Firm Faith—Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)

The spread of the gospel in nineteenth-century China owed much to one man—Hudson Taylor. As the founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865 and a great encourager of missionaries, Taylor blazed a trail for the gospel, leaving 125,000 Chinese Christians at his death. Men such as C. T. Studd heeded his call. Despite many temptations to trust in human schemes and solutions, Taylor remained a man of daily dependence, trusting God to breathe life into his missionary ventures. Unlike many of his day, he did not see faith as something mysterious; faith was merely relying on a reliable God.

What is faith? Is it not simply the recognition of the reliability or the trustworthiness of those with whom we have to do? Why do we accept with confidence a Government bond? Because we believe in the reliability of the Government. Men do not hesitate to put faith in the Government securities, because they believe in the Government that guarantees them. Why do we, without hesitation, put coins into circulation instead of as in China, getting a lump of silver weighed and its purity investigated, before we can negotiate any money transaction with it? Because the Government issues the coin we use, and we use it with confidence and without difficulty. Why do we take a railway guide and arrange for a particular journey? . . . Well, one has confidence in the reliability of these official publications. As a rule we are not put to shame!

Now, just as we use a railway guide we must use our Bible. We must depend on God’s word just as we depend on man’s word, only remembering that though man may not be able to carry out his promise, God will always fulfil what He has said. . .1

[The work] is either of Him, and for Him, and to His glory, or else it had better come to nought . . . it could not hold together for three months if the great mainstay—God’s own faithfulness, God’s own help, God’s own power—were taken away. We have nothing else to depend upon, just as we have no-one else to serve . . . Faith has often been tried, but God has ever made these trials of faith such a real blessing to me that they have been among the chief means of grace to my own soul, as well as the chief help to my work.2

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1 Hudson Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Legacy: A Series of Meditations, ed. Marshall Broomhall (Philadelphia: The China Inland Mission, 1931), 123.
2 Ibid., 90.

Does God Care About the Final Four?

final fourIt’s the most exciting time of the year for college basketball fans in America: the Final Four. This weekend, they will don their team’s colors and expend no small amount of energy cheering as the last four teams alive battle for a national championship. Amid this excitement, I heard a radio host in Kentucky (where the University of Kentucky is hoping for its ninth national title) comment how silly it is that fans pray for their teams to win. His implication is a common one—God doesn’t really care about basketball games. After all, He’s busy with more important matters like sustaining the universe and righting injustice. But is that true? There is plenty of biblical evidence to suggest it’s not. Whether the sport is basketball, baseball, swimming, or soccer, both the outcome and how the game is played matter to God.

Of course, He’s not in suspense about the outcome like we are. The one who “declar[es] the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10) doesn’t bite His nails at the end of a tight game. Nevertheless, here are some reasons why it’s biblical to say that God cares about the Final Four (or your sporting event of choice):

– His providence extends to who wins games. If He controls the outcome of lot casting (Proverbs 16:33), doesn’t He also control how a ball bounces off a rim, whether a referee sees a foul at a crucial moment, and even which team scores more points?

– God rewards the hard work. Proverbs 13:4 promises that “the soul of the diligent is richly supplied,” and Proverbs 14:23 says, “In all toil there is profit.” Although Proverbs are general truths that may have exceptions, it stands to reason that God would honor the efforts of a team that prepared for their Final Four appearance more diligently. If this law applies to school, business, and family, wouldn’t it also apply to sports?

– The Apostle Paul used sports analogies (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) and said physical training “is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8). Though godliness is of greater value, we have divinely inspired testimony that God regards athletics as valuable.

– God cares about whatever licit activities are important to His people. For instance, Jesus took an interest in and blessed His disciples’ fishing business on more than one occasion (Luke 5:1-7; John 21:1-11). Some might claim that the Lord has more important matters to attend than something as temporal and insignificant as catching fish, but His love for the disciples moved Him to bless them in a realm of life about which they cared deeply. Might He likewise bless Christian basketball players occasionally as a gesture of love?

– God takes joy in His creatures’ using the abilities He has given them to display His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). As Scottish sprinter Eric Liddell famously said in the movie Chariots of Fire, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” It can also display God’s glory when a man that He’s made strong and agile dunks a basketball or hits a three-pointer.

God makes no promises that godly athletes or even skilled athletes will always win. To the contrary, often He uses defeat to build character—and, as Paul said, that’s far more important than winning a game or match (1 Timothy 4:8). Still, God cares about sports. You won’t find Him clad in your team’s colors (though North Carolina fans have been known to ask, “If God isn’t a Tar Heel, why is the sky Carolina blue?”). But be assured this weekend that God is not ignoring the Final Four.



Teaching the Bible: “The Truth Lives as It Is Loved”—Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

spurgeon[1]For thirty years, Charles Spurgeon faithfully proclaimed the gospel at London’s New Park Street Church. Though quite capable of literary allusion and rhetorical flourish, Spurgeon explained in this passage from “The Mustard Seed: A Sermon for the Sabbath-School Teacher” that the heart of effective Bible teaching is simplicity and love for the Gospel.

It is well for the teacher to know what he is going to teach; to have that truth distinctly in his mind’s eye . . . Depend upon it, unless a truth is clearly seen and distinctly recognised by the teacher, little will come of it to the taught. It may be a very simple truth; but if a man takes it, understands it, grasps it, and loves it, he will do something with it. Beloved, first and foremost let us ourselves take the gospel, let us believe it, let us appreciate it, let us prize it beyond all things; for the truth lives as it is loved, and no hand is so fit for its sowing as the hand which grasps it well.1

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Endnotes:

1 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Mustard Seed: A Sermon for the Sabbath-School Teacher,” The Parables of Our Lord (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), 704.

How Does One Nurture True Faith? – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

hbavinckHerman Bavinck taught theology at Kampen in Holland, and subsequently at the Free University of Amsterdam. He is highly regarded for his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics—recently translated into English and published in North America. One contemporary Princeton theologian eulogized Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics saying “[t]he book is so excellent that it seems almost impossible to be too generous in its praise.”1 Bavinck’s work is marked by a deep reverence for the scriptural faith of the church—yet integrates a candid recognition of the difficulties and mysteries encountered by those who confess the one true religion. Here he reflects on some of the problems in maintaining a scripturally grounded faith.

All believers have the experience that in the best moments of their life they are also most firm in their belief in Scripture. The believer’s confidence in Christ increases along with their confidence in Scripture and, conversely, ignorance of the Scriptures is automatically and proportionately ignorance of Christ…

It remains the duty of every person, therefore, first of all to put aside his or her hostility against the word of God and “to take every thought captive to obey Christ” [2 Cor. 10:5]. Scripture itself everywhere presses this demand. Only the pure of heart will see God. Rebirth will see the kingdom of God. Self-denial is the condition for being a disciple of Jesus. The wisdom of the world is folly to God. Over against all human beings, Scripture occupies a position so high that, instead of subjecting itself to their criticism, it judges them in all their thoughts and desires…

This has been the attitude of the church toward Scripture down the centuries. And the Christian dogmatician may take no other position. For a dogma is not based on the results of any historical-critical research but only on the witness of God, on the self-testimony of Holy Scripture. A Christian believes, not because everything in life reveals the love of God, but rather despite everything that raises doubt. All believers know from experience that this is true… There is not a single Christian who has not in his or her own way learned to know the antithesis between the “wisdom of the world” and “the foolishness of God.” It is one and the same battle, an ever-continuing battle, which has to be waged by all Christians, learned or unlearned, to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

Here on earth no one ever rises above that battle. Throughout the whole domain of faith, there remain “crosses” (cruces) that have to be overcome. There is no faith without struggle. To believe is to struggle, to struggle against the appearance of things. As long as people still believe in anything, their belief is challenged from all directions. No modern believer is spared from this either… There are intellectual problems (cruces) in Scripture that cannot be ignored and that will probably never be resolved. But these difficulties, which Scripture itself presents against its own inspiration, are in large part not recent discoveries of our century. They have been known at all times. Nevertheless, Jesus and the apostles, Athanasius and Augustine, Thomas and Bonaventure, Luther and Calvin, and Christians of all churches have down the centuries confessed and recognized Scripture as the word of God. Those who want to delay belief in Scripture till all the objections have been cleared up and all the contradictions have been resolved will never arrive at faith. “For who hopes for what he sees?” [Rom. 8.24]. Jesus calls blessed those who have not seen and yet believe [John 20:29].2

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Endnotes

1 Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 485.

2. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume One: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 440-442.



Why More Is Never Enough

10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 (ESV)

moneyUK“Everyone wants more.” That’s the answer a former corporation head gave Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan after he told her he had just successfully sued his former company for $5 million. What puzzled Noonan is that the fellow admitted that he did not even need the money. The blind pursuit of more for more’s sake unsettled Noonan: “The idea of getting into a struggle to squeeze out another $5 million when you have $100 million seemed to me absurd, a misallocation of energy and interest. It’s not as if you can buy a better steak if you’re already that rich. It’s not as if you can buy a better anything. So why fight for another five?”

The Bible provides an answer to that question. Lovers of money are never satisfied (v. 10). By themselves, possessions merely “increase those who eat them” (a pun on expanding waistlines), or serve as cold and distant trophies (v. 11). In the end they are meaningless, a nothingness which never delivers joy. Conversely, Solomon observed that the true delights of one’s work do not arise from riches, but rather from a job well done.

Those who continually lust for money fail to satiate their appetites, because God did not create people to take ultimate pleasure in anything save Him. Money, after all, is an artificial construct of human society. Instead, God made man to enjoy work. This is why “[t]he sleep of the laborer is sweet” (v. 12 NIV). He receives the reward of the work of his hands by seeing a job well done (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19; 2:10, 24-26). Material blessings are but dim reminders of the glory of hard work. If a man labors for nothing more than a paycheck, however, he will never be able to rest (v. 12).

God placed man in creation to work, but the Fall diverted him from true happiness. Although one’s efforts may produce wealth, financial gain is not the final goal of one’s labors. The joy gained through our stewardship of God’s creation is. The gift of God in work may be as simple as a good night’s sleep.



A Biblical Understanding of Career

At every turn, we hear of career concerns—of career counselors, smart career moves, career-ending injuries, and so on. As much attention as we pay to this notion, indeed, as much anxiety we have over it, we might well be interested in what the Bible has to say about careers.

careerAlas, concordances aren’t much help since the word “career” is a later development, a metaphor arising in the Romance languages, beginning with the Latin for “road” or “route”—carraria—and showing up in French as carriere. The closest we come in the Greek New Testament is with dromos, which means a course one traverses (as in hippodrome, a building where horses run a course). Dromos appears in 2 Timothy 4:7, where, reflecting on his life, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race (course in the KJV), I have kept the faith.” And yes, the word is translated as carrera and carreira in Spanish and Portuguese Bibles respectively.

So what career guidance can we get from Paul, who finished his dromos/race/course/carrera? Well, in Acts 22:3, we learn that he got off to a great start, being “thoroughly trained” under the master teacher Gamaliel. But things went off the rails for him when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. With his rabbinic career wrecked, he ventured out on a new career.

So how did this work out for him? Second Corinthians 11:24-28 doesn’t paint a rosy picture—lashings, beatings, a stoning, shipwrecks, toil, hardship, dangers of every sort and on every hand, hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, and worry about the budding churches: not the sort of opportunity you’d post on a job board.

Surely a career counselor could have helped him avoid a lot of this grief, for he seemed a bit too ready to launch out on bold enterprises without careful study of the prospects. For instance, he jumped into Macedonia without knowing who on earth might catch him (Acts 16:9-10)— much like the impulsive Abraham, who “by faith . . . obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Of course, the Bible says things about being prudent, prepared, and diligent for the work ahead, and equipped for options. And certainly, there is room for a holy ambition that dreams of and studies for far-reaching impact for the Kingdom. But unflinching devotion to an economically or socially upward path or to a congenial situation is not the biblical approach. Rather, believers should manifest a level of joyful abandon, willing to discover their God-directed career at the end of it all, saying, in effect with Paul, “Praise the Lord. That was surely interesting.” In other words, everyone has a career, a course in life; it’s a question of authorship. When we write out our plans, we should do so with pencil rather than pen, always willing for God to erase them and substitute fresh ones in ink. The editing may upset us at first, but we should trust His wisdom and beneficence, come what may.

First John 2:15-17 counsels us not to love “the things in the world” and to avoid the desires of the flesh and eyes and the “pride of life.” When career concerns fill in these blanks, then an idol materializes. At its feet, pastors are paralyzed by preoccupation with longevity and promotion, and the laity shrink from witness in the work place for fear that someone will be annoyed.

In Luke 14:28, Jesus asks rhetorically, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Taken alone, this sounds like a career counselor’s advice, the sort of prompt that would lead a preacher to avoid prickly topics, a baker to make cakes for gay weddings, or a public school teacher to withhold a kind word for Intelligent Design. But the whole passage points in the opposite direction—to the way of the cross (a road quite familiar to Christians in, for instance, the Muslim world). This is, of course, the highest career counseling, in that there could be no better course to take in life than to live daily in response to the Lord’s leading, whatever the cost in worldly terms. Indeed, as the Bible says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).