Reminiscences of a Trigenarian (or) Random Thoughts of a Guy Who is Getting Way Too Old

Thirty. It’s the speed limit on Back Beach Road here in Port Chalmers, New Zealand (which is about as fast as I feel comfortable driving on any New Zealand road!), and it’s now the number of years I have been alive. Such a monumental occasion calls for a blog post. On this first of (hopefully) many days as a trigenarian, I would like to reflect on a few of the things in my life for which I am thankful. In the fashion typical of a Type-A individual, my reflection takes the form of a list. The list is in fairly random order.

1. I am thankful for God’s grace. By grace I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that I have no right to boast (Eph 2:8-9). Before the foundation of the world, God chose me (Eph 1:4). For this, I am so very thankful. As Charles Spurgeon says, “I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with such special love” (Defense of Calvinism).

2. I am thankful for my beautiful wife, Jamie. For eight years now, Jamie has been by my side. We’ve become parents, moved house–from Alabama to New Zealand–and experienced numerous other adventures together. Since Jamie and I met, I have been involved in both pastoral ministry and theological education (as a student, teacher, or both). Without Jamie’s unselfish concern for the advancement of the gospel, my work would not be possible. I am truly blessed to have such a loving, supportive, talented, and beautiful wife. (Seriously, what in the world is she doing with me?)

3. I am thankful for my rambunctious boys, Aidan Thomas and Cullen Timothy. I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in truth (3 John 4). Nothing makes this Reformed dad happier than to hear Aidan and Cullen name their stuffed animals “Augustine the Hippo” and “Luther the Lion,” and to hear both boys respond to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Plus, I love having two little fishing buddies.

4. I am thankful for my parents. From childhood I have been acquainted with the sacred writings (2 Tim 3:15). I have my parents to thank for this. As the fellow once said: “When your son asks you how long he has to go to church, just tell him that he has to go until he wants to go.” That’s about how it was in our house growing up. Our family worshiped together. Our family read Scripture together. The first time I heard about Jesus, I heard about him from my mom and dad. For this, I am thankful.

5. I am thankful for my grandparents. My grandparents are some of the greatest people I know. When I think of the one who has passed away, and the three who are still with us, I think of Paul’s words in Gal 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Faithful saints. That’s my grandparents.

6. I am thankful for my two brothers and their families. They may make fun of me for wearing the same sweater every year to the family Christmas party, and one of them may call me “Pope Dillon,” because I am not currently serving in a Baptist church (and apparently for him all non-Baptists are Roman Catholics…), but I have many memories of great times with my brothers. Some of these memories involve a Chinese buffet, a .22 caliber rifle, and golf clubs (but not mixed together). This is not the place to provide the details.

7. I am thankful for my extended family. My extended family get-togethers are always entertaining. Many of us have started our own families now. And some of us live far away, so we are not able to fill our spot on the stairs for the yearly family picture (I’m still in mourning about this). But folks in my family are always there for one another. For this, I am thankful.

8. I am thankful for my father-in-law and mother-in-law. They have loved me and supported me in so many ways since we first met in freezing-cold Wisconsin eight years ago. They set a great example for their grandchildren by using their talents for the glory of God. And they have officially gotten me hooked on Disney World.

9. I am thankful for my brother-in-law. Who else would be crazy enough to climb the foothills of Aoraki/Mount Cook with me at such a ridiculously rapid pace?

10. I am thankful for the churches I have served in through the years. I think of my years at Bellview, Hunter Street, Flint Hill, New Beginnings, and now my time at Owaka Grace Fellowship, and I remember all the wonderful people in each of these churches who have made such an impact on my life. I hope and pray that, despite my many weaknesses and failures, I have been a faithful shepherd of the portions of God’s flock that he has temporarily entrusted to my care.

11. I am thankful for my call to pastoral ministry. How grateful I am that God summoned and gifted me, an obviously plain man, to proclaim the excellencies of the one who called me out of darkness and into the marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9). While there is in our day no shortage of “philosophies of ministry,” I appreciate John Calvin’s approach. In his commentary on 1 Timothy, Calvin writes: “Men often set before them some other aim than to approve themselves to Christ; many seek applause for their cleverness, eloquence or profound knowledge, and that is why they pay less attention to the basic necessities which are apt to produce less popular admiration. But Paul tells Timothy to be content with this one thing, that he should be a faithful minister of Christ. And we should certainly regard this as a far more honourable title than being called a thousand times over seraphic and subtle doctors. Let us remember therefore that it is the greatest honour than can befall a godly pastor to be accounted a good servant of Christ, so that during his whole ministry this should be his only aim.”

12. I am thankful for the professors who have trained me for ministry. I think especially of Beeson Divinity School, and the world-class academics/front-line churchmen and churchwomen who taught me so much. My three years at Beeson were some of the best years of my life thus far. I also think of the University of Otago, and my superb supervisor, who has influenced me tremendously.

13. I am thankful for my colleagues in ministry. For friends ministering in the name of Christ Jesus all over the world, I am thankful. I thank you especially for your prayers and the encouraging words you send my way from time to time. Continue to hold me accountable. I will do the same for you.

(Note from the Narrator: At this point in the post, a terrible case of writer’s block set in, and Dillon could no longer think of serious things for which he is thankful. But he simply could not allow himself to make a list of thirteen items. There are two reasons for this. First, the number thirteen is considered by many to be an unlucky number. Dillon does not really believe in luck, but, as he is getting older now, he figured it was not a risk worth taking. Second, Dillon has obsessive-compusive disorder, and odd numbers make him uneasy. Thus, the list continues, but without the sincerity that characterizes the first part above.)

14. I am thankful for our adventures in New Zealand. New Zealand is a beautiful country. The grass is always green. The water is always blue. You can surf and snow ski in the same day. There is no traffic. There are no snakes. And there are more sheep than people. What more could a guy ask for?

15. I am thankful for the sun. I suppose I’ve always been thankful for that great big ball of heat in the sky, but I am much, much more thankful for it now that I live in New Zealand. When the sun is shining in the winter, you see, the temperature in our house rises to a blistering 55 degrees fahrenheit, which is so warm that I can’t even see my breath when I exhale. Aidan is always deeply bothered when this happens. He usually cries out, “Dad, where did your smoke go?”

16. I am thankful for central heating. The central heating I once had. See # 15.

17. I am thankful for coffee. According to my latest tally, I’ve had 1,092 cups since I started working on my doctoral thesis. Coffee is my lifeblood. Tea is fine, and I’ve tried to start drinking more of it since we moved to New Zealand. But coffee… well… it completes me.

18. I am thankful for Johnny Cash. I once read his autobiography, Cash, and I have been hooked on his music ever since. He’s the only guy I know who can follow a song about a drunken Native American with a song about the crucifixion and get away with it. Read the autobiography and you’ll understand.

19. I am thankful for Netflix. The watch instantly feature is the best invention since sliced bread. It’s television shows with no commercials and no waiting until next week to see what’s going to happen. It gives you the chance to get caught up on all the old shows you never got to watch when they first aired. Like Arrested Development. How did I miss this show the first time around? Never again will I be able to keep a straight face when someone calls me a chicken.

20. I am thankful for Felonious Gru. If you don’t know Gru, he’s the main character in Despicable Me and in Despicable Me 2. Steve Carell does the voice, and he’s hilarious. He has a Russian accent (even though, according to an interview, he comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico), is the adoptive father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes, and the current boss of the Minions. He has been given a knighthood, once had his own cooking show, and can hold his breath for thirty seconds. Both my boys love the character, and pretty much everything about the films. And even if my boys didn’t love the films, I would probably still watch them. You’re never too old to laugh at a Russian with a long nose.

(Note from the Narrator: I warned you.)

“And I Will Establish My Covenant Between Me and You and Your Offspring After You”: The Baptism of Our Boys

IMG_0268This past Sunday, June 16, 2013, I baptized my two sons. It was a very special day for our family, and I am thankful that my parents were able to attend the worship celebration. The baptism took place at Owaka Grace Fellowship, the Presbyterian church here in New Zealand where I currently serve as pastor. One of our elders, Gavin Landreth, helped administer the baptism. I have posted the transcript of the baptism service below. Those readers who have known me for quite some time will no doubt notice that my view of baptism has changed. After much prayer, study, and discussion, Jamie and I came to the conclusion that we wanted to have our boys baptized as children. This is not to suggest that everyone should come to this same conclusion, nor is it to suggest that Jamie and I regret our own baptisms (we were both baptized as believers). I have included a number of helpful resources (see the footnotes) for those who are interested in a more in-depth articulation of paedobaptism.

Baptism of Aidan Thomas Thornton and Cullen Timothy Thornton

It is my privilege this morning to administer the sacrament of baptism to my two boys: Aidan Thomas Thornton and Cullen Timothy Thornton. Today, we celebrate the wonderful truth that God is not only a God to Christian parents but also to their children. As Calvin says, “How sweet is it to godly [parents] to be assured, not only by word, but by sight, that they obtain so much favor with the Heavenly Father that their offspring are within his care” (Inst. 4.16.32).

I. Why Do We Baptize Children?

Why do we baptize children? We find no clear command in the NT to baptize children, but there is no need of such a command. It is beyond dispute that the covenant God made with Abraham included his children. In Gen 17:7, God declares to Abraham: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” We have no reason to think that the new covenant is less generous than was the Abrahamic covenant. Because sons were part of the Abrahamic covenant in the Old Testament and were circumcised, we see no reason why children should be excluded in the New Testament sign of baptism.[1]

While there is no clear command, we find in the Bible a number of suggestions of infant or child baptism. I’ll mention only a few.

1. First, there are relatively few instances of baptism recorded in the NT, but roughly a quarter of the cases are baptisms of entire households. In Acts 16:14-16, we read that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to the gospel, and then she and her household were baptized.

2. Second, children in the NT are told to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph 6:1). They are not treated as little pagans, but as members of the covenant who owe their allegiance to Christ.

3. Third, Christ himself declares: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16). If the kingdom of heaven belongs to children, why would we withhold from them the sign of union with the King?

For these and for many other reasons[2] we administer the sacrament of baptism to children.

II. What is Baptism?

What is baptism? Baptism is a sign and seal of union with Christ, purifying from the pollution of sin by regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and purifying from the guilt of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ. Baptism is into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It means, then, that a relation of union is signified.

But it is important to remember that the sign of baptism does not mean that the one who receives the sign is automatically in possession of the thing signified. We do not baptize these children on the basis of our knowledge that they are regenerate,[3] nor do we claim that they become actual partakers of grace simply by being baptized.

By their baptism, Aidan and Cullen are brought into the covenant community, that is, into the visible church. And we, as a church, pray, proclaim the gospel, and long for that future day when both Aidan and Cullen will make an intelligent and credible profession of faith.[4] We long for the day when they will say, “Christ is my Lord.”

III. The Administration of Baptism

(Gavin Landreth will ask the three questions below.)

Dillon and Jamie, I now have three questions for you.[5] After I read each question, please respond, “We do.”

1. Do you acknowledge your children’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?

2. Do you claim God’s covenant promises in their behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation, as you do for your own?

3. Do you now unreservedly dedicate your children to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before them a godly example, that you will pray with and for them, that you will teach them the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

(Back to Dillon.)

Church family, I now have one question for you. After I read the question, please respond, “We do.”

1. Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting us in the Christian nurture of these children?

Aidan, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Cullen, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

IV. Prayer of Thanksgiving and Blessing

Let us close this part of our service with a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing.

Our gracious heavenly Father, we acknowledge with thankfulness: that you are true and faithful in keeping your covenant promises, that you are good and gracious, not only counting us among your saints, but you are also pleased to grant our children this badge of your love in Christ, that, in your truth and special providence, you daily bring people into your church, to partake of your great benefits, purchased by the blood of your Son. We pray that you would receive Aidan and Cullen now baptized and solemnly entered into the covenant community, and remember them with the favor that you show to your people. We pray that, if it is your plan for them to be taken out of this life at an early age, you, who are rich in mercy, would be pleased to receive them into glory. We pray that, if they grow into young men, that you would teach them by your Word and by your Spirit, and make this baptism effectual to them, and so uphold them by your power and grace, that by faith they may prevail against the world, the flesh, and the devil, until in the end they obtain a full and final victory. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[6]

[1] For a full discussion of this point, see John Murray, Christian Baptism (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980), 45-58.

[2] For an exegesis of other relevant NT passages, see Murray, Christian Baptism, 58-68. Luther provides six reasons for infant baptism. Each reason falls into one of four categories. 1) Apostolic practice: child baptism derives from the apostles and has been practiced since the days of the apostles. 2) Universal practice: infant baptism is thoroughly established in all Christendom. 3) Blessing of the baptized: God has given great gifts to many who were baptized as infants, accomplishing remarkable things in Christendom through them, which confirms their baptism as proper. 4) Consistent with Scripture: child baptism is a practice that is nowhere contrary to Scripture (he cites a number of texts in favor of child baptism: Gen 17:7; Matt 19:14; Luke 1:41; Acts 16:15). See LW 40:254-258.

[3] Baptism is administered on the basis of the divine institution. Again, Luther is helpful: “Here, namely, that we are baptized; not because we are certain of our faith but because it is the command and will of God… In this I cannot err, for God’s command cannot deceive” (LW 40:252). He adds, “The Anabaptists cannot be sure their baptism is a right one, since they base their baptizing on a faith of which they cannot be sure. Hence they play a gambling game with those they rebaptize” (LW 40:260).

[4] Calvin prefers to leave “undetermined” the issue of infant faith (Inst. 4.16.19). His most definitive statement is: “Infants are baptized into future repentance and faith, and even though these have not yet been formed in them, the seed of both lies hidden within them by the secret working of the Spirit” (Inst. 4.16.20). Luther writes: “If we follow his command and baptize everyone, we leave it to him to be concerned about the faith of those baptized. We have done our best when we have preached and baptized… We plant and water and leave the growth to God” (LW 40:258).

[5] All questions (family and church family) come from The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America 56.5; The Book of Church Order of the Grace Presbyterian Church of New Zealand 56.5.

[6] This is an adaptation of the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing from The Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645).

Give the Gift of Augustine

Attention parents and grandparents: there’s still time to pick up a few more Christmas presents for the kids, so let me recommend two great gifts that require no assembly, no grooming, and that make no noise!

If you have time, go here and read my final article for Christian Today Australia. It’s entitled, “Augustine, the Hippo: Theological Tools for the Tots.” The article tells you about a couple of fantastic books for your children.

You can find both books for a decent price at amazon.

Fathering and Pastoring: A Must-Read for Men in Ministry

The Gospel Coalition has just published an excellent post by Barnabas Piper entitled 7 Things a Pastor’s Kid Needs From a Father. If you are a man in ministry, it is definitely worth reading. You can access the full article here. One of my favorite sections:

Yes, you are called to pastor your family, but PKs want a dad—someone who plays with them, protects them, makes them laugh, loves their mom, gives hugs, pays attention, teaches them how to build a budget and change the oil and field a ground ball. We want committed love and warmth. We want a dad who’s not a workaholic. It’s hypocritical to call your congregation to a life of love, sacrifice, and passionate gospel living while neglecting your own family. If a mortgage broker or salesman works too much at 60 hours a week, so do you. Leave work and be present for your kids. Your children will spit on your pastoring if they miss out on your fathering.

Moro Marathon 2012

Well I finished my first New Zealand marathon and lived to tell the tale. The time was a bit disappointing: 3:53:00. Definitely not a personal record. We got off to a great start; hit the half-way point at 1:45:00. But my knee injury flared up around the 22 mile mark, so we came in at a much slower pace. But it was a perfect day, a beautiful course, and I finished it with a good buddy.

Our First Visitors in New Zealand

I’ve been out of touch (blog-wise) for a while. We’ve been pretty busy lately, and, well, New Zealand is not really a tech-driven kind of place. As the t-shirts here say: “No cell phone, no email, no problems.” I tend to agree. But I figure it’s time for a brief update on life over here in Dunedin. July has been a great month for us: the second chapter of my thesis was accepted, I was asked to teach Greek at the University, we got Aidan on the waiting list for kindergarten, and best of all we had our first visitors.

My parents, Larry and Pam Thornton, stayed with us for three weeks and we all had a blast! Of course, it’s winter here and summer in the U.S., so they had to get adjusted when they first arrived–they went from almost 110 fahrenheit in the States to about 3 celsius in New Zealand. Additionally, they had to get accustomed to the chilly housing in New Zealand; this time of year only two rooms of our house stay warm and the rest of the abode is quite cold (about 48-50 fahrenheit). I think my parents wore two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, and two or three shirts the whole time they stayed with us! I have to admit, it was funny watching them as they tried to get used to the cold.

They also had to get used to the fact that we drive on the left side of the road here, and the roads are extremely windy and hilly, nay, mountainy–with no guardrails. Sometimes all it takes is a mere meter to the left and you plummet down a jagged cliff. Not much room for error. I tried to get them to take a shot at driving while they were here, but neither of them felt ready for that just yet. I can’t say that I blame them. It does require either bravery or insanity to drive here. Maybe next time they visit they’ll dare to drive, and I won’t have to serve as the chauffeur for the length of their stay.

Though I did all the driving, mom and dad helped pick the destinations, and we got to see so many beautiful places while they were here. We took them to all of our favorite spots: Aramoana, Sandfly Bay, Tunnel Beach, Orokonui, Long Beach, St. Clair, the Botanical Gardens, the Otago Museum, and the list goes on. We also got to explore new spots with them; we took our first ever trip to the west coast, visiting: Manapouri, Te Anau, the Fiordland National Park, and Milford Sound. We also went about an hour north of Dunedin and visited Moeraki for the first time. I’ve included some of the best photos we got from the many breathtaking places we saw. New Zealand is teeming with gorgeous beaches and majestic mountains, and the country has the greenest grass and the bluest water you’ll ever see. There’s really no way to fully describe the beauty. You probably just need to come visit us and see for yourself.

But visits, by definition, are temporary. Sadly, we had to say farewell to mom and dad yesterday. It was wonderful having them with us for three weeks, and they did so much to help us while they were here. We are so very grateful. The Lord has truly blessed me with godly parents. They have taught me so much over the years, and they continue to guide me today. I am thankful for the way they love each other, and for the way they love me, my wife, and my boys. I am thankful, most of all, that from the time I was a small boy they have pointed me to Christ. Thank you, mom and dad, for your faithful example.

We miss you already and we eagerly await your next visit. In the mean time, I’ll work on warming up the house for you…

Tall Blacks, Beaches, and Books: A New Zealand Update

I realized it’s been a while since my last New Zealand update, so here’s an account of some of our recent happenings.

We bought a car and Jamie and I are both pretty accustomed to driving on the left side of the road–we haven’t hit a sheep yet anyways. We’ve learned a good bit of the Kiwi terminology: everyone says “no worries,” “good for you” is “good on ya,” “cookies” are “biscuits,” “coffee” is “tall black”, “tea” is “a cup’a,” “fries” are “chips,” “chips” are “crisps,” “flip-flops” are “jandals” (not that you’d ever wear them over here; it’s too chilly), “gas” is “petrol,” and the list goes on. I’ve been working around the house a bit on perfecting my Kiwi accent, but Jamie says I just sound like the Indian convenient store owner from The Simpsons. I’ll give it a rest for now.

Aidan has learned all of his letters, and can make the right sound for most of them. We were walking through the grocery store just the other day and out of the blue he yelled: “Hhhhh-aaaaa-mmmmm!” Ham was on sale. He is also getting better and better about walking long distances on our family hikes/excursions, which we do every weekend. In the past few weeks we have been to Long Beach, Sandfly Bay, and Tunnel Beach (the pictures in this post are of these locations). The scenery here is absolutely breathtaking.

Cullen is walking! He can take a good ten steps or more on his own without losing his balance. His 1st birthday is coming up on April 7th and Aidan’s 3rd birthday on April 20th. We’re planning on taking them to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary to see the birds to celebrate. Maybe Cullen can chase down a Shining Cuckoo.

Jamie is not nearly as home sick as she was our first month here. Though we all still miss our family and friends from the US, we are starting to get at least somewhat settled now. Jamie has been cooking up a storm (and from scratch at that!): shepherd’s pie, homemade pizza, and an assortment of stews are our weekly favorites. Sometimes she even cooks up something for second breakfast and elevenses. She has also entered the world of blogging; you can check out her blog here. It’s much more creative than mine, I assure you.

My studies are going swimmingly. I feel a bit monkish at times; I stay locked in my office all day: translating, reading, and writing. I have established a pretty decent work routine. I never get as much done in a single day as I’d like, but I suppose getting a little done today is better than hoping to get a lot done on the morrow. “Plod” is the key word for a Ph.D. student, I think.

I have gotten to know my supervisor, Paul Trebilco, pretty well in these first few months. He’s been so very helpful, and I am glad to be under his tutelage. This past Sunday, my family and I visited Leith Valley Church, where Paul attends, and we had a wonderful day worshiping with our Kiwi brothers and sisters. I was thrilled to see that Paul is very involved in ministry at Leith Valley. What a blessing it is to have a supervisor of international renown who is also wholeheartedly devoted to local church ministry.

Not only have I been blessed with an excellent supervisor, but the University of Otago as a whole has made a great first impression on me. This is an outstanding place to do doctoral work. The faculty in my department is like the A-team, some of the top theological soldiers of the day. The University is also very generous to postgrad students. Not only are we funded while we do our work here, but the University will also fund us for a national and international conference during our course of study. So, I hope to head to Auckland for a conference in December of this year and maybe Scotland for a conference in 2013.

I am grateful to the Lord for providing us with this opportunity to live in such a beautiful place, to work under some of the top biblical scholars in the world, and to engage in serious study of His Word. I pray that it will all be for the glory of His name and for the good of His church.

Many thanks to all of our family and friends who have been praying for us.

Here endeth the update.

Does My Guardian Angel Have His Wings Yet?

My in-laws pointed out an interesting text the other day–Matthew 18:10.  Let’s have a look, shall we?

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven…”

The curious part is the reference to “their angels.”  Does this verse teach that each child has his or her own guardian angel?  Does my son, Aidan, have his own “Clarence” up there somewhere?  Maybe, but probably not.  I’ll tell you how I arrive at this conclusion, but I’ll do it in a roundabout way.

Let me begin by saying that there are a lot of misconceptions about angels.  If misconceptions about angels were guardian angels we’d each have a dozen defenders.  We have popular culture to thank for this.  Victor Hugo was wrong; it is not “by suffering that human beings become angels.”  Humans never become angels.  When you hear a daughter speak at her mother’s funeral and say that “momma’s an angel now,” you don’t need to stand up and protest (have some respect for the grieving), just know that the daughter is mistaken.  There are also a lot of angelic movies out there:  It’s a Wonderful Life, Angels in the OutfieldCity of Angels, the list goes on.  I don’t need to say much here.  Just know this:  don’t get your theology from hollywood–ever.

Let’s return now to the guardian angel question.  The problem is that the Bible never specifically speaks of individual guardian angels.  Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, refers to angels playing a “zone defense” rather than a “man-to-man defense.”  Grudem is probably right.  The Matthew passage above is the closest thing we have to a guardian angel text, but “their angels” does not necessarily imply that each believer has a “Clarence.”  It could just as easily be a reference to the collective angels the Heavenly Father uses to care for His child-like disciples (Heb. 1:14), and this interpretation seems to mesh a bit better with other passages that speak of these heavenly messengers.  God certainly uses angels to minister to His people in a number of ways (communication, protection, etc.), but I don’t think the Bible gives us enough material to support the guardian angel theory–so don’t jump to “Clarence” conclusions just yet.

There seems to be a great movement today of people who want to study angels.  The Bible never tells us to study or to worship angels, but the Bible does tell us that angels are studying us.  The angels stoop to study salvation (I Pet. 1:12).  Angels know a great deal about salvation.  After all, they were present to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2) and they were present at the tomb to announce the resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24).  But angels have not experienced salvation.  They are, in a sense, outsiders to salvation.  Angels do not know what it is like to experience God’s grace.  God didn’t spare the angels who followed Lucifer and fell from heaven.  And so, angels are fascinated by salvation.  They rejoice over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).

So when you think about angels, don’t dwell on the speculative stuff.  Rather, trust in the sovereign God who controls the heavenly host (however many there are) and let these messengers remind us of how thankful we should be that God has spared us.

Of Marriages and Merisms

Here are two new theological/pastoral resources.  The first is a case study paper.  What should a pastor do if a couple in his church requests to be married without filing the appropriate paperwork with the State (aka:  the marriage license)?  In other words, the couple wants to be married “in the eyes of God,” but not “in the eyes of the government.”  This is more common than you might think.

In the Eyes of the Lord-A Pastoral Case Study

The second is a list (including Scriptural examples) of some of the figures of speech used in the Bible.  If we desire to interpret the Bible accurately, we must learn to interpret figures of speech–the Bible is jam-packed with them!

Some of the Major Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

Simplicity

A good friend and former professor of mine is fond of saying that all Christians are called not only to salvation, but to service, sacrifice, and simplicity.  Simplicity is the one we’ll focus on for now.  We can’t find simplicity these days.  It’s lost–buried somewhere beneath all our stuff.  Well, let’s see if we can dig it up…  Of course, it’s been so long since we’ve seen it, we might not know what to look for.  So, as we rummage through the piles of our possessions, here are some of the things we might want to keep our eyes open for.

Simplicity is not buying a bigger house, madam, just because your tennis partner just bought one.  Simplicity is not taking the new job with twice the salary, mate, if it means that you’ll have to spend half as much time with your kids.  Simplicity is increasing the amount you give away, rather than skyrocketing your standard of living when the Lord blesses you financially.  Simplicity is knowing the difference between necessity and luxury, and choosing to do without luxuries because so many lack necessities.

I’m a selfish man, but I’ve been digging a little lately, and I might have caught a glimpse of simplicity.  It’s all because of an exercise we’ve been doing.  It’s called:  cram everything you’ll need for the next three years into seven suitcases!  As we’ve been getting ready for our upcoming globe-trot, we’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff.  We’ve sold both our cars, almost all our furniture, half our clothing, barrels of toys (and not just monkeys either), and who knows what else.  Turns out, you don’t even need most of this stuff.  Who knew?  I haven’t found simplicity yet, but I’m committed to finding it.  It’s important, you see.  Because simplicity and good stewardship are blood-relatives.

As the Southern fella sang:  “Be a simple kind of man.”  Life is short, and we can’t take our suitcases with us–not even seven.