All sorrows, all heartaches, all disappointments, all bereavements, and all heart troubles lose their bitterness in the sweetness of the Savior’s tender promise: ‘I will come again.’
– from Meditations on the Gospels
When we think seriously about what it will cost others if we obey the call of Jesus, we tell God He doesn’t know what our obedience will mean. Keep to the point–He does know. Shut out every other thought and keep yourself before God in this one thing only–my utmost for His highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and Him alone.
It is deplorable
that the gracious gifts of brass and metalworking
are used both to fashion bells and trumpets
to sing of the bountiful love and mercy of God
and to craft cartridges and artillery shells
to take the lives of those fashioned in his image.
This thought struck me in worship this morning as we sang joyfully of Christ’s advent accompanied by trumpet, French horn, and bells then soberly pleaded with God to grant comfort, peace, and hope to those affected by the shootings in Connecticut. How it made me long, more than usual, for the words of Micah to become reality.
[God] will settle disputes among many peoples
and provide arbitration for strong nations that are far away.
They will beat their swords into plows,
and their spears into pruning knives.
Nation will not take up the sword against nation,
and they will never again train for war.
But each man will sit under his grapevine and under his fig tree
with no one to frighten him.
– Micah 4.3-4 (HCSB)
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Suffering is inevitable. Pain is unavoidable. Life, quite often, hurts.
The litany of the agonies and struggles Christians face is no different than those of the rest of the world:
- substance abuse
- work problems
- suicidal thoughts
- eating disorders
- body image / self-image
- relationship problems
- and on and on…
Contrary to what we sometimes hear or want to believe, the promise of Christ to his followers is not that we are immune or exempt from these. The promise of God is that we do not face any hardship alone…
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
I will be with you
when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you.
You will not be scorched
when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you.
Isaiah 43.1b-2 (HCSB)
Read those words again. ”When” you face difficult, painful times…and they will come, it is certain…God says, “I will be with you.” We would doubtless all love to avoid pain, I know I do. The idea that we can do this, however, is both unrealistic and unbiblical. When we cry out to Christ he may calm the storm–he has done it before and we will continue to pray that he does it again. Whether or not the storm subsides is not the real point.
In the midst of suffering, God is there.
In the midst of pain, Christ is found.
In the midst of hurting, you are not alone.
With our Ethiopian adoption underway, I’ve begun researching and reading about this ancient nation–its Christianity, its heritage, its history, its people, its politics, etc. I want to know whence our children will come and a bit of their background. In so doing, I’ve come across recent blog posts by Michael Halcomb and Xavier Pacheco on the Ethiopian city of Korah. As the title here indicates, Korah is a city of outcasts–lepers, prostitutes, orphans, HIV/AIDS sufferers, and others–75,000 people who live on the trash discarded by the nearly 2.7 million other residents of Addis Ababa.
In other words, Korah is seventy-five thousand people who have, themselves, literally been thrown away by society.
I encourage you to visit the Help Korah blog to prayerfully read and think how we, as the body of Christ, might come together, pool our resources, and address this horrific situation and others like it elsewhere in the world. I am still mulling this over and trying to fully grasp the reality of the situation these many people find themselves in everyday–I will definitely be writing more on this later.
Let me leave you with two videos from Michael and Xavier.
- Watch them
- See the poverty like you’ve never imagined
- See the smiles on these people’s faces
- See the hope offered by those who have realized the need
- Let your heart be broken
- Forward them to others
- Friends and family
- Brother and sisters in Christ
- Let’s make a difference
Yesterday, we enjoyed our first free weekend afternoon in December by heading to the theater to see “The Blind Side.” In case you are unfamiliar with the story, as I was before yesterday, here’s the summary from the movie’s website:
Teenager Michael Oher is surviving on his own, virtually homeless, when he is spotted on the street by Leigh Anne Tuohy. Learning that the young man is one of her daughter’s classmates, Leigh Anne insists that Michael–wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the dead of winter–come out of the cold. Without a moment’s hesitation, she invites him to stay at the Tuohy home for the night. What starts out as a gesture of kindness turns into something more as Michael becomes part of the Tuohy family despite the differences in their backgrounds.
Through the course of the story (i.e., Oher’s real life), Michael journeys from a violent, drug-wracked upbringing — where he was in-and-out of the foster care system, attended eleven different schools in nine years, and entered his sophomore year of high school with a 0.6 GPA — to an All-American college football player for Ole Miss and a 2009 NFL first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.
Perhaps the best short summary is the movie’s trailer itself:
As I sat there in the dark, one hand holding the hand of my 13 year-old daughter and the other holding my 5 year-old son in my lap, the impact of this movie hit home like a freight train…in two ways.
For starters, our daughter has no real grasp of the reality behind the drug and poverty-related violence and lifestyle portrayed in Oher’s upbringing. Talking about the movie afterward, I realized she had no idea that people lived in very similar circumstances only a few miles from our home. While she knows intellectually about such things, she has (fortunately) never experienced them first-hand and didn’t really understand how physically close to home such suffering, pain, and hardship really exists.
In addition to my daughter’s epiphany, seeing the violence toward the end of the movie where many of Oher’s acquaintances are gunned down in various drug-related shootings made me hold on to my son even tighter. In case you didn’t know, we adopted our son from Ukraine in 2007, just over two years ago. Statistically speaking, like Michael Oher, if our son had stayed where he was, he didn’t stand a chance. To put it into perspective, here are the statistics (from here):
- Ukrainian orphans typically grow up in large state-run homes, which may house over 200 children.
- Many children run away from these homes, preferring to live on the street.
- Children usually graduate from these institutions between 15 and 16 years old and are turned out, unprepared for life outside the home.
- About 10% of them will commit suicide after leaving the orphanage before their 18th birthday.
- 60% of the girls will end up in prostitution. Those who run prostitution rings target orphaned girls, who are especially vulnerable due to their lack of options and lack of people who care what happens to them. Though promised good jobs, they end up on the streets and brothels of cities across Europe.
- 70% of the boys will enter a life of crime. Many of these will die young of violence or end up in prison. Most inmates contract TB in prison.
The point of these statistics isn’t to pat ourselves on the back for doing something so noble as adopting, far from it. The point is this: there are hundreds of millions of children around the world just like Michael Oher and our son. Some of them live five miles away, some of them live thousands of miles away.
How can we help them? How could we possibly not?
(photo from https://www.4orphans.com)
The crucifixion, which ended with the triumphant cry, “It is finished” (Jn 19.30), was the offering of the all-sufficient sacrifice for the atonement of all sinners. The Man on the cross was the Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world to carry them away from the face of God. The salvation of the whole world once hung by those three nails on the cross on Golgotha. As the fruit from the wood of the forbidden tree from which the first man once ate brought sin, death, and damnation upon the entire human race, so the fruits of the wood of the cross restored righteousness, life, and blessedness to all people.
On account of this, the cross is both holy and blessed! Once nothing but a dry piece of wood, it was changed, like Aaron’s staff, into a green branch full of heavenly blossoms and fruit. Once an instrument of torment for the punishment of sinners, it now shines in heavenly splendor for all sinners as a sign of grace. Once the wood of the curse, it has now become, after the Promised Blessing for all people offered Himself up on it, a tree of blessing, an altar of sacrifice for the atonement, and a sweet-smelling aroma to God. Today, the cross is still a terror–but only to hell. It shines upon its ruins as a sign of the victory over sin, death, and Satan. With a crushed head, the serpent of temptation lies at the foot of the cross. It is a picture of eternal comfort upon which the dimming eye of the dying longingly looks, the last anchor of his hope and the only light that shines in the darkness of death.
– C.F.W. Walther (quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 622)
For many Christians, especially those whose traditions do not observe the church calendar, the mere mention of “All Saints’ Day” sounds eerily Roman Catholic or taboo. But what exactly is this feast day (i.e., church celebration) all about? I have found no better short explanation than that in the Treasury of Daily Prayer:
This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesss with which we are surrounded (Heb 12.1). It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ–from every nation, race, culture, and language–who have come ‘out of the great tribulation…who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Rev 7.9, 14). As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Eph 3.17-19). It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Rom 6.3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic [i.e., 'universal church' not 'Roman Catholic church']–in heaven and on earth, in all times and places–in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph 4.4-6). And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatalogical focus on the life everlasting and a confession that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Rom 8.18). In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12.2-3).
Several months ago, Joe Carter wrote a blog article titled ‘Ten Deadly Trappings of Evangelism,’ where he describes his concern for “the way in which evangelicals tend to embrace whatever trends and kitsch happen to be hot sellers at ‘Christian’ bookstores.” As I read his post for the first time this morning, I couldn’t help but finding myself constantly mumbling to myself, “Yes, yes, yes!” Why? Because Mr. Carter ‘gets it’ in that, while recognizing many Evangelical fads will quickly pass, much of what has become mainstay fixtures in Evangelical culture have led Evangelicals past the point of irreverence into the land of irrelevance.
While I encourage you to read the entire article, let’s go ahead and look at just a few…using Carter’s numbering:
#1) The Sinner’s Prayer—Carter says, “The gates of hell have a special entrance reserved for people who thought that they had a ticket into heaven because someone told them all they needed to do was recite the ‘sinner’s prayer.’” I couldn’t agree more. For a group that is almost completely anti-sacramental, Evangelicals practically treat the sinner’s prayer as an ex opere operato indispensible means of grace, the Evangelical sacrament, that guarantees one’s salvation ‘from the work performed’ (which is what ex opere operato means).
#3) “Do you know Jesus as…” —here Carter writes, “This is one question that needs never be asked” and then goes on to give several reasons why. The funniest and most pointed reason he gives is that in asking this question “you just activated [the hearer's] Fundie-alert system and caused them to switch their brains into ignore mode. Instead of asking about a ‘personal savior’ you might want to simply try to get to know the person.” I would add to this observation that the very phrase “personal Savior” is not only in-house, Evangelical lingo, but it’s poorly chosen lingo. Nowhere in Scripture do we read of a ‘personal Savior.’ Surely there’s an historical context out of which the phrase grew, but for the life of me I can’t see how these words are meaningful to anyone today. (I’d lump “accepting Christ” into this category too, but at least there is biblical precedent for the phrase, even if only in one passage.)
#4) Tribulationism—I hardly feel able to write on this because all the end-times madness within Evangelicalism makes me nauseated. To focus so exclusively on the end-times at the expense of truly significant matters of the Gospel is revolting…plus I’m an amillenialist anyway, so all those pre-trib, pre-mil folks have it wrong anyway (grin).
#5) Testimonies—I’ll never forget that one of the most stressful parts of my seminary application was my “Personal Testimony.” Knowing how much emphasis is placed on this in the denomination affiliated with the school and coming from outside of that tradition, I worried incessantly over writing something that would be misinterpreted or misunderstood. The worst part of personal testimonies, despite their attempts to make the gospel ‘real’ to the unbeliever, is that all-too-often they focus exclusively on ‘me.’ As Carter says, “You are only a bit player in the narrative thread; the main part goes to the Divine Protagonist. In fact, He already has a pretty good story so why not just tell that one instead?” Touché, Mr. Carter. Touché
#6) The altar call—I never understood why Baptistic Christians (Evangelicals-at-large) talked so much about altars when they don’t really have altars in their churches, something picked up by other folks as well. For me, this is part of the “Evangelical sacrament” discussed above.
#8) Protestant prayers—With respect to prayers, Carter writes:
First, I’m not used to hearing prayers that don’t contain the word “just” (as in “We just want to thank you Lord…”) so [the Lord's prayer] had an odd ring to it. Second, it seemed to violate the accepted standards for public prayer. I had always assumed that praying in public required being able to interlace some just-want-to’s in with some Lord-thank-you-for’s and be- with-us-as-we’s in a coherent fashion before toppping it all with an Amen. Third, I thought that prayers are supposed to be spontaneous–from the heart, off the top of the head–emanations, rather than prepackaged recitations. If it ain’t original, it ain’t prayer, right? Can I get an amen?
I surely can’t articulate the current sad state of the predominance of our public prayers any better than that.
Mr. Carter sums up his entire post, an entire series of posts in fact, by saying, “We evangelicals don’t need tools of evangelism. We don’t need fads and fixtures. We don’t need anything more than the Gospel. For that is one fixture of our faith that will never go out of style.” How right he is! We don’t need all the silly, irreverent, stupid ‘stuff’ that not only comes and goes in fads but that has become so much of the permanent Evangelical identity—all of which, I’m afraid, has led to our irrelevance, mockery, and slander…not because of our faithfulness to Christ, which would be noble, but because of our own loss of the essence of the Gospel.
The Holy Scriptures undeniably describe faith as the only thing necessary for salvation. They also teach that good works cannot justify a person before God or contribute in the least toward the attainment of salvation. The Old Testament says that Abram ‘believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness’ (Gen 15.6). Habakkuk testifies that ‘the righteous shall life by his faith’ (2.4), and Jeremiah cries, ‘Lord, aren’t You looking for loyalty?’ (5.3).
This doctrine stands in even stronger light in the books of the New Testament. They remind us that faith, not works, is the way to salvation and blessedness. Whenever a person sought help from Christ, we read that Christ looked only for faith. ‘All things are possible for one who believes’ (Mk 9.23), Jesus told the father who needed help for his son and had failed to find it in the disciples. To another father who had lost all hope for help with the report that his daughter was already dead, Jesus said, ‘Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well’ (Lk 8.50). When another suffering father directed his petition to Him, after seeking help from the disciples in vain, Jesus replied, ‘Let it be done for you as you have believed’ (Mt 8.13). This was His usual answer to those who sought His help. Therefore, the apostles’ Epistles speak in this manner: ‘And to the one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness’ (Rom 4.5); ‘For we hold that one is justified by faith apoart from works of the law’ (Rom 3.28); and ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Eph 2.8-9). There is still more. In John’s Gospel, we are told that the Jews once asked Jesus, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus replied by pointing to faith: ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ (6.28-29).
Many are ashamed to seek salvation through faith in Christ, the Savior of the sinner, and instead they build their hope for eternity on their upright life. They carelessly regard themselves as good, without having examined their heart, their thoughts, their words, and their works. Even if a man lives uprightly, he will daily perceive how his conscience accuses him and declares him guilty. If a person examines himself according to the Law of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures, he will see countless flaws and weaknesses. If he fails to find them, he must be completely blind, wantonly closing the eyes of his soul to the mirror God hold before us.
Although our sin causes us to forfeit our claim to a blessed eternity, God once again opened to us the possibility of salvation through the offer of faith. If He had not revealed this to us, all who had come to knowledge of their sinfulness would have had to live in despair and doubt.
May no one think that this doctrine is too holy for those who are weighed down by the knowledge of their sin. However, it is dangerous to those who are happy in the midst of their sin. Although love and good works save no one, both are still necessary as evidences that a person is truly standing in the saving faith. Faith and love are related and inseparably connected like a father and his child. Whoever says he is justified through faith before God must prove himself by his love before man. Otherwise he is a liar, for faith works through love.
(from God Grant It: Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther, pp 235-6)
(Note: I don’t normally just copy and post something in toto without any commentary or thoughts of my own, but piece surely stands on its own and needs nothing from me!)