Just A Quick Update

So I haven’t been posting much as of late. I figured I’d just drop by and point out why. Ready?

*Drumroll*

It’s because I’m back in school. Yay! I’m working hard at the Baptist College of Florida, and between that, work, and church I don’t have tons of time for blogging. I certainly won’t be quitting here, but it will have to move back a couple notches in priority, which also means a couple notches in frequency. I’ll aim to at least post once a week, but we’ll see what actually happens.

In the mean time, try some blogs I like such as Reformedish or Think Theology. They’re pretty cool. Or if you don’t mind reading stuff that takes 20 tries to wrap your head around, you can try The Evangelical Calvinist.

Just A Quick Update

A Better Reason to Work Hard

Work hard, make money, live the American Dream. Sound good? That’s the normal philosophy of middle class people in our rather rich nation. The point of work in our Western, individualist culture is to make money that we can use to get a nice house (eventually a dream house), fill the house with nice goodies, and live a comfortable life. This basic assumption is often carried over without second thought into Christian circles. But I want today to give two Biblical reasons to work, emphasizing one of them in particular.

As I can see, there are two main reasons to work from a perspective set on the Kingdom of God. The first is simple: to enable us with our money to maintain quiet lives for ourselves and our families. We have basic needs like food, clothes, and shelter, and if we want to do anything for God’s Kingdom these needs must be met. In God’s providence, He usually gives these to us through a job. So we must work. Proverbs is full of such affirmations of work as how we get our provisions (Prov. 12:11, 12:14, 16:26, 28:19), while Scripture is clear that even what we get from work is from God (Ps. 34:10, Prov. 10:3, Matt. 6:25-34). This especially important when you have a family to take care of, since God truly values family.

But there is another and, I daresay, a higher reason to work hard. What is this reason? I’ll let Paul explain:

The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Ephesians 4:28

While the thief’s repentance is the first point of the verse, I don’t think saying this applies to us all would be a stretch. Why should we do honest work with our own hands? So we have something to share with anyone in need.

The significance of this cannot be understated in my opinion. I don’t know about you, but in practice I mostly work to pay my own bills, build my little guy a college fund, and save for a rainy day. All of these have something in common: they do not go beyond my own household, which is in no danger of real poverty. If all else failed, my wife and I have very awesome and supportive families to fall back on.

Not everyone is so blessed. Many people have no fallback. They are broke and alone. Around the world people starve and live in landfills. Many people are bound by slavery, oppressive governments, or excessive debt. Some people are in trouble by their own fault, some are innocent victims, though they are all in need either way. This world is filled with “anyone in need.”

So when we work, we can’t do so only concerned with ourselves, but also others (Phil. 2:4). When we earn money, we should not only spend our earnings for ourselves but for others. Our financial goals should not be just about our own families, but also about poorer families. Sometimes a penny saved should be a penny given, and instead of merely seeking to build up our retirement and vacation funds, we have to consider all the people out there who don’t even have funds for groceries.

Not only should we think of these things and do them, but they should motivate us. Paul did not say to work and to share, but to work so we can share. The kind of love God calls us to in the Gospel of His Son is so radical that it demands (and creates!) the transformation of our priorities and interests. Jesus says to become deeply concerned with others, not merely to act that way.

So let everyone work not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

A Better Reason to Work Hard

Salvation and Certainty Revisited

[This whole post is a follow-up of two earlier posts. First was I’m Not 100% Certain I’m Going to Heaven (And That’s Okay) and the second was Clark Is Certain He is Going to Heaven. Make sure to read them if you haven’t!]

Some time ago, I argued against the possibility of true, epistemic certainty of salvation. You cannot be 100% certain of salvation, I argued, because you cannot have 100% certainty of anything you experience, period, even of the existence of the Bible, God, or anything beyond your own mind.

Since then, I have come to think of this in another light. See, the assumption undergirding my entire previous post was that the only certain knowledge one can have is that which can be rationally deduced. If you cannot prove it with fundamental logical principles, then you cannot know it with 100% certainty. Sure, you can have working confidence, but not perfect knowledge. But now I wonder if that is misguided.

Lacking from my last examination of this question was the concept of union with God the Father, through the Son, through the Spirit. Let us assume for a moment that, regardless of certainty, orthodox Christian doctrines are true. In that case every believer is ontologically united to Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and ontologically united to God the Father through Jesus’ hypostatic union. Therefore each of us has a real, deep connection to God.

Let us also assume that God has perfect certainty. Given that all reality must be contingent on God, and He is indeed the Truth, this makes sense. So if God has perfect certainty, and I have a direct ontological connection with Him, then there is an avenue by which I may attain perfectly certainty.

See, I previously assumed that “I think, therefore I am” was as far as you could go with 100% certainty. “God is 100% certain of all things” is something I would also affirm. But given the reality of union with God through Jesus through the Spirit, “I” now becomes connected to “God” in such a way that perhaps this is possible: “I know x with 100% certainty because this knowledge is mediated to me directly by God, who knows x with 100% certainty.”

If this is the case, presumably through the Spirit we could know with certainty that we are united to God in Christ, at which point we can be assured of salvation. 

“But wait!” someone could object. “You could still have all kinds of rational reasons to doubt salvation, both theologically and philosophically.” Yet this does not negate my point. For not every rational excuse the mind can create negates true knowledge. I could, for example, come up with various objections to the idea that I exist. But while they might have some rational persuasive power, ultimately they could not shake the unconscious certainty that I do indeed exist. This is immediate knowledge which I cannot turn off, though in my mind I could perhaps deny or doubt it.

Likewise, I expect we can have this immediate certainty of salvation through the Spirit deep within, even if it might be unconscious and contradicted by the mind. This would be a good reason why we can experience anxiety and stress about doubting our salvation, for our minds come up with ways to contradict what we actually know for certain, bewildering us.

This is really only a beginning of these ruminations, but I hope they’ll be thought-provoking. I imagine this will lead (at least in my mind) to some more thoughts on reason and faith, and maybe on a defense of having certainty in our senses. Hmm…

Salvation and Certainty Revisited

The Baby

If you know me in real life, you probably already know this, though you might be left in the dark for some reason. At 2:03PM, on July 16, 2014, my wife gave birth to David Nathaniel Smith (aka Nathan), my son. (And yes, I am 19. And yes, he was an entirely post-nuptial pregnancy.) He was 21¾ inches and 9 lbs 2.3 oz. So began a brand new and amazing chapter of my life.

Carseat

At this point its been 11 days. They have been pretty interesting, certainly fun and a bit difficult at times. But I love every minute thus far. To be honest, I was worried a bit before the baby was born that I just wouldn’t be able to love him right. I mean, babies are just tiny and mute, and I have stuff to do, and I know I struggle with being selfish. So how could I love this boy like I should? But God is gracious, and I’m blown away by how much I’m already attached to Nathan. He’s been a huge blessing in just these few days, and I am very excited to continue life with him.

Thinker

More than anything, I want to be sure to raise him well. If I can teach him to truly love God and love people, I will be satisfied. That is really all I want from him. I do have many fantasies for my boy. I imagine Nathan and I playing Zelda games together, watching Lord of the Rings, battling it out with Super Smash Brothers, discussing theology, and going to Renaissance fairs. Alas, who knows if these will happen, or if my interests will ever interest him? Though my inner 12-year-old will be crushed, ultimately I will be happy if he follows Jesus Christ. Even if he doesn’t do it the same way I do. As of now, I’m a pretty funky evangelical Protestant with some affinity to high-church Reformed stuff, but if Nathan decides to go back to my Baptist roots, Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, or even Catholic or Orthodox I will be proud if he lives a life of faith working through love.

Laying

I know at least one or two of you who read my blog regularly might wonder if I’ll be taking the advice from Clark’s two parenting posts. To that, I say that given I am neither an anarchist nor quite as much of a rationalist as Clark, I will probably not do everything he said, but I will definitely take a few points that I find pretty wise. He rightly sees the value of critical thinking, personal responsibility, and martial arts.

Face w Pacifier

This post, if you haven’t noticed, doesn’t have a very specific point to it. It is mostly for my various thoughts about my baby boy. But, despite not having a good angle, I did feel the urge to blog about such an important step in my life. So just know that Nathan is the most awesome baby ever, and none of you could ever have such a great baby. He he. At least in my opinion.

The Baby

#JustIntrovertThings

If you didn’t know this already, I’m a bit of an introvert. And I, like my introvert pals, sometimes do things that don’t make sense to other people. Socially unusual things. They are easy to misinterpret. I’m pretty sure people frequently get the wrong idea. So here’s a basic guide to weird things we do. I’ll phrase them in first person since some I’m not sure if they are just me or many introverts like me.

  • When I don’t smile when passing you by, it usually says nothing about my mood or feelings about you. In fact, quite often it means I’ve failed to decide whether it would be socially appropriate to smile at that moment in time to actually do it.
  • If I don’t say much during small talk, it’s not necessarily because I don’t want to interact with you, but that I don’t get small talk. Polite dialogue consisting of generic questions is something I know has little actual meaning, so it’s hard to invest in it. Now, if you bring up any specific topic on which I have anything at all to say, good luck shutting me up.
  • I usually won’t say “hi” first, mainly because unless I really consider you a friend, I assume my initiating conversation will be the wrong move to make for whatever relationship we do have (coworker, acquaintance, etc).
  • Social interaction can be exhausting, while still enjoyable. It’s kind of like swimming or walking. Sure, it can be fun, but I’ll be tired and want to go home and relax afterwards.

This is only a pretty short list, but these things are issues I wish everyone understood about me to begin with, since I know it’s so easy to give a wrong impression with them.

For more on introversion, I send you here: 10 Myths About Introverts | CarlKingdom.com :: Home of Carl King

#JustIntrovertThings

Learn to Forget You Exist

God never demands as little from us as we are comfortable giving Him. We are always called beyond the normal and the natural to a higher life. The Biblical way of being human is especially challenging and especially rewarding. So what does God ask of us? Kill yourself. Forget you exist.

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:39

Jesus tells us that we find our lives by losing them, and that the way to lose our lives is to try to find them. But what does that even mean? How do we save our lives by losing them? How does finding our lives cause us to lose then? Well, let me bring up two more verses.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3-4

Throughout Scripture, similar themes dominate ethics and instruction. The Sermon on the Mount repeatedly emphasizes denying your own glory, rights, and dispositions. But why? Is there virtue in not being happy? Does Jesus teach self-denial for self-denial’s sake? Of course not!

Jesus teaches love.

Love means forgetting yourself to embrace others.

Now I’ll back up and explain what I mean. Much has been written about love in Christian literature, but I would like to give a really basic definition of love for my purposes here: love is actively uniting your heart, mind, and will with another person. Time fails me to show the importance of unity to Christian life, or the deep connections between love and unity, whether philosophical or Biblical, but I will provide you with a list of references to peruse at your leisure (Eph. 4:4; John 13:34, 17:21-23; Rom. 14:17-19; 1 Cor. 1:10, 12:12, 12:13; 2 Cor. 13:11; Col. 3:13-15; 1 Thess. 5:13).

Love is actively uniting your heart, mind, and will with another person.

Instead of trying to summarize the vast Biblical support for my definition, I will give some basic examples on why this makes sense. When you love someone, their sorrow makes you sorrowful. Their joy gives you joy. You are concerned for their concerns and well-being. What they feel becomes what you feel, and what they think about becomes what you think about. So you find that you have unity of heart and mind. I believe this is a core element that makes love love.

Now, here is where I go back to my main point, namely that love means forgetting yourself to embrace others. See, if you’re busy feeling for others, thinking about others, and concerning yourself with others, something interesting happens. You disappear. Think about how many people you know who you care about at all. What if you loved them all for real, enough to make their feelings, thoughts, and concerns completely your own? While imagining this scenario is certainly difficult, one thing is certain: you would not be very worried about yourself.

If you’re busy feeling for others, thinking about others, and concerning yourself with others, you disappear.

See, most people have a problem. We either think too little of ourselves or too highly. Unfortunately, the solutions proposed by our culture (whether our secular culture or Christian culture) often miss the point. If you think too little of yourself, you are told to remember that you have worth, you are loved, you are beautiful, and you have a purpose. If you think too much of yourself, you are reminded that you are a sinner, you are not worthy of God’s grace, you are no better than anyone else, and you are puny compared to God.

Both of these approaches to fixing people’s self-image have one problem in common: they are concerned too much with self-image. The real solution is to stop thinking of ourselves. What Jesus taught—radical love—involves the (bear with my word choice) abolition of introspection. To put it another way, when we love people (and God) like Jesus tells us to love them, we will have no time or inclination to think very much about ourselves, whether good or bad thoughts. And the best part is that we won’t miss a moment of it. When we are loving so deeply, we will never stop and think, “You know, I wish I was focusing more on my feelings and needs instead of all the people I love. Then I would be happier.” If you forget you exist, you can fill your mind with the Kingdom of God, your family, and everything else that is worth thinking about.

We either think too little of ourselves or too highly. The real solution is to stop thinking of ourselves.

In fact, from this point we find the essence of authentic, Biblical self-denial. We are not giving up our own pleasures because that makes us more holy or more useful to God, but we forget about our own problems and concerns because our hearts and minds are set on the feelings and thoughts of God and other people. While on one hand this is a painful work which involves resisting the self, on the other hand this kind of life leads to more joy and freedom than before. Our self-denial as believers is not hostility toward self but leaving self on the back burner to joyfully fill our lives with God and others. For there is one truth we can know from all those who have lived long lives: happiness is never found in fixating on yourself, but found in living beyond yourself. So Christian self-denial even sets itself apart from the asceticism of other religions because it creates true joy, not just numbness, vague enlightenment, or escape from reality.

Now, having said all this, I must clarify that I do not mean we can do nothing we enjoy ourselves. It is most certainly right and good for us to have our own hobbies and passions. However, even in these, we are made to think of ourselves last, and love them, knowing that they also are God’s gifts to us. Do you like to read? Then read, and don’t worry about how good of a reader you are or whether you should read more or less. Do you have a passion for art? Then engage in it fully, losing yourself in the human creativity that God has gifted to us. Whatever you enjoy and whatever you do, be willing to deny yourself in pursuing it, because the good things of life are gifts of joy, ways God expresses Himself and His love to us. In denying ourselves even to pursue our passions, we find greater fulfillment because God has provided for us richly all things to enjoy. We just get in our own way! Every moment I spent thinking about me is a moment I could find greater fulfillment in by thinking of my wife, my God, or my hobbies. The same goes for you. If you forget you exist, even your hobbies will be more pleasurable.

Every moment I spent thinking about me is a moment I could find greater fulfillment in by thinking of my wife, my God, or my hobbies.

To conclude this all, remember that love, love as Jesus taught it, means finding ourselves outside of ourselves, first in God, second in other people, and finally in the things we enjoy. When we deny our tendency to self-center, we find greater joy, greater godliness, and greater life. So learn to forget you exist. Lose your existence in pursuing love for God, others, and passions. Once you’ve forgotten yourself, you won’t even know what you’re missing (because you really won’t be missing anything!).

Oh, and last of all, pray for me so that I can live like this too!

Learn to Forget You Exist