THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING

francis-spufford

“We take the cruelties of the world as a given, as the known and familiar data of experience, and instead of anguishing about why the world is as it is, we look for comfort in coping with it as it is. We don’t ask for a creator who can explain Himself. We ask for a friend in time of grief, a true judge in time of perplexity, a wider hope than we can manage in time of despair. If your child is dying, there is no reason that can erase your sorrow. Even if, impossibly, some true and sufficient explanation could be given you, it wouldn’t help, any more than the inadequate and defective explanations help you, whether they are picture-book simple or inscrutably contorted. The only comfort that can do anything – and probably the most it can do is to help you to endure, or if you cannot endure to fail and fold without wholly hating yourself – is the comfort of feeling yourself loved. Given the cruel world, it’s the love song we need, to help us bear what we must; and, if we can, to go on loving.”

(Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity can still make Surprising Emotional Sense, p.104)

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37,39)

THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

hidden-christmas

In preparing for Christmas through the season of Advent I always like to find a new source of inspiration. This year I read Timothy Keller’s, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ. Each chapter represents at least 10 or so meditations and sermons on each biblical text, delivered in Christmas services across the decades of his ministry. He is always rewarding.

I find that Christmas is the most challenging time for a preacher. The major services are on Christmas Eve when families throng the church, along with once a year visitors, to enjoy the unique candelight atmosphere, the Christmas decorations, trees decorated with lights, wreaths, poinsettias, and the glorious familiar music of the season. What can you say that will communicate the angelic message to such a multi-generational diverse congregation in a fresh and compelling way?

Keller’s chapter titles are eye-catching:

A Light Has Dawned

The Mothers of Jesus

The Fathers of Jesus

Where is the King?

Mary’s Faith

The Shepherd’s Faith

A Sword in the Soul

The Doctrine of Christmas

I will be quoting him a couple of times this year.

As I look back over the years my book of Christmas messages would have the following chapter titles:

Christmas in Solitary Confinement

The Vulnerability of God

What is so Special about Jesus?

The Showing of God’s Love

Fear Not

The Gift of Christmas

Christmas in a Hotel

Christmas and Miracles

You can find them in Volume 4 of my SOUL FOOD: Daily Devotions for the Hungry

What would you entitle your Christmas message this year? What does the coming of God in the flesh mean to you? This coming Christmas Eve my message will be an exposition of 1 John 1:1-4 entitled What Is Essential to Being a Christian?

ADVENT

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O LORD, my years grow long, my time short:

Let me make haste with my repentance and bow head and heart:

Let me not stay one day from amendment, lest I stay too long:

Let me cease without delay to love my own mischief,

and abandon without a backward look the unfruitful works of darkness.

 

Lord, grant me new watchfulness to lay hold upon opportunity of good:

Make me at last put on the whole armor of light:

Rank me among them who work for their Lord,

loins girded, lamps burning,

till the night shall pass

and the true light shine.

 

Let me sing the new song,

following the Lamb whithersoever he goeth,

loving wheresoever he loveth,

doing whatsoever he biddeth,

unto the perfect day

and for ever and ever.

 

Eric Milner-White (1884-1963)

 

 

AN ANSWER TO SANCTIMONIOUS PREJUDICE

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On the news the other night I heard a politician characterizing anyone who did not agree with her party’s position as being guilty of bigotry. She seemed so sanctimonious in her denunciation of her opponents that it troubled me. Then I came across this letter from John Newton (1725-1807), the author of Amazing Grace. I found it to be more honest in its humility.

“I number my Christian correspondents among my principal blessings – a few judicious, pious friends, to who, when I can get the leisure to write, I end my heart by turns. I can trust them with my inmost sentiments, and I can write with no more disguise than I think. I shall rejoice to add you to the number, if you can agree to take me as I am (as I think you will) and suffer to commit my whole self on paper, without respect of names, parties and sentiments. I endeavor to observe my Lord’s command, to call no one master on earth; yet I desire to own and honor the image of God, wherever I find it. I dare not say I have no bigotry, for I know not myself, and remember to my shame that formerly… when I ignorantly professed myself free from it, I was indeed overrun with it…. but I strive and pray against it. And thus far, by the grace of God, I have attained, so that I find my heart as much united to many who differ from me, in some points, as to any who agree with me in all. I set no value upon any doctrinal truth, further than it has a tendency to promote practical holiness… “in things necessary.” What are these? I answer, those in which the spiritual worshippers of all ages and countries have agreed. Suppose it ran something in the following manner:

I believe that sin is the most hateful thing in the world; that I and all human beings are in a state of wrath and depravity, utterly unable to sustain the penalty, or to fulfill the commands of God’s holy law; and that we have no sufficiency of ourselves to think a good thought.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the chief among ten thousand; that he came into the world to save the chief of sinners, by making propitiation for sins by his death… that he is now exalted on high… and that he ever lives to make intercession for us.

I believe that the Holy Spirit (the gift of God through Jesus Christ) is the sure and only guide into all truth, and the common privilege of all believers; and that under his influence, I believe that the Holy Scriptures are able to furnish us thoroughly for every good work.

I believe that love to God, and to man for God’s sake, is the essence of religion, and the fulfilling of the law; and that without holiness no man shall see the Lord; that those who, by patient course in well doing, seek glory, honor and immortality, shall receive eternal life; and I believe that this reward is not of debt but of grace, even to the praise and glory of that grace, whereby he has made us accepted in the Beloved. Amen.

THE IMPORTANCE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER OR HOLY COMMUNION IS NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON AS AN E-BOOK

Silver chalice and bread

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER OR HOLY COMMUNION?

Ted Schroder

I grew up in a church tradition that celebrated Holy Communion every Sunday. I can remember rising early to attend the 8.00 a.m. service. When I was confirmed at age 13 and after my commitment to Christ I was made a Server at Holy Communion. My responsibilities included setting up the bread and the wine before the service, assisting the Vicar during the service, and cleaning up afterwards. The congregation was never large at that hour. It was a quiet service for we had no music, and the homily was very short, usually read by the minister from a book of meditations. My recollection as a teenager of those services were that they were reverent, personal and very worshipful. They established the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as an integral part of my life as a Christian.

 

What is the importance and significance of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion to you? Why are bread and wine used? What does it mean to say that they are the body and blood of Christ? Why did Jesus command us to “eat this bread and drink this cup?” What do we gain by taking, eating and drinking? Why did Jesus command us to “Do this in remembrance of me”?

 

The Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation

Bread and wine are distributed in the Lord’s Supper. The bread we used in my home church was unleavened wafers prepared by the Community of the Sacred Name, an order of Anglican sisters in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was unleavened and therefore unlike store-bought bread because that was what was used for the Passover feast which Jesus celebrated with his disciples at the Last Supper. The wine we used was Port wine which was fortified or dessert wine. We used a silver chalice which meant that all received from the common cup to symbolize our unity in the Body of Christ.

By eating the bread and drinking the wine we receive outwardly and physically the food and drink by which we need to live. But this bread and wine are signs or symbols of something spiritual – Christ himself given as a sacrifice for our salvation. They are therefore the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who believes in me shall never hunger or thirst. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world….unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:51-56)

 

Eating and Drinking as Symbols of Faith

Obviously Jesus is not speaking literally but figuratively. The act of eating and drinking are outward signs of inward and spiritual faith whereby we receive what Christ offers and gives to us through his death on the Cross for our redemption. He is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. What we do physically, by eating and drinking, we do spiritually by faith, in taking Jesus, his eternal life, his salvation, his resurrection power, his atoning sacrifice, his Spirit, into our lives. Just as we take food and drink into our body, and then its nutrition is distributed throughout our bodies, so we take Christ and the benefits of his Cross into our souls. By faith, which is the soul’s mouth, we take Christ in, with all his grace and power, and he pours out his life and strength in us, and in that strength we live and work for him. We can pray:

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in to cleanse and to forgive me. Come in to comfort and heal me. Come in to empower me and change me. Come in to guide and direct me. Come in to fill me with your Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Thank you for dying on the Cross for my salvation.

 

The Centrality of the Cross

When I pastored Episcopal churches in the USA Holy Communion was celebrated at every service. While the early service was the same as the one I grew up with in my home church, the later services were larger and filled with music. The early service at my congregations in South Hamilton, Massachusetts and in Orange Park, Florida, were conducted in smaller sanctuaries. At Grace Church, Orange Park, this was the chapel where the children had their service. They then would join their parents for Holy Communion following the sermon in the big sanctuary. Their entry was always filled with joy and excitement as they joined their parents. This gave the service a festive character far different from the solemn services of my childhood. It was a joyful celebration of our life in Christ around the banquet Table.

 

Why do the denominational churches take the command of Jesus “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me,” as meaning frequently? The London Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon took it as meaning every Lord’s Day. He wrote, “I thank God that, coming to this table every Sabbath-day, as some of us do, and have done for many years, we have yet for the most part enjoyed the nearest communion with Christ here that we have ever known, and have a thousand times blessed his name for this ordinance.”

 

By celebrating the Lord’s Supper frequently Jesus intended us to keep the Cross central to our worship. In the earliest of his letters St. Paul wrote: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor.2:2) The Lord’s Supper keeps before us the atoning sacrifice of Christ. It teaches us by outward signs those truths which the preaching of the Gospel brings before us in words. It prevents us from generalizing the grace of God as cheap forgiveness by focusing our attention on the sufferings and death of our Lord as a sacrifice for sin so that we might be forgiven and justified in God’s sight.

 

Faith as Spiritual Feeding

In the Lord’s Supper a special act of faith in the atonement of Christ is required. Faith is to the mind, what partaking of food is to the physical body. We know that before food can nourish us, it must be received, eaten and digested. When we receive the bread and the wine, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and through faith, we receive Christ himself as our only and complete Savior. It is not enough to believe intellectually in the truths of the Gospel, we must also act on our belief and receive them into our hearts. We must combine our hearing with faith (Heb.4:2).

 

What are the benefits of participating in the Lord’s Supper?

It is the means of grace by which Christ, the bread and drink of life is conveyed to us and received by us through faith. God reminds us of our salvation and strengthens us to receive and feed upon Christ by the exercise of faith.

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread which we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Cor.10:16,17)

 

Blessed Assurance

Through the mercy of God, by receiving the Lord’s Supper, we enjoy these benefits which were obtained by the sacrifice of Christ. The Lord’s Supper gives us the assured hope that the blessings of redemption belong to us, and enables us to grow in grace. This assurance gives us confidence. As we take the bread and wine, and feed on them in remembrance of Christ’s death, so we believe that the spiritual blessings obtained by that sacrifice belong to us and the Lord’s Supper is designed to give us this happy assurance of faith. In partaking of this feast, our souls are strengthened and refreshed by new views of our relationship in Christ, and a fresh and lively communion with him.

 

Fellowship Around the Table

We also have the benefit of communion with our fellow-Christians around the Lord’s Table. We become interested in each other’s prayers; we sympathize in each other’s sorrows; we partake of each other’s joys; we are traveling the same road; we have the same difficulties and comforts; the same sorrows and joys. We are a family gathered around the Table whose Lord is our Host. In my church in San Antonio, Texas, the children would have their Sunday worship in their beautifully appointed Children’s Chapel, which featured stained glass windows and a hand-carved wooden Table. They learned the meaning of the Holy Communion service in their Montessori-style Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium which taught them through hands-on participation to fully understand and participate in receiving communion. They graduated from the program with a First Communion celebration. Families would come to the Communion Rail together. As people would come forward to the Altar/Communion Table and return to their seats they would greet one another in the aisles, hug one another, and bond as a family in Christ. It was truly a family meal that was full of love.

 

Preparing for the Coming of Christ

Our participation in the Lord’s Supper is one of the most effective means of preparation for the coming of Christ. The universal remembrance of Christ, and the subjection of all nations to him, cannot be hoped for until his return, and we, by the Lord’s Supper, show forth his death till he come. Then it is that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ; and our prayer will be answered, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As the last book in the New Testament closes: “Surely I come quickly; Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

 

Communion with the Lord

The Holy Communion is a means of enjoying communion with Christ on earth. The world, as our Lord reminds us, is ignorant of this communion; it does not understand it; it ridicules the idea. But we are privileged to enjoy an enlivening fellowship with the Lord. This communion is specially enjoyed at his Table. As the eyes of the disciples at Emmaus were opened, our Lord makes himself known to us in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:30.31).

 

The Wedding Feast

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper anticipates the marriage supper of the Lamb in glory. “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready… Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.” (Rev.19:7,9) The Lord’s Supper emphasizes that our destiny is to join the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven around the throne of God. There we will sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

 

This reality is made more vivid at funerals when Holy Communion is celebrated. If the body is present in a casket the congregation flows around it to take communion. We are reminded that the dead in Christ will rise first and join with us and all the communion of saints at the Lord’s Table.

 

The Wedding Invitation

Who is invited to the wedding feast? (Matt.22:1-14) Who is to receive at Holy Communion? All are invited who repent of their sins, believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, who died on the Cross that they may be forgiven and reconciled to God, are baptized members of the Body of Christ, are not at variance with their brothers and sisters in Christ and desire to live a life in Christ.

 

What does Paul mean about eating and drinking the bread and wine unworthily (see 1 Cor.11:27-29)? He is talking about “not recognizing the body of the Lord.” This may mean that the communicant does not realize what the bread and the cup means. It may mean ignorance of their significance, or lack of reverence, or application of them. It may also mean not realizing that the body of the Lord is the Christian community.  Everyone who is at variance with his brothers and sisters in Christ, eats and drinks around the Lord’s Table with them unworthily. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23,24).

 

 

A PRAYER FOR OUR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT-ELECT

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The following prayer is adapted from that which was said by the Chaplain of the House of Commons from 1661 until 1997. It is relevant to the transition of power in all branches of the federal government which we will see in the coming year.

Almighty God, by whom all Presidents govern, and Senators, Congressmen and Judges decree justice; and from whom alone comes all counsel, wisdom and understanding: We your unworthy servants, do most humbly pray that you will send down your heavenly wisdom from above, to direct and guide them in all their consultations; And grant that, having your fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of their counsels, may be the glory of your blessed name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the safety, honor and happiness of all citizens, the public welfare, peace and tranquility of the nation, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same, in true Christian love and charity towards one another, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

AN INVITATION TO THE SKEPTICAL ATHEIST AND CONFIDENT MATERIALIST

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Tim Keller has written another great book, MAKING SENSE OF GOD: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  His work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City has brought him in touch with a cross-section of yuppie Manhattanites. He points out that science and reason alone cannot serve as a guide for human society.

“Strict secularism holds that people are only physical entities without souls, that when loved ones die they simply cease to exist, that sensations of love and beauty are just neurological-chemical events, that there is no right or wrong outside of what we in our minds determine and choose. Those positions are at the very least deeply counterintuitive for nearly all people, and large swaths of humanity will continue to simply reject them as impossible to believe.”

He describes the shortcomings of the secular mindset and maintains that it requires a great deal of faith, yes faith, to be believed. It is neither rational nor logical.

On the other hand Christianity is not withering away. It is growing in disciples throughout the world. “Last Sunday there were more Christians attending church in China than there were in all of ‘Christian’ Europe.”

He makes a case for loving God and discovering your true self in Christ as a means of amplifying and deepening enjoyment of the world.

The chapter on The Problem of Morals is worth the price of the book. In it he eviscerates the secular arguments for morality. If morals are personally relative and socially constructed to justify our choices then there is no standard by which we can be judged or we can judge others. We cannot even have a conversation with someone who disagrees. There is no self-evident set of moral values. We claim to set our own values but at the same time want to impose our values on others.

“This schizophrenia is a major source of the increasing polarization we see in our culture….Secularism continues to lack even a rudimentary explanation of why moral obligation exists is there is no God…. Our culture is split and fractured by warring factions with fundamentally different visions of justice and social good.”

He concludes that an absolute morality of good and evil implies an absolute Person behind all things. This is the Moral Argument for God.

His final section is on Christianity Makes Sense.

This is a good book for anyone, believer or unbeliever. It shows how hollow the claims of atheism are and how shallow its arguments. After demolishing them he demonstrates the value of Christianity to those who are willing to become disciples of Christ.

THE BATTLE IS NOT YOURS

There is no pain Jesus can’t feel

No hurt He cannot heal

All things work according to His perfect will

No matter what you’re going through

Remember God is using You

For the battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s

There’s no sadness Jesus can’t feel

And there is no sorrow that He cannot heal

For all things work according to the Master’s holy will

No matter what you’re going through

Remember that God is only using You

For the battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s

It’s the Lord’s, yes, it’s the Lord’s

Hold your head up high don’t you fright

It’s the Lord’s, it’s the Lord’s Yes, it’s the Lord’s

No matter what you’re going through

Remember that God only wants to use you

For the battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s

No matter what you happen to go through right now

Remember that in the midst of it all God only wants to use you

No matter what you’re going through

For the battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s

No matter what it is that you’re going through

Hold your head up, stick your chest out

And remember He’s using you

No matter what you’re going through God is only using you

For this battle is not yours alone

This battle is not yours, no

You can not handle it all by yourself

No, no, no, no, no, no It’s not yours

This battle is not yours

It’s the Lord’s, not yours This battle is not yours

The Lord is the only one who can fight it

He wants to use you as His vessel

So be open to Him It’s not yours

No it’s not yours It’s the Lord’s, not yours

The battle is not yours It’s the Lord’s

Hallelujah, yeah

00:00

 

 

SURVIVING HURRICANE MATTHEW

surviving-hurricanes

Ten years ago I published SURVIVING HURRICANES in response to experiencing Hurricane Frances in 2004 and the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It included an exposition of the Armor of God and the Lord’s Prayer, both helpful resources for surviving the storms of life. I am in the process of recovering from Hurricane Matthew which traveled up the east coast this past weekend after devastating Haiti.

Last Wednesday we decided to evacuate to Valdosta, Georgia with a view to returning on Saturday. However we could not find accommodation for Friday night in the area. Viewing the slow progress of the storm it became apparent that returning to hold Sunday services was impracticable as most of our congregation had evacuated and we did not know whether the roads would be cleared enough to get to the Chapel. After that decision was made we had to find accommodation for the weekend. There were no beds to be had in the vicinity, in Atlanta or South Carolina, because people were evacuating from Georgia and the Charleston area as well. We ended up in Asheville, North Carolina Friday and Saturday night after taking an hour and a half getting through Atlanta.

At each stage of the journey we were in touch with family, friends and neighbors through our cell phones. We are thankful for modern technology. While television gave us updates on the impact of the hurricane we were dependent on neighbors to let us know about our house. Managing stress on these occasions is a major challenge. Anxiety reigns supreme. Our imaginations run wild. We anticipate the worst case scenario. Will we have a home to return to? Would our garage be flooded? Will tree limbs fall on our skylights and rain soak all our family possessions and mementos? What will our yard look like when we return? What work and expense will be involved in cleaning up the mess? I was compelled to pray earnestly for the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control to manage the stress.

Our good neighbor reassured us that our house was safe but that we had trees down in our yard! Several members of the Chapel forwarded photos of our yard. Another good friend called and said that he had walked around the house and that it was sound. He said that have someone come over and take care of the trees. We also heard that the Chapel was unscathed except for a big tree that was uprooted in the garden.

We returned on Sunday after 11 hours on the road. Interstate 26 was congested with all the evacuees trying to get back to Charleston. It was stop and start for a couple of hours. Once we exited I-26 onto I-95 we could make good progress. By the time we arrived home it was dark. We could not get into our driveway for the fallen trees. We managed to find a way to our front door through the underbrush. The power had been restored and the house was as we had left it. We lost several trees including an oak, a large pine tree and a palm tree. Other limbs have fallen around the house and several are broken and hanging off other trees. A crew came the following night and cleared our driveway but there is still major tree work to be done and the yard cleared of debris.

We are glad to be home safe and sound after four days of travel and anxiety. St. Paul writes, “Always be joyful; pray continually; give thanks whatever happens; for this is what God wills for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).   I was continually praying for God’s peace in the midst of disruption knowing that we were not in control and had to remain calm. It is a hard lesson for us to learn. We are so convinced that we able to handle everything ourselves and our ego depends upon that illusion. Hurricanes remind us that God is sovereign and we are very weak and dependent creatures. God is faithful in every crisis and he will carry us through whatever the present and the future holds. In the meantime we must trust in him and his presence to sustain us and lead us on. Hurricanes are a part of life in Florida. We must not be surprised when they come, as they surely will. Is that not a true metaphor for life? The message of SURVIVING HURRICANES is as relevant today as it was when it was first published.

The Blog of Ted Schroder