Where Can I Hide From God?

I love this passage from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, in which the great Reformation theologian expounds upon the sensus divinitatis — the “sense of the divine” — which exists within every human mind. Calvin argues that even those who most despise God are unable to escape the awareness of divinity which is “engraved upon men’s minds”:

If, indeed, there were some in the past, and today not a few appear, who deny that God exists, yet willy-nilly they from time to time feel an inkling of what they desire not to believe. One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus — albeit unwillingly — he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf.

Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams. The imious themselves therefore exemplify the fact that some conception of God is ever alive in all men’s minds.

The Discourse of a Gentleman

Here’s what Cardinal John Henry Newman had to say about the conduct of a gentleman in the mid 19th Century:

The gentleman has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome… He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a longsighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice… If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds, who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than they find it. He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clear-headed to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive. Nowhere shall we find greater candour, consideration, indulgence: he throws himself into the minds of his opponents, he accounts for their mistakes. He knows the weakness of human reason as well as its strength, its province and its limits.

This is from Cardinal Newman’s collection of lectures entitled The Idea of A University, published in 1858 and quoted in Mark Coppenger’s recent book Moral Apologetics for Contemporary ChristiansA century and a half later, I find his thoughts to be both edifying and convicting. I certainly fall far short of this standard, but it is a standard worthy of aspiration!

Put Your Hard Hat On

Many thanks to my wife who pointed out this helpful snippet from her daily devotional (in the June issue of Tabletalk Magazine):

God is building us into His holy temple, but that does not mean we lack a role in the construction process. Unlike regeneration, sanctification is a cooperative work between the Holy Spirit and us (Phil. 2:12-13). Because of His work, we strive unto holiness in this life, and our efforts to mortify sin evidence that we are indwelt by the Spirit and truly belong to Jesus. We prove our election as we seek to live as holy people in this world.

The Genesis of Pop

Today I want to share with you a short passage from T. David Gordon’s new book, “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal”. Gordon, a media ecologist, is not re-hashing the tired “worship war” debates between traditional hymns and praise choruses, but is rather making a case for more serious reflection on why and how we choose the songs that we use in our corporate worship services.

In the chapter dealing with meta-messages (“nonverbal messages that go along with our actual words”), Gordon makes a convincing argument that when churches borrow the musical idioms of pop culture for our hymns and praise choruses, we communicate a nonverbal message that the content of our worship songs is insignificant. Of particular interest to me was the following section (found on pages 66-68) on the origin and purpose of pop music (all italics and parentheses are his):

Commercial interests joined forces with mass media (originally radio, but later television also) to create pop music; it did not exist before. Pop music is a form of music designed to appeal, in some way, to the masses. If there were no mass media, pop music would not and could not really exist. Once it exists, however, it serves commercial purposes. Businesses purchase airtime to advertise their products, and they want to sell many products. Therefore, the fee structure for commercial advertisement is based on the size of the audience; stations with large audiences can command higher prices than those with small audiences. But no one tunes in to a radio or television station for the commercials; we tune in for the programming.

So there’s this very basic tension in all commercial broadcasting. The broadcasters and their advertisers are interested in the commercials; the audience is interested in the programming. As long as both parties are content to put up with the interests of the others, everyone is happy. But because the advertisers want a large audience, the producers of the programs must make them easily accessible to the population at large. They cannot produce programming that is profoundly offensive, and they cannot produce programming that is difficult to follow, programming that requires a steep learning curve. So what do they produce? Programming that is fairly insignificant. In the case of music, they produce music that does not require concentrated effort to appreciate, preferring instead music that is fairly simply and straightforward. In short, they produce music that is fairly insignificant, trivial, or banal. It cannot, ordinarily, last an hour (as a symphony with four movements might), and it cannot be musically demanding. For commercial reasons, therefore, pop culture and pop music cannot be either beautiful or ugly; pop music must be easy, and therefore it must be fairly inconsequential. Demanding pieces of music, such as the string quartets of Béla Bartók, would be commercial disasters.

But now, is worship inconsequential, trivial, or insignificant? Is meeting with God a casual, inconsequential activity, or a significant one? Is religious faith itself insignificant? If the music or lyrics of our hymns are insignificant or inconsequential, do they not send the wrong meta-message? Does not their very commonness, their mundaneness, their everydayness, their inconsequentiality suggest precisely the wrong thing? The lyrics of a hymn might say, “Holy, holy, holy,” but the music might say, “Ho-hum, ho-hum, ho-hum.” In such a case, the meta-message competes with and contradicts the message. Neil Postman rightly said*: “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.” So what is at stake is the kind of religion presented in music that is easy, trivial, light, inconsequential, mundane, or everyday. The very existence of the expression sacred music once conveyed the notion that some music was different from other music, intentionally different, differently precisely because it was devoted to a sacred (not a common) cause.

* The Neil Postman quote is from his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business”, page 121.

Beautiful as a Pig’s Snout

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” ~ Proverbs 11:22

Another August has brought another heat wave. Invariably, it will also bring out the very latest in ladies’ revealing fashion trends. I remember well the difficulty I had as a college student keeping my eyes from straying when all the pretty girls would lay out tanning on campus. In just a few short weeks, many other Christian guys will be faced with the same temptations when TTU gets back in session. Even now, the young men from our youth group are undoubtedly dealing with similar struggles at the high schools.

So how do guys resist our lust? First of all, it really helps when our Christian sisters choose to dress modestly. It’s bad enough that we are tempted by girls who don’t know any better. We don’t need those who should be our biggest supporters tempting us, too! When we see our sisters resisting society’s pressure to wear what the world wears, it gives us encouragement and strength to resist our sinful desires as well.

Still, the fact remains that every guy is going to be faced with temptation. Even if every Christian girl on campus dressed appropriately, there would still be plenty of skin to look at. No matter how strong our desire to resist may be, our flesh is so weak. Every guy is tempted. Every guy sins. If anyone says he has no sin, he is lying (1 John 1:8).

What we need are weapons to fight temptation. And we DO have those weapons, provided by God himself. God is faithful, and he will not let us be tempted beyond our ability to resist. Though he allows our temptation, he also provides the way of escape, so that we are able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

And what is the greatest weapon we have against evil desires? Proper desires. When Satan tempts us with the desires of the world, we must find our refuge in the desires of Holy God. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” ~ Romans 12:21

It is by God’s Word, spoken to our hearts by his Spirit, that we discern his desires. When faced with the temptation of what the world recognizes as beautiful, we must hold to a still higher standard of beauty. To God’s eyes, it is not a woman’s clothing or appearance which makes her beautiful, but that which is hidden in her heart. The imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is very precious in God’s sight! (1 Peter 3:3-4)

The more time we spend in God’s Word, and speaking with him in prayer, the more our minds will be transformed, and our wills conformed to his, as we put on the new self which is created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24). Rather than simply having to “turn off” our sinful desires, we find that our desires themselves have changed! And as we begin to desire what God desires, we find that the things we desire in women are not what they once were.

Brothers, it’s time to stop chasing after the fleeting beauty which the world craves, and to value in our sisters (and especially in our wives, for those of us who have them) the things which God desires.

Sisters, make it your ambition to be a woman who is beautiful in God’s eyes. Then, the men you will attract will be the men who share the Lord’s desires. They’re the real keepers.

Laurie, YOU are my standard of beauty!

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” ~ Proverbs 31:30

Conditional Wisdom

I often encounter people who do not share my love of reading. Usually, when I ask these people why they don’t read serious books — not to mention the Bible — their response is something along the lines of, “I don’t enjoy reading or studying”.

I can empathize. Though I’ve always been a big reader, I spent most of my life consuming frivolous novels… the intellectual equivalent of Twilight and Harry Potter today. (Note: I don’t necessarily have a problem with this genre of fiction or light reading; it just can’t be someone’s main diet. It’s like a candy bar. An okay indulgence every so often, but there’s no real value to it!) It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I finally had a Godly man challenge me to get serious about reading the Word, and reading books by trustworthy authors and Bible teachers. He bought me a Bible (he rightly accused me of reading only the commentary in my Study Bible, as opposed to reading the Word itself, and so bought me a “plain” Bible with no commentary) and began meeting with me regularly to discuss the reading he’d assigned. He also gave me a list of good authors, along with several specific book recommendations.

It wasn’t long before I began to truly LOVE spending time in God’s Word. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I eagerly began reading everything I could get my hands on by the authors he recommended, gleaning every insight that I could to improve my understanding. I looked forward to our times meeting together when he would answer the questions I had about what I’d been reading, usually by directing me to other Scripture that addressed the same issue. After all, he taught me, Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture!

All this is to say that my life is a living testimony to something I was reading in the Word today. Proverbs chapter 2 is an appeal for the value of seeking wisdom. The entire appeal is structured as a conditional statement. If this, then this. Verses 9 & 10 read: “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Notice that this is the second part of the conditional statement. The “then” part. So what’s the “If”? Go back to the beginning of the chapter: “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then…

I think too often, people want to wait until they desire to study the Word or to read books before they actually do it. But Solomon’s inspired wisdom tells us that knowledge becoming pleasant to our soul is conditional upon our first seeking wisdom.

I can absolutely testify that when I began reading serious theological literature, and began studying the Bible daily, I really didn’t want to. It was kind of boring, but I was being held accountable by someone who took it upon himself to disciple me. Sure enough, just as he told me, and just as Solomon told his son, it wasn’t long before Godly wisdom became a treasure to me more valuable than silver, gold, or jewels (Proverbs 3:13-15). Knowledge became truly pleasing to my soul.

So if you count yourself among those who thinks Bible study and reading holds no interest for you, or that you have more important things to do with your time, I really encourage you to take God up on this challenge. Begin reading faithfully, and see if you don’t begin to love it more than almost anything else. You won’t be able to do it alone. Find someone to hold you accountable and to help you understand what you’ve read. I’d be happy to fill this role for you the way someone filled it for me nine years ago. It’s never too late to start. I promise you won’t regret it!

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” ~ Proverbs 4:7

Get Wisdom

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”

Variations on this statement appear three times in Scripture: Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10. Repetition is important in the Bible, so if God tells us something three times, we’d better pay attention! Wisdom is a big deal to God, and the imparting of wisdom — particularly to our children — is a priority for our Lord. Education should be a priority for all of us.

When Solomon was offered anything he asked in 2 Chronicles 1:7, he responded by asking God for wisdom and knowledge. God replied, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.”

The Lord blessed King Solomon, because of his good request, with both wisdom and possessions greater than anyone else who ever lived. Yet Solomon said, even in his riches, “How much better to get wisdom than gold!” (Proverbs 16:16)

Jesus himself was known for his wisdom, even by those who did not listen to what he had to say. When speaking at the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, the people said, “Where did this man get this wisdom?” (Matthew 13:54) Of course, three verses later we learn that “they took offense at him”. We should not be surprised when Godly wisdom is an offense to those who believe themselves learned.

As a new dad, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the responsibility that I have to train Nate up in the way that he should go, so that when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). Paul wrote, “Fathers… bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Matthew 18:6 warns of the consequences of leading children astray. This is why Noah Webster wrote in his 1828 Dictionary’s definition of the word education: “an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.”

So it was with regret (though not surprise) that I read this discouraging article about the direction our nation’s Department of Education is taking. Alarmingly, the DOE is moving to adopt “internationally benchmarked education standards”. The only such standards currently in existence are those developed by UNESCO, the education arm of the UN. These standards include the Earth Charter (* see note below), which, in addition to the promotion of a global community and government, promotes in its education goals the ideas of legalized abortion, disarmament, radical environmentalism, international wealth redistribution… the list goes on and on.

Suffice it to say that the last place these people are looking for wisdom is “the fear of the Lord”. What a far cry we are from the beginnings of this nation, when the text by which all children were taught was the New England Primer. Now, the very people who would tell our teachers how and what they must teach count the “fear of the Lord” as foolishness… but then again, who’s really the fool here?

As easy as it would be to point fingers at those in elected or appointed office, though, I must remember that my Biblical mandate as a parent to be my child’s primary teacher is not affected by the circumstances dictating school curricula. Moreover, the descent into our current set of circumstances began long before anyone in the current administration was even born. The shift of educational responsibility to the state, the church, tutors, nannies, daycares — anyone but the parents — began long ago. How easy it is to forget that in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, WE THE PEOPLE are responsible  for whatever our representative government deems appropriate. If we Christians don’t like it, then we have a responsibility to create a culture that will produce representation that reflects our values. This can happen only through the unapologetic, unashamed, and unrelenting communication of the Truth of Christ through love to our communities.

Sadly, most who claim to be Christians are either unable or unwilling to see the true source of the problem, or to take ownership of the responsibilities laid out for us in the Word of God. This lack of responsibility is manifested in potshots being taken at symptoms, such as increasingly liberal agendas being taught in our schools, rather than attacking the root cause: A love of this world and a hatred of its Creator. Why is this? Is it because, though we say we want our children taught the things of God, we would rather have others do it because it would be more convenient than doing it ourselves? Sorry, folks, but it doesn’t work that way. As the adage goes, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

This is not at all to say that parents can only be the primary teachers of their children if they homeschool. I was educated in public school, and am very grateful for what I feel was a very good education. Still, I learned the most important lessons of all at home. I learned that Jesus was God, that He loved me, and that sometimes the things I was taught at school were not true, because lots of people didn’t love Jesus, and didn’t want to teach what he taught. Thanks, Dad and Mom, for giving me a solid foundation.

So, come what may, my prayer is that when Nate grows up he will look back and be able to say that I was the kind of father that wise King Solomon exhorts me to be. These are the lessons I hope he will remember:

Hear, O son, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.

When I was a son with my father
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget,
and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
The beginning of wisdom is this:
Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”

Hear, my son, and accept my words.
I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go.
Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of the evil.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
The path of righteousness is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness,
they do not know over what they stumble.

My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ears to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward
and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.

~Excerpted from Proverbs 4

* For further reading on the Earth Charter and the Ark of Hope in which it resides and is transported (mocking the Ark of the Covenant in which the Ten Commandments were placed), I strongly encourage you to read articles from the Modern History Project (secular viewpoint) and Contender Ministries (Christian viewpoint). This is serious business…