Fleas, Concentration Camps, & Giving Thanks

In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom recalls the time she and her sister first entered the barracks at the Nazi prison camp they were assigned to during World War II. The space was cramped. The smells were foul. The beds were soiled. The groans of sick and dying filled the air. Even more, when they wearily crawled into their bunks to rest, they soon realized, the beds were infested with fleas.

In the midst of their bewilderment, Betsie, Corrie’s sister, remembered a Scripture they had read earlier that day:

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus…” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

She exclaimed, “That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!” So, though they didn’t see any good in most of their circumstance, they thanked God for everything around them; including the fleas.

Throughout their time at the camp, the sisters led Bible studies where many women came to know and love Jesus as their Savior. They always marveled that their meetings were never stopped by the guards. In fact, the guards never once entered the barracks during Bible study. Later, Betsie found out why and told Corrie: the guards never entered the barracks because of the fleas. God protected them and their ministry with His fleas.

When she heard the news from Betsie, Corrie wrote, “My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head and I remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

We can give thanks in all circumstances because we have a sovereign God who is graciously working in all circumstances, even if they’re infested with fleas.

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Why I Praise God for His Electing Grace

The doctrine of election produces many reactions. At the very sound of the word many are ready to argue, others grow uneasy and nervous, and most find themselves confused, wondering why a nice conversation about Christianity has so suddenly turned to politics. It’s a word that’s bound to start a good time wherever you’re at; especially in Christian circles.

But, whenever I personally think about the Biblical teaching of election, I just want to sing.

Mark Webb explains why:

After giving a brief survey of these doctrines of sovereign grace, I asked for questions from the class. One lady, in particular, was quite troubled.

She said, “This is the most awful thing I’ve ever heard! You make it sound as if God is intentionally turning away men who would be saved, receiving only the elect.”

I answered her in this vein. “You misunderstand the situation. You’re visualizing that God is standing at the door of heaven, and men are thronging to get in the door, and God is saying to various ones, ‘Yes, you may come, but not you, or you, or you…’ The situation is hardly this. Rather, God stands at the door of heaven with his arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction towards hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams.”

That kind of response, grounded as I believe that it is in scriptural truth, does put a different complexion on things, doesn’t it?

If you perish in hell, blame yourself, as it is entirely your fault. But if you should make it to heaven, credit God, for that is entirely his work! To him alone belong all praise and glory, for salvation is all of grace from start to finish!

(Taken from What Difference Does it Make?, p.52)

As the song sings:

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross

Praise God for His electing grace. For if He had not chosen me, I know for sure I would have never chosen Him.

If you would like to know more about the doctrine of unconditional election, I suggest beginning by reading  this sermon by C.J. Mahaney called “Sovereign Grace and The Glorious Mystery of Election,” from which I found the quote above.

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Why Do Christians Evangelize?

April 1954, London, England, UK — American evangelist Billy Graham preaches to a large crowd in London’s Trafalgar Square. April 1954. — Image by © CORBIS

Why do Christians want people to know about good news of Jesus? Many non-believers sometimes wonder, “Why do Christians want to tell people about Jesus so badly? Why don’t they just keep Jesus to themselves and leave the rest of us alone?” Not only that, but even some Christians sometimes get fuzzy as to the real motives one should have in evangelizing or sharing the message about Jesus with others.

Though there are many reasons why Christians evangelize, John Stott helpfully explains the ultimate reason why Christians tell non-believers the message about Jesus.

Why do we desire the spread of the gospel throughout the world?

Not out of a sinful imperialism or triumphalism, whether for ourselves or the church or even ‘Christianity’.

Nor just because evangelism is part of our Christian obedience (though it is).

Nor primarily to make other people happy (though it does).

But especially because the glory of God and of his Christ is at stake. God is King, has inaugurated his saving reign through Christ, and has a right to rule in the lives of his creatures. Our ambition, then, is to seek first his kingdom, to cherish the passionate desire that his name should receive from men the honour which is due to it. (Taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount)

Christians want Jesus Christ to be honored as He deserves, so they tell His message.

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Are You Going to Watch “The Shack”?

You may or may not have heard, but the bestselling book, The Shack (selling over two million copies in under two years), came out in movie theaters everywhere on March 3, 2017.

There’s been a lot of hubbub about it and for good reason – I mean, the book/movie deals with who God is and what He’s like; kinda, maybe, possibly important.

So, to help you think about without myself having to get into all the dirty details, here are three reviews with significant quotes therein that are worth reading before you buy a ticket for yourself or encourage others to do likewise.

The Shack – Impressions by Tim Keller. “Here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible. In the prophets the reader will find a God who is constantly condemning and vowing judgment on his enemies, while the Persons of the Triune-God of The Shack repeatedly deny that sin is any offense to them. The reader of Psalm 119 is filled with delight at God’s statutes, decrees, and laws, yet the God of The Shack insists that he doesn’t give us any rules or even have any expectations of human beings. All he wants is relationship. The reader of the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah will learn that the holiness of God makes his immediate presence dangerous or fatal to us. Someone may counter (as Young seems to do, on p.192) that because of Jesus, God is now only a God of love, making all talk of holiness, wrath, and law obsolete. But when John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, long after the crucifixion sees the risen Christ in person on the isle of Patmos, John ‘fell at his feet as dead.’ (Rev.1:17.) The Shack effectively deconstructs the holiness and transcendence of God. It is simply not there. In its place is unconditional love, period. The God of The Shack has none of the balance and complexity of the Biblical God. Half a God is not God at all.”

The Shack – The Missing Art of Biblical Discernment by Albert Mohler. “In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy. The crucial question is whether the aberrant doctrines are features of the story or the message of the work. When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.”

Papa of the Shack is Not Aslan of Narnia by Tim Challies. Tim Challies writes to show the major differences between The Shack and Narnia. “Papa of The Shack is not Aslan of Narnia. I will argue they are not the same in three key ways: they are from different genres of literature, portray different characters, and teach different messages.” Also, see his review The Shack here.

I offer these articles not to condemn anyone who has read or liked the book or who plans on watching the movie, but only to help Christians think a bit more deeply than we may be used to. If you watch the movie, I will still be your friend, promise. But, remember, Jesus taught that our eyes are the lamps into our body and what choose to look at affects deeply who we become (Matthew 6:22-23). At very least, that should cause us to be a wee bit more careful about what we choose – and pay – to see.

For the more theologically oriented, this book review of a book that wasn’t The Shack by Fred Sanders is still relevant and helpful in delving into the theological issues at hand.

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Should I Make My Faith Public or Private? (Or, Is Jesus Contradicting Himself?)

let_your_light_shine_by_kevron2001-d6z3r1t-848x300Once, Jesus said this:

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

In the same sermon, Jesus then said this:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1

Notice the underlined parts? What’s the deal? Are we to let our light shine or are we to practice our righteous acts in secret for only God to see?

The Answer: both.

John Stott explains:

At first sight these words appear to contradict his earlier command to ‘let your light shine before men, that they may see  …’. In both verses he speaks of doing good works ‘before men’ and in both the objective is stated, namely in order to be ‘seen’ by them. But in the earlier case he commands it, while in the later one he prohibits it. How can this discrepancy be resolved?

The contradiction is only verbal, not substantial. The clue lies in the fact that Jesus is speaking against different sins. It is our human cowardice which made him say ‘Let your light shine before men’, and our human vanity which made him tell us to beware of practising our piety before men. A. B. Bruce sums it up well when he writes that we are to ‘show when tempted to hide’ and ‘hide when tempted to show’. Our good works must be public so that our light shines; our religious devotions must be secret lest we boast about them.

Besides, the end of both instructions of Jesus is the same, namely the glory of God. Why are we to keep our piety secret? It is in order that glory may be given to God, rather than men. Why are we to let our light shine and do good works in the open? It is that men may glorify our heavenly Father.

(Taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 127)

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How Important is the Holy Spirit to Christianity?

holy-spiritIf Christianity doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, what does it lose?

John Stott answers in his inimitable way:

Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible.

There can be no life without the life-giver,

no understanding without the Spirit of truth,

no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit,

no Christlikeness of character apart from His fruit,

and no effective witness without His power.

As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.”

(Taken from The Message of Acts, p. 60)

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You Live Because the Holy Spirit

1432075456212Whether you are a Christian or not, you live because of the Holy Spirit.

R.C. Sproul:

From the Bible, we know that the source of life is the Holy Spirit. Paul said that in God we live, move, and have our being (Act 17: 28). Even a pagan cannot breathe without the power of the Holy Spirit. Although the Bible speaks of Christ being conceived in the womb of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, in a more general sense no one is conceived in the womb except by the Holy Spirit.

(Taken from Everyone’s a Theologian, p. 178)

 

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