Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Small Hinges of Life

Romans 8:28 is a favorite verse of many Christians and with good reasons. It reads:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

While this is a verse filled with infinite hope for every believer (only those who love God and are called according to his purpose can claim this promise), the questions often should be asked if we really believe this. How do we react when the small things, or big things, of life often jump up and interrupt our intended purposes and desires. Do we become angry and irritated or do we respond with faith based on the promise of this verse. Stuart Olyott has some great comments concerning this verse.

But why did he call? It is because he purposed to; all the reasons lie with him and none of them with me. And the same purpose is working itself out in every event. every circumstance, every joy, every setback and every detail of our lives. Big doors swing on small hinges, and even those small hinges are put in place by God's invisible hand. Everything is included - red traffic lights, unwelcome delays, bitter disappointments, family quarrels, terminal illnesses, unspeakable joys, and golden moments. Nothing is left out. I think that Romans 8:28 is one of the most comforting verses in the whole Bible. I don't know where I would be, or where you would be, if somebody took it out.

Indeed, every event down to a single atom is controlled by God according to His purposes. And for believers he promises that every event is for our good. Do we believe this? The next time things don't or perhaps they do work our the way you desire, remember that our Sovereign God still rules and reigns and He is purposing this event for our absolute best.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Real Education

The more I read of the life and work of J. Gresham Machen, the more I find a kindred spirit in his thoughts and life. Not only was Machen a first class theologian and teacher, he also expressed concern for the future of general education in America. He appeared before the House and Senate in 1926 to voice his concern against the proposal to form the Department of Education. Up until then, there had only been a bureau of education. Why did Machen oppose this proposal? Looking back we can see he is almost prophetic in his reasons. The source of this information is from Stephen Nichols book about the life of Machen.

  1. As a libertarian, Machen opposed this formation on principle. He preferred individual liberty and state's rights over centralized federal control of the education system. He wanted the states to have control over public education and for private and parochial schools to operate unencumbered by federal regulations.

  2. He felt that this move would standardize education. While some may see this as good, Machen sums it up by likening this standardization to Henry Ford's car company in that students (and teachers) are not cars - they are individuals with idiosyncrasies.

  3. He also felt that this move would lead to bureaucracy with slow grinding wheels.

But even more than these, I appreciate his concern for what this change would do and has done to the very nature and process of education. He felt that this change would move education into a more pragmatic nature with a focus strictly on the preparation of one for their life's work. This put Machen in agreement with a W. E. B DuBois who wrote at the turn of the 20th century that "education is not simply job or even life training; it has to do with cultivating one's character and with gaining an exposure to and appreciation of the grand heritage, in the case of Americans, of Western culture."

Machen wrote, "to tell the student that there is no royal road to learning, that short-cuts lead to disaster, and that underneath all true research lies a broad foundation of general culture." Machen stresses content, while the establishment wanted to stress methods. Do we not see the fruits against which Machen argued against today? We tell our children to seek education solely for the reason of job/life training - so that they can make a lot of money or have prestige. I have seen my share of students in my lifetime, even those who I attended seminary classes with, whose sole goal was to simply get through the class doing the least amount of work possible so that they could move on to the "work of the ministry". They did not want to dig into the content of the course and see the glory of God in the subject matter. Education for them was simply a stepping stone to jump over quickly and hopefully without too much work or effort. This attitude is the results of our educational system. We should teach our children to be self and lifelong learners. Let us not grow lazy in our learning. Every day offers us more opportunities. One's time is never wasted in spending time with those teachers, past and present, who would give us more knowledge and understanding of this world that God has gifted to us.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Groans of the Spirit

In Romans 8:26-27, we read the following from Paul,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Now listen to words of Stuart Olyott concerning these two verses:

For years I have been mystified by all those hymns that start with 'O'. These are seventy-six of them in the latest edition of Christian Hymns. Why do some many hymns begin with 'O', as well as so many individual verses and choruses? It is because there is something going on inside us which cannot be expressed. It comes to the surface as a groan. But it is not our groan, says the apostle; it is the groan of the Spirit. . . . Here we are in this world, with Spirit-given aches and groans inside us. We long for the redemption of our bodies, the resurrection, and the new heavens and earth. We long to be out of this world and away from its filth. We long to be where there is perfect purity and holiness, and therefore perfect happiness. The very fact that we have these groans inside us is God's proof to us that we will have the destination that we want. This inward Spirit-voices speech is a further guarantee that the present order will not go on forever and that, despite our present sufferings, we are on our way to glory

Do you understand what Olyott is talking about? Do you see it in these hymns of saints written by saints of the past. Does the Spirit intercede for you with these groans which are too deep for human words spoken in prayer. All true believers experience this, but perhaps they experience it more on those occasion when they have come to the end of their strength. As these verses show, it is in our weakness that the Spirit works these deep groanings within us. And as they also teach, these groanings are according to the perfect will of God. God knows what is for our absolute best and good, which is what Paul goes on to show in the following verses in Romans 8, and He sends His Spirit to intercede within us prayers that are according to His will. The next time you see a hymn which starts or includes the word 'O' think of these verses.

Friday, October 10, 2008

No Hope Without It

I enjoy reading the biographies of Christian leaders of the past. But each October, I make it a point to read a biography leading up to Reformation Day. This year I am reading about the life and work of J. Gresham Machen in Stephen Nichols book J. Gresham Machen, A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. Below is a telegram sent by Machen, on his deathbed, to John Murray. Machen died on January 1, 1937.

I am so thankful for [the] active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

What a glorious statement to make upon ones deathbed. Even at the end, Machen, a stalwart defender of orthodox faith among the liberal uprising of his day, put his hope in the truth of doctrine - the doctrine of Christ substitutionary work for him. He declared that without this truth of Christ active obedience, he had no hope. May all of us who call ourselves Christians breath our last breath with this truth upon our lips. Without Christ's work, there is no hope. When we come to this time of our lives, and yes we will come to it, may we be both thankful and hopeful. Yes, may we live well, but may we also die well. May the song on our hearts be that of the hymn "Solid Rock" by Edward Mote:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

I tend to think this was the song on Machen's heart when he sent that telegram to his friend. He knew he would soon cross the river of death. What a magnificent joy and anticipation he had realizing that the one he had walked with on this earth in spiritual communion, he would soon see face to face in all of His glory. Indeed, there is no hope without Christ.