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The Faults in our Stars

I have to admit that the older I get, burying my head in the proverbial sand is more attractive. Yeah, I’m a coward. It’s my protection “mechanism” against information overload and the drag that comes with it. I can’t digest all the information coming at me. Plus, I fear the fatigue that comes with the letdown in the news. But don’t worry, that will become old news in a few hours or days! 

Because every time we take our head out of the sand and come up for “refreshing” air, we realize danger and disappointment surround us. Often, we find out that another beloved hero or leader has fallen or some dirt has surfaced to tarnish their otherwise blissful and inspiring legacy. So, we choose to suffocate ourselves spiritually in the sand of our own heads by not wanting to hear or know anything that would change this sublime state.

Leadership failures and hero falls are becoming more quickly known and broadcasted because of technology these days. But it’s not always the case for more historic figures that predated this ‘every person a journalist’ era.

Consider one of our Christian heroes: Horatio G. Spafford, a 19th century Chicago lawyer, whose legacy as a hymn-writer was firmly fixed in the tragic loss he experienced of his four daughters on the Atlantic. He penned the beloved “It is Well With My Soul” as his confident acceptance of God’s promises and plan. This is usually where the story ends on Spafford. Yet, as is little known, it didn’t really end well for him. Though he and his wife Anna were able to have 3 other children and adopted another later in life, Spafford, who was a member of the Fullerton Ave Presbyterian Church (in Lincoln Park, Chicago), adhered to quirky and maybe even quixotic or heterodox doctrinal views, such as universalism. He attempted to use his influence as a board member and elder of the church to fire the new  pastor. He thought he would sway the vote, but a majority surprisingly showed up to vote. He lost by a large margin, and stormed away from the church. Thankfully he didn’t go to infect another church. Wandering and worse off, he started his own sect that claimed itself more pure than other churches. He became beholden to the coming of Christ in the land of Christ more than Christ himself. Having majored to a fault on end times theology, social justice issues and a strict entrance requirements to his group, he eventually moved his family to Palestine where contracted malaria and died.  Anna, his wife, kept the colony and its activities alive for the rest of her life. Though it was well for a time for Spafford, it didn’t end well. Sad.

Now, if you’ve read this far and believe this unknown side of this hero story, you must be disappointed. Maybe you’ll never sing that song the same way again. Maybe you’d rather just not trust your heart (and voice!) to another beloved song writer or Christian leader because you’re afraid that they’re just going to break it.

But that is where the good news comes in. Preaching to myself here, too, you must get the sand out of your head by reminding yourself of Christ who is the Hero that can never disappoint. Most (if not all),  the luminaries in the Bible have tarnished reputations. They all point back to the Christ. Their lives are the black felt on which the diamond of our Christ shines purer and fairer.

If you need a human to prop up your faith, you should repent of trusting in anyone else for happiness or lasting encouragement. Humans, in so far as they are following Christ and persevering, are worthy of honoring and following, but we must never be surprised or ultimately crushed when something dark is exposed about their lives. If anything, we should be driven to prayer for them (if they’re still alive) and ourselves. We should take to the Word for fresh courage and perspective and be slow to make hasty conclusions. Protect yourself first from our Christian cultural tendency of hagiography (biography that idealizes a subject) and celebrityism. And when the next Christian luminary in your life falls from your sky, “consider Christ who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).

 Take heart, my friend.

Christ is all.

The Test of a Christian's Assurance

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 John 3:21–24 NIV)

 Last week, we saw the first part of this passage on assurance from 1 John that God is greater than our self-condemning hearts.

 A confident relationship with your Heavenly Father manifests itself in our prayers. This confidence or boldness redefines the “blank check” we have for prayer. Instead of it being about us; it’s about him. Instead of cashing in as we typically would take this language, we ask, as James Boice says, with “an attitude in which the will of the one praying is subjected to the will of the Father.” Prayer is much more freeing when we are confident of what God thinks about us (v20) and when we are consciously living for God’s pleasure (v22). The possibility of assurance is further sealed because commandment keeping is a pleasure for us. Pleasing God is pleasing to us. It is also a sign that God’s Spirit resides in you and you in God (24). How can you tell that you are keeping God’s commands? Well, let’s see those two simple commands that God makes which together contribute to the believer’s assurance (v23): believe in Jesus and love others. Familiar aren’t they? It’s because these same commands are the very words of Jesus found in John’s Gospel (see John 6:29). John the apostle is consistent with his Lord’s ethic.

 Isn’t it ironic how quickly we affirm love for someone we can’t see while not loving people we can actually see (1 John 2:9-11; 4:20-21). This is John’s point in the whole letter. Love for the invisible God becomes plainly visible in how seriously we take his Word and how seriously we take others. The kind of love required of Christians is far beyond the natural capacities that God has commonly blessed the people of this world with. Because, on one end, it is internally and spiritually rooted: “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him and he in them.” Yet, on the other end, it is externally manifested: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (3:16). Earlier in that passage it tell us how we can be assured of our salvation— “We know we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death”(3:14).

 Go ahead— throw some paint on your love for God. Love others; die to yourself and love pleasing God according to his commands more than anything. You’ll find in the loving and the losing that you’ll be strangely—no, spiritually— strengthened and assured of Christ.

Posted by Will Pareja with
Tags: assurance

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