Category Archives: Contemporary Issues

Christians as Pilgrims in this World

The Christian Life as Pilgrimage

by Derek Thomas; Tabletalk Magazine, March 2016

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

A half-century ago, I sang these words in school assemblies set to music composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The words appear in Part 2 of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress as part of Mr. Valiant-for-Truth’s testimony. Earlier, Valiant had introduced himself to Mr. Great-heart and his companions with the words, “I am a Pilgrim, and am going to the celestial city.”

All Christians are pilgrims heading to the celestial city. Bunyan was simply reflecting the Bible that he loved. Scripture affirms that Christians are pilgrims. In the paradigmatic covenant made with our father Abraham, God promised him Canaan as “the land of your sojournings” (Gen. 17:8). And in the New Testament, Peter reflects the same idea when he describes his readers as “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1; cf. 1:17, “the time of your exile”). Similarly, in reviewing the faithful believers of Old Testament history, the author of Hebrews refers to them as “strangers and exiles” (Heb. 11:13).

The Christian life is a road trip, a journey of the most exhilarating kind. It has a starting point and a terminus. It is a metaphor of movement. Christians do not stay in one place too long, for they are set for another location. Early Christians were referred to as the followers of “the Way”—a reflection that they seemed determined to follow a different path (Acts 9:224:14).

Several issues arise. First, there is the idea of an adventure. Yes, adventure. If Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit initially shunned adventure because it upset the equilibrium of his routine way of life in the Shire, he would later record his extraordinary journey in a breathless tale bearing the subtitle There and Back Again.

Christians explore a somewhat different journey—Here to There, perhaps. But it is nevertheless a journey equally as exciting, fraught with tales of valor and danger. There is something exciting about the Christian life. New glimpses of God’s provision, intervention, and rescue await at every turn. We have no idea what a day may bring forth (Prov. 27:1), but we may be assured that nothing happens without our heavenly Father willing it to happen. We are called to follow our Master wherever He leads us—in green pastures beside still waters, as well as in the presence of enemies and a valley of shadow and death (Ps. 23).

My friend and predecessor at the church I now serve, a name familiar enough to readers of Tabletalk, Sinclair Ferguson, often ended his sermons with an exclamatory “Isn’t it wonderful to be a Christian!” Yes, it is a thing of great wonder, an exciting adventure every second of the way.

Second, pilgrimage is evocative of the transitory nature of this life. “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). “The things that are seen are transient” (2 Cor. 4:18). What does it mean to refer to this life as “transient”? The answer lies in the tension evoked in the New Testament between the “now” and the “not yet.” Christians are those upon whom “the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Something of the world to come has already perforated our spacetime existence and has claimed us as citizens of another realm (Phil. 3:20).

This perspective raises fundamental tensions. In one sense, we live here with a variety of responsibilities as citizens of this world. The reclusive life of withdrawal and abstinence is not a biblical worldview. This bizarre view of life is caricatured in Simeon Stylites the Elder, a man who climbed a pole in Syria in AD 423 and remained there for thirty-seven years until he died. This is a denial of Christianity, not its affirmation. Christians get involved in society. Christians reshape society. They are lights in dark places. A new affection has overtaken Christians that makes everything else seem paltry and trite. In the words of Thomas Chalmers, the Christian life is ignited by the “expulsive power of a new affection.”

A third aspect of pilgrimage is a sense of direction, a goal, an end point. The journey has a destination. Christianity provides a shalom, a sense of wholeness and completeness. Christians know who they are and where they are going. Aimlessness and drift characterize so much of life without the embrace of Christ.

Christians “look” for “things unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18, where the Greek verb “to look” suggests an intense, steady gaze). It sounds like a paradox: we look for something that cannot be seen. Glory awaits, and Christian pilgrims maintain a steady but determined discipline of facing forward. What lies ahead fills our vision and keeps us expectant. What awaits steady pilgrims surpasses expectation and defies explanation.

“Onward and upward! To Narnia and the North!” is a statement in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia tale The Horse and His Boy. All pilgrims of the cross agree: onward and upward!

Cost to Being a Christian in America?

There’s no cost of being a Christian in America!

(Leonard Ravenhill)

I went to a church not along ago, they got thirty acres. So what are their plans with it? They want their own football field and tennis courts. Dear God, do we go to church to learn to play tennis? God help the preachers!

We have such an accommodating Christianity today.

The best title of the professing church of God today, in my judgment, is “Unbelieving Believers.” There’s cancer in the church tonight!

At this grim hour, the world sleeps in the darkness–and the Church sleeps in the light.

You’ll never get me to believe that the church today believes in Hell.

We’re a million, billion miles away from New Testament Christianity!

I doubt if 5% of professing Christians in America are born again!

Entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy. The more joy you have in the Lord, the less entertainment you need.

Is the world crucified to you–or does it fascinate you?

The apostles had no gold, but lots of glory. We have lots of gold, but no glory.
The book of Acts shows us the church before it became fat and short of breath by prosperity!

Who or what takes priority over God in our lives?

Where, oh, where are the eternity-conscious believers?

Where are the souls white-hot for God because they fear His holy name and presence and so live with eternity’s values in view?

There’s no cost of being a Christian in America!

I’d rather have ten people who want God than 10,000 people who want to play church!

Life is not to be Wasted

Oh, Do Not Waste Life!;

                                                    (George Everard, 1884)

“Making the very most of the time!” Ephesians 5:16

Be careful to make the very best use of your time. Make the most of each passing day. Instead of trying to kill time–strive to make it so fruitful of good to yourself and others. Hours and moments are golden–yes, more valuable than pearls and diamonds–and to squander and waste them is folly beyond description! Until we reach eternity, we shall never know how much good has been obtained or wrought . . .
by a moment’s earnest prayer,
by a passing opportunity seized,
by five minutes given to read a helpful book,
by a quarter of an hour given to visit some suffering saint.

How much Christ accomplished in the three years of His public ministry! He was always intent on the work He had to do, so that tens of thousands were taught and benefitted. And though we are so sinful, and our power so feeble in comparison–is not His life to be a pattern for ours?

Oh, do not waste life! Map it out prudently, and think well of the work to which you yourself are called.
No lost hours through late rising in the morning!
No mornings or evenings worse than lost, in drinking in the poison or the vanity of a worthless novel!
No moments thrown away in idle gossip and foolish talking!
No, no–our was life given to us for this! Use it far better and more wisely. Remember that . . .
the time is short,
the work is great, and
the outcome is for eternity!

Soon will the great bell toll, which will usher you into a future state. Brother, sister, make haste to do all the work allotted to you–to do it well, that the Master may be glorified, and your crown the brighter.

“So teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

The Right Kind of Freedom for Christians

The Right Kind of Freedom

by Nate Shurden; Tabletalk, 2/2016

They were truly delightful. Probably in their late fifties, recently retired, just relocated to Franklin, Tenn., to be closer to their grandkids. They started attending the church several months earlier and had just expressed excitement about participating in the upcoming inquirers’ class. Hearing this, I was encouraged but mistakenly concluded that signing up for the inquirers’ class meant they were exploring the possibility of membership. I innocently began to ask about churches they were members of in the past when the conversation shifted.

“I’m sorry. I’m afraid we misled you,” they said. “Even if we attend the inquirers’ class, we won’t be joining the church.” Surprised, and a little confused, I asked why that would be the case. “We don’t do membership. We’ve found it comes with certain expectations about attendance and involvement, and we just prefer to be freer than that.”

Though rarely expressed so honestly, such sentiment is representative of a significant number of professing Christians across North America. It seems many are happy to maintain a loose a liation with a church fellowship, but consider membership just a little too much commitment for their tastes.

To be fair, some of the views or feelings expressed about membership stem from bad experiences in local churches. It is true that some churches and denominations have a history of using membership as a legalistic billy club. If someone is coming from that background, it will take time to heal, build trust, and reshape what biblical church membership is supposed to look like.

Other Christians have simply never been taught a biblical view of membership and instinctively connect the word with the Rotary Club and Costco. For this person, the idea of membership feels like an exclusive clique where only those who pay the dues are welcome. Again, biblical instruction coupled with loving care will often lead these brothers and sisters into joyously committing to membership.

In my experience, however, an increasing percentage of professing Christians resist making the membership plunge for the reason the couple of above stated: “We prefer to be freer than that.” Here’s the question though: Is the freedom of non-membership the freedom God wants for us?

When we take an honest look at Scripture, it is clear that we are redeemed not to be alone or loosely associated but to be numbered among the body of Christ. And contrary to how it may feel at times, membership is exactly the kind of freedom for which we have been designed.

At first blush, it may seem odd to call membership the kind of freedom we’re designed to experience, but that is the way Scripture speaks of it. One of the primary ways Scripture speaks of membership is with reference to the metaphor of the physical body.

In Ephesians 4:1–16 and 1 Corinthians 12:1–27, Christian membership is analogous to the membership shared by the various parts of our body. The way your hand and foot are attached to your physical body is the same way individual Christians are to be attached to Christ and other Christians. The Bible is giving us a picture of a fellowship that is so interrelated and interdependent that true life and belonging cannot be expected without each part’s being connected to one another. Very simply, we cannot be ourselves by ourselves (Rom. 12:5).

Now, from a certain angle, one could argue that a hand or foot’s attachment to the body is restrictive. It is true that an attached hand or foot is not experiencing the “liberty” of being unattached from the body. The question we should ask is whether the so-called liberty of being unattached to the body is the kind of liberty the hand or foot is designed to experience. Can the hand or the foot be what they are supposed to be without the body? Can we expect the hand and foot to function and develop without the body? The obvious answer is no.

To be honest, the situation is far more serious than a matter of functioning and development. It’s a matter of life and death. When a hand or foot is dismembered from the body, the very life of the hand or foot is drained out of it. It ceases to live. This is not to mention the fact that it’s very disturbing to see a part of the body cut off. Interestingly, when a hand or foot is attached to a body as it’s designed, it strikes us as the most ordinary thing in the world. But if you see a hand lying on the ground, it’s traumatic—the stuff of horror movies.

It makes sense, then, why John Calvin, leaning heavily on the early church fathers, argued that the church is the “bosom [in which] God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith … so that, for those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother” (Institutes 4.1.1).

Far from being restrictive to our freedom, membership in a local church is the exact condition and constraint that makes for a healthy—and free—Christian life. In the end, membership really is the right kind of freedom.

Its My Birthday This Month; I Am Getting Older!

As We Grow Older:     

(J.R. Miller, “The Glory of the Commonplace”)

“Even to your old age and gray hair I am He; I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you!” Isaiah 46:4

As we grow older, there should be a constant gaining, never a losing in our spiritual life. Every year should find us living on a higher plane than the year before. Old age should always be the best of life, not marked by spiritual emptiness and decay, but by nobler fruitfulness and more gracious beauty. Paul was growing old, when he spoke of forgetting things which are behind, and reaching forth to things ahead. His best was yet to be attained. So it should always be with Christian old age. We must ever be turning heavenward, toward nobler life and holier beauty!

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green!” Psalm 92:12-14

Who Does He Think He Is?

Who Does He Think He Is?        

(Frank Hall)

 

“Is it not lawful for Me to do what I wish with what is My own?” Matthew 20:15

 

How dare people walk their pets on leashes to control them!

How dare parents force their children to obey their rules!

How dare employers insist that their employees do their jobs!

How dare governors rule over the people!

How dare policemen take criminals to jail without their permission!

 

How dare God have His way with His creatures!

How dare the Potter make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor!

How dare God love and hate whom He will!

How dare God the Father choose to save whom He will!

How dare God the Son die for whom He will!

How dare God the Spirit call whom He will!

How dare the Almighty have His way with all men, in all places, at all times!

How dare God save and damn whom He will!

How dare God judge us!

How dare God call us into question!

How dare the indisputable Sovereign of the universe do . . .   what He pleases,   when He pleases,   where He pleases,   how He pleases, and   with whom He pleases!

 

Who does He think He is – God?

“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases!” Psalm 115:3

“I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths!” Psalm 135:5-6

“All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: What have You done?” Daniel 4:35

Christmas and Everything is For and About Jesus!

The Bible Story:;

by R.C. Sproul Jr.

A friend of mine has been known to encourage me to produce my own study Bible. Happily, his vision for my study Bible isn’t quite the mammoth undertaking that putting together a real study Bible is. He suggests that my Bible just have a few notes, repeated over and over again. Things like, “See this promise? Believe it.” Or, “This sinner in this story—he’s just like you. Learn to see yourself in the Bible’s great sinners.” These two themes—that we need to learn to believe more fully, down to our toes, the promises of God, and that we need to come to a more potent, existential awareness of our sins and our weaknesses—are a big deal to me. The themes find their way regularly into my writing and into my teaching.

That, in itself, is not a bad thing. Wisdom calls us to recognize, as much as we are able, our own peculiar callings. If God gives you a cannon, He expects you to fire it. There is, however, also a danger. Just as it has been said that to the man with a hammer everything can look like a nail, so when we come to the Bible with our pet passions we will find ourselves tempted to see things in the text that aren’t there, and to miss things in the text that are there. We will show ourselves workmen who need to be ashamed for mishandling the Word of God.

There are, of course, metanarratives to go along with biblical narratives. A narrative, simply put, is a story. A metanarrative is a storythattranscends stories. It is the overarching story. The Boston Tea Party is a narrative. America as a fearless bastion of freedom—that’s a metanarrative. The two, of course intersect, just as they do in the Bible. Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah is a story that illumines the metanarrative of substitutionary atonement and of fathers sacrificing sons (see also John 3:16). Nathan’s confrontation of David is a story that illumines the metanarrative of blindness to sin.

Because there are metanarratives, we are wise to see them in the narratives we read. But because there are many, we need to be careful not to put square narratives into round metanarratives. Trouble is, because there is more than one metanarrative, we face the temptation to seek out the metametanarrative, the story that transcends the stories that transcend.

Consider covenant theology and dispensational theology. These big-picture interpretative grids are so broad, so all-encompassing that each side often finds itself struggling to correct the other. Our differences are so foundational, touching on how we understand all of God’s Word that we seemingly have nothing to do but talk past each other. We can’t walk inside each other’s shoes because we’re walking in opposite directions. I have my own convictions on the issue, strong ones. But I’m not afraid to confess that I am virtually uncorrectable from my friends on the other side, simply because this is such a foundational issue.

Which makes me long for an unimpeachable answer, a meta-meta-metanarrative that comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. Is it just possible that all the Bible’s stories about substitution, about covering, about creation, fall, redemption, about covenant are subsumed under one grand story? Perhaps so. What if, in the end, it were all about the kingdom? What if that is why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”? What if He was clueing us in on the big picture? What if the dominion mandate, the Great Commission, the promise that all things are being brought into submission to the reign of Christ—what if these were all the one great story?

This doesn’t, of course, undo the other stories in the Bible. It’s still true that the Bible is the story of Jesus’ rescuing not the beautiful princess, but the ugly hag. But in doing so, He secures a queen for His kingdom. It doesn’t undo His death and resurrection for us. But in doing so, He wins citizens for His kingdom. It doesn’t undo creation–fall–re-creation. But it affirms that God created a kingdom, Adam failed to rule it, and Jesus now succeeds where the first Adam failed.

When Jesus calls us to seek first His kingdom, He isn’t turning sanctification, evangelism, sound doctrine, atonement, and meeting the needs of widows and orphans into secondary matters. Rather, He is telling us why we pursue these things, the end for which they exist. It is affirming the forest that helps us understand the trees.

There is, however, one more step. The Bible is only penultimately the story of the kingdom. For the glorious truth is that the kingdom exists for the sake of the King. The Bible is Jesus’ story from beginning to end. He is the Alpha and Omega of the Bible, even as He is the Alpha and Omega of history. We understand history, we understand the Bible, therefore, only insofar as we understand Jesus. That is what each is for: to show us the glory of the Only Begotten, to the everlasting praise of the Father. May we never, in all our study, lose sight of Him.

What Would You Ask For???

What Would You Ask For?  

(Joseph Alleine, “Alarm to the Unconverted” 1671)

“That night God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said: What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” 2 Chronicles 1:7

If God would give you your choice, as He did to Solomon – what would you ask for?

Go into the gardens of pleasure, and gather all the fragrant flowers there – would these satisfy you?

Go to the treasures of mammon – suppose you may carry away as much as you desire.

Go to the towers, to the trophies of honor – and become a man of renown.

Would any of these, would all of these satisfy you, and make you to count yourself happy? If so, then certainly you are carnal and unconverted. Converting grace turns the heart from its idols to the living God. Before conversion, the man minded his farm, friends, pleasures more than Christ. He found more sweetness in his merry company, worldly amusements, earthly delights than in Christ. Now he says, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ!” Philippians 3:7-8

The True Reason For Being Thankful!

Delighting in God!  

(James Smith, 1842)

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart!” Psalm 37:4

Delighting in worldly things effectually prevents our delighting in God. Therefore it is often the case, that the Lord strips us of these things, or incapacitates us to enjoy them in order to bring us back to delight in Himself.

He delights in His people and He desires that His people to delight in Him. In order to accomplish this, He has revealed Himself in the most amiable characters, as . . .

a Husband;

a Friend;

a Brother;

a Savior;

a Shepherd, and so forth –

all on purpose to endear Himself to us!

 

Surely if our hearts were right we would delight in Him on account of . . .

His glorious perfections;

His unalterable love;

the perfect atonement made for our sins;

the promises made for our comfort and encouragement;

the gift of the Holy Spirit;

the communion we are urged to hold with Himself;

and the glorious paradise of blessedness set before us where we shall forever . . .

view the unfolding of His glories,

enjoy the riches of His grace, and

drink of the river of His pleasures!

 

Sick Christian, Jesus bids you to delight in Him!

Delight in Him as your Savior, Friend, and Brother!

Delight in His person and glories!

Delight in His perfect work!

Delight in His glorious fullness!

Delight in your salvation in Him, union to Him, and claim upon Him.

Oh, delight in Jesus!

You will have no permanent peace or solid satisfaction, but as you are delight in Him, and rejoice in Him, saying, “You are my portion, O Lord!”

 

He who delights in God has the desires of His heart because they are in accordance with the purpose, promise, and pleasure of God.

The mind is thrown into the mold of God’s mind, and the soul cries from its inmost recesses, “Not my will, but may Your will be done!” Its pleasures are spiritual, permanent, and satisfactory. The desire for earthly things becomes very contracted a little of the things of this poor world will satisfy a soul that is delighting in Jehovah.

Delighting in God always produces resignation and holy contentment. Whatever they have they enjoy it as the undeserved gift of God; and they feel obligated and thankful for all. They would rather be conformed to God’s will than have their own will. They know that His appointments are best because they are infinitely wise, holy, and gracious. They can say, “I trust in You, O Lord, for You are my God! My times are in Your hand!” They find that godliness with contentment is great gain; and say with one of old, “The little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked!” “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with turmoil.”

The presence, the promise, and the smile of God are to them inestimably valuable; but other things are not so important. They seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all other necessary things are added unto them. They live at the fountain when all the streams are dried up! They delight in God when creatures fade and wither!

O Lord! I would delight in Thee,

And on Your care depend;

To You in every trouble flee,

My best, my only Friend!

No good in creatures can be found,

But may be found in Thee;

I must have all things and abound,

While God is God to me!