Why the Church is Weak

I read this to my church, following a week of political irrationality…

“America has the most wise and just and most biblical and moral and constitutional foundation in the world—just like ancient Israel.

America is one of the most religious countries in the world—just like ancient Israel.

The church is big and rich and free in America—just like ancient Israel.

And if God loves His church in America He will soon make it small and poor and persecuted, just as He did to ancient Israel, so that He can keep it alive by pruning it—just like ancient Israel.

Consider our purity, language, watching, listening, disobeying—we are not saints—holy ones.

Which is why the church is weak, and the world is dying.

We are our own worst enemies, like a devil running rampant in our midst. He doesn’t make zombies and monsters, he just makes it easy to be an easy Christian—anything but a saint, which can save the world and make the church strong.

This is the weapon that will win the [culture] war and defeat our Enemy [the devil]: Saints—people who give Jesus 100% of their hearts 100% of the time, who will hold back nothing.

You can’t imagine it.

But you can do it.”

Professor Peter Kreeft, “How to Win the Culture War”

Thanks, Peter—I couldn’t have said it better.

The World Awaits (Here’s Your Passport…)

At the very end of his life on earth, the apostle Paul solemnly commanded his disciple Timothy,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Ti 4:1–5)

He said this in full view of his own impending execution and of the moral climate of the world as it neared the end. This is my charge as well; perhaps yours, too.

Nothing has really changed for us today—the mission has nor changed: preach the Good News (and it is exceedingly good), hold onto truth, give much grace and save souls. And your Passport is the same, too—have you looked at the cover lately? It has “Kingdom of the Most High God” stamped on it. Oh, and you are his kid.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (Paul, in his second letter to the church in Corinth, 2 Cor. 4:16-18)

The world awaits. Go.

 

God and Evil and Sandy Hook…

The the slaughter of innocent children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School have fueled much heated discussion, especially about Evil. Where was God? Is He Himself evil? Could He not have done something to stop the killer or protect the children? So I will throw my hat in the ring with an excerpt from my book, Answering Evil, a chapter entitled “Can He Not…?”

The Biblical book of Daniel records a notorious incident involving a collision of wills between a malignant tyrant and three royal advisors. The king was Nebuchadnezzar, one of the most autocratic rulers of recorded history. His advisors were a trio of young, displaced Hebrews named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, more famously known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They defied the King’s threat to roast alive anyone who refused to worship his colossal golden image. Now they stood before him in judgment.

Infuriated by their boldness, King Nebuchadnezzar raged, “If you do not worship [the image I made], you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Their reply was unyielding: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image you have set up.”[i] [Emphasis added]

The three young Hebrews held fast to a tremendous principle: God is able to deliver from any and all evil, misery and death—but even if He does not, they would still resist any intimidation to abandon their trust in Him.

Nebuchadnezzar’s fury exploded and he ordered their immediate execution. An appalling decree had been inflicted upon a displaced nation, and out of devotion to their God, three of its finest youth stood boldly against it. Yet the God to whom they entrusted their lives still allowed them to be unjustly condemned to a dreadful execution. Could He not save them? Did He not care?

Then something unexpected happened: though they were hurled alive into a blazing furnace, the Hebrews did not burn. But even more alarming, the astonished tyrant saw a fourth figure in the furnace, walking with them in the flames; someone human yet otherworldly, who looked “like a son of the gods.” It seems that although God was able to deliver them, He refused to do so, choosing instead to personally accompany the captives into their fiery ordeal.

Deliverance from evil and agony is certainly preferable to the unsettling alternative, but any divine rescue from earthly suffering is only a temporary thing. The one who is healed today will suffer a different affliction tomorrow; the one who has been raised from the dead will live only to die another day. But discovering that He stands with the afflicted in their ordeal reveals God’s tender lovingkindness and faithfulness toward us all. He is always right where He promised He would be; He is with us, especially in the furnace of life’s most searing moments. And like the three Hebrew youths, we can trust Him even as we are hurled into the flames, and when there, ever more so.

Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, discovered that in the Nazi death camps more people discovered and deepened their faith than lost it. He concluded that “A small and inadequate faith is like a small fire; it can be blown out by a small breeze. True faith, by contrast, is like a strong fire. When it is hit by a strong wind, it is fanned into an inextinguishable blaze.”[ii]

As he informed his stunned congregation of the discovery of his fatal liver cancer, Pastor Jim Boice of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church said, “The God who works miracles could have just as easily prevented this…In a fallen world, is God more glorified by preventing evil altogether or by shining in the midst of suffering? Which better demonstrates His compassion? He has told us that He has given the world over…we must expect evil to dominate until the Day of Satan’s immolation; until then, including during the millennium, people will still die. The one constant is the compassionate presence of Jesus Christ.”[iii]

Simone Weil concluded, “The irreducible character of suffering which makes it impossible for us not to have a horror of it at the moment when we are undergoing it, is destined to bring the will to a standstill, just as absurdity brings the intelligence to a standstill, and absence love, so that man, having come to the end of his human faculties, may stretch out his arms, stop, look up and wait.”[iv]

When we, too, are afflicted by evil and suffering, we must take care not to dismiss what we do know about God in the face of what we do not know. Os Guinness noted that in the agonies of a fallen world we may never know the why, but we can know and can trust the God whoknowswhy. At God’s behest Abraham came within seconds of sacrificing his own son as a burnt offering, and he did not know the reason why. But Abraham knew that he could trust the God who knew why. Like Abraham, in our own broken world, we also must not forget that God is sovereign, and that in the end all will be well.[v]

Why did such evil have to happen in the first place? It did not have to, but God warned us that it would. He also promised He would be there, closer than any man could ever be, holding perfect understanding and love. He wears the scars to prove it.


[i] Daniel 3:16b-18

[ii] Attributed to Viktor Frankl

[iii] Michael Horton, James Montgomery Boice: Servant of the Word; Modern Reformation, 9 no. 5 (September/October 2000): 10-1

[iv] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, London, Routledge, 1995, p. 102)

[v] Os Guinness, Riding the Storm. From a lecture presented at the C.S. Lewis Institute, August 2001

One Pagan’s View

If you go to church, remember that you are the church. Here is an eyewitness account by a pagan of what the church was like just after it was born. It didn’t look anything like a modern institution, but it did look like Jesus…

“They abstain from all impurity in the hope of the recompense that is to come in another world. As for their servants or handmaids or children, they persuade them to become Christians by the love they have for them; and when they become so, they call them without distinction, brothers. They do not worship strange gods; and they walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another. When they see the stranger they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as over a true brother; for they do not call those who are after the flesh, but those who are in the Spirit and in God.

“And [if] there is among them a man that is poor and needy and if they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days, that they may supply the needy with the necessary food.

“They observe scrupulously the commandment of their Messiah; they live honestly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and all hours on account of the goodness of God toward them, they render praise and laud Him over their food and their drink; they render Him thanks.

“And if any righteous person of their number passes away from this world, they rejoice and give thanks to God and they follow his body as though he were moving from one place to another. And when a child is born to them, they praise God, and if again it chances to die in its infancy, they praise God mightily, as for one who has passed through the world without sins.

“Such is the law of the Christians and such is their conduct.”

(From The Apology of Aristides, Syriac text and translation. Cited in Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 1 (Chicago Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc), page 346)

By the way, Aristides the pagan eventually followed Jesus. I don’t wonder why.

In the Beginning God…

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” [Genesis 1:1, of course…]

I am far from knowledgeable about creation science, which means I usually steer away from it in my sermons and bring in a real expert. I also avoid speculations like the “gap theory”, except to say that it is a concoction of our hyper-rational need for us westerners to figure everything out. The Hebrews were presented by God Himself with a God who was different than all other idols and philosophies, because, until then, no one ever imagined a single eternal, all-powerful being who preexisted everything and made everything. In other words, the concise little opening sentence of Genesis was a towering statement that dwarfed the cosmos.

Every tribe, region, city, nation and empire in the world all had their own “patron” or tribal gods. More than that, everyone somewhat respected this arrangement and believed that “your gods are your gods, and my gods are my gods, though mine are better than yours…” (This is why Israel regularly gravitated towards idolatry until the Babylonian exile—which, by the way, cured them of it.) But then God speaks to Moses, and he writes down those amazing words. Suddenly, God is no tribal, regional or imperial god—He is the God, and He is talking to us. Too bad the Hebrew’s appreciation of this stupendous truth was diluted by the pagan-ecumenical indoctrination they got from a four-hundred year Egyptian immersion.

“In the beginning God created…” set Him apart from everyone else and everything else: that statement killed animism, paganism, humanism, nihilism and countless other “isms” with a single stroke of a pen. It defined God’s limitations (none); His power, knowledge, wisdom and understanding (all limitless) and His love and unsearchable plan—especially for a people like them—homeless brick makers and herdsmen, generations of slaves. And for us, who, despite all our modern conveniences, still wander and are just as needy.

I like this passage.

Blessings,

—j

The Soon and Coming King

I am not against politics, though I do not like them.

My friend Gayle Erwin recently noted,

“If a politician runs on the “Jesus” platform and is not compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and truth, mercy to thousands, forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin, then I consider them hypocrites and liars. Support them at your own risk.”

Last Tuesday another attempt was made to lobby me to pulpit-political activism. I know it’s legal for me to talk about political issues and patriotism from my pulpit—I can even publicly espouse or deplore the merits of certain propositions. But—because I have only so many breaths in my lungs, I have elected to spend all I can of them preaching and teaching the Bible. Not the Bible and… There are just too many eternal things to talk about during my one short lifetime to use up good moments rallying people for causes less than Christ. Besides, God is not a Republican—in fact it may shock you to discover He’s not even an American.

I hope people come to our church not to convert to a political view or, worse, to some political party, but to Christ and Christ alone. They already know how they will vote and who they will vote for next election when they walk through the door. Besides, what cause have I to add to any message that could ever equal or even enhance God’s Word of Life? I am both privileged and called to tell them about a King who will come, and that when He does, He will destroy all forms of government except His own. He will not even Christianize the world. He will simply rule it as He sees fit.

Malcolm Muggeridge seems to have been quite a prophet. Here was his take on the subject:

“Whatever may happen, however seemingly inimical to it may be the world’s going and those who preside over the world’s affairs, the truth of the Incarnation remains intact and inviolate. Christendom, like other civilizations before it, is subject to decay and must sometime decompose and disappear. The world’s way of responding to intimations of decay is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, détente, world government. On the other, some disaster is as confidently expected to prove our undoing: Capitalism will break down. Fuel will run out. Plutonium will lay us low. Atomic waste will kill us off. Overpopulation will suffocate us, or alternatively, a declining birth rate will put us more surely at the mercy of our enemies.

In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder, whereas we acknowledge a King men did not crown and cannot dethrone, as we are citizens of a city of God they did not build and cannot destroy. Thus the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, living in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours. Their games, like our television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism. Paul exhorted them to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in God’s work,” to concern themselves with the things that are unseen. “For the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal.” It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born. Now in the breakdown of Christendom there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and eternal, the reality of Christ.”

I pray our pews (okay, chairs) will be filled with every kind of political animal—who will come because they love hearing about our soon and coming King, and how we will all bow and worship before Him without flags, affiliations, parties or petitions.

Just Him, and us looking at Him. Our King.

Blessings,

—j

The Eclipse of All I Ever Knew

“The proper study of the Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy which can engage the attention of a child of God is the Name, the Nature, the Person, the Doings, and the Existence of the great God we call “Father”. It is a subject so vast that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep that our pride is drown in its infinity. Other subjects we can comprehend and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-contentment and go our way with the thought, “Behold, I am wise!” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing!”  —C.H. Spurgeon