New Application Commentary by Iain M. Duguid and The Message of Ezekiel by Christopher J. H. Wright are major helps. Ezekiel has its fair share of depressing moments with God’s judgments and oracles against Israel. Yet there are many surprising encounters of encouragement and hope. Today’s reading of Ezekiel 17 provided many helpful warnings and loving correctives.

Enjoy these powerful excerpts from Duguid on Ezekiel 17’s contemporary significance:

“We should work for political change and we should plan for the future. Yet we can be so busy doing the good things that we miss out on the one insight that is really necessary, the best thing: maintaining our personal and corporate life with God. But as Jesus reminds us: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

“We want to think that God ought to be impressed, at least somewhat, by our goodness and righteous acts. We prefer not to remember that we are helpless sinners on a collision course with a God of absolute purity and holiness, in whose presence sin cannot be tolerated. But if we accept the fact that we are all covenant-breakers in Adam as well as covenant-breakers on our own account, how shall we stand on that day? The answer lies in the new chip off the old block, the sprig of the cedar tree that God will plant…The good news is that in spite of our weakness and folly, Christ’s kingdom continues to grow and develop, based on his goodness and covenant faithfulness, not ours. Our rebellion and failure may have negative consequences in our own lives, but it cannot prevent God from achieving his purposes in the world. He may work slowly, from our perspective, through imperceptible growth from small beginnings rather than radical revolution, but his work is nonetheless effective. His tree provides perfect shelter and security for all of his own people. As he has planned, he will bring men and women from every tribe and nation to know himself, justified in the perfect obedience of their true king, the shoot of David, Jesus Christ.”

After reading this, I had to ask myself these questions: How easily do I let my work and planning my schedule usurp time spent with my Creator? Do I really believe that I am helpless and a covenant-breaker? Do I find myself rejoicing in Christ’s perfect obedience and faithfulness? Do I live striving for my own righteousness, or do I rest in the shadow of his righteousness and the shade of his perfect shelter? Oh how I long to place my security in the one whose work is sure, effective, and completely good! Help me, O God. What about you, beloved?

An Error I’ve Made

…yet God has been faithful to gently and lovingly correct me! His glory, not my own.

“Keep me from the error of thinking thou dost
appear gloriously
when some strange light fills my heart,
as if that were the glorious activity of grace,
but let me see that the truest revelation of thyself
is when thou dost eclipse all my personal glory
and all the honour, pleasure and good
of this world.”

The Valley of Vision, “Love to Jesus”

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Rom. 11:36

The Valley of Vision- Christ Alone

O GOD,

Thy main plan, and the end of thy will
is to make Christ glorious and beloved
in heaven
where he is now ascended,
where one day all the elect will behold his glory
and love and glorify him for ever.

Though here I love him but little,
may this be my portion at last.
In this world thou hast given me a beginning,
one day it will be perfected in the realm above.

Thou hast helped me to see and know Christ,
though obscurely,
to take him, receive him,
to possess him, love him,
to bless him in my heart, mouth, life.

Let me study and stand for discipline,
and all the ways of worship,
out of love for Christ;
and to show my thankfulness;
to seek and know his will from love,
to hold it in love,
and daily to care for and keep this state of heart.

Thou hast led me to place all my nature
and happiness
in oneness with Christ,
in having heart and mind centred only on him,
in being like him in communicating good
to others;
This is my heaven on earth,
But I need the force, energy, impulses of thy Spirit
to carry me on the way to my Jerusalem.

Here, it is my duty
to be as Christ in this world,
to do what he would do,
to live as he would live,
to walk in love and meekness;
then would he be known,
then would I have peace in death.