Monday, June 12, 2017

A Persecution Check Up

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim 3:12

It’s a common theme in scripture stories that those who are the heroes of the faith go through hard times because of their choices to do what God says is right. Joseph relayed dreams God gave and his brothers’ let their jealousy and hatred result in selling him into slavery. Later, when he refused to sleep with his master’s wife, she got him thrown in prison.

Moses was mocked by Pharaoh and disbelieved by the Israelites when he came at God’s command to deliver the people. Later, the same people would repeatedly rebel against his leadership.

David would not kill Saul when he had a chance and had to stay on the run. A city David rescued turned on him and would have betrayed him if he hadn’t escaped.

Daniel wouldn’t stop praying and found himself in a lions’ den. Jeremiah wouldn’t stop prophesying God’s judgment and, in turn, was thrown in a cistern and later carried off against his will to Egypt by his own people, where he died.

In the New Testament, we are not surprised that the scriptures that reveal a Savior who was wrongly tried, convicted, and executed would continue the theme. Peter was repeatedly jailed and eventually martyred. Paul’s list of hardships at the hands of Jewish people in almost every city he visited included being arrested, beaten with rods, put in prison, and stoned with rocks until they thought he was dead. James was beheaded, and John was exiled. Tradition tells us that all the apostles were martyred except John. Stephen was killed because of his strong faith and a sermon that correctly diagnosed Israel’s chronic unbelief.

We might somehow miss the lessons the stories might be trying to tell other followers of Jesus, and so there are a number of pointed statements to let us know that these people were not exceptions but examples. The scripture above is perhaps the most succinct and pointed.  It isn’t saying that you might pay a price for godliness, but you will.

Are you paying any price? Have you?

Maybe you are and it’s obvious. Co-workers mock you, and the more you show a forgiving spirit and a prayerful attitude, the more they laugh. Some of you may have lost a job, an opportunity, a court case, an award, and it is directly attributable to unbelievers not liking what you say and do. These aren’t made up circumstances—I know people who have experienced all these and more.

Maybe you are and it’s not obvious. The realm of spiritual warfare goes far beyond the active oppression of other people. You may be oppressed in spirit, or finding yourself in a great season of temptation. The forces of evil, your true enemies, may be at work behind the scenes in events or circumstances that bring pain into your life. God does his work in us so that all things are his tools to bring about his glory and our good (Romans 8:28), but that was true for Job also, and we know that his “persecution” was from Satan himself.

If you are being persecuted, the Bible gives us some fairly straightforward words of instruction.

We are to rejoice, because this is a confirmation of our “blessed” state as a true child of God. You should count yourself as one who can stand in the same company as the prophets and others I mentioned earlier (check out the Beatitutes—Matthew 5:1-12 –for a good reminder of this).

We are to pray for the people who may be persecuting us (Matthew 5:44), asking God to use our testimony and our non-resistance as a means of showing them the truth and bringing them to repentance.

We may, if we are trying to fulfill God’s calling, need to leave (the Bible says “flee”) a place of resistance and persecution to go to another place where they will receive us and we can serve (Matthew 10:23). This was Jesus’ word about the mission of the disciples to Israel until he comes, and it may especially fit for missionaries and preachers who find a hostile audience—they may need to go where the hearers are more receptive.

Maybe you aren’t being persecuted. You need to ask yourself why.

Perhaps you have been, have come through it, but you are in a moment of respite. Praise God for that. The Bible doesn’t say it’s going to be persecution 24/7 for everyone. We should always thank God when there is a time of rest, of refreshment, and of renewal. But get ready. True and lasting rest only comes in Christ’s presence, not here on earth.

Maybe persecution came to you after an initial excitement about trusting Jesus, and caused you to retreat from any total commitment to pursuing Christ. You’ve settled for an “under the radar” faith. Watch out; you may be one of those for whom persecution is about to kill the seed of faith. The parable of the seed, sower, and soils (see Mark 4:16-17) is a special warning for you.

You might be the kind of person who can see when trouble is coming, and you find any way you can to avoid it. If people are going to mock your faith, you don’t talk about it. If everyone else is cheating, you don’t say anything, and maybe you do just enough to go along that no one would say you aren’t part of the crowd. And you certainly wouldn’t say that the Devil is attacking you—as long as you keep things quiet, you’re fine. There’s a problem with that, though. You fit into the category of people Jesus describes in Matthew 10:33—those who won’t acknowledge him before people. In that passage there is some very bad news for you—if you fail to acknowledge Jesus before men (Jesus calls it “denying him”), you will not be acknowledged by him before the Father in the time of judgment.

Maybe you are enjoying life to the full; you are using your talents, being successful, and nothing is standing in your way. Your biggest worry is how to capitalize on all your success. You aren’t worried about persecution, and figure that people need to chill and just not get so worked up about spiritual stuff. You’ve found that your success and your ability to get ahead keep you out in front of any problems that might come your way. Hey, you are in the Bible—your story usually as the heading, “The Parable of the Rich Fool” and you can find it in Luke 12:15-21.


So, what opposition/persecution/suffering/difficulty is yours right now or has been your regular experience for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel? It’s a pretty important question for which to have an answer, don’t you think?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Loving Christians is Hard Work

But it is what we do if we love God

The message of Romans 12:9-21 is governed by the first two words of the passage: "genuine love." It carries the force of a command directive, and it sets the stage for all the other characteristics of:

  • the life that has been presented to God as a living sacrifice,
  • the mind that is being renewed by the word of God to love the will of God,
  • the realization that I am a part of the Body of Christ but not its Head,
  • and the understanding that my ability to do what God has designed me for is both guaranteed and dependent upon the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.

The following statements are descriptions of what that love will look like in the life of such a person. There are positive traits to seek, negative behaviors to avoid, and acts of love toward believers, strangers, and enemies. And there is the promise that we can actually overcome the the evil around us. 

It is a passage filled with aspiration and hope. And it is hard.


Hating evil and taking a stand for good is a risk, and one that doesn't always pay off in this life. A "hot pursuit" of Christ requires our time and concentration, and rebuilding our priority lists around serving Him and not ourselves. And it takes continual reminders to move my perspective away from the immediate to the eternal so that I can endure the days (and sometimes weeks and months) that can range from disappointing to brutal--no wonder I must be "constant in prayer." 


But the part that is as challenging as any is the part that says, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Reading that is sobering, and it's not as if it is the only place we find it. Just consider...


Jesus said it: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)"


And He said it again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)"


The writer of Hebrews simply says, "Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)"


Peter writes, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)"


Of course, we can probably sing what John said, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)"


If brotherly love and family affection is truly genuine, and not an act, then this passage and the others I just cited speak of an environment where we are openly, regularly, and visibly demonstrating affection, commitment, and forgiveness. The idea of love covering a multitude of sins doesn't mean that I hide my sins, but that my love causes me to be willing to overlook offenses. Now I know that the legalist in all of us bristles at that--we much prefer the instructions to confront and point out faults (sometimes forgetting about that pesky verse about logs in our own eyes). But we are to be people who don't keep track of how many times that prickly brother or sister says something that rubs us the wrong way.


And it is at just this point that we find it so difficult to do. Because as we set out to be a beacon of love, we may discover that all the other people we are supposed to love are not necessarily just waiting for our love to make them break out into smiles and song. In fact, while there are a few times in our lives where the good that we seek to do for others is greeted with profound joy and gratitude due to the need of the moment, more often it is either politely acknowledged, not noticed, and every once in a while it is treated as the least we could do or even not enough. We'd like to think that this doesn't happen among believers, but it does.


But when we are tempted to get upset or give up, we must remember that we are living sacrifices to God, and we are living to do what He wants and not for our own expectations. Our renewed minds need to kick in and remind us that showing love is not for the purpose of receiving good back, but to show the presence and power of Jesus to others who need it. Just like Jesus, we will find it often isn't recognized or honored, but it still is God's will for us as it was for Him. And so, like Jesus we keep going. I love what it says in John 13:1 "...when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." We know what that end was in His earthly life, but praise His name, because Jesus lives He continues now to love us right into forever. 


That is our goal. Let us so love one another, that whatever else people may say about our fellowship, they will say that. Would they say it just looking at us on Sunday? Let's try something--let's see if we can be so kind, loving, affirming, and joyous in each other's presence this Sunday, that it would cause anyone visiting to wonder what's so exciting. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"There, But For the Grace of God..."

Partial Theological Truth in a Lost Conversation Piece

I don't know the first time I heard the statement, but I heard it a lot in the first third of my life, and a fair amount in the second two thirds thus far. I remember a number of older people in the church of my youth saying it, and hearing various presenters in talks, actors in roles, and people in conversations say it, even though some didn't seem to know what they were talking about.


You don't hear it very often today.


It's the rather dramatic statement: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."


I think it isn't used much anymore because the concept of the grace of God isn't well understood or even contemplated in our contemporary setting. I'm not sure that everyone who used the phrase in earlier years really understood what they were saying all that clearly.


For those of you unfamiliar with the saying and how it was used, it's pretty simple. In conversation, someone would mention a person known to all in the conversation who had just experienced a bad turn of events, or worse, created a bad turn of events that led to all sorts of negative consequences. Usually the speaker would describe the terrible results of the actions or choices of the person under discussion. As the description came to a close, the speaker, to make sure you did not assume that he (or she) was somehow enjoying this story of personal misfortune or gloating over someone else's pain, would say, somberly, "there, but for the grace of God, go I." What they usually meant was, "that could happen to me (or by extension, any of us)!"


Of course, in the realm of human hurts and tragedies, the statement is exactly right. We hear about cancer, and know it could come to us. We learn of someone making a decision that goes horribly wrong, and know that we could make just as bad a decision. And if we are humble enough, when we hear of a great sin committed by someone who knows God and thus knows better, we recognize that, in our own hearts lie the seeds of the very same sin, or sins very much the same in character. 
And the difference for all of us is the grace of God.


God's grace saves me, so that when others remain hardened in sin, die, and face the coming judgment without salvation, the only difference is grace.

God spares me some disease that others contract, or spares me the consequences of a stupid decision that has cost others greatly, or does not cause me to experience all the natural consequences that I could experience due to my sin. It's not because I deserve any of these things, but because of grace.


And so, any time I consider another's difficulties that I am not experiencing, I know that it is God's grace that has spared me.


And yet, this old saying is only partially true. For God's grace is also present and active when I do get the disease, or have to face the consequences of bad choices or sinful rebellion, or any of the negatives that others go through. I don't know if people meant it this way, but there was often a kind of pious sigh of relief in the statement, as if this sufferer wasn't as in touch with God's grace as the speaker. But that isn't necessarily true--perhaps the sufferer was someone with an especially close relationship to the Lord Jesus and his grace--after all, Paul said in Philippians 3 that knowing Christ intimately would be to enter "the fellowship of his sufferings." 


I can be sure that any and every good that I receive is a result of God's grace. But I should never forget that often it is in the sufferings and setbacks of providence, the crises and the consequences created by my own actions, and the heavy and hard times I go through that God's forgiving and enabling grace is most clearly seen: sustaining me, strengthening me, correcting me, and comforting me. 
Perhaps, sometimes I should say, with relief and gratitude, "there, but for the grace of God, go I."
And in the other times, I can say, "there, within the grace of God, go I."



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Starting and Ending Your Day with God

You know as well as I do that God never leaves or forsakes his people. He is always there. However, we can easily lose sight of that truth, and move through our days as if we are alone--sometimes liking it, sometimes not. I would like to suggest some steps I have found that help me begin and end my days with purposeful awareness of God and his nearness.

To begin, I seek to begin my day with thoughts of God. I do this before I even get out of my bed. I pray a prayer of love to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Then I try to think of one thing (or more) for which I can express gratitude to God--it can be something about creation (its beauty, enjoying the weather, the joy of sunrise), or a material blessing (my home, a job where I can support my family, my bed), or a spiritual blessing (my salvation, the Word, the ability to pray, forgiveness), or a relational blessing (my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my co-workers). Obviously, it's not a long prayer, just one or two things to prompt gratitude for God's work in my life.

Next, I submit myself in prayer to God's purposes for my life today. I express my dependence in relationship to the Trinity--confessing my trust in the Father (often reciting Proverbs 3:5-6), my resolve to abide in Christ (quoting part or all of John 15:1-11 is the way I do it) and my commitment to walk in the Spirit (I recite Galatians 5:16). I commit the day to the Lord and commit myself to obey God's Word.

Here would be a sample:
"Father, today I want to tell you I love you as my Father. Lord Jesus, I love you--my Savior; and I love you, Holy Spirit, as you dwell in me and empower me. I thank you for the spring, which reminds me of the renewal of life, and eternal life that is mine and is coming. I submit myself to your purposes for me today. I trust you Father, and won't lean on my own understanding. I want to abide in you, Lord Jesus so that I would bear much fruit. Holy Spirit, help me walk in your ways and power today so I won't fulfill the lusts of the flesh. This is your day, not mine. By your grace, I will seek to obey your Word."

It takes about a minute. 

I get up, have my devotions (and my coffee), and head out for the gym and the rest of the day.

As my day ends, I also want God to be the last thing on my mind. So, I usually will either read a short passage, or more regularly now, review one of the passages I've read that day in my devotions. I try to think of a verse with a phrase or two that I want to make into a prayer to close my day. I will pray it and then repeat the verse or phrase over and over again as a final meditation as I am going to sleep. Ideally, it will be my last waking thought.

Here's an example. I read Psalm 56 today, and verse 3 says, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you." So my evening prayer might be, "Lord, even though things in the world today can be unsettling or frightening, when I might be tempted to be afraid, let me trust in you."

Then, as I am falling asleep, I repeat to myself, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you." Or maybe I just repeat, "I will trust in you." What a great assurance to have as I fall asleep.

This isn't original with me. I learned it from Ken Boa--I read it in one of his books and heard him share it at a conference. He probably got parts of it from others. I hope it will be an encouragement to those of you who might need something like this.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Enduring Hardship for the Great Commission

            I am often asked two sets of questions about the importance of global missions engagement for our church. The first set are easier: why do we spend what we do (currently about 20% of what we receive) on global missions; why do we support some missionaries and not others; isn't everyone a missionary? These are important questions, and I have ready answers for all of them. But those are for later.

            Today, I want to turn my attention to the more important questions that are often thought, but not always verbalized: should we knowingly go into situations that are not safe?  And should our missionaries continue to stay in places where they might face difficulties, persecution, and death?  These questions reflect a way of thinking that tends to characterize American Christianity.  Thoughts of danger or death and the will of God do not go together in our minds.  “God’s will is pleasant,” we seem to think.  It involves ease and comfort, and prosperity would be nice, too. 

We have forgotten that Jesus said to his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10: 16).  Paul wrote, “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” (Philippians 1:29).  Peter exhorted his readers, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…” (1 Peter 2:21).

I still cannot get out of my head hearing Dr. Josef Tson’s powerful message at a conference almost 20 years ago.  A Baptist pastor from Romania, Dr. Tson escaped from there to pursue theological training, and then went back to Romania, where he faced constant threats, persecution, arrest, and finally deportation after 20 years of preaching the gospel.  It had been hard to escape, yet he gave up freedom to go back to oppression.  As he faced possible death, his wife encouraged him to face it bravely for Christ.  They did not flee their homeland but stayed until forced to leave.  

He said to those of us attending the conference that he thought it was interesting that American Christians seem so concerned to know whether or not they will go through the Tribulation, while believers in other parts of the world think they have been in it for 2,000 years!  I have often wondered whether the passionate commitment to “pre-tribulation rapture” thinking (and that is my position) of many in America is due more to a theological conviction or a fear of persecution. 

God’s will is dangerous to a life of comfort and ease in this world.  It should not fit in with the dominant culture.  Going to places where gospel preaching is not tolerated will add to the difficulty.  Such ventures, though, are part and parcel of the fulfillment of the Great Commission and have been readily embraced by true believers down through the centuries.  We can do no less than taking our turn in answering the hymn writer's questions:

Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own his cause or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize or sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face, must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace to help me unto God?
Sure, I must fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord!
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.
-----Isaac Watts-----

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Broken Up People

Why do we hurt those who are already hurting?

[The following was a pastoral note I wrote to the congregation of my church a number of weeks ago, as I was dealing with a few situations that reminded me of a few other situations, and there you go. We have a very healthy body, but as with any family, we have people of varying maturities and understandings, and we're all quite fallible--so this note was prompted. This was an attempt by a fallible pastor to address a problem that can occur enough (and once feels like too much) to warrant warning and/or correction. It's not unusual (although it is rare) for me to do this, so for those of you reading this who are not a part of our family, let this preface set some context.]

The body of Christ is called to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). What is the law of Christ? One clear answer is the "new commandment" He gives in John 13:34--"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." This is who we are supposed to be. And many times, we are. There have been occasions beyond my numbering when I (and many of you) have been encouraged by the love and support of members of the body here at Grace. And as a church, we have sometimes had to do the hard work of loving confrontation, and even discipline. Thankfully, most times never go far, and bring reconciliation. This kind of loving involvement and encouragement is very special indeed. It is a proof that we are Christ's followers (see v. 35). It is a measure of the reality of having known the love of Christ ourselves. It is beautiful.

But it isn't universal. In recent days I have talked with or been made aware of multiple situations in our fellowship where families who are hurting have a big fear: the harsh words and judgments (potential or already experienced) of their fellow Christians in the midst of these painful circumstances. The circumstances are widely divergent, but the fear is the same, and the sad reality is that there is some basis for expecting the worst. In fact, a few already have, either in the past, or sadly, even here more recently.

Let me ask you this: have there ever been circumstances in your life where you had to take actions, or deal with the consequences of others' actions, and in doing so you knew that there would be people who would misjudge your situation, cast blame because they didn't know the whole story, or rush to tell others of what they perceived as your failure to do what was best? If that has ever happened to you, then you know what it feels like. But unfortunately, a few of us seem all too ready to believe the worst about one another, and then share it with those who may not be in the loop.

What makes this especially troublesome is that I have found some of the people who do the talking about others have experienced, in their own lives, large hurts and pains that they do an excellent job of concealing or denying--situations where they would be mortified if anyone knew about them.

I only write what I write because I have been made aware, not just of these situations, but of some of the harsh words that Christian brothers and sisters have used--sometimes directly to the sufferer, and sometimes to others about the sufferer, that have been ill-advised, judgmental, loveless, and even cruel. I can't know the motives of such questioners, but I do know the effects of their questions.

I don't want to violate the privacy of those who are hurting, so let me give some general examples of what we ought not to be saying:

1. The mother whose toddler is throwing a tantrum does not need to be told, in love, in that moment, "She just needs a firm hand!"

2. The parent whose teen is rebelling does not need to be reminded that had they "trained up" their child in the way he should go, they wouldn't be having these problems. And adding how you instilled Christian virtues in your children through rigorous scripture memorization isn't helpful at the moment, either.

3. The newly divorced person isn't looking for your relationship advice on how to get their partner back, or your sage observations on what went wrong, or your conclusions on whether they would ever have the right to remarry.

4. The man who just lost his job can do without your stories about how your work ethic made it impossible for anyone to let you go.

5. The couple that suffers a miscarriage doesn't need to be told right then that the baby is fine in heaven and after all, he may have been a terrible person so God is probably sparing you heartache later.

6. The friend of the person going through a painful circumstance isn't wanting all sorts of well meaning, probing questions about the problem in the midst of the crisis, such as, "why do you think this happened" or "how is your friend, really?"  When you have never asked how this person's friend is before, but now seem to want a play by play description of what is going on, you are not helping the person or the friend.

And none of the imagined sufferers above are relying on you to pass on your judgments or concerns to others so that they too can join in seeing how mistaken they were!

I've actually heard variations of the above comments in these kinds of situations. These are NOT what I've heard recently. Sadly, some of the things I've heard are worse.

Have people who are in hard circumstances never done wrong, contributed to their problem, or never need counsel? Of course that is not the case. In some of these situations, there would be a place and a need for counsel and instruction, and perhaps even repentance if sin has been committed. But such counsel should come from those who have earned the right through demonstrated spiritual maturity, love and support over time to enter a situation, and who demonstrate the ability to sympathize. Even Job's lousy counselors knew that sitting quietly with him for a week was the right first step, even if their advice and judgments were as bad as what I've just suggested.

Let's commit to a better way of doing things--Christ's preferred way of love. Let's do all we can always to assume the best (love believes all things and hopes all things). When we hear about a problem, let's ask, "how could I be a blessing" to the people who are hurting. Let's not think that we always know the whole story of a circumstance where there is an obvious problem. Let's not make it our aim to assign blame in troubled situations, but to bring the comfort of Jesus to our brother or sister. Let's keep confidences, and not be what the Bible calls a "tale-bearer" (who "reveals secrets"). Let's assume the elders may already be at work in the situation, and if you are sure they are not, a discreet mention to one of us that a situation might need our help could be all that's needed. If someone is obviously floundering and desperate, consider coming along side, praying for God's peace and help, and then perhaps offering to go with them to one of the elders for prayer or counsel or help.

I know that this is not what you want to read. It's not what I wanted to share. And I don't believe that it reflects the actions or hearts of the vast majority of our family here at Grace. But when even only a handful of people act in ways that are hurtful, the ripples can spread the pain to many others. Instead, let's set up what the old youth chorus sang about--"waves of mercy, waves of grace."

And to the vast number of you to whom this does not apply, can I encourage you to pray with me that even the slightest hint of this kind of insensitivity can be overcome with the love and encouragement that can flow from God to the hurting through the rest of us?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"You Don't Know Everything!"

I'm getting to know my limitations, and hope you are, too!


In the past week, I've had three different people (two after our services Sunday) come to me with what they thought was a compliment. The composite of the comments were, "It is really great when you get up in the pulpit and say what you don't know." What was meant in every case was an appreciation of my having to say at numerous times (including last Sunday's sermon) that "I don't know" how to explain or figure out some things in the Bible. In one case I was told how good it was for kids to hear that. 

We live in a community dominated by a university and featuring a new school complex, and in each place knowing things is not only celebrated, but graded. So, you might think that admitting you don't know something would be a bad thing. But, in this case, it is not.

This truly is a compliment, and I agree that it is important to be honest about what we don't know, what we do know, and what we can't know.

Of course, I don't mean to celebrate all ignorance, either in me or in others. But humility about what we know is both honest and hopeful. I grew up in a day when it seemed that pastors were always confidently asserting everything about all biblical subjects--and even some non-biblical ones.

I had preachers tell me that Jesus wore his hair in a modified crew cut--never shoulder length. After all the Bible says a man having long hair is a shame, and Jesus would never do anything that would shame himself.

One Christmas, a sermon on the virgin Mary asserted confidently that she would never have gone around wearing lots of makeup or tight jeans. I don't think she would have, either, but I'm not sure where we would get that in the text--and most of us were not thinking that we should replace the figure of Mary in the manger scene with a "Bible Times Barbie." 

Pastors told me that women wearing pants were in sin because they were wearing "things pertaining to a man." My grandma's polyester pantsuits didn't really belong on any man, but that's what they said.

And when it came to prophecy, "everyone" knew that the European Union (the "Common Market" back then) was the kingdom of the coming Antichrist. There were many other details we were sure of that just haven't proven to be true.

One of my pastors told me that, while we believed in God's sovereignty, we wouldn't talk about it because it was too confusing and not important. In his thinking, it was better for us not to know of God's ultimate control of all things. Instead, we would avoid those passages, and any talk of God's election. We actually had a tract around that referred to election in relation to salvation as "God votes 'yes,' Satan votes 'no,' and you cast the deciding vote!"

Then I went to college and seminary and learned that some of those things I had been taught so confidently were wrong--or at least not the only way to look at the Scriptures. Thankfully, I was encouraged to study, draw conclusions, and keep studying. The profs that influenced me most were both confident in what they taught, but also able to discuss those areas where there were different possible conclusions to draw and still be faithful to Scripture. In some cases, they were transparent enough to share how they had come to change their understanding of a matter based on further study of Scripture. The greatest gift they gave me was not a new set of answers (although they offered many good ones), but how to think through things, and the principles needed to gain understanding of the text of Scripture. 

I have tried to emulate that combination of diligent study and humility about my own conclusions. One seminary teacher wisely told me that, if I am the only person I know who holds a view, then I could be confident I was wrong. He said that based on the Holy Spirit's promised function of guiding us (the Church) into all truth, it would be prideful to assume that 2,000 years of church history could go by waiting for me to figure something out!

Practically speaking, my own awareness that there are others out there--and I am talking about you--who can check up on me, leads me to go as far as my knowledge of the text and subject can take me, and then to stop! And I'm grateful to have some "Berean" types in this congregation who examine the Scriptures to see if what I say is found in the text.

The hopeful part of this humility is that we have the ability to keep learning as we study God's Word. Only a supernatural book can have a finished text and yet have more and more that can be understood as we apply ourselves to learning from it. That is why my sermons change even when preaching a text I've preached before. Through my own study and the confirmations of commentators (living and dead), including our leadership, my own grasp of truth grows.

So, I'm thankful that you are OK with having a pastor who doesn't know it all, and is ready to acknowledge it. I'm glad that you have that kind of pastor--otherwise, I'd be out of work! Let's commit--all of us--to being lifelong learners, ready to assert the truth we know, and seeking to lessen the amount of truth available to us that we don't know. Let us also agree to let God be the only one who understands all things perfectly, and the only one who understands some things at all! As we see in Romans 11, his judgments are "unsearchable" and his ways are past finding out! Our confidence is that they are also holy, righteous, and good, and are meant for the joy of his people.