Saturday, October 11, 2008
BE CONFIDENT! (Bumped)
Under such circumstances, I think it reasonable to suspend normal comic, and sermon, blogging for this weekend and turn my attention to matters at hand.
My business, along with the business of my clients, continues to move unaltered. The work comes, the money flows, the bills are paid. Everybody is sort of looking over their shoulder waiting for the other shoe to drop, but no shoe is dropping. There is a huge problem in the credit market, but good steps have been taken to resolve it, and the non-financial sectors of our economy continue to hum along. Money, for those that rely heavily on credit, may get a little tight for the next few months, but from my perspective we are far from any sort of major economic "depression."
I spent a good deal of yesterday, Friday, talking to people that were simply seeking reassurance. Some of them were acting like the proverbial headless chicken, thinking they HAD to do something before it all caved in on them. Others were simply "hunkered down" counting pennies, making sure they had enough to eat this weekend, neglecting the fact they were sitting in a comfortable house with 4 televisions, 2 cars, and enough "stuff" to see to their needs for a couple of years. Others were in some sort of quivering suspension, and some were just worried and depressed.
Of course, I could, and did to some extent, argue that things are not quite as bad as they may seem. But I am no economic expert - I only know the evidence in my face so I will leave that argument to people better suited than myself.
But I am thinking about what it means to be a Christian in a time like this. I think there are three really important lessons.
REMEMBER THE SOURCE OF OUR HOPE
Do you remember the old hymn, "The Solid Rock?" It opens:
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
and the chorus reads:
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Part of me is very sad that this is something that even needs to be said. This should be one of the basic lessons of our faith - "Being a Christian 101" if you will. Our hope lies not in our job, our investments, our government..., - but in our Lord!
Scripture is full of references to the source of our hope. Sometimes even heroes like Elijah thought hope was lost, and yet God gave them hope (I Kings 19:1-21). King David, wealthy beyond imagination, in control of the nation, turns again and again to the Lord as the source of his hope (Psalm 39:6-7), he admonishes himself to overcome his despair with hope in the Lord (Psalm 42:5). The Pslamist admonishes us that our "help comes from the Lord." (Psalm 121:1-8)
But it was Christ Himself that put it best in the Sermon on the Mount: (Matthew 6:19-34)
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.As Christians, we must know that even if we really are on the precipice, and even if we do fall off that precipice, we will be fine. God has taught me this lesson - the hard way.
"The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
"For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?
"Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [emphasis added]
I have been unemployed for a period measured in years. I have been many months in a situation where I did not know today if I would be able to eat tomorrow, or pay the rent on the first. And yet, each meal appeared, each rent check was written. And now, here I am - PROSPEROUS! By the blessings of God, I have all that I could want, much that I do not need, and more than enough for today.
My hope is in the God that has supplied such blessing, not in the blessing itself. I hope and pray that such is true for every Christian.
HELP THOSE THAT ARE TRULY IN CRISIS
While I do not think things are truly as bad as the common public perception, there are problems. There are people being laid off in the financial sectors. There are people that will be in hard times. We are called to minister to them.
This past summer, it was the a genuine surprise for my wife and I to unexpectedly find the retired pastor and his wife of the church my father attended until his death, on the cruise with us. We had a marvelous dinner together and spent a significant portion of it reminiscing about the ministry my father had in that church for the unemployed. It was somewhat unique.
Dad did occasionally refer those in dire financial straights to the Deacons for direct financial aid, but he purposefully sought to keep his flock a bit hungry, as a motivator. His true ministry was twofold - he provided networking to people looking for opportunities and he kept them confident. He said it all the time, "When you don't have a job, your job is to find a job, and you should work at it just as hard."
We simply must minister to those that find themselves in genuine strife right now. I would like to challenge us to think creatively about that. Simply spreading money around will not solve the issues they face. Yes, in some instances it may be necessary, but even then, it is not the solution. If you think about it, the ministry we offer to the unemployed and broke should not be that different from the ministry we offer to the employed and worried.
If our hope lies in Christ and and we are ministering in Christ's name, then HOPE is what we need to bring to the table - not money, not food - HOPE. Money and food are poor substitutes. Which brings me to my third point.
IT IS OUR DUTY TO EXPRESS OUR HOPE AND TO BE CONFIDENT
On a purely economic basis, there is one thing I know for certain. If we sit around and worry about a depression - we will make one. It is just that simple. If we approach the admitted and obvious difficulties with an attitude of "the sky is falling," then the sky will fall. We will fail to engage in commerce - our fear will rule our behavior, our behavior will fail to do what is needed to overcome the difficulty and the difficulty will turn into impossibility.
As it is our ministry to offer hope to those that are in dire straights, it is also our ministry to offer hope to those that are experiencing "concern" - ranging from mere anxiousness to "let's sell it all and hoard cash." Offering such hope both spreads the gospel AND bolsters the economy. There are concrete ways to to this too.
Counter worry by pointing out the good. Family members contacted me yesterday very concerned that the portfolio that supports my mother had lost a third of its value. To which I quickly responded that there remained more than enough to care for her for the projected remainder of her life and that in that time, significant recovery was probable.
I think you will find that is true for most of us. Again, I acknowledge that there are those that will find themselves in truly hard times. But most of us find ourselves with far more than we need, and the losses we experience are either on paper only, or will only be in the "extras" - like maybe next summer's vacation is a car trip instead of flying to wherever. Hardly the end of the world.
Spread the good news. I mean both the good news of Jesus Christ as the source of our hope, but also the good news that MOST of our economy still functions quite well, thank you very much. I have made a point as I traveled from client to client in the last two weeks to ask each of them how their business was, and as much as possible, without revealing company private information tell them that the rest of my clients were reporting pretty much the same as they were - business as usual.
Everybody just assumed they were "the lucky ones." It was funny how when I spread that news, people's moods lightened.
Yes, we should counter the worry people have by pointing out the good that remains, but more, we need to be conscious about telling as many people as we can about the good we are seeing.
Engage in commerce. Most people run through money like it was water on the weekends. Home projects, time for normal shopping, all of it means we spend mostly on the weekends. Certainly do not spend outside your means, but don't fail to spend just because you are "concerned." If your boss has not come to you and said "We're in trouble," you can safely assume that next week's paycheck will be there to pay the bill that you incur today.
If need need to buy new clothes this weekend, do so. Fixing up the garage? - go for it! The economy really is working, act like it.
Go have some fun. Nothing spreads hope and confidence like going out and having a good time. I am not encouraging anyone to go beyond their means here, but don't change your plans for this weekend because you might run out of money. Don't fail to make plans for the same reasons. Why not go to dinner and a movie this weekend (I strongly recommend Appaloosa) instead of cook at home and watch TV. It will do you a lot of good and it will set an example. In fact, call some friends and take them with you!
And when you feel your hope ebbing, find a quiet place for just a minute - read some of the scriptures I discussed above, or some of your own favorites. Quiet your heart just a bit and look towards the God who supplies all. Don't ask Him for money, or house payments - ask Him simply for the confidence to know that He will provide.
Then go act like He has, because He will.
UPDATE: Mark Daniels proves that great minds think alike. Read it all.
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Friday, October 10, 2008
Making A Difference
People are in need in towns across America. Who is responsible for meeting their needs? Who bears responsibility for acting for the public good in our communities?If you look at that list of characteristics you will note a few things. First these are people that work from a sense of something is more important than themselves. Secondly they work out of a sense of community. Thirdly, they work out of a holistic understanding of how one's faith in Christ changes one's life.
While some look immediately to the government to provide solutions, local church congregations have enormous potential to meet people's needs and advance social welfare.
In case after case, FBC's ministries have succeeded in mending broken lives and serving the public good. Their success is no accident. It is attributable to at least three characteristics embedded in FBC's approach. Members who provide help demonstrate:
A deep sense of personal responsibility and love for those in need,
Motivation rooted in an abiding sense of belonging to their community, and
Faith that touches all areas of the lives of the people they serve.
By living out their faith in ways that directly shape and serve those outside the church's walls, volunteers at FBC demonstrate the difference that one church can make in the surrounding community.
In other words these people are disciples, or at least trying to be. So often, we have this either/or thing going in our minds when what we are really confronted with is a both/and. It seems like the more a church works on personal salvation and proper theology the less it gets done in community activity like that described here. Why is it that the "liberal" churches seem to be the ones with the best community action, while the conservative ones seem to the the best at worship and self-salvation?
Well, in the end, I think it is because both groups are only taking part of the picture of what it means to be a Christian, clinging to that part and holding it tight. In so doing we avoid the very real, not just life-changing, but life-transforming, nature of what it truly means to be a Christian.
If we really did this Christianity thing properly, we would grow in our selflessness by becoming a part of a community and that community would naturally want to reach out because what it had was so good that it simply must be shared.
So, we as Christians are supposed to make a difference in the world, but we make a difference by being TRANSFORMED into the image of Christ. We don't pretend, we don't act, we don't try, we are changed - changed at our very core. Have you even opened your very core to Christ?
Might want to try that.
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Looking up to heaven he said, "Lord take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish Whiskey".
Miraculously, a parking place appeared.
Paddy looked up again and said, "Never mind, I found one."
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Thursday, October 09, 2008
Thinking About Batman
Unlike those other two very good movies, this film does not just probe the characters, it probes issues. It deals in a world where the line between good and evil is not distinct - almost. There has been a lot written about it, notably here is something from Blue Fish in the UK and the Out of Ur blog, both discussing the lack of clear lines of good and evil in the film.
I disagree with this analysis in spades. There is a hard line in Batman, it is one that has been debated in the comics for some time and the movie reflected it pretty well.
Start with this premise, Batman and Joker are two sides of the same coin. Both are mentally disturbed and both are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to give expression to their unique obsessions. You can protest all you want that Batman is a good guy, but be realistic, to go to the lengths he goes to to deal with the murder of his parents is seriously indicative of mental illness. He may channel it more productively that the Joker, but he is nonetheless seriously disturbed.
The clear line between them lies in the fact that the Joker kills indiscriminately and Batman NEVER kills. I think we can all agree that the indiscriminate deaths caused by the Joker are evil, but the real question concerns whether Batman's NEVER kill stance is always good.
The line for Batman appeared back when the Comic Code came into existence and originally was simply as a compromise point where his vigilantism would be tolerated by local law enforcement. But in the ensuing years things have changed, considerably. We now live in a world where the Joker's madness guarantees his "treatment," when his crimes demand the death penalty. And Batman's "no kill" policy has taken on a decidedly moral tone, as if it is the line between good and evil.
Now, it must be remembered that if the Joker actually died, it would be the end of the greatest comic rivalry in history, so there are very practical reasons why it has not happened. But even given that - why the moralism? Why not just have him, in typical comic style, undergo some transformative process where he was unkillable? I think because we have truly come to believe in the west that to kill evil is evil in itself - and that is a problem.
Jesus, on the cross was not a martyr, He was a warrior. He was no victim of evil, He was its destroyer. True, He did not take the traditional glorious path to such destruction, but make no mistake, it was the destruction of evil, accomplished finally in the resurrection that was His goal all along.
Batman's failure to destroy the Joker (forget the movie for a second, even there, Batman fails to save the Joker's life, he does not destroy it) is his heroic flaw - more it makes him in some sense a partner to the Joker's truly unimaginable evil. To be Christ-like, Batman would achieve his heroism in a totally self-sacrificial manner. (Perhaps accepting society's punishment for killing the Joker where society would not?) To be TRULY heroic Joker's death is demanded. His continuing life is moral cowardice. His being allowed to take his own life (which is really what happened in the film) is also a form of moral cowardice.
The problem with the movie and the Batman ethos in general is not the moral fuzziness of the Joker, but the moral ineptitude of Batman. Evil must be destroyed.
I long for the days when the Batman's failure to kill was based on adherence to the law, and not in some grossly misguided moral code.
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008
It would seem that there is no end to people [who] use the Bible as a tool but instead of being instructed in righteousness, they are looking to lessons in self-satisfaction. When a teacher consistently tries to back up their points by appealing to scripture, it can be difficult for the undiscerning to realize what is going on. However, if we understand the scope and sweep of scripture, we can learn to discern a counterfeit when we see it. . . .Milt titled his post "Maturing in the Word," thus drawing a equation between maturity and submission. Is that not counter-intuitive? As children we struggle to mature so that we no longer submit to our parent's will.
We cannot learn to discern if we cannot learn to submit, and for someone who is a Christian, submitting to God happens at the basic level of scripture. If we cannot do that, we are only fooling ourselves. We need to heed what the Word says about submission to God and worshipping through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). Then we can begin to grow in the knowledge of God and not submit to every fad and fraud that comes to us in the guise of the godly. Our “powers of discernment” need the power of the Word of God.
And yet God commands us in the Decalogue to "Honor your father and mother." This command has no age limitation attached to it. It would seem that we are, in some sense, "stuck" with the authority of our parents for our lives.
Even before he died last year, my father had begun to show his age. He no longer spoke with the authority of a man in total control of all that was around him. More and more he asked me what to do instead of offered me advise. I would still ask, but my requests were more and more frequently met with a shrug. Since his death in many questions concerning my business, I have no place to even ask, and it is uncomfortable.
I am not at all sure we are built to be in control of our lives. I look around me and I see people so often flailing about to attempt to take control; however, the result is anything but control. The people I know that seem to most "have it together" are people that worry least about control.
Submission starts with not being in charge. Like the addict that must first realize they have a problem, we need to realize that we are not in control. Once we realize that, we will turn to someone, that is to say we will submit, and who better than Jesus?
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Sadly, We Need A Reason
“There are three great motives that urge us to humility,” says Andrew Murray in the Preface to his book Humility. The first is that we are creatures, the second is that we are fallen, and the third is that we are redeemed.My initial reaction to reading that first paragraph was what you see as the title to this post. But then that is precisely the point that Fred was making:
Humility is not just a kind of therapy that we sinners need until we get over our sin problem. Humility is the proper posture of our creatureliness, and the state we are being restored to by Christ. Humility isn’t just the medicine to heal us; it is the food to keep us alive, the food we would be nourished on even if there had never been sin or redemption.I have been thinking a lot lately about the theme of the kingship over creation that runs throughout the fiction of C.S. Lewis. We see it in the roles assigned the "sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve" in the Narnia books, but it is most notably present in Lewis' "science fiction" classic Perelandra. I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with that theme because being a monarch seemed somehow wrong, I felt people unworthy and it lacking in sufficient humility.
Such concerns show me for what a silly person I truly am. Being a monarch is not inherently 'unhumble' - it is how one is a monarch that is at issue. And so we return to a favoriie theme here at Blogotional - humble leadership.
Much as Sanders points out that our redemption demands humility, how much more do the gifts we have for leadership? Humility is not a curative, it is a state of being. One could argue that humility is trait most necessary for good leadership, for the leader leads to serve, not to be served.
What Lewis has done in his images of humanity as monarchs of creation is not attempt to restore a failed organizational scheme to its rightful place, rather he has chosen to attempt to redeem it, not by changing the organizational scheme, but by redeeming the individuals that fill the roles within the schemes. The kind of true redemption that comes only from being humbly on one's knees.
I wonder why our schools of leadership do not teach humility? I wonder how one would?
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Monday, October 06, 2008
Setting The Bar
The wisdom and grace of Christ are not necessarily found in conventional wisdom. Good judgment often requires that we perform counter-intuitive acts of unselfishness that reflect Jesus’ life in us.There are three essential comments I want to make here. One is that 'conventional wisdom" is something very different from what a group simply concludes. God works through process. The point here is NOT to simply be contrarian, or odd, or do the opposite of what everybody else is doing. The call here is to not be worldly.
Which leads me to my second point. Contrarians often do so for very selfish motives even when what they appear to be doing is a "counter-intuitive act of unselfishness." Many people, way too many people, serve out of selfishness. Call it "loud humility" or "long-suffering for the sake of crying "victim'" - I am not sure the right term for it, but I think we all know it when we see it.
Which brings me inexorably to my third point. People truly transformed by the saving grace of Christ Jesus will not find these acts "counter-intuitive." Such acts are simply what they do. It is in this transformation that we can find the genuine difference between those that are selfless out of selfishness and those that are deeply into their discipleship.
It is so easy for spiritual discipline to turn into legalism.
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Sunday, October 05, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
Edgar Young Mullins, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., 1899-1928; born Franklin County, Miss., January 5, 1860; educated at Corsicana, Tex., 1870-76; Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, 1876-79; ordained to Baptist ministry, 1885; graduated Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1885, D.D. and LL.D.; pastor at Harrodsburg, Ky., 1885-88; Lee Street church, Balti¬more, 1888-95; editor of The Evangel, Baltimore, 1890-95; pastor of First church, Newton, Mass., 1896-99; author of “Why is Christianity True,” “The Axioms of Religion.”
“We beheld his glory.” - John 1:14.
Some years ago a painter who admired the moral beauty of Christ ‘s character, but who refused to acknowledge that He was God, resolved to paint Christ’s portrait from the evangelical records. For weeks he read these simple gospels and opened his soul to every suggestion of beauty and moral impulse, permitting himself to be moved and swayed by all the grandeur and radiance of that matchless life, knowing that only thus could he catch and reproduce on canvas the face he would portray. But in his process of sympathetic study of Jesus his unbelief slowly passed away. First one doubt and then another was consumed, burned up, so to speak, in the flaming splendor of that marvelous life, and ere long the painter bowed before Christ in adoration and worship. Like a man who has gazed into a holy mystery, he came forth among his friends, a look of wonder and of praise upon his face, and exclaimed, “I beheld His glory.”
Men are denying today that Christ is divine. They are seeking to undermine that faith which has healed broken hearts, and has destroyed the power of sin, and comforted the dying for two thousand years. It is well that we ask and answer the question, Was He what lie claimed to be, the divine son of God and Savior of the world?
As evidence that Christ cannot be classed with other men, I invite your attention to the threefold glory of Jesus which we have beheld. First of all, we will glance at that glory as seen in the gospel records where the painter saw it.
If a meteoric stone should fall upon the calm bosom of the sea, the energy of its impact might be measured by the diameter of the circling waves which it would set in motion when those waves had reached their limit. So the claims of Jesus may be tested by the role lie enacted while on earth and by the effects which lie produced. Let us study, then, the circling waves of his power in a series of relationships sustained by Him.
Note, first, his relation to sin. He was Himself sinless. His inner life was a flawless mirror of stainless purity reflecting the image of God. He has challenged criticism for two thousand years to discover a flaw in his character. “Which of you convicteth me of sin? “remains as lie spoke it, the unanswered challenge of divine holiness. As has been said, He is the sun on which all the telescopes of time have failed to find a spot.
He was not only sinless - He forgave sin in others. Well did His enemies accuse Him of blasphemy when He pronounced the words to the paralytic, “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee,” unless indeed and in truth He was God, for God alone can forgive sins.
He transformed sinners. As a sunbeam falls on a mud puddle and draws up a drop of water into the clouds, distills it and purifies it of all foulness and sends it back as a snowflake, even so could He lay His finger on the stained life of a Magdalen and make it white as snow.
He shed His blood on the cross for the remission of sins, and He declared that remission of sins should be preached in His name to the end of time.
But sin is a violation of law, and this relation of sin raises another question, that of His relation to law. And so we find Him claiming to be lawgiver and king. “He that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them,” “Ye have heard it said, but I say unto you,” are forms of speech familiar on His lips.
But law suggests a kingdom and a scepter and a throne. So we find that He is King of a new kingdom among men. He claims that His kingdom shall endure forever and He shall reign in righteousness.
But a kingdom set up on earth implies con¬trol of providential events. For how shall such a kingdom survive through the ages un¬less the ruler can control the course of history? Read the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of Matthew, and see how calmly He anticipates the course of history, of earth¬quakes and wars, of famines and pestilences. Yet He says he that endureth to the end shall, be saved, and that He himself shall come again at the consummation.
Providence, again, is but part of a vaster system of nature. And we find that He is Lord of nature. He spoke to the water, and it blushed into wine; He spoke to the barren fig-tree, and it withered from the roots upward; He spoke to the loaves and fishes, and they were multiplied and fed the thousands; He spoke to the tempest, and it was hushed into silence. Nature was His servant. He was its Master.
Towards man He asserts the sublimest claims. He is the object of human faith; for Him all human ties must be severed if need be; for Him death is to be welcomed. He extends His arms and invites the race to come to Him for peace. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
How sublime is this role enacted by the Nazarene! And to crown it all,, He claims. equality with God. Before” Abraham was I am.” “I and my Father are one.” Well has it been said: Jesus was either God or a bad man; for He claimed to be God.
And how simple the picture in the gospels; how consistent; how transparent and clear the story. His words about God are like the spontaneous warblings of some strange and wonderful bird. His deeds of power, His miracles of grace are as sparks emitted by some great fire. Yet how unaffected He is in it all! There is never any attempt at dramatic effect. In the moments of His greatest majesty He is as quiet and as unassuming as the shining of a softly beaming star. Homer’s gods are represented as shaking the heavens by their least act. The poet produces his effects by physical disturbances when his gods stir. Jove gives an affirmative answer to a petitioner, and this is Homer’s description of it:
“He spoke and awful bends his sable brows,
Shakes his ambrosial curls and gives the nod,
The stamp of fate and sanction of a god.
High heaven with trembling the dread signal took,
And all Olympus to the center shook.”
Contrast this with the quiet majesty and moral grandeur of Jesus stilling the tempest as He rises from His slumber and says to the rolling billows and raging winds, “Peace, be still.” Sometimes He unites in a single act the perfectly human and the perfectly divine in His nature. Humility nestles up by the side of majesty. Grandeur is adorned by lowliness, and extremes meet in perfect harmony. He is worn out with toil and asleep on the boat like any other, and in an instant stills a tempest. He stands weeping at the grave of Lazarus, like any other broken-hearted friend, and at once hurls the voice of command into the tomb and raises the dead to life. He allows Himself to be led away captive by his foes, but restores the severed ear of the high-priest’s servant, and says to the impetuous disciple, “Knowest thou not that I could call to my side twelve legions of angels? “ He allows Himself to be nailed to the cross, and to be laid away in the tomb, and then in undaunted might quietly opens his eyes and lays aside the grave-clothes, rises from the dead and ascends to the Father.
Surely we have beheld His glory in these pages, and any man will repeat the painter’s experience who allows Christ‘s image, as there portrayed, to have room in his mind and heart. I have read the tragedies of Shakespeare, and awe and horror have fallen upon my spirit at their close; I have gazed upon the Sistine Madonna, that masterpiece of the artistic genius of Raphael, and a sense of beauty has mastered me. I have been swung on shipboard by the mighty rhythmic force of the ocean, and a sense of its power has filled me. I have gazed on a clear night at the dazzling splendor of the milky way, and adoration and humility have combined to sway my soul with emotion. I have stood on the Gorner Grat, surrounded by cloud-piercing sentinels of snow-clad Alpine peaks keeping guard like tall archangels over diminutive man below, and wonder and awe have opprest me. But the image of Jesus Christ, as it towers in solitary grandeur before me in the New Testament surpasses them all. He inspires me with greater awe than Shakespeare, and greater majesty than ocean or Alps. He is more splendid than the milky way, and not afar from me, as it is, but near me. And if a human writer invented His picture as recorded in Matthew, then a Galilean peasant wears the literary crown of the ages and the genius of Raphael and Michelangelo pale into insignificance by the side of his. Nay, as Rousseau said, it would take a Jesus to forge a Jesus.
Again, “we beheld his glory” in history. The marvel of the ages is the Rock of Ages. The supremacy of Christ as compared with other teachers in all our civilization of the West is as the supremacy of the giant oak in the midst of a forest of saplings, or as the supremacy of the sun as compared with the planets in our solar system.
Dr. Fairbairn says, men have attempted in recent years to get rid of Christ in two ways. One is by critical analysis. They have taken the knife of criticism, and with it have cut and slashed at the gospel records, until one of them has said that there are but six or seven authentic sayings of Jesus in the entire New Testament. The other way is by logical analysis. They have tried to show that the decisions of the early Christian councils declaring Jesus to be God are unreasonable and absurd. But when they have completed their destructive work and done their worst, there stands Christ towering above the troubled sea of human speculation and doubt like a great and lofty rock at whose solid base the angry waves foam out their rage and dash themselves in vain. There stands Jesus in the firmament of human hope like a star of the first magnitude, above the multitudes of hungering and sorrowing and sinning humanity, growing larger and brighter and more splendid with each generation, until today all over the earth the nations are in commotion as they gaze upward and point with the trembling finger of yearning and hope to Him as the lodestar of their lives.
Look for a moment at His achievements in history. See Him as He moves westward in the person of the apostle to the Gentiles. He kindles a flame of faith in the islands of the Mediterranean. He plants His banner at Antioch. He sweeps through Lystra and Derbe, and Asia Minor begins to prostrate herself before Him. He plants His foot in Ephesus, and Diana begins to totter from her throne. Restless, He crosses the Hellespont, and at Philippi, amid the quakings of the earth, He wins trophies. In Athens, amid classic surroundings of the Acropolis and Parthenon and the chiseled beauties of Phidias and the glories of Praxiteles, His voice is heard calling men to repentance. At length in Rome itself He grapples with the world power. His crown flashes in moral beauty by the side of the crown of the Caesars; His throne rises, mystic, silent and invisible, but mighty in its movement as the silent stars in the bending heavens. When the empire is broken up and barbarians come in hosts, sweeping like a conflagration over that ancient empire, He lays His hand on their untamed spirits. Clovis is converted. The Goths are evangelized. The Franks and Gauls and Scandinavians come bending to Him. England owns His sway. America, through cavalier and Puritan and Pilgrim, is founded, and when the feet of those men touch our shores, the ”sounding aisles of the dim woods rang with the anthems of the free“ and in praise of the Nazarene.
A humble prophet of Nazareth has done all this. He has done it by the use of a single principle - indeed, by means of one despised virtue, self-denial. The cross is the keystone in the arch of his power. It is a true saying that, as chemistry is organized around the principle of affinity, as political economy is based on the single idea of value, as astronomy owes its origin and progress to the one law of gravitation, so Christ founded His religion on the one idea embodied in the cross, dying to live.
See, then, how He dominates the world; not, indeed, perfectly yet, but with increasing power. Look at the great creeds of Christendom, the Lutheran, the Calvinistic, the Westminster, the Philadelphia and New Hampshire confessions of faith. He is the center of them all. If you should go through the forest with an ax and cut a ring around the great trees, all of them would die. To take Christ‘s name from these great creeds would be to do the same for them. They would wither, their leaves lose their life and color, their sap cease to flow. They would perish.
The Church is His monument. She has had a long and checkered career, sometimes persecuted and driven into the wilderness, sometimes unworthy of her high calling, but even to-day she is the fairest among ten thousand institutions and the chief glory of this earth.
The Lord’s Supper, beautiful impressive memorial of His death, so simple that any child can understand it, yet so profound in its suggestions of divine love that no philosopher has ever fathomed its mystery to its depths, monument of quenchless love and gentle solicitude on His part and expressive of tender love on the part of His disciples, it stretches back through eighteen centuries to Calvary, filled with the aroma of His presence at every step of the way, and shining to the eye of faith through the ages like a chain of roses bedewed with tears of saints and woven by the hands of angels.
He dominates the greatest art of the world. This fact has often been pointed out, and has become commonplace. Go yonder to the art galleries of Europe. Gaze upon those yards upon yards, and furlongs upon furlongs, and miles upon miles of flaming canvas, the very crown and blossom of human genius, and what do you see? His figure, His mother‘s figure, His brethren‘s figures, His disciples, His enemies. They portray Him as babe in Bethlehem with the light bursting from His infant form, as boy in the temple, as teacher, as cleanser of the temple, as healer, being raised on the cross, being crucified, descending, ascending to glory, judging the world. As I stand there gazing I interrogate those great masters, and from their graves I seem to hear the answer from Murillo and Rubens and Raphael and the rest. “It was He,” they say, “ who touched my brush with celestial fire; His hands mingled the colors, and His spirit inspired mine to its great achievements.”
So, too, as I listen to the great masters of music, to Handel and Hayden and Beethoven, as the billows of harmony roll in upon me and catch me up and sweep me on, as the sublime strains of the “ Messiah “take my spirit captive and chain me to the flaming chariot of triumphant melody, I seem to hear the master of composition say: “ It was His breath through my soul which first fanned the flame of harmony; His hands first smote the chords of my being until they thrilled with the very echoes of heaven.”
What shall I say more? He is in our modern life everywhere: in our political econ¬omy seeking justice in all industrial condi¬tions, in our politics seeking to purge it of greed and graft, in our social life, in our literature shedding a moral radiance over it; in modern missions He is not yet conqueror, but He presides over the struggle.
“Careless seems the great avenger.
History’s pages but record
One death grapple in the darkness
‘Twixt false systems and the Word.
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne;
But that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown
Standeth Christ within the shadow
Keeping watch above His own.”
In the third place, we have beheld His glory in the realm of Christian experience. His glory shines on the pages of the New Testament. It rises to a new brilliancy as He marches triumphantly through history. But for the individual believer, that glory attains to its noonday splendor in the experience of his own heart.
Christianity adopts the scientific method of demonstration, viz., the method of experiment. Christian experience means Christian experiment. Make a trial of Christ and He will prove to you that He is real, a living Christ doing a divine work in the soul.
We have all seen the triumph of Christ in debased lives, men and women plucked as brands from the burning. A diamond and a piece of charcoal are essentially the same thing, or at least diamonds were made of charcoals; in her own mysterious workshop nature accomplishes this wonder. That is interesting, but it would be far more interesting if my scientific friend could tell me how I can transform charcoal into diamonds. Now this is the glory of Christ, that He does just that. Jerry McAuley was a charcoal, and Christ changed him into a diamond. S. H. Hadley, the bum, the drunkard and reprobate, was a black piece of charcoal, and so was George Muller, of Eng¬land. who began life as a burglar. Christ touched their lives and made them spiritual jewels, fit to adorn His own crown of glory.
Christ predicted that He would do just that. He said that men would believe on Him, that prayer in His name would open the gates of Paradise, that a cup of water given in His name would have eternal reward. What a magic name it is today in its power to renew human lives! According to the old story, George Washington while a boy went into his father ‘s garden one morning in spring and found to his wonder and delight that his name was growing on a garden bed, spelled out by the plants. His father, of course, had planned the surprise for George. But suppose the father had foretold that hundreds of years later his name, Washington, would be found spelled out by growing plants in other garden beds, and suppose the prophecy had come true, then we would conclude that he was in league with the cosmos, that he had super¬natural power. Now Jesus has done a more wondrous thing. He predicted that His name would be written in human hearts to the end of time, and that that name in the garden of the soul would keep it clean from weeds and briars, and to-day tens of thousands of men and women are witnesses to His power.
Experiment, I say, not in the vainly curious fashion, but in the high aim of moral purpose. Try Christ thus and He will give the proof of His power. The school children will recall the way the books prove that we have a blind spot. Hold a white piece of cardboard with black marks on it before the eyes, and move it up and down and back and forth until when it reaches a given point the black marks will vanish. Try this and prove it. Now Christianity says turn the soul towards Christ in all sincerity, and suddenly it will appear that you have not a blind but a seeing spot. You will behold His glory. A young woman scien¬tist who was a skeptic denied Christ‘s resurrection. The pastor in the neighborhood told her to give up speculation and try experiment, offer herself to Christ. She returned soon with radiant face, exclaiming,” I cannot yet prove by argument that Christ arose from the dead, but I know He is alive, for He has come to me and manifested Himself to me.” She beheld His glory in the holy place of experience.
Here, then, is the ground of our confidence. First, we believe because, as Professor James says, we will to believe, or because the Bible tells us to believe, or because some friend witnesses to us of Christ‘s power. But at length we believe because of what He does in us and. for us. That is the reason why destructive criticism cannot fundamentally shake our confidence in the Bible. In it we find reflected our own experience. If I look into a mirror which changes or distorts my face, I know it is an untrue mirror, but if it gives me back my own image, I know the mirror is true. Such a mirror is the Bible. It reflects truly my spiritual image.
Blind Bartimaeus, of Jericho, was healed by Jesus, and Dr. Dale has suggested that con¬ceivably his faith at first was based on the healing of the man born blind in Jerusalem, of which he had heard. Imagine a doubter seeking to destroy his faith by calling in question the story of the man in Jerusalem who was healed. “The story looks suspicious,” says the skeptic. “Why did Jesus put clay on the man‘s eyes, and send him off to wash in a pool? There must have been fraud somewhere.” What answer would Bartimaeus have given to such a doubter? He would have pointed to his own eyes. He would have declared, as the other declared, “Whereas I was blind, now I see.” I see the fair forms of nature and they all tell me I am no longer blind. The daisies that blossom at my feet, they tell as I gaze at their beauty that I am no longer blind; the white blossoms on the trees, the bloom on the grapes, and the hues of the pomegranate; the blue haze on yonder mountain, the fiery splendor of yonder evening cloud, and those burning stars above - these all are my witnesses; the faces of my friends which I now see, of my brothers and sisters, and the dear face of my mother - these all are my witnesses, all this beautiful wondrous earth of God’s, fashioned by His fingers, all proclaim my testimony. Yes, yes, I believe not because of what Jesus did to someone else, but because of what He has done to me that He is the divine son of God. I have beheld His glory with the eyes to which He unlocked the gates of light and bade me enter.
This, then, is the witness of experience, and every believer knows what it is in some measure. I went to Him in my bondage and sin, and He broke off the shackles and set inc free. I went to Him in doubt and perplexity, and. the light of day fell on my darkened path; in the lonely night of sorrow when friends and helpers failed me, He came into my life and bound up my broken heart. In doubt and despair and dread of the future, He gives me life and hope. We have seen His glory, then, on the pages of the New Testament record. It has flashed before us through eighteen centuries of history, as the rider on the white horse went forth conquering and to conquer. That glory has also shone forth within us, and we see it in the lives of others. We have seen it as it breaks forth in the faces of the dying who in His name greet death with a triumphant shout, and we seem to catch it in the notes of the redeemed host above who sing His praises and who proclaim that they owe their victory to Him, and shall spend eternity in telling it.
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