Monthly Archives: June 2017

Pliable

The two men walked together down the pleasant shaded road.

This was going to be a nice trip – a journey one man knew of and the other wondered about. The one carried a sack on his back. He looked determined.

“Tell me more,” the younger man asked eagerly. “What will it be like, I mean when we get there?” The man carrying the sack explained what he had read in the book he held firmly in his hand.

It all sounded so wonderful to the young companion.

“Wow! That’s amazing,” he enthused. “Come on, let’s walk faster. I can’t wait to get there!” This was the zeal of a new beginning. Hope always abounds at the start.

When Christian, with that load on his back, and Pliable, his spirited but untried fellow traveler, fall into the Slough of Despond, it suddenly becomes an entirely different story.

Neither saw it coming.

As the two men thrash desperately, sinking deeper into the mire that represents the trials of life and the adversity to faith, Pliable asks, “Christian, where are we now?”

Christian didn’t know.

Pliable becomes indignant and worried.

“Is this the happiness you told me about?” he cries to Christian. “If it’s like this now, at the beginning, when we’ve gone only this short way, what is there still ahead of us?”

Struggling in the murky swamp, Pliable finally gets to the bank that is closest to his home.

Crawling out, he turns to Christian, still flailing in the swamp, and announces, “You will have to take the far country without me – I’m going back!”

And back he went.

Back to his old home, his security, his friends and his comforts.

John Bunyan tells us in this early episode of The Pilgrim’s Progress, that of Pliable, “Christian saw him no more.”

Christian is pulled from the Swamp of Despondence by a man named Help. Christian chooses, despite this early adversity, to continue his journey. He loses his burden of sin at the cross, encounters many a deceitful and powerful foe along the way but finally crosses the river and enters that beautiful far country that will be his eternal home.

Christian never gave up.

He also never saw Pliable again.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gave the world the greatest single book of Christian faith and doctrine since the Bible. When he began writing it he was in jail because he refused to stop preaching the Gospel. He spent twelve long years in that Bedford prison.

He suffered for his faith and his conscience.

Bunyan knew adversity and understood the importance of Christian perseverance.

Do we?

For the remainder of our lives on earth you and I will live in a world increasingly alien and hostile to Christianity. Our faith and our determination to live it will be tested in new and different ways in the years ahead.

In his story of the sower and the seeds, Jesus tells us that 75% of the spiritual seeds never grew to fruition. The various trials, distractions and temptations of this life deprived them of taking root in the heart and bearing a crop in the soul. The conditions and pressures were various but each of the three cases ended in the same wasted tragedy.

In each instance, there was a lack of perseverance – the failure of determination to stick with it and remain faithful despite the circumstances and opposition. Every time, the situation triumphed over the promise.

The Bible speaks extensively of the urgent need to persevere and The Perseverance of the Saints is a gloriously recurring and integrated theme throughout scripture and throughout the history of Christ’s Church. In Nave’s Topical Bible, the entry for Perseverance runs more than four pages, with biblical references from Genesis through Revelation.

And what is the entry just before Perseverance in this venerated reference work?

Persecution (six and a half pages).

Over and over again, we read that we shall prevail in our struggles of faith and life, “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6, KJV, emphasis added).

The writer says that you and I are “partakers of Christ”, sharing in his life and glory, “if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:14, KJV, emphasis added).

If we trust God “just as firmly as when we first believed” (NLT) – when faith was fresh, the sky was blue and the prospects for our journey glorious – before our first struggle in the swamp of temptation and despair.

Hard times come. They are part and parcel of the authentic Christian experience.

“If you follow Christ” wrote Charles Spurgeon, “you shall have all the dogs of the world yelping at your heels.”

You and I will not need more perseverance than the saints of old needed, but we may need more than we have needed until now.

The Christian has always had to endure “many dangers, toils and snares”.

Let us therefore remain “steadfast, unmovable” (I Corinthians 15:58, KJV).

Let us remember and avoid the tragedy of Pliable. And know that the grace that has led us thus far will take us to that far country – and our eternal home.

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Answering TIME

It was very controversial.

The red border set off even more boldly the bold red type.

As did the plain black background.

The magazine had never produced a cover with no image. Ever, in its long illustrative history.

The large letters spelled three single-syllable words – all that appeared on this cover, except for the name:

Is God Dead?

Time magazine took a lot heat for its provocative April 8, 1966 issue, not only for the inside story posited by the question, but for the stark cover itself.

The Los Angeles Times, in a 2008 story, named the Is God Dead? cover one of “10 magazine covers that shook the world”.

The wording was taken from renowned German atheist Friedrich Nietzsche’s oft – quoted assertion that “God is dead” (German: ‘Gott ist tot’).

Given the cultural and moral disintegration of the 1960s, Time dared to ask the question.

Since 1966, we’ve come to see in America – and throughout the globe – that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of God’s death are “greatly exaggerated.”

Despite all that may assail it in the modern era, faith in God persists.

God’s not only alive and well; he’s active, loving, guiding and in full control of the universe, moral and otherwise. Nothing God has purposed is diminished by the declining belief in him, nor has he yet chosen to curtail humankind’s freedom to mock and minimize him – and to dismiss his worshipers as dangerous and superstitious threats to progress.

God remains patient and longsuffering – a Creator of infinite mercy and unfathomable grace.

There is, however, a price to be paid for man’s desire to be free of God.

Exactly 51 years after its infamous cover, on April 3, 2017, Time magazine produced another cover story. It was identical in every way to the one that asked Is God Dead?

There was the same red bold type and black background.

Is Truth Dead?

It makes tragic sense that a half century of redefining, debating and readjusting our relationship to God – of distancing ourselves from him in our national life – would lead us to this place. As society has marginalized the supernatural, we’ve lost our belief in – and appeal to – moral absolutes; inviolate principles rooted in transcendent truth.

Perhaps we like being on our own.

Last year, American voters, in what might be described as moral poetic justice, made a choice between two deeply flawed candidates.

Today in our nation’s capital confusion reigns. We are besieged by “alternative facts” and “fake news.” Dueling cable networks report opposing realities. Everybody shouts, nobody listens. Political daggers are permanently unsheathed amidst a torrent of angry recriminations.

Seldom has our nation seemed so unmoored from a unifying belief.

Departing from our Guide, who is all truth, we wander in a thickening dark forest of contradictory subjective truths, driven not by purpose but pettiness and passion.

We’re sitting in a crowded, rambunctious classroom and the Teacher’s just walked out.

Of ancient Israel, the prophet Isaiah drew a depressing and eerily familiar picture of national life:

“No one cares about being fair and honest … so there is no justice among us, and we know nothing about right living. We look for light but find only darkness. We look for bright skies but walk in gloom. We grope like the blind along a wall, feeling our way like people without eyes.

Even at brightest noontime, we stumble as though it were dark. Among the living, we are like the dead … we look for justice, but it never comes. We look for rescue, but it is far away from us” (Isaiah 59: 4, 9-11, NLT).

The “next election” ends up being a mirage – the ultimate collective self-deception.

What is the source of this national malaise? This anger, hatred, and deep division?

“We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord. We have turned our backs on our God” (Isaiah 59: 13, NLT).

In the wake of the proud and willful defiance of our once cherished values, what becomes of our integrity?

“Truth stumbles in the streets, and honesty has been outlawed. Yes, truth is gone and anyone who renounces evil is attacked” (verse 14-15, NLT).

The history of western civilization has made the pattern clear and unmistakable.

What of Christians in our current culture?

Understanding the times must leave us neither helpless nor despaired. While we may mourn change we must also joyfully embrace the change we can be as followers of the risen Christ.

We have been placed in this generation not to conform or dismay but to hold forth the bright light of his countenance; to “shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, KJV).

We are the voice, the hands and the feet of him who proclaimed himself “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6, KJV).

We answer Time for all time:

Is God Dead?

No, he lives and reigns forever.

Is Truth Dead?

No, through Jesus Christ we can and will know the truth – and that is a very liberating experience.

What an exciting opportunity!

“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15, KJV).

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