What to Do When We Feel Under Assault

In Psalm 42 a psalmist describes what it feels like to be robbed of the sense that God loves him.

This psalmist is running for his life. He captures in a word picture what that feels like: Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole soul craves you, God” (Psalm 42:1 Common English Bible).

A deer, after a long run to escape a mortal threat, and with flanks heaving, must above all find water. Only a person fleeing from peril and hiding in the wilds of nature, would come up with this analogy for his plight.

We can guess that King David wrote the psalm when his own son, Absalom, was driving him out of his palace in Jerusalem with murderous intent. Or was it from much earlier in David’s life when he was running from King Saul?

Whichever it was, it addresses the question: how do we talk to ourselves when life visits upon us such a swarm of perils? What if we felt deprived of the sense of God’s presence, isolated from our worshipping community, and wordlessly taunted by wrongdoers who might exult to know of our distress?

If a similar plight should burst upon us, this psalmist can help us regain perspective. The psalmist’s first strategy is to call up memory as an aid: These things I remember as I pour out my soul (verse 4)

That is, he reminds himself: I recall that in better days I went to the tabernacle where there were throngs of God’s people. I led the procession. I participated in the shouts of joy and thanksgiving. What memories! (Psalm 42:4).

The memories give his faith a momentary boost and he says to himself: Don’t be downcast; hope in God. He is my Savior and my God. In his time, again I will worship at the tabernacle as I long to do (Verse 5).

When he says I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, from the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar (verse 6), we can imagine that he may be at the northern part of Israel, with Mount Herman nearby.  Even though so far from his worshipping community, he acknowledges that the omnipresent God is even there. How steadying to his faith!

But it does not remove the turbulence he feels. He still feels its buffeting effects, remarking that, just as they break at the base of thundering waterfalls, waves and breakers have swept over me (verse 7b)

Yet his faith again bursts forth momentarily and he sings: By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life (verse 8). In those special times when faith is a struggle of the soul, for us too there can be a surging back and forth between hope and dejection.

Just as he feels the back-and-forth of his feelings, so to the end of this psalm his question persists: I say to God my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’ (Verse 9). And yet again he addresses himself, Why are you downcast , O my soul? (verse 11).

But this backwards-and-forwards can’t go on forever in believers. So he brings his psalm to a close by exhorting himself to trust even though at the moment he can’t understand God’s ways: Put your hope in God, he prompts, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

In the life of authentic faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whatever the situation today, and whatever surprises may come tomorrow, we have David’s example. For us as well, authentic faith prompts us to say — whatever our feelings of the moment — “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him (Verse 11).


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Two Weddings Compared: That of a Queen’s Grandson and That of the Son of a King

On May 19, 2018, Prince Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth, will exchange wedding vows with Meghan Markle, an American actress whose most recent home has been in Toronto, Canada.

Their vows will be exchanged in a chapel within Windsor Castle, west of London. It promises to be a simple wedding as royal events go, but grand if not sumptuous in any commoner’s eyes.

For weeks now pundits have speculated: who will be invited and who passed over? Will the father of the bride be there? How about former President and Mrs. Obama, longtime friends of the prince? Or for that matter, should President Trump be invited? Speculation shifts from day-to-day.

The news of this upcoming event makes me think of one of Jesus’ parables.

In it, a king was planning a lavish wedding banquet for his son and his bride. It would be his kingdom’s star event of the season. According to custom, invitations were sent long before the date was set.

When the actual day of the event arrived guests received urgent notice that they were to come quickly; everything was ready.

The first guests receiving the summons ignored the invitation. The second group shrugged and turned back to their preoccupations — one had an interest in planting a field, another in managing a business.

A third group on receiving the call ruthlessly beat up the messengers and even killed some of them.

The king was infuriated at their refusals. Such an indignity to his beloved son! He sent out an army to burn their cities and kill the murderers.

Then, determined that the banquet would not fail and that his son would be duly honored, the king sent servants in all directions to invite anyone they found available — even persons lounging at street corners.

The call was urgent and the strategy worked. The banquet hall was full (Matthew 22:8-10).

Then Jesus’ story takes a strange turn. The feast was underway. The king, moving among the guests, found one man in slovenly attire even though wedding clothes had been provided when the guests entered.

The king asked the man how he got in. The man had no answer. The king had him bound and thrown out of the brightly lit hall into the blinding darkness.

The first invited guests were absent because of their disrespect for the king and his son and their preoccupations. The guest who had come, though inappropriately dressed, was thrown out because of his contempt for the occasion.

Some who listened to Jesus’ story recognized themselves in it. They rejected Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, or they grudgingly accepted it but would consider entering only on their terms.

Jesus’ story ends with the words: For many are invited, but few are chosen.

That is, many are called to faith in Jesus as Lord and King with promise of a place in the kingdom to be celebrated like a great, joyful banquet. But earthly attractions hold sway. Others will be passed over because of their foolish insistence on their own terms.

A few weeks from now, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be stars of a sumptuous wedding banquet in their honor. ­­Then the public interest will fade and other world events will gather attention.

Jesus’ parable, on the other hand, will stand for all of history to remind us that, although many are called to have a place in God’s eternal kingdom, the number of those who respond on kingdom terms will be few.

The chosen will be those who are seriously responsive to the Father’s call to kingdom citizenship as provided by the earthly life, ministry, and death of His dear Son, the Lord Jesus.

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Why Does Historic Methodism Teach the Doctrine of Prevenient Grace?

The Bible quickly introduces us to the story of Adam and Eve — created by God, placed in a perfect setting, and given a task to perform. They were forbidden only one thing; they were not to eat the fruit of a particular tree; but many others were accessible in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 1,2)

They violated the one prohibition, and in doing so they placed themselves in rebellion against the Ruler of the universe, the God to whom they owed their existence and their ideal surroundings.

Where should the story go from there?

We can imagine two possibilities. First: In response to such disobedience the Lord God might have struck with fire all he had created, wiping it out. The second possibility: The Lord God might have turned his back on the couple, leaving them forever estranged from Him.

But possibility three is what actually happened: The Lord God came walking in the garden searching. He confronted the pair with their offense and then clothed them with animal skins. Thus begins a wondrous story of salvation.

In essence, God initiates by making himself known to sinful mankind and seeking them out.  This is called prevenient grace.

A Seventeenth Century Dutch scholar named Arminius was foremost among those who brought the term forward, and later Eighteenth Century Oxford scholar, John Wesley, and his followers embraced this understanding during a great outpouring of God’s saving mercy on the British Isles.

John Wesley wrote: “It is God who takes the initiative first to provide for our salvation in Jesus Christ and then to enable us to respond through prevenient grace.” The Apostle John writes that Jesus was “the true light that gives light to everyone” and that “We love (God) because he first loved us” (John 1:9 and 1 John 4:19).

“Prevenient” comes from a Latin word that means preceding in time or order; coming before, or anticipating. In Christian thought it is used to speak of the manifestations of God’s grace that precede repentance and spiritual awakening. Wesley presented it as “all the ‘drawings’ of ‘the Father’, the desires after God which, if we yield to them, increase more and more.”

Thus, prevenient grace is the grace that initiates our salvation. It is the grace that prompts a little child’s first sense that there is a God above, and gives that child its earliest awakening to moral responsibility.

That is, God initiates the search for sinners whom Jesus died to save and He offers them hope. As one doctrinal statement has it, “This [prevenient] grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God’s will, and our first transient understanding of having sinned against God.”

Luke tells us about Zacchaeus, a man rich but of apparently shady character, motivated by greed as a tax collector. He attempted, out of curiosity, to see Jesus close-up and to do so he climbed into the branches of a Sycamore tree. But Jesus saw him and called him to come down.

Jesus then went to his home as a guest and the crowds responded by muttering that Jesus had gone to be a guest in the home of a sinner. But Luke reported the move more positively.

After being with Jesus for some time that day Zacchaeus, in a great burst of generosity, pledged half of his wealth to the poor and also stated his intention to return fourfold to any he had cheated.

Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus at the end of that day were as follows: Today salvation has come to this house…. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

We cannot come to God on our own initiative because as simmers we are dead in trespasses and sins. It is by prevenient grace that we are first awakened and called.

As the Apostle Paul writes: but because of his great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —  it is by grace you have been saved: (Ephesians 2:4,5).

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear,

The hour I first believed.

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Why Was the Cross of Christ Necessary?

In his book, The Cross of Christ, the late John R. W. Stott described the experience of an imaginary visitor to London who arrives with little understanding of Christianity. Eager to learn, he comes upon the beautiful Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Approaching the cathedral he first notices with amazement that the dome of the building is dominated by a huge golden cross. He then enters and sees that the cathedral itself is built in the shape of a cross with arms reaching to the right and left from the central nave. These arms appear to form two chapels.

Looking into each chapel he sees what appears to be a table and on each a small cross. Going below into the crypt where the remains of famous people are buried he notes that on each tomb there is engraved the form of a cross.

Back in the nave the stranger decides to stay for a service of worship about to begin. He notices that a man sitting next to him wears a miniature cross on his lapel and a woman on the other side wears one on her necklace. The service begins with a hymn beginning, We sing the praise of him who died, of him who died upon the cross.

The theme of the cross registers with him as dominant and compelling.

The cross was claimed as the symbol for Christianity as early as the second century. Other symbols had a brief life but once the cross was established it remained firm against all opposition and has endured for two millennia.

This should not be surprising. There are at least 28 references to Christ’s cross in the New Testament and these references appear across the New Testament from Matthew to the Revelation.

But why the cross, this instrument of vicious torture? Why must the punishment of sin be visited in this manner on the Holy Son of God? Simply put, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin must be punished.

Mankind’s universal offense against God’s holy laws is more serious than we, his creatures, are aware until the Holy Spirit brings the reality home to us. The Lord God, the ruler of the universe declared to Adam, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die (Genesis 3:3). Adam both touched and ate despite promised consequences.

Adam’s offenses were not like a child’s offense in taking a bit of candy from a table knowing only vaguely that to do so was wrong. Adam’s offense (and ours) was an intentional, self-conscious disobedience against a holy God, the Creator and Ruler of All. God must keep his word: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20).

But again, why must there be such suffering on God’s part in order for him to forgive the sins of his creatures? The answer in brief: God’s justice must be applied without compromise otherwise he is not just. Sin must be paid for.

And there was no one else who could pay the just penalty for sin since, as the Apostle Paul notes, all humans have sinned and do come short of God’s glorious ideal (Romans 3:23). So, God in Christ out of his great love for his sinning creatures took the penalty on himself at Calvary. It was the only way (John 3:16).

On a cross, Jesus, the Son of God, voluntarily suffered a substitutionary death and a temporary alienation from God, the Father of us all (Psalm 22). He became sin for us who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). In doing so, he paid the enormous penalty for our sins.

As the letter to the Romans declares, He did (this) to demonstrate his justice at the present time so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Thus, the cross is the ground of our salvation.

Looking deeper into this timeless moment at Calvary one sees beneath the suffering a love that will not give up on sinners. As we have travelled through the Easter season this has been brought home to us many times. As John Bowring wrote more than a century ago:

In the cross of Christ I glory,

towering o’er the wrecks of time,

All the light of sacred story,

gathers in its head sublime.

 

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Re-post: Do Christians Worship One God or Three?

Muslims charge that Christians worship three gods. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses make the same accusation. The word, Trinity, offends them.

Even some Christians are vague about what Trinity means because it seems mysterious. Mysterious indeed: God reveals himself first as one God, and, at the same time, as three Persons in one Godhead.

When God addressed Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3) Moses’ world reeked with many gods and he knew that. Yet, Moses did not ask, “Which God is this now?” From the beginning, it was revealed to him that there was only one true God for all to reckon with.

Listen to the Shema of the Old Testament: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). In that ancient world teeming with gods, the Old Testament holds Jehovah to be “the Sovereign Lord” (Hab. 3:19).

The New Testament continues the claim. During Jesus’ forty-day fast, Satan tried to entice him to worship him. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Lk. 4:8).

At the same time, Scriptures show that this One God manifests himself in three persons, and this reality is repeatedly set forth.

After the resurrection, Jesus’ Disciple, Thomas, worshiped the risen Savior. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” If this declaration had been false but Jesus had accepted it, his acceptance would have been blasphemous.

Instead, later the Apostle John reinforces Thomas’s declaration. He testifies of Jesus, “the Word was God,” period (John 1:1).

But what about the Holy Spirit? In the early church, when a couple named Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive Peter over a gift of money, Peter saw through their ruse. He said to Ananias, “… you have lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). Then he added, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

It is not possible to lie to a mere influence. The Holy Spirit is obviously more than a feeling. He is “personal” in several respects. He is God, the Spirit.

So, Jesus, at his baptism “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove” and heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Son whom I love” (Matt.3:16, 17). In that moment we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in one event of revelation.

During the first four hundred years of the early church, the church fathers wrestled with these affirmations made in both Testaments. To give them order, they formulated this precious truth under the title of the Trinity.

They said, God is one in “essence” and three in “persons.” He must be worshiped without dividing the essence or confusing the persons. God the Father rules over all; God the Son is our Redeemer; God the Spirit is our sanctifier.

The hymn our congregation sang to conclude worship on a recent Sunday morning included the following words:

 

Laud and honor to the Father,

Laud and honor to the Son.

Laud and honor to the Spirit,

 Ever Three and Ever One.

We sing this 700-year-old hymn in praise to our God who is revealed to us as the Three-in-One – the God who creates, redeems and sanctifies us.

If this truth still mystifies you, remember that it is in our worship of the God who is three-in-one that we come closest to grasping the reality of this great mystery of the Christian faith.

When we pray, “Our Father which art in Heaven” we worship the one and only God. When we say of Jesus, “He is Lord and Savior,” we acknowledge the one and only God. When we entreat the Holy Spirit to guide us, we entreat the one and only God. Three persons in one Godhead!

Let us worship God!

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The Christian Hope: A Counter To Spiritual Anemia?

I know the symptoms of anemia. You feel tired all the time, weak, lacking energy. You are alive, but life is a burden.

The cause of anemia, I’m told, is not enough red blood cells in the bloodstream to carry oxygen throughout the body. Serious lack of energy may be noticed before any other evidence of the deficiency.

Is there a parallel condition we could call spiritual anemia? A person may be a believer but may have limited faith energy and may lack rooted confidence in the hope Christians have of a life everlasting.

The short supply isn’t red blood cells but rather it is Spirit-delivered Christian hope. 

Christian hope means more than wishing for good luck such as: I hope the sun will shine on our family picnic. Instead, it is a “confident expectation,” a certainty, for the future that we cannot presently know or see.

It is founded upon something we do know as believers — that God raised up Christ from the dead and he will raise us up also!

Saint Peter shows us how fundamental this word is when he writes to beleaguered Christians of the dispersion: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … (1 Peter 1:3)

Not a theoretical hope, or a fanciful hope, a living hope!

The gospel songwriter, Eliza E. Hewitt caught this certainty of the Christian hope and the energy it plays back into our present circumstances when she wrote:

Let us then be true and faithful,

Trusting, serving every day;

Just one glimpse of Him in glory

Will the toils of life repay.

Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that, before their conversion to Christ, they were without God and without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). In spite of adequate resources, an abundance of this world’s excitement, and pagan religious affiliations, none of these spoke a sure word of hope about the life to come.

When we are believers but feel spiritually anemic — that is, we are short on the energy the Christian hope provides, and we have only an inner uncertainty about the promise of everlasting life — there is something we can do about it.

We can turn to those Scriptures that reinforce our confidence in the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and meditate on our promised resurrection too. These scriptures will stimulate a formation of spiritual red blood cells, so to speak, and restore our energy to love God and serve him in this world.

One such scripture recounts the conversation between Jesus and Mary when she was in the throes of grief from the loss of her brother, Lazarus (John 11:25).

He said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Then he followed with the question to Mary that all people of faith must be prepared to answer: Do you believe this?

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Let’s Give Thanks for Life’s Imperishables

On Monday of this week, October 9, Canadians will slow their pace to count their blessings and offer thanks. Whether or not you reside in Canada, please join in!

In Canadian gatherings, words of thanksgiving will flow — for food in abundance, family, safety, health, the beauty of nature, and many other things. The list must be long for we are greatly blessed.

But, these are the perishables of life. In recent weeks, shocking devastation by hurricanes, terror attacks, and a profoundly evil massacre have snatched life’s most precious relationships and possessions away from great numbers of people in the United States and Canada.

While we pray for the thousands directly impacted and in deep grief, and for others recovering from grievous injury, I suggest especially for the rest of us this Thanksgiving that we remember in particular three blessings that are imperishable.

First, the Bible.

Twenty eight hundred years ago, before our Bible existed as we have it today, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). This was a prophecy spoken in antiquity, fulfilled in history, and true to this day.

The Bible is not merely a great book; it is a unique book, a book that has remained strong and communicative against all critics. It has been a bestseller from the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in the 15th century to the present.

It is really a library of Spirit-inspired truth — estimated to be the work of 40 authors written across a span of 1500 years. Yet its many voices and varied styles are bound together by a central theme – God’s redemption of his fallen world. We give thanks.

Second, the Cross.

The cross of Christ too is one of history’s imperishables.

Whether it is symbolized on top of the golden dome of historic St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, or displayed in rustic fashion on the face of the pulpit of a wayside church in rural Manitoba, the symbol of the cross appears wherever Christ is proclaimed.

All this is no accident. As the late John R. W. Stott wrote, “Jesus’ death was central to his mission,” and that substitutionary death on a cruel Roman cross provides the way for us to be saved from death and punishment. All four gospels lead through the cross to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection and in turn to the assurance that believers will live eternally too.

Stott also wrote: “The cross sets forth three truths: first our sins must be extremely horrible; second, God’s grace must be wonderful beyond comprehension; third, salvation must be a free gift.” For the cross we give thanks.

Third, our hope.

When we talk about the Christian hope we mean more than our exclamation that “we hope” it won’t rain tomorrow. The Christian’s hope is called the anchor of the soul to keep us steady even in stormy times (Hebrews 6:19).

It was this hope that kept the Apostle Paul confident and joyful when he wrote to the church in Philippi, even though his letter came to them from a jail in Rome.

If he were allowed to live after his trial, he wrote, that would open to him further ministry; if he should be executed, and his earthly life taken from him, he would depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:21-26). Either possibility was ground for rejoicing.

Life as we live it in this world cannot be lived to the fullest until we have the assurance that there is life beyond the grave and for Christians it is life with Christ. We give thanks for this Christian hope.

The Holy Scriptures; the Sacred Cross; the anchor of a Hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). What a trio of imperishable gifts! Let us not neglect to give hearty thanks this week for perishable blessings but even more for the imperishable ones!

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