The universal debt we owe to God is love in the superlative degree, and the universal debt we owe one another is love in an inferior degree…
— Hugh Binning, A Treatise on Christian Love (aff)
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.
Yesterday I was listening to a sermon from John 15:9-13 titled “What Love Can Do.” (Pastor Rob Edenfield, Covenant Presbyterian Church Oveido, 13 Nov 2016.)
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Among the many thoughts sparked by the sermon, was was some very discomforting thoughts about loving my family members and laying down my life for them. It’s not a new thought for me, but laying down my life for my family is wider than dying for another.
Laying down my life is laying down my time, my energy, my physical body, my resistance in the moment. . . to love my family.
I remember in years past being inspired by this idea, embracing it as part of my calling. “Greater love has no mom than this. . .”
But quite frankly, I don’t like it. I struggle with it.
My resistance is not because there is something else I would rather be doing. It is not because I don’t value pouring myself in to this vocation, where I am, with my family. In the big picture, I really DO want to nurture and encourage and prioritize them.
But the laying down of my life in the moment-by-moment parts of the day? It feels like an imposition. I’m resistant to it. This attitude comes out in so many situations, and I know my family picks up on it.
When I allow myself to feel those feelings of being imposed upon and the feelings of guilt for those feelings, I stop running away from those feelings. I can see that part of what feeds into this is my own struggles of feeling like I’m failing.
So where does this lead me?
Going back to the sermon on God’s love. . . He first loved us. He loves me. He loves my kids. He loves my children.
Biblical love is often summarized by referring to I Corinthians 13. Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. . . and all the things I am not feeling from God towards me nor living out with my family and neighbors. These words are familiar to me and so unattainable, and so sometimes I tune the familiar out.
When listening to the sermon, and considering God’s love for us, I thought about God’s “unconditional positive regard” towards me. That is a phrase coined by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers. While “unconditional positive regard” is not a full-orbed definition of Biblical love, it does capture such a sweet part of God’s love in that phrase.
In spite of my failures, in spite of my resistance to “lay down my life,” God has shown me His unconditional love, His positive regard.
We love because he first loved us. . . (1 John 4)
Can I rest in that? Can I let that unconditional positive regard from the Most Holy God be something in which I rest?
He already laid down His life for me. He’s already shown my boundless love.
Can I let that love flow in to me? Flow out of me?
I know my kids feel more criticism from me that I even want to admit. But can I pray that the Holy Spirit fill me with His love, and let unconditional positive regard flow out of me to my children? Can I lay down my resistance before the Lord and accept His love for my kids is even greater than my love for them?
“Every good thing we could think or desire is to be found
in this same Jesus Christ alone.
For, he was sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;
he was made a curse for our blessing,
sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;
he died for our life;
so that by him
fury is made gentle,
darkness turned into light,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
force forced back,
war warred against,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
mortality made immortal.
mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.
I read this today and it draws me to prayer, meditation, and rejoicing in Christ’s bounties towards us. Have a peaceful sabbath of worship and rest.
Exalt the Lord our God;
worship at his footstool!
Holy is he!
Themes of God’s holiness have been recurring in my Bible reading lately.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.
Holy is he!
The Lord our God is holy.
While meditating on Psalm 99 today, I wondered whether I was just assuming I knew what God’s holiness is. I remembered that Louis Berkhof had a great section on the attributes of God in his Systematic Theology (free, here!)
Intuitively, I consider holiness as something that refers to God being completely Other, and so I was surprised to see that Berkhof places that in the category of God’s communicable attributes.
Communicable attributes are aspects of God which He can pass along to us, as humans — such as spirituality, knowledge, morality, grace and mercy. Incommunicable attributes are aspects that are wholly God and can not be exhibited in us — such as God being an absolute being, self-sufficient, unchangeable, infinite, perfect.
Berkhof talks about the nature of God’s holiness having both a relational aspect and an ethical aspect. Relationally, God is wholly distinct from us — His infinite majesty reinforces to us our creatureliness. He is our Creator, we are His beloved created.
“The numinous” is how this Berkhof (citing German theologian Rudolf Otto) describes this aspect of God’s holiness:
“It is this holiness of God…“the numinous,” [is] part of the non-rational in God, which cannot be thought of conceptually, and which includes such ideas as “absolute unapproachability” and “absolute overpoweringness” or “aweful majesty.” It awakens in man a sense of absolute nothingness, a “creature-consciousness” or “creature-feeling,” leading to absolute self-abasement. ”
You may be familiar with the idea of “the numinous” from the writings of C. S. Lewis, and experienced something like what he described in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:”
“None of the children knew who Aslan was . . . but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning . . . so beautiful that you remember it all your life.
In addition to the relational aspect of holiness, holiness is an ethical attribute of God. As revealed in the Bible, God is completely unassociated with any sin and is completely filled with moral excellence. Berkhof defines this ethical holiness as “that perfection of God, in virtue of which He eternally wills and maintains his own moral excellence, abhors sin, and demands purity in his moral creatures.”
I know that I understand (and can understand!) God’s holiness only in part. My mind and heart are finite, and God’s holiness is infinite. Yet as get glimpses of God’s holiness in Scripture and in commentaries, my heart is drawn to worship and continued meditation.
Holy is he!
It was just one week ago that missionary Mike Riddering left Les Ailes de Refuge Orphanage to travel to the capital of Burkina Faso to meet up with a visiting short term team. He was first having a meeting with a local pastor at the Cappuccino Café.
When we lived in Nairobi, Java House was where missionaries coming in from the bush would indulge in good coffee–their office in the city.
It’s easy for me to imagine… walking past sidewalk café tables, finding a seat near a businessman working on his Mac, waving at the waitress who knows that I like an extra large water with my latte.
I remember Hubby scanning the seating, looking for anything suspicious, choosing a seat away from the entrance, scoping out an escape route if necessary. It wasn’t just his former Army hyper-vigilance kicking in — Nairobi is rated “critical crime, critical terrorism,” and the Westgate Mall terrorist attack sadly proved that valid.
Though Kenya has seen quite a bit of violence from Islamic terrorists, it seems like Burkina Faso was caught off guard by the attack from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Mike and Pastor Valentin wouldn’t have been scanning the crowd, wouldn’t have prepped their families on emergency protocols in case of attacks.
This has hit close to home to me, even though I didn’t know Mike and Amy Riddering. I have been mourning for them. Praying for their four children. Imagining the shock of their community of orphans and vulnerable people with whom they work in Yako. What does the future hold?
Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes are often considered the first Evangelical martyrs, burned at the stake in 1523. When he heard of their deaths for the cause of Christ, Martin Luther wrote what was possibly his first hymn.
Flung to the heedless winds,
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs’ ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.
And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed,
Of witnesses for God.
The Father hath received,
Their latest living breath,
And vain is Satan’s boast,
Of victory in their death.
Still, still, though dead, they speak,
And, trumpet tongued, proclaim,
To many a wakening land,
The one availing name.
I mourn the death of Mike and other Christians around the world, yet I maintain hope that “vain is Satan’s boast of victory in their death.”
Jesus was crucified — yet he rose again. In Him, we have life and will have life even after death. His Gospel of grace is truly good news, and continues to be carried around the world.
Please pray for the Riddering family–the immediate family, their orphanage community, and their church home.
Please pray for missionaries around the world who are serving in sensitive locations.
Please pray we each are ready to show God’s love where we are.
If you want to give to support Amy Riddering and their children, you can donate to the Michael Riddering Memorial Fund. The memorial service will be held February 6, at Hollywood Community Church, Florida.
Look what came in the mail today!
It’s my Martin Luther figure from Playmobil. A3 was amused by “mommy’s toy”…
I’ve been reading lots of Luther lately… On Reformation Day (October 31), I realized that soon it would be the 500th celebration of the one of the pivotal times in Christian history.
I realized I had only a cursory understanding of Martin Luther and his contributions to Chrsitianity, in spite of having a decent grasp of Reformed and Biblical thought.
I’ve been reading. Reflecting. Scribbling out my growing understanding of Christ, as I see Luther ponder the Gospel.
And, I’m excited. Well, excited is too energetic a word for me these days. It’s been good to feel my growth in the Lord, feel my brain used in this way again…
“It is surprising how seldom books on parenting talk about prayer. We instinctively believe that if we have the right biblical principles and apply them consistently, our kids will turn out right. But that didn’t work for God in the Garden of Eden. Perfect environment. Perfect relationships.
And still God’s two children went bad.
“Many parents, including myself, are initially confident we can change our child. We don’t surrender to our child’s will (which is good), but we try to dominate the child with our own (which is bad). Without realizing it, we become demanding….
“Until we become convinced we can’t change our child’s heart, we will not take prayer seriously….”
Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life
Geeking out a bit. . .
Found Louis Berkhof’s SysTheo online. . . free!
It’s not an exaggeration to say this book changed my life. . . not just my walk with the Lord, but perhaps even more profoundly, my parenting.
Seriously. . . but we’ll have to delve into that in a later post.
Years ago (years and years ago. . .), it was only available online via Amazon — pre-Kindle, I don’t know what was the format — and it was expensive. I was sad about that. I had a used copy, well-worn and adored, with a lovely lilac and lavender cover. It was as if Eerdmans Publishing hired a cover designer to make sure it made the Theology for Girls booklist.
It seems the publishers has not given limited permission to publish it online in its entirety. I’m providing two links, as they are in two different formats, and one may be easier than the other for you to use.
Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, Monergism.com
Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, BiblicalTraining.org
Now, I have some friends who have asked me. . . just where do you start reading in a SysTheo? And, if I’m not interested in seminary, why even bother?
The first time I really read theology it was in a book talking about the attributes of God. In that moment, I felt my heart singing with the angels in heaven, worshiping God. Seriously. It was as if what was going into my brain was expanding my heart and my spirit was responding with joy.
Based on that, with Berkhof or any other theological tome, go ahead and skip to the sections that talk about Who God is and how He reveals Himself to us. . .
Reflect on those attributes. . .
You’ll feel your heart sing.
To the choirmaster: according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord;
“I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O Lord, will keep them;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among the children of man.
Lately it seems that all I want to read are Psalms. Certain seasons of life drive me to the cries of the Psalmist, the prayers of God’s people.
“With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
I am mad at how forces are manipulating the citizens of Russian and people in eastern Ukraine. I am frustrated that this out of my control, far beyond my reach. I am even more angry when I hear falsehoods echoed by those in the West, people who don’t know what is really going on, but are buying into the lies.
I feel like people who are dissatisfied with the post-Maidan interim government are being fed Russian propaganda. If they weren’t hearing those falsehoods, they would have been patient. The interim government is in place just until full elections are held — elections that the previous administration and the Maidaners negotiated, agreed upon by the Rada which represents all of Ukraine. Yet, within weeks of the interim government being put in place, there were protests and a lot of anger, anger fueled by false claims and propaganda.
I read the words of this Psalm and I see men trusting in words and clever speech. I see me trusting in words, and wanting to be on my soapbox, and counter false claims. I see my own anger and my own false hope placed in clever words.
“The words of the Lord are pure words…”
God’s words are pure words. His Word is true.
God protects His people.
Once again, I repent for my anger. I repent for my anger at other people’s speech, for trusting in my own words.