To Give an Account of One’s Stewardship with Joy, and not with Grief

While reading excerpts from various missionary writings for a class recently, the topic of Christian stewardship was raised. The Bible has much to say upon the subject of course: from Jesus’ parable concerning the talents (Matt. 25) to Paul’s admonishing the Ephesians to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (5:15-16), amongst many others. In contrast to this, man’s culture is in most ways antithetical to the concept of stewardship; especially in the West, the idea of being beholden to anyone, or held responsible for something that you do not own, is viewed as reprehensible. However, the stewardship of the Christian is merely an extension of the Gospel and offers a freedom that no “individualism” or materialism can ever match.

During his time preparing for the mission field, Hudson Taylor was pointed by a friend to study the passages in the Bible pertaining to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Upon further study, Taylor became convicted. He writes in reference to his study of Scripture, “I learned, too, that it was their [new testament saints] privilege, from day to day and from hour to hour, to live as men who wait for the Lord; that thus living it was immaterial, so to speak, whether He should or should not come at any particular hour, the important thing being to be so ready for Him as to be able, whenever He might appear, to give an account of ones stewardship with joy, and not with grief” (320). Taylor goes on to describe how practical this hope was–and the ways that it drove him to, at various times throughout his life, give away earthly possessions that could be better used by others. While this specific example pertains to physical goods, it points to a deeper reality. Taylor wanted to give a good account to his Master of how he had used the ‘talents’ that he had received. This idea of stewardship, of wisely investing the resources God has granted us, has far reaching consequences for Christians–even to the point of life itself. The Psalmist says:

“My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;

in your book were written, every one of them,

    the days that were formed for me,

    when as yet there was none of them.” (Ps. 139:15,16)

I love those two lines “in your book were written […] the days that were formed for me”. The days of our lives are a gift, the number of pages that they span are determined, and nothing will alter God’s good providence in completing the story He has for them. What a relief that our lives will never fall short, nor overstay, God’s good purposes for them.

Christians stand at a unique point in the world. The reality that God has made us heirs with Christ (Eph. 2), who are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (10), frees us to pursue hard things knowing that 1) our lives are not our own and 2) we do not labor in our own strength. Christians throughout history have been able to face war, famine, persecution, death, and plague with a genuine sacrificial love for others. Having a loving Father, who will carry us faithfully to the term of our days, frees us to leave behind the fears and selfish motives of the world, and love and serve others without reservation. In light of the hope of the Gospel, and the certainty that the span of our lives exist in God’s merciful hand, let us not engage our time in unbelieving fear, but may the reality of the coming of our Lord cause us to pause and consider, as it did Hudson Taylor, how best we may use the time we have been given; that we too, as the saints who have gone before, may “give an account of [our] stewardship with joy, and not with grief” on that last day.

Works Cited

Taylor, J Hudson. “The Call to Service.” Perspectives On the World Christian Movement, edited by Ralph D Winter, Fourth ed., William Carey Library, 2015, pp. 320.

The Condescension of God

One does not have to look far during the Christmas season to find images of Christ’s birth: an idyllic scene full of hay, a smiling Mary and Joseph, three wise men with gifts, and friendly looking animals, all surrounding a peacefully sleeping Jesus. This is an amazing image: a king, not coming in power and with a sword, but in abject poverty and humility.

At the core of Christmas we celebrate the great condescension of God himself. As Paul states in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” and again in Philippians 2:6b-8, “Though he [Christ] was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” The classic manger scene is a beautiful picture of the humiliation and hope of Christ’s life intertwined: the suffering and death and, ultimately, resurrection in victory.

Whenever reading the account of our Lord’s birth today, let us do so in the context of what a recently imprisoned Chinese pastor said, “The way that Christ resisted the world that resisted him was by extending an olive branch of peace on the cross to the world that crucified him” (Wang Yi, 2018). If in the beauty of the human birth of our Lord we see the depth of his humility, and how he would go on to even greater and more painful sacrifices out of love, then only can we truly begin to grasp the magnitude of that peaceful manger scene and respond as Zechariah did:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us. He has done this to […] remember his holy covenant -the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham. This oath grants that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live.” (Luke 1:68-75)

Merry Christmas!


My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience -Wang Yi

Hope in the Darkness

Since college, the last two months of each year have held a special place in my heart. Part of what has always made holidays helpful for me is how they offer the opportunity to derail from the train-track of everyday existence. By doing so, I can examine the road that has gotten me thus far in a way that is hard to accomplish amid the activities of daily life. Below is passage that I spent some time pondering this past week and found very helpful and timely given the Thanksgiving holiday:

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.” Micah 7:8-9

Much like David in Psalm 51, the prophet expresses a hope seated firmly in the goodness and ability of the Lord. Amid his trials, Micah has no problem rectifying his own sinfulness with his status as God’s child -he knows he has committed evil, and with penitent heart submits to the discipline of his father, but all with the forward-looking hope that God will ultimately deliver him and Israel.

Life is easy to live in the weeds: to spend day after day slogging through the routine and grind without giving a thought to the “why’s” of life. Even if we know the hope of the gospel, sometimes darkness can descend: anxiety, depression, shame, recurring sin, broken relationships, broken bodies, and the thorns and thistles of life; however, even when we forget, Christ does not cease to reign. When we sin and wreck our lives, we can stand in hope, even as David and Micah did, knowing that our debt is paid, and deliverance will come. When life is hard and full of pain, we can cry out to God, trusting in his promises, as we remember the words of the Lord to Moses: “I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant” (Ex. 6:5).

The last two months of each year are a great time of rejoicing for some, and full of loneliness and hardship for others, but no matter which we are this year, or next, Christ remains unchanged: a deliverer of light on a cold and stormy sea.

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.” Micah 7:18-20

An Unlikely Lineage

Genealogies form some of the hardest passages of the Bible to appreciate.  For a long time, I saw them as boring lists of hard-to-pronounce names that I would have to struggle through when my family took turns reading Scripture aloud.  Then, during my pastor’s sermon series on Genesis, I began to realize the meaning and value of these recitations.  Just like the rest of God’s Word, genealogies point to Christ and the Gospel.  In particular, God’s grace and providence shine forth in Jesus’ unlikely lineage as described in Matthew 1:1-17.

Many names stand out in Matthew 1, and Jesus’ genealogy is indisputably full of faithful, godly, and kingly men.  Nevertheless, it is also a list of sinners and people with surprising backgrounds.  Abraham lied out of fear (Genesis 12:10-19; Genesis 20:1-2), and his sons Isaac and Jacob showed favoritism toward their children and tried to override or control God’s plans (Genesis 30:37-43).  Judah committed incest with his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, and their son Perez was the ancestor of Boaz.  Boaz’s mother Rahab was a Canaanite and former prostitute, yet her faith led her to help and then join with God’s people.  Boaz’s wife Ruth was a Moabite; however, she faithfully stayed with her widowed mother-in-law Naomi and made Israel her home.  David committed adultery and murdered Uriah, yet his son by Uriah’s wife became part of the lineage of Christ.  The books of Kings and Chronicles detail the lives of Solomon and his descendants, the best of whom were imperfect and the worst of whom committed abominable deeds.

While focusing on the worst aspects of these Biblical characters’ lives paints a dark and disheartening picture of sin, I see in it hope and grace.  Christ came to save sinners just like these people.  Their stories of brokenness remind us why they and we need redemption, why Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection are necessary.  This lineage also reminds us of the mightiness of God, who chooses to use sin-broken men and women to accomplish his purposes, and who can use what is meant for evil to accomplish good (Genesis 50:20).  Studying Christ’s genealogy reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:26-28, where Paul writes, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise…And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.”

Christians are part of a mighty throng of people, full of faith, sin, strengths, and weaknesses, who needed their divine descendant and his redemptive work just as much as the rest of the world needs him.  Deeper comprehension of the reality and weightiness of sin is not something we should shy away from, for the more we realize the darkness of the world, the more we grow in our appreciation of what the LORD has done.  Only once we acknowledge the darkness in which we walk, will we recognize our need for the Light.  As we read of Jesus’ birth, let us not pass over his lineage and its redemptive message.  As we burn candles and light Christmas trees, may these be reminders of the Messiah who declared himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and let us also remember Zechariah’s words: “The dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79) and “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (1:68-69).


Works Cited

The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Oxford Edition: 1769; King James Bible Online, 2008. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/.

A Question of Love

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  9 By this   the love of God  is revealed in us:  that God has sent his one and only  Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice  for our sins.” -1 Jn. 4:7-10, NET

After reading the above passage recently, the following question struck me: in the context of saving faith, is the appropriate question “do I love God?” In Christian circles, whenever welcoming someone into the church, talking about ones faith, etc., this is the go-to question: do you love God? However, should the question rather not be the more fundamental, “Does God love you?” Must it not be the latter, for 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he loved us first.” Even in light of passages such as Proverbs 8:17, “I [God] love those who love me,” which seem to intimate the contrary, are, on closer inspection, not actually doing so. For if God in his wisdom and sovereignty can lovingly elect sinners before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-6), does this not necessitate His love coming first? Proverbs, rather, is speaking of the proper heart and outward response to God’s love. This outward demonstration of love toward God signifies the love that was already at work in our hearts: our love is a natural fruit, a necessary response (Matt 12:33, 13:23). The criticality of this question is rooted in the fickleness of man and the steadfastness of God. For a salvation dependent upon human love is bound to fail. For before any time is passed our affections are drawn to many things: food, public image, lust, slothfulness, selfishness, but thanks be that while our love is weak and wavering, God’s is most steady.

Our love is a fruit, a natural and necessary response to the love God has extended to us, a Christian that claims Jesus and continues to live on with no fruit calls into serious question the veracity of their faith. However, the first question does not address the true source of faith -because that rests in God alone. We must never confuse which love saves and which is a response. For if we look at our own fervency for assurance it will always leave us doubting; by resting in God’s love, only then can we find the solid rock.

“It is a blessed thing when the faithful soul in prayer fixes his uplifted eyes of faith on Jesus only; when he does not look about him to lay hold on his own scattered thoughts, nor behind him at Satan who threatens him with the thought that his prayer is in vain, nor within him at his sloth and lack of devotion; but looks up to Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God and makes intercession for us.” -Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, p. 202

Who are you?

‘Who are you?’ While quite formulaic in today’s culture and typically resulting in a formulaic response, this question, taken to its logical conclusion, points to a much deeper and foundational idea: that of identity.

The Problem

Identity is certainly not a new topic of discussion; however, it has lost none of its relevance or importance to contemporary conversation. As Americans, this battle for identity has been playing out in very real, tangible, and heartbreaking ways -ways that have become more and more visible as time has gone on. Slavery, while in many ways a result of cultural perversion and economics, was at its core an identity problem: defining men and women based on biology (skin color, physical ability, mental acuity, race, etc…), rather than on any reference to the dignity that God has given all mankind by the fact they are made in his image. Abortion, at its root, is a question of identity: whether an unborn baby is merely a clump of cells with no inherent selfhood of its own, or the converse position, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16), where at conception we have identity given by God himself. Transgenderism is inherently an identity problem: defining ourselves in ways that completely divorce us from any scientific and spiritual standard of reality (Macarther). However, while these are all examples of high profile and visible identity crises, it often takes more subtle forms. When asked to describe myself, my past and who I am, descriptors such as introvert, single, family guy, etc.etc tend to be some of the first used. Many people do the same: identifying themselves by their work, friends, hobbies, relationships, parents, organizations, entertainment preferences, and preferred foods. Not everything people identify with is ‘positive’, sometimes people identify themselves (whether they admit publically or not) by the ways others treat or treated them, or even by the things in their lives that they are most ashamed of: sins or failures in their pasts. While reality dictates that all of these things do indeed affect us, if this is where our ‘identity’ ends, then we are just as divorced from reality as the most insane person.

The Solution

Identifying the self with causes, relationships, and any number of other things is inherently insufficient in itself, and leads to the same core problem found in slavery, abortion, and transgenderism: man, left to his own devices, provides no absolute for defining identity, but subjects it to mere practicality, politics, and selfishness. So, where does one look for identity? For all men, believer and unbeliever alike, it is found in God alone. Calvin addresses this whenever discussing self-knowledge:

“True self-knowledge only comes after first contemplating the face of God and then, afterwards, looking into ourselves. We as sinful men think of ourselves as righteous, holy, and just, and when comparing with the world around us, can find ways to rationalize this belief. If our behavior is at least some better than another’s we have ‘justification’ for our self satisfaction[…]so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure ” ~Institutes, Bk 1, Ch1, Sctn 2

Only by “contemplating the face of God” can man gain any real understanding of who he is, how broken he is, and where his true identity is found. Because all men fell in Adam, they are ultimately defined by that fall apart from the grace of God: men living in active and willing rebellion. That is the identity of every man, woman, and child on this globe proceeding from natural generation -none is innocent. However, there is  another identity offered, one made possible through the sacrificial death of God himself in Jesus Christ. For those who believe, although still living in the realities of the fall, identity is found in Christ and his victorious and finished work. We are no longer vessels of destruction, but rather vessels of mercy (Rom 9:23-24). In the end, at the root of all, one of these two realities defines us, not our family, age, work, social circles, organizations, causes, etc. Either Adam or Christ.

Conclusion

The question of identity is incredibly important, and yet it is very easy as Christians to fall into shallowly defining ‘self’ in just the same way the world does: by starting with ourselves. Jesus is the answer to man’s broken identity, the anchor which alone can provide the mooring where men and women can thrive and by His grace become ever more as they were originally designed. Apart from Him we are all but rebels and traitors, destined for wrath and torment, and justly so. Who are you?

 

The Dream of St. Nicholas

While writing this short story, I came across an article about St. Nicholas.  As many people know, St. Nicholas was a bishop in the 4th century who is remembered as the source of many of the traditions that Americans observe every Christmas—hanging stockings, giving gifts, and more.  Furthermore, our modern gift-giver, Santa Claus, derives himself from St. Nicholas.  Though the names don’t appear to have much in common, the encyclopedia informs me that the German name for St. Nicholas was “Sinter Klaas,” which, when spoken quickly by excited children with poor elocution, sounds like “Santa Claus.”

But, if the legends are true (and legends are about all we have on the matter), St. Nicholas was more than just a jolly old gift-giver.  For one, he purportedly attended the Council of Nicea (pronounced nigh-see-ah) in 325 A.D., a council where leaders in the church refuted the heresy being taught by a priest named Arius.  Arius denied the full deity of Christ, claiming that Jesus was just a man.  For Christians, this was (and is) a problem, because if Jesus is not fully God and fully man then there can be no salvation.  To counter this heresy, the Nicean Council wrote what is now known as the Nicene Creed, which is a summary of the central truths of Christianity as found in the Bible.  While this creed is not inspired and while nothing may be added or taken away from Scripture (Revelation 22: 18-19), it is nevertheless a handy way to remember the central tenets of Christianity without having to memorize multiple Bible verses for every one (not that that’s a bad idea).

That’s all very well, but what has this got to do with St. Nicholas?  Well, according to legend, St. Nicholas reportedly became so indignant over Arius’s heresy at the council that he went over and slapped him!  He was almost stripped of his position in the church for doing this, but he was forgiven after apologizing.  This story, though we don’t know that it’s true, no doubt reflects the true beliefs of St. Nicholas—that the Gospel is not to be trifled with.  Christians must take the truth of the Gospel very seriously.  With his apparent passion for the Truth, I wonder what St. Nicholas would think of the Christmas season as it is today…

The Dream of St. Nicholas

What follows is a fictional snapshot commentary of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Yuletide season

St. Nicholas organized his voluminous red-brown robes, straightened his bishop’s cap, and sat down in a large, throne-like chair.  He was dreaming—he could tell by the way the chair kept jumping up and down and making grunting noises.  When he sat down, the chair stopped moving and became silent.  St. Nicholas was sitting in a small amphitheater, and a play was about to begin…

Scene 1

In a bedroom of a cozy carpeted house with green and red decorations everywhere, a mother was talking sternly with her nine-year-old son, “Zeke, Brandon’s mother tells me that you told him there isn’t a Santa Claus.”

Zeke shrugged his shoulders.  “Well, there isn’t, is there?”

Zeke’s mother frowned, “That’s not the point; if Brandon wants to believe in Santa Claus, you shouldn’t spoil the magic by telling him otherwise  He’ll find out eventually, but for now I want you to remember that he’s your younger cousin; it’s your job to support him.”

Zeke nodded, “All right.”

Just then, Zeke’s grandmother yelled from another room, “Dinner time!”  Zeke and his mother joined the rest of the family around the dinner table.

“Come and sit down, Brandon,” said one of the parents. “It’s time to eat.”

Brandon, a serious-looking six-year-old said, “May I sit next to Zeke?”

“Hmmm… Only if you say please,” said Brandon’s mother, smiling.  She knew how much Brandon liked his cousin’s company.

“Pleeeeaaaase?!!” said Brandon.  His mother nodded.  The family sat down at the table, and the grandfather prayed a short prayer.  After this, everyone filled their plates with all sorts of food—roast beef, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, and cranberry sauce (Brandon passed on the cranberry sauce).  Halfway into the meal, Brandon’s grandfather—Grandpa Jim—looked up from buttering a roll and stared intently at Brandon through his bifocals, “So, Brandon, what did you ask Santa for this year?”

Brandon looked down at his green beans, picking at them, “Santa’s not real, Grandpa.”

“Oh, he’s not?” said Grandpa Jim, smiling and looking at Brandon’s mother.

“Yeah,” said Brandon, “Zeke told me so!”

At this, Zeke’s parents gave him a stern look.  Looking over at Brandon, Zeke said, “No, Brandon, Santa is real.”

“But you told me he was made-up,” said Brandon.

Zeke shrugged his shoulders and attempted unsuccessfully to smile, “You were right; he is real.”

 

St. Nicholas frowned, “These Christmas celebrations are getting out of hand.  A lie for the sake of magic and innocence?  These people should know better!”

Scene 2

The next morning, light streaming in the windows, everyone gathered in the living room to open presents.  Grandpa Jim opened a package of cookies.

“Ginger snaps!” he said, “How thoughtful.”

Brandon’s mother—Grandpa Jim’s daughter—gave her dad a hug and said, “We knew you’d like them; we remembered from last year!”

Alone in a small room in another part of the house, Zeke and his father were having a talk, “You need to come and spend time with the rest of the family, Zeke,” said his father, “Stop pouting and be grateful for what everyone gives you, even if it isn’t exactly what you want.”

“I am grateful,” said Zeke, “but everyone else got what they wanted.  If people are going to get me presents, why don’t they give me what I ask for?”

“They don’t have to give you anything,” said the father.

“That’s right,” agreed St. Nicholas heartily.  He sat up in his chair.  “What a delightful play!”

Scene 3

Several hours later, Grandpa Jim and his wife were the only ones left.  Jim, sitting next to his wife in the living room, surrounded by mountains of torn wrapping paper, passed his hand over his eyes and sighed happily, “This was a good Christmas, eh Mary?”

Mary smiled and nodded, “Yes, Jim, it was.  I was glad to see that Shawn had a talk with Zeke, though.  He can be so ungrateful sometimes.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much.  He’ll probably grow out of it, just like Brandon will grow out of believing in Santa,” said Jim.

“I wonder sometimes why we started teaching that nonsense,” said Mary.

Jim nodded in agreement, then said, “I guess we should start cleaning up now.”  He picked up his box of ginger snaps.  “Would you like these, dear?”

“Don’t you want them?”

Jim smiled sheepishly and shook his head, “Shawn and Marie got some for me last year, and I didn’t want to be ungrateful, so I told them thanks and I ate a few… but the truth is I don’t really care for them.”

“Oh, you old fool,” said Mary, giving Jim a kiss, “Of course I’ll take them.  I love ginger snaps.”

 

St. Nicholas smiled and said, “Finally a fellow who is thankful for anything he receives.”

            The scene changed.  It was early on Christmas morning again, and another family woke up to celebrate Christmas…

Scene 4

Two little brothers crept up to their parents’ door and knocked loudly.  It was Christmas morning, and they had been awake for over an hour, discussing what they might be getting for Christmas.

“What is it?” yelled a voice.

“It’s seven o’clock,” said Carl, who was the oldest, “You told us we could come and get you at seven so we could open presents!”  Carl and his younger brother Joe heard some yawning and then a thump as their dad got out of bed.  Opening the door, Carl and Joe’s parents came out into the living room, where the Christmas tree stood twinkling.  The tree didn’t interest Carl and Joe this morning though—they were interested in what was underneath the tree.  Joe pointed excitedly to a large package under the tree, “This one says it’s for me!  Can I open it?”

“Not yet,” said the boys’ dad, “We have to read the Bible first.”  Then, opening his old, tattered brown leather Bible to Luke chapter 2, he began reading.

 

St. Nicholas sat contentedly for a long time, listening peacefully to the words that the man read.  As the man drew to the end of the passage, the scene began to fade.

Leaping out of his chair, St. Nicholas cried, “Don’t stop NOW!”  Then, seeing that the play was ended, he gathered his robes about him and straightened the cap on his head once again.  “Ah well.  I see now the Truth may still be found.

Smiling faces, rosy cheeks, and season’s greetings,

Peace on earths and silent nights and many meetings

Presents, trees, caroling; ornaments and ice,

The snowflakes and the silence, above them all is Christ.

And he shall reign forever, the only door for Man.

Forget all else, and celebrate the triumph of the Lamb.”

And with this, St. Nicholas awoke.