When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display, and deploy all the strengths that are latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape. That was not the quality of life to which Christ’s calling led him, nor was it Paul’s calling, nor is it what we are called to in the twenty-first century. For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then – and only then – may we become truly strong in the Lord. And should we want it any other way? What do you think?
J.I. Packer, Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ our Strength (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 53-54.
What we have lost… is a full sense of the power of God – to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them up side the head with glory.
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Miracle on the Beach,” in her Home by Another Way (Boston: Cowley, 1999), 38.
Yehiel Dinur was a Nazi concentration camp survivor. Adolf Eichmann was the man who sent Dinur to Auschwitz. Dinur was called to witness against Eichmann at the Nuremburg trials. When he entered the courtroom and saw Eichmann’s face this is what happened:
Dinur began to sob uncontrollably, then fainted, collapsing in a heap on the floor as the presiding judicial officer pounded his gavel for order in the crowded courtroom.
Was Dinur overcome by hatred? Fear? Horrid memories?
No; it was none of these. Rather, as Dinur explained…, all at once he realized Eichmann was not the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their deaths. This Eichmann was an ordinary man. ‘I was afraid about myself,’ said Dinur. ‘…I saw that I am capable to do this. I am… exactly like him.’
Charles Colson, Who Speaks for God? (Crossway, 1985), 137.
From John Koessler’s book The Surprising Grace of Disappointment : Finding Hope When God Seems to Fail Us (Chicago: Moody, 2013):
“Mary, I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that. I’m going to leave this little town far behind and I’m going to see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon… the Coliseum. Then I’m coming back here and I’ll go to college and see what they know and then I’m going to build things I’m going to build air fields. I’m going to build skyscrapers a hundred stories high. I’m going to build bridges a mile long.”
So says George Bailey in director Frank Capra’s beloved classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. But George is wrong. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that. As it turns out, what he is supposed to do tomorrow is pretty much what he did today. God’s plan for him is to do the ordinary thing, which of course is the last thing that George wants to do. Because George Bailey wants to lasso the moon.
Like George Bailey, we want to do something extraordinary. It is no wonder. This is what we have been told that we should do by our parents, pastors, and teachers. We have been urged to take our little lasso of Christian ambition in hand, shake it loose, and aim as high as we are able. We are told to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. But for most of us the moon isn’t what God has in mind. His plan does not call for us to streak into the heavens and leave behind a trail of glory. God’s purpose is more down-to-earth. God’s purpose for us is more mundane. At times we might even call it dull. And like George Bailey, we are not happy about it because we do not want to lead an ordinary life.
I’m not quite sure how to think about William Barclay. There are some indications that his theology was heterodox. But his commentaries have some great stuff in them! Here’s one from The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958), 214-15:
Preaching is the announcement of salvation; it is the bringing of the gospel, the good news. Preaching may at different times have many notes and many aspects, but fundamentally it is the proclamation of the gospel. The preacher may at times have to warn, to threaten and to condemn; he may have to remind men of the judgment of God and the wrath of God; but basically, beyond all else, the message of the preacher is the announcement of salvation.
A reoccurring theological question from my kids revolves around why God doesn’t speak to them directly, like in a voice they can hear. I’ve tried giving them several different answers. It came up again the other day. I was opening up the Bible to read at bedtime and said something like, “Let’s see what God has to say to us tonight.” The honest, genuine questions started coming – “I don’t want to have to read the Bible; I want God to just talk to me.” I told them that God could speak like that to them. He certainly has done that to people in the past. But now he has given us a book and told us to listen to him there and we can’t demand that God speak to us the way we want him to. This was not finally satisfying for them.
As I thought more myself about why God has primarily ordained to speak to us through a written revelation today, another reason came to mind (from the Holy Spirit?). He doesn’t speak audibly to everyone in private with their own personalized messages because he wants our faith not to be a merely private, personal faith. Rather, Christianity is supposed to be a communal reality where we’re all hearing and believing the same messages from God. The Scriptures are objective revelations available to all so that we all can hear the same things and respond together. “God told me this…” “Well, God told me this…” (either audibly or subjectively through impressions) will only lead to further division and isolation. God has spoken clearly in one place so we can all be together on the same page.
This was not ultimately satisfying to them… yet, but I pray that one day they will hear God’s voice distinctly calling them from the pages of Scripture into the people of God and they will find it truly satisfying.
Here’s a piece I wrote for the Illinois Baptist newspaper on the final article in the Baptist Faith & Message on “The Family.”
Roman authorities seized Ignatius of Antioch in AD 107. They carried him to the Coliseum where soldiers fed him to wild beasts. His crime? Ignatius refused to turn his back on Christ and burn incense to the emperor. While on the journey to martyrdom he wrote several churches in the region. “Do your best,” he told the church in Ephesus, “to meet more often to give thanks and glory to God. When you meet frequently, the powers of Satan are confounded.”
HT: Aaron Menikoff http://9marks.org/review/book-review-expository-listening-by-ken-ramey/
On the question of infant baptism, R.C. Sproul writes [Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1992), 228]:
…it would naturally be assumed in the early church that infants were to be given the sign of the covenant.
History bears witness to this assumption. The first direct mention of infant baptism is around the middle of the second century A.D. What is noteworthy about this reference is that it assumes infant baptism to be the universal practice of the church. If infant baptism were not the practice of the first-century church, how and why did this departure from orthodoxy happen so fast and so pervasively? Not only was the spread rapid and universal, the extant literature from that time does not reflect any controversy concerning the issue.
But Everett Ferguson claims [Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 856]:
There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century.
Who to believe?
A.W. Tozer said:
It is especially important that Christian ministers know the law of the leader – that he can lead others only as far as he himself has gone…
The minister must experience what he would teach or he will find himself in the impossible position of trying to drive sheep. For this reason he should seek to cultivate his own heart before he attempts to preach to the hearts of others…
If he tries to bring them into a heart knowledge of truth which he has not actually experienced he will surely fail. In his frustration he may attempt to drive them; and scarcely anything is so disheartening as the sight of a vexed and confused shepherd using the lash on his bewildered flock in a vain attempt to persuade them to go beyond the point to which he himself has attained…
We cannot take our people beyond where we ourselves have been, so it becomes vitally important that we be men of God in the last and highest sense of that term.
So true and so challenging.
And yet, wherever we are spiritually we will always feel that we have not yet attained all that we desire. J.I. Packer, in the preface to Knowing God wrote:
I do not ask my readers to suppose that I know very well what I am talking about. ‘Those like myself,’ wrote C.S. Lewis, ‘whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there’ – and so fool both them and ourselves.