Sunday, November 23, 2008

Will We Even Care?

I've been reading John Piper's Desiring God, which I've really enjoyed and it has brought me back to a place of desiring to delight in God for who He is and worship Him for who He is. These things might seem very obvious to people better than myself but I often fall into praising God for things He's done for me and not just praising Him because He deserves all glory, honor and praise for ever and ever. And there is no doubt in my mind that the most joyful, the most ecstatic experiences I've ever had were the times when the reality of who God is has penetrated a little deeper into my mind or heart and I have just worshipped God for being God.

So I was thinking about these realities and pondering heaven the other night. What I imagined was just seeing God's beauty and gaining an ever greater understanding of His beauty and greatness and the fact that this increasing understanding and our response of worship and praise could last for eternity because God is infinitely great and glorious. There can be no end to being amazed and mesmerized by God because He is infinitely wonderful and beautiful. We won't worship Him for a thousand, or a million or a trillion years and then get bored. That isn't possible with our God.

So in light of this I was thinking of how we often see heaven as this place where we'll get a nice mansion and be re-united with loved ones. But when I thought of the joy of having an eternal mansion or even the joy of being united with a loved-one it must be basically nothing compared to the joy of seeing and worshipping God in His tangible presence. Maybe I don't love people enough or something but I can't imagine getting to heaven and wanting to go see my mother, or father or brother first and then getting around to scheduling an appointment with Jesus later.

So I got kind of a mental picture of what it might be like to be in heaven and it relates to my recent surfing escapades. I'm still not very good at it but I seriously love surfing. I've never experienced anything so exhilarating as standing up on a surfboard on a wave, short of those rare moments I described earlier of really being able to worship God for who He is. There have been a couple of times when I've stood up on the same wave as one of my surfing-buddies. And when this has happened I've been able to give one of them this short glance with this big goofy smile on my face because it feels so wonderful to be on a wave. They have the same look because they love it just as much. So I was thinking of being in heaven, mesmerized by God's glory, worshipping him, and shooting a glance at a loved-one, and they look at me and they are just as overjoyed as I am to be worhipping our God and for a brief moment we share each-other's joy but it is all because of who God is and all focused on God.

So it sounds weird even to me, but I ask, will we even care who else is in heaven? Considering God's greatness and how we will enjoy Him forever, it seems hard to imagine how.

When we've been there ten-thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
As when we first begun.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Southland Burning

This afternoon I drove home to Loma Linda with a classmate after surfing at Huntington Beach. We happened to drive into the thick of what is now being called the Freeway Complex Fire. At one point, with thick smoke on one side of the freeway and large flames on the other we could feel the intense heat coming through the car windows. My car now smells like a campfire. Pray for the firefighters and those who have lost their homes.

I snapped these photos on the freeway with my iPhone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Apostolic Lutheran Life

The following is a testimony of a man's life which was posted as a comment in one of my old posts on Apostolic Lutheranism. I was impressed when I read it and wanted to post it as a regular blog post. Thank you to whomever took the time to keep this record of your ancestor and to write it on my blog. It is a testimony to God's saving grace.

Johan Oberg was born June 24, 1862 in Rautalampi (Finland), the son of a sawmill worker Kalle Oberg. The forefather of the family had moved from Sweden several generations earlier. The family moved when Johan was 5 years old to work at the Saura Iron Factory in Karttula . There Johan had to begin working for wages at 8 years of age. People moved there from all over Finland to work at the factory and bad habits were common in their midst. Godly people were rare. Among them was Oberg’s mother whose maiden name was Maria Laulainen of Rautalampi. The mother was devoted to reading the Word of God and singing for she had a good voice and an ear for music. She often spoke to her children the Word of God and rebuked them of sin. The influence of his mother developed in Juho a sensitive conscience already in his childhood, but the mother could not lead her son any further. He grew in church piety, lacking the light of the Holy Spirit.

Nineteen year old Juho had to leave home not knowing where he would find employment. With tears, the mother saw her son off. His plan was to first go to his brother’s place in Taipalsaari. His brother had written that he had repented and was now a believer. From this, his family had gotten the impression that he had gone into some wild false doctrine and that Juho had reason to go and set him straight. While staying with his brother, Johan came into contact with the Laestadian movement. Listening to there preaching, he became convicted in his conscience that he also needed repentance or he was headed for hell. But this was not easy for the young man and an inward struggle went on from week to week. He had no peace at night or day. In 1884, a preacher named Manne V√§likangas, was shot to death in Savitaipale. This touched Oberg’s heart so that he wanted to step in his place among the persecuted Christians even though he would lose his life because of the name of Jesus. He received strength to humble himself in repentance and receive the blessing of the forgiveness of his sins in Jesus Name and Blood. Then his soul was able to taste the power of the life to come and enjoy hidden manna. Several days after that, he saw the bloody wounds of the Son of God before his eyes. It went as a sword through his heart. He received power to confess his faith to the young and old. He was then asked to preach which he did in Finland for several years.

When he moved to America in 1892, he first settled in Calumet MI, but soon moved to Superior, WI, where he was for over a year and then moved to Cromwell, MN. In both places he was asked to speak at services and he also made preaching trips to other places which resulted in many people turning through repentance and faith from darkness to light. After 19 years in Cromwell, Oberg moved with his family to Cokato in 1912, and served as a pastor there for 8 years. There his wife, Maria (Mononen) Oberg from Lappeenranta, died. Oberg returned to Cromwell with his children. In 1921, he married Maria Carlson (Niemi). In 1929 he received a call from Laurium, MI, to be the pastor of the recently established congregation. He had already been voted to be the first chairman of the Apostolic Lutheran Church of America Federation. He served in this capacity to the general satisfaction of the people until 1942, when he requested retirement from the chairmanship and pastorate due to his high age and health issues. He was called to his eternal home on January 29, 1946.

Throughout his life, Oberg was a representative of Raattamaa’s evangelical Christian view, in which he had come to faith. He was a humble servant of God who spread the gospel lovingly and faithfully. He resisted, during his leadership, all religious concepts and principles which deviated from those of the Raattamaa era, whether they were toward a legalistic spirit or toward extreme evangelicalism. He also resisted efforts to limit God’s Kingdom to a certain faction. He had no aspirations and apparently no inclination to be a “leader” who demanded allegiance to himself. He did not seek the chairmanship but received it as from the hand of God and took care of the tasks belonging to his office to the best of his ability, allowing the general decisions of the “Christians” to guide him in his work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jonathan Edwards and Positive Agency

dsMany of my friends here at Loma Linda are big fans of the well-known writer and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, John Piper. One them gave me some of his sermons on a CD last year and I was quite impressed by what I heard. Since then I've been a somewhat regular reader of Piper's blog and have enjoyed what I've read there. My introduction at Loma Linda was not my first to Piper though. When I was at Asbury, Piper was one of "those Calvinists," with whom we loved to disagree. Even at Asbury, the little I knew about Piper caused me to respect him in the same way I respected Al Mohler. I knew I had some serious disagreements and I was convinced that they would probably see my form of Christianity as deficient but I respected them both as bold defenders of Biblical Christianity.

On Sunday, after a week of midterms I was at Barnes and Noble to get a book on surfing but I also decided to browse the Christian section. Piper's Desiring God, a book I've wanted to check out for a while, stood out to me on the shelf so I decided to pick that up also. I've read the first two chapters so far and especially appreciated his chapter on Conversion where he takes on the idea that you can just say a little prayer, and experience no repentance or change in your life and yet somehow that makes you a Christian. But as I've read I've also struggled with a Calvinistic idea that I find very problematic: the complete and utter determinism by God of all events in history that Calvin seems to imply in his Institutes and that Calvinist leaders like Piper seem to embrace today. This blog post is not going to be any sort of in-depth exploration of the matter as I don't have the time to spend on it. But I was impressed by something I read in one of the appendices to Piper's Desiring God yesterday.

The appendix is entitled, "Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained That Evil Be?" And the section that I found helpful is called, "Is God the Author of Sin?" Piper quotes Jonathan Edwards quite a bit in this section and adds in some of his own analysis:

Is God the author of sin?

Edwards answers, "If by 'the author of sin,' be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing. . .it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin." But he argues, willing that sin exist in the world is not the same as sinning. God does not commit sin in willing that there be sin. God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God's permission, but not by His "positive agency."

God is, Edwards says, "the permitter. . .of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted. . .will most certainly and infallibly follow."

He uses the analogy of the way the sun brings about light and warmth by its essential nature, but brings about dark and cold by dropping below the horizon. "If the sun were the proper cause of cold and darkness," he says, "it would be the fountain of these things, as it is the fountain of light and heat: and then something might be argued from the nature of cold and darkness, to a likeness in the nature in the sun." In other words, "sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the most High, but on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence.
I have no disagreement with the way Edwards presents sin here and how sin relates to God's "positive agency." It is the idea that God has "positive agency" in the real moral evil of this world that causes me to have serious doubts about what I have understood to be the Calvinist position. Piper frequently reminds us in Desiring God that we should have a God-centered and not a man-centered view of the universe. With this I completely agree but I think part of having this God-centered view is not embracing a theology which in any way infringes upon an important attribute of God, His goodness. And I realize that as sinful humans we have a deficient understanding of what real goodness is but at the same time when we call God "good" that idea of "goodness" must have a strong relation to what we would normally think of as "goodness" or else it is completely meaningless to say that God is good. I know that many of the things that might seem evil to us in this world are really a blessing or a judgment from God but at the same time I don't believe that there is anything in Scripture which would ever cause me to believe that God has any "positive agency" in the horrendous moral evils committed by free creatures in the universe.

I look forward to continuing on in Desiring God, a book which one of my housemates called the most influential book in his life, second only to the Bible. I also expect more theological conversations with my classmates and more posts like this one as a result of my reading.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Chicken Controversy

As we enter this contentious day of elections and ballot measures I was happy to read about the latest controversy in my own hometown in a letter to the editor entitled, "Battle Ground Short-sited to Ban Chickens." Made me a little homesick. Happy voting.