For it is by grace you have been saved...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Homeschooler Moment #18 / Geek Moment #2

For some time I posted little items from our homeschool experience, funny responses from the kids, etc.  The last time I posted anything in this vein it was more related to the "geek" side of our family, so I changed the "homeschooler moment" to the "geek moment."  What follows is a combination of both.

As I mentioned in the last post, our youngest daughter asked her older sister to give the "graduation address" at her service on Sunday.  And as I mentioned, that address was filled with all sorts of "fandom" references (Avengers, Star Trek, Doctor Who, LotR, etc.).  And while it was fun, I thought it was also quite profound.  And so with her permission, I'm going to post the text of her address here.  It's a bit long for a blog post, but I encourage you to take the time and read it all.  While it's directed at our daughter and somewhat personal to her, it also has some great advice for all of us. (Also, for those other geeks out there, it'll be fun looking for all the references!)  So, here's LoriAnn:

Apologies in advance – this is going to be a very geeky speech.

Mawwidge. Mawwidge is what bwings us togetheh… –

Oh wait. Wrong speech. Sorry

Happy graduation, Katrina. The easy part is behind you. Not to freak you out or anything, but your happy days in Hobbiton are over. You’ve already gone out and gotten a job—good on you, by the way, you’re better off than I was at 18.

You’re growing up—strike that, you are grown up. You may not be fully independent yet, but in the ways that matter, you are an adult. The ease of childhood is behind you. Now it’s time to make your own decisions, explore your worldview and evaluate your beliefs, and learn to make your way through the world as an adult—that’s a great power.

And of course, with great power comes…bills, crises, decisions and—of course—responsibility.

For those of you who may not know, Katrina is a big fan of the Marvel comics universe—along with the rest of our family, of course. One of the biggest Marvel franchises right now is that of the Avengers—superheroes with various abilities sworn to protect Earth and the human race from all threats.

So Katrina, I ask you to suspend your disbelief for a second and play along.

Katrina Weldon, I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.

Each Marvel Avenger has a special talent or trait that makes them valuable. From the Hulk’s strength to Tony Stark’s brains to Captain America’s heart, every one of Earth’s mightiest heroes contributes something to the fight. This is why each one was chosen – to work together as a team.

Unfortunately, that sort of single-focused talent isn’t the norm in the every day world. Earth’s mightiest heroes are all well and good, but those of us normal mortals without billionaire bank accounts or gamma radiation exposure have to spread ourselves out a bit. We have to learn to find some of the same qualities displayed by the superheroes in our own, mundane, normal lives.

Fortunately, no one is expecting you to turn into a giant green rage monster, save New York from aliens, or even make sure your little brother doesn’t turn into a crazy psychopath. It’s too late for that last one anyway.

On the other hand, everyone is expecting things from you – and more than that, you ought to be expecting some things from yourself. Things in which you can learn lessons from some of the Avengers.

For example, what comes to mind when you first think of Steve Rogers—better known as Captain America? …Well, the first thing is probably his iconic costume—and while I wouldn’t mind if you suddenly decided to dress every day in patriotic spandex armor, because I am a very supporting sister, it probably wouldn’t go over well in general.

Besides the uniform though—one of the things that makes Captain America, Captain America is his weapon…or really, his lack of a weapon. When the creators of the character invented him, they didn’t give him a super-mega-zillion-power-magazine gun. They gave him a shield, a symbol of protection. Because in the end, Cap is a protector.

I’m sure you’re very familiar with this verse, but just for kicks, let’s read it: from Ephesians 6, verses 10 and following:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Now, I would really prefer if you didn’t go out and become a super-soldier and fight Nazis or Hydra agents or whatever. However, I do challenge you to examine what you are willing to protect. What do you see as worth protecting? Your honor—are you faithful to your promises? Are you willing to protect your family and friends? Do you protect your heart—that which you are encouraged to “guard above all else, for it is the wellspring of life,” as the Teacher from Proverbs tells us? Are you faithful in your walk with Christ—the higher authority, the commander you are sworn to follow?

Though there may not be secret organizations like Hydra in the world (or there might be, I’m not saying one way or the other) there are things that will threaten what you love. There will be outside threats in the form of everything from unpaid bills to crime and violence. There will be inside threats like doubt and stress and anger.

These things will threaten what you love. They will threaten your heart, your worldview, and your family and friends.

But like Captain America, you have a shield. Yours isn’t made out of a Vibranium-steel alloy and it’s not painted bright colors, and it won’t fly back to you like some kind of low-flying death Frisbee. Your shield is a shield of faith, to extinguish the flaming darts of doubt, fear, unhappiness, worry, hatred, and anything else that would steal the joy God has for you.

Now, God has given you other gifts too. Besides the ones that he gives to all his followers, he has blessed you with certain abilities and talents. Who is the most brilliantly gifted Avenger you know? I’ll give you a hint: his ego is bigger than New York City. I’m of course speaking of Tony Stark—genius billionaire inventor better known as Iron Man.

Stark is a scientific wizard. He can look at a machine and tell you how it works, how to fix it, and how he would have invented it better. Or sooner. Or bigger and with more flashing lights. Tony Stark is a genius.

He’s also an egomaniac. There’s a lot of complicated backstory that we won’t get into here, but suffice it to say that Stark’s successes have left him with an extremely inflated opinion of himself. He’s brilliant, and he knows it.

Your talents lie in different directions, obviously, unless you have a supersuit you’re not telling me about. However, I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that God has blessed you generously in many areas. You are a gifted musician, a writer with a lot of promise, and you’ve shown in the guitar and music theory classes that you teach that you have a knack there as well. To say nothing of your organizational abilities, your flair with jewelry design, and your rapier wit.

You are a talented and blessed young woman.

Now don’t let it go to your head.

Unlike Tony Stark, don’t let your successes and your gifts give you an inflated notion of yourself. While I personally think you’re fantastic, there’s a difference between being confident in your abilities and being so caught up in who you are that you forget who gave you those abilities to begin with.

There’s also the other end of the spectrum, however—that which Jesus warns against in Matthew 25 in the parable of the talents. While you must remain humble in the gifts God has given you, neither can you hide them away. He has given you these gifts to use in his service. Just as Iron Man has to put aside his selfish ambitions (in theory) to work with the team, you must be able to put your higher cause first, and see all of your abilities and talents as tools to fulfill the mission that God has given you in this world. What your master has given you, use for his glory—his, not your own. There’s nothing wrong in being famous, or being wealthy, or writing a bestselling book and appearing on talk shows every morning. The goal, though, is to give God the glory—whatever you do, eating, sleeping, writing, singing, teaching…whatever. To God be the glory, forever, and ever, amen.

So we’ve covered two of the Avengers—Captain America, as a symbol of what it is to protect what you love and stand firm against the attacks of the enemy, and Iron Man as a sort of cautionary tale regarding your gifts and abilities. Lastly, we’ll look at one hero that, frankly, most people don’t know about.

His name is Clint Barton—better known as Hawkeye. Before the Avengers movie franchise came out, most casual fans knew little to nothing about this rather obscure hero. We don’t need to go into his story at all—those who care probably already know, and those who don’t know probably don’t really care to know. But just so everyone’s on the same page, Hawkeye is an extreme marksman. A sniper with a bow and arrow, he never seems to run out of ammunition, and can hit nearly anything he aims at.
And that’s the key—he’s aiming.

All the gifts and talents in the world are worthless if you don’t have a goal to aim toward. But no goal is going to come and lay down at your feet either. You have to be willing to go after it. You can’t just hold the bow and arrow, and know you could hit the target—you have to actually put the effort into drawing, aiming, and firing. And if you miss the first time… Well, you’ve probably got enough ammunition to take out an entire invading alien force, so just load up and shoot again.

I’m not suggesting that you have to know exactly what you want to do with your life right now. Theodore Roosevelt was in his 20s before he knew where he was going with his life. Dante was in his 30s when he wrote his famous Divine Comedy. You aren’t allowed to run for president until you’re at least 35. Don’t rush in to something just because you feel like you are supposed to be doing something. In a world where we consistently want things faster, easier, sooner, now, we’ve forgotten what it is to wait patiently on the Lord to reveal his plans to us.

But when he does reveal that plan—when he gives you a passion for something, or an opportunity to learn, or a chance to grow, or a direction to start walking—you must be willing to follow that path. Even if it seems hard, even if people tell you that can’t possibly be what God wants for you, even if you have to sacrifice for it—follow through to the bulls-eye.

You will have times when you’re uncertain about where God is leading you. College? What major? What classes? Job? What career? Relationships? Up until now, all of your decisions have mostly been made for you; either by circumstances or by those God has made caretakers in your life. Now begins the time when you must begin choosing the targets yourself—and you will have to learn how to follow God’s leading as you make decisions.

It’s not as easy as people make it sound. Often there will be times when you are called to make a choice and every way looks good. You can’t see ahead—and who knows? Either way may be good. Either way can lead to blessing. If you are consistently seeking after God, and trusting him to keep your aim true, you will be in his will.

Psalm 37 tells us to “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This verse can be read two ways—either as “God will fulfill the desires your heart has”, or “God will shape your desires as you delight in him.” It’s a two way street—make glorifying God and finding your joy in him your goal, and he will give you the earthly goals to follow. The psalm continues, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.”

Katrina, frankly, high school graduation isn’t that big a thing. It’s not like, overnight, your life will change. Like you’ll go from being a punky teen to a mature and responsible adult just because you’re no longer a high-school student. Heck—I just graduated college and there are times that I still feel like a kid. Of course, there's no point being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes, right?

My point is, though, that this is a process. You don’t get to go out and fight with the Avengers the day after you get recruited. There’s training to be done. Muscles to be worked, ideas to test, smaller targets to hit. But the decisions begin now.

You’re still in the Shire, but the next step you take will be the furthest you’ve ever been from home.

You’re launching out into the final frontier—and, to be honest, you’re still wearing a red shirt. Don’t go on any away missions any time soon.

You’re being called into an adventure, and you have to go—even if it’s inconvenient. Even if it’s dangerous.

The time has come to put on your backpack, throw out your roadmap, and trust that God will guide you into your future.

He’s given you your shield. He’s given you your talents. And he has your goals already in mind—you may already know some of them.

So now, Katrina, I ask you:

Are you ready to suit up?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Joy And Grief of Homeschool Graduation Revisted Yet Again

This is a revisiting of a post from 4 years ago when our oldest daughter graduated, which I then repeated last year when our oldest son graduated.  Some of what follows is copied unashamedly word-for-word from those posts regarding the pros and cons of homeschooling and the positives and negatives of graduation and our goals as parents, etc.  The rest has been changed to reflect on our third graduation experience…

Let me try to say this without offending anyone: Public school parents have no idea what we’re going through right now. I’m not saying that parents who send their children to government run schools don’t love their children as much as we do; or that they are more sad or less proud of their graduates than we are; or anything like that. But, it is very, very different.

Until you’ve spent 18 years with that child in your home every day (well, nearly every day. Except for orchestra days and field trips and library runs and horse training days and homeschool co-op days and; you get the idea); until you’ve bought those text books with your own money for 12 years; spent those 12 years sweating day by day along with that child through all of those subjects and assignments, worried more about your teaching than their learning at times; until you’ve experienced the sacrifices in time and money and energy to provide those 12 years of education while at the same time building a bond together as parent and child, teacher and student, discipler and disciple, etc. Until you’ve done these things you can’t possibly understand the joy and grief of watching your child graduate.

Our delightful daughter Katrina had her graduation this past Sunday. It was a very emotional time for us. This was our third graduate, and our second completely homeschooled child.  (Her big sister went to kindergarten in government school).  Though we’ve been through it twice before, in a sense, it doesn’t change the raging emotions involved in this whole process.

To say we’re proud of her doesn’t begin to describe it. God has grown her into a remarkable young lady, and like I said with her sister and brother before her, Mom and I can only take partial credit for that. God is truly gracious to us, doing things in her life in spite of the many mistakes we’ve made over the years.

During the service, Latrina played her guitar and read some of her poetry.  Her writing strength is really in her prose, especially her fantasy stories, but we thought folk might get antsy listening to novel length readings..  She then gave a short, but impressive speech (which we forced her to do!), telling us about her experiences and how thankful she is to God and to her family for this part of the journey. Many tears were shed.

We've had the kids ask someone whom they looked up to, someone who was an inspiration to them to give a graduation charge.  I cried when introducing the fact that Katrina asked her big sister to do this.  And LoriAnn brought an amazing, humorous and very personal address.  Being a "geek" family, the challenge was based on the idea of Marvel's Avengers and several of the hero qualities of the various personalities.  Captain America's strength of purpose in protecting his values, a warning about Tony Stark's ego overshadowing his gifts, and Hawkeye's aiming for the targets all were mentioned with comparisons to Scriptural commands.  She manged to throw in lines and references to just about all of our geeky fandoms: Star Trek, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Lord of the Rings, etc.  Some folks present might not have gotten all the jokes, but it was special between these two sisters, especially.

Mom, of course, then came and shared some Scripture and presented Katrina with her diploma, followed by a prayer of dedication for this precious little girl.

We are proud. We are joyful (she is our Joy, Joy!) We are also saddened by this rite of passage in which our daughter is now an “adult.”  She plans to go to college, but is currrently on the waiting list at College of the Ozarks.  In the meantime, she's working at Dairy Queen.  Can't say I'm all that disappointed.  With her big sister off to Germany, I'm thankful to have her around awhile.  Not only do we share similar tastes in music and in literature and in those geeky fandoms, but I simply love having my baby girl around.  She promised me (when she was four) that she would never grow up.  But as she said in her speech, as much as she might want to keep that promise, God has other plans.  And His plans are always best.  Besides, I'm sure her guitar class will love having her teach another year!

Quite frankly, I feel for parents who didn’t get to spend this kind of time with their children; missing out on at least 8 hours a day with them; a minimum of 40 hours a week in which you didn’t get to experience life and growth with them. Of course, I’m not so sure I’d miss the added grief this causes when it’s all over. As I said before, I’m not saying other parents miss their children less because they weren’t homeschooled. It’s just very different.  The years of investing in Katrina both spiritually and educationally have been tiring, but worth every minute.

In the end, our goal has not been to churn out a Nobel Prize winning scientist or a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. Though we are proud of her accomplishments in music and writing and teaching and animal raising and so on; we are most pleased and proud of her faith and maturity. Our goal has simply been to see her become a fully devoted follower of Christ and a godly woman in this sinful world. God has been gracious in granting that goal.

The joy and the grief. Quite a mixture of feelings. I believe that while all parents feel those, they are intensified for homeschool parents (you can argue with me later, this is my “moment”!). But I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s been a long, often difficult road; but by the grace of God it has all been worth it.

So congratulations, Katrinal. We are indeed proud of you. You may be third in line in a lot of ways, but you have an unrivaled place in our hearts that noting can change.  No matter what you decide to do, may God continue to guide your steps each and every day as you seek to exalt Him in all you do.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To Be or Not to Be...Consistent

Wow.  After a whole month of arranging for a post every single day in April, I fell off the edge here and it’s been over a week now since I’ve posted anything.  Our family skipped town for awhile, but before leaving I did manage to arrange one new post, but then...nothing.

Consistency.  It’s always been a bit of a problem for me doing this blogging thing; I’ve even mentioned it before.  I’ve had the same trouble with the offline form of journaling.  I read something like David Brainerd’s Diary, or the journals of some other great saint and I get challenged to leave a written legacy for my family, etc.  Often, it goes for maybe a month or two and then...nothing.

I think I have a half dozen or so notebooks that I started as hand written journals, since if you’re going to journal anyway, I always thought it would be good to have it in your own hand, not just a typed page.  But each of those goes for awhile and then…nothing.

In a way, those unfinished journals and this inconsistent blog serve as sad reminders of a struggle I’ve often faced in my spiritual life in general: Inconsistency. 

It seems as though my pilgrimage of faith moves forward in spits and spurts rather than in a nice forward moving progression.  If Bunyan’s Pilgrim had his occasional foray off the path, or his one little nap on the side of the road; it seems that I sometimes take a holiday at the inn.  And while having just returned from vacation I can tell you that a rest now and then is a good thing, too many vacations in our faith can be dangerous indeed.

It’s not that I somehow jump off the path of pilgrimage and move into Vanity Fair for a few months (to keep the Bunyan references going).  I don’t run into paganism, leaving faith behind.  I don’t have what may be considered major “lapses.”  I’m just talking more about inconsistency.

Take my study of God’s Word.  As a pastor, I obviously have to do that on a regular basis because I have to have something to present twice every Sunday and once during the week at minimum.  But when it comes to my own study, for my own education and edification, I often go in those spits and spurts.  I read faithfully for a time and then I use the excuse of busyness or whatever, and my reading falls into the perfunctory category.

My prayer life can be the same.  There are times when my communion with God seems sweet and satisfying, while other times my inconsistency makes me feel like I need to begin the conversation with: “I’m sorry, I know it’s been awhile, do you remember me?”  Not exactly the portrait of praying “without ceasing.”

Other aspects of my life of faith often endure similar fluctuation.  If my spiritual journey were recorded on a graph, it would have more ups and downs than the stock market.

Now, I know to some degree that’s normal.  I’ve often heard and often repeated that in our spiritual life, the journey has those ups and downs, and the goal is that the ups get higher and the downs not so low.  But it still frustrates me. 

I want to be consistent, I really do.  I want to be on a straight and narrow path, with no turning to the left or the right, with no sputters and stops along the way.  I would like to be the kind of guy who has a blog post scheduled a certain number of times a week/month and never misses.  Of course, I realize that the number of blogs I post, the number of times I “miss” ultimately has nothing to do with my overall spiritual health, etc.  My lack of finished journal notebooks won’t keep me out of heaven.  It’s not about my performance anyway, but that of Christ.

But I want to be more consistent in my acknowledgement of His Work, and my obedience to His commands.  I want to live in His grace daily, soak in His presence regularly, and share of His Word faithfully. 

So, let this be the lesson.  If I become less consistent here, and those two or three people who stop by here often enough to notice do in fact notice, just let it prompt you to pray for me.  Pray for me to consistently live in and for Christ, for His fame and glory. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Happy Limerick Day

I’m told that today, May 12, is set aside to honor the Limerick.  It is recognized on this day because it’s the birthday of English author Edward Lear, whose 1846 A Book of Nonsense is said to have helped bring the lyrical form to popularity.

I know that many have abused this poetical form to produce less than moral/acceptable verses, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have some fun.  In fact, I think we can find more fun, silly, even informative lines than those who produce the other filth.  So, here are a few rhymes to honor the times.

There is of course the old classics like: 
A flea and a fly in a flue
Were caught, so what could they do?
Said the fly, "Let us flee."
"Let us fly," said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

And this one from old Edward Lear himself:
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard!”

Then there is this time travel verse that would make The Doctor himself proud:
There was a young woman named Kite,
Whose speed was much faster than light,
She set out one day,
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

There is even a guy who has a whole site dedicated to rendering Bible verses into limericks.  Like this one on Hebrews 4:12: 
Paul said here that God’s word’s never dull.
That it’s dictums He’ll never annul.
That it shines like a star.
And it’s right where you are.
Friend, it’s time you got that thru your skull.
How about this NASCAR themed rhyme:
There once was a driver named Jeff
Whose engine could make you go deaf
But hearing that roar
Still makes my heart soar
Even if he only turns left

And I’ll leave you with my recent favorite: 
There was a young man of Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
When asked why this was,
He replied "It's because
I always try to fit as many syllables into the last line as ever I possibly can."

Friday, May 9, 2014

Consider Death

In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries in London, there were published items called Bills of Mortality.  It was a log, a list, of those who had died in the local area.  I guess it might be somewhat similar to the obituaries we have in our modern newspapers.

At one point, the well known poet William Cowper was asked to write a verse or two to accompany these lists.  Most folks may only know Cowper as the hymn writer (ie God Moves in a Mysterious Way), but in his day and even after, he was considered one of the foremost poets in England.

Cowper obliged the request, and several more after.  He penned half a dozen poems to be attached to these Bills of Mortality.  And while it may seem a bit morbid, Cowper used the opportunity to remind us that we all face this inevitable end.  And since that’s the case, we should consider our end now, and look to Christ to ensure that we end well.

Cowper was well acquainted with this juxtaposition of death and despair with hope in Christ.  He himself struggled with depression and melancholy, and is known to have attempted suicide.  His friendship with John Newton was one of his encouragements, and Newton always helped him look back to Christ. 

Here is one of those poems on mortality, with the wonderful “punchline” at the end. Far from being morbid, I hope it encourages us to think of our own mortality and our desperate need for Christ and the hope He gives.

Thankless for favours from on high,
Man thinks he fades too soon;
Though 'tis his privilege to die,
Would he improve the boon.

But he, not wise enough to scan
His blest concerns aright,
Would gladly stretch life's little span
To ages, if he might;

To ages in a world of pain,
To ages, where he goes
Galled by affliction's heavy chain,
And hopeless of repose.

Strange fondness of the human heart,
Enamoured of its harm!
Strange world, that costs it so much smart,
And still has power to charm.

Whence has the world her magic power?
Why deem we death a foe?
Recoil from weary life's best hour,
And covet longer woe?

The cause is Conscience :-- Conscience oft
Her tale of guilt renews;
Her voice is terrible though soft,
And dread of death ensues.

Then anxious to be longer spared,
Man mourns his fleeting breath:
All evils then seem light compared
With the approach of Death.

'Tis judgement shakes him; there's the fear
That prompts the wish to stay:
He has incurred a long arrear,
And must despair to pay.

Pay! --follow Christ, and all is paid;
His death your peace ensures;
Think on the grave where he was laid,
And calm descend to yours.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How Do You Smell?

I read about a college student who needed a small two-hour course to fill out his schedule. The only one that fit was in Wildlife Zoology. After only one week of class, and one chapter in the text, the professor announced a test. He passed it out and it was a sheet of paper divided into squares; and in each square was a carefully drawn picture of some bird legs. Not bodies, not feet -- just different birds' legs. The test simply asked them to identify the birds from the pictures of their legs.

Obviously, the star of our story didn't have a clue. After a few minutes of frustration he gave up, stomped up to the front of the classroom, threw the test on the professor's desk, and said, “This is the worst test I have ever seen and this is the dumbest course I have ever taken.”

The professor was obviously displeased and simply said, “Young man, you just flunked the test.” Then the professor picked up the paper, saw that the student hadn't even put his name on the paper, and said, “By the way, young man, what's your name?” At this the student reached down, pulled up his pant legs, revealing his legs, and said, “Why don’t you identify me.”

Now, I would in no way condone the student’s disrespectful behavior, but I can certainly sympathize with his plight.  But I’m sure the point of the teacher’s test was that there are certain identifying characteristics that should have allowed the students to make a determination about the birds, right.  It may have been tough, but there must have been something there; some peculiarity; some distinction that would have given it away.

And the point I’m trying in a round about way to get to is that when it comes to the Christian life, there ought to be some distinctions as well; certain identifying characteristics that should make it easy for others to clearly see that we are followers of Christ. There should be no problem; no need for speculation; it should just be obvious.  The truly devoted follower of Jesus Christ should think differently, act differently, speak differently, live differently and even smell differently than the rest of the world.

Yes, smell.   I toss in the smell part as a bit of a joke sometimes, but there is a certain amount of truth to it, because I base it God’s Word.  Scripture tells us that we are the aroma of Christ; we are a fragrant folk; we are to be scented saints. Others ought to be able to sense the scent of Christ on us, just as our lives ought to also be a pleasing aroma to our God.

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 the apostle Paul says we are the aroma of Christ, lead in triumphal procession before the world, spreading the fragrance of Christ.  Now, I won’t go into all the historical information about Roman triumphal processions.  You can Google it.  But as part of those parades, the victorious general would parade his captives in front of the people, along with priests carrying incense. So the victory would be a sensory exhibit before the people, with sights and smells.

And Paul’s point is that we ought to be that sensory exhibit before a watching world, paraded by a victorious Christ.  And that odor we give off is the smell of life to some, and the smell of death to others.

As the smell of life, our lives are fragrant to God in the sense that we are a reminder of His victory.  And to others around us, we are a reminder of that victory as well.  We are to be a reminder to our brothers and sisters of the great victory of Christ.  In short, when we gather together with our brothers and sisters we should give off the air of encouragement to one another; the smell of life.  The smell of Christ in a fellow believer’s life not only helps us identify one another, but encourages and supports and edifies and uplifts.  But it’s not all rosy, if you’ll pardon the pun.  

We are also the smell of death.  This isn’t nearly as an encouraging picture as the first, but it is none the less true.  To those who oppose God and the things of God, those who truly live for Christ are a stench in their nostrils.  We are an unpleasant odor that annoys them.

The sinner is quite happy in his sin, and the last thing he thinks he needs is a smelly Christian pointing out his sin.   The same aroma of Christ that encourages other believers, is a plague to the world living in sin. We are a regular reminder that those outside of the grace of Christ have nothing but death unto death ahead of them.  Physical death and then a final spiritual death which will play out for all eternity in hell. Is it any wonder the sinful world system doesn’t like Christian people? 

And Paul says that God uses us to spread this aroma of Christ, the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.   Everywhere we go, we spread the smell.  Reminds me of the Newsboys song that says: “Wherever we go, bluebirds sing, and the flowers bloom and the grass gets green . . .  Wherever we go, the bees behave, in the treetops squirrels smile and wave . . .Wherever we go, the dumb get wise and the crime rates drop and he markets rise.  Bullies make nice, crooks repent and the ozone layer shows improvement.”

Now obviously there having a little fun exaggerating, but the point still is that wherever we go, we should exude the aroma of Christ, and that will have an impact.  John Calvin writes that “wherever there is a pure and unvarnished proclamation of the gospel, there will be found there the influence of that odor.”

We ought to want to smell of Christ everywhere we go, to let the world know how glorious Christ is, how beautiful He is, how amazing His grace is.  We should want them to breath deeply of His glory and be drawn to Him.  And we do that by being a scented saint; to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.

So how do you smell? 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

PROOF: A Book Review

What do Zombies, a Merle Haggard song, and an eighteenth-century slave trader have in common?  Oddly enough, they all serve as illustrations in book on theology.  A very good book I might add.

“PROOF” by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones is an ode to Grace.  The authors state that the purpose of their book is to “be an alarm clock that awakens you from the delusion that life depends on you and frees you to discover the intoxicating joy of God’s wild and free grace.

And it does just that.  Using the word PROOF as an acrostic, they address the topics of Planned Grace, Resurrecting Grace, Outrageous Grace, Overcoming Grace, and Forever Grace.  For any theologically astute readers who see some similarities with the TULIP acrostic associated with Reformed Theology, you’d be right.

However, while trying to recapture the beauty of the Biblical Doctrine of Grace, including the issues of particular atonement, unconditional election, adoption, and others; Montgomery and Jones also want to warn of the dangers of focusing too much on a “system” like Calvinism.  Not that what Calvin taught wasn’t true and accurate.  But “Calvinism” is not an end to itself, and can often lead to arrogance and hardheartedness.  Call this book a desire for a “kinder and gentler” Calvinism. 

This re-focusing of our attention on grace flies in the face of the popular ideas of God as a “gentleman” who won’t impose His will on others, on the Bell hop and Therapist views of God, of the “God helps those who help themselves” ideas, and other views which belittle God’s Sovereignty.   Given to us in a fresh and easy to read manner, this is a much needed reminder for the church.

In addition to chapters on each of the five issues mentioned, the authors also include several appendices which address many of the common questions and misunderstandings of God’s sovereignty and His free grace.  This makes the book not only a good read, but a useful resource tool to hang on to.

In the end, the basic theme is that “As long as we live under the delusion that God doles out favor according to our deeds, fear of punishment will always crowd out the freedom and joy of God’s grace.  And PROOF wants us to know the freedom and joy of grace, reminding us that “Grace is worth fighting for.”

I absolutely loved this book.  Rich in theology, yet easy to read, and both challenging and comforting at the same time.  I will definitely recommend this book again and again.

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