Tuesday, April 29, 2014

when the Lord is not your Shepherd

Think of what it means to not have the Lord as your Shepherd. Here are the words of Australian evangelist John Chapman (aka "Chappo") upon his retirement...
Throughout the Bible runs the wonderful theme of God being the shepherd of His people and of the wonderful security which this brings. In Ezekiel, when the leaders of Israel will not lead God's people into godly ways, God says, ''I myself will be shepherd to my people''. I suppose the best example of this is Psalm 23. The Psalmist lists the benefits of this relationship with God. He wants for nothing. God leads him in the path of righteousness. He satisfies him, leading him in green pastures and by still waters. He lifts him up when he is down. He restores his soul and, even in the face of death, he is still secure. ''When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,'' he says with confidence, ''I will fear no evil''. In the presence of his enemies, God comes to his aid and he lacks nothing. ''Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.''   
But spare a thought for the people who do not have the Lord as their shepherd. Spare a moment for them and pity them. What is it that they can say? And what is the truth of their position? Can you hear their cry?  ''The Lord is not my shepherd. I am in terrible want. No one comes to my aid. I know nothing of green pastures or still waters. It is 'every man for himself' in the world I live in. I flounder around in life desperately trying to make sense of it. When I face death, terrible fear grips hold of me, and in the presence of my enemies this fear intensifies. Goodness and loving kindness are total strangers to me. I have no hope at all when I look to life after death." Pity the person who is shepherdless! We should have compassion on the multitude around us who are lost.  
From The Wit and Wisdom of Chappo

The painting above is The Good Shepherd by Henry Ossawa Tanner, ca. 1917.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

more and more, not less and less

Sometimes we think of the Christian life as being like an airline flight.  At the beginning you really need a big boost of power and acceleration to get off the ground.  But at some point you reach a set altitude (ceiling) and then settle in at a cruising speed.  

Which is fine... if your destination is someplace in this world.  But our destination is not of this world.  Our goal is not to level out at a safe cruising speed, but rather to obtain the fullest possible transformation into the likeness and character of Jesus that we can in this life.  

The Christian life should be about "more and more", not "less and less." There is no red line on the tachometer of the Christian.  There is no ceiling, no set altitude, no cruising speed.  This really stood out to me in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian believers... 

"...may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you."  (1 Thessalonians 3:12 ESV)
"...we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more."  (4:1)
"...you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,  for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more..." (4:9-10)
"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (5:23)

Which means, as we walk with the Lord, and grow in him, there should be more faith (not less), more love (not less), and more obedience (not less). 

Also the longer we walk with the Lord the greater is the temptation to feel that we no longer have need of those disciplines that "got us off the ground." So we cut back on dedicated times of prayer, on the study of Scripture (reading and memorization, too), and on intentional outreach to the people around us.  We may feel like we no longer need some of the accountability that church, small groups, and mentoring gives us.  We've been there, done that.

But the Christian life is about more and more, not less and less.  

Rather than an airline flight, we should think of the Christian life as being like Secretariat, the three-year-old Thoroughbred winner of the 1973 Triple Crown. 

In the Kentucky Derby Secretariat ran each quarter-mile segment faster than the one before it. The successive quarter-mile times were 25.2, 24.0, 23.8, 23.4, and 23.0 seconds.  This means he was still accelerating as of the final quarter-mile of the race.  Down the stretch Secretariat was running 49 mph. (From Secretariat.com)

In the last of the three races, the Belmont Stakes (above, the longest of the triple crown races, being a mile and a half in length) Secretariat opened a 1/16 mile lead on the rest of the field, but at the finish won by 31 lengths.   He ran the fastest 1.5 miles on dirt in history with a average speed of 37.5 mph for his entire performance.  

Now there's an example of "more and more" for us to follow!

Where do you need to ramp it up in your walk with God??

"...we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more."  (4:1)

Friday, April 18, 2014

a giant leap for humanity

One of the contentions held against Christianity is its exclusiveness.  We are being too narrow and exclusive to say that this one way is the only right way to approach God.  Doesn't this give offense to other cultures and other religions?

It depends on whether we are considering Jesus' accomplishments merely as the work of a man within a culture for people within a culture, or whether this is something much greater. 

When Americans first walked on the moon, Neil Armstrong said, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."  In such momentous historical events, one does not say something like, "one small step for an American, one giant leap for Americans."  (Or Russians, or Pakistanis, or any nationality...)  Armstrong and Aldrin were Americans, but what they were doing transcended any nationality and was an accomplishment representing -- and celebrated by -- all of humanity.  That moment transcended any particular culture.  

When Jesus died he did not die merely as a Jew for other Jews, but as a human, a human in the fullest sense, for other humans.  And when he rose -- and he is the only one to do so with credible historical witness -- he rose for all mankind.  All cultures have this in common: the image of God upon them, but lost in sin and needing redemption.  Our very deepest human needs and problems aren't culture-specific.  Sin is a human problem.  

So Christianity is not culture-bound.  It's not about any culture in particular.  It is about God coming down in human form to do for all of us -- regardless of ethnicity -- what we could not possibly do for ourselves.  Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the confirming seal that God has accepted his death on our behalf. 

So the resurrection turns Christianity from being one religion among many to something very unique in its claim and accomplishment: Jesus is the first to rise, the first of a new Humanity.  He is risen, and ruling, and coming again!

[Photo above of Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon, Wikimedia Commons.]

Friday, April 11, 2014

losing the self

"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"  (Luke 9:24-25 ESV)

Here are some of my highlights from the closing chapter of God in the Whirlwind, by David Wells...

There is a center in our lives, and in both cases from this center comes an energy, a drive, to see life from the viewpoint of our center and to do certain things...
This truth is fundamental to Christian faith. Either we are “enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6) or, through Christ, we are “slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:19). We are either “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness” (Rom. 6:19), or, as Paul said of himself, “a servant of Christ Jesus” (Rom. 1:1). It is the one or the other. Everyone is enslaved to something. Our choice is simply to whom or to what.
This servitude of sin originally worked itself out by constricting or “contracting” the human vision. Edwards spoke about how the original greatness of the human soul became small in its sin. What had once been its large vision of God, before the fall, shrank into the smallness of a warped self. It becomes, as Edwards said, contracted “to the very small dimensions of selfishness . . . and man retired within himself.”
...the thread that links the older modernist culture and our current postmodern culture is the autonomous self. This is the self, the person in his or her inner being, who is unrestrained by the past, by any authority, or social convention, or community, or any truth as something other than his or her own private opinion. They are not restrained by any God external to themselves. This is what our culture is validating all the time. 
To be enslaved by Christ is not a new bondage. It is a new freedom! To unbelievers, this may seem puzzling.
...the old, so-called “freedom” of the self, as we have seen, is actually the very opposite. It is a captivity to that self with all of its compulsions and appetites. The freedom we have in Christ is a freedom from the captivity to our old imperious and autonomous self.
Once, we mistakenly saw our own captivity as freedom. Equally mistakenly, we also saw serving Christ as loss. But the truth turned out to be exactly the opposite of what we had once thought.
In Luke’s account, the unbeliever “forfeits himself” (Luke 9:25). So great is the value of our life, our soul, that in any trade it would be worth more than the entire world with all of its treasure. That is their relative value. It is control over this great and precious thing, this life of ours, that we “lose” at the foot of Christ’s cross. On its face, this goes against every calculation of self-interest. But these calculations are false. Here in Jesus’s words, they are dismissed. This “loss” is actually “gain,” even as our “freedom” to be ourselves was, in fact, our slavery to ourselves. By contrast, to be a servant of Christ is to be free for him, through the gospel, because it is to be free from ourselves. That is the gain.
Christian faith is about transforming the way we calculate importance.
In the kingdom of God, greatness is the exact opposite of what it is in the world.
-- David Wells, from God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Crossway Books, 2014)

the donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked     
And figs grew upon thorn,    
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.  

With monstrous head and sickening cry    
And ears like errant wings,    
The devil’s walking parody       
On all four-footed things.  

The tattered outlaw of the earth,    
Of ancient crooked will; 
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.  

Fools! For I also had my hour;    
One far fierce hour and sweet:    
There was a shout about my ears,    
And palms before my feet.  

"The Donkey" by G. K. Chesterton, from The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (Dodd Mead & Company, 1927)  
[Photo of Paramo donkey from Wikimedia Commons.]

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

sunday notes

How we are to defend the faith:   

a)  With cheerfulness (24:10; 26:2) (Lu 6:23; 21:13; 1 Pet 2:9)
b)  With respect (24:10; 26:2-3) (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 3:15)
c)  With our personal story (26:9ff)(Luke 21:13; Phil 3:3-11)
d)  With confidence in God’s word (24:14-15; 26:6)(Luke 24:26-27,44)
e)  With a good conscience  (24:16) (1 Pet 3:16; Titus 2:7-10)
f)  With persuasion (24:25; 26:18-20, 29)(Prov 11:30; 2 Cor 5:20; Jude 1:3)
g)  With endurance (24:22-27; 26:24) (1 Cor 15:58) 


“Snarkiness has no place in Christian apologetics.”  (Chris Travis)  

“Religious experience occurs in the sanctuary, but its claim to truth has to be tested in the public world of facts.” (Lesslie Newbigin)  

“If your souls were not immortal, and you in danger of losing them, I would not speak this way to you; but the love of your souls constrains me to speak...” (George Whitefield)

"Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms." (C S Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Get started reading in apologetics...

  • Blomberg, Craig L.  “Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters.” blacksburgchristianfellowship.org > About BCF > Rersources > Recommended reading > "Jesus and History"
  • Keller, Tim.  The Reason for God.
  • Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity
  • Wallace, Warner.  Cold-case Christianity.

Some websites to visit...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

we can never hear too much about him

"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham..." (Matthew 1:1 ESV)
These verses begin the New Testament. Let us always read them with serious and solemn feelings. The book before us contains not the word of men, but of God. Every verse in it was written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Let us thank God daily for giving us the Scriptures. The poorest Englishman who understands his Bible, knows more about religion than the wisest philosophers of Greece and Rome.
Let us remember our deep responsibility. We shall all be judged at the last day according to our light. To whomsoever much is given, of them much will be required.
Let us read our Bibles reverently and diligently, with an honest determination to believe and practice all we find in them. It is no light matter how we use this book. Eternal life or death depends on the spirit in which it is used.
Above all let us humbly pray for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. He alone can apply truth to our hearts, and make us profit by what we read.
The New Testament begins with the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. No part of the Bible is so important as this, and no part is so full and complete. Four distinct Gospels tell us the story of Christ's doing and dying. Four times over we read the precious account of His works and words.
How thankful we ought to be for this! To know Christ is life eternal. To believe in Christ is to have peace with God. To follow Christ is to be a true Christian. To be with Christ will be heaven itself. We can never hear too much about Jesus Christ. 

(J C Ryle, opening lines to Expository Thoughts on the Gospels.)

Friday, April 4, 2014

the Spirit of glory

I'm reading The Work of the Holy Spirit, by Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), Dutch theologian and statesman.  Here are a couple of highlights I'm thinking about...

"Much more, however, is the king honored by the persons of his household, each in his degree, from the master of ceremonies to his prime minister. Yet his highest glory is his family of sons and daughters, begotten of his own blood, trained by his wisdom, animated by his ideals, one with him in the plans, purposes, and spirit of his life. Applying this in all reverence to the court of the King of heaven, it is evident that while every flower and star enhance His glory, the lives of angels and men are of much greater significance to His Kingdom; and again, while among the latter they are most closely related to His glory whom He has placed in positions of authority, nearest of all are the children begotten by His Spirit, and admitted to the secret of His pavilion. We conclude, then, that God's glory is reflected most in His children; and since no man can be His child unless he is begotten of Him, we confess that His glory is most apparent in His elect or in His Church..."
"God's highest purposes are realized when the Holy Spirit makes man's heart His dwelling-place."  

(Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit)