Sun and Rain and God

In the ‘burbs outside St. Louis, the heavens have let loose. Lighting scars the sky and thunder bounds from hill to hill. Rain pours.

I am reminded of Job. As the LORD replied to Job’s demand for an explanation, He asked Job:

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass? Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew?”

Job could only answer:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

The rain testifies to the power—but also to the love of the LORD, for “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

In sun and rain, drought and tempest, He is God.

Effectual What?

Effectual calling. We don’t talk about this doctrine in church as much as we should.

Maybe because it’s a bit unpopular.

John Murray noted, “We may not like this doctrine. But, if so, it is because we are averse to the grace of God and wish to arrogate to ourselves the prerogative that belongs to God. And we know where that disposition had its origin.”

So what is this teaching, this doctrine that arouses our ire?

Simply put, when theologians speak of effectual calling, they are describing the work of the Holy Spirit, who calls each elect person into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s call contains the power to come and is “efficacious unto salvation.”

Why does that matter? Usually, the Spirit’s call comes through the outward call of the Gospel. When a minister rises to preach or a Bible study opens the Word, an outward call resounds to all who hear: Repent and believe in Jesus! Often the Holy Spirit accompanies that outward call with His inward, effective power.

That means that if you have ears to hear, the Holy Spirit gave them to you. If you, by faith, have come to Christ, it is because the Spirit first effectually called you.

So, thank God for His power in drawing you to Christ. And continue proclaiming the Gospel, outwardly calling people everywhere to repent and trust in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit uses that outward call inwardly and effectively to bring men and women to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Danger of False Expectations

Disappointment follows false expectations.

Early in my marriage I learned that my wife shuns spontaneity. If I walked in the door today with tickets to a tropical paradise and said, “You have two hours to pack, and then we’re off to the airport,” she’d probably yell at me. My wife likes to plan and to orchestrate the particulars. She would not enjoy the tropical paradise if details at home dangled in the breeze unattended.

Knowing this, how foolish would I be—after 20 years of experience to the contrary—to continue to expect her to enjoy spontaneity? If my expectations reflect reality, then contentment follows. If, however, I harbor false expectations, then disappointment will visit often.

I have come to believe that the Church in America harbors false expectations about the Church in America. An old Scottish divine, William Cunningham, understood that Christ has promised His presence and the Spirit’s power to the Church for “establishing and preserving a church upon earth.” Christ will certainly secure that end, but Cunningham correctly notes that Scripture does not specify the outlines, size, or design of that Church, or the periods and places in which it will flourish or decline.

If Scripture teaches that Christ’s Church on earth should always be widespread, growing, faithful, and prosperous, without any admixture of sin or error, without any regress after progress, and without any diminution or suffering, then the Church in America holds true expectations. But Scripture offers no such promises. To the contrary, the Bible cautions that corruption and false teaching will hazard the Church, that weeds will grow among the wheat, and that in dire times only 7000 will refuse to bow the knee to Baal.

Yet the American Church seems to expect constant growth, internal and external harmony, and continuing cultural influence.

Our expectations must disappoint.

Christ has indeed promised to build His Church, and to send His Spirit to empower its work. But He has not revealed His Father’s providential design in guiding and growing the Church. “The wind blows where it wills,” and the Holy Spirit’s movement in fulfilling God’s design is mysterious. Why does the Church grow in some places while diminishing in others? Why does revival touch here and not there? Scripture does not answer.

The Church in America should expect the Church worldwide to prosper. It should expect the Kingdom to expand, and to envelop every tribe, tongue, and people group. Jesus will have His Bride. But to expect that every generation of American Christianity will grow more robust than the last is to harbor expectations that the Scripture simply does not sustain.

Instead, Cunningham notes that the Scripture seems “fitted and intended to lead men to expect” not only “deviations from the scriptural standard,” but also “heresy, idolatry, and tyranny,” resulting in “gross darkness.” It has happened before. It is happening now. It will happen again.

Put simply, if the American Church expects that the battle will not be a battle, not only will she be disappointed, but she’ll also enter the fray unarmed and unprepared.

And that will produce more than disappointment. It will breed disaster.

A Web of Glory

Consider your life a spider web.

Something forms the center, anchoring every thread that radiates outward, connecting the various strands as one. What centers your web?

The Greek word for glory is doxay. A doxology thus ascribes glory to God. Theologian Robert Reymond writes: “The church . . . is to view itself primarily as a ‘trophy’ of God’s mercy and grace, and see its first duty to be that of living doxologically before God, praising Him both in its belief and its behavior.” Do you view yourself as Jesus’ trophy, as a monument to His victory over sin and death and hell? Are you living doxologically?

Trophies stand on display for all to see, marking achievement and excellence. Each Christian stands as a living trophy, whose life shows forth Jesus’ work of redemption and His power to sanctify His people. The Church therefore resides as Exhibit A in God’s trophy case, set out for the world to see, so that all might know that Jesus Christ redeems.

If an investigator traced the trail of your time, money, friendships, activities, and interests, would that trail lead him to Jesus Christ? In other words, would he find that the glory of Jesus forms the center of your web, anchoring every strand of your life? Or does something else reside there?

Pray this: “Father, give me passion and power to shape my life for the glory of Jesus. May all I do bring Him glory. Amen.”

As God answers that prayer in you, it will not matter which thread life plucks, for each will lead to Jesus who anchors all the threads of your life in His glory.

On Hunting Words and Mice

The Gospel spreads where and when it does for reasons we cannot see at the time.

Christianity captured Ireland in the 5th Century. Warlike and barbarous, the Irish nevertheless possessed a keen wit and a love for good storytelling. Christ curbed their warfare, cultivated their love for words, and bent their wit to His uses.

When the western half of the Roman Empire fell, much of the classic literature of antiquity survived only in the monasteries of Ireland. Irish monks preserved Latin, Greek and even Hebrew works, copying everything, whether they loved or hated its contents. That men once put it in writing offered sufficient reason to preserve it for future generations.

Irish monks developed new and elaborate fonts for the great works they copied, blurring the lines between letters and art, creating some of the most visually arresting books ever produced. And although history knows their work, little about the monks themselves remains. Bits of poetry, original stories, and personal comments in the margins of books hint at men who enjoyed their labor.

One monk described his love for copying, comparing it to his cat’s love for hunting mice, and captured his thoughts in the following poem:

                                        I and Pangur Ban my cat, ‘tis a like task we are at:                                                     Hunting mice is his delight, hunting words I sit all night.

                                        ‘Tis a merry thing to see, at our tasks how glad are we,                                                 when at home we sit and find entertainment to our mind.

                                        ‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye, full and fierce and sharp and sly;                        ‘gainst the wall of knowledge I all my little wisdom try.

                                         So in peace our task we ply, Pangur Ban my cat and I;                                                in our arts we find our bliss, I have mine and he has his.

As the Middle Ages progressed, Irish monks planted monasteries on the continent of Europe, contributed to the blossoming of western civilization, and helped to reeducate Europe.

Jesus saved the Irish. And the Irish, separated from the social, economic, and political upheaval that followed the demise of Rome, saved some of the intellectual seeds that sprouted during the Renaissance and Reformation.

You will never know their names. But you live in the intellectual world they helped to create.

 

To find this poem, and for further reading, see Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Whose reputation matters?

“Do your whole duty, and quietly leave to God the defense of your reputation.” So taught Archibald Alexander, founding professor of Princeton Seminary.

Alexander instructed prospective ministers positively to inculcate the truth, with clarity and ability, and to shun personal squabbles. It is the minister’s business to adorn the reputation of Jesus Christ, and to leave to God the defense of his own.

Proverbs 12:16 advises, “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.” Would that such advice were more often taken. Those who possess the least integrity often defend themselves most vocally. But David sets a better example when he pleads in Psalm 26:1, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.”

Pastor, do you devote more energy to exalting the reputation of Jesus or to defending your own?

You need not be a pastor to welcome Alexander’s counsel, and the world will never accept it. Republicans chastise Democrats. Democrats chide Republicans. Fox News toots its own horn, while shaming NBC. NBC counters. Never an insult passes but that the world replies in kind. Retaliation rules the culture, and reputation fuels retaliation.

Instead, let confidence in the LORD rule every Christian heart.

The less we defend ourselves, the more we exalt Him who does.

On Dudes and Nuance

I’m all for sound theology. Especially I favor well-articulated sound theology. But I’m no fan of “nuance.”

At least not in the way it’s currently being used in my insulated, small, Presbyterian, Reformed, PCA, neck-of-the-woods.

It goes like this: Dude writes something. Another Dude says, “That’s wrong because of X.” Original Dude replies, “You don’t understand the nuance.” Sometimes the conversation continues, but often it ends.

The effect being that an appeal to “nuance” explains away legitimate disagreement. I’d be much happier if Dude simply replied, “I disagree. I think X is good theology.” At least then we could talk about it. But when Dude appeals to “nuance,” he is like a Master Sommelier who tastes hints of moldy bark and burnt moss in his Cabernet. How do you argue with burnt moss? You can’t taste anything but fruity goodness. “Nuance” shuts down plain conversation and precludes plain disagreement. Dudes agree to agree that nobody can understand the nuance well enough to agree or disagree. Really?

I call Uncle. Enough with the nuance already.

Something similar happens with “tone.” Instead of Dude saying, “Dude, you’re an insensitive jerk,” he says, “Dude, you’re tone deaf.” Which roughly translated means, “Dude, you’re an insensitive jerk.” Only it’s not polite or politically correct to call a Dude an insensitive jerk, so we call him tone deaf instead. This is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a sweet Southern Belle saying, “Well, bless your heart!” when she really means, “I hate you and everyone who has ever contributed to your ancestry.”

How about we just say what we mean and deal with disagreement openly?

Please don’t hear me saying that I’m in favor of name-calling. I’m sure that some Dude will reply to this post by telling me I’m tone deaf. But all I am asking for is a little more forthrightness and willingness to have open, clear, and frank debate, absent the politically correct euphemisms that veil rather than clarify meaning. Polite? Yes. Murky? No thank you.

I fear that PCA Dudes are becoming so “nuanced” that we’re no longer following Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 4:2, in which he asserts that “by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul favored precise theology, and he offered clear distinctions. But he also modeled an open statement of his convictions.

Our current use of “nuance” does no favors to such forthrightness.

Dudes, “open statement of the truth,” please.