Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Question: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Heidelberg Catechism

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dung Paddle

Thou shalt have a place also without the camp,
whither thou shalt go forth abroad:
And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon;
and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad,
thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back
and cover that which cometh from thee
Deuteronomy 23:12-13

As the Israelites marched through the Wilderness of Sin, YHWH dictated a special command to the Israeli soldiers when they reconnoitered enemies or marched into battle. Among their weaponry and tools, YHWH instructed the warriors to carry with them a dung paddle or spade. If a soldier needed to relieve himself, he was to go outside the camp, dig a hole for his dung, and then cover it with dirt. No doubt this command implies both practical and ethical meaning, the former hygienic and the latter symbolic. In truth YHWH's army still marches through the Wilderness of Sin, and we still need our dung paddles.

When I was a headmaster, I used the dung paddle as an illustration to teach my faculty and staff how to get rid of, well, let's just call it "dung," anything that polluted the school environment: gossip, unkindness, criticism, anger, triteness, foolishness, superficiality, wasted time, foolish words, bad ideas, and anything else that "stunk": "If its dung," I would tell them, "get rid of it, bury it, cover it up, and certainly do not bring it to me." This applies to all professions, and everyone who works with other human beings knows how one's own and others' "dung" fouls the environment. "dung" also pollutes every imaginable setting: families, churches, social networks, etc. We might not always understand it, but we know it when we smell it (:>).

So let every soldier remember - that strange contraption hanging by your sword, the dung paddle, is there for a reason. You will need it often, probably every day, so use it. Get the stuff out of your camp, get rid of it, bury it, forget it, and march on.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hope, the Forgotten Grace

Of the three Christian graces delineated by Paul—Faith, Hope, and Love—Hope is least explored and most misunderstood. Appropriately, though seldom accurately, preachers preach much, and Christians think much, about Love. Love is the apex of triangular grace, faith and hope in their proper places as subordinate co-equals.

After Love, Faith is oftened preached and discussed, unless one is a holy-roller, and then Faith is perverted and proffered in a thousand wicked ways. Even more orthodox settings contemplate faith at only superficial levels, viz, faith is an ambiguous wish that things will get better, or faith is something I do. The truth is that Faith, as a transformative experience, is a miraculous and sovereign “gift of God” or, as Paul calls Faith, “the fruit of the Spirit,” the Holy Spirit being the root and branch of the fruit, Faith. Theologically, genuine Faith is objectified by divine revelation, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”; that is, one errs to think of faith as a wishful want or a wiggle of the will. Faith is neither ambiguous nor mysterious but rather always illuminated by “thus saith the Lord.” The Word objectifies Faith, to which legitimate spiritual experience tangibly attests. Faith as wishing and willing is probably the byproduct of confusing Faith with Hope.

Unlike Faith, which may always be objectifed in light of divine revelation and certifiable spiritual experience, Hope is more ethereal, transcendent, and mysterious. Faith confirms revelation, and revelation confirms Faith, but Hope arises in the heart and reaches beyond the known into the unknown, “hope that is seen, is not hope.” But Hope does not reach into a void. While Faith embraces the Word of God, Hope embraces the nature of God, particularly the Goodness of God. Hope may not have “a word from the LORD” about this or that, but Hope knows that God is Great, and that God is Good, and therefore Hope is like “an anchor of the soul,” securing and stabilizing the soul, especially in dark tempests and stormy waters. Hope may not see a guiding star or harbor light, but Hope knows her Captain’s hand is upon the rudder no matter the gale.