The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: October 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Babylon America

In a recent blog post Rod Dreher writes about a new generation of Southern Baptists.  In it he quotes the following from Trevan Wax  . . .

It’s common to hear the story of young evangelicals fleeing conservative churches and embracing center-left politics. I don’t see this happening among young Southern Baptist pastors. What I do see is less emphasis on bringing change through political engagement and more emphasis on dealing pastorally with the implications of a secularizing society.

When I talk with older Southern Baptists about recent cultural developments, I get the impression that many of them see mobilization of Christian voters as the best way to effect change. When I talk with younger Southern Baptists, I get the impression that the landscape has shifted to the point they expect to be a minority. Therefore, the strategy becomes more about preserving space for Christian morality and less about enshrining our views in law. This is a generalization, but I think there’s truth here: Older Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Israel. Younger Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Babylon. That’s a significant shift, and it leads to a different tone.

Dreher responds . . .

That expresses my view exactly. “Babylon” here refers to the Babylonian captivity, where the Israelites lived as strangers in a strange land. This is the reality of where orthodox Christians find themselves today. Those Christians who understand this and figure out how to live and to thrive in Babylon will make it. Those Christians who persist on thinking that we are living in the Promised Land will not, in large part because they will not have prepared themselves.

The Reformation (497 years ago) seismically shook the church.  Protesters against the Roman Catholic Church (hence, “Protestants”) called the church back to God’s Word.  We enjoy the benefits.  But in the last 50 years (though its seeds were planted earlier)  a spiritual-moral revolution has swept America.  And, unlike the Reformation, it isn’t good for us.

At a recent Baptist convention, Dr. Albert Mohler made this observation: “Western civilization is in the final stage of a moral revolution — one that is happening at warp speed.”  Take same-sex marriage as an example.  Our culture used to condemn it.  Now states are rushing to legalize it, and whoever refuses to celebrate is condemned.  Mohler went on to say . . .

The church is now in a position of being “a moral minority.  We are accustomed to ministry from the top side in the culture, not from the underside.   We are accustomed to speaking from a position of strength and respect and credibility. And now we are going to be facing the reality that we are already, in much of America, speaking from a position of a loss of credibility.”

We too are “sojourners and exiles” in a strange land (1 Peter 2:11).  Yes, vote this Tuesday!  But realize, as Dreher says, we can’t “enshrine our views in law.”  Should Republicans become the majority in the Senate this Tuesday America will not soon become morally righteous.

As Mohler said, “The church is now in a position of being a moral minority.”  We speak “from a position of a loss of credibility.”  It’s important to note that it’s not just Baptists or Reformed or Evangelicals, but the church of Jesus Christ that has become a non-credible moral minority as far as the country is concerned.

So, how can we “live and thrive in Babylon”?

1.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . . ” (Romans 12:2a).  Let’s not fool ourselves into assuming the world doesn’t influence us.  For example, more professed Christians today accept same-sex marriage, because the world does and considers us Neanderthals if we don’t.  To not be mindlessly conformed, we have to be mindfully transformed.  That means fill our minds with God’s Word.  Learn from sermons.  Read the Bible regularly.  (Don’t give up if you don’t understand everything;  get it in your brain!)

2.  Live as part of the community of the local church.  This doesn’t mean “holy huddle” shut off from the world.  It means join with like-minded people to receive strength and grow like a family in the faith.

3.  Realize we’re in a war.  Maybe  back in “Leave It to Beaver” days we could think Sunday Worship a time for a little inspiration.  Not now.  Church is more “boot camp” to stand faithful in a life or death battle. “Those Christians who persist on thinking that we are living in the Promised Land will not (“live and thrive”), in large part because they will not have prepared themselves.”

4.  Remember “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  The enemy isn’t the government, atheists or the LGBT community.  The enemy is the evil one who stalks us to undermine our faith and oppose Christ.

5.  Love our enemy.  That doesn’t mean love the devil.  It means  love unlovable people who may treat us like the enemy.  Love them with Christ’s love, because, even if a minority, we’re still on offense!

6.  Keep in mind the church has suffered far worse than minority status.  We may lose a few rights;   many in “the persecuted church” lose their lives.  Government trample on religious liberty?  That should deepen our resolve to follow Jesus.

7.  Expect “many tribulations” on our way to the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).  Turn off  prosperity preachers’ lies.  Teach our children by word and example “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14).  Pray more for this lost world than lost keys.

8.  Worship God as sovereign.  His kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19).  Read the back of the Book:  the minority of believers out of all nations reigns with Christ forever. We win because he does!

Meanwhile, we live in Babylon.  Ready?

 

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Contentment: A Mystery (Part 2)

“There is an ark that you may come into and no [people] in the world may live such contented lives as the saints of God.”

That we might enter that “ark”—that’s why 17th century English Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  I want to be able to say with the apostle Paul ” . . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11b).  I think you might want to also.  So I’m reading and briefly summarizing the book, and adding my thoughts along the way.  Since I wrote last a few weeks ago, you may wish to click on “Contentment:  A Mystery (Part 1)” under “Recent Posts” to the right.

Burroughs defined contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal (arranging, managing)  in every condition.”  “Mystery” is “a profound secret beyond human comprehension.”  But the mystery of contentment can be learned.  Last post Burroughs gave us seven counter-intuitive clues we must understand to learn it.  Here are six more . . .

The contented Christian lives upon the dew of God’s blessing.  “Dew” is the moisture we find on cool early morning ground.  Remember how the Israelites found manna from heaven on the ground?   So through Jesus Christ God will freely provide the “dew” of his blessing on our journey.   By that “dew”, he sustains us.  And so we can be  content in him.

In all afflictions, the contented Christian can enjoy the sweetness of God’s love and mercies. Afflictions, wrote Burroughs, “come from the same eternal love that Jesus Christ came from.”  Afflictions come from God’s love.  Thus the ways of God are not only ways of prosperity, but also of pain.  “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).  We can taste sweet love and mercies of God in our ability and disability.  And in that taste we can learn to be content.

A contented Christian sees all his afflictions sanctified in Jesus Christ.  In other words, afflictions for the believer become holy things shaping us toward increasing holiness.  Adversity hits.  It hit Jesus—not to spare us from it, but to take the curse (Burroughs calls it “the sting and venom and poison”) out of it.  So we see our afflictions “sanctified” in Christ toward sanctifying us.  Seeing this, we learn to be content.

A contented Christian gets his strength from Jesus Christ.  A prosperity preacher proclaims, “There is a power in you greater than any power that comes against you.”  But, as Burroughs wrote, ” . . .  a Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstance by getting strength from another . . . by . . . faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of Christ into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever God lays on him . . . Of his fullness do we receive grace for grace.”  The power is in us, but it is from Another in us.  We learn to be content by drawing on his strength.

A contented Christian enjoys much of God in everything he has, and knows how to make up all his wants (what he doesn’t have) in God himself.  “What is it that satisfies God himself,” said Burroughs, “but that he enjoys all fullness in himself . . . Now if you enjoy God as your portion, if your soul can say . . . ‘The LORD is my portion, therefore I will hope in him’ (Lamentations 3:24), why should you not be satisfied and contented like God? . . . Since God is contented with himself alone, if you have him, you may be contented with him alone, and it may be, that is the reason why your outward comforts are taken from you, that God may be all in all to you.”  As Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).  Through Christ we have God who is content, and having God, we have all things.  So we can learn to be content in him whatever our situation.

A contented Christian relies on the Covenant God has made with him.  Burroughs taught, “There is no condition that a godly man or woman can be in, but there is some promise . . . in the Scripture to help him . . . ”  Take Psalm 91:10.  ” . . . no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.”  But, we’ve found it does come near, haven’t we!  Burroughs explains.  While in the days of the  Old Testament God kept these promises outwardly, now in these days of Messiah God keeps them inwardly or spiritually.  He may allow a plague to come near “to show that his ways are unsearchable, and his judgments past finding out.”  And if he allows a “plague”, it will not be for evil, but for a greater good  (Romans 8:28).  This is covenant grace.  From it we learn contentment, because to those who are his, God promises evil will not win.  Contentment results from relying on his covenant.

“There is an ark that you may come into . . . “

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Neglect Church

I almost didn’t go to church last Sunday.  I didn’t feel at all well.

But—on auto-pilot—I shaved, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and by 8:30 a.m. found myself in my truck backing out of my garage.  My truck knows full-well the way, so ten minutes later I slowly walked in the front door of our church . . .

Then Monday I read the blog below by Tim Challies—a simple, but profound reminder about why we shouldn’t “skip church.”  (I was happy I hadn’t.) He called it “Why You May Be Tempted to Neglect Your Church”.

Here are two reasons you may be tempted to neglect meeting together with God’s people.

You Forget What You Bring.  Hebrews 10:25 warns Christian against leaving local church fellowship, and the verse immediately prior gives the reason.  As Christians, we all equally bear the responsibility to stir up one another to love and good works.  We are to provoke one another to act in love and we are to provoke one another to promote good works.  And the simple fact is that we cannot do these things if we are not together.

In the background of the book of Hebrews is the New Testament teaching that we, as Christians, are like a body—Christ’s body.  In Romans 12 Paul says, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have he same function, so we, though many, are one body in Chris, and individually members one of another.”  In some way God looks upon Christians just like we look up the many parts of one body–many parts, but one person.  In some way God looks upon the local  church as many parts but one body.  Paul explains the same theme in 1 Corinthians and in both of these passages he draws the same application–that just as each part of the body as an important function, each Christian has an important gift.  Just as each part of the body makes the body function well and as a whole, each Christian’s gift is meant to make the church function well and as a whole.  There are no superfluous body parts, and there are not superfluous Christians.

When you are tempted to disassociate from the local church, whether permanently or semi-permanently or even for a lazy Sunday where you just can’t be bothered, you have forgotten what you bring to the people of your church.  You have neglected to understand and believe that you—yes you!—are a crucial part of the body of Christ.  You have a gift to bring, and the church is only complete when you bring it an use it.

God has made you part of the body, and the body needs you to function well.   When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny them the gifts he has given you—gifts that bring him glory when you use them for the good of others.

You Forget What You Need.  If it is true that God has gifted you to be a part of the whole, there is an important implication:  God has gifted them as well.  You are incomplete without your church.  God has not so gifted you of all people that you can thrive and grow without the gifts he has given to others.  You are part of the body, but only a small and singular part of it.  Unless you can imagine your thumb striking off on its own and building a life for itself, or unless you can imagine your appendix seceding from the body and thriving, you shouldn’t imagine yourself leaving local church fellowship.

In this way neglecting to meet with God’s people is a sign of overwhelming and outrageous pride.  You have somehow determined either that the gifts God has given  others are of no real consequence to you, or you have determined that you are so gifted that you can happily survive without them.  The reality, of course, is that God has made Christians to thrive and survive only in community.  Lone Christians are dead Christians.

God has made you part of a body, and you need the rest of that body to function well.  When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny yourself the gifts he has given them—gifts that bring him glory when they use them for your good.

In those times where it just seems hard to be part of a local church, and in those times where neglecting the church seems so attractive, you are forgetting what you bring and what you need.  Of course you’ve also neglected to consider how badly you need the preaching of God’s Word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and the witnessing of baptisms and the other beautifully ordinary means of grace that God dispenses through his gathered church.  But first you’ve forgotten that you are part of a body—a body that you need, and a body that needs you.

I was convicted—not because I hadn’t gone, but because I had seriously considered it, not thinking at all about  what I bring and what I need.  But suppose you (unlike me) don’t play on the worship team or teach Sunday school or have some other leadership role?  Suppose you just greet a few people, sing to the Lord, pray when the pastor prays, listen to his sermon, give your tithes and offering and go home?  Suppose you don’t even know what your gift is?  Do you still bring something?  Yes.  You bring you.  And you are the gift.  You are a new creation in Christ Jesus.  When you bring you, you bring a living, breathing miracle of God’s grace.  When you sing, you encourage others to sing in praise.  When you listen attentively to God’s Word, you encourage others to be good students of Scripture.  When you pray (even silently), your prayers are joined with the others’ and rise to the throne of grace and make a difference.

Tomorrow is Sunday.  Neglect church?  Don’t even think about it!

 

 

 

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So Much Suffering

This morning I’m overwhelmed by the sense of so much suffering in the world.

I say “sense” of so much suffering, because I don’t have statistics, just a feeling–a weight almost that the world and all that’s in it is staggering.  Maybe it’s because I’ve watched too many news reports about too many bad things.  Ebola (which grabs the headlines now and smothers reports about less-exotic cancer and heart disease and strokes and dementia).  Government (which most of us agree is taking us down the wrong road and, according to the polls, is control-less and clueless ).  Terrorism (which has become in the West the domain of “the lone wolf”—murders of two soldiers in Canada coupled with an apparent attempt to take out Parliament members, a beheading in Oklahoma, an axe-murder of a New York City policeman just the latest violent acts).  All-out war in the exploding Middle East (which has nightmarishly climaxed the death of Arab culture, killed at least hundreds of thousands, and produced several Youtube beheadings).

I could go on with these “big time” hurts, but my thoughts turn to all the “little time” ones.  The sick in hospitals, the slowly-dying in nursing homes, the broken marriages and shattered families, the unemployed, the homeless.  As I write, in how many homes in my neighborhood are people weighed down with grief or loneliness or fear?  In how many homes is there a disabled child or “wounded warrior”?

How do these hurting people keep going?  Some, I suppose, keep going by courageously deciding they have to.  What else can they do but struggle valiantly through another day?  Others by hoping the government or medical community will discover a cure for terrorism or Ebola or cancer or the economy.  When nobody has an answer what else can we do but hope?  Others by escaping through addictions.  When life is unenduringly painful (or unbearably boring) why not “run away” to drugs or sex or pornography?   Still others, I presume, by believing in “God” (god?).  When everything at ground level is crumbing, with what are we left except a “Higher Power“?

How do people in such pain keep going or keep hoping or keep escaping or keep trusting?  How can they keep slogging through the muck of life in their own human strength?  How can they hope, when that hope has no ground and is really just a fanciful wish?  How can they keep retreating from reality knowing they’re just creating another kind of hell?  How can they trust in a “Higher Power” who is as formless as fog?

Well, is there something more? Is there a stronger strength than the human spirit?  Is there hope that’s a promise?  Is there a “Higher Power” with substance and shape who has come to save us in our suffering and will return with a new painless and tearless forever-creation?

I—and our readers—would like to know your answers to the questions in the last two paragraphs. What do you say?  What have you found?

Please click on “Comments” under the title above and leave a reply.  We really want to hear from you.

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Churches: “Fund Abortions!”

 Here’s what “The Federalist” reported yesterday . . .

California Orders Churches To Fund Abortions—Or Else

A regulatory change in California has placed abortion in the category of ‘basic health services’ all insurance plans must cover. Even those churches buy.

For the past four years, the Obama administration and its friends on the Left were careful to claim that they still strongly support religious liberty while arguing that Hobby Lobby’s Green family, Conestoga Wood Specialties’ Hahn family, and others like them must lose. Principally, they contended, religious liberty protections could not be applied to Hobby Lobby because (1) It is a for-profit corporation, (2) It isn’t a church (and thus not a true “religious employer,” and (3) It is wrong on the science—Plan B, a copper intrauterine device, et cetera, they claimed, do not cause abortions. They implied, if not claimed outright, that they would surely support religious freedom in another case, but Hobby Lobby was unworthy to claim its protections.

The State of California is now calling their bluff. California’s Department of Managed Health Care has ordered all insurance plans in the state to immediately begin covering elective abortion. Not Plan B. Not contraceptives. Elective surgical dismemberment abortion.

At the insistence of the American Civil Liberties Union, the DMHC concluded that a 40-year-old state law requiring health plans to cover “basic health services” had been misinterpreted all these decades. Every plan in the state was immediately ordered, effective August 22, to cover elective abortion. California had not even applied this test to its own state employee health plans (which covered only “medically necessary” abortions). But this novel reading was nevertheless quietly imposed on every plan in the state by fiat.

The news has slowly leaked out as insurers grappling with this change have begun quietly informing employers of this sudden change in the terms of their policy. This is how Kaiser Permanente broke the news to one California church that its insurance policy for its pastors and staff would now include elective abortion coverage:

I want to formally share with you that on August 22, 2014, the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) notified Kaiser Permanente and other affected health plans in writing regarding group contracts that exclude ‘voluntary termination of pregnancy.’

This letter made clear that the DMHC considered health care services related to the termination of pregnancies – whether or not a voluntary termination – a medically necessary basic health care service for which all health care services plans must provide coverage under the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act.  You may recall that at the request of some employer groups with religious affiliations, Kaiser Permanente submitted a regulatory filing in May 2012 properly notifying the DMHC of a benefit plan option that excluded coverage of voluntary terminations of pregnancies. The DMHC did not object to this filing, permitting Kaiser Permanente to offer such a coverage contract to large group purchasers that requested it. The DMHC acknowledged that it previously permitted these contract exclusions, but now is requiring health care service plans to provide coverage of all terminations of pregnancies, effective immediately.  To that end, the DMHC requires Kaiser Permanente and similar health care service plans to initiate steps to modify their plan contracts accordingly.

Effective August 22, Kaiser Permanente will comply with this regulatory mandate.

Churches Can Exclude Chemical Baby Killing, But Not Surgical

Several other California churches have received similar notices from their insurers, and others will follow. While California (like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS) exempts churches from its contraceptive mandate, there is no exception to this bureaucratic abortion mandate. This leaves California churches in the illogical and impossible position of being free to exclude contraceptives from their health plan for reasons of religious conscience but required to provide their employees with abortion coverage.

This California mandate is in blatant violation of federal law that specifically prohibits California from discriminating against health care plans on the basis that they do not cover abortion. Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation have filed administrative complaints with the HHS Office of Civil Rights (which oversees this federal law) on behalf of individual employees and seven California churches forced into abortion coverage in violation of their conscience.

What will be the administration and the Left’s response to this unprecedented attack on religious liberty? If they couldn’t stand with Hobby Lobby because it was a for-profit business, not a church, and because they thought its conscience concern was misplaced on the abortifacient nature of Plan B, will they now demand religious liberty for churches forced to cover elective abortion? If not now for religious liberty, when?

Do the administration and the left-wing commentariat continue to see any life in the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections at all? The Left’s response to California’s abortion mandate will reveal whether their claims of respect for religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case were serious or mere fig leafs for an even more dismal view of religious liberty than they have let on.

Photo John Ragai / Flickr
* * *
After reading this I realized what’s happened:  when pro-choice/pro-abortionists started calling abortion “a basic health service” we pro-life folks lost a big battle.  If we’re against abortion we’re against a basic health service.  The outcome of this legal battle will significantly affect religious freedom in America.  What would we do if our church was forced to fund abortions?  Let’s pray we don’t have to answer that question any time soon.
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Contentment: A Mystery (Part 1)

“Mystery” doesn’t mean Christian contentment is a who-dun-it.  It means it’s a profound secret beyond human comprehension.  Kind of counter-intuitive.  Even paradoxical.

That’s my conclusion after reading chapter 2 of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by the 17th century Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs.  I want (need!) to learn to be content.  And since I don’t think I’m the only contentment-learning student, I’m passing along my thoughts from Burroughs’ book.  So what’s the big mystery we can’t figure out on our own?  Burroughs says we start uncovering it by knowing seven things.  (My comments follow each “thing”.)

1.  The contented Christian is the most contented person in the world, yet the most unsatisfied.  As God continues his work of grace in our hearts, we become increasingly contented with God.  In fact, only God himself will satisfy us.  At the same time we become increasingly dissatisfied with what this world offers us.   For example, the world’s currency (literally and metaphorically) is money.  The world offers money (and what it buys) as a chief means of contentment.  But God’s progressive work of grace in our hearts offers us God as the chief means of contentment.  Because God is most satisfying and money can’t deliver on its promise, the contented Christian is the most contented person in the world, yet the most unsatisfied (with this world).

2.  A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.
Burroughs writes:  “The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have.”  Right now my “more” would be body parts that work right—just add new ones on to this old carcass.  But Burroughs surprisingly argues:  By God’s grace reduce your desires to fit your circumstances.  In my case, I should want to live well within the parameters of my disability.  Now here’s the key:  God can actually change our desire so we are satisfied that our present circumstances are the best!

3.  A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by getting rid of the burden that is on him, as by adding another burden to himself.  This sounds crazier than #2!  The burden Burroughs calls us to add is the weight of our sin.  Characteristic Puritan gloom?  No.  How lightly I regard my sin!  Often I’m far more concerned about God healing my body than God sanctifying my soul.  When we see ourselves as naturally depraved sinners, our view of affliction changes.  Consequently, as sinners being saved, the more contented with Christ we become.

4.  It is not so much the removing of the affliction that is upon us as the changing of the affliction, so that it is quite turned and changed into something else.  Whatever our trouble, it hurts or wearies or frightens or depresses us.  But God’s grace can take the sting out and turn the trouble into good.  That’s “Christianity 101”, right?  When God promises to work for good in all things for those who love him, he is assuring us that we always emerge from bad times a better believer. 

5.  A Christian comes to contentment not by making up the wants of his circumstances, but by doing the the work of his circumstances.  In affliction, I want this or I want that.  I want my wants “made up” or fulfilled.  I want to keep pastoring and preaching.  But my disability disallows that.  So now the question is:  What work has God given me to do for his sake in my “retirement”?  Instead of yearning for what used to be (which leaves me discontented)I should yearn for and start doing what God calls me to do now, in this circumstance (that leads to contentment).

6.  A gracious heart is contented by the melting of one’s will into God’s will and desires.  My sin-nature heart lusts to satisfy its own desires.  My grace-nature heart melts my will and desires into God’s will and desires.   God’s will becomes my will.  What God wants, I want.  I’m satisfied if God is satisfied, because I come to have no will of my own.  With people this is impossible.  But with God all things are possible.

7.  The mystery consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within.   Dissatisfied?  Buy a new dress.  Binge on forbidden dessert.  Buy a new car.  Have an affair.  (Do we still call adultery that?)  Burroughs argues that the solution to our dissatisfaction isn’t something we have to get from outside, but something we have to get rid of from inside. Selfishness.  Anger.  Covetousness.  Pride.    God isn’t out to make us comfortable but to make us holy.  And the only way a believer in Christ can be content is by becoming like Christ.

I’d rather a contentment pill.  Take one a day after eating.  Simple.  But pills generally don’t cure.  They merely mask the symptoms.  (Take it from a pill-taker.)  Remember Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11b).  So we’re learning.  We’re learning contentment is a mystery.  And the more we get this chapter’s lesson in our mind, the more of the mystery we’ll understand and (by God’s grace) the more contented we’ll become.

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Content?

              ” . . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11b).

Paul had learned that.  I haven’t.  I want to.  So I’m starting to read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment  by Jeremiah Burroughs, a 17th century Puritan in England.  (Many of these old Puritans are themselves jewelsricher treasures than many authors today.)   I’ll share my thoughts as I read—assuming some of you, like me, are still in the contentment-learning process.  By the way, the paperback edition is available at amazon.com for $8.10 and the Kindle edition for $0.99, if you want to get it straight from the author’s mouth.

 http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_12?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&  fieldkeywords=the%20rare%20jewel%20of%20christian%20contentment%20by%
20jeremiah%20burroughs&srefix=The+Rare+Jew%2Caps%2C253

Burroughs defines Christian contentment:  “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”  In other words, I am content when my inmost being is inclined to submit to and delight in whatever situation our wise Father puts me in— whether, as Paul wrote, I’m in need or have more than enough, whether I’m full or hungry, whether I have plenty or am poor (Philippians 4:12, CEB).  Or, whether my body is wasting away (2 Corinthians 4:16) from old age and ill health, or I’m on the cover of “The Perfect Body of the Sexiest Young Man” magazine.

The original Greek word translated “content” is autarkays.  It means “sufficient in oneself, being happy or satisfied with what one has.”   Burroughs explains that in the strict sense autarkays can be “attributed only to God, who has styled himself ‘God all-sufficient’, in that he rests fully satisfied in and with himself alone.”  God is self-sufficient and completely satisfied in himself.

Think about that.  Since  the root meaning of “contentment” is self-sufficiency, if we are content, won’t we be exalting self and excluding God? Should, then, we even try to be content?  Burroughs answers, “[God] is pleased freely to communicate his fulness to the creature, so that from God in Christ the saints receive ‘grace for grace’ (John 1:16) . . . I [Burroughs] find a sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace of Christ that is in me . . . I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition.”  In other words, “Christ-in-me” means I can be satisfied independent of outward circumstances.  I can be self-sufficient if my “self” is full of God’s grace in Christ.

Burroughs mentions “quiet” as one of the key adjectives in his contentment-definition. That doesn’t mean, he explains, that we never complain about affliction, even to God (whew!).  Nor does it mean we don’t seek help for our affliction.  Quiet” means we receive what God is doing by silencing our soul before him. “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Psalm 62:1a).  “For my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5).  How critical for contentment, then, is “quiet time” with God!

Furthermore we “delight in” our situation.  We take pleasure in it knowing that it’s from God for good.  So the contented Christian “looks up to God in all things.”  And, looking to him, the contented Christian delights in the wisdom of our Father who knows how to order everything in our lives better than we do.

Sounds so spiritual-giant-like!  Trouble is, I’m a pygmy.  I’ve learned I can be content regardless of my outward circumstances as long as my outward circumstances are satisfying.  As a young man disability never discontented me, because I was healthy.  I was content, but it wasn’t Christian contentment as Burroughs defines it.  So I have a lot of learning to do!  (Good for me that Jesus’ discipleship school has no age limit!)

Notice that contentment does come by learning.  Twice Paul  says it.  ” . . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:11b).  ” . . . I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (4:12b).  Would that it came through a simple prayer!  Or a special offering to a TV evangelist!  ZAP!  I’M CONTENT!  Nope:  it’s a learning process.  The good news is that our Father wants to teach us, even if we should have passed the contentment-course long ago.  One means I pray he will  use is this old Puritan’s book, as it correctly opens up our Father’s Book.

So let’s set out together on this most-challenging course to learn what Burroughs’ calls “the very life and soul of all practical divinity”—contentment.  May we by God’s grace be able to say when we’re done . . .

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

 To God be the glory!

 

 

 

 

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My Life of No Value, If . . .

I came across a Bible verse today I highlighted decades ago . . .

Paul was making his farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesian churches.  “I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me  in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22,23).

I haven’t read through Acts for a long time.  This time it hit me how Paul was relentlessly stalked by Jews who hated to hear that Jesus is the Christ.  It reminds me of what some missionaries endure today—and how easy, by contrast, we American pastors have it.  So when Paul said, ” . . . except in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me”, he spoke from experience.  Then came the words I highlighted decades ago . . .

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

I pastored for 44 years.  (You must be tired of hearing that!)  I’m guessing I highlighted this verse early on.  Ah, the ignorant nobility of youth!  How easily then to identify with Paul!  No Jesus-haters stalking me.  No hostile church members plotting to take my life.  Not even a disease threatened.  So death was distant—a concept more than reality.  How easily, then, did I say with Paul, ” . . . I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus”!

I was a crusader—on a mission to build the church of Jesus Christ and equip God’s people for ministry.  I was giving my life to an eternal cause!  What was my little life compared to the eternal church of God and the name of the Lord Jesus?

Now, at 71 years old, things have changed.  I listen to younger men preach and envy their vitality and vision.  I long for those “good old days” of my vitality and vision.  But I also think to myself, “Wait, you young preachers; wait until you’re old like me.  Will your passion be the same then?  Will aging temper the ease with which you speak words that sometimes sound like platitudes?  Will it become harder for you to say with absolute conviction, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him . . . ” (Romans8:28), because you will have experienced painful things in which you cannot catch even a glimpse of good?

I’m not questioning God’s Word; I still stake my life on it.  I’m asking for two things.  First, that when us old folks hear young preachers speak with absolute conviction, that we don’t doubt the truth of God’s Word they’re speaking.  We may think, “Wait.  Wait ’til you’ve gone through some of the fires I’ve gone through.”  Or, “Wait ’til you have to sit here in pain like I do and God seems silent.”  But we must never let the preacher’s youth make us question God’s truth!  Even if his “all things” are few, it remains rock-solid Gospel that God works them all together for good.  The young preachers may be somewhat naive, but God is infinitely wise.  And it’s his Word young preachers are preaching.

The second thing I ask is of the young preachers:  that you remember your congregation includes some old folks whose experiences in life have made some of what you preach sound like pie-in-the sky.  Perhaps you could acknowledge that.  Perhaps you might say, “I know some of you who are older than I have gone through things in your life that make Romans 8:28 a fantasy.  You lost your wife to cancer after years of suffering.  Your teenage son was killed by a drunk driver.  I haven’t had to endure anything like that.  Not yet, anyway.  But think of what Paul had gone through when he wrote those words!”  I suggest that, not to save face for you, but to highlight God’s unchanging, gracious Gospel for them.  And to assure them that questioning God’s promises isn’t the unpardonable sin.

When I read Acts 20:24 today in a new Bible, I highlighted it again.  This time because I don’t know if I can honestly say it with Paul.  This time you see, I’m closer to death.  It’s not as distant—more reality than concept.  And even though I’m disabled, I do count my life as precious to me.  But I want—no matter what— to be able to stand with Paul and say honestly from my heart with the vitality and vision of a young man . . .

I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,
if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,
to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Because deep inside, underneath all the junk in me, lies this unshakeable conviction:  my life amounts to little compared to the spread of the glory of the gospel of the grace of God in Christ.

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Husband, Hold Her Hand!

Denise—R.C. Sproul Jr.’s wife—went home to be with the Lord three years ago this December.  She was 46 when she succumbed to cancer.  Last week R. C. posted a blog entitled, “I Wish I Had Held Her Hand More”.  I hope it moves your heart as it does mine.

It’s not, of course, that I never held her hand.  It is likely, however, that I didn’t hold it as often as she would have liked. 

Holding her hand communicates to her in a simple yet profound way that we are connected.  Taking her hand tells her, “I am grateful that we are one flesh.”  Taking her hand tells me, “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”

It is a liturgy, an ordinary habit of remembrance to see more clearly the extraordinary reality of two being made one.

It would have, even in the midst of a disagreement, or moments of struggle, communicated, “We’re going to go through this together.  I will not let go.”  It would have also reminded both of that secret but happy truth we kept from each other, that hidden reality that is equal parts embarrassment and giddy joy:  that we’re just kids.  Bearing children, feeding mortgages, facing adult sized hardships never really changes what we are inside.  Holding her hand was like skipping through the park.  Holding her hand was winking at her, as if to say, “I know you’re just a kid too.  Let’s be friends.”

On the other hand, holding her hand more would have communicated to us both my own calling to lead her, and our home.  Hand holding is a way to say both, “You are safe with me” and “Follow me into the adventure.”

It would have reminded me that there is no abdicating, no shirking, no flinching in the face of responsibility.  And as I lead it would be a constant anchor, a reminder that I lead not for my sake, but for hers.

Holding her hand more also would have spoken with clarity to the watching world.  It would have said, “There’s a man who loves his wife.”  It saddens me that so many only learn this after their wife is gone.

Perhaps most of all, however, I wish I had held her hand more so that I could still feel it more clearly.  I wish it had been such a constant habit that even now my hand would form into a hold-holding shape each time I get in the car.  I wish I could fall asleep holding her hand in mine.

I know all this, happily,  because I did hold her hand.  I received all the blessings I describe above.  I just wish I had received them more.  It cost nothing, and bears dividends even to this day.  If, for you, it’s not too late, make the investment.  Hold her hand, every chance you get.  You won’t regret it.

 

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Sappy Seniors

My blog-topics jump all over the place, don’t they!  That’s partly because I read my devotions for the day and find my heart moved to write about what I’ve read.  So, if you can take the jolting from the jumping, here we go again.  This time it’s the last four verses of Psalm 92.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Sappy seniors.

But this “Sabbath Song” (see title at the top of the psalm) doesn’t center on them.  It sings of them only in relation to the One who is “Most High.”

It is good to gives thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High.
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy (92:1-4).

It’s because of him that “the righteous flourish” and “still bear fruit in old age.”  Because his love is steadfast, old-agers still bear fruit.  Because he is faithful, creaky-voice seniors still sing praises to his name.  Because he is Most High, the elderly push through pain and hobble to gathered worship and find that it is good to gives thanks to the LORD.

When Lois and I came to Florida 24 years ago, we were 46 years old and the congregation was virtually all over 60.  Compared to our church in New Jersey, this had a nursing home feel about it.  Now that I’m 24 years older I’m a little wiser.  Seniors who know the Lord and walk in righteousness after him are no less alive, no less attractive, no less precious  than the energetic, forward-looking, enthusiastic young.  Pity I had to grow old to learn of the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness to the old!  We might sing more off-key, have trouble keeping up with the words to some Old English hymns or some upbeat contemporary songs, but the Lord enjoys our worship as much as he does the worship of the young and we find it just as soul-satisfying.

But let’s be honest.  Not every oldster walks as gracefully as a palm tree or stands as strong as a Lebanon cedar.  In fact, the apostle Paul said, ” . . . our outer nature is wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16a).  And think of Job scraping his infected skin with shards of pottery (Job 2:7,8)!  He couldn’t comprehend what was happening to him until the Lord revealed himself in ways Job had never known and restored his blessings beyond expectation (Job 38-42).  But Paul knew:  “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light and momentary affliction (!) is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:16b-18a).

So we “seniors of the Lord” might be stumbling and struggling on the outside, but inside we’re still growing (92:12), still planted in the presence of the Lord (92:12), still bearing fruit in our old age (92:14a), still sappy and green (92:14b).  We know that one day soon we will enjoy “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17b).  That’s what we try to keep our sights on (2 Corinthians 4:18).  (Maybe that’s why we sometimes stumble–we’re looking at the unseen, eternal things!).

Meanwhile, we know why we’re kept sappy and green inside.  We know our mission.

” . . . to declare that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (92:15).

Sappy seniors.  Still singing of our Lord.

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