“Sirs, when I accepted the office of minister of this congregation, I looked to see what were your articles of faith; if I had not believed them I should not have accepted your call, and when I change my opinions, rest assured that as an honest man I shall resign the office, for how could I profess one thing in your declaration of faith, and quite another thing in my own preaching?  Would I accept your pay, and then stand up every Sabbath-day and talk against the doctrines of your standards?  For clergymen to swear or say that they give their solemn assent and consent to what they do not believe is one of the grossest pieces of immorality perpetrated in England, and is most pestilential in its influence, since it directly teaches men to lie whenever it seems necessary to do so in order to get a living or increase their supposed usefulness: it is in fact an open testimony from priestly lips that at least in ecclesiastical matters falsehood may express truth, and truth itself is a mere unimportant nonentity.  I know of nothing more calculated to debauch the public mind than a want of straightforwardness in ministers; and when worldly men hear ministers denouncing the very things which their own Prayer Book teaches, they imagine that words have no meaning among ecclesiastics, and that vital differences in religion are merely a matter of tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, and that it does not much matter what a man does believe so long as he is charitable towards other people.”

(Charles H. Spurgeon, “Baptismal Regeneration,” Sermon No. 573, June 5, 1864)

Charles Spurgeon on Pastoral Integrity

Persevering in Christ

Believers in Christ are more than conquerors.  I love the sound of that statement; however, what does the apostle Paul mean by it?  Here is the text in question:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, ESV & NIV).

Before jumping to any conclusions about this verse, or using it to emphasize our victory in Christ, I must stress the importance of knowing the surrounding context to it.  When Paul declares that believers are more than conquerors, this statement follows on the heels of adjectives describing persecution, pain, and suffering.  These are the present realities in the lives of the Roman Christians.  Ancient historical records attest to countless incidents of the early Christians being fed to the lions before the cheers of thousands inside the Roman Coliseum.

During the reign of Nero, the apostle Paul experienced martyrdom by beheading and the apostle Peter by crucifixion.  Their deaths failed to prevent the gospel from spreading and the church from growing.  According to church tradition, the apostle John survived being placed into a vat of boiling oil only to experience exile onto the island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 1:9, ESV).  All of this known history confirms the intense persecution faced by Christians in the first century. It forms the backdrop to Paul’s letter to the Romans and by extension the eighth chapter.

Based on the historical and lexical contexts of Romans, the apostle Paul preached and taught God’s truth with his feet on the ground.  Another way to say this is that Paul avoids either softening the force of his message or navigating around its difficult implications.  Instead, his words show an honest acknowledgement that both victory and pain and suffering occur within the believer’s life.  The apostle Paul ends the eighth chapter by referencing things future as being incapable of separating the believer from his/her love relationship with God in Christ (Rom. 8:38-39, ESV).

If I am honest about Paul’s more than conquerors declaration, it means more than living a life above pain and suffering.  It appears that the expectation is for believers to walk through pain and suffering.  This does not mean that Christians are masochists.  The call upon Christians in Paul’s day and today may require them to be faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10; 12:11, ESV).  This is definitely true for Christians in the Middle East, India, and Asia.  Besides, this falls right in line with Jesus’ words to his apostles on the night of his impending suffering and death: “…In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b, ESV).

On a more personal level, what I need to realize is that I do not walk through pain and suffering alone.  I journey through these in Christ and with Christ.  It is this last point that must shape and anchor my heart and mind.  For example, the writer of Hebrews exhorts his Christian audience to follow their Lord and Savior’s pattern of suffering in their own lives (Hebrews 13:12-13, ESV).  The apostle Peter admonishes first century Christians against being surprised by fiery trials in their lives as it illustrates how they share in Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-13, ESV).  Lastly, Jesus declares to his disciples and all believers that he will be with them always to the end of the age, which includes pain and suffering (Matthew 28:20b, ESV).

I realize that some may object to this post due to its implication that Christians are to expect suffering, or that it comes with the territory.  My aim is to unfold the whole counsel of Scripture as best I can.  When I am off or way off, feel free to let me know.  I exhort and encourage my readers and followers to search the Scriptures on this subject of pain and suffering.  It is my personal conviction that some portions of the Christian church in the United States succumb to a Pollyanna complex with respect to the Bible’s teaching about pain and suffering. There are two factors here: 1.) some advocate an overly-realized eschatology that believes sin and suffering will give way to a period of peace and righteousness upon the earth before Christ returns; and 2.) some lack a mature biblical theology regarding suffering.

Both of those factors erode the spiritual vitality of the church and her ability to maintain a long obedience in the same direction.  From my perspective, God and his word offer a consistent witness across both testaments with respect to pain and suffering.  If there is any inconsistency within the church on this topic, it stems from the inconsistent teaching and witness of its shepherds and members.  The call upon the church, her leaders, and her members is a faithful witness to the nations even in the midst of great persecution; however, their reward is eternal communion with their Lord and Savior (Rev. 7:13-14; Rev. 19:7-8, ESV).

 

The Slumbering Church

For me, this short, video snippet conveys a message sorely needed in our day.  I find the popular brand of Christianity in the United States to be too naive in a very dangerous way.  The over-emphasis on material wealth and prosperity fails to acknowledge the presence of pain and suffering.  I see this as a breeding ground for offense at the Lord.  Piper’s word remind me of the following passage:

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12, ESV).

The following link takes one to Piper’s full-length sermon.

“Humans are story-formed people.  Our first sense of who we are and where we fit within an often-confusing world comes through the narratives our communities tells us.  And this narrative engagement is not simply a developmental stage only for children: it’s a function and framework of the imagination, that part of our human mind that makes connections, discovers patterns, and processes meaning in ways that include but transcend reason.  You can’t get three pages into Scripture without both using your imagination and being enriched by the imaginations of others–all through the medium of story.”

(Sarah Arthur, “Have Yourself a Merry Kitschy Christmas,” Christianity Today, p 56,  Dec 2014)

Story-Formed People

Trust in the Lord

Last week, I received word that I had been admitted into the M.Div program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) for this coming fall.  I knew in my heart that I would have no trouble getting into this school or any school for that matter; however, the quickness of the decision took me by surprise.  The slowest part of the application process had been gathering my official transcripts.  It has been over ten years since I graduated from Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) MFA program in digital/film production.  It has been at least fifteen or sixteen years since I completed my undergraduate degrees from FIU.

Because so much time has past since my college and grad school days, my personal accounts went dormant due to inactivity.  I always will be on record as an alum of both LMU and FIU.  This does not ensure quick and easy access to my student records; consequently, SBTS experienced a significant time delay with respect to receiving my official transcripts.  It did not help that I began my application process after Thanksgiving and right before Christmas.  I viewed this time between the holidays as a black hole, i.e. requests get sent out, but nothing comes back.  Of course, the application process required patience and understanding, which are two things that come so easy for me.

At some point, I realized that I needed to rescind the desire to control this process.  I followed up with both LMU and FIU as needed, but there was a limit to this, too.  During those follow up calls, I discovered that my transcript request to LMU wound up lost in the mail or in an undiscovered, black hole.  To make a long story short, one of LMU’s student records’ officers personally took care of my request while I remained on the line.  I received an email notification from Southern that my application had been completed last Wednesday morning.  The very next day the admissions department notified me that I had been accepted into their M.Div program.  When I read that email, I sat at my work desk rather stunned.  My application review took no more than a day.

I mentioned my surprise to my wife, who nudged me last Spring/Summer to either put up or shut up regarding seminary.  She responded to me that Southern knows a good thing when they see it.  Again, in my head, I knew that I would not have any issues gaining acceptance.  My heart was another matter along with my imagination.  Those two aspects had been essential throughout my grad school days at LMU.  Sometimes my heart and imagination trip me with making decisions.  It is too easy to second guess, over-think, or stew about future plans.  When my wife took me task about seminary last year, she gently and firmly demanded a decision.  From her perspective, I must have looked like a hamster in a wheel.  Once I took the first steps toward completing the application, then securing the letters of recommendation, and then the transcripts, a definite sense of peace and resolve entered my soul.

One seminary is down, and there is one more to go.  The peace and resolve remain in my soul, but I still come away with some amazement regarding SBTS’s swift decision regarding my application.  It seems to me like my heart needed this in order to catch up to my mind.  There is a saying that I have heard over and over again.  The wording goes something like this: “The longest journey you will ever make is between your heart and your mind.”  It is a worthwhile journey that requires trust, which the prophet Isaiah stated years ago under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:3-4, ESV).

A Conversation between Richard Lints and Michael Horton

There are moments in my life where I notice God’s hand directing my footsteps.  Two weeks ago, I posted a short video with Dr. Michael Horton discussing the importance of theological training for the pastor-scholar.  I found another video through the Gospel Coalition website covering a related topic involving Dr. Horton and another gentleman, Dr. Richard Lints.  These two men discuss the divide that exists between the church and the academy and ways for up and coming pastor-scholars (novice ones like yours truly) to navigate these two worlds.

Neither Lints nor Horton used the terms salt and light, but those are two things that came into my mind as watched this video.  My academic goals are not to acquire an inflated mind.  I want to walk alongside hearts, minds, and souls for the purpose of raising up generations of men and women who take God and the study of his word with seriousness.  This also applies to my future children and their children’s children and so on and so forth.  The God I serve is coherent.  My understanding of him and his word needs to be coherent in addition to my communication of him and his word.  Here is the video link:

Christian Scholars in the Secular Academy