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Written by Bryan Maier Friday, 12 October 2012 00:00

This week one of my students presented a case of an 89 year old single woman who used to live alone but had recently fallen and was thus temporarily recovering in an assisted living facility. She had never married or had children and the majority of her life had been spent being the caretaker for other family members (who were now mostly deceased).

When my student came to visit her, she was withdrawn and resisted any attempts to engage in the activities of the facility.  For example, even though she liked to knit, she refused to join the small knitting circle that was available.  The doctors were considering giving her anti-depressants. The lady said that all she wanted to do was look out the window, watch the birds, and wait to go to heaven (she was a strong believer).

The question for our group was whether this lady needed to “perk up” or gain some kind of purpose for what remained of her life or whether she might need a psychiatric consult with the idea of administering medications. On the other hand, after a life of eight decades of service and anticipation of glory, I wondered if she had not earned the right to restrict her activity to bird watching and thinking of heaven. Of course, this woman may indeed be depressed. She may have years more to live and how will she spend it? Is she exempt from the mandate to love God and love others?

Listening to this case reminded me of Romans 8: 18-23 which speaks of the groaning that all creation endures. In this text, groaning is viewed as a sad but appropriate response to living in a hostile environment. And whether any one of us currently have much to groan about circumstantially or not, heaven still seems to be the preferred option at least to the Apostle Paul who, given the choice, would choose to be with the Lord (Phil. 1: 23). 

I wonder if many of us don’t give heaven much thought because we are so focused on this life.  Death of someone close or our own impending death can intrude and dislodge that thinking. Suddenly we are reminded that there is so much more to this life than this life. So what is a clinically healthy view of heaven, both for this lady and for me?

I don’t know all the answers but if I live to be 80 or 90 years old and my taste for heaven is sharpening, I may not want to knit either.  

 
Bryan N. Maier, Psy.D. is Associate Professor of Counseling at Biblical Seminary.

 

Written by Dan LaValla Wednesday, 10 October 2012 00:00

One of the main characteristics of living a missional lifestyle is discerning where the Holy Spirit is working and how He wants you to participate in His ministry. Paul teaches in Galatians (5:16ff) as Christians we are to let the Holy Spirit guide our lives and we are to follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. But this is often easier said than done. For Jesus explained to Nicodemus (John 3:8), “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

A case in point, last October (2011), our region experienced an early snowfall. Despite the inconvenient weather, my family woke up Sunday morning and attempted to go to church. Although the snow was rather light (only a couple inches) with a modest coating of ice on our vehicles, I experienced greater opposition than the conditions warranted for getting to church. For example, it was difficult to get our car doors open, I busted a heavy-duty ice scraper, and damaged the windshield wipers so that they would not move. By this point, I lost my temper, said a few choice words I wished I could take back, and made a deriding comment about this is what you get for trying to go to church despite the weather. Feeling convicted, I barked at my family saying, “We’re not going to church; I’m obviously not in the frame of mind for it.”

After calming down, I decided to call a mechanically gifted friend to see if he could give me some assistance repairing my wipers. Upon calling, the sound of his voice was filled with discouragement, something I had never seen or heard from him in the 20-plus years of our friendship. Although he is not a Christian, he rolls with the inconveniences of life better than anyone else I know. However, since the leaves were still on the trees, the weight of the snow brought down several large tree limbs (size of small trees) which were leaning against his garage, truck, and one was threatening his house. Despite the situation, he took the time to explain how to repair the wiper blade; it was rather easy once I knew what panel to remove under the hood and what to tighten.

After I repaired my wipers I felt I should drive the 30 minutes to help my friend. However, I was hesitant because he is a very independent person and while he is very generous in helping others, he doesn’t seem to be comfortable receiving help. I communicated this to my wife and after wrestling for a half-hour decided to go. When I arrived, I was greeted with, “What are you doing here?!” I replied, “In all the years I have known you, I have never seen or heard you as discouraged as you were on the phone this morning. I know you don’t understand this, but I really feel God interrupted me this morning so that I could be available to help you.” Four to five hours later, with chain saws and a Bobcat, we were able to eliminate the risk of severe damage to his garage, house, and truck and the relatively minor damage to his garage would be covered by insurance.

Upon leaving, my friend and his teenage son thanked me emphatically with great relief in their voices. In all the years of our friendship and numerous theological conversations, my friend has moved from being an atheist to an agnostic, but I don’t think any conversation expressed my faith to him as much as being there that day and sharing how God wanted me there for him. During the 30-minte drive home, I apologized to God for losing my temper that morning and said that I wished there was an easier way for me to hear Him. A little while later, I felt a conviction that my life is too busy to hear the more subtle means He uses to get my attention. At the dinner table, I apologized to my wife and sons for my behavior that morning and shared what I learned that day and during my drive home.


Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate for Institutional Advancement at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla. 
 

   

Written by David Lamb Monday, 08 October 2012 00:00

In the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), “God” speaks as a floating head in the clouds to King Arthur and his entourage telling them to stop groveling because it reminds him of “those miserable psalms” that are “so depressing.”

Fortunately, the real God isn’t turned off by any psalms, not even the psalms of lament (their official title isn’t “those miserable psalms”).  Laments are actually the most common type of psalm (over 40%).  God inspired their inclusion into the canon, and their primary feature is complaint, so God must really like it when we complain

You may ask, didn’t Israel get in trouble for complaining in the wilderness?  Great question.  Israel’s complaints in the wilderness were completely different from a lament.  They were more like gossip.  The psalmist takes his complaints directly to God, which actually honors God by taking the relationship seriously.  While laments seem to come from a lack of faith, as we will see, they ironically lead to trust and praise.

This is my second in a series of blogs on the Psalms. You will find my first blog here).

One of my favorite laments is Psalm 13.  I will look at it in three parts. 

The Lament (verses 1-2)

1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How longwill you hide your face from me?

2How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

The psalmist begins with a question, “How long?”  He repeats forms of the “how long” question four times, then asks another even more severe question, “Will you forget me forever?”  The Psalmist feels utterly abandoned by God.  If I felt abandoned by God, I would ask “Why is this happening to me?” but that’s not the psalmist’s question.  The psalmist isn’t interested in reasons, but in duration: “When will my abandonment end?”  It is similar to a child in the car repeatedly asking, “Are we there yet?”  When will the driving / abandonment cease?  When you’re in the midst of pain, it feels like it’s been going on forever. 

No answer to these questions is given in the psalm.  But even in these two verses that seem, in the words of Monty Python’s God, so miserably depressing, there is hope.  If God has forgotten, abandoned and isolated the psalmist so completely, why is he still talking to God?  The psalmist knows that even though it doesn’t feel like God is there, he is.  So, he should keep the conversation going with God. 

The Request(verses 3-4)

3Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;

light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

4lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him,"

lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

The conversation continues and, although there is more complaining (death is coming, enemies are rejoicing), the tone shifts into a request.  The psalmist wants a response.  This isn’t a polite prayer with lots of “O, please, God” at the beginning and end of each request.  It is more intense, more desperate.  The psalmist makes demands (“consider and answer me”).  God still feels distant, but he is moving closer.  God is apparently taking requests now and the psalmist speaks of God as “my God.”

The Praise (verses 5-6)

5But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

6I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Is the psalmist bi-polar?  The author of verses 5-6 seems different from the author who wrote verses 1-4?  The psalmist was complaining, now he is singing.  The psalmist was hidden from God, now he trusts in God’s love.  Enemies were rejoicing because of the psalmist’s wretchedness, now the psalmist is rejoicing because of God’s bountifulness. 

I don’t actually think the psalmist is bi-polar.  Part of what allowed the psalmist to come to a point of singing, rejoicing and trusting is the questioning, complaining and lamenting that came earlier.  While feeling abandoned, the psalmist didn’t give up, but kept talking to God and asking questions.  The questions led to requests, which finally led to praise and trust.  When we are feeling like the psalmist here, it is tempting to think we are supposed to skip straight to praise, but that’s not the model of the psalms.  Often, praise comes after pain and petition.

How can we use lament psalms like this to further God’s mission?  As we missionally engage the people around us with the gospel we need to remember there are a lot of people in pain, who feel abandoned by God, just like the author of Psalm 13.  Personally, I’ve been complaining to God about my vocal cords that have been damaged for several months.  (I’m not supposed to talk unless absolutely necessary.)  I wonder, “How long will this go on?”  I’m not sure, but I know that it’s good news that God’s word includes people speaking honestly to God about serious pain.  God can handle our complaints.

How can we encourage people to lament like the psalmist in our churches and ministries? 


David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

   

Written by Derek Cooper Friday, 05 October 2012 00:00

The only thing more challenging than vacationing with children is taking a vacation with three children – all under the age of five. If it is not one thing, it is another. Someone is always cranky, tired, hungry, or needs to have a diaper changed. This summer my wife and I innocently decided to drive to Vermont with our children, a good eight-hour trip to the north. We wanted to hike along rustic trails. We wanted to eat good food. We wanted to swim in the endless watering holes and take in the mountain views.

What really happened was quite different from what we envisioned: frequent potty stops, hikes cut short by screaming toddlers, eating at less-than-desirable restaurants, and dodging flying food sent off by our son’s spoon. But amidst all the chaos, all the yelling and screaming, we did have moments – not quite long enough, but at least there were moments – where we enjoyed each other’s company, marveled at God’s creation, and even laughed at each other’s antics.

And that is when I thought, this is just like God.

Our own travel with God includes much that is unexpected – some things great, others difficult – and much that disrupts our plans along the way. It is a hazardous journey, where one should pack expectations in a far corner of the suitcase.

Appropriately enough, I had already been thinking about the concept of “hazards” in light of the publication of my latest book, Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. As the title of this book indicates, co-author Ed Cyzewski and I suggest that being a follower of Jesus is fraught with all kinds of challenges. In contrast to what we often hear on the television and on the radio, we believe that being a disciple of Jesus is not easy. It is been my experience, in fact, that following Jesus means making regular sacrifices, taking financial and vocational risks, and being uncertain about the future. When I began to take my faith in Jesus seriously while in college, I was not prepared for the risky and faith-driven lifestyle to which Jesus was directing me. Not only did I have to learn how to act, speak, and look at life differently, I also had to give up many of my childhood dreams. Whereas I had always wanted to spend my professional days in the courtroom arguing cases like I was Perry Mason, God called me to sacrifice my vocational dream of being a lawyer on the altar of discipleship. Instead of becoming professionally successful and amassing an impressive income, I had to trust that God would provide for my family financially as I spent several years in seminary and in graduate school. And instead of knowing like an architect what the blueprint of my vocational destiny would be, I had to find peace in Jesus rather than in the certainty of a career.

As time has passed and I have grown in my relationship with Christ, the hazards of being a Jesus-follower have not diminished.

Yet, despite the hazards, I would not trade anything for what my family has learned in the discipleship process. Like our whirlwind vacation in New England, we have learned how little control we have over our daily events, and we have learned to surrender them to our all-knowing God. It is a life of faith rather than sight, but we have decided that committing to the cost of following Jesus is well worth the journey.

If you would like to recommit to the cost of following Jesus, I encourage you to read Hazardous. As you do so, it is my hope and prayer that you will be challenged to embrace the risks of following Jesus and to surrender your plans to the Master’s – with the result of maturing in your faith in and knowledge of God.

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he also serves as the associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. Derek is the author of several books, including So You’re Thinking about Going to Seminaryand Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. Hazardous was written for both individuals and churches, especially for small groups, youth groups, and Sunday school classes.

 

   

Written by Larry Anderson Wednesday, 03 October 2012 00:00

Yesterday, I was asked by some accreditation officials how we assess that our students are learning and comprehending what we are trying to teach them. After giving this question some serious thought, I had to smile because, to be honest, it's not their test or their grades that really lets me know they comprehend what I'm teaching. It's their lives, their hearts, and their ministries that show they are understanding and embracing missional theology.

It's amazing watching traditional pastors walk into the doors of Biblical, so discouraged with the current state of the church and with little to no hope of change on the horizon, only to be revived through their studies and the opportunities missional theology affords them. To repeatedly hear from these pastors how they have been ignited and challenged to pastor not only their churches, but their communities as well, is so exciting. To hear how they have been taught to see other churches as partners in the ministry even if they are from different denominations is amazing. The fact that they are no longer evaluating ministry success simply based on how many people are coming into their buildings, but on how many disciples they are sending out to impact their context with the Gospel demonstrates not only that they understand and embrace missional theology, but that they are practicing it as well. Some have even become pioneers for the missional church within their denominations.

It's not just the pastors that have been ignited by their studies here at Biblical. There is a large amount of lay leaders who have discovered purpose and meaning in ministry apart from the pulpit. Students have become missional ambassadors to their churches and are now serving in ministries that are more reflective of their actual vocations which excite, validate, and empower them to do what God has uniquely gifted them to do. They have come to realize that church ministry is no longer limited to maintaining the church's in-house responsibilities. This is not to say the ushers, choir members, and armor bearers are not important; it just means caring for the oppressed, the hurting, and the marginalized people of our community has also been validated as important ministry.

So to answer the question "What's so special about Biblical Students?); the answer is simple, our student's have embraced the mission of God. They know the Gospel calls for proclamation and demonstration. They have committed to exegeting the Bible and the culture. And most of all, they have demonstrated they are disciples by their love and fellowship with other disciples.


Larry L. Anderson Jr. is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the Urban Programs at Biblical. He is also the pastor of Great Commission Church, previously located in the suburb of Roslyn, PA, but now situated in the West Oak Lane community of Philadelphia to provide a holistic ministry to an urban setting. 

   

Written by Sam Logan Monday, 01 October 2012 00:00

In my previous two blogs, I have discussed the possible (and desired?) relationship between biblical precept (as we understand that precept) and civil legislation.

I ended my last blog with these questions:

What would laws look like which sought to require positive actions (and not just prohibit negative actions)? What would they say about such presently debated issues as health care, poverty, and immigration policy?

My question now is this: if we believe that the Bible prohibits gay marriage, what do we think the Bible REQUIRES of us who are married? And how, if at all, should civil marriage legislation reflect those requirements?

 We evangelicals resent it when others say that we are “always so negative” in our attitudes.  But, in fact, that really does seem often to be the way in which we identify ourselves.

You are really evangelical only if you PROHIBIT women from preaching.

You are really evangelical only if you OPPOSE abortion.

You are really evangelical only if you vote to continue to make gay marriage ILLEGAL.

We like to think that all of these “negative attitudes” are, in fact, simply the natural and logically expression of positive Scriptural values.   And they may be.  But if we are to obey Jesus in being “as wise a serpents” (as well as “gentle as doves”) in bringing the Gospel to our culture, should we not give very careful thought to exactly how our positions may be perceived?  Should we not take whatever specific SCRIPTURAL steps we can to make sure that the essentially positive message of the Gospel is clearly heard?

The implied (and I think correct) answer is “yes.”

But how can we do this? 

The answer – sometimes, legislation is the (or at least AN) answer.  When such legislation seems appropriate (as it does in areas like health care, poverty, and immigration policy), we should be and be seen to be vigorously in support of such legislation.  Even if those issues are not among our own personal top priorities, giving clear and public support to appropriate legislation in support of biblical position in those areas will help to dispel the caricature of Christians as “always negative.”  And dispelling such caricatures is a Kingdom activity.  Just as much as enhancing the power of a sermonic discussion on God’s grace by using concrete, experiential examples is an integral part of preaching, so appropriate dispelling incorrect caricatures of Christianity in general is an integral part of Christian witness.

Sometimes, however,  legislation is not the (or even AN) answer.  That seems to me to be the case with respect to positive presentations of what the Bible says about marriage.  This does not, however, mean that dispelling of caricatures of Christian perceptions of marriage is any less important.  It just means that the dispelling of those caricatures is somewhat more challenging. 

Let me try an example. 

When my sons were young, I was convinced that I, as a parent, had the responsibility to maintain the “special character” of Sunday, the Lord’s Day.  But I did that entirely in terms of specifying what “we don’t do” on Sundays.  Whether or not my understanding of what “keeping the Sabbath” should mean was correct or not, my way of implementing that understanding was absolutely wrong.  I gave no thought to how I might make Sundays a “joy” to my sons and what I communicated to them quite effectively!) was that Sundays were defined by their “don’ts.”  Even at my present advanced age, I am not sure exactly what courses of actions would have enhanced the joyfulness of Sundays.  But I do believe that, had that been the proper priority for me, I would have sought more counsel from other Christian parents and I would have tried various possible solutions and I would, simply in my trying, have communicated better to my sons that the Lord and His day can and should be sources of joy and not merely of restriction.

Now, here is exactly where the evangelical Christian community might exercise some of its “body-ness,” as we seek to communicate not just what marriage should not be but also some of what it should be.  How might those of us who believe that heterosexual marriage is the kind of marriage that God has designed for His people communicate appropriately the “joyful” side of that design?  How might we help one another in our corporate attempt to dispel the image of negativity which our opposition to gay marriage seems to create?

These are not questions to which I yet have answers.  But I hope that some of those who read this blog will have some suggestions and will share them here.   


Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical.  He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org ).  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan

 

 

   

Written by Sam Logan Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00

This is how I started my blog two days ago, on Wednesday, September 26: 

          What is – and what should be – the relationship between civil law and Biblical precept?

          That’s far too broad a question for a blog, so let’s narrow it a bit.

          What is – and what should be - the relationship between civil law and Biblical precept with respect to marriage?

I then suggested three principles to consider with respect to what kind of legislation evangelical Christians should consider supporting in relation to biblical precept.  I won’t repeat those principles here.  One of the hottest debates in the public arenas of many Western nations at the present time has to do with the application of biblical precept to the realm of civil law with respect to gay marriage.  Building on my previous blog, I would like now to suggest four things to keep in mind when we seek to apply the previously identified principles to the subject of gay marriage.

1) All of us – Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, or whatever – need to be clear on just what it is that we believe and just why we believe it.  It is completely fair for evangelical Christians to be challenged to identify and defend the grounds for their conviction that gay marriage should not be legalized (in those remaining places where it has not already been legalized).  Likewise, it is perfectly legitimate for evangelical Christians to seek from those who support gay marriage the grounds on which they make their claims.

2) Implementation by evangelical Christians of item #1 above may legitimately include questions such as these:

*  If the argument is that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent, consenting adults, why should we not revoke any legislation that denies marriage to such individuals who wish to have more than one husband or one wife?  On this subject, see The New York Times - http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/p/polygamy/index.html   And, as with gay marriage, this is not just an American issue; see the description of a polygamist defying a court ruling just a few days ago - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-16/zimbabwe-pm-marries-under-polygamy-custom/4263736

* If the argument is that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent, consenting adults, why should we not revoke any legislation that denies marriage to such individuals who may wish to marry close blood relatives?  The connection between gay marriage legality and incest legality was made by many (on both sides of both issues) in connection with Lawrence v. Texas case, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in June of 2003.  One of the most thorough considerations of the likely ramifications of Lawrence v. Texas was an article in Time Magazine in 2007, entitled, appropriately enough, “Should Incest Be Legal?”  See http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1607322,00.html

You gay rights advocates seem to be selective in your application of the idea that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent consenting adults of the same gender.  But you don’t seem to be equally concerned about similar constraints being placed on others.  Please help us to understand what seems to be an inconsistency.

3) However, what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.  Implementation of item#1 above allows supporters of gay marriage appropriately to challenge evangelical Christians with such questions as these:

* If you believe that the Bible prohibits gay marriage and that civil law should do the same, why are you not working just as hard to repeal laws which permit “no fault divorce” as you are to prevent the legalization of gay marriage?  After all, while Jesus seems Himself to have said very little about gay marriage, He was very clear and very specific about divorce. 

In Matthew, He says this: 

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery.  And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Matthew 5: 31, 32] 

In Mark, Jesus is recorded as saying this: 

“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” [Mark 10: 6 – 9] 

It seems that Jesus’s disciples really understood the radical nature of the requirement Jesus was setting, and the passage continues: 

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.  And He said to them, ”Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  [Mark 10: 10 – 12] 

You evangelical Christians seem to be selective in the application of what you understand biblical precept to be.  Many of you oppose the election of President Obama because he supports gay marriage which you think the Bible prohibits but at least some of you also supported the candidacy of Newt Gingrich who has been married - how many times?  Please help us to understand what seems to us to be an inconsistency. 

3) But perceived inconsistency regarding divorce and gay marriage is not, in my judgment, the greatest challenge to evangelical Christians in the “marriage debates.”

The greatest challenge of all comes if we genuinely believe that every biblical prohibition is, by what the Westminster Confession calls “good and necessary consequence,” a clear requirement of the opposite behavior from that which is being prohibited.

In my previous blog, I said this,

Here are just some of the positive actions which the Westminster Larger Catechism says are required by the Fifth Commandment: 

All careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others: 1)  by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; 2) by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent. 

And I concluded with these two questions: 

What would laws look like which sought to require the above positive actions?  What would they say about such presently debated issues as health care, poverty, and immigration policy?

My question now is this: if we believe that the Bible prohibits gay marriage, what do we think the Bible REQUIRES of us who are married?  And how, if at all, should civil marriage legislation reflect those requirements?  Tune in next week!
 

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical.  He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org ).  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan

 

 

   

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