Friday, August 31, 2007
So children’s talks should be…
1. Scriptural - This may be the obvious point but our goal is to teach God’s Word. Even if we only teach one verse at a time, every children’s talk should refer directly to the bible.
2. Stimulating - The children’s talk should be interesting (please note: for the children). This doesn’t mean that we resort to endless gimmicks but it does require some creativity on our part about how to grab the children’s attention. A good test of how the talk is going is simple: are the children ‘engaged’?
3. Short - The children’s talk is nothing more nor less than a thought to take away and ponder. The children’s talk is not extensive bible teaching for children. That happens in Junior Church. It is rather a brief children’s focus which should be short, sharp and punchy. Really, each kids talk should be one significant idea and no more. Once that thought has been made clear, its time to sing!
4. Simple - Sentences should be short. Big words should be avoided or at least explained. Children at the lower end of the age spectrum (5-7) should ‘get it.’ This doesn’t mean that concepts should be dummed down (‘no difficult subjects’) but rather that what is said will be pitched at the children’s level.
On a recent broadcast at DesiringGod.org, John Piper briefly addressed the issue of tattoos and body piercing among Christians. I especially appreciated the spirit in which John took up this subject. He did not come down in a heavy-handed or judgmental fashion, insisting in some legalistic way that such actions are altogether and always a sin. He mentioned the prohibition on tattoos in Leviticus 19:28 and suggested that although there were probably unique historical and religious circumstances in the ancient near east that evoked this prohibition, we should still seek to learn from it. Whereas not everything in the Levitical code is binding on the believer today, we still must ask if there is some underlying principle in the OT prohibition that might find application to us in the present day.
But Piper mentioned two additional factors to take into consideration, to which I would like to add a third. First, he asked the all-important question that every Christian contemplating getting a tattoo or body piercing should ask: “Will this exalt the Lord Jesus Christ? Is this going to draw attention to him or to me? Will his beauty and splendor and all-sufficiency be highlighted in this action? Will the gospel itself be adorned or obscured in what I’m doing?”
Second, John also said that we should carefully monitor our motives for getting a tattoo or body piercing. In particular, he suggested that often times (not always!) people get tattoos in an effort to establish for themselves an identity that they have failed to find in Christ alone. In other words, each person needs to ask: “To what extent does this tattoo or body piercing reflect my failure to find full satisfaction in Christ alone? To what extent is this an attempt to ‘be’ or ‘become’ something that until know I’ve failed to find in who I am in Christ and because of what he has accomplished in grace on my behalf?”
It may well be that the person contemplating getting a tattoo feels fully established in Christ and is keenly aware of who they are in him, and thus the issue of identity simply does not factor into one’s motivation. But it is an important matter to keep in mind.
To these excellent observations, I’d like to add a third. I think a Christian needs to ask himself/herself whether or not the tattoo or body piercing expresses respect for the human body as the temple of the living God. Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He abides in us, not in buildings or tabernacles or anything else as the unique expression of his saving and sanctifying presence. The apostle Paul makes this clear on a number of occasions (see especially 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 6:16-18; Eph. 2:21-22). I think particularly of 1 Cor. 6:19-20 where Christians are exhorted to “glorify God in your body” (v. 20). I’m not saying that people with tattoos and body piercings can’t glorify God in their bodies. I’m not the judge of that. I’m simply asking Christians to think and pray about it before they engage in this activity.
Needless to say (or perhaps it does need to be said), this text in 1 Corinthians 6 would apply to a number of issues other than tattoos and body piercing. I suspect that many reading this article are guilty of gluttony and have become excessively obese. This is only one example of what undoubtedly are any number of activities in which we may fail to glorify God in our bodies. We must be careful, therefore, lest we single out tattoos and body piercing and ignore the many ways in which we might potentially fail to glorify the Lord in how we treat our physical frame.
The fact is, the Bible is not as explicit and unyielding on this issue as some might like. If there were a specific and undeniable commandment in the NT that addressed the point, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. So I encourage everyone to be gracious and gentle at the same time we give full consideration to the principles set forth in God’s Word. For those who’ve already been tattooed, perhaps the question should now be to what extent and in what ways, if any, can I turn this for the good of the gospel and the glory of God. I’m certainly not prepared (or qualified) to answer that question, but it is one that needs to be addressed.
May God grant us wisdom and patience with one another as we seek to understand how best to glorify God in our bodies.
How can I know how the Holy Spirit has gifted me?
This is the second part in what I anticipate will be a brief three-part series examining the spiritual gift of discernment. The first part is available here: The Gift of Spiritual Discernment. In this first article we looked at the question of “What is the gift of discernment?” and concluded that “Men and women with the gift of discernment are specially gifted in distinguishing between those words, deeds and appearances that are true and those that are false.” Today we move on to how you can know that you have been gifted in this way (or in another way). We pause briefly to look at how we can understand how we’ve been gifted.
How do I know if I have this gift?
The Bible seems to indicate that Christians will typically know how they have been gifted. There is certainly nothing that would hint at the modern methods of discovering gifts through surveys or assessments. And yet, while most Christians know that the gifts of the Spirit are given to God’s people, they continue to struggle with identifying the ways in which God has gifted them.
Because gifts are given for the benefit of the body, it seems likely that where there is a need, there will be someone with the gifting to fill that need. If a church has a desperate need for a person with the gift of teaching, it seems likely that someone within the church has been given such a gift and may fill the need, at least for a season. Similarly, if a person is a member of a church where there is no opportunity to exercise a certain gift, it may be that this church needs to create opportunities or that, in extreme cases, the person needs to seek a church where he can be of service to others. The leaders of churches should seek to ensure that they are providing opportunities for members to exercise the full spectrum of gifts. Wayne Grudem writes, “Though the lists of gifts given in the New Testament are not exhaustive, they certainly provide a good starting point for churches to ask whether at least there is opportunity for these gifts to be used.”
For those who continue to struggle with identifying how God has gifted them, here are a few principles that will prove helpful.
Begin with prayer. God promises to give wisdom to any who ask for it. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Thus we should begin our search for gifting by asking God to make it plain to us how He has gifted us and how He desires that we serve Him by serving others. We must ask for wisdom in seeing how God has gifted us and in opening our eyes to opportunities to serve Him.
Look for passion. Where God has given a gift, we can expect that He will also give passion. A good place to begin when considering spiritual gifts is to see where God has given desire and passion. A person who is passionate about having people into her home may well have a gift of hospitality; a person who loves to organize events may be gifted with a kind of leadership; a person who is passionate about the truth of God may be gifted with discernment. Those who look for their gifting should look to what interests them and what makes them feel passionate. As they look to their passions they may just find their gifts.
Ask others. Another way of seeking gifting is to ask other believers and especially those in spiritual leadership over you. Simply ask other Christians, those who know you best and who lead and guide you, where they feel you should serve within the church. Ask them to prayerfully consider your gifting. Their wisdom and guidance may surprise you.
Try them! Christians should try different opportunities to serve within the church. As we attempt different things and do so in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can expect that He will reveal passion and gifting in ways we may not expect. There is a danger in doing only those things that we are comfortable with or serving only in the ways we think we are most talented. Think of Moses, a frightened and timid man being called to lead a nation or the Apostle Paul with a thorn in his flesh being called to take the gospel to all the nations. God does not always gift us in ways we are comfortable with or in ways we might expect. By attempting different gifts we can look to those where God brings blessing and success and perhaps see that we have a special gifting in these areas.
Keep trying! The Bible does not tell us that all spiritual gifts are given at the time of conversion or that, once given, they are given permanently. As we grow in our knowledge and love of the Lord, we should continue to seek ways of serving Him. We may be surprised to find that our gifting changes along with the needs of our local church. We may find that God wishes us to emphasize different gifts now then in the past. So keep serving God and keep searching for His gifting in your life.
If confusion continues, take heart, wait patiently for God’s wisdom and guidance, and serve Him whenever and wherever possible. He will answer your prayers.
In the final article of this series we’ll look at what you can do with the gift of discernment, what to do if you want it, and what to do if you don’t have it.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
What are we to make of Mother Teresa's crisis of faith? That is a question I have been repeatedly asked in recent days. This week's TIME cover story by David van Biema caught the attention of millions around the world, and it raises some of the most important questions about the Christian faith.
In a new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, previously undisclosed letters raise basic questions about her understanding of the Gospel. David van Biema's article, "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith," brings many questions to light.
The recent revelations of Mother Teresa's spiritual struggle should remind all believing Christians that our faith is in Christ -- not in our feelings.
The disclosure of previous secret letters from Mother Teresa indicates that she was deeply troubled by doubts and a sense of Christ's absence. The fact is that many Christians struggle with doubt. Indeed, the most thoughtful believers are most likely of all to understand what is at stake, and thus to suffer pangs and seasons of doubt.
Doubt can be healthy. It can drive believers to a deeper knowledge of what we believe and a deeper embrace of the truth of the Gospel. It can deepen our trust in God and mature our faith. At the same time, doubt can be a form of sin . . . a refusal to trust God and his promises.
This can also be the root of depression, especially spiritual depression. I would not presume to read Mother Teresa'a heart or soul, but I can reflect on the questions raised by her experience.
The Christian Gospel is the good news that God saves sinners through the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ -- his cross and resurrection. Salvation comes to those who believe in Christ -- it is by grace we are saved through faith.
But the faith that saves is not faith in faith, nor faith in our ability to maintain faith, but faith in Christ. Our confidence is in Christ, not in ourselves.
There is a sweet and genuine emotional aspect to the Christian faith, and God made us emotional and feeling creatures. But we cannot trust our feelings. Our faith is not anchored in our feelings, but in the facts of the Gospel.
As an evangelical Christian, I have to be concerned that part of Mother Teresa's struggle was that she did not consider herself worthy of salvation. She was certainly not worthy of salvation. Nor am I. Nor is any sinner. The essence of the Gospel is that none is worthy of salvation. That is what makes salvation all about grace. As the Apostle Paul taught us, the wonder of God's grace is that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.
Our confidence is in Christ, not in ourselves. We are weak; He is strong. We fluctuate; He is constant. We cannot trust our feelings nor our emotional state. We trust in Christ. Those who come to Christ by faith are not kept unto him by our faith, but by his faithfulness.
I possess no ability to read Mother Teresa's heart, but I do sincerely hope that her faith was in Christ, and not in her own faithfulness.
Luke Timothy Johnson thinks that the Christian crisis over homosexuality is not really about sex at all. Instead, it "has less to do with sex than with perceived threats to the authority of Scripture and the teaching authority of the church." In reality the crisis is about both sex and biblical authority, as Johnson himself makes clear.
Johnson serves as Robert R. Woodruff Professor of New Testament at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He is one of the most influential Roman Catholic scholars in the field of biblical studies. In "Scripture & Experience," published in Commonweal magazine, Professor Johnson presents what can only be described as a rejectionist approach to the Bible's teachings on homosexuality.
This rejectionist approach means that Professor Johnson directly rejects what the Bible teaches on this issue, and does so with a boldness shared by few others in this debate. He accepts that "the Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love." Even as he argues that the church has "never lived in precise accord with the Scriptures," he suggests that Christians pick and choose which biblical commands they will take seriously. Nevertheless, he straightforwardly acknowledges that the Bible condemns same-sex sexual acts.
He claims that the authority of Scripture and the tradition of the church are "scarcely trivial," but criticizes those "who use the Bible as a buttress for rejecting forms of sexual love they fear or cannot understand." In other words, he argues that those who believe that the Bible's clear condemnations of homosexual behaviors are still authoritative for Christians do so only out of fear or a lack of understanding of homosexuality itself. As he explains later in his essay, he has grown by experience to overcome this fear and ignorance. He now believes that the Bible is simply wrong.
He demands intellectual honesty and says that he "has little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says." Thus, he dismisses "appeals to linguisitic or cultural subtleties" as intellectually dishonest.
This is refreshing in itself, as we grow tired of seeing revisionist scholars and homosexual advocates try to explain, for example, that Romans 1 does not condemn homosexual acts committed by homosexual persons as "against nature," but rather condemns homosexual acts undertaken by heterosexual persons. We should appreciate the fact that Professor Johnson, unlike so many others pushing for the normalization of homosexuality, does not suggest that the church has misread Scripture for two thousand years.
No, he directly rejects the Bible's commands:
I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality--namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God's created order.
Well, that is about as straightforward a rejection of biblical authority as can be found. Professor Johnson argues that experience -- his own experience and the experiences of others -- represents an authority greater than that of the Scriptures.
He defends his position by arguing that opponents of slavery and the ordination of women found themselves in the same position. "We are fully aware of the weight of scriptural evidence pointing away from our position, yet place our trust in the power of the living God to reveal as powerfully through personal experience and testimony as through written texts."
This is where Professor Johnson turns to evasive argument. He offers no sustained intellectual argument on the issues he mentions for moral support (the abolition of slavery and the acceptance of "women's full and equal roles in church and society") and he never even asks the most obvious question to be addressed to his argument: If we are to trust human experience as an authority superior to that of the Bible, whose experience are we to trust? He can only mean his own experience and that of others whose experience he chooses to privilege.
In his own words:
By "experience" we do not mean every idiosyncratic or impulsive expression of human desire. We refer rather to those profound stories of bondage and freedom, longing and love, shared by thousands of persons over many centuries and across many cultures, that help define them as human.
What are we to make of this? Professor Johnson will trust his ability to judge the Bible against "profound stories of bondage and freedom, longing and love, shared by thousands of persons over many centuries and across many cultures?" Which stories? Which cultures? Who defines bondage and who defines freedom?
For me this is no theoretical or academic position, but rather a passionate conviction. It is one many of us have come to through personal struggle, and for some, real suffering. In my case, I trusted that God was at work in the life of one of my four daughters, who struggled against bigotry to claim her sexual identity as a lesbian. I trusted God was at work in the life she shares with her partner--a long-lasting and fruitful marriage dedicated to the care of others, and one that has borne fruit in a wonderful little girl who is among my and my wife's dear grandchildren. I also trusted the many stories of students and friends whose life witnessed to a deep faith in God but whose bodies moved sexually in ways different from the way my own did. And finally I began to appreciate the ways in which my own former attitudes and language had helped to create a world where family, friends, and students were treated cruelly.
We should not doubt for a moment that Professor Johnson holds his position out of passionate conviction. That passion comes through every paragraph of his essay. There is no doubt that he is passionately and personally involved in this issue. There can also be no doubt where his argument leads.
His position is by no means unclear. He argues "if the letter of Scripture cannot find room for the activity of the living God in the transformation of human lives, then trust and obedience must be paid to the living God rather than to the words of Scripture."
Thus, the Bible cannot be the Word of God if God must oppose His own Word. We are no longer to submit our experience to the authority of the Bible but instead are to submit the Bible to the authority of experience. The "living God" is juxtaposed to the (presumably dead) "words of Scripture."
Professor Johnson's argument leads to disaster. Indeed, it is a disaster in itself, justifying what the Bible condemns as sinful. Nevertheless, his rejectionist approach to the authority of the Bible's commands is remarkably -- even breathtakingly -- honest. We could only wish that others would be equally honest.
By John Piper @ www.desiringGod.org
We are in the middle of a series of messages called Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. All but one of these sins happened before Christ came into the world. One might ask then: Should we really think of the purpose of these ancient sins having anything to do with Christ who came so much later? The answer is yes. The link between Christ and the Old Testament is more amazing than any of us realizes. Here are a couple general statements about that link. First, Luke said, in Luke 24:27, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” And in John 5:39, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”
What follows is a sampling of how Christ is the ground and goal of everything in the Old Testament. Let this litany of Christ’s pervasive presence make you marvel at him and look for him everywhere.
- Christ upholds all things (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). Therefore, all Old Testament events are possible because of Christ.
- Christ created all things (John 1:3, 10; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). Therefore, all that exists in the Old Testament is because of Christ.
- Christ is one with God (John 10:30; 17:11, 22). Therefore, all that God does in the Old Testament Christ is involved in doing.
- All things were created for Christ (Colossians 1:16). Therefore, all people, things, customs, nature, and events in the Old Testament are for the glory of Christ.
- Christ is the end and goal of the law for righteousness to all who believe (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24). Therefore, all Old Testament commands lead to Christ for righteousness.
- Christ was speaking through the Old Testament writers (1 Peter 1:10-12). Therefore, all the Old Testament is the word of Christ.
- All treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ (Colossians 2:3). Therefore, all Old Testament wisdom finds complete expression in Christ, the one who is wiser than Solomon (Matthew 12:41), who surpassed all the kings of the earth in wisdom (1 Kings 10:23).
- Christ is the final high priest (Hebrews 1:3; 2:17-18; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:5-10; 6:20-8:1-2, 6; 9:11-12, 24; 10:11-14; 10:21). Therefore, all the atoning action of priests in the Old Testament is fulfilled through Christ and their atoning work is ended in him.
- Christ is himself the final atoning sacrifice (Romans 3:25; 5:9; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:12-14, 25-26, 28; 10:10, 14; 13:12; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 4:10;). Therefore, all Old Testament sacrifices lead to him and end in him.
- Christ is greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6; John 1:14; 2:18-22; Colossians 2:9). Therefore, he is “where” we meet and have fellowship with God and see his glory.
- Christ is greater than Jonah (Matthew 12:41). Therefore, all the miracles of the prophets are surpassed in Christ’s Jonah-like miracle of death and resurrection.
- Christ is preeminent in all things (Colossians 1:18; 3:11). Therefore, all greatness in the Old Testament points to and is surpassed by Christ’s greatness.
- Christ is the Yes to all God’s promises (2 Corinthians1:20). Therefore, in him we are heirs of all the promises in Scripture.
- Christ is the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Therefore, in him we inherit the promise of Abraham.
- Christ is the son of David (Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:32, 69; John 7:42; Acts 2:30; 13:23; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8; Revelation 22:16). Therefore, the covenant with David is ours in him (Isaiah 55:3).
Today’s post is the second part in our series on how to kill sin in your life.
Yesterday, we considered the first of five steps necessary to killing sin in your life — namely, that you must recognize the presence of sin in your flesh. Today we will consider steps two through four.
2. A Heart Fixed on God.
Second, in order to gain victory over sin, you must have a heart fixed on God. You must love Him more than you love your sin.
The Psalmist said in Psalm 57:7, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” What did he mean by that? He was speaking of undivided devotion to God! He was referring to a wholeness in spiritual life where he was given wholly to God. This attitude must be true in your heart if you are to conquer sin. You must be wholly devoted to God in every area of life. You cannot tolerate sin in any one area, even if it seems like a relatively small area. You must eradicate sin everywhere.
You can’t starve it out and kill it in one spot, but then allow it to remain somewhere else. If sin lives anywhere it will crawl all over everywhere. It is the most noxious, fastest growing weed in existence. It will not confine itself to one flower bed. Left unchecked, even for a short time, it will soon take over everywhere.
The Psalmist said in Psalm 119:6, “Then shall I not be ashamed.” When? When will you not be ashamed? “When I have respect unto all thy commandments.” In other words, our lives are not going to be right or without shame until we give proper respect to every command of God. And that is to deal with every issue of sin in our lives. The only unashamed life is the life of one who is totally fixed on God; everything has been dealt with.
3. Meditate on the Word.
Third, the victorious Christian life is a life that dwells on the Word of God (cf. Psalm 1:2).
The way to kill sin in your life is to feed it Scripture. Scripture is a spiritual weed-killer. It will poison sin.
Whatever really controls your mind, controls your behavior; so keep out the garbage (of worldly thinking) and saturate the soil of your mind with a steady diet of God’s glorious truth. Sin can’t grow in a Spirit-controlled life. And the Spirit controls our thinking through the Word of Christ (Col. 3:16-17; cf. Eph. 5:18; Rom. 12:2). If you want to kill sin, you must give yourself to the Word. That means you have to read it, listen to it, learn it, study it, and think about it.
4. Commune with God in Prayer.
These are so very basic, but fourth, you must commune with God in prayer.
This circles back around to the first point that I gave you. True prayer gives the heart a sense of its own vile character and renews the hatred of sin. It agrees with God about what sin is, recognizing that any violation of God’s law is a direct affront to Him. John Owen said, “He who pleads with God for the remission of sin also pleads with his own heart to detest it.”
Somewhere along the line in your own prayer life you need to get honest. You need to begin to say to God, “I want You to reveal my sin, I want You to stir it up in me. I want You to show it to me. I want You to blow away the dust that is covering it. I want You to peel off the things that have been hiding it away in my life, so that it becomes manifest and visible to me. I want to see the reality of my sin. I want You to show it to me just the way it is.” That is a vital part of your communion with God.
When you pray to God it must be an honest confession. The true prayers of repentance go something like this, “God show me all the sins of my life, reveal all of them, uncover every little corner of my life. Bring it up and may it become as detestable to me as it is to You. May I never do that again, and may You give me the strength to see it go away.”
Prayer exposes secret sins. Prayer weakens prevailing sins. Prayer finds strength in fellowship with the Holy God to kill sin in our lives.
(To be concluded on Monday)
This is part 2 of a 4-part series on how to talk about God's sovereignty over sin.
* * *
The following is from The Doctrine of God, Chapter 9, “The Problem of Evil,” by John Frame. The headings are added; the paragraphs are Dr. Frame’s.
2) Does God Cause Sin?
Causes is another term which has led to much wrestling by theologians. . . . Reformed writers have . . . denied that God is the cause of sin. Calvin teaches, “For the proper and genuine cause of sin is not God’s hidden counsel but the evident will of man,”1 though in context he also states that Adam’s Fall was “not without God’s knowledge and ordination.”2 Some other examples:
See that you make not God the author of sin, by charging his sacred decree with men’s miscarriages, as if that were the cause or occasion of them; which we are sure that it is not, nor can be, any more than the sun can be the cause of darkness.3It is [God] who created, preserves, actuates and directs all things. But it by no means follows, from these premises, that God is therefore the cause of sin, for sin is nothing but anomia, illegality, want of conformity to the divine law (1 John iii. 4), a mere privation of rectitude; consequently, being itself a thing purely negative, it can have no positive or efficient cause, but only a negative or deficient one, as several learned men have observed.4
According to the Canons of Dort, “The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man” (1.5).
Cause and Ordain
In these quotations, cause seems to take on the connotations of the term author. For these writers, to say that God “causes” evil is to say, or perhaps imply, that he is to blame for it. Note the phrase “cause or blame” in the Canons of Dort, in which the terms seem to be treated as synonyms. But note above that although Calvin rejects cause he affirms ordination. God is not the “cause” of sin, but it is by his “ordination.” For the modern reader, the distinction is not evident. To ordain is to cause, and vice versa. If causality entails blame, then ordination would seem to entail it as well; if not, then neither entails it. But evidently in the vocabulary of Calvin and his successors there was a difference between the two terms.
We May Say That God Causes Sin
For us, the question arises as to whether God can be the efficient cause of sin, without being to blame for it. The older theologians denied that God was the efficient cause of sin . . . [in part] because they identified cause with authorship. But if . . . the connection between cause and blame in modern language is no stronger than the connection between ordination and blame, then it seems to me that it is not wrong to say that God causes evil and sin. Certainly we should employ such language cautiously, however, in view of the long history of its rejection in the tradition.
Remote and Proximate Causes
It is interesting that Calvin does use cause, referring to God’s agency in bringing evil about, when he distinguishes between God as the “remote cause” and human agency as the “proximate cause.” Arguing that God is not the “author of sin,” he says, “the proximate cause is one thing, the remote cause another.”5 Calvin points out that when wicked men steal Job’s goods, Job recognizes that “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” The thieves, proximate cause of the evil, are guilty; but Job doesn’t question the motives of the Lord, the remote cause. Calvin does not, however, believe that the proximate/ultimate distinction is sufficient to show us why God is guiltless:
But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.6
He uses the proximate/remote distinction merely to distinguish between the causality of God and that of creatures, and therefore to state that the former is always righteous. But he does not believe the distinction solves the problem of evil. . . .
At least, the above discussion does indicate that Calvin is willing in some contexts to refer to God as a cause of sin and evil. Calvin also describes God as the sole cause of the hardening and reprobation of the wicked:
Therefore, if we cannot assign any reason for his bestowing mercy on his people, but just that it so pleases him, neither can we have any reason for his reprobating others but his will. When God is said to visit mercy or harden whom he will, men are reminded that they are not to seek for any cause beyond his will.7
1 Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (London: James Clarke and Co., 1961), 122.
2 Ibid., 121.
3 Elisha Coles, A Practical Discourse on God’s Sovereignty (Marshallton, DE: The National Foundation for Christian Education, 1968), 15. Reprint of a seventeenth-century work.
4 Jerome Zanchius, Observations On the Divine Attributes, in Absolute Predestination (Marshallton, DE: National Foundation for Christian Education, nd), 33. Compare the formulations of post-reformation dogmaticians Polan and Wolleb in RD, 143, and of Mastricht on 277. All of these base their arguments on the premise that evil is a mere privation.
5 Calvin, op. cit., 181.
6 Ibid., 124.
7 Calvin, ICR 3.22.11. Compare 3.23.1.
Paul’s farewell message to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:18-35) is warmly affectionate, yet full of solemn warning. Acts 20:28 is the heart of that message, and shows how we ministers must overcome wrong attitudes toward ministry with regard to ourselves and to our work. Acts 20:28 says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
Paul gives three directives to consider as we face opposition in the ministry: take heed to yourselves, take heed to your flock, and take heed to feed the church of God. He enforces each mandate with persuasions to persevere in our work. “Take heed,” Paul says. Stop whatever you are doing. Pay close attention. Deny yourself, and consider what I say, for it is most important.
In this address, I want to focus on one aspect of Paul’s first directive, namely, that we should take heed to ourselves regarding our attitude toward ministry. Within this theme, I want to focus with you on our need as ministers (1) to fight pride, (2) to cope well with criticism, and (3) to develop a positive attitude toward ministry itself.
Ministers can develop two paralyzing attitudes to the ministry: pride and pessimism. Both are worldly at heart, for both show that the world is not crucified in us.
God hates pride (Prov. 6:16-17). He hates the proud with His heart, curses them with His mouth, and punishes them with His hand (Ps. 119:21; Is. 2:12, 23:9). Pride was God’s first enemy. It was the first sin in paradise and the last we will shed in death. “Pride is the shirt of the soul, put on first and put off last,” wrote George Swinnock.
As a sin, pride is unique. All sins turn us away from God, but pride is a direct attack upon God. It lifts our hearts above Him and against Him. Pride seeks to dethrone God and enthrone itself.
Pride is complex. “It takes many forms and shapes and encompasses the heart like the layers of an onion-when you pull off one layer, there is another underneath,” wrote Jonathan Edwards.
We ministers, who are always in the public eye, are particularly prone to the sin of pride. As Richard Greenham wrote, “The more godly a man is, and the more graces and blessings of God are upon him, the more need he hath to pray because Satan is busiest against him, and because he is readiest to be puffed up with a conceited holiness.”
Pride feeds off nearly anything: a fair measure of ability and wisdom, a single compliment, a season of remarkable prosperity, a call to serve God in a position of prestige-even the honor of suffering for the truth. “It is hard starving this sin, as there is nothing almost but it can live upon,” wrote Richard Mayo.
If we think we are immune to the sin of pride, we should ask ourselves: How dependent are we on the praise of others? Are we more concerned about a reputation for godliness than about godliness itself? What do gifts and rewards from others say to us about our ministry? How do we respond to criticism from people in our congregation?
Our forefathers did not consider themselves immune to this sin. “I know I am proud; and yet I do not know the half of that pride,” wrote Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Twenty years after his conversion, Jonathan Edwards groaned about the “bottomless, infinite depths of pride” left in his heart. And Luther said, “I am more afraid of Pope ‘Self’ than of the Pope in Rome and all his cardinals.”
Pride spoils our work. “When pride has written the sermon, it goes with us to the pulpit,” Richard Baxter said. “It forms our tone, it animates our delivery, it takes us off from that which may be displeasing to the people. It sets us in pursuit of vain applause from our hearers. It makes men seek themselves and their own glory.”
A godly minister fights against pride, whereas a worldly one feeds pride. “Men frequently admire me, and I am pleased,” said Henry Martyn, but adds, “but I abhor the pleasure I feel.” Cotton Mather confessed that when pride filled him with bitterness and confusion before the Lord, “I endeavoured to take a view of my pride as the very image of the Devil, contrary to the image and grace of Christ; as an offense against God, and grieving of His Spirit; as the most unreasonable folly and madness for one who had nothing singularly excellent and who had a nature so corrupt.” Thomas Shepard also fought pride. In his diary entry for November 10, 1642, Shepard wrote, “I kept a private fast for light to see the full glory of the Gospel… and for the conquest of all my remaining pride of heart.”
Can you identify with these pastors in their struggle against pride? Do you care enough about your brothers in ministry to admonish them about this sin? When John Eliot, the Puritan missionary, noticed that a colleague thought of himself too highly, he would say to him, “Study mortification, brother; study mortification.”
How do we fight against pride? Do we understand how deeply rooted it is in us, and how dangerous it is to our ministry? Do we ever remonstrate with ourselves as did the Puritan Richard Mayo: “Should that man be proud that has sinned as thou hast sinned, and lived as thou hast lived, and wasted so much time, and abused so much mercy, and omitted so many duties, and neglected so great means?-that hath so grieved the Spirit of God, so violated the law of God, so dishonoured the name of God? Should that man be proud, who hath such a heart as thou hast?”
If we would kill worldly pride and live in godly humility, let us look at our Savior, whose life, Calvin said, “was naught but a series of sufferings.” Nowhere is humility better cultivated than at Gethsemane and Calvary. When pride threatens you, consider the contrast between a proud minister and our humble Savior. Confess with Joseph Hall:
Thy garden is the place
Where pride cannot intrude;
For should it dare to enter there,
T’would soon be drowned in blood.
And sing with Isaac Watts:
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died;
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Here are some other ways to help you subdue pride:
Stay in the Word. Read, search, know, memorize, love, pray over, and meditate upon such passages as Psalm 39:4-6, Psalm 51:17, Galatians 6:14, Philippians 2:5-8, Hebrews 12:1-4, and 1 Peter 4:1, all in dependency upon the Spirit. The Spirit alone can break the back of our pride and cultivate humility within us by taking the things of Christ and showing them to us.
Seek a deeper knowledge of God, His attributes, and His glory. Job and Isaiah teach us that nothing is so humbling as knowing God (Job 42; Is. 6). Spend time meditating on God’s greatness and holiness in comparison to your smallness and sinfulness.
Practice humility (Phil. 2:3-4). Remember how Augustine answered the question, “What three graces does a minister need most?” by saying, “Humility. Humility. Humility.” To that end, seek greater awareness of your depravity and the heinousness and irrationality of sin.
Remember daily that “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). View your afflictions as God’s gifts to keep you humble. View your talents as gifts of God that never accrue any honor to you (1 Cor. 4:7). Everything you have or have ever accomplished has come from God’s hand.
View overcoming pride as a lifelong process that calls you to grow in servanthood. Be determined to fight the battle against pride by considering each day as an opportunity to forget yourself and serve others. As Abraham Booth writes, “Forget not, that the whole of your work is ministerial; not legislative-that you are not a lord in the church, but a servant.” The act of service is intrinsically humbling.
Read the biographies of great saints, such as Whitefield’s Journals, The Life of David Brainerd, and Spurgeon’s Early Years. As Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, “If that does not bring you to earth, then I pronounce that you are just a professional and beyond hope.” Associate, too, with living saints who exemplify humility, rather than arrogant or flattering people. Association promotes assimilation.
Meditate much on the solemnity of death, the certainty of Judgment Day, the vastness of eternity, and the fixed states of heaven and hell. Consider what you deserve on account of sin and what your future will be on account of grace; let the contrast humble you (1 Pet. 5:5-7).
Coping With Criticism
A pessimistic attitude in a minister is no better than a proud one, for pride is usually the root of pessimism. Ministers become pessimistic when they think they deserve better treatment than they’re getting. At times they may be right, but they may also be failing to exercise self-denial as their Master did, who suffered far worse at the hands of men than they will ever suffer, yet did not retaliate (1 Pet. 2:23).
Resentment and criticism are the maidservants of pessimism. A complaining spirit produces negativism, depression, bitterness, and disillusionment in the ministry. It also promotes smugness and blindness to one’s own condition. Bitter ministers often don’t see their unforgiving spirit, their habit of backbiting, or their tendency to judge others and magnify their deficiencies (Matt. 7:3-5).
If any minister had reason to be pessimistic, it was the imprisoned Paul. Yet Paul wrote his most joyous epistle, Philippians, from prison. Paul knew times of inner gloom and depression (2 Cor. 1:8-9), but his epistles show little evidence of it. He could say, “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). People have enough troubles and burdens without having to endure the ministrations of a pessimistic, discontented pastor.
Part of the problem of pessimism is that few ministers know how to respond to those who criticize them. Being on the receiving end of criticism for many years often results in pessimism, cynicism, exasperation, insomnia, and even resignations. Here are some helps to cope with criticism without letting it lead to pessimism:
1. Consider it inevitable. In a recent study, 81 percent of American clergymen said they have experienced hostile criticism. Twenty-five percent felt that coping with criticism was the most difficult problem of ministry. It is futile to think that you can avoid criticism in the ministry. If you proclaim the whole counsel of God, as you should, you are bound to become a target of criticism. As Jesus says in Luke 6:26, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you.” Expect criticism; don’t be devastated by it.
2. Consider the motive. It is critical, first of all, to listen well. Don’t only get the facts straight, but also ask: Have I heard and understood the criticism rightly and accurately? Have I heard the real problem or just a symptom of something deeper? Unresolved anger, depression, changes in life situations, frustration in relationships, jealousy, shattered expectations, and dissatisfaction with church work can lead to criticism. So ask yourself, “Does the person who is criticizing me have a proper motive, or is it indicative of something else? For example, does the critic enjoy finding fault because it somehow makes him feel superior?” Understanding the person’s motive will help you respond and cope better with the criticism.
3. Consider the source. Who is criticizing you-an office-bearer, a mature believer, a babe in grace, an unbeliever, a highly critical individual, or a fringe member of the church? James Taylor writes, “Those who criticize are usually those on the fringe, who stand back and are deaf to every appeal for service.” Criticisms from such persons seldom merit change or any other investment of energy on your part.
On the other hand, if the critic is a mature believer or an office-bearer who is usually supportive, you should seriously consider the criticism and will often find some truth in it that calls for change. What’s more, you should encourage constructive evaluation from such people. Generally speaking, the more you can sincerely welcome constructive criticism, the more your ministry and relationships with others will benefit from it.
4. Consider the context. The physical setting, timing, and situation out of which criticism comes may help us determine whether the criticism is helpful. As a general rule, don’t respond to criticism for at least twenty-four hours to allow yourself time for prayer, sifting through your feelings, getting past some of the hurt, and consulting others whose wisdom you respect.
Forcing solutions to issues too hastily may make a bad situation worse. Some situations will yield only to the healing touch of time. Truth has a way of eventually vindicating itself. Luke 21:19 says, “In your patience possess ye your souls.”
5. Consider yourself. Critics are often God’s gifts to guard us from self-satisfied and self-destructive tendencies. The Holy Spirit uses our critics to keep us from justifying, protecting, and exalting ourselves. Although critics often exaggerate their case and are seldom entirely right, they are often partially right.
Ask yourself, “Am I responding appropriately to criticism?” Remember, those who have an ear for Christ learn to have an ear for others also. If you find yourself habitually feeling slighted, neglected, and mistreated, view your feelings with suspicion. Let yourself be more vulnerable. Complain less by considering how little criticism you receive, though you are unworthy, compared with Christ, who is perfectly worthy.
Find some accountability partners to monitor your reactions. Seek the wisdom and courage needed to penetrate the insulation around your ego. Don’t be afraid to say, “I was wrong; will you forgive me?”
6. Consider the content. You can learn valuable truths about yourself from critics. Be grateful for that. Some of our best friends are those who disagree with us lovingly, openly, and intelligently. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). Helpful criticism is like good medicine.
David Pawlison writes, “Critics, like governing authorities, are servants of God to you for good (Rom. 13:4). He who sees into hearts uses critics to help us see things in ourselves: outright failings of faith and practice, distorted emphases, blind spots, areas of neglect, attitudes and actions contradictory to stated commitments, and, yes, strengths and significant contributions.”
Continued from Part I of this article.
So ask yourself, What are the critics saying that might help me improve myself and my ministry? Is there a kernel of truth in this particular criticism that, if changes are made, will make me a better minister?
If critics say something constructive, absorb it, confess your fault, take the lead in self-criticism, ask for forgiveness where appropriate, make changes for the better, and move on. If they offer nothing constructive, be kind and polite, and move on.
Don’t ever get self-defensive or angry, but turn the other cheek, as Jesus advised. If your conscience is clear, a simple, straightforward explanation may be helpful in certain cases, though respectful silence is often more appropriate and effective (Mk. 14:61). At all costs, don’t strive to justify yourself; refuse to descend to the level of the negative critic.
Don’t take every whisper seriously, get sidetracked into fruitless controversy, or spend your energy trying to appease or persuade implacable critics who foster animosity. But do ask: Why am I being misunderstood? Do my sermons, attitudes, “hobby horses,” and personal traits somehow combine to send a mixed message? Am I only implying what I should make explicit, or am I ignoring certain problems that should be addressed? Often your critics will be at least partially right in one or more of these areas; at the very least, they will teach you patience, make you more like Christ, and keep you from pride. They can save you from yourself and lead you to greater dependency on God.
Whatever results the criticism yields, once you’ve dealt with it and implemented the necessary changes, do not let it fester inside of you. Develop the attitude of Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “Criticism makes very little dent upon me, unless I think there is some real justification and something should be done.” Either way, deal with the criticism quickly and efficiently, and put it behind you. Remember, pessimism develops when we harbor the memory and hurt of criticism, allowing it to fester inside.
7. Consider Scripture. Some ministers are so delicate that they cannot endure criticism without crumbling. They need to develop better emotional muscle. Other ministers are so battle-hardened by the ministry that their hearts are, as someone said, like “the hide of a rhinoceros.” They need to develop the tender heart of a child. Actually, we need both; we need to cultivate the heart of a child for biblical criticism and the hide of a rhinoceros for satanic criticism. That combination is possible, not in our strength, but only through God’s grace molding our hearts by His Word.
We need to memorize and meditate upon texts such as Ephesians 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” as well as Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.” We ought to read and plead upon such texts every day, and let them permeate our minds and souls. Only as Scripture conforms us to the image of Christ will we find the right balance of strong tenderness and tender strength in the face of criticism.
8. Consider Christ. Hebrews 12:3 says, “Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself.” Peter is more detailed: “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21-23). If Christ, who was perfect and altogether innocent, was spat upon, mocked, rejected, and crucified, what can we imperfect pastors expect? If one of Jesus’ handpicked apostles betrayed him for a paltry sum, and another swore that he did not know Him out of fear for a servant maid, why should we expect to carry on our ministries without ever being betrayed or deserted?
What’s more, if our critics happen to be in error and we are suffering unjustly, shouldn’t we thank God that they don’t know how bad we truly are? No matter how much we are criticized, we are never criticized as much as our sin merits, even if we are innocent of the accusation levelled against us.
If we have Christ, who, being innocent, suffered infinitely more for our sake than we shall ever suffer for His sake, we have more than enough to cope with any trial (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 4:7-12). Drink deeply of the love of Christ, and you will conquer pessimism and be able to love your critic.
9. Consider biblical saints. Allow me to illustrate this point only from the example of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. There he defends himself from the charges of the Corinthians who were challenging his leadership and criticizing him for not being a super-apostle, being physically weak, and having contemptible speech. How does Paul respond to these criticisms in chapter 10? He takes refuge in Christ. “We are Christ’s,” he says in verse 7. He shores up his identity in Christ’s person and His work, according to the Scriptures and his own experience. Then, he strives to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Finally, he submits his every weakness into God’s hands, accepts those weaknesses, and trusts that God will use him even as a broken clay pot to let the gospel light shine through him. Let us go and do likewise.
10. Consider love. Love the one who criticizes you in these ways: For Christ’s sake, become better acquainted with those who criticize you; you cannot love those you don’t know. Seek to understand them. Assure them that you want to learn from them and that you want iron to sharpen iron. Thank them for coming directly to you with their criticism.
Be willing to forgive any injury done to you. Failure to forgive will keep the pain alive. It will sour your preaching, cripple your ministry, and hinder your prayer life. As Spurgeon says, “Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive and forget. When you bury a dead dog, don’t leave its tail sticking up above the ground.”
Pray with your critic. If he visits you, always begin with prayer, and ask him to close in prayer, unless he is still bitter at the end of the visit. (In the case of a woman or child, you should probably offer the closing prayer.) Be very careful to pray to God and not against your critic in your prayer. Go the extra mile to ask the Lord to forgive you and to help you change in any area that needs forgiveness and change. Be as specific as possible. Pray with integrity and humility.
And then pray for your critic in private. It’s difficult to stay bitter against a person for whom you pray. The Lord delivered Job from his hard feelings toward his judgmental friends when he prayed for them. Praying for those who defame you produces peace of mind and freedom from most of the pain of criticism.
Feel pity for your negative critic. How unhappy such a person is! What damage habitually critical adults do to their children! How seldom do the children of critics become stalwart sons and daughters of the church! How tragic to be a parent who causes “these little ones to stumble”! Critical parents will have so much to answer for on the Judgment Day. Thank God that you are on the receiving end, not the criticizing end. That, too, is only by grace, for our natural hearts are no better or different.
Finally, put away anything that inhibits love. As Peter writes, “Lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings” (1 Pet. 2:1). Show kindness and attention. I feel so strongly about this that someone said, “The best way to get attention from our minister is to become his enemy!”
There’s another side-benefit to this for yourself as well. You will discover that when you lovingly serve your critic rather than resentfully retaliate against him, your own wounds will heal more rapidly. If your critic rebuffs your attempt to serve him, reach out to serve others-comfort the needy, lift up the fallen, support the weak. That will be excellent therapy for you.
11. Consider the long haul. No president in American history was so respected and yet so reviled as Abraham Lincoln. Thousands opposed his views on war and slavery as well as his attempts to keep the nation united. One day a friend pulled Lincoln aside and told him that the criticism had reached such a crescendo that it was as if Lincoln were surrounded by scores of barking dogs. Lincoln responded, “You know that during the time of the full moon, dogs bark and bark at the moon as long as it is clearly visible in the sky.” Puzzled by Lincoln’s response, the friend asked, “What are you driving at? What’s the rest of the story?” Lincoln answered, “There is nothing more to tell. The moon keeps right on shining.”
You see, Lincoln believed he was right and that his policies would in the long run win over critics and unify the country. As pastors, we can waffle too easily under the pressure of “barking parishioners” when we know we are in the right. To obtain temporary peace with a few disgruntled members, we are prone to abandon long-term biblical vision that shines on our churches and ministries like a full moon. Don’t do that, brothers. Don’t be intimidated by criticism. Don’t allow a few critics to force you into their molds, so that you live timid and hesitant lives, doing nothing, saying nothing, and worst of all, being nothing.
Remember, the fear of criticism is usually a greater threat than criticism itself. Even as you feel the fear of man, let the fear of God propel you forward and upward. Retain long-term vision by fearing God more than man. In the long haul, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again.”
12. Consider eternity. On the other side of Jordan, our faithful Savior will be waiting for us who will never let us down. He loves us even though He knows everything about us, and He will take us to be with Him where He is forever. He will wipe away every tear from our eye and will prove to be the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. All wrongs will be made right. All injustices will be judged. All criticism will be past. All evil will be walled out of heaven and all good walled in.
Because of Jesus Christ, we will enjoy perfect fellowship and friendship with the Triune God, forever knowing, loving, and communing with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. As a woman seeing her newborn forgets the pain of delivery, you will forget all the trials of your ministry when you embrace Immanuel.
In heaven, there will be perfect unity. We will commune with the unfallen angels and the saints of all ages in absolute perfection. There will be no denominations, no divisions, no disagreements, no misunderstandings, no theological arguments, no ignorance. There will not be a hair’s breadth of difference among the saints. We shall all be one even as Christ is in the Father and the Father in Him. There will be a complete, perfect, visible, intimate oneness.
Three great truths shall become perfect reality for us: first, we will understand that all the criticism we received here below was used in the hands of our Potter to prepare us for Immanuel’s land. Second, we will see fully that all the criticisms we were called to bear on earth were but a light affliction compared to the weight of glory that awaited us. Third, in heaven we will be “more than repaid” for every affliction we endured on earth for the sake of our best and perfect Friend, Jesus Christ.
Oh, happy day when this mortality shall put on immortality and this corruption, incorruption, and we shall ever be with the Lord! Let all the criticism our Sovereign God calls us to endure in this life in His infinite wisdom make us more homesick for the criticism-free land of Beulah where the Lamb is all the glory. There,
The bride eyes not her garment
But her dear Bridegroom’s face.
I will not gaze at glory,
But at my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth,
But at His pierced hand.
The Lamb is all the glory
In Immanuel’s land.
Developing a Positive Attitude
Brothers, do we have a positive view of the ministry? We have the most important and significant vocation in the world. My father often said to me, “Your calling is more important than living in the White House!” We never have to wake up in the morning and ask if our ministry is a worthwhile pursuit. As Richard Baxter says, “I would not change my life for any of the greatest dignities on earth. I am contented to consume my body, to sacrifice to God’s service, and to spend all that I have, and to be spent myself, for the souls of men.”
We are ambassadors of the King of kings, and we have His promise that His Word shall not return to Him void (Is. 55:10-11). Christ is our intercessor at the right hand of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the advocate in our heart. God will not allow criticism beyond what He provides grace for us to bear (1 Cor. 10:13). Every criticism, like any other hardship or difficulty, will eventually work for our good (Rom. 8:28).
Stop your worldly complaining. Count your blessings. Persevere in the good fight of faith. You have the best of assurances in that fight-the promises of God; the best of advocates-the Holy Spirit; the best of generals-Jesus Christ; the best of results-everlasting glory. Follow Fred Malone’s advice, “We must quit expecting people to respond properly, making them our tin gods of life and death. This is idolatry, to live and die upon our people’s behavior. Paul said, ‘Having received mercy, we faint not.’ The comfort of God’s mercy received is the only lasting motivation I have ever found to labor on in trial.”
“Lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet” (Heb. 12:12-13). For every look you take at yourself and your circumstances, look ten times at Christ, as Richard Baxter advised. You can start complaining when you have given as much for Christ as He has given for you. Gird up the loins of your mind, and stand fast, for your Savior is greater than both Apollyon and the times. Your Sender will not desert you. Hold fast your profession-even when friends desert you-by clinging to your High Priest who is holding fast to you. Trust Him. He’s a Friend that sticks closer than a brother; He will never desert you. Don’t put your trust in princes or in a dying, fallen world, but in the Prince of peace. Look Christward; lean Christward; pray Christward; preach Christward.
Put your hands again to the plow, despite your weakness and hurts. “Continue with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you,” Spurgeon advised. Pray more and look at circumstances less. “Bury not the church before she be dead,” John Flavel quipped, and I would add: “Bury not yourself nor the church before you and she be dead.” Believe Christ’s promise to His servants in Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.”
Don’t resign; re-sign. Renew your commitment to Christ and His cause. You do that the same way the backsliding Ephesians had to “re-sign” when they left their first love. You:
Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen,
Repent of your worldliness and backsliding,
Return to your first love, ministry, and do the first works (Rev. 2:5).
Don’t give up on the Lord. He is not done with you or your ministry. Serve this great God with faithfulness and zeal. The world may not be worthy of you, but God is. Serve your Master with all your heart and every gift that you have.
Andrew Fuller said that there is nothing in personal holiness that makes us more like Jesus than humility, and there is nothing in sin that makes us more like Satan than pride. The bible says pride always precedes disgrace and destruction. God hates pride. The sin of pride is believed by many theologians to be the fountain of all other sins, and even the greatest sin there is. We recognize it when we see it, but what exactly is pride? In his book, Humility, C.J. Mahaney explains that, “Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence on him.”
This is a fantastic and devastating definition. Fantastic in its precision, and devastating in its implications. Though we may not think of our own sinful pride in terms of usurping God’s authority, in practice this is exactly what we do. Pride is an unrealistic view of ourselves that makes too much of our own righteousness while ignoring our own sinfulness, neediness before God, and commonality with all men. Our pride makes little of God and our neighbors while making so much of ourselves that we live life, make our decisions, and see our world in light of our own interests and desires.
In his sermon on The Prevention and Cure of Spiritual Pride Richard Mayo explains that the “pregnancy” of pride is a great danger. He says, “It is a big-bellied sin; most of the sins that are in the world are the offspring and issue of pride.” He gives a number of example. Here is a summary of most of them.
Pride gives birth to:
- Covetousness - because you believe you deserve something more than others.
- Ungodly ambition - because you believe that you are most qualified, and the idea of someone else being preferred over you is an insult to your perceived worth.
- Boasting - because everyone should know who you are and what you have accomplished.
- Contention - because in picking fights you feel a sense of superiority over those who may (or may not) be in error.
- Unthankfulness - because you deserve everything you get!
- Selfishness - because others do not!
- Self-deceit - because it’s easier to believe you are something, when in fact you are nothing.
- A judgmental attitude - because you believe the errors of others are much more serious than your own.
- Gossip - because you look so much better when telling others how awful someone else is. Mayo said that the proud “endeavor to build their own praise upon the ruins of others’ reputation.”
- Complaining - because God should have consulted you before orchestrating the events of your day/life.
- Hypocrisy - because you must hide the truth, your own failures, in order to avoid shame and accumulate praise.
There are many others, but this is enough to show, I think, that pride is not only dangerous, but present in us all in one way or another. Thoughts on fighting against the sin of pride coming later this week.
When we parade successful people in front of the church, what do we see? People successful since very young? My life is different. So is Rick's. And even so were the great heroes of the bible.
WE: We must see this one thing: it is never too late to serve God, and many of us have given up due to failure and doubts.
1. The PROCESS of fulfilling God's call
The life of Moses shows three stages.
"But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God's sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father's house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.
"When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, 'Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?' But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?' At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
"Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.' And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, 'Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.'
a. The REVEALING of God's Call
God often reveals to us what he wants to do with us, in our desires, in our dreams, but especially, in our personal time with him
- God often does this early, but if we are not spending time with God, we probably wont' hear it
- We should be careful to _______________ __________________ God's call rather than blab it
- We should be careful to be ___________________ and not try to make it happen just because it is not immediate
Examples of how bible people reacted to God's call
- Joseph, the son of Jacob, was ________ ____________ and told his dream to his brothers, who hated him
- Abraham was given the promise of a child in his old age, but when it was delayed, he was ________ ____________ and had Ischmael
- Peter, in zeal, was _______________ told Jesus "I will die for you" and failed
- Mary, the mother of Jesus, after being told, ________ ____________
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
2. Our EXCUSES for not responding to God's call.
b. The RE-EDUCATION of God's call
- Remember that God wants us to have CHARACTER BEFORE GIFTS so that we don't fail under the pressures of success.
- Remember that natural ability is not enough - we need virtue, depth, faith.
Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.
- Moses had all of the social and political and family connections to make something happen.
God's delays are not God's denials, they are his purification and maturation process.
c. The FULFILLMENT of God's call
At some point, God renews his call to us, but we are usually less cocky, more aware of our shortcomings, and more ready to stay in the safety of obedience.
Jesus, when speaking to Peter about his coming failure, said something amazing - "When you have returned, strengthen your brothers."
Maturity comes after seasoning, and moral failure is common among the great people of faith.
a. I can't speak
- MOSES - Exodus 6:11-13
Go back to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave his country." "But Lord!" Moses objected. "My own people won't listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I'm such a clumsy speaker!" But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them orders for the Israelites and for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.
God promises to give us the words - this doesn't mean that we don't study or prepare, but it does mean that God will motivate and inspire us
- Jeremiah 7:17 - Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.
- Paul was not an impressive speaker
2 Corinthians 11:10
For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
- The anointing breaks the yoke - not fancy speech
1 Corinthians 2:1-8
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
b. I am not handsome or good looking
- Paul the Apostle was probably not much to look at
c. I'm not good enough, I'm weak, I'm very imperfect
- Even though God has waited until you have more character, our increased self knowledge gives us LESS confidence, not more. We need to rely on him more.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
d. I'm too young
Then said I: " Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth."But the LORD said to me: " Do not say, 'I am a youth,'For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
- Young people have some of the most inspiring missionary stories
e. I'm afraid
Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you," says the LORD.
Therefore prepare yourself and arise, And speak to them all that I command you.
Do not be dismayed before their faces, Lest I dismay you before them.
"And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!
f. I'm too old
When you are called, you are called.
- Abraham was 90.
- Moses started in earnest when 2/3 of his life was gone
- Paul the apostle said that God's timing is his choice, and to some extent, we are dependent upon him
And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me
3. God's REWARDS for fulfilling his call
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.'
"So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.' And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.' But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?' So the last will be first, and the first last.
a. God is GENEROUS
b. God does not reward us the way WE expect, according to how long we've served, but according to his knowledge of our limitations, opportunities, and when he calls us.