Thursday, August 9, 2012

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Why is it that at times we may confess our sins to God in personal prayer, and yet feel no relief of forgiveness?  Doesn't Jesus teach us that "your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:4 NIV)?  Isn't David's inspired psalm true when he attests, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,' and you forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Psalm 32:5)?  Why then does our sin still feel like a burden on our shoulders, sapping our strength as the midsummer heat?  And why do we end up falling back into those same sins instead of experiencing a greater measure of victory over them?  (Surely I am not alone in having experienced this.)

It may well be that we're looking for Jesus in the wrong places.

When Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute early disciples of Jesus, Jesus met him in a blinding vision.  "Saul, Saul," he said, "why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4).  Wait a second.  Saul was causing trouble for Christians, not for the Christ, right?

But Jesus said Saul was persecuting him.

This is because by his Holy Spirit, Jesus lives inside his people and is organically tied to them, so that Jesus can say, "As you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).  The saints, Jesus' faithful followers, are in fact where we encounter Christ this side of heaven.  We speak his voice, with his words (see Romans 10:14 NASB; 1 Peter 4:10-11).  He has put into the mouths of his people the Word of the gospel, the proclamation of forgiveness.  He has given us power to release people from their sin or to exclude the unrepentant from fellowship with him.  Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection,

"Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."  (John 20:21-23)

Think about that.  Jesus commissioned his disciples with the power to proclaim or withhold his own words of forgiveness (see also Matthew 16:19).  Could it be that in our silent, private confessional times we do not break through to relief because we're not swallowing our pride enough to go to a brother or sister with our sins?  It's as if Jesus is saying, "I was standing there, ready to assure you of my love and grace, of the wonders of my cross, with arms open wide--if you would but come to me!  I was there, ready to be found by you in the arms and words of your brother, but you would not go to me there.  As you did not do to the least of these my brothers, so you did not do it to me."

Friday, June 29, 2012

Looks Can Be Deceiving

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." - Jesus (Matthew 23:27-28)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Christ and Our Callings, Part 3

As I think about my calling in life, I have to grapple with two things.  First, who's doing the calling?  Who is the one calling me?  It's not myself.  Callings cannot come from within.  (But how often we live as though they did!  We hark to Socrates's cry: "Know thyself!")  It is God who is calling me to belong to him and to live under his reign--the reign of his Son Jesus--in every breath.

But I also wrestle with the order or priority of my callings, of the roles and responsibilities I've been given.  Even if not chronologically derived, my foremost commitment is to my wife as her husband.  I've entered into a covenant with her to hold fast to her until death parts us.  Beyond that, I'm now a father.  Those are my primary callings.  Only after that am I a science teacher/coach/whatever.  I suppose a good glue holding all those other callings together is the call to be part of Christ's body (Romans 1:6-7).  Which just gets me back to the first calling in the first place.  (See "Christ and Our Callings, Part 1.")

In Philippians 3:12-16, Paul sets up a paradox that surrounds the Christian life.
12 Not that I have already obtained this [becoming like Christ, vv. 10-11] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Paul somehow rests content in all that Christ is for him and all who is in Christ's hands.  "Christ Jesus has made me his own."  Because his righteousness is that of Jesus and comes through faith, not his perfection in good deeds or service (v. 9), he knows his life and identity are secure.  But at the same time, he knows Christ has grasped him for the sake of "the upward call of God."  As a result he presses upward, never resting on his laurels or living out of his past, but always pushing to enjoy and love and serve Jesus more and more.  

Still, Paul closes with an urge to "hold true to what we have attained."  That is, while we should strive to grow in our knowledge and service and ever press on in the Christian life, we should also make sure we're living faithfully within the callings and circumstances and knowledge we have at the present.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Christ and Our Callings, Part 2

Atop psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs sits "self-actualization."  This is said to be the greatest need of all humans.  Understood rightly, Maslow said self-actualization is really a person who gains increasing awareness of himself, the world, and his place in it; lives honestly and transparently; and has a sense of mission, duty, and responsibility to other humans.  Through this, a person lives beyond himself and finds a place of transcendence in the world.

I would argue that in our souls, deep within, all people know we have fallen from something great.  We suffer as much from original glory as we do from original sin.*  Not that our original, God-given glory was bad.  But sin has caused us to shrink away from God, others, nature--even our true selves--into the hollow recesses of our own deceitful self-honor and self-wisdom.  We climbed upon a tiny throne but away from everything else weighty and good.

The problem is, we often try to discover who we are or fix our resulting sense of loneliness and angst by taking on roles in life that we think will restore to us a sense of fulfillment and transcendence.  How easily I can do this with a job!  If only I got some recognition for my awesome "21st century skills"-based lessons.  If only someone thanked me for my high SOL pass rates.  If only Libbey would let me teach my new stoichiometry methods at the district inservice.  If only I could teach AP Biology and get some cred.  If only I could do more ecology field trips and get kids involved in nature's web hands-on.  If only the cross country team would win the district title.  Of course, this works the same way in "sanctified" callings within the church.  If only I could use my gifts to teach theology full-time.  If only I could read that John Stott book and learn more about the cross of Christ.  If only I could grow more competent in counseling others.  If only I could teach the church in [enter largely Muslim nation here].

But it's not a job or any supposed "calling" that is meant to fulfill our souls and give us real life; Jesus said we can find that only in knowing him.  "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).  "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).  What John calls "eternal life"--life without limits, in satisfying wholeness--is nothing other than coming to God through Jesus and being satisfied in him.

That's why Paul labored and strove at great cost to himself, not to discover through his jobs and callings more about himself or to "find himself," but to find and discover Jesus his Lord.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Christ and Our Callings, Part 1

I've invested ten of the past twelve years of my life into being a high school science teacher (five years of schooling plus five years of service).  In many ways, it's been wonderful.  Let's face it: how many people get to choose a career path, study for it, and then actually find continual employment in that exact role?  I have a stable job at a top-notch, innovative public high school, my students earn pretty good scores on the state benchmark tests, and I get to coach cross country as well.  On top of that, the pay is decent enough, the benefits are great, and I have a continuing contract.  Still, I often find myself looking out the window with a restless spirit, wondering what lies beyond being a science teacher.

For years now I've had a vision of serving the church in a country where sound theological education is needed, either where the church is small, dead, or has strayed from orthodoxy (e.g., Germany, France, Czech Republic), or in a nation where the evangelical church is young and persecuted (e.g., Turkey, North Africa).  I've never thought of this as a necessarily "higher" calling, but being able to devote myself to teaching God's Word just seems awesome.  After all, I already love studying the Bible and getting chances in the local church to lead studies and teaching.

But when I look at my passions and gifts and wonder about my "calling" in life, I find myself face-to-face with the question, "Who am I?"  It's really a question that shapes all our pursuits in life.

God's answer to the question of my calling is the same answer he gives to my identity: I am "called to belong to Jesus Christ" and I am among those "in Rome loved by God and called to be saints" (Romans 1:6, 7).  Now of course I'm not in Rome proper, but I have a city, a concrete location and context in which to live my life as a saint, that is, a justified sinner possessed by Jesus Christ.  It is this identity as one belonging to Jesus that shapes and defines the "calling" of all Christians.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Process Is the Point

When I was raising support in 2005 to go to Turkey, the story of Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:45-52) took on new light.  And again I'm at a time in my life when I'm faced with some new opportunities that have set me out "rowing to Galilee."

45  Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.  53  When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 
Jesus had told the disciples to go to Bethsaida, where they were to continue their ministry to the poor and afflicted, proclaiming the kingdom of God.  So when the disciples got into the boat, I'm sure they thought that their rowing was all about getting to Bethsaida and what they were going to do there.  How many would Jesus heal?  What new mysteries would he unfold?  But that wasn't even the point.  It wasn't about Bethsaida.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Blog Theme Song?

This afternoon I was splitting duty between rocking my crying, fussy son and preparing for a class I'll be teaching at church next week about God's providence--his sustaining, governing, and directing of all things for the sake of his saving purposes.  Getting annoyed and frustrated, I thought, "Music soothes the savage beast; maybe Ephraim will chill out with some music ... and a bottle."  With providence on my mind, I put on--who else?--Caedmon's Call.  As I listened to "Before There Was Time" (on In the Company of Angels) I realized it sums up everything good this blog is about.  Not only is this song about how God set his affection on his chosen people from before creation in order to redeem them from the darkness of sin and how he works out his care in every detail of their lives.  The song also even mentions the Anastasis fresco in Istanbul that makes up the page backdrop (Jesus taking Abraham and Sarah or Adam and Eve by the hand from the grave).  The notes on this song from the Caedmon's Call website profess: "Simply awestruck by the depth and breadth of God's plan and provision, to know that we are in His grasp more tightly than we can possibly understand."

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

Before there was time, 
There were visions in Your mind. 
There was death in the fall of mankind, 
But there was life in salvation's design. 
Before there were days, 
There were nights I could not see Your face, 
But the night couldn't keep me from grace 
When You came and took my place. 

So I cry, "Holy, only begotten Son of God, 
Ancient of Days." 
I cry, "Holy, only begotten Son of God." 
And sing the praises 
Of the One who saved me, 
And the promises He made. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Most Influential Books: Chosen in Christ, Richard D. Phillips

If it was John Piper who showed me that the Bible teaches an utterly sovereign God (Desiring God has a lengthy appendix about how God ordaining evil and sin to accomplish his purpose in creation), it was Rick Phillips who taught me that God's complete control is a doctrine that affords rest for our souls.  As the title implies, Chosen in Christ: The Glory of Grace in Ephesians 1 (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2004) is a book about the doctrines of grace or the "five points of Calvinism."  But far from attempting to analytically prove a cold, lifeless doctrine, this book was a warmhearted host offering a rich meal to his guests.  Phillips walks through every verse and phrase of the first chapter of Ephesians and unpacks Paul's teaching, along with help from the hymns of the church and preachers within the Reformed tradition.

Chosen in Christ helped me to see that predestination, election, and the sovereign plan of God in salvation are not the calculating schemes of a heavenly accountant nor a Macchiavellian despot, but the expression of the joy-securing love God bestows in grace upon his sinful people.

There is no debate raging within the Godhead concerning our place in salvation, no tension; there are no awkward silences or heated conversations.  Rather there is a grand and cohesive conspiracy of love originating in the eternal and sovereign grace of the Father.  (p. 33)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Most Influential Books: Desiring God, John Piper

Ask my wife: She's married to a bibliophile.  Perhaps more realistically, I like the idea of reading and being well-read more than the cost, time, and labor it actually takes to read a lot.  (My wish list has 146 books on it!)  But either way, I really enjoy reading.  (Olivia will add, "...nonfiction, that is!  When will you ever read The Hunger Games?).  I've long thought of posting about the books that have most influenced me, so in somewhat chronological order, I'll reveal a little bit about each one and how they've molded me.

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist [DESIRING GOD UPDATED/E]After the Bible became to me a living book in the spring and summer of 2002, I began reading some Christian books--Lee Strobel, Bill Hybels, Brennan Manning, John Eldredge, as I recall.  But when I was on a Campus Crusade Summer Project in Ocean City, NJ, in 2003, I was introduced to John Piper's book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Multnomah).  It seemed like every Crusade staff member had read it, and lots of students were talking about it.  I borrowed someone's copy and read it every week while sitting at the laundromat.  And it blew me away.

It wasn't so much Piper's thesis of "Christian hedonism" that jolted me--that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, which is what he created us for and what he demands of us.  What really struck me was how Piper handled the Bible.  He took every word with dead-seriousness, digging for every drop of truth.  He let the text of Scripture speak for itself, never trying to gloss over anything.  He chained together each word into thoughts--grammar matters!--each thought into arguments, and each argument into a God-exalting, idol-crushing weapon in the fight for our souls.  Until that point I had never listened to or read anyone who took the Bible so seriously and so joyfully.  It was ultimately Piper's handling of Scripture that made me want to dive into every book of the Bible and let God speak plainly.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Slow to Become Angry

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20 NIV)

When I read this in the epistle of James, I stopped: thoughts flooded my head about why I'm so often an idiot.  Then I thanked God for teaching me that if I respond to my son or my students out of unbridled anger rather than cool, premeditated discipline, it will never yield true righteousness and character.  There are three reasons for this.

1) Spontaneous anger reacts out of my own offense or having my immediate desires thwarted.  Its origin is not in the sin of my child or students trespassing against God's own righteousness and the standard he calls us to.  Human anger erupts when I, not God, feel offended or betrayed or disrespected.  All parental or teacherly authority may well be delegated and commissioned by God, but our concern must be reverence for the Lord, which will lead to reverence for his authorities and shepherds on earth.

2) Spontaneous anger does not train someone in what is truly righteous before God's eyes because it is capricious and unpredictable.  Rather than setting up a consistent pattern of expectations based on the spirit of the law and communication about it, with consistent discipline to enforce it, what provokes anger changes by my mood at the moment.  If I'm already having a bad day, a small slight may trigger an overly severe reaction from me when what was needed was simply to ask a question about the person's actions and attitudes.

When a child doesn't consistently know what is right or wrong or what consequences to expect, he may grow to cower in fear of his angry, vindictive parents.  He learns to fear man rather than to fear the Lord.

3) Being quick to speak and quick to become angry rather than taking time to listen to a child will inevitably fail to shepherd his heart toward an internalization of his need for the gospel.  He never learns why his behaviors are wrong, nor what beliefs, attitudes, or desires led him to act a certain way in the first place.  All he knows is that he did something daddy didn't approve of.  A good father asks questions and spends time with in conversations with his children.  His desire is, "My son, give me your heart" (Proverbs 23:26).  An embittered or unapproachable father will never win his child's trust and confidence.  At best the child will learn only to avoid certain behaviors because he knows they'll provoke his parents' ire.  As time goes on, when his parents see happy and placated, both the child and his parents will become content with a thin veneer of goodness when inside he has no lasting godly character.  Why?  Because that's exactly what his parents trained him for.  And as soon as he is free from their presence and out on his own, he will only let loose all that was kept inside.

Furthermore, a hot temper and a lack of loving, earnest conversation fail to embody grace to the child.  The parent may take the child to church every week and sing hymns in praise of him who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6).  Yet the child may never believe or receive God's grace because his parents don't really understand it either.  The gospel is given lip service around the home, but the child learns that it isn't something real and potent enough to make a difference in his relationship with his parents.  As he grows, the child becomes further entrenched in a life of external piety and works-righteousness rather than falling on his knees in awe of the all-forgiving, all-consuming, tender lovingkindness of God (Psalm 103).

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cranky Calvinists Are Not Consistent Calvinists

I'm fortunate to belong to a Presbyterian church where Calvinism is the norm, not the exception.  But after hearing that some people at our old EFCA church in Illinois were raising a ruckus against those who aren't persuaded of Calvinism, the thought hit me: If you're really a Calvinist, your own theology dictates that no one can learn spiritual truth unless the Spirit reveals it to them.  That is, in essence, the implication of "total depravity" as well as God's sovereignty in all things (see 1 Cor. 2:14).  "When we know something, it is because God decided to let us know it, either by Scripture or by nature.  Our knowledge, then, is initiated by another.  Our knowledge is a result of grace."*

So if you're a Calvinist and you encounter others who aren't persuaded of the same doctrines you are, you have no choice but to be kind and gentle toward them.  You can respectfully explain from Scripture why you're convinced of its validity, and you can pray for them to be enlightened by God.  But to quarrel or demand their conversion to your perspective--however biblically accurate it might be--demonstrates that you don't live out the theology you preach.  "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 2:25).

We would all do well to think and act this way.
*John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1987), p. 23.  Probably the most challenging and yet one of the most rewarding books I've ever read.  The first chapter about God's covenant lordship is utterly remarkable.  Thanks, Dr. Griffith.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Outcroppings of Heaven

How often do you think of this when you gather with the saints for worship on Sundays?

[E]ach church is the full manifestation in time and space of the one, true, heavenly, eschatological, new covenant church.  Local churches should see themselves as outcroppings of heaven, analogies of "the Jerusalem that is above," indeed colonies of the new Jerusalem, providing on earth a corporate and visible expression of "the glorious freedom of the children of God."

--D. A. Carson, "Evangelicals, Ecumenism, and the Church."  Quoted in Stephen Wellum, "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants," Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, ed. Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright (Broadman & Holman, 2006), p. 148.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Paul Tillich on the Necessity of Revelation

In a few weeks I'll be helping lead a class at church about the nature of God and why it matters.  Coincidentally enough, after I was talking with a co-worker yesterday about Christian existentialism (e.g., Soren Kierkegaard, Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich), I found this quote from Tillich that blew my mind.
The Christian message provides the answers to the questions implied in human existence. These answers are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based and are taken by systematic theology from the sources, through the medium, under the norm.  Their content cannot be derived from questions that would come from an analysis of human existence.  They are 'spoken' to human existence from beyond it, in a sense.  Otherwise, they would not be answers, for the question is human existence itself.*
What is so cool to me is that this shows the necessity of a theistic God, that is, a God who is outside of and separate from man and his world, yet one who can definitively reveal himself and speak into man's world.  If all we have is a deistic God (such as that of Thomas Jefferson or Isaac Newton), he may have the omniscience and wisdom to explain the human condition and the conundrums and pains of our experience, but he cannot speak to us or reveal to us his wisdom.  If, on the other hand, we have a pantheistic God who is so completely interwoven with man and creation that creation is the sum total of God and vice versa, then how are we to clearly distinguish his voice and revelation apart from competing voices in the world?  Even more, if God is creation and humanity, then wouldn't that make God both the cause and victim of humanity's woes?  To answer the questions about our own existence, we need a God who is not created and yet who is present with us, condescending and accomodating himself to reveal truth and to deliver us.

This is much like Martin Luther's saying that the gospel message must come to us from outside--it is an "alien" message--because it proclaims an "alien righteousness" belonging to Christ and bestowed from God through Word and Spirit.  In our own experience and life we find no salvation, nor can we find our way to God or a sufficient explanation of the world, until the gospel dawns upon us from heaven.

*Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 64.  According to Wikipedia, Tillich uses "sources" to refer to the Bible and Christian history, "the medium" being the collective experience of the Church, and the "norm" as the theological standards of the biblical message by which all experience is to be judged.  I am not here endorsing Tillich as a uniformly orthodox Christian, by the way. 

Tillich would probably deny that we can speak of God's "nature" or "being," since that would mean he himself has being, thus raising the question of "From where comes God's being?  What sustains or enables his existence?"  For Tillich, speaking of "being", "essence," or "existence" is a purely human or creaturely reality and cannot be applied to God. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

All Things Are Yours

"Each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas [Peter],' or 'I follow Christ.'  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"  (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

"For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not being merely human?  What then is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each."  (1 Corinthians 3:4-5)

"So let no one boast in men.  For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."  (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

I pretty much love Reformed theology.  It shows up in every post on this blog (hence the unabashed shout-out to God's foreknowledge in the title Beloved Before Time).  Reformed churches--both the preaching and the people--have set my faith on a firm foundation.  So as I wade through the murky waters of biblical teaching on baptism and covenant theology and the nature of the church, I come face-to-face with the fact that I might end up going against the Reformed confessional standards that I have so profited from (namely, the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Westminster Standards).  To go against conscience is neither wise nor safe (Luther).  And yet this is so hard for me, because I want everything in neat little boxes, with no loose ends or perplexing uncertainties.

While I recognize that in some gray areas it's more expedient for pastors to simply stick with a denominational norm and then get at the hard work of caring for souls, slavish commitment to one expression of sound Reformed theology is not the goal of these confessions.  Their goal is to teach Christ-exalting truth.  And they still do, even if I differ on a few points.

If I say I'm reticent or unwilling to believe or practice X (and X is not sin) because the Heidelberg says otherwise, am I not being merely human in my allegiances (1 Cor. 3:4)?  The reality is that I do not belong to Calvin or Ursinius or the PCA, but that "I belong, body and soul, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1).  Quite oppositely, they belong to me and to the flock under their care (1 Cor. 3:21-23).  Theologians, pastors, books, confessions, and traditions exist not as masters over Christ's church but as her servants, and each belongs to her to build up and beautify her in its own appointed times and ways.  There are many workers in God's field and many builders in God's temple, each of whom has his (or her) own unique but necessary contributions (1 Cor. 3:8-10).  We may be less without them, but they are insufficient on their own.  As a Christian, I do not exist to bolster the validity of the Reformed confessions, but rather they exist to bolster me and all Christians, and along with others to contribute to the chorus teaching us to sing God's praises.

So even if I find that Olivia and I choose to embrace a more baptistic view of baptism, that's okay.  The foundation is what makes a building strong, and that one foundation of God's sovereign grace in Christ Jesus has been well-laid (1 Cor. 3:11).  My life and family stand strong because Reformed theology is "rooted and built up in Christ" (Col. 2:6-7) and serves as a strong foundation and framework for my house.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that John Murray or B. B. Warfield has to install the plumbing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Back in high school, some of the guys in the preppy ski-bum crowd had this phrase, "B.O.C." -- ballin' outta control.  Well, our son Ephraim seems to have picked up on it, except now he's bawlin' outta control.  This kid cries all. the. time.

If I sleep in more than one-hour stretches, it's a good night.  On Sunday night I got a whopping two-and-a-half hours total.  In order to alleviate Ephraim's madness, our pediatrician has put Olivia on a strict no-dairy diet.  (You'd be amazed how seemingly everything contains some kind of milk protein!)

Not coincidentally, I read 1 Corinthians 13 last week.  I definitely have a context for learning that "Love is patient and kind. ... Love is not irritable or resentful. ... Love bears all things, ... endures all things."

So just to spare you an angry look, in case you're another one to ask us, "Are you loving every minute of it [being a parent]?"  The answer is No.  We love our son, but we don't love parenting.  But that doesn't really matter, because it wasn't our choice anyway.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Moms, Kids, and Covenantal Nurture

I found this post today and found it really encouraging for parents like me hoping to bring our children to Christ.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fathers, Do Not Provoke Your Children to Anger ...

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)

A lot has been written about Paul's exhortation to raise our children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (KJV).  (For an excellent book on this, read Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp.)  But I hear very little about what it means to not provoke our children to anger.  And since they're set in contrast to one another--that is, godly discipline and instruction must somehow be the opposite of parenting that exasperates children--we cannot do the one if we don't understand the other.  While I'm hardly an expert and have only officially been a dad for fifteen days, here are a few thoughts that have come to my mind as I've chewed on what this means.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ben Witherington on Baptism

"[I]t seemed unlikely that the church would get very far in its discussion of the matter unless it recognized that no one has managed to avoid adapting the New Testament teaching on baptism without certain theological aberrations" (Troubled Waters, p. 2).

"The fact is, no New Testament document addresses itself to water baptism for its own sake.  It is always mentioned as an illustration or exhortation to make some other point. ... [A]ny deductions about correct Christian practice of water baptism are drawn not from clear-cut prescriptive statements in the New Testament about how one ought to perform the rite, but from what one can conclude from various descriptive statements and theologoumena that reveal who was baptized and what it meant. ... Thus, any evaluation of the New Testament evidence must proceed cautiously, recognizing that deducing a normative practice from primarily descriptive or purely theological statements is no easy task." (pp. 7, 9)

How true.  As time and again I've returned to the Scriptures over whether or not we ought to baptize our newborn son in his infancy, I'm becoming more and more convinced that neither Baptists nor Presbyterians have it right (and they're about the closest we have to the biblical doctrine, while taking very different viewpoints).  At best, both are adaptations of what little teaching we do have about baptism, set in contexts often far different from the spread of the gospel to Jew-Gentile assemblies in the first century.  When I try to read either position back into the New Testament, both end up with significant inconsistencies, especially regarding what to do with ensuing generations born and raised within the church community--a scenario that is not explicitly addressed by the Bible.  It's like trying to read Genesis to settle arguments on how God created the world, considering that the creation accounts and all references to creation are written for polemical or ethical reasons.  What to do?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's a Boy!

Welcome to the world, EPHRAIM LOUIS HALL!
Our first child was a healthy baby boy born Friday, January 13, here in Richmond, Virginia.  Ephraim weighed 7 pounds, 11.5 ounces, with a length of 21 inches.  After Ephraim was past his due date, the doctor said we needed to induce labor.  The whole induction and labor process took three days, and labor itself was over 36 hours.  My wife Olivia is a real warrior!

"Is not Ephraim my dear son,
the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
I have great compassion for him,"
declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 31:20)

We named him Ephraim ("fruitful") for several reasons:

(1) We want our home to be a godly home where the peace, love, and joy of the gospel bear fruit.  Throughout the Bible, the godly home is portrayed as one of fecundity, fruitfulness, and blessing (see Psalm 128).

(2) As we raise our son in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), we pray that he will become someone who trusts in the Lord and delights in his law, and so never fails to bear the fruits of Christlike character (Psalm 1; Jeremiah 17:7-8; Galatians 5:22-23).

(3) Throughout the Bible, Ephraim (Israel) is the wayward child of God, his faithless people.  But God couldn't forsake his beloved child, after whose heart he yearns (see Jeremiah 31:20 above and the entire book of Hosea).  The name Ephraim is a reminder to us to keep God's persistent, unfailing love at the center of our parenting.  Rather than jinxing our child with such a name (which is faulty superstition based on fear, not faith), the more we keep the gospel central and let it shape how we treat this child, the more likely it will be that he too will fall in love with his God.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Some Notes on Household Baptisms

One of the common criteria used in debates over who should be baptized (that is, only professing believers, or also their children) is the accounts of household baptisms in the New Testament. (See my previous post.) One's "household" (Greek oikos) referred generally to their dependent family in an immediate and certain sense, but also possibly any other voluntary bondservants pledged to their care. There are five explicit household baptisms mentioned: that of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48), Lydia (16:15), the Philippian jailer (16:31-34), Crispus (18:8 with 1 Cor. 1:14), and Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16). Presumably the household of Gaius was also baptized, because his name is included between the two others whose households were baptized (1 Cor. 1:14-16).

Baptists try to argue that everyone who was in the household believed and professed faith, therefore giving only a pattern of "believers-only baptism" (called credobaptism, baptism upon professing a creed or statement of faith). Reformed/Presbyterian and Methodist folks use these accounts to say that the household head's faith reckoned the whole household under covenant membership, so the whole family was baptized regardless of whether or not they believed. This would include the baptism of any infants or young children if present (paedobaptism). Who's right?

Monday, January 2, 2012

You and Your Household Will Be Saved

While we wait for our child to be born any day now (seriously, kid, would you get a move on?), I'm finding particular encouragement for parenting through the "household" accounts in Acts (10:44-48; 11:12-18; 16:15, 30-34; 18:8), 1 Corinthians (1:14-16; 16:15), and 2 Timothy (1:16).

"And [Cornelius] told us how he had seen an angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message through which you will be saved, you and all your household." (Acts 11:13-14)

"Then [the jailer] brought [Paul and Silas] out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" (Acts 16:30-31)

It's amazing how many households, that is, families, all came to faith in Christ in one fell swoop. The New Testament records at least five examples of this happening: the households of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48; 11:12-18), Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30-34), Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:14), Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15), and perhaps Gaius (1 Cor. 1:14). In fact, in every NT narrative where a Gentile convert's household was present, the entire family was baptized (presumably they all trusted Christ or assented to discipleship).* (Perhaps I'll write more later about the relevance of household baptisms for present-day practice.)

What's even more stunning is that twice someone is given the explicit assurance that through the gospel message their whole family would be saved (see Acts 11:14 and 16:31 above). There is no way around these passages: the men were personally told that through belief in the gospel their households too would be saved. Not could be saved if perhaps they believed. "You will be saved, you and your household." Of course these people weren't saved apart from faith in any automatic fashion by belonging to the family of a godly person. But I'm encouraged by what Cornelius and the jailer do: They hear the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ and the assurance that the gospel would be powerful and effective for their loved ones, and then they bring the bearer of that message (Peter, or Paul and Silas) into their homes to share the good news of Christ with their families there. And lo and behold, their families believed too.