I Have a Wonderful Story to Share…….

2006-06-21-263I have a wonderful story to tell.  Ten years ago, I went to Tanzania to meet two children we sponsored through Compassion International — our beloved Witness and Amani. Through the many letters my husband and I exchanged with them, we came to love them very much — as if they were members of our own family.

At the time of this picture, Amani lived in Arusha, TZ. Witness lived near Namanga, on the Tanzania/Kenya border.

In between the two towns stands the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro — a spectacular mountain which rises 19,341 feet straight upward from the plains of Tanzania.

2006-06-19-133Mt. Kilimanjaro is often covered with clouds, but on the day we drove to Namanga to meet Witness, its beauty stood proudly for all to see.   It was more than stunning, in fact.

Several days later, we went to visit Amani’s home where we also met his mother, brother and other family members.

The distance between Arusha and Namanga is an hour and forty-five minute drive.  Neither Witness nor Amani had any knowledge of each other before this trip.

Never in a million years did I ever dream I would meet these two remarkable children — but God knew — and God provided the way.


The memories I have of this visit will always remain one of the highlights of my life. Though many vacations are enjoyable, most do nothing to fulfill the soul.

My trip to Tanzania was a bit of a soul journey — one that led me halfway around the world to another place whose pace did not match the wearied ones we experience daily in America.  This journey was one which brought me closer to my Savior, who allowed me to see His hand in every detail of this trip.

It was during this trip, (2006) that Witness and Amani met for the first time.  One day, all of the Compassion-sponsored children were brought to a central location in Arusha, where they were able to spend the entire day with their sponsors.  I often imagined how this must have felt to Witness — to make the almost 2 hour journey from her small village, past Mt. Kilimanjaro, to the larger town of Arusha.

Each child had a social worker with them to translate for them so that we could speak with each other.  In particular, I will never forget the first time I saw Amani — you can pick him out in the green sweater.  The look on his face brought a tear to my eye — he was actually excited to meet me!


It wasn’t long before Amani and Witness were playing soccer together (well, I tried to join in…..unsuccessfully….). We ate a huge meal together and I was delighted to see the kids pile their plates high with all kinds of delicious foods.

And all too soon, it was time to leave each other……

But let me continue the story!    It is now it is ten years later.  Amani and Witness are in their early 20s and have grown into incredible young adults.  Witness, through the help of Compassion International, was able to secure a nursing degree.  The country of Tanzania moved her to the city of Dar es Salaam, on the coast of Tanzania — far from her own family in Namanga, where she works as a nurse.  Amani still lives in Arusha.

By far, my greatest joy is that both Amani and Witness are known by God — and they have devoted their lives to God and His will for their lives.  No situation in life, neither poor nor rich, is worth anything without the love of our Heavenly Father, for whom we live and breathe.

Miraculously today, my husband and I are able to keep in touch with Amani and Witness through social media after they graduated from the Compassion program.  I was instant messaging with Amani this week.  In a flash, a picture arrives from halfway across the world…………   amani-and-witness-2016-3

These two wonderful human beings had re-connected on social media!!!  Two weeks ago — their paths crossed and they met face to face once again — after 10 long years.  They are no longer children.  They are young adults.  They live over 600 miles from each other but through the wonder of technology, they now speak to each other every day.

Amani told me, “When I saw Witness that day when we met at Dar es Salaam, the first thing came to my brain is your face….I remembered you and we cried while we hugged each other.  May GOD BLESS YOU and you and your whole family.”

Well, yes……I told Amani he made me cry.  This miraculous re-connection between Amani and Witness is a clear demonstration of God’s love for His people.  The best gifts from God are unexpected.

Through an organization like Compassion International, one perceives that the greatest gift is helping others in need.  But truly?  The greatest gift is the love returned to the sponsor.  What could be more valuable than a gift which has no monetary value but excels in love?

Who would have guessed that God would bring all of us together 10 years ago when we lived halfway across the word from each other?  Who would have guessed that God would have nurtured our relationship through letters and then provide a way to meet in person? Who would have guessed that after 10 years, two precious young adults, to whom my heart belongs, would once again meet as adults and renew a friendship.

My prayer is that God will bless their new friendship with joy, kindness and companionship.  I pray that God will guide each and step throughout all of their years. May both of them rejoice in knowing their Savior!  May they understand their covenantal relationship with each other as believers in Christ, as well as their covenantal relationship with all believers in the church around the world.

3 John 1:4 says, ” I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness.  While we are unfaithful, YOU are faithful.  You are faithful to your covenant children.  Deut. 7:9  “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.”  Who could ask for more than that?

Amani and Witness?  I love you more than words can say.


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Bible in 8 Weeks?


A few days ago I was driving down our main boulevard when the words on a local church sign, emblazoned in flashing technicolor lights, jumped out at me.   “Bible in 8 Weeks?”   The sign flashed into the next screen which read, “Fast Track Through the Bible.

I shook my head and said a quiet prayer.

When I got home I looked up this new program, obviously the latest, greatest, commercialized offering from a large commercial Christian publishing company.  I wanted to challenge my initial thoughts and assessment.  The description of this class said it all.


Fast Track introduces the entire Bible through an 8-session discipleship experience using sight, sound, and action. We will cover Genesis to Revelation in a comprehensive yet streamlined presentation of the biblical narrative.

Then I listened to the Promo video.  Apparently, not only are you going to understand the entire Bible in 8 weeks, but you are going to:

  • Learn how to understand adversity
  • Learn how to trust God
  • Learn how to stop running from God
  • Learn how to never give in

Never give in to what?  Poor teaching?

First point.  There is no way to “fast track” through the Bible.  There is no way to understand Genesis to Revelation in a comprehensive way in 8 weeks.  There is no way you can learn how to trust God and understand adversity in 8 weeks.  Our fast-paced society always wants fast-paced answers — but true comprehension takes time and patience.

Sadly, many contemporary Christian churches want easy answers.  They are driven by self-inflicted church programming.  They can’t wait to deliver the newest, latest, greatest program (like Fast Track) to their congregants so that they can be seen as a cutting-edge church.  They are so desirous to be culturally relative that they make unwise decisions which affect all of their congregants — making promises that have no way of succeeding.

My guess is that if I were to visit various Evangelical church websites right now, I’d find that many of them are advertising Fast Tract.  These kinds of churches, in an attempt to be culturally-relevant, are driven by church attendance numbers and popularity.  The current Presidential election season is enough to explain why we should never desire to be like our culture.  Christianity  —  is anti-cultural.  And that’s a good thing!

Certainly, it is possible to learn something from an outline of the Bible, but without the use of a theologically-sound hermenutic, the Bible is merely that — a historical timeline of events.  Comprehension of the Bible and biblical doctrine requires so much more.  We should desire to know what we believe and why we believe it. 

It saddens me that too many Christians are satisfied with the the Cliff Note version of Christianity, which overwhelmingly fails to teach what is required to deeply understand the Christian faith.  It grieves my heart that Evangelicalism thrives on sensationalism — on this kind of Christless Christianity.  (A great book on this topic?  Christless Christianity by Dr. Michael Horton).

This kind of fluff, which demeans the precious Story of Redemption, a story originated by a sovereign, holy God alone — out of His mercy alone — out of His grace alone — through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone — by faith in Jesus Christ alone and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit — through the words of scripture alone — to the glory of God alone.

If you truly want to begin your theological journey, let me refer you to a much better resource than the hype-driven Fast Track.  Dr. Michael Horton has recently written a book called Core Christianity.   The purpose of this book is to teach those young in the faith in a way which will not only theologically instruct, but promote a desire to dig deeper.

Attached to the book is a website called Core Christianity which contains all of the media resources your contemporary, media-driven heart could desire.  This resource gives real, biblical answers and insight.  This resource uses real theology instead of dumbed-down, culturally relativistic rhetoric.  Core Christianity is still easy to understand, but it is built upon a solid theological foundation.  It is an excellent way to begin your theological journey.

Easy-to-use resources, devoid of doctrinal teaching, are not helpful.  In fact, I believe they can be very harmful.  Tools like Fast Track make promises which will never be realized. Many people, after they have gone through Fast Track, will assume that they now know everything there is to know about the Bible — because of the promises Fast Track has made to them.

So it is with great displeasure that I acknowledge my initial assessment of the Fast Track to the Bible series is exactly what I thought it was — a no-frills way of making one believe that they will now understand the Bible if they will only invest 8 weeks.  Believing something doesn’t make it true.

However!  If you choose to go through the Core Christianity model, my guess is that your heart will be stirred to dig deeper.  You will long to know even more about the God of this universe who created you in His very image.  That is the kind of information that an appropriate tool accomplishes and delivers.  It conveys truth.  It instructs.  It whets the appetite and stirs the heart to desire to know more of God and the theology behind the Christian faith.

Don’t be satisfied with the Cliff Note version of the Bible.  It will disappoint.  Don’t run after those things which are popular.  Popularity entices but rarely delivers.  Fast Track Through The Bible — in my honest opinion — is nothing but an excuse for people to say, “Now I know all I need to know about the Bible.”

Understanding the Bible takes time.  It takes patience.  It requires that you sit under the doctrinal, faithful preaching of the Word, preached by a pastor who has actually invested in a scholarly, seminary education from a theologically-sound seminary.

It is helpful to avoid non-denominational churches, which have a lack of accountability.  A federation of churches will be in fellowship with other doctrinally-aligned churches, and thus, another level of accountability will be available when necessary — both for pastors and elders in the church.  A good church will also have a sound doctrinal statement rather than a mere vision statement.  Even better is to find a Confessional Church, which treasures the precious Creeds and Confessions of the Christian faith.

In our particular federation, we not only have an elder board in our local church, but we have Classis (broken up by U.S. regions) and a Synod (a national gathering).  This means that a lone-wolf, power-hungry pastor (or possibly a power-hungry local elder board) cannot take advantage of the body of Christ.  (A Classis is a group of churches within a geographical region. It has the authority to deal with matters that concern its churches in common.  A minister and an elder (and in some cases a deacon) from each congregation are delegated to attend each classis meeting.  A Synod is at the national/international level).  This means:  accountability.

Thus, it is essential to find a true church which

  1. faithfully preaches the gospel each and every Sunday,
  2. faithfully administers the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
  3. practices Church Discipline (remember that discipline is for the purpose of restoration.)

The church is so much more than what we want to get out of a church.  The church is what God desires to give us — each and every Lord’s Day.  Food for our hearts, minds and souls.

 Romans 10: 14-17
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him uof whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?   And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”   But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”   So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Faith comes from hearing — and hearing through the word of Christ preached.

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The Marvel of God’s Promise in Infant Baptism

When I was a young mother, there were many times I feared for my children in regard to their salvation.  I often wondered, “What would happen to my child if she died in infancy or passed away before she was old enough to understand what it meant to confess faith in Jesus Christ?” My prayers for my children were passionate with many pleas to God to save them from a disconcerting, uncertain demise.

How I wish I had known then what I know now!

This question is an honest one.  We live in fear because we do not understand.  Life is often taxing with babies and preschoolers in the home, not to mention the wear and tear that a teenager brings into the mix.  Wearied parents sometimes fail to place “knowing what you believe and why you believe it” on the top shelf of their to-do list. We’ve all been there……

I grew up in Dispensational evangelicalism (where most evangelicals reside today).  Even though I was one of those tired young mothers at the time, I remember being bold enough to ask a couple of our Southern Baptist pastors about this important question.  I also remember that not one of them gave me a well-reasoned answer. Though now I understand I had no reason to fear for my young children, I can still remember how my fear escalated with each arrival of that next child’s birthday.

Our human tendency towards the popular is almost predictable. Growing up in the popular world of Dispensationalism assured that I would be exposed to an established set of popular theological assumptions. Believer’s baptism is the standard rule of a Dispensational framework.  Baptism was something done in obedience after expressing faith in Christ.  It was something we had to “do” after we “did” something. Wrong on both accounts.

It’s hard to let go of those things which are dictated by familial or cultural traditions — those things which are comfortable to us.  It was not until we began to attend a Reformed church regularly that we began to develop the tools necessary to interpret scripture well; all the more reason to understand the means that God uses in real discipleship.

Biblical interpretation is one place where popularity shouldn’t be the motivating force. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is faithful to illuminate his beloved people, those whom he has called to himself, but that does not absolve our conscience from spending extended amounts of time in deep study about things that really matter.  Theology matters.  Further, it is critical to place your hearts and minds under the shepherding of a faithful, well-educated pastor who not only teaches well, but submits himself to a Church Council of men qualified to serve with him.

With these things solidly in place, we finally realized that the hermeneutic lens of Covenant Theology is a superior lens to the more common, popular Dispensational one. Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, in his audio lecture Covenant Theology and Eschatology (from his excellent Amillennialism 101 series), speaks about the implications of choosing a hermeneutic lens through which to interpret scripture. The lens chosen not only affects your eschatology, but it will affect many other doctrinal topics, including our understanding of infant baptism. Dr. Riddlebarger says:

“This (i.e., understanding covenant theology) virtually changes how you interpret all of the Bible……..
(In regard to Covenant Theology) We are bound to the terms of the covenant……The two overarching covenants are going to enable us to see the continuity between the individual covenants we find throughout the Old Testament.  I can tell you, flat out, as a Reformed minister, the reason I baptize infants is because of my understanding of the relationship of the Old Covenant to the New…..the relationship to what God promised to Abraham and what God promised people in the New Covenant.  It’s related to continuity between the covenants.  If you are a Baptist, it’s because you see discontinuity between the promise made to Abraham and the New Covenant.   You see them as two separate covenants.  It’s a hermeneutical matter.  If these two things are contiguous you are going to baptize a baby.  If there is discontinuity you are going to be a Baptist.

Dr. Riddlebarger goes on to say that when we view the continuity of the Covenants in this way, it helps us to see the connection between Law and Gospel rather than separating Law and Gospel from each other. In other words, it prevents us from seeing the Old Testament as essentially Law and the New Testament as essentially Gospel, which disrupts the continuity of scripture. Should this occur, he continues, the Old Testament would end up representing an angry God who makes a lot of mean rules, while the New Testament would possess quite an opposite God; one with a Jesus who is nice to everybody.  Law and Gospel exist in both Testaments.  The Trinitarian God of the Old Testament is the same Trinitarian God of the New Testament. Continuity.  

The bottom line is that if you don’t understand the foundational tenets of Covenant Theology, the chances are that you won’t understand Infant Baptism either.  Covenant Theology focuses on the continuity of the Covenant of Grace, first revealed in Genesis 3:15, re-emphasized with Abraham in Genesis 17, and finally confirmed in Acts 2.  (These are not the only references but form a foundation upon which to expand.)  Dispensationalism focuses on a discontinuity between Old and New Testaments.

Today, I have complete assurance that my little grandchildren are safely sheltered by God’s covenantal promise, even though they have not been baptized up to this point. Why? It is because of God’s faithfulness, not our own. I am reassured that they, like their believing parents before them, are possessed by God as His very own covenant children, descendants of his holy seed.  It is a comfort to the believer to know with certainty that it is God alone who supplies both repentance and faith for his beloved, something his people were unable to do on their own in the Covenant of Works.

Too often, people unfamiliar with the Reformed faith make the incorrect accusation that our view of Infant Baptism is the same position held by Roman Catholics.  Though our children are baptized as infants, our children must still confess a saving faith at an age where they more clearly understand what they are confessing.

This is accomplished by the steady, ongoing catechesis by the church minister, elders and parents who faithfully teach sound doctrine to both children and adults in the church. It is a true discipleship model. The model I observed in my former evangelical days was a children’s church model full of fun but less-than-instructive activities — the purpose of which was to keep children occupied while their parents attended the worship service. Don’t our children deserve the benefits of attending worship with their covenant family? Remember when Jesus reminded us to ‘let the little children come to me?’  After all, the promise is for you and for your children.

As a Reformed community, we understand that Baptism, a Holy Sacrament, is the sign and seal of Covenant of Grace – a promise given to Abraham’s descendants — to forgive their sin and remember it no more.  God would give his people a heart to know that he alone is God (Jeremiah 24:7). He promised to send a covenant mediator, Jesus Christ, to perfectly obey the Law which we were unable to obey.

“Baptism is an initiation into the covenant community of God.  It doesn’t regenerate or save anyone. It brings them to the place (God’s Church) where God promises to meet with them.  It is the mark of a holy and called out people and separating them from the world. The promise is for you and your children.”
(Rev. Charles Tedrick from his sermon on Holy Baptism)

There is also a place for believer’s baptism in the Reformed faith.  Much more than an act of obedience, non-believing adults who confess faith in Christ may also enter into the covenant community through believer’s baptism. Scripture tells of us of sojourners who entered into the covenant through marriage, servitude and other circumstances; people like Ruth.

As a former Dispensationalist, this aspect of baptism feels familiar and comfortable.  Now I marvel that God has not forgotten our children, but has lovingly and mercifully, provided for them in the Covenant of Grace. And even before the Covenant of Grace was mercifully given to mankind, our Trinitarian God had provided for his beloved covenant people in the Covenant of Redemption, a covenant made between the members of the Trinity from before the foundation of the world.  (See Ephesians 1.)

As such, our children are his holy seed, as are generations of covenant children before them. Through the Sacrament of Infant Baptism, our children receive his promise, a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace, welcoming them into the covenant community.

For those unfamiliar with Reformed Theology or Covenant Theology, there is a learning curve that must occur to properly understand this topic (and many others.)  Don’t be afraid to stretch in regard to what feels uncomfortable at first. The rewards are great. To start you on your journey, here are some resources on this topic.



A word of caution:  part of the learning curve required to understand the Reformed faith includes an understanding of the doctrinal standards used in Reformed congregations.  At first, I questioned the importance of our Christian Creeds and Confessions.  However today, they are a great comfort to me, for many reasons I will state below.

The URCNA, the federation to which I belong, uses the Three Forms of Unity as their Confessional standard. Presbyterian Churches use the Westminster Standards.  Both represent the tenets of Reformed theology well.

The benefit of attending a Confessional church is huge.  No longer do I have to worry about a conglomeration of personal theologies infiltrating the pulpit by well-meaning, self-proclaimed pastors who, in their passion, have a tendency to promote error by a lack of accountability.  The historical Confessions of our churches protect us from theological error.  They teach.  They admonish.  They affirm all that is in Scripture in such a way that the average congregant can easily understand the basics of a sound theological framework. They keep abnormal and heretical ideologies from infiltrating the church.

For instance, in regard to the topic of Infant Baptism, the First Head, Section 17 of the Canons of Dort gives us complete assurance and confidence that our children live beneath the stipulations of the Covenant of Grace. This section reminds us that if our children die while under this covenant, they will be with the Lord.  Thank you, Lord!

“Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with the parents are comprehended, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.”

The children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in light of the Covenant of Grace. Thus, we, as believers, ought not to doubt the salvation of our children if God should call them home at an early age.

So here’s the Cliff Note version of why we baptize infants.  (Don’t settle for this!  Know what you believe and why you believe it!)  The purpose of this article is not to completely explain this topic but to encourage you to study so that you may have the same assurance I now possess in regard to my children and grandchildren.

Genesis 17:15-21 is one of the first places we see this the Covenant of Grace revealed.  The sign and seal of the covenant God made with Abraham and future generations was circumcision.  In the New Testament, baptism was instituted as the sign and seal of the very same Covenant of Grace, expanded now to include men and women, those near and far off, and everyone whom the Lord calls to himself. (Acts 2:39)  Continuity.

Side note:  Not all who are under the covenant will embrace the faith promised in the covenant.  As an example, Ishmael, though circumcised and a member of the covenant community, would later reject the faith promised to him in his circumcision.  Isaac would embrace the faith given to him in his circumcision.

In Acts 2:37-41, we see a similar event occur in the New Testament.  Peter presented the gospel message to the crowd gathered at Pentecost. Thousands repented, believed and were baptized.  Tucked into this passage is the phrase, For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  The very same Covenant of Grace — the very same promise given to Abraham is seen in the New Testament.  The very same language used in both Old and New Testaments. The Covenant was the same but the actual sign and seal had changed.  Both the old covenantal sign of circumcision and the new covenantal sign of baptism point to the same reality, showing their unity in Christ.  Continuity.

In his article, A Contemporary Reformed Defense on Infant Baptism, Dr. R. Scott Clark says:

Covenant signs were given to strengthen our trust in Christ. Baptism and the Lord’s supper have no more or less power than the written Word of God.57 In the Scriptures baptism and the Lord’s Supper are considered to be signs and seals of the covenant of grace between God and his people. As signs, the covenant signs are visible reminders of the great act of redemption which God has accomplished. As seals, they are God’s way of separating his people from those in the world, and they give to us God’s promise that, in example, as surely as we are washed by the water we are by faith washed by the blood of Christ. Just as in the preaching of the Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith by the use of these covenant signs and seals.

Zach McManigal, in his book Encountering Christ in the Covenants, (pg. 128) uses Colossians 2:11-13 to explain:

  • Circumcision:  “Putting off the flesh” = death (vs. 11); By Christ= life (vs. 13)
  • Baptism:  “Buried with him” = death (vs. 12); Raised with him = life (vs. 12)

Zach goes on to say,

“Both circumcision and baptism point to the same realities of our death and resurrection in Christ.  Baptism was not added because something different was being proclaimed in the new covenant; both signs signified and sealed the same truth.” (pg. 128)  Further, he states that, “For centuries, the covenant sign was given to both adults and their male sons, most of whom received the sign of the covenant in infancy. (Gen. 21:4 & Acts 7:8).  For those who insist on a sharp separation between Jews and Gentiles, please take note that the sign of the covenant was not just for the Jews; it was for the Gentiles, as well: “whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with money, shall be circumcised.”  Circumcision was a visible sign and seal that declared the promises of God, and it was given to Ishmael even though he would never claim those promises by faith. God refused to establish his covenant with Ishmael, and yet he was still a member of the visible community of faith……This is the biblical principle that compels us to apply the covenant sign of baptism to our infants.  Do we believe that it will save them?  Of course not, only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will save them.  But we give them the sign (of baptism) because we stand in a line of continuity with the Old Testament saints and father Abraham.”

Perhaps this is not enough to give you the confidence that your children are safe under God’s covenantal promise.  Looking further to 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 might shed some light.  Paul explains that an unbelieving spouse is made holy by the believing spouse.  This does not mean that an unbelieving spouse is automatically a believer.  Care must be taken with the passage, i.e., there are several definitions of “made holy.” (Listen to the sermon Holy Seed by Rev. Charles Tedrick for a more thorough explanation — see above reference.)

It does mean that an unbelieving spouse who is associated with one of God’s beloved covenant members, by simple association, has an opportunity for the means of grace to work within their heart.  The promise is for you, your children and your entire household. (Acts 16:31 and 11:14 are only a couple of references.)

One of the most interesting passages that supports Infant Baptism, as well as the assurance it brings in regard to infants who die at an early age, is found in 2 Samuel 12. King David had illegitimately conceived a child with Uriah’s wife. Uriah was a Hittite. The passage says that God afflicted the child and the child became ill.

It appears that David did everything possible, including prayer and fasting, to ask God to heal the child; but God had other plans.  After seven days, David was informed that his child had died.  At this point in the story you might have expected that David would have torn off his clothes in mourning and shouted horrid accusations against God.  David did something we would not expect.  He went straight to the House of God and worshiped God.

If we were to stand in David’s shoes, we might more easily see that the Covenant of Grace found in Genesis 3, the same one sustained in the house of Abraham (Genesis 17), was the same Covenant of Grace promised to the House of David in 2 Samuel.  David knew, with confidence, that his dead son, God’s covenant child, was with the Lord.  The House of the Lord was the one place where David could go to be closer to his son, where He also worshiped his sovereign, faithful God. Continuity.  (The sermon above entitled Holy Seed by Rev. Charles Tedrick presents a great exegesis of this passage.)   

If, after you dig in and research this topic, you, as a believer, become convinced of the Holy Sacrament of Infant Baptism, you need to know that it an act of disobedience not to baptize your young children.  However, God is gracious.  Until we understand the principles behind Infant Baptism, God continues to forgive our fallen hearts. He is faithful even when we are not.  The Holy Spirit continues to sanctify and instruct.  He alone opens our eyes and our hearts.

It is my prayer that through your own study of this topic, you will discover that it is by his faithfulness alone that the children of believers are safe and secure for a time.  Why? Because our children are born under his covenantal promise, given to his covenant people for eternity.  The promise was extended to all of those living within the same household, to those near and far off and to those who will call upon the Lord.

If you are a believer, you need not struggle in regard to the eternal care of your children when they are young. They are safe and secure in the arms of a loving Father. Take the time to learn why — and then rejoice in this great comfort, given to the believer by a faithful and merciful Father, secured by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, and administered through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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Twitter Feed Theology

I saw this poster recently on a popular social networking site.  I don’t know its source nor its creator but my first thought after I read the poster was:  “I wonder how many viewers will know the origin of these words?”  My next thought:  “How many people will recognize that many words from the original historical document (from which this poster had been created) had been left out?”1908027_758382310859833_1900014554246776784_n

In previous generations, we often referred to the Cliff Note version of any given literary work in order to study for a test or perhaps to get the gist of a story line, but we always understood that the Cliff Note version did not tell the whole story. In the case of this poster, even the Cliff Note version of The Apostle’s Creed, the historical document from which this poster was created, has been reduced down to what I might call Twitter Feed theology.

Our brains are capable of learning and understanding so much more than we imagine if we would only give them a chance! First, the basics must be learned – terms must be defined – we must become grounded in the fundamentals. The next step: digging deeper into the topic, asking questions, connecting the dots and discovering reasoned answers.

This kind of well-conceived educational process does not appear to be prominent in most contemporary churches. Our fast-paced, media-driven culture drives everything into warp speed so that the mind only has time to process the bullet points of any given topic.  Real discernment is the result of thoughtful and careful study, as well as struggling with experiences that challenge what we want to believe, though our understanding should never be driven by experience alone.

While most people find plenty of time to check their social networking sites multiple times a day, these same amazing people rarely make time in their day to study those things which would become of most valuable to them. These self-inflicted, addicting habits of minutiae are incurred at a tremendous cost. There is little time left in the day to engage our brains with important theological concepts which will deeply instruct the mind and the heart — those things which speak of the eternal rather than the temporal.

The Apostle’s Creed, in its original version, is beautifully crafted and rich with doctrine. It was not written by the Apostles but is an accurate summary of the core teaching of the Apostles.  It was written no later than the Fourth Century and contained within its words are the necessary fundamentals needed to understand salvation….and so much more.  It is simple and short, easy enough for anyone to understand.  (Which begs the question, “Do we really need it to be more simple than it already is?”) 

So, I am befuddled.  Why would anyone want to massacre such an important, historical document?

Here’s the original Apostle’s Creed.

1.  I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
2.  And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;
3.  Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary;
4.  Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell;
5.  The third day He rose again from the dead:
6.  He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
7.  From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
8.  I believe in the Holy Spirit.
9.  I believe a holy catholic Church, the communion of saints;
10.  The forgiveness of sins; 11.  The resurrection of the body;
12.  And the life everlasting.  AMEN.

Here’s what the poster left out.

1.  Maker of heaven and earth. 

God is the Creator — both of heaven and earth — meaning He is the author of everything. Our apostolic Fathers did not make this mistake.  They were clear and concise rather than vague and reductionist in their words.  It’s one thing to say you simply believe in God, but it’s quite another to define the God in which you say you believe.

2.  Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. 

Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  A reference to the Trinitarian nature of God is important or we are led down the road into deism or theological error. An understanding of the Holy Spirit is also necessary to understand how we grow in Christ as well as the sanctification process. In John 14, 15 and 16, Jesus discloses that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name and that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things in regard to the truth of the Father, from whom He proceeded. How reassuring to understand that we don’t have to count on our own frail understanding!  That assurance, however, should never be an excuse to ignore the necessity of a sound, biblical education.

Jesus was born — he is a real historical figure.  His mother was still a virgin while she was pregnant.  Without this understanding, we fail to understand the significance of God’s sacrificial gift to His beloved — that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. (Another Trinitarian statement).

Jesus suffered.  Jesus suffered in this world, both from leaders and commoners alike. Because Jesus suffered, he can understand our own human suffering completely.  We have a compassionate Savior!

Jesus was crucified to death, buried, then resurrected, yet this poster contained no words about the death, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ from the dead.  The contemporary poster makes it sound like the only thing that matters is our choice of belief — that our choices and personal decisions about that choice are more important than marveling in what God has already done on our behalf, something we could never do of our own accord. If Jesus had not died on our behalf, then risen from the grave, no atonement for sin would have been made on behalf of the sinner.  This one is crucial and should never have been left out.

Jesus ascended to heaven where he lives today.  He has been reunited with the Father, a sure promise given to the true believer.  Such a great hope!  Though the poster mentions a resurrection of the human body, why would we believe or even understand this statement if Jesus had not been raised up first?

There will be a judgment day.  Both for the living and the dead.  The omission of a judgment day gives a false sense of assurance to those who may not believe.  For those who believe, Christ has assumed our judgment and borne it on His very own scars so that we are free, indeed.

This beloved creed, in its original form, upholds our understanding of the Trinity and the nature of God.  It is historical in nature, reminding us about the historicity of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It explains the Church as God intended it to be.  It gives hope to the believer of our future resurrection and eternity.

Unless we are confident in the object of our belief, our tendency is to create our own belief system from which we draw a false sense of comfort. A self-imposed, subjective belief system is always dependent on personal whim. Without sound theology, founded on reasoned examination, how can we understand what Christ has already done on our behalf on the cross and in the resurrection?  How can we understand that His sacrifice (death on the cross) atoned for our sin (the sin of original sin, not just the sin we commit every day on a regular basis)?  How are we to have an eternal hope in a historical Savior if we deny every aspect of his very real, historical life?

Truthfully, it is very hard to watch the rich heritage of the Christian faith reduced down into bullet points, as demonstrated in this poster.  Twitter Feed Theology is unwise, instigates incorrect theology and believes self-imposed false ideologies. Certainly, the gospel is simple at its core, but I must ask, where is our desire to delve deep into the wonders of what God has disclosed in His Word — all of His Word? Not just the parts we personally want to hear.  Not just the parts our family or friends, throughout generations, have chosen to embrace without true discernment. Not just the parts that incorrectly appear to connect us to our country and its founders. Rather, God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in all of His Word. Scripture contains so much more than mere bullet points, which can be misunderstood if not clarified and compared with other portions of scripture.

I’ll play devil’s advocate here.  Perhaps the creator of the poster merely wanted to simplify the Apostle’s Creed so that more people might understand these words more easily in a reduced form. Perhaps he wanted seekers to fall in love with these simple words withdrawn from the original creed.  The problem is that even when intentions are sincere, this kind of mentality never works, as evidenced by the failure of seeker churches all over our country.  The mantra of easy-believism and the promotion of a dumbed-down gospel in seeker-oriented churches is driving more and more people away from our Father’s Church, the single, very place they should find sound answers and heavenly comfort.

A recent poll revealed many trends, including the fact that our children are running away from the church, where the means of grace is received by believers each Lord’s Day.  They are embracing universalism (and other random ideologies) and its ideals at a fast rate. Sadly, many of them were raised in seeker-church evangelical environments, but other churches have been infected,  as well.  A seeker-church mentality in its contemporary form is unrecognizable to the historical, orthodox, Protestant faith of Christianity. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

Perhaps this person did not want to say anything that might be offensive to those reading the poster.  Hello, the gospel is offensive!  Galatians 5 reminds us that the cross is an offense to our hardened hearts.  We are born completely dead in our sin (speaking of original sin).  We are not just a little bit alive enough to do anything on our own in regard to salvation, but we are, as Ephesians 2 tells us, entirely and totally dead in our sin.  I rather suspect that our hearts need to be offended in order to see clearly the complete desperation of our state of being.  The result?  When you leave out more than three quarters of the story, it is easy to develop the desire to create your own path to salvation. Hello universalism.

God, in His rich mercy, provided exactly and specifically what we needed, Jesus Christ, so that we would not experience His wrath.  The concept of the wrath of God is foreign to contemporary evangelicalism because it is offensive to human ears. Yet, it is because of the very wrath of God that we needed a Savior in the first place. Because of our innate sin, we deserve His wrath, yet His mercy has been shown to us!  He provided the necessary sacrifice to atone for our sin.  Romans 5:9: Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God

3.  I believe a holy catholic Church.  

I had to learn about this one the hard way.  I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, though today, I am a confessional, Reformed Christian.  Daresay, in those days, we would have never used the word Catholic (capital C) for any reason. In much of evangelicalism today, confusion continues about the word ‘catholic’ (little ‘c’).  Catholic (capital ‘C’) refers to the Roman Catholic Church and mind you, as Southern Baptists, we were anything but Catholic.

The word catholic (little ‘c’) refers to the universal church of Jesus Christ, not the Roman Catholic Church.  Sadly, many evangelical pastors and lay people, in ignorance, continue to promote this false understanding of the word ‘catholic.’ Traditions and habits are easily passed down through generations, even if they are incorrect and false.

I’ve actually known people who who will start to quote the Apostle’s Creed and then become completely silent when the sentence with the word ‘catholic’ is to be recited.  The minute the sentence is finished, they chime in on the communion of saints. It is tragic that this sentence, regarding the catholicity of the church, was left out on the poster. The universal Church is God’s beloved, made up of His covenant people from every denomination, race and culture.  We all should be celebrating God’s goodness and mercy to all of His beloved — the holy catholic Church.  The universal church, however, is not universalism.

The dilution of sound doctrine in the church has broken my heart for more years than I care to count.  The richness of sound doctrine instructs.  It comforts.  It brings joy to the believer.  Rarely does a slaughtered version of doctrinal statements do anything to bring such peace and joy to the soul of a believer.  Rather, bullet points bring confusion, a lack of discernment and an absence of joy.

I’m overcome with emotion when I read the real Apostle’s Creed.  I am reminded, once again, that if Jesus had not died on the cross on my behalf, I would have been left in the state of original sin, as would every human on the planet.  BUT GOD!  (Eph. 2: 1-10).

 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1-3)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10)

Yes, doctrinal error abounds in our generation, much of it due to insufficient study, which results in a lack of honest discernment.  It scares me that many in our generation consider that Twitter Feed theology is all they need.  As one friend said to me several years ago, “I don’t need to know more about Jesus; I just need to love Him.”  To that friend I must ask, “Just which Jesus do you love?  The one you created in your mind or the one found in scripture which you obviously do not know anything about?”  You see, it’s easy to express an opinion but the real question is this:  “Is there truth in your words or are you simply stating your personal preferences or self-truths?”


Living in the Hall of Shallows and Denial is comfortable.  It is easy and requires no effort.  It is self-affirming and self-congratulatory, giving credence and affirmation to posters such as the one on the left. This poster is yet another example of doctrinal error.  Do you know why?

My guess is that it has already crisscrossed the globe multiple times on the internet and millions of people have already embraced these words as truth when they are far from biblical truth.

Thankfully, we have a God who is bigger than Twitter Feed theology – who is faithful to complete what He started.  In this regard, I can think of no other passage more suited to use as my conclusion than this:

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.   For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
John 6:37-40

After all — it’s about the work of Christ has already done on our behalf — not about any effort on our part.

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Saying Goodbye

2012-08 Howard J. ChristensonOver the last several days I have stood next to my father’s bedside for every moment upon which my weary feet could stand.  I knew this moment would arrive sometime in the future but I was genuinely caught off-guard recently when it actually happened.  Daddy was 89.  I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

So many times we go with fear and trepidation to the bedside of a dying parent.  The baggage of our past, both joys and troubles, fly to the forefront of our minds, plaguing our hearts as we grapple with how to handle a death event.  We simply don’t like to think about death; the death of a loved one or our own, for that matter.

Walking up to the bedside of someone in the process of dying changes everything.  Death confronts you front and center.  Suddenly, our preferences no longer matter.  Nothing really matters but that person lying on the bed in front of you.

This week it was my turn to confront death face to face.  My father was put into hospice care several days ago.  I arrived by his side to find a tough man who no longer had the ability to fight a battle which he certainly would not be winning.  Regardless, he continued to fight each waking moment.  Daddy, a tough ex-Marine of the WWII mindset, conquered every task placed before him with fervor and you could be sure that he wasn’t about to give in easily to this one.

Now that I had been pushed to go into that place along side of him, I discovered that the journey paralleling the final moments of the dying is really remarkable.  In an instant, as I simply looked down upon my father’s frail body, everything made sense.  Past hurts no longer mattered.  Every precious moment I could remember became even more precious.

Christenson family MN

Daddy playing with the dog. I get my canine love from him.

You see, Daddy was not the kind of guy who could say “I love you” out loud.  I didn’t understand this conundrum as a child, but age, with its acquired wisdom, has given me perspective on the matter, exposing the reality that love is often demonstrated in ways we have to learn to understand.  For instance, living deep beneath my father’s inability to express love was his own father’s habit of denying this very thing to his children.  Forgiveness seems easy once we understand, but as I looked at my father in his weakened condition, I was reminded that we shouldn’t always try to understand before we should desire to forgive.

Daddy didn’t lavish his children with things.  In his own life, he set the example that things really didn’t matter, a wise lesson for his children.  Daddy had practical, real-life expectations of his children.  Each of us knew not to willfully cross him.  He taught us that discipline is a trait which would serve us well in our lives, an unexpected but deliberate gift from a man perceived to be too hard on his family.

Daddy and sister Fern.

Daddy and sister Fern.

Daddy worked so hard, in fact, that he could not seem to find the time, as an example, to attend my band concerts or special life events.  Obviously, this would be hard for any child.  As I grew older I realized that music wasn’t his thing; he saw this as a frivolous activity.  Hard work mattered more for Daddy than frivolity.  Translation = provision for his family was important.

Daddy expected a good report card.  While others threw away the gift of their education, I graduated near the top of my class because of his expectation of me.  Today, I owe my love of research and knowledge to what others would perceive as hardness from a man who didn’t conform to society’s rules.

Daddy didn’t offer his family lavish or even simple vacations of any kind.  He saw vacations as an excess in the reality of a world which takes away more than it gives.  As I reflect on this remembrance, I look to the future and wonder how many in our own generation exhibit this kind of wisdom:  sacrificing ‘wants’ in order to prepare for future ‘needs’ and events which may be difficult to overcome.

Daddy – second from the right – WWII — Marshall Islands.

Howard Christenson 001Howard Christenson 001Daddy was a self-made man.  His own father was very hard on the boys in his immediate family, working them to exhaustion on the family farm.  So, at the age of 16, without a penny in his pocket, Daddy ran away from home, lied about his age and joined the Marine Corps.  Immediately, he was sent into the Pacific during WWII which had just begun.  I wonder how many 16-year old’s of today’s generation could handle this kind of thing?

Daddy served in many military conflicts, including WWII, Korea, Vietnam (twice), Grenada and Cuba.  Wars tend to harden any soul.  Should we judge these souls too harshly for this?

Many times, as children, we watched Daddy go to war, wondering if he would ever come home.  When a bomb drill went off at school, as frequently happened in my elementary school days, we would climb underneath our desks at school.  Daddy was the first one on my mind.  Would he give his life that day for my safety?  I had no doubt that he would have done so.  Daddy knew the cost of freedom in more ways than one.

 Daddy visiting the family farm

Daddy visiting the family farm

Daddy was not unkind, though some would have supposed this of him from first glance.  He was absolutely stern and rigid but truly, is that a fault?  So often we place expectations on others, demanding that they show kindness in the ways we require of them.  Daddy didn’t play by the rules of others’ expectations.  His idea of kindness was providing for his family and giving them the tools to survive in a hard world.  In this enterprise, he excelled.  Daddy may have been a financial miser, but he certainly was not selfish.

Daddy was a product of his generation  He was a gruff Marine; all business.  Yet, underneath that rough exterior, Daddy had a tender underbelly that, though infrequently exposed, was glaring at times.  When that underbelly peeked out from beneath the hard core which sheltered its view, God gave us a glimpse into the heart of what people would call “a hard man.” 

You see, though Daddy couldn’t say “I love you” to our faces, he demonstrated his love in many ways through constant application.  He provided food for our table.  He worked more than a 60-hour week, came home, made dinner (while Mom worked), then went off to his home office to work some more.  This kind of sacrifice allowed a lowly Private in the Marine Corps to rise up through the officer ranks in his career military field.  He worked because he loved to work, but time also revealed that he also worked hard to be sure we had enough — not excess — but enough.

CCF02032012_00008For example, Daddy always sacrificed his own new pair of shoes to be sure our growing feet would not be cold.  He paid for my band instruments even though music was frivolous to him and the cost of the instrument seemed to be extravagant to him.  Not a week went by that he didn’t write letters to his mother or one of his sisters back in Minnesota.  The quiet and unassuming way that he took care of my disabled mother over her lifetime was simply more than remarkable.

And I will never forget the time he allowed me to keep two stray, tiny puppies that someone had abandoned on our street.  My mother was not a fan of animals of any kind.  I asked her if I could keep these two little puppies.  (I had been secretly feeding them food from our kitchen and teaching them tricks for several weeks.)  She replied, “You’ll have to ask your Daddy when he gets home from Vietnam,” thinking that there was no way Daddy would comply to my request.  To my surprise, Daddy’s response was, “If you take care of them, you can keep them.”

Daddy’s tender underbelly.

Ceremony 01

Daddy at my wedding.

One final thought about Daddy:  he taught us not to worry about what others thought about us.  While others cared more about being a part of the country-club crowd, achieving some kind of recognition in a local society or because of their self-perceived status in town, Daddy exhibited the principle of self-worth and humility in all circumstances.  Daddy refused to conform to society’s check-list of acceptable practices but rather chose to live a quiet, unassuming life.  This, in particular, is a gift I cherish from my father.

Thus, as I reflect on these past few difficult days with my dying father, who could have guessed that some of my most precious moments with my father would be experienced upon his deathbed?  Life is not easy, but then again, I suppose that it is better that it is not easy.  We learn so much from adversity.

Daddy’s death certainly was not easy.  His death was a long, drawn-out process, not an instantaneous event.  He was in pain and for the first time in my life I saw fear in his eyes.  This unexpected event allowed me to offer physical comfort to his weak body and soul, something he would have never allowed up until this time.  God uses means we do not understand.

Watching Daddy lie helpless on his deathbed allowed me the opportunity to caress his weary, broken body with loving touches and to speak words of love and appreciation directly into his eyes.  He would have never allowed this in the past.

Daddy with granddaughter Becca.

Daddy with granddaughter Becca.

Often, during the end of life process, verbal communication is not possible, and that was the case with Daddy’s death.  Yet, even this inconvenience produced merciful fruit.  In order to communicate with Daddy, it was necessary to come close to his face.  I used this opportunity to mouth the words, (repeatedly, because he would come in and out of consciousness), “It’s Kathy, Daddy.  I….love…..you.”  Daddy is deaf, but because he can read lips to an extent, even in this weakened state, he was able to hear these words from me over and over.

Remarkably, for the first time in our lives together, Daddy was able to receive these words from me.  The icing on the cake?  I was able to see the gratitude in his eyes for the expression of these words.  Three simple words caused his moaning to cease to a quiet hum.  His focused gaze into my eyes and his mumbled sounds expressed after hearing these words said loudly and clearly, “Thank you for being here.  I love you, too.”  After a lifetime of absence, these words, the very words Daddy ran away from, comforted his own heart and soul.  The richest of blessings in the most difficult of times.

Howard J Christenson 03Too often, people hold grudges about past events rather than trying to see through them and beyond them — rather than trying to understand them.  The reality is that God uses various means to teach us important lessons through difficult circumstances.  God never promised that our sanctification would be easy.  We can either choose to be grateful for the lessons he sends our way or we can choose to wallow in self-pity and our self-inflicted expectations of others.  We can choose to point fingers at others rather that to see the depth of sin within our own heart.

So, Daddy, if somehow you can see that I am shedding a tear this morning, you don’t have to give your typical response, “Stop that crying.  Be a Marine!”  Daddy, my tears are in gratitude for you and for all you did over the course of your life for me…….and because I love you.  Because I know you loved me, too……even if you were unable to say it.  You were not a perfect man, but you were a great man, Daddy.

What an honor and privilege to be able to sit with my dying father during his last moments on earth!  Together, both of us had to come to terms with the stark reality of death — both the death of the parent and the thought of one’s own impending death.

How God works is a mystery.  Yet, God is sovereign in all things, including our death.  He holds each of our lives in the palm of His hand.  My father’s death showed me that God does delight to give good gifts to his children — but they are the gifts of His choosing, not of our choosing.  To see love in my father’s eyes towards me is a gift I will always cherish.

Our lives on this earth are but for  moment and if we are wise, we will learn to live for the eternal.  Perhaps the only way we can see the eternal clearly is to try understand the temporal in context, but even that is not a perfect tool.  That’s where God’s Word comes into play.

Howard J Christenson 10

Daddy with sister Fern.

Here, at the end of his life, Daddy was able to hear the words of scripture as I read to him.  Because I understand that God’s Word is the power unto salvation, not my own promptings nor my own words, I was able to read beautiful, comforting words from scripture to my Daddy.  He was a captive audience whereupon once he would have run. Thank you, God, for this opportunity.

This article would fail to be complete if I did not express a sincere heart of gratitude for those who participated in this process with me.  Truly, there are not enough words to say to thank you to the faithful Hospice care workers, as well as the nursing staff at Daddy’s assisted living home.  Through their faithful attendance to Daddy’s needs — and because of their love for him (in spite of his faults), it was evident to me that God had orchestrated even these ordinary means in my Daddy’s life.

Dad receiving an award - always the hard worker.

Dad receiving an award – always the hard worker.

For those of you who have not gone through this difficult trial, I hope you will take the time to express gratitude to anyone you know who works in Hospice on in a nursing care facility.  They are a very special breed of people and I am forever grateful to them for loving my very difficult father — for managing his end-of-life care so that he would not suffer too much.  There are not enough words in the dictionary to thank these amazing people.   Surely God has a special place in His heart for those who care for the elderly.

I also want to thank my wonderful sister-in-law, Sandy, for loving my father as her own — and my brother, Mark, for being there when I live so far away.  Sandy’s sacrifice and tender care to his needs have been observed, treasured and appreciated.  Mark’s daily care for Daddy during his aging years is appreciated more than he will know.  I also thank my sister, Lynda, for always being on top of the earthly matters that sometimes needed to be handled.  She always handled them with efficiency and fervor.

Death is common to all of us.  Yet, those with an eternal perspective know that death is not the end.  It is at this moment, I see the remarkable wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Daddy, rest in peace.  I’ll love you forever.
Howard J Christenson 01

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Powerful, Precious Moments

2014-01-06 7985aI do not think I would be too out of line when I say that many people can point to various pivotal moments in their lives which have so impacted the very core of their being that their lives have henceforth been intrinsically changed, hopefully for the better.  One of those moments happened to me recently.

We have a dear friend who has discovered that he has cancer.  Surgery has taken place and we await the revelation of the extent of the cancer; the reality is that the cancer is life-threatening.  This man has been a health-conscious person for his entire life and, indeed, his career was based on a natural approach to medicine.  His complete faith in a holistic, natural approach as a way to both a healthy life, as well as a way to personally control his physical life, has been passionate and thoroughly implemented.

He disclosed these habits to several of his friends recently, ending his dissertation with one of those ‘powerful moment’ comments.  With tears running down his face, he said, “I have finally come to realize that my passion for natural health and my faith in its ability, both dietary and medicinal, has become an idol to me.  I have done everything right in regard to my health — even to the point of not eating a cookie at the church potluck.  Yet, the cancer gene flipped a switch one day — regardless of my persistent effort to deny it of any opportunity to rise and conquer what I thought I controlled.  Yes, I have made my health an idol and I finally see it for what it has become, an idol.”

You can imagine that this one hit me hard.  Do I not do the very same thing?  Do I not try to eat a healthy diet — take the appropriate supplements — use naturopathic approaches to fix my specific ills and genetic tendencies?   Yes, absolutely.

This story is not about the right or wrong of choosing a holistic approach to our human health.  Our health choices are wisdom issues.  Scripture tells us to use wisdom with our earthly temples.  However, when our wise decisions become so possessive of our hearts that we forget that it is God alone who orchestrates the path and days of our lives, we end up creating idols of our own making.  We end up being possessed by its very nature because our passion for longevity masks the important factual distinction that it is God alone who controls the number of our days.

There are other pivotal moments in my life which come to mind as I ponder the words of my friend; moments which give me confidence in God’s hand in orchestrating and guiding my own personal sanctification.

In my young adult life, I had a severe miscarriage between my two children when I was five months along in the pregnancy.  While I was in the hospital, I shared a room with an elderly lady who had just come out of surgery for a hysterectomy.  All day long, people from our church streamed through my hospital room with offers of help such as meals and babysitting for my one-year old daughter.  Because I am an introvert and a more private person, I repeatedly said, “You don’t need to do that.  We are OK.”

Yet, I really did need their help.  I had hemorrhaged greatly and I had no family in the immediately area to call upon for help.  As evening came upon us, this wise woman said to me, “Honey, don’t you know that they need to help you as much as you need their help?”  I have never forgotten her wise words.  Both my pride and my introverted nature pushed aside and ignored the very gift that God had given to me in a time of great need.

Another “ah-ha” moment in my life concerned my realization that the Mormon Church was indeed not the Christian church it professed to be.  In my early 20’s I was searching both for solid, biblical truth, as well as a biblical expression of that truth within a local church body, an endeavor which would continue for many years to come.  It begs the question, “Why was it so hard to find a faithfully biblical church?”

In my diligent effort and desire to be faithful to God as revealed in Scripture, I noticed that my Mormon friends were much more dedicated to their faith/church than those I observed in my local Southern Baptist Church.  Thus began my research, a trait that is a part of my very being.  Through my persistent investigation, God revealed to me the errors of the Mormon Church.  He did so without the help of another Christian person, using means which were not commonly available in that era.  Yet, they were ordinary means because God most often works in the ordinary.

The fact that God was able to do this alone, without the help of man, blew up every imagination I had created of man’s abilities and desires.  My abilities and desires.  I wanted Mormonism to be true because I had chosen it as my personal desire.  I liked what I saw.  The people were generous and kind.  I saw hypocrisy upon hypocrisy in the evangelical churches surrounding me.  Even my pastor did not give me sound, reasoned answers when I went to him for counsel.  He merely said, “You need to shut the door on them.  There’s nothing more to say.”

Being a Christian does not mean that sound, reasoned answers are not available to the believer which God has chosen and called unto Himself.  The words and actions of my pastor (at the time) made me pursue Mormonism with an even greater fervor.  Thankfully, we have a God bigger than those who fail us.  God used this in my life to spur me on to know what I believe about God and why I believe it.

2008-11-18 4675The day I received the news that my mother has passed away was a bit surreal.  Mom had always been there.  She was Mom.  Though we lived thousands of miles apart from each other, our phone calls and conversations were frequent.  One phone call toward the end of her life fits the categories of powerful and precious.

Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.  The disease, however, had not taken away the memories of those things in the past which meant the most to her.  One day Mom asked me to sing Amazing Grace to her on the phone.  I quickly responded and started to sing her favorite song.  Mom soon joined in, singing all of the verses perfectly with me.  I would have supposed that she might have forgotten the words.  Though her mind was dying a slow death, the cherished words of this theologically-sound hymn continued to resonate with her, a believer, touching her deeply to the point of tears.

This precious moment taught me the importance of memorizing scripture and hymns which are faithful to scripture.  When this is practiced in our early lives, as we age and become less cognizant of our surroundings, scripture will continue to live in our hearts and in our minds.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  God told us twice in Deuteronomy alone (chapters 6 and 11) that “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  God surely had a reason to ask us to do this.

2008-11-23 0055aLast year, my beloved dog, Charlie, died of liver cancer.  Another heart-piercing moment to remind me that my personal life is not eternal on this earth (even when I feel invincible and self-sufficient.)  It advised me to consider that my pilgrim life on this planet is now shorter than I desire.  It admonished me to long for my future home with God rather than to treasure the ruin of this one.  It stressed that our deaths are very real as humans but gave the assurance of Hebrews 9:7 and Psalm 139:1-6.  It is God who orchestrates our days.  He alone is faithful to complete the work He started in us.  Note: He begins and finishes the work.  Me, myself and I do not.  “And I am sure of this, that he who began  good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  (Philippians 1:6)

These events were not easy to process at the time.  An understanding of them did not  happen overnight because our sanctification is a ongoing work, a movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  He is the One who sanctifies the lives of God’s chosen beloved.

Our sanctification does not consist of instantaneous, miraculous self-revelations as some charismatics might be inclined to say.  Rather, God works most of the time in the ordinary.  This is not to say that He does not, on occasion, work in the miraculous, but that in the generations following his death, we should expect the ordinary rather than the miraculous.  In both Matthew 12 and Matthew 16, Jesus admonishes his listeners against desiring signs and wonders.  Hebrews 1 reminds us that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”  Long ago, God used the miraculous for the Hebrew people.  Even the miraculous failed to stir their obedience.  Thus, in these last days, God sent Jesus.  (note:  I love that this passage also refers to the Trinitarian nature of Christ.)  Sadly, evangelicalism has it all turned around, expecting the miraculous rather than appreciating the ordinary means that God uses in our lives today.

I would be remiss if I did not share one more powerful moment in my life.  The  moments I mentioned above are only a few remembrances of those times God has taught me through His loving hand of sanctification.  Slowly, but surely, this heart continues to desire more of Him and less of myself.

Frequently, my oldest granddaughter, who has a very sensitive heart, will tell me that she loves me.  Recently, she climbed up into my lap, curled up into a snuggled position, then leaned in towards me, whispering so only I could hear, “Grandmama, I really, really, really, really love you.”  Now, to some of you, this may seem very ordinary — a granddaughter telling her grandmother that she is loved.  But to the ears of a grandmother who never heard her own father say the words, “I love you,” this is an extraordinary blessing.

That the Father loves me (even in my sin) as His beloved child is a gift of immeasurable worth.  That my Father created my granddaughter with a heart inclined to sweetness (though still in need of a Savior) cannot be over-valued.  That God sent His Son to save all of His beloved — that He will be faithful and not one will be lost — well, there are no words.  God loves in ways which we will never comprehend, but in ways which He alone knows we need.  Ordinary ways; ordinary means.

We are already seated with our Heavenly Father in heaven, even while we continue to labor on our earthly home.  Though we labor, how marvelous to breathe in these precious and powerful moments give to us by God!

I am grateful.

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Reformed Worship: A Biblical Model

2013-11-02 7935aIt’s hard to describe the beauty of a Reformed Worship service to someone who has not experienced it firsthand.  The obvious lack of video screen glam and expensive band equipment would, at first, seem unusual to a person who has lived in contemporary evangelicalism over the last few decades.  The fact that you can actually hear the voices of God’s covenant people singing praises to Him would absolutely seem unusual to culturally-relevant ears used to band monitors which not only vibrate the floor of the sanctuary, but mask the praises of His beloved.   Refreshing?

The first time I stepped into a Reformed Worship service was awkward, to say the least.  Yet something about the reverence of the service drew me in, causing me to return again and again, not so much out of curiosity, but from a sense of awe and peace.  At the time, I did not understand the true beauty behind its simple design.  The service is so simple, in fact, that today’s media-driven people might overlook the beauty and depth of its simplicity.  I already knew that Reformed Theology was theologically sound (and quite amazing when fully understood).   Had I more fully understood the reasons for why we do what we do in a Reformed worship service in the beginning of my journey, I would have had a much better understanding of what, at first, seemed foreign to me.

A Reformed worship services follow a liturgy, but then again, so does every church of every kind.  While many people are suspicious of the word liturgy, it simply refers to the assembled gathering of God’s people.  Every church has patterns they follow — singing, standing, sitting, etc.

In the Reformed world, we differ from the contemporary church at large in that we understand our worship should include only that which God has commanded, nothing added and nothing taken away.  The actual elements and form of the service follow a basic structure taught in scripture and practiced in the early church.  A Call to Worship is first offered so that believers understand the purpose of our gathering.  The Law is read from Scripture so that we understand the depth of our inability to save ourselves from Adam’s transgression, which became our own due to his disobedience.  The reading of the Law convicts our heart toward repentance, so a time of Confession follows, both for personal confession and collectively as a covenant body.

The Gospel is then read from Scripture so that believers can understand and be reminded that our second Adam, Jesus Christ, alone is responsible for our salvation, justification and our sanctification.  In this way, we are able to see Jesus in every part of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.  We are further able to understand the proper relationship of the Old Testament to the New because the entire story of redemption is understood in context.

Following the declaration of the forgiveness of our sins, and the assurance of our forgiveness of sin, the pastor prays for the people in our congregation, our federation of churches, and for the lost world.  The pastor is an intercessor on behalf of the church, similar to Moses, who interceded on behalf of an evil and wicked people.  Are we not also an evil and wicked generation?

The accurate preaching of the gospel follows this prayer, and it is the habit of Reformed Churches to preach through the entire Bible over time, not just selected, most-favored passages.  A thanksgiving offering is taken from God’s people in remembrance of the one complete sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  A general offering is also taken for the poor, widows and other churches in need.

2013-07-11 7543aInterspersed between these elements are hymns of praise, where believers lift their voices up to our Father in praise — songs which are from Scripture, including the Psalms, not from the latest contemporary CD.  The Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered by the pastor and the elders, who are humble servants of God, called by God with both an inward and outward call.  The Benediction is announced and as believers, we understand that we are to go out for the rest of the week to serve and love our neighbors well.  The Benediction also serves as a reminder that God is with us not only in the worship service, but in every moment of our lives.

In addition, there is an evening service, after the biblical pattern of beginning the day and ending the Lord’s Day as an assembly of God’s people.  In the Reformed world, we believe the Lord’s Day is just that:  the Lord’s Day.  His day.  The evening service is similar to the morning service but focuses more on the catechesis of the church family, so that believers will know what they believe and why they believe it.

Perhaps the aspect I most enjoy about the Reformed worship service is that its intent is never to bind the conscience of any believer.  We are never to impose any liturgical obligation on God’s people that God has not commanded in Scripture.  By keeping the elements of the service in line with the Biblical model, rather than the latest contemporary model (which is a model of personal preference and style), the Reformed service maintains both a simplicity and consistency that becomes a salve to the heart and the soul.

In his book, A Better Way:  Discovering the Drama of Christ-Centered Worship,” Dr. Michael Horton says,

“If worship is Christ-centered, then, we will not move beyond the types and shadows of God’s command in the Old Testament to our types and shadows that lead us not to Christ but to our own creatively conceived images and “worship experiences.”

Why does this matter?  When others create worship ‘experiences’ other than what God has commanded, some of the covenant body of believers feel obligated to do what has been imposed on them, not by Scripture, but by personal preference.  For instance, in a contemporary evangelical church, the band starts to play and the worship leader directs, “Lift your hands.  Sing to the Lord.”  One by one, the people begin to sway, raise their hands, close their eyes — not necessarily because they really want to, and not necessarily because the songs they sing are faithful to Scripture, but because they don’t want to be seen by the others as less spiritual than those who are “freed by the Spirit.”  They mimic each other in a culturally-relevant way, but not necessarily a scripturally-faithful way.

True freedom does not bind the conscience to man-made implementations.  There is no other expectation in a Reformed service than to be called together as the body and receive the benefits of Christ, given freely to us by a loving Father who has provided all we need in Scripture for life.  He designed our worship service specifically for His beloved in a way that gives glory to Himself, which is the greater, ultimate purpose.  Everything in life, for the believer, should be for the glory of Christ alone.

Too often, the argument against a worship service like ours settles into an argument of “traditional” versus “contemporary,” but this is not the argument at all.  The argument is:  what does Christ command in Scripture in regard to the worship service?  God works through the means of what He has already given to us in Scripture, yet we so often want to add to or subtract from that which He has already given — those things He has given to us which are beneficial and necessary for our souls.   Through His means we are able to enjoy the simplicity of our union in Christ, a true joy to the heart of a believer.

So what does the Reformed worship service mean to me today?  Freedom.  Peace.  Rest.  Gratitude.  I am at peace because I know that I am doing what is right in God’s eyes, not my own.  Because God is honored in worship of His own design, I am the beneficiary, both of such a great salvation and the constant presence of His sanctifying hand which continues to direct, using our worship service as a means of His precious and merciful grace.

The important thing to see in all of this is that worship is the divine drama.  In it, the drama of redemption that unfolds in biblical history now unfolds as a play within a play before us in a particular place and our own time.  In it, we join Abraham and Sarah at the table with their greater Son through whom all the nations of the earth are blessed.  With circumcised hearts, we join the cloud of witnesses who longed for Jesus’ coming and the sending of His Spirit.  Not just once, but week after week, year after year, decade after decade, we are being reshaped by this counter-drama, as the plot of ‘this passing evil age’ yields to ‘the age to come.”
(Dr. Michael Horton – “A Better Way)

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No One Said It Would Be Easy

2013-09-11 7895a This post has been a long time in coming. Last weekend, I spoke with a sweet friend who has traversed a separate but similar journey which, for both of us, eventually found treasured peace and rest within the Reformed world of Christian theology.  Our discussion revealed that we have shared more than a similar pilgrimage towards a sound faith in Christ.  It disclosed that both of us have experienced unexpected side effects as we have journeyed.

Though not obvious at first, both of us have noticed that there appears to be a discernible lack of comprehension of the historic Reformed view of the Christian faith in our former evangelical circles.  Indeed, a few of our Christian friends have muttered the word Reformed in front of us as if it were a dirty word, usually as a result of their unsuccessful attempts to dissuade us away from Reformed theology.

Some of our friends suppose that we have been sucked up into the clutches of some unknown cult; some have suggested that we might be attending a church which is aberrant in nature.  Ignorance about the Reformed faith appears to be rampant in our former church circles — and both of us remain befuddled as to the reasons for this conundrum.

We finally came to the conclusion that very few of our friends have studied church history well, nor have they studied the historic doctrines of the faith from sources which accurately reflect our theological point of view.  Far from being aberrant,Reformed sources would disclose that our faith has maintained a legacy of Protestant orthodoxy throughout centuries of confused thought. Our friends might also discover they would agree with much that they would read in our sources.

Together, my friend and I recognized that, in a world which embraces watered down doctrine and the lack of biblical scholarship as the norm, we should be thankful that God has placed us in a Reformed church — a church which has been faithful over centuries to protect the doctrines of the faith from error.  Together, we pondered why our Christian friends within evangelicalism had developed such uninformed opinions about Reformed theology, and together, we questioned why so many bristle in our presence when we declare with such confidence the peace we have found within the Reformed faith.

We resolved, after a lengthy discussion, that some of our evangelical friends were confusing the Reformed world with a more Calvinistic, Baptistic approach to Scripture, which is not representative of the historic Reformed faith to which we belong. Just like any other branch of Christianity, there are some within the Reformed world who have not represented our faith well.  Thankfully, these are a small minority, not the majority, and thankfully, we have wonderful theologians within our midst, such as Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. Carl Trueman and Dr. Robert Godfrey, as well as seminaries like Westminster Seminary in California, which provide accessible resources accurately reflecting the tenets of Reformed theology.

In addition, many people who engage with us on this topic have heard various opinionated comments from believers within their own circles which are simply inaccurate.  They have chosen to believe these wrongful opinions rather than to investigate the truths represented in the Reformed faith from solid Reformed sources.

A third misconception observed is a wrongful conclusion on their part that we take pride in calling ourselves Calvinists.  Though we agree with John Calvin in regard to theology, we do not worship John Calvin, nor is the personage of John Calvin at the heart of Reformed theology.  We worship God, alone.  We are Christians.

Frequently, the first item of discussion with our evangelical friends reveals a reactionary distaste for the doctrine of unconditional election.  They feel that this historical doctrine of the faith simply cannot be biblical.  A close second, used frequently as a battering ram against Reformed theology, is the concept of free will.  (We DO believe in free will, btw!)  Infant baptism is another doctrine which is frequently misunderstood, because it is essential to understand this topic through the lens of Covenant Theology.

False accusations begin to fly from their muddied misunderstanding of the Reformed view of these doctrines, hindering any opportunity to share the heart of Reformed theology, which is the interpretative lens of Covenant Theology.  In that former world, Dispensationalism reigns with an iron fist and is so easily accepted without any real understanding what it really entails.  Space does not allow me to get into the specific differences between these two lenses right now, but I can say that the puzzle pieces which never fit together well through the lens of  Dispensationalism have assembled neatly together using the coherent lens of Covenant Theology.

Yet, I have discovered that many of my evangelical friends do not even know that Covenant Theology exists nor do they understand that it is an orthodox, methodical interpretation lens of Scripture which has been used throughout the life of the church.  Sadly, I, personally, never heard the term Covenant Theology even mentioned while we attended contemporary evangelical churches in the past.

2013-09-11 7889aThere is more we have discovered. Both of us have watched with consternation as some of our friends have chosen to first verbally condemn us for becoming Reformed, and in some cases, then chosen to walk away from the friendship they once appeared to treasure.  Others may not have walked away, but choose rather to assert ongoing pressure on us to return to the church of their own comfort zone  (most likely the current, culturally-relevant version of evangelicalism they choose to attend.)

Some are emboldened enough to mumble a hushed reminder that our souls and “our chance” at eternity are at risk. If only they understood that chance does not come into play at all, not even in regard to our salvation.  Rather, God, from before eternity, claimed us as His own beloved.  He, alone, knew we would never desire to love Him enough to “choose” Him without intervening on our behalf.

Both of us have received sincerely-written letters filled with detailed scripture (obviously taken out of context), with the intention of exposing errors perceived to exist within the Reformed Church.  Some have never taken the time to write a letter, but a heavy sigh or two combined with a negative shake of the head has often been observed by our bewildered eyes.  How easily the pride of man is provoked!

As we discussed various ways to handle these situations, we came full-circle back to one of the core tenets of our faith.  God alone is sovereign. God alone, through Christ alone, is the author and perfecter of our justification, sanctification and glorification.  We both agreed that we should humbly attempt to give an answer for the hope that is within us when questioned.  However, we also realized that when someone chooses to go beyond the simple questioning of our beliefs, choosing rather to turn it into a crucifixion of our faith rather than a discussion of its merit, we can walk away with a clean conscience, knowing that the same God who guides each of our steps is quite capable of guiding the steps of others.  What tremendous peace the Father has given to us — even in these difficult kinds of situations!

Personally, I perceive that many Christians sputter and stammer at the Reformed faith because it is anti-cultural in nature.  Today’s contemporary evangelical church has fallen prey to cultural-relevancy, post-modernism and moralistic, therapeutic deism, yet the historicity of the faith, appropriate worship, along with the centrality of Christ in all things, remains almost undetected within its circle. The catechizing of church members to understand these amazing doctrines of the church is rare in most evangelical churches to which we formerly belonged.

2013-09-11 7890aI have made another observation regarding the culture of the evangelical church.  I have seen an undercurrent of desire within evangelicalism to get caught up in fashionable trends. One simply must have that latest, greatest, market-driven entity that arrives in the church — perhaps a new release, must-have book that has arrived by storm on the shelves of the local Christian bookstore.  Many of my Christian female friends simply cannot wait for the next Beth Moore Book Study to take place, yet I wonder how many of them really know what Beth Moore believes in regard to sound doctrine?  I wonder if they know what scriptural lens of interpretation is being used by Moore?  In a cyclical fashion, the newest hit song on Christian radio arrives and churches are quick to see how they can implement that latest, culturally-relative song into their worship service, whether it is appropriate for worship or not.  Our men are no better off.  There appears to be no end to the stream of “manly books” hitting the Christian market with purpose-driven intention. How soon until these worldly entities become idols within the church?  I would venture to say that many of them are already idols within the church at large.

I am grateful that the constancy and simplicity of the true faith given to all generations is devoid of such hype.  I am grateful for the knowledge that God’s providence in all things is constantly and fluidly at work.  Perhaps this is what drew me to the Reformed faith in the first place, but in reality, I know it was the working of God in my own life.  The discovery of sound doctrine and a committed covenant body of Christ has kept me there, also the working of God in my life.

Thankfully, Reformed theology does not throw away history books, nor does it shun the historical Creeds and Confessions in favor of the rampant cultural relativity found circulating through modern Christian circles.  I am thrilled to attend a church which recognizes the historicity of the Christian faith; one which places the gospel message at the center and core of worship, something I found persistently absent during my days spent in contemporary evangelicalism.  Life-lesson sermons —works-based, man-devised theologies — social-justice causes replacing the gospel message — “me”-isms.  All of these and more were the focus of “worship” in that other world.

Dr. Michael Horton has said this about the contemporary church at large: “It’s easy to trivialize the gospel, turning it into a slogan. Then we take it for granted, as something we needed to hear to “get saved,” but now we can “move on” to more ostensibly important topics like how to save our marriages and families or engage in the culture wars. Before long, the result is what sociologist Christian Smith calls moralistic therapeutic deism. There is a thinning out of the Christian message. We exhibit this tendency in many ways, but we have to realize that Pelagianism—“self-help salvation”—is the default setting of our fallen hearts. We live in a narcissistic culture, and it’s easy to turn God into a supporting actor in our life movie rather than be swept into His story of redemption.”

These words accurately describe what both of us found to be established in the contemporary evangelical world.  Rather, in the Reformed world, we have found richly preserved, historical doctrines — sound biblical teaching — the Law and gospel present each and every Sunday — the Sacraments rightly administered — church discipline properly administered — the understanding that we are a covenant body of Christ’s beloved disciples — the assurance that Christ alone, has secured our future home in glory — that our salvation was nothing we could have ever done was on our own, but was the gift of a loving and merciful Savior for His beloved.  The resplendence of this kind of teaching gives real peace at the end of a very, very long and tedious journey.  There is real hope for an eternity with God rather than a constant nagging to be culturally appropriate here on earth.

For those who are reading this post and are curious about some prevalent misconceptions of the Reformed faith, I have particularly enjoyed this short essay by Dr. Horton called, “Five Myths about Reformed Theology.”  Perhaps it will help those who might have misconceptions about the Reformed faith.  However, it only touches on a few of the issues frequently misunderstood by evangelicals.

Suffice it to say that our world is broken. In such a broken world, both of us remain grateful to be a part of a covenant community which has been brought together by God for the purpose of God-centered worship.  His ways, not our own.  As such, we also have the love and support of others within our own community of believers to help in such times of trials and persecution.  Together, we can encourage each other to live peaceably with all men, knowing that God, in His marvelous providence, has all things under His command.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11, ESV)

Note:  For those who have not been exposed to Covenant Theology and desire to learn more, here are a few resources with which to start:

  1. Encountering Christ in the Covenants: An Introduction to Covenant Theology.    This is a great introduction to Covenant Theology written by a URNCA pastor written in a pastoral style so that all may understand.
  2. Sacred Bond:  Covenant Theology Explored    Another introduction to Covenant Theology written by another URCNA pastor.
  3. Introducing Covenant Theology    Written by Dr. Michael Horton, this book is a bit more than an introduction, but is more than accessible to the average reader.  Dr. Horton also has a four-book series on Covenant Theology that goes very, very deep.    People and Place,   Lord and Servant:  A Covenant Christology,   Covenant and Eschatology:  The Divine Drama,   and  Covenant and Salvation:  Union With Christ.  I warn you, these four books are not for the faint of heart, but if you want details, you shall find details in these four books.

Dr. Sproul has a free series online which goes over the basics of the Reformed faith called:   Introduction to the Reformed Faith. I have particularly enjoyed his Conference audio from the Chosen by God Conference.  It goes over many topics which trouble our friends initially:  predestination, free will, election, etc.  Bear with him during the delivery of these audios — he was having a bit of physical discomfort during the cruise.

Some other articles of interest on this topic: 

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites

I found a wonderful recipe created by Megan over at Health-Bent.com.  Because I am not a fan of Let’s Do Organic Creamed Coconut, I decided to modify her great recipe using Artisana Coconut Butter, a product I highly recommend. I also reduced the sugar content in her recipe a wee bit.  Here’s what I came up with:

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites

  • 1 3/4 cup Artisana Coconut Butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • a tap/sprinkle or two or three of powdered stevia (to taste)
  • 3 teaspoons real vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (or to taste)

Mix coconut butter, coconut sugar and stevia in bowl using hand mixer on high speed. Add vanilla and continue to beat for several minutes until the mixture smooths out.  Add chocolate chips and continue to beat. Be sure not to skimp on the real vanilla.  The flavor is wonderful.

Press mixture into a small glass pan, anywhere from a 5 x 8 to an 8 x 8.  It all depends on how thick you would like your “bites.”  I use a rectangular Pyrex dish.

Place mixture in the refrigerator and allow to harden. Remove and cut into small, square bites.  I remove all of the bites and put them in a baggie after I cut them so that whenever I need to satisfy my sweet tooth, I can easily grab one.  I cut them into very small pieces, as well, so as not to over-indulge that sweet tooth.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it is easy and supplies all of the wonderful nutrients offered by Coconut Butter.  It is also grain-free which means it is lower in carbohydrates than most treat.

This is my new go-to quick snack.  A huge thank-you to Megan for creating a simply marvelous recipe.

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Unusual Kindness

2013-04-30 7247aWe just finished up a series on the book of Acts at church. Our pastor, a called and gifted exhorter of the gospel, thoroughly explained and connected all of the historical and theological dots within the pages of Acts.  This is no little thing to someone like me, who in the past  attended other more contemporary churches where rabbit trails were more often created rather than accurately disclosing one continuous story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation.

One particular story in Acts 28 stood out to me during the series.  In this chapter we read about Paul’s shipwreck experience on the island of Malta. God, in His mercy, safely delivered the ship to the island and remarkably, not one person was lost.  Earlier in Acts 27, Paul had told the centurion in charge that he feared for the lives on board, but as the terror on the sea grew, an angel of God appeared to Paul and revealed that he, along with the others on the ship, would be delivered safely onto the  shore — and God is faithful.

After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.  (vs. 1-2)

It is the story which follows the shipwreck that has caught my heart.  It is evident that the locals on Malta were uncertain about Paul, especially after of the snake bite event described in the same chapter.  However, this disconcerting and troublesome omen did not stop the leader of the island from personally providing hospitality to all of the weary travelers for the following three days, many of whom were criminals.  Three months later, when the group was able to secure a ship to sail from Malta to the mainland, the local people honored the weary travelers and generously gave them all that they would need to further their journey.

As I read this story, it struck me that the people of Malta did not know any of the men who had been stranded upon their shore.  I truly doubt that the soldiers on the ship could have hidden the fact that there were some unsavory characters on board their stranded vessel. The people of Malta had real, honest concerns based on what they had observed, but the text tells us that they chose to show the foreigners unusual kindness throughout their stay.

Earlier in Acts 27, we see another act of unusual kindness, this time executed by a centurion on board the ship. The soldiers had decided to kill the criminals when the ship lodged on the reef, but this one particular centurion wished to save Paul.  He didn’t just wish — he acted.  He acted with unusual kindness, more than likely risking his own neck in order to save the lives of everyone on board.

This chronicle made me wonder how often we choose to show unusual kindness in our own lives — not just plain ole’, regular kindness, but unusual kindness.  It’s easy to be kind in easy situations.  It’s easy to be kind on occasions of our own choosing.  It’s really easy to be kind to the people we love.  But what about the kind of kindness which requires us to step out of our comfort zone?  What about the kind of kindness which requires us to face people with which we have disagreements?  Further, how hard would it be to show unusual kindness to others knowing that our reward would not result in our own personal affirmation?  We are such a needy generation.

What about people we do not know?  People of other cultures and races — new visitors at church or in our neighborhoods — the cashier at the grocery store who is in a grumpy mood — the person of a different theological persuasion or political party –  that person we already know we have a hard time getting along with?  How easy would it be for us to show unusual kindness to any and all of these people — even when it might be physically and mentally uncomfortable?

The phrase unusual kindness requires definition but I’m not sure I can give a complete and thorough definition for such a huge topic.  Unusual kindness can be applied in so many different situations and scenarios.

While most people expect a kindness to be shown in tangible ways, but I think unusual kindness goes beyond what our hands can do, although sometimes our hands are exactly what is needed in any given situation.  More simply stated, unusual kindness is not usual kindness.  It goes out of its way for the right reasons.  It is often unexpected and equally as often ignored, sometimes on purpose.  Unusual kindness often requires courage, especially in situations that might be counter-cultural in nature.

For instance:  Is it a kindness to agree with someone you actually disagree with, just for appearances’ sake?  Is it a kindness when we ignore saying hard, truthful or beneficial things when it is a good possibility that our intent will be misunderstood or unappreciated?  Is it a kindness to share our possessions, our love and our time and yet refuse to bring up the name of Jesus so as not to offend or inconvenience a friendship?  Is it a kindness to turn a deaf ear when a spoken response, no matter how uncomfortable, would be the most kind response of all?  Is it a kindness, by the lack of a sound and reasoned response, to let false ideologies infiltrate the hearts of those who might have been misled by culture, cult or simple ignorance?

Unusual kindness sometimes means stepping into the unknown and sometimes requires that we wade in the muck and mire of personal discomfort for the benefit of others. It also means careful thought must be taken before words are spoken or actions are delivered.  I personally still have an immense room for improvement in this area and constantly try to keep the old adage to ‘chew your words before you spit them out’ in the forefront of my mind.

Some might regard that kindness is more easily shown by not speaking at all when disagreements occur, but I do not concur with that opinion.  Honest conversation, in my opinion, can be a huge kindness in a generation filled to the brim with political correctness, self-centered lives, confused ideologies and rampant commercialism.

For the Christian, understanding how to implement acts of unusual kindness starts with understanding the author of unusual kindness — the One who first was kind and merciful towards us. We have not been left uninformed and on our own.  God gave us His Word.  There are a plethora of examples within the pages of the Bible, such as the wisdom passages, which can teach us well how to be emissaries of unusual kindness.

There is no better place than Ephesians to speak of the immensity of God’s kindness towards the believer.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Ephesians 2:4-9)

When we reflect on the immensity of the gift of Jesus Christ to a sinful, fallen world, it is very difficult not to develop a mindset of gratitude.  If God is faithful in the big things, such as our very own salvation, then surely He also tenderly cares for the hearts of His beloved in even the smallest of concerns.

CharlesAA recent example in my own life:  my once-in-a-lifetime dog, Charlie, passed away this week from liver cancer.  His abrupt death was more than grievous to my heart and I wondered how long it would take for me to stop mourning his untimely death.  God, in his rich mercy for this, His beloved child, sent an act of unusual kindness my way in the little wiggly body of Henry, our new Australian Shepherd puppy.  It’s not that I could ever forget Charlie — that would be impossible. He truly was a phenomenal companion.  But God sent a new little bundle of joy into my life so that my heart could heal more quickly.  That he sent Henry so quickly is beyond remarkable.  That this same God, the God who created the universe and all that is in it, could so lovingly care about the deep sadness in my heart with such a tender response is beyond the definition of unusual kindness.

2013-04-29 7168aThe gratitude I feel in my heart for little Henry cannot be fully explained — that God would love me so greatly — even in the “little” things of life. More importantly, I am in awe of the constant reminder that God has showered me with His most merciful gift of all — the gift of salvation goes which far exceeds any definition of unusual kindness.
To understand, as Romans 2 puts it, that God’s kindness is meant to lead me towards repentance is remarkable.

There’s a danger for the human person who decides to become an earthly emissary of unusual kindness, however.  Care must be taken to remember that we are also flawed, sinful human beings, able to make wrong decisions.  It follows, too, that our own flawed selves begin to think that we are owed the same kind of response in return from others.  As an example, we begin to think that God owes us the salvation He so freely has given to us just because we are a ‘good’ person; flawed, but good.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  God did not give us salvation as a reward for what we have done, but because we could do nothing to earn it.  Rather, He chose to love us well, sacrificing His very own Son for our redemption.

We should become wary of expecting others to shower unusual kindness upon us, as if we deserve it.  True acts of kindness do not expect a reward nor do they demand one.  When we begin to expect others to perform up to our own standards, forgetting the immensity of our own frailty and sin, we have made a grave error in regard to the purpose of demonstrating unusual kindness.  Rather, it is wise to cultivate an understanding that the very fallen nature of man is such that this beautiful gift often remains elusive but when revealed, is remarkable indeed.

There is a final kindness I think warrants discussion.  What kindness do we show to ourselves?  Buying new clothes, getting a massage, eating out at a fancy restaurant? While these earthly delights bring a smile to our faces, I can think of no better kindness to express towards oneself  than the cultivate the desire to sit under good, solid, orthodox, theological teaching each Lord’s Day for the purpose of growing up in our faith and for the refinement of our own hearts and minds, which is necessary to more clearly see and understand the heart of God, our Father.

We will never be perfect emissaries of unusual kindness, but as our hearts grow more towards Him and away from ourselves, the possibility is greater.  It would be well for us to remember the path of humility spoken of in Philippians 2 when we desire to demonstrate unusual kindness.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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