Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Connecting the online world to your world

In a day when resources inundate us at the click of a mouse – everything from a organizational tool found on Pinterest to a systematic treatment of dispensationalism – we often find ourselves submerged in mass information, yet lacking in the application of it. We access more resources in less than 60 seconds than ever possible in history, and yet by the obvious state of the evangelical church, we have never been in more desperate need for the daily discipline of biblical living.

Knowledge and theological prowess represents many churches and seminary communities, but Christians continually ask, “Why can’t I seem to overcome this particular temptation?” or “How do I implement this principle I just read in a way that maximizes its effects?”

As someone who completed a portion of my graduate degree online, and who enjoys research, I often sense this dilemma within my own heart and mind. In considering the disconnect between what we read and how we live, let me offer some suggestions:

Transfer one principle from the article the same day you read it. If it’s a recipe, jot down the name on a list to go back later for further consideration. If it’s a helpful article on how to cultivate a love for reading in your children, identify one item that can be put into practice immediately, and do it that night. Keep a notepad next to your computer, and discipline yourself to write down at least one thought you have considered while reading a specific piece.

Teach or “rehearse” the article to your spouse or a close friend within just a couple of days, while the information is still fresh in your mind. We remember things we repeat, and by sharing the information with someone else, you can evaluate its usefulness. This may help you decide if the topic is actually worth the investment of more time and resources.

Acknowledge that the application might look very different in the context of your own life than in the authors. Your home is likely unique in comparison to theirs, you may have varying authorities who play a role in the implementation of a particular principle, and your own expectations and preferences will be different than those of the writer.

When reading articles that address a controversial subject, we must always believe the best about the writer. As Paul teaches to the Corinthians, “love believes all things” (I Corinthians 13:7). We ought not “troll” around websites searching for opportunities to rebuke or chastise the author(s) because we believe we have some corner on truth. It seems more and more people follow Twitter feeds and blogs for the purpose of finding something wrong so they can provide public correction. While there is a time and place for biblical discernment leading to critical analysis, wisdom and love demand careful consideration before doing so.

And as the saying goes, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” – if you find something that you genuinely disagree with, it doesn’t mean the post is without value. I am a complementarian and a Calvinist, yet I enjoy and benefit from reading a number of pieces on issues such as gender and soteriology, written by those who would not identify themselves with those same mindsets. In fact, by engaging with those who share varying perspectives, we experience a softening and sharpening in our own thinking – softening, in the sense that we likely become more compassionate and patient towards those who may not share our viewpoint, and sharpening, by either confirming what we already know to be true or giving us helpful information needed to obtain a more accurate position. In the end, it is such humility that may win over our supposed opponent – or at the very least allow us to be friends.

Above all, we must weigh everything against Scripture. If a principle takes away critical amounts of time from your husband or children, or puts unnecessary burdens on the family’s finances and resources, you must give careful consideration as to its true value. For example, marriage and parenting articles may provide encouraging suggestions to implement in the home, but the proper approach acknowledges your husband’s leadership and appeals to him in love. Decisions about what is helpful will vary from home to home.

Applying what we take in through daily reading proves to be a significant challenge. Access to books, sermons, articles and even brief quotations come at a speeding rate. Our attention spans are short, evidenced by our inability to linger in meaningful conversations or to recall with specificity what we have read. Being immersed in a sea of information may be the very reason daily application of truth becomes so difficult.

Our commitment to Scripture calls for a “disconnect” at times. Turning off the computer or stepping away from books and commentaries allows us to be refreshed in the “pure milk” of the Word. As Paul instructed Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tm. 3:16). The appropriate place for advanced technology and limitless resources ought to be stimulation – not saturation – of our spiritual lives.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A lesson on emotions in the life of Helen Roseveare

For nearly twenty years, Helen Roseveare served as a missionary in the Republic of Congo, establishing medical services in the remote village of Ibambi. She persevered despite periods of civil unrest, lack of resources, and even amidst the revealing of personal weaknesses and failures, which sometimes threatened to undo her. In most biographical descriptions of Helen’s life, she is characterized as having a hot temper, difficulty relating well to others, and being easily discouraged.

Helen herself wrote often of her unsteady emotional responses to the circumstances she encountered throughout her time on the mission field: “I tended to call certain sins weaknesses – or human frailties – and thereby to excuse them. Unhappiness, loneliness, fear, inferiority, all began to be acutely present.” At one point, Helen’s emotional instability became so evident that a woman from the mission center in the village confronted her. Helen described this encounter: “Danga…took me to task for this un-Christlike behavior. ‘Don’t excuse yourself. Call sin sin and temper temper. If you can only show us Doctor Helen, you might as well go home; the people need to see Jesus’”.

Like Helen, our emotions oftentimes wreak havoc on those around us, and most deeply, on our own souls. Noel Piper comments, “The outward circumstances of Helen’s life may be different from that of many of us, but her inner battles were the same. And as we all know, our inner battles don’t stay inside. They spill out and injure innocent bystanders, usually the people that we care about the most.” It can be a help to our own spiritual welfare when we see those inner battles revealed in someone else, as it can serve in granting us a better perspective on our own inner battles before they run out of control. Life circumstances often display the measure of a woman’s emotional stability, or lack thereof.

Emotions are not bad in and of themselves. However, when not rightly understood through the lens of Scripture, emotions can quickly become a rash and exaggerated response to what is taking place in one’s life. What begins as a nervous thought morphs into an extended period of fearful introspection because we have failed to apply biblical truth to the initial problem. We speak the truths about God’s sovereignty and goodness, yet we find ourselves filled with despair, tormented in our beds at night by doubts and worries about what others think of us.

The Bible does not actually use the term emotions, however, we can find many places in which the scriptures do address the “inner man”. The psalmist said to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:11). He identified a feeling, an emotion, which was plaguing his soul. And then he spoke back to it: “Hope in God”. The emotional upheaval within us is oftentimes an indication of our spiritual state. If we are disturbed by our feelings, we must identify what is behind them, which is typically a spiritual problem.

How do we examine our emotions? Mark Deckard provides a simple yet precise method: “A desire or emotion is right when it is appropriate to the context a person is in. Negative emotions can be correct when they are responding to the context of living in a fallen world.” For instance, it is right to have a sense of sadness when a loved one dies; or to be angry when a child is murdered. Our problem is that many times, our emotions are not biblically appropriate because we have allowed our sinful hearts to inform our emotions, instead of using biblical truth gained in our minds and applying it to our hearts.

Jonathan Edwards, in his studies on religious affections, wrote a great deal on emotions: “Affections and all their components – will, emotions, desire, belief, must in the end arise from the work of Scripture in our lives and therefore be compatible with Scripture in their actual outworking”. We cultivate godly emotions by allowing the work of Scripture to take root in our minds and hearts, and then teaching our emotions to be compatible with that Scripture. Our emotions, just as every other part of our being, must be brought into submission to the Word of God. It is only by the finished work of Christ, applied to our lives through the working of the Holy Spirit, which can transform our emotions to be pleasing and honorable.

One of Helen Roseveare’s favorite hymns summarizes the peace she experienced when her emotions were controlled by the Spirit: “Hope, hope, radiant hope – soon all dark shadows must flee. Then with what joy, full, complete, I shall be ever with Thee.”