Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Christian Speech (Colossians 4:2-6)

This message was first preached on Sunday, July 16th. You can listen to it here.

A man working in the produce department was asked by a lady if she could buy half a head of lettuce. He replied, "Half a head? Are you serious? God grows these in whole heads and that's how we sell them!" 

"You mean," she persisted, "that after all the years I've shopped here, you won't sell me half-a-head of lettuce?”

"Look," he said, "If you like I'll ask the manager." 

Well, she indicated that would be appreciated, so the young man marched to the front of the store. "You won't believe this,” he said, “but there's a lame-braided space-cadet of a lady back there who wants to know if she can buy half-a-head of lettuce." 

He noticed the manager gesturing, and turned around to see the lady standing behind him, obviously having followed him to the front of the store. So the man continued smiling “…and this nice lady was wondering if she could buy the other half" he concluded. 

Later in the day the manager cornered the young man and said, "That was the finest example of thinking on your feet I've ever seen! Where did you learn that?" 

"I grew up in Grand Rapids,” the man said,  “….and if you know anything about Grand Rapids, you know that it's known for its great hockey teams and its ugly women.”

The manager's face flushed, and he interrupted, "My wife is from Grand Rapids!" “Oh is that right?” the man said. “And which hockey team did she play for?"

Well, one truth that Christians understand is that our tongues are “US” in a unique kind of way. For you see, the tongue is a tattletale that tells on the heart and discloses the real person. Not only that, but misuse of the tongue is perhaps the easiest way to sin. In fact, there are no limits to what one can say. In Scripture, the tongue is variously described as wicked, deceitful, perverse, filthy, corrupt, flattering, slanderous, gossiping, blasphemous, foolish, boasting, complaining, cursing, contentious, sensual, and vile. And that list is not exhaustive. No wonder God put the tongue in a cage behind the teeth, walled in by the mouth! 

This morning, in Colossians 4:2-6, in a message I’ve titled “Christian Speech”, Paul calls us to Christlikeness in communication with God, and to Christlikeness in communicating with the world. In his discussion of our Christian speech, Paul puts the emphasis on four areas: the speech of prayer, the speech of proclamation, the speech of performance, and the speech of perfection. Let’s jump in, shall we?
1. OUR CHRISTIAN SPEECH IN…PRAYER.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2; ESV)

Paul begins by telling us that the very heart of our Christian speech must be full devotion to prayer. And it is fitting that Paul begins with prayer, because it is the most important kind of Christian speech we can utter. As you know, prayer is the strength of our fellowship with the Lord and the source of our against Satan and his angels. 

Through prayer, we confess our sins to God, we offer praises to God, and we call on their sympathetic High Priest, Jesus Christ. We also intercede and pray for one another. It is perhaps for these reason and more that Paul say you must pray with perseverance. Paul writes, continue STEADFASTLY in prayer…” In other words, in our prayers we must be “courageously persistent.” In our prayers we must “hold fast and never let go.” Now, how is this possible? Are we always to be carrying on a constant verbal dialogue, whatever we are doing? Well no…they have places for people who do that sort of thing, and the doors are locked from the outside! 

There cannot be unbroken verbal communication with God, otherwise we would never be really “there” for anything we did. But Paul here is addressing not so much the speaking of words, as the posture of your heart. Paul is suggesting that you and I need to have a kind of God consciousness that relates every experience in life to our Father in heaven. The delightful medieval monk Brother Lawrence wrote about the practice of continual God-consciousness in his classic book The Practice of the Presence of God:
The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.
Now, in addition to persistence, true prayer also involves keeping alert and pray ing with an attitude of thanksgiving. This means that you and I should be on the alert and look for those things about which we ought to be praying. But not only that, we pray with that most important of elements: gratitude. My friends, we need to be a praying people. I believe in the old proverb which says, “A day hemmed in prayer is less likely to come unraveled.”
2. OUR CHRISTIAN SPEECH IN…COMMUNICATING THE GOSPEL
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” (Colossians 4:3-4; ESV)

Paul asked first for prayer to aid his own communication with the world. This is a look at Paul’s heart for the lost. We ought to have such hearts too! Paul did not seem to care whether he was in prison or not—he just wanted more opportunity to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ to those in need! 
A recent study suggests that an average person spends one-fifth of their life talking. If all of our words were put into print, the result would be this: a single day's words would fill a 50-page book, while in a year's time the average person's words would fill 132 books of 200 pages each!

If that date are true, that’s pretty impressive! The thing I wonder about though…is how many of those words we generate are being used to tell others about the Gospel?

For Paul, he clearly was using a large number of his words for proclaiming the gospel. In fact, it was for the sake of the gospel that Paul was imprisoned! Paul’s imprisonment did not spell the end of his ministry though. It was during his time in prison that he wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. He also evangelized nearly everyone he came into contact with. Paul’s activity during his imprisonment in Rome is summed up in Acts 28:30–31

He stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” (Acts 28:30-31)

For Paul, there were no devastating circumstances, only unique opportunities. Paul wanted people to pray that he would speak as he ought to speak, as God wanted him to speak. Paul acknowledged that prayer makes all the difference in communicating the gospel. 

There’s a great story that comes from the life of Hudson Taylor. There was a mission station that was particularly blessed in the China Inland Mission, far above the others. There seemed to be no accounting for this, because others were equal in devotion and in ability. Hudson Taylor was traveling and speaking in England, and after a meeting a man came up and began to ask him about that particular station. Then he began to ask many personal questions. It turned out that the man had been the college roommate of the missionary at that station many years earlier, and he had committed himself to daily praying for the work there. Hudson Taylor said, “Then I knew the answer…the gospel succeeded in that place due to prayer.”

That should be our prayer too, that we would be prepared to proclaim Christ and that our mission here at Plymouth would succeed beyond our wildest imagination.
3. OUR CHRISTIAN SPEECH SHOULD BE WISE AND GRACIOUS
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6; ESV)
As we come to the end of the main body of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it is interesting that his last words are about our Christian conduct towards ‘outsiders’, by which he means people outside the Christian fellowship, people outside of Christ.

The first specific piece of advice about our conduct towards unbelievers is: Walk in wisdom towards outsiders. In other words, in your dealings with outsiders, there will always be pressures to conform, to fit in, and be thought well of. You will need wisdom to live out your Christian walk. It will take wisdom to walk in a manner fully pleasing to him. The point is that the wisdom we seek is not the wisdom to please unbelievers, or to make ourselves look good, or any of the other kinds of wisdom we may easily find ourselves. We need wisdom to please the Lord in our conduct towards outsiders.

This will mean of course, making the best use of the time. Paul suggests that time is in short supply and, like a bargain hunter in a sale, you and I need to snap up what time we find. It’s like the old proverb which says: ’Only one life, it will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.’ 

Moses prayed in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us LORD to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.” In other words, opportunity is fleeting. Life is short, and every day more people die without Christ. Our Lord may return at any moment. The time is now for us as believers to speak for Christ with our lives!

How best can we let Christ speak through out lives? Easy: let your speech always be gracious. Let your word always be in grace.’ Wisdom is to shape our behavior; grace is to shape our speech. Your speech, then, to outsiders must always be shaped by that grace.

Next, as though to underline that point, he says that your words should always be seasoned with salt. Speech that is flavored with your knowledge of God’s grace will be salty. You know, salt can sting when rubbed into a wound but it also prevents corruption. Our speech to outsiders should act as a purifying influence, rescuing conversation from the filth that so often engulfs it.

Finally, we must how we ought to answer each person. We must know how to say the right thing at the right time. In Peter’s words, they must be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence(1 Pet. 3:15).

CONCLUSION:

Dear friends, our Christian speech is vitally important. Unlike the ungodly, who say “Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (Ps. 12:4), we as believers should echo the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Don't Skip Sunday School!


Josh Buice wrote the following post over at Delivered by Grace. I reproduce it here but encourage you to read the whole thing over at DBG.

One of the things that happens in the evangelical church world that mirrors the culture is that local churches often engage in the trends of the day.  For instance, if community churches are in vogue, it’s a common thing to see many local churches named “________ Community Church.”  If it’s multi-site church growth models, it’s common to see a church described as “one church in six locations.”  In short, many church leaders want to be ever progressing to avoid the image of age and to dodge the title of “old fashioned.”  Perhaps this is why Sunday school has fallen on hard times in many circles.  It just sounds old and outdated so it must not be profitable—right?

Wrong. To judge the Sunday school book by its cover would be to make a grievous error.  Just because one church down the road calls it “life groups” or “connection groups” and your church still refers to the Sunday morning gathering as “Sunday school” doesn’t mean that your church is behind the times.  Have you considered the many reasons why you should stop skipping Sunday school?

You Need to be Taught

Far more important than your ability to network in a local church with certain friends is the ability to learn the Word of God.  How serious do you take the study of the Bible?  Is it merely a hobby that you engage in every so often or is it at the core of who you are as a person?  Every child of God needs to be taught the Word of God, and without such teaching the individual Christian will dry up spiritually.  Sunday school is a place for Christians to learn.  God desires for us to know him and make him known.

The central aim of the local church is the teaching and preaching of the the doctrines of God’s Word.  The central agenda of pastors is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” and this is accomplished through the right handling of God’s Word (Eph. 4:12; Col. 1:28).  Are you bored with the Bible?  Do you believe God to be boring? J.I. Packer, in his excellent book, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, once said, “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.” 

Teaching and preaching overlap considerably, but the teaching atmosphere in the small group Sunday school setting is invaluable for the growth of the Christian.  There is a certain dynamic that happens in that gathering that doesn’t happen in the sermon. For instance, the ability to ask question immediately and to engage in the process of iron sharpening iron is extremely helpful and something that we should regularly engage in.

You Need a Close Community

Many churches have tried to help modernize Sunday school in the eyes of a younger population by renaming it something catchy like, “Connexion Pointe” or “Cross Groups” or “Impact Groups.”  While that may be a certain trend that many churches employ to appear to be relevant, let’s be honest—the name really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that the group actually develops into a meaningful community.  The Sunday school ministry of your local church is a place where you can know and be known by others.  Real friendships that last for a lifetime are often birthed and nurtured in these groups.

Last week I wrote an article that critiqued Mark Zuckerberg’s comments about Facebook bridging the gap of failing church membership by offering a meaningful community group through Facebook.  While Zuckerberg is correct that people feel more whole and fulfilled as they are connected in a meaningful community, he misses the mark by believing that Facebook is capable of solving the problem of falling church membership.

Facebook may serve as a tool for the local church to strengthen their community efforts, it will never replace real biblical churches.  Why not?  Because real community cannot happen through the click of a mouse or engagement in a social networking website.  For real meaningful community to take place, people must spend time in the same room, hear one another speak, show interest and care for one another, share one another’s burdens, and serve with one another at some level for an important cause.  The place where Christians can accomplish this type of genuine community is within small groups—even if it’s named “Sunday school.”  Far too often people who become disconnected and disappear from your local church disappear from Sunday school first.

You Need to Serve

One of the latest trends among the millennial population is the need to support a company that promotes, supports, or serves in some charitable way in their local community or perhaps a third world nation.  This is not a Christian thing—this is a millennial trend.  The latest trends demonstrate that many younger people are interested in buying from a company if they know that that particular company is giving back a percentage of their profits to fund some humanitarian cause.

We enjoy doing for others, and as Christians, we should enjoy serving the church and the community together for the glory of Christ.  The overall vision of the church can often be set by the pastors and that agenda often is heard from the pulpit.  However, it’s through the Sunday school (or small group) of the local church that the vision is carried out.  Often the local and foreign mission work is pushed through the local church’s Sunday school gathering by natural conversations, intentional praying, and planning means of involvement.

If you aren’t involved in a Sunday school class in your local church it’s very likely that you aren’t serving in your church or beyond the borders of your church campus beneath the banner of the gospel.  Consider your need to serve and how opportunities will arise through your Sunday school group in your church.  Get involved and start serving.

If you don’t like the name “Sunday school” — that’s fine, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Immerse yourself into a class and seek to know God more through the study of the Bible.  If you’re resistant to making new friends and opening up, that’s understandable—but know that you need real friends who will know you (the real you that you don’t put on Facebook), and you need people to be honest with you.  You don’t have to air out your dirty laundry each week in your Sunday school class, but a measure of openness and intimacy is necessary.  You may already know that God has gifted you for a reason, and you need to engage in serving the Lord through your local church.  What better way to do so than through a meaningful and healthy Sunday school class.
You need Sunday school and your church’s Sunday school needs you.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Serving the Lord at Work (Colossians 3:22-4:1)

The following message was first preached on Sunday, July 9th. You can listen to it here.

In January, 1995, J. Robert Ashcroft had fewer than forty-eight hours to live, but he was holding on to life, hoping to see his son, John Ashcroft, sworn into the U.S. Senate the following day. As family and friends gathered in Washington for a small reception, J. Robert Ashcroft asked his son to play the piano while everyone sang, “We Are Standing on Holy Ground.”
After the song, the frail old man spoke some powerful words: “John, I want you to know that even Washington can be holy ground. Wherever you hear the voice of God, that ground is sanctified. It’s a place where God can call you to the highest and best.”

Mr. Ashcroft’s words acknowledge a truth that Christians readily affirm: that is, that God has called us to work in this world. And wherever we are in our vocation, if Jesus is Lord of our lives, that place is a holy place of service for him.

Now, I realize that for a great many people in the world, “work” is a four-letter word. It’s something they don’t like at all. And when it comes to your work, perhaps you’re here this morning and are feeling a bit fogged in at the moment. It could be that your work has you simply living for the weekend. Or maybe you are looking for some clearer direction about your work, and you need some timely wisdom to guide you. Whether you really like your present work or you are stoically enduring your job, Paul has something to say to you this morning.

Please turn in your Bibles to Colossians 3, where we continue our study in Paul's great letter. Throughout we have said that believers are complete in Christ and we have seen Paul applying the principle of the Lordship of Christ in a variety of our relationships: our relationship to one another in the congregation, and our home and family life. And now Paul is going to apply the principle of the Lordship of Christ to how we live and operate in our work relationships. Paul begins in this way…

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.(Colossians 3:22; ESV)

Now, before we jump deeper into the text, I think I need to make a brief comment about Paul and and the topic of slavery. The reason why is Paul has come under criticism in this passage and others for not condemning the Roman practice of slavery. Those who are proponents of social change usually rail against Paul, saying, ‘Paul, you are simply reinforcing the evil status-quo. You are actually endorsing a system in society which exploits people.”

Now, is that what Paul is doing? Not at all. Even though Paul does not attack the institution of slavery directly, Paul is discussing the implications of the rule of Christ and Christian liberty for slavery. And it’s as if the Apostle Paul says, ‘I want you to understand, that even in a reprehensible social institution like slavery, Jesus Christ is Lord.’ And for Paul in this passage, that means at least three things

First of all, Paul tells us Christ has Lordship over our work relations. He says to masters and slaves, ‘Christ is Lord over your work and Christ is Lord over your management of those who work for you.’ What a radical assertion, to those who lived in a society where slaves had very, very, very few rights and masters could exploit those under them.’

Secondly, notice also that Paul treats slaves as persons. Under Greco-Roman law, slaves would have been possessions, things to own. But Paul speaks to them as thinking, feeling, living, breathing Christian human beings here. He gives them instructions as persons.

Thirdly, notice that Paul sets forth a principle that masters must be concerned about those whom they employ, and those who labor must be concerned about the needs of the masters. He expects Christians who are employers and employees to take care of one another. 

So, having said all that, we can be sure that Paul’s teaching here was ultimately revolutionary, because in time it brought the downfall of slavery as an institution. But it was also immediately revolutionary in that it brought fullness to the Christian’s life, whether slave or master. Or in our day we say that Christ brings fullness to our work, whether we are employees or CEOs. So let’s dive into the text, and see what Paul has to say about “Serving the Lord at Work.”
1. INSTRUCTIONS TO EMPLOYEES and BONDSERVANTS 
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” (Colossians 3:22-25; ESV)
 To begin in this passage, Paul discourages work that is only done when the boss is looking. We all know what that’s like, right? Back in the day, in gym class, when the coach was watching…there were perfect pushups. But when coach looked away…well… “eye service” [as Paul calls it] resulted in half-done jobs.” It’s the equivalent of sweeping the room, but sweeping the dirt under the carpet.

This is not the way it is supposed to be. Rather, Paul says, our work is to be done “with sincerity of heart.” In other words, holding God and His will in high regard is the right motive as we work. With that motive, we are to work heartily, putting our whole inner person into the effort, working for the Lord as our ultimate boss, rather than for men. In fact, Paul says, we are to serve our earthly masters, our bosses, as we would the Lord Himself.

Unfortunately, there are a great many unhappy workers today who are Christians,  and we need this word from the scripture because it reminds us of our responsibilities as employees. This message helps us re-appreciate what we do when we work. 

Remember, work first came to the world as a gift. In Genesis 2:15, Moses writes “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” Now make a note of this: in the garden of Eden, before the Fall, man was assigned work. Work, therefore, is not a result of the curse, but of God’s creative design for the fulfillment of our lives. Of course, work did become more painful and difficult after the Fall. And yet here in Colossians, Paul is reminding us that no matter your vocation, you are to do it as if it is being done for the Lord. That is why Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (vv. 23, 24)

Dear friends, I know it may seem as if some of us work “nothing” jobs. Nevertheless, the truth is we are serving God as we work. And this truth transformed the lot of the Christian slave in the ancient world. A slave’s “nothing” tasks actually became noble when done for Christ. The truth is, working hard at our tasks from the heart brings glory to God and ennobles us as we work too.

Of course, the opposite truth is sobering! When we are lazy, rebellious, and slothful employees, we dishonor God. And Paul says in verse 25, the one who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done. In other words, the warning is that the Lord will discipline without partiality in cases of disobedience and laziness at work. The Christian servant is not to presume on his Christianity to justify disobedience. Even if we are God’s children, we will reap what we sow, because God is impartial. 

I say all that to say that a significant and often overlooked way that we serve God is in our everyday tasks. Martin Luther understood this when he wrote, 

"The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays. Not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps, but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis once wrote

The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a cleaning lady, become spiritual on precisely the same condition: that the work is being offered to God, it is being done humbly "as to the Lord." This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a rooster must crow.“

In other words, whatever it is God has given us to do, let us do it with our best ability. My friends, as Christian employees, we ought to be the best in attitude, the best in dependability, and the best in integrity. All of us who must be faithful, hard workers. Most of all, we must realize that there is intrinsic nobility in our work because ultimately it is being done for our Father in heaven. Our lives will be full when we do our very best at our work.
2. INSTRUCTIONS TO MASTERS and EMPLOYERS 
Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1; ESV)
Paul's say that on the other side of the relationship, masters are to treat their slaves with the justice and fairness they would expect to receive from their Master in heaven. Remember, under Roman law, slaves had no rights at all. So these words had a strange and radical sound to them. Also, given the social conditions of the times, this command may have been more difficult to carry out than what was asked of the slaves. The master who attempted to provide his slaves with “what is right and fair” ran a deep risk of ostracism from his fellow slave owners, much like Christians today.
Nonetheless, as Paul says, the guiding reality for you as an employer is that both you and your employees have the same Lord. Employers, if you truly realize that you must answer to God for the way you conduct yourself with your employees, you will care about what happens to them. You will be concerned that they are paid properly. You will be concerned about their illnesses, their spouses, their children, and their education. You should treat your employees like you desire to be treated by the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, in doing so, you may have more problems — you may have to make more sacrifices. But dear friend, you will also have the fullness of Christ and you will bring glory to your Father in heaven.

Conclusion

Dear friends, whether you are an employer or an employee, one thing is for sure: disregard the apostle’s advice and you will never know fullness in your professional life, no matter how well you succeed. Disregard his advice and something will always be missing. Most especially, you will never honor God fully as you ought to do.
Jesus, who is the fullness of the universe, wants us to be full in our marital relationships, our family relationships, and our professional relationships. Moreover, he desires that this fullness overflow to the world. As people “do business” with us, may our fullness become their fullness and may our light shine before all men! In the end, our social and economic status as slaves, or masters, or employers or employees…has no eternal relevance. All such roles pass away with the world, so what we focus on is what is eternal. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul writes,

Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. … The form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:21–22, 31b)

Let us then, in all things related to work, live by that ancient Christian principle which has inspired believers for many generations: Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be the Glory). In your jobs, whatever your role, give God by your witness all the glory, soli Deo gloria. And in doing so, show the world that the grace of Jesus Christ has transformed your life.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

The thematic statement for the entire epistle to the Romans is found in Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’"
The just shall live by faith. This ringing assertion is a direct quotation from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. Not only is it Paul’s thematic statement for Romans, but it is quoted also in Galatians 3:11 and in Hebrews 10:38. Altogether this word of God is set forth four times in sacred Scripture. That should grab our attention.
The late Francis Schaeffer wrote a book with a strange sounding title: How Shall We Then Live? The biblical answer is that we shall live by faith. We are dealing here not with a pedantic question of abstract theology, but with the very essence of the Christian life.
What is meant by “The just shall live by faith”? The phrase is pregnant with meaning and can be taken to encompass many nuances. To get a quick fix on its meaning, perhaps it would help to rephrase it with terms that are virtually synonyms: “The righteous shall live by trust.”
In Romans, Paul cites this verse from Habakkuk to set the stage for his exposition of the teaching of justification by faith alone. The faith that justifies is a faith that is marked by a personal trust. Justification by faith alone means that we are justified in the sight of God, not by our works or our achievements, but by trusting in Christ alone for our redemption. To place our trust in anything or anyone else is to experience the fatal futility of a misplaced trust. If we trust ourselves for our salvation, we will be let down by that in which we trusted. Only Christ is worthy of our trust for salvation because only Christ is able to perform what is necessary to achieve that salvation.
To live by faith means to live by trusting in Christ for our salvation. Paul reiterates this in his scathing rebuke of the Galatians for their thinking that they could be justified by their works. The author of Hebrews amplifies this thought by admonishing us to a life characterized by trust in God for the duration.
We live by trust, not only for our justification. The godly person is a person who trusts God in life’s darkest moments. God spoke these words to Habakkuk when the prophet himself was struggling with his confidence in God’s sovereignty. To live by faith is to trust God for life itself. It means trusting His promises, His providence, and His precepts.
There is a flip-side to this matter of trust that is often overlooked. Trust is at the heart of the Christian life. But even as we are called to be people who trust, we are also called to be people who are trustworthy.
Think for a moment of the painful experiences you have suffered because someone you trusted let you down. Think of the times that you shared a confidence with a friend only to discover later that your confidence was broken. Think of the people who have made promises to you that you counted on, only to suffer the heartbreak of disappointment. Think of the agreements broken, the contracts violated, the vows unkept. As we think about these things we move quickly to some bitterly raw nerves in our souls.
Let us turn the guns around for a moment and aim them at ourselves. If I were to ask you, on a scale of 1–100, 100 being the pinnacle of trustworthiness, how would you rate yourself? What number comes into your mind? What kind of a friend are you? What kind of a spouse are you? Do you keep your promises to your children? Do you honor the terms of your work contract? Do you pay your tithe to God? Do you pay your bills on time?
If the number that came into your head was over 70 I fear that you have an exaggerated view of your own trustworthiness. We are by nature covenant breakers. Our lives are strewn with the debris of broken promises and unfulfilled commitments.
I desperately want to find friends I can trust. Even 70 percent trust. The longer I live the more difficult the search seems to be. Yet often there is little I can do to affect the trust level of my friends. What I can do and what I am responsible to do is to make sure that I can be trusted.
The righteous shall live by trust. If I want to be righteous, not only must I trust God, but I must become a person that others can trust. That is a heavy-duty responsibility. People must be able to trust my word. Though we can never earn our salvation, we must always earn the trust of our friends. Trust is so delicate. It can take years to establish and seconds to destroy. I cannot demand that my friends trust me. I can only hope that they will, and do everything in my power to demonstrate that I am worthy of their trust.
With all my resolutions I know that in this life I will never earn another human being’s implicit trust. I will never be totally trustworthy. That is why I must cling to Christ and why you must cling to Christ. For He, and He alone, is absolutely worthy of our trust. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Unknown God?

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: "the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” 
These words from the opening paragraph of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion mark a problem when it comes to the knowledge of God. If it is true that wisdom consists in the “knowledge of God and of ourselves,” we are at once led to ask, “But who has such knowledge? Who truly knows God or knows himself?” If we are honest, we must admit that as long as we are left to ourselves and our own abilities, the only possible answer is “No one.” Left to ourselves, not one of us truly knows God. Nor do we know ourselves adequately.
What is the trouble? Clearly, we do not know ourselves because we have first failed to know God. But why don’t we know God? Is he unknowable? Is the fault his, or is it ours? Obviously, it is more appealing to us to blame God. But before we jump to that conclusion we should be conscious of what is involved. If the fault is ours, although that fact in itself may be uncomfortable, then at least it can be corrected, for God can do anything. He can intervene. On the other hand, if the fault is God’s (or, as we might prefer to say, if the fault is in the very nature of things), then nothing at all can be done. The key to knowledge will inevitably elude us, and life is absurd.
In his book The Dust of Death, Os Guinness makes this point by describing a comedy skit performed by the German comedian Karl Vallentin. In this routine the comic comes onto a stage illuminated only by one small circle of light. He paces around and around this circle with a worried face. He is searching for something. After a while a policeman joins him and asks what he has lost. “I’ve lost the key to my house,” Vallentin answers. The policeman joins the hunt, but the search eventually appears useless.
“Are you sure you lost it here?” asks the policeman.
“Oh no!” says Vallentin, pointing to a dark corner. “It was over there.”
“Then why are you looking here?”
“There’s no light over there,” answers the comic.
If there is no God or if there is a God but the failure to know him is God’s fault, then the search for knowledge is like the search of the German comedian. Where the search should be made, there is no light; and where there is light there is no point in searching. But is this the case? The Bible declares that the problem is not God’s but ours. Therefore, the problem is solvable. It is solvable because God can take, and actually has taken, steps to reveal himself to us, thereby providing us with the missing key to knowledge.