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)

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Prayer Is…

…the practice of the presence of God.

Borrowed (and slightly adapted) from a book by the title of Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life by Brother Lawrence (1605-1691).

The Bible in 221 Words

D.A. Carson’s summary of the Bible in 221 words:

God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us, his image-bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance, attracts his implacable wrath.

But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations, temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what God is planning and what he expects.

In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in returning to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in the torments of hell. What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the alternative is to disobey the gospel. (Romans 10:16;2 Thessalonians 1:81 Peter 4:17)

For Such a Time as This: Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future, ed. Steve Brady and Harold Rowdon (London, UK: Evangelical Alliance, 1986), 80.

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.

Hand Me The Thing & “Let There Be…”

In the traditional sense of the word “creativity” covers painting, photography, music, sculpting and other things people wearing hemp love to do. Well, whoever you are I promise you you have your thing. It might be baking delicious cupcakes or creating incredible spreadsheets with graphs and “what if” statements! All of us have some sort of creative gifting and when paired to the application of that gifting we experience a strong sense of satisfaction.

Apart from application of your specific gifting you will have also encountered that sense of accomplishment in other things. For example, have you ever attempted the near impossible task of assembling a chair bought at Mr. Price? You always end up with at least three broken nails, a bruised ankle and slightly suspect neighbours but, in the end, you stand back and admire the chair and the way in which, by your handiwork, a collection of random kitchen utensils turned two cushions into a fully adjustable executive chair.

Ever wondered why we love this process of creation?

Have another look at the way which God created the earth (taken from The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul):

The act of creation was the first event in history.  It also was the most dazzling.  The Supreme Architect gazed at His complex blueprint and shouted commands for the boundaries of the world to be set.  He spoke, and the seas were shut behind doors and the clouds were filled with dew.

He bound the Pleiades and buckled the belt of Orion. He spoke again and the earth began to fill with orchards in full blood.  Blossoms burst forth like springtime in Mississippi.  The lavender hues of plum trees danced with the brilliances of azaleas and forsythia.

God spoke once more, and the waters teemed with living things.  The snail sneaked beneath the shadowy form of the stingray while the great marlin broke the surface of the water to promenade on the waves with his tail.  Again He spoke, and the roar of the lion was heard and the bleating of sheep.  Four-footed anumals, eight-legged spiders, and winged insects appearted. 

And God said, ‘That’s good!’

God then made us, the imitators:

Then God stooped to earth and carefully fashioned a piece of clay. He lifted it gently to His lips and breathed into it. The clay began to move. It began to think. It began to feel. It began to worship. It was alive and stamped with the image of its Creator.

We were made in the image of God – an imprint if you like. Our natural tendency is to imitate our Creator. Next time you look at a painting or read a great novel or listen to beautiful music know that it is nothing more than the manifestation of the imprint of the Great Creator. Someone somewhere designed the chair you are sitting on now and he/she did nothing more than to show the tiniest reflection of that which God did at the very beginning. Look again at creation (human creation and God’s creation) and see infinite depth in the creativity of an amazing God.

Theology Shmeology.. Love It!

Theology seems to be a bit unpopular these days. The idea that there is an absolute truth – as revealed in the Word of God – stands opposed to the postmodernist (objective truth) era in which we find ourselves. The mindset of objective truth is one popular in our culture and just the thought of someone telling someone else that they are wrong is seen as nothing more than a demonstration of self-righteousnous. This is especially true when it comes to religion! Oftentimes a church unashamedly teaching uncompromising theology is seen as archaic, legalistic and not seeker friendly. So why should we love theology?

Kevin DeYoung argues that the longing and pursuit of sound theology should be characteristic and central to the fibre of a God-glorifying church. Here are some of the reasons that Kevin DeYoung mentions (in his blog post Why We Must Be Unapologetically Theological) regarding the importance of being unapologetically theological:

  1. God has revealed himself to us in his word and given us his Spirit that we might understand the truth.
  2. The New Testament places a high value on discerning truth from error.
  3. The ethical commands of the New Testament are predicated on theological propositions.
  4. Theological categories enable us to more fully and more deeply rejoice in God’s glory.
  5. Theology helps us more fully and more deeply rejoice in the blessings that are ours in Christ.
  6. Even (or is it especially?) non-Christians need good theology.

Some pursue theological knowledge as nothing more than an intellectual exercise thus missing the whole point. We should not become arrogant  with our “superior” theology. The idea is not to recite all Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions or read Calvin’s Institutes every year just to impress your friends or church leader. The idea is to study theology to grow in your knowledge of God and the implications of that knowledge will not lead to forums of debate but to you serving God and sharing Jesus.

The truth is that there is an absolute truth and theology (def. the study of God) is the place where we find not only this absolute truth but also where we learn more of God as He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. We should love studying God!

TGIF

Any plans for the weekend? Maybe you’ll have a beer and steak with friends, or Christmas get-together with the girls, or a stroll late afternoon or whatever you find yourself busy with and enjoying (or what you should find yourself enjoying) – all these things are good. They were created good. See what our disposition should be towards these good things according to Ray Ortlund:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.  1 Timothy 4:1-5

As Francis Schaeffer used to remind us, the devil rarely gives us the luxury of fighting on one front only.  We see a monster in front of us wanting to devour us, and we back away in dread.  But if we’re not careful, we’ll walk right into the jaws of another monster right behind us.  We usually fight on two fronts at once.

Today we fight against materialism, especially the so-called Prosperity Gospel.  But there is also the danger of asceticism, which denies the goodness of God in all things.  This ultra-serious “holiness” is attractive, in a way.  But it is also fraudulent.  It tells an audacious lie about God and about us.

The truth is, everything created by God is good and is to be received gratefully.  This beautiful truth includes marriage and sex and food and mowing the lawn and flying a kite and paying the bills and sharpening a pencil and sitting on the porch in the evening and playing Monopoly with the kids and laughing at hilarious jokes and setting up chairs at church, and on and on and on.  There is so much divine goodness all around.  To push it away, to be above it, would insult our gracious Creator.

Our earthly human existence is where true holiness can thrive.  How?  By thanking the Lord for it moment by moment, and by applying the word of God to it moment by moment.  It is written, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Not ultimate, but good.  Good enough for God.  Good enough for us too.

-Ray Ortlund, Thanksgiving