I Love the…Christianity of Christ

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave

While I lived with my master in St. Michael’s, there was a white young man, a Mr. Wilson, who proposed to keep a Sabbath school for the instruction of such slaves as might be disposed to learn to read the New Testament.  We met but three times, when Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders, with many others, came upon us with sticks and other missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meet again.  Thus ended our little Sabbath school in the pious town of St. Michael’s…

Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst.  I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others…

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no reference whatever to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.  To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other.  I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.  Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.

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Come, Go

Believing and Obeying Jesus Christ: The Urbana ’79 Compendium
Edited by John W. Alexander

Chapter 9: That I Might Believe and Obey
Billy Graham

Jesus really had only two verbs—come, go … come, go. “Come to me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Come to the cross for salvation. Come be reconciled to God. Come repent of your sins. Go into the world and be a witness even unto death.” 

With his commands ringing in their ears, the disciples set out not only to reach the world, but to turn it upside down. If ever there was a generation that needs turning upside down, it’s ours—morally, socially, politically, spiritually. And this crowd here tonight could do it. There was only a handful then. There are sixteen, seventeen thousand of us! What could be done? 

The disciples suffered hardship and persecution in floggings and beatings, and in death, but they said, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Thus, we are a people under authority. We go because we have been sent. I don’t go preaching and traveling because I enjoy it anymore. To tell you the truth, I don’t. I go because I’m under orders. I would like to sit back in my mountain home in North Carolina with my wife.

What is Faith?

Bryan D. Estelle

A couple of years ago I was flying home from the East Coast where I had been attending a Presbytery meeting and preaching on the Lord’s day.  It was also the end of a semester and so I had many exams with me that I was grading.  I took my seat and began working as I usually do on these long flights.  I was sitting in an aisle seat, the seat next to me was empty and a young man whom I guessed to be about 18 or 19 years of age occupied the window seat.

After working for about an hour, I put my tray table up and took a break. The young man sitting next to me asked me if I was a teacher (he had been watching me do my grading). I said yes and explained that I was a Professor at a Seminary that trained prospective ministers in San Diego. That was the end of the conversation for then and I went back to my grading.

When I took my next break from grading, the young man asked me politely if he could ask another question.  I said, “Of course.”  He said, “If you are a Professor that trains prospective ministers, are you a minister yourself?”   I said, “Yes, I am.”  Then he proceeded to ask his question.  He said, “What is faith?”

I told him that I was returning from a Presbytery meeting – I explained to him briefly what that was – and that we had just asked a prospective minister that was taking his ordination exams that very question as well.  I told him if he didn’t mind me taking about 10 minutes of his time, I would explain to him the kind of answer we were hoping to receive from that man.  In the next 10 minutes I explained to him that true saving faith includes elements of knowledge, assent, and trust.  I told him that faith was outward looking not inward looking. I took great pains to explain very carefully to him that we need to look for righteousness outside of ourselves and that righteousness can be found in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

At the end of my brief description of faith he thanked me and said that was the fullest and best answer he had ever received to his question.  I proceeded to ask what he was doing on the plane, where he was traveling from and to? He then told me that he was a bare-knuckled boxer who was returning from an “underground” and “black market” fight that had been held in Vietnam.  He had won and had $20,000 in his pocket as a consequence.  This is how he made his living. I asked, “Have you ever seen anyone get killed?”  He said, “No, but it happens.” He had grown up in Compton, California and lived with his uncle since his Dad was in prison for dealing crack cocaine.  He was only 18 or 19 years old.  Then he asked me if I had children.  I said I that I did, three of them.  Then he told me he had a daughter that was 6 years old!  Yes, do the math.  His daughter and the mother of his child also lived with his uncle in Compton, California.

Over the next couple of hours we had a very fine conversation. As our conversation drew to a close, I encouraged this young man to go to school and get an education since he would not be able to box forever. I left him with my card and told him to call me if he ever thought I could be of help to him.  I’ve not heard from him since.

Who We Really Are and What Our Lives Are For

The Thing Is
Tony Payne

Isaiah 45:9–13

[9] “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
[10] Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

[11] Thus says the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
[12] I made the earth
and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
[13] I have stirred him up in righteousness,
and I will make all his ways level;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,”
says the LORD of hosts.

There is an inescapable truth here. If God is the creator and we are his creatures, then us telling God what to do is about as sensible as a coffee mug arguing with its potter. God is the creator and master of all—the great Potter who fashions and forms us, who decides what we are for and how he will use us. He is the one who determines what his creatures are for, and what they should do. The thing is: we don’t get to decide who we really are and what our lives are for—our creator does. Let’s be honest. We hate this idea.  It grates with everything we hold dear. A lifetime of Disney movies has taught us that you must be free to follow your heart, and that no-one else (least of all a Religious Authority Figure) can direct the course of your life. You must be yourself, and find the real truth about yourself within yourself. Only then can you believe in yourself, and be free to become your true self. There are very few beliefs that everyone in Western society holds in common these days, but this is one of them: the absolute right to personal self-determination. When an external authority tries to impose its rules or priorities or values upon us, we protest (too loudly perhaps) that “No-one has the right to tell me how to live my life”. In the words of the 60s anthem, “You gotta go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do, with whoever you wanna do it with…”

The strange thing is, this deep attachment we have to self-determination contradicts the equally deep sense we have that human life is purposeful and meaningful. As we considered at the opening of this chapter, this idea that human life is purposeful resonates with all of us. We know at a visceral level that our lives are not meaningless or random. And yet this can only be the case if our lives are the result of design or intention—that is, if we came to exist not purely by the result of physical forces acting randomly, but through the intention and purpose of a creator. And so we see the profound folly by which the human heart has always been bound. We sense very deeply that we have been made; that we were intended; that there is a purpose and meaning to human life that can only be the result of us being created by Another. And yet we also stubbornly rebel against the idea that the purpose and direction of our lives can only be given to us by Another—that is, by the God who created us. We want the freedom to live as if no-one created us, and yet we cannot abide the meaningless, purposeless nature of an accidental, non-created world. All in all, we desire to be in the position of the potter rather than the clay. And that desire, along with its tragic consequences, is as old as humanity itself.

Exactly Like Him

The Message of 1 Peter
Edmund Clowney

Charles Colson describes an interview on American television.  Mike Wallace was speaking to Yehiel Dinur, a concentration-camp survivor who testified against Adolf Eichmann at the Nuremberg trials.  Wallace showed a film clip from the 1961 trial of this Nazi architect of the Holocaust.  Colson describes the scene as Dinur walked into the courtroom to come face to face with the man who had sent him to Auschwitz eighteen years earlier.

Dinur began to sob uncontrollably, then fainted, collapsing in a heap on the floor as the presiding judicial officer pounded his gavel for order in the crowded courtroom.

Was Dinur overcome by hatred?  Fear?  Horrid memories?

No; it was none of these.  Rather, as Dinur explained to Wallace, all at once he realized Eichmann was not the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their deaths.  This Eichmann was an ordinary man.  ‘I was afraid about myself,’ said Dinur.  ‘…I saw that I am capable to do this.  I am…exactly like him.’

Corporate and Public

Ephesians: God’s big plan for Christ’s new people
Thabiti Anyabwile

Christianity is far more corporate and public than we might expect.  We are redeemed individually, but we are placed in a family. Living out the Christian life means living together with others who love the same Lord.  It means actively participating in the church, for the church is God’s only plan to raise us to full maturity in Jesus Christ.

Patience and Courage

Veronika Decides to Die
Paulo Coelho

The man in the suit went on: “Nasrudin arranged to give a lecture at two o’clock in the afternoon, and it looked set to be a great success: The thousand seats were completely sold out and more than seven hundred people were left outside, watching the lecture on closed-circuit television.

“At two o’clock precisely an assistant of Nasrudin’s came in, saying that, for unavoidable reasons, the lecture would begin late.  Some got up indignantly, asked for their money back, and left.  Even so a lot people remained both inside and outside the lecture hall.

“By four in the afternoon, the Sufi master had still not appeared, and people gradually began to leave the place, picking up their money at the box office.  The working day was coming to an end; it was time to go home.  By six o’clock, the original seventeen hundred spectators had dwindled to less than a hundred.

“At that moment Nasrudin came in.  he appeared to be extremely drunk and began to flirt with a beautiful young woman sitting in the front row.

“Astonished, the people who remained began to feel indignant.  How could the man behave like that after making them wait four solid hours?  There were some disapproving murmurs, but the Sufi master ignored them.  He went on, in a loud voice, to say how sexy the young woman was, and invited her to go with him to France.”

Some teacher! Thought Veronika.  Just as well I’ve never believed in such things. 

“After cursing the people who were complaining, Nasrudin tried to get up but fell heavily to the floor.  Disgusted, more people decided to leave, saying it was pure charlatanism, that they would denounce the degrading spectacle to the press.

Only nine people remained.  As soon as the final group of outraged spectators had left, Nasrudin got up; he was completely sober, his eyes glowed, and he had about him an air of great authority and wisdom.  “Those of you who stayed are the ones who will hear me,” he said.  “You have passed through the two hardest tests on the spiritual road: the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage to not be disappointed with what you encounter.  It is you I will teach.”

Intransigent About the Easy Things

Veronika Decides to Die
Paulo Coelho

It’s true that in her life she had seen many things through to their ultimate consequences, but only unimportant things, like prolonging a quarrel that could easily have been resolved with an apology, or not phoning a man she was in love with simply because she thought the relationship would lead nowhere.  She was intransigent about the easy things, as if trying to prove how strong and indifferent she was, when in fact she was just a fragile woman who had never been an outstanding student, never excelled at school sports, and had never succeeded in keeping the peace at home.

His Possession of Us

John Stott

Christian exultation is something entirely different from the vapid boastings of self-righteous religious people.  The latter boast of God as if he were their private property, as if they had him on a leash and could lead him around and exhibit him like a pet dog, and as if their possession of God betokened exceptional merit in them and guaranteed complete immunity to his displeasure.  To them God is a thing, a possession, a toy.

But to exult in God is the exact opposite of all that.  It begins with the humble acknowledgment of our inexcusable guilt before him.  It goes on to wondering astonishment that in spite of this he should have loved us and given his Son to die for us.  it continues with gratitude that, when we despaired of ourselves and trusted in Christ, he justified, reconciled and redeemed us.  It concludes with the confidence that one day he will save us fully and finally.  We exult in this God, not in our righteousness on account of which we once blindly imagined that he accepted us, but in his righteousness, his righteous bestowal of righteousness upon the unrighteous; not in our possession of him, but in his possession of us; not in our merit or works, but in his.