8 to 5

During the Reformation a couple of ordinary, yet remarkable, folks realized that salvation does not lie in our own hands but rather that we are saved by faith and faith alone. Sounds rather philosophical? Well actually the repercussions of this realization spilled over into a shift in societal structure. During this short span of time there were angry kings, martyrs, famous speeches, great literature, great art and the start of democracy, just to name a few. In short: the world changed dramatically. One of the areas where specifically a fellow by the name of Martin Luther made a massive impact was in the perception and theology of “secular” work. People started to think about their jobs and its value.

Four hundred years later we are still (or maybe again) struggling with the concept of work. It takes up most of your day and is not always, sometimes never, fun. We work so that we can then buy things, travel the world and give to charity. We might work to form our identity, to gain respect and leave a legacy. How many people do you know that actually work every day with the sole purpose of retiring? I, for one, know several people that would say we work today to one day move to the coast to sip mojitos and take strolls on the beach. Is this really all there is to your eight to five?

Recently interest in the meaning of work started to (re)surface in discussions and seen more and more in literature, especially in Christian circles. Tim Keller released a book Every Good Endeavor where he discusses our perceptions of serving God in our jobs. He starts off by listing some of the ways to serve:

  1. The way to serve God at work is to further social justice in the world.
  2. The way to serve God at work is to be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues.
  3. The way to serve God at work is just to do skillful, excellent work.
  4. The way to serve God at work is to create beauty.
  5. The way to serve God at work is to work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end.
  6. The way to serve God at work with a graceful, joyful, gospel-changed heart thorugh all the upas and downs.
  7. The way to serve God at work is to do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion.
  8. The way to serve God at work is to make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can.

So which one is the way in which we are to serve God at work? The assumption of course is that only one of these is the way in serving God. Keller makes the point that these are several aspects of the same thing, each of them are a way  in serving God at work – a combination of these is the way we serve God.

The inherent value of work and our understanding of the value of our work remains a challenge that we need to face. To conclude, see the words of Mr Luther himself:

All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government-to what does it all amount before God except child’s play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things.

We need to continue to think about work and how we can shift a perception that work is nothing more that a means to an end.

When the Doors Open

Reading a recent blog post by Tim Challies made me think about the wedding we are attending this weekend. Something most Christians know is that marriage, as institution, reflects the unconditional love of Christ for His bride, the church. What we then forget to do is to take it just that one step further and see the reflection of this in the ceremony. We forget to see the smile the groom’s face, as the bride approaches, as testimony to the smile on Christ’s face He looks upon His bride. Tim Challies does a great job to remind us of this:

Now here’s the tip: When those doors open, steal a quick glance at the groom. I know the bride is the star of the show and you don’t want to miss her, but it’s okay to look to the front of the church for just a moment. The more I read and understand Ephesians 5:22-33 and the more I come to grasp the deepest meaning of marriage, the more I find myself not wanting to miss what happens at the front of the room. Because in that moment the groom is just a small picture, a dim reflection, of the love Jesus Christ has for his bride, the church.

There is nothing quite like the expression on a groom’s face when his bride appears before him. There is joy there. There is delight and desire and such love. There is the knowledge that his longing for a bride is being fulfilled and that she will soon be his, that in just moments they will be united together forever.

This is only an excerpt form the post, follow the link to read the entire post.

Coveting Faith

Praying Hands

This brutally honest account shows that true faith is not only apparent to critics, but also desirable. As a parent covets a child’s enduring faith so we peek into a heart longing for imperishable hope.

“When I was a child in Sunday school, I would ask searching questions like ”Angels can fly up in heaven, but how do clouds hold up pianos?” and get the same puzzling response about how that was not important, what was important was that Jesus died for our sins and if we accepted him as our savior, when we died, we would go to heaven, where we’d get everything we wanted. Some children in my class wondered why anyone would hang on a cross with nails stuck through his hands to help anyone else; I wondered how Santa Claus knew what I wanted for Christmas, even though I never wrote him a letter. Maybe he had a tape recorder hidden in every chimney in the world.

This literal-mindedness has stuck with me; one result of it is that I am unable to believe in God. Most of the other atheists I know seem to feel freed or proud of their unbelief, as if they’ve cleverly refused to be sold snake oil. But over the years, I’ve come to feel I’m missing out. My friends and relatives who rely on God — the real believers, not just the churchgoers — have an expansiveness of spirit. When they walk along a stream, they don’t just see water falling over rocks; the sight fills them with ecstasy. They see a realm of hope beyond this world. I just see a babbling brook. I don’t get the message. My husband, who was reared in a devout Catholic family and served as an altar boy, is also firmly grounded on this earth. He doesn’t even have the desire to believe. So other than baptizing our son to reassure our families, we’ve skated over the issue of faith.

I assumed we had stranded our 4-year-old son Luke in the same spiritually arid place we’d found ourselves in. When my husband went to Iraq for several months, I thought Luke and I were in it together, a suddenly single mom and a nervous boy whose daddy was in a war zone. I was numb with anxiety when I talked to my husband on his satellite phone; yet Luke was chatty and calm. He missed his daddy, but he wasn’t scared. He wanted to see pictures of Dad holding an AK-47. I thought he was just too young to understand.

Then one night Luke and I were watching television, and a story flashed on about a soldier home on leave for his wedding. I tried to switch the channel, but Luke wanted to see, so I let him, thinking, It’s a wedding; it’s fine. But the soldier started talking about how afraid he was of going back, how dangerous it was in Iraq. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Luke steeple his fingers and bow his head for a split second. Surprised, I said, ”Sweetheart, what are you doing?” He wouldn’t tell me, but a few minutes later, he did it again. I said, ”You don’t have to tell me, but if you want to, I’m listening.” Finally he confessed, ”I was saying a little prayer for Daddy.”

”That’s wonderful, Luke,” I murmured, abashed that we, or our modern world, somehow made him embarrassed to pray for his father in his own home. It was as if that mustard seed of faith had found its way into our son and now he was revealing that he could move mountains. Not in a church or as we gazed at the stars, but while we channel-surfed. I was envious of him. Luke wasn’t rattled, because he believed that God would bring his father home safely. I was the only one stranded.

Some people believe faith is a gift; for others, it’s a choice, a matter of spiritual discipline. I have a friend who was reared to believe, and he does. But his faith has wavered. He has struggled to hang onto it and to pass it along to his children. Another friend of mine never goes to church because she’s a single mother who doesn’t have the gas money. But she once told me about a day when she was washing oranges as the sun streamed onto them. As she peeled one, the smell rose to her face, and she felt she received the Holy Spirit. ”He sank into my bones,” she recounted. ”I lifted my palms upward, feeling filled with love.”

Being no theologian, and not even a believer, I am not in a position to offer up theories, but mine is this: people who receive faith directly, as a spontaneous combustion of the soul, have fewer questions. They have been sparked with a faith that is more unshakable than that of those who have been taught.

After I saw Luke praying for his father in Iraq, I asked him when he first began to believe in God. ”I don’t know,” he said. ”I’ve always known he exists.” My husband did return from Iraq safely, but if something had happened to his father, Luke would have known Dad was in heaven, waiting for us. He doesn’t suffer from a void like the anguished father in Mark 9:23-24: ”Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth./And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” For Luke, all things are possible. At the end of his life, he will be reunited in heaven with his heroes and loved ones, Mom and Dad and George Washington, his grandparents and Buzz Lightyear. Luke’s prayers can stretch to infinity and beyond, but I am limited to one: Help thou mine unbelief.”

-Dana Tierney, Coveting Luke’s Faith, New York Times (11 January 2004)

Men Are From Jerusalem And Women From Venus

How powerful is the inner beauty of a wife? Very.

Years ago, I wrote a newsletter called Every Husband Feels Like a Jerk and Every Wife Agrees. It was meant to explain a common phenomenon that kept emerging in the course of my marriage counseling practice. No matter what else they brought to the table, couples seemed to agree on one thing: No one believed the husbands demonstrated loyal love in their marriages.

In fact, whenever I began to talk about the quality of love in the marital relationship, most husbands began to act ashamed. They were like Isaiah when he saw the Lord sitting on his throne, “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). It seemed like their wives were so good at love.

It’s true. In almost every case, a wife approaches marriage with a deeper understanding of and passion for loyal love. I consider this a God-given gift, one way she reflects the image of God (Gen. 1:27). I began to identify this as an aspect of a wife’s inner beauty.

This inner beauty exposes areas where a husband is lacking. Just as Isaiah encountered the Lord’s beauty, I heard husbands echo his response: “My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of sinful race” (Isa. 6:5).

But unlike Isaiah, who was reduced to humble contrition in the presence of such loveliness, husbands tend to fight back. “My wife wants too much from me,” they declare. The wives counter with a long list of their husbands’ failures. This tension increases because neither the husband nor the wife responds well to her gift of inner beauty.

Couple Implications

If inner beauty is God’s gift to a woman, then it stands to reason that it’s a gift that can be employed in the service of building redemptive marriages. I want to suggest a couple of implications for each couple.

To grow in loyal love, a husband must not be afraid for his sin to be exposed in his wife’s presence. This requires humility. He must stop telling his wife she wants too much and instead look to the Lord for his help. Typically, a husband wants to be a knight in shining armor. Instead, he needs to be willing to humbly see the ways he hides and casts blame. As a husband opens up to this exposure and learns to look to the Lord for forgiveness and care, he has more to give his wife. A wife’s inner beauty matters because a husband can let it expose his deep need for God’s grace and mercy. A wife’s inner beauty is meant to turn a husband toward the Lord, not drive him to intimidation, control, or defensiveness.

To use her gift to enhance loyal love, a wife must remember that her husband experiences shame in her presence. He experiences this whether or not she says or does anything. Her gift of inner beauty can be that powerful. When a wife trusts this, she can relate to her husband with more kindness and rest instead of feeling compelled to help her husband recognize where he is lacking. When Peter encourages wives to let their “adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” (1 Peter 3:4), he is telling wives to rest as their husbands learn how to make room for the ongoing conviction of sin that comes with marriage. Peter wanted women to stop expending so much effort. A husband’s struggle to love well should turn a wife toward more faith and less activity as she waits for him to grow into God’s love.

In fact, as a wife rests and shows kindness in the midst of her husband’s frustration, she can have a powerful effect. After Isaiah witnesses God’s beauty and expresses humility, a seraph touches his lips with a coal and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isa. 6:7). Later, we find Isaiah willingly responding to the Lord’s direction. Beauty and kindness together inspired courage in Isaiah. He is moved to stand up and follow the Lord.

It works the same way in marriage. When a husband responds well to his wife’s inner beauty, and when a wife mixes it with kindness, she becomes a compelling force in her husband’s life.

-Borrowed from Gordon C. Bals, A Wife’s Inner Beauty: Convicting and Compelling.

Back To Catechesis

Some of us would remember the days of Sunday School and our encounter with the Heidelberg Catechism and our laborious struggle through a seemingly archaic document. I am not sure how many churches still promote the use of catechisms, especially for the children and their exposure to the Bible and doctrine, but I doubt that it is used widely. The absence of this practice might leave a gap bigger than we think, not only for children but also for adults.

Tim Keller’s take on the absence of catechisms and the potential benefits of introducing them into the church:

“Catechesis is also different from listening to a sermon or lecture—or reading a book—in that it is deeply communal and participatory. The practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning. It creates true community as teachers help students—and students help each other—understand and remember material. Parents catechize their children. Church leaders catechize new members with shorter catechisms and new leaders with more extensive ones. All of this systematically builds relationships. In fact, because of the richness of the material, catechetical questions and answers may be incorporated into corporate worship itself, where the church as a body can confess their faith and respond to God with praise.

Our people desperately need richer, more comprehensive instruction. Returning to catechesis—now—is one important way to give it.”

Why Catechesis Now?, Tim Keller

On October 15 The Gospel Coalition, with the help of Tim Keller, launched The New City Catechism. The Catechism is adapted from the four prominent Reformation-era catechisms and provides a joint child & adult catechism. Read more about The New City Catechism here, see the Web app here, see the iPad app here.

I think this might prove to be a very valuable tool available to the church today.

Moms – Keep Calm & Carry On

For the moms in ours midst:

FACT: If your children can’t read by age four there is a 95% chance they will end up homeless and on drugs.

FACT: If your children eat any processed food there is an 85% chance they will contract a rare, most likely incurable disease, by age 12.

FACT: If  you’re not up at dawn reading the Bible to your children, you are most likely a pagan caught in the clutches of witchcraft.

FACT: If your children watch more than 10 minutes of television a day there is 75% chance they will end up in a violent street gang by age 17.

Obviously, the “facts” listed above are not true (at least, I don’t think they are). But, I’ve noticed that the Internet has made it much easier for people, and moms in particular, to compare themselves to each other. Now, just to be clear, this is not a post against “mom blogs”, or whatever they’re called. If you write a mom blog, that’s cool with me. This is a post to encourage the moms who tend to freak out and feel like complete failures when they read the mom blogs and mom Facebook posts.

Moms, Jesus wants you to chill out about being a mom. You don’t have to make homemade bread to be a faithful mom. You don’t have to sew you children’s clothing to be a faithful mom. You don’t have to coupon, buy all organic produce, keep a journal, scrapbook, plant a garden, or make your own babyfood to be a faithful mom. There’s nothing wrong with these things, but they’re also not in your biblical job description.

Your job description is as follows:

  • Love God. This simply means finding some time during the day to meet with the Lord. It doesn’t have to be before all the kids are awake. It doesn’t have to be in the pre-dawn stillness. Your job is to love God. How you make that happen can look a million different ways.
  • Love your husband (unless you’re a single mom, of course). Your second job is to love and serve your husband. Husbands are to do the same for their wives, but that’s for a different post. If your husband really likes homemade bread, maybe you could make it for him. But don’t make homemade bread simply because you see other moms posting pictures of their homemade bread on Facebook.
  • Love your kids. Your calling as mom is to love your kids and teach them to follow the Lord. They don’t need to know Latin by age six. If they do, more power to you. But that’s a bonus, not part of the job description. Your job is simply to love your kids with all your exhausted heart, and to teach them to love Jesus. That’s a high calling. Don’t go throwing in other, extraneous things to make your life more difficult. If you want to teach your kids to sew, great. But don’t be crushed by guilt if your kids aren’t making stylish blazers by the age of 10.

Moms, Jesus want you to rest in him. He wants you to chill out. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Don’t compare yourself to other moms. Don’t try to be something God hasn’t called you to be. If the mom blogs are making you feel guilty, stop reading them. Be faithful to what he has truly called you to do, and know that he is pleased with you. When your kids are resting, don’t feel guilty about watching an episode of “Lost”, or whatever your favorite show may happen to be.

Love God, love your husband, love your kids. Keep it simple and chill out.

-Stephen Altrogge, Dear Moms, Jesus Wants You To Chill Out

The Bible Has Errors

Ever been confronted with the question: “How can you believe the Bible when it has so many errors?”

In a post by Jonathan Dodson, What to say when someone says the Bible has errors?, he addresses the perception of the Bible being littered with errors. So what do you say when someone claims that the Bible is full of errors? Here follows a summary of the blog post:

Don’t avoid the topic, talk about the errors, there are four types of errors in the Bible:

  1. Spelling & Nonsense Errors: This is when a word does not make sense in the context, the example given is one that occurred in a late Greek manuscript: replacing “ēpioi” with “hippoi” thus making 1 Thess 2:7 read “..we were horses among you..”. These are obvious errors and easily corrected.
  2. Minor Changes: When word order changes or a word is omitted. This does not make a difference seeing that Greek grammar allows the same sentence to be written something like 18 times without changing the meaning.
  3. Meaningful But Not Plausible: An example of this is when the “..the gospel of God” – as appearing in nearly all the manuscripts is found to be “..the gospel of Christ.” in a late medieval manuscript. It does indeed imply a difference in meaning but the overall evidence is irrefutably pointing towards the first mentioned.
  4. Meaningful and Plausible: Errors that may influence the actual meaning. These account for less that 1% of the variants and mostly involves a word or phrase. At the end of Mark’s gospel appears the biggest questionable errors. Note that we are not being “misled” as our Bibles even footnote this!

So is the Bible reliable?

As the accuracy is dependant on the manuscripts that our Bibles are translated from, consider this:

  • We have 43% of the New Testament that was translated before 200AD.  Very fresh copies indeed!
  • 99 manuscripts that date before 400AD means that the gap between the original inerrant manuscripts and these are pretty slim. (see comparison of the number of NT manuscripts with other notable historical documents here)
  • In all that means we shoul be hugely (thousand+ times) more sceptical about accounts of the Greco-Roman history than the NT.

So what should you say to the Bible having errors?

Yes, our Bible translations do have errors—let me tell you about them. But as you can see, less than 1% of them are meaningful and those errors don’t affect the major teachings of the Christian faith. In fact, there are a thousand times more manuscripts of the Bible than the most documented Greco-Roman historian by Suetonius. So, if we’re going to be skeptical about ancient books, we should be a thousand times more skeptical of the Greco-Roman histories. The Bible is, in fact, incredibly reliable.
The common perception that as time passes we loose accuracy of the Bible is, in fact, incorrect. The truth is that as time passes the accuracy of the Bible is increasing and we can already be confident that the translations available to us are already 99% true to the original manuscripts.