To One Fixed Stake My Spirit Clings
The apostle Paul told his young protégé Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). I know those words have a specific meaning in the context of the letter, but I sometimes wonder if the fight of the faith is the fight to believe that God is for us and not against us (Rom. 8:31). It’s a fight to believe that “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Cor. 2:14). It’s a fight to believe that “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
In a world blanketed by losses, it’s a fight to believe—not just confess with our lips, but believe way down deep, in the core of our being—that God is good.
This truth came to me in a fresh way as I read John Greenleaf Whittier’s (1807–1892) poem “I Bow My Forehead to the Dust.”
I bow my forehead to the dust;
I veil mine eyes for shame
And urge, in trembling self-distrust
A prayer without a claim.
I see the wrong that round me lies;
I feel the guilt within.
I hear with groan and travail-cries
The world confess its sin.
Yet in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed stake my spirit clings:
I know that God is good.
I dimly guess from blessings known
Of greater out of sight,
And, with the chastened psalmist, own
His judgments too are right.
I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies.
And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed he will not break
But strengthen and sustain.
And so beside the Silent Sea
I wait with muffled oar;
No harm from him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.
I know not where his islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond his love and care.
Three Things I Liked This Week
I liked Brevard Childs’s (1923–2007) reflections on John Calvin’s view of biblical doctrine:
I think it is fair to say that there are few elements of Calvin’s biblical exegesis more alien to the heirs of the Enlightenment and the postmodern era than his view of biblical doctrine. It has become a truism in many contemporary theological circles that doctrine is rigid, oppressive, and authoritarian. It only serves to stifle human imagination and to destroy creative spirituality. In contrast, Calvin speaks of these Christian doctrines as useful, joyous, comforting, and liberating. These doctrines [of the Bible] are a sign of God’s gracious guidance that, when embraced, lead to a good and happy life.”
Two thoughts came quickly to mind as I read this paragraph. The first is: Two cheers for rejecting the Enlightenment approach to Scripture. (For more on this, see Craig Carter’s book Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis, and track down David Steinmetz’s seminal essay, “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis.”) The second is: This is all the more reason to read Calvin’s Institutes. Two doctrines he hammers away at in his Institutes are the doctrines of Scripture and providence—two that are particularly precious to me. I’ll never forget his assertion that “knowledge of God does not rest in cold speculation” (1. 12. 1), followed by his admonition: “And let us not take into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word” (1. 13. 21). Amen!
Related to the doctrine of Scripture, I liked Mere Fidelity‘s podcast with Brad East on the same. Check it out.
I liked reading Andy Crouch’s new book The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I sense that this may turn out to be one of the best books I read all year. Why? The topic is important and Crouch’s prose are phenomenal. Tolle Lege!
Three Things I Liked This Week
I liked Carl Trueman’s article “Why Pro-Abortion Activists Desecrate Churches.”
I liked, and have enjoyed reading, Michael Allen Gillespie’s book The Theological Origins of Modernity.
- According to Gillespie, to understand modernity we must “look behind the veil that modernity itself has drawn to conceal its origins. The origins of modernity therefore lie not in human self-assertion [as some argue] or in reason [as others contend] but in the great metaphysical and theological struggle that marked the end of the medieval world and that transformed Europe in the three hundred years that separate the medieval and the modern worlds” (12).
I liked Ray Ortlund’s blog “Why I Got Out of Twitter.”
Here’s my favorite part:
I will miss interacting with my Twitter friends. You know who you are, and you’re magnificent. But friendship is at its best face-to-face. Wherever you are, God has given you true friends. As Shakespeare wisely urged us, “Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel!”
So why not call a friend right now and tell them how much they mean to you?
Where I’ve Been (Along with Some Random Thoughts on Why Writing Is Hard . . . For Me)
Yesterday I posted my first blog in seven weeks. Perhaps you’re wondering where I’ve been? (Probably not, since you’re busy with your own life.) Nevertheless, I thought I’d share the reasons for my absence.
The first is vacation. During the latter part of March my family and I traveled to Florida to celebrate my wife’s fortieth birthday. I tried to give my mind a rest during those days. I did that . . . somewhat.
But there are two other reasons for my absence.
Preaching through the Book of Hebrews has demanded most of my mental energy. As a result, though I’ve had writing ideas frolicking through my brain, I haven’t had the mental space to wrestle those ideas to the ground.
Related to that, there’s another reason for my absence: Writing is hard. Or at least it’s hard for me. And this is probably due to my convictions about writing. I think writing is more than mental wandering in the presence of others. Writing is communicating ideas (or stories) with creativity, clarity, and cogency—along with originality, beauty, and elegance. (Those are just a few that come to mind.)
Writing is also hard because it requires thinking clearly. Thinking clearly requires time—time spent reading widely on a given topic, weighing evidence, asking questions, engaging in stimulating conversations (preferably while walking outdoors), refining our thoughts, etc. All of this improves our writing. When we know our topic well, we’re able to craft clear sentences.
A final reason writing is hard (for me) is fear. I fear criticism. I fear that my writing won’t be technically perfect (which it isn’t and never will be). I fear that people won’t like what I have to say, or won’t think it’s worth reading. The good news is that I’m not alone. Countless writers feel the same way.
Lastly, I plan to resume my “Three Things I Liked This Week” blog.
That’s all for now.
Are You Open to God’s Will for Your Life?
One of the books I routinely recommend to people is the collected letters of Jack Miller. Last week reminded me why. In one letter, Jack offers some advice to his daughter and son-in-law, who are seeking to discern whether they should serve as missionaries to Ireland. After months of prayer, they still had no clear guidance. Here’s Jack’s advice:
“Perhaps my thoughts may not be all that helpful. You can sift through them to see if they have any worth. But when I find myself without guidance from God, one of the first things I check out is the question whether or not I want guidance from God. That is often the big issue for me. Put simply, why should God give me guidance when my mind is closed to some aspect of His will? I may have reservations in my heart about a path that I suspect He may want me to take. Or I may fear that He wants me to undertake a work that is beyond my capacity to handle. . . . Tied in with this can also be a fleshly love of comfort and honor, or the security of a life where it is clear that I have things somewhat under control. In other words, my attitude is: “Don’t disturb me, God. Don’t call me to walk on water or something else that is contrary to good sense.”
Reading those words, I thought to myself, “Is there any part of my life that is closed off to God? Am I opening myself up to God and saying to him, ‘Do with me as you please’?” If not, why not?
Dear friend, what about you?
I think God wants us to pray a prayer similar to the one Jack prays: “God, change me in the depth of my being! Fill me with your holy presence until Your will is my chief delight.”