In A World Fond Of Lies (Horton)

  I appreciate this section of Horton’s People and Place where he talks about icons, images, and the market.  We are surrounded by sights and images, and the market driven culture is all about the visual.  This emphasis on the visual is not necessarily god for the church.  Here’s Horton’s response in his section called “Eschatology and the Ear”:

The market can create the surface image of a community, but only interpersonal communication – the shared stories, practices and customs, histories, goods and services – woven through generations can generate a real community.  A church that turns its ear away from proclamation as the primary means of grace will similarly generate ecclesial simulacra: signs without any deeper reality.  As the vast literature in their defense demonstrates, icons are employed for mediating between a supposed ontological fracture between the spiritual and the material.  However, the Bible is not aware of any such ontic wound, but is concerned with the mediation between a holy God and sinful humanity, the powers of this age and the powers of the age to come.  Grace is given not to elevate or supplement nature, but to restore truthful communication – and therefore relationships – in a world fond of lies.

Michael Horton, People and Place, p. 67.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Social Media and the Subtle Brag

 No mature Christian would say it is okay to brag about oneself.  We know from Scripture that pride is a terrible sin; in fact, the child of God should hate pride and arrogance (Prov. 8:13). Paul even mentions bragging and boasting among those heinous sins in Romans 1:30.  The Christian knows he or she should not go around bragging about themselves, their fortunes, their fame, their family, or their figure (to name just a few).  If someone in a room of 100 people would hold up a big sign that said, “I ran a marathon yesterday and am totally sore today!” or “I’m learning how to roast my own coffee beans,” we’d most likely think it odd and boastful.   Drawing attention to oneself like that can also be called a form of pride.

Social media does have some positives.  However, one negative is that it has made the subtle brag common and acceptable.  Quite often on social media people point out things they have done or are doing.  They post pictures of themselves after a marathon, they put up a photo of themselves struggling to cross a rushing river, and they let everyone know they just experienced fifteen minutes of fame somehow.  Or they post (a humble brag) about something funny that happened to them (which also happens to make them look good).  Many people do this: moms, dads, teens, pastors, teachers, students, and so on.  One effect of these types of posts is that it makes other people jealous or envious.  These posts are also not accurate because they only display a fraction of a person’s life: few people post about their truly embarrassing failures, dark sins, and ugly parts of their lives.  Again, I don’t think social media is bad in and of itself, but I do think one weakness of social media is that it has made the subtle brag acceptable; actually, it might reveal the weakness of humans more!

I appreciate what John Newton said about pride and arrogance in his “Review of Ecclesiastical History”:

“A desire of pre-eminence and distinction is very unsuitable to the followers of Jesus, who made himself the servant of all; very unbecoming the best of the children of men, who owe their breath to the mercy of God, have nothing that they can call their own, and have been unfaithful in the improvement of every talent.  We allow that every appearance of this is a blemish in the Christian character, especially in the Christian minister….”

There’s more to discuss, for sure, but those are good words to ponder as we consider what to post on social media and what not to post!

The above quote is found on page 67 of volume three of John Newton’s Works.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Rome’s ‘Tyrannical Distortion’ (Murray)

 The Roman Catholic Church neither believes nor teaches that Scripture is the highest authority and only source of inspired and infallible truth for God’s people. In other words, they do not teach or believe “sola Scriptura.”  In fact, at the Second Vatican Council, Rome said that “…it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything that has been revealed.  Therefore both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.”  Along with Scripture and Tradition, Rome also says that the decrees of the Pope are infallible and must be revered and obeyed: “In virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff…enjoys infallibility when he makes a definitive pronouncement of doctrine on faith or morals….”

For those of us in Protestant and Reformation circles, this teaching is absolutely unbiblical and terribly repulsive in many ways.  When we refuse ecumenical ties with Rome, we do so on firm biblical grounds.  I appreciate John Murray’s response (d. 1975) to the topic of Rome’s authority:

“What we do find in the claims of the Roman Catholic Church is a pretentious superstructure, based upon assumptions for which there is no evidence in the revelation God has given us.  The consequence is a tyrannical distortion of what our Lord himself affirmed, and the Scriptures of the New Testament witness, respecting apostolic authority.  The most recent pronouncements of Rome continue to reiterate and enforce the usurpations in respect of authority whereby the basic principles that God alone is the source of all authority, and his revealed will the norm, are made void in the magisterium of the Church, and most particularly in the supreme magisterium of the Roman Pontiff.  It is the irony of this usurpation that in Roman claims we have the most blatant example of lording it over God’s heritage in contravention of Peter’s own inspired utterance: ‘Neither as lording it over those committed to your charge, but becoming examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:3).

John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. I, page 302.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Thick Monastery Walls (Kuyper)

 Sometimes Christians think retreating from the world will benefit their spiritual life.  They believe that withdrawing from the world will help them get closer to God.  This is most obviously seen in the monastic movement that dates back to the early church.  There are several biblical reasons why the monastic impulse is not a good one: withdrawing from the world makes it difficult for a Christian to be salt and light, withdrawing from the world also makes it difficult for a Christian to love his neighbor (including his enemy!), and it is the opposite of being evangelistic and missionary-minded.  Abraham Kuyper also noted well that wherever we go, we take our sinful hearts:

The world ruthlessly crosses our efforts [to draw near to God]…. Though it was not right, and never can be, we understand what went on in the heart of those who sought escape from the world, in cell or hermitage, for the sake of unbroken fellowship with God. It might have been efficacious, if in withdrawing from the world they had been able to leave the world behind. But we carry it in our heart. Wherever we go it goes with us. There are no monastic walls so thick, or places in forests so distant, but Satan has means to reach them. To shut oneself out from the world moreover, for the sake of a closer walk with God, is to seek on earth what can only be our portion in heaven. We may escape many things in doing it. The eye may no more see much vanity. But existence becomes abnormal. Life becomes narrow. Human nature is reduced to small dimensions. There is no imperative task on hand, no calling in life, no exertion of all one’s powers. Conflict is avoided. Victory tarries….

Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 3–4). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

[Not] Prying into the Secrets of Providence (Flavel)

 One basic but difficult truth in the Christian faith is this: we can’t always interpret or understand providence.  We sometimes have no idea why certain things happened when they did; we don’t know why they happened how they did.  This fact stretches and tests our faith.  Why did my kids get terribly ill but no one else’s did?  Why did God allow my parents to get into a car accident and sustain life-threatening injuries?  How come there are people getting laid off at work, and am I next?  Sometimes we just can’t understand, interpret, or read God’s sovereign providence.  John Flavel (d.1691) gave wise counsel that the child of God should not pry into his Father’s providence:

Do not pry too curiously into the secrets of Providence, nor allow your shallow reason arrogantly to judge and censure its designs.

There are hard texts in the works as well as in the Word of God. It becomes us modestly and humbly to show reverence, but not to dogmatize too boldly and positively upon them. A man may easily get a strain by over-reaching. ‘When I thought to know this,’ said Asaph, ‘it was too painful for me’ (Psalm 73:16). ‘I thought to know this’ – there was the arrogant attempt of reason, there he pried into the arcana of Providence – ‘but it was too wonderful for me,’ it was ‘useless labour,’ as Calvin expounds it. He pried so far into that puzzling mystery of the afflictions of the righteous and prosperity of the wicked, till it begat envy towards them and despondency in himself (Psalm 73:3, 13), and this was all he got by summoning Providence to the bar of reason. Holy Job was guilty of this evil, and frankly ashamed of it (Job 42:3).

I know there is nothing in the Word or in the works of God that is repugnant to sound reason, but there are some things in both which are opposite to carnal reason, as well as above right reason; and therefore our reason never shows itself more unreasonable than in summoning those things to its bar which transcend its sphere and capacity. Many are the mischiefs which ensue upon this practice.

Indeed.  The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things he revealed belong to us and to our children (Deut. 29:29).  And, as has been said before, even though the child of God cannot always trace the ways of his Father, he can always trust him!

The above quote is found on page 141 of The Mystery of Providence.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

God Blessing Bible Translations (White)

 I’ve mentioned James White’s helpful book on the King James only controversy here before.  I was recently thinking about Bible translations so I picked up this book again and found a helpful section on how God blesses translations of the Bible.  Thankfully in our day, we have many good translations and we don’t have to be “married” to one since all have some strengths and weaknesses.  Here’s how White put it when responding to a question that implied since the KJV has been blessed more than other translations we should use it alone:

God has indeed blessed the KJV, for which we can all be very thankful.  And I do not doubt for a second that he will continue to bless those who read it and obey it.  But God blessed the Septuagint too.  And the Vulgate.  And translations in dozens of different languages.  God has blessed the NASB, and the NIV, and many others.  God blesses those who seek his will and follow it.  Those who find his will in the NIV are just as blessed as those who find it in the KJV.  Limiting God’s blessing to a particular translation is historically untenable and spiritually dangerous.

Well said! I’m thankful for the KJV, but I’m likewise thankful for the NASB, the NLT, the [H]CSB, the NIV, the ESV, the Geneva Bible, and so forth.  I’m also thankful for the men and women who spent so much time and work to get good translations published.  I’ve been blessed by reading the NLT, by studying the NASB, by consulting the Geneva Bible, and by memorizing parts of the NIV.  I consider it a major blessing to have these helpful translations available!

The above quote is found on page 302 of The King James Only Controversy by James White.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Naming our Struggles (Murray)

 Quite often we as Christians know the various sins against which we struggle.  We might be strong in some areas, but are weak in others.  For example, a person might not have a violent or quick temper, but he does struggle with discontentment and envy.  A Christian might have real and genuine loves for others, but she has a hard time being a good steward of her money.  The list goes on.  Usually as we mature in the faith, we start to see our strengths and weaknesses.  The Lord, through Scripture, helps us see our failures so we can repent of them and ask for grace to “put off” what is sinful and “put on” what is good.  However, sometimes we can’t always name our weaknesses, we don’t know what to call them, or they haven’t been pointed out to us yet.  In Refresh, the authors list some of the main areas of stumbling for women – though I’d add these are areas of stumbling for men as well:

Idolatry.  We make idols of beauty, fashion, career, husband, or children – especially their success in school and sports.

Materialism.  Our pursuit of money or bigger and better homes often results in working more hours or jobs than we can handle and also nourishes the womb of discontent that gnaws away at our minds and hearts.

Debt.  One of the greatest causes of stress is living beyond our means.  Maybe we don’t spend 50 percent more than we can afford, but 10 percent, year on year, grows our debt and our anxiety levels.

Comparison.  Pinterest, Facebook, and mommy blogs can lead us to compare ourselves unfavorably with others who seem better looking, better homemakers, better organizers, and better everything.

Indiscipline.  Although it’s hard to be disciplined and organized, it’s more stressful to be the opposite, which so easily occurs as we use technology.  How many hours are wasted on the internet, resulting not only in guilt over wasted time but a pileup of other duties that now have to be rushed.

Identity.  We define who we are by our successes, our failures, or some part of our past, instead of who we are in Christ.

Media diet.  Just as what we put in our mouths affects our emotions, thoughts, and hearts so what we put in our ears and eyes has emotional, intellectual, and spiritual consequences.  Many live as if Philippians 5:8 said, ‘Whatever things are false, whatever things are sordid, whatever things are wrong, whatever things are filthy, whatever things are ugly, whatever things are terrible, if there is any vice, if there is anything worthy of criticism, meditate on these things.’

Perfectionism.  We strive for flawless family, house, meals, and appearance.

Failure.  We fail at school, or at a job, or at homemaking, or in witnessing, or we fail to meet our own or others’ expectations.

Later in this helpful book the authors talk more about dealing with these dangers and sins in light of God’s grace and his word.  It’s good to know our sins and weaknesses so we can, by God’s grace, fight them.  We don’t want to wallow in weakness, we want to press on obediently in the strength of the Lord!

NOTE: I edited the list for length; you can find it in its entirety on pages 46-48 of Refresh by David and Shona Murray.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015