Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Good Father's Discipline

My parents can tell you that I was a curious child.  I'm sure in fact that they would confirm both implications of the previous statement, but I want to focus on the questioning nature of a curious soul.  My mother used to say I could ask the same question in 20 different ways.  I did ask a lot of questions, and often those questions were the same question asked in different ways, because I wanted to make sure that I understood what was being said.  Maybe it was because I was a bit thick sometimes, but I know that often I asked questions because I wanted to understand, well, everything.

I think that same principle animates most of us.  Not that we realize that we want to know everything, but that we will not do that which we do not see the purpose to doing.  For instance, to this day, I rarely make my bed, because I figure I'm going to get back into it anyhow, why bother making the sheets nice just so I can mess them up when I sleep?  Besides, I figure leaving the sheets open in a bit of a tangle helps to air out the bed from where I was sleeping on it all night.  But, if I know that I have a guest coming, or that, for whatever reason, someone may go into my room or see my bed, I'll take the time to make it, so as to keep a presentable room when necessary.  (Fortunately I am married to a wonderful woman who thinks much the same as me in this area.)

I think this is the way most of us live.  When we understand the purpose of something, we are willing to do it, we may even embrace an action that we find particularly meaningful.  But, when we do not understand we are less willing to do what seems to be a hindrance.  Sometimes we skip over what we think to be minor steps in an order of operations, and sometimes that is okay.  But, sometimes what appears to be a small thing turns out to be a major thing.  The problem is that we cannot understand everything, and sometimes we have to accept that what we are called to do we must do based on our faith in the one who has commanded it, and not based on our own wisdom and understanding.

I think that is what has happened with church discipline.  There was a time when we understood that discipline was necessary, and was an integral part of our faith and our walk with God.  Now a days, when people can simply go to any church and can move from place to place quickly, it seems more of a hindrance for a church to worry about discipline.  However, if we understood how serious discipline really was, perhaps we would be willing to do it.  Perhaps, if we understood how serious discipline is, we would embrace it as part of our culture once again.

I want to take a minute to explain what I mean by church discipline.  To be honest, until I went to seminary, that term was not one I was familiar with.  I belonged to what I have come to think of as the typical Southern Baptist church, one that did not practice church discipline, and had ceased to even teach on the subject at all.  Thus I think there is perhaps a large portion of this generation of Christians (in America) who have no idea what church discipline is.  I'll try and explain it briefly.

Church discipline, most narrowly conceived, is that process by which a church attempts to correct a wayward member.  Usually this starts with one person confronting another with some specific and public sin.  After that person has been confronted with this sin, if he refuses to repent and turn from his sin, whoever initially confronted him will bring others with them to confront the person again.  After this second confrontation, if the person who has sinned still refuses to repent, then after an appropriate season of prayer, the matter will be brought before the congregation, and the whole congregation will then join in asking the person to repent (often this is done through letter from the congregation hand delivered to the person in question, if they refuse to come to the meeting arranged for this purpose).  After this, if the person remains disobedient, the congregation will then move forward to discontinue fellowship with that person, basically saying that the person's continuous disobedience brings their salvation into question.

The last point here addresses the seriousness of church discipline carried through to its end on an unrepentant person.  The goal is to make clear that the behavior of the person in question is such that it cannot be tolerated by the church, and that no Christian should willingly engage in this behavior.  Therefore, the response of the church, if fellowship is withdrawn, is not that the church is saying, "We don't like you" instead the church is saying, "We cannot discern that you really are a Christian, and because we do not want you to be confusion as to your eternal state, we are going to treat you as a non-Christian, so that you may realize your need for Christ and repent of your sin."  Discipline is thus the most loving thing a church can do, because discipline takes seriously the question of a person's eternal fate, and encourages people to examine themselves before God that they may know if they are condemned.

But, because of the very serious nature of discipline carried out this far, it ought not be done for light matters.  For matters that can be shrugged off the church should bear with, and bear up, the weaker brother, so that his faith may be strengthened.  Judgment ought to be reserved for matters of clear sin, not for petty arguments and complaints.  Moreover, discipline ought only ever be done for matters of public sin.  "He said, she said" arguments ought never go to the point of discipline, because the matter is private, and ought to be resolved privately.

But, church discipline should not really be that narrowly conceived.  The fact is that discipleship is discipline.  When we tell someone that God needs to be Lord of his life, and that God has certain ways he wants things done, then we are asking them to submit to church discipline.  The goal is to get the person so disciplined in spiritual matters that he can go on to train and discipline others, creating a cycle of discipleship and discipline that glorifies God through many lives.  Everything the church does, from encouraging prayer and bible reading, to practicing witnessing and faithful living, is discipline.  That means that we need to always be open to rebuke, to correction, and to encouragement, in every aspect of our spiritual lives.

Hebrews says that our fathers punished us for a time as they saw fit, and that no man enjoys discipline while he is going through it.  But, the end result of discipline is that a man is better prepared for life, discipline is good.  Likewise Hebrews says our Father does the same for us, that he disciplines us for our good.  Therefore, the teaching of Hebrews is that discipline from God, when rightly understood is for our benefit.  Thus, though it is painful, we should embrace it, because it will bring us glory on the day that Christ is revealed.

Often I have read this verse and thought of the discipline that I have gone through in various trials and troubles in life.  From learning to do with little do to unemployment and poverty, to learning to enjoy the simple of things of life through having possessions stripped away from me, I thought this was discipline.  It has taken me a long time to realize that God does not just discipline through these events, but also through the church.  Those who have come along beside me, my brothers who have prayed for me, my sisters who have shared with me, my family who has taught me and walked with me in good times and bad, they have been the discipline of God in my life, and that discipline has been good for me, and good to me.

Discipline, godly discipline, is good in every way.  We ought to embrace discipline, training one another, correcting one another, loving one another enough to share not only in the good, but in the bad as well.  We think of discipline as only the hard times when a brother or sister refuses our correction, and we forget that the one who hardens his back is the one who is not being disciplined, because he will not submit.  We, who remain pliable clay in the hands of God, are the ones who are disciplined, and we find joy because of that discipline.  Sometimes we must disassociate with someone, because we want to love the stubborn soul.  Embrace discipline when it first comes upon you, and discipline others as well, because we are the tools of God, his hands and feet in performing his will here on earth.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More Than Bread

While wondering through the desert Satan tempted Christ by appealing to his hunger.  Satan said to the Lord, "Turn these stones into bread and so you do not have to go hungry!"  It may not sound like much of a temptation, but the real point was to get Christ to rely upon himself, instead of trusting that the Father would provide for him what he needed.  Christ responded by quoting Scripture and standing against Satan saying, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."  We have to eat to live, but if all we take in is bread, then while we may continue to exist, we are far from having full lives.

This was part of the problem that the church in Corinth dealt with.  Instead of taking in the Word of God, they were more concerned with the bread and wine of the Lord's table.  Paul condemns the church noting that some come and feast, and others are left to starve.  Instead of sharing love and compassion for one another they became selfish gluttons.  To partake of the Lord's supper is to share in Christ, to eat and drink of his memory and in obedience to his words, it is not just to fill our stomachs, but to live on the Word of God.

Christ promised his presence always, and proclaimed of himself that he is the bread of life.  Obviously there is metaphor involved in that statement.  Christ is not literally made of bread.  Likewise, as much as I respect those Catholics who take seriously the traditions that have been handed down, as a protestant and one who adheres to solo scriptura, I find nothing in Scripture that makes me think that the bread literally becomes the body of Christ and the wine becomes his blood in some metaphysical way.  But, despite the fact that the bread is not literally Christ, when we partake of the bread and the wine, we are joined to Christ in his presence, as we partake of the feast that he is preparing for us in heaven.

To eat of the Lord's Table is to partake of a heavenly feast.  Consider this: Christ began and ended his ministry with food and wine.  When his mother asked him to help with the situation at the wedding feast, Christ turned the water into wine.  When Christ gave his last instructions, before his death, to his apostles, he did it over a feast including bread and wine.  And, when Christ brings all things to completion, we will once again sit down to a feast with him, at the wedding supper of the Lamb.  When we eat of the bread and drink of the wine of the Lord's Table, we are participating in feasting with Christ, joining with him in faith to the Father, believing that one day we will eat at the wedding supper of his Son.

This is why Paul was so severe with the church in Corinth, and why he says that when we eat of the Lord's Table and fail to recognize the body of Christ, we eat and drink judgment on ourselves.  When we partake of the Lord's Table, if we do not recognize that we are eating a fellowship meal, a celebration of Christ and the feast that will join all believers together, then we are not acting in faith, but faithlessly.  We turn the admonition of Christ on its head: instead of living on the Word of God, we begin to treat the feast of Christ as nothing more than bread and wine.  Any church that treats the Lord's Supper lightly, not realizing the significance of what it means to partake of the body of Christ is asking for the same judgment that Paul says was already being poured out on the church at Corinth: weakness, sickness, and premature death.

It ought to be born in mind that death, weakness, and sickness, do not necessarily have to be upon individuals.  Those who sit in the congregation, who are ignorant of the reality of the Lord's Supper, while certainly responsible for failing to take seriously the Word of God, are not as accountable as those who teach them.  Thus as James says, "Not many of you should desire to be teachers, knowing that we who teach will be judged more strictly."  In this way, because those who teach from the pulpit have failed to properly teach the Word of God, and because those who sit in the congregation have failed to hold them accountable to what has been taught, everyone brings judgment upon themselves for their faithless living before God.  So, particularly in congregational churches, no one has excuse, and no individual can claim innocence if they have not been faithfully warning their brothers and sisters of the coming wrath of God.

Because Churches do not take seriously the Word of God in what it teaches about why we should do the things we do, the churches get weak.  The churches grow sick.  Eventually, those churches who fail to be faithful to God, who no longer reflect a healthy image of his body, die.  And no amount of man made emotion and passion can change what God has already said will be the judgment of those who take the Lord's Supper lightly.  But it does not have to be this way.

Our God is a God who forgives, who restores, who wounds and heals.  If we will turn back to him and seek him, then he has promised us blessing in Christ.  We, who are in Christ, do not need to fear that God will hold our sins against us, for we are already forgiven, covered by the blood of Christ.  If we seek to partake of the blood of Christ at his table, then we must be sure that we are covered in the blood when we are away from the table.

God is faithful to himself, and he will exalt himself through judgment, and through mercy.  Thus, we have great reason to pray to God for revival, if we are willing to embrace the discipline of God in our lives.  We do not need to continue to eat and drink judgment to ourselves.  If we will learn from the Word of God, and understand what it means to be a part of the body of God, then we have great reason to hope in God.  Our God is full of grace, and he speaks to us if we will be listen to his admonitions.

Let us eat of the Lord's Table with joy and with sobriety.  Let us recognize that what we do here prepares us for a feast we will share there.  But, let us also remember that when we eat and drink of the elements of the table, Christ is present with us, partaking with us as we are his body.  We eat and drink not simply in his memory, but also in his presence.  There is great reason to rejoice for those of us who rightly recognize the body of Christ when we come to the Lord's Table, so let us rejoice!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wash and Wear Christians

One of the oldest arguments that baptists of all kinds have engaged in is the importance of believers' baptism.  If you are not from a baptist tradition, I'll try to explain the idea quickly, and then address the argument itself.  Basically the baptist tradition is that baptism is only for believers.  That means that baptists do not baptize infants, and, historically, have not accepted those who were baptized as infants as members of baptist churches.  Only those who are believers can submit to baptism, and therefore if someone was "baptized" as an infant, unless they undergo a real baptism, as a believer, they are not generally granted membership in baptist congregations.

There are exceptions to the statement that baptists do not allow membership to those who received only infant baptism (paedobaptists).  John Bunyan, for instance, advocated that paedobaptists should be allowed church membership, and that they should be allowed to come to the Lord's Table.  However, even in his day, there were those who argued against him.  More recently John Piper and Mark Dever argued about this point, with Piper taking Bunyan's side, and Dever taking what I am calling the historical baptist side.

I would like to make a point of clarification though.  I am not calling Dever's position the historical position because it predates the position of Piper, but only because it has been the position accepted by most baptists throughout history.  This is why most baptist ministers, at least until modern times, would "fence the table" when inviting people to participate in the Lord's Supper.  The "fence" could be put up with a statement as simple as, "We invite those of like faith and practice who are in good standing in their church..." wherein the "faith" is the Christian faith, and the "practice" is those who had received believer's baptism.  The "good standing in their church" indicated that the person was not under discipline, and therefore there was no question of that individuals standing before Christ.

This last point could be broken into a whole essay of its own, and I intend to address the point eventually, but for now it is sufficient to note that most early baptist churches (and most baptist churches up to the 1950's at least) practiced church discipline and took it very seriously.  It was in fact because of church discipline that this whole issue arose.

Why would church discipline cause baptist churches to need to discuss the question of membership of paedobaptists?  In part it was because of the Lord's Supper.  Most baptist churches held that there were effectively two (or three) ordinances of the church.  In the three ordinance division you have foot washing, baptism, and the Lord's Supper.  In the two ordinance division you can remove foot washing.  Most baptists today do not practice foot washing, nor was it ever the majority of baptists position that it should be practiced.

Ordinances for baptists are not a means of grace.  The acts of baptism and the Lord's Supper are spiritually significant and symbolic events.  In the case of baptism the believer is joined to the death of Christ, and his resurrection through baptism.  But, what baptists mean by that is that the believer who has been baptized has made a public demonstration of their need for cleansing, of which the baptism is only a symbolic demonstration.  The actual salvation of the individual happens at conversion, in which the person is sealed by the Holy Spirit and joined to Christ eternally.  Thus baptism (as commonly expressed and understood) is an outward sign of an internal reality, and an act of obedience to what Christ has commanded.

For baptists historically then the argument has been that those who refuse to be baptized after coming to faith are living in disobedience to Christ.  Because the individuals are living in disobedience to Christ they cannot be given church membership, nor should they be invited to the Lord's Table.  To invite someone who is living in disobedience to the Lord's Table to is make light of their sin, which is wrong.  Moreover, to invite someone to the Lord's Table who has refused to participate in one ordinance of the church then includes that person in another ordinance of the church, and thus would be to treat the person as a member, even though they do not meet the qualifications of membership.  Thus, those who cannot be members of the church, for a refusal to participate in the ordinances of the church, ought not to come to participate in that ordinance which is restricted to only members of the church.

To explain this position from Scripture, baptists take seriously the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.  In verse 18 he says, "For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part."  This indicates that what Paul is about to say he says to the church, not individuals.  Thus when he says in verse 26, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes," this is not a command to individuals, but to the church.  Therefore it is those who are in the church who should eat the bread and drink from the cup.

Further, we read, "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." (1 Corinthians 11:29)  This passage is not telling people that they must simply examine themselves, but that they must understand who they are in Christ.  Yes, an individual ought to examine himself to see if there is any unrepentant sin in his life, but what Paul calls us to here is a consideration of who the body of Christ is.  The body of Christ is to partake of the Lord's Table, and the body of Christ is the regenerate church here on earth.  The question then, for who can partake of the Lord's Supper, is one of who is a member of the regenerate church on earth.

This is where baptism enters the issue.  We have already seen that the Lord's Table is to be open to all members of the church.  But, baptism is generally recognized (by baptists) as the means by which one enters into the church.  Thus, if one has not been baptized, then they are not to be considered members of the church.  If they are not to be considered members of the church, then they are not to take of the Lord's Supper, and they are not subject to church discipline.

But, why should baptism be a required ordinance for church membership?  If, as baptists have historically professed, faith alone is the means of salvation, shouldn't the church accept all of those who profess faith in Christ, regardless of whether they have been baptized?  The answer to that question must be answered "no" if the historic argument is to stand.  But is the answer no?

Yes, the answer to the question is no.  Yes, all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, and this is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)  And yes, all those who are saved are part of the regenerate church here on earth.  But, no, the church should not simply accept those who profess faith in Christ as members with no reservations.

The reason for this is what James says, "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18)  The fact is that we, as humans, cannot judge perfectly the salvation of any person.  It may be that someone has been genuinely saved, though we cannot discern such from their lives.  But, we are called to judge the works of one another (ourselves included) and determine if those works line up with that which Scripture commands us.  Therefore, while we may wrongly exclude some from membership with the church because we cannot discern their salvation, we must labor to rightly discern the body, that we may know, as far as possible, that those who are members of the church do appear to be Christians.

Once again, this is where baptism enters the equation.  If baptism is a command of Christ (and baptists hold that it is, based on: Matthew 28:19, Acts 2:38, Acts 10:47, Romans 6:3, and many more passages besides) then those who refuse to be baptized are not simply refusing to undergo some specific event, they are refusing to submit in obedience to God.  Therefore, while these people may evidence many other signs of salvation, the fact that they persist in refusing to be baptized causes the baptist to look at them with some reservation, recognizing that the church should be wholly obedient to Christ, and not only obedient in some, or most ways.  Therefore, baptism becomes a necessary step for anyone to enter into church membership, because it is the sign that demonstrates that the person has indeed entered into the death of Christ, and risen with him.

The reason I have attempted to lay out this discussion is because unfortunately many baptists are losing their distinctiveness.  Most baptist churches have failed to seriously educate their members as to what the significance of baptism is, and why the Lord's Table is so important.  Most baptists would probably still say that they do not want to allow paedobaptists as members, but would they know why, from a biblical perspective?  Whether you agree with the argument or not, I hope that you understand now that baptism is not just a matter of one becoming a "wash and wear Christian" but it really is important.  Because it is so important we ought not neglect the discussion of baptism in our churches.

If you aren't aware, I am a historic baptist.  I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, and I have come to embrace that tradition as I think it is the most orthodox biblical position.  That does not mean that there aren't skeletons in the closet of Southern Baptists.  Our racial divisions and the long standing issue of slavery that lead to the formation of the Southern Baptist convention need to be dealt with.  The last generation of Southern Baptists made apology for how our tradition assisted in perpetuating slavery, but they were not able to overcome the racial divisions that still exist in most Southern Baptist churches.  But, despite the problems that exist within the Southern Baptist tradition, we must continue to hold to the importance of believers' baptism, and in order to do so we must understand the importance of the Lord's Table and church discipline, understanding which has been lacking in the last 50-60 years.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Hound of Heaven

On Sunday I listened to the end of one of Ravi Zacharius's sermons with my wife as we were driving to church.  If you are not familiar with him, he is a Christian apologist who addresses various philosophical issues with the Christian faith.  I have always found him imminently readable and enjoyable.  He is not always a scholarly apologist, sometimes writing popular works that address issues at a level easier for those with no philosophical training to appreciate.  But, he is also very intelligent, and some of his works are a bit more complex.

One of his favorite poems, if I were to judge based on how often I have heard him quote from it is, "The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson.  It really is a very good poem.  However, the poem was written in a bit of the old English style of 19th century poets.  That means that some of the terms and language used is a bit archaic to our ears.  If you've never read the poem though, I would encourage you to do so.

I'll post the poem here, but you should know that has a glossed version of the poem, explaining most of the difficult terms used.  The link above will take you to that gloss if you would like to read the poem but need a little help with some of the language.  Again, I highly recommend that you take the time to read the poem, and hopefully, from this poetic testimony of a man who came to Christ after fleeing him for so many years, you can appreciate the love of God just a little more.  It is good to serve the God who does not give up on wayward sons and daughters.

This version as taken from

The Hound of Heaven
by Francis Thompson

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.        5
      Up vistaed hopes I sped;
      And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
  From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
      But with unhurrying chase,       10
      And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
      They beat—and a Voice beat
      More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’       15
          I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
  Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
        Yet was I sore adread       20
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside).
But, if one little casement parted wide,
  The gust of His approach would clash it to.
  Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,       25
  And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
  Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars;
        Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;       30
  With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
        From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
  I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,       35
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
  Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
  Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
      But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,       40
    The long savannahs of the blue;
        Or whether, Thunder-driven,
    They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
  Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.       45
      Still with unhurrying chase,
      And unperturbèd pace,
    Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
      Came on the following Feet,
      And a Voice above their beat—       50
    ‘Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.’
I sought no more that after which I strayed
  In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
  Seems something, something that replies,       55
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
  With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.       60
‘Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me’ (said I) ‘your delicate fellowship;
  Let me greet you lip to lip,
  Let me twine with you caresses,
    Wantoning       65
  With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
  With her in her wind-walled palace,
  Underneath her azured daïs,
  Quaffing, as your taintless way is,       70
    From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.’
    So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.       75
  I knew all the swift importings
  On the wilful face of skies;
  I knew how the clouds arise
  Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
    All that’s born or dies       80
  Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
  With them joyed and was bereaven.
  I was heavy with the even,
  When she lit her glimmering tapers       85
  Round the day’s dead sanctities.
  I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
  Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;       90
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
    I laid my own to beat,
    And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.       95
For ah! we know not what each other says,
  These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
  Let her, if she would owe me,      100
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
  The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
    My thirsting mouth.
    Nigh and nigh draws the chase,      105
    With unperturbèd pace,
  Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
    And past those noisèd Feet
    A voice comes yet more fleet—
  ‘Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me!’      110
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
    And smitten me to my knee;
  I am defenceless utterly.
  I slept, methinks, and woke,      115
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
  I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—      120
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
  Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;      125
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
  Ah! is Thy love indeed      130
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
  Ah! must—
  Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?      135
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
  From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.      140
  Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;      145
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again.
  But not ere him who summoneth
  I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;      150
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
  Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
  Be dunged with rotten death?
      Now of that long pursuit      155
    Comes on at hand the bruit;
  That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
    ‘And is thy earth so marred,
    Shattered in shard on shard?
  Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!      160
  Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
  How hast thou merited—      165
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
  Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
  Save Me, save only Me?      170
All which I took from thee I did but take,
  Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
  All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:      175
  Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
  Halts by me that footfall:
  Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
  ‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,      180
  I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Perfect Inheritance (part 3)

This is the last post on the topic of our perfect inheritance, based off of the sermon I preached on Sunday, 9/19/10.  In the last two posts I have attempted to demonstrate that Ephesians 1:3-14 calls us to praise God for all he has done, and has called us to recognize that we are adopted as sons of God, and so we should live according to this truth.  In this post I want to talk about one final aspect of our perfect inheritance, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit.  There is so much more that can be said about Ephesians 1:3-14.  The fact is this is an incredibly rich section of Scripture, but lest I tire you too much, or myself, this will be final post on it for now.

This post really is to make two points, those points have to do with what we read in Ephesians 1:13-14.  Paul writes, "In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."  The two points I want to address deal with the fact that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.  This is not a future tense promise of sealing, it is a present reality: we have already been sealed.

In the first and second posts I continually made the point that we are saved according to God's will.  Our salvation is not dependent on us and our continued work.  This final section proves that point concretely.  We have been sealed, and that which is sealed, according to what Paul says, is guaranteed.  How can that guarantee be violated then unless God himself is a liar about what he has sealed?  Basically, either God must be a liar, or he must be weak.

Certainly we would be complete fools to argue that God is a liar.  If God were a liar (such a blasphemous idea ought to be repugnant to our thoughts) then there would be no point in believing anything in Scripture.  What would be the point of trying to do anything to please God?  If God were a liar then everything we know of his character in Scripture and everything he tells us to do as pleasing to him could potentially be a lie.  In such a situation we may as well throw the bible away, because it would be useless to us.

But, God is not a liar.  Therefore Scripture is trustworthy, because it comes from him.  So, if God says we are sealed, then we are sealed.  If God says that our salvation is guaranteed, then it is guaranteed, there is no need to doubt that.  But, is God strong enough to make good on his guarantee?  That is, what if God has guaranteed our salvation, but he can't really secure it against our strength, or the strength of sin or whatever else?

If that were the case then we would be back to the first point, believing that God is a liar.  If God has said we have a guarantee of salvation, and we say, "But I could walk away from God!  His guarantee could become void!" then we are arguing the idea that God is in fact wrong in saying that our salvation is guaranteed.  In such a situation, God is once again a liar.  Therefore, because God has said we are sealed, and our salvation is guaranteed, it must be so.

Therefore we are sealed, and there is no disputing this is what Scripture says.  We accept this by faith then, and we ask the question, "What does our sealing mean?"  It means that we will one day receive our inheritance.  All of creation will one day be given over to Christ, and we will reign over it with him.  We will have perfect relationship and harmony with God, even as we are already perfect before him.  This inheritance will be ours, unquestionably.

But, it also means that one day we will be given to God.  The fact is that we are God's possession.  1 Corinthians 6:20 says we were bought with a price.  That which is bought is owned by the one who bought it.  We are God's and one day God will take full possession of us.

It is hard to explain why this is such a wonderful fact, but I'll endeavor to do so.  Because we have been bought by God, we are not slaves to anyone or anything else.  According to what Paul commands us in 1 Corinthians 7:23, we are not to become slaves, which means that we are not slaves now.  We were redeemed, purchased by God for himself, and that means we were set free from all our sinful limitations that at one time held us down.

We are possessed by God, so we are free to hope, free to rejoice, free to give him the glory for all that he has done.  We are promised that he will have us, and that reassures us that we will also receive all that he has promised us.  The promises given us belong to us because we belong to God.  And because we know that God will assuredly take possession of us, we do not have to fear that somehow we will lose that which he has promised us.

We are sealed to receive and inheritance, and as an inheritance to be received by God.  Our God, the maker of the heavens and the earth will not lose that of which he has taken possession.  There is nothing stronger than God, nothing that can from his hand that which he has grasped.  There is no one who can stand before God or be victorious over God.  And that means that we do not have to fear that we will ever lose that which has been given to us, we can praise God in good times and bad, knowing that our hope is sure, because of the awesome might of our God who holds us, even if we should fail to hold to him.

Give God the glory, praise him for his might.  Realize that you have been sealed, and what has been promised will be accomplished.  Let this sink into your life and change you.  Do not be afraid that you are going to go the wrong way, but remember, God will accomplish what he wants for you, because you are his possession.  Do this, as Paul says, "to the praise of his glory."

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Perfect Inheritance (Part 2)

I noted yesterday that God has provided a perfect inheritance for us in Christ.  Today I'd like to develop that a little more.  Not only has God provided a perfect inheritance for us, he has provided us with a means to receive that inheritance.  God has given us Christ, he has provided us with a perfect savior, redeeming us from the curse of the fall.  He has also given us sonship through Christ, providing the means by which we are able to receive that which he has prepared for us from before the foundation of the world.

In Ephesians 1:5 we read, "He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved."  Our position before God is not dependent on our prayers or our works or our thoughts, they are dependent on God's determination.

Yes, we who are sons will pray to God, because we will want to speak with our Father, and to tell him of our troubles and ask him for his help.  Yes, we who are sons will seek to do the will of our Father, not because of our great debt to God, which we can never repay, but because we desire to please our Father and show him our love for him.  And yes, our thoughts will be upon the mercy of God, the goodness of God, everything good and noble and worthy of the Lord, because it is only normal and natural to think about that which is most important to us, which ought to be, and will be, God.  But, none of these things makes us sons of God through Christ, instead it is the will of God that brings us to himself through Christ that makes us his sons.  The Lord is responsible for our position before him, so that we cannot take credit for that which he has done.

But, consider that our position before God, being dependent on God, will never falter if we fail or fall.  God has already ordained that we are his sons through Christ, if we are indeed in Christ, so that it does not matter if we stumble and fall, he still calls us sons.  This is what Ephesians 1:4 & 7 tells us: "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him," and, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses."  We have this forgiveness now, not that we shall have it, but that already it is done.  Already we are holy and blameless before God, and continually so, because God's word does not change. We are not now holy only to be unholy tomorrow, we are not now forgiven so that tomorrow we will be condemned.  Our holiness and righteousness is not dependent on us, it is dependent on God alone, because it is what he has proclaimed.

Consider how this works in contrast with the choices of the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 11:26 we read Moses words to the People of Israel that he was setting before them blessing and curse.  In Deuteronomy 30 we can read how this blessing and curse would work out.  Deuteronomy 30:19 tells us that the blessing and curse can also be called life and death.  Moses tells the people to choose life that they and their children might live.  But, here, in Ephesians, notice that Paul does not call us to a choice, instead he tells us of the choice that God has made for us.

We are not a people who have to choose blessing or curse, our choice has been made for us.  If we are in Christ, if we are those whom God has called to him, predestining us to receive his Son, then blessing has been chosen for us.  It is not a matter of our will, so that our positions as sons before God depends on our continuous choosing.  God has spoken, he has declared what will be, so that our adoption is sure, our redemption is promised and is ours now, and will be ours eternally.  How wonderful it is to know that we can relax, we can trust in God, we can have faith in him, and we can enter into his rest, no longer striving but knowing that God holds us in his hands eternally.

Once we stop striving to save ourselves something more amazing comes into view.  We who have been adopted and have been forgiven also have been told what God wants.  We who have received the adoption of God through Christ have been told of God's amazing plan, to bring all things together in Christ at the end of all things.  This is a wonderful blessing because it means that we don't have to wonder at what God wants of us.  We don't have to worry about whether we will choose wrongly, because we know that our goal ought to be God's goal, and God will accomplish his goal, even if it seems we have butchered it.

What I mean is that we who have been redeemed and forgiven do not need to worry that we are not going to accomplish what God wants.  We ought not be lazy, because laziness is not pleasing to our Father.  We ought not be paralyzed by fear of making the wrong choice, because such a fear betrays a mistrust of the Lord.  We ought to be busy doing the work of him who sent us, even as he sent Christ, because it is wonderful and good work, and it is this work which provides us with fulfillment in life.  God's purpose for all of creation is to bring all things together under Christ, so what more meaningful lives can we live than lives that seek to bring everything we do under Christ today?

God has given us redemption through his Son, and he has given us purpose through Christ.  We know that what we do in this life, done with the purpose of bringing all things, our money, our thoughts, our work, our culture, and our friends and neighbors, all under Christ, will prove of eternal worth.  We may never see an ounce of movement, but we do not need to be discouraged, because the work is not ours, it is God's.  This is not the plan of men, it is the plan of God, and it will be accomplished.  The God we serve made the universe, saved us according to his will, and arranged all of history to his purposes; how then can history not end up where he has directed it, so that Christ is glorified and the Father receives all glory through him?

Because of all this there is one more thing we are able to rejoice in, and that is spoken of throughout this passage: we have an inheritance.  If all things will eventually be united in Christ, and we are now in Christ, then eventually all things will be united with us in him as well.  That means we who are in Christ will eventually receive all things.  I'm not speaking out of line here, I assure you.

Consider the promises made to the churches of Philadelphia and Laodicea.  We will be made pillars in the temple of God, in the new Jerusalem.  And we will sit down with Christ on his throne, even as he sat down with his Father on his throne.  When you consider that there is no temple in the new Jerusalem, for God himself will be our temple, then the promise takes on its full import.  We will be joined to God in a way that will be like being pillars in the midst of him, we will never leave from him or go out from him.  And we will reign with Christ over all creation.

Paul says that we will judge angels!  What is there left that is outside of our authority if we are in Christ then?  We will reign with him, we will dwell in the presence of God eternally, and even angels will be under our authority and judgment.  We who are in Christ, who stand forgiven and redeemed before God, who know the will of our Father, also have a great and wonderful (consider the real meaning of this word: full of wonder) inheritance in that we shall receive everything through Christ.

What do we have left that we should need then?  You do not have a place to rest your head tonight?  Don't worry, the whole of creation will be given to you, if you are faithful in Christ.  Do you hunger, are you thirsty?  Do what you can to eat what you need and drink so that you can be healthy, but remember, the point of life is not fine dining and expensive wine, it is to bring all things together under Christ, so that one day all things will be yours in Christ.  Look forward to your inheritance, not for your physical appetites and the satisfying of your lusts, but because God has given you his own presence, he has given you Christ, he has given you a perfect inheritance, and this is your hope.

Live a life worthy of this, seek wisdom now that you will know how to rightly administer the inheritance that is to come.  Give God the glory, praise him for all he has done.  And share the good news of what you have, so that your rejoicing may cause others to rejoice and add again to your joy in Christ.  What do you lack dear Christian?  This world is not your home, do not fall in love with it, because you have a better home coming, a better inheritance than you can even imagine.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Perfect Inheritance (part 1)

From the time of the fall, as Adam and Eve were learning of their punishment from God, there was also a promise of hope set forth by the Word of the Lord.  Of course, this is no new exegesis of Genesis 3.  God, in speaking to Eve, told her that he would set enmity between her seed and that of the serpent, and that her seed would crush the head of the serpent and the serpent would bruise his heal.  This first promise set forth all the expectations that built throughout Scripture for a messiah, an anointed one who would crush Satan under his heel.  But, this promise also became an inheritance, because Eve did not bear the anointed child, instead the promise would be passed on, so that Mary would be the one to actually give birth to the Messiah, fulfilling the promise of God.

Likewise, with every promise of the Old Testament, Christ was the one to which they were pointing.  The promise of land, the promise of peace, the promise of fellowship with God, and every other promise that God made was fulfilled in Christ.  Not only were the promises fulfilled, they continue to be fulfilled in Christ.  This is the beauty of the inheritance that God has provided for us in Christ.  God has not only given us a promise of inheritance, he himself has perfected that inheritance by doing in Christ what we had no hope of doing for ourselves.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself, but this is the premise for why I call what we have in Christ our perfect inheritance.  It is the basis of our praise for God, the reason for why we bless God and proclaim his glory.  Some note that even if we did not have this inheritance, God's glory would not be diminished and we should still give him all the praise we do now, but that isn't a question Scripture addresses.  As C.S. Lewis notes so often in the Narnia series, no one is ever told "What if?" what we have is what is, and that is what God has spoken to us about.  So, instead of deliberating on theological "What ifs?" let us praise God for what he has done, let us always be reminded of our perfect inheritance.

This is where Paul begins in Ephesians.  Ephesians 1:3-10 reads, " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

Notice the consistent present and past tense terms used by Paul here.  God has blessed us, he chose us, he predestined us, he blessed us.  We have redemption and forgiveness.  He lavished his grace upon us.  He has made known his will to us.  Even the plans for the uniting all things in Christ happened in the past tense, so that while all things are not yet joined together, the process has begun, and the fulfillment is guaranteed.

God deserves all praise, and he is worth of our blessings, because he has done great and wondrous things on our behalf.  Consider what it means that we have been predestined us for adoption, and that he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  God knew us before the world was formed.  The same God who loved Christ before the foundation of the world, according to what John quotes from Jesus' own lips, loved us in Christ.  God's love for us is not bound with time and space, but before there was time, as God exists (existed?) outside of time itself, God already (whatever that means in non-temporal conception) loved us in Christ, for his love for Christ is the limit of his love for us.

But, since the creation of the world, God has continued to love us.  Even when we were at war with him, God knew there would be a time where we would be in Christ.  Somehow, in a way we cannot comprehend, God loved us even while he was at war with us and his wrath remained on us because we had not yet accepted the love and sacrifice of his Son for us.  God's amazing choice, his making us holy and blameless is not dependent on present, past, or future actions we have taken, but it is according to his wisdom and insight, for his will.  Yes, when we come to Christ we choose God, but it is a choice that was predestined, it was a faith given to us, it was a gift that we might come to Christ and love him as he chose us and loved us while we were yet sinners.

And yet, the love of God goes one step further to really leave us wondering at his grace.  Consider this: God chose you in Christ (if you are in Christ) before the foundation of the world.  That means that before creation began, God had already willed to save you.  But think of what that really means!  God created the world and organized all of history so that you would be born, you would live the life you have lived, and you would hear the gospel of Christ.  This is perhaps one of the most amazing things to me about the whole matter: God not only balanced all of the world and the whole of creation in his mind, he also arranged all of history so that he could save us who were his enemies!

What are we left to do with this then?  Praise God.  Live a life that praises God.  Worship the God of creation, the God who knows all things and ordained all things according to his will and for his glory.  Be found in Christ so that all the blessings that Paul discusses in Ephesians, "every spiritual blessing" can be yours.  Long to know God more completely so that you can know the vast and amazing reach of his love, so it can transform your life as you worship him who is worthy of all blessing and gives all blessing.

Your inheritance is perfect.  It is completed, not wanting.  Be found in Christ so that every promise declared as yours can be enjoyed by you both now and eternally in the future.  You know that God has given Christ for us, you know the work that God has done.  Why now, with all that God has done on your behalf, would you remain unchanged and unaffected by the glory of him who loves you, and have loved you, since before the world was formed?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What Really Matters?

One of my favorite books in the Bible is the book of Job.  There is something about the way that Job suffered despite his righteousness that appeals to me.  The sovereignty of God, the antagonism of Satan, the desperation of a man attacked by forces he cannot control or understand, the misery of that man as he finds himself forsaken by friends and family, and the confusion of that man as he isn't even sure whether his God still cares for him or not, all wrapped up in the beauty of poetry.  The book of Job talks about the events of life that all of us face, just as the other wisdom books in Scripture, Proverbs, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes, but with one major difference.  The difference in the wisdom of Job is that it is not just songs or sayings or a thought out dissertation on the importance of wisdom, it is the story of a man's life and the wisdom gleaned from that life as it was lived in history.

One of the lessons I have been thinking about lately from the book of Job comes from an old insight that was brought to my attention.  I honestly cannot remember who brought this particular point to my attention.  Most likely it was my father.  While he did not teach me everything I know about theology and Scripture, he certainly taught me a great deal.  The insight was simply this: Job was never told why all of his misfortunes came upon him.

Often people make this point as they seek to illustrate that Scripture does not apologize for what God does.  They are right about that, of course.  Scripture never seeks to defend God from the charge that he allows evil or does evil.  Scripture simply presents the reality that God does what he wants to do and is sovereign over all things.  Thus, while the writers of Scripture are certainly aware of the problem of evil, that seemingly wicked things happen to seemingly righteous individuals, their answer is only that God is control of all things.  Job definitely agrees with this perspective, as God's final interaction with Job reminds Job that he is but a man, and should not question the sovereign will and authority of the one who made him.

But, this point, that Scripture does not seek to defend God against the charge of evil, and the way that Job's problem is eventually resolved, simply by God's choosing to bless him at the end of the story, brings another point to mind.  That point is best addressed by the question, "What really matters?"  Was it Job's possessions, his health, his friendships or his family that really mattered at the end of the book?  Yes, Job got all of those things back, and in the case of his possessions he received double, but was that the point of the book?

The real point of the book is not Job's suffering.  It is not Job's loss or his righteousness.  All that Job suffers and endures is but the backdrop for the conversation, which builds to one specific point: the glory of God.  What really matters in Job, the crucial point that we must grasp, is that no matter what happens, God is worthy of worship and praise.

Consider why Elihu was angry with Job.  Job sought to defend his own righteousness instead of God's.  Elihu was not concerned that Job might have sinned in some way, Elihu was not concerned that Job might be accusing God of some wickedness or misbehavior.  Elihu was concerned that the righteousness of God was not being proclaimed by a suffering Job.

Think of that.  Elihu wanted Job to put aside his own pain and suffering and give God glory for who he is.  Elihu waited patiently before saying anything because of the wisdom of his elders, but finally his patience gave way as the older men became silent.  Consider how the text introduces Elihu to us: But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. (Job 32:2)  Elihu understood that what was really important was not that Job's integrity should be defended, but that God's character should be declared.

What is really important is not that any of us are ever vindicated in this life.  We may be persecuted, rightly or wrongly.  We may be poor, or we may be rich.  We may suffer, or we may seem to pass through life with ease and comfort our consistent friends, but what does any of that matter?  Our lives, if we live one hundred years or one thousand years, are still brief, and not worth comparing to the history of the world.  What really matters is that we proclaim the goodness of God, the glory of God, and the character of God, so that he may be made known throughout all the world.

We are not seeking to defend God, he is not in need of our weak protestations.  We are seeking to justify God in our lives, to give him the glory of his work on our behalf.  We seek to vindicate God before those who would question his justice or his integrity, not by mere arguments, but by acknowledging that all that is done is done according to his wisdom.  Job failed to do this in his arguments.

Job argued that he was righteous, he argued that if he could bring his argument before God, then maybe he could convince God to let him alone.  But that mode of thought fails to realize that God knows full well what he is doing, and does not need to be counseled or advised in any way.

Does God not know our predicament?  Is he ignorant of our plight?  Is our suffering somehow lost on the God who created us and who acts with all righteousness?  Why then would we think that we could bring argument against him to make him change his mind?  Instead of thinking we can advise God, we ought to tell everyone of how good God is, even in the midst of our pain and suffering.

Perhaps Job began with some understanding of this reality.  When Job lost his children and his possessions he tore his robe, shaved his head, fell to the ground and worshiped God.  Even when Job lost his health and his wife turned on him advising him to curse God and die, Job said to her, "Should we accept good from God and not evil?" (Job 2:9)  And though Job never sinned against God or accused God of anything improper, in the midst of the accusations from his friends, Job seems to have forgotten the goodness of God and that he is worthy of worship, no matter what happens in our lives.

Is it enough to be righteous?  No matter how good we may be, we will never be pure and holy as God is pure and holy.  No matter how just and righteous we may be, we will always be filthy compared to the spotless person of our God.  Because of this, ought we not give God the glory in every situation?  No matter what we suffer, it cannot diminish the wonder of God, so do not be overcome with evil, but overcome every evil situation with good, remembering the God we serve will vindicate us at the coming of Christ, so we do not need to vindicate ourselves, especially not before him.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Confident Insufficiency

I'm reading through Dr. Bryan Chapell's book Christ Centered Preaching again.  I haven't read the book in probably a year or so, since going through seminary.  Even in seminary I read the book because I had to for a book review, and while it was good, I have a feeling that I didn't get out of it what I could have, so now I'm going to read it again, so I can be reminded of the great truths that Dr. Chapell has distilled in this wonderful volume.  If you haven't read it, and you want to preach, I entreat you, read it.

One of the earliest truths that Dr. Chapell discusses is the fact that preachers are insufficient to the task of preaching.  But, it's okay that we be insufficient to the task, because the real task of preaching is the winning of souls to God.  The presentation of the Word of God with power to the goal of converting sinners to Christ, and empowering Christians to live their lives, in every way, in deeper relationship with God.  What mortal man could be sufficient to this task?  All of us are too sinful, too imperfect, too limited to accomplish the goals we should have with every sermon.

But, that's okay.  In fact, that's a good thing.  Because we are insufficient we are able to do exactly what we need to do.  Because we are imperfect, we are able to call upon God, who perfects his power in our weakness, that he might do that which we cannot, and glorify himself through the foolishness of preaching.  I told my wife one of the first lines in that book that made me chuckle is that Dr. Chapell notes that Paul commends the foolishness of preaching, but not foolish preaching.

A good preacher, a good pastor, is not called to stand up and be foolish in what he says, but he is called to be wise and give forth the Word of God.  This is foolish precisely because we expect somehow that mere words will have effective power to change the lives of those that hear them.  But, this is the means by which God has determined that his power should be shared.  He works through his Word.  The same Word that created the world holds all things together now, it raised Christ from the dead, sent the Spirit into timid fishermen and rejects from society, and even now is working powerfully in the world to accomplish the will of God.  This Word no man is worthy to proclaim, but we are called to go forth and do that which we are not worthy of, because God is powerful enough to redeem the fallen.

Isn't this the same thing that applies to all of us?  What are you sufficient to do on your own?  Banking, physics, driving, shoveling, what is any of that in the eternal scheme of things?  Yet, in Christ when we are obedient, those things which are nothing in the eternal scheme become important, because God does amazing things with insufficient people.

None of us is sufficient to fulfill the task to which we were called, because we were called to conform to the image of Christ.  I don't know about you, but I have found that no matter how much I may try and force my heart to be more faithful, I don't seem to have a lot of power to change my very nature.  I can control my actions, I can choose not to dwell on the sinful thoughts that enter into my mind, but I seem to have a nature that keeps on wanting to go back to sin.  I am insufficient to change myself, to conform myself, to the image of Christ.  But God is sufficient, and he will do that which I am incapable of doing, I just have to be faithful to him.

Likewise, Christ called upon us to go out into all nations and proclaim the gospel, making disciples of every people, tribe, tongue and nation.  We were told to do this not because of the great power that was given unto us, but because all power in heaven and earth has been given unto him.  Our commission does not rely upon our sufficiency, but upon the sufficiency of our God.  He alone is able to do all things, without him, we can do nothing.

Take comfort in your insufficiency.  Be confident that whatever God has called you to do, you are incapable of doing.  And that is to his glory, because what you cannot do, he can.  Where you are insufficient, God, my God, is more than sufficient.  When you are faithful to God, and you work with all the strength which he gives you, then you can do great things, because you are not sufficient to do it on your own.

But, that means that you don't need to worry about whether you will save your best friend.  You don't need to worry about whether your life will be perfect enough to stand against those who would test you and examine every aspect of you.  You have sinned, and though you have (hopefully) put that sin behind you, you will never attain perfection in this life.  You don't need to worry about those things, because the reality is that this is who you are, imperfect, insufficient to achieve the great tasks which God will set before you.

But, because God's Word is sufficient, because his power is able to do all things, when he commands you, if you are faithful to do what he says, then he will accomplish his purposes.  Your life will never save anyone, only his word will.  You will never have the power to save any man, only Christ can do that.  You can take comfort in knowing that God is not relying upon your insufficiency, he is giving you the chance to join with his power to accomplish his purposes.  This same God who made all things, who raised Christ from the dead, is able to raise the dead people we speak to, but we are not.

Praise God for our insufficiency, that he may be glorified.  I will never save any man with my preaching, and that's perfectly fine with me.  I may stumble, I may fall, I may make a fool of myself in the pulpit, and that's okay.  As long as God's Word is proclaimed, that is all that matters.  I may be a stuttering fool, I may lack all eloquence, I may be monotone and forget my outline, but if I am obedient to what God has called me to do, if I proclaim his Word, then he will be faithful to himself, and he will use his Word to accomplish his purposes.  It is God who gives a man ears to hear and a mouth to speak.  If he gives me an eloquent tongue, then so much more to his praise, but if not, I do not need to worry, I may be insufficient, but that's just the kind of person God wants me to be.

Have you thanked God for your insufficiency today?  Have you praised God that you do not have the burden to accomplish what you cannot accomplish?  Have you thanked him that he chose to let you join him in accomplishing his will?  Our God is awesome, his power is beyond description.  If you do not know this God, please, write me that I can share his Word with you.  Seek him while he may still be found, for all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.