One of my all time favorite sayings is “Those who plant trees love others besides themselves.” This old saying speaks to the fact that many times the person planting the tree does not live to see it grow to maturity. Coming generations will know the luxuriant shade and cool resting place provided by people often long forgotten or unknown to those blessed by their expense and effort.
Building places for worship and discipleship are even greater expressions of love for the coming generations. If you want to invest in the future and vitality of the work of God in a given location, you should try to provide adequate and beautiful space for that work to be done. A spiritual heritage inevitably involves providing structures that are conducive to the vitality of a given congregation. This must never be done apart from building people up in the faith. I know from experience that a faithful investment over a period of time yields a tremendous harvest not only in the location where the ministry is done, but quite literally around the world. Some may piously suggest that buildings do matter so much after all, but a careful reading of the Scriptures reveal otherwise. The first century church soon grew to the place where houses of worship sprang up around the world. I have stood in the ruins and in the halls of worship of some of those great structures and contemplated the message they still send forth of the deep impact of Jesus upon this world. God said through Haggai the prophet, “Build the house that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.” (Haggai 1:8)
I say “amen”.
Sometimes it occurs to me that in many ways the “valley of the shadow of death” that David was moved of the Spirit to record in the 23rd Psalm is a pretty good description of this world. We have many great experiences and there is so much beauty around us that we lose awareness sometimes of the reality that there is always only a step between ourselves and death. From my vantage point as a pastor of almost 43 years, this reality presses very close to my heart. A by product of ministry is that you know thousands of people. You also know a high percentage of them fairly well. You have wept with them, prayed with them, walked with them through trials, heard their stories, and had many of them share sorrows that very few others will ever know. From time to time someone asks me how we do what we do in ministry. The answer is in the next phrase of the Psalm, “For thou art with me.” Without the strong arms of the Lord, none of us could deal with this valley.
Two observations are helpful. It is only a shadow and a shadow can’t hurt you. God always has the last word and he will chase the shadows away in the glorious brightness of his presence, and in the coming glory of his Kingdom. Secondly, we will emerge on the other side of valley at the place where we have been heading all our lives and the former things will have passed away. Because of these things we keep singing in the shadows and celebrating the love and grace of our Lord who comforts us in our nights of weeping and provides us joy in the morning.
Why study the history of Christianity? There are at least two important reasons as to the importance of knowing the history of the church and of the Christian faith. The study should produce humility in the heart of the student. When you consider the struggle for truth that has occurred through the ages and the extremely high price that was paid by so many men and women, you realize what a privileged time that we live in. We live in a new axial age. The old axial age involved the opening of the world to new ideas and preceded the coming of Christ. Philosophy rose as a discipline and there was a world wide quest for truth. Today some are calling the time we live in the “information age”. The ideas of the ages are at our fingertips and research is readily available and only a click away. Because of this reality, rapid change can occur almost anywhere in the world especially among the young. Cultures that long repressed free thinking by their young people are virtually helpless to keep them from the information that is out there on the web. A case in point is the African pastor who wrote me an email to tell me that he regularly gathers his English speaking congregation to listen to my sermons off of our website. He wrote to thank me for helping to teach his people and himself more about the Word of God. Only God knows the possibilities that exist in such a world. Humility is also provided by the expanding of the mind to struggle with the great questions that challenged the church through the ages. When you see the pressures imposed upon the church from without, you can better understand where their ideas and practices came from. Harsh judgment is tempered by a greater understanding of the unique challenges of the geopolitical realities they endured. You begin to distinguish the difference between heresies and misguided thinking that is not scriptural in nature.
The other benefit is that you can see how heretics and heresies have continued to follow the same destructive paths in many forms through the centuries. For example, there was a man named Montanus who arose as a spiritual leader in the second century A. D., who began to say that the age of Jesus had passed and it was time to begin the age of the Spirit. He believed that the Spirit could lead him and others to write and say things that were equal in authority to what the apostles and others had written in the first century. He did not see the Scripture as a complete and final word. That same spirit pervades the abuses of radical Pentecostalism, Mormonism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and an endless list of other false prophets and prophecies. It can be easily identified as another of Satan’s ploys to distort the gospel of Christ. The gift of discernment is greatly enhanced with a thorough knowledge of Christian history.
This is just a brief note to self. I got my holidays mixed up on my last blog. I have corrected it now. Note to self: Drink at least two cups of coffee before sitting down to write. I feel some heavy writing coming on so stay tuned.
Having taken a vacation from posting on this blog, it is time to blog again. As Labor Day weekend approaches my mind is on the age old battle for truth. The truth is powerful and effective, but it must engage those who walk in darkness. We cannot sit safely in our churches and expect to win the battle for truth. Paul wrote about the “weapons of our warfare” in 2 Corinthians ten and verses four and five. He made clear that these weapons are WML, weapons of mass life. Weapons are no good if they never leave the arsenal. They are also not effective if we only sit and clean them. Our enemy is not people. Our enemy is the devil who has taken the souls of men prisoner and would like nothing more than to chain them in darkness forever. Jesus came to set people free. He has commissioned us to be his freedom fighters. He does not ask us to provide the power. The power is already in the gospel. He simply asks us to get out of the barracks, arm ourselves from the arsenal, and enter the fields of conflict. Don’t be afraid. He said he would be with us always.