Nothing More to Gain, Nothing to Lose

Sojourn (1)

“We are not citizens of this world trying to make our way to heaven; we are citizens of heaven trying to make our way through this world. That radical Christian insight can be life-changing. We are not to live so as to earn God’s love, inherit heaven, and purchase our salvation. All those are given to us as gifts; gifts bought by Jesus on the cross and handed over to us. We are to live as God’s redeemed, as heirs of heaven, and as citizens of another land: the Kingdom of God. We live as those who are on a journey home: a home we know will have the lights on and the door open and our Father waiting for us when we arrive. That means in all adversity our worship of God is joyful, our life is hopeful, our future is secure. There is nothing we can lose on earth that can rob us of the treasures God has given and will give us. ”

~ from The Landisfarne

Thoughts During a Pandemic

Rain Drops

Scottish Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs mused:

All men are afraid of afflictions and troubled at affliction, but where is the man or woman that fears sin and flies from the serpent, and is troubled at sin more than any affliction?

It got me thinking. What if I borrowed and re-purposed Burroughs’ question:

All are afraid of affliction and troubled by the fear of this virus. But where is the man or woman who fears sin and is troubled by sin more than he or she is troubled by and fears  the coronavirus?  Where is the man or woman who is as vigorous about protecting our hearts from the infection of sin within as we are presently about washing our hands and covering our faces to prevent the virus from infecting our lungs?

An even more immediate crucial question: Am I such a man?

Note to Self During Our Viral Outbreak

Luther Plague

I admire Martin Luther’s attitude in the midst of the bubonic plague:

“I shall ask God be merciful to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me, and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person. I shall go freely… See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Note to Self: May I live to honor God by loving and serving my neighbors to the best of my abilities during our present health crisis.

Repenting of Toxic Masculinity

bare knuckle

Columnist Ross Douthat, in response to recent discussions about “toxic masculinity”, penned a piece for the New York Times, In Search of Non-Toxic Manhood.

One of the frustrating tics of our society’s progressive vanguard is the assumption that every evil it discovers was entirely invisible in the past, that this generation is the first to wrestle with dominance and cruelty.

This forgetting of human experience, this perpetual present-tenseness, pervades the latest flashpoint in the culture war over the sexes — the new guidelines for treating male pathology from the American Psychological Association.

The trouble with men, the guidelines argue, is that they’re violent and reckless, far more likely than women to end up in prison or dead before their time. But the deeper problem is they’re prisoners of “traditional masculinity,” which the guidelines describe as a model of manhood marked by “emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness.” This tough-guy ideal encourages “aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict,” and tempts men toward rape, drug abuse and suicide.

Douthat’s OpEd reminded me of an article I had read several years ago, written by Kyle Worley for Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) titled Repenting From ‘Biblical’ Manhood. It was the 10th and final part of a series titled Manhood Marred.  The series explored a variety of ways that sin has corrupted, or marred, manhood.  So in a very real sense, CBMW was way ahead of the American Psychological Association – and Gillette Razors.

In Repenting From ‘Biblical’ Manhood, Worley introduces the subject with these words:

While we firmly believe that God has ordained complementarianism as the governing sexual and marital ethic of the Christian life, we acknowledge that a corrupt complementarianism and those false ways of living that some may have treacherously called ‘biblical’ manhood have led to the perversion of the wonderful truth that God has laid out for human flourishing in the home, in the church, and in the culture.

Worley continues:

So, in the vein of those prophets who plead for the sins of their kinsman, it is time that we corporately repent and lament the perverseness of a manhood that has been shaped by sin and not by the authority of Scripture.

Then, in the “vein of the prophets”, Worley offers the following memorable, and beautifully humble, prayer of confession and repentance:

Lord, We confess that we are broken and are in need of your grace. May you draw our gaze to the God-man Jesus Christ and the full scope of scripture as the authoritative revelation for what biblical manhood should resemble.

  • We repent for the sins of our passive brothers, unwilling to lead when it counts.
  • We repent for the sins of our chauvinist brothers, covering up abuse in the name of authority and male leadership.
  • We repent for the sins of our brothers who refuse to grow up, Lord would you call them to greater maturity.
  • We repent for any machismo that has seeped into our churches, may we be disgusted with misogyny in all its forms.
  • We repent for men who are trying to escape from the responsibilities you have entrusted to them, may they find joy in their stewardship.
  • We repent for men who are attempting to “lone wolf” their lives, Lord may they find your church as beautiful as you do.
  • We repent for men unwilling to sacrifice their control and comfort to lead in all spheres of life, may they look to He who laid down His life for His bride.
  • We repent for men who are so jaded with cynicism that they lose love for the King and hope for his coming kingdom.

We pray that you would rescue women who are trapped in abuse and that you would crush the purposes of abusers who treacherously call themselves “complementarians” or “biblical men.” Bring them to repentance and comfort those who have been bruised and broken beneath their hands.

We pray for those men who are trapped in sexual immorality. Lord, would you break the chains of pornography in the life of the church. Those wicked chains that place men in shackles next to the sex trafficking victims, pornographers, and orphaned.

We pray that you would continue to renew a movement towards good, beautiful, and true complementarian practice. May the witness of those men and women who have been created in your image, given distinct roles in the world, and who treasure the gospel tell the true story of complementarianism. May the lies that creep in under the banner of complementarianism in churches, homes, and communities across the world be crushed by this witness.

Comfort the woman abused, the child orphaned, the widowed mother, the widowed father, the church filled with faithful women.

Comfort the young woman not righteously pursued, the young boy with no father to learn from, the wife who serves the belligerent and lazy husband.

Confront those trapped in sexual immorality, confront churches filled with passive men, confront the young men unwilling to grow up.

Crush abortion, crush the movement to undermine the beauty of Christian covenant marriage, crush the porn industry, crush abuse at home and in the church.

Come, Lord! Come, Lord! Come, Lord, would you come?

To borrow a theme and turn a phrase, “CBMW was anti toxic masculinity before toxic masculinity was un-cool”.  We would do well, and it would be timely, for the Church to reaffirm our commitments, and acknowledge our failures on this front; humbly repenting before our Holy God, and prophetically proclaiming God’s design for masculinity rather than leaving the final word to the APA, or to some other organization.

Believing & Belonging

scottish kirk

I found these words from John Stonestreet to be on target, well grounded, and a great truth around which we would do well to periodically re-orient our priorities and calendars:

The central practice of the Christian life, at least biblically speaking, is gathering together as Christ’s body for corporate worship, for hearing the Word, and for participating in the sacraments. “Going to church” as we say somewhat inaccurately, is the means that God has designed and determined to feed us spiritually, and to allow us to participate in that kingdom where God’s will is done on earth as in Heaven.

Stonestreet goes on to say:

But just attending church isn’t enough either. Each Sunday, Christians declare not only that God’s kingdom has arrived in Christ Jesus, but that it’s being established in our lives, our families, and our congregations. That’s why no Christian is called to only a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, but to a communion that belongs both to and with one another. In other words, we’re not called to mere attendance.

The Church is designed by God to be an instrument for our spiritual nourishment, growth, and health. Each member and participant in the church is a tool God uses to shape and sharpen the others.  (See Proverbs 27.17) Only through relationships with others can we more fully understand who God has made us to be.

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, beautifully illustrates this principle when he shares the story of the loss of one member of his closest circle of friends, which included theologian Charles Williams and writer J.R.R. Tolkien (“Ronald”). After Charles Williams died, Lewis made this observation:

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth. . .We possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven. . . For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6.3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”

Reflecting on what Lewis had written, Tim Keller noted:

“Lewis’ point is that even a human being is too rich and multifaceted a being to be fully known one-on-one. You think you know someone, but you alone can’t bring out all that is in a person. You need to see the person with others. And if this is true with another human being, how much more so with the Lord? You can’t really know Jesus by yourself.”

Again, when Charles died, Lewis did not have more of Ronald now that they had only each other, he now has less of Ronald, and Ronald has less of Lewis, because there are aspects of both Lewis and Ronald that only Charles can bring out. The same is true of our relationships in the church, in our small groups, in any of our circle of friendships. There are things in each of us that are only evident in our communion with other individuals. In community we see more of each other because of what each draws out of the other; and we see more of ourselves because of what others draw out in us.

“Community is the key to true spirituality as we grow to know God by learning to know one another in relationships.”

This is among the reasons the writer of the Book of Hebrews was so adamant that we not neglect participation through regular and frequent, even weekly, assembling together as the church:

24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10.24-25, NLT)

Stonestreet’s words come from his January 22, 2019 Breakpoint podcast, Believing Means Belonging.  Click the link to read the transcript or to listen to the entire 4 minute program.

Ashamed of Jesus?

This past Sunday I introduced the lyrics to of old hymn to our congregation, as part of a message from John 18.1-27 about Peter’s denial of Jesus.  The point I was making is that while we are easily “ashamed” of Jesus, whether conscious of it or not, our relationship with Jesus – and with God through Christ – does not rest upon our diligence, but rather upon God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on our behalf.  The point from the passage is that while Peter was struggling, and denying Jesus; three times declaring “I am not” when asked if he was a Jesus Follower, in the same scene Jesus was being interrogated, and beaten, as part of his final steps on journey to the Cross. It is on that Cross that Jesus died to redeem those who had sinned against him, like Peter – and like me.

The old hymn lyrics were written in 1765 by a British man named Joseph Griggs.  The song in the video is a tune composed and performed by Mo Leverett, after Leverett had read the lyrics authored by Griggs.

The gist of the song reveals the foolishness of being “ashamed” of Jesus – which is to be ashamed of or embarrassed by the gospel.  Griggs begins with a question in the first stanza:

Jesus, and shall it ever be,  A mortal man ashamed of Thee?  Ashamed of Thee whom angels praise, Whose glories shine through endless days!

Griggs then works through a few reasons why it is foolish to be ashamed of Jesus:

Ashamed of Jesus! sooner far Let evening blush to own a star: He sheds the beams of light Divine O’er this be-night-ed soul of mine.

Ashamed of Jesus! just as soon Let mid-night be ashamed of noon: ‘Tis mid-night with my soul till He, Bright Morning Star, bid darkness flee.

Ashamed of Jesus, that dear Friend On whom my hopes of heaven depend! No; when I blush, be this my shame, That I no more revere His Name.

Griggs, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, admits that maybe there is a circumstance when the gospel, and Jesus, might be dismissed:

Ashamed of Jesus! yes, I may When I’ve no guilt to wash away; No tear to wipe, no good to crave, No fears to quell, no soul to save.

The irony, none of of us ever is in the circumstance where we are not in need of the grace of Jesus.

The beauty of the song, for me, comes in the last line, when we are reminded that despite our spiritual frailty, Jesus is never ashamed of those who belong to him:

Til then – nor is my boasting vain – Til then I boast a Savior slain; And O may this my glory be, That Christ is not ashamed of me!

2019 World Watch: Top 10 Places of Persecution Around the World

Earlier today Open Doors USA, an organization that tracks religious persecution around the world, particularly the persecution of Christians, published the new 2019 World Watch List, ranking and chronicling the Top 50 countries where persecution of Christians occurs.

The Top 10 (or Bottom 10, if we consider these worst to less-worse):

  1. North Korea
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Somalia
  4. Libya
  5. Pakistan
  6. Sudan
  7. Eritrea
  8. Yemen
  9. Iran
  10. India

Some will be surprised that China does not make the Top 10. This is perhaps especially so given the arrests of scores of members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in China, including the congregations pastor, Wang Yi, that has been in the news. China comes in at #27 on this list.

It is stunning to me to think that there are 26 nations where religious oppressing is greater than it is in China.

Open Doors does more than just track the tragedies; they support those who are persecuted.  If you want to do something, begin by downloading the Prayer App, posting a prayer on the Prayer Wall, and/or writing a letter to a persecuted Follower of Jesus.  There are also opportunities to get more deeply involved, to become a volunteer or an advocate.  To learn more about these opportunities, contact Open Doors.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  (1 Corinthians 12.26)