Columns

My car was in the shop this week to fix an evolving A/C apocalypse. When the work was finished, a kind mechanic from the place picked me up to take me to my car. On the way, we talked about the things of God, and he asked me how could God send a good Jewish Rabbi to Hell? After all, he said, the Rabbi is only doing what he was brought up to do; he is doing his best to live up to the light he received.

This is a common objection to the Christian message. It deserves a compelling answer. What would you say? You might try something like this:

We live in a day of comfort. Every new product boasts a greater measure of ease than that which preceded it. Our public discourse insists that the highest form of virtue is that we do not make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs or lifestyles. Then we read the Bible and, in many places, we find it to be extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we all have our "go-to" encouragement passages; and, it's right that love them. These are the cherished Gospel promises and comforts.

Theodulf of Orleans – Poet and Theologian in the Carolingian Court

            Theodulf belonged to the group of bright minds Charlemagne gathered at his court in order to boost education in his empire. Born in a Visigothic family, probably in Spain, around the year 750, he is named after the French city where he became bishop, Orleans.

One summer, a family man (and personal friend) traveled to Paris, where he spent a morning enjoying Luxembourg Gardens. In time, he noticed a group of mothers who, he realized, were so engrossed in their conversation that they tilted toward neglect of their children. He watched as one child wandered ever farther from her mother in the crowded park. Not yet two, she began to follow a family, apparently thinking its mother was her mother. When the group crossed a street and hurried onward, the child was finally quite alone.

     In recent years, it seems increasingly rare to hear believers say, “I grew up in a happy home and we had everything we needed.” I almost never hear anyone say “I am making progress as a disciple,” although healthy believers should keep growing (below). The unfettered gratitude we hear in Psalm 16:6 has gone missing: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” It has become difficult, even fraught, to say “My life is good,” in public at least.

I get to talk with pastors all the time.  It’s one of the joys and privileges of the work God has given me to do.  I’ve also served as a pastor for ten years – less than many of my brothers, but long enough to experience some of the ups and downs of ministry.
 
One of the biggest challenges that pastors and anyone engaged in Christian work faces is remembering the spiritual nature of the work.  If the measurables – budgets, attendance figures, projects – seem to be headed in the right direction, those tend to be our focus, to the exclusion of spiritual matters.

Christians have always been persecuted.  Peter reminded his readers of this in the earliest days of the church: “…knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by the brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9b).  But it does seem as if the suffering of Christians – whether at the hands of Muslims, Hindus, or totalitarians of another stripe – has been in the news more lately.  The testimonies of our brothers and sisters in these places are sobering; but often they are also encouraging examples of grace-fueled perseverance.

Humans have been fascinated by themselves since the earliest times in the history of our race. From the crude stick figures painted on the walls of caves in prehistoric times through to the sophisticated image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or the mathematical musings around the Fibonacci sequence in the beauty and balance of the human form, there has been a never-ending search for the perfect paradigm for humanity.

I heard a comment recently from one of the young men in our church that gave me pause for thought. He said, ‘I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon about assurance.’ My initial reaction was to frantically cast my mind back over the last 40 years trying to remember if I myself had ever addressed the subject (thankfully I have), but then I began to wonder why this vital topic has apparently been neglected both in the pulpit and in Christian literature in more recent times.

…he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

John 12:6bNKJV

Anyone who might still hold to the classical liberal perspective that the God of the Old Testament was this angry, vengeful, “bad-hair-day” deity that frankly hated everyone and everything ,while the New Testament Jesus was a veritable hippie, spouting free love and holding forth no judgment of any kind, has obviously not read (or has read and does not believe!) texts like Matthew 5. Most of us can get through the day without actually ending someone else’s life or fornicating with someone-not-our-spouse. But who can stop anger or lust dead in their tracts?

All Things for Good

 James and Jonathan remove the dust from the cover of a classic book that’s played a big role in their lives. All Things for Good, formerly known as A Divine Cordial by Thomas Watson was originally published in 1663, and it reads as a series of sermons or expositions of Romans 8:28. Throughout the book, Watson offers reflections on the two greatest difficulties he faced in pastoral ministry: To make the wicked sad and the godly joyful.

Satan tells us that repentance is easy and forgiveness is available, so yielding to temptation is not serious. We are tempted to think that we'll only commit a sin a few times and then claim God's forgiveness. “Correcting the situation after you sin is easy,” the Tempter tells us.

But this is dangerous thinking for several reasons. First, consider how nauseating even we humans find insincere repentance. Here's an example of what I mean: Imagine that you heard me saying to my young daughter,

One of the reasons the Puritans wrote a number of polemical works pertaining to sanctification, particularly with respect to law, good works and salvation, was to defend faithful ministers and churches. That reason remains true today and I want to take the opportunity to say a few words in defense of PCA pastor Kevin DeYoung. Pastor DeYoung was recently criticized for teaching that good works are necessary for salvation as a means.