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Archive for August, 2016

envy

Contentment… arghhh!

I keep getting this message from a variety of sources!  Perhaps you share my condition – I think the Lord would have us move this from our heads to our hearts, don’t you?  I mean, I totally assent to the doctrine of contentment, but I don’t always lay hold of it.  I think my problem lies somewhere in the enemy’s lure to cause me to despair of my Father’s goodness.

We see and are fed on discontent all around us, aren’t we?  The world “out there” wants and lusts after what is not theirs, often just because someone else has it… and the world in me does the same.  Doesn’t it, you?

Years ago when last president summarized capitalism as greed he asked, “When did greed become a virtue?” I remember Dana responding, “When did covetousness become a virtue?”  Brother and sister, this should not be so among us – we who know personally the careful rule of our abounding-in-lovingkindness God.  We must hold firm to a deep and absolute conviction of the goodness of God and the rightness of his ways in our lives – “You are good and do good” (Ps. 119:68). As my pastor has put it, God is not Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons, holding out his best to us only to snatch it away in the last minute.

The enticement of our enemy would have me despair of the goodness of God in my affairs or particular circumstances.  That if Yahweh were really a good God, I would not be experiencing thus and such or I’d have X like so and so has or I wouldn’t look or act this way, I’d look or act like her or … the list goes on and on and on, doesn’t it?

The enemy of our souls has used this accusation in a million ways since the dawn of time.  We see it used on Eve (“Did God really say…?” –Genesis 3) and on Jesus himself (“If you’re the Son of God… well, command these stones to become bread.” –Matthew 4).  He has done it in a million ways since the dawn of time.  We see it in the lives of Achan “Why doesn’t God want you to partake of some of these spoils?  You’ve been living without such things in the wilderness for far too long” (Joshua 7); to the people of Israel “Don’t you want a king with skin on like all the other nations?” (1 Samuel 8); to David “She is lovely.  You’re the king; why can’t you have her?” (2 Samuel 11); to Peter “Why must you suffer more than… say John?” (John 21); to me “What about…?” “Why can’t you have…?” “Look at what they have.”  “How come their road seems so easy and yours… well?”

Satan uses this old device over and over in the lives of God’s people.  One author has put it rightly, “He will tempt us in our areas of weakness, being watchful to understand our desires, and he will attack… His hope, and ultimate end, is to steal, kill and destroy.”  Our enemy is not omniscient, but he is a keen observer and uses our sinful desires to lure us to discontent and away from God’s best, which in the moment may look rocky and difficult. James saw this clearly, “…Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14).

I’ve been reading a book recommended to me by my daughter, entitled The Envy of Eve1.  Having read Burroughs2 on contentment, I had low expectations of discovering something new – how arrogant of me.  One truth that the author has caused me to own is the idea that when I grumble, I accuse God of not ruling well in my life.  I don’t want to do that, I’m sure you do not either; but I have to admit, that is the underlying accusation when I murmur with discontent about the road upon which God has placed me.

Another revealing truth is the one mentioned above, that the enemy of our souls would have us despair of the goodness of God in our affairs or particular circumstances.  That if He were really a good God, I would not be experiencing thus and such or I’d have X like so and so has or I wouldn’t look or act this way, I’d look or act like her or … the list goes on and on and on, doesn’t it?

Kruger offers a great guideline for our souls.  It is a short, practical list from the 19th century British theologian, E.B. Pusey – guardrails against discontentment.  They take a great deal of discipline and reliance on God to live by, but very little skill – something any child of God pleading for strength from his Father can begin immediately to exercise.  They resonate a good deal with me and give me concrete action to employ when my prone-to-wander heart is tempted to accuse God of withholding good from me.

  1. Allow thyself to complain of nothing, not even the weather.
  2. Never picture thyself to thyself under any circumstance in which thou are not.
  3. Never compare thine own lot with that of another.
  4. Never allow thyself to dwell on the wish that this or that had been, or were, otherwise than what it was or is.  God Almighty loves thee better and more wisely than thou doest thyself.
  5. Never dwell on the morrow.  Remember that it is God’s, not thine.  The heaviest part of sorrow often is to look forward to it.  “The Lord will provide.”

I know only a couple people who live this way… I desire and beg it for myself.

– – – –

1 Kruger, Melissa B. The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2012. Print.

2 Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Edinburgh: Banner Truth Trust, 1979. Print.

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Pals pic

On the afternoon of Sunday, July 31, Jamison & Kathryne Pals, along with their three children Ezra (3 years), Violet (23 months), and Calvin (2 months) were all killed in a rear-end collision. They were pronounced dead at the scene in Nebraska. They were traveling to Colorado to participate in their final training session for their long-term deployment to be global partners with Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan. (See article in Omaha World Herald.)

– – – – –

I would love for you to first meet the Pals family through the pages of Dad Jamison’s blog: For the Joy of Japan.  The most recent entry, “An Update on our Children,” dated July 26, 2016, will allow you to see each of Jamison and Kathryne’s beautiful, lively children – Ezra, Violet, and baby Calvin – ages 3 years to 2 ½ months.  Scrolling down the blog there are many, many other posts which give us a window into this young family’s life in St. Paul while they prepared to go to Japan as long-term missionaries with World Venture.  Why Japan? Jamison writes:

So, why Japan? Well, depending on who you talk to, the Japanese people are either the largest or second largest unreached people group on earth. It just seems fitting to go to the place where there are the most people without sufficient witness to the gospel and all its awesomeness. The Church in Japan is not yet large enough to share Christ and disciple new believers on its own. There is a need for more laborers … It burdens us to know that over 126 million people in Japan don’t have Who we have. We cherish Jesus Christ. We know that he is worthy of love, trust, adoration and obedience, no matter what people group you belong to or culture you identify with. We simply want to play a small part in bringing these things about for people in Japan. We want Jesus Christ for Japan.  That’s what “the joy of Japan” really means.

In perusing his blog, don’t fail to read the exquisitely beautiful “A Second Proposal.”  Here is a love story of a different kind.  It is Jamison wooing Kathryne for a second time.  However, it is not toward the altar, but toward missions.  You should read Kathryne’s journey from uncertainty to yielding in her own words, but let me share her closing paragraph: “It may just be that God’s aim is to reach the nations through weak mothers relying daily on his strength, so that in everything he might be glorified.”  The Pals work in Japan was to begin in October. 

So, when we read about this family in the pages of their blog, smile at the photos of their sweet children, and enter vicariously into their vision for Japan, it is almost beyond belief when we read their pastors’ August 1, 2016, post (above) on the Bethlehem Baptist website:  “On the afternoon of Sunday, July 31, Jamison & Kathryne Pals, along with their three children Ezra (3 years), Violet (23 months), and Calvin (2 months) were all killed in a rear-end collision.  they were pronounced dead at the scene in Nebraska.”

– – – – –

The memorial service was fittingly a mixture of lament for what has been lost by friends and family and rejoicing for what has been gained through the blood-bought redemption won for the Pals by Jesus Christ.  Former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist, Pastor John Piper, offered the prayer at the funeral.  He opened with five paragraphs of lament which began, “O Lord, God of might and mercy and mystery, you have driven the arrows of your quiver into the breast of your people, your beloved. You have filled our throat with bitterness and gall. You have made our teeth grind on gravel, and laid us down with wounds in the ashes of dreams.” 

Pastor Piper did not allow for grief with no hope, though, and went on to thank God for this family who “did not count their lives to be more valuable than obedience; who set their faces, like flint, toward Japan and the finishing of their course and the ministry they had received from the Lord Jesus.”  And lest we doubt, Pastor Piper was careful to remind us that the Pals did indeed finish their course and ministry; just like the apostle Paul wrote from Rome, “I have finished my course,” even though he never did get to Spain as he had planned. 

Bethlehem Pastor Jason Meyer gave the funeral message (you can watch video of the service here).  He began: “Don’t let the fact that this is a funeral and this is a funeral message fool you into thinking that Jamison and Kathryne and Ezra and Violet and Calvin are dead.  They are not dead.  It was the great preacher, D.L. Moody, who gave a voice to this blessed hope: 

Some day you will read in the papers, “D.L. Moody of East Northfield is dead.”  Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.

Pastor Meyer exhorted the mourners that because of Christ we dare not call tragedy what the Bible calls victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-57), nor do we call loss what the Bible calls gain (Philippians 1:21). He began, “This grace of Jesus coming and living and dying and rising again secures the victory over the only things that could truly kill us forever. Before [the Pals] could receive the blessing of his face shining upon them in grace, the sacred head of Jesus had to bear the cursed crown of thorns. He bore the wrath of God in their place — that is grace — pure, glorious grace. They saw the bright light of the glory of God in the radiant face of the resurrected Jesus and they were never the same again.”

So, while we grieve, we rise up with resurrection faith as we embrace together our blessed hope that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. And so, we celebrate the fact that the Pals family is not dead, but more alive than ever because of the grace of God that is ours in Jesus Christ.  Little Ezra loved to sing “10,000 Reasons,” and “now he is singing 10 billion reasons.”

But what of the loss to Japan?  Accounting for God’s sovereignty in life, in salvation, and in death, how can we reconcile this?  Fellow World Venture missionary, Meredith Barrett, reflects on the friendship she and her husband, Jeff, developed with the Pals during their training (the Barretts are currently beginning their assignment to the Albanian people).  She writes that the Pals had “so much hope looking toward the future and excitement about what God had in store ahead.”  But she profoundly adds:

I can’t help but be struck by the fact that God never intended them to actually go.  His plan and purpose was not for them to be in Japan but rather in the going to Japan.  The season of preparing, planning, waiting. That was what God had for them and then He called them all home.

But what of God’s plan and purposes for Japan?  After the death of the Pals family, World Venture received a call that went something like this:

My wife and I have been wondering if we should someday serve as missionaries to Japan. We heard the news of the tragic loss of the Pals family and God is making it clear to us that we should step into their place and go. I speak Japanese and I have a Bible degree. My wife and I have four children. Let’s talk and pray together.

“God is not done,” Pastor Meyer declared resoundingly,He is at work. His purposes cannot fail.”

I’ll close with Jamison’s compelling “Second Proposal.” He closed his proposition to Kathryne with these words by Samuel Rutherford:

“How soon will some few years pass away, and then when the day is ended, and this life’s lease expired, what have men of the world’s glory, but dreams and thoughts? O happy soul forevermore, who can rightly compare this life with that long-lasting life to come, and can balance the weighty glory of the one with the light golden vanity of the other.”

– – – –

Note: You may send memorial gifts to the Jamison and Kathryne Pals Family Foundation, 3570 Vicksburg Ln N, Ste 100, Plymouth, MN 55447. Gifts will be used to spread the gospel of joy through Jesus Christ to Japan and beyond. Learn more about the foundation and share thoughts and memories of Jamison, Kathryne, Ezra, Violet, and Calvin at palsfamilyfound.org.

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“The Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
“Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

(John 4)

Fields White with Harvest

If you live in the upper Midwest as we do, you can’t help but accept the coming and going of the four seasons.  This is not the same as welcoming each season (although that would be a good discipline to work on), but we look around us and must accept, like it or not, that a new season is on our door step and will be fully upon us very soon.  We may not always like that by the end of July/first of August the grains have turned golden in the summer sun and are ready for harvest.  If we have trained ourselves, we may recognize God’s grace to mankind in the season’s altering.

Our dear Pastor Scott led us through some surprisingly uncharted territory this past Sunday morning as he taught through the familiar story of the woman at the well from John 4 and challenged us to see it anew.  Thus, we entered the church service which followed with such meditations as v.23 “the Father is seeking such people” and v. 35 “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

Then, who should be filling pulpit today but one of the many home-grown missionaries our church supports, Aaron Robinson.  He and his wife were working in campus ministry in Toulouse, France, but Aaron has recently been named the Director of Cru’s France ministry, Agape France.  It was one of those Sundays when God seemingly shouts through all voices, “Don’t miss this; sit up and take notice!”

For his text, Aaron used a passage in Luke where Jesus is sending his disciples out to minister in the neighboring towns and cities.  If Pastor Scott’s discussion caused us to consider the who and when of kingdom harvesting, Aaron’s message caused us understand better the how of harvesting.

But first, Aaron began with a challenge to complacency:

“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).  We have this small thing called “our life” which will be gone before we know it; yet, what are we told will endure?  God, his Word, and the souls of men.  Aaron addressed his message to all, no matter where our fields might be – in long-term foreign missions or nearer home.  In a sort of Don’t Waste Your Life perspective, Aaron offered the following.

“Six Principles for Harvesting as Lambs Among Wolves”

Luke 10:1-12, 16

Harvesting Principle #1 – Jesus sends his disciples to where He himself is going.

v. 1 “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”

In his modern classic, Experiencing God 1, Henry Blackaby looks to such passages as Romans 3:10-11 (“… there is no who one seeks God”) and John 6:44 (“No one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who sent me draws him’) to impress on the reader that “no one is going to seek God on his own initiative.  No one will ask after spiritual matters unless God is at work in his life.”  He advises, “When you see someone seeking God or asking about spiritual matters, you are seeing God at work” (p.26).  The theme of his book is: Watch to see where God is working and join him there.

Harvesting Principle #2 – There’s a big harvest, but the laborers are few.

v. 2a  “And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

Sometimes, we mistakenly believe that the world will remain ripe until we’re ready.  But our own lives are a mist, vanishing after a little time as, too, are the lives of those of the harvest.  What’s more, there is most certainly a day appointed by the Father when history will be rolled up and after that, the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Harvesting Principle #3 – Pray!

v. 2b “Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

This God-sized mission pushes us to pray; in fact, no great work of God is done without prayer.  “When we work, we work; but when we pray, God works.”  In the process of praying, our hearts begin to change.

Harvesting Principle #4 – You may be the answer to your own prayers.

v. 3 “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

Jesus knows the battle is fierce.  Notice he does not say, “I’m sending you like bears before wolves.”  Instead he declares, “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”  This is a difficult charge, but consider that, just maybe, God would have his sheep call upon their Shepherd for their daily strength.

Harvesting Principle #5 – God will direct you and provide what you need.

vv. 4-12 “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”

What God calls you to, he equips you for.  May “our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep… equip you with everything good that you may do his will…”  (Heb. 13:20-21)

Harvesting Principle #6 – Expect mixed reactions.

v. 16 – “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

It is easy to believe that people are reacting to us personally.  It is a discipline to remind ourselves that they are reacting to God and his message.  We cannot control the response of others; we can only control our obedience to God’s call.

In closing, it is helpful as we go out into our world, our spheres of influence, that the Father is seeking people to worship him – it is his will to be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  Pastor John Piper puts it this way: Missions exist because worship doesn’t.  Wherever worship of the one true, triune God is lacking (whether it be a whole nation or people group or in your neighbor or co-worker’s home), we are called to missions.

“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see
that the fields are white for harvest.”

– – – – –

1Blackaby Henry, &. King Claude. Experiencing God. USA: Southern Baptist Convention, 1990. Print.

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Aslan-Narnia-320x480

“Is He – quite safe?

“Safe?  Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I lived many, many years as a regenerated Christian without understanding or embracing the sovereignty of God in all things.  I thought I believed that God was sovereign, but when put to the test in the arena of salvation or the evil found in the world, I delicately tried to distance God from those things.  But the Holy Spirit slowly but surely has unveiled my eyes to see his glory in his sovereignty over all things.

Recently, I feel that God is using a mix of resources to impress upon me that not only is God sovereign in all things, but that he uses his sovereignty to bring me, his child, only good.  Reading John Piper‘s Desiring God was a first exposure, but more recently, a couple Puritan authors have been preaching to me:  Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment and Thomas Watson in All Things for Good.

Both books are distinct in their content, but they overlap as they disciple me to consider that my entire life is in God’s care and all of that care is good. When we murmur, complain or covet, we essentially accuse God, as another author has put it, of “a failure to reign well over the events of our lives.”  Burroughs presses the point by identifying a murmuring, fretting spirit as an “inflammation of the heart” and claims it “a greater evil than any affliction” we incur.  To this argument, he makes much of God’s responses to the complaining Israelites of the Exodus.  Both authors affirm – all of God’s plans for me (the easy and the hard) are working for my good.

Watson bases his book on the familiar Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” He would remind us, though, that this promise is “children’s bread; it belongs only to them that love God.”  The “despisers and haters of God have no lot or part in this privilege.”

So, if the promise of Romans 8:28 is one on which the child of God can depend, what does this mean for us?  I’m glad you asked, because Thomas Watson has an answer for you.

[Caveat – the Puritans, it would seem, were much more direct and un-nuanced than we are today.  They also used certain words a bit differently than we do.  Though, I do not disagree with Watson, I might have found a more delicate way to say a few of these things.]

Ten inferences that can be made by the proposition
that all things work for the good of the saints?

 

1.  There is a providence which governs our lives. Things do not work of themselves, but God sets them working for good. “His kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103:19).  There are three parts to providence:   God’s foreknowing, God’s determining, and God’s directing all things to their periods and events.  That which is by some called chance is nothing else but the result of providence.

2.  Every child of God finds himself in a happy condition when all things work for his good, the “best and worst” things (i.e. the easy and the hard things). What a blessed condition is that of a true believer!  When he dies he goes to God, and while he lives, everything shall do him good – even affliction, which does what the Word many times will not, it “opens the ear to discipline “ (Job 36:10) and also yields the sweet fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).

3.  There is an encouragement here to become godly when all things work for our good. No man did ever come off a loser by his acquaintance with God.

4.  The condition of the “wicked” (i.e. the unregenerate) is miserable. To them, good things work for hurt until they yield their sins to the effective work of Christ on the cross.

a.  Temporal good things work for hurt to the wicked. Riches and prosperity are not benefits but snares.  Pride and luxury are the twins of prosperity which lead the wicked to forsake God.  The common mercies wicked men have are not lodestones to draw them nearer to God, but millstones to sink them deeper in hell (1 Tim. 6:9).

b.  Spiritual good things work for hurt to the wicked:

(1)   The ministers of God work for their hurt.  The same breath in the ministry that blow a godly man to heaven, blow a profane sinner to hell.  Wicked men are worse for preaching.  Sinners grow more resolved in sin; let God say what He will, they will do what they wish.  The word preached is not healing, but hardening.  And how dreadful is this for me to be sunk to hell with sermons!

(2)   Prayer works for their hurt.  “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord” (Pr. 15:8).  A wicked man is in a great strait:  if he prays not, he sins; if he prays, he sins.  His duties (of prayer) are tainted with atheism, fly-blown with hypocrisy; God abhors them.

(3)   The Lord’s Supper works for their hurt.  Profane persons feast with their sins; yet will come to feast at the Lord’s Table.  This is to provoke God.  To a sinner there is death in the cup; he “eats and drinks his own damnation” (1 Cor. 11:29).

(4)   Christ Himself works for hurt as He is a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Pet. 2:8). Instead of believing in him, they are offended by him.  Sinners stumble at a Savior and pluck death from the tree of life.  The blood of Christ, though to some it is a medicine, to others it is condemnation.

5.  The wisdom of God is revealed as He makes the worst things imaginable turn to the good of the saints. He enriches by impoverishing; He causes the augmentation of grace by the diminution of an estate.  When creature comforts go further from us, it is that Christ may come nearer to us.  He frequently makes use of unjust men to do that which is just.  He made use of the high-priest’s malice and Judas’ treason to redeem the world.  There is never a providence of God, but has either a mercy or a wonder in it.

6.  We have little cause to be discontented at outward trials and emergencies. There are no sins God’s people are more subject to than unbelief and impatience.  They are ready either to faint through unbelief or to fret through impatience.  Discontent is an ungrateful sin because we have more mercies than afflictions, and it is an irrational sin because afflictions work for good.

7.  The Scripture “God is good to Israel” (Ps. 73:1) is fulfilled for us included in the promises of Abraham (Romans 9:6-8). When we look upon adverse providences we may be ready to call in question the love of God and to say that He deals hardly with his people.  But, oh no, yet God is good to Israel because He makes all things work for good.  He works out sin and works in grace, is not this good? Let us always justify God; when our outward condition is ever so bad, let us say, “Yet God is good.”

8.  The saints have cause to be frequent in the work of thanksgiving. Why so?  Because God makes everything work for our good.  Many will thank God when He gives; Job thanked him when He took away because he knew God would work good out of it.  “The Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  To be thankful in affliction is a work peculiar to a saint – a true saint can be thankful in adversity.

9.  Think, if the worst things work for good to a believer, what shall the best things work for us, namely Christ and heaven?! We may comfort one another with these thoughts:  If the cross has so much good in it, what has the crown which we await?  If God’s blow and stroke work for good, what shall the smiles of his face do?  If temptations and sufferings have matter of joy in them, what shall glory have?  If God’s chastening mercies are so great, what will his crowing mercies be?

10.  If God makes all things to turn to our good, consider how right it is that we should make all things tend to his glory. “Do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).  Consider all that God has done for our good:  He has dignified mankind by uniting our nature with the Godhead; He has laid a plan for our salvation; Christ has died for us; He has bestowed upon us his Spirit; He has enriched us with covenant blessings; He seeks our good and makes everything work for our good.  Shall we not seek his glory?

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buried-treasure-12

I’m currently in the middle of a book that I thought would be a light little romp.  I pre-judged where I thought the author would go with the subject, and I was happy to go there with him.  Instead I have found it to be a deeply cerebral book, one in which you don’t just read while the T.V. or anything else in your life is going on.  But I have been rewarded with some really helpful ideas so far… and I’m only half-way through the book.  The first chapter on the Trinity is worth the book itself – I was completely worshiping by the end.  It built on some thoughts that have been new to me regarding the Trinity and totally expanded my thinking on it – hallelujah!

 

The book is The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney.  I had previously read his delightful and insightful book, Live Like a Narnian, so it was not a shot in the dark for me to pick up his latest.  In this book, Rigney addresses how we must train ourselves to look up the beam of light from the created to the Creator.  God has left this fallen world filled with his glory and we can recognize the character and nature of our Creator in “the things of Earth.”

 

However, it’s about half-way through the book (where I currently am), where Rigney turns a bit of a corner and speaks of man’s role regarding the things of Earth, which many know as the Cultural Mandate from Genesis 1:28.  In the beginning, God declared creation good and very good, and then blesses mankind as the glory of his creation.  He directs them to not only fill the earth (“be fruitful and multiply”), but to subdue it and have dominion over it.  As Dana would say, “Wait… What?”  If God’s world was good and very good, how could and why would man need to subdue it?  Remember this mandate was given pre-fall – it’s part of the definition of what it is to be human.  It turns out that we are not just more highly-evolved mammals, but mankind was placed on this earth with a call that no other creature has been given – to subdue the earth and have dominion over it.  It turns out that God placed in his good and very good world a vast, limitless, yet-hidden potentiality, a secret treasure in his creation that he made man to seek and discover and act upon… until He comes again.

 

“It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2).
“Man is a poetical animal and touches nothing
which he does not adorn” (C.S. Lewis).

Both of these statements speak to the heart of what it means to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as mankind continues to develop and enrich God’s excellent creation.  “When we write, perform, or listen to good music, we are being invited into the life of the triune God… When we write poetry or immerse ourselves in a novel or watch a good movie, our hearts and minds can be enlarged so that we have greater capacity to worship God and love others.  When we tend our gardens, change the oil, study for a math test, discover the characteristics of electrons, serve our customers, or build a new house, we are assisting in the enrichment of God’s world, and we ought to enjoy these activities and their results with clear eyes and full hearts” (p. 147).

 

But a caution is necessary since we now reside in a fallen world and sin has tainted the original glory of both God’s creation and man’s use of it.  Both the making of culture and the enjoyment of it is a precious gift God gives us, but it must be wielded with wisdom and soberness of sorts.  To this end, Rigney offers a short, non-exhaustive list to help us evaluate both our own culture making and that which others have created for us to enjoy.  As a springboard, five cautions in the form of questions are offered (pp. 150-151):

 

  1. Does this engagement with culture lead us to worship God?  Afterwards, are we full of thankfulness to God or do we wish to hide from him?
  2. Are our hearts enlarged and expanded  that we might know God better, love him more, and become more fully conformed to the image of his Son or are our hearts shriveled by the encounter?
  3. Has our engagement (with our own culture making or that of others) made our hearts more tender or has it hardened them?
  4. Would your life be better or worse if you were to conform your actions and attitudes to those of your favorite characters?
  5. Do the stories you like to write/read/watch/draw/tell reflect the stories that God likes to tell?  How is evil depicted?  Is evil shown to be good and worthy?  Is it minimized or clarified?  To use an Oscar Wilde phrase – does the “good end happily and the bad unhappily”?

 

Because of this chapter, I am more than ever before, relishing so many, many of the man-made “things of Earth” and it has begun to affect my prayers and, just generally, how I see God’s world around me.  I am thanking God for providing those “hidden treasures” in his creation that mankind has been freed to seek out, find, develop, and/or adorn – all for our pleasure and use and good!  I experience God’s generosity to mankind in the cultural mandate when I consider grand things like the pyramids or Shakespeare or cures man has found for illnesses; but I also experience it in the “smaller” things of my life – when I listen to my oldest sing, when I see my 2nd’s amazing art, when I read the deep, spiritual reflections of my 3rd, or when I watch my youngest portray a character on stage.  But I find myself being able to see God’s generosity to me through the Cultural Mandate even when I eat a tasty meal or listen to happy music or see the cover design on this book or when I add mulch to my garden or organize my recipes, etc., etc.

As I walk this world, I hope to train myself through use and study, to not only see God more clearly as I observe his creation, but to see him, as well, in the man-made things of Earth.  Soli deo gloria!

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To My Dear Father
1 August 2016
Hi Dad,
I wanted to take the time to wish you a happy 76th birthday.  I recently had the opportunity to go through some old photos and I was reminded of how grateful I am to have had you and mom as parents and the good home and upbringing you both made for us girls.  First and foremost, I’m so grateful for the value of love for God which you both gave us.  It must have been difficult to meld your two denominations, especially in a time when those things were more strictly divided. But I always knew that Saturday night we’d be settling into our preparations for the next day and that Sunday morning, without fail, we’d all be going to church.  That rhythm you set, despite going to two different churches, let me know that our time set apart to reverence our Lord was not going to be negotiated and it established a pattern in our hearts from an early age.
Although Holly was too young to remember, Heide and I have warm memories of living in town.  But I want to thank you, too, for all the opportunities you made for us when we moved out into the country (hard to believe that was “the country” once, isn’t it?) You instilled in us an ethic of work (with the morning to-do lists you’d leave us girls) and of doing a job well.  You gave us opportunities to enjoy the fruits of our labors by allowing us to earn money with the gardening and our chickens or pigs.  And you gave us the privilege of knowing that we were contributing in our small way to the family good, whether it was helping to set fence poles or harvesting vegetables or taking care of the animals or hoeing the shelter belt.  I (we) didn’t always like those jobs, but amazingly we all look back now with fond, funny stories of those tasks and we’re so glad they were a part of our childhood.  Work wasn’t the only opportunities you provided for us, but it’s surprising how warm and fuzzy that forced labor seems to us now.  I also thank you for things like your work at our lake cabin, 4H, a playhouse, time with our larger family and cousins, vacations, as well as showing us how to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously, etc.
Lastly, thank you by leading us in good character.  As a man of routine, we watched you go off to work each day (even when office politics must have made things difficult at times) and come home on time.  You’d enjoy a very s-l-o-w-l-y eaten supper (while we cleaned up dishes around you) and then you’d have a bit of a rest on the couch before heading outside to do your “putzing and tinkering” (often with Jim, a.k.a “Elmer Fudd”).  Your willingness to help others in need, your honest work, moderation in everything, and your steady approach to almost everything you’ve ever done, really defines you.  Thank you for letting us grow up seeing that played out in your life.
So, on this, your 76th birthday, I pray you will know that we hold you very close in our hearts… as we do each day.  Thank you for everything.
Lots of love,
Kim

 

Dad and Kim - snip

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