Month: June 2016

Canadian Simplicity, Part I

Recently, I went camping in Canada with a few friends. 10 days is the longest I’ve ever camped and, let me tell you, camping for more than 5 days is completely different from the usual 3-day weekend, camping trips people usually take. We were in a small, tourist, fishing town about 2 hours from Toronto, and all the time spent there provided the perfect storm for reflection, meditation, solitude, and ample time for introspection. My accounting of the trip was meant to only be one post; but after writing down my first stream of thoughts, it seems it may carry on to a few.

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It just invites you in, doesn’t it?

There’s nothing quite like an extended time away from the technological grid to expose the unnecessary affections and attachments our hearts have for things that no previous generation had or experienced. What we discover about ourselves when we’ve had uninterrupted time to think and reflect, either ought to be reckoned and dealt with or simply cast aside as “something everyone else is guilty of as well.” The former is helpful, the latter is one reason why we have this problem in the first place.

John Calvin made a point that man’s nature is akin to an idol factory. Constantly churning out more and more objects that vie for our affections, and often, finding ample use for them in our distracted, discontented, restless, and attached state. Remove 4G LTE from our current generation and what do we have? Think about what would happen to you if you had no signal or WiFi for a day. In my case, you had a spoiled brat desperately dependent on a service signal to keep in touch with a reality that camping was to clear his head from. How backwards is that? It’s as if I was afraid that life would pass me by while I was camping; that real life was happening on the social media sphere, while my friends and I were wasting time fishing, camping, playing cards, and shooting the raccoons that were trying to get into our food.

There’s something about being away from the grid that exposes those idols. It did for me. Extended getaways that require us to live simply provide the necessary conditions for our introspection to be beneficial. Perhaps Thoreau was right– we need the tonic of wilderness, we can never have enough of nature. Why? Because the solitude and perspective nature provides serves as a norm and hard reset for what our affections and attention ought to align with. Though Thoreau’s overarching transcendentalism is, at times, troubling, his insights into the simplicity of life are second to none.

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Not exactly Walden’s Pond, but still..

Nobody in history had as much access to information, news, data, and content as we do today. They did just fine. John Owen, my favorite theologian, didn’t have a phone with a signal or a tablet with access to any historical work I desire, and yet I look at his volumes sitting on my bookshelf in humility, admiration, and a dash of envy. I wonder how he could possibly have written and thought through so much. It doesn’t last long, however, and I can see that we, me first and foremost, are a distracted people. We are an attached people. We are attached to our distractions. Our ability to access whatever distraction we desire is the main culprit. Take away that ability, and our minds are left to reflect why we feel so empty when our distractions are not center stage.

Numbered Among God’s People

This last Lord’s Day at our church was a typical, ordinary worship service. We had the preaching of God’s Word, and we took communion. As I waited for the elements of communion to come to where I was sitting, I pondered briefly how depressing and distressing it would be to have them pass me by and not be able to partake of them. What would be the tax to my soul? What spiritual benefits would be withheld from me? Is it of any consequence?

This brought to mind a recent essay I had to write on the importance of the local church in a student’s life. Though, of course, it can be applied to anyone, anywhere, and not just to a student of theology.

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A student of theology that is involved in the local church can avail himself of many spiritual benefits he couldn’t attain anywhere else. While training to be a minister, a neglect his own religious duties and spiritual fitness will lead to his moral disqualification from that ministry. A minister must be educated, yes, else he would be unfit for his duties. However, the Apostle Paul’s requirements for a minister in 2 Timothy 2 demonstrate that education is not the only requirement. In fact, it is one in a long list of requirements for those aspiring the office of a minister of the gospel. Above all, the minister must be a godly man.

It is precisely that requirement that then necessitates students being involved in a local church during their tenure at seminary. His most important concern is the cultivation of his spiritual life, and it is impossible to do so outside of the community of a local church. Whether serving in a particular office or attending the formal gatherings as a lay-person, no one can withdraw himself from the community of a local church and expect mature growth in godliness.

The local church provides many things that are necessary for godliness. Firstly, it is God’s design for worship. God is more pleased with our public displays of worship, when all his people gather together in His name. A student involved in a local church identifies himself with the church of God. Psalm 87:2 reads “the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob” (ESV). Charles Spurgeon, commenting on the verse, says it best: “God delights in the prayers and praises of Christian families and individuals, but he has a special eye to the assemblies of the faithful, and he has a special delight in their devotions in their church capacity.” God delights in public expressions of worship more so than he does in private ones. Furthermore, Christ and Paul, as documented by Luke, were regularly numbered among God’s people on the Sabbath. Luke 4:16 tells of Jesus going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, “as was his custom” (ESV). The same was said of Paul in Acts 17:2- “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (ESV). If it was the custom of Jesus and Paul to attend the regular, formal gatherings of the people of God, how much more important is it for our spiritual growth?

Secondly, the local church is where the student can avail himself of God’s ordained, ordinary means of grace. These “means” are ways by which God strengthens our faith. They include: prayer, the preaching of God’s Holy Word, and the sacraments. These three, working in tandem, work to seal Christ’s benefits on our hearts. Public prayers of confession and pardon are prayed aloud and the Spirit of God testifies in one’s heart either of pardon or judgment. The preaching of God’s Word is the primary means God uses to call his people to himself, and confirm his promises to them. The preacher, using God’s Word, is then able to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak…” (1 Thess. 5:14, ESV), all the while exalting the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper, are ordinances where we spiritually participate in Christ. It is a spiritual connection, whereby Christ seals his benefits on our hearts.

Finally, the public gathering of God’s people is where God has promised to be, and the place where we will find His Son, if we but come on His terms. The student of theology, who makes it his daily devotion to study God, and isn’t involved in the local community of believers, will not grow in the mandatory godliness that a minister of God must have. For the sake of others, he needs to give of himself to the community, and draw out of the community the support and inspiration he so desperately needs for his own spiritual health.