For the First Time in 28 Years

I did not go “back to school” yesterday for the first time in 28 years. The past six years I taught one or more high school Bible classes at our Christian school and the previous 22 years I made my way through the typical course of elementary, junior high, high school, (three) colleges, and then graduate school. That is a lot of school; not necessarily a lot of education, but a lot of school, with a fair share of apprehensive and/or unenthusiastic first days to boot.

So Mo took me to dinner in order to celebrate my new freedom. I came home from church, ran almost 11 miles (in training for a marathon to be named later), got clean, and then drove down to Daniel’s Broiler on Lake Union. We had a gift card from another celebration: our five year anniversary at Grace Bible. Yes, that party was last June, meaning that it took us over 15 months before utilizing the gift, but our feast was well worth the wait and the filet mignon was as tender and flavorful as ever. The waiter even asked if I had licked my plate, which I probably haven’t done for around 28 years.

Genuine Religious Affections are Relentless

Series | For the Love of God

This fifth mark is acutely helpful but typically ignored in the attempt to identify gracious, spiritual affections.

5. Genuine religious affections are relentless.

In other words, genuine affections are always increasing and developing. They are not stagnant nor are they easily satisfied with their attainments. They do not applaud themselves and pat themselves on the back for how far they’ve come. Truly spiritual affections are not easily satiated. They are always pressing and pushing to mature more.

The kindling and raising of gracious affections is like kindling a flame; the higher it is raised, the more ardent it is; and the more it burns, the more vehemently does it tend and seek to burn. (303)

A fire lit is a fire seeking to burn. Isn’t that exactly what we see of Paul?

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

This is why in the New Testament, conversion is always seen as just the beginning. Men are to run the race with commitment and not stop until the course is completed. Believers are constantly striving and agonizing, wresting against principalities and powers, fighting, standing, pressing forward, crying to God day and night. Taking a break from the battle or calling a timeout during the fight is a sure way to be toast. Satan is not resting. Sin takes no breathers. That is why we must be ever alert and always active. Edwards dreadfully warns us away from half-heartedness:

Slothfulness in the service of God in His professed servants is as damning as open rebellion; for the slothful servant is a wicked servant and shall be cast into open darkness among God’s open enemies.

But gracious and genuine affections are not intermittent or listless, they are relentless.

Genuine Religious Affections are Nature-Changing

Series | For the Love of God

Today we pick up with the next distinguishing mark of genuine religious affections.

4. Genuine religious affections are nature-changing.

Though I suppose that this one should be obvious, it apparently is not. When the Bible talks about salvation and conversion and becoming a Christian, it uses language like “born again,” “new creatures,” “taking off the old man and putting on the new man,” “being made partakers of the divine nature” and so on. These images do not present genuine Christian life as an add-on or a surface level change or simply behavior modification. Genuine religious affections stem from an entirely different, completely changed, new nature.

Of all the changes, perhaps the single most affected part is our perspective on ourselves. That is to say, genuine religious affections are always distinguished by the presence of humility. Whereas the natural man and the hypocrite are always lifting themselves up, genuine affections cause a man to be low. We know we must decrease while Christ increases. Edwards defined this “evangelical humiliation” as the

sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness with an answerable frame of heart. (237)

Religious posers compare themselves with others. They think that they are not nearly as bad as most everyone else and figure that they have done numerous noteworthy religious things. They are like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who thanked God that he was not like others. They tend to be the hero of every story they tell.

But true saints compare themselves with God’s standard. And in proportion to God’s position and requirements, no one in this world is what they ought to be. The highest love that any have in this life is but skimpy, tepid, and diluted in comparison to what our obligations are. Edwards’ logic is watertight here.

The least sin against an infinite God has an infinite hatefulness or deformity in it; but the highest degree of holiness in a creature has not an infinite loveliness in it.

Our obligation to love and honor any being is in some proportion to his loveliness and honorableness, or to his worthiness to be loved and honored by us…We are surely under greater obligation to love a more lovely being than a less lovely; and if a Being be infinitely lovely or worthy to be loved by us, then our obligations to love Him are infinitely great, and therefore whatever is contrary to this love, has in it infinite iniquity, deformity, and unworthiness.

So much the greater distance between God and the creature, so much the less is the creature’s respect worthy of God’s notice or regard. A great degree of superiority increases the obligation of the inferior to regard the superior, and so makes the want of regard more hateful. But a great degree of inferiority diminishes the worth of the regard of the inferior; because the more he is inferior, the less he is worthy of notice; the less he is, the less is what he can offer worth…as he is little, and little worth, so is his respect little worth.

In other words, our wickedness is infinitely despicable and our best love is hardly admirable compared to what He deserves. Of course, we tend to overestimate our position and therefore underestimate the distance between ourselves and God. This is a monumental mistake.

Though the following illustration is far from Edwardsean, perhaps it will help to knock us off our proud pedestals.

Imagine that you are the curator of a worm farm. You have acquired an aquarium and collected a great number of worms for your colony. You provide your worm community with food, water, protection from attack, and all other things necessary for their pursuit of happiness. In return you require the group to follow, let’s say 10 commands. You even display those commands on a poster on the side of the aquarium for all to see. Most of the worms appreciate your care and oversight, so much so that they decided to hold weekly services to sing songs of thanks and praise.

But here are two very important questions. First, would that worm worship make you feel truly respected? When you were ignored at parties, would your self-image be boosted by remembering that at least the worms love you? Probably not. They are worms. Their admiration and submission is only worth so much.

And the second question is, what would you do if one of those worms disobeyed? Would you not find that utterly inappropriate and reprehensible? How dare a worm disregard you!

And though God is graciously more mindful of man than men are of worms, the point is in the parallel. The more we understand how infinitely great and holy God is the more we see how wicked and pathetic we are. And as we see the distance between us we will must be more humble. The best we can offer Him is worthless. The worst we can offer Him is infinitely bad. The more actually holy we get the more sense and sensitivity we will have to how holy we still are not. We will never imagine our humility to be low enough. As Edwards wrote,

It is really no argument of any great conviction of sin for some men to think themselves to be sinful beyond most others in the world; because they are so indeed very plainly and notoriously. (260)

So gracious affections come from a changed nature, and one evidence (on a great heap of evidences) of a changed nature is developing humility.

Out of God’s Control

Justin Taylor linked to this article by Dr. Roger Olson who claims that the Calvinist view of the Minneapolis bridge collapse distorts God’s character. Wow. Where to begin?

Olson says,

What a strange calamity. A modern, seemingly well-engineered bridge in a major metropolitan area collapsed in a moment without any forewarning of danger.

Something similar could happen to any of us anytime. Similar things do happen to us or people just like us–innocent bystanders passing through life are suddenly blindsided by some weird tragedy.

So where is God when seemingly pointless calamity strikes?

The question is constructive, but only if we answer it from the Bible. For example, Job thought God was in control when he was suddenly blindsided by calamity (loss of all his livestock and property) and tragedy (all of his children killed by a windstorm). Not only did Job understand God’s sovereignty, he worshiped the LORD and criticized his wife for her unwillingness to receive evil from God, even when his own health was taken without warning. Although Job had no clue of the purpose of this calamity, his response was not to question God’s control or His character.

Yet Olson criticizes John Piper (without using his name) for stating that God was in control of the bridge collapse. According to Olson, if God is in control of bad things, God’s character must be bad. For God’s character to be good, every bad thing must be out of God’s control. So Olson asks and answers,

But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, “OK, not my will then, but thine be done–for now.”

How about when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery? There is no doubt about the finitude and fallenness of his brothers. Their act was really evil and wicked. But God was not constrained by their sinfulness, and Joseph knew God was in control and trusted God’s character. The whole reason Joseph didn’t kill his brothers in retaliation (to their self-confessed transgression) was because he understood that what they meant for evil against him, God meant for good. Joseph wasn’t waiting for God’s will to be done later; he recognized sovereignty at work all along.

Somehow Olson expects that what will make us feel better about the bridge collapse and other calamities is to consider that God can sometimes help and that He willingly spends time on the bench for sake of the team.

God says, “Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that’s one of my self-limitations. I don’t want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world.”

I can promise you that if “making this a better world” depends on me, we’re in trouble. I have neither the inherent wisdom, power, or care to improve anything on this planet. What’s worse is that Olson says God doesn’t either. And even though God reveals Himself as sovereign over every historical and redemptive event, Olson concludes,

The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.

The God of Olson scares me for Olson’s sake because I’m not sure how to distinguish his position from disbelief and/or defiance. God is not out of control, Olson is.

What Do You Expect?

I thought this was interesting…and tiring.

The Rev. Warren Carr of Durham, North Carolina, prepared a questionnaire asking his congregation to tell him how much time that they thought he should give to a list of specified tasks. The members of his congregation were shocked to discover that the average work week indicated by their answers was 82 hours. One answer proposed a schedule of 200 hours–32 more than there are in a week. —Life Magazine, August 20, 1956, p.102 (quoted in Shepherding God’s Flock, Jay Adams, 39)

I wonder if some of the sheep have lowered their expectations 51 years later. Based on some recent conversations I’ve had and blog posts I’ve read, I don’t think so.

The Mirror of Our Love

*There are a few things I don’t need any help with. I’m good at these things. I don’t need tips from books. I don’t need advice from friends. I know what I’m doing and I do them well. If “Things I’m Good At” was a category on Family Feud, the number one answer according to the survey is: I’m good at thinking about myself.

Josh Harris made a similar observation in his recent post titled “My One and Only Week on Facebook.” Not only did he find Facebook a time-waster, what’s worse is that he found it stimulated even more self-admiration and self-absorption. (Thanks to Justin Taylor for highlighting Harris’ article, AboutFaceBook.)

I’ve considered writing about MySpace and Facebook and their online ilk before, but as bothersome as they are to me, I haven’t brought myself to utter any imprecatory posts into the void. And, yes, I also get that blogs can be equally narcissistic, but I still believe there is something expressly self-oriented about some sites. They make it so easy for online life to reflect what we most love in offline life: ourselves! Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they’re so popular.

Winners vs. Losers

My dad shared the following poem with me when I was a kid and I’ve never forgotten it. It was written by Pat Williams, a former NBA General Manager. I shared it during a sermon I recently preached on Men at Work while illustrating the seriousness of taking responsibility. Since numerous people asked me for a copy after the message I thought it might be good for the entire void.

Winners vs. Losers

When a winner makes a mistake, he says, “I was wrong;” When a loser makes a mistake, he says, “It wasn’t      my fault.”

A winner works harder than a loser and has more time; A loser is always “too busy” to do what is necessary.

A winner goes through a problem; A loser goes around it, and never gets past it.

A winner makes commitments; A loser makes promises.

A winner says, “I’m good, but not as good as I ought to be;” A loser says, “I’m not as bad as a lot of other people.”

A winner listens; A loser just waits until it is his turn to talk.

A winner respects those who are superior to him      and tries to learn something from them; A loser resents those who are superior to him      and tries to find chinks in their armor.

A winner feels responsible for more than his job; A loser says, “I only work here.”