It is true that the New Testament does not focus on the goal of improving the general society, but…

-John M. Frame,  “In Defense of Christian Activism

Christianity always has been, and always will be, a political religion. We just need to align our definition of political with Scripture:

As God’s Spirit penetrates people’s hearts through the gospel, those people become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). They take their faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts. And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God. They hear Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” They obey, imperfectly to be sure. But their incipient obedience leads to significant changes in society, as we’ve seen above.

It is true that the New Testament does not focus on the goal of improving the general society. Most of its social teaching concerns relations of love within the body of Christ. But Jesus taught his disciples to minister to people without regard to their creed or national origin (Luke 10:25-37), and Paul, as we saw, urges believers to do good “especially” to the household of faith, but not exclusively there. The early Christians did not have the power to affect much the politics and culture of the Roman empire, but they did what they could. For example, they rescued babies who had been exposed to die and brought them up in their homes.

The Romans, at least, felt threatened. “Kyrios Iesous,” Jesus is Lord, sounded all too much to them like “Kyrios Caesar,” Caesar is Lord, their own fundamental confession. Jesus did not come in his first advent to be an earthly king, but he is indeed King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 17:14, 19:16), to whom all authority has been given (Matt. 28:18). He is the mighty Son of David, whose kingdom is to stretch “from sea to sea” and “from the River to the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8). The Romans persecuted Christians because they believed that Christ’s kingship was a threat to Caesar. The Christians protested that Christ was not an earthly king, and that they sought to be good Roman citizens. They said that sincerely. But in time Christianity overwhelmed the Roman Empire, not by the sword, but by the power of the gospel. In time, Scripture teaches, the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdom of Christ (Rev. 11:15). So the gospel certainly is a political movement. That is not to say that Christians should seek political power by the sword. But they should never imagine that their faith is politically irrelevant.

“A little thorn…

“A little thorn may cause much suffering. A little cloud may hide the sun. Little foxes spoil the vines; and little sins do mischief to the tender heart. These little sins burrow in the soul, and make it so full of that which is hateful to Christ, that he will hold no comfortable fellowship and communion with us. A great sin cannot destroy a Christian, but a little sin can make him miserable….

“Christian, what hast thou to do with sin? Hath it not cost thee enough already? Burnt child, wilt thou play with the fire? What! when thou hast already been between the jaws of the lion, wilt thou step a second time into his den? Hast thou not had enough of the old serpent?” – Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening

Merit? The Cross, of Course!

Every time we say, “for Thy name’s” sake, or for Christ’s sake, we are making use of another’s claim, another’s merit, and conceding or accepting the whole doctrine of imputed righteousness.

Every man is daily getting, in some way or other, what he personally has no title to. When a son gets an inheritance from his father, he gets what does not belong to him, and what could easily and legally be diverted from him. When one who is not a son gets an estate by will, he gets what he has no claim to, simply by a legal deed. Human jurisprudence recognizes these transferences as competent and proper, not fictitious or absurd. Man daily acts on these principles of getting what he has no right to, simply because a fellow-man wills it, and law acknowledges that will.

Why then should he speak of fictitious transferences in spiritual blessings, proceeding on precisely the same principle? why should he deny the law or process of the divine jurisprudence, by which forgiveness of sins is conferred on him according to the will of another, and secured to him by the claims of another? If earthly law deals thus with him in earthly things, why should not heavenly law deal thus with him in heavenly things?

All divine life, and all the precious fruits of it, pardon, peace, and holiness, spring from the cross…. Holiness as well as pardon is to be had from the blood of the cross…. All fancied sanctification which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism….

If we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else, notwithstanding all our labor and diligence, and fasting, and praying, and good works, we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, gracious tempers which accompany a clear view of the cross.

— John Berridge,  1716 − 1793), Anglican evangelical revivalist and hymnist

–BERRIDGE’S Letters.

From My Heart… Guilt! Part 4

Sad_peopleIt is interesting to me that the more we try to blame others, the more we secretly blame ourselves. 

Will Rogers once remarked, that he had lived through two eras of American History: The passing of the buffalo and the passing of the buck!   We may not be old enough to know about the passing of the buffalo, but we all know about the “passing of the buck”; we have had it happen to us and we have all done it.  But what is not often discussed, is that those who try to pass the buck, those who resist owning up to their problems and blame others, frequently have the greatest difficulty in dealing with their own personal guilt.

As the old saying goes, “what doesn’t rub off, sticks more deeply”; so it is with guilt. 

Guilt that isn’t dealt with immediately, that remains unresolved, becomes increasingly difficult to honestly and openly deal with and heal.  Guilt cannot be “left to heal”, because it will not heal on its own, and time will not heal it.   Guilt left alone, may lead an individual to lash out at others, and/or to punish or harm him or herself. Unresolved guilt reveals itself in a number of different serious pathological and psychological manifestations.  Let’s deal with just three of them here.

Depression

Unresolved guilt often causes depression.  This depression, if not treated, can often lead to despair; this despair to apathy.  Unresolved guilt may not only lead to depression but also to an overall feeling of absolute and utter worthlessness that may take years to adequately deal with and take a lot of outside help.

There are millions of people going to doctors today taking prescriptions that deaden the senses, which are “mental pain relievers” that take the edge off, while they describe what they are feeling.  As patients, these people may talk about the stressors in their life, and the problems that they are facing, but what the doctors are waiting for are the underlying causes to come out.  When these underlying causes for their depression finally do surface, they almost always have to do with guilt.

Good Deeds

When I was young, I had a professor in college who believed that, guilt produced far more good deeds in this world than “love” ever did.  Wow, that took me a while to let sink in.  I had never thought of guilt of being a producer of “good deeds”, but the older I get the more I realize that it is true.  Men generally tend to learn quickly when to bring that “I messed-up bouquet” home to his wife.  But no gender has the monopoly on guilt; missed appointments, Children, broken homes, illicit relationships all have produced a well spring of funds for the toy industry, auto industry, electronics, etc.    I have actually known single parents who earned no more 50K a year, spending fifteen thousand dollars at Christmas on their only child, and feel bad that they could not have spent more!  That is guilt… and they admit it!  But good deeds have never atone for our actions, and they have never balance the books.

Turning Away From God

While doctors will tell you that many of the physical illnesses are caused by suppressed guilt, pastors will tell you that suppressed guilt is often the culprit for many spiritual illnesses, as well.  Dr. Erwin Lutzer writes, “that perhaps the most widespread cause of doubt is guilt.”  Guilt causes us to lose faith in God.

“Dear friends, if our conscience doesn’t condemn us, we have confidence before God”
— 1John 3:21.

sorrowBut that is what happens when we suffer with guilt; our conscience does condemn us!  A young man struggling and losing the battle with internet pornography will back away from his faith in God.  A young woman struggling with impure thoughts or illicit relationships will loosen her faith and trust in God. The struggle may be intense, but in the long run, any person who is holding on to sin in their lives, not relinquishing it, not confessing it, attempting to live a plural life, will find that their relationship with God will have become a slippery slope leading downward.  They will either have to change their god, or change themselves, because they will become increasingly torn inside.

Fragrant Flowers

Charles Spurgeon once quoted a story by Aurelius Ambrosius (better known in English as Saint Ambrose), who vividly and wonderfully illustrates believers’ prayers. He says:

“We are like little children who run into the garden to gather flowers to please their father, but we are so ignorant and childish that we pluck as many weeds as flowers, and some of them very noxious, and we would carry this strange mixture in our hands, thinking that such base weeds would be acceptable to him.

The mother meets the child at the door, and she says to it: “Little one, thou knowest not what thou hast gathered.” She unbinds this mixture and takes from it all the weeds, and leaves only the sweet flowers, and then she takes other flowers sweeter than those which the child has plucked, and inserts them instead of the weeds, and then puts back the perfect posy into the child’s hand, and it runs therewith to its father.”

I think that the Holy Spirit, with an infinite tenderness, takes our prayers and re-wraps them; taking out the noxious notions that that would offend the sensibilities of the Divine Court, and adds to our petitions the special sweetness of the life and ministry of Christ and finally, wrapping it with the blood of Jesus, presents to the Father, the bouquet of our hopes, dreams, and needs.

But that is not the end of the story.  The Father is hoping to receive just such a bouquet from his child, from you: He is waiting for it.  And he takes this bundle of fragrant flowers, and he excitedly looks at it, and he looks at you, and he smiles: you look just like your older brother, Jesus.  You see, the Father loved you so much that he sent Jesus, your older brother, to save you.  The Father missed you, and he misses your flowers.  Have you prayed lately?

“In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness; for we do not know what prayers to offer nor in what way to offer them. But the Spirit Himself pleads for us in yearnings that can find no words….”  Romans 8:26 Weymouth Translation

Mike

Post Tenebras Lux

Great thoughts, observations and advice for Christians with depression! …By the Puritan, Richard Baxter

Delirious-Ideas-SchizophreniaBut if melancholy have got head already…

there must be, besides what is said, some other and proper remedies used; and the difficulty is great, because the disease makes them self-conceited, unreasonable, willful, and unruly, and they will hardly be persuaded that the disease is in their bodies, but only in the souls, and will not believe but they have reason for all what they think and do; or if they confess the contrary, they plead disability, and say, We can think and do no otherwise than we do.

But supposing that there is some use of reason left, I will give them yet some further counsel; and what they cannot do, their friends must help them to their power, which I shall add.

1. Consider that it should be easy for you in your confounding, troubling thoughts, to perceive that your understandings are not now so sound and strong as other men’s; and therefore be not willful and self-conceited, and think not that your thoughts are righter than theirs, but believe wiser men, and be ruled by them.

Answer me this question, Do you know any minister, or friend, that is wiser than yourself? If you say no, how foolishly proud are you? If you say yea, then ask the minister, or friend, what he thinketh of your condition, and believe him, and be ruled by him rather than by your infirm self.

2. Do you find that your troubles do you more good or hurt? Do they make you fitter or unfitter to believe and love God, and rejoice in him and praise him? If you feel that they are against all that is good, you may be sure that they are so far from the devil’s temptations, and are pleasing to him; and will you cherish or plead for the work of Satan, which you find is against yourselves and God?

3. Avoid your musings, and exercise not your thoughts now too deeply, nor too much. Long meditation is a duty to some, but not to you, no more than it is a man’s duty to go to church that hath his leg broken, or his foot out of joint: he must rest and ease it till it be set again, and strengthened. You may live in the faith and fear of God, without setting yourself to deep, disturbing thoughts.

Those that will not obey this counsel, their friends must rouse them from their musings, and call them off to something else.

4. Therefore you must not be much alone, but always in some pleasing, cheerful company: solitariness doth but cherish musings. Nor must such be long in secret prayer, but more in public prayer with others.

5. Let those thoughts which you have laid out on the most excellent things: pore not all on yourselves, and on your distempered hearts; the best may find there much matter of trouble. As millstones wear themselves if they go when they have no corn, so do the thoughts of such as think not of better things than their own hearts. If you have any power of your own thoughts, force them to think most of these four things:

1. The infinite goodness of God, who is fuller of love than the sun is of light.

2. Of the unmeasurable love of Christ in man’s redemption, and of the sufficiency of his sacrifice and merits.

3. Of the free covenant and offer of grace, which giveth pardon and life to all that do not prefer the pleasure of sin before it, and obstinately refuse it to the last.

4. Of the unconceivable glory and joy which all the blessed have with Christ, and which God hath promised with his oath and seal, to all that consent to the covenant of grace, and are willing to be saved and ruled by Christ. These thoughts will cure melancholy fears.

5. Do not yourselves often to a complaining talk, but talk most of the great mercies of God which you have received. Dare you deny them? If not, are they not worthier of your discourse than your present sufferings? Let not all men know that you are in your troubles: complaining doth but feed them, and it discourageth them to none but your secret counselors and friends. Use much to speak of the love of God, and the riches of grace, and it will divert and sweeten your sourer thoughts.

6. Especially, when you pray, resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praising God. If you cannot do it with the joy that you should, yet do it as you can. You have not the power of your comforts; but have you no power of your tongues? Say not that you are unfit for thanks and praises, unless you had a praising heart, and were the children of God; for every man, good and bad, is bound to praise God, and to be thankful for all that he hath received, and to do it as well as he can, rather than leave it undone: and most Christians are without assurance of their adoption; and must they, therefore, forbear all praise and thanksgiving to God? Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better. Thanksgiving stirreth up thankfulness in the heart, but by your objection you may perceive what the devil driveth at, and gets by your melancholy. He would turn you off from all thankfulness to God, and from the very mention of his love and goodness in your praises.

7. When vexatious or blasphemous thoughts are thrust into your mind by Satan, neither give them entertainment, nor yet be overmuch troubled at them: first, use that reason and power that is left you resolutely to cast them out, and turn your thoughts to somewhat else; do not say, I cannot. If you can no otherwise command and turn away your thoughts, rise up and go into some company or to some employment which will divert you, and take them up. Tell me what you would do if you heard a grumbling woman in the street reviling you, or heard an atheist there talk against God? Would you stand still to hear them, or would you talk it out again with them, or rather go from them, and disdain to hear them, or debate the case with such as they? Do you, in your case, when Satan casts in ugly, or despairing, or murmuring thoughts, go away from them to some other thoughts or business.

If you cannot do this of yourself, tell your friend when the temptation cometh; and it is his duty who hath the care of you to divert you with some other talk or words, or force you into diverting company.

Yet be not too much troubled at the temptation, for trouble of mind doth keep the evil matter in your memory, and so increase it, as pain of a sore draws the blood and spirits to the place. And this is the design of Satan, to give you troubling thoughts, and then to cause more by being troubled at those; and so, for one thought, and trouble to cause another, and that another, and so on, as waves in the sea do follow each other. To be tempted is common to the best. I told you to what idolatry Christ was tempted. When you feel such thoughts, thank God, that Satan cannot force you to love them, or consent.

8. Again, still remember what a comfortable evidence you carry about with you that your sin is not damning, while you feel that you love it not, but hate it, and are weary of it. Scarce any sort of sinners have so little pleasure in their sins as the melancholy, nor so little desire to keep them; and only beloved sins undo men.

Be sure that you live not idly, but in some constant business of a lawful calling, so far as you have bodily strength. Idleness is a constant sin, and labour is a duty. Idleness is but the devil’s home for temptation, and for unprofitable, distracting musings. Labour profiteth others, and ourselves: both soul and body need it. Six days must you labour, and must not eat the bread of idleness, Prov. 31. God hath made it our duty, and will bless us in his appointed way. I have known grievous, despairing melancholy cured, and turned into a life of godly cheerfulness, principally by setting upon constancy and diligence in the business of families and callings. It turns the thoughts from temptations, and leaveth the devil no opportunity: it pleaseth God if done in obedience, and it purifieth the distempered blood. Though thousands of poor people that live in penury, and have wives and children that must also feel it, one would think should be distracted with griefs and cares, yet few of them fall into the disease of melancholy, because labour keepeth the body sound, and leaveth them no leisure for melancholy musings: whereas, in London, and great towns, abundance of women that never sweat with bodily work, but live in idleness, especially when from fullness they fall into poverty, are miserable objects, continually vexed, and near distraction with discontent and a restless mind.

If you will not be persuaded to business, your friends, if they can, should force you to it.

And if the devil turn religious as an angel of light, and tell you that this is but turning away your thoughts from God, and that worldly thoughts and business are unholy, and fit for worldly men; tell him that Adam was in innocency to dress and keep his garden, and Noah that had all the world was to be husbandman, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kept sheep and cattle, and Paul was a tent-maker, and Christ himself is justly supposed to have worked at his supposed father’s trade, as he went on fishing with his disciples. And Paul saith, idleness is disorderly walking, and he that will not work let him not eat. God made soul and body, and hath commanded work to both.

And if Satan would drive you unseasonably upon longer secret prayer than you can bear, remember that even sickness will excuse the sick from that sort of duty which they are unable for, and so will your disease; and the unutterable groans of the spirit are accepted.

If you have privacy out of hearing, I would give you this advice, that instead of long meditation, or long secret prayer, you will sing a psalm of praise to God, such as the twenty-third, or the one hundred and thirty-third, &c. This will excite your spirit to that sort of holy affection which is much more acceptable to God, and suitable to the hopes of a believer, than your repining troubles are.

A Moment of Grace…

untitled-It was two weeks before Thanksgiving, 2004. Victoria Ruvolo was driving her car home on the cold, rainy streets of Long Island, New York, after attending her niece’s voice recital.

Earlier that evening, six young people had broken into a Nissan and stolen a credit card with which they bought $400 worth of DVDs and video games at a nearby store plus a twenty-pound frozen turkey at a grocery store.

Victoria doesn’t remember the Nissan heading toward her on the highway, or the teenager hanging out the window. Nor does she remember the frozen turkey he threw at her car that came crashing through her windshield, knocking her unconscious and smashing every bone in her face, leaving her with significant brain damage. Nearly a month later she heard the explanation for the eight-hour surgery that attempted to reconstruct her caved-in face, the four titanium plates supporting her facial bones, the synthetic film holding her eye in place, the tracheotomy and wired jaw. She heard the explanation but couldn’t process it.

The young men were caught and all pleaded guilty except one:  Ryan Cushing, the eighteen year-old who had thrown the turkey through her windshield. In January, 2005, he entered a plea of not guilty. Had he gone to trial and been found guilty he could have been sentenced to a maximum of twenty-five years in prison. But in August, 2005, with Victoria still undergoing therapy and treatment from the accident, she and Ryan Cushing met for the first time. On August 15, the young man received a plea bargain sentence of six months in jail and five years of probation, to include psychological therapy and public service. The plea bargain had been at the request of Victoria.

When Ryan and Victoria met for the first time that day in court, she threw her arms around the sobbing youth, stroking his air, telling him she loved him and forgave him, that she wanted the best for his life. The New York Times called the scene a “moment of grace”: “Given the opportunity for retribution, Ms. Ruvolo gave and got something better: the dissipation of anger and the restoration of hope, in a gesture as cleansing as the tears washing down her damaged face, and the face of the foolish, miserable boy whose life she single-handedly restored.”

To say that that was a moment of grace is an understatement. At the very least, it was a display of “amazing grace.”

The above story here was originally written and shared by Dr. David Jeremiah

[P.S. After her story was first related to me, I actually got a hold of Victoria Ruvolo and personally kept up with her  for a few years.  She is a sweet, simple woman who worked in collections.  This incident occurred during a dark time in my life, when I was having a hard time finding and giving forgiveness. Victoria was a shining example to me of what true forgiveness is all about.  I have since heard that she was still in pain and also had run into further complications from the accident, but that she possesses the same cheerful attitude she had displayed in the beginning.    -MWP]