Mission and Theodicy, Part II

God’s Sovereignty and Satan’s Authority

The question asked of “theodicy” in Part I – “How can God be righteous since there is so much physical and moral evil in his universe?” – is one that has plagued philosophers and theologians throughout human history. It was brought to mind by a conversation I had with a relative. She had shared about a friend who is angry with God because a close acquaintance was senselessly killed in a traffic accident. Judging from the e-mail responses in September, theodicy is of great interest to our readers.

I realize if countless books over the centuries have not succeeded in laying this topic to rest, a couple of blog posts will not finally solve the problem of human suffering and the presence of evil in the world. (My son slyly thanked me that I was going to be the one who finally resolves this issue!)

The options available to resolve this conundrum are varied: (1) It’s a fallen world and bad stuff happens; (2) Obviously God does not exist; (3) God is weak. If he were powerful, he would eliminate evil; (4) God is not good. He is unfair, even sadistic; (5) God is apathetic, distanced, indifferent to human suffering. (6) And, there is the response that is often embraced by evangelicals: God has ordained all suffering for (sometimes) mysterious purposes so that he might get greater glory.

Of course, when I listed these responses in Part I, I purposely omitted a 7th crucial perspective, namely the role of Satan in all of this. Efforts to try to explain this problem by blaming God have only succeeded in bringing us to our present state where people are irate at God for what is decidedly NOT his doing. In such a climate, God gets a bad rap.

An understanding of the power and authority of the evil one, Satan, is the piece missing from the conversation on the problem of evil. God has chosen to run his universe by allowing enormous authority and power to Satan and his minions. Though God remains sovereign, he has seen fit to allow Satan to wield massive power in wreaking havoc. Three times in the Gospel of John Jesus calls Satan “the prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). This prince has the authority to offer the kingdoms of the world to Jesus (Lk. 4:5). “The ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens” (Eph. 2:2, Holman CSB) loves misery, despises God’s goodness, and gleefully grips the suffering of this world in his diabolical claws.

Reconciling God’s sovereignty and Satan’s authority is the great challenge in formulating a coherent theodicy. The first two chapters of Job dive right into this mystery. Clearly Job’s problems are instigated by Satan out of a loathing of those who love and serve God. And the final chapters of Job make it apparent that, even as he is bludgeoned by the evil one, Job can only trust in God.

People who are angry with God are legion. And in the ensuing chaos, the focus for many has drifted from seeing evil the problem to  viewing God as the problem. To many, it’s God’s fault when a child is molested, a teen gets cancer, or an adult is senselessly killed. “Surely an all-powerful, compassionate God who hates evil can and should prevent that kind of thing,” they reason. To those people, the advice of Job’s wife seems justified: “Curse God and die!”

Nevertheless, Job seems content with the mystery even as the rest of Scripture invites us to dig deeper into this seemingly irreconcilable conundrum. This “digging deeper” draws us into the topic of spiritual warfare.

The third (next) blog in this series will continue this theme by exploring the relationship between God’s rule and Satan’s dominion. The nexus where God’s sovereignty and Satan’s authority meet is called “spiritual warfare.” The role to which God has called his Church in confronting the powers of darkness draws us into battle. Recognizing that we live in a war zone and are on the front lines of battle against a powerful and hideous enemy enables us to develop a perspective from which we can become strategically engaged in what God is doing. We will never begin to provide hurting people with satisfying biblical answers to the problem of evil without a healthy emphasis on spiritual warfare.

 

Mission and Theodicy, Part I

The Question That Won’t Go Away

“He’s angry with God,” she said, “and has stopped going to church.” I was having a delightful conversation with a relative about a mutual friend who, as it turns out, is bitter toward God.

This sourness towards God is something that I frequently encounter as people wrestle with the question prompted by the problem of evil: “How can God be righteous since there is so much physical and moral evil in his universe?” Philosophers have labeled this issue “theodicy.”

The rubber meets the road in the church and missions when we begin grappling to explain God’s role in a deeply troubled world. And, as one who is engaged in mobilizing the church for mission, I am finding that a wrong view of God can be one source of our paralysis.

The person my relative was referring to had lost a dear friend in a horrific automobile accident. Blaming God for either causing or at least not preventing the accident, our mutual friend had become angry with God…and he is not alone. The senselessness of such events causes many to struggle for explanations for the terrible things that happen.

Interest in theodicy is a reasonable one. After all, if there is a just God, how do we explain the presence of evil (i.e., deaths of innocent people through car accidents and injuries to people in bicycle mishaps and a whole list of other seemingly pointless tragedies) in his world?

As my friend and I talked, the (seeming) absurdity of my recent cycling accident was in the back of my mind. I say my accident was absurd because it did not involve another vehicle, I was not being careless, and I had not attempted anything foolish. Many would describe the back wheel of my bike locking up as a “fluke.”

As I wrote this, my left hand was 3 pins in it and is in a cast. Of course, in the big scheme of things and in light of the truly appalling misery that many experience, my injuries are minor. I will survive. I will regain the use of my hand, and life will go on. But being the curious type, my mind has repeatedly run through ways to biblically explain my accident.

There are a variety of approaches that people take to explain the dreadful occurrences that we daily observe. Each of these ends up holding God in some way responsible for evil:
(1) God does not exist. There is no possibility of an acceptable theodicy.
(2) God is not good. If a good God existed, his nature would require him to prevent evil.
(3) God exists, but he is weak. If he were omnipotent, he would eliminate evil.
(4) God exists, but he is far removed from human suffering. He is indifferent.
(5) And, of course, there is the response to suffering that is fairly popular among evangelicals: God has ordained all suffering for (sometimes) mysterious purposes so that he might get greater glory.

It should be fairly obvious that none of these proposals is without difficulty. It’s too easy to glibly speak of evil as we view it from a distance or speak of relatively minor affliction like my cycling accident. But let me make this issue concrete.

A theologian-philosopher that I read relates the story of an incident which occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. This is an account of a Jewish girl named “Zosia” whose eyes were so beautiful that a Nazi guard decided to remove them (while she was still alive) to make two rings, one for him and one for his wife. This gruesome act is so vile, so contemptible, so utterly depraved, that it staggers the credulity of all who read it. The sheer horror of this malicious wickedness challenges any simplistic explanation for the existence of evil.

Wrestling with theodicy in light of this horrific incident, one might conclude that either God does not exist, or he is not good, or he is weak, or he is apathetic toward human suffering. But who would want to suggest that the God of the Bible ordained (and, thus, approved of) this Nazi’s despicable act? And would anyone present that day when this occurred find such an explanation comforting? And would the mother, driven mad after she watched hideous barbarity, gain solace from any such rationalization?

It seems to me that it is imperative that we must continuously pursue a credible explanation for theodicy if we are to plausibly engage the bitter, angry, or simply confused people that we encounter. If we wish to soften hearts that are hardened toward God or to help others think more clearly about the problem of evil, we must strive to visualize for them a God-picture that will paint for them a portrait of perfect justice alloyed with unfathomable wisdom, indescribable love, immeasurable grace, extraordinary compassion, and generous mercy.

Facebook Meets the Good Samaritan

As I was recently preparing to preach on the story of the “Good Samaritan” (found in Luke 10), my imagination took off. I asked myself, if this story was posted today on Facebook, what would the ensuing discussion look like?

The news headline might read “Foreigner Aids Assault Victim on Road from Jerusalem to Jericho.” The story line might be: “In a high crime area and in a day when citizens are avoiding personal responsibility in helping those in need, one man risked his life to help a crime victim. Some are calling for an inquiry into how this kind of thing happened and are proposing various solutions.”

Here is a way the thread might go…

Safety Advocate: “I have been repeatedly highlighting the dangerous problems of that stretch of road. But, no, the politicians are turning a deaf ear, preferring to fund the more costly Metro Line from Bethlehem to Masada because of well-placed lobbyists who are lining their pockets.”

Anti-Crime Advocate: “How many times must we allow our travel routes to be disrupted by unrestrained criminal activity? I travel that road frequently and have yet to see a police car in the area.”

Civil Engineer: “There are some very simple things that could be done to make that road less problematic. Some of the curves could be straightened out, a few more street lights would help, and 9-1-1 call phones would enhance safety.”

Atheist: “I notice a priest and a Levite both passed the injured man without showing compassion or offering assistance. Just one more example of the hypocrisy of the religious.”

NRA spokesperson: “A person would have to be insane to travel on that stretch of road without a weapon. Oh, I forgot. The government disarmed the citizenry!”

2nd Amendment Foe: “Well, I remember an armed lady who was walking down to Jericho. When she tried to defend herself against her attackers, they took her weapon and used it on her. Later it was also used to rob a Seven-11 up near Nazareth. So much for arming the citizenry.”

Senior Citizen: “When I was a teenager, we traveled up and down that road to Jericho all the time without fear of being bothered. I pity my grandchildren when I think of the world they will grow up in.”

Millennial: “Thanks a lot, Baby Boomers. This is the world you created and you left us to try to fix it. Thanks a whole lot!”

Fiscal and political conservative: “How much money have we thrown at this problem with no favorable results? We need stiffer laws and enforcement of existing laws if that road is going to be safe for travel.”

Fiscal and political liberal: “We need to fund more training programs and recreation centers between Jerusalem and Jericho to give these young people something meaningful to do.”

Anti-Immigration Person: “What was that Samaritan doing within our borders, anyway? How did he get here? Who let him in? For every “Good” Samaritan you can name, I can tell you the stories of 100 who are illegally here, living lives of crime, and mooching off of our tax dollars.”

Yes, when a social issue arises, opinions abound and Facebook becomes the soapbox for anyone with a keyboard.

But Jesus’ parable is not intended to address the gamut of 1st century Palestine societal ills. He is simply answering a question posed by a lawyer: “Well, just who is my neighbor, anyway? (Luke 10:29) If I love God, who am I obligated to help when I encounter people in need?”

Rather than eagerly expanding his list of neighbors to as many as he could possibly manage, the lawyer wants to whittle the list down to a manageable and comfortable few. As Steve Moore says (Who is My Neighbor?), “The burden is not on others to somehow qualify to become our neighbor. The responsibility is on us to take the initiative in being a neighbor to others.”

Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush. He rephrases the lawyer’s question and asks, ‘Which of the three men do you think became a neighbor?’ (v. 36) Jesus’ 2015 comment on Facebook might be: “Stop worrying about all these other things; instead, prioritize becoming a neighbor yourself. Then you will find yourself loving God with all of your heart.”

Note: I credit Steve Moore and his book, “Who Is My Neighbor?” for expanding my thinking on this story that Jesus told. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and hope to share more of Steve’s insights in the coming days.]

The State of Discipleship in the 21st Century Church

Recently I was involved in a delightful Facebook discussion with some serious followers of Jesus. The initial question posed in that forum was this: “How do we solve the discipleship crisis that is crippling the Church? What does the Church of the future look like? How do we re-engage the Church with mission? Our 22-year old kids who are disciples of Christ are asking these questions. Can you relate to them, or is this a mystery to you?”

As discipleship is a great interest of mine, I decided to join the conversation. What follows is an edited and expanded version of my comments – I trust it will provoke some healthy thought and dialogue. Here are 10 thoughts on the exaltation of the concept of discipleship in the church today (my primary experience is with the American church though I have visited many other places and observed discipleship or its lack in other cultures) combined with the simultaneous struggle of the church to actually “make disciples.”

————————————–

Bob (pseudonym), your question about the absence of discipleship is one I have been thinking about. I believe the actual problem may be multi-pronged, so it may be difficult to nail down THE reason. Here are some possibilities:

(1) Painting with a broad brush, I would say that discipleship has not been taught in the past in Bible college and seminary. Thus, church leaders have little foundation for it in practicality.

(2) Profs in Bible college and seminary have tended to lecture about key issues (like discipleship) while often having little training in those topics and/or perhaps little practice in the disciplines themselves.

(3) Discipleship requires flexibility, availability, a knack for relational interaction, humility, good listening skills, and adeptness with handling Scripture. Instead of focusing on cultivating these abilities, pastors are all too often pressured by other demands (e.g., church growth as a goal rather than discipleship as a process). The push for a managerial approach to pastoring also adds pressure to pastors lives.

(4) Pastors often hire staff to do certain things, and discipleship can be one of those things. Thus, it can easily happen that the lead pastor (unintentionally) distances himself from discipleship by assigning the responsibility for a crucial priority to someone else while he goes about the work of leading the church.

(5) When discipleship is a task assigned to church staff, it is easy for the pastor to not model it since he has a staff member who is responsible for it. Further, it now is easier for members to view discipleship as “one of the things that the church does” (maybe the church has a missions pastor, a youth pastor, a worship pastor, etc. Adding a pastor of discipleship to the menu, then, may render it just one of many cafeteria options).

(6) There is often a confusion between “discipleship” and “building relationships” (friendship). While friendship is important, having a relationship with a person is just one dimension of discipleship. Having a cup of coffee may be relational and a good thing, but discipleship cannot be reduced to drinking an occasional cup of joe with a friend.

(7) The fact that the verb “make a disciple” only occurs four times in the New Testament (Mt. 13:52; 27:57; 28:19; Acts 14:21) and in varied contexts renders it difficult to work out a thoroughly biblical sense of the term “discipleship” (though we have Jesus’ example of how to do it). This is where Coleman’s “The Master Plan of Evangelism” is invaluable as a starting place in formulating a biblical discipleship worldview.

(8) Which leads me to suggest that perhaps we may be using the same term (“discipleship”) to refer to different things. We evangelicals have a penchant for using “feel good” Christian words (e.g., love, blessing, glory, redemption, propitiation, salvation, heaven, hell, etc.) with little to no serious thought as to the meaning of the words we bandy about. Further, if pressed to explain biblically what any of these terms mean, we might lapse into drooling down the fronts of our shirts while stammering senselessly. How do we end up talking like this? Is it because we like the sound of those particular words, assume everyone knows what we’re talking about, and are not serious enough about the topic to read, study, and think broadly about it.

(9) Our failure to think wholistically (integrating the whole of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments) about biblical concepts has rendered us stunted in our comprehension of discipleship in Mt. 28:19-20. After all, “The Great Commission” is an echo of Gen. 12:1-3 and reminds us that God’s heart throughout the entirety of the Bible is on his followers penetrating the nations with the Good News. It matters not whether we call it “blessing all the families of the earth” or “making disciples of all nations.” The functions are nuanced differently but the processes are similar and the intended results are identical. Perhaps we will view discipleship differently when we accept the premise that the Living God of the entire Bible is a Missionary God who has (from Genesis 12 on) called his followers to disciple the nations.

(10) Finally, it is often assumed that small groups in the church will be the context for discipleship to occur. In my experience, I find that this rarely happens. The same problem can surface in small groups that occurs in churches. Just as pastors may not do discipleship because they are not trained for it and/or are busy with many other responsibilities, so it is unfair to assume that small group leaders who are untrained and are busy with many things will do what the pastor is not really doing.

Dave Shive

Ferguson, Missouri and the Challenge of Unreached Peoples

Rather than my feeble seeking to add to the voices endeavoring to speak individually to the terrible circumstances in Ferguson, permit me to simply echo the wise thoughts of my friend, African-American pastor and professor Eric Redmond.

https://ericredmond.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/ferguson-mo-unreached/

May God raise up white and black brothers, men of conviction with a sense of responsibility, accountable to marry and assume responsibility for the children they produce, hard-working entrepreneurial sacrificial men of great faith and courage.

Thank you, Eric, for your insights!

Dave Shive

Sept. 23 – A “holiday” to be celebrated each year

In times of hopelessness and despair, what can one person do? Sept. 23 each year is a date that reminds us of the launching of a movement by just one man, a movement that transformed the moral, spiritual, financial, and political landscape, causing repercussions worldwide.

Follow this link to a story that is riveting, encouraging, and challenging:

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/when-revival-ran-epidemic-11630508.html?utm_source=nextArticleBox&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=next-article-box

Also, check out this parallel story:

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/jeremy-lanphier-led-prayer-revival-11630507.html

“Oh God, raise up movements of prayer. Use me as your ‘one person’ to launch a new movement!”

Dave Shive

“Mission on Every Page of Your Bible?”

There is a tendency in reading the Bible to miss the all-pervasive message that God is on a mission (or, as the title of Lesson 1 in Perspectives states it, “The Living God is a Missionary God”). In other words, as I used to stay to my students, “Open your Bible to any page and I will show you missions on that page.” A rather audacious challenge but one that I believe I can back up.

So it is that I offer here the outline that I created with the intention of illustrating the nature of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation as “The Story of God on Mission.”

—————————————————

I. God is passionate (zealous, jealous). Passion, of necessity, always results in mission. Therefore, God is missional by nature. God is passionate about…

A. …his name (Ezek. 39:25)

B. …his worship (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Num. 25:10-13; I Kgs. 14:22; 19:10,
14)

C. …the purposes he has for his people (II Kgs. 19:31) and for his Son
(Isa. 9:7)

D. …his dwelling (Psa. 69:9; Jn. 2:17)

E. …his word (Psa. 119:139)

II. God’s was passionate before Gen. 1:1. Therefore, God in eternity was missional.

A. “Before/since the foundation of the world” (Mt. 13:35; 25:34; Eph.
1:4; I Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8; 17:8)

B. To plan for his Son’s coming kingdom (Mt. 13:11, 35; 25:34)

C. On alert in the face of hostility (angelic conflict in the eternal
heavens)

D. Rooted in the kind intentions of his purpose (Lk. 12:32; Eph. 1:5, 9;
3:10)

E. Mutually reciprocating Trinitarian sharing of glory (Jn. 17:4)

F. Mutual, reciprocal Trinitarian loving of one another (Jn. 17:25)

G. Prioritizing His Son’s fame (I Pet. 1:20)

H. His intention to unite his Son to a bride (Isa. 54:5; Hos. 2:16; Rev.
21:7)

I. His intention to adopt “sons” into his family (Rom. 8:15; 9:4; Eph.
1:5)

III. God’s pre-creation decisions resulted in the purposeful creation of a universe. Therefore, God’s creation of a universe was a missional act.

A. For his Son (Rom. 11:36; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)

B. As his Son’s temple-residence (Gen. 3:8)

C. To display the Son’s glory so that he can be worshiped (Num.
14:21; etc.)

D. To showcase the Son’s extraordinary capacity for love (Eph. 3:19)

E. To have earth creatures made in the Son’s image (Gen. 1:26-27;
Jas. 3:9)

1. Who can worship the Son (Gen. 2:15)
2. Who can be loved by the Son and who can reciprocate that
love
3. Who can spread the Son’s fame (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:7; I Pet.
1:20)
4. Who can be Jesus’ dwelling (Ex. 25:8; Jn. 17:21; Eph. 3:17-19)
5. Who will be zealous for the Father’s glory (Num. 25:10-13;
etc.)
6. Who can be united with the Son in marriage (Eph. 5:32; Rev.
21:9)

F. Susceptible to hostility against the Father’s agenda (Gen. 2:15)

IV. God’s creation was defiled (Gen. 3-11). Thus, His mission was threatened.

A. Therefore, a missional God cannot gain access to his fallen
universe.

(1) The humans failed in their assignment to guard creation
(Note “subdue”, Gen. 1:28; “keep” in Gen. 2:15)
(2) The Antagonist immigrated into the universe (Gen. 3:1)
(3) God is punishing the wicked, not solving the sin problem
(Gen. 3-11)
(4) The entire temple-universe was profaned
(5) The three-fold cycle of sin: Fall (Gen. 3-5), Flood (Gen. 6-10),
Flop (Gen. 11)

B. Therefore, God still intends to complete his original mission.
(1) The genealogies (Gen. 5, 10, 11) preserve the godly line that
will bring resolution
(2) The promise of Gen. 3:15 offers hope that the serpent’s
reign will end
(3) Since humans were to manage the Son’s original universe, a
Human (the Seed of the Woman) will resolve the dilemma
(Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4)

V. For the survival of the mission, a plan is launched to regain mediated access to the Son’s temple (Gen. 12:1-3). Therefore, God’s intentions for Israel are missional. A holy God has five means of mediated access to regain access to his defiled temple:

A. Holy people – Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3)

1. Appointment: Agents to execute God’s mission
2. Mandate: Bless all the families of the earth (Dt. 4:5-8; Psa. 67;
96:3)
3. Method: Live in visible obedience in close proximity to the
nations

B. Holy land – Situated on the trade routes in close proximity to the
nations

C. Holy (Sacred) blessings (blessings = resources – Rom. 9:4-5)

1. Adoption as sons
2. Glory (God’s presence among his people)
3. Covenants (agreements)
4. Law
5. Service (Levitical activities and ceremony)
6. Promises
7. Fathers (the patriarchal history of God’s faithfulness to Israel)
8. Christ (“the Messiah”)

D. Holy dwellings
1. Garden (Gen. 3:8)
2. Altars, shrines (Gen. 12:8; 13:4; etc.)
3. Tabernacle (Ex. 25:8; 29:45-46; 40:34-35; Lev. 26:11; Num. 5:3)
4. Temple (I Kgs. 8:11-13; II Chr. 5:14; 7:1-3; Psa. 84:1-4; 132:5;
Hag. 2:7)
5. Jesus (Jn. 1:14-18; Col. 1:19; 2:9)
6. Church (John 1:16; 15:4; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:19; 4:10, 13; Col. 2:10)
7. The New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:3)

E. Holy events – Holy convocations (Leviticus 23:2, 21, 24, 35; etc.)
1. Feasts
2. Holy days
3. Sabbath (day, year)

VI. Israel on Mission: Genesis to Malachi (Isa. 42:6; 49:6). Therefore, the entire Old Testament is a narrative of Israel on God’s mission.

VII. The Plan Extended: Jesus and his followers on Mission. Therefore, the entire New Testament and subsequent church history is the story of Jesus’ followers on God’s mission.

A. The Seed of the Woman Arrives: the Gospels

1. Calling disciples (Mt. 4:19; Mk. 1:17)
2. Jesus comes to complete the Abrahamic mission (Lk. 2:32;
Gal. 3:8)
3. Focused on Gentiles (Synoptic Gospels; e.g., Mt. 4:15-16)
4. The Abrahamic Covenant reaffirmed (Gen. 12:3 with Mt.
28:19-20)
5. Disciples commissioned and sent (Acts 1:8)

B. The Gospel to the Gentiles: The Epistles (Rom. 1:5)

C. The mission extended over 21 centuries of history (Perspectives
Lessons 6-8)

VIII. The Climax: Mission Accomplished (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 21:24; 22:2).Therefore, God’s purposes are shown to have always been missional.

Dave Shive

Amy Carmichael and Jim Elliot – “Make me Your fuel, O Flame of God!”

As a man of the 20th century, a Post-War baby boomer, and one who is passionate about completing the great work that Jesus left his followers to complete, I feel like I live in two worlds.

On the one hand, I recognize the need for suffering and persecution as the price tag that goes with the advance of the Gospel. I cut my teeth as a teen and young Christian reading the biographies of Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, William Carey, and Jim Elliot and the writings of Amy Carmichael. A fire was lit in me to be fully devoted to completion of the Great Commission, regardless of the cost.

But on the other hand, I am torn by my desire to be comfortable, safe, healthy, and live to a ripe old age.

It is in this schizophrenic mental angst that I find myself return constantly to the writings of Amy Carmichael –

O Prince of Glory, who dost bring
Thy sons to glory through the Cross
Let us not shrink from suffering
Reproach or loss.

From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher,

From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.
From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakening,
Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified.

From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire,
Let me not sink to be a clod:
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.

…and Jim Elliot –

“God, I pray light up these idle sticks of my life and may I burn up for Thee. Consume my life, My God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one like yours, Lord Jesus.”

“Father, take my life, yes, my blood, if Thou wilt, and consume it with Thine enveloping fire, I would not save it, for it is not mine to save…Pour out my life as an oblation for the world. Blood is only of value as it flows before thine altars.”

…and finally Elisabeth Elliot –

“To be a follower of the Crucified Christ means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss. The great symbol of Christianity means sacrifice and no one who calls himself a Christian can evade this stark fact. It is not by any means an easy thing to recognize, within a given instance of personal loss, the opportunity it affords for participation in Christ’s own loss.”

These quotes are my prayer today for myself and for the Church. – Dave Shive

Calvary Love and the Pursuit of God’s Mission

This is the second in a short series of blogs concerning the ministry and writings of Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) . In a previous blog, I mentioned this amazing woman and her delightful poems and writings. Until her death, Amy oversaw a ministry in India that focused on rescuing young girls from temple prostitution.

One evening a fellow worker brought to her a problem about a younger person who was missing the way of love. This led to Amy having a wakeful night. In her words, “…At such times I always wonder, ‘Lord, is it I? Have I failed her anywhere? What do I know of Calvary Love?'”

And then, sentence by sentence, the “If’s” came to her, almost as if spoken aloud to the inner ear.

The next morning Amy shared them with another (they had been written down in pencil in the night), and then with a few others. After this some copies were printed on the ministry’s (Dohnavur Fellowship) little hand printing press for her co-workers only; and that led to the words spreading.

At first when others asked for it, she felt, “No, it is far too private for that.” But then it was decided that “…If it can help any to understand what the life of love means and to live that life, then it is not ours to refuse.”

Some of the “If’s” appear to be related to pride, selfishness, or cowardice, but digging deeper the reader stumbles upon an unsuspected lovelessness at the root of them all.

Explaining the often misunderstood “Then I know nothing…” phrase, Amy comments: “And in case any true follower be troubled by the ‘then I know nothing’ phrase, I would say, the thought came in this form, and I fear to weaken it…The soul, suddenly illuminated by some fresh outshining of the knowledge of the love of God shown forth on Calvary, does not stop to measure how much or how little it knew of that love before. Penetrated, melted, broken before that vision of love, it feels that indeed all it ever knew was nothing, less than nothing.”

Here is the poem “If…” May it inspire us to a quest to know the love of Jesus as the foundation for all missions efforts done in Jesus’ name.

If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “Who made thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou hast not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I find myself taking lapses for granted, “Oh, that’s what they always do,” “Oh, of course she talks like that, he acts like that,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can write an unkind letter, speak an unkind word, think an unkind thought without grief and shame, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I do not feel far more for the grieved Savior than for my worried self when troublesome things occur, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can rebuke without a pang, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If my attitude be one of fear, not faith, about one who has disappointed me; if I say, “Just what I expected” if a fall occurs, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, “You do not understand,” or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other’s highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am content to heal a hurt slightly, saying “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace; if I forget the poignant word “Let love be without dissimulation” and blunt the edge of truth, speaking not right things but smooth things, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I hold on to choices of any kind, just because they are my choice, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into self-pity and self-sympathy; If I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, the moment I am conscious of the shadow of self crossing my threshold, I do not shut the door, and keep that door shut, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I cannot in honest happiness take the second place (or the twentieth); if I cannot take the first without making a fuss about my unworthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I take offense easily, if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I feel injured when another lays to my charge things that I know not, forgetting that my sinless Savior trod this path to the end, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I feel bitter toward those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I crave hungrily to be used to show the way of liberty to a soul in bondage, instead of caring only that it be delivered; if I nurse my disappointment when I fail, instead of asking that to another the word of release may be given, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I do not forget about such a trifle as personal success, so that it never crosses my mind, or if it does, is never given room there; if the cup of flattery tastes sweet to me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If in the fellowship of service I seek to attach a friend to myself, so that others are caused to feel unwanted; if my friendships do not draw others deeper in, but are ungenerous (to myself, for myself), then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I refuse to allow one who is dear to me to suffer for the sake of Christ, if I do not see such suffering as the greatest honor that can be offered to any follower of the Crucified, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I slip into the place that can be filled by Christ alone, making myself the first necessity to a soul instead of leading it to fasten upon Him, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If my interest in the work of others is cool; if I think in terms of my own special work; if the burdens of others are not my burdens too, and their joys mine, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I wonder why something trying is allowed, and press for prayer that it may be removed; if I cannot be trusted with any disappointment, and cannot go on in peace under any mystery, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.

— Dave Shive

“I Don’t Care for What I Have to Do”

My current line of thinking has been prompted by the acquisition of a little Carmichael booklet titled “His Thoughts Said…His Father Said…”
This is the first of a couple of blogs on the writings of Amy Carmichael. If you are unfamiliar with this amazing woman, you can Google her name and familiarize yourself with her writings and legacy. The Wikipedia article is a good starting place.

Like pretty much anything Amy has ever penned, this booklet is deep, comprehensible, practical, thought-provoking, and convicting. Amy was a missionary to India and her writings capture the necessity of followers of Jesus truly grasping the basic elements of the Cross if he work of the gospel is to advance.

In this posting, I want to comment on this new booklet. To begin, permit me to explain the title.

The first part of the title (“His Thoughts Said”) is in reference to the way followers of Jesus might reason things out in their mind. At times Carmichael alternates that with the phrase “The son said…”, the son being me or you. So the person “His” or “Son” could be any of us, male or female, as we seek to follow Jesus while confronted with our humanness. This could refer to our thoughts about life, or it could be our statements and complaints to God.

The second part of the title (“His Father Said”) is God’s response to our thoughts as he dialogues with us. The thought goes something like this: “When I think some of my ridiculously selfish thoughts, how might God respond?”

Here is a sample of how this book goes. This selection is titled “Like a Flint” and it is reading #68 on page 44. Where it says “The Son Said” you may re-word that to put your name in or simply say “I Said.”

THE SON SAID: “I am nothing.”

HIS FATHER SAID: “Did I ever tell you that you were something?”

THE SON SAID: “But I do not feel fit for this that is given for me to do.”

HIS FATHER SAID: “Can you not trust me to make you fit?”

THE SON SAID: “But I am not successful.”

HIS FATHER SAID: “At the end of the day, will my word be, ‘Come good and successful servant’? If only you will walk humbly with your God it will be, ‘Come, good and faithful servant.'”

THE SON SAID: “But I do not care for what I have to do.”

HIS FATHER SAID: “At last you have touched the root of the matter. Did your Savior ‘care for’ Calvary?”

Next entry: Amy Carmichael’s best-known and most challenging poem.

— Dave Shive