Category Archive: Christian Life

July 18, 2018

Harder Tasks

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People today often suppose that the early years of a person’s Christian pilgrimage are the difficult ones, and that as you go on in the Christian life it gets more straightforward. The opposite is frequently the case. Precisely when you learn to walk beside Jesus, you are given harder tasks, which will demand more courage, more spiritual energy. — Tom Wright (I’ve forgotten the source; probably Mark for Everyone).

Posted by John Barach @ 9:40 am | Discuss (0)
July 16, 2018

Not Only a Comfort But a Joy

Category: Christian Life,Theology :: Link :: Print

God, for many of us, is a life preserver flung to a drowning man.

And so he is, if you happen to be drowning. But you can’t drown all the time. Sooner or later you have to start merely living again; you reach shore, splutter the water out of your lungs — and then what? Throw away the life preserver?

If your interest in God is based upon fear rather than love, very likely. In such a case, you will be willing to pay very high for the life preserver as you go down for the third time; you will offer for it all your worldly treasures, your lusts and greeds and vanities and hates. But once safely on shore, you may be minded to throw it away and snatch your treasures back.

We are in danger of forgetting that God is not only a comfort but a joy. He is the source of all pleasures; he is fun and laughter, and we are meant to enjoy him.

Otherwise … we shall try to be negatively good, and make a virtue of misery; plume ourselves on the rejection of delights for which we are too weak, measure our piety by the number of pleasures we prohibit. And others will react against us by rejecting religion altogether, probably announcing with pride that they are choosing ‘life’ instead. — Joy Davidman.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:38 am | Discuss (0)
July 13, 2018

Old, Sapless, Joyless

Category: Christian Life,Theology :: Link :: Print

How many thousands picture Christianity as something old, sapless, joyless, mumbling in the chimney corner and casting sour looks at the young people’s fun? How many think of religion as the enemy of life and the flesh and the pleasures of the flesh; a foe to all love and all delight? How many unconsciously conceive of God as rather like the famous lady who said, ‘Find out what the baby’s doing and make him stop’? — Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:23 am | Discuss (0)
August 23, 2016

Fifty to a Cave

Category: Christian Life,Church,Theology :: Link :: Print

The author of this article is billed as a “leading expert on the persecuted church,” but I have to say that I find what he says here not only very strange but unbiblical.  The gist of the article is summed up on the site as follows: “When a Christian experiences persecution or imprisonment in a foreign land, we do everything we can to extract them. But what if God has them right where he wants them?”

I grant that God does use persecution, suffering, crucifixion, death to advance the gospel and his kingdom in the world. But does that really imply that we, who see people in danger and suffering, shouldn’t attempt to rescue them? Does it mean that if we do help them, we might be thwarting God’s plans?

Would we apply the same reasoning to other situations of suffering? To the wife being beaten by her husband? To the woman being assaulted and raped? To the child being abused? To the homeless person who has no means of support and who hasn’t eaten for days? To the flood victim who has lost his house and all his belongings? Would we say “Maybe God has a good plan for this suffering and so I won’t try to help this victim”?

I hope not!

Abram did not say, when Lot was captured, “God might have a purpose for this” and leave him captive. Instead, he went and fought and rescued him (Gen 15). Ditto for David when his wives were captured (1 Sam 30).

How about a concrete example of “extraction from persecution”?  “While Jezebel massacred the prophets of YHWH, … Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water” (1 Kings 18:4). Should Obadiah have been (to borrow this author’s words) “emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually strong enough” to leave them in Jezebel’s reach instead?

Rahab helped the Israelite spies escape (Josh 2). When Athaliah murdered all the king’s sons, Aunt Jehosheba rescued Joash and hid him (2 Kings 11). In Matthew 10, Jesus told his disciples, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” Obviously Jesus doesn’t think flight is a bad thing. When people were plotting to kill him, Paul escaped by being lowered from the city wall in a basket (Acts 9).

Proverbs 24:11 tells us “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.” James tell us that “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is” — what? To leave the orphan and widow in their suffering because God might use their suffering might bring about something good? No: “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.”

Yes, God uses even suffering for his good purpose. But that does not imply in any way that we should just leave people — let alone our brothers and sisters in Christ! — in their suffering. We may not reason from God’s sovereignty to our irresponsibility.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:31 pm | Discuss (0)
April 18, 2016

Quiet, Please

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I’ve heard sermons calling me to be bold about sharing the gospel. And sermons about being a missionary overseas because their need of the gospel over there is great. Sermons telling me I need to be a missionary here. And the all-Christians-are-missionaries-sermons I’ve heard preached could choke a horse….

And I’ve heard sermons about not worrying what other people think when I witness to them. And sermons, preached with wild eyes, calling us to a life of radical morality and missional living.

But I’ve never heard a sermon asking me to have a quiet life….

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV), Paul urges his hearers “to aspire to live quietly.” And in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 he encourages them “in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly.” But I’ve never heard a sermon on what he means by “quiet” or “quietly.” Or what he means by “live” or “life.” I’ve heard many how-to sermons but none on how to live quietly, and what it might look like in our culture, which is so loud about everything….

Paul isn’t just suggesting this to the Thessalonians. He is urging them to live quietly. Wait a second — no, he wants these believers to aspire to live quietly. You could translate these words as “make it your ambition to live quietly.” This is no small thing. And this quiet living is important enough for him to include it in both letters to the Thessalonian Christians. And he wants Timothy to give the same instructions to his people (Matthew B. Redmond, The God of the Mundane, pp. 33-34).

Posted by John Barach @ 3:44 pm | Discuss (0)
August 11, 2010

Germaphobes or Doctors?

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The other day, I read Brian McLaren’s recent Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices.  On the whole, I thought it was weak, though (as with other McLaren books I’ve read) with occasional moments of insight — almost totally marred for me by the sort of syncretism that produces lines like this all through the book: “Although written by a Christian primarily for Christians, this initial book in the series extends our acknowledgment to unreligious people as well as to adherents of all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” (6).  That’s not just a one-time thing in this book; repeatedly, McLaren speaks as if Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all more or less on the right path and as if the practices he presents in this book — fixed-hour prayer, fasting, Sabbath, the sacred meal, pilgrimage, observance of sacred seasons, and giving — will help Jews become better Jews, Christians better Christians, and Muslims better Muslims.  Sigh.

I’m not going to review the book.  But credit where credit is due.  I did appreciate this illustration, and so I’m preserving it here:

If your goal is to produce firefighters and rescue workers, you have to produce people willing to enter burning buildings.  They do this not because they love fire, but because they hate it, and they despise the damage it can do to people and their dreams.  Their hatred of fire and their love of safety draws them toward fire and danger.  Contrast this to two other kinds of people: pyromaniacs (or arsonists) and pyrophobes.  Pyromaniacs love fires and the damage they cause, and so start them.  Pyrophobes fear fires and avoid them at any cost.

Similarly, if your goal is to produce doctors and health care workers, you have to produce people willing to get close to disease.  They do this not because they love disease, but because they hate it and despise the damage that disease can do to people and their dreams.  Their hatred of disease and their love of health draw them close to sickness, seeking to understand it in order to treat it.  They aren’t like a careless sex addict who has HIV and doesn’t care whom he infects, nor are they like a person with OCD who is constantly driven by a fear of germs to wash her hands a hundred times a day and avoid anyone and anything that could possibly infect her.  In contrast, health care workers are willing to get up close and personal with disease, but they do so in order to fight disease and promote health (69-70).

McLaren goes on to say “My concern is that by making heaven after this life the destination of our way” — I would want to say: “By focusing predominantly on going to heaven when we die or on being raptured out of this world” — “we are spiritually forming people who run away from fire, disease, and the violence of our world” (71).

That is, we produce people who are, in a sense, germaphobes instead of doctors, people who fear the evil in the world and withdraw from engagement with it and hope that they’ll escape from it somehow instead of people who hate the evil and go on to do something about it — by prayer, by the gospel, and by deeds of love and mercy.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:05 pm | Discuss (0)
December 18, 2007

David & His Agent

Category: Christian Life,Ethics :: Link :: Print

Another parable by Doug Wilson from a few years back:

When David was preparing to meet the Philistine giant Goliath, we are fortunate that he did not have his marketing agent with him.And David said, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

And his agent said, “David, I really do not think that this language is suitable for an already polarized situation. Being uncircumcised — that is merely their custom. And although his language is perhaps provocative, it becomes us as Christians to rise above this. We need to be building bridges, not walls.”

But David ignored his marketing agent, just as he had ignored his brothers, and went and selected five, smooth stones from the brook. Goliath advanced out into the place between the two armies, his armor bearer with him. David walked out toward him, his agent tagging along behind, plucking worriedly at his sleeve.

“David, remember your musical and literary gifts. How can you expect to finish all the psalms that God has given you if you put it all at risk in this way? I am concerned not only that you may die, but also that, if you live, you may have quenched that gift by your pugnacious behavior.”

And then Goliath taunted David once more, saying that he would feed him to the birds. “Now, David,” said the agent hurriedly, “remember to let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt.”

But David said that he had come in the name of the Lord of armies. “This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will use your carcass to feed the birds and all wild beasts.”

“O dear,” said the agent, “that is essentially the same thing that Goliath said. You are returning evil for evil. We are called to be peacemakers, David. Remember the oil in Aaron’s beard. Think of what you are throwing away!”

“A stone,” David said. “Watch this.”

Posted by John Barach @ 10:28 pm | Discuss (2)