C. T. Studd, “Only One Life”

image 9 - C T Studd.jpgIn my message this past weekend at Eastbrook, “The Hunger to Leave a Legacy,” I reflected on the life of C. T. Studd, a famous 19th century Cambridge cricket player turned missionary. After becoming a follower of Jesus, Studd left England to serve as a missionary in China, under the oversight of Hudson Taylor. After a decade in China, Studd went on to serve in India for seven years and 20 years in sub-Saharan Africa, beginning in the Belgian Congo.

When asked about his passion for mission, Studd offered a memorable response, which has inspired many missionaries since his time:

Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

A poem he wrote, entitled “Only One Life,” holds two lines which summarize Studd’s legacy and are a good model for us as believers today:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last

I’ve included the entire poem below.

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”

When Idealism Crashes into the Messiness of the Church

A Fellowship of DifferentsIn his book A Fellowship of Differents, Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, unpacks the unfortunate process of folks who idealize Christian community, refusing to make space for the messiness that comes with human relationships. He writes about a common pattern, or process, that we often see when their idealism crashes into the realities of life in the church:

  1. They read the NT carefully.
  2. They discover the glories of what the church could, or should, be.
  3. They start all over again with a vision of the church.
  4. They experience problems achieving the vision.
  5. They get discouraged.
  6. They withdraw from church.
  7. They start another church with a new-and-improved vision.
  8. They soon find fewer and fewer like-minded souls.
  9. They do church at home alone.

The idealism of the church will inevitably lead us to isolation if we do not learn how to deal with our disillusionment with the church. The church is a messy place, but it is a place where we walk together in the grace and truth of God in Christ.

If we are looking for the ideal church, it’s important to remember that it ceases to be ideal the moment we walk into it.

“Peace”: two poems by Herbert and Hopkins

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This past weekend, my message at Eastbrook Church was entitled “The Hunger for Peace.” It was the latest installment of our “Hungry for God” series during Lent. As with many sermons, there are aspects of study and illustrations that never make it into the actual delivered message. As a lover of poetry, I couldn’t help but want to share these two poems on peace, one by 17th century poet and priest, George Herbert, and another by 19th century poet and priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

“Peace” by George Herbert

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell ?  I humbly crave,
        Let me once know.
    I sought thee in a secret cave,
      And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow winde did seem to answer, No :
        Go seek elsewhere.

I did ;  and going did a rainbow note :
        Surely, thought I,
    This is the lace of Peaces coat :
      I will search out the matter.
But while I lookt, the clouds immediately
        Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden, and did spy
        A gallant flower,
    The crown Imperiall :  Sure, said I,
      Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devoure
        What show’d so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man :
        Whom when of Peace
    I did demand, he thus began ;
      There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
        Of flock and fold.

He sweetly liv’d ;  yet sweetnesse did not save
        His life from foes.
    But after death out of his grave
      There sprang twelve stalks of wheat :
Which many wondring at, got some of those
        To plant and set.

It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
        Through all the earth :
    For they that taste it do rehearse,
      That vertue lies therein ;
A secret vertue bringing peace and mirth
        By flight of sinne.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
        And grows for you ;
    Make bread of it :  and that repose
      And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestnesse you do pursue
        Is onely there.

   *   *   *

“Peace” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
      He comes to brood and sit.

C S Lewis on the moment before damnation

That Hideous Strength.jpegOne of my favorite works by C. S. Lewis is The Great Divorce, which is awkwardly billed on the paperback cover as “a fantastic bus ride from hell to heaven—a roundtrip for some but not for others.” Lewis’ conviction in that book, which he expresses elsewhere, is that hell is the self-conscious decision to resist heaven and God for the self. It is a subtle, sleepy drifting inward to ephemeral joys without regard for the more robust, lasting joy that comes form God.

I just finished re-reading That Hideous Strength, the third novel of Lewis’ Space Trilogy. One of the most poignant moments on this theme of the sleepy, self-conscious decision for hell comes near the end of the book, after the descent into chaos that afflicts the headquarters of N.I.C.E. (The National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments) in Belbury. Lewis writes of Wither:

He had willed with his whole heart that there should be no reality and no truth, and now even the imminence of his own ruin could not wake him. The last scene of Dr. Faustus where the man raves and implores on the edge of Hell is, perhaps, stage fire. The last moment before damnation are not often so dramatic. Often the man knows with perfect clarity that some still possible action of his own will could yet save him. But he cannot make this knowledge real to himself. Some tiny habitual sensuality, some resentment too trivial to waste on a blue-bottle, the indulgence of some fatal lethargy, seems to him at that moment more important than the choice between total joy and total destruction. With eyes wide open, seeing that the endless terror is just about to begin and yet (for the moment) unable to feel terrified, he watches passively, not moving a finger for his own rescue, while the last links with joy and reason are severed, and drowsily sees the trap close upon his soul. So full of sleep are they at the time when they leave the right way.

The moment before damnation is not necessarily something tremendous and noticeable, but apparently one more, subtle, sleepy decision for the self and lesser joys. I could not help but also hear another quote from Lewis in his essay “The Weight of Glory.”

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Exemplary Lives of Renewed Pastors

Richard Baxter.jpgIn reading J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness some time ago, I came across this moving quotation from Richard Baxter about the need for pastors to attend to their own lives in ministry. Baxter was an interesting figure, best known for his writing of that classic of pastoral practice, The Reformed Pastor.

Just a quick note that the term ‘reformed’ for Baxter does not merely refer to the reformed theological tradition, but also to the pursuit of a thoroughly reformed life before God. A more easily understood title for that book today might be “The Renewed Pastor.” I am confident that more than a few readers might agree with me that what we need today, no less than in Baxter’s day, is renewed pastors whose lives are exemplary and saturated with the character of Christ.

Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others….be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others….watch therefore over your own hearts: keep out lusts and passions, and worldly inclinations; keep up the life of faith, and love, and zeal; be much at home, and much with God…take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine…lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues….we must study as hard how to live well, as how to preach well.

This is a challenging and good word to those of us who serve the Lord and His church in pastoral ministry. Baxter draws attention to the key topics: the steadiness in our exercise of faith, the personal response to the message we preach to others, dealing with the desires and longings within our own hearts, our zeal in ministry, and our everyday living for God. There is hardly any part of our lives to which Baxter fails to call attention. God forbid that we should take lightly our call and the example which we must set as servants of Christ in His body!

With confidence, Paul could say these words to one of his congregations: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Pastor, I ask myself and invite you to join me in considering whether we can we offer the same confident statement to our people from our own lives. With a tip of my hat to E. M. Bounds, I must say that what we need today as pastors is not primarily more activity in the church, or more impact in the social arena, or better programs, or more-updated models of ministry. No. For all the good that those things can offer, they are not the primary necessity in pastoral ministry today or in any other era. Our primary need for pastoral ministry in today’s church is that humble servants of Christ will lay down their lives daily in order to be made completely new and alive to God in Christ. May God transform us as pastors into examples others can follow for His glory.

The Apostle James’ words come to mind:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).

Jesus is Local and Personal

Healing_of_a_bleeding_women_Marcellinus-Peter-CatacombI’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ way of doing ministry recently. A number of years ago, I read Eugene Peterson’s outstanding book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Ever since reading it, I have grappled with what it means to truly minister to people in Jesus’ way.

In the midst of my reflections, I have been surprised once again by how Jesus always spoke and acted with specific people in specific places. In many ways this is so straightforward that I initially failed to give it much thought.

However, Peterson helped me to see how this is often not the way that we tend to think about Jesus or ourselves as North American Christians today.

We tend to be captivated with formulas and generalities that we can mold and apply to our Christian life, whether habits or purposes or principles. Jesus, however, did not offer generalities or formulas that could be broadcast on billboards or used as marketing slogans.

Instead, Jesus dealt with specific people in their specific places.

He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water and then conversed about life, human soul-thirst, and the nature of the Messiah (John 4). Walking along with His disciples, Jesus addressed prevailing notions of sin and its physical repercussions by interacting with a man born blind. He spit in the dust, caked it over the man’s blind eyes, and told him to go wash in a nearby pool (John 9).

Jesus is undeniably local, personal, and relational. He does not seem too concerned with developing broad-based programs or ideas into which people are plugged like so many disposable appliances in an over-crowded kitchen. Quite the opposite!

What Jesus does is this. He calls this one – Zacchaeus – into relationship in a personal manner as they talk about life over a meal (Luke 19). He calls these four – Peter and Andrew, James and John – to follow Him from their lake-fishing into people-fishing for the lost while walking along the shore (Matthew 4).

Jesus lives locally with specific people in specific places. What about us? Do we live in that way? Do we minister in that way?

St Augustine on the Nature of the Two Cities, the Earthly and the Heavenly

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In The City of God, St. Augustine offers a wide-ranging exploration of the two cities, the heavenly city and the earthly city. This is not merely the difference between heaven and earth, or the church and the wider world, but something more. As I read this the other day, what caught my attention most, perhaps because of the preaching I am doing in “Hungry for God,” is the first phrase of this excerpt: “two cities have been formed by two loves.” The development of these counter realities cascades not merely from different thinking, but different loving.

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.  The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.  For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.  The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all.  The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.”  And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise,”—that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride,—“they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”  For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, “and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”  But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, “that God may be all in all.”

From St. AugustineThe City of God, Book XIV, Chapter 28.