Another September 11th has passed, a date of national and global significance ever since the terrifying events which darkened that bright morning back in 2001. Sadly and predictably, as the years have gone by, many of us are having a harder time remembering that day in a way that honors its significance, despite our heart-felt promises to “never forget.” More and more, the day has become a sadly but briefly recalled fact of history, and with each anniversary, we’re dedicating fewer and fewer moments to a fading, wistful contemplation of where we were and what we were doing the morning it felt like the sky was not only falling on us, but attacking us. But for people who had friends or family right there in the midst of the blood and fire of that nightmare of a day, the memories stay fresh and vital. Every September 11th anniversary makes that day in 2001 feel like it was yesterday. They are the ones who are keeping the promise to never forget. We should learn from their example.
I’m in the midst of one of my favorite times of the year. I have the privilege every summer of serving as a teacher, and this year as the onsite director, of our denomination’s “Theological Foundations for Youth” program. This program of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America brings rising high school seniors from all over the country to the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh to deepen their walk with Christ and their understanding of the reason Christ raised up this particular branch of his church. Through intense classes, times of singing, prayer, and service to local congregations, and lots of time for students to ask and gain godly insight regarding their soul’s deepest and sometimes darkest doubts and questions, this three week program is really something special. But some would say it’s not about reality at all.
In times of significant cultural upheaval, it’s common and eminently understandable to seek whatever stability and calm we can find within our lives and to do some good soul searching about the way we’ve chosen to structure them. Are we contributing or perhaps even capitulating to the nervous, noisy way of life we see all around us? In a cultural moment tyrannized by all things digital and overloaded with a constant bombardment of information, so much of it shallow-minded if not salacious, have we neglected a simpler, more richly satisfying and God-honoring way of life? Have we unknowingly – or perhaps knowingly! – imbibed the fuss and fury of a fallen world put on fast forward? These are important questions to consider, and I’m afraid certain trends among Christians are offering overly simplistic answers in their worthy quest for a simple life filled with spiritual substance.
In my undergrad days, I along with a team of other students made weekly visits to a juvenile detention center in order to talk about the Lord with the incarcerated young men and women. It was there that I met a young man who had openly and eagerly aligned himself with the malevolent being whom Scripture refers to as Satan. Like most people, this young man was a lot bigger than I was (and am). We were sitting across from each other, and he kindly leaned his hulking torso toward me so we could look eye to eye. He was politely disinterested in what I and the other Christian college students had to say about Jesus and the Bible, but I was utterly fascinated with his story.
Geneva College was privileged to host on February 8th Dr. D.A. Carson, who spent the day on campus in various venues enriching our understanding of God’s Holy Word and by God’s grace helping us to grow in our love for the one true and living God. Carson is easily and without hyperbole described as one of the most significant Evangelical scholars of the past century. What I love most about his work is that when I’m done reading his publications or hearing him lecture or preach, I’m certainly impressed by his learning; but I’m more impressed by the Savior about whom he’s teaching us, and the Scriptures he’s expounding to tell us of that Savior. Here’s some of what happened during his visit –
Have you ever met a mature Christian? That question’s not meant to be snarky, no matter how many smirks it may inspire. It’s meant to call attention to the truly special experience of interacting with people who sincerely (and sometimes unknowingly) exude from the core of their being what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5). Their demeanor is calm and calming. Ordinary conversations with them feel holy, and when you leave, you feel understood, taken seriously, and loved. These people scare the stuff out of me.
Christians call Jesus the Redeemer, and he is, but we sometimes forget that biblically, to be redeemed means to be ruled. To be redeemed means more than being brought back from bad circumstances; it means being bought back, transferred from one allegiance to another. There’s no redemption through Jesus without a renunciation of our deepest craving since humankind’s collapse in the Garden of Eden: autonomy. Watch for this pattern in society – and in your own heart! So much of what popular culture demands in the name of freedom is better understood as autonomy, literally, self-law. We want autonomy so bad that we even fantasize about extraordinary beings who can provide and protect it.
The following is an adapted version of a message I preached during the chapel service at Geneva College, just hours after our nation elected our new President. In God’s kindness, the message seemed to strengthen some stricken hearts. Whatever your emotional state after an exhausting election season, I hope it’s a blessing to you, too. It was written to be spoken, but hopefully comes across clearly enough in this format. Or, click here for an audio link if you like.
A loss can be very hard to take; but sometimes, so can a win.
We have a new President of the United States. He won in dramatic fashion, in the early morning hours, and like the campaign season itself, the angst-ridden process left the American public emotionally and physically exhausted, and for so many of us, feeling profoundly sick. One of the saddest parts of this sick feeling is that had the election gone the opposite way, it likely would have left us feeling much the same, though for different reasons. Either way this race would have concluded, there was no way for a victory at the top of the ticket which was not also a reason to weep. We’ve seen so much […]
Need a break from election-season stress? How about embracing the break God built into creation from the beginning? The Sabbath day is such a beautiful gift from God. Through it, the giver of every good and perfect gift calls us to “cease”, to step away from life as we live it Monday through Saturday, to rest our souls in our Savior through public and private worship, and to rest our bodies through laying aside the work and recreation appropriate to the rest of the week. This election season especially, more than any I can remember, maybe more than any in our nation’s history – that’s for historians to decide – we are a stressed electorate. We need a break.
I love questions. Want to know why? Partly because of their power to reveal hearts. The question I just asked revealed your heart toward me and this article. Though I and others may never know what it revealed, the question forced you to see things within you – good, kind, patient things, I hope! Sometimes, questions are so powerful that they become heart-revealing statements. For instance, “What’s your problem?” That’s not so much a question as a statement indicating irritation. Yes, the sentence ends with a question mark, but the meaning often requires a period or an exclamation point to be properly understood. Questions can reveal the hearts of those being interrogated, and they can reveal the hearts of the interrogators, too. Scripture is full of heart-revealing questions, including some of the most powerful questions ever stated. Let’s look at a few of them to see what’s going on in our souls.