Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wrestling with the Flesh

In 1998 I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. If you are not familiar with melanoma, it is a very aggressive and a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. If detected early it is highly treatable, but after it has metastasized, there is often little that can be done if the tumor(s) can not be surgically removed. Fortunately in my case it was caught very early and, other than acquiring a new scar on my back, I suffered no further ill effects. Since then, any suspicious moles are removed immediately by my dermatologist. Frankly, I can not remember all of the biopsies I have had over the past eight (8) years, but they have been numerous. Last week another suspicious mole was removed from my back, and by God's grace it came back benign.

A few years ago, I saw an interview with a seasoned fighter pilot from the Vietnam War on television. During the interview, the pilot described the intensity of a dog fight and how after each time he won, he felt as if he had been born again. I can relate to that feeling. It usually takes a few days for the pathology to come back on any new biopsy. During that time of uncertainty, I find myself wrestling with the providence of God, my own sinfulness, and believing the Gospel. However, after a biopsy comes back negative, like the fighter pilot, I feel as if I have been given a new lease on life.

The Confederate general, and Presbyterian, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson once wrote, "My religious beliefs teach me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death. I do not concern myself with that, but to be always ready whenever it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and all men will be equally brave."

I wish that I could muster such courage and faith as General Jackson. I look forward to that day when I will have a new body that does not produce these little cancers and a spirit that no longer desires to sin against my God. Until then. . .I believe, help my unbelief.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

You Must Be Perfect!

I rented Friday Night Lights last weekend. If you have not seen the movie, it is about a small West Texas high school football team struggling to win the state championship and the immense pressures placed on these young men by their community. Although I did not play football in high school, I found the community's attitudes in the movie strikingly similar to those in the small Georgia town where I grew up. At one point, the team's coach, played by Billy Bob Thornton, asks his players, "can you be perfect?" The players end up adopting the coach's challenge as their slogan -- "be perfect." As a Christian, the same demand is put on us by God -- " Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48 (NIV). Of course, we end up fumbling the ball most of the time. Unlike simply losing a football game, the consequences are much more dire. "Doing our best" or "trying hard" just will not be sufficient to appease a righteous and holy God. We have to play a perfect game. For each sin we store up more wrath against ourselves. However, Christ's perfect obedience has secured a place for his elect. Otherwise, there would be no hope. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2 (NIV). Thanks be to God!

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Machen Anthology -- The Church

I have just finished reading J. Gresham Machen's Christianity & Liberalism and wanted to pass on some of the nuggets of wisdom from the book. While in was written in the early 1920's, I find it still very relevant today.

"The fundamental fault of the modern Church is that she is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task -- she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance. Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the Church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin. . .Even our Lord did not call the righteous to repentance, and probably we shall be no more successful than he." (p. 68)

"The Unitarian Church is frankly and honestly just the kind of church that the liberal preacher desires -- namely, a church without an authoritative Bible, without doctrinal requirements, and without a creed." (p. 165)

"Nothing engenders strife so much as a forced unity, within the same organization, of those who disagree fundamentally in aim. . .Involuntary organizations ought to be tolerant, but voluntary organizations, so far as the fundamental purpose of their existence is concerned, must be intolerant or else cease to exist." (p. 168-69)

"At the present time, when the opponents of the gospel are almost in control of our churches, the slightest avoidance of the defence of the gospel is just sheer unfaithfulness to the Lord. . .In such times of crisis, God has always saved it not by theological pacifists, but by sturdy contenders for the truth." (p.174)