Saturday, September 01, 2007


Comic Art

In the world of speedsters, you may remeber Red Trinity? Well, before them was the group you see here, Blue Trinity. There is actually very little to say about this trio. Their appearances were very limited; their whereabouts currently more-or-less unknown.

I think they existed purely as plot devices to begin to introduce the concept of the "speed force" which is what real speedsters like Flash tap into. The comics get into a whole zen, cosmic thing about it, and the very idea grates on my physics trained mind, but hey, it's comics.

Well, there, now I've mentioned them, so no one can say I didn't. They do look cool. As "man-made" speedsters, they are slow, but the whole mishapenness that comes out of the process of trying to get that way is an interesting idea.

Friday, August 31, 2007


Style Over Substance

During his vacation, Justin Taylor had several guest bloggers. One of them, Colin Hansen, points to some videos instructing people on baptism. Chuck contrasts the styles, and he has a point, but I am really worried about the use of video in baptismal instruction - period.

I cannot help but think that a video reduces baptism to the purely ceremonial, devoid of actual life-changing content. Baptism is indeed symbolic, but it should be symbolic more of the change in the person being baptized than anything else.
Col 2:9-12 - For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. [emphasis added]
Baptism symbolizes our own spritual death and resurrection - should we not be somehow tested to see if we are indeed willing to lay ourselves down with Christ.

I am sure some of you are sniggering because as a Presbyterian, I accept infant baptism and how could an infant be so tested? Well, you are right, an infant can't be, but the video is about adult baptism and even we Presbyterians have some pretty strict standards for adult baptism, when they are enforced.

Think about going to a movie. How many times have you found yourself in a movie, deeply moved by what was on the screen, only to be out at the restaurant an hour later, laughing and carrying on, the emotional impact of the movie lost. Is that really what we want for our sacramental activities? Are they supposed to be put on and taken off like an overcoat?

Life change that is permanent and deep happens in relationship, not in by viewing video. Style notwithstanding, the very use of video trivalizes a decidedly non-trivial activity. People, in relationship, make impact that presentation simply cannot.


Friday Humor

A newly appointed young preacher was contacted by the local funeral director to hold a grave side committal service at a small country cemetery in Iowa. There was to be no funeral, just the committal, because the deceased had no family or friends left in Iowa.

The young pastor started early to the cemetery, but soon lost his way. After making several wrong turns, he finally arrived a half-hour late. The hearse was no where in sight, and the workmen were relaxing under a near-by tree, eating their lunch.

The pastor went to the open grave and found that the vault lid was already in place. He took out his book and read the service. As he returned to his car, he overheard one of the workmen say: "Maybe we'd better tell him it's a septic tank."

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Thursday, August 30, 2007


Too Busy?

Excuses, excuses, excuses, we are just full of excuses. Kudos to Mere O buddy Matt for linking to this Christian Post piece.
About 6 in 10 Christians say that it's "often" or "always" true that "the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God." Christians most likely to agree were from North America, Africa and Europe. By country, Christians in South Africa, Nigeria, Canada, Singapore, Ireland, Philippines, the United States, and the United Kingdom, are more distracted from God, respectively, than those in other countries.
I'm thinking we have a chicken/egg problem here. Why are we so busy? Could it be that we lack the faith to rely on God to take care of us? Why do we lack such faith? Could it be because we don't cultivate it? Why don't we cultivate it? Could it be because we are too busy? But the problem is the world's business, not us -- Uh-huh.

I have been a sole practioner in my business for almost 20 years. The last five have seen explosive growth. Had I had this much work even 10 years ago, I could not get it done. And yet, technology has developed to the point that I get it done with relative ease. I didn't develop that technology, but somehow God's Providence has provided for me.

The early years of my business were very difficult finacially, many was the time on the 25th of the month when I had no idea where my paycheck would come from on the 30th. But in all these years, I have never missed a paycheck. No effort on my part could have made that happen. God made that happen.

When ever I find myself getting too busy is precisely when I stop and wonder "what's wrong?" Usually I am hiding from something. It has been so easy in the wake of my father's death to try and hide from the grief by business. The demands have been extraordinary, and I gave into them for the first several weeks. But that is so obvious.

Most of the rest of the time; however, we are hiding in busyness from our simple wretched, sinful state. Meeting God intimately threatens us. It seems easier to stay busy. But that is not victory. No Isiah pointed out God's plan for victory:
Isa 40:31 - Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. [emphasis added]
Resist the urge to hurry. Wait on God. He truly has your back.


Illuminated Scripture

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007




I Can't Help Myself

Mark Lauterbach looks at the old and new covenants and finds the old covenant somehow more appealing. He talks around it, but never quite gets to the essential point as to why such is the case. The old covenant leaves us in control, the new covenant requires that we give up control to God.

It's funny despite promises and evidence that if we let God take care of things, things will be better than we can possibly imagine, we cling to control with all our force of will. Lauterbach lays out this goody:
This is the error of church growth. It leads us to think that the key to the church is finding the right external form. Power is hindered by the wrong form, power is unleashed by the updating of the church to new forms. No -- power comes from the Gospel and its being applied. Tradition or "hip-ness" are not the issue. There is not a whit of power in going ancient (candles and dim lights, formal attire) and there is not any more power in going cool (graphics and urban decor, jeans in worship). Neither matters.
The external evidences God's work on and in us, but God has to produce those externalities, we cannot, and if we do they are false, misleading and ultimately disappointing.
Ps 46:10 - "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (NAS)
The key to finding God is not in the effort, but in the lack of effort, it is in putting down the strife and resting in the arms of the Almighty.

If you were an original Star Trek fan you will know one of the essential themes of the show - that man was built to strive - as much fun as that show was, it was wrong about that. Man is built to rest and leave the strife up to Him for whom it is no effort.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


This Is What Happens

Michael Gerson notes some rather alarming statistics about the sexual behavior of teens in churchs of different sorts. The fact of the matter is church is helping, but not all that much. Says Gerson:
The facts also support a basic conservative belief: that it is difficult for teens to be moral alone. Wilcox argues that teen sexual behavior can be influenced -- that teenagers can be more than the sum of their hormones. But responsible behavior requires both "norms" and "networks." An intellectual belief in right and wrong is not sufficient. Teens require a community that supports their good choices, especially in times of testing and personal crisis. "Kids who are embedded in a social network with shared norms," he concludes, "are more likely to abide by them."

Sociologist Peter Berger calls these networks "plausibility structures" -- sources of authority that do more than lecture or shame; they define the meaning of common sense. When institutions such as religious groups, families, government and the media send a strong and consistent message -- smoking is stupid, driving under the influence is criminal, teen pregnancy is self-destructive -- we have sometimes seen dramatic changes in behavior. Teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United States, for example, have declined by about one-third since the early 1990s.
[emphasis added]
The trend in churches is towards individualism and away from community - and it appears we are reaping exactly what we are sowing. (funny that? Jesus was right again.)

Salvation may be individualistic, but sanctification is most certainly not.

And community is about a whole lot more than small groups or accountability structures, they help, but they are insufficient of themselves. Genuine community is a bonding on very deep levels - it is living together, not just checking in now and then.

In our society, in our churches, in our small groups, in even our marriages, we stink at intimacy. I have linked to this old musing of mine before, and I am just going to reprint it here now:
Last week's scribblings hit on two themes that I think are worth exploring in more detail, brokeness and intimacy. I also think these concepts are deeply related, and need to be explored together.

Intimacy is sorely lacking in our world today. As I said last week, I am not talking about sex, that is plentiful, I am talking about genuine emotional and relational intimacy. Sociologists talk about the growing isolation of people in the world today. Usually when they talk about it, they talk about how technology is helping to create it. People stay at home and watch TV rather than engage in social discourse. People email rather than talk now. Those observations are true enough, but I do not think that explains it all. I don’t know what sociological studies show, but I know that in my life I would rather stay home and watch TV than go to a social occasion where it is all small talk and no real communication occurs. I crave intimacy and would gladly give up my technological toys in exchange for more genuine relationships, but why give them up when the majority of the personal social intercourse I encounter does not carry with it any more intimacy than the technological intercourse? The technological toys at least make it a little more interesting.

I would also add that technological intercourse, email and so forth (not TV watching), can be even more intimate that conversation - if it is well done. Such technological intercourse is nothing more than writing, and writing forces one to organize one's thoughts and ideas. It also requires one to distill one's emotions into something describable. If I can describe what I am thinking and feeling to you, that is most intimate, and while it cannot replace a hug, it can impart far more, and far more intimate information. So if that is the case, it would seem to me that technology is not the barrier to intimacy that the sociologists would have us think it is. The barrier is the use of that technology. There must be something deeper that prevents intimacy.

Think about sexual intimacy for a moment. I don’t have a lot of experience with that with anyone but my wife, but in this day and age it is not hard to find those that have a certain breadth of experience and it is not very hard to read about it at all. From the information I have been able to gather, the greatest reluctance in those situations is not the sex, it’s the nudity. Why do you think that would be the case? Why is nudity a barrier to sex? Nudity is pretty necessary to sex; I don’t know about you but the wife and I find that clothes usually get in the way.

I think the answer is straightforward. Clothing creates an illusion. We can make ourselves look better than we really do look when we are clothed. But when we get naked we find that the object of our lust may not be quite as spectacular as the wonder bra (or sock in the pants) led us to believe. Sexual intimacy requires that we reveal ourselves, including our imperfections, to our partner. Nudity puts at risk our image of perfection, and more importantly puts at risk the desire that image has created in our partner, and thus we risk rejection.

Relational intimacy is the same. The more intimate we become with someone socially, the more we risk their discovery that we are not quite all that we are cracked up to be. The reason that intimacy is in short supply today is not because technology is in the way; it is because people are no longer willing to risk the exposure that intimacy requires.

Why is that? Everybody is imperfect; we all have foibles and problems, why should it be so hard to let others see them? I think it is because when we expose those imperfections to others we expose them to ourselves. The image that is REALLY at risk in intimacy is not the image the other has of us, but the image we have of ourselves. The risk is not that they will reject us, but that we will reject ourselves, or more aptly, we will be forced to confront the issue and try to fix it.

Let me say that again -- THE RISK OF INTIMACY IS NOT THE RISK OF REJECTION BY THE OTHER, IT IS THE RISK OF US HAVING TO CONFRONT AND WORK ON OUR OWN IMPERFECTIONS. Anyone in the psychology business is probably reading this right now and going, "No, Duh!" But I really need to establish that point to get to the real point I want to make.

That confrontation of our own imperfections is what I have called brokeness. Brokeness is the self-revelation that I am a wretch. Repentance, as discussed last week is the acknowledgement of the self-revelation. Now this has massive implications for pop-psychology the church.

Let's start with pop-psychology. I think this aversion to the confrontation of one's own limitations started when the whole self-image movement started in the 70's. That movement has taken hold in our American ethos with an extreme vigor. Most people in an effort "to feel good about themselves" have simply rejected self-analysis. They don’t confront their imperfections; they deny their existence. I have heard one clinical psychiatrist on the radio say that in the last 30 years the greatest psychological problem facing most people today has shifted from guilt to narcissism. Pop-psychology may have done a good thing when they labeled "self-image" as a problem, but they have done one hell of a bad job helping people fix it.

Now, on to the church. The church's message should be very opposite that popular version of maintaining a self-image. The message of the church is not "You're OK." To the contrary, the message of the church is "You're a wretch. You're a wicked, warped, sinful individual. -- BUT YOU ARE LOVED." As I understand Christianity, it is the only thing that gives me a method to overcome my deficiencies. Denying my shortcomings does not make them cease to exist. If I accept "self-image" as the big psychological bug-a-boo, then Christianity gives me a way to fix it. You see Christianity teaches me that despite my problems, I am loved. I can feel good about myself, not because I don't have problems, but because the God of the universe died for me. In other words, it's impossible to have a good self-image; it is only possible to have a good image reflected through the mirror of my relationship with the Lord. Not only that, the more I discover my own wretchedness, the better that reflection (as opposed to direct image) gets because the more love is required to clean that reflection up.

This is why I am so opposed to most of the later day trends in church. Most of those trends are designed to provide anonymity and avoid intimacy. Programs are a form of bureaucracy and anonymity in a bureaucracy is easy. Mega-churches should be obvious. Reliance on staff instead of volunteerism means that only those that want to (i.e. those that choose to be staff) need to stick their head up and lose their anonymity. Similarly, the more staff, the more bureaucracy. Less liturgical, more "user friendly" services allow us people to sing, but not speak and commit; they gain some sense of community from a shared experience, but they never have to speak or think, or actually communicate with one another.

People respond to these things, no doubt, but they respond because that is the way of the world right now. But the way of Christianity is different. The world shuns intimacy; Christianity calls us to intimacy with God and with each other. The way to intimacy is brokeness, so the church needs to be calling us to brokeness, not letting us hide.

Be assured I am not proposing "turn or burn" evangelism here. I am also not necessarily saying that the modern trends in the church fails to lead to salvation; I have my doubts about some of it, but that judgment is the Lord's, not mine. I am; however, saying that the modern trends in the church will not lead to intimacy with the Lord. I am also saying that intimacy with each other leads to intimacy with the Lord and vice versa.

I do not think that God wants merely our salvation. If that was all He wanted, He could have just waved His hands and thrown open the doors of heaven. No, I think God wants to be intimate with us. So I think we have a duty in the church. Our duty is to model intimacy with God and one another. And that means our duty is to reveal ourselves, blemishes and all.

I pray God we can get about it.
Who are you intimate with? Are you purposeful about learning to be intimate?


Kitty Kartoons

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Monday, August 27, 2007


Religion, Politics and Persecution

Although his opening paragraph about the nature on minorities in democracies is a bit naive, though more true for his native UK than here in America, The Bluefish writes an excellent post about what it means to the church to be in a minority. His real point is to define "persecution" which he does well but then does not examine the political ramifications of genuine persecution.
What do you do when you used to be a majority but no longer are? I think that is an issue the church has to face up to in the years ahead. There is no such (biblical) thing as a Christian nation in these last days, but Britain certainly used to be shaped by some sort of Christian principles. Britain was not a theocracy where the law says you must worship God alone. But, it was a nation in which the government's divinely appointed role of punishing evil and praising good was more accurately focussed it is today.

A society that favoured freedom for the church is a nice one to live in when you're a Christian, though that's been a rare priviledge in history. I can't help wondering whether it really does the church any favours to be the majority vote. The church often looks strongest when its weakest in the worlds terms.

What is sure is that Christian are to submit to authorities as they imperfectly punish and praise. That was the case when the law was 'christianised' and it is today. Christians should live blameless lives, be the 'best' people in society, the ones who fight for the cause of the oppressed, who help the needy, who serve without recognition. That should always have been the case. I don't know whether it is today, or ever was.

What is the case are increasing numbers of headlines claiming Christians are persecuted. All who live a godly life are persecuted so its something a Christian almost welcomes as a verification of their faith. However, Titus 2 tells us that it remains possible for Christians to be maligned for being ungodly in marriage, lacking self-control and being bad employees. Such opposition isn't actually persecution - it's deserved. We follow the Jesus who appeared as grace incarnate to make us pure, where is our purity? If we make mistakes we facing the punishment or consequences not persecution.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been studying John 13-17. Jesus speaks there of how the world has hated him without cause. And he says the same will happen to Christians. A sinful world doesn't need reason to hate Jesus and his people. Our presence is enough to incite opposition. Our purity is meant to make the gospel attractive to those who will believe, and yet is the stench of an abattoir to those who refuse to believe.
There is enormous power in persecution, and particularly in persecution of genuine innocence. All of history pivots on the persecution of an innocent (Jesus), but consider more modern examples such as the non-violent revolutions of Ghandhi or Martin Luther King.

Now, of course, when people attempt to appear persecuted, or innocent, for the sake of gaining political power then the power never comes. We see that in the efforts of homosexuals to portray themselves in this light. There is absolutely no innocence in homosexual behavior, nor is there persecution in denying them their attempt to portray themselves as innocent.

The political power that comes from the phenomena cannot be accrued nor can it be wielded, for the power is not truly ours. Genuine innocence would be unaware of such power's accumulation or it's uses. This is no path to power.

So what does a Christian do, particularly in a society that is increasingly secular? The answer should be straightforward, become a better Christian. As we become closer to Christ, as His ultimate innocence is imparted to us, we will be His instruments to weild the power that innocence accumulates. But we must be careful. When we monitor that power, or seek it rather than innocence, it will disappear in the blink of an eye - power is effemoral stuff indeed.

What do you seek today? Do you seek wealth and power, or do you seek Christ and His redemption and His imparted innocence? I suggest you actively, and unswervingly seek the latter.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Sermons and Lessons


William Ernest Blomfield, President of the Baptist College, Rawdon, Leeds, 1904-1934; born Rayleigh, Essex, England, October 23, 1862; educated at the nonconformist grammar school, Regents Park College, London; graduated London University (BA.), 1883; assistant minister of Elm Road Baptist church, Beckenham; sole minister, 1885,6; minister of Turret Green church, Ipswich, 1886-95; graduated (B.D.) at St. Andrew’s University, 1892; minister of Queen ‘s Road church, Coventry, 1895-1904; received diploma, fellow of Senatus Academicus, 1898, for proficiency in knowledge of Hebrew and Greek Testaments.

“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” - Luke 9:57-62.


We have a parallel to this narrative in Matthew’s Gospel. There are, however, two points of divergence from Luke’s version. There is no mention of the third would-be disciple, and what is still more worthy of observation, the historic setting of the narrative is absolutely different. In Matthew the incidents take place early in the Galilean ministry, in Luke they are found when that ministry had definitely closed. It is quite impossible to reconcile the two evangelists, and I think we may regard Luke’s setting of the story as likely to be the more accurate. To Matthew the question of chronological sequence was one of subordinate importance. His mind and heart were arrested by the sayings of Jesus, and they are everything to him. Accordingly, in the Sermon on the Mount, he groups together logia which may have been spoken on diverse occasions, and in the thirteenth chapter he gives us a string of seven parables which few intelligent readers can think were spoken at one and the same time. Luke was more of the historian, and tells us in the preface to his gospel that it was his purpose “to write in order.” We accept, then, the sequence of events as narrated in this chapter. And if we grasp the situation here revealed we shall understand more clearly the sternness and severity with which Jesus addrest these men about whom I want to speak.

Our Lord had ended His Galilean ministry. A definite crisis is marked by verse 51. He set His face stcdfastly to go to Jerusalem. Mark, according to his wont, gives us a still more striking picture. Jesus strode in front of His disciples, and as they followed they were amazed and afraid. A great fear and awe fell upon them as they looked upon the resolute Savior hastening to meet His cross. It was amid the feelings awakened by such a crisis that these three men met Christ. Will they become His disciples? Have they some good thing in their hearts toward Him? Then let them at once translate thought into decisive action. It was no time for temporizing and delay. Jesus needed men who understood the hour and its solemn call. Half¬hearted disciples, followers .who had a mere sentimental liking for Him but who gave the “first” place to any other interest, were of no use to His kingdom. He must have men who, for weal or wo, without reserve or hesitation, yet with knowledge and intelligence, would follow in His train. Decision firm and irrevocable must now be made. Never more would Christ pass this way. Thus bearing in mind the gravity of the crisis, we shall find some clue to the hard sayings in our text. Here are three men. The first brings Christ an unconditional offer of allegiance, and is repelled. The second is called by Christ to a great work and the. reluctance shown by the man is rebuked. The third is a volunteer, but a double-minded man who has to be sharply reminded that thoroughness is an essential requisite for service in the kingdom. And we may see here three permanent types of human character - the impulsive, the diffident, the irresolute.

“Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” It was a fine offer. There was no reserve or limit to it. Jesus had not many such, and we might suppose that He would have promptly accepted the allegiance of this generous heart. One feature of the heavenly life is that the Lamb’s servants follow “whithersoever he leadeth.” Here is a man who is ready to begin the heavenly life of perfect surrender on earth. Yet the volunteer is met with the chilling rejoinder, “Foxes have holes, the birds of heaven have nests, but the Son of man has not where to lay his head.”

There is not a trace of insincerity in the man. Nor is there any sign that he was filled with self-complacency at the splendor of his own deed. All seems genuine and modest enough. But Christ’s answer reveals a man who was easily swayed by the feeling of the moment, who would be the victim of any sudden impulse, easily moved by superficial excitement to the utterance of tremendous words whose implications he had never realized. He was simply thoughtless, the kind of man who would begin to build without first considering if he had wherewith to complete the costly enterprise. And so Jesus flings him back upon himself and bids him reflect. The man had been attracted by our Lord as many amiable people are attracted today. He had sat perhaps among the mountain lilies and listened to those wonderful beatitudes, or he had stood by the lake with the summer sun gleaming upon its waters as Jesus taught the multitudes from the boat, or he had heard of the wondrous works of Him who rebuked the storm and the angrier passions which rage in human breasts. The rapt face of the young Prophet of Nazareth and His words of wisdom and grace had been an irresistible spell upon this open, ingenuous nature. He would fain follow Him and listen to the flow of golden speech every day, and so he cries, “Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” But Christ knew the shallowness of this man ‘s religion. In effect He says, “Understandest thou what thou sayest? Wilt thou indeed follow me whithersoever I lead? My way is not always amongst flower-clad hills nor by the quiet lakeside; it leads sometimes into the wilderness and amidst stony paths where the feet ache and bleed. Even now the Master thou wouldst serve goes to meet a cruel doom at the hands of men. Wilt thou follow Him there and share His cup of pain? It is no light thing for a scribe accustomed to a life of cultured ease- to become the follower of One who is a homeless fugitive upon the face of the earth.” This was not the only time Jesus checked emotional excitability. Once when He was preaching, a woman, carried away by His personal charm, exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked,” And He met this gush of sentiment with the quiet answer, “Yea, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.” On another occasion He saw the multitudes fol¬lowing Him, and He turned and said, “If any man cometh to me and hateth not his father, mother, wife, brethren, sisters, yea, and his own life also, he can not be my disciple.”

Herein I see the kindness of Christ. lie would save a man from the pain and humiliation which ever come to him who begins a high enterprise whose difficulties and disap¬pointments he has neither gaged nor suspected. Is there any picture more pitiable in Bunyan’s allegory than that of Pliable, who had thoughtlessly set out on pilgrimage, and who at last is found sneaking among his former companions, his own self-respect gone, and himself the object of their mockery and contempt? It had been better for him not to have known the way of life than, having known it, to depart from the way of righteousness.

Not less clear is the wisdom of Christ’s candor. Much as He suffered when men went back and walked no more with Him, it were better so than that they should follow Him under illusions. Fair-weather disciples are out of place in a kingdom where patient endurance is an inexorable necessity. The failure of this type of character is graphically depicted in the parable of the sower. These are they who hear the word and - alas for the fatal word! - immediately with joy receive it. Yet have they no root in themselves, but are only temporary, and when tribulation or persecution arise because of the word, immediately - the declension is as swift as the profession - they are made to stumble. The reminder is not an untimely one for these days of revival. “A man who is touched only on the surface of his soul by a religious movement and has yielded to the current without understanding what it means, whither it tends, and what it involves, is doomed to apostasy in the season of trial. When the tide of enthusiasm subsides and he is left to himself to carry on single-handed the struggle with temptation, he has no heart for the work, and his religion withers like the corn growing on rocky places under the scorching heat of the summer sun” (Bruce). Therefore, count the cost before thou takest upon thy lips so great a pledge as this: “Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest”

The diffident man is another type of char¬acter. He does not proffer his allegiance. He is timid and shy in the presence of great demands and heroic tasks. Jesus has looked into the soul of this man and seen the stuff of which apostles, missionaries, confessors and martyrs are made. And He summons him to the sublime work of preaching the gospel of the kingdom. The retiring man pleads home duties. Elsewhere we read of one who had married a wife, and therefore could not come. Here we have a man who pleads the claims of filial piety. “Suffer me first to go and bury my father.” The ordinary interpretation of these words is that this man ‘s father was dead, and that he simply sought permission to wait till the funeral was over. It may be so, or it may be that this was a proverbial way of sacrificing Christ to the claims of family affection. He shrinks from the high calling and excuses himself by saying that there are ordinary everyday duties to be done. It is an Eastern way of declaring that other claims take precedence of some great demand made upon him, and he says that he will obey when he has buried his father. Take it in either sense, the word of Christ is clear, and the principle on which it is based is indisputable. There are crises in life when the duty of burying one‘s father must be subordinated to a more imperious call. When in the hour of an empire’s peril, the summons comes to a soldier to fight his country’s battle, his oath to his king must be preferred before piety to parents, however right and beautiful that may be under ordinary circumstances. Christ always claims to stand first. Whoever loves father or mother more than Him is not worthy of Him. Not that He was indifferent to the sacred ties of home life. In His own mortal agony He commended Mary to the beloved disciple. In the chapter immediately before that from which my text is taken, He claimed the right to send a man home to be a missionary there when the man would fain have remained at His side. Christ claims the rights of absolute ownership over every one of us. And surely this fact leads to faith in His higher nature. No one man of a particular race and age can be the one absolute authority for all men of all ages and all races unless he is something more than mans however great and good. What think ye of Christ? Who is He that He may command us all as He wills and look for our unhesitating and unreserved obedience?

Consider, too, the principle of Christ’s answer to this man. “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Let those who have no spiritual life in them attend to the tasks which need no spiritual life for their discharge, but let the man who is fitted for high work which only a rare soul can accomplish devote himself to it as to his heaven-appointed mission. This has been called Christ’s law of economy in the service of the kingdom. Every man is bound to serve where he can be and do the most for his king. He must trade with his pound and make it yield all that is possible. If one has in him the capacity of a great statesman - ah, what would we not give for such an one at the present hour ! - he has no right to be following the plow. If a young man is gifted with the spiritual vision and power of expression which made the prophet of the Lord, he is guilty of unholy waste if he stands behind a counter measuring off calico. It is related of the late Dr. Parker that he said: “I came early to the conclusion that the Almighty did not intend me to carry bricks and mortar up a ladder.” He was right. Not that these tasks are common or unclean.
Who sweeps a room as for thy laws,

Makes that and the action fine. But myriads can attend to these duties, while the statesman, the missionary, the preacher, are few and far to seek. Do I speak to any man who has heard Christ‘s call to preach the gospel of the kingdom? It is not for us to run unless we are bidden. No man taketh this honor to himself but he that is called of God. If, however, thou hast heard the voice of Jesus, I would pray that thou mayest have no rest till thou hast yielded Him obedience. Listen to His own Word: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God.”

The irresolute man is he who said, “Lord, I will follow thee, but let me first bid them farewell who are at my house.” The natural request was met with what seems an unreasonable answer. A similar petition was made by Elisha to Elijah when he was called to the prophetic office. And Elijah granted it. Is Elijah more considerate and human than Jesus? We must look beneath the surface. Martin Luther says, in commenting upon this verse, “The New Testament was written for men with heads upon their shoulders.” Elijah granted the request because it was safe to grant it. Jesus saw here a man easily led away, to whom the farewell visit would be fatal. Once in the family circle all kinds of obstacles would be put in his way; tender reproaches and tearful pleadings would he leveled against his resolve; heart-moving pictures would be put before him of the perils which must attend the man who was wild enough to throw in his lot with Jesus of Nazareth. And under the warmth of home affection his little courage would melt away. To go home would be to say farewell to the kingdom forever. Therefore, in a graphic way, our Lord reminds this volunteer that half-hearted men are useless in the service of God. He who puts his hand to the plow must give eye and mind to his work or he will be the derision of the field when the furrow is complete. Even with our heavy instruments drawn by two horses (sometimes more intelligent than the man behind) attention to the business in hand is essential to success. But with the Hebrew plow of much lighter con¬struction, with only one stilt to guide it, leaving the other hand free to use the goad to the often untractable ox, undivided interest was indispensable.

Let us lay to heart the truth. The half¬hearted are not fit for the kingdom of God. Are they fit for any kingdom worth the having? No man can make a scholar who is not prepared to scorn delights and live laborious days. No young man will be successful in business if his chief thought all day is of the hour when he may escape from the office to his football or golf. Ay, no man can be a king in the sphere of athletics unless he is prepared to pay the price of self-control and severe training. How, then, should we be fit for the highest kingdom if, while we profess to be Christ’s, our hearts are not wholly His but with the world? Yes, it is hard to be a Christian. And the Lord in very kindness and truth tells us that nothing less than personal devotion to Himself will carry us through. There are hours in life when we have to learn with pain the’ lesson of forgetting the past. Bright and beautiful and not unholy as it was, we may not nurse and fondle it, for God has called us to a new work which demands all our strength, and there may not be a look behind. The Master here spoke out of the depth of His own experience. His face was now set to Jerusalem. Behind Him lay the happy home of Nazareth, and warm hearts and kindly friends were in the northern province. It was not easy to turn to the unloving city, and Peter sought to dissuade Him from the sorrow and suffering which lay in His God-appointed path. But the well-meant entreaty was rejected as a temptation from hell. It was a temptation to look back. He could not afford to palter with it, to give it lodgment for one moment. How much less may we? Has the world been gaining too much influence over us? Has its spell weakened our hold of the plow? Then let us look to Him who can reinforce our will and give us a single heart. The sorrow of looking back is this, that it never ends there. In the long run it means going back from the plow altogether. “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” It can not be otherwise. That love of the world is the backward look, which, persisted in, issues in apostasy. Consider Him who endured to the end lest ye be weary and faint in your mind. Pray to Him who giveth power to the faint. Then grip the plow more earnestly, and press on. Be not of them who draw back unto perdition and in whom God has no pleasure, rather aspire to be of that elect company who believe unto the saving of the soul.

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