Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"If Satan took over a city..."
Recently, I have been working through Michael Horton's latest book, Christless Chrisrianity. In the opening chapter, Horton raises a thought provoking question: "What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city?" He answered this question by quoting the late Donald Grey Barnhouse who raised the same question many years ago. Barnhouse speculated that "if Satan took over [a city], all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, 'Yes, sir' and 'No, ma'am,' and the churches would be full every Sunday...where Christ is not preached."
When I first read this I thought this is exactly how subtle the devil works. Satan is not opposed to a Christless morality. He is not going to oppose churches where the sermon every Sunday is "be good and God will bless you" - "don't drink, don't smoke, love your family, and above all, know that God loves you!" The devil will applaud a message like this. Indeed, he will promote it so strongly that it will end up becoming a national best-selling book; and it will be heard all over the country on T.V. by a whimsical soft spoken speaker, who would be the kind of person you would like to have as your next door neighbor. The point of all this is simple: where Christ is not proclaimed in all the glory of His saving work the devil will not be present as an adversary.
Michael Horton made this observation:
"As provocative as Barnhouse's illustration remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point made throughout the history of redemption. Wherever Christ is truly and cleary being proclaimed, Satan is most actively present in opposition. The wars between the nations and enmity within families and neighborhoods is but the wake of the serpent's tail as he seeks to devour the church. Yet even in this pursuit, he is more subtle than we imagine. He lulls us to sleep as we trim our message to the banality of popular culture and invoke Christ's name for anything and everything but salvation from the coming judgment...while the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, the assimilation of the church to the world silences the witness. "

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Treating Others Gently
One of my all-time favorite Christian writers is Jerry Bridges. His books have been a massive resource for helping me understand more clearly the biblical doctrine of sanctification and how it is "fleshed-out" every day in our lives. I would recommend to any fellow believer to read everything Bridges has written!
Among his most helpful books have been two works entitled, The Pursuit of Holiness & The Pursuit of Godliness. In the Pursuit of Godliness, Bridges concentrates on what it means to live a godly life. And to unpack what a godly life looks like he devotes each chapter to a particular Christ-like virtue. One of the chapters that was most illuminating and convicting for me dealt with the godly virtue of "gentleness" (see Gal.5:22,23; Col.3:12). After I had read that chapter, I thought to myself: "I have never heard a single sermon on this virtue nor have I ever heard any Christian (including myself) talk about this virtue as a need for growth in one's Christian life."
To define what gentleness is, Jerry Bridges wrote: "it is mildness in dealing with displays a sensitive regard for others and is careful never to be unfeeling for the rights of others." From this definition, he went on to describe it with this word-picture: "Gentleness is illustrated by the way we would handle a carton of exquisite crystal glasses; it is the recognition that human personality is valuable but fragile, and must be handled with care."
Now the obvious question at this point would be: "How do we see this grace of Christlikeness specifically in action?" Answering this question, Jerry Bridges gave five definite traits of how gentleness works itself out in daily Christian experience. This section of his chapter was what nailed me to the wall with how incredibly weak I am in this fruit of the Spirit. Consider these examples of gentleness at work and ask yourself: "Am I a gentle Christian?"
"A profile of gentleness as it should appear in our lives will first include actively seeking to make others feel at ease, or "restful," in our presence. We should not be so strongly opinionated or dogmatic that others are afraid to express their opinions in our presence. Instead, we should be sensitive to others' opinions and ideas.
[Second], gentleness will demonstrate respect for the personal dignity of the other person. Where necessary, it will seek to change a wrong opinion or attitude by persuasion and kindness, not by domination or intimidation.
[Third], gentleness will also avoid blunt speech and an abrupt manner, instead seeking to answer everyone with sensitivity and respect, ready to show consideration toward all. The gentle Christian does not feel he has the liberty to "say what I think and let the chips fall where they may." Instead he is sensitive to the reactions of others to his words, and considerate of how others may feel about what he says. When he finds it necessary to wound with his words, he also seeks to bind up those wounds with words of consolation and encouragement.
[Fourth], the gentle Christian will not feel threatened by opposition or resent those who oppose him. Instead, he will seek to gently instruct, looking to God to dissolve the oppoisition, just as Paul taught Timothy to do in chapter 2 of his second letter.
[Finally], the gentle Christian will not degrade or belittle or gossip about the brother who falls into some sin. Instead, he will grieve for him and pray for his repentance. If it is appropriate for him to become personally involved with the erring brother, he will seek to restore him gently, as Paul instructs in Galatians 6, aware that he himself is also subject to temptation."
In the light of these examples of how we treat others "gently" as believers in Christ, it should be quite obvious that this is a much needed grace to be excercised in ALL of our relationships - at home, at work, in the church and out in the world. Sadly though, it is a missing virtue among most Christians. May God grow us all to be a more "gentle" people.

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