“A Spontaneous Lament”

The following is taken from Kelly M. Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017), 34-35. It is a spontaneous lament written by a friend of Kapic’s reflecting on the various struggles of life. It is a fictitious conversation with God regarding suffering.

 

Why did my daughter’s husband break her heart?
I know, little child
Won’t you tell me Father?
I won’t, my son

Why does my wife have to live in pain?
I know, little child
Won’t you tell me, Father? It would be easier
It wouldn’t, my son

Who do parents bury their children? It isn’t right
It isn’t, little child
Then get rid of death, Father
I am, my son

Why are people abused, persecuted and killed? Can’t you protect them?
I can, little child
Then do something
I did, my son

Why do my parents need to finish their lives in unrelenting misery? How is that merciful?
It is, little child
Then I don’t understand mercy
You don’t, my son

But it all hurts so much sometimes
I know it does, little child
How do you know Father?
I have felt all the pain of sin, my son

Can’t you make it all stop?
I can, little child
Then do it, Father
I started 2000 years ago and will finish soon, by son

I believe you, Father, help my unbelief
I love you, my son.

Though I am less than one-third of the way into the work, I am delighted with it to this point. I would particularly recommend this work to pastors who are looking for a way to minister faithfully to church members who are suffering.

Thus far, Kapic has taken into account the theological and pastoral dimensions of leading people through suffering in a compelling way. In short, Kapic has not tried to explain God in an abstract, aloof way, but has tried to provide an existential comfort during one’s moment of need by pointing to God’s identification with those who suffer and His eschatological hope through Jesus Christ.

When Angels Laugh

One of the joys of researching the life of a famed theologian is that, after spending much time interacting with their work, you begin to notice characteristics of their personality. Those close associates and students who have written about the life and work of Karl Barth have indicated that one of the greatest characteristics of Barth was his self-deprecating humility. This personality trait often led to Barth expressing himself through humor. However, we should not see humor as purposeless. Barth’s humor was used to convey deep theological truths, even while providing a chuckle for his readers. For example, Barth, writing of his own legacy, delineates: 

The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume and each is thicker than the previous one. As they laugh, they say to one another, “Look! Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics!” — and they laugh about the men who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write about. Truly, the Angels laugh. (Karl Barth, How I Changed My Mind, 14). 

We may not (and should not) fully embrace Karl Barth’s theology. But may we learn to have a little self-deprecating humor as we seek to speak of the One who is higher than us. 

Monday Morning Reflections: Blessed are the Mourners

Currently I am preaching through the Sermon on the Mount in a series I have titled “Authentic: Living the Genuine Christian Life in a Disingenuous World.” I have preached through the Sermon on the Mount before, but this times seems different. Perhaps it is the rapidly changing world stage or the more subtle undercurrent of a yet-to-be fully realized societal change. Either way, every discerning Christian must admit that there is a transformation within the immediate environment that is going to test our strength (or weakness, as it may be).

Yesterday, in the third message of the series, we examined the second beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” After explaining how mourning is an experience that is directly correlated to the character of God, I sought to explain how Christian mourning is inherently different from non-Christian mourning. To put it simply, non-Christian mourning leads to despair while Christian mourning leads to action. I then proceeded to explain that Christian mourning manifests itself through four proper responses.

First, the Christian responds to mourning through intercession. This is the result of mourning over a fallen world that has normalized abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and addiction. The Christian who mourns does not let the attempted justification for these atrocities to lead them to despair; rather, they are driven to intercede through prayer and witness.

Second, the Christian responds to mourning through leadership. One of the realities that can prompt mourning in the heart of a dedicated Christian is the lack of seriousness that many professing Christians seem to invest in pursuing what they claim is the Ultimate Reality, namely, the Lord Christ. When exposed to a disingenuous church culture, the Christian may be tempted to despair over the state of many of the churches. However, true Christian mourning does not respond with despair — lest it contribute to the problem it laments.

Rather, Christians who mourn over the state of churches and Christians today are compelled to a demonstration of true Christian leadership. The devoted follower of Christ hears the continual echo of the voice of Joshua: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you shall serve. As for me and my house, we shall serve the LORD.” The Christian who mourns fears being in Laodicea more than he fears being on Patmos.

Third, the Christian who experiences true, biblical mourning responds through confession. The earnest believer recognizes that he is not the solution, but he is part of the problem. He wrestles with personal sin that inhibits his ability to serve to God in a meaningful way apart from the fullness of God’s grace toward him. In other words, every witness is a hypocrite. The Christian who dares to do anything in the name of Christ cannot escape the eerie compulsion of the Holy Spirit leading him to confess, “I am the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). Indeed, he finds himself far more in need of Psalm 51 than he readily admits. Therefore, rather than puff himself up with self-righteousness, he confesses his inadequacies.

Finally, the Christian who mourns does so because he recognizes that there is a separation from God that manifests itself through an internal longing for the restoration of all things. Though he finds joy through watching children grow, a marriage develop, or a career blossom, there is an overriding reality that beckons him to remember that this world is not his home. He suffers from a perpetual plague of being homesick.

In a sense, the Christian who understands the second beatitude can be spotted as the one who has a simultaneous tear in his eye and smile on his face. In Christian mourning, sorrow and joy collide. He is sorrowful because he is not immune from tragedy. He is joyful because he knows the fullness of comfort is yet to come. So, let us mourn with hope. Our Comfort will come.

Chrysostom on Pulpit Presence

John confronting the empress Aelia Eudoxia for her lavish lifestyle.
John confronting the empress Aelia Eudoxia for her lavish lifestyle.

“A preacher then should have loftiness of mind, far exceeding my own littleness of spirit, that he may correct this disorderly and unprofitable pleasure on the part of the multitude, and be able to lead them over to a more useful way of hearing, that his people may follow and yield to him, and the he may not be led away by their own humors, and this it is not possible to arrive at, except by two means: indifference to their praise, and the power of preaching well.”

John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood V.1.

Barth on the New Year: Christ has overcome the world

karl_barth Confidence in its cause and continuance and future and triumph depends absolutely upon the fact that it is always confidence in Him; that renouncing all other helpers it keeps only to Him who is not only a Helper but already the Conqueror, the Victor, the death of death, and who as such is not apart from but with His saints. For the community everything depends upon its readiness not to try to be anything more or better or surer than His people, His body, and to live and grow as such on earth. In every deviation from confidence in Him, it can only be deceived as to its preservation, and know that it is doomed and lost. There is no objective need, or even possibility, of concern and anxiety or despair concerning its preservation. This can arise only where there is deviation; when search is made for other helpers; when there is desertion of the Victor by whom the community — even though it may be threatened on all sides, even though it may be under assault or the cross, even though it may be secularised or sacralised — is objectively victorious, and thus able at all times to throw off every fear. There is objective need to rejoice in its actual preservation. As the community does this, it is in a position to take up its human responsibilities with new thankfulness, seriousness and soberness, not folding its hands, but when it has prayed, and continuing to do so, going boldly to work as if it were not threatened by dangers. Fluctuat nec mergitur. The One who is attested and attests to Himself in the Bible will never have any other message for His threatened community than that it should be confident, not because it has no reason for anxiety as it exists in the world, but because of the counter-reason which radically removes this reason — that He has overcome the world. [Taken from Church Dogmatics: Index, 303-04, “New Year’s Day”].

“I am an abortion survivor”

With those words, Criswell College student Josiah Presley introduced himself to the National Convention for Life. He further shares his moving testimony of discovering his birth mother’s intent to have him aborted. Yet, by God’s grace, a family was moved to adopt him and raise them as their own. You can watch Josiah’s testimony below.

For whom did Christ die?

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????**This post was written for the church I currently pastor. As such, it is intentionally pastoral. I have sought to avoid overly technical language and am speaking within the framework of a particular conversation.**

 

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:9

The ebb and flow of church life coupled with the natural imbalance that accompanies human nature often leads well-meaning believers in Jesus Christ to emphasize various doctrines and neglect others.

In the past decade, the controversy that often swirled within church walls had to do with end times. Church hallways echoed the sounds of people reading from their Scofield reference Bible about the hidden meaning of the rider upon the red horse while others shared coffee in the living room and tried to determine which of the broken seals the news headlines of the day pointed toward.

In other areas the church was captured by political eccentricities that were of no value to the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both conversations can be entertaining, but when they lead to human speculation rather than Godly revelation (what people think rather than what God has said) they are quite unfruitful.

Today is no different than those days in that humanity is no different. Though our areas of imbalance may shift from one generation to the next, we are always in need of correcting this lack of balance in our understanding.

When I first entered the pastorate nearly 15 years ago, there was rarely a week that went by that a person did not have some biblical question about a vague reference to an end time event that defied the understanding of many conversations over numerous cups of coffee.

I discovered rather quickly that, though the end times discussion may interest a lot of people, they have rarely been helpful to the work of the Gospel. Not because the end times are unimportant, (for their presence in Scripture indicates that they are important) but because humanities tendency to become imbalanced creates motives for discussion that are damaging to the ministry.

Today, the question has shifted from “What does the blowing of the third trumpet symbolize” to “Did Christ only die for a few, or did He die for everyone?” This debate has been present within the lives of believers for almost 2,000 years. Good men have fought unwise battles with impure motives for all of human history, to our shame.

Though the debate is often confusing, I will offer my simplified explanation and personal conclusion in a brief manner, supported by four reasons.

First, the Bible tells us that Man was created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:16-30). To be created in the image of God is, in and of itself, a difficult doctrine to understand. But at a minimum, it teaches

  1. That mankind is relational. Mankind is created with a need for relationship, for the essence of God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living in eternal love for one another. Therefore, to be human means to be relational.
  2. That mankind is responsible. Man has been granted extensive responsibilities for the manner in which he conducts his life within Creation. In the Creation account of Genesis 1:26-30, God has deposited within mankind “dominion” by which he is to populate the earth, steward the earth, and carry limited dominion over the earth. That means that to be an image bearer of God brings with it the ability to be responsible for the decisions that are made.

Sometimes it is argued that God has decreed everything. He has irresistibly determined who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Therefore, each person bears no responsibility for His own destination. However, among other things, this totally ignores the responsibility every person has been given for how they respond to the gracious offer of God in Christ.

The second reason I draw the conclusion I do is because it is the clearest meaning of Scripture. There are admittedly numerous Bible passages that are utilized to support one’s position, but the Scripture quoted above is irrefutably clear. “God is willing for none to perish.”

Often, a person who would disagree with my conclusion would say that God has two wills. That is, He has a revealed will that He has given in Scripture, and then He has a secret will that He has not shown us. Therefore, some would conclude, God’s revealed will is for all people to be saved, but His secret will is for some to be condemned.

Let me simply say that if God has two wills, then none of us can have any confidence whatsoever in what God has said, for we would never know when His revealed will might be contradicted by His secret will.

The third reason I come to the conclusion that I do is because of the nature of God. The nature of God is love. Though God will judge those who are sinners, His love precedes His wrath. The Bible says that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8), but it never says that “God IS wrath.” Indeed, God’s love is eternal — it existed before Creation. His wrath was not necessary until sin entered the world. So, let us not be confused. The wrath of God is real, but only after the love of God is given.

The fourth reason I come to this conclusion is because the person who says that God decreed some people would be irresistibly saved and some would be irresistibly damned means that God decreed (or caused) the sin of mankind so that His nature of love would allow His action of condemnation. However, this is in direct contradiction to James 1:13 that says

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He himself does not tempt anyone. 

It also contradicts 1 John 2:16 which says

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 

It is clear that sin is not a product of the Father.

So, to sum all of this up:

  1. The image of God is borne by every person, and therefore that person has a relational need for God and the capability to exercise a choice when presented with the Gospel.
  2. The will of God is contained within Scripture and we need not fear some hidden will of God that contradicts what He has revealed to us.
  3. The love of God is prior to the wrath of God for all of humanity, therefore, one is condemned not by God’s decree, but by ignoring God’s patient extension of love.
  4. The holiness of God means that God did not decree evil, but rather has moved to defeat evil in the Cross of Christ.

How should you and I respond?

  1. Worship: you are a sinner who God has loved in spite of your sin.
  2. Witness: the Gospel is for every person.

So for whom did Christ die? Me. You. Them. Everyone.