Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. (Matthew 7:24-27, NKJV)
Last week in my sermon on “A Church of Thoughtful Teaching” based on Acts 11:19-26, I said that the minute Barnabas knew that was going on in Antioch was an authentic work of the Holy Spirit, that he left for Tarsus to find Paul to bring him back to Antioch where together they could begin to teach those brand new Christians the faith (11:25). I explained that this was a work of encouragement, a way that Barnabas was looking out for the life and faith of those brand new Christians in Antioch. I said that Barnabas understood that the very best thing that he could do for those brand new believers in Antioch would be to strengthen them in their new found faith, and that meant a ministry of thoughtful teaching. Just as Jesus had explained at the end of His first great unit of teaching, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:24-27), when the storms of life blow and the floods of trouble rise, nothing serves us better than to be built on the firm foundation of God’s truth.
I really do believe this.
It is a faith well-anchored in the truths of Scripture that sustains us in the days of testing. When the bottom drops out of life, it’s good to know which side is up, and this is what the Scriptures do for us. They orient us to reality. I have heard pilot friends talk about how you have to trust your instruments when the weather suddenly closes in on you and you can’t see anything in front of you. You can’t trust your feelings in those moments, your “sense” of what’s up and what’s down. That’s a formula for disaster. No, when you can’t see, you have to go to your gauges and dials and follow their leading. That’s the only sure way to navigate when the darkness suddenly descends and thoroughly engulfs you, and it did this week.
This week another church member died. This is the third week in a row that this has happened. And each week it has been an active and exemplary member of the community of faith, someone we have looked to for leadership, someone whose life has been a reflection of the light and love of Christ to us, and to the world. Needless to say, this has all hit us pretty hard. It would be fair to say that we are reeling just a little bit these days as a community of faith. The darkness has descended and engulfed us. And the only way that I can navigate it is by going to my instruments and trusting them to safely guide me through the storm, and this means knowing and trusting the teachings of Scripture.
This is the watershed for me. Either God has spoken and acted, and we have a reliable account of what God said and did, or we don’t. It’s either hunches and guesses when it comes to God and His ways, or it’s a knowing based on God’s own self-disclosure: His speaking and His acting.
Last Wednesday in Bible Study we finally got to Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB). As we discovered last fall on our “Life Verse Project” as a church, this is Northway’s #1 favorite Bible verse. I know it’s mine. The “meat” of this verse that we find so sustaining is that promise that God is at work in every moment and circumstance of our lives bringing about His good. This is the source of such comfort and strength. But what hit me with particular force this week as we studied it was how Romans 8:28 begins: “And we know.” It wasn’t “And we hope…” Or, “And we want…” It was, “And we know.”
Of course, I can misunderstand what God has said and done; there’s always that possibility (even probability), and so there must always be a degree of modesty in what I claim to “know,” and a willingness to “check” my convictions and conclusions with both the “Great Tradition” and the community of contemporary interpretation. And since God hasn’t revealed everything that there is to know about Himself in the things that He has said and done in His self-disclosure, there still remains some real areas of “mystery” when it comes to God and His ways. Deuteronomy 29:29 remains a pretty “big player” in my personal faith: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever.” To “know” some things is not to “know” all things. But with both of these necessary “speed bumps” – both modesty and mystery – securely in place, I can fully affirm that “we know,” in fact, I would argue that Christianity depends on it.
Since last Christmas I have been slowly working my way through the Reformed theologian John Frame’s “magnum opus” – the four volumes of his Theology of Lordship. It has been a deeply challenging and richly rewarding journey. And near the beginning of the fourth volume, The Doctrine of the Word of God, Professor Frame writes –
Now, to be sure, there are questions about where we can find God’s personal words today, for he does not normally speak to us now as he did to Abraham. (These are questions of ‘canon’). And there are questions about how we can come to understand God’s words, given our distance from the culture in which they were given. (These are the questions of ‘hermeneutics’) But the answer cannot be that God’s personal words are unavailable to us, or unintelligible to us. If we say either of those two things, then we lose all touch with the biblical gospel. The idea that God communicates with human beings in personal words pervades all of Scripture, and it is central to every doctrine of Scripture. If God has, in fact, not spoken to us personally, then we lose any basis for believing in salvation by grace, in judgment, in Christ’s atonement – indeed for believing in the Biblical God at all. Indeed, if God has not spoken to us personally, then everything important in Christianity is human speculation and fantasy. (6)
And lest you think this is “just theology,” just the abstract and irrelevant reasonings of somebody with too much time on his hands and too little investment in “real life,” I would suggest that you navigate a month like the one we’ve just been through as a community of faith. When the rain descends, the floods rise, and the winds blow and beat, what collapses and what endures? I think the old hymn got it exactly right –
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said, to you that for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed! For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”