Two Churches, Two Sermons

I had the unexpected experience of receiving two sermons this past Lord’s Day, one at my home church and one in another. From the pulpit of my home church, the sermon on  Psalm 145 was deeply rooted in the gospel,  biblically & doctrinally sound, encouraging believers to persevere in faith secure in the love of God, looking always to “Christ Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

At the second church, the real sermon was not from the pulpit as far as I was concerned but from the pew in front of me. To be honest, prior experience led me not to expect much from its pulpit. As in prior times, I was there primarily for a performance by the choir, a member of which I knew. I don’t remember the name of Jesus being uttered once during the entire sermon. But I do know that I heard a lot about social activist issues. Somehow, the reading from Jeremiah managed to become a springboard for a political screed. Then maudlin lyrics in support of the political issue were sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace”!

Continue reading “Two Churches, Two Sermons”

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Remembering Easter

See my sisters’ blood and my brothers’
in my church in Egypt, in Sri Lanka, India,
and Pakistan, in South Sudan, in Nashville,
and Indonesia, China, Iraq and Louisiana,
Nigeria, North Korea, Iran, Syria
Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea.
Children dead for their faith
in One who died upon the cross
and rose on Easter morn.

Continue reading “Remembering Easter”

O Christian, In Whom Do You Trust?

In my lifetime of walking with the Lord, I have met many weak Christians and a few mature ones. The latter always catch me off guard, so humble are they that it’s sometimes easy to miss them. I would like to think of myself among the latter but I have to live with myself and know better. So I keep praying for wisdom.

In general weak Christians fall somewhere between two extremes: those who carry their doctrine into the world in order to preach it or those who leave their doctrine at home in order to conceal it. The first group tend to be legalists and the second group antinomians.

The legalists take their doctrine and shove it in people’s faces, much like the Pharisees. So the biology professor who is a legalist will continually enter into disputations about creationism versus evolution, and make sure that everyone knows how doctrinally pure he is. He professes his doctrine but notably fails to live it. He keeps to the letter of the law and doesn’t live up to its spirit.

The antinomians take their doctrine and keep it closeted in the private sphere, so that their dealings in the world are indistinguishable from those of non-Christians. They compartmentalize their lives to such an extent that they freely transgress and justify their worldly-mindedness by claiming freedom from the law.

What both categories of weak Christians share is a distrust of God and a high degree of trust in themselves. The legalists are performance-based, trusting in their own works not God’s work on the cross and through the Spirit in them. The antinomians rely on their own partaking of the grace of God through the cross to complacently forego their reverence of His law in every aspect of their lives.

Neither one places her full confidence in God. And by so doing they fail to trust in Him at all. The Gospel is a tool or a plaything, to be used at will, not a way of life. One eye is on Christ Jesus, the other on circumstances.

A mature Christian is not so double-minded. She has relaxed her claim to herself, and committed herself wholly as a “living sacrifice” to her God and Savior. There is no holding back of anything. And she brings nothing but herself to the Cross to which she clings. And in her life “now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Whom Do You Serve?

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The Temptations of Christ, 12th-century mosaic at St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice

The world tells us that our identity is always in flux and applauds those celebrities that “reinvent” themselves to achieve greater success. Someone who is “evolving” into whatever is touted to be accepted modes of thought and behavior can expect to be embraced by her peers in the workplace and rewarded by society.

But is this relativized approach to identity of ultimate benefit? Even humanists can see the pitfalls involved for the individual. As Jung put it, “The world asks you every day who you are, and if you don’t know, it will tell you who you are.” One of the most famous maxims the ancient Greeks gave us is “Know thyself.” Continue reading “Whom Do You Serve?”

O Love That Came Down

O Love that came down from heaven
Of Your glory I have glimpsed
Tides of mercy as you raise me
Even now to dwell with Thee.

Draw my eyes from worldy idols
So my sight is clear and free
To behold Your holy radiance
And always only worship Thee.

Wondrous, gracious are Your works, Lord
These I ponder with delight
Trusting, finding grace sufficient
As I daily walk with Thee.

Bread of Heaven, feed me ever
In Your kingdom as I am
Granted riches from Your table
Heavenly food from Your dear hand.

The Way I Take

The way I take You know, O Lord:
The stony path, the cheerless track —
No glory here, no crowds to say
How well you ran through pain, through tears.
But cheerless whispers resound at dusk
When silence falls and fears draw near
A crowd of strangers along the way
Their dirgeish voices battering faith.

The way I take You know, O Lord:
I cannot see around the bend —
When nights put flight diminishing days,
I reach for stars and gather dark;
I reach for You and though You’re there
My inward light burns low for sight.
Still I can hear Your Shepherd’s voice
The words You speak like strengthening rays
Of life, of health, of love, of grace.

The way I take You know, O Lord:
It leads me to my Father’s home —
Still while I’m here let this race be won
Not for my name but Yours alone!
My blessing in Your promise fulfilled,
Your Name borne high, Your word shown true;
I wait on You, Thy glory craving,
Your will to see, My will subdued,
Till that day You lift me up
And bear me high to shouts of joy
As in Your victory, mine abounds!


nota bene, 12/19/2018: A couple of weeks after writing this, I read these powerful lines from the pen of that master poet/hymn writer John Newton (Olney Hymns, 1779):

Though sometimes unperceived by sense,
Faith sees Him always near;
A Guide, a Glory, a Defence,
Then what have you to fear?

As surely as He overcame,
And triumphed once for you;
So surely you, that love His name,
Shall triumph in him too.

Wingless Phoenix in Wal-Mart

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me! (Psalm 139: 15-18 NLV)

Dreams from a Pilgrimage

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A wingless phoenix in Wal-Mart
By Special K and Quaker Oats
Stands mid-aisle, stock still, face pinched.

View original post 110 more words

Cloud of Glory

Roll over me, Cloud of Glory, majestic mountain of Light
Clothing the enthroned Godhead!
Touch me with the Fire that no Promethean labor avails
To impart but the Love-enflamed Spirit!

A spark from Thee to this dry timber of my heart
Would burn wiry vines of Satan’s lies, noxious fears,
Corrupted roots, and leave unharmed the tender growth
Of life reborn, fed by living water and the Word,
To fruition of Abundance, a banquet of Life Eternal
Before the Most High God!

So Thou has promised, so let me receive
The fulness of Thy outpouring
Grace upon grace
That loosens tongues of gladness
And sets free faith
Till Heaven opens
On this child of the King!

Dark Times, Unwise Words, and Hope

If you live in the world long enough, you will go through hard and painful times when, as the Psalmist writes, darkness seems your closest friend. The atheist and the Christian alike cry out, “Why?” Yet even when you know the answer is the fallen world in which we live, there is no satisfaction but what we most desire: help, release, escape from our anguish and circumstance, those things easily cried out for but often bitterly delayed.

As with Job, there seems no shortage of counsel to be got from trusted sources. “Offer your sufferings to God,” says one. But what does that mean? “Our hope lies in heaven, think on that,” says another. But does God then deny us help on this side of heaven? “The real miracle today is faith; the miracles of the New Testament have ceased and were for the early church.” But is that scriptural? Then the counsel most often given: “Pray and believe in the promises of the Bible.” But which ones, whose interpretation, and to what extent? 

It’s the last piece of wisdom that troubles the most. If you are one of those least prone to truncate scriptural promises by rationalization, prepared to be as a child looking to the father, this one should give unmitigated hope:

The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. — James 5:15-16 (CSB)

But prayer, when uttered in the darkness, feels hopeless after many a cry and many a month or year has gone by:

I am like a man without strength,
abandoned among the dead.
I am like the slain lying in the grave,
whom you no longer remember,
and who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,
in the darkest places, in the depths.

… But I call to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer meets you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?

— Psalms 88:4-6, 13-14 (CSB)

Faith, even as it’s being tested, seems too feeble to do the job. The very struggle seems designed to undermine what little there is so that, like the man who came to Jesus pleading for his son’s deliverance, we are even inclined to doubt out Lord’s willingness or even power. We judge His resources, His compassion, by ours which lag behind to an infinite degree.

But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”

Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief! ”

— Mark 9:22-24 (CSB)

So where does that leave us? Not with the unwise words of comforters who say “yes & no” to the imperishable faith in God’s very present help. Not with words at all. After all, the last words of that most bleak psalm are, “Darkness is my only friend” (88:18). Yet the sense of hopelessness, even in the psalmist, is deceiving. There is hope. A glorious one.

The man who cried, “Help my unbelief!” was helped because he was looking straight into the face of Jesus. So too must we look not at ourselves or at the unwise words of our counselors who muddy up the waters of scripture according to their own doubts and fears, but to One who is the Light in our darkness.

As God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes and no.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you ​… did not become “Yes and no.” On the contrary, in him it is always “Yes.” For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in him. Therefore, through him we also say “Amen” to the glory of God.

— 2 Corinthians 1:18-20 (CSB)

Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

— James 1:12 (CSB)

A Tale of Job For Today

Here’s a retelling of the story of Job imagined in today’s context that will make your hair stand on end. For one thing, it’s not the way you would expect Job’s trials to go when instead of Job losing all he’s got, he gets all he wants. A tale retold, it may be, but make no mistake, it’s all strangely familiar. But not in the ways you may be expecting.

JOB: A FAIRY TALE OF GOD, SATAN, AND US
by K.D. Azariah-Kribbs

Once upon a time, there was a man called Job. And one day, Job bought a lottery ticket.

Now, Job did not do this thing because he was a lazy or a greedy man. Job simply felt, as many do, that he should be provided for without having to labor and earn his bread by the sweat of his brow when there are so many who have so much more than they need.

So Job slipped some money from his wife’s purse, and before she could ask him where he was bound, he let himself quietly out the door, went to the store at the corner, and bought the ticket.

And immediately and quite strangely, the simple act of buying the lottery ticket made Job feel that things were now somehow changed. Of course, he did not know whether he had won the lottery or not. But somehow, the sun seemed brighter and warmer when he came out of the store.

***

Now, at this same time, the Heavenly host had assembled to present themselves before the Throne of God, or at least all those were gathered there who cared to come.

For there are always those who, given the choice, prefer to remain in Hell.

And Satan, who at this time still occasionally appeared before the Throne of God, came to call. Satan always made sure he arrived late to these gatherings so that he could make something of a grand entrance. He ignored the angels standing to attention on either side of the great golden archway and pushed open the massive doors of living arcwood bound in black iron and strode before the Heavenly Hosts in a great dark cloud of sooty flame and sulph’rous black smoke, the brazen light of his entrance reflecting in wavering sheets of fire from the golden pillars beside him and backlit by the magnificent lapis lazuli sky far behind, for he knew the beauty of gold and fire set against deep blue and utter black, and in Hell he never got to display himself in such a way, for there is no sky in Hell.

Read the rest in Mysterion: Job: A Fairy Tale of God, Satan, and Us or via the author’s site.