Knowledge of God
And knowledge of ourselves:
These two make up
Almost the whole of sacred doctrine.
Monthly Archives: March 2013
Knowledge of God
Do you remember everyone in your school photos? I don’t. There was a time, of course, when I knew everyone but now after 50 plus years the names and memories have faded. Not all. Some people I remember because they were friends or, maybe, enemies. There are others that I can recall because they are associated with a particular event. I remember Detlev because his mum always dressed him lederhosen as it was “long wearing” but poor Detlev had to put up with a lot of teasing which nowadays would be called bullying. And I remember Robert Robertson because his name wasn’t very imaginative and he was also the first to break loose from school, to become a postman. There was “Chooky” who had an unusually shaped head but was a great footballer and we had the same birth date.
Similarly, I can’t remember all my teachers’ names apart from those that I liked a lot or loathed. Mrs. Fisher was ahead of her time. Her classes were interesting and varied and she always had something in her “dilly bag” to show us. Mr. Austin in contrast was stern and humourless and his music lessons consisted of humming in tune with a tuning fork. I remember getting “six of the best” on numerous occasions. I am not saying I didn’t deserve them but it didn’t help me like him either.
My school photos also come from a time when life was in black, white and shades of grey. Colour hadn’t arrived yet. I wonder if that affects our memories? Do colour school photos make the time seem more pleasant? We were regimented into lines in the photos just as we were lined up and marched into school to the sound of a scratchy old record over the PA system playing “Colonel Bogey”.
But one can’t help wondering as one looks at the 43 students in the Grade Two photo what lives the other 42 have lived and how many have passed on. What has happened to Ron, Peter, Sue, Vera and Olga and have Detlev’s lederhosen finally worn out? Have some of the others been better at keeping in contact than I?
… if I settle on the far side of the sea … Psalm 139:9b
Psalm 139 resonates with migrants and in particular verse 9b: ” if I settle on the far side of the sea.” Leaving home and leaving everything that is familiar, family connections, friends, church, traditions and landmarks, is an amazingly brave move. I was only three and half years old when my parents upped anchor and moved to Australia.
The mental and emotional processes required to come to that decision were huge. Yes, I know that Holland was recovering from WW2 and work was difficult to find but travelling to a new unfamiliar land must have also been a daunting process. As I was growing up I remember a number of families returning to Europe and the UK. The wrench was too much. Some even came and returned a number of times.
In our first 15 years, before my parents had accumulated enough to purchase a house, let alone find money to visit the family, all my grandparents passed away. My parents had an opportunity later in life to return a few times but by that time parents and some family members had already passed on.
Now we live in a different world. One of my daughters travels to Australia every Christmas to visit us. That wasn’t an option 45 years ago.
Psalm 139 reminds us of a God who has a keen and intimate knowledge of, and love for, His children, even if they “settle on the far side of the sea.” As we approach Easter we are reminded that this same God loved us that much that he sent us His son to deal with our sinful condition and our separation from God.
From that perspective, the “far side of the sea” is not such a big deal. Our sinfulness was a far bigger gulf.
Every so often we come across a friendship that is truly unique. The affection that Benjamin Franklin, scientist and humanist, and George Whitefield, evangelical Anglican preacher and evangelist, had for each other, was one of these.
Sadly, they did not meet at a level of faith. Whitefield constantly challenged Franklin to believe in Christ but the rational scientist resisted. However they met at the level of human respect. Franklin respected Whitefield’s intelligence and desire to improve the world in which he lived. In one letter Franklin suggested that they move to Ohio together (in 1756), away from the constraints of the East Coast and set up a new society there – “A strong body of religious and industrious people.” Dallimore Vol. 2 p448.
Franklin was amazed by Whitefield’s oratory and ability to speak to huge crowds. On one occasion he estimated that Whitefield was speaking to a crowd of 30,000.
Even though Franklin disagreed with the siting of Whitefield’s orphanage in Georgia, in time he came to support the project both financially and through his newspaper.
Whitefield also admired Franklin as a thinker and man of action. Aside from faith, he recognised in Franklin a kindred spirit. Both were prepared to be scorned and ridiculed rather than compromise their values. Franklin, in reply to his sister who was concerned for his reputation, said that when, from a distance, you see boys throwing stones at a tree, you can be assured it is laden with fruit. In other words, receiving slander, libel and ridicule are evidence that the recipient is holding onto treasures.
In 1763 Whitefield even wrote to Franklin of his concerns regarding the growing tension in the relationship between the U.K. and the American colonies. It is clear that they were open with each other on all topics, from faith to politics.
These friendships in public life seem to be rare today. Wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air to see an agnostic evolutionist scientist have a respectful and lasting friendship with a conservative evangelical. This would certainly be an example of how discussions and debates could be held – without the vitriol and character assassination which is all too prevalent from both sides.
Arnold Dallimore’s two volume biography of George Whitefield.
challenge the heart
and rattle the mind?
course through our minds?
We crave to have our ears tickled
And hearts caressed.
We long for pleasant words
to justify ourselves.
like a two edged sword
cuts deep and leaves
no thought, action or value
This long weekend, being hot, and therefore not conducive to physical work, gave me an excellent opportunity to read some old sermons. I read through sermons by George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon. It was a great way to while away the hours. While reading the works of these great men a number of thoughts struck me:
1. All the sermons I read were crammed with Biblical quotes and examples. These preachers used the Bible as their primary source. It was the well they constantly drew from; their first port of call. Even though they used the topics of their day, it was God’s Word that they stood on. There were no examples of pop psychology and glib jokes. They spoke on God’s behalf. Their aim was not to tickle ears.
2. The overarching story of Christ, promised in the Old Testament and delivered in the New was always central to their message. I found the cross constantly placed before me. I couldn’t dodge and weave. The Bible was a grand story not a series of fairy tales or even worse, a source of trite examples.
3. Finally, these sermons struck at my heart. They were passionate and didn’t allow me to simply listen for information, feel entertained or do some psychological self examination. Each preacher demanded that I consider my relationship with God and my place in His Kingdom. I was confronted by my brokenness and offered a solution to my condition. Whitefield, in particular, confronted fellow clergy as well.
I am not saying this style of preaching doesn’t occur today. It does, but it is in short supply. I have been to many different churches over the last 30 months. Psychology, information and a lack of passion is easy to find. I have also found passion without content. But Biblical passion, anchored in Biblical teaching seeking souls and declaring a Kingdom are, sadly, in short supply. Any person who feels called by God to preach could do well to go to these preachers of yesteryear and learn a thing or two. Even though I haven’t preached for a while, I felt convicted by these servants of God.
It is 8:10 pm and the temperature is 33C. The air conditioner has been turned off because you shouldn’t need to have one on after the sun has gone down. I am now keeping the mosquitoes company on the back patio. The anti mossie candles have been lit and it seems to attract them. I think they enjoy having the extra light because it helps them find something juicy to bite.
How easily we become dissatisfied. Too much heat or not enough. Too much rain or not enough. Last evening I saw the second episode of the Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl. The people living in this part of the USA had every reason to complain. Too much heat, not enough rain and tonnes of dust – for years. This series says so much about the human character. It’s courage, perseverance, foolishness, greed, hope and despondency, and nearly very other trait, good and bad, you can think of. The programme shows how the rapacious over use of the land plus a drought led to the denuding of the top soil, but in the midst of that people sacrificed themselves for their neighbours and their families. Some people capitulated quickly while others held on for years.
We humans are strange lot. In just one person we can see good and the not so good; The altruistic and the selfish, the arrogant and the humble. I suppose that is one of the reasons I love the Christian faith so much for one day it will only be the good that remains, in fact, I will be more than good, I will be perfect. Not even my best friends can imagine that!
It’s is now 8:45 pm and the temperature is 31C. I’m still not happy and the mosquitoes still love me.
Much is made of the various generations nowadays – from Baby boomers, to Gen X & Y and whatever other nomenclature is attached. What it tells us is that every generation is impacted by the previous generation and the social environment of the time. Baby-boomers arose out of the dust of war and entered a prosperous new age. “The Pill”, the sheer numbers of young people, wealth and education all had their impact. Today’s young people have a totally different set of influences that shape their view of themselves and the world.
My aim isn’t to analyse the influences on each generation, many sociologists and psychologists have done that, but rather, ask the question: What is the Christian response to this?
I would suggest that every era has had to weigh its life in the light of the gospel. In the time of the disciples, Greek and Roman culture were massive influences on the people of the day. They needed to ask, what is Godly and what isn’t? How has my thinking and behaviour, values and world-view been influenced in ungodly ways by the environment in which I live? The apostle Paul continually reminds his readers about the culture from which they have come: “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth…”(Eph 2:11) “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” (Gal 4:8) “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8)
Paul is passionately aware that we are shaped by our environments – by the popular world-views of the day. He reminds his readers that it is time to be shaped by their new relationship with God through Christ. This is a radical (from the root up) new way of looking at life and the world.
That is no different for us or for our children. Our lives should be continually lived in the light of the gospel. Our use of time, wealth, gifts and talents, technology, leisure, social media, entertainment, relationships and so on, all need evaluation in the light of what it means to live a Christ-like life. Our very perspective of how we live life and why we live live life the way we do, should be anchored in Christ.
My dad grew up in the “radio” era, I grew up in the TV era and my kids in the IT and social media era. Each had different challenges and subsequent generations will have new challenges again. The one certainty in all of this is that Christ and the gospel don’t change. It is the constant lens through which every generation must look at the world in which it lives and ask the question: Does my life honour God?
The last part – for the time being.
As I grew up, particularly in my teen years, I began to realise that Christians weren’t perfect and conflict was an inevitable part of church life. It became obvious that the words and actions of adults didn’t always match, and that motives were not always pure. One became aware of the cliques and groups – people with different attitudes, agendas or values.
In the early 1960s our church had a very conservative, very Dutch minister. In order to attend communion, which was held every three months, you needed to attend church twice a Sunday. My dad, also Dutch and stubborn, had refused to travel to Geelong twice a Sunday after his little church in Ocean Grove had been closed. “If they close my church, I am only going once!” So the scene was set for conflict. Every three months before communion my family would receive “huisbezoek” – a home visit by the elders and minister. I was allowed to attend the formalities: coffee, Bible reading and prayer. Then I was sent to my room. However I could still hear the “conversation” between my father and the minister clearly through the walls. Dad didn’t give in and neither did Dominee K.
As I stated earlier, Dominee K returned to Holland and we had a new minister who simply asked my dad, “Do you love the Lord?” To which my father replied, “Of course!” and so he was allowed to return to the communion table. And my father started going to church, twice on a Sunday!
The arrival of the Pentecostal movement had far more profound effects. The church became divided, some families split and there were married couples who lived in tension for decades to come, with the death of a partner greeted with relief rather than sorrow as it ended an unhealed past. The power of deeply held beliefs to unify is profound, but its power to divide is monumentally tragic.
Looking back, I can now see the attraction of the charismatic outbreak. There was a joy in God and worship, a recognition of the power of the Spirit and an overall enthusiasm for faith and outreach. At the time there were also excesses and extremism. But that was true of both sides. Both groups saw right on their side. I don’t want to enter into the theology of this division at this point but rather consider the attitudes that people held that didn’t reflect Christ. As a young person at the time I was bewildered. How could beliefs, people and values shift so quickly? On the other hand I was in a privileged position as the two key leaders on both sides of the debate had a profound impact on my life. They were both men who loved the Lord deeply. Their followers were not always that wise. Blacks were made blacker and whites whiter. I have come to reflect that we often justify our attitudes by hardening our positions. There are times when we may need to separate or part ways due to deep disagreements but this can still be done with grace and Christ-likeness. This is particularly true when the heart of the gospel is not compromised.
Over 45 years later, I now work in a school where fellow Christians from a wide variety of evangelical backgrounds respect each other’s differences and work together for the common good of Christ’s Kingdom and Christian education. These changes didn’t happen overnight. It took many, many years. I rejoice often that I have lived to see a day when the values of two men I respected dearly have come to coexist and empower the place where I work. More importantly, I believe because of this healthy co-operation, we can see Christ and His kingdom more clearly.
Hah! But that callow youth back in the late 1960s did not have clue of what God had in mind.