Friday, December 24

A Sober Side of "A Christmas Carol"

Vol. 6, No. 48

"The Real Christmas Carol"

Most people have seen one or more versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Hands down, it is among my favorite Christmas tales: the story of Ebenezer Scrooge having his conscience reawakened through the apparition of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

I like the characters.

I like the Victorian-era Christmas charm, complete with frosted windows, mistletoe and plum pudding.

I love the streets of Old London.

But when I first read the novel itself, after viewing various editions of the movie, I was shocked.  Scrooge was not the buffoonish, almost cartoon-like character some of the movies made him out to be.

He was genuinely evil.  Cruel.  Malicious.  He was a dark and sinister man.  The story actually reads more like a Stephen King novel.

When you study the era itself that Dickens wrote about – and he published A Christmas Carol in 1843 as a social statement against harsh child labor practices – you realize that it was dark and evil as well.

Historian Lisa Toland once wrote a fascinating essay on the reality behind the story.

Almost 75% of London’s population was considered working class, many of them children laboring in the factories.  In fact, every member of a family had to work in order to survive.  Dickens himself worked as a young boy to support his family while his parents were in debtor’s prison.

The time was known as the Hungry Forties, because there was a depression along with a time of poor harvests.  The London skyline was little more than smokestacks putting out clouds of sooty grit that covered rooftops and the cheeks of the young chimney sweeps.

It was the coal-dependent nature of these factories that created the famed London Fog.  It wasn’t fog at all, but a combination of smoke and soot and grit.  The streets were covered in rainwater, the contents of chamber pots, and animal waste.  Rats were abundant.

Small, often emaciated children sold flowers and matches while the wealthy class’s horse-drawn carriages swept past.  London’s poor were forced into shrinking housing districts.  Multiple families lived in single rooms in rundown buildings.

That was Dickens’ London.

And people had turned a blind eye, because supposedly there were “services.”  When the two men ask Scrooge for money, and he says, “Are there no prisons?  And the Union workhouses?  Are they still open?...The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?”  There is much there that we fail to understand.

What makes Scrooge’s comments so biting is that the Poor Law, with its accompanying workhouses, were despised by the poor.  The driving principle was to make the conditions in those places worse than how they would have lived and worked had they had a job.  And in trying to determine who did deserve to go there, the group that fell through the cracks was children.  The father or mother would be sent to the workhouse, leaving the children alone to beg in the streets.

Or worse.

If you died while laboring in a workhouse, your body was automatically turned over for dissection.  You wouldn’t even receive a burial.  The conditions were so bad, and people there were treated so poorly, that many of London’s poor chose to beg on the streets or enter into prostitution in order to avoid them.

From that darkness, Dickens gives us a tale of redemption.

The story of someone being saved.

There is another story we tend to romanticize.

We’ve all seen the Christmas cards that go out; pictures of Mary in flowing robes, gentle animals gazing lovingly down on the baby, who is always blue-eyed, blonde-haired, and while supposedly newborn, has the look and weight of a six-month old.

That's not the way it was.

They were desperate to find a place for her to give birth, and couldn’t find one.  They ended up in an outdoor livestock area.  Unclean, unkept, unwelcome.  Tradition, dating back to Justin Martyr in the second century, says it was probably some kind of cave.  Smelly, damp, cold.

They had to use a feeding trough as a bassinette.  The word “manger” is very warm and fuzzy, but don't romanticize it - a manger was a feeding trough for the animals.

This was a desperately stark and sad scene.

And lonely.

The Bible tells us that Mary wrapped the baby in cloths.  That was common for the day.  Long strips of cloth that were used to wrap the baby tight and keep their legs and arms straight and secure.  The process was called swaddling.

It tells us something of the lonely nature of Mary's motherhood that Luke records that she was the one who wrapped Jesus up after His birth - there was no midwife or relative helping, which would have been the norm.

And she was young.  Very young.

Engagement usually took place immediately after entering puberty, so Mary may have just entered her teens - 13, 14, or at the most 15.

And from that darkness, we also are given a picture of redemption.

Another story about being saved.

Another story that can be romanticized, but was very, very real.

Real in a way that drives us further on our knees to marvel at God come to earth to save…us.

James Emery White


Lisa Toland, “The Darker Side of A Christmas Carol,” Christianity Today, December 2009, pp. 44-48.

Thursday, December 23

Exciting Holy Spirit Power!

Please take the time to read this. I admit it, I too hesitate when I see so much writing. But please don't do that today. We at church have been wrestling with how the critical and prevailing power of the Holy Spirit's should go so unnoticed, even suffering from outright neglect! This reading from Octavius Winslow brings home some of what we've been missing, and gives us hope. Did I ask, "Please read this?" :-)

Now he who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God; who has also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22
IT is, and has long been, the solemn conviction of the writer, that much of the spiritual darkness, the little comfort and consolation, the dwarfish piety, the harassing doubts and fears, the imperfect apprehensions of Jesus, the feeble faith, the sickly, drooping state of the soul, the uncertainty of their full acceptance in Christ, which mark so many of the professing people of God in this our day, may be traced to the absence of a deep sealing of the Spirit. Resting satisfied with the faint impression in conversion, with the dim views they then had of Christ, and the feeble apprehension of their acceptance and adoption, is it any marvel that all their lifetime they should be in bondage through slavish doubts and fears?—that they should never attain to the “stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus”—that they should never rise to the humble boldness, the unwavering confidence, the blest assurance, and the holy dignity of the sons of God? Oh no! They rest short of this blessing. They hang upon the door of the ark—they remain upon the border of the goodly land, and not entering fully in, the effects are as we have described.

But, beloved reader, the richest ore lies buried the deepest—the sweetest fruit is on the higher branches—the strongest light is near the sun. In other words, if we desire more knowledge of Christ—of our full pardon, and complete acceptance—if we desire the earnest of our inheritance, and even now would taste the “grapes of Eshcol,” we must be “reaching forth unto those things that are before,” we must “press toward the mark,” and rest not until that is found in a clear, unclouded, immoveable, and holy assurance of our being in Christ; and this is only experienced in the sealing of the Spirit. Again we say, with all the earnestness which a growing sense of the vastness of the blessing inspires, seek to be sealed of the Spirit—seek the “earnest of the Spirit”— seek to be “filled with the Spirit”—seek the “anointing of the Spirit”—seek the “Spirit of adoption.” Say not, it is too immense a blessing, too high an attainment for one so small, so feeble, so obscure, so unworthy as you.

Oh, impeach not thus the grace of God. All His blessings are the bestowments of grace; and grace means free favor to the most unworthy. There is not one lowly, weeping eye that falls on this page, but may, under the blessed sealing of the Spirit, look up through Jesus to God as a Father. Low views of self, deep consciousness of vileness, poverty of state or of spirit, are no objections with God, but rather strong arguments that prevail with Him why you should have the blessing. Only ask—only believe—only persevere, and you shall attain unto it. It is in the heart of the Spirit to seal “unto the day of redemption” all that believe in Jesus. May it be in the heart of the reader to desire the blessing, seeing it is so freely and richly offered!

Reader, whose superscription do you bear? It may be your reply is—“I want Christ; I secretly long for Him; I desire Him above all beside.” Is it so? Then take courage, and go to Jesus. Go to Him simply, go to Him unhesitatingly, go to Him immediately. That desire is from Him; let it lead you to Him. That secret longing is the work of the Spirit; and having begotten it there, do you think that He will not honor it, and welcome you when you come? Try Him. Bring Him to the touch-stone of His own truth. “Prove me now herewith,” is His gracious invitation. Take His promise, “Him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out,” and plead it in wrestlings at the mercy-seat, and see if He will not “open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Go to Him just as you are; if you cannot take to Him a pure heart, take an impure one; if you cannot take to Him a broken heart, take a whole one; if you cannot take to Him a soft heart, take a hard one—only go to Him. The very act of going will be blessed to you. And oh, such is the strength of His love, such His yearning compassion and melting tenderness of heart for poor sinners, such His ability and willingness to save, that He will no more cast you out than deny His own existence. Precious Jesus! Set us as a seal upon Your heart, and by Your Spirit seal Yourself upon our hearts; and give us, unworthy though we are, a place among “those who are sealed.”

Tuesday, December 14


The previous two posts have led us to this question, what does it mean when Paul says in Colossians 3:4, Christ IS your life? I received help from the Puritan John Davenant who lays out for us how Christ relates to us as our Life.

First, Jesus PROMISED this life to us. 
John 10:28, I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. Again, Luke 12:32, Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Second, Jesus MERITED this life for us. 
1 John 4:9, In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. And 1 John 5:11, . . . God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 

Third, Jesus PREPARED this life for us.
God has prepared life for us. Ephesians 2:5, (God) made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. And, Colossians 1:12, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light

God has also prepared a place for us: John 14:2–3, I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Fourth, Jesus BESTOWS this life on us.
John 17:2, you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And then there is 2 Timothy 4:8, Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. Christ, then, is rightly called our life. As it is said in Hebrews 5:9, And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

So, you can see how it is evident that Christ IS our life, having provided for us by promising it, meriting it, providing it and bestowing it on us. But this, to me, doesn't really tell me all I'd want to know about the quality of the LIFE. It tells me THAT I have it. It tells me HOW I got it. I am prompted because of Jesus to give him THANKS for having secured life for me. But what is it to live this life? I hope to answer this in the next post.

God help us to live life through His life!

Saturday, December 11


We ended the last post with the question, "Am I a God at hand, and not a God far away" from Jeremiah 23:23. But more than closeness is at issue; it has much to do with the intimacy of our relationship with the Savior God. This intimacy (and we cannot afford to be scared of this term) is beautifully brought out in Paul's letter to the Colossians:

When Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then you will also appear with him in glory (3:3).

We'd miss this if we're not careful. The second half of the verse is intended to be the focus. And well it should. But it is the first part into which we wish to gaze. It's a setup for the second half of the verse, brought out by "when. . ." It's these words we need to see:

". . . Christ, who is your life . . ."

It were easier for us (especially Americans) to understand something like, "Christ GIVES you life." That IS true, no doubt, and necessary. We identify with this phrase more easily because it is cast in terms with which we are familiar--that of the market place! No, I don't mean it's about buying and selling. But it does project the image of ownership. We like owning things. May I quickly add that such materialism is not the sole property of Americans. Jesus warned everyone not to chose mammon over God (Mt. 6:24). From a child we hit that age when we practiced ownership--when the car was MY car, and the church, MY church. As we grow older that should but may not have changed, even if it's expressed in more mature ways. Still, we like ownership, why? Because there is in it the feature of control we all love! If I own something, it is within my grasp, under my control. I can use it when I wish. But by the same token, I can set it aside also! It seems our generation has become one which loves to have a way out, which begrudges commitment. It requires too much of us, we think. But Christianity is NOT about our owning God, or even our faith. It's about Christ having purchased us with his own blood! (Rev. 5:9) 

OK. So we don't control God; HE bought us. He did more than that. He has made us one with him (John 17:11). This means union, or communion with our God. So, Jesus doesn't just give us life, even abundant life (John 10:10); He becomes that life. But in our minds, he could still remain somewhat detached like a God who winds up the clock of creation and lets it run on its own. NO! Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead that we might not only live, but live IN HIM. 

Again, Colossians . . . "When Christ, who IS your life . . ." 

What is this life? We'll attempt to answer that in the next post.

Friday, December 10


Too much Christianity puts distance between the believer and his Lord. Too many Christians accept it this way--whether by default or by preference. It was not intended to be this way. But for a certainty it is this way, and to the extreme detriment of the Church and each member in it.

We have seen it this way: I am over here, God is over there. Yes, Christ died for me, is preparing a place for me, and is coming to get me one day. But he's over there . . . somewhere. I go to church and "touch base" with Jesus, get my "fix" or gain some knowledge, or perhaps even find an answer to one of my pressing questions. But it's still God over there and me over here. Distance. God surfaced this with Jeremiah:
Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:23–24)
I say, this is the practice of it from my experience having been saved over 50 years now and having prepped, schooled, and worked in the church in some way most of those years. I have felt these things myself. I know from experience that this is true. And I also know from conviction that it is totally off the mark. It is so far off the mark we submit that such a way of viewing Christianity is not Christianity at all! That's right. 

Have we grown too academic with our faith, on the one hand, parsing verbs, and leaving the Spirit and grace in the classroom? Or have we gone the other way, on the other hand, contenting ourselves with such a nebulous mist of loosely held beliefs that they wouldn't hold together in the least conflict we face?  

"Am I a God at hand?" It is this question I want to probe over the next few posts. God help us. Life, real life, hangs in the balance!

Thursday, December 9

Affliction . . . A Catch-22?

The term "Catch 22" (originally a 1961 novel title) according to American Heritage Dictionary has come to mean (among other things) "a contradictory or self-defeating course of action." I use it to accentuate the seeming "contradiction" the Christian faces when facing trials of many kinds.

The Psalmist is certainly not quiet on this subject. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word." And, "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." And, I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me" (119:67, 71, 75).  

The Positive
On the one hand, affliction drives us out of ourselves. That is, it renders us effete, weak. We come to the realization that our strength has been at best only a prop.  When all is going well, it is easy to fall into a sort of spiritual holding pattern, just circling, waiting, but not landing or taking off. That changes when we're told we have to have major surgery, or get into an accident, or lose our savings. When this happens, we discover what we really believe, that with which our faith truly consists. And often, more often than most would want to admit, we find that we have not strengthened our faith While the world scoffs at such statements, we who trust in Christ find no inconsistency in such claims. In fact, Luther said, "I never knew the meaning of God's word, until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of my best schoolmasters." He also referred to affliction as "the theology of Christians."

The Negative
On the other hand, growth out of affliction, while necessary, and certainly biblical, begs the question: "Must I always have trials in order to grow?" Growth is about knowing God increasingly better. Odd, isn't it? The negative is NOT that there IS affliction, but that NEED it in order to see God rightly! Now, there's no doubt that we also learn from good days, increased salaries, and beautiful scenery. We learn thankfulness, though that probably was enhanced by earlier deprivation. Still, the question persists, "Why must I have trials and pain in order to drive me to you?" 

These questions and others like them have caused us in our Wednesday AM class to begin down a new tract, one which will lead us into a more well thought out theology on suffering. We'll be using 2 Corinthians as our headquarters. Looks to be a wonderful addition to our previous study on the Providence of God. 

Grow through your suffering. 

Saturday, December 4

Young Souls in Transition--Emerging Adults and the Church

The following is the entire article on Al Mohler's blog, found here. I include the entire article hoping that you will at least work through it. 

“I mean, I have my beliefs in my head,” the young man said. “But I don’t enjoy the whole religious scene. I’m not really into it like some people are. I have my beliefs, I believe that’s the way it is, and the way it should be, and I go to church every once in a while. But it’s kind of low-key.”
Anyone who knows today’s generation of young adults recognizes that language immediately. It is the language of religious detachment and institutional alienation. But, as the careful observer will quickly recognize, it is not the language of hostile alienation or ideological detachment. It is the language that marks a generation of souls in transition.
In the early years of this decade, sociologist Christian Smith (then of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and his colleagues conducted over 3,000 interviews with American adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17. Their massive study of adolescent religion in America was published in 2005 as Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press). That study, now recognized as a landmark in the sociology of religion, found that most American adolescents were not irreligious, did not see themselves in rebellion against their parents, and did not fit the popular designation of the coming religious tenor as being “spiritual but not religious.”
Related Posts
·      Why Aren’t ‘Emerging Adults’ Emerging as Adults?
·      Did He Get Married Too Young? Young Adults & Marriage (Audio)
·      The Spiritual State of the Emerging Generation: A Conversation with Christian Smith (Audio)
·      The Question of Truth and the Emerging Church (Audio)
·      What’s Emerging from the Emergent Church?

What Smith and his associates did find was that the mainstream belief system of American teenagers took the form of what the team identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” — a faith in a moralistic deity who expects his human creatures to behave, to feel good about themselves, and to run their own lives without too much divine interference or intervention.
In other words, Smith argued that the nation’s teenagers looked and sounded much like their parents and the larger culture. They are vaguely and self-consciously spiritual, engaged in some sense of religious identity, but absolutely committed to the larger cultural ethos of autonomous individualism. Though a fairly significant percentage of these adolescents identified with traditional and even orthodox forms of Christianity, and a much smaller percentage identified with forms of self-conscious unbelief, most placed themselves under the umbrella of the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that Smith and his team of researchers described so memorably.
Now, less than five years after the publication of Soul Searching, Smith and another team of associates are out with another study. In Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2009), Smith, along with Patricia Snell, offers a study based on follow-up interviews with 230 of the same individuals included in the first study. The difference is that these young people were no longer 13-17-year-olds, but were instead ages 18-23. Would the age difference also mean a significant shift in religious practice and beliefs?
As Souls in Transition reveals, the answer to that question is both yes and no. In Soul Searching, Smith asserted that “American teenagers can embody adults’ highest hopes and most gripping fears.” Indeed, it seems that every generation of teenagers becomes a consuming concern of adults, as well as a target population for sociologists, psychologists, and other researchers. But Smith now argues that the more significant research population- and the more determinative age cohort for the future of American religion — may well be the “emerging adults” of their most recent study.
What to call them? These young people and their life stage have been labeled as “twenty-somethings,” “youthhood,” “adultolescence,” and “extended adolescence.” Smith chose to use the term offered by psychologist Jeffrey Arnett — “emerging adulthood.”
“What is it like to be an 18- to 29-year-old in America?” Smith and his team asked. “What are the major strengths and problems of emerging adults today? How are they faring on their journey to full adulthood?” To these questions they added the religious and spiritual dimensions of the generation. Who are they and what do they believe?
In the first place, they really do represent something new in life stage experience. Their emergence into full adulthood is coming, in the main, considerably later than their parents and virtually every earlier generation after the dawn of modernity. Their emergence into adulthood has been delayed by higher education, by the delay of marriage, by economic instability, and by the continued financial support of their parents. Thus, this generation of young adults has experienced “a historically unparalleled freedom to roam, experiment, learn, move on, and try again.”
Following the pattern set by Soul Searching, Souls in Transition includes profiles of several representative young people. They range from the highly conventional and orthodox to the agnostic and atheistic, but most are clustered into a far more ambiguous mediating category.
What has changed since their teenage years? Perhaps the most significant impression presented in the project is that these young adults have distanced themselves from their parents and from their parents’ religious faith to a greater degree, though they remain positively related to their parents (and economically dependent upon them) and hopeful about the future of this relationship. They are now preoccupied with life tasks and are struggling to retain optimism amid the baffling array of adult responsibilities before them. They see themselves as broke but are eagerly committed to a consumerist culture.
Above all, they are preoccupied with the concerns of the self. As a matter of fact, Smith, now William R. Kenan Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, argues that this generation actually has difficulty imagining any objective reality beyond the self. As he explains, “Most have great difficulty grasping the idea that a reality that is objective to their own awareness or construction of it may exist that could have a significant bearing on their lives.” To all this he adds that these emerging adults are actually soft ontological antirealists, epistemological skeptics, and perspectivalists, “although few have any conscious idea what those terms mean.”
This is a breathtaking observation, yet even Smith seems to underplay what this means for this generation and for the future of American Christianity. These emerging adults are not hardened ideological postmodernists, but their belief systems reveal that a soft form of postmodern antirealism has become part of mainstream culture.
This observation goes far in explaining the religious and spiritual profiles of these young people. In the main, they do not see themselves as secular – much less do they see themselves as committed to a secularist ideology. Like Brad, the young man whose comments are cited in the opening paragraph of this essay, they just do not see themselves as related in any formal or binding sense with churches, formal beliefs, or religious institutions. As Amanda, a young woman highly involved in an evangelical congregation, explains, “Religion is not made for young people.”
They are postponing marriage and family formation — a pattern with vast consequences in light of the experience of previous generations-but they are definitely not postponing sex. They are playing around, hooking up, and cohabiting. They know that the Bible condemns these behaviors, and they promise themselves that they will one day settle down and adopt a more conservative sexual morality.
Like Augustine in his early years, they want chastity … but not yet.
In a haunting and powerful paragraph, Smith explains how this tension between sexual behavior and moral expectation actually distances these young people from their religious and spiritual roots:
Therefore, emerging adults who are serious about their faith and practice have to do one of three things: choose to reject heavy partying and premarital sex; dramatically compartmentalize their lives so that their partying and sexual activities are firmly partitioned off from their religious activities in a way that borders on denial; or be willing to live with the cognitive dissonance of being committed to two things that are incompatible and mutually denying. Not many emerging adults can or will do any of these things, so most of them resolve the cognitive dissonance by simply distancing from religion.
Accordingly, these young adults are considerably less religious than their parents, less committed to formal doctrines, and less involved, not only in church life, but even in such activities as volunteering in charity work and social organizations.
As for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, commitment to this belief system remains “alive and well.” The main difference between these young people at this stage of life, as compared to their adolescence, is that they now have a larger frame of reference and set of concepts with which to flesh it out.
At the same time, they do not register markedly higher levels of attachment to many liberal doctrines. They claim to believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, in heaven and hell, and in any number of orthodox doctrines. Clearly, they are not theological liberals in any classic sense. At the same time, they are apparently living without any direct cognitive commitment to these orthodox beliefs.
On one measure of doctrinal orthodoxy, however, they are decidedly and overwhelmingly liberal. They have abandoned any belief in the exclusivity of the gospel. Religion is seen as a social phenomenon, claims of exclusivity are seen as intolerant, and heaven is seen as “one big party” where all basically good people go after death.
Writing over twenty years ago about evangelical young adults in that era, sociologist James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia warned in Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation that the generation then in young adulthood — the parents of the generation profiled in Souls in Transition — was moving away from the belief that only those who believe in Christ will go to heaven. As he explained, “In the face of intense religious and cultural pluralism in the past century, the pressures to deny Christianity’s exclusive claims to truth have been fantastic.” Among today’s emerging adults, accommodation to that pressure is the rule rather than the exception.
Helpfully, Smith and co-author Patricia Snell point to several factors that encourage emerging adults to remain connected and committed to churches and beliefs — and these have mostly to do with the roles played by parents and other adults in their lives. Young adults who remain closely related to their parents, and who have parents who put a premium on maintaining that relationship, are far more likely to remain both connected and committed. Significantly, their continued commitment also has a great deal to do with the roles played by other adults in a congregation.
Put simply, this is a generation of emerging adults who are struggling to reach full adulthood in the culture of late modernity. They see themselves as needing older adults as allies, mentors, and friends. They know they need help, and they see themselves as facing greater challenges than those faced by their parents. They are not hostile to the faith of their parents, but they are swimming in a very different cultural sea. They are indeed souls in transition, and they seem to know that they are.
Christian Smith and Patricia Snell have offered the church and today’s generation of evangelical leaders, pastors, educators, and parents an invaluable portrait of today’s emerging adults in Souls in Transition. This generation is looking for help, guidance, and friendship. They reflect the culture into which they have emerged and the tensions of modern life. They are remaking the world even as they are being made by it.
They know that they are emerging into adulthood later than did their parents, and they know that they are engaging the world of adulthood in their own awkward way. As Smith and Snell assert, these emerging adults cannot be reached by “ramping up” religious programs. They are reached mainly, if not exclusively, by relationships with others, especially older adults.
In other words, the real question for today’s evangelicals is not what this emerging generation will mean, but what we are prepared to do. We can sit idly by and watch these young people emerge on their own, or we can step in as friends, guides, and fellow strugglers.
The stakes, as this important study makes clear, could not be higher.

Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, by Christian Smith with Patricia Snell [Oxford University Press, 2009].

Thursday, December 2

Kamal Saleem: A Muslim Cries Out to Jesus - CBN TV - Video

You simply MUST view this video. I rarely suggest these, but this I cannot pass up. There is a power with which many Christians are unaware. Here is the story of a genuine Muslim convert and how Yahweh, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him and drew him to faith. 

Do you see what I mean? There's a world of power and most of all, the Presence of Jesus Christ that would have most us sitting back in unbelief, . . . but also in great joy. Evermore, give us this bread!

Wednesday, December 1

"I Believe in the Holy Spirit" !!

It was with these words that Charles Haddon Spurgeon often comforted himself as he ascended the pulpit stairs at The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. "I believe in the Holy Spirit" is also my cry today on this first day of December. Time does pass only too quickly. But the work of God through the Spirit never lags behind, never losses an opportunity. I must latch onto Him in faith and find my all there, not in any imagined power I think I have. "But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and . . ." (Acts 1:8). There's a lot more that follows the "and" than we may have realized. Lord, help us.

Do you long (as a true follower of Jesus Christ) for Holy Spirit empowerment? We in the evangelical camp have operated as if we did not believe in the Spirit, much less apply to Him for all that He makes available to us. I want that to change. TODAY! Listen to these opening words to a Puritan prayer:
I pray not so much for graces as for 
      the Spirit himself,
   because I feel his absence,
   and act by my own spirit in everything.
Give me not weak desires but the power of
      his presence,
   for this is the surest way to have all his graces,
   and when I have the seal I have the impression also;
He can heal, help, quicken, humble suddenly and easily,
      can work grace and life effectually, 
      and being eternal he can give grace eternally.
Save me from great hindrances,
      from being content with a little measure of the Spirit,
      from thinking thou wilt not give me more.
When I feel my lack of him, light up life and faith, 
      for when I lose thee I am either in the dark
         and cannot see thee,
         or Satan and my natural abilities content me with a little light, 
      so that I seek no further for the Spirit of life.
Teach me then what to do.
. . .
Teach me to find and know fullness of the Spirit
only in Jesus.
From: The Valley of Vision, "God The Spirit," pp. 52-53.

I think this prayer gets at it fairly well, don't you? Perhaps as we begin this month known to us for the gift of baby Jesus, we could learn to trust the "Comforter" sent in his name when Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. Let us learn to drink deeply from the well of the Spirit's power, and comfort, and love today!

Friday, November 26

Satan's Schemes Backfire

We walk cautiously between fear of the devil on the one hand, and treating him flippantly on the other. One truth the believer must affirm is the victory of Jesus Christ over sin, self, AND the devil! It is for this reason I have loved the stanza from Martin Luther's famous hymn: 

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure; One little word shall fell him.

And this from Desiring God Blog:
According to Jonathan Edwards, Satan's desire to destroy man in the garden grew out of envy. His haughtiness and pride were insulted to see earthborn creatures receiving such honor while he, a native of heaven with such natural strength and knowledge, was cast down and dishonored. Thus, in this jealousy, Satan deceived Eve to bring an end to the insult.

Edwards paints the scene, and then he exposes the irony:

And oh, how may we conclude Satan triumphed when he had brought 'em down! How did he as it were laugh, to think how sorrowfully they found themselves disappointed in their expectations of coming to higher honor and being like gods.

But their fall has been the occasion of their being advanced to much greater dignity than before, brought much nearer to God, far more nearly united to him, [and] are become his members, his spouse, and in many respects more honored than the angels. . . .

This very act of Satan has been the occasion of bringing about the very thing, the destruction of which he therein aimed at, and that in higher degrees. (Miscellanies #156, paragraphing added)

The irony with Satan is that all his schemes for evil—whether in Eden, at the cross, or in your life—do precisely the opposite of what he intends. In his attempt to ruin man by killing him with sin, Satan only opened the door for a greater win: unbreakable union with God through Jesus Christ.

Just like with the helpless schemes of Joseph's brothers, no matter what Satan may mean with his evil deeds, God means them ultimately for his glory and the greater good of those who love him (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).

John Piper touches on this same irony in his sermon about how Satan's murder of the Messiah was actually a suicide: "Judas Iscariot, the Suicide of Satan, and the Salvation of the World."

Wednesday, November 24

Thanks for Greater Things

“The glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams.”
— Isaiah 33:21
Broad rivers and streams produce fertility, and abundance in the land. Places near broad rivers are remarkable for the variety of their plants and their plentiful harvests. God is all this to his Church. Having God she has abundance. What can she ask for that he will not give her? What want can she mention which he will not supply? “In this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things.” Want ye the bread of life? It drops like manna from the sky. Want ye refreshing streams? The rock follows you, and that Rock is Christ. If you suffer any want it is your own fault; if you are straitened you are not straitened in him, but in your own bowels.
With theses words begins Spurgeon in this morning's devotional. It is a wonderful beginning. I am immediately convicted of my paucity with regard to crying out to God. How small are my prayers. Too little do I ask of Him. Slow of heart am I to reach out in ways which magnify His gracious heart. Such slowness demeans our Lord in our own eyes. I say "in our own eyes" because nothing can truly demean Him. Oh, let us this Thanksgiving holiday season, not only give Thanks, but show our gratefulness by asking God for more, thus revealing Him to the be the magnanimous Giver that He is!
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ” (John 15:7–11)  
What kind of fruit? All kinds, not just new converts (which is vital). Fruit here means that in every area of our lives, where Christ is foundational, and the Spirit is functional, our lives will show fruit, in faith, in hope, in prayers, in love. The greater is God, the greater and more frequent our prayers, and the higher our hopes!

Tuesday, November 16

The Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it must Continue! by Robert L. Reymond

The following is a re-posting. Please read and heed! 


The Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it Must Continue!, by Robert L. Reymond, Mentor, 2001, 155pp. 


As the old saying goes, ‘You shouldn't judge a book by its cover'. And as far as this volume is concerned, the hoary cliche holds good. I mean, take a good look at the cover, ignoring the words for a moment. For starters it's purple, which alternates with pink as my teenage daughter's favourite colour. Then did you notice the little diamond motif? Everyone knows that diamonds are a girl's best friend. Taken together these two features might suggest that what we have here is a fine specimen of chick lit. But that ain't the case. Reymond is a bloke and his offering isn't about knitting, ponies or romance. So, you can't judge this book by its purple, diamondy cover. But you can judge it by it's subtitle, The Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it must Continue! Did you get that? It's not The Reformation's Conflict... What was all that About? or Why it was a bad thing and should Stop! Oh no, unlike some Evengelicals,  Robert Reymond wants the conflict to continue. 'Why on earth is that?' You might ask. I'm not telling you.

Seeing as this is ostensibly a book review, you might expect me to attempt to summarise Reymond's monograph and offer an appraisal of his efforts. But, no. I'm not even going to use the review as an excuse to dilate on the subject in hand with some thoughts of my own. Not this time. What I'm going to do is list the kind of people who should give serious attention to this book. So, here goes:

If you think that the Reformation's conflict with Rome is is about as relevant today as a mobile phone that doesn't take photos, then you should read this book.

If you think that the difference between the Reformers and Rome on justification by faith alone or justification by faith plus works are of little consequence to sinners in the light of the day of judgement, then you should read this book.

If you think that it doesn't matter that Rome elevates its traditions and the infallible declarations of the pope to the same level as Scripture, then you should read this book.

If you think that recent Protestant attempts at rapprochement with Rome like Evangelicals and Catholics Together are a jolly good idea, then you should read this book.

If you think that the Reformation's alone's are not needed to preserve the integrity of the gospel against Rome's and's then toll lege, take and read.

Even if you are none of the above, then this monograph will help you to see with fresh eyes the momentous difference between Rome and authentic biblical Christianity. Your vision of the gospel of free grace will be clarified and enhanced. You too should read this book. 

The trouble is, having said all that, the book is sadly out of print. You won't get a copy from the publisher, but has one left in stock and some new copies are available from the Amazon Marketplace. Failing that, you'll have to make do with a diseased secondhand copy. I mean, have you never sneezed while reading? Be brave. Even if you can only get a scabby used copy, take the risk and read this refreshingly honest account of the Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it must Continue!

Monday, November 15

Rees Howells, A Man We Should Know

Years ago, I read an amazing book, Rees Howells: Intercessor. I used it in Sunday’s Sermon by way of illustration. In the process, I had thought to re-read the book, but my copy is literally falling apart, so I looked for a newer copy and found this blog post. It’s too good to pass up. I quote it in its entirety. It’s found at Promptings, by Violet . . .

I have just finished reading a mess-up-your-life kind of book: Rees Howells : Intercessor. This biography of Rees Howells was written by Howells’ friend and colleague, Norman Grubb (in cooperation with Howells' widow, son and secretary, and having at his disposal Mr. Howells' letters and the transcribed talks where he told many of the stories in the book). If you haven’t ever read it, you should. Well, maybe not. If you’re happy with the way you are, don’t. Because it might stir things up.

Born in South Wales October 10, 1879, Rees was always a good boy. As a youngster he loved to be in church "under the influence of God." When he was 22, he left Wales for America with the ambition to see the world and make money.

When he got to America, he got a job with his cousin Evan Lewis and continued living the religious life he had lived in Wales. Thus when his cousin asked him one day if he was ‘born again,’ he was miffed. "My life is as good as yours," he said.

However over the next weeks, his cousin kept at him. After a time of seeking, an illness and hearing the testimony of a converted Jew, he saw himself for the sinner he was, and personally accepted Jesus into his life.

Shortly after he returned to Wales in 1904, the Welsh revival broke out. He became involved in it and worked at discipling new converts. However, he and his friends sensed spiritual needs in their own lives. And so in the summer of 1906 they spent their summer holiday at the Llandrindod Wells convention (a Welsh equivalent to the English Keswick Conference) where Howells made a pivotal decision.

From the first meeting, Howells was deeply moved. The realization dawned on him that the Holy Spirit was a person, and not an ‘influence.’ In his words:
He said to me, "As the Savior had a body, so I dwell in the cleansed temple of the believer. I am a Person. I am God, and I am come to ask you to give your body to Me that I may work through it. I need a body for my temple but it must belong to Me without reserve for two persons with different wills can never live in the same body. Will you give me yours? But if I come in, I come as God, and you must go out. I shall not mix Myself with your self."
This precipitated a five-day struggle in Mr. Howells. From the first, he realized it was an unconditional surrender, of which he said:

"I had received a sentence of death, as really as a prisoner in the dock. I had lived in my body for twenty-six years, and could I easily give it up....I wept for days. I lost seven pounds....Nothing is more real to me than the process I went through for that whole week. The Holy Spirit went on dealing with me, exposing the root of my nature which was self, and you can only get out of a thing what is in its root. Sin was canceled, and it wasn’t sin He was dealing with; it was self..."
Some of the things he came to a point of surrender over:

1. His love of money: "The Lord told him that He would take out of his nature all taste for money and any ambition for the ownership of money."

2. His choice in making a home: "I saw I could never give my life to another person, to live to that one alone.

3. His ambition:"Supposing he had a mission in a town and another mission opened in the same place; if there was jealousy between the two, and it was better for the town only to have one, then it would be his which would have to go."

4. His right to a good reputation: "As he was thinking of men of the Bible who were full of the Holy Ghost, and particularly John the Baptist, the Lord said to him, "Then I may live through you the kind of life I lived through them."

Finally on Friday of that week he came through.

The book continues with stories of how God worked through this man teaching him faith and intercession as he prayed for the sick, prayed for the salvation of friends and acquaintances, gave up raising his own son to work as a missionary, traveled without any money in his pocket, bought estates, established a Bible school, and prayed for international events, especially during the World War II. And all the while God also continued to deal with his self-life.


Does this ring familiar to you? I wonder if it isn’t on exactly this issue – the surrender of the self-life to the Holy Spirit – that we who have come to Jesus are most radically sifted. It determines whether we grow or remain stunted, are useful to God or are set aside from getting His assignments because of our own agendas, will someday see our life’s efforts last or burn up.

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20 NKJV

"Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship." Romans 12:1 NIV

"Jesus takes us over for His enterprises, His building schemes entirely and no soul has any right to claim where he shall be put." Oswald Chambers

For entire article:

Wednesday, November 10

The Husband's Cleansing Love for His Wife

Some of you may be wondering where my new posts have been? Non-existent, . . . obviously. But, let me get my feet wet again. 

Talking with two prayer partners, Gary and Dan Tuesday morning, Dan asked about Ephesians 5:26, " . . . having cleansed her by the washing of water by the word." You'll recollect that this passage teaches the dual responsibility/privilege of both God and husbands to serve their respective brides as a cleansing agent. We can understand (I think) how that would occur with God and his church. After all, we're familiar with such songs as, "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus." And this cleansing work continues throughout our earthly existence so that when we sin as Christians, if we confess those sins, Christ is faithful to forgive them and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Fine. And wonderful! But how do we husbands do this for our wives? Remember, the text in Ephesians 5 is a dual one, including both God and husbands. Since only Jesus can sanctify us and make us holy, husbands must accomplish this as surrogates of heaven. We can help our wives love God more, live more holy lives, and walk purely with both God and us. If we're to do this, then it is incumbent upon us to walk purely ourselves, hating sin and loving righteousness. Further, it is necessary for us to encourage our wives by our attendance to them, making it not only possible, but easy to pursue Christ. How might this happen? I cannot help but think that we must pray for and with them in a natural not rote or tedious way. Remember, we are doing this so that they will move seamlessly into that love relationship with God for which He created us. And this cannot be accomplished by reducing all acts of faith to adherence to a set of rules found in a manual somewhere. No, this kind of cleansing love must emanate from our hearts and produce a living, breathing yearning for our Lord.

I'm sure that there is much more to it than this, but this will ( I trust) move us in the right direction. I wonder if this "jives" with your idea of husband-hood?

Thursday, October 28

Praying BIG

I quote from a timely article found in a recent issue of Revive magazine, a publication of Life Action Ministries. This issue in particular, calls for us to imagine revival everywhere. That is exciting to me. But I suspect that for many in Christendom, revival is little more than a term with which they are only familiar. Others, perhaps, have never experienced the Holy Spirit's pungent power working in a meeting, filling the whole room with His divine essence. Or, perhaps they have not read of any such wonderful workings of God among a needy and fallen people. Either way, we who have even an inkling of such a blessing and of the unbelievably dire need all around, need to be ardent in our prayers for God to bless as He has in the past, . . . poignantly, and powerfully!

In his article entitled, "Praying BIG," David Butts writes:
Incredibly, we come into the throne room of heaven when we pray. Jesus Christ has literally given us access to the control center of the universe!
For the last seven years, I've served as chairman of the National Prayer Committee here in the United States. I have a real burden to pray fo rour nation, and as I look at our nation, I see a desperate need for revival.
But as I travel across the country, I sadly have to admit that I'm not hearing the kind of praying that will produce revival. I don't hear bold praying. Instead, I hear "wimpy" praying. 
Do you know what I mean? "Well, God, I've got an idea, and I'm not sure if You're interested, but if You are, here it is. Now do whatever You want."
This kind of prayer comes out of our mouths, dribbles down our chins, and falls on the floor. There's nothing that causes it to rise to heaven. There's no power there, no confidence, no faith. 
The Bible teaches to pray differently. In fact, God's Word commands us to pray boldly, to pray with confidence: "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16, emphasis added).
Now, this is convicting to me, and I suspect to most of my readers. But, oh, how needed it is! Citing Acts 4, Butts presents several principles that guide bold praying. (The principles in bold print are his, the part that follows is mine).

1. Pay attention to the One with whom we are talking. To this I say "Amen." Know God to be Sovereign, Creator, Controller, and Eternal. Just a few of these will alter the praying saint IF he believes them to be true of God! Our attitudes change in direct proportion to the nature of the Being with whom we have to do.

2. Pray according to the Word of God. Quote Scriptures that you've memorized, or better those hidden in your heart! Listen, it's what's inside of us that's going to come out when we pray. The reason so many pray such slight prayers is because they have such a slight knowledge of God and His Word. Why do so many we hear pray rote prayers? Because their understanding of God (if you call it that) is but a rote knowledge, Sunday School lessons and a few theoretical principles. But nothing seems to rise up from the depths of their being, since little has been planted there over the years!

3. Pray Big Prayers. Don't pray to escape pain or trouble; pray to become bolder in the face of opposition. This is an example of big praying. Pray for the infilling of the Spirit of God who empowers and emboldens any believer beyond their normal abilities. Way beyond! But who'd think to do this if most of their time is spent thinking about things, and purchases, and the next game? Oh, we have grown all too lax in our attention to things large. Most Christians (?) think far too small . . . and incorrectly. If the first two are in place, a right knowledge of God, and a thorough knowledge of the Word, then the last one will be far more likely. The more knowledge of God's Word, the higher the bar is set. And the higher the bar is set, the greater the chances that we will pray prayers accordingly, and have a faith to believe that God will answer!

God help us!

Wednesday, October 20

How Bad Will It Have to Get Before We Pray?

To what degree must everything fall apart before we cry out to God to change our circumstances? This came to mind when reading Psalm 80. The Psalmist, Korah, urges God, "Stir up your might and come to save us." Then this in verses 3–7:  
3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
4 O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
In my mind, I picture the squalid conditions of those poor Poles hold up in the ghettos of Warsaw during WW2. I imagine myself, dirty, scared, devastated, having lost home and honor and friends. In wonder over the past, anxious about the present. Hopeless. Any prospect that this will change? Worse, how did we get here?!

If there were a Christian counterpart to the above scene, would we pray? I would cry out then! Wouldn't you? It's too extreme not to. Notice the two verses on either side of 4-6. Verses three and seven say the same thing: "Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!" And how many times did Israel have good reason to so pray? Read the book of Judges and you witness the roller-coaster ride of unbelief. And what can be said of the history of the kings? Wow! Very few good kings of thought more of God than they did of themselves. Squalid spirituality, that's what it was!

QUESTION: Why didn't they cry out then, before everything went south? I'm sure some did. But apparently not enough. How about us today? How bad will conditions have to get in our own hearts, in the church, before we declare a moratorium on amusements and mere forms and bow in abject poverty of spirit to the only One who can save us? Are we so calloused that we cannot feel the difference between a living relationship with Christ and the mere eking out of a ghetto-like spiritual existence? 

There is hope to be sure. Always. But one has to see the poverty, feel the hunger pangs before going to whatever extremes in order to find relief.

Why wait? . . . Really. "Let your face shine, that we may be saved!"