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“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” I Peter 3:15

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” II Cor. 10:5

I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble café today, sipping on my imposter coffee (I brought my own; it’s not Starbucks ‘cause I don’t work there anymore and only now realize the ridiculousness of their prices), whilst nibbling on a grotesquely overpriced chocolate cupcake and reading Donald Miller’s Searching For God Knows What. My attention was drawn to a conversation the employees were having behind the counter concerning a customer who was looking for the section containing the Bibles.

Guy – Hey, how come you knew the exact location of the Bibles?

Gal – Please, I’m a good Catholic girl, of course I knew where the Bibles were. What about you, aren’t you Jewish?

Guy – Yeah, but only by descent. I’m definitely not religious in any way at all.

Gal – Aww, that’s sad.

Guy – Is it?

Gal – Yeah, you should believe in something. I mean, you don’t have to believe in Judaism, but you really should believe in something…not even necessarily God, but maybe in, like, the animals or trees…something!

My mind was flooded with all sorts of thoughts and feelings at that moment. It was obvious that by “believing in something” they meant “live for something.” One thought of mine was, “Mike, say something. Tell them everyone believes in something whether they realize it or not. Tell him that if nothing else, people live for themselves (which I’d say is at least better than living for trees!).” And then, of course, after saying this, I’d whip out my Van Tillian lightsaber and completely shatter the world as they knew it by exposing their foundational presuppositions (note sarcasm).

I found it interesting how that short conversation defined “religion.” Basically, religion was relegated to whatever it is that drives you in life. And apparently, to this girl, trees could be a sufficient reason for living. Maybe she was referring to nature in general, that Baha’I idea of our connectedness with it and, therefore, our responsibility to it. I dunno, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it.

Another thought was just how sad it was that a self-proclaimed Catholic woman would endorse such malarkey (that may be the first time I’ve ever used that word). Then I figured that this is probably the approach the majority of secular America would take towards Truth, at least functionally, and that I was surrounded by that very same secular America. And then a thought entered my mind that saddened me more than all the others put together: I had sat there, and said nothing, content to yet again remain an anonymous Christian, fearful of the waves an absolute assertion for Biblical Truth would make in this relativistic post-modern world.

But it goes deeper. Why hadn’t I said anything? Was it really because I feared their response? Was I afraid I wouldn’t have the answers to their questions? Was it because I wanted them to think well of me (or at least not think anything of me at all)? I came to this conclusion: I was afraid they’d see that I didn’t really buy the product I was selling. Or perhaps more accurately, I was afraid they might actually be convinced of my position, when I myself wasn’t even sure of what that position was. Now just a disclaimer here, I’m not doubting my faith, but rather echoing Miller’s words, “… I am only saying I think I know who [God] is, then I figure out I don’t know very much at all.” So it’s not that the product is bad or in any way faulty, but I’m starting to realize (again) that it doesn’t quite work the way I thought.

If you read my previous couple blogs, you’ll get a glimpse at the workout my faith has been getting as of late. And I’m confident (and thankful) that I will not be the same on the other side of this valley as I was before entering it. I guess that’s the whole point. Yet these valleys do not excuse us from the mandate spelled out in I Peter and II Corinthians. According to I Peter, sharing our faith is not an expression of how well we feel spiritually at that moment, but rather an expression of honor towards the Lord who is holy. It is God’s holiness that demands we share our faith, which precludes any spiritual temperament we might have at any given time. And even if we are experiencing confusion or dryness in our faith, we trust that our words will still go forth and be blessed according to God’s unfailing power and sovereignty.

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Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of being a stranger in a strange land is dealing with these awkward and problematic earthly vehicles our souls have taken on. On the one hand, we see in their infinitely genius design the very hand of God. But in a sin-broken world, the details of that genius tend to go awry. And so we’re left with inconveniences such as headaches, acne, hangnails, receeding hairlines, gastrointestinal discomfort (hehe), and the list goes on. We’re also left with diseases of a more tragic nature: cancer, AIDS, strokes, infertility, bullet and stab wounds, etc. As believers, we’re called to view even the worst of these things in light of God’s Word, and more specifically, in light of His progressive plan of redemption, re-creation, and sanctification. Easier said than done.

But at the risk of simplifying the issue, I’d like to at least broach the subject, and I hope people have more to say in commentary. This issue has come to the fore for me in recent days as I’ve been suffering from seeminly endless shin splints (I think I may have actually fractured my shin, but the result is the same). Unlike many people, I run because I enjoy it. I enjoy the creation around me, the mechanics of the human body, the rush from having beaten a previous time, and for some reason, life seems clearer and my path less obstructed after a nice long run. Recently I’ve been training to take part in the NYC Marathon in November, with several shorter races between now and then.

So, to be stricken with shin splints (or fracture) has become not only a frustration, but also a profoundly spiritual struggle. I question why God would allow me to be laid up when I’m just trying to keep my body in shape (I realize I’m deluding myself here, certainly there are elements of self-righteousness involved). My frustration is not unlike a child whose parent has just taken away his favorite toy because he’s been naughty. Yet my temper tantrum continues.

The other day, in my Hermeneutics class, Dr. Poythress was going on about steps in the hermeneutical process, yet in the context he interjected this bit of wisdom: “Our bodies experience decay so that we might not put our hope in this world, but rather in God.” Bam, right in my stomach. My immediate thought was, “Ok, I’ll put my hope in you, God…BUT PLEASE FIX MY SHIN!!!” I don’t think that was quite the response God was searching for. I’ve always been a tough nut to crack, but I can feel myself cracking now. My shin probably will get better with time…but it may not. And to be ok with that, I need to first detach myself from the hope I have in this world and my own selfish pursuits, replacing them with a hope in what can not be destroyed. Not that I shouldn’t have any hope that my shin will get better or that I’ll someday have a stable job etc., all those hopes in and of themselves are quite honorable. But they must not supplant our desires for allowing God to mold us and shape us in his own perfect way. In another class that same week (I forget which), the professor made the observation that of the hundreds of prayers in the Bible, a relative few are of the “Gimme this…I need that” sort. Now Christ did teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread…” but at the same time, it seems that today’s Christian world (or at least mine) is more likely to concentrate on this type of prayer rather than laud and honor, and simply basking in the sovereignty of God even in the midst of desperate struggle (e.g., Psalm 40).

So where do we derive our hope?

I think of my mom’s fibromyalsia and the seeming nonsense of it. Does she have this debilitating ailment because she refuses to find her hope in God? Not necessarily, but if there must be a reason, certainly one is for her to be an example to me of great perseverance in placing her hope in Him who will one day redeem that disease as His own and she will no longer suffer in it. I don’t think my mom has given up hope of being relieved of her pain this side of heaven, but I do think she’s come to the peaceful resignation of being able to say, “God, even if you never take this from me, my hope will still be in you.” She may be able to find meaning in her suffering by virtue of being an example to her son, but that only goes so far: it is virtuous enough, but our suffering has profound meaning completely apart from anything we might be able to see in this life, simply because we are sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

I must include this final thought, which could be the topic of a whole new post, but considering all that has happened this week, this post would be incomplete without it. For years, I thought (perhaps subconsciously) that assurance meant being sure of your faith. This is completely backwards and will never hold water in the face of struggle or adversity. Our assurance comes from the fact that even when we struggle so much or find ourselves in such a pit of despair that we can’t even see our own faith, God’s hand is still around us.  Our assurance doesn’t come from us holding on to God.  It comes from HIM holding on to US.

Amen?

I long for the days when it didn’t feel like my faith was contingent upon exhaustively understanding the deep intricacies of presuppositional apologetics or reformed systematic theology. I long for the days when I was content to read my Bible IN ENGLISH (including the parts I didn’t understand) and not worry about who the real author of Exodus was or when it was written, or how evidence should be used as an apologetic tool (if at all), or what the hell happened to the Septuagint and why anyone would ever want to base a translation on it, or…I could go on for hours. I guess in a nutshell, I’m saying I long for the days when ignorance was bliss, but my faith was bliss too.

Yet, I can recall days back then when I knew there was so much behind what I was reading that could and should be explored, and it was such a compelling force to begin that adventure. But now I feel my faith has been relegated to an academic exercise, something that might only be worth a ‘C’ if that’s what I happen to get on my next paper or exam. I can honestly only blame myself for allowing this situation to occur. On the one hand Westminster is an academic institution and has made no secret of that. But on the other hand attempts are made daily to remind me, the student, of the proper, God-glorifying end which we pursue. But for me, there is currently a disconnect between the wealth of information I receive in my ears and the amount of spiritual sustenance it delivers to my soul. When done correctly the two should inform and sustain each other. But as it is, my head is filling up with knowledge while my soul withers in the sun.

I have felt this to a certain degree for some time. Yet today marked a culmination of feelings of helplessness, homelessness, emptiness, waywardness, and a whole host of other “nesses” that I find to be more than coincidental. Let me explain: I try not to chalk too much up to spiritual warfare, because it can easily become a copout: I don’t like to shift responsibility from myself. But the timing of this “crisis” leads me to at least consider the possibility that part of what I’m experiencing is from the enemy. This past Saturday afternoon was the memorial service of a beloved professor at Westminster, Dr. Al Groves. During the service, as I listened to various people reflect upon the servant-heart of this man, I realized I despised who I had become. Later that evening I confessed to a dear friend of mine that I had allowed myself to become very self-centered in recent months, and I felt my faith was suffering because of it. That night I felt a turning of the tide, an opportunity to rediscover the joys of Christian service. But just over 24 hours later, I could hear whispers of discouragement and malice, doubt and fear, rage…it was all so tangible this morning.

On the one hand, it could be Satan trying to thwart God’s plan to call me back to repentance. On the other hand, it could be that in order for me to truly repent, I need to be absolutely torn down to nothing, and that the pain I’m feeling is akin to the pain one might feel after having a cancerous tumor removed. Or, I guess it could be both, Satan intending it for one purpose and God for His own. And finally, to be fair, it could just be me…sinful, wretched me trying desperately to hold on to the sin I love so much.

Reading back through this post, I’m tempted to see two distinct issues at work here. No doubt there are several others, but these are prevalent: my disenchantment with theological education, and the spiritual pain I’m experiencing in the deepest parts of my soul. But perhaps they aren’t as distinct as they appear. Since they inform and sustain each other (as I mentioned above), it would follow that a detriment in one would lead to a detriment in the other, which is exactly what I feel at the moment. Do I, then, actually long for the days of ignorance? I suppose not. I just wish my “education” didn’t come at the expense of my joy. It shouldn’t, and it doesn’t have to, but as it is related to a deeply spiritual issue of mine, I imagine it will require some deep spiritual pain for me to once again see those two in harmony.

For those of you who read this who are believers, I write this so that you might pray for me: that God would be faithful in tearing me to pieces with the end that my faith might be stronger and my commitment to service to Him and death to self might persevere. For anyone who reads this who is not a believer, I hope you do not understand this struggle as an indicator of a lack of God’s faithfulness, but rather mine. And as such, this process is a greater indication of God’s faithfulness, because no matter how much I writhe and scream, He refuses to let me, His child, go.