Reminding People of God’s Reality

Last week I was asked to give a devotional for our church’s deacon meeting. I used the time to issue the following challenge – perhaps it will be edifying to you as well.

Reminding People of God’s Reality

I want to suggest that most of us get caught up in a reality of our own making so easily, and for so long, that it is often difficult to see God’s reality. This is especially true for those who are suffering. It seems more and more often that as I minister to the body of Christ, that men lean on the shallowness of watered down devotionals, and trinkets of the Word of God taken out of context and plunked down in ‘5 easy steps to happiness’, or ‘how to successfully arrange your day by God’s word.’

Too often have I visited a sick person who has wandered through unsatisfying pages of tripe, when he needs the richness of God’s unvarnished Word. It is your mission to bring that richness to their lives.

Yet, by His grace He has given us several means through which we may see His reality more clearly. Some of these include sharing a testimony from our own lives. Sometimes God uses great literature with rich stories of adventures in other words to bring back a wandering mind into the realities of His governance over this world. Very often though, He uses the traversing of a great wilderness where all good things seemed stripped away, to bring us to nothing in order that we would be reminded that we have everything we need in Him.

Some of the people we are ministering to do not want to spend time in God’s Word. They do not know it, or they have too often allowed the words of men – mostly weak kneed and watered down devotionals – to come between them and the words of God.

When they encounter the Word of God in all its brightness, they are brought back to reality – a reality of God’s making. They realize both judgment and grace. This is the best and most effective way to bring someone back to reality. Yet for the unwilling, there are these other more subtle ways of grace that God uses as “first steps” back to His glorious word.

Well-written fantasy, or allegory, can do just that. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein wrote in such powerful prose that readers are transported from their world to another. In this other world they once again recognize the principles that rule our own world.

Tolkein wrote clearly about this saying…

“The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.”[1]

In Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, a conversation ensues between Lucy, Edward, and the Christ-like character Aslan, which brings out similar truths:

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”[2]

But not everyone we minister to will have this literary background. Sometimes we find people so lost in despondency, and in the desert of their own suffering, that the only escape for them is the few hours of restless sleep they glean every night. We catch them, as it were, in the wasteland.

And it does no good to nurture the idea that God did not ordain their circumstances. Indeed, that is the lie which undermines our very ability to comfort them. Rather, we must point them to the truths of the gospel, and bring them to the only one who can anoint them with the balm necessary to salve their scabbed and worn feet from the desert walk.

It is in the desert where God trained Israel to have affection only for Him. It was in exile that great leaders were born. It was out of Egypt that God called His Son.

For as Samuel Rutherford points out, in a reference to Hosea 2:

I rejoice that He is come and hath chosen you in the furnace; it was even there where ye and He set tryst; that is an old gate of Christ’s. He keepeth the good old fashion with you, that was in Hosea’s days (Hosea 2:14). “Therefore, behold I will allure her, and bring her to the wilderness and speak to her heart.” There was no talking to her heart while He and she were in the fair and flourishing city and at ease; but out in the cold, hungry, waste wilderness, He allureth her, He whispered into her ear there, and said, “Thou art mine.”[3]

No matter what these “first steps” are, they are God’s gracious gifts to bring back wandering sheep to His fold.

It is our mission as leaders of the church to set that truth in front of them. That truth is this: All you are going through now is not meaningless. It is preordained by God in Christ so that you will treasure Him and His reality above all things.

Therefore my charge to you as leaders is to prevent nothing from coming between the people you are ministering to, and the great realities of the gospel of Christ. Do not let the watered down devotionals of our day, which are often Christ-less and bloodless, be your first line of defense. Take up great allegory from titans of literature, take up great writing from the Puritans, take up experience from God’s work in your own life and show how He has been faithful. Yet above all, take up the Word of God, and use it to shake men and women from the false realities of their own making. Shine truth into their lives in vivid colors and clearly written phrases. Do all you can to showcase the bloody, costly, gracious, glorious gospel of Christ, and in boldness and gentleness pour love into the lives of those you minister to in the weeks and months ahead.

I’ll just close with some thoughts from John Piper to those who are suffering, and the importance of preaching God’s Word to themselves in the midst of the wilderness:

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.[4]

 

footnotes

[1]J.R.R. Tolkein, ‘On Fairy Stories’, http://www.rivendellcommunity.org/Formation/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.pdf?utm_source=Desiring+God&utm_campaign=b5ec8d8fa5-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da5f8315b-b5ec8d8fa5-99744309

[2] C.S. Lewis, ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, As quoted on goodreads.com, http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3349054-the-voyage-of-the-dawn-treader.

[3] Samuel Rutherford, ‘The Loveliness of Christ’, Pg. 64-65.

[4] John Piper, as found on desiringgod.com, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-song-for-the-suffering-with-john-piper

Most Influential Books Part 1

Sometimes a book doesn’t have to be brilliant to have a major impact on your life. Sometimes it has to simply have the right message (assuming it is a truthful message, of course) at the right time. I’m a firm believer that books change lives and see us through the bright and the dull and the pain.

Of course the one constant book in my life has been The Book – the “Good Book.”  The scripture certainly has no rival in any library. There are no other pieces of literature that even play on the same field. It’s advantage, of course, is that it is alive. Not metaphorically, not allegorically, not even in the way that it makes us feel alive as if it were the sum of its’ effects or stimulations on the reader. Rather, its’ words are used by the Spirit of God to wake us up to unrealized truths as He begins to work in our minds and in our hearts. Christianity is not a “blind faith”, it is an informed faith which conquers both the mind and the heart.

Therefore, the Bible is unique and simply without rival.

Nevertheless, Providence has seen fit to use other literature in my life to bless me, entertain and brighten my day, and deepen my relationship with Him and others, all the while growing in my appreciation for life and creation and many other undeserved blessings.

Here are the books that have impacted me the most at the ripe old age of 31 – note that these aren’t all necessarily “favorites” per se, there are some I have no desire to read again, but all that will be made plain as you scroll through the selections.  There are so many of these that I think I’ll roll them out in a series.  There are far too many to write (or read) about before you fall asleep of boredom.  So here (in no particular order) goes the first five in the series…

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin’s masterpiece saw me through one of the worst illnesses I’ve had (which is saying something) – 10 days in bed with pneumonia.  I own several copies of this one, and will probably keep collecting nice editions. I love to open its pages and just get lost for a few minutes in laughter and pros. The writing is superb and brings me back to my childhood where we would watch the six-hour movie edition over and over again. We’d poke fun at the characters and put ourselves in their shoes as we watched the social instability and family upheaval course through the plot. It never gets old, and will always be one of my favorite books/stories of all time.
  2. Leadership as an Identity – I got this book for free at my church and it transformed the way I thought about pride and leadership – especially as a dad. It spoke very powerfully to me and brought my heart to a place where I was more open to leading my home as I ought to. I really appreciate Crawford Loritts’ writing and think he brings a unique perspective to the leadership book collection.
  3. Defending Your Faith – This was my one of my first encounters with Theologian R.C. Sproul and it whetted my appetite for more.  His intellectual approach drove me to understand that all truth is God’s truth. This is a book on apologetics and it is framed in a classical style, which means that he isn’t going to spend as much time on proofs for the resurrection or other modern arguments, but will address much of the philosophical and even scientific ground that Anselm, Aquinas, Newton and other master theologians and thinkers have laid down in bygone eras. As I read this I began to see that being a Christian didn’t mean I had to sacrifice my intellect. Read this book cautiously, it may open the door to deeper waters….
  4. The Religious Affections – This is a more recent one for me, though it is largely considered to be Jonathan Edwards’ magnum opus, I had not cracked it open until just last week.  It took me a week or so to traverse its 400 pages, but it was well worth the journey.  This is not a book for a young Christian, this is a book for someone who has read pretty widely and is now ready for the deeper things of God. However, if you have not at least sampled Jonathan Edwards’ work, this would be a great one to pickup and scroll through. The book seeks to explain the essence of what the true Christian life consists of, looks like, and how we can know we are truly Christians at all. Through many rigorous examinations I found again and again both challenges and assurances that woke me up to some things, and also secured my mind and soul in many ways. The influence this book has had has been significant even this week in shaping my thought and confirming many of my beliefs. I can tell this is going to be one I go back to time and time again, year after year. This is one for your book bucket list!
  5. Chosen by God – There may not be another book in recent memory that has so greatly altered and impacted my life as this classic by R.C. Sproul. I had read a few of his other books in recent months and wanted to keep going. This one seemed like another popular work from him, so I picked up a used copy and started pouring over the pages.  What ensued was nothing short of life changing. The book details how God’s election of sinners to salvation works. It confronts Calvinism (so-called) head on, and shows how men interact with these ideas, which as it turns out are rock solid Biblical teachings. There were several moments where I felt that the book had a great impact on me and others around me.  During an airplane trip for business with my business partner Matt, we got into a quite a severe argument based on the book’s propositions.  I was just starting to put the pieces together from all that I had studied growing up, and Matt was deeply offended at the idea that God chose people and not the other way around (at least that He is the antecedent Chooser). His temper flared, and the argument spilled out into the Nashville Airport (BNA) where we were awaiting a connecting flight. I was not an expert on theology at the time, but I knew Romans like the back of my hand, so everything Dr. Sproul said was clicking with me…but not with Matt.  I challenged Matt to read the book and sort it out for himself. A few days later, I returned home from the trip and had kept up my reading when around 2am one evening as I was sitting in the living room of my house I realized all at once that I had been a fool.  I had such a pride about my learning and my salvation and what hit me was that I was a moron…literally.  I knew nothing and was responsible for nothing good ultimately in my life. I got down on my knees and with tear-filled eyes prayed for forgiveness for my pride and ignorance about spiritual things.  Not long after that Matt read the book as well and his eyes were opened.  It was a transforming experience.  Soon he went to seminary and began pastoring a small church, I followed suit and enrolled at Southern Seminary in Louisville a few years later after much more learning, reading, and praying. I still have that copy of ‘Chosen by God’ and now its signed on the inside cover by its author, and is more marked and highlighted than those several years ago when I first turned its pages.

Stay tuned for my next installment of ‘most influential books’…