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Christian Living

August 03, 2010

Over the past few weeks I spent a good deal of time studying the life of General Stonewall Jackson. He is one of the more complex individuals I’ve studied—a man who had a strong sense of God’s sovereignty yet was something of a hypochondriac, a man who exhibited a great deal of Christian character who nevertheless also owned slaves. The tension between these things is what makes him so interesting to me. He was by no means a perfect man and this makes him all the more fascinating.

As I was reading about Jackson I also read a new book by John Stott—one I reviewed yesterday. In this book Stott points out eight areas in which he thinks Christians need to rediscover obedience if they are to be radical disciples of Jesus Christ. In Jackson I was looking to the past through twenty-first century lenses and in Stott’s book I was looking forward through those same lenses. One book showed what Christians have been, the other book suggests what one man says they ought to become.

Between these two books I have been given a lot to think about. One thing I found myself pondering is the areas in which Christians of the future will judge the Christians of today. You and I look to the southern Christians of the mid-1800’s and marvel that they could somehow believe that slavery was anything less than abhorrent. We look even to those who disliked slavery and wonder how they could have been so complacent, so passive in the face of such evil. “I am against slavery but feel we should let it die a natural death” does not impress us. But only outright arrogance could lead us to believe that we have no blind spots, no areas in which future generations of Christians will shake their heads and marvel that we could have been so blind.

So I spent some time thinking about those things, wondering where our blind spots may lie. And here are three possibilities, three suggestions.

Abortion

Christians hate abortion. We believe that God is the creator of life and believe that life begins at the very moment of conception. We believe that each life is a gift, whether it is a life that is wanted or unwanted by the mother, whether it is a life that will be “normal” or one that will be marked by profound disability. All humans are created in the image of God and, therefore, all life has intrinsic value. And if all of this is true, then of course we despise abortion and long to see it abolished. We hate it so much that we do…well…what do we do? If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that most of us do not do much of anything.

What have you done in the past week, the past month, the past year to actively combat abortion? If you are like me, you’ve done very little. You may have prayed that God will change hearts and change the laws of the land. And this is good, of course. If there is to be any change, prayer will be instrumental. You may have spoken to some friends or neighbors or family members, trying to convince them of the value of life. But very few of us have done anything substantial, anything that could possibly one day appear in a history text. Few of us move beyond the “I hate it” stage into some form of active combat.

If we imagine Christians a century in the future, or perhaps two centuries, how will this kind of action, or inaction, appear to them? What will the verdict of history be? How will we be able to explain our complacency? They will read our words, all perfectly preserved in digital media, and they will know that we wrote and spoke about our hatred for abortion and our desire to see it abolished. But will they see actions to go along with all of those words? Maybe we are just waiting for it to die a natural death.

July 26, 2010

Centuries ago the Puritan preacher Richard Baxter penned some wisdom on the subject of reading. His concern was for people to become better, more discerning readers. His advice seems as timely today as it must have been for the men and women of the seventeenth century. It may be it is even more important today since we have access to far more books and writing (and blogs and web sites and Twitter feeds and e-books and…) than the Puritans could ever have imagined.

I’ve taken the liberty of adding annotations to his words of wisdom.

Make careful choice of the books which you read: let the holy scriptures ever have the pre-eminence, and, next to them, those solid, lively, heavenly treatises which best expound and apply the scriptures, and next, credible histories, especially of the Church … but take heed of false teachers who would corrupt your understandings.

Devotion to reading must never take pre-eminence over the study of Scripture. If we spend many hours every day reading but only a brief period of time studying the Scriptures, we would do well to examine our priorities. This is not to say there has to be a certain ratio (if I spend one hour reading the Bible I earn one hour of reading other material). Rather, it simply means that in our hearts, in our affections, the Bible must remain supreme. It is not a sign of spiritual health if we wake up eager to read a book but dreading time in the Bible. We should also take care if we find that we enjoy reading about the Bible more than we enjoy reading the Bible itself.

When we do read, we need to give priority to good books that increase our knowledge of and love for the Scriptures. Beyond them, it is wise to study the history of the church so we can never lose sight of our roots and seek to avoid the sins of our fathers. And finally, we should read with discernment and avoid submitting ourselves to the writings of false teachers who will corrupt our understanding of the truths of Scripture.

1. As there is a more excellent appearance of the Spirit of God in the holy scripture, than in any other book whatever, so it has more power and fitness to convey the Spirit, and make us spiritual, by imprinting itself upon our hearts. As there is more of God in it, so it will acquaint us more with God, and bring us nearer Him, and make the reader more reverent, serious and divine. Let scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands and other books be used as subservient to it. The endeavours of the devil and papists to keep it from you, doth shew that it is most necessary and desirable to you.

Baxer reiterates that the Bible must be pre-eminent. The Bible alone is God’s full, inerrant, infallible, authoritative revelation to us and we must treat it accordingly; it must be first and most. All other books must take a subservient and complementary role to Scripture.

July 05, 2010

My knowledge of Scripture is nowhere near encyclopedic. However, I am quite sure that if I were to sit back today and read the Bible from cover to cover I would not find a direct command from God saying “Thou shalt read the Bible daily.” I would not find a guide to personal devotions and I wouldn’t find chapter and verse requiring daily quiet times. However, neither do I need to have that kind of explicit command in order to understand the value of spending time every day reading the Bible.

When I think about the area of daily Bible study I find my mind drawn to the issue of assurance of salvation—whether or not a Christian can be certain that he is saved. I think I am led this way because the Bible is so central, so integral to the Christian life, that to feel no love for it, no desire to study it, must be a sign of spiritual sickness. I would certainly never say that a person who does not want to study the Bible or who does not enjoy studying the Bible is not a Christian. But I would venture to say that the Christian life is so dependent upon Scripture that a person who has no regard for the Bible and who shows little interest in it would have good reason to seriously consider his salvation. Such a person would do well to examine his soul to see if he really has come to know the Lord.

Let’s look to just a few reasons why we, as Christians, should desire to know and study the Bible.

June 30, 2010

This morning I read the verses of 1 Timothy 3, a passage that describes the qualifications of those who may be leaders within the church. And having read those verses, which tell of the kind of godly character that must be present in the life of one who would be a pastor or elder, I was drawn to some words from the prophet Jeremiah, words that focus on what happens when we ignore such qualities and raise up unsuitable leaders.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

The twenty-third chapter of Jeremiah falls near the halfway point of the book, in the midst of a section where the prophet is foretelling the end of the Davidic dynasty and the coming captivity of God’s people. In this chapter Jeremiah pronounces judgments against the false prophets who had become a plague within the nation. Though these words were spoken some 600 years before Christ and in a particular time and context, his words ring as true today as they did then. “They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’ ” (16, 17).

What was a problem then is a problem now. So many men and women today speak visions of their own minds, and teach what has so evidently not come from the mouth of the Lord. So many say that it shall be well with people whose souls are in grave danger; they seek to show from Scripture that Christ will save those even who have never heard his Word, and who have never humbled themselves before the Lord. They say, “It shall be well with you” to those who sit in the pews but have never had their hearts of ice melted by the Lord. They speak lies and blasphemies, all the while claiming to speak for God.

June 24, 2010

It’s easy to grow discouraged at the state of the church. As a person who invests a lot of time and attention to studying the church, her health and what Jesus requires of her, I often find myself prone to lamenting her state. Writers from all backgrounds and denominations have written about the church, and I have read many of these books and publications. The standard book begins with a few chapters outlining all the ways the church has failed with the rest of the book providing the solution. If only we did this or that or the other thing, we would make the church what she was intended to be. I haven’t read too many books that give the church a pat on the back and say “good job!” Maybe for good reason. Maybe not. When I wrote The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment I was deliberate in not doing that, in not giving a long list of all the ways the church has failed. What real value would there be in spreading that seed of discouragement?

Here are just a couple of examples of people who have taken on the church in recent years. Rick Warren wrote the mega-seller The Purpose Driven Church and in it he proclaimed that the church has lost sight of her purpose and that God was calling her to rediscover it. Millions of pastors bought and read this book and began what Warren refers to as the Second Reformation—a Reformation of purpose. A couple of years ago I counted six or seven books in the Christian bookstore heralding “the next Reformation,” yet all of them pointed towards a different basis for this Reformation. The men and women of the Emergent community (does anyone even remember Emergent anymore?) continually wrote indictments of the church, showing how, in their view, she has failed in the modern world and is primed to be an even greater failure in the postmodern world. A person who was fully immersed in the emerging church sent me an email once and wrote about “denominational distinctives that strive to keep us divided” as if churches are purposely focusing on the distinctives in order to drive wedges between them and other believers. There are any number of other authors that identify problems and tell us how to fix them. Many people are proud to be believers, yet are ashamed to be part of the church, the visible body of Christ. They portray the church as being purposeless, intellectual and ancient, knowingly and joyfully trapped in the past, snickering as we watch our neighbors fall into the abyss.

June 21, 2010

It strikes me often how life is cyclical; how things I wrestle with and ponder and pray about will come to the forefront of my life and faith a month or a year or two years later. One of the biggest blessings of having a journal (which is often how this site functions for me) is that I can go back and see how I dealt with these things in the past. It is good to see how situations repeat themselves but how my responses may vary with time and Christian experience.

In the past couple of years I’ve often given a lot of thought to the nature and strength of my faith: the things of God in which I have great faith, and those in which I have little faith or even no faith at all. These times of reflection has been both a delight and a sorrow; a joy and an embarrassment.

I have seen that my faith can be pictured as something like a line graph. Certain points along the x-axis are very high along the y-axis and, I trust, almost unshakable. I believe, for example, that God exists. This is a faith that God has placed in my heart and I do not believe that it can be shaken or destroyed—I never struggle with whether or not God exists. Beside that there are other high points in my faith: the Bible is God’s Word to us and is without error; God has saved me and adopted me into his family; God loves me; there is a heaven; Jesus Christ died to take the penalty of my sin. These are all areas in which I have a good deal of faith and I praise God for this.

As we travel down the x-axis, down towards the long tail (that portion of the graph which skirts the 0 on the x-axis, but doesn’t quite reach it), we come to areas where my faith is not quite so strong. Here we will find my belief that God truly does desire to bring me the best through adversity. Here we will find my belief that God does hear and answer prayer. These are things I believe, but without the strength of conviction of those I listed earlier. They are areas where I tend to see emotion come into conflict with knowledge—with what I know to be true but often don’t accept as truth.

May 31, 2010

Have you ever considered what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to walk and talk with God in the Garden of Eden? Have you thought of the things you might say to God if you were to hear his footsteps today? What Christian hasn’t experienced a pang of jealousy when he reads “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” And what Christian hasn’t experienced a little pang of remorse when he reads how Adam and Eve squandered that unique privilege. There was God, walking in the garden as he had done before. Adam and Eve recognized the sound of his footsteps, for they knew their God. But this time, instead of rushing to him and rejoicing in his presence, they fled and they hid themselves. They had sinned and they knew that there were consequences for such tyranny. For the first time they feared their Maker.

May 23, 2010

A friend recently sent me an old article from John Piper entitled “Why Memorize Scripture?” Memorizing passages of the Bible is something I’ve developed more of an interest in over the past couple of years and, to my surprise, I’ve found that I’m actually able to do it—even to memorize extended sections if I am willing to put in the effort (not always a sure bet).

Piper offers a list of reasons why we should memorize Scripture. They are:

  1. Conformity to Christ - Bible memorization has the effect of making our gaze on Jesus steadier and clearer.
  2. Daily Triumph over Sin - As sin lures the body into sinful action, we call to mind a Christ-revealing word of Scripture and slay the temptation with the superior worth and beauty of Christ over what sin offers.
  3. Daily Triumph over Satan - When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he recited Scripture from memory and put Satan to flight.
  4. Comfort and Counsel for People You Love - When the heart full of God’s love can draw on the mind full of God’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth.
  5. Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers - Actual verses of the Bible have their own penetrating power. And when they come from our heart, as well as from the Book, the witness is given that they are precious enough to learn.
  6. Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and Ways - The way we commune with (that is, fellowship with) God is by meditating on his attributes and expressing to him our thanks and admiration and love, and seeking his help to live a life that reflects the value of these attributes.

These are six really good reasons. On the flip side, I suspect that the primary reason most of us do not commit more Scripture to memory is simply the difficulty involved. It is a difficult and time-consuming process to take those words and force them into our minds.

So how about you? Is Scripture memorization a part of your routine? Is it something you do as a regular part of your devotion to the Lord?

May 17, 2010

Of all the books I read I often feel that the biographies are most helpful to my Christian walk. I developed an early love of the genre from my mother who taught me the importance of reading about and understanding the lives of the great saints of the past, that we might be able to learn from their example. As a child I remember reading biographies of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, Eric Liddell and many dedicated but relatively unknown missionaries. I have little doubt that the lives of such people did much to shape my growing faith and I am forever indebted to them.

I was thinking recently about the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, that “hall of fame” of great men and women of the faith. The author writes about many Old Testament figures—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and others. He seeks to encourage the readers of the epistle to be confident in the certainty of what God has promised but not yet actually given. He encourages his readers to learn perseverance from the examples of these saints. Having done that, he begins chapter twelve with these words: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” He paints a picture of the Christian as a runner. He is in a stadium surrounded by multitudes of people cheering him on as he runs a race. These people who are cheering him have already run and successfully completed this same race. They shout encouragement to those who are still running and encourage them if and when they stumble.

May 08, 2010

In his book Expository Listening (read my review) Ken Ramey offers a list of ways you can “Plan Ahead, and Schedule Your Week Around the Ministry of the Word.”

“For the majority of people, even church members, church is not the priority of their week. Too often school, work, sports, and other activities take precedence over going to church. They make the mistake of letting their time be ordered by the world, which views the weekends as a time to relax, to play sports, to stay up late and sleep in. For Christians, however, Sunday should be the most important day of the week. You should try to schedule your work, activities, get-togethers, and vacations around church. You should live by the principle that Sunday morning starts Saturday night.”

He offers several practical suggestions on how to prioritize the Lord’s Day:

  • Make it a habit to be home on Saturday night.
  • Be careful not to do, watch, or read anything that will cause lingering distractions in your mind the next day.
  • Get things ready on Saturday night to alleviate the typical Sunday morning rush (lay out clothes, set the table, write the offering check, stock the diaper bag, etc).
  • Get a good night’s sleep so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God. It’s hard to listen when you’re nodding off.
  • Eat a simple but adequate breakfast that will hold you until lunch. It’s difficult to hear over the grumbling of your stomach.
  • Work together with the other members of your family to get ready, and to establish and maintain a godly atmosphere on the way to church. Listen to music, sing, and pray together.
  • Arrive at church ten minutes early instead of ten minutes late so you have enough time to find a parking spot, drop the kids off in the nursery or their Sunday school classes, get a cup of coffee, visit with your friends, and find a seat.

“When you fail to plan ahead,” he warns, “Sunday morning ends up becoming a chaotic crisis, and by the time you get to church, you are frustrated and frazzled and your heart is in no condition to receive the Word. But when you plan well and are able to arrive in a relaxed, leisurely way, you will be in a much more receptive frame of mind.”

There is some valuable food for thought as we all look forward to worshiping the Lord tomorrow.

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