"He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD" (Psalm 40:3).
Loved by God, a sheep of the Good Shepherd, husband, teacher, writer. I blog with my wife Laura at "The Untamed Places" (www.theuntamedplaces.com), where together we seek to capture the world at hand, the appealing and the appalling, in pictures and in words.
Black night, then, great God? You’ve chosen black night
For this your little sheep to wander through,
Cold, shiv’ring, bleating as he follows you
So close behind your steady gate, your sight
Set firmly on your lamb though doubt and fright
Enshroud his moonless route? To him be true!
Lead down a trail that gleams with morning dew
In dawn’s fair light, but please, great God—black night?
Hush now, dear sheep, and shadow close beside
The Maker of the path and of the light
That you so long for; let me be your guide!
Could I not speak and banish dark forthright?
For good I chose this road that you now chide,
So follow on though my choice be black night.
Your dear sheep bleats to hear his shepherd’s voice
and longs for revelation of his choice
of what awaits the flock just down the path;
Are stored up long-sought streams or desert’s wrath?
And how long must he wait just out of sight
of what’s around the bend—bleak dark or light?
Small, tired feet desire this day’s close—
to be there now—and yet the shepherd slows
until he halts and stares on up ahead
while silently behind him his sheep dreads
that this stop may be long and hard to bear.
Desiring what’s to come, he trusts his care.
So wait, dear sheep, though bleat all that you will,
for he who’s led you thus far leads you still.
I would venture to say that it is rather common for Christians to read their Bible with envy, of sorts, toward the grandiose ways in which God has worked and revealed himself on behalf of his servants of old, especially in the Old Testament. Adam and Eve actually walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden. Enoch walked with God and was not, for God took him. Noah received special revelation about the coming flood, built an arc, and ensured the survival of the human race. God spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in dreams and visions, promising them his special blessing by which they would bless all the families of the earth. God raised Joseph up to be the second in command of all Egypt, and through him the nations of the world survived a seven-year drought. God spoke to Moses from a burning bush, worked miracles through him, and led a mass exodus of his people from slavery to freedom. His people walked on dry ground through the Red Sea. God triumphantly went before them into the land of Canaan and delivered all their enemies into their hands. He raised up a kingly dynasty beginning with David which would rule forever. Prophets spoke great and mighty oracles of God, warning of present sin and prophesying of glorious and terrible Day of the Lord. Daniel’s lions had their mouths closed by God. Three Hebrew boys escaped the fiery furnace unscathed. Even after exile, God miraculously brought his people back from Babylon and reestablished them in the Promised Land. The wild, mysterious John the Baptist came preaching and baptizing in power. What exciting times in which to have lived!
In light of the mind-numbing ways in which God has revealed himself to his people throughout the centuries, as Christians today it’s easy to compare our experience with theirs and feel like we’re coming up short. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus makes this astounding statement in Matthew 11:11: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” From Adam to John the Baptist, there had never been a greater man. Not Abraham. Not Moses. Not David. Not Isaiah. John the Baptist was the single greatest man to have ever lived to that point. The reason for this is found in what Jesus says in verse 13: “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” That is, everything that Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah spoke of and experienced was merely preparation. Their lives were pointing to what was coming. They were signs along the highway of history alerting mankind to the fast-approaching arrival of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Each of them died without seeing the coming of the great and glorious lamb which would take away the sins of the world. John the Baptist, however, not only got to see him, but to him was given the task of personally introducing that one to the world. Certainly he was the greatest man to have ever lived up to that point.
Nevertheless, astonishingly so, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. You’re a citizen of God’s kingdom if Jesus is your King. You belong to God’s domain if God has personally revealed himself to you in Christ and you’ve bowed your knee beneath his rule. It’s the citizens of the kingdom that God has chosen to seal with his Spirit, dwelling within them. The very least significant person to fit this description is greater than John the Baptist.
John the Baptist died without seeing Christ crucified and resurrected. He introduced the Messiah to the world, but even John did not get to see the single greatest event to ever transpire in the history of the world: Jesus bearing the sins of the world and making atonement between a holy God and his sinful people. You and I have seen it. We have four incredible accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We have a history of the first-century church and of the initial spread of Christianity to the nations. We have letters which provide further commentary on Jesus’ gospel and on the spreading of the kingdom of God to all the world. We have prophecy detailing the end of this age and Jesus’ second coming. And in these sacred writings we are able to come to know the depths of God’s grand plan for all mankind like no one before could have ever dreamed. We live with the mysteries of God opened and made plain to us in ways that Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and even John the Baptist could have never imagined. Truly we are greater than John the Baptist. The possibility afforded us today to know God and his plan for his people through Christ, to walk and talk with him, and to be guided daily and personally by his Spirit is by all accounts superior to John the Baptist’s experience. God has not short-changed us as Christians today.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. And let him rejoice. And let him know God in light of the full revelation of Christ like John the Baptist never could have known him.
11. When two rights conflict, the higher value should be protected.
The right of a baby to live is of higher value than the right of a woman to choose whether or not she wants to be pregnant.
Echoed throughout his article are the words, “We know what we are doing.” And he’s exactly right. We know. We all know. Please wake up. Please open your eyes and see. Yet precisely because we know, we are able to repent, and God can forgive. God is near to those who call on his name. Praise him for his steadfast love.
A very well-read man has said, “Books don’t often change your life. Single sentences from books change your life.” Words, then—even a mere sentence-full of them—are very powerful.
One such sentence that has impacted me perhaps more than any other I’ve ever come to know is a single, compound sentence from Isaiah 41:10. There, God says to his people,
Fear not, for I am with you.
I have never read a single sentence that has impacted me as much as that one has. It is incredibly simple as far as sentences go—two independent clauses joined neatly together by a coordinating conjunction. And yet, the truth behind such deceptively simple sentence construction is breath-taking.
To begin with, God tells his people, “Fear not.” It’s a command. What’s more, it’s a command regarding our emotions. He’s commanding us not to be afraid. He’s ordering us not to feel fear.
Why? On what basis would he make such a claim? He doesn’t leave us guessing. He gives us a rock-solid reason as to why we should not be afraid, introduced by the little word “for,” meaning because. He commands us not to fear because he is with us.
I could not overstate the staggering implications of the fact that God is with me. The thought has filled me with the deepest sense of awe and peace more times than I can now count. The very being who stretched out the stars with his fingers (Psalm 8:3) and who actively upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) is, right now as I type these words, with me. He is present. He is here. He is with me.
I think this verse has meant so much to me over the past few years because of all that I see in that word “with.” He’s not against me. He’s for me. He’s not distant. He’s close. He’s not working in opposition to me. He’s working for my good. He’s not aloof of my doings. He’s involved at the very minutest detail of everything I do. He’s not cold and indifferent to my needs and wants. He knows me inside and out because he’s right here with me.
Ever needed someone to simply be with you? It is impressive to me how someone’s mere presence, sometimes, is enough. God is always with me. He is good, and he is powerful, and he is with me. As the psalmist said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). It is beyond my ability to fully grasp.
May you come to know God this way. So I say to you as God has so often whispered to me, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
The results are in. The counts have been finalized. The numbers are clear. Here is a list of the most popular posts made to this blog in 2012. Drum roll please!
Beginning the list at number five is “Lessons From Job, Part 6,” published on January 10. This was the last installment of a six-part series on truths that had impacted me greatly from the book of Job.
Number four on the list is “Living (and Dying) in Hope,” posted September 8. I wrote these words after receiving the news that a dear high school music teacher of mine, Gary Fiscus, had succumbed to his long battle with cancer.
Coming in at number two is “Time for a (Real) Change,” posted on April 10. This post delves into a realization I came to shortly after my wife and I moved to a new house. While all my surroundings were new, it turned out I was the same ol’ guy.
And the most popular post made to this blog in 2012 is “Shots Fired,” written and published on November 23. This post recounts the events that took place while my wife, mom, and mother-in-law were at a mall in Omaha, NE, early in the morning on Black Friday.
There you have it, folks. The top five posts of 2012. May they be a blessing. Grace and peace to you as you begin 2013.
There is incomprehensible suffering in this world. It shouldn’t be! our hearts cry out. And our hearts are right. A gunman shouldn’t shoot 26 people in cold blood, 20 of them defenseless children, in an elementary school. A group of men shouldn’t gang rape a woman on a public bus and then throw her off it for dead. Terrorists shouldn’t run airplanes into buildings. A country’s entire economic system shouldn’t be dependent upon labor inhumanely exacted from black slaves. A husband shouldn’t be so arrogant and self-centered when his wife is tired and needs encouragement.
And yet these things happen. They happen every day. We hear about some in the news. Most don’t draw much media coverage at all. And in light of such horrors, people begin to look for relief from the horrors that surround them—and from the horrors that torment them.
Christianity has the answer, but it might not be exactly what you think it is. To be very clear, Jesus is the answer. What you need in the middle of terror—any terror or calamity or sorrow or hardship that you’ve ever faced, are facing right now, or ever will face—is Jesus right there, right beside you, with his strong, sovereign arms around you ensuring you that this pain won’t consume you.
I would gently and lovingly caution you, however, from misunderstanding what I mean when I say that Jesus is the answer. What I don’t mean is that you need Jesus so that big, strong Jesus can remove you from your terror or calamity or sorrow or hardship. In fact, Jesus and the inspired biblical writers make it very clear that following him would increase the tribulations you face in this world (John 16:33; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; 2 Thessalonians 3:2-4; 1 Peter 2:20). What I mean when I say that Jesus is the answer to your deepest longings and most pointed pains is that you need Jesus to be the rock under your feet so that when the winds blow and when the storm comes, while you may be struck hard by the merciless waves, you won’t be utterly shaken and washed away.
Jesus doesn’t promise to remove all your heartache. He promises to walk beside you through it and ensure it doesn’t consume you. That is the hope we have in him. This rock-solid truth is what the world longs for and can’t find. As we enter 2013, I pray that you wouldn’t be one of those left wanting.
That article inspired me to write a letter to Ms. French, which I e-mailed to her. Below is that letter in full.
Dear Rose French,
I read your article in the December 30th Sunday paper about Pastor John Piper. Even though you made several references to John Piper’s “fiery” preaching against sin, and even though John Piper himself, as you noted in your article, “makes no apologies for his theology,” it is my earnest prayer for you that you might come to see that such teaching is absolutely liberating, life-giving, and altogether precious. It is not dour and old-fashioned as many believe.
It is very loving for a doctor to tell his patient who’s been suffering with headaches for months that she has a brain tumor the size of a golf ball and that it needs to be removed immediately or she will die. In fact, it would be hateful for him not to tell her. That’s Pastor John’s tone when he “preaches judgment against sinners”. It is a very brave, gracious, loving act, especially when it’s coupled with the news that there’s a cure!
One does not have to look too deeply to see that humanity has a serious problem. In the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary, Governor Dan Malloy well said, “Evil visited this community.” Evil is real and manifests itself all around us every day. But it’s not isolated to crazed gunmen. The same evil manifests itself when I speak harshly and act selfishly with my wife. It manifests itself when children rebel against their parents and parents abuse their children. It is at the root of every broken relationship you’ve ever experienced, Ms. French.
You and I and all of us are suffering terrible headaches, but it’s not hateful for a man, perhaps a man like Pastor John, to come along and tell us that there’s something deeper causing those headaches—a spiritual cancer, if you will—a cancer that Christianity calls sin. It’s the beginning of hope. Now that we know what the problem is, we can finally begin to search for a solution.
Of course, the story of Jesus found in the Gospels offers such a solution. (This is the part of Pastor John’s preaching that you didn’t include in your article and that I desperately want you to know!) You don’t have to let the spiritual cancer that has you in its grip right now in this very moment win. There’s a man sent from God 2,000 years ago who lived a perfect life. He never sinned. He perfectly fulfilled every last one of God’s laws. He wasn’t infected with the disease that infects all the rest of us. That Jesus died on a Roman cross and in so doing accomplished two things. One, he suffered the punishment that God demands for breaking his good laws. If God didn’t punish evil like the murder of 20 defenseless children and the reputation-killing remarks I’ve made about my friends and family, then he wouldn’t be a just judge. So Jesus offered to take that punishment (and did so on the cross) to fulfill that demand.
Number two, Jesus credits his perfect life to all those who believe in him and who receive him. That is, when a person embraces and welcomes and trusts and hopes in Jesus as his or her only hope, God credits Jesus’ perfect life as if that person had lived a perfect life. The separation that exists between God and man due to man’s sin is removed, and Jesus reconciles the two.
I am in awe of it again as I type these words to you, Ms. French, and it is my prayer that such realities would fall on your ear not as harsh and archaic but as liberating and beautiful.
Thank you for your story about this beloved man who has offered hope to many hurting, cancer-ridden sinners like myself. Yes he rightly identified the cause of my headaches, but he also held out for me a beautiful cure that has been the source of more joy to my soul than anything else I’ve ever tasted. May you come to share in my joy.