Saturday, 23 December 2017

Some thoughts on suffering, loss and witness at Christmas

We have some good friends who lost a husband/father/grandfather/friend this year.  We have prayed for them everyday since and we are praying for them extra much now that Christmas is near.  I remember what the first Christmas was like after my mom died.  My father, my sister and I (ages 16 and 18 respectively at the time) felt the emptiness and loss probably more at Christmas than at any other point in that first year.  And we continued to feel it subsequent Christmases also.

While the loss is felt at all times, at Christmas families have special traditions, special familial "liturgies" that are part of the culture of each particular home and family, and when someone is no longer there to participate in these liturgies, to play their part, we not only miss them as a person but there is a loss to the entire culture and ethos of the family.  At times when everyone is gathered together for special family celebrations, the loss is multiplied; everyone's loss is compounded and realized - as though each one is losing this loved one anew - as they come together, for part of that 'together' is missing, missing from each one and missing from the whole. 

Desiring God has some very timely thoughts about suffering and loss at Christmas time, and how to minister to those experiencing it here and here.

Also, from the same place, here is some good counsel from Charles Spurgeon on sharing the story of God's grace in your life through Christ at Christmas, here.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Like trying to roll up a steep hill

Alan Jacobs quotes C.S. Lewis, on the 'decline of religion' in modern society here.

When it ceases to be respectable or mandatory, when participation in religious institutions is no longer expected, then we can finally observe who really takes Christianity seriously...and that might not be such a bad thing.

Its easy to coast along under a vague and general societal and cultural Christian ethos, a bit like how its easy to roll down a gentle slope.  But the Christian life described in Jesus' and the Apostles' teaching, and as experienced by the church through most of its history, and still experienced by the majority of Christians in the world today - in places like China, the Middle East, or Islamic Africa, for example - is more like trying to roll up a steep hill: all kinds of forces are trying to pull you down backwards. 

The true test of genuine Christian faith in our secular society is not in advocating for the return to vague and culture-wide Christianish practices, participated in by everyone - Christian, nominal and non - like the return of prayer in school, the return of the 10 Commandments to court rooms, or for politicians to pray to a generic deity when opening a legislative session.  Rather, the test of true Christianity is steady, humble yet bold, public witness in word and deed to faith in Jesus Christ and submission to his lordship.  Individual Christians and the Church together must simply practice our faith in the midst of a culture that not only no longer recognizes once generally accepted Christian practices, but is frequently antagonistic towards them.  We ought to continue to practice our convictions amidst such a culture rather than wishing to go back in time or expecting the rest of the secular society to respect or reinstate previously observed Christian practices that used to be part of the generally accepted broader culture.

The West is increasingly post-Christian, which is a far more challenging mission field than merely non-Christian or pre-Christian.  The way modern post-Christian society views the faith is that it has been tried, disproved or found to be unnecessary or irrelevant, and rejected.  This has the effect of inoculating culture against the Christian faith.  So for Christians to long for or try to politically reinstate a bygone era of nominally cultural Christian practices is not the way to witness to the gospel in a post-Christian society.  Rather, effective witness will be when convinced and sincere Christians live lovingly but boldly according to Scriptural authority and the lordship of Christ, reaching out to their neighbours and co-workers who are struggling to find transcendent meaning in a self-centered and dehumanizing culture.  In such a culture, people living life consistently in relation with God and each other, looking not only to their own self interest, will look so very different. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

R.C. Sproul - February 13, 1939-December 14, 2017

Yesterday R.C. Sproul went home to be with Jesus.  Like so many others who are part of the evangelical reformed reawakening of the last thirty years, he has affected me in profound ways.  In particular, I remember wrestling with the issues of God's sovereignty and free will, of God's grace and my choice in salvation, of predestination and all things related, while at Bible college in 1995. I came across his books, The Holiness of God and Chosen By God.  I read them in two consecutive nights (all night, when I should have been writing a paper) and discovered that, although I had a free will, it was bent and warped to choose only that which matched my fallen sinful nature and could not naturally choose nor stand before a holy God, until the regenerating grace of God acted upon me, turning, drawing, converting my soul and freeing my will to choose Christ in return, clothing me in Christ's righteousness so I could stand before, and be a child of, a holy holy holy God (I can still hear his voice saying, "holy, holy, holy...").  In short, I learned that before I ever chose God, he had already, in grace, chosen me.  I also remember a professor/mentor of mine (Ian McPhee) inviting me to a Ligonier Ministries (a ministry started by Sproul) conference in the winter of '96, where not only did I enjoy stimulating theological talks but I also met some folks who became influential and lifelong friends.  Sproul wasn't my first exposure to reformed doctrine - my mother had read and recommended J.I. Packer's Knowing God years before, and I had read several of Francis Schaeffer's works already as well, and some John Stott - nor did I always agree with some of the positions Sproul took over the years.  Nevertheless, I certainly agree with him on far more than the few points of disagreement and I am so thankful for his faithful and tireless service for the gospel.  Sproul's books spoke to me at a time when I was wrestling existentially with how a holy God saved me, and I will always be grateful to God for his servant, R.C. Sproul.

Here is Al Mohler's tribute to R.C. Sproul.

Here is John Piper's tribute to R.C. Sproul.