Monday, May 19, 2014

Not very acceptable in western Christendom today.

Not everyone recognizes Jesus’ authority; others sense the power but do not respond with faith. Even some who naturally belong to the kingdom, that is, the Jews who had lived under the old covenant and had been the heirs of the promises, turn out to be rejected. They too approach the great hall of the messianic banquet, lit up with a thousand lamps in joyous festivity; but they are refused admission, they are thrown outside into the blackness of night, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). The idea is not that there will be no Jews at the messianic banquet. After all, the patriarchs themselves are Jews, and all of Jesus’ earliest followers were Jews. But Jesus insists that there is no automatic advantage to being a Jew. As he later says to those of his own race, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (21:43). An individual’s faith, his or her response to the authority claims of Jesus, will prove decisive. The alternative to entrance into the kingdom is painted in horrible colors: literally the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, to emphasize the horror of the scene, the former suggesting suffering and the latter despair. The same authority of Jesus that proves such a great comfort to the eyes of faith now engenders terror in the merely religious. 
This is not a teaching that is very acceptable to vast numbers in western Christendom today. It flies in the face of the great god Pluralism who holds much more of our allegiance than we are prone to admit. The test for religious validity in this environment is no longer truth but sincerity—as if sincerity were a virtue even when the beliefs underlying it are entirely mistaken.
- D.A. Carson

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Middle Mile

To most of us, the most important parts of a journey are the start and finish. But the part of a trip that really tests the traveler is neither the beginning nor the end but the middle mile.
Anybody can be enthusiastic at the start. The long road invites you, you are fresh and ready to go. It is easy to sing then.  And it is easy to be exuberant at the finish. You may be footsore and weary but you have arrived, the goal is reached, the crown is won. It is not difficult to be happy then.
But on the dreary middle mile when the glory of the start has died away and you are too far from the goal to be inspired by it—on the tedious middle mile when life settles down to a regular routine and monotony-there is the stretch that tires out the traveler.
If you can sing along the middle mile, you've learned one of life's most difficult lessons.
This is true of all life's little journeys. A boy hears a great musician and is inspired to undertake a musical career. Years later, he makes his debut and leaps into fame. Both those milestones, his start and his success, are played up in the papers. You hear nothing about the middle mile when he banged a piano until his ears rang; those dull, drab years when he was so often tempted to give it up and be a nobody. But it was the middle mile that made him, that proved the fabric of his soul. . . .
A boy and girl marry. It is easy to be affectionate those first heavenly days when life is a paradise made for two. Fifty years later they lie in the sunset's glow still in love although time has bent and wrinkled them and silver threads have long since replaced the gold. But it is neither the honeymoon nor the golden wedding that tests the lover. It is the middle stretch, when rent is due and hubby had lost his job and the kids have the whooping cough, that tests the traveler of the matrimonial highway.
A man is converted, "gets religion" we say. It is easy to be spiritual those first great days when the wine of a new affection so intoxicates the soul. A half-century later, he comes to the dark valley and a song is still on his lips and the heavenly vision is still bright within him. But the testing place of his religion was the long middle mile when the enthusiasm of the start had passed and the goal was still far away, when the vision had dimmed a bit and a sense of things real came doubly strong." . . .
So in life as a whole, it is not for fine beginnings and noble resolutions that we suffer most today. And nobody needs advice on how to be happy at the end of the road, for if you have traveled well, the end of the way will care for itself. It is on the intermediate stretch where the rosy start gives way to long desert marches, where the ordinariness of life bears heaviest on the soul-it is there that we need to know how to keep the inner shrine aglow
with the heavenly vision. . . .
This grace of the middle mile the Bible calls "patient continuance." It is a wonderful art that few have mastered. It proves, as nothing else can, that character. And it gets least attention from the world because there is nothing very dramatic about it. There is something theatric in a big start or a glorious finish. There is nothing for a news reporter along the middle mile. It is a lonesome mile, for the crowd is whooping'er up for the fellow who got through. It's a hard mile, for it's too far to go back and a long way to go on. But if you can keep a song within and a smile without on this dreariest stretch of life, if you can lean to transform it into a paradise of its own, you have mastered the greatest secret of victorious living, the problem of the middle mile.
- Vance Havner