My book, Following the Lamb: The Theme of Discipleship in the Book of Revelation was reviewed in the most recent edition of Southeastern Theological Review 8/1 (Spring 2017): 97–99. Obviously, the reason I’m linking to it is because the review was fair-minded and favorable of my work. Southeastern Theological Review is published biannually by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC (my alma mater).
About a week and a half ago I made a post on the book of Ruth. I noted, among other things, how God worked in and through the suffering of Naomi to bring her to a place of blessing. God uses our afflictions to do some of his best work in us and through us. He uses struggles to shape us and make us into the image of his beloved Son.
But one of the things I failed to really consider was the way the Lord comforts us while we are going through difficulties. While mourning the death of her husband, Naomi had her two sons to give her consolation. When her sons passed, she had the love and faithfulness of Ruth to hold her up.
When we go through personal tragedies God is faithful to his own to give them comfort, often in the form of people around them, most notably the church. Brothers and sisters in Christ are the instruments God uses, along with the personal presence of the Holy Spirit, to buoy our sunken spirits. In a bit of irony, it is the very experience of past suffering and knowing God’s comfort in suffering that the Lord uses to comfort his people. Paul, writing to the church at Corinth states:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
We who have been hurt most deeply have not borne it for nothing. There is purpose in the pain. There is a reason for our affliction. In part, to shape us and form us into the perfect image of Christ, too be sure. But more than that; to supply the comfort of the Lord to those who are presently hurting, so that those who are burdened with sorrow may know the joy of the Lord through our being there with them.
This doesn’t mean the hurt and heartache will vanish. We aren’t promised that in this life. But we can know the Lord’s gracious comforting touch while we experience sorrow. Paul puts it this way concerning his response to his own sufferings, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). This is possible through God’s help, as his people respond to those who are hurting with the comfort of Christ.
It’s been a while since I’ve submitted a blog post. The extra time I might have to think about something to write and, then actually take the time to write it, has been dedicated to preparation for a class I’m currently teaching at Emmanuel College, and regularly leading a young adult class at my church. Continue reading
Dr. Russell Moore has a thoughtful post entitled “The Cosmic Importance of Sunday School.” I encourage you to check it out. While there is certainly more to be said about the role of parents in discipling their own children, it is also true that the church has been called alongside parents, not only to equip them for this task, but also to be about the vital work of shaping children into the image of Christ as well. One of the “forgotten” means of discipling children is through traditional Sunday School church programs. Dr. Moore recognizes that even when Sunday School is done poorly by those who are, perhaps, ill prepared for the task, through maybe no fault of their own, may still yield lasting fruit in the lives of the students. Just think about what effect biblical instruction done by trained teachers over the life of a student year in and year out, Sunday after Sunday (or whatever day you choose) could mean, not only for the individual receiving instruction, but for the health of the church, and the good of one’s neighbor. The task of training and preparing teachers to effectively reach their students with the truths of God’s Word is eternally important, and should be a priority in every local church, whether it is done on a Sunday morning or Tuesday night Bible study.
This past week I’ve had the chance to view several Christmas themed posts. Some of the more interesting ones are Ryan Reeves’ short video on the history of giving gifts at Christmas. I generally chalked up gift giving as a way tangible way to remember God’s gift of giving his Son to the world, but Reeves has much more to say about this Christmas tradition. Continue reading
Several years ago there was an article in Books and Culture by Christian Smith on “Evangelicals Behaving Badly with Stats.” Well, it seems that Evangelicals aren’t the only ones to do naughty things with stats. It’s been getting around that Evangelicals are to blame for President-elect Trump’s unexpected victory. (See here, here and here.) But is that really the case. Joe Carter has a helpful post at The Gospel Coalition breaking down the 80% number that is being bandied about. I encourage you to read his post. Continue reading
Well it’s over, at least the bit about selecting the next leader of the free world. Regardless of the outcome I’ve wondered how free that world would truly be for all people regardless of age (everyone from the womb to the tomb), ethnicity, education, gender, you name it. I can’t say I’m all that surprised at the outcome. Frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised had Secretary Clinton won the day. The reason for this is simple: people often receive the leaders they deserve. In his pre-election night editorial, Michael Brendan Dougherty stated,
I look at the headlines, our candidates, our political parties, our civic life, and mostly what occurs to me is that God has given us over to ourselves in this election, and he lets us make fools of ourselves with it.
The idea is not a new one, nor is it without biblical precedent. Just look at the nation of ancient Israel. During the period of the judges, the nation as a whole continued to progressively get worse and worse. There didn’t appear to be any sin the people hadn’t considered giving themselves over to. And the judges the Lord graciously used to deliver his wayward people, likewise got progressively worse. In the book of Judges six judges in particular are given extended treatment. The earliest of these judges were, from all accounts, faithful to the Lord during their time as judge (Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah). However, the moral compass of the last three judges (Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson) in the end is so screwed up one can’t tell north from south or east from west. And if you don’t recall how bad things had actually become in Israel, I encourage you to go back and read Judges 17–21.
During this election cycle I’ve also been reminded that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is beholden to no one but King Jesus. Our allegiance is not to a particular political party. Nor should we concern ourselves with so aligning with a particular party, ideology, or candidate that our hopes for a better future are bound up with it or them. The victory for a particular candidate is not how the church becomes victorious. It never has been. For the church, the only hope we have in this world and the next for lasting victory is found in a Savior who was victorious only through enduring the cross. And the same is the case for those who follow Jesus. Victory, the kind the Bible speaks of, is something that comes through suffering. The victory Jesus has won is one in which the church must continue to testify to and live in light of if it too is to experience the victory that Jesus has secured. As the last book of the Bible states, “They [the church] has triumphed over him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev 12:11).
Living in a democratic republic affords its citizens the opportunity to vote for its leaders. I’m thankful for this privilege and believe it is something worth fighting for. That being said, as a member of the body of Christ, the citizenship I am most thankful for, the one that will last into eternity, is my citizenship in God’s kingdom. Russell Moore’s post-election day post sums up my thoughts on this:
Our [the church’s] rallying cry is not “Hail to the Chief” but “Jesus is Lord.” Perhaps this electoral shakeup means that President Trump will lead America to be great again. I hope so. But regardless, whatever happens to America, we must seek the Kingdom first again.
While I cannot be sure that in this nation’s history it has every been truly great for all of its citizens, I generally affirm Dr. Moore’s thoughts. The church in the States needs to focus its attention on seeking God’s kingdom. If the energy, time, and money used by Christians in this and previous election cycles were devoted to the things of the Kingdom, they may have begun to see real and lasting change in their local communities and around the world. Things may not have been any different, but who knows what the Lord might have done had his people (the church) dedicated themselves to pursuing his agenda, which is good for all people, rather than the agenda of a politician, which is good for their voting bloc (rarely) and good for them (always).