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Author: Sean

Deserted by God?

Deserted by God?

I’ve been reading a lot over the last few months since I lost my job teaching Bible. One reason for this is that I have a lot more time. But another reason for this is the need to work through some issues that I’ve never had to deal with before. You would think a trip though cancer surgery and treatment might fix a lot of  aspects of your perspective on life, but losing a job brings on a whole different set of difficulties, especially when it’s in a ministry setting.

One of the books that has been a positive help is Sinclair Ferguson’s Deserted by God? The sub-title sets the theme for the book: Hope for all who do not sense the Lord’s sustaining presence during life’s most troublesome times. I believe that Dr. Ferguson succeeds in giving that hope. In order to encourage others, I want to proved some of the highlights of each chapter, hoping that you will not just read my excerpts, but purchase the book and work through the whole thing yourself. I believe you will be blessed in that endeavor.

The following excerpts come from the first chapter, Can Anyone Help Me?:

An important reason for approaching this subject by means of Bible study is that when we are discouraged, or face difficulties, or feel that God has deserted us, our great temptation is to turn upon ourselves. We lose our sense of perspective, our objectivity. We need to be brought out of ourselves and have our gaze redirected from what we are and do to what God is and does. This alone will provide the reorientation we all need for spiritual health.

We are all too familiar with Christians who have been told by secular counselors that their problem is that they read the Bible. They need to avoid it. But, on the other hand, sadly, the way many Christians read the Bible and view the Christian life does in fact aggravate their difficulties…

…Their counsel is to get rid of the Bible, and the God of the Bible, when the true solution is to learn how properly to understand the Bible and to discover the God of infinite grace and compassion who speaks to us in it.

Most of us come to a book like this looking for help for ourselves or others: as quick a fix as possible. But quick counsel will only see us through from one crisis to the next. We need long-term help, and that can only be provided by long-term measures. Disciplined, thoughtful, prayerful study of God’s word, undertaken with the Spirit’s help is what we need. It will change the way we think, and consequently the way we live, and ultimately the way we feel.

I do not believe it is possible to overstress the importance of this principle. Of course it is unglamorous; but there is much about the Christian life that is unglamorous. The important thing is not its glamor, but that it is God’s way. And because it is his way, it works.

A cleansing process takes place when our lives are thus exposed to the influence of God’s word in Scripture.

Most of all, Scripture refocuses our hearts and minds on the God whose character is revealed in it. Knowing him better is our deepest need. Meeting that need will put all our other needs – our doubts, discouragements, depression, disconsolation – in their proper context.

Flaming Ideas

Flaming Ideas

I miss teaching. Getting up on school days with nowhere to go has been very hard over the past few months. But more than that, I miss what I was teaching – the Biblical, Reformed view of Scripture, Doctrine, and History to teenagers who especially need this, as many of them prepare for college and all of them prepare for life. In a world where there are people who actually think they can change the DNA of their bodies by either imagining it or by surgery, we need people who can address that issue, and others, without compromising their Christian beliefs, but who can also show the compassion and love of Jesus Christ in the process. That’s what I miss.

I’ve been reading through Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality again, after having read it first about thirty years ago. It still holds up, as does most of what Schaeffer wrote. In addressing how salvation affects our lives, our thinking, and our thought lives, Schaeffer has this to say:

The preaching of the gospel is ideas, flaming ideas brought to men, as God has revealed them to us in Scripture. It is not a content-less experience internally received, but it is content-full ideas internally acted upon that makes the difference. So when we state our doctrines, they must be ideas, and not just phrases. We cannot use doctrines as though they were pieces to a puzzle. True doctrine is an idea revealed by God in the Bible and an idea that fits properly into the external world as it is, and as God made it, and to man as he is, as God made him, and can be fed back through man’s body into his thought-world and there acted upon. The battle for people is centrally in the world of thought.

This is what I was trying to accomplish in my teaching. This was why I got up every day. It was a great privilege and joy to be able to do this, however imperfectly, for seventeen years. This is why it’s so encouraging to read Francis Schaeffer and others like him – they’ve been through the battles, too, and they held firm.

We’ve got flaming ideas from God to share with people for His glory and their help! It’s just a shame that others, who should know better, don’t always see this or hold steady.

Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis

Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis

I have just finished reading the first volume of the Sermons of John Calvin on the book of Genesis. This is a modern translation by Rob Roy McGregor that reads quickly and smoothly. I say that, even though it took me five years to read it. But I probably read about one of these sermons every month or so, so that comes out about right since there are 49 sermons. The book is big – over 800 pages – but it is an easy 800 pages.

I bought this book back in October of 2013, while I was in the middle of radiation therapy for oral cancer. I distinctly remember the enjoyment of reading those first chapters while in the midst of great physical pain. Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis have traveled with me through the whole five year period of cancer treatment.

While there is nothing particularly flashy or earth-shaking about Calvin’s sermons, there is a definite solidity about them. It’s like he has the regular people in front of him in mind as he preaches (which we should all try to do) and not a room full of academics. He is constantly bringing Biblical themes and ideas before his people and urging his congregation, “This is what we need to remember,” and then he reinforces it some more.

The fact that these sermons were preached daily, and not weekly, also serves to give us some insight into what was going on in Geneva in the mid-1500’s. How many of today’s preachers could give us such solid doctrine and application on a daily basis without giving up or wearing out?

The first sermons, of course, deal with creation. We have many today who doubt God’s creation of the universe in seven days, but Calvin also had those. I found it interesting to see how Calvin responded to those who thought the universe came to be by some sort of random evolution:

They have conjured up the most obtuse and absurd things a human could utter to resist God’s majesty, and they are unable to contemplate his glory, which ought to be evident as it displays itself so plainly before us. That is why they prefer – I am not joking – to say that the world came together by chance and that there were tiny objects tumbling around that the sun used for building the moon and the stars, the earth, the trees, and even more. Could anyone think up a scenario more stupid than that?

Most of the sermons, however, deal with the application of the first eleven chapters of Genesis to the church in Geneva. In sermon 33 on Genesis 6:5-8, Calvin, in speaking of the punishment that sin deserves by the Flood, brings the teaching of the whole Bible to bear –

“if there exists a single drop of good within us, it proceeds from the regeneration which we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In speaking of why Abel was accepted and Cain was not, in sermon 22, Calvin states –

“It is impossible for our works to be acceptable unless God is first favorably disposed toward us… therefore, God must change us before he can love us.”

And then this –

“every time our Lord gives us some sign that he is rebuking us and is not accepting our works, we must hold ourselves in check and in all humility consider what needs to be rebuked.”

So then, how can we be accepted in God’s sight?

“We can do it because God, out of his free goodness, gives us both the will and the power to do it. Therefore, if we understood that as God’s rebuking and admonishing Cain that he was supposed to conquer sin, we would be profitably instructed not to be cowardly when the devil tries to draw us into evil, but to arm ourselves with power from on high until we are victorious, as we are assured we will be, provided we call upon our God to help us.”

Calvin also does not get bogged down in conspiracy theories. When discussing the passage about the sons of God and the daughters of men in sermon 31, he has this to say to his congregation –

“This passage has long suffered from an absurd and stupid error, but learned people have been wrong about it, for the devil has always devised misunderstandings in order to obscure God’s truth, and even to destroy it completely, were it possible. They have understood the children of God to be angels, supposing they were attracted by carnal lust, which is a naive and imbecilic notion. Yet it has been commonly accepted.”

I could give many more examples, but it would take too much time and space. It is much easier just to recommend that you read the book.