The One Maxim That Comforts My Soul in the Midst of Social & Political Storms

On this Election Day, wearied by the rancor that too much permeates our culture – and that has infested the Church – these words from slave-trader-turned-pastor/poet John Newton are at the forefront of my mind:

I meddle not with the disputes of party, nor concern myself with any political maxims, but such as are laid down in Scripture. 

There is one political maxim which comforts me: ‘The Lord reigns.’ His hand guides the storm; and He knows them that are His, how to protect, support, and deliver them.

It is a comfort to my soul and to my mind to remember that “The Lord Reigns”. I regularly need to remind myself that it is not just that the Lord will reign someday – though that is certainty God’s promise. The Lord Reigns NOW! – Today. When Jesus came on the scene he declared: “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” This means that in his first advent – his first appearance – he began to reclaim all that belongs to him – (which is everything). He reigns today in the hearts and lives of his people throughout the World. And he is sovereign over all creation, so that whether people bow to Him and honor Him as Lord or not, he is still working out his purposes. (see Psalm 2) He cannot be stopped. He Reigns. He will Reign. And with the mess I see all around me, or whenever I turn on the news, “the Lord Reigns ” is a comfort to me, no matter what the election results are tonight, and in the coming days.

As a fan of John Newton, I also began my day today by re-reading this short letter from Newton to a friend, from which the quotes above are taken. The context of this letter is a call to his fellow Englishmen to pray for the renewal of his homeland, prompted by news of “hostilities” in the American colonies. Though this letter was written in August 1775, the wisdom and the tone are timeless. (From The Works of John Newton, v. 2)

“O what a Shepherd! Let us love, and sing, and wonder.

I hope the good people at Bristol, and everywhere else, are praying for our sinful, distracted land, in this dark day. The Lord is angry, the sword is drawn, and I am afraid nothing but the spirit of wrestling prayer can prevail for the returning it into the scabbard.

Could things have proceeded to these extremities, except the Lord had withdrawn His salutary blessing from both sides? It is a time of prayer.

We see the beginning of trouble, but who can foresee the possible consequences? The fire is kindled; but how far it may spread, those who are above may perhaps know better than we.

I meddle not with the disputes of party, nor concern myself with any political maxims, but such as are laid down in Scripture. There I read that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin is the reproach, and, if persisted in, the ruin of any people.

Some people are startled at the enormous sum of our national debt: they who understand spiritual arithmetic may be well startled if they sit down and compute the debt of national sin.

Imprimis, Infidelity: Item, Contempt of the Gospel: Item, The profligacy of manners: Item, Perjury: Item, The cry of blood, the blood of thousands, perhaps millions, from the East Indies.

It would take sheets, yea quires (i.e. 25 sheets of paper), to draw out the particulars under each of these heads, and then much would remain untold. What can we answer, when the Lord saith, ‘Shall not I visit for these things? Shall not My soul be avenged on such a nation as this?’

Since we received the news of the first hostilities in America, we have had an additional prayer-meeting. Could I hear that professors in general, instead of wasting their breath in censuring men and measures, were plying the Throne of Grace, I should still hope for a respite.

Poor New England! Once the glory of the earth, now likely to be visited with fire and sword. They have left their first love, and the Lord is sorely contending with them.

Yet surely their sins as a people are not to be compared with ours. I am just so much affected with these things as to know, that I am not affected enough.

Oh! My spirit is sadly cold and insensible, or I should lay them to heart in a different manner: yet I endeavour to give the alarm as far as I can.

There is one political maxim which comforts me: ‘The Lord reigns.’ His hand guides the storm; and He knows them that are His, how to protect, support, and deliver them.

He will take care of His own cause; yea, He will extend His kingdom, even by these formidable methods.

Men have one thing in view; He has another, and His counsel shall stand.”

5 Simple Ways to Teach Anyone About Jesus

Writing a post for SeeJesus ministries, Jill Miller explores practical ways to share the love of Jesus with even those who may seem the most challenged to understand – young children, peoples with disabilities, etc. Jill begins with this conviction:

I believe all of us can learn. We are made in the image of God, and God is limitless. I don’t believe in ceilings where people stop learning. I try to adapt Bible study materials so that people affected by disability can go beyond where they ever have before in studying the Bible.  I didn’t set out to be a writer. I set out to make sure all of “the gang” (as I lovingly call the kids and adults I teach who are affected by disabilities) could learn the Bible.

And follows with 5 helpful suggestions:

  1. Act It Out
  2. Question Your Questions
  3. Tell Your Own Stories
  4. Review, Review, Review
  5. With-It-Ness

To read Jill Miller’s original article, click: 5 Simple Ways to Teach Anyone About Jesus

The 10 Commandments in American Culture

While reading through The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers, by David Hansen, (a book recently recommended to me that I find myself wishing I had read years ago,) I came across this convicting assessment of American culture – an indictment that sadly is also widely applicable to a wide swath of American Evangelicalism:

“The majority of Americans will tell any pollster that they believe in the Ten Commandments. But only a small percentage of those people could even recite the Ten Commandment; and even a smaller percentage have any genuine interest in following them.”

David Hansen

Ouch!

Formula for Wisdom: Discerning Right From Wrong

Jerry Bridges, in his contemporary classic book, The Pursuit of Holiness, writes about a time when a friend shared some words of wisdom, a “formula” that helps discern right from wrong:

“Years ago a friend gave me what he called his ‘Formula: How to Know Right from Wrong.’ The formula asks four questions based on three verses in 1 Corinthians.”

1. “Everything is permissible for me- but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6.12).

Question 1: Is it helpful – physically, spiritually, and mentally?

2. “Everything is permissible for me – but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6.12).

Question 2: Does it bring me under its power?

3. “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8.13)

Question 3: Does it hurt others?

4. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10.31)

Question 4: Does it glorify God?”

Creeds & Confessions of the Christian Faith

Source: Christ is the Cure

The wisdom of Solomon instructs us, in Proverbs 22.28:

Do not move the ancient landmark
    that your fathers have set.

The thinking behind this applies not only to property boundaries, but also to principles and and doctrines of Faith. We forfeit a wealth of wisdom if we ignore the insights of those who have gone before us.

Thus is the value of Creeds and Confessions of the Christian Faith.

Creeds help Christians make sense of the Bible by highlighting what is important and summarizing its essential message. In an age of individualism and skeletal creeds, or bare-bone statements of belief, the rich tradition of corporate confessions of faith also provide a vital link to the church of ages past and the saints of all ages.

Monergism

A Confession is a formal statement of doctrinal belief ordinarily intended for public avowal by individuals, groups, denominations, and congregations,; confessions are similar to creeds, although usually more extensive. They are especially associated with the churches of the Protestant Reformation. 

adapted from Britannica

Perhaps the most common objection to Creeds and Confessions is that they may become rival to the Scriptures. But the reality is that Creeds and Confessions are simply useful tools for summarizing and systematically teaching what the Scriptures say. Creeds and Confessions are always subordinate to the Bible; and they are only useful when they accurately reflect what the Bible says. As 19th Century Scottish minister William M. Heatherington notes:

“A confession of faith is not the very voice of Divine Truth, but the echo of that Truth from souls that have heard its utterance, felt its power, and are answering to its call.”

For this reason i am thankful to be part of what is called a “Confessional” tradition. I am the beneficiary of many who have come before me. It is also the reason I found the chart above to be helpful. the chart lists the various Confessions, from multiple traditions, which can be mined for their golden nuggets of wisdom.

For more reading on the subject of Creeds and Confessions, check out:

How the Early Church Leaders Died

The Early Church Father, Tertullian, notably quipped:

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

The author of the Book of Hebrews urges us to consider such leaders, and their way of life, as encouragement to us to persevere in the faith in the face of our own particular difficulties, trials, and hardships. (Hebrews 12.1, Hebrews 13.7). So below is a snapshot of what some of the earliest church leaders endured that the gospel may continue to bear fruit:

1. Matthew – Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, Killed by a sword wound.

2. Mark – Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt , after being dragged by Horses through the streets until he was dead.

3. Luke – Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous Preaching to the lost.

4. John – John faced martyrdom several times. Among the most notable was when he was boiled in huge Basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution In Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered From death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison Island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation on Patmos . John was later freed and returned to serve As Bishop of Edessa in modern Turkey . He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully

5. Peter – Peter was crucified upside down on an x shaped cross. According to church tradition it was because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die In the same way that Jesus Christ had died.

6. James – James, the biological half-brother of Jesus, and leader of the church in Jerusalem, was thrown over a hundred feet down from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller’s club. (This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.)

7. James, the Son of Zebedee – James was a fisherman by trade when Jesus Called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the church, James was beheaded at Jerusalem. The Roman officer who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer Walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and Knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.

8. Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel) – Bartholomew/Nathaniel was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed for our Lord in the present day area of Turkey. Bartholomew was martyred for his preaching in Armenia where he was flayed to death by a whip.

9. Andrew – Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Patras, Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words, “I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it”. He continued to preach to his tormentors For two days until he expired.

10. Thomas – Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church in the Subcontinent.

11. Jude – Jude, a biological half-brother of Jesus, was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.

12. Matthias – Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded.

13. Paul – Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Before his death, Paul had endured a lengthy imprisonment, which allowed him to write his many epistles to the churches formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, essential to the foundational Doctrines of Christianity, form a large portion of the New Testament.

Winning By Losing

Here are two great quotes from Robert Farrar Capon‘s The Parables of Grace:

“Jesus came to save a lost and losing world by his own lostness and defeat; but in this wide world of losers, everyone except Jesus remains firmly, if hopelessly, committed to salvation by winning… it would be funny if it were not fatal; but fatal it is, because grace works only on those who accept their lostness.”

“As I have observed a number of times now, if the world could have been saved by successful living, it would have been tidied up long ago. Certainly, the successful livers of this world have always been ready enough to stuff life’s losers into the garbage can of history. Their program for turning earth back to Eden has consistently been to shun the sick, to lock the poor in ghettos, to disenfranchise those whose skin was the wrong color, and to exterminate those whose religion was inconvenient… But for all that, Eden has never returned. The world’s woes are beyond repair by the world’s successes: there are just too many failures, and they come too thick and fast for any program, however energetic or well-funded… Therefore when the Gospel is proclaimed, it stays light-years away from reliance on success or any other exercise of right-handed power. Instead, it relies resolutely on left-handed power – on the power that, in a mystery, works through failure, loss, and death… For Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctible; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of a life he cannot.”

Some Sources of Spiritual Erosion

Earlier this Summer news outlets around the world reported two beach houses from the same village on the Outer Banks of coastal North Carolina crashed into the sea – within hours of each other. (WAVY) Fortunately no one was injured in either instance. But the cause in both cases? The constant pounding of the Atlantic upon the beach had, over time, eroded the sand within which the foundations of these houses had been embedded.

In Matthew 7.24-27, Jesus warns us that what happened to these houses can also happen to any of us:

24 “Everyone  then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Spiritual erosion can – and does – take place. And it can be as devastating to our emotional health as the pounding of the ocean is to a stately coastal home.

I am not sure, exactly, where I first saw the words below. They seem to have bounced around the internet, in some form or another. But common attribution seems to go to Scott Sauls (though I have not yet found it in any of his writings that I have read). But the basic premise is that spiritual erosion is a real danger, and we ought to be as diligent about checking and refortifying our foundations as an owner of a seaside villa should be about checking the foundations of his/her home. If we do not keep up, our emotional health can come crashing down and sucked out to sea.

Life itself causes weathering. But particular attention must be given to our attitudes, values, and desires. When love for [A] is greater than (>) love for [B}, spiritual erosion can develop over time:

  • self > serving
  • leisure > church
  • consuming > giving
  • autonomy > commitment
  • clique > community
  • sin > truth
  • feelings > Scripture
  • winning > listening
  • being right > being kind

NOTE TO SELF: Keep watch of your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4.23)

Pastors and Their Friends

At the risk of being self-serving, I want to commend an article recently posted by ByFaith magazine, written by Walter Henegar, titled Your Pastor Needs Pastor Friends. I recommend it not only for those who are part of the congregation I serve, but also to all who regularly read this blog, as well as to those who have just stumbled upon it. Most if not all of you are part of some church; and if part of a church you most likely have a pastor. What this article does is offer a peek behind the curtain into the life of your pastor.

Getting a glimpse into someone’s life can be somewhat like looking into the closets and junk drawers of any family home – it does not usually offer the prettiest picture. It may not be shocking, it may not be scandalous, but it contains some things that might be preferred not to be put out for public display. This is certainly true if you have the relatively rare opportunity to look behind the scenes into the “real” lives of most church pastors.

In recent months I have participated in a number of gatherings with fellow ministers. What I have heard and seen is evidence of what has been widely reported, especially in the wake of the havoc COVID has wreaked in many churches: Pastors are tired. Pastors are burning out. Pastors are breaking. Many pastors have already walked away; many others are seriously considering throwing in the towel. I am not one of them. Not today, anyway. But I understand. I have been there. I have had such seasons – and likely I will again. It’s just not where I am today. Some of those who are on the brink, or who have already walked away, are far wiser, gentler, and godlier than I am. So it breaks my heart to see them so deeply wounded. And I know it breaks the hearts of many in the pews when it is their pastor who breaks. “If only we knew…”

I do not know Walter Henegar (though I do know his Dad). But I appreciate Walter’s transparency in this article because it offers an opportunity for many godly people to know how to care for and pray for those whom God has raised up to be shepherds for their souls. (Hebrews 13.17)

READ: Your Pastor Needs Pastor Friends

Racial Justice & The Church: Navigating the Minefield

Trying to hold an ongoing conversation about race and justice feels like trying to navigate a rhetorical minefield. Watch out. You never know if that next step is going to explode. But it is a conversation that needs to continue. I believe it is a conversation that especially needs to continue in the Church. The question is: “How”?

Here are four principles that recently came to me via an email:

First, you clarify what the Scriptures teach about justice and how God intends for people of different ethnic backgrounds to treat one another. 

Second, you highlight the aspects of your theological tradition that illuminate what the Scriptures teach about “race” and justice. 

Third, you examine the unvarnished history of how your religious tradition has contributed to or resisted racial injustice in the part of the world you live in. 

Finally, you sit with the sociological impact of your religious tradition’s actions to pursue or deny racial injustice.

Shaped Through Suffering

“The suffering that comes to us is not random. It is not just the flow of chance events that careen along without a plan. It is not crazy coincidence. It is not haphazard and undirected. It is easy for us to see suffering as blind chance, or bad luck, or what others are doing to us. It is not karma, bad thing are not coming to us, because we have been bad to others. God makes it clear that all suffering comes according to God’s purposes in our lives. God is at work even when we cannot see him at work.”

~ Tedd Tripp

4 Questions Worth Exploring

In this short video (8 minutes), Tim Keller offers four questions he would like to see his denomination (which is also my denomination) – the Presbyterian Church in America – explore in the coming years.

The four questions are:

  1. How do we create a culture in which pastors pray like they should?
  2. How do we deal with controversy in a social media age?
  3. How do we form our kids – and disciples in general – in a digital age?
  4. How do we get Christians to engage in evangelism?

These questions are worthwhile, not only for a denomination to explore, but also for any local congregation to think about and discuss.

The Mystery of the Trinity (Satirically) Explained

Author Ray Pritchard offers these startling words with regard to the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity:

All Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. If you do not believe this – that is, if you have come to a settled conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true – you are not a Christian at all. You are in fact a heretic. Those words may sound harsh, but they represent the judgment of the Christian church across the centuries. 

Pritchard wrote these words as a provocative opening to his digital article, God in Three Persons: A Doctrine We Barely Understand.

Pritchard’s words may be a bit shocking. But they are well founded. Affirming the Trinity is one of the non-negotiables of the Christian Faith. Yet, the doctrine of the Trinity is perhaps the most logically confusing among the many complex propositions of historic orthodox Christianity. It is so easy to take a step too far in almost any logical direction and find that we have fallen into a heresy.

I have long been a fan of Hans Fiene’s Lutheran Satire. And I particularly appreciate the humorous way he tackles the issue of the Trinity in this video. Take a moment to watch it.

For those wanting to ponder the definition Patrick finally rattles off in the end (and for which he is affirmed by Donall and Conall):

The Trinity is a mystery that cannot be comprehended by human reason but is understood by faith and is best confessed in the words of the Athanasian Creed which states that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. That we are compelled by the Christian faith to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord and that the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one equal in glory, coequal in majesty.

Outline of Biblical History

I have learned that I am one who learns best from outlines. Perhaps not in all subjects, but I think certainly when it comes to learning history. I can often recall many of the stories, but I am sometimes slow to remember how things played out and how things connect. Outlines helps to remind me of the the bigger picture, the broader narrative, which is vital to understanding.

The outline below is one I have found helpful in remembering the narrative of Biblical history. It comes from the book, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, by Australian Anglican scholar Graeme Goldsworthy.

(See chart in .pdf)