finding the motherlode

– mining for a vein of truth in the stuff that matters –

Category: theology

dunamis

To truly live,

we must walk in the

power of the resurrection.

Evidence to the Contrary, Genie Maples, 44 x 44 oil on canvas

____________

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened

in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,

the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,

and his

incomparably great power

for us who believe.

.  .  .

That power

is the same as the mighty strength 

he exerted 

when he raised Christ from the dead

and seated him at his right hand

in the heavenly realms,

far above all rule and authority,

power and dominion,

and every name that is invoked,

not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”

– Ephesians 1:18-21

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Doing good, following rules, no matter how sincere, cannot save. Adhering to creeds and memorizing catechisms can be wonderfully useful, but still, they’re external to genuine salvation. Religion is man’s best effort at pulling God down. But Christ already came down. Now, we each must come alone to the cross of Christ in repentance for the forgiveness of sins, finding in Him mercy and grace through the blood of Christ, shed on the cross. The reality of this faith involves utter death to oneself. Then, and only then, we may walk in the newness of life.

But what is this newness of life? Can it be found in the sweet by-and-by of a church hymnal? The dutiful but tired schlep of “doing the doing”? Or is it hard-won by pleasing men in the name of obedience? Artifice. Newness of life is found in the power of God that is promised to His chosen ones. The rescuing and transforming, informing and empowering, igniting and setting-a-soul-on-fire power of God that redeems men from the eternal grip of sin, death, hell, and the grave. Dunamis.

And this is the flash point: Unless it becomes reality, futility will be the lot of every Jew and Gentile until they’re reconciled to Christ — submitted in love to Him, heart, soul, mind, and strength. While this isn’t done perfectly this side of heaven, there remains the possibility of not loving Him aright — to as yet not know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, to as yet not be filled with all the fullness of God:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith— that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

– Ephesians 3:14-19

 Evidence to the Contrary, Genie Maples, 44 x 44 oil on canvas

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Ten Years Ago

I once loved God with what I thought was all my heart. But the crash and burn from mounting stressors caused me a hard fall. Prolonged mental anguish was the trial that proved my mind was not aligned and submitted to His Word. A two-year plunge into a pit of paralyzing fear, anxiety, and depression was the holy confrontation that changed me for good — leaving me weak and flat on my back with my face to the ground. Where I learned to take off my shoes.

Holy is His Name.

What I realized only after that wrestling match was this: God was jealous for me. What it took — terrors by night and a coaxing, fragile anxiety by day — to eventually break me of my willful intellect, heal me of my scarred mind. Each synapse led me to the door of defeat, every neurotransmitter fired straight into the gutter, missing the mark. I wouldn’t know what a little depression looked like. Mine was a full-on assault, targeting for the ruination of my mind. The enemy plays for keeps. The house, the world–too small! The sky? Too big. This stranger wasn’t well. Staring into the abyss, darkness was my closest friend.

After many rivers to cross, my cry for deliverance reached God’s ears. He heard my feeble whisper from His holy hill — on His timetable, not mine. There were lessons for me to learn before He was to rescue me from myself and the demons’ fiery darts that plied for my demise. Struck down, but not destroyed. Once He had me where He wanted me, He reached down from on high and held out His hand to help me up. By sheer grace, I grabbed on. Transformation began as He worked to overhaul my mind, helped train my thoughts to rest squarely upon the truth of His Word. Both sleeves rolled up, elbow-high, mainly His.

It took time, but like the dawn, a formidable strength came — what seemed a glorious marble slab built upon a city with foundations, stretching into eternity — was placed under my feet. Blessed assurance, settled in the heavens, had now been poured out on earth. I was learning to walk in the power of God.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

-2 Timothy 1:7

To those who know what it is to struggle, let me say this:

Come, be reconciled to God: heart, mind, soul and strength. Make your repentance complete in the sight of God. Go to Him on bended knee, receive cleansing for sin, let Him make peace through His blood. He’s your Freedom Fighter. Renounce all lesser strengths, lesser hopes, lesser thrones. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Agree with the Word of God. Trust Him alone as you throw off everything that hinders. Believe and trust in His Name and Word alone. The power of God will be yours.

Dunamis.

post-holiday

It was a lovely white Christmas. Home fires to keep warm by and snow falling in all the right places. But a few days into the New Year and I’m taking it wide. If I wanted to, I could get up in arms over a few things. Clutter. Delay. Waste. And there’s so much more. All very annoying.

But where’s the glory?

Take postmodernism. It’s a behemoth — a very present sociocultural threat — but especially to those who reject the gospel and refuse to submit to God’s sovereign rule. When the scrim is pulled back, the shimmer is gone. The Great Oz is shown for what he is: a puny old man destined to die every year in reruns. A cynic’s dream.

Here’s the shake:

Postmodernism is trite. Well, yes, it can be intimidating for all its fancy terminology — the intelligence of Man come to town to assault those who live coram Deo. A champion bully, an affront to the One true omnipotent God. We may stand agape, but from the vantage point of eternity, postmodernism is a nuisance and a bother brought down to size — a mere plaything left in the mulch pile of the devil’s playground. One day, among the proverbial massive landfill, it too will be found caked with dust, bashed in, deflated. On that Day, every hand will be empty and no man will boast of what they didn’t know, atheists and agnostics alike.

Instead, all will know and bow down.

Meantime, there’s a war on, don’t you know? A collision of kingdoms, an ideological battle that will prove with utter finality which is the enduring kingdom. But for now, distinctions will continue to be made: between those who bend the knee and those who do not, between those who stand ready and those who sit complacent, between those who know Him and those who do not.

“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: 

‘ The Lord knows those who are His,’ and,

‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’ “

— 2 Timothy 2:19 (ESV)

______________________

So, while there’s still time, deal with the clutter, the delay, the waste. Hasten the day of the Lord.

 

session two: saying grace

HOW KINGSOLVER CAN HANG themes together like paper chains on a Christmas tree and make them sing on key is impressive.

Saying Grace begins with her giving pause at the lip of the Grand Canyon, where she and her family went instead of flying cross-country to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with relatives. Their refrain was partly due out of deference to the horrific losses, both national and personal, suffered on 9/11 and as a solemn act of humility. Thus, the backdrop on which the one-woman drama unfolds:

With what I imagine to be a raised hand, Kingsolver lifts her voice to decry embarrassing American wastefulness, echo the cries of the poor, give ode to Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, and revolt against wartime’s perils past and present.

Wait, she’s not done.

Afterwards, on behalf of the nation and with all due politeness, she requests that we be even more generous than we are and asks for another helping of humility, thank you, please. As though she is dabbing at the corners of her mouth, Kingsolver ends on what sounds more like a mournful prayer:

“A land as broad and green as ours demands of us thanksgiving and a certain breadth of spirit. It invites us to invest our hearts most deeply in invulnerable majesties that can never be brought down in a stroke of anger. If we can agree on anything in difficult times, it must be that we have the resources to behave more generously than we do, and that we are brave enough to rise from the ashes of loss as better citizens of the world than we have ever been. We’ve inherited the grace of the Grand Canyon, the mystery of the Everglades, the fertility of an Iowa plain — we could crown this good with brotherhood. What a vast inheritance for our children that would be, if we were to become a nation humble before our rich birthright, whose graciousness makes us beloved.”

Sounds rather utopian or much like what candidate speeches are made of, but her feet are planted firmly on the ground and she’s not running for President. She’s a daughter. A wife. And a mother. An American citizen who cares about more than just herself and is willing to roll up her sleeves, go to the backyard and figure out how she might feed a small village if need be.

Her point is just that. There be a need. And it’s vast and wide, all-American, like the Grand Canyon — the generosity of God now upturned; an endless cavity created by what she sees as a bully nation’s upraised fist full of pride, careless waste, and the ever-spiraling downward wanton lust for worldly pleasures. Dumpsters across the land reveal the truth of who we are.

To a great degree, she gets it.

I pain over these things too.

However, one question Kingsolver asks caught my eye:

“What is safety in this world, and on what broad stones is that house built?”

I can answer that, but it’s probably not what she’s thinking of.

___________________________

A BIBLICAL LENS:  

Certain people have an uncanny ability to see the big picture. They don’t look at the calendar week-by-week or month-to-month, but decade by decade, century to century, looking down the long corridor of history. If old enough, they preside over the better part of a century as if it were a museum in which they are the docent.

But a Christian sees the span of time from Genesis to Revelation, a proper framework from which the BIG picture hangs — more informative, inclusive, and thoroughgoing a calendar than any other.

I like how Kingsolver thinks. She sees something of the big picture, understands how one thing affects another. If I could sit down with the author, I’d pick her brain, get to know her. But first, I’d make sure we were both comfortable and I’d have coffee ready to pour.

Somewhere in the conversation, I’d look for an opening to broach her question, “What is safety in this world, and on what broad stones is that house built?” Then I’d offer to answer.

She would be all ears.

I’d begin by saying that this present world is not all there is. Next, I’d open my Bible to the book of Genesis, talk about God as Creator of heaven and earth, and how He made man in His image. Name some of His attributes. Define sin and man’s fall. Talk about Israel and the covenants, starting with Noah, then Abraham, the patriarch of the faith, the one who was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

At this point, I’d offer her another cuppa and ask if she has any questions.

While pouring, I’d explain how the Law was given through Moses and how kingship came to David. I’d paint in broad strokes, to help her see the big dots on the timeline of redemptive history. Finally, I’d affirm the infallibility and inspiration of Scripture and share the gospel’s promise of salvation as found in none other but Jesus, of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke:

“So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

‘See, I lay in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.'”

Then I’d look at her lovingly square in the eye and say something along these lines: “These are the broad stones — the ‘invulnerable majesties’ — upon which a house of safety is built.”

Then I’d ask her to stay for lunch.

_________________________

Next Thursday: What Good Is a Story? with Becky Pliego

-Please share comments, quotes, Scriptures, or views below-

discussion: small wonder

“My mother never once told me not to stick my neck out.”

__________________________

IF THERE’S SOMETHING TO BE SAID ABOUT best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver, it’s that she has a fierce conscience, whether one agrees with her politics or not.

Known mostly for her ever-growing collection of novels, including The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver exacts a form of catharsis with Small Wonder (Harper Collins 2002). A compilation of 23 essays which reads like a running speech, here is where she spills her poetic guts on things like 9/11, patriotism, American wastefulness, ecology, heartache, mothering, gratitude, and the titular category of wonder. With each stride, she makes her point along with a thousand other points, but what never gets thrown out is the resourcefulness of her audience. She understands the value of compost and respects the fact that her readers may actually disagree with her from time to time, but it doesn’t have to make for hardened enemies. She believes, as do I, humaneness constitutes what’s best shared among neighbors.

Barbara Kingsolver

_____________________________

 You may be wondering, why is this particular book the chosen vehicle for discussion among Christian women?

This should help:

As Christians, it’s a given that we have a moral responsibility to respond decisively to injustice and abject evil, but it’s equally ours to learn to contend for the faith in the face of peace-loving and socially conscious secular reason and thought. All too often, we’ve not adequately prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have, so we either run and hide, fight too hard, or let things go bust. But nobody wins when that happens.

Small Wonder is a springboard for table talk. Kingsolver is a 20th century voice of compassion, honesty, wit, intelligence, and social conscience. She’s a master chef of words and a sheer pleasure to read, even among Millenials. But despite the many refreshing and redeeming qualities of her work, there is a blatant flaw; blindness to the existence of a Creator God, namely, Jesus Christ. Albeit, acuity and accuracy are not always the same thing. She’s a dual representative of  what is best about this nation and what’s vitally at stake in society: a Biblical worldview.

The challenge in getting there is two-fold. First, we must be willing to learn. Next, we need to defend the Truth with a right spirit. On a more practical level, do we really know what our unbelieving friends think? What our neighbors believe? Or that of the Gen-Xer who came to church last week? Do we care?

If we do, the onus is upon us to make an effort to bridge the great divide. Perhaps this is something of what loving God with all our mind looks like. Then, to gently reach across the table armed with a Biblical worldview will no longer remain an insular exercise in Truth, but one that holds the possibility of bearing the pleasing fruit of righteousness not only in our own lives but in the lives of others in and around the world.

To that end, please join me for an 8-week online book discussion beginning Thursday, September 6 through October 25 where we’ll be diving into the deep end of the pool of Biblical thought, allowing Scripture to inform us as we read and discuss each Thursday one of Kingsolver’s essays.

I look forward to your company and what you will bring to the discussion.

___________________________

Read for Thursday, September 6 – Foreword & Small Wonder


isaiah 61

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

– Isaiah 61:1-3  

______________________________

The ministry of Jesus — buttoned-down or messy?

Luke’s gospel says all eyes were upon Him in the temple as He read from the scroll of Isaiah. Six verses later, the hush of admiration turned to fury.

Why?

Jesus didn’t hide behind the pulpit. He knew His coming would challenge the status quo. And thin religion doesn’t last long in the presence of God.

When He walked the dusty roads of Israel, Jesus sought out the individual, one person at a time. He discerned the need, made right judgments. No waste of words. While candor worked with tree-climbing Zacchaeus, Nicodemus was given a late night pop quiz. And in the house of a hawk-eyed Pharisee, He seemingly went too far by allowing a sinful woman to pour perfume on His feet.

Kingdom living is often just a step away from scandal.

What we read in Scripture was never intended to be intellectually curated for a theological museum piece. At some point, our hermeneutics must make the transfer from theory to practice. Taking up the towel is the call of every disciple, from the least to the greatest, from first to last.

And here’s where it might get a little messy: A servant must be willing to set aside some things, starting with his reputation.

But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.
This is how we know we are in him:
Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

– 1 John 2:5-6



pragmatic jalinda

“Granted, the mirror has only one crack and it’s in the corner, but I still could not live with this imperfection.
I also could not throw away a perfectly good mirror,
so there had to be a clever way to save it.”

-Jalinda

If you don’t know what a pragmatist is, then most likely you are one. To some extent, we all are. And if there’s one thing pragmatists the world over have in common, it’s the desire to make something work.

You know the drill. Bigger is better. More is more. Plugging up holes and putting out fires. Git-r-done. Pragmatism is so much more than this, really, but this is what it looks like wearing a baseball cap.

To be fair, resourcefulness can be a virtue, but only up to a point. Overripe apples are great for making a tasty batch of applesauce, but there is a terminal ill no amount of human cure can remedy. Big sin, little sin, sin is sin, and the blackest of sin does not respond to a coat of paint. Or tail feathers. Morals do not save. No one is good. There is no hiding from the eye of Him to Whom we must give account.

To those who think they can accomplish spiritual goals by natural means, think again. As the prophet says:

“What will you do in the end?”

-Jeremiah 5:31

We live in a moment on the timeline when the crack in the glass has not only widened but also lengthened and multiplied. Where anarchy is a song and nihilism is broadcast from T-shirts worn by children too young to drive. Where meaninglessness is served with toast points among the elite, promoted as fine art. Knowledge abounds, but truth falters in the streets. Justice? Feed the poor, but please, no talk about offending a holy God, lest it bother someone. We’re a fractured generation living in the midst of horrible consequence. The land of Sin, a banished country.

What to say to those who want out?

First, I’d tell them Christianity is not a quick fix. Then I’d say something like this:

There is an eternal God Who dwells in unapproachable light,¹ and He sits on an eternal throne in heaven, arrayed in majesty. He is the Everlasting Father, Creator of the universe, Who, from the beginning, has ordained all that is seen and unseen. He is the Provider of creatures both great and small, of them that fly above the earth and of those that crawl upon and under the earth and they that swim in the ocean deep. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, the One and Only, He sustains every atom of matter by His powerful word.² Not a jot or tittle goes unobserved from His all-seeing eye. And He is not weak, as though He needed anything. In fact, in Him we live and move and have our being.³ He knows that we are but dust, yet He does not treat us as our sins deserve.

How can this be?

What kind of God would allow so much evil?

Why does He frustrate feeble, sincere men in their attempts to succeed? 

Why so much difficulty?

No, sir. Christianity is not for me.

Yes, this God insults man’s intelligence, diminishes his strength, thwarts his purposes and catches the wise in their craftiness.

Why?

Christianity is not a quick fix, nor is it a method or a movement. I daresay, it is not even a religion, as if it were a decision based upon human will or ancestry. Neither is it escapism, a subculture, counterculture or an alternative lifestyle.

Beyond description, Christianity is a word that escapes the eloquence of man. Though admirable attempts have been made by many, I won’t try. But this I will say: It’s not a 12-step program, a Get Out of Jail Free card or a 7-step plan to a happier you.

Christianity is a Man. And unto this Man there must be an abandonment of all other trusts.

Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the response of God to the problem of sin, the exact satisfaction of God’s wrath and the only hope for mankind’s abject ruin, total inability and plight of eternal condemnation. He is the very expression of God’s glory and kindness and unto Whom the only right response is to believe in Him by forsaking your idols, confessing and repenting from your sin and being converted, that you might find refreshing in Him.⁴

In Christ, a glorious new birth awaits.

There is some of the pragmatist in all of us, I’m convinced, and only through the well-trained, Spirit-filled Christian mind are we able to begin to break free from its grip.

-Tim Challies

God doesn’t need permission from His creation to act. He does not depend on anyone or anything and He does not yield His glory to another, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. His purposes are set high above the heavens, made manifest on the earth below upon the ever-unfolding plotline of history. And we are but His lowly subjects, whether we believe in Him or not. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Lord of Jalinda, pragmatists all.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

-Acts 4:12

1. 1 Timothy 6:16
2. Hebrews 1:3
3. Acts 17:24-28
4. Acts 3:19

Chapter Nine: The True Nature of Spiritual Warfare (Chapter Ten, too)

“Even the devil is God’s devil.”

— Martin Luther

WEEK 6

¡Arriba! Piña colada smoothie…it’s what’s for breakfast! Just in time for summer, too, as we come to the end of our book discussion. Thanks for reading along and sharing your thoughts. I’ve enjoyed every minute — studying, summarizing, posting, and responding to your comments. But to be honest, I didn’t find “A Place for Weakness” to be an easy read. A bit dense in places, perhaps better editing would’ve helped to streamline some of the clutter and repetition. Hopefully you;ve been edified. With sound theological underpinnings tied to our mast, we can sail on the high seas of life in hope that somehow, through us, God is glorified. Such is the way of faith for those who endure, come what may.

SUMMARY of CHAPTER 9

Winding down Part Two, “God of the Empty Tomb,” Horton focuses on two major themes: Satan and death. In “The True Nature of Spiritual Warfare,” he zeroes in on the conflict that takes place in the unseen realm between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan and how the drama plays out in our lives. But the Director never once abandons the stage. With Satan’s role as “prosecutor and Christ as our defense attorney…Satan’s objective in this contest is to undermine our confidence in God’s merciful will toward us, while God’s is to strengthen it.” Here’s where we soldier up to engage in Ephesians 6-style combat: “As counterintuitive as it is for us, we must turn outward at precisely these times and hope only in the Lord, whatever our conscience threatens, whatever blandishments Satan offers, whatever our experience tells us is the obvious case.”

While there’s no denying the reality of spiritual warfare, Horton decries a certain theology some circles employ, where a whole vocabulary has emerged to navigate what he terms to be borderline “cosmological dualism,” — “the belief that the universe is in the grip of a cosmic duel between God and Satan, as if these represented two equal forces.” And there’s the rub — there is only one Sovereign. As Luther said, “Even the devil is still God’s devil.” Horton argues for a faith that understands this both Biblically and empirically, based on the fulfillment of prophecy in Scripture and historic eyewitness accounts.

“The most exciting and liberating thing a believer can hear in the middle of spiritual and physical distress is not that there is a secret battle plan for defeating the powers of darkness if we will only come together and follow its fail-proof steps, but the announcement that Jesus Christ has already accomplished this for us in his first advent.” (pp. 166, 167)

This is the good news. There is no better news. For the “Judge himself — whom the transgressors had originally arraigned — takes off his robe and dons the warrior’s suit.”  Then the question “Who wins?” becomes the declarative: “He won!” — the verdict by which the believer truly lives and overcomes.

SUMMARY of CHAPTER 10

In “When God Goes to a Funeral,” Horton makes clear that the account of Lazarus in John 11 is not some contrivance about Jesus arriving late to raise a dead guy so everyone can gawk. Rather, it is the scene where sin’s worst fruit, death itself, is on display, now about to be subject to the power of God for the glory of God. This Biblical narrative reflects the eschatological truth of the hope yet to come: God’s triumphant defeat of the last enemy — Death. Jesus wasn’t late. He knew exactly what he was doing — pointing to Himself as “the Resurrection and the Life.”¹

But Mary and Martha’s tendency is our tendency. They didn’t understand. If only Jesus had come sooner…though they believed, they weren’t able to see the big picture. And so often, we can’t either. “God, if you really care about me, ________________— fill in your own blank.” (p. 181)

But Jesus doesn’t condemn them for their frustration. Instead, He lifts their vision.

Finally, Horton makes an appeal for the restored significance of grief by reminding us that “Jesus wept.” From this, he cautions against false piety. Whether the approach be stoic or sentimental, neither are commended. Both are given to extremes, seeking to avoid “the messiness of life.” We’re meant to grieve, but “we do not grieve as others do who have no hope.” ²

“At the graveside, neither optimism nor pessimism; sentimentalism nor stoicism tell us what is happening here. Only Jesus’ cross and resurrection define the event for us.” (p. 191)

1. John 11:25
2. 1 Thessalonians 4:13

MY TAKE

It’s one thing to write a book on suffering that offers treacle, it’s quite another to offer moorings for theological sanity. In “A Place for Weakness,” Michael Horton writes with the welcome bedside manner of one who has observed and endured a variety of life’s conundrums. There is no grandstanding. He’s a realist — a believer in a gospel that “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” ³ He makes his case for finding answers to the hard questions by presenting the truth found in Christ and nowhere else. Of all the efforts made by men to diffuse the stress and strain of life’s sufferings — whether it be blame, denial, a “theology of glory,” hyper-spirituality, inspirational platitudes, bad theology, stoicism or sentimentalism — none of them are sufficient to answer the cardinal questions: Why? and “Is God good?”

Horton’s answer doesn’t bother to cater to man’s felt needs as though they were ultimate. He points to a far more glorious future by proclaiming:

“The good news is twofold: (1) justice will be done; liberation will come; righteousness will be vindicated; evil, oppression, and violence will be wiped off the face of the earth; and (2) all who repent and turn to the Redeemer will be saved.” (p. 173)

This is no cop-out. Genuine saving faith in Christ rests upon these truths and are of the most profound consequence for an individual. The iron-clad nature of Truth is substantiated upon the inerrant Word of God; there is no greater place to put our faith and trust. That these claims are true whether believed or not is a great comfort to God’s people, and ought to give skeptics pause.

But perhaps one of the most heartening aspects of Horton’s view is that he’s fully grounded in reality. He doesn’t negate the pain and heartache of this life. There’s a time for tears and a place to fall apart. A shoulder is to cry on. God can bear our questions, fears and doubts. Grief and mourning are normal this “side of Easter,” and part of the poignant beauty of what it means to be human. As the book title suggests, there is a place for weakness.

In case you missed it, throughout the book Horton makes clear that death is not a celebration, but the “last enemy.” He’d rather that we face the consequences of the Fall head on than be falsely comforted by hearing, “Death is a natural part of life.” At least the former allows for the gospel to shine! Sadly, even today’s Church has run aground on this one. Amid Horton’s pastoral warnings against the prevailing doctrinal winds of our day, his greatest exhortation to the Church is to trust in Christ and find in Him the unshakeable hope that transcends this vale of tears.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

John 1:4

3. Romans 1:16

WORTH REPEATING

“there is a cosmic battle…”

“Life’s crises, whether they start out as physical or spiritual, end up involving the whole person in any case.” (p. 164)

“Satan is bound, under house arrest. And yet, like a Mafia boss in prison, he still manages to cause trouble.” (p. 168)

“This is where Satan sets up his battlements and builds his ramparts: God and His Word are not to be trusted; instead, be your own boss, find your own path, believe in yourself, and be true to yourself.” (p. 172)

“We will not grow without a fight…”

“Christ is enough, even for you.” (p. 178)

“It simply did not make sense.”

“Jesus wept.” (p. 187, John 11:35)

“We do not grieve “as others do who have no hope,” but we do grieve.” (p. 191)

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (p. 192, 1 Cor. 15:26)

“In Christ, the end has already begun.” (p. 193)

“O Death, where is your sting?”

GROUP CHAT

  • As usual, you’re welcome to leave a comment on these last chapters. Also, feel free to share your impressions of the book, too.
  • Now that you’ve finished reading “A Place for Weakness,” think about how you’ve been challenged in your view toward suffering/trials. Please share with us what you’ve learned, as it could be helpful to other readers.
  • Want a challenge? Answer the following question from Chapter 7/Question 4:

“Does Christianity “work”?

(for a refresher, re-read “Our Faith is not a Fix”on pages 131-133)

________________________

A warm thanks to all for reading, listening, and contributing to the discussion.
I trust it’s been as enriching and edifying for you as it has been for me.

“May the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

-Numbers 6:25-26

♦  ♦  ♦

-Soli Deo Gloria-



Chapter Seven: Out of the Whirlwind (Chapter Eight, too)

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.”

— Job 16:19 (NIV)

WEEK 5

A chocolate protein shake never looked so good! Speaking of good, I like how Horton opens Part Two, “God of the Empty Tomb,” by pulling on our heartstrings again. In Chapter 7, “Out of the Whirlwind,” he tells of the tragic loss of a dear mentor and family friend, unafraid to show the messy side of life. Then he introduces Job, where things get even messier. But we’re supposed to learn something from Job — namely, that God sits enthroned and how we are to bow before Him, come what may. From there, in Chapter 8, “A New Creation,” we’re treated to an informal Bible study on the truths of justification, sanctification and glorification. Out of the whirlwind is right. Like Job, we never look so good as when we allow God to have His way with us.

SUMMARY of CHAPTER 7

Of all the chapters so far, “Out of the Whirlwind” is Horton’s multifaceted jewel — it shines by touching on the best and worst of humanity. He shares the painful account of his friend’s life riddled with trial and disease that led to his eventual suicide. Remarkably, this man was a pastor. And just when we want an explanation for this senseless act, Horton raises the curtain on Job, where we find a man bereft of not only home, family, health and livelihood, but of sound, godly counsel. Dire straits always seem to put God on trial, too. This is the test — is God good? After having lost everything except his hope in God, Job says: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”¹

A picture of raw faith, Job is remembered not for his pietistic stoicism, but for having fastened his eyes on God. He appealed to the One deserving of all glory, placed confidence in Him for His own sake, and dignified the trial with prayer. But when God told him to be quiet and to brace himself like a man, he repented under the mighty hand of God — the only right response.

“No one can say, ‘I am innocent. I should not be going through this.’ This is why we need to turn from trusting in our own righteousness to the Mediator who announces to the court that he has found a ransom to deliver us from final destruction. Only this, and not the inspirational platitudes, can truly lift one’s countenance.” (p. 126)

Even when man shortchanges himself by giving up, as was the case with Horton’s friend, God never loses a battle. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Job looked away from himself and remembered that he had a Mediator. Grace is such that when God and man are put on trial, God’s shares His vindication and both come forth triumphant.

1. Job 19:25-27 NIV

SUMMARY of CHAPTER 8

Horton’s most theological chapter yet, “A New Creation” treats Romans 6, 7, and 8 with the proper care and thoroughness they deserve. By detailing the “already” position of the believer as described in Romans 6, he doesn’t fail to address our present “not yet” reality of Romans 7, ending with Paul’s glorious announcement of our Romans 8: 1-17 certain victory. From all this, the author affirms what is affirmed in Scripture: the believer’s blessed status in Christ.

But what Horton often likes to do is first remind us our origins. By pointing to our Adamic nature and subsequent bondage to sin, he reveals how it’s only through the atoning sacrifice of Christ that we’ve now “been made perfect.” He then exposes man’s ever-failing attempt to better himself. By borrowing a term, “the Protean style,”²  from psychologist Robert Jay Lifton, he describes our postmodern culture and how people of all walks of life seek to reinvent themselves. He says, “Everyone wants to be someone or something else, a new creation — but on their own terms.” This is the height of what is called nihilism, as here Horton colorfully defines it:

“Nihilism is having two hundred TV channels from which to choose, life as a perpetual smorgasbord in which choice becomes an end in itself. We forget what we’re even choosing or why. We are “in charge,” but of a life that seems often to lack any definite purpose or sense of destination.” (p. 138)

Then Horton brings us back around to center stage, where nihilism serves as the perfect foil for the gospel:

“Something has happened outside us, in history — a divine disruption that really has inaugurated a new world. The Holy Spirit has been sent by the Father and by the Son, who sits victorious at the Father’s right hand, to make all things genuinely new from the inside out.” (p. 138)

As believers in Christ, God has brought an end to all our striving. The need for reinventing ourselves is over. Faith adorns us from within and without. We’ve been made new.

2. From the Greek myth in which Proteus constantly changed his shape to evade capture.

MY TAKE

I’m grateful to have found Horton’s chapter on Job, “Out of the Whirlwind,” to be an easy read. There’s more good theology available in that book than I ever knew and it’s worth reading again in light of Horton’s commentary. I particularly appreciated Horton’s sober and compassionate view towards his friend’s suicide — proof that having a firm grasp on sound Biblical theology inevitably leads to having a realistic and merciful posture towards another’s frailty.

And since I never seem to tire of sound doctrine, “A New Creation” sat well with me, even if the chapter did go long. I applaud Horton for his unapologetic stance against our present postmodern culture. He takes no prisoners, shining a spotlight on all the messages we receive from our advertising world. Let’s face it, “reinventing yourself” is what you do if you are unregenerate. He does a wonderful job puzzling it out, showing how there is “nothing is new under the sun.” It’s true. Sin is not original. It’s all been done before.

But what I liked most about this chapter is how Horton faithfully stewards over the gospel, showing us how we can hold several truths in tension (Romans 6, 7, and 8 ) and still walk in the intended fullness of our redemption this side of heaven, keeping pace with the hope of glory in the age to come.

WORTH REPEATING

“Like Job, we make conclusions based on limited information, trying to figure out why things are happening to us.” (p. 119)

“Bildad means well, but he too suffers from bad theology.” (p.119)

“Bad things happen to bad people, good things happen to good people, but there is no such thing as bad things happening to good people. There is no one good, no not one.” (p. 120)

“Though he slay me, I will hope in him…”

“Just because we don’t have the answers does not mean there are no answers.”(p. 128)

“What happens here and now is not the whole story.” (p. 131)

“There is a Redeemer…who will right all wrongs and make all things new.” (p.134)

“The verdict of the last day is rendered here and now. For us, judgment day is a settled affair.” (p. 141)

“We live because he lives.”

“To suggest that we can add anything to our redemption is to insult God’s liberal expense in making us his children. We cannot be more chosen, accepted, forgiven, or justified than we are right now.” (p. 143)

“So we do not lose heart…”

“In moments of peak piety, I am still a struggling believer; and in moments of great transgression, I am still baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and thus a citizen of the new creation that has dawned with Christ’s victory over sin and death and his sending of the Spirit…the normal Christian life! (p. 151)

“In the end we will wear the conqueror’s crown.”

GROUP CHAT

What wisdom we learn from Job! What teaching we receive from Horton! Please leave a comment, ask a question, share a quote or offer insight. Of course, if you’d rather simply listen, that’s fine, too.

If you’d like to answer a chapter question from the back of the book, please feel free. Just remember to reference which chapter/question it is so the rest of us aren’t left stranded. Thanks.

FOR NEXT WEEK

Conclusion:

Read Chapters 9 & 10:  “The True Nature of Spiritual Warfare” & “When God Goes to a Funeral”

-Thanks for coming-

♦  ♦  ♦

Our last time together is next Wednesday, June 8

Chapter Five: Is Anybody Up There? (Chapter Six, too)

“We cannot climb up to God, but He has descended to us.”

— Michael Horton

WEEK 4

Lots of ice, a decent amount of half & half, and some turbinado sugar to let sink down to the bottom…that’s how I roll when it’s hot! OK…yes, the book. Well, if there’s one thing Michael Horton is good at, it’s taking a profound subject and blasting home a layered point as he spins several plates while hopping on one foot. In these next two chapters, he pulls out the BIG guns and fires away at the BIG questions: Where is God? and Why, God? There’s much to consider and discuss; I won’t even try to cover it all. But hopefully, we’ll tap a vein that brings some life and builds faith. Remember, next week we start Part Two: “God of the Empty Tomb” in which we have left only two more discussions. Then what we’ve learned will be, as the author says, “put to the test of real life.” Now, once I plunk in my trusty pink straw, I’ll be good to go…

SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 5

In “Is Anybody Up There?” Horton answers the universal question, “Where is God when we need Him most?” by first stating that God condescends to us through His ordained means of grace and the many “masks” He wears through the neighbors and saints in our community. He then proceeds to take the reader on a long meandering tour to explain our inherited godless culture, where the existence of God isn’t taken for granted anymore as much as it has been exchanged for despair (p.72). Horton credits the Nietzsches, the Feuerbachs, the Marxes and the Freuds of this world for having systematically sown unbelief by reducing God to a void, a dream, a drug and a coping mechanism — the fruit of which has come to bear in William James’ pragmatism. As it flourishes in society and in the Church, its dictates of “God is whatever works” and “what we think we need” undermine the high and holy place of God, without anyone batting an eyelash.

But Horton does not abandon us to despair. He finishes the tour by announcing that this not the gospel, and warns us to not buy their trinkets. Using the literary technique of contrast, he reveals their theology of glory as the mythical tales of supermen — religion of the worst kind — and tells of a better way. To the one crying, “Where is God for me, for us, given the mess we’re in right now?” Horton offers not the general revelation of God as displayed in the glory of a magnificent sunset, but the special revelation of His saving will, a particular promise that says: “I have forgiven your sins, so come to Me. Do not be afraid.”

The author knew where he was going the entire time — and guides us back to where he started, reminding us of a Savior who condescends to us.

SUMMARY of CHAPTER 6

In “If We Just Knew Why God Let It Happen,” Horton attempts to recover what’s largely been lost — an appreciation for God’s ordinary providence in society. He advocates for theological sanity by asking: Can we let God be God? Can we live with mystery and still trust Him, in His goodness? as he introduces the ideas of providence vs. miracle, common grace vs. saving grace, direct vs. indirect government — showing how they work together in all of life throughout the whole of God’s sovereignty, seen and unseen. He suggests a faith that allows for tension in truth where these distinctions play out:

“Just as God rules the affairs of his creation no less through providence than miracle,
or common grace than saving grace,
he is just as active when he works through creatures
as when he directly brings about his designs apart from them.”
(pp. 105-106)

Single-handedly, the author lifts our vision to behold God “even where we do not usually expect to find him, and to trust that even when we do not find him, he is already there.” Nobly and with expertise, he gently cautions us away from yielding to unbelief cloaked in gnosis, or in other words, a “need to know.” Which begs another question: Would “knowing why” change anything?

In answer to that, he quotes Calvin: “It would not even be useful for us to know what God himself…willed to be hidden.” (p. 98)

MY TAKE

I’m grateful for the way Michael Horton educates while warning and protecting the flock of God. In Chapter 5, he may have gone off on a tangent or two and repeated himself a lot, but he didn’t waste a drop of ink — or my time — in doing so. I appreciate his gift of persuasion. He soundly reasons that we put away religious thinking and the fleshly, cultural temptation to succumb to a theology of glory. I need reminding over and over that I have a Savior, as I tend to forget that this mighty God is nearer than I dare trust in my hour of need.

Chapter 6 had my wheels turning! I loved how he put this one together, explaining in detail the distinctions of providence and miracle, common and saving grace, direct and indirect government, etc. Like a true reformer, he carries the torch for a faith that is Biblically balanced, one that wards against worldly principles and the lesser goals of gnosis and hyper-spirituality, the pretense of knowing what God is up to at all times. And he points to a God who is gracious, to the One who heals either by way of the surgeon’s hands or the immediate miracle, to the One who rains on the just and the unjust. Horton does not apologize for God, nor does he seek to explain Him away. Instead, like a faithful steward, he humbly regards the majesty of the Lord and invites us to do the same.

I found this chapter to be not only encouraging, but refreshing!

WORTH REPEATING

Religion actually is a projection of our own felt needs, fig leaves of our inner lives to cloak our guilt, a golden calf of our own imaginations to hide us from the God of blinding glory. But religion is not revelation. Religion expresses our longings. Revelation communicates God’s.” (p. 75)

“The sheer presence or existence of God is not itself good news to us in our sin.” (p. 77)

“One moment we may be lost in the grandeur and sheer force of the ocean’s waves; the next we are just as lost in their dread as they burst their bonds, causing havoc and destruction.” (p. 80)

“Things are not as they seem.”

“We do not know what God has decided in his deep and mysterious hiddenness, and we can only know what God condescends to reveal to us as he cloaks his unapproachable light in humility and weakness. (p. 83)

“He has still not revealed everything.”

“He remains Lord over his counsels.” (p. 96)

“God’s wisdom reorients us to see everything differently.” (p. 104)

“Our times are in His hands…”

“God’s providence cannot really be discerned apart from the gospel, apart from the knowledge that God is up to something here that will turn Good Friday into Easter morning.” (p. 110)

GROUP CHAT

OK, that was a lot to swallow. What resonated with you? What did you like/dislike? Reflect on? Agree/disagree with?

Please share your thoughts, insights, questions, or favorite excerpts in ftm’s comment section. Of course, if you’d rather simply listen, that’s fine, too.

FOR NEXT WEEK

We begin Part Two: “God of the Empty Tomb”

Read Chapters 7 & 8:  “Out of the Whirlwind” and “A New Creation”

-Thanks for coming-

♦  ♦  ♦

Let’s meet back here again next Wednesday, June 1

Chapter Three: Suffering on Purpose (Chapter Four, too)

“God nowhere promises us temporal prosperity, but the way he has redeemed us makes all of our trials cruciform,
that is, shaped not by the circumstances themselves,
but by the suffering and victory of Christ.”

— Michael Horton

WEEK 3

Enjoying the book so far? Michael Horton covers a lot of ground in these next two chapters. If by now you understand a “theology of glory” vs. a “theology of the cross,” it should be clear sailing from here, as Horton has placed a sort of theological compass in your hand. Tip: Allow it to inform you the rest of the way, as we’re going to pick up the pace by covering two chapters a week. I’ll offer a brief summary for each and I’ll be pulling more quotes. Also, today’s chapter 4 summary has a few terms linked to their definitions just in case they’re new to some. Hey, maybe next time I’ll get tricky and throw out a question from the back of the book:) But for now, grab your favorite drink, get comfy and let’s have another go-round. By the way, I’m making mine a latte!

SUMMARY of CHAPTER 3

In “Suffering on Purpose,” Horton sets the tone for the rest of the book by affirming that just as Christ suffered on purpose, so do we. Nothing we undergo is in vain or wasted. God uses every bit to conform us into the likeness of His Son. And he reminds that God is not aloof or heartless as He carries out His secret plan, but He is working all things together for good. In all our troubles, God offers “more than chicken soup for our souls” — we have an anchor of hope that has “entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”¹ He goes on to detail how Jesus’ first coming was not to reign as Glorious King, as the disciples were expecting, but as Suffering Servant sent to die. God’s unfolding plan of redemption on the timeline of history was a theology of the cross — purposeful — yet terribly misunderstood. While the disciples were hankering for the best seat in the house and wondering who would get to sit on His left and right in glory, He was preparing to wear a crown of thorns, pour out His blood, and have a spear thrust into his side for the forgiveness of their sins — and ours.

1. Hebrews 6:19b

SUMMARY of CHAPTER 4

In defense of Truth, Horton calls the shots in “Is Your God Big Enough?” One by one, he lines up and fires away “execution-style” the prevailing lies of this postmodern age. By first taking aim at pragmatism, he quickly disposes of the view “God is useful” and the notion “if it works, it must be true.” He makes target practice out of moralistic therapeutic deism, a term coined by sociologist Christian Smith to describe what the average card-carrying American teen believes in the name of religion: “God is whatever I need.” He cleans up by offering a perspective on perhaps what is the most common detriment to genuine faith, that “fatal combination: experience-centeredness and sentimentalized pictures of God.” From this vantage point, Horton challenges the reader to believe God to be “most present precisely where He seems most absent.” He then bravely moves in for the kill. While he sympathizes with the problem of evil and suffering in our lives, he states that apart from Christ, there is no practical solution. His message? Our hope must be in a God bigger than ourselves, our experiences, and our understanding. Horton then points to where we must place our trust: In the promise of redemption — both now and in the future, that day when He wipes the last tear from our eyes.

“It is the Christian doctrine of God, as maintained within historic Christianity, that invalidates both hyper-immanence (pantheism) and hyper-transcendence (deism). Jesus Christ not only teaches us but exhibits to us that the God of Israel is both the Lord over and beyond us and Immanuel, “God with us.”

MY TAKE

Growing up, my family experience was less than wonderful. By God’s grace, I endured the chaos from having been reared by an alcoholic father and an emotionally fragile mother. We sustained much collateral damage as sin tore at each of our souls in different ways. As the youngest, I learned to adapt and cope in the midst of an emotional war-zone, finding little comfort for my heartache. But at age 12, God saw me in my distress and caused me to cry out to Him. With great compassion, He met me in my need. Somehow, I knew that God had a purpose in it all. By the time I turned 16, that glimmer of hope turned into “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” I had become a Christian. And I discovered this: Time spent in the furnace of affliction was no mere happenstance, but allowed by God to bring me to Himself. I knew what things I had suffered would be used for His good purpose. After all, He was God. Looking back, that was the extent of my theology. All I could do was lean on Him with all my weight…little did I know He was carrying me.

Years later, I needed my God to be bigger than He had ever been. Newly married and about to turn 30, I received word that my dear older brother, Johnny, 32, had committed suicide. That September evening, it was as though time stood still while everything else changed.

How could someone in his prime, just married, so full of talent and flashes of brilliance be so deeply broken and distraught? This was my brother, my friend, the one with whom I had shared faith in Christ, played the game “I See Something Blue” on the grassy hill near our home, and survived alongside of in our own private holocaust. Now he was gone. That was the day I experienced the point of no return and what it means to “Trust God” — when all sense of control is lost and nothing makes sense. The moment when all the oxygen was being sucked from my lungs. I was devastated.

This is grace: In the midst of my grief and anguish, God got bigger — apart from anything I did, really. In the aftermath of such horrible tragedy, Grief became my closest friend. She accompanied my every sigh and left gold nuggets at the bottom of each puddle of tears. During that time, I learned this: There’s nothing that comes into my life that hasn’t already passed God’s white-glove inspection. He knows the exact number of all my days from before the foundations of the world and God perfectly understands my sorrow. His compassion is very great, and He rules in Majesty over all from a high and holy place. He is beyond finding out.

WORTH REPEATING

“We’re going to Jerusalem all right,” Jesus kept saying, “but it will be nothing like what you have in mind.” (p. 41)

“In Christ — that is, under his guardianship — we are assured that God, not Satan, is king; life, not death, has the last word; righteousness, not sin, reigns over us; blessing, not condemnation, is our inheritance here and now.” (p. 46)

“It is finished!”

“But the theology of the cross proclaimed, embraced, and enacted by the Suffering Servant has stripped from the powers of darkness their ultimate threat and will in due season trample all enemies underfoot.” (p. 50)

“We know that we have drilled into reality when its gushing intensity throws us off balance.” (p.53)

“There is no theology-free experience.”

“It is all interpreted, and the question is whether there is something outside our experience to critique it, to let it know whether it got things right. ”  (p. 55)

“The God who comes to us in revelation is not a projection, but a Person. He wrestles us to the ground, takes away our pride, and leaves us walking with a limp so that we will never forget the encounter.” (p. 58)

God is self-sufficient…God is unchangeable in his nature and purposes…God has all knowledge and all power over every circumstance…God is everywhere…These “invisible attributes”…are not sufficient to arouse hope in the midst of crises, but they are essential presuppositions of it. Unless God is God, nothing else matters.” (pp.61, 62, 63)

“That God knows everything about us and has sovereign power over our destiny is bad news apart from a Mediator.” (p. 62)

“God is as present on the streets of New York City as He is in his heavens.” (p.63)

“God does not exist for us; we exist for God.” (p. 65)

“He can and will set everything right…”

“God determines the future, and therefore we can be confident that his suffering for us in Christ will yield the promised fruit: everlasting peace in a world where suffering is no more and God will be all in all.” (p. 68)

GROUP CHAT

So there you have it. Those are my thoughts. I would love to hear yours. Please leave a comment, ask a question, share a quote or offer insight. Of course, if you’d rather simply listen, that’s fine, too.

If you’d like to answer a chapter question from the back of the book, please feel free. Just remember to reference which chapter/question it is so the rest of us aren’t left stranded. Thanks.

FOR NEXT WEEK

Read Chapters 5 & 6:  “Is Anybody Up There?” and “If We Just Knew Why God Let It Happen”

-Thanks for coming-

♦  ♦  ♦

Until next Wednesday, May 25