Posted on Friday, April 22, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

The Evil of Evils, by Jeremiah Burroughs (Soli Deo Gloria, 1992 [first published 1654])

Oh, you heavens!  How could you behold such a spectacle as this was?  How was the earth able to bear it?  Truly, neither heaven nor earth was able, for the Scripture says that the sun withdrew its light and was darkened so many hours.  It was from twelve to three that the sun withdrew its light and did not shine, but there was dismal darkness in the world for it was unable to behold such a spectacle as this was.  And the earth shook and trembled, and the graves opened and the rocks split in two, the very stones themselves were affected with such a work as this, and the vale of the Temple rent asunder.  These things were done upon Christ’s bearing of the wrath of His Father for sin.  Here you have the first fruits of God’s displeasure for sin, and in this you may see, surely, that sin must be a vile thing since it causes God the Father to deal thus with His Son when He had man’s sin upon Him. (102)

Surely we think of sin as too small a thing.  As we reflect on Good Friday and the Easter season, it is clear that there is no such thing as a small sin.  We try to compare ourselves to others who seem like worse offenders.  In all this we try to make our own sins look light.  In reality, I couldn’t approach my Holy God with even one of my “smallest” sins.  The creation couldn’t even bear the sight of Christ carrying our sin, propitiating the Father’s wrath.  The perfect Jesus Christ had my sin—every bit of it—imputed to Him and faced His Father’s judgment.  In exchange, His righteousness was imputed on me.  What magnificent love!  How can I be so cavalier with my sin?  Could anything ever come close to showing us the evil of sin as God pouring His wrath for it on His Son?  Who else could be worthy of our praise and worship?

Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

We are currently studying the doctrine of Christ in my Sunday School class.  I’ve been reflecting for a couple of weeks now about one of our homework questions.  The text:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)

The Question: How is the death of Christ an example of patient endurance?

Of course, there are several obvious answers, and I could quickly write down what the text provided, for the joy that was set before Him.  What a profound statement!  For two weeks now, I’ve been chewing on the relationship of patient endurance and joy.

We don’t really like the words patient or endure.  My Strong’s Concordance breaks down the Greek endured with words like: to stay under, remain, bear, have fortitude, persevere, abide, and patiently suffer.  In my mind many of these synonyms sound like a passive survival.  But no one I know would say, “I hope to passively survive my Christian life.”

The author of Hebrews compares our Christian life to running a race.  He points us to a cloud of witnesses who have forged ahead by faith and have received their future hope.  More importantly, he points us to Jesus Christ, whose patient endurance was active, for the sake of joy.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the fitness of Jesus lately.  He did not give up His life until the proper time.  Think of how He must have longed to be with His Father in heaven.  But even stronger, He patiently endured for the joy set before Him, which was submission to His Father and redeeming a people for Himself.  Jesus had to give up His life; it could not be taken from Him.

You see, none of us could even begin to run if it were not for the author and finisher of our faith.  None of us had the fitness required to bear the curse of the world’s sin on that tree.  Only the Son of God would be qualified as a contender: completely righteous, without sin.  In his earthly ministry, he fulfilled all righteousness, resisted temptation, and was ready to be both our sin offering and our thank offering.  Even as the God-man, the cup of God’s wrath he had to drink was enough to make him fall to the ground.  Jeremiah Burroughs lamented on the weight Jesus bore as He fell on His face in prayer:

He, who upholds the heavens and the earth by His power, now falls groveling upon the earth, having the weight and burden of man’s sin upon Him…If all the strength of all the men who ever lived since the beginning of the world, and all the angels in heaven, were put into one, and he had only that weight upon him that Christ had, it would have made him sink down into eternal despair; for had not Christ been God as well as man, He could never have borne it, but would have sunk down eternally. (The Evil of Evils, p.100)

Only one man qualified for that position—Jesus Christ.

Because of this, we are told to run with endurance the race set before us.  Only Jesus had the fitness for the cross, but because of Him believers are given the fitness for the Christian life.  Fitness requires conditioning.  And we are told to actively endure.  Since I love to exercise, this is a great metaphor for me.  I think of the cloud of witnesses as the before and after shots fitness programs use for promotions.  We are given a real testimony of believers who endured.  My before shot is pretty shabby.  But my after shot will be a glorified, resurrected body!

Anyone can start a race, but only the fit can finish.  By God’s grace, Christians are given endurance to persevere to the end, as Christ conditions us and strengthens our faith along the way.  Most people feel pretty strong in the beginning of a workout.  In one of my regular workouts I do, Bob Harper (yes, I’m a Biggest Loser fan) likes to lay on the heavy licking in the end.  He reminds us that everyone is strong in the beginning of a workout; let’s see who’s strong in the end.  As we begin our weighted-side-plank-T-stand-push-up-craziness, the fitness models begin crying out for mercy (that’s when you know it’s bad).  Bob smiles and encourages, “I am with you.”  I always think of how Jesus told his disciples the same thing in his Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).  We can finish strong because the finisher of our faith finished strong.  He really is with us through his Spirit, the preaching of his Word, and the administration of his sacraments.  I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.  And He is the joy that is set before me.

Further Meditation: Ps. 78: 12-16, Isa. 45:22, Matt. 26: 36-39, John 10: 17-18, 12:27-28

Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Since it's Holy Week, I thought it would be good to use a related theological term for our Word of the Week.  This definition comes from Michael Horton's The Christian Faith:

Penal Substitution: Jesus Christ's sacrifice was the payment of a debt to divine justice as a substitute for his people.

More from Horton on Atonement:

In Christ's flesh, both his life and his death, we have a thank offering that restores what we owe to God's law--a fragrant life well pleasing to the Lord--and a guilt offering that propitiates God's wrath....The sacrificial motif is at the heart of Jesus' own self-identity: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45)...While Christ's sacrifice provides a sample of self-giving love, it is a unique and unrepeatable event, bringing to an end all scapegoats, all bloody sacrifices, all substitutions, and all attempts to reconcile ourselves to God by our own efforts. (496-497)

Posted on Monday, April 18, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 1&2, Christ Crucified, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Baker Books, second printing, 1999)

I confess I have a shelf in my head for everything now.  Whatever I read I know where to put it; whatever I learn I know where to stow it away.  Once when I read books, I put all my knowledge together in glorious confusion; but ever since I have known Christ, I have put Christ in the centre as my sun, and each science revolves round it like a planet, while minor sciences are satellites for those planets.  Christ is to me the wisdom of God.  I can learn everything now.  The science of Christ crucified is the most excellent of sciences, she is to me the wisdom of God.  O, young man, build thy studio on Calvary ! (109)

I thought this was appropriate for Holy Week.  As we are busy going about our spring cleaning chores, maybe it would be well for us to rearrange some of our theological and philosophical furniture as well.  Sometimes I complain of being so distracted that I feel like there are a bunch of crumpled pieces of paper in my brain—beginnings of thoughts that I’d like to finish and file away properly.  This is a week Jesus Christ and His crucifixion lay heavier on our minds.  Let it also be a time to dust off that shelf in our head, and keep Him at the center of all our knowledge.  Shine that shelf; toss out all the clutter.  Let us pray like David:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Try me, and know my anxieties;

And see if there’s any wicked way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139)

Posted on Saturday, April 16, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

[caption id="attachment_124" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Is coffee talk on the endangered list?"][/caption]

Have you ever received a picture of a cup of coffee, or cocktail on your Facebook page?  Yesterday I was sent a virtual fortune cookie to open.  I know that I have been guilty of texting pictures of birthday cakes to people on their special day.  (Or big lips to my husband while he’s at work.)  I suppose it’s a cute way to show someone we are thinking of them, even though we can’t be together.  But, is it really because we can’t be together, or because it’s just easier to have cyber-coffee than actually inviting someone over for a real cup of mudd (mudd is way yummier than mud, by the way)?  A cup of cyber-coffee doesn’t require any housework, actual use of resources, or investment in the bona fide time of a visit.  In this article, I would like to contemplate some of the benefits and obstacles of relationships in the cyber-universe, compared to face-to-face hospitality.

I guess you could say that in both worlds we are making a culture and hopefully, something worth sharing with others.  If I’m using Facebook and blogging as two of my primary cyber-examples, they both reveal something about ourselves: through pictures, our friends, what we have to say…We have the control in both our homes and our web spaces for self expression.  However, the cyber-page is admittedly a much easier venue than a home to carry on a facade of status.  For example: I can show you my best pictures of my best moments.  I don’t have to dust my webpage, and I don’t have to wash an empty cyber-cup.  You will see my kids smiling and having fun; not whining, tattling, and leaving all their shoes peppered around the house.  Face-to-face hospitality requires much more work and honesty.  Although, when we are unable to keep in physical touch, it is a wonderful pleasure to cyber-communicate.  It can also be an easy temptation to get lazy in our actual call to be hospitable.

The cyber-world isn’t an evil.  Many more relationships can be made and maintained through its beneficial resources.  I am happy to have them.  Yet, we need to be careful in substituting our face-to-face opportunities for cyber ones.  I’m not just suggesting a balance between the two either.  Our concrete opportunities should occupy more time, shouldn’t they?  To keep it real, it actually has to be real.  If half our personal time is spent in cyber-relationships, we can become disillusioned.  Our cyber-communication is lacking in the nuances used to pick up on the nonverbal gestures, chemistry, and intent of the words communicated.  As we hide behind our posts and profile pictures, we may become more bold and lost in fantasy.  Our “material” relationships are our reality check.  We actually have to ask questions instead of checking our news feed.  What’s on our mind may be longer than what is customarily posted on our wall.  We are part of an open dialogue, rather than one-dimensional communication.  You see, our cyber-friends can be kept at an arm’s length away, becoming a noble way to have relationship without service.

The description for this website is the gospel interrupting the ordinary.  Cyber-life has become the ordinary.  How do these connections both help and hinder believers as ambassadors of the Good News?  We certainly have been blessed with the opportunity to send information, receive prayer requests, updates, connect with diverse cultures, mission efforts, and distant friends and family in a way that our forefathers could have only dreamed.  For that, it is a blessing.  And with blessing comes responsibility.  It can be so easy to take our new ease of relationship for granted. Many times new technology can replace the old way of doing things.   As so many careers are spent in front of a computer, let’s try to make a conscious effort in face-to-face hospitality for our personal lives.

So I end this post with a challenge.  Once a week, substitute some cyber-time for coffee-talk--real coffee talk (or hot tea, dessert, lunch…).  After all, when Peter gave the imperative to be hospitable, I don’t think he had chat rooms in mind.

1 Peter 4:9

Posted on Thursday, April 14, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

The Next Story, by Tim Challies (Zondervan, 2011)

The subtitle of this book is Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion.  In my new experiences as a blogger (freshman, to say the least) I have had many thoughts on this very topic.  My next post will be an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago on cyber-culture verses true hospitality.  As I’ve been stirring my observations around in this cyber-hood, I knew I had to purchase Challies’ new book, hot off the press.  I appreciate the wisdom from an experienced blogger with much popularity, articulating well many of my concerns as a newbie.  This reflection is pleasantly timely in its correlation to my next article…

Many of us are more concerned with who we are in a mediated context than who we are before those who live in the same neighborhood or attend the same church. (p.105)

Challies laments a bit on how our sense of community has shifted from being defined by a space to identification according to personal interests.  Now that we have the control to “customize” our communities (just like our lattes) our spiritual growth is being hindered.  While there is so much that is good in our technological advancements, we need to evaluate our proper use of them.  As Christians, we see that throughout redemptive history, God has revealed Himself to us in an intimate way and promises the ultimate future hope.  He has brought us closer to Him in that we no longer need a priest as a mediator.  Jesus Christ walked among us, fulfilled all righteousness, physically hung on a cross, bore our sin, died, was buried, and rose again.  He is our mediator and through Him we have direct communion with God in prayer.  But it gets better.  We have a future hope—to behold the face of God, to dwell with Him in eternity.

My relationship with Christ and His church shows me not to be too easily satisfied in advances of technological mediators.  While it is good to have extra tools for communication, phones, texting, Facebooking, etc., are inferior to face-to-face relationships.  Are our cyber-relationships better than our physical ones?  I do not hope to become disembodied, as a technological mediator.  I hope to become like my Real Mediator, Jesus Christ.

Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Schadenfreude: (shäd’n-froi’də) a compound German word (lit. “damage-joy"). It refers to malicious joy in the misfortunes of others. From “schaden”– damage, harm, injury + “freude”– joy. 

This week's word was provided to us by Steve Cornell.  Check out his post on Social Cannibalism:  http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/social-cannibalism/

And...you know you want to hear this pronunciation:  http://thefreedictionary.com/schadenfreude
(Is it James Earl Jones?)

Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

I can hardly bear the tattling any longer.  The second I correct one of my children, they try to nail their brother or sister for a related offense.  It is wearing me down.  Why do my children want to throw each other under the bus so callously?  They take no thought of how ugly they’re revealing themselves to be in their selfish agenda.  In a flash, my simple correcting moment has lured me in to be judge, jury, exposer of hearts—but mostly tired, annoyed, and ready to give up.  I never seem to be getting anywhere in the “can’t we all just get along” department.

Of course, as a parent I know that they’re all guilty.  As a Christian parent, I need to get to the heart issues and apply the gospel to these situations. 

So as I was having a venting session with myself, I realized that this can still be an issue in adulthood.  Since we do know its ugliness, we indict our peers in a more clever way.  In trying to disguise the rank stench that it is, we become like the accuser, the devil himself.  We manipulate, appealing to the desire of those we would like to assuage to our position.  Even as Christians, we may slap a righteous veneer on a cause to promote our own glory.  Thankfully, God has already dealt with all destructive prosecuting in the work of Christ.

Revelation 12 describes Christ’s victory over the accuser in his death and resurrection:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon.  And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.  And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.  And they have conquered them by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.  Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!  But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you and he knows that his time is short!” (7-12)   

In these verses I am encouraged that in Jesus full atonement has been made for my sin.  The Kingdom of God has been ushered in, and the accuser has no leg to stand on (that’s funny when we think of the serpent) in his tattling because, as the great hymn goes: My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought!—my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!  Even if God were to grant that ancient serpent back the authority to accuse, it would be meaningless.  Our ransom has been paid, and not only that, the righteousness of Christ is imputed on all believers.  He grants us the faith to see his grace, and begins the great work of transforming us into the image of his Son.  With that knowledge, my life can now be lived in praise and service to the One who has rescued me from my sin!

And here is where the fine art of discernment comes in.  As we mature in our Christian journey, we know that for truth to be truth, there are going to be people that we need to point the finger toward.   We are going to be offended and even get tangled in sin ourselves as we wait for that glorious day of our consummation.   We learn in Matthew 18: 15-20 how to handle being sinned against.  First, we should go to the offender, ready to offer forgiveness as we confront them in love.  We are not to involve others unless that person is obstinate.  When we think of how Christ has covered our shame, it should ameliorate our pain from minor offenses that others may do to us. 

And yet there is a time to speak out against someone.  Paul publicly rebukes Peter for not [being] straightforward about the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14).   In public ministry it is necessary to speak out publically against false teaching for the sake of the gospel.  We should not sit quietly when the truth is at stake, but we still need to use discernment in our approach.  Our conduct in all these situations should be worthy of the gospel.  It sure isn’t easy and we are told in the above Scripture from Revelation that the devil is clamoring out his evil works now because he knows his time is short…which takes me back to my hymn:  Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul.

Posted on Sunday, April 10, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Dual Citizens, by Jason J. Stellman (Reformation Trust, 2009)

Whether we are beholding the majesty of Mount Rainier, rejoicing over the birth of our first child, or simply savoring a good pale ale or single malt Scotch, a world-affirming Christianity does more justice to both the incarnation of Christ and the imago Dei [image of God] in man than does the world-avoidance of much of the American church. (128)

Sometimes we Christians get so caught up in our heavenly hope and spiritual lives that we completely overlook the here and now: the actual place God has put us.  We become so fearful of becoming worldly that we deny ourselves the joy from simple pleasures.  Let’s not forget that the same God who created us also created the world he put us in—and said that it was good.  By His common grace we can enjoy the blessings of this life, all the while affirming the Lord’s goodness.  Sure, we look forward to a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16), but I am also thankful for the home God has given me now.  This is where He has me to serve, and I can glorify His name in thankful wonder of even the simple ordinary pleasures.  We can get so caught up in trying to transcend above the ordinary, that we miss out on the ordinary means by which God has blessed us. While being carefully discerning in our conduct, we recognize that God places us in the responsible hard work of enjoying His blessings in service to Him, without raising the created over the Creator (1 Pet. 2:11-12, Rom. 1:25).  Right now, I am thankful for my moment with a good book and a no-bake cookie!  Praise God for chocolate, peanut butter and oatmeal!

Posted on Friday, April 08, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

My neighbor, John, has a wonderful vegetable garden.  When we first built our home, I perceived his gi-normous patch of tilled dirt facing my backyard as a bit of an eyesore.  I seriously considered planting a row of trees to block my view.  However, I bore in mind that the trees wouldn’t only block my view, but his morning sun as well.  Was this a man who took care of his yard, or was I in for an out-of-control weed sanctuary?  April was too soon to tell, so I decided to let this situation play out over the summer. 

Turns out, John labored diligently in his garden just about every day.  In early spring he got busy cleaning up winter’s mess in this special plot of land.  He took extraordinary care of all that dirt.  I’d watch out my window as John and his son would till the soil, remove rocks from the soil, fertilize the soil (later I was told of the particular manure he used for best results), mark out rows, and add stakes, ties, and other strange fences for which I knew not why.   After a month of all that hard work, it still just looked like a bunch of dirt.  But it was organized dirt—John had a plan.  He revealed to me later how he actually mapped out his whole garden on paper (which grew larger every year) before each new season.  And it was nutritious dirt—that’s right, ripe with everything necessary for the fruit and vegetables he wanted to grow.   John wouldn’t use sprinklers to water his garden, like the rest of us neighbors did. He individually watered each plant so as not to encourage more weed growth.  Also, my neighbor is insistent on keeping everything organic.  He may have some questionable West Virginia methods for keeping pests out of his garden, but he certifies it all to be chemical-free!

Then came the knock on my door.  There stood John, happily offering me a grocery bag full of fresh sugar snap peas—the best snap peas I ever put in my mouth.  Next it was a generous amount of healthy asparagus.  And, you guessed it; I had bountiful amounts of the coveted garden-tomato for the last half of summer.  His Eden facing my backyard put my puny rock-enclosed-circle-garden to shame.  But that’s not all: there were melons, cauliflower, carrots, onions, strawberries, apples, and peanuts!  Everything he’s brought to my door has been fabulously delicious.

Fast-forward to my worship service this week.  Our Old Testament reading came from Isaiah 55.  Verses 8-11 particularly stood out to me:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. 

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are My ways higher than your ways,

And My thoughts than your thoughts. 

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,

And do not return there,

But water the earth,

And make it bring forth and bud,

That it may give seed to the sower

And bread to the eater,

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;

It shall not return to me void,

But it shall accomplish what I please,

And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

 

As my pastor read this Scripture it brought John’s garden to my mind.  All of the garden-tending is such good metaphor for how our good Lord works.  He has a plan.  He uses all of His resources, even the manure when we need it, to cause growth in His people.  I’m full of rocks and weeds, but my Lord carefully tills the stony ground of my heart.  To many, the church (God’s garden) might just look like a bunch of dirt.  Sometimes I wonder myself how the Lord is going to produce fruit when things seem so dead and dismal.  But God’s best gardening tool is His word.  His word actually creates life, and surely accomplishes His intended will.  I think of how God’s word feeds us and how He calls people to water His garden through preaching and teaching.  Jesus Christ is the perfect garden-tender, who has paid everything for our entrance, and to guard it from the evil one.  The mighty Lord takes special care of those He loves, and He can do something my good neighbor John cannot.  No matter how much passion John puts into his garden, there are still foils to his plans.  Yet God’s plan and work are perfect.  Let there be no doubt that the good Lord is adding to His church, and will not lose any from His crop.

For further meditation: Ezekiel 36:26, John 6:39-40, Rom. 10: 14-15, Rev. 12:10-11