Facing Our Long Battle with Terrorism

20130712-141054This morning I was reading again a journal article by James I. Packer entitled “Wisdom in a Time of War: What Oswald Chambers and C.S. Lewis Teach Us about Living Through The Long Battle with Terrorism.” He wrote this for the January 2, 2002 edition of  the periodical Christianity Today.

One of the first points he makes is that Christians must think carefully and biblically about our own lives. I found his particular points very salient:

  • God gives us life to live for his glory.
  • Since the Fall of man (see Genesis 3), tragedy, distortion, frustration, and waste have been the regular marks of life in this world.
  • Reason (with a capital R) cannot save us, as its secular worshipers thought it could.
  • Knowing and serving Jesus Christ the Redeemer and his Father, who through Christ is now our Father, is the only thing that gives life meaning.
  • Death is inescapable and wisdom requires us to remember this and live our lives accordingly.
  • While God protects his people against spiritual shipwreck, he often puts them through pain for their spiritual progress and sometimes permits and uses war to that end.
  • Christians are called not to understand everything that God is doing but to be faithful to him.

What is a Christian?

Here is a sound definition from James I. Packer in his classic book Knowing God in the chapter “Thy Word is Truth:”

“A person who acknowledges and lives under the Word of  God. He submits without reserve to the Word of God written in ‘the Scripture of truth’ (Daniel 10:21), believing the teaching, trusting the promises, following the commands. His eyes are to the God of the Bible as his Father, and the Christ of the Bible as his Savior. The Word of God has convinced him of sin and assured him of forgiveness. He aspires to have his whole life brought into line with it. The promises are before him as he prays, and the precepts are before him as he moves among others.

He knows that in addition to the Word of God spoken directly to him in the Scriptures, God’s Word has also gone forth to create, and control, and order things around him; but since the Scriptures tell him that all things work together for his good, the thought of God ordering his circumstances brings him only joy. He is an independent fellow, for he uses the Word of God as a touchstone by which to test the various views that are put to him, and he will not touch anything which he is not sure that Scripture sanctions.”

J.I. Packer asked back in 1973: “Why does this description fit so few of us who profess to be Christians these days?” He concludes: “You will find it profitable to ask your conscience, and let it tell you.”

When Politics Get You Down

Take a moment to grasp again how great is our God. The Bible tells us how unlimited are His wisdom, His presence and His power. No where does the Bible set this forth more beautifully than in Psalm 139.

J.I. Packer, in his classic book entitled Knowing God, writes:

Look at the world’s great men – the governors whose laws and policies determine the welfare of millions; the would-be world-rulers, the dictators and empire-builders, who have it in their power to plunge the globe into war. Think of Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar; think of Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler. Think of Nixon and Mao Tse-tung…think now of Putin, Obama, Kim Jong-un, and others… 

Do you suppose that it is really these men who determine which way the world shall go? Think again; for God is greater than the world’s great men. He “brings the princes to nothing; He makes the rulers of the earth as vanity” (Isaiah 40:23). He is, as the Prayer Book says, “The only ruler of princes.” Behold your God indeed!

The Power of the Word of God in a Young Pastor’s Life

J.I. Packer, as a young pastor, found himself “marginalized, isolated and required to work on unfulfilling and flawed agendas, in a manner that made him think of the Israelites having to make bricks for Pharaoh.” He claims to have lived “like Moses in Midian, with frustration in [his] heart, wondering what God could possibly be up to.” During those years his spiritual education was proceeding. Below are some of the main lessons that God through his Word hammered into his heart.

I personally benefited from these few lessons and I hope you will too.

He summarizes:

1. Goodwill — I should not get bitter or lapse into self-pity or spend time complaining or angling for sympathy. God was using my ministry, and I was forbidden to get fixated on my frustrations.

2. Hope — I must not become cynical or apathetic about the vision I had been given or to abandon it because there was no immediate way of advancing it. God is never in a hurry, and waiting in hope is a Christian discipline.

3. Faithfulness — As husband, father, teacher, honorary assistant pastor and occasional author, I had plenty each day to get on with, and I could not honor God by slackness and negligence, whatever discontents I was carrying around inside me.

4. Compassion — Clearly I was being taught to empathize more deeply with the many Christians, lay and ordained, male and female, who live with various kinds of disappointments and thus were in the same boat as myself.

5. Humility — I must never forget that God is supreme and important, and I am neither, and he can manage very well without me whenever he chooses to do so.

Dealing with Depression at Christmas

Many of us deal with discouragement and depression during this season of the year. Some of us deal with deeply flawed marriages, unbelieving children, less than fulfilling careers, singleness, childlessness, broken dreams/relationships, and/or being falsely accused of something we didn’t say or do.

One key attribute of God that helps us face these dark days is God’s providence. The Westminster Catechism states that God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions. J.I. Packer defines providence like this: “God’s purposive, personal management with total ‘hands-on’ control of His entire universe. God is completely in charge of his world.”

King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2-4 had to go through some very dark days due to his pride and rebellion against God. Listen to his testimony in Daniel 4:34-35
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

However, many persist in adhering to the thoughts of someone like Oscar Wilde who wrote: “There is enough misery and suffering in one city block of London to make me disbelieve in the providence of God.”

BB Warfield, the great Princeton theologian, was married to his sweetheart Annie Kinkad in 1876. They went on their honeymoon to Switzerland. Annie was struck by lightening and was an invalid the rest of her life. For thirty-nine years Dr. Warfield served his wife. He never went more than two hours away from home. He turned down many leadership appointments in his denomination in order to care for her. Listen to what He wrote in a devotional booklet on Romans 8:28 — “God will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from what befalls us.” WOW. What a comforting thought to know that in the end we shall reap only good from whatever befalls us. This is the faith response of a heart that is willing to trust all into the hands of a good, perfect, loving, faithful, and providential heavenly Father.

Every providence of our faithful God facilitates our spiritual good… freeing us from sin, bring us nearer to God, weaning us from the world, and fitting us for heaven.

Martin Lloyd-Jones offer this pastoral exhortation: “Do you know that God is over-ruling everything in the whole cosmos for your good? You cannot know it and be depressed at the same time; for such knowledge and depression are mutually exclusive.

The Struggle to Believe in Sovereign Grace

If you have ever struggled to believe in God’s sovereignty in the salvation of sinners. Below are quotes from distinquished authors who recount this struggle and explain succinctly the practical implications for resting your salvation in the hands of a sovereign God:

John_Calvin

Men will never worship God with a sincere heart, or be roused to fear and obey Him with sufficient zeal, until they properly understand how much they are indebted to His mercy.

— John Calvin

 

From childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s75887 sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life; and passing over whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish… It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me… There has been a wonderful al
teration in my mind with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty…. The doctrine now appears exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.

– Jonathan Edwards

maxresdefaultHow slow we are, even as Christians, really to believe that salvation is entirely by grace… Your salvation depends entirely upon what God has done, in choosing you, sending his Son to die for you, and drawing you into his kingdom through the Holy Spirit.

– Sinclair Ferguson

20130712-141054In the Scripture, election is a pastoral doctrine, brought in to help believers see how great is the grace that saves them, and to move them to humility, confidence, joy, praise, faithfulness, and holiness in response.

– James I. Packer

Three Avenues of Spiritual Attack and What To Do About Them

Our church is under spiritual attack. In fact, all churches are under attack. Every single believer in Christ is engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms:  Our unbelief of God’s word, our lack of forgiveness of others, and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done. So, I would like to propose a challenge for us this summer.

Here are three specific things for your concerted reflection and prayer which I have gleaned and adapted from reading J.I. Packer’s article, “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition” (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13).

1.  Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us individually and corporately a greater capacity to trust Him and His promises. Packer writes: “In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife.  Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.”

Consider praying through a simple promise of Jesus for us like Matthew 16:18 or Matthew 28:18-20 and ask to increase your faith to trust the Lord to do what He says He will do. Why not heed the counsel of John Murray who urged believers to spend at least fifteen minutes every day meditating on some word of God connected with His promises to His people and then plead with Him for its fulfillment. If fifteen minutes seems a bit much, why not dedicate five?

2.     Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us the grace to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven. Packer speaks bluntly of this avenue of spiritual attack: “Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect.  As Jesus often warned, unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God” (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37). Wow! A total block? This should move us to examine our hearts to see if we are nursing a spirit of unforgiveness towards anybody.

Whom do you need to forgive? Yourself? Your spouse? An in-law? A fellow church member or pastor? Let’s resolve to become a church that models grace in all of our relationships as we forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). What an impact we would have in our city if we follow the Lord fully in this matter of forgiveness.

3.   Let us pray and ask the Lord to make us people who are marked by humility, free from the spiritual cancer of pride. At every stage of our Christian development, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. The person who is always finding fault is full of pride. Pride is spiritual cancer because it eats up any possibility of truly loving others. Proud people are critical people. You need to look no further than the renowned Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice “who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish.”

Packer parses this avenue of spiritual attack with convicting precision: “Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms:  Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people – and pride of grace is the worst of the lot.  All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”

On the other hand, humility is the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness. A humble person simply thinks of himself or herself less. Paul sets it forth beautifully in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

May I leave you with one helpful skill to cultivate the grace of humility. Actively look for ways that God is at work in the lives of other people around you. Ask yourself: Where have you seen God’s grace and Spirit at work in the lives of others in your family, your work place, and your church and tell them so?  Are the members of your family more aware of the evidences of grace that you’ve noticed in them or of your barrage of criticism?  How about your kids?  When was the last time you specifically shared with your son or daughter an evidence of God’s grace that you’ve noticed in his or her life?

Our vitality, unity and outward focus as a church are easily threatened by squabbles and conflicts. Please take this challenge personally and pray that the Lord would send times of refreshing from His presence so that we become people marked by our strong trust in the Lord and His promises, by our readiness to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven, and by our humility that willingly serves the interest of Jesus Christ in the lives of others.