Monday, August 17, 2020

Disappointment with God?

Are you discouraged, or struggling with disappointment? Do you ever turn that disappointment toward God, and express frustration toward Him? In his commentary on the book of Romans (and on chapter 8 in particular), James Montgomery Boice writes some encouraging words that I hope will lead you to rejoice in your Savior, and in His work in your life, as you are wading through waters that will, at times, seem overwhelming.

Someone sent me a book by Philip Yancey, a free-lance author and editor-at-large for Christianity Today, titled, Disappointment with God. It grew out of counseling sessions the author had with young Christians, all of whom were disappointed with God and whose complaints boiled down to three accusations: (1) God is not fair; (2) God is hidden; and (3) God is silent- he does not answer prayers.

I am sure these accusations are genuine, and I appreciate Yancey's answers. He replies that "fairness" would send each and every one of us to hell; that God unveiled himself as fully as possible in the person of the historical Jesus Christ; and this it is out of his periods of silence that God draws forth the precious perfume of human faith.

Yet what stuck with me most about the book is its title; Disappointment with God. For I found myself reflecting, particularly since I was beginning at the same time to work through this great eighth chapter of Romans, how any Christian could possibly be disappointed with God.

Disappointed with God? When He sent Jesus Christ to die for us so that we might escape His just wrath and condemnation? 

Disappointment with God? When He sent His Holy Spirit to free us from our own sinful and debilitating natures and join us to Christ? 

Disappointment with God? When He has made us His very own daughters and sons, with all the privileges that come from it? 

Disappointment with God? When He has drawn us into a great cosmic drama of redemption, in which the heavens and earth have a part? 

Disappointment with God? When the Spirit intercedes for us, conforming our ignorant and incomplete prayers to the good, pleasing, and acceptable will of God?

Disappointment with God? When He has set in motion an invincible chain of saving action, beginning with His affectionate choice of us in eternity past, proceeding through His predestination of us to be saved from sin and conformed to the image of His own blessed Son, His effectual calling of us to faith in Jesus as the Savior, and justification, and ending with glorification in which all the blessed purposes of God toward us are fulfilled? 

Disappointment with God? When He has fixed such a lasting love upon us that nothing in all creation can separate us from it? 

Disappointment?

Brothers and sisters, what are we thinking of? Or is it that we are not thinking? Or thinking only of ourselves? Perhaps our disappointment (if we have it) means only that we are unhappy because God has not done exactly what we wanted Him to do when we wanted Him to do it, regardless of the fact that He has a much better plan for us and is actually working it our day by day, and will until the end of time.

Quotation from: James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Volume 2: The Reign of Grace, Romans 5:1-8:39 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Year of Fallow Ground and Hidden Fruit

This is a (modified) message I sent to our church family today, that I hope the Lord will use to encourage the flock at Caz, but also anyone else who needs it during these pressing, but providential, days..

Church Family,

It has been such a blessing to see a good number of you back in worship on Sunday mornings. As thankful as I am for that, I also look forward to a time when our entire congregation can gather together again- not only for worship, but for Bible study, for children's ministry, for service to the community- to be a whole family again. And though I lament these times, I am also strengthened in the knowledge that the Lord has a purpose in all we are experiencing as a church. In the Old Testament, there were years where the ground was to rest according to the will of the Lord. Every seventh year, there was a "Sabbath" year, and then one year after seven of those had occurred there was the fiftieth year called the "Jubilee" (Leviticus 25:1-22). During those "Jubilee" years, the people were released from certain debts and requirements, and the ground wasn't tilled and worked as it normally was. I'm sure there were a good many people who, during those years, didn't see that as the greatest wisdom. They would have wanted the normal routines of business and agriculture to continue as usual, for the sake of the "economy," or for the personal comforts that those routines provided. But God was teaching them to trust in Him during those years- that He would provide and care for them, since they were His people, not the world's. A good Father cares for His children, and there is no Father like the Lord. Now, I don't claim to know exactly what our God is doing during these difficult days with great detail and prophetic insight, and I do understand that the year of Jubilee (and the Sabbath year) is no longer mandated, or in effect, for God's people. However, I can see this as something akin to a Jubilee in the wisdom and purposes of God, because I know that He is teaching me (us) to trust Him during a year when normal routines are broken, and where the economy is restrained by people forced to rest. He will provide for His people, and teach them to depend on Him. This year may not have been on our calendars, but it was planned on the Lord's. Satan has a great deal of power in this world as its "prince" (Eph. 2:2), and, no doubt, he plays a part in all of this, but the "earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therin" (Ps. 24:1). All economies, all nations, all governments, and all peoples are His. He has a purpose on the earth and will work all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11)- not according to my timeline, or anyone else's. I may want to charge forward with the regular routines of ministry (and I do), but I willingly and joyfully submit to the Master who is so much higher and holier than a lowly servant like me. He is not required to tell me all His plans or His timelines. I am grateful to know I simply belong to One as good and wise as He, and am loved more than I deserve. His grace is enough. Yes, I look forward to something more "normal," but I also look forward to a time when I can see these days with a little more perspective, in the life of our church and in our home. Surely what is now hidden from my sight will become plain, and what was left fallow will, in His wisdom, have proven fruitful. Greater insight may not be mine until I'm with Him, but I will have learned, in the meantime, that He is my Sustainer, my Deliverer, and my Rock, similar to those who were faithful to keep, and celebrate, those Sabbaths and Jubilees so many years ago. And knowing Him more deeply through it all will be more than enough for me.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Truth of God is a Pillared and Jeweled Palace

I have often sat, studying a passage of Scripture, and it is as if a world has opened up to my eyes and heart that I had never visited before, and could not have, unless the Holy Spirit gave me passage. In those moments, truth became an overwhelming delight, and my desire was to be able to express what I saw, though no one was around to see it with me. Reading today from Charles Spurgeon's comments on Galatians 1, he wrote beautifully, about experiences like this, what I couldn't have said myself.

Have you not often been surprised and overcome with delight as Holy Scripture has opened up, as if the gates of the golden city had been thrown open for you to enter? I am sure that you did not then gather your knowledge from men, because it was all fresh to you as you sat alone with no book before you but the Bible, and yourself receptive, scarcely thinking out matters, but drinking them in as the Lord brought them to you. A few minutes’ silent openness of soul before the Lord has brought us in more treasure of truth than hours of learned research. The truth is something like those stalactite caverns and grottoes of which we have heard, which you must enter and see for yourself if you would really know their wonders. If you should venture there without light or guide, you would run great risks; but with a blazing torch, and an instructed leader, your entrance is full of interest. See! your guide has taken you through a narrow winding passage, where you have to creep, or go on bended knees! At last he has brought you out into a magnificent hall; and when the torches are held aloft, the far-off roof sparkles and flashes back the light as from countless jewels of every hue! You now behold nature’s architecture; and cathedrals are henceforth toys to you. As you stand in that vast pillared and jeweled palace, you feel how much you owe to your guide, and to his flaming torch. Like this the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, and sheds light on the eternal and the mysterious. This he does in certain cases very personally. Then he fills us with complete forgetfulness of all our immediate surroundings, and we commune only with the truth. I can well understand how philosophers, while working out an absorbing problem, have seemed lost, and oblivious to all the world besides. Have you never felt a holy absorption in the truth while the Spirit has filled you with its glorious vision? It has been so with many of the saints while taught by God. They are not likely to give up to popular clamour what they have received like this.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

God's Ways Do Not Change

I came across this today, and wanted to share...It's a quote from J.I. Packer's well-known book, Knowing God. I'm thankful for the God who hasn't changed in the way He deals with man.

He continues to act toward sinful men and women in the way that he does in the Bible story...Still He blesses those on whom he sets his love in a way that humbles them, so that all the glory may be his alone. Still he hates the sins of his people, and uses all kinds of inward and outward pains and grief’s to wean their hearts from compromise and disobedience. Still he seeks the fellowship of his people, and sends them both sorrows and joys in order to detach their love from other things and attach it to himself. Still he teaches believers to value his promised gifts by making them wait for those gifts, and compelling them to pray persistently for them, before he bestows them. So we read of God dealing with his people in the Scripture record, and so he deals with them still. His aims and principles of action remain consistent; he does not at any time act out of character. Our ways, we know, are pathetically inconsistent-but not God’s.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Marks of the Spiritual Man

There is good wisdom here from A.W. Tozer
concerning the marks of a genuinely spiritual Christian. Which of these is most challenging for you?

True spirituality manifests itself in certain dominant desires. These are ever-present, deep-settled wants sufficiently powerful to motivate and control the life. For convenience let me number them, though I make no effort to decide the order of their importance.
1. First is the desire to be holy rather than happy. The yearning after happiness found so widely among Christians professing a superior degree of sanctity is sufficient proof that such sanctity is not indeed present. The truly spiritual man knows that God will give abundance of joy after we have become able to receive it without injury to our souls, but he does not demand it at once. John Wesley said of the members of one of the earliest Methodist societies that he doubted that they had been made perfect in love because they came to church to enjoy religion instead of to learn how they could become holy.
2. A man may be considered spiritual when he wants to see the honor of God advanced through his life even if it means that he himself must suffer temporary dishonor or loss. Such a man prays Hallowed be Thy name, and silently adds, at any cost to me, Lord. He lives for God’s honor by a kind of spiritual reflex. Every choice involving the glory of God is for him already made before it presents itself. He does not need to debate the matter with his own heart; there is nothing to debate. The glory of God is necessary to him; he gasps for it as a suffocating man gasps for air.
3. The spiritual man wants to carry his cross. Many Christians accept adversity or tribulation with a sigh and call it their cross, forgetting that such things come alike to saint and sinner. The cross is that extra adversity that comes to us as a result of our obedience to Christ. This cross is not forced upon us; we voluntarily take it up with full knowledge of the consequences. We choose to obey Christ and by so doing choose to carry the cross. Carrying a cross means to be attached to the Person of Christ, committed to the Lordship of Christ and obedient to the commandments of Christ. The man who is so attached, so committed, so obedient is a spiritual man.
4. Again, a Christian is spiritual when he sees everything from God’s viewpoint. The ability to weigh all things in the divine scale and place the same value upon them as God does is the mark of a Spirit-filled life. God looks at and through at the same time. His gaze does not rest on the surface but penetrates to the true meaning of things. The carnal Christian looks at an object or a situation, but because he does not see through it he is elated or cast down by what he sees. The spiritual man is able to look through things as God looks and think of them as God thinks. He insists on seeing all things as God sees them even if it humbles him and exposes his ignorance to the point of real pain.
5. Another desire of the spiritual man is to die right rather than to live wrong. A sure mark of the mature man of God is his nonchalance about living. The earth-loving, body-conscious Christian looks upon death with numb terror in his heart; but as he goes on to live in the Spirit he becomes increasingly indifferent to the number of his years here below, and at the same time increasingly careful of the kind of life he lives while he is here. He will not purchase a few extra days of life at the cost of compromise or failure. He wants most of all to be right, and he is happy to let God decide how long he shall live. He knows that he can afford to die now that he is in Christ, but he knows that he cannot afford to do wrong, and this knowledge becomes a gyroscope to stabilize his thinking and his acting.
6. The desire to see others advance at his expense is another mark of the spiritual man. He wants to see other Christians above him and is happy when they are promoted and he is overlooked. There is no envy in his heart; when his brethren are honored he is pleased because such is the will of God and that will is his earthly heaven. If God is pleased, he is pleased for that reason, and if it pleases God to exalt another above him he is content to have it so.
7. The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments. By faith he rises above the tug of earth and the flow of time and learns to think and feel as one who has already left the world and gone to join the innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and Church of the First-born which are written in heaven. Such a man would rather be useful than famous and would rather serve than be served. And all this must be by the operation of the Holy Spirit within him. No man can become spiritual by himself. Only the free Spirit can make a man spiritual.

From chapter 34, "The Marks of the Spiritual Man," in A.W. Tozer's book, The Incredible Christian

Thursday, August 2, 2018

C.S. Lewis on Friendship

There are a handful of authors who could write on almost any topic, and always be interesting. These men and women possess a rare ability to articulate, describe, and teach, making their subjects come to life. They provide color when others can only muster black and white. C.S. Lewis belongs in this rare company. He has written on a wide range on subjects, and even the most obscure of his pontifications can possess a vein of gold. I recently read one of his non-fiction works, The Four Loves, and it instantly became a favorite. In it, Lewis distinguishes between the four different loves in the Greek language. Each of these has its own chapter, eventually concluding with the greatest of loves, the gift-love of God, Agape. The most thought-provoking, though, was the chapter on friendship, where the author's clarity of thought shined throughout.

Lewis begins by demonstrating how little attention this love is given in modern culture. Affection and Eros (romance) are two the world delights in, but he says, it would be very difficult to find a poem today expounding the beauties of friendship. "To the ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it." Everyone understands a parent's natural affection for her child; also the beauty and usefulness (for multiplying and filling the earth) of romantic love, but it seems that very few moderns recognize the value of genuine friendship. "Friendship is- in a sense not at all derogatory to it- the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary."

Lewis also takes note of evolutionary thought, and its influence on how society thinks of friendship. There is little need for this love, in the estimation of the biologist, for the development of the species. It doesn't promote survival, and is not necessary for the propagation of the human race. Why then, should we place any real emphasis on it? And if it is not valuable for survival (or biologically necessary), how could friendship not really be a veiled expression of romantic (even homosexual) love? Could a man truly delight in the company of another man without erotic impulses? The ever quotable Lewis responds:
"Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends side by side, absorbed in some common interest." 
This last point is something Lewis spends time to expound- that friendships are not founded upon an affection that two people have for one another. The interest isn't in the person for who he is, but for a shared interest in something outside of his personality. Careful attention is paid the what he calls "the matrix of friendship." This is explained as the pre-history of modern friendship. In ancient days, men would necessarily have to hunt with one another for the survival of the community. That men participated in this activity together did not necessarily form a friendship. It was more instinctive, "something which is going on at this moment in dozens of ward-rooms, bar-rooms, common-rooms, messes, and golf-clubs. I prefer to call it Companionship- or Clubbableness." Companionship, though having a particular value of its own, is not friendship. "Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share...The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one." Men were companions if they must hunt together. They would become friends if they began to see "what others did not; saw that the deer was beautiful as well as edible; that hunting was fun as well as necessary, dreamed that his gods might be not only powerful but holy."

Friendship inevitably sets men apart from the herd, and they gladly welcome others who would take interest in the object as they do. Because this love isn't simply for the person, friendship is not jealous of others who might join company. These additions enhance the love, not detract from it.

"The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer...The Companionship was between people who were doing something together- hunting, studying, painting or what you will. The Friends will still be doing something together, but something more inward, less widely shared, and less easily defined; still hunters, but of some immaterial quarry...still traveling together but on a different kind of journey. Hence we picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead." 

And here, Lewis makes one of the more remarkable observations on the subject, one that anyone familiar with friend-making has seen in some time and place, but was probably incapable of putting his observation into words:

"That is why those pathetic people who simply 'want friends' can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be 'I see nothing and I don't care about the truth; I only want a Friend,' no friendship can arise- though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers." 

Who hasn't seen the person (or been the person) who wanted what she called a "friend," though in Lewis' terms, may have simply been longing for Affection- a person to admire her, rather than a common interest. If, according to his explanation, you have interests in things other than yourself, you will make genuine Friendships. You will have someone to journey with; someone to stand alongside. What better then, to have a romantic love who is also your friend- two people who admire one another for the qualities they possess, but can also enjoy common pursuits over the course of a lifetime spent together (in marriage)?

Because Lewis has presented the point that friends stand side by side and not face to face, it may stand to reason that a friend does not have deep admiration for his fellow traveler- that he is staring so intently at the common object of interest that he has never looked over to appreciate the friend next to him. Lewis answers:

"The common quest or vision which unites Friends does not absorb them in such a way that they remain ignorant or oblivious of one another. On the contrary it is the very medium in which their mutual love and knowledge exist. One knows nobody so well as his 'fellow.' Every step of the common journey tests his metal; and the tests are tests we fully understand because we are undergoing them ourselves. Hence, as he rings true time after time, our reliance, our respect and our admiration blossom into an Appreciative love of a singularly robust and well informed kind. If, at the outset, we had attended more to him and less to the thing our Friendship  is 'about,' we should not have come to know or love him so well."

C.S. Lewis speaks out of his own deep experience on this subject. It is well-known that he was part of a friendship known as the Inklings, a group of men who gathered over the course of years, to share their love of literature and writing. It is out of this friendship that the classics, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia sprung onto the pages in the hands of millions today. He gives us a picture of what He experienced alongside his fellow travelers in these pages.

I cannot help but relate his words on this subject into the life of the local church. Is it not a common interest in something (Someone), that has brought congregations of disciples together? Not to spend time in mutual admiration (or even to form a club), but to admire our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? If not for Him, we would have no reason to gather, and nothing to mutually praise. This doesn't mean we don't develop admiration and affection for those we journey alongside, but it is He who bonds us together in the first place, and He who presses us forward in step with one another over the course of a lifetime, sharing our burdens and joys. God gives us these friendships as a gift, not just to sweeten life (and they do), but to provide strength and encouragement for us to live it well. I'll close with a final word from Lewis on the subject:

“(I)n Friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say 'You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests.