Jesus, still lead on, till our rest be won;
and although the way be cheerless,
we will follow, calm and fearless;
guide us by your hand to the promised land.
If the way be drear, if the foe be near,
let no faithless fears o’ertake us,
let not faith and hope forsake us;
safely past the foe to our home we go.
Jesus, still lead on, till our rest be won;
heav’nly leader, still direct us,
still support, console, protect us,
till we safely stand in the promised land.
By Nicolas I. von Zinzendorf
Paul said that it was a privilege to suffer for Christ. How does the hymnwriter express this thought?
Many people express great thanks and praise to God when things go very well for them and they seem to be winning every conflict. What does this hymnwriter say about days when things don’t seem to be going so well?
Verse 2 refers to a foe. When the hymnwriter says that we go past this foe safely, what does he mean?
It appears from the hymn that the hymnwriter has experienced an assortment of troubles in his commitment to serve Christ. What is the difference in his view of Christ’s presence in this life and Christ’s presence in the next?
When people talk about books that provide a strong and inspiring Christian testimony, you may not expect to hear the name David Baldacci. Get ready. In The Simple Truthwell-known author David Baldacci has written a book that is a good read, a real thriller and a profound Christian testimony. You won’t find it in a CBA bookstore. You have to look on the New York Times best-seller list. Surprised?
You can go to Amazon or Goodreads and obtain an assortment of opinions about this book. It is a thriller set in Washington DC. There are political characters working a political angle. It is a whodunit, but you know who done it almost from the first page. Hmmm. There is murder, madness and vengeance. Innocence. Intrigue. It is all there, and if the reviews are to be believed, there is nothing in this book that would distinguish it from any other politically-intriguing-thriller.
It isn’t Baldacci’s first effort, so Warner Books had every reason to believe that this book would go stratospheric, and that makes the reader scratch his head in wonderment that the company assigned an editor who would allow misspelled words, some true punctuation errors, and two examples of startling errors in diction to make it to final print. By comparison with many self-published, unedited books now in print, these errors are miniscule, and the author should be forgiven for believing that if such things had found their way into the manuscript, Warner Books would be sure to assign him an editor who would catch them. They don’t detract from the book, but they do detract from the reputation of Warner Books.
I am starting to feel very strange, because nobody in any of the reviews took note of the moral and spiritual makeup of the central character of the book. Rufus Harms is a convicted murderer who has spent most of his twenty-five years in jail reading the Bible his mother gave him. A Christian in jail is not a singular element in a novel, but this individual is truly memorable. Would you expect a prisoner in a hospital bed, tied down with restraints, feeling at risk for his life, to notice that a nurse caring for him had deep spiritual needs? Rufus is full of surprises, but you must wait till the very end for the most amazing expression of his nature.
The character of Rufus, and his relationship with his brother, is played against the character of John, and his relationship with his brother throughout the story. Sibling rivalry. Family loyalty. The drama of the scenes is not equal throughout the story. Some are so familiar from novels in general that you might think they were pulled from a website somewhere with boilerplate novel sections. However, the story retains its unique thrust despite some less-than stellar writing. There are sections that are truly spell-binding. The book surpasses the ordinary to such a degree that no sooner had I finished the last page than I went right back to the beginning and read it again.
One of those spell-binding episodes occurs in the last chapter of the book. It actually unfolds in the final two pages. (Don’t jump ahead, because it won’t make any sense without the rest of the story.) The climax of a novel sometimes happens shortly before the end, and then the writer takes his time wrapping up loose ends. If you experience this book as a whodunit, then maybe that is the way you will see it. If, like me, you think this book is a spiritual journey, then you will discover that the story is still developing and unfolding right through the last word.
I have been pleased to discover a few books in recent years in which the authors portray Christianity the way I experience it — a life lived in relationship with Christ. Rufus might justifiably have considered himself a victim, but when he was tempted to think and act on that perception, he rejected it as Satan’s work to steal God from him. Many people think Christianity is about learning and following a lot of rules, and many people make fun of the rules. This writer simply portrayed a Christian living his faith. Everyone who thinks Buddhism is preferable because “Buddhism is a way of life, not a religion” might need to re-examine Christianity after reading The Simple Truth by David Baldacci.
When the cruise ship Costa Concordia grounded off the coast of the island of Giglio, it was reported at first that the ship struck a rock that was not on the charts. Mariners rely on their charts to tell them where hazards are located, and the captain of the Concordia repeatedly complained that the rock he struck was not on any chart. As a consequence, the ship’s hull was ripped open, and the ship eventually sank. This is not the way mariners hope that hazards will be discovered, but the discovery of that rock truly is a service to all mariners navigating in those waters. Until the Costa Concordia discovered this hazard, nobody knew it was there. The charts were deficient.
In 2009, the Church Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America alleged to discover that the Bible was missing a piece of information as vital as that previously unknown rock off the coast of Giglio. The document they wrote to announce this discovery is “A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and in this statement the assembly said, “The scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today.”
The ELCA is not the first church to go down this path. Episcopalians have been blessing homosexuals and ordaining homosexuals for some time. Other churches and denominations have begun to accommodate the cultural pressure from homosexual activists. Why is this decision a big deal? It is a problem, because statements like this completely negate a fundamental truth of Christianity: the Bible is the source for all guidance in faith and life. If God failed to address the issue of homosexuality in the Bible, then God left his children with a big problem. The evidence does not support that conclusion. The Bible does address homosexuality. Anglicans, Episcopalians and now ELCA Lutherans have thrown the Bible out with the bathwater in the name of accommodating contemporary culture.
If Christians were going to accommodate the culture, then why did they suffer so much at the hands of Roman emperors? The emperors simply asked for a small accommodation. Why didn’t the first century Christians follow the path of political correctness and bow before a statue of the emperor? Most of the emperors did not even think that act was about worship. They considered it a gesture of good citizenship.
For that matter, if cultural accommodation transcends biblical revelation, why do Christians today endure suffering and hardship around the world?
If accommodating the culture is a valid reason for changing the church’s position on prickly issues, why don’t North Korean Christians just go ahead and pretend to worship the Dear Leader? After all, they could simply say that ancient writers of biblical texts didn’t know anything about Communism. They just didn’t know how it would be for twenty-first century Christians in North Korea. The Bible doesn’t help us know what to do in this country. We have to make it up as we go.
If accommodating the culture is the foundation for faith and practice, then why do Christians in Bhutan need to suffer persecution from their Buddhist government? After all, Isaiah and Malachi were oblivious to the realities of the present-day Buddhists, and present-day Christians must figure it out on their own. They know things God didn’t tell ancient biblical writers. Contemporary Christians cannot rely on some old musty biblical prophet to tell them want to do when the Buddhists raise a ruckus about Christianity. Can’t they just use the Buddhist words and pretend to believe what the Buddhists believe and go on being Christians in their hearts?
Or in Nigeria, why should Christians suffer fire-bombings and torture? Their Muslim neighbors think that the very existence of Christians in their midst is like being infected with a disease. Nigerian Christians could simply say the words, “There is no God but Allah,” while meaning, “Christ above all” and explain to God that he must have left his approval of this strategy out of the Bible, because Mohammed came along after the Bible was finished.
Is it possible that Christians have actually outgrown the Bible?
Such a notion completely dissolves the principle of Sola Scriptura. The Bible has no credence as the source of Christian teaching if the revelation has such gaps in it. Nobody expects the Bible to teach contemporary genetics, but every Christian expects the Bible to provide the guidance for dealing with the discoveries of contemporary genetics. IVF, for example, results from knowledge gained through the study of genetics. There is no mention of IVF in the Bible, yet the Bible provides plenty of guidance about the blessing of children and the value of human life. People can find in the Bible the wisdom they need in order to make a faithful decision whether or not to engage in IVF. Not so, with homosexuality, if Episcopalians and Lutherans and other accommodating Christians are to be believed. No guidance there. All the apparent guidance is bunk.
The Costa Concordia may have sunk because of an uncharted rock. It may have been nothing more than an unfortunate accident, just one more tragedy at sea because of inadequate knowledge. However, discussions about the situation over the month or so that it was important news suggested that the accident was due more to an egotistical willingness to ignore known hazards than it was about a lack of information on the charts. The captain may have deliberately entered waters a responsible navigator would have avoided, despite any fuzziness about the exact location of this particular rock. The captain may have been engaged in frivolous social flirting instead of paying attention to the charts, in which case he was acting as if the charts were irrelevant. Ultimately, the disaster may not have been due to an uncharted rock at all. The disaster may have been due to an unwillingness to be limited either by the known hazards on the chart or by the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.
Many Christian leaders and Christian groups appear to be guilty of an unwillingness to be limited by the biblical revelation about homosexuality. If Martin Luther was right about the Bible, if two thousand years of Christian faith are right about the Bible, if the martyrs who died to preserve and propagate the Bible were right, then those who say that God blesses homosexual unions are wrong. Homosexuality is not an uncharted rock in the sea of moral choice; it is just another rock on the biblical chart that shows us both our unworthiness of God’s love and the price he is willing to pay to protect us from the rocks and shoals of life. We don’t have to make up strategies or wonder where God is when either culture or government assaults our faith. The Bible shows us all the rocks that can sink our ships, and it shows us the way to safe harbor in Christ, no matter where the rocks are.
I remember the world-wide frenzy generated by the “Left Behind” series. I don’t happen to share the hermeneutic stance of the authors, so I don’t have those books in my library. That doesn’t mean, however, that I reject either the significance or the value of the book of Revelation.
Quite the contrary. I believe that book is critical to a Christian understanding of the way we live our faith. The central message of the book of Revelation is that we must cling fast to Christ and live in faithful relationship with him no matter what is going on around us. That message is timeless, and that message has value in all eras for all people. What’s more, the urgency of Revelation is that we should always live and speak of our faith as if time were about to end. Why? Because for every one of us, time is about to end. Whether it ends for all people is irrelevant. The end of time is imminent for every human being, because none of us gets out of here alive, as somebody so famously said in some pop song. God has written it in our souls and we all know it is true that this life, this time, this place is temporary.
That is why I can’t get very excited about an attempt to find a timeline to eternity in Revelation. I don’t think it matters, because the message of Revelation is to be steadfast in faith at all times. Be ready for rejection. Be ready for persecution. Be ready to give the answer as Peter told us (1 Peter 3:15) because somebody will need to hear it. You don’t know if the heavens are about to be rolled back, or if you will be hit by a bus on your way to church. You do know as surely as you know your own name that time will end for you, one way or another.
In the letters to the churches, Jesus cried out for people to live their faith wherever they were. He pleaded for people to reclaim the enthusiasm and energy of their first profession. He reminded them that the gift of his love is not something to hide in a closet; it is something to share in our faithful testimony. He warned people that we will be so filled with regret if we don’t live our testimony that the day will come we will wish rocks could fall on us.
This is what I learn from Revelation. I have a few thoughts about the similarity between the world I live in and the world of the author of Revelation. I have seen calls to worship the state that closely parallel the call to worship Roman emperors. I see all sorts of temptations in daily life to substitute human accomplishments for God’s grace and glory. But I am not able to discern any clear timeline in either Revelation or my own era that say that the final big bang is imminent. However, remembering that Christ said we never will know these things, I don’t worry about these things very much. I have something bigger to worry about.
Myself. What? Am I the most self-centered person you ever heard of? Maybe I am. I pray daily to topple SELF off the throne of my heart, but to date, I am unsuccessful at making that commitment stick. Every time I think for even a moment that I have successfully denied SELF, I am filled with such pride at the accomplishment that SELF climbs right back up on that throne. My faithful testimony is shredded by my complete inability to deny SELF once and for all and follow Christ faithfully in a life of love and service.
So I don’t worry much about the end times. I worry about these times. I worry that I will fail to give my testimony in a way that provides salt and light to a culture that is disintegrating. I don’t worry that time will end. I worry that my time will end before I ever serve Christ for even one minute in faithful testimony. It is always the end times, and I need to act like it.