I know of several people whose marriages are in trouble and whose private lives are nearing ruin. These are people who attend Church regularly, who worship with arms raised and heads bowed, and who have made public declarations of faith for the rest of the body and the world to see. This in and of itself is tragic, and I cannot imagine how personally devastating this is. But what has amazed me throughout the whole thing is the number of people that are doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing and the amount of Churches that are encouraging them to do it. In their dark time of marital difficulty they are behaving badly and are overtly being disobedient to the scriptures and to the commands of Jesus. They are leaving in their wake a scorched earth policy, where the gospel is left burnt and broken, and where the biggest casualty is not the marriage itself, but rather the presentation and truth of salvation and the forgiveness of sins.
What am I talking about? Christians who are initiating divorces when there is absolutely no Biblical warrant to do so, and Churches that have Pastors and Elders who aren’t intervening and speaking up when this happens. This is rampant! Let me unpack this a bit. You have church-going folk who have spouses who are terrible with money, who are verbally, emotionally, and even sexually abusive. They may have spouses who are addicted to pornography and who scare them in the bedroom. They may have spouses who take them for granted, lie to them, deceive them, upbraid them and leave them emotionally battered. Or they may have spouses who are cold and unresponsive, who are insensitive, self absorbed, who never make them feel special or valued, and who leave the other in a wake of loneliness and isolation. Or maybe they just don’t get along with their spouse. Maybe they just fight a lot, about finances and how to raise the kids and about stupid stuff that all couples fight about, but through one too many personal blows both have become bitter and resentful towards each other to the point where love has turned to hate and adoration has turned to disgust. It doesn’t have to be spectacular; it just has to have some real ramifications. And there are people in the Church who have this tremendous burden to bear and who are trying to scrape by, function, and make sense of the mess that they are in, and what do they do? They get tired and sick of it all, and they initiate divorce. And how does the Church tend to respond to this? Very poorly.
It seems that many people don’t understand how we are to Biblically view separation and divorce. They tend to be great at coming alongside their hurting friend when they are considering separation and holding them, hugging them, and assuring them that it’s all going to be ok. They are so good at supporting them and bleeding love and care and grace and understanding into them, but in this time of need how many are speaking hard Biblical truths to them? Isn’t there a way to do both? How many Pastors, Elders, or Deacons are coming alongside this wounded member of the flock and are telling them with all the grace and tenderness that they possess, that “though his actions and treatment towards you may be senseless and cruel, you cannot be obedient to Christ and to the Word of God and initiate a divorce from your husband“? That “though her actions and words towards you emasculate you and embitter you, you cannot be obedient to Christ and to the Word of God and initiate a divorce from your wife” ? How many are telling them that “Despite what they put you through, your job as a child of God and as a husband or wife is to love the Lord and to love your wife or husband. Because Biblically you have not been released from a spouse such as has been described and have no legitimate recourse other than to stay committed to them and to keep the permanence of your marriage in view.”?
Because the reality is that as Christians we are to love our spouses as Christ loves the Church. That’s the Biblical model of marriage that we are to adopt and strive for. Your marriage is theological at heart, and it says something about who Christ is, who the Church is, and how Christ treats and responds to His Church when she is His shining glory and when she drifts and brings reproach upon Him. You are to love your wife as Christ loves the church! That’s just what you’re supposed to do. And your wife is suppose to love you like Christ loves His Church. The same thing goes for the women. Both of you are to be Christ to each other, and in that way the love that is bestowed upon each other brings glory to the Father. And just because your spouse is not loving you as they ought, it does not mean that you are free to stop loving them as you ought.
We know that the love Christ has for the Church is what we are to model within marriage. In fact, it reminds me of the great love that God has for His people. At one of their darkest hours, Israel was playing the harlot and was ripping the “marriage vows” between her and the Lord to shreds. This was illustrated by Hosea and Gomer. After Gomer had desecrated the marriage covenant and had shamed herself to the point where after all her whoredom she found herself at an auction block to be sold as a slave, what did Hosea do? He purchased her for a high price. She cost him dearly. And yet he spoke tenderly to her. And he lifted her head and gently coaxed her back to him. Another good and graphic portrayal of this is Ezekiel 16. God, despite Israel’s horrific and grotesque sins against Him, still wood her. He still said “I want you”, which were actions that led to purification, re-dedication and renewal.
In short, though Israel had sinned greatly against God, because the Lord loved her so much, He drew her back to Him. God still wanted her, and never stopped despite all her infidelities. Likewise though the Church sins against Christ and acts faithlessly, His love is unfailing towards her. And like both of those, though a spouse may strain the marriage bonds, act badly, and may proverbially “play the harlot”, we are called to constantly and consistently exhibit selfless, guileless, sacrificial love towards any husband or wife who strays. Always. It’s not a naive blind eye to their faults and an “oh well, I love him anyway” but rather a fierce dedication to the permanence of this sacred marital covenant. You are to love your husband or wife as Christ loves the Church. And when Jesus Christ gives up on his Church, then I will be the first person to tell you that you’ve done all you can do and that you ought to give up on your spouse.
And yet these people come to these places of hopelessness, where they feel like they are at the end of their ropes, and they initiate a divorce. But the thing is that they have rarely done all they can to save their marriage. In fact, there will never be a divorced person who has initiated a divorce that has done all they can to save their marriage. Sometimes it’s even completely one sided. Take a woman whose husband for the last year has been behaving in the most wretched and verbally abusive way towards her. This woman will have a hard marriage, but in light of what marriage is and what God designed it to be, what they’ve suffered and endured may very well be just the beginning. We swore oaths to God that were intended to be permanent and which would withstand the good times and the bad, and we are obligated to honor them and keep them. And I understand that the example breaks down a bit because we are not God, and we cannot love each other as He loves us. We will fail, sin against each other, and lose our tempers and hold bitterness against the ones who hurt us. In fact, we probably do that do each other multiple times a day. But that is why in our trials and tribulations God is refining us. Through marriage we are being sanctified, and through the sufferings that we endure God is conforming us to the image of His Son.
This may seem like a grey area, but I don’t think it is at all. I think it’s black and white, and while we don’t have a ton of information about this in the Bible, what we do have is sure, and solid, and true for the believer. [ Matthew 5, Mark 10, Matthew 19, Luke 16] To anyone struggling with this, this is not the time to contemplate divorce. That is not an option that you have been availed with. You are to love your spouse as Christ loves you and His Church and are to be equally as committed to your spouse as Christ is to His Bride. There’s nothing in the Bible that says if your husband or wife treats you terribly for a few years and treats you like garbage that you are allowed to dissolve your marriage. The power of Christ to work His good and perfect will in this situation is sure, and the opportunity for God to turn this bad into good is evident and abundant.
That is where the Gospel comes in. As I said before, marriages aren’t chiefly about you and your happiness, but rather they are a visible representation of Christ’s love for His Church, and they exist for God’s glory. God created and designed marriage to display His glory in a way that no other event or institution ever could, and the reason that it’s the display of God is that in Christ God made a new covenant with his people whereby he promises to forgive and justify and glorify all who turn to Him from their sins and receive Christ as their Savior. We live under a new covenant which is created and sustained by Jesus’ blood-bought grace, and human marriages are meant to showcase that new-covenant grace. In fact, the way that husbands and wives display it is by resting in the experience of God’s grace and bending it out from a vertical experience with God into a horizontal experience with their spouses. That is to say, in marriage you live every hour with joyful dependence on God’s forgiveness and justification and promised future grace, and you bend it our towards your spouse hour by hour as an extension of God’s forgiveness and justification and promised help. When you do this you are living out the Gospel to the world and to your spouse, and the Church needs to be at the forefront of encouraging that and walking alongside people with that.
If you are enduring this tribulation, I wish your spouse were not so cruel towards you, but are we any less crueler towards the Lord? I wish they weren’t so callous towards you, but are we any less callous towards Christ? It doesn’t take us long with looking inward to see that the actions of a wayward spouse are nothing in comparison to our own faithlessness and infidelities and idolatries towards God. We are like the man forgiven of a debt he could not pay, as God has graciously saved us and paid a debt in blood that we would never return, and yet we turn around and can’t do even a fraction of that with our spouses? I know it’s hard, but it’s by the weight of the cross of Christ that we can do hard things. And it’s with the loving but firm support of the Church standing beside us in solidarity and prayer that we are able to live out the Gospel of grace and forgiveness to the ones who hurt us the most.
That is why the mandate is the same. Love your spouse like Christ loves the Church. Dig deep and cling to Christ and find the balance in the situation. I am not against a redemptive separation. I think there is a way you can be separate if need be while at the same time being agonizingly faithful to your marriage. Sometimes for safety and for sheer peace of mind you may have to separate from your spouse, move somewhere else, and distance yourself from a terrible situation. I think that oftentimes that is an incredibly wise thing to do, especially because there are sins that can push forbearance and forgiveness across the line. But that is not the end game, rather it is the beginning. When we are born again, Christ ruthlessly goes after our hearts. There have been times in my own life where I have spent years shutting Him out, and obstinately refused to change. I kick and I scream, and more often than not I force Him out. And yet in His faithfulness He persists, disciplines, calls, and woos me. This is so He might draw closer to me and make me more like Him. And if you can recognize a similar pattern in your own life, then all the more reason to exhibit that Christ-likeness and extend the same grace to your spouse as Christ is giving you. That is why separation must be redemptive, because it always has reconciliation as its ultimate goal.
And the Church must be right there all the time. I don’t believe these are unrealistic expectations. The leadership of the Church exists for situations like this. As Christians we have been given clear mandates by Christ on how we are to respond to divorce. Encouraging it and not confronting a couple in the process of seeing this realized is pure and simple disobedience. If the Church does not confront a man or woman who is divorcing without a Biblical mandate, then that Church is condoning sin and is partnering with sin. If the Elders and the Deacons do not get involved and begin to lovingly discipline them while all the while loving and supporting them and pouring mercy and care into them, then the Church is being disobedient and bringing reproach on itself. Because now instead of supporting and showcasing the refining and saving work of Christ towards his people as exhibited in marriage, they are furthering the destruction of this living Gospel example that God has instituted and are ultimately harming the couple. So let the family of God overwhelm them and uphold them, while at the same time having the courage to remain faithful to the commands of Christ regarding separation and divorce. The Church must intervene in the lives of people whose marriages are in shambles and who need help reconciling. They must pray fervently and prepare themselves to descend into the depths of the mess of the hurting people’s personal lives. When the Church stays silent in these matters, the work of the Holy Spirit in this is quenched. When the Shepherds stay silent, the sheep are slaughtered and scattered, and the wolves and the other creatures have no reason to believe that the Shepherd and the Overshepherd have any ability to protect and defend the sheep and have no reason to suppose that sheep are set apart in any way.
And so if you are a Pastor and you are reading this, be obedient to the Scriptures. Lovingly walk alongside your hurting sheep and pour into them all the grace and peace you can muster. Talk to them tenderly, coax them with words of love, knowing that they are having their worlds shattered and that they are in the fight for their lives and for their family’s future. Be Christ to them, and open up for them the glory and purpose of marriage, the blessed theology behind it, and the sanctification and bruising beauty that is on display when suffering people are being refined by Christ and reconciled to Christ by being obedient to Christ.
I love Romans 8. It is quite possibly my favourite chapter in the bible, and as such it contains one of my favourite pieces of scripture, which is Romans 8:28-30. This is the verse that I keep on thinking about over and over, when I consider my future and the life that’s been given to me. I draw such confidence and assurance from this promise, especially when I sit back and consider all the implications of it.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. [Romans 8:28-30 ]
I would like to really focus upon the oft memorized and quoted verse 28. The verse begins with “and we know.” This isn’t just an assumption that Paul is making, nor is he engaging in some profound philosophical speculation. Rather what Paul is doing is presenting inspired truth in accordance with the revelation given to him. He knew and therefore we now know what proceeds to be true. It’s a bold, confident statement, and there’s no doubt as to its truthfulness or validity. The next phrase is “that God causes.” This expression asserts that God is the effective agent in the equation. Whether or not you view Him as the beginning, middle, end, or some combination thereof, actor in salvation, this verse confirms that He is active as the cause behind the argument which will be presented. God’s the one causing things. He is actively working out His will in our lives. He is intimately involved in the process, and we can rejoice in that.
Before we look at what He causes, let’s look at whom it is that this verse is referencing. The promise is confirmed to “those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” We understand this to include any and every believer. Throughout Scripture, we recognize that a love toward God is foundational and however you interpret the element of His calling, it surely includes salvation. Right? This promise is for all Christian believers. So, what is being promised? What is God causing? “All things to work together for good.” This is huge and we must focus ourselves upon this truth. What God has just revealed in His Word is that He will cause everything, every single thing or multiple things, indeed all things, to work together under His direction for our greatest good. What a wonderful relief! I read verses like that and I am so comforted because that tells me that I won’t have an easy life, and not to expect one. Not only that, but it ells me that in the good and the bad, the heartache, the hurt, the joy, the pain, the elation, the sorrow, the beauty and the loss- all of it, everything I go through in life will work together for God, and will be upheld by the sovereign Savior. I can be so confident and firm in that; that even in the midst of the most confusing, crazy backwards moments of my life, that God is with me and there is a greater purpose bigger than myself in what I am doing and enduring. More importantly than that though, is that it lets me know that my salvation and my faith is secure.
Because a fundamental problem with saying that a Christian can lose his or her salvation is that we would have to say that God will not fulfill His promises, and this one in particular. To claim that a Christian at one time believed in the gospel is to say that this promise was, at least at that time, addressed to him as a recipient of its truth. Therefore, this Christian at one time loved God and God promised to work all things together for his good. And yet, that person somehow rebelled in such a way as to nullify God’s promise and fall from grace. Because how on earth is it good in any sense of the word [“all things work together for good”] to lose salvation and spend eternity in hell, separated from God? We have a flawed understanding of what constitutes good if it is not anchored to the promises of Christ’s presence. To be separated from Him is the very antithesis of good.
For those who would claim that it is possible to truly be converted and savingly believe in the gospel and then to commit apostasy and fall away from salvation, it is impossible to confidently say that God really causes “all things” to work together for good. You can’t say that, not with a straight face anyway. And so when you do that, you instead imply that “God causes all things to work in accordance with each man’s personal will.” What a far cry from the truth of Ephesians 1:11 which asserts that He “works all things after the counsel of His will.” His will, not ours.
Another aspect of this is the chain of events that God plays out. “These whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. To say that you can lose your salvation, is to substitute SOME in place of THOSE, leaving you with “some who God foreknew He also predestined, some He predestined he also called; some he called, he also justified; some he justified, he also glorified” But that is not what it says, and is not biblical at all. If God predestined and called you to be saved [justified], then God says that those he justified he WILL glorify. Glorification does not happen in this life, but in the next, and that necessitates that those he called and justified will all find their way to glory.
There’s a lot more to say on this issue, but this is what I think of all the time. On one side you have the wonderful promise of God saving you, and then sanctifying you and sustaining you until you die and go to heaven, and on the other hand you have God saving you- only after you made that first step to save yourself, and then after that God has no power or ability to keep and sustain you, but rather you hold your own salvation in your hand, and you can keep it or lose it or even throw it away depending on how you choose to respond to the bruises of life. On one side you have someone who knows that God is causing all things, especially his salvation,to work together for good, and on the other you have someone from whom God was never causing all things to work together for good for! I choose to believe in those promises of God, and take Him at his word, and trust that whatever is happening, my salvation and future secure. Because we know. And because God causes. And because all things means all.
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See him dying on the tree!
This is Christ, by man rejected;
Here, my soul, your Savior see.
He’s the long expected prophet,
David’s son, yet David’s Lord.
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
He’s the true and faithful Word.
Tell me, all who hear him groaning,
Was there ever grief like this?
Friends through fear his cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress;
Many hands were raised to wound him,
None would intervene to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him
Was the stroke that justice gave.
You who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed;
See who bears the awful load;
It’s the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and son of God.
Here we have a firm foundation;
Here the refuge of the lost;
Christ, the rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on him their hope have built.
This hymn was written by Geistliche Volkslieder and first published in 1850. This version in particular was recorded by Scott Krippayne in 2009 and is part of his exalted worship album. I think he did a wonderful job of updating the melody a bit and giving the vocals a contemporary edge. As it were, this song is loaded with scripture, and a reference to a bible verse pops out at almost every line. But the depth! Oh what depth there is to a song like this. It bleeds Christ and the gospel with every word whispered or sung. You have the theology of the cross laid out clearly, the shame of our sin, the beauty and horror of penal substitution, the mercy of his forgiveness. The song is practically a creed! I think my favourite verse is “Many hands were raised to wound him, None would intervene to save; But the deepest stroke that pierced him- Was the stroke that justice gave.” I listen to songs like this and I am blown away, and it is precisely why so many modern worship songs drive me insane, because I can just…feel the difference when I sing them. When I worship to songs like this, I feel awe and wonder and dread and relief and thankfulness bubble forth from my lips when I consider the great cost and the agony that was meted out on Christ for my behalf. When I sing 7-11 worship songs [7 verses sung 11 times each] I find that my soul cannot submerge. I can’t connect. And I can’t help but keep my guard up because I can’t trust that the next lyric I’m about to sing is biblically sound. I like a lot of modern worship songs, but so long as I continue to find treasures like this, I will always be captivated by these primary, and the truth they proclaim [Christ-centred and cross-focused absolutes], will always be my chief aim in worship.
I just got back from a meeting with Pastor Ed Drewlo, who is the transitional pastor for the Alliance church, and I have to say that I had a fantastic time. Few things in life make me as happy and excite me as much as talking theology, and the gospel, and talking about spiritual things with a brother or sister in Christ. This is the first time we met, and we devoted time to sharing my background story, my interest in the faith, salvation, sermons, vision, discernment, church discipline, Tim Keller, small group bible studies, divorce, Jeremiah 29:13, homiletics, and most importantly, the impact of the gospel message for Fort McMurray. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful way to spend an hour? As well, I found him very open and engaging. We talked about the church some, and he asked my opinion on a few issues, which I was glad to do. I’m hoping to line up an interview with him sometime in the next few weeks, and so hopefully that will occur. All in all, I hope it was productive, and that much good will come out of it- to the glory of God.
The sermon starts off talking about the approach of advent season, and how the word “advent” is Latin for arrival, or coming. In like manner, she says that “this is the season where we look at the arrival or coming of Jesus, and not only the arrival we think of at Christmastime…. We also look forward to the future coming of our Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ coming back to fully redeem the earth, to fully redeem the world for the last time. And that’s another arrival and coming that we look forward to. And everyday we have the arrival and the coming of the Holy Spirit, coming into our hearts and coming into our lives and redeeming us and purifying us. And so this idea of advent is looked at during Christmas season because of Jesus coming to earth, but the concept of Jesus coming and the arrival should be a concept that we have all the time because Christ is continually coming to us, the holy spirit, and God will come to us in the end.”
She talks about how we begin with the idea of hope and expectancy, and that we need to refine our idea of hope. In order to add a particular dimension of hope which she wishes to emphasize, she uses the word hope in Spanish, which translated means “to wait”…and has the sense of expectancy coupled with patience. It is said that hope involves forward thinking; or what’s to come, and that to dwell in the past is to totally negate hope. At this point she uses an analogy of a rower who was rowing and rowing, and he realized that he wasn’t going anywhere and the scenery wasn’t changing. This consternated him for a moment, until he realized that he wasn’t going anywhere because he was still tied to the dock. Val uses this analogy to give the picture of dwelling in the past- so that despite our best efforts we won’t go anywhere because we’re stuck [In the past].
To nail this down a bit, we are told that the first step of taking hold of hope is letting go of the past. She makes the claim that “Jesus said I’ve forgiven your sins, as far as the East is from the West.” and that we have to let go of our sins so we can look towards the future. She spends a but of time distinguishing between dwelling vs hoping, and that hope is not a happy, cheery idea that good is to come. She says that “Hope is God’s power in you to look past that and know there’s a future coming. That there is good and that God has a purpose for you. Because in Jeremiah 29:11 God says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” that’s what hope is; it is that power to look past the now, and to look past the past, and into the future and know that God is coming.”
Turning a corner, she quotes from 1 Corinthians 13;12-13. “ For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” and says that when we read about hope, it’s often coupled with faith and love, and that in a way it’s a Trinity of sorts, each functioning intermingled and yet distinct from each other. And this is an excellent point, as this theme does indeed come up quite a bit in the New Testament. [Note. We see this in Romans 5:1–5; Galatians 5:5–6; Ephesians . 4:2–5; Colossians l. 1:4–5; and 1 Thessalonians. 1:3; 5:8.]
To wrap it up, she then spends a fair amount of time reflecting on the relationship between the three, using two analogies. One analogy is that of a creature in motion, whereby faith is the vision and purpose and goal, and that it is our road. Hope is the power to get us to our destination, and love is the action of moving and the action that we expend to get to our destination. She says that hope is our endurance, that Christ is who he says he was. She further elaborates, saying that if someone has hope and excitement and endurance, but no faith, they don’t go anywhere and run themselves ragged, because all they have is a bunch of action and energy with no direction. The other analogy is that of the internal combustion of engines, how it all works, and how without love, it would be like your internal combustion is happening, but your rod and crank are broken. or that if you have faith and you have hope, but you do nothing with it, then you will go nowhere and you might even explode. When we look at hope in our lives, the more compression we have in our lives, the more pressure we have, that’s when the hope is more powerful.
This sermon starts off with a bang. I’ve quoted her at length because I found what she said to be true , and yet at the same time I’m not sure what she means. That is to say when I put the best construction on things, I want to pump my fists and let out an “amen”. But when I look at the statements themselves, I see telltale signs of imprecision. For example; does the Holy Spirit daily” arrive” in our hearts and lives, or is he already there, and arrived there when we became regenerated? What does it mean to “arrive” in this context? Or how is he daily redeeming us? Hasn’t Christ already redeemed us from the curse of the law and regenerated us? Why do we need to be daily redeemed, and why is the Holy Spirit the one doing it? I think the Holy Spirit had it’s hand in that initial act of regeneration, but I’m not sure I would understand how he redeems us everyday. Nor do I understand how Christ continually comes to us. I believe the Holy Spirit is daily active, stirring up all sorts of things inside of us, such as affection and love for Christ, and that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness to Christ- but how that practically translates to Christ coming to us is not something I understand. I would understand and agree with those points a lot better if they were worded justs a little bit differently, but I think the language is a little imprecise, and it took a second listen to catch, and it threw me off. But that is a nitpick. I think most people understood exactly what she meant, as did I in a greater scheme. But I just think there is the blurring of a few categories there, not on purpose, and so it caused me to do a double take. But the point about Jesus coming back, and how we are to wait expectantly for him, and for a this daily interaction between us and God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit, that was quite excellent.
As well, to get all bibley, at one point she says ““Jesus said I’ve forgiven your sins, as far as the East is from the West.” That statement is not true, however, as it was not Jesus who said it but rather it is a quotation from King David. He was the one who wrote in Psalms 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west,so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Now I of course believe that statement to have been divinely inspired by God, and is an absolute truth about the nature of forgiveness and the character of Christ towards forgiveness, but that doesn’t change the fact that he did not say it. But again- I know full well what she means, and I know and appreciate the truth she is desiring to communicate, but in the interest of accuracy and precision that had to be pointed out.
Lastly was her thoughts on the relationship between faith and hope and love. I definitely learned something here, which was how often these three seem to come up as a theme in Paul’s writings. I knew of a few spots where they were mentioned together, but I wasn’t aware of the extent in which they are used. At first I wasn’t sure, and so spent about an hour doing word searches and using a concordance and finding the links between these three, and I definitely learned a lot in the process. And I think this came through very well with her second analogy, about the internal combustion engine. I enjoyed this part tremendously, if for no other reason than that she is a very gifted communicator. Unfortunately as I am not car savvy I don’t think I was able to appreciate the analogy as well as the rest of the church seemed to, nor was I able to understand it very well [because I don't even know what a crank is or does, much let a piston or a rod] The majority of them did seem to understand it though, and they seemed quite amused by her describing the process, which she in turn had been taught by her dad. And when I roll through the intermarriage between faith hope and love, this was bang on, as much as I understand it anyways. I think I had more luck with the former, though even then it was a little less defined, but because I get the concept it sank in with me.
Though one thing which threw me off a bit was her definitions of faith, hope, and love. This is mainly because while we were provided with her definition of hope, we weren’t with faith and love. And these are such big words, with such a broad range of meanings and understandings, and if we don’t nail them down then people can take them anyway they wish. Even with myself, I know I took them to be the way I though she meant, which made them fit, but without those boundaries I could have taken them to mean something else, in which the whole idea would be misguided at best and heretical at worse. I don’t think for a second though that she meant to convey them in that way, but the result is still the same. When you preach a whole sermon on faith hope and love, you need to attach to those terms clearly delineated definitions, otherwise you’re prone to end up with a jumbled mess of confusion, and you end up working with these vague, amorphous, undefined terms and ideas and people will attach and apply whatever they want to them, which is not what you want happening. As well, when looking at those verses and the relationship between faith and hope and love, we see that they themselves are not always used the dame way. What they take for faith one one verse means something completely different in another, and so that lack of…clarity….is liable to throw people off, including myself.
As well, I would have like to see the understanding between faith hope and love elaborated and rendered in practical way. That is to say, what steps can I do, or what can I learn, or what can I pray that Christ refines in me so that I can see this played out in a practical, earthy, nitty gritty way? How can I apply these revelations to my heart and life, and to my interactions with God? How can I make this relevant to me, and what tie-ins does this have with the hope, faith and love of the Gospel? This was a good sermon, but I felt like I was missing the last 10 minutes where she applies it to the Christian walk so that I might be able to prayerfully consider my own actions and attitude when I am confronted with a situation where I have hope but no love or faith, or when I have faith but no love or hope. It’s almost like I was given the tools, but no explanation on how to use them. The sermon was only 22 minutes long, and I think if she had the usual 45 minutes that this would have been fleshed out a little better, and I would have had more to sink my teeth in.
To conclude, I enjoyed this sermon quite a bit, though I just felt there were a few components missing that would have rendered this a fantastic sermon. And while it’s true that some of my critiques were nitpicks [except for the not defining the terms- that one stood out as posing a legitimate problem and one which I think was my biggest and most problematic critique] I think she did a good job nontheless.
I have been thinking about this verse today, mainly because I am doing a sermon review where it was quoted. This tends to be one of the big verses that everyone has an affinity for, and it show up on coffee mugs and t-shirts and other trinkets. This also seems to be many people’s “life verse” and this is the one they cling to in times of troubles or when they are despairing and when they are faced with trials and tribulations. It seems to function as a mantra, almost, as sort of a cornerstone promise that if they put their faith in it, and affirm it’s eventuality, they will ultimately get through. That is one of it’s uses. Another is by prosperity preachers and prosperity preacher-lite, who assure us that God has great plans to bless us and see us overcome our trials. They would say that God desires to see us wealthy and happy and debt free, that more than anything he wants to bless us and heap upon us all sorts of material and relational excellence. Then there are the preachers who say that this is God’s intention to the world at large, to the heathens and the pagans. They would say that this verse was meant for all of humanity, that God has good plans for them to give everyone a hope and a future-“So why don’t you come up here and ask Jesus into your heart so you can experience those good plans and that hope and future and all those wonderful blessings he has for you?”
I suppose I could go on forever on this, but the point is that everyone wants a piece of this verse, and that this is always about them and for them and etc. There’s only one problem with that; Jeremiah 29:11-13 isn’t for them and neither is the rest of this chapter. This is not a verse that people can claim as a promise to them directly, nor is it for all people at all times. This chapter was written for a specific people, at a specific time, for a specific purpose. Allow me to explain. First of all, we see in the very first verse who the words are being addressed to, which are the elders, priests, prophets and captive who were exiled thousands of years ago. In verse 4 it gets even more direct when it says “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon”. This should be our first sign that what is about to proceed is not for us, at least not directly. We cannot force ourselves into the context of what God is about to say, nor would we try to weasel our way in so that we can be the recipients of some beautiful words that God has for those people.
Not only were these words directed to this group of people at that time, but these words are also to a people under a specific and unique covenant that we can never be under. It is in the context of covenantal theology, to the Jewish covenantal people, who existed in a framework of direct punishments and blessings from God in relation to their obedience and disobedience. If they followed the law, God blessed them. If not, God purposefully sent enemies to kill them and their families and raze the lands and bring them low as punishment for their disobedience and harlotry. At this time, they were in exile because of the consequence of one of these covenant breaks, and it was a holy punishment from God. And so the context of these words in that respect give us even more reason for us to be excluded from this. The next verse is verse 5, and we see, unsurprisingly, that no one is claiming those words. No one living in apartments are reading verse 5 “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit” and thinking to themselves that they must do that, that they need to get houses and plant gardens. They’re not thinking “I have to get out of this loft and plant myself some carrots!” No, in fact they disregard that verse and that commandment from God- that directive, because they hopefully] understand that those are God’s instructions for those people at that time, and not for them.
And here is the crux of the matter. Verse 11 starts off with the word “For”. What does that tell us? That the preceding verses set the context for this one, and that this one is understood in light of the former. Its so disingenuous to start it off at verse 11 and not pay heed to verse 10, which explains how verse 11 is being understood. “ This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Reading that should be enough for people to put the brakes on their use of this verse and carefully consider how it should be used and spoken of. To draw a comparison, it would be like hearing “After I take off your saddle, brush you down, and clean your hoofs and feed you some oats, I’m going to declare my great love and affection for you, over all the earth, so that the nations might see how blessed you are and how much I value you” and saying “ Man….that guy really values me and blesses me.” No. It doesn’t work that way. You’re not a horse, you’re a man. Likewise you’re not an ancient Jewish captive exiled in Babylon and living under a covenantal judgement; you’re a Christian living in the present age, and you have enough legitimate promises from God, and enough legitimate words and assurances of love and affection from Christ that you don’t need to go off and try to jack those ones and pin them to your shirt.
Touching up on verse 12-14, and including the last part of verse 11, we read “…. plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Again, right after the “money verse” is a direct reference that if and when these people seek God, he will bring them back from captivity where they were banished and killed, and bring them to that place they were before they were exiled. I don’t see anyone claiming that verse and trying to insert themselves into that footnote. Four verse later in 17 and 18 we see God saying “Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad. And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them” It would seem that these verses don’t work well as an embroidered wall-hanging, because I have never heard someone speak of God’s wonderful and just and terrible wrath in the same way they do of the verses just a few sentences back.
The point is that we need to utilize extreme care when we take an individual verse out of context, and we need to ask ourselves how it would look if we did the same to other verses. The takeaway from passage like this is not God’s totally awesome and radtastically cool plan for you, but rather God’s radical faithfulness to His people [which translates into deliverance] even in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him [which always results in judgment from which they need to be delivered]–a common theme running through the prophetic writings. Of course, this [calling as it does for radical obedience, that is faithfulness, to God] is much more sobering than the well-meaning but ultimately vacuous high that a contextless Jeremiah 29:11 produces, and thus such considerations are not nearly as popular. Look- If Jeremiah 29:11-13 applies to you and all Christian, then by the same logic Jeremiah 44:27 should also apply to all Christians. It reads, “I am watching over them for harm and not for good, and all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt will meet their end by the word and by famine until they are completely gone.” There’s just no other way to look at it.
I’m not saying that the whole chapter of Jeremiah 29 isn’t useful or beneficial. Indeed, I think it is and monumentally so. While those promises are not for us directly, I think they serve as an incredible reminder to us of God’s nature and character. Because we find these verses reflected elsewhere. In Deuteronomy 4:29 “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” We know that Christ loves us, and has died for us, and that we are adopted sons of God and friends of Jesus and that there is a legitimate, deep relationship there whereby we depend on him and cling to his mercy. And we also know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Even the hard, painful, moments and seasons of agony and distress- there is assurance that God is working those things out to give us a hope and a future. And so I think if you’re looking at those verses in terms of “These verses reflect God’s character- that he had plans for his people to take them out of exile once he had finished punishing them . We see that as they turned to him, his wrath was assuaged and his mercy was on display, and his loving kindness was made manifest” And I definitely think we can and should appreciate the beauty of those verses, and give glory to God for them. But we don’t step in and say that God was speaking those verses to us, in our situation, and that we are the objects of this particular proclamation. These are not promises to us. These verses are not about us and for us, and because of this, unless we are ready to start accepting the other verses directly before and directly after these verses, and unless we are ready to start accepting the whole chapter and book of Jeremiah as formative and binding on us, we’re going to be deceiving ourselves. We need to start being honest, and looking at scriptures in an honest way, and not trying to be the center of every chapter or verse.
Alliance Church. Pastor Ed Drewlo. December 20, 2009.
So it seems to me that Ed Drewlo is an interim pastor that is overseeing the transition in the Alliance Church as the head pastor steps down and the new ministry takes form. During his introduction he mentions a survey that he intends to give his congregation to get an idea of where they’re at and in which direction they’re pulling and so forth, and I actually think this is a good idea. It’s an effective way to get a bead on the pulse of the congregation and to serve as an important step in addressing the needs of the sheep, and so I really hope that works for them.
In any case, Pastor Ed starts off talking about how tradition has embellished the story of Christmas. He talks about the misconceptions regarding the story, such as barnyard animals, angels singing, the amount of wise men, etc. Once this has been dismantled, he breaks down the actual biblical record and keeps it simple and recounts the facts that we know for sure. This is done in a straightforward manner, and from an actual bible translation, [and not The Message Bible] which was nice to see. In this though, the direction he’s heading is calling attention to the shepherds who were watching their flocks, and how they shared the word and news of Jesus. As this is his focus, he draws a comparison between us and the shepherds. In this case, angels had the privilege of announcing to the shepherds, the shepherds had the privilege of announcing to the world the good news about Jesus’ birth, and likewise we have the same honour and privilege now of announcing it to our fellow man.
He notes that in Luke 2:8-12 it was the angels who passed the good news to the shepherds,and that God could have used angels again and again if he wanted to, but instead he left it to us to do, and this is a sacred responsibility. [Matthew 4:19, Matthew 19:28, Acts 1:8]. [Great point, btw!] Pastor Ed then waxes eloquent on the magnitude and the profound significance of Christ coming to earth, and how there is no greater news than that, and that is what is really important in this world. [See notes in Reflection]
He spends a bit of time talking about why it’s important for us to be displaying the incarnation of Christ when we share and live this good news, and then delves into the history of the world a bit. He talks about there are many ways to share the good news [ 4 spiritual laws, romans road, bridge illustration] and that in the last 30 or 40 years we’re being confronted with post-modernism, and so we need to know how to share the good news in a post modern world. He talks about the three era’s of the world; pre-modern, where God was the centre of all things [think Christendom up until the 17th century. The modern era, where man was the centre of all things [rationalism, age of enlightenment] . And then early in last century we have post modernism, where self became the centre of all things. This is marked by a rejection of absolutes, such as morals and beliefs and a belief that there is no truth, or that truth cannot be known. As it relates to religion, there would be a rejection of structure and authority, and they would say that all religions are equally valid and true. Post moderns would argue this even if they are contradictory, or they might say that something may be true for one person, but not for the other. This makes this worldview very pluralistic, and one where the only sin is that of intolerance.
Which begs his question; how can we tell this good news about Jesus in a post modern world? He says that true Christians know that the good news of Christmas is good news for the whole world, and that we cannot be intimidated, because the world of Jesus’ day wasn’t receptive to the good news either, and that it’s always been a challenge to share the good news. In any case, we can share the good news because there is opportunity in this, and that as a result of living in a postmodern world there are a few advantages. These would be things like the fact that people are open to spiritual stuff, science as all knowing has been dethroned, people are interested in stories and the big narrative, people are hungry for relationships, and that they are looking for reality and despise superficiality, which Christianity lived out well offers.
Because of this, the reality of the Christmas story is being authentically demonstrated in the lives of believers. Like the shepherds of old, we are the messengers. It’s the best news in the world and people will want to be associated with that if we share it and live it our incarnationally, and so we ought to do so, and rejoice that like the angels and the shepherds we can share the good news.
As a whole, I found this a pretty good sermon. From a quick homiletic point of view, I found him engaging and his words carefully measured, which tended to make his points very salient. Furthermore, I like that he stuck close to his text, though I would have preferred a bit more interaction with it. Nonetheless, there were no rabbit trails and he seemed to follow a well-conceived outline that enabled him to hammer away at a central thesis, and I appreciated the organization it brought to the sermon. It was very…uncluttered…and made it so that I was able to recall it a few days later in a fair amount of detail. That is actually somewhat of a rarity these days, and so props for the skillful preaching.
As for the content itself; it was good stuff. I like that he went after all the myths and placed the birth is a stripped-down historical sense, free of the silly traditional constraints that we’ve imposed on it. Though a critique I would of the greater sermon is that he never really expanded on the good news of the Christmas story, which was that Christ came into this world to die and save us from our sins so that we may be pardoned from hell and rather live eternally with him. The fact that Jesus came to earth is great news, but that’s only part of the story. He’s arguably been here before, in the form of various theophanies, and so that in and of itself is not radical. The good news is not that he’s come to earth, but rather why he came to earth. Luke 2:11 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” It seems like this was assumed, but I would have preferred this to have been expanded upon and incorporated as the climax, so that people know what they’re sharing and why. As well, this will help us have a firm grasp of our soteriology, which is of paramount importance in sharing the gospel. The birth of Jesus isn’t the best news in the world, rather his death and resurrection, and why, is.
Two more tiny points, was that he said at one point that “We settle for less engaging pursuits like simply sending money so others can do it for us.” Not all people are called to do certain work, and as a result sometimes giving money is an incredibly engaging pursuit and should not be classified as a “lesser pursuit.” The call on a man to support the missionary is no less honourable or noble or engaging or virtuous as the work of the missionary and the missionary himself. Secondly, he stated that systematic theology was developed in the modern era, which is not true. People were understanding and classifying theological ideas far before then, especially with the Patristics and the Nicene and Ante-Nicene fathers [Irenaeus, Origen, Dionysius] in their Christology and their defence against the gnostic, as well as other theological matters This carries on for centuries, where we see it blooming in the pre-modern era, with two notables such as Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. And so it was already developed and in full swing before then, so I’m not sure why he would make the comment.
Though I did like his brief synopsis of post-modernism. I think it’s important for people to know about this, and to be able to see what’s going on under the surface of people’s minds. As well, his thoughts on our need to live incarnationally are right on. We don’t have a dead faith, but rather we have been made alive in Christ and have been regenerated, justified and are being sanctified, and so we ought to reflect the work of the Holy Spirit inside of us. People are going to see that, and respond to it, and when we preach and share the gospel they will see the gospel lived out in us.
And so other than a few minor quibbles, this is a sermon worth listening to, especially for it’s enthusiasm and earnestness for sharing the good news of Christmas, which is really the good news of the gospel. As I was taking a few days to think about it, I wondered about my own passion for the gospel, and for sharing the good news. I wondered at my level of excitement, if I was more like the angels and shepherds who received it and promptly rejoiced and shared it with others, or if I take for granted my own salvation and keep it hidden and on the quiet side. I suppose don’t keep it hidden, but I’m not out proclaiming the good news as much as I should or could, and I think this sermon served to stir that up in me a bit, for that desire to me more active and engaged in that sense.