perseverance

 

Feb

04

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|10:39 am CT

Learning to Be the Moral Minority from a Moral Minority

In recent weeks the evangelical world has found itself reeling from cultural setbacks it once took for granted. The re-election of President Obama, state passage of “gay marriage” initiatives, the uninviting of Louie Gigglio to the Inauguration, and even last night’s Super Bowl have signaled to some that Christians and Christianity have lost their welcome place in the public square. For the first time, some evangelical conservatives feel like an oppressed minority in the country.

As I’ve watched the chatter mixed with laments and jeremiads, I couldn’t help but think of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” founded in the late 70′s and defunct by the late 80′s. For nearly a decade, the Moral Majority exercised its political voice largely in southern states.

It seems to me that the very notion of a “moral majority” rested on two assumptions that some evangelicals no longer find tenable. First, it assumed the basic morality of most of the country. It assumed basic “Judeo-Christian principles” shaped and framed the moral reasoning of the average citizen, making your “average Joe” basically friendly to the aims and concerns of conservative Christians. Second, it assumed privilege. The very notion of “majority” suggests strength in numbers, a perch from which to rule for no other reason than outnumbering one’s opponents. The last couple months have upturned both of those long-standing assumptions and some evangelicals find themselves at a loss for how to handle it, claiming to be “persecuted,” “rejected,” and “shut out” from the public square. Many who don’t yet go so far as to claim persecution now, ring the ominous alarm of abuse being just around the corner.

It seems to me that if the evangelical church faces minority status in a country that no longer feels as welcoming, it will need to learn to become the moral minority. And to do that, coming from a position of significant privilege, she will actually have to learn from some folks who have long understood what it means to be moral and what it means to be minority in a country that denies your morality and even your right to freedom and existence. The Black Church. Evangelicals could well learn to be the moral minority from a much older moral minority. Here are a few things to pick up (some of which I had the privilege of discussing here):

1. Learn to suffer with dignity and grace. That’s not easy. But if the evangelical church is going to maintain a healthy dignity and resolve, it’ll need to endure suffering like a good soldier. It’ll need to learn how to bear reproach, shame, insult, ridicule, and even physical attack without cowing, lowering its head, or hating itself. Because of its privilege, white evangelical churches don’t know how to joyfully accept the plundering of its possessions and persons. If true persecution comes, it will need to learn this lesson in spades. There are two models: Jesus and the Black Church. Jesus’ model is perfect; the Black Church’s example is proximate, near at hand. One you read in the scripture, the other you can read in history texts or even access in conversation.

2. Learn to do theology from the underside. Privilege affords a person the ability to think about life and God from “above.” It allows a person to form conclusions in abstraction, detached from the grit and grime of suffering and need. But you can’t do that if you’re in a “persecuted minority” status. You have to ask, as Howard Thurman did two generations ago, “What does Jesus of Nazareth mean and have to say to the disinherited?” What truth and power is there in the gospel from the underside? How must we think about power and its use when we’re the disenfranchised rather than the brokers? In many respects that’s the great difference between theology done in Black and White circles. Most of African-American theology gets worked out in the crucible of suffering and under-privilege. That’s why it’s starting points and conclusions can be so different to those arrived at from the “top.” That’s why it can look heretical to those with power and privilege. The view comes from the bottom, and that’s a very different reality. I suspect that if the white evangelical church ever does become a truly persecuted minority in the country, the scope and content of its theological commitments will change significantly to include questions of power, privilege, access, and justice. It would be good to glean from the experiences and theologies of persons that already have in hand over three hundred years of thinking about such things.

3. Learn how to fight for your oppressors, not just against them. One genius of African-American theology and the Black Church has been its insistence on the full dignity, humanity, brotherhood, and rights of both the Black community and the White community. The best of Black Church history sees the future of Blacks and Whites inseparably connected. The best thinkers about the nature of humanity have identified the ways in which racism, for example, dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressor. The best activists have, therefore, sought not only freedom for the oppressed but also freedom for the oppressor. The “enemy” becomes the beneficiary of the oppressed’s love. This is the genius of a Martin L. King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. The moral minority rose up against an immoral majority without sticks and guns but with love and justice for all. In positions of privilege, we don’t easily adopt such attitudes and positions. We easily engage our “opponents” with a zero-sum, winner-loser mentality. So, for example, “homosexuals” are meant to be “stopped” rather than loved and included. We focus on the heinousness of the sin rather than helping the sinner be as free as we claim to be. The problem with that winner-takes-all approach is that those chickens will come home to roost when we find ourselves in the minority. If we’re truly moral then we seek justice for everyone, including those who line up against us on this or that political issue. In a true “moral minority” any “superiority” will be demonstrated in concrete action on behalf of everyone’s equality.

4. Learn to hope in God. When you’re the majority community wielding power in society, you don’t have to hope in God in quite the same way as you do when you’re the minority and oppressed community. There’s a sense in which it becomes easy to trust in chariots, horses, and armies rather than the name of the Lord our God. But true persecution strips you of every support but God. Persecution brings you to your knees, but that’s where you find power. That’s one part of the legacy of the Black Church. When life was at its worst, it was a praying church. Despite injustice, persecution and the threat of death on every hand, African-American Christians put their hope in a God they were sure would bend the arc of history toward justice and deliverance. That hope was not pie-in-the-sky escapism. It was the noose-is-tightening realism. It was the kind of hope the apostle Paul found when he felt the sentence of death written in his heart and despaired of life, the kind of hope that comes to its senses and realizes it cannot rely on itself but must rely on the God who raises people from the dead (2 Cor. 1). It’s a hope kept safe beyond the vicissitudes of this life.

I suspect that much of the lamentation I hear in the evangelical world may be the dying cries of long-standing privilege. I also suspect that the death of such privilege will result in a purer grasp of faith and dependence upon God. Much less will be taken for granted and more genuine thought given to living out the faith from the “bottom.” Perhaps we’ll see, as one person put it, that a lot of what we’ve called “thinking” has merely been the rearranging of our prejudices. Then we’ll find that persecution, if it comes, has been for the purging and purifying of God’s people. A purging and purifying that’s very much needed.

 
 

Apr

25

2011

Thabiti Anyabwile|9:26 am CT

Run the Race

The Bible frequently likens the Christian life to a race.  The Christian is a runner in a test, not of speed, but of endurance or perseverance.  It’s a helpful metaphor for understanding the life we’re called to live in Christ.

Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday’s The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance offers a good examination of perseverance and the race metaphor used in the Bible.  The opening paragraph of chapter one succinctly outlines the race:

“God calls us to this race.”

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

“We train for this race.”

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:7-8).

“Our training entails strict self-control.”

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Cor. 9:25).

“Anyone who runs this race must compete according to the rules.”

An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5).

“There is a prize to be won.”

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it (1 Cor. 9:24).

“Anyone who seeks to win the prize must run with singular devotion, with one’s eyes set on the prize who is Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1-2).

How’s the race coming?  Keep running until you receive the prize!

 
 

Nov

04

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:22 am CT

Satan Wants Cattle for Food; God Wants Slaves that Become Sons

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?  My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’  These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go witht he multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.  Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:1-5)


The longing, thirsting, downcast, empty, ridiculed psalmist ranks among the most powerful men.  In his brokenness, he poses more danger to the enemy’s kingdom than the joyful, full, praised, and satisfied saint ever did.  The gates of hell shake in terror with every movement of this weak and broken man’s shuffling feet.  He feels himself to be in an arid land, but rivers of living water lie just before him.  How does one thirsting and panting for God effect so much trouble for Satan?

Chief demon Wormwood explains:

To decide what the best use of [the Christian's spiritual dryness and dullness] is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite.  Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this.  To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.  But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing.  One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth.  He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself–creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.  We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons.  We want to suck in, He wants to give out.  We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over.  Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

And that is where the troughs come in.  You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment.  but you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use.  Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless.  He cannot ravish.  He can only woo.  For His ignoble ideas is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.  He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning.  He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation.  Be He never allows this state of affairs to last long.  Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at lest from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives.  He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs–to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.  It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.  We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better.  He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice.  He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.  Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

From C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (HarperCollins), pp. 39-40.

Screwtape, the demon, wishes very much that the Christian’s troughs and droughts would appear terminal and futile.  He wishes very much that the Christian would lose sight of the Savior’s use of such periods.  He desires that we should forget that some of the Lord’s favorite subjects have endured the longest seasons without rain and sunshine.  But he knows what all demons know.  The Christian in His slump stands are more upright than the self-assured fully erect and shoulders back.  In that slumping, longing posture near despondency, there exists a spiritually dangerous man who may at any moment strike a blow against Satan’s devouring cause.

Even in our feelings of spiritual desertion, we may still obey the Savior.  Such obedience meets with joyful reward.  Jesus promised: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 14:15, 21, 23; and 15:10)

 
 

Aug

31

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|10:42 am CT

God Does Not Justify Sinners by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone in Christ Alone to Make Salvation Easy for Us

It seems that’s how we preachers and Christians often think, talk, and feel about God’s grace in salvation.

We sometimes seem to be saying to sinners, “You see, God has made it easy for you. Just believe.”

Or, “It’s not what you do. Christ has done it for you. Just repent and accept Christ.”

Fair enough.  True enough.  But that’s not all.  And when that sentiment sounds easy to us, we’re left befuddled and bedraggled by the many hard places and thorny challenges of following Jesus.  When it gets hard, we ask, “What’s happening?”  And what we’re really saying is “I thought grace made this Christian thing easy.”

We can intimate that salvation through Christ is easy. But it’s not. It was neither easily purchased for us, nor is it easily obtained, nor is it easily kept.

The Purchase.  Christ purchased our salvation with His own blood. The agony of Gethsemane was eclipsed by great groanings of Golgotha. The pleadings in the garden gave way to the great cries of the cross. Our salvation comes at infinite cost to the Son of God.  He suffered holy wrath against the sins of the entire world.  It was not easily purchased.

Obtaining.  Nor is it easily obtained. Does not the Lord himself say straight and narrow is the way and there are few who find it?  Camels go through the eye of a needle more easily than rich men enter the kingdom of God. There is taking up the cross and dying with Christ. All this happens by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but it is not easily obtained. It is costly to follow Jesus.

Maintaining.  Nor is it easily maintained. All those who would live godly lives shall suffer persecution. They hated Jesus and they hate those who follow. People will think they’ve done a good thing when they have slain the Lord’s servants. The flesh will war against the Spirit. Sin will deceive and tempt. The enemy sets snares. The world sings its siren song.  Many will not love the truth and will turn back.

Only those who overcome, who persevere in faith until the end, will receive the Reward. We are kept by God’s power through faith. Our inheritance is preserved for us in heaven. But, forgive me, this is not easy. This is not achieved while rolling over again and again on our beds, while drinking in the poisons of sinful entertainments, or giving ourselves to unrighteousness. The one we serve is our master–whether mammon, sin, or Christ. We serve Christ by His grace through faith and in the power of His indwelling Spirit. He is our holiness with which we will see God. But persevering until the end is not easy.

We were never told it would be easy. Much to the contrary. We take the kingdom by force. We wage war in the power of Christ. We put to death the misdeeds of the flesh. We gouge out and cut off. We deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow daily. We do not shrink back from death and persecution and starvation and the enemy’s assaults. We stand. And doing all, we stand.

And as we do, in Christ, we are more than conquerors.  For He is our Captain, a Shield, our Defender, our Advocate, and our Victory. We are assured of all that God promises us in Christ. It is by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. But it is not easy.  Press on toward the high calling; discipline your body; persevere until the end; run to win the crown.  You won’t lose in Christ, even if it’s not easy.

 
 

Jun

13

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|6:20 am CT

Shepherd’s Notes: What If I Doubt My Salvation?

Last Sunday, we began a new series called Shepherd’s Notes. In this series, I’m posting short videos from The Gospel Coalition featuring Coalition members answering a question of pastoral and theological importance. Last week, we posted a video from Lig’ Duncan discussing how a busy pastor celebrates the Lord’s Day.

This morning, Gary Inrig takes up the troublesome question, “What if I doubt my salvation?”  Gary is a gentle soul and Senior Pastor of Trinity Church in Redlands, California.

 
 

May

03

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|6:45 am CT

Dealing with Apostasy

David Murray over at TGC blog has a nice outline of John Owen’s thoughts on dealing with apostasy.  Apostasy is always a painful and bewildering experience for believers.  These several themes are a good spine for fleshing out the Bible’s teaching for our people.

 
 

Feb

21

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|2:23 pm CT

The Look of Love

Each of the four gospel writers record that faithful night when the apostle Peter denied our Lord with three statements of increasing rejection.  They tell us of Peter’s bitter weeping when he realized that Jesus correctly predicted his denials before the rooster crowed.  But Luke includes a profound little detail.

Luke 22:61 says that just as Peter was denying Jesus for the third time and the rooster crowed, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him….”


That look must have killed Peter a thousand ways!  When the Lord looks at us in our sin and rejection we can’t help but be stricken with grief.  And the truth is, the Lord sees us all the time in our various faults, sins, denials, and rejections.

But what was this look.  What did Peter see in Jesus’ eyes?  Did the look say, “I told you so”?  I don’t think Jesus was gloating over Peter’s failure.

Did Jesus look at Peter with eyes of fire, angry.  I don’t think so.  Jesus will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoking candle.

Did the look say, “How could you?”  I don’t think the look communicated personal hurt.  Jesus did not come to burden us with guilt, but to take it away.

I think the look was pure and holy love… which we cannot bear to see in our sin.  In our self-righteousness, we could understand—even want—anger or disappointment or hurt or even an “I told you so!”  But when the Lord continues to look at us with unfeigned and unblemished love… it robs us of all self-righteousness and makes us see what holy love we rejected… and what wretched messes we are.  We can’t bear to see him look at us with such pure and holy love when we’ve failed so miserably. So, like Peter, we turn our faces away and weep bitterly when we fail our Lord.

And that’s a terrible mistake.  If when we sinned against our Lord, we could continue to look in His face, we would eventually see that this holy love accepts us.  It pardons.  It cleanses.  It relieves guilt and removes shame.  It heals the broken and lifts the worthless.  If we could but look in His face, we’d see a loving look that says, “Come unto me.”

It’s a face of One who loves in such a way as to overcome our sin… to take our sin as His own… to bear our guilt as if it were His… a love that joins us to himself.  To look into that face by faith… is to feel and know the holiest, most sacrificial, redeeming love possible.

Peter’s biggest problem isn’t that he denied Jesus three times.   He will be restored from that.  Our biggest problem isn’t our failing or denying Jesus.

Peter’s biggest problem is that he wept alone and turned away… rather than run to Jesus’ loving face.  Our biggest problem is looking away from Jesus.  He has taken away our sins.  Now we must look to Him and continue looking to Him until we rejoice in His loving acceptance.

If we’re Christians for any length of time, we come to discover that our lives are full of failure and sin… even denials of various sorts.  But we also discover that He keeps looking on… and He keeps calling us to himself.  Christian… look to Jesus.  Do not turn away.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

 
 

Feb

05

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|9:53 am CT

The Folly of Boasting in Our Hearts

Scene 1:

“But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’  And all the other disciples said the same.” (Matt. 26:35)

Scene 2:

“Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’  Immediately a rooster crowed.  Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’  And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Matt. 26:74-75)

Application:

It is far better to pray for our hearts than to boast or trust in our hearts.

Our hearts do not deserve our confidence, Jesus does.

Our hearts will not keep us from falling away. Only Jesus will.

 
 

Feb

02

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|11:21 am CT

Encouragement Softens the Heart

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (Heb. 3:12-14).

“And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).

It is entirely possible to be among the brethren and have a sinful, unbelieving heart.  Judas did.  Judas’ hands mingled in the bowl with the hand of God the Son, but his heart belonged to the enemies of Christ who bought his betrayal for 30 pieces of silver.  The fact that all the disciples asked in turn, “Surely, not I Lord?” reveals the uncertainty they had about their own hears.  As the songwriter puts it: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

What a desperately wicked and deceitful and frail thing is the human heart.  And by degrees, subtly and unnoticed, the heart may become unbelieving.  It may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  So much so that some who seemed to begin with Christ may finish without Him.

The antidote: “continue in him,” that is, Christ.

The practical application: “Encourage one another daily.”

The encroachment and deceit of sin is so steady and unrelentless, we need to daily encourage one another.  We need others to speak every day the words of life, to assure us in the faith, and by such words to purge our hearts of unbelief and hardness.  As Paul Tripp put it, “Our words are the principal tool God uses in the work he does through us” (Winning the War of Words, p. 199).  What we say to one another every day has serious spiritual importance; it may be the difference between increasing hardness and increasing confidence before God.

“But if we continue in Him, we may be confident and unashamed on the Day He returns.”  This morning I asked my youngest daughter what she thought it would be like when Jesus returned.  Her first response: people will be afraid.  I think she nailed it.  But I asked her why she thought that.  “Because it will be a surprise and shocking,” came the reply.  Again: spot on.  Sinful men are never ready to meet a holy God.

But for those whose thoughts are fixed on Christ, who love His coming, who long for His appearing, who are in Him, the Day of His return will be a Day filled with confidence and no shame.  We will be ready to meet Him, and seeing Him we will be like Him (1 John 3:2), and seeing Him we will be satisfied completely (Ps. 17:15).  What a great and glorious Day!

So, in view of that coming Day, let me ask you: How is your day going so far?  How might it change by thinking for a moment about that coming Day when Christ will appear and we will be caught up together with Him in the air?  Will we be confident and unashamed because we have continued in Him in faith, love and hope?  Will others be confident and unashamed because today we encouraged them with the word of life?

I pray so.  For every day we need to be encouraged so that our hearts might not harden and our confidence be made solid.