To Those “Born Again” in the USA

My good friend, Fred Liggin, recently posted a contextualized paraphrase of John 8.30-37 on his blog, Long Way Here, and on his Facebook page.

“As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Christians living in the USA who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“We are descendants of democracy,” they answered Him, “and we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We aren’t enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.

“I know you are descendants of democracy, but you are trying to explain my teachings away because My word is not welcome among you.”

Kinda hits home, doesn’t it?

In sharing this I have no desire to denigrate our country – especially not right after Memorial Day. As Americans we have much to be thankful for. Among that for which I am thankful are our civil liberties, and for those who have served to preserve them. On Memorial Day we especially give thanks for those who “gave the last full measure of devotion”. As a country we have been greatly blessed. But, as a country, we also have more than a few things for which we need repent – both from our past and in our present. What I think Fred hits on is the confusion and compromise that sometimes – perhaps even all too often – occurs in the church, because of an unhealthy mixture of allegiances to country and to Christ. If you are an American, be thankful! But always remember: To God alone belongs glory. (Isaiah 42.8)

Here is the link to Fred’s original post: Jesus, Truth, and Freedom.

What Of It?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book Spiritual Depression, poignantly asserts:

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.” 

We all have this experience. For some it is nearly debilitating. The weight of guilt from past transgressions or inactions drains the emotional bank account. The result, as Lloyd-Jones says, is “unhappiness”. Discouragement. And whenever discouragement is left untreated, there is always the risk that it metastasizes into full blown depression.

The issue is not that these thoughts are necessarily wrong. We all have regrets of things we have done and of things we have left undone. What is wrong is how these feelings warp our sense of identity, and consequently our emotional health. What is wrong is how these things rob us of our connection with the greater truths of God’s Promises, often making the one “listening” to these mental accusations feel unworthy, and therefore disconnected from God himself.

The answer is not to simply ignore these mental accusations. There is a very real sense that we are “guilty”, and that we are “unworthy” to enjoy God’s presence. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3.23, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”. John concurs with Paul, reminding us in 1 John 1.8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” and again in v. 10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and God’s word is not in us.”

The solution to our unhappiness is found in what John writes in between, in v. 9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In other words, the remedy to our unhappiness begins by owning whatever part of the accusations are true. We own it, then “confess it” to God. (NOTE: However, we must take care to not embrace what is untrue.)

Lloyd-Jones, who was a medical doctor before entering into pastoral ministry, prescribes that we “talk to ourselves” as medicine for our souls. After “confession”, which is talking to God, we are to “talk to ourselves.” We are to remind ourselves of the promises of the gospel, such as the promises of 1 John 1.9, or any of the many similar promises that are laced throughout the Scriptures. These promises are “greater truths” than whatever is true of our guilt; greater because they are God’s truths, God’s promises to those who rest in his grace, through faith in Christ.

What would such a conversation look like? What might we say to “ourselves” when our minds feel flooded with accusation? The video above provides a powerful example. In this video, actor Joseph Fiennes plays Martin Luther in the 2003 biopic, Luther. In the scene, Luther declares:

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”

This is what is called “preaching the gospel to yourself”!

As Luther ostensibly said at another time:

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

What’s the Problem?

Writing in 1974, Francis Schaeffer suggested:

“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

No Little People

In other words, for Christians assessing the Culture Wars, the problem is you – and the problem is me.

Balance of True Christianity

Edward Payson (D.D. 1783-1827), a 19th Century Congregationalist minister, was a popular long-time pastor in Portland, Maine, where he was dubbed with the moniker “Praying Payson of Portland”. Portland’s Payson Park is named to commemorate his tremendous influence and legacy.

Among many insights preserved in his writing, Payson mused over the meaning of true Christianity:

True Christianity consists of a proper mixture of fear of God, and of hope in his mercy; and wherever either of these is entirely wanting, there can be no true Faith. God has joined these things, and we ought by no means to put them asunder.   

He cannot take pleasure in those who fear him with a slavish fear, without hoping in his mercy, because they seem to consider him a cruel and tyrannical being, who has no mercy or goodness in his nature. And, besides, they implicitly charge him with falsehood, by refusing to believe and hope in his invitations and offers of mercy. 

On the other hand, he cannot be pleased with those who pretend to hope in his mercy without fearing him. For they insult him by supposing there is nothing in him which ought to be feared. And in addition to this, they make him a liar, by disbelieving his awful threatenings denounced against sinners, and call in question his authority, by refusing to obey him.  

Those only who both fear him and hope in his mercy, give him the honor that is due to his name.   

Anniversary of a Great Christian Divide

On May 21, 1922 – 100 years ago today – a minister noted for exceptional eloquence ascended the steps into the pulpit to deliver his message. His name was Harry Emerson Fosdick. Though Fosdick was a Baptist, he had for several years served as pastor of the historic First Presbyterian Church in New York City. On this particular Sunday, Fosdick fired a shot that has reverberated for generations. His sermon title: Shall the Fundamentalists Win? And in this message, Fosdick winsomely and systematically hammered away at nearly every distinctly Christian doctrine, musing aloud why Christians must hold to such ideas as the Trinity, the Virgin Birth of Christ, Jesus bodily resurrection, etc. To Fosdick’s mind, those so-called Fundamentalists were too rigid and narrow minded. He proposed that the Church should make room for both those who held to these historic and fundamental doctrines, and for those who held to a more evolved “liberal” or “modernist” view.

It is important to understand that the word “Fundamentalist” had a different connotation then than it does today. In those days of the early 20th Century, a “Fundamentalist” was essentially anyone who held to the fundamental doctrines historically held by Christians of all orthodox traditions. The idea of separation from the world and from anyone who associated with the “worldly”; the prohibitions against dance, drink, card playing, etc. that are most commonly associate with Fundamentalist Christianity today had yet to develop, at least it had not so developed to the degree that these were universally considered distinguishing marks, as they have been since the middle of the 20th Century.

But Fosdick’s message caused quite the stir. It is considered, by some, to have been the beginning of the Modernist vs Fundamentalist Divide that still exists to this day between Mainline and Evangelical Christians, though the roots of the theological liberalism that Fosdick espoused had been growing increasingly evident for years before this landmark message.

On this 100th year anniversary of Fosdick’s message, The Gospel Coalition has published a series of articles, both revisiting Fosdick and his message and exploring the effects still felt today:

In addition to the articles in TGC, Reformed Faith & Practice, the journal of Reformed Theological Seminary, (the seminary from which I earned my Master of Divinity,) has dedicated the present issue, Volume 7.1, to explore the origins and continuing impact of the Fundamentalist vs Liberal debate and divide. There are ten excellent articles, reflecting both historic and theological perspectives.

Finally, for those interested in this subject, I commend the audio book of J. Gresham Machen’s classic Christianity & Liberalism, published in 1923, in the wake of this debate. The audio book has 7 chapters, and is found on YouTube: Christianity & Liberalism.

Hebrews 9-10 Recited

While studying the Book of Hebrews this week, in preparation Sunday’s message, I stumbled upon this recitation of Hebrews 9 & 10 by a guy named Ryan Ferguson. I was impressed as I listened to him present these chapters through oral interpretation. Ferguson’s performance of these verses offers a perspective that both resonates with my reading of the passage and yet is also distinct at the same time.. Powerful!

The Ways & Means of Following Jesus

Eugene Peterson, in his book, The Jesus Way, wrote:

Following Jesus necessarily means getting his ways and means into our everyday lives. It is not enough simply to recognize and approve his ways and get started in the right direction. Jesus’ ways are meant to be embraced and assimilated into our habits. This takes place only as we pray our following of him. It cannot be imposed from without, cannot be copied. It must be shaped from within. This shaping takes place in prayer. The practice of prayer is the primary way that Jesus’ way comes to permeate our entire lives so that we walk spontaneously and speak rhythmically in the fluidity and fluency of holiness.

Buck O’Neil: Baseball Hall of Fame Speech

Wow! An amazing speech by an amazing man – Buck O’Neil. I heard it this morning for the first time.

The context only adds to it’s poignancy. In 2006 The Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown NY, admitted, for the first time, former Negro League players. 17 players were selected – but O’Neil, who was unquestionably qualified for the Hall, was not among those 17. (He missed the cut by 1 vote.) Instead, he was asked to offer the Induction speech. It exudes graciousness and wisdom. There is not one note of resentment or bitterness in O’Neil’s speech or tone. This makes his message even more powerful. (O’Neil was finally admitted to the HOF in 2021 – 15 years after his death.)

Take a moment to watch. (Run Time: 7minutes)