Lessons from a Barn, Part 1

The first thing that we noticed as we drove up, other than the wagon wheel at the end of the driveway, was the barn. It was old, well-weathered, and situated beside the driveway between the road and the house. I can’t really say the ‘barn stood’ next to the driveway because the barn was leaning so badly. Although the barn was the first sight to greet us on our arrival, its menacing imbalance inspired us to hasten and not hesitate in its presence…surely the barn needed little provocation to lose its fight with gravity.

 For the last nine years the barn has been a continuing topic of discussion with our son and his family. “We heard you had quite a snow storm yesterday. Is the barn still standing?” “Has the barn fallen yet?” “Oh look! The barn is still up!”

 The expectation has been that the barn could collapse at any time. The expectation has been that with the next wind or snow or rain or loud cough gravity would finally have its way and the leaning barn would become the fallen barn. It was sure to happen. It could happen at any time. It was expected and anticipated.

In Luke 12 Christ tells his disciples two brief stories about expectation. The first is the story of the expected return of the master from a social event.

 Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes…Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves (Luke 12:35-38).

 The second is the story of the unexpected arrival of a thief to rob and steal.

But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into (v. 39). 

Christ’s point for his disciples, past and present, is contained in verse 40, “You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

Christ’s return is sure and certain to happen. It could happen at any time. It is, without question, imminent. However, the question is whether or not His return is expected and anticipated? So let me wonder a bit…What’s the first thing you see in the morning after you see the alarm clock? What is it that repeatedly comes up in your conversations? On the practical plane of daily life, how imminent is Christ’s return to you?

The Bible Is Authoritative on Everything of Which It Speaks

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. And it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or indirectly. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but also of who God is and whence the universe has come. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the Word of God that you can separate its so-called religious and moral instruction from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.

Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed. Edited by K. Scott Oliphint (P&R, 2008), 29.

The Self-Attesting Authority of Scripture

How do we argue for the authority of Scripture? If we resort to evidences and proofs for the reliability or authority of Scripture, we fall into the trap of placing reason in the seat of judgment over Scripture. So how do we establish the authority of the Bible?

John Calvin understood this more clearly than anyone before him. He knew that Scripture attests to itself in a way that no other religious authority did or could. Once Scripture’s authority was established by its own testimony about itself, then and only then, would evidences and proofs become useful, since now they became supporting testimony to Scripture’s supreme authority.

Unless this certainty, higher and stronger than any human judgment, be present, it will be vain to fortify the authority of Scripture by arguments, to establish it by common agreement of the church, or to confirm it with other helps. For unless this foundation is laid, its authority will always remain in doubt. Conversely, once we have embraced it devoutly as its dignity deserves, and have recognized it to be above the common sort of things, these arguments—not strong enough before to engraft and fix the certainty of Scripture in our minds—become very useful aids. (Institutes, 1.8.1)

Your Character Is Just As Important to Your Apologetics As Your Logic

Christians who develop an interest in apologetics often begin to believe that the most important things to learn are logic, rational arguments, and evidential proofs. They can become very focused on making sure their logic is airtight, while completely ignoring the importance of the moral quality of their life.  Historically, however, Christian apologists never separated rational arguments from their moral and ethical lives.

The 2nd century apologist, Athenagoras, challenged those who put too much stock in philosophy and logic, while ignoring their character. He noted that among the pagans were many who were skilled in logic, grammar and rhetoric, but whose character was unchanged by the truth they claimed to know.

For who of those that reduce syllogisms, and clear up ambiguities, and explain etymologies, or of those who teach homonyms and synonyms, and predicaments and axioms, and what is the subject and what is the predicate, and who promise their disciples by these and such instructions to make them happy; who of them have so purged their souls as, instead of hating their enemies, to love them; and, instead of speaking ill of those who have reviled them…to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against their lives? On the contrary, they never cease with evil intent to search out skillfully the secrets of their art, and are ever bent on working some ill, making the art of words and not the exhibition of deeds their business and profession.

William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, Christian Apologetics Past & Present, vol.1 (Crossway: 2009), 77-78.

Athenagoras proceeded to contrast this way of apologetics with the Christian manner, which was a combination of sound argument and pious living:

But among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.

Athenagoras was highlighting a very important truth: apologetics is not all about rational argumentation. It is also about a Christ-like life that stands just as much in contrast to the lives of the heathen as a sound argument. He also encourages us that even if we don’t know the answer to every challenge brought against the Christian faith, the best response is not always an argument to begin with. Sometimes the best response is Christ-like love, forgiveness, compassion and good works. This should hearten every believer that doesn’t feel that he can always give an answer to those who question his faith. We can all live godly lives of character and good works. That will go a long way toward giving an apologetic that will add much power to our logical arguments.

Are You Sanctified?

Simeon was a fifth-century monk who subjected himself to severe practices of asceticism in his quest for what he thought was holiness. He became somewhat of a celebrity in his day, widely known for his extreme practices of depriving himself of the basic necessities of life. Crowds began to seek him out for advice and prayer.

Unable to escape the world horizontally, he attempted to do it vertically. He climbed up a pillar among some Syrian ruins with a narrow platform at the top, determined that there he would live out his earthly days. With meager food and drink brought to him by boys from the village, he lived atop the pillar for 39 years, refusing to come down even for his own mother’s funeral. There, consistent with his wish, he died.

“Saint Simeon the Stylite” inspired many isolationist imitators, and pillar-sitting became quite popular for a time. Others apparently bought into his philosophy – that the best way to avoid contamination from the world is to avoid contact with the world.

The problem is, Jesus had a larger agenda for his followers than just not being contaminated by the world. In His prayer recorded for us in John 17 (including eighteen mentions of “the world”), He made it clear that He desired us to remain pure and obedient, yet fully engaged in a redemptive mission to the hurting people in the world.

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15-18)

We don’t achieve “sanctification” by climbing atop a pillar and isolating ourselves from unbelievers. Rather, we live in the world, but we march to the beat of a different drummer. Our ethics, our values, our purpose in life – all of these are distinct from the unbelieving world around us and derived from our daily study of God’s unchanging Word. This is the sanctification Jesus asked the Father to grant us: obedient to the Word, yet still connected in redemptive mission to those who need to hear the gospel. Are you sanctified . . . or just sitting on a pole?

Are Lament and Grief Biblical? Read Psalm 88.

It seems that in the American evangelical world, we know very little about lament.  We much prefer the happy sayings and the happy songs.  We like things to be tied up nicely and neatly.  We prefer our theology to be bite-sized; slogans that fit easily on a tee-shirt or a bumper sticker are best.  We particularly dislike any display of discouragement or depression on a Sunday morning.  Each Lord’s Day, we ask the hurting among us to “pull themselves together” and rise with us to sing “songs of faith” in praise to the Lord.  We muzzle the mouths of the downcast.  After all, we reason, we are called to “rejoice always.”  But Scripture tells us also to “weep with those who weep.”  For, after all, there is much in our world that calls for lament.

Returning to that ancient hymnal, the Hebrew Psalter, will help us greatly in this regard.  Psalm 88, for example, is affirmed by nearly all to be the “darkest” of the Psalms.  It begins with a barely smoldering wick, and it’s all downhill from there.  To many evangelicals, the psalm would seem nearly unsingable for a person of faith.  One commentator I read stated that, in light of the resurrection of Christ, Psalm 88 represents a “theological impossibility” for the Christian!  Certainly it seems difficult to add our “Amen” to its conclusion.  Yet this song is a Holy Spirit inspired prayer for those seasons of the soul when all seems lost.  And, as difficult and discouraged as its language is, the entire psalm is addressed to the “Lord God of my salvation.”  On any given Sunday, surely, there are folks in our gatherings who feel something like the psalmist did as he penned these desperate pleas.  But we often give no voice to the cries of their hearts.  Just as significant, on any given Sunday there is pain all over our world, pain that we should duly note, and even join ourselves to, rather than simply ignore or wish away.

Written by Gary Parrett, Professor of Educational Ministries and Worship, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Parrett wrote these comments on Psalm 88 in his journal. On July 3, 2010 a bus in which he was riding drove off a bridge and plunged 30 feet to the road below in Seoul, South Korea. A Korean-American pastor accompanying Dr. Parrett was killed, and while doing much better today, Dr. Parrett continues to recover from his brain injuries. Shortly after the accident his wife wrote these words:

Gary often preached about and lamented over the fact that in our churches we do not sing songs that speak of hopelessness and despair, even though that pain is felt by so many members of the church.  We only sing victorious songs and want to ignore the pain and despair that some of us feel.  In the hallway of the ICU,  I realize how much this feeling of despair and desparation is a part of living as a human, and I think of Gary’s commentary on Psalm 88.

Let us consider the grief and lament of Psalm 88. And let us minister to those who live there constantly.

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