The Reality of Spiritual Symbols

In my last post, I discussed the nature of the sacraments and how referring to them as “mere” symbols is insufficient and in many ways misleading about other manifestations of God’s grace. Today, I want to go a little further with that thought.

In one of Peter Leithart’s essays on grace he talks about this very thing, and to illustrate it he uses the example of a young man who is interested in having a relationship with a young woman. (what follows is my memory of Leithart’s example; as I don’t have it in front of me, my apologies for any inaccuracies or misrepresentation)

If a young man was interested in pursuing a relationship with a young woman, it would be necessary for him to show her his interest. And he would do this by using any number of symbolic gestures; things like buying her flowers, writing her letters, speaking to her often and in the specific ways that suitors do. Someone who was trying to focus on the supremacy of the “spiritual” or the intangible might argue that these actions are “mere” symbols of the actual affection and relationship that the young man is trying to establish. But this is not a sufficient explanation, for if the young man were instead to perform none of these “symbolic” actions, he would have a very difficult time convincing his young lady that he was truly interested in her at all. In fact, one could argue that these “symbols” actually make up a very significant and very real part of the relationship.

It is in the same way that these ordinances of the faith are not “mere” symbols. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage, corporate worship, and so on, each of these things, while they are definitely representative of spiritual truths, also make up a significant aspect of our relationship with Jesus Christ. And they do so to the extent that if a person who claimed to be a believer and lover of Christ did not partake in these actions, they would have a difficult time convincing anyone that they truly loved Him at all.  [Edit: You should read the comment by Jonathan below]

Comments?

My brother in law, prayer, love, and grace

We spent some time this weekend in Tennessee with my wife’s family. As you may remember, last Monday my brother-in-law fell eighteen feet from a rooftop and landed on his back, breaking three vertebra, two ribs, and his sternum. As of today, the doctors have no hope that he will ever walk again. In spite of all this, everyone was in pretty good spirits. My brother-in-law and his wife both seem to realize that the reality of what has transpired hasn’t had time to sink in yet. For the past week they have been kept fairly busy with a helicopter flight, surgeries, and with doctor’s consultations, with friends and family, with phone calls to and from their insurance company, and with all the interruptions associated with a stay in a hospital. Through it all, they’ve hardly had a chance to sit and think about what has happened or to discuss what their life will be like when it returns to “normal”.

All of that will change very soon though. Today, they are taking him from the Johnson City hospital he was life-flighted to, and they are moving him to Winston-Salem for physical therapy. He’ll have two fairly intense weeks there, with visitation limited to three hours in the evening (that includes his wife) and then it will be time to go home. And I imagine that is when he will need our prayers the most.

So if you have time in the next few weeks, say a quick word of prayer for Mike and Ginger Martin. Pray that Mike will continue to grow in the Lord and that he will lead his family spiritually. Pray that Ginger will love and submit to her husbands leadership and that she will cast all her cares upon God. Pray for them as you would pray for any other couple that you know, because the truth is, the challenges that they will face haven’t changed in their nature, just in their appearances.

Prescriptive Grace: The How’s and Why’s of Grace

If you’ve grown up in Christian circles or read many books on Christian topics, you probably run across a lot of different definitions for grace. Things like, “Grace is the unmerited favor of God” or “Grace is the power and desire to do God’s will” or my personal favorite, G.R.A.C.E. is

God’s
Riches
At
Christ’s
Expense

(This one is the best because it both defines and spells Grace at the same time!!!)

And while I don’t really want to knock those definitions (except maybe the acrostic), I wonder if you’ve ever felt like me that such simplistic definitions do not do grace justice?

I should point out that I’m not saying that we can completely understand grace. In fact, as we discuss grace a little bit, I’d like to try to show that to understand grace completely, we would have to understand God completely.

The seed thought that I have for thinking about grace is this:

Grace is associated with the specific work that God is performing in any situation. What we identify as grace is the interaction of God with us as His creation to accomplish His purposes. Grace is tied up in the specific actions of God and in our perception of those actions (think revelation).

In this post, I want to focus on the specificity of grace in any given situation.
Continue reading “Prescriptive Grace: The How’s and Why’s of Grace”

The Love of God Blesses All Men

Go read this post about the love of God. While there may not be anything groundbreaking there, it is good to think through these things.

Here’s a snippet:

God demonstrates intended goodness on the reprobate. God’s ultimate purpose is to display His glory and the men are objects of means wherewith God will draw all men to Himself. To paraphrase Jonathan Edwards the very fact that the rejection of this kindness heaps more judgment on the non-elect proves that it is actual kindness, else it would be of no consequence to the reprobate. The fact that wicked men abuse these good gifts and heap more wrath on themselves does not negate the intent of the gift. John Calvin states, “Proofs of the love of God towards the whole human race exist innumerable, all which demonstrate the ingratitude of those who perish or come to perdition.”

The rebuke of a friend is sweet

Yesterday, a friend of mine took me to task for something, and while it wasn’t pleasant, it was comforting to know that he cares about me. He wasn’t mean or rude or unfair to me in any way, he was honest, he was direct, he was gracious. It was quite humbling.

We all need a friend or two like that. The sort of person who will look at us and say the thing that needs to be said and not necessarily the thing that would be most pleasant. The sort of person who knows how to cut you, but kindly, the sort that Proverbs 27:6 speaks of when it says, “faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful”.

I think there’s a great deal more to be said about friendship, but I wanted to get this down while it was fresh in my mind. And to Bruce, who I’m not entirely sure will read this, I wanted to say thank you. You are and have always been a friend, and I appreciate that, more than you may know.

A Poem for Sunday: A fragment of Easter

I wrote this about fifteen years ago, shortly after reading that Edgar Allen Poe occasionally wrote the middle of his poems first and then worked backwards and forwards from that central thought. Sadly, his technique did not work for me. Meant to be the centerpiece of an Easter epic, these two stanzas are instead, the complete unfinished work.

“Speak Eminence, your power is diminished,
Your time has come and Creation seals your fate,
You’ll take a place in a Hell of your devising,
And I will sow, this world with my hate.”
Christ breathed once more, his bloodied body rising,
And spoke the words of beginning, It is finished.

Satan roared and laughter rang loud from his throat:
“No, not yet finished, until I hold the throne,
They’ll come the third day to the grave with spices,
And when they do, they must not find him gone.
The die is cast, there can be no more devices.”
His laughter ceased, he would wait till then to gloat.

As always, comments are appreciated.

Making Jehovah into a Lovesick Girl

It’s Friday and the Almighty is spending the evening at home. He’s met someone you see, someone named Chad, and, well, He likes him oh so much. So, sprawled across his infinite pink bedspread, He is waiting by the phone, His elbows resting on His enormous fuchsia pillow, His cell phone in front of him: He is praying that Chad will call. Next to Him on the bed is a pad of paper where He has written, “Jehovah and Chad 4eternity (4real)” and “Jehovah loves Chad! AWESOME!!”. Suddenly the phone rings and the sound of Nichole Nordeman’s Legacy fills the air. In His excitement, the Alpha and Omega fumbles with the phone before answering. Breathless, He lifts it to His ear, only to be disappointed.”Hey J, has he called yet?” asks the Holy Spirit.”No, but I’m sure he will,” says the Self Existent One, I’ve made it so clear how I feel about him.”

“I don’t know,” says HS, “earlier today I was talking to an angel and he said he was talking to another angel and that angel told him that he saw Chad in the library and Chad was totally talking to Buddha.”

“Are you serious? This totally can’t be happening to me. I’m like God Almighty and stuff, y’know, and he’s my Chad. It would just be so dreamy if we were together!”

“I know,”  says HS, “I know. Sooner or later, he’ll come around.”

“I just hope you’re right.”

Jehovah ends the call and then buries His face in His pillow.”Oh Chad,” He sobs, “how I love you so.”

I hope the above scenario seems ridiculous to you. I hope that if you thought I was being serious, you would think me guilty of blasphemy. Let me assure you, I am not being serious. But can I submit to you, that this is exactly what we do when we preach an Arminian gospel?

If God is who He says He is, then it is He who does the choosing. If He is who He claims to be it is He who has ordained all things. I have written previously about the co-existence of free-will and predestination and won’t go back into it in any depth here, but I do want to declare to you that Jehovah is the Sovereign God, the I AM. Though He loves us, it is not with a fretful, trembling love. He is no tender-hearted girl hoping and praying that some will come to repentance, that some will come to know Him.

What do you say?

mourning

I have never been anything other than a man
and so I cannot know how women mourn
and whether it is the same, or different

I have seen the mother, the wife, the girl,
sitting at her bedside, her dead child in her hands
weeping on his upturned face.
There is nothing selfish there.
She is broken, and weary.
She is full of pain, and strangely, guilt.
It is something that I can barely know.

I am most familiar with the man in the room
the one who stands behind her,
who believes that because she is broken, he must be whole,
who cries, but silently
who looks down through tear filled eyes,
and loves them both.

Love, Insulation, and Speaking to be Heard

I read about a Swedish band; they sing their songs in English because it insultates them from lyrics that would be too raw, too painful to sing otherwise.  It made me think of birthday cards, of poems written by machines, of leaving notes for loved ones instead of saying the words ourselves.

Is it just human to behave this way? To only say what we feel when there is a lesser chance that we will hear our own words?

Does this makes its way into our worship? Or is it rather, quite the other way around? Is our ability to show ourselves, and to even know ourselves, tied up in our love for God? Are we unable to speak truly of ourselves because we unwilling to speak truly of Him?

What do you say?

promise

When you lay in bed
next to that other part of you
though there is no need for words or thoughts or actions
you are making a promise

Not the foolish kind you made as a child,
but a real promise,
the sort you have been practicing to make
your whole life long.

Sometimes my wife and I will lay like that,
our fingers barely touching,
or her knee against my thigh,
or the heel of her foot pressed against the sole of mine.

Any more would be too much,
any more would break the spell.
It is that tiny, tiny touch, the barest sensation of contact
that is the promise to each other

“Who else could I lie with in this way,”
is what you are saying.
“Who else’s hand or knee or heel could feel
like it belongs to someone else and yet be mine?”