Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Christian Response to Overt Evil

As Americans, and as Christians, we are reeling from the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX on Sunday.  We have more questions than answers.  We grieve for this tiny community which lost so many lives in an attack driven by unadulterated evil.

Last month these words of John Calvin, from nearly 5 centuries ago, came to my attention.  They remain sound advice for us who face tragedies of our own time.  In 2 Samuel 1 King David is grieving the loss of King Saul and his son, David’s beloved friend Jonathan.  Expanding upon the Scriptural account, Calvin comments as follows.

We can see how God is afflicting the world today. Even people who are strangers to us are related to us, because we are all made in the image of God, and have a common nature which should be a mutual bond of love and brotherhood. Then there is a far closer union between ourselves and the suffering of believers who are scattered here and there in all churches which God has chastened on every side.

Indeed, we see troubles everywhere; we see fires burning; we hear that the throats of poor innocent people have been cut; that they have been subjected to mockery and contempt, and that they are being led to the slaughter. We see the enemies of truth ready to annihilate everything, and we do not know what God is intending to do. Nevertheless, see how his sword is unsheathed. The fire, as I have said, is kindled and we do not know how far it will burn.

Let us thus allow ourselves to be genuinely touched by mourn­ing, anxiety and grief so that we will not be careless, hardened, or unfeeling over what our poor brothers are going through. Instead, let us have the kind of compassion towards them which members of the same body owe to one another. On the other hand, let us not give way to despair, like those who have become so grieved and full of lamentation that they refuse the remedy of consolation in God. Rather, let us confess our sins, knowing that our savior has not ceased to pour out his blessings upon us, even though we have sinned. Then, in the midst of our sorrows, let us recognize all our offenses so that he may show himself merciful to us, as he always has done to those who clearly take refuge in him.  (John Calvin, Sermon on 2 Samuel 11562).

The conflict with evil has not abated in 500 years.  May God help us to “mourn with those who mourn” while maintaining our confidence in the Lord’s sovereign purposes.  Let us support in our prayers those who have experienced such tragic loss at the hands of a madman.  And let us not fail to recognize the fragile grip we have on life in this world, how quickly it can be shattered, and how vital it is to make each moment count in light of eternity to come.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Cure for Doubt

A recent Barna research release indicates that approximately two-thirds of Christians have or currently face periods of doubt with regard to their faith and relationship with the Lord.  Precedent for dominating doubt goes all the way back to the first century,  One of Jesus’ specially chosen apostles would be forever nick-named “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he could personally see and touch him.

According to church tradition, Thomas overcame his doubts and eventually took the Gospel of Christ to the Indian subcontinent in AD 52, ministering in what are the present-day states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There he baptized the first Christians of that region, founding what is now known as the Mar Thoma Church. 

How should Christians today deal with their doubts?  We no longer have the Lord physically present to reassure our wavering faith and dispel our doubts as did the Apostle Thomas.  But we do have a secure foundation upon which to rest our faith, quell our fears, and satisfy our questions.  And that is the biblical revelation of the character and purposes of God.

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonian Christians that God would ensure their establishment in the faith.  Furthermore, He would protect them from the onslaught of attacks from the evil one, designed to disrupt and destroy their faith in the Lord (2 Thess. 3:3).  Similarly, the Apostle Jude, using the same Greek word, assures his readers that God is able to keep them from stumbling in their faith and to eventually present them in a sinless, perfected state on the Day of Resurrection.

Left to our own strength and wills, we would have reason to worry and doubt our ability to follow the Lord to the end of this earthly pilgrimage.  But, thankfully, our long-term spiritual welfare rests upon the promises God has made to His own, not upon our own ability to navigate the temptations and spiritual minefields of this world.  So take heart, Christian, our faithful God will never give up on you.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Reason for Optimism

One would have to be living in a remote location untouched by the media to fail to grasp the seemingly inexorable drift into depravity which has overtaken our society in recent decades.  While we were always a nation of sinners, that sin is now more open and embraced than ever before.   In many ways our moral code has been turned on its head, with large segments of society embracing lifestyles which were once nearly universally condemned as evil

But a survey of 2,030 Americans from all fifty states, conducted by the American Bible Society during January and February of this year, provides some reason for hope.  81 percent of those surveyed stated their belief that morals are declining in America, a 5 percent increase from 2016.  39 percent blame corporate greed; 33 percent consider the entertainment industry the problem.  But 27 percent say it is due to lack of Bible reading.

Half of Americans are considered “Bible users,” and 81 percent are “Bible engaged,” “Bible friendly” or “Bible neutral” in contrast to the 19 percent that are either “Bible skeptic” or “Bible antagonistic.”  Moreover, 70 percent of Americans are confident the Bible can bring hope to America, as opposed to the 30% who place that hope in the president of the United States.

Presently 20 percent of Americans are “Bible engaged,” meaning they view the Bible as the inspired word of God and read the Bible at least four times a week.  38 percent are “Bible friendly,” who consider it God’s word but read it fewer than four times a week.  And there is some evidence that Bible skepticism may be declining.

Overall, we need greater engagement with the Word of God which is indeed “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12).  God’s truth makes plain the subtleties of sin and the deceptions of evil that have blinded men to the truth.  It is also the means by which God brings spiritual life to the lost souls of men and women (Rom. 10:17) and fully transforms them thereafter (John 17:17).

There should be no more important objective in your life than filling your mind with a steady diet of God’s word.  These days, Bible reading competes with texts, tweets, instant messages, and the lure of the information society that constantly woos us.  Caring for the state of your eternal soul calls upon you to prioritize time in God’s word on a daily basis.  Don’t sell your soul for the Pablum of the world when you can dine on that which is “sweeter than honey,” on truth that will endure forever.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Peace on Earth, Good Will among Men

This message of comfort and assurance sung by the angelic choir to the stunned shepherds outside of Bethlehem expresses the fulfillment of humanity’s quest for tranquility and well-being. 

While the inaugural performance of this hymn of praise debuted over two-thousand years ago, it seems that mankind is further than ever from realizing its message.

Whether you consider the political chaos and fractured nature of our own society so evident this election year, or whether you look abroad at the genocide and ethnic/religious cleansing being foisted upon Christian minorities in the Middle East and Africa – it is apparent that the bulk of humanity has failed to hear, comprehend, and appropriate the message of the gospel proclaimed at the birth of Jesus.

It seems that at least weekly we hear of tragic new examples of radicalized terrorists perpetrating their devotion to Jihad wherein murder and mayhem are cardinal doctrines of their perverted faith.  If ever there was a polar opposite of the Christmas message of peace and good will, it is seen in incidents of terror, such has struck the German Christmas market earlier this week.

Jesus taught that “by their fruits you shall know them.”  One could not ask for a clearer manifestation of the heart and soul of unbridled Islam than what has been made evident this week.  Furthermore, there is purportedly a list, circulating in Arabic, of American Christian churches to be targeted by Islamic terrorists this holiday seasons.

The good news is not only that Jesus came to this world 2000 years ago but that one day, in the sovereign purposes of God, the peace and good will proclaimed at His birth will become a reality throughout the earth.

Isaiah declared that men “shall beat their swords into plowshares   . . . nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  The Prince of Peace will so rule that “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end . . . the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

The peace and good will proclaimed by the angels at Bethlehem will be realized – not through a strong-armed dictatorship – but through the transforming power of the gospel, a message that changes men’s hearts from devotion to evil to bringing glory to God in the highest.

Let us rejoice in the peace we presently know because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  And let us be diligent now and throughout 2017 in proclaiming the only lasting solution to the turmoil sweeping our land.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and to transform their souls by the application of the gospel.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Our Incomprehensible God

The news was very difficult to read, much less understand.  Why would God ordain such a thing?  It all seemed such a waste from a Kingdom perspective.

We, who are committed to biblical orthodoxy and thus know that the Sovereign Lord governs His universe with His almighty arm, cannot countenance the possibility that tragedies occur outside of His determined will.  Yet, sometimes, we are utterly at a loss to explain the divine rationale.

Over thirty years ago Dr. James Dobson published a book titled, When God Doesn’t Make Sense.  As Christians, if we are honest, we will admit that at times God’s ways utterly mystify us.

God declared through His prophet Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways … for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (55:9-10).  This truth was on bold display recently in Nebraska.

Just over a week ago the Pals family of five was killed in a car accident as they were on their way to train for missionary service in Japan.  Jamison and Kathryn, both 29, died with their three children: Ezra 3, Violet, 23 months, and Calvin, 2 ½ months.  An “inattentive and distracted” truck driver rammed “at a high rate of speed” into their minivan.  He is charged with five counts of felony motor vehicle homicide.

Three years ago, Jamison wrote a letter to Kathryne, encouraging her to embrace his vision of serving as a missionary in Japan.  He concluded, “It may costs us much, but would you have it any other way?  Whatever we lose will be worth it if we gain more of Christ …”  From an earthly perspective, the Pals lost everything.  But they now enjoy the presence of Christ, their mission having been completed.

God is glorified when His saints lay it all on the line in serving Him.  What may appear to be a setback is in reality another step forward.  Sinful, human irresponsibility redounds to the glory of God when Christians are seen serving Him selflessly and faithfully.  May God raise up, through their example, so many replacements for the Pals family that, in the end, much more will be accomplished to further the Kingdom than if the Pals had proceeded to Japan and served faithfully for decades.

God, give us faith to trust your plan … even when we "don’t get it."

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Eight-second Flatline

Due to unexpected developments, I recently found myself in a hospital, being monitored by an electrocardiogram machine.  Suddenly, the staff sprang to action when they noticed that my heart rhythm had flatlined.  For a span of eight seconds I had no heartbeat, and the pulse remained very sporadic for another minute or so.  After the initial flatline, CPR was administered, bringing me back to consciousness.

Physically, this was a watershed event which will cast a lingering effect over the remainder of my earthly pilgrimage.  The subsequent installation of a pacemaker was meant to ensure that, should my heart again fail to generate sufficient, internal, electrical impulse to maintain a healthy pulse, the pacemaker will produce the necessary contraction of the heart muscle to send life-sustaining blood through the rest of my body.

Considered from a spiritual perspective, such traumatic events remind us just how tenuous life is in this world.  If my heart had not restarted, my soul would be in the presence of God, my body in the grave.  In light of the uncertainty and ultimate brevity of life, the New Testament urges us to “redeem the time” or, literally, to “buy up the opportunities.”  In other words, we are charged with making the best use of the days that God grants to us in this world.

Incessantly we must make decisions on how to use our time and resources. When we thoughtfully evaluate the relative importance of certain actions in light of eternity, such analysis will help us sort through the myriad of opportunities that confronts and potentially distracts us. Not every activity will equally redound to the glory of God.

May God grant wisdom to enable us to make choices that reflect our profession of faith.   Too many who bear the name Christian are bent on merely amassing earthly accomplishments, to the detriment of laying up treasure in heaven.  None of us know when his flatline will become permanent.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Selling Your Soul for a Bowl of Soup

Only the willfully blind fail to observe the obvious spiritual decline that is permeating these United States of America.  The positive indicators, the hard facts, the statistical analyses all point to the reality that increasing numbers of Americans are utterly unconcerned about spiritual matters.

In a generation, from 1974 through 2014, those who never pray has risen from near zero to 15%; those claiming no religion has increased from 6% to 21%, and those who never attend religious services has shot up from 11% to 26%.

And, as an ominous sign portending the future, younger generations are markedly less religious than their elders.   If not anti-religious, many are at least oblivious to such truth and utterly disinterested.

Observers have concluded that millennials (b. 1981—2000) are the least religious in memory and perhaps in all of American history.  Those that follow, variously referred to as iGen or Gen Z, appear to be even more secular.  Compared to youth of the same age a generation earlier, participation in religious services has declined by 50% and personal involvement in spiritual activities has fallen five-fold.

If the present practices of these young people serve as a harbinger of the future, there is no sign of change in the pattern of plummeting spiritual interest across our land.

A recent book, Esau Rising: Ancient Adversaries and the War for America’s Soul, documents that many in American society are driven by the same self-interest, the same disregard for spiritual values, and the same preoccupation with fleshly, temporal concerns as was ancient Esau.  They are literally selling their souls for passing pleasures, fads, and a preoccupation with social media – the moral equivalent of Esau’s bowl of stew.

We who know Christ are charged with discipling future generations and instilling in them eternal values and biblical convictions that will drive them to follow the Lord and not the latest trends on Twitter.  Let us pray for discernment, wisdom and divine grace that will enable us to prevail in the battle for the souls of our youth.