How amusing and humbling it is for us to read Moses’ plaintive cry to God after his obedient attempts to help his people leads to an increase in their suffering:
O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.
It’s amusing because we know what comes next in the story. In just a few pages, we will see the most dramatically miraculous rescue of a people from slavery the world has ever seen, but here is a confused and desperate Moses, declaring, “You have not delivered Your people at all,” right before it all takes place.
It’s humbling because we know we’re just like Moses. And we’re just like the disciples, who, on the eve of being rescued from slavery to sin and death, thought Jesus had not delivered them at all.
I can’t tell you what comes next in your story, but here’s what’s coming up in our story:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Yes, for now, we have “momentary, light affliction.” We’re given less straw and forced to make just as many bricks. We’re mocked. We’re run out of town. We’re put in jail. We’re kidnapped. We’re tortured. We’re beheaded. But the “eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” that will interrupt and put an end to suffering will be even more dramatically filled with justice for evil and undeserved grace for God’s people than ten plagues and a parting of the sea. Let’s not give up now in the despair of “You have not delivered Your people at all!” Let’s wait a few pages.
Biblical meditation means, first, to think out your theology. (That means having it clearly in your mind. Know what you believe.) Second, it means to work in your theology. (That means self-communion, talking to yourself. For example, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” It is asking yourself, “How would I be different if I took this theological truth seriously? How would it change my attitudes and actions if I really believed this from the bottom of my heart?”) Third, it means to pray up your theology. (That means turning your theology into prayer, letting it trigger adoration, confession, and supplication.) Do those things, and your theology will intersect with your experience….
It should go without saying—but I will say it—that what I mean by “meditation” is not any of the contemplative practices that aim at getting beyond words and rational thought into pure awareness of our oneness with God. Biblical meditation, rather, is filling the mind with Scripture and then “loading the heart” (to use John Owen’s phrase) with it until it affects not only the emotions but the entire life.
One of the pitfalls of the intellectual life described by Brett yesterday had to do with the downside of developing “a critical and skeptical eye toward ideas.” Continuing on that point today, it’s worth considering C. Michael Patton’s “Ten Reasons Good Christians Go Bad,” where he notes the danger of being overly critical not just of ideas in general, but of the very Word of God:
I see this so often with apologists. So many times we seek to present ourselves as those who are not naive. We want people to see us as seeking rational justification for everything we do and believe. This becomes unhealthy and destructive to the Christian life when we build a methodology which puts the Bible on the witness stand at every point. “I am not going to believe this verse until it is rationally justified on its own merits.” The idea here is that God is guilty of falsehood until proven innocent (although we would never put it that way). In doing so, we think we are doing God a favor.
However, after a while, this will tear our faith apart. We don’t need rational justification for everything we believe. Hang with me. Just think if you did this with your spouse. What if everything Kristie said to me needed to be questioned. “I am going to pick up the kids,” she says to me. “I don’t believe you unless you can prove it,” I respond. “Dinner is ready,” she says. “We will see about that,” I think to myself. At some point in our marriage, Kristie earned the right to be trusted. I don’t need to critically evaluate everything she says. If I did, our relationship would fall apart.
Some of you have quit believing the Lord and the Scriptures. You put everything in a queue of future belief. But there is a point when you decide that God and the Bible are trustworthy and you set aside the critiques. It is not a matter of “just believing” for no reason at all. It is a matter of “just believing” because God is trustworthy. Some of you need to get back to reading and believing the Scriptures.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:22-24).
I love the intellectual life. I love the reading, the studying, the debating, the discussions, the ideas. I love all of it. But looming in the shadows are the various threats it poses to the fruit of God’s Spirit in my life:
In regard to love, it threatens my ability to love others whom I have intellectual disagreements with and whose ideas I find dangerous.
In regard to joy, it threatens to subtly remove joy from my life as it often requires a critical and skeptical eye toward ideas, which can lead to negativity.
In regard to peace, it threatens the peace I ought to live in with other believers even when I disagree. Indeed, I’ve had heated discussions that broke fellowship with my brothers in Christ for some period of time.
In regard to patience, it threatens my ability to be gracious and understanding as I interact with those who have difficulty seeing and affirming the truth. Specifically, I have to be very attentive to this with my own family.
In regard to kindness, it threatens my ability to be charitable to the ideas of others.
In regard to goodness, it threatens the priority I place on practicing spiritual disciplines and cultivating virtue, as I feel the continual pull to bury my head in books.
In regard to faithfulness, it threatens my faithfulness to God himself, as I give more attention to man’s written word than God’s written Word.
In regard to gentleness, it threatens the way I interact with non-Christians as I strive against the urge to persuade using only the “resistless force of logic.”
In regard to self-control, it threatens the priorities I must have in place as I battle for balance between the intellectual life and God, family, church, and other priorities.
As we continue to cultivate an intellectual love for God, let us be on constant watch for these potential pitfalls, and let us attend to our own virtue and life in the Spirit with as much emphasis and passion as our intellectual life.
It’s my Stand to Reason employment anniversary this weekend. I’ve been working with STR for 10 years, and I’m just getting started.
I can summarize by saying this: It’s my dream job. I love working for STR. The people I work with are talented, intelligent, kind, and – most importantly – love God with all their heart. I also get to meet great people at events where I speak.
Here are two quick lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I’ve found a lot more unity within the Church than I expected. I speak to a wide diversity of churches and denominations: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Coptic, Calvary, Anglican, etc…you name it. Although there are theological differences – both great and small – I always find myself surrounded with people who love our Lord Jesus and want to serve Him in the best way they can. Look, I know we have a lot of work to do in the area of church unity. I’m not oblivious to that fact. I’m just saying I find a lot of kindred spirits even among Christians who are theologically different from me. I’m welcomed (and trusted to teach) in many places I wouldn’t have expected to have an influence.
The biggest threat to the Church is…the Church. I know I often teach on Islam, homosexuality, and abortion, and that might suggest I consider one of those topics as the biggest threat. They’re not. Yes, they’re significant external challenges that the Church must face, but the bigger problem is internal. I believe the more important question is whether we’ll rise to stand firm against the challenges or fall and capitulate to cultural pressure. There will always be new challenges that will come our way. Some big and some small. It’s our response, however, that worries me. I’m seeing a lot of believers who are unable to stand their ground and instead are giving up ground. That encourages the enemy. That’s why my focus is always on training believers to stand firm.
It’s a privilege for me to serve God through my work with Stand to Reason and I’m looking forward to the next decade of ministry with STR.
Historian Rodney Stark writes in The Triumph of Christianityabout the significant contrast Christian mercy and compassion was in comparison to pagan religions. Before this passage quoted here, Stark gives the details of the truly horrible conditions in the ancient world. It's worth reading to get a better picture of the terrible conditions Christian mercy intervened to change.
In the midst of the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security.
Foremost was the Christian duty to alleviate want and suffering. It started with Jesus: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35-40).
James 2:15-17 expresses a similar idea….In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice. As E.A. Judge explained, classical philosophers taught that “mercy” indeed is not governed by reason at all,” and humans must learn “to curb the impulse”; “the cry of the undeserving for mercy” must go “unanswered.” Judge continued: “Pity was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up.”
This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues – that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful. Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another was even more incompatible with pagan convictions. But the truly revolutionary principle was that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and even those of faith, to all in need. As Cyprian, the martyred third-century bishop of Carthage explained, “there is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attentions of love….Thus the good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.”
It wasn’t just talk. In 251 the bishop of Rome wrote a letter to the bishop of Antioch in which he mentioned that the Roman congregation was supporting fifteen hundred widows and distressed persons. This was not unusual. In about the year 98 CE, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, advised Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, to be sure to provide special support for widows. As the distinguished Paul Johnson put it: “The Christians…ran a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.”…
These charitable activities were possible only because Christianity generated congregations, a true community of believers who built their lives around their religious affiliation….Even if they were newcomers, they were not strangers, but brothers and sisters in Christ. When calamities struck, there were people who cared – in fact, there were people having the distinct responsibility to care! All congregations had deacons whose primary job was the support of the sick, infirm, poor, and disabled.
As you’re spending time learning apologetics, it’s crucial that you never stray from reading the Bible. There are many reasons for this (see here and here, for example), and at this year’s Desiring God Conference, John Piper gave this one: “[A]ll the God-exalting joy that we hope to experience now and in the age to come hangs on the truth and power of the Bible.”
Here’s a summary of the five ways he says our joy in God depends on the Bible:
First, there can be no fullness in our joy in God where there is no fullness in the revelation of God’s excellencies. And that fullness is in the Bible. You can’t love him if you don’t know him. And the more fully you know him, the more fully you can love him and treasure him and delight in him. And God knows what kind of revelation and what fullness of revelation is needed to ignite and sustain the fullness of joy that glorifies him most. And that fullness of revelation is in the Bible….
Second, the story of how God acted in history to purchase our release from spiritual deadness, and the bondage of the will, and the wrath of God is only known because of the inspired record of it in the Bible. The power that this story has is possible only because God ordained that it be preserved by his inspired spokesmen in the Bible….
Third, that historical account of God’s saving work in Christ is the instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit by which he makes us alive to the all-satisfying glory of God….
Fourth, the joy of faith is created by the word of God…. The reason there can be no saving faith apart from the Scriptures is they are the only reliable portrait of the Christ of faith. Saving faith is faith in Christ, and Christ is only known through the inspired Scriptures….
Fifth…this joy is attacked and embattled everyday of our lives, until we die or until Christ comes, and its endurance — its perseverance — is only possible because of the Scriptures. We owe not only the creation of the joy of faith to the word, but also its daily survival.
I say it without hyperbole: PrayerMate revitalized my prayer life. It has been at least a couple of years since I made the move from organizing my prayers in a book to organizing my prayers in an app, and, at least for now, I don’t ever see myself going back. I know that praying from an app is not for everyone, but for me it has made all the difference. Let me tell you how I use it.
It wasn’t hyperbole. I’ve been using this app ever since and finding it extremely helpful. It’s easy to quickly add a prayer request as soon as you hear of a need, and you can do so without worrying that your list will become unmanageably long, because you control how many requests you’ll pray for in each category per day and/or choose which days any one particular request will appear.