Jesus our Pilot

Product Details Based on the stories of Jesus calming the wind and the waves (e.g. Luke 8:22-25), Christian teachers throughout history have referred to Jesus as the pilot, or helmsman, of the church (or the Christian’s life).  Below is a short list of examples from several periods in history – examples I find quite edifying and encouraging.

Hippolytus (3rd C.): The Church is like a ship tossed in the deep, but not destroyed, for she has with her the skilled Pilot, Christ.

Athanasius (4th C): Our Lord Christ, like an excellent Pilot, steers and preserves and orders all things by his Wisdom and Word.

John Calvin (16th C): Our course in the world is like a dangerous sailing between many rocks, and exposed to many storms and tempests, and so no one arrives at the port except he who has escaped a thousand deaths. It is certain that we are guided by God’s hand, and that we are in no danger of shipwreck as long as we have him as our Pilot.

John Owen (17th C): He is the great Pilot of the whole creation, who steers all things according to the counsel of his will.

Thomas Boston (18th C): Believers are committed into Christ’s hand as the great Pilot, to guide them through the sea of this world, to the shore of Immanuel’s land.

In a letter to his daughter, John Newton (18th C) told her that storms would come up in her life, much like storms come when crossing the ocean.  Then he wrote, ““But I take courage, as my hopes are greater than my fears. I know there is an infallible Pilot, who has the winds and the waves at his command! Under his care I know that you will be safe. He can guide you, unhurt, amidst the storms, rocks, and dangers, and bring you at last safely to the haven of eternal rest.”

Augustus Toplady also wrote a hymn based on Matthew 8:25 which is called “Pilot of the Soul.”  Many hymnbooks also have Edward Hopper’s hymn called “Jesus Savior Pilot Me.”  Traveling on the seas isn’t nearly as dangerous as it once was, but it still makes sense (and is comforting!) to think of Christ as the Pilot, or Helmsman, of the church and the Christian life.

shane lems
hammond, wi


The Happy Christian – A Review

I try to be a positive Christian with a positive outlook on life.  Generally speaking, I look on the bright side and press on in the Christian life with hopefulness because Christ is on the throne.  But sometimes I fall into a rut of gloom, cynicism, and I think the cup is “half empty,” so to speak.  From time to time I can identify with Christians who are always gloomy, pessimistic, and critical.  The question is, how can we get out of the rut of gloom?  We should want to, since the Christian faith is not one of gloom, doom, and extreme cynicism!

David Murray answers this question in his new book, The Happy Christian.   In ten chapters, Murray tackles gloom armed first with Scripture and secondly with some helpful scientific studies and insights about pessimism and optimism.  If I can make a generalization, Murray is basically calling God’s people to a Christian optimism, or a biblical optimism based on the truths of Scripture.  The book is just over 260 pages.

The chapters go like this: To gain a more positive outlook on life 1) focus on facts more than feelings, 2) avoid so much bad news and focus on good news, 3) focus on the fact that Christ’s work of salvation is finished, 4) focus on the strengths of other Christians instead of their weaknesses, 5) focus on the blessed future we have in Christ rather than the past, 6) Find God’s common grace in the world instead of sin and evil, 7) Find things to praise people for instead of critique them, 8) give money and things away instead of hoarding, 9) View your work as a calling instead of a job, 10) be around people of different ethnicities instead of one ethnicity.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and much of it made perfect sense.  I appreciated Murray’s call to focus on the facts rather than be led by feelings (I’ve learned that over the years!), and I appreciated his emphasis on the gospel (chapter 3), which leads us to joyful freedom and service instead of a constant negative guilt for sin.  I also appreciated Murray’s call to stay away from so much news/media, since the news tends to focus on the negative and then makes us negative (I agree; I quit following the news years ago and it has helped me be more optimistic).  Murray was also dead-on when he encouraged churches to aim for joy, grace, and a spotlight on the Good News.  His chapter on praising others was also a good reminder for me to work harder to encourage and bless people with my words.

There were a few things in the book about which I was less enthusiastic.  First, Scripture citations are endnotes rather than written in the text or as footnotes (minor,  I know, but endnotes kill my reading optimism!).  Second, there was a ton of information covered in this book.  I was almost overwhelmed at times, since Murray did quite a few bullet point type lists/paragraphs.  For one example, in his discussion on the benefits of Christian hope (p. 95ff), Murray lists twelve benefits followed by eight ways to grow in hope.  The notes were good, but it was almost an information overload for me since there were many lists/paragraphs like this (e.g. ten parts of constructive criticism, ten ways of learning to praise others, nine ways to give biblically, eight ways to pursue diversity personally, ten ways for a church to pursue diversity, five truths about giving in leadership positions, etc.).  I realize all readers are different, so perhaps this is subjective, but those lists sort of bogged me down in the reading.

One other question I had about the book is the chapter on diversity.  I fully agree with Murray’s emphasis on breaking racial barriers down, since Scripture calls us to love others and since Jesus died for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  However, I didn’t quite see exactly how diversity increases joy; does this mean that the less ethnic diversity there is in a person’s life, the less joy he or she has?  Many house churches in China can’t really be diverse; the same can be said about a church in a tribal jungle location or in some rural parts of other countries.  Also, if I have a handful of good Christian friends, can’t they increase my joy no matter what ethnicity they are?  Maybe I’m missing something; and I am honestly open to correction here!  And again, I agree that Scripture does call us away from racism and it calls us to love others based on the gospel and God’s love for all sorts of people.

In summary, I’m glad I read this book, The Happy Christian.  The church for sure does need more emphasis on the true, the beautiful, and the good since she usually talks too much about what is wrong with the world.  I’m going to incorporate some parts of this book into my own actions, conversation, and Christian teaching.  It’s always a good thing for me to be pointed in the right way of Christian optimism, since Jesus does reign!  God treats us, his people, like sons and daughters, therefore “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:7, 12)!”

[As a side, it was neat to learn that David Murray is a Reformed pastor and seminary professor.  I’m thankful he put so much time and energy into this helpful resource!]

David Murray, The Happy Christian (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015).

((I received this book from the Booklook blogging program; per FCC rules, I need to note that I was not compelled to write a positive review.))

shane lems
hammond, wi

Confronting an Alcoholic

Alcoholism is a huge problem in the United States – even in the Christian church.  Since it isn’t always a clearly visible sin, we may forget about it or think it isn’t such a big deal.  In fact, some Christians are oblivious to it to the extent that they flaunt their love of all kinds of alcohol without considering what effect that may have on others inside and outside of the church.  Some Christians sadly act like 16 year olds when talking about and consuming alcohol.  But alcoholism is real, it is serious, and it is a sin (cf. Rom 13:13, Gal 5:21, 1 Pet. 4:3).  If you’re dealing with drunkenness yourself or in the life of someone you know, I highly recommend Ed Welch’s Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave.  Here are a few helpful lines from Welch’s section on confronting an alcoholic (or someone with another addiction).

“…If you really want to lay a foundation for honesty, you must be a person who is quick to acknowledge your own sin, and who will not overreact to sin in those close to you.  To keep from overreacting, you must be persuaded that the problem is ultimately before God.  As the psalmist said… ‘Against you, you only have I sinned’ (Ps. 51:4).  It is not our law that has been violated, it is God’s.”

Welch then discusses the steps of confrontation and discipline in Matthew 18 (if it is a church context) and says that the goal is “love and restoration.”

What about the actual intervention – when you confront the addict face to face to tell him of his sin?  I don’t have room to summarize everything Welch writes, but here are a few (edited) notes:

1) Consider who would be best to participate in the intervention.  2) Have a time of personal repentance and prayer, remembering that the gap between the substance abuser and you is quite narrow. 3) Have each person explicitly [and specifically] describe some of the apparent signs and consequences of the addiction that he has witnessed.  4) Prepare follow-up options (i.e. cutting off all funds, protecting children involved, counseling, detox, etc.  5)  Set up the intervention.”

Of course Welch gives more wise advice on this topic from a biblical and gracious perspective.  In fact, Welch calls confrontation/intervention a “rescue mission.”  To learn more, you’ll have to get this book to read this chapter (5) and the rest of this excellent resource on addictions: Ed Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001).

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi


Not Eliminating Grief

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering How did the early Christian church differ from Greek philosophers when it came to dealing with suffering and grief?

“For Christians, suffering was not to be dealt with primarily through the control and suppression of negative emotions with the use of reason or willpower.  Ultimate reality was known not primarily through reason and contemplation but through relationship.  Salvation was through humility, faith, and love rather than reason and control of emotions.  And therefore, Christians don’t face adversity by stoically decreasing our love for the people and things of this world so much as by increasing our love and joy in God.  [Luc] Ferry says, ‘Augustine, having conducted a radical critique of love-as-attachment in general, does not banish it when its object is divine.’”

“What he means is that, while Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught that the answer to this was not to love things less but to love God more than anything else.  Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace.  Grief was not to be eliminated but seasoned and buoyed up with love and hope.”

Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 44.

shane lems


Christians and Same-Sex Attraction






Homosexuality is an inherently difficult topic for Christians to discuss and address.  And it’s a thousand times harder to discuss in our culture, where sexuality is all messed up.  Sam Allberry has written a short book that will help Christians navigate this topic with a biblical mindset: Is God Anti-Gay?  In just 85 small pages, Allberry does a lot of good (and brave!) work in the area of Christianity and homosexuality.  Here are three reasons why I highly recommend this book:

1) It is biblical.  Allberry walks the readers through the basics of God’s will for marriage and sexuality.  Even though he struggles with same-sex attraction, he knows that God’s Word teaches that marriage and sex are meant for man and woman.  He also knows that if a Christian does not marry a person of the opposite sex, the only other God-pleasing alternative is singleness in a sexually pure way.  Allberry clearly echoes Scripture: we cannot tell people that God accepts homosexual relationships, even if they are monogamous.  Through many years of prayers, pain, counsel, and struggle, Allberry himself has chosen at this point to remain celibate.  I commend him for walking this difficult road with an eye on Scripture and pleasing Christ.

2) It is pastoral.  I was delighted to hear Allberry’s gentle and kind tone throughout the book.  Too often Christians address the topic of homosexuality without compassion and empathy.  But both are evident in this book.  Very clearly Allberry notes that same-sex attraction and homosexuality are not unforgivable sins – they are not the worst sins in the world.   It’s not like homosexuality is the “chief” sin of our day.  Jesus’ blood doesn’t just wipe away sins of anger and pride and idolatry – it also wipes away sexual sins.  There is definitely hope for people struggling with homosexuality.  And as Allberry noted, the church should state this loudly and clearly.

3) It is a needed resource.  Even though I don’t struggle in this area (I do struggle in plenty of other areas, however, so I can’t cast any stones!), I was very glad to read this book.  It gave me some new insights on how to view homosexuality.  For example, there is a difference between a gay lifestyle and same-sex attraction.  “Gay Christian” is probably not the best term to use.  For Allberry, it is an identity issue: he does not identify himself as a gay person; he identifies himself “in Christ;” he is a Christian who has to fight the sin of same-sex attraction much in the same way that I have to fight anger and doubt and about 100 other sins I don’t want to publicize!  Christians do have besetting sins, we do have “thorns in the flesh,” but we find hope and strength in Christ – and we find our identity in him as we repent of our sins.

If you’re a Christian who wants a brief and helpful discussion of this topic, please get the book.  Elders and pastors will need to read it as well to help them in their shepherding and counseling.  If you’re a Christian who is struggling with same-sex attraction, please get this book.  Your sin is forgivable; you are not a “lesser” Christian because of your struggles, and God loves you just as much as he loves his other children who struggle with their own plethora of sins and weaknesses.  The ground is level at the throne of grace.  Thankfully, one day all God’s people will be free from all the sins that burden them.  Until then, we’ll have to struggle forward together.  This book is a big help in that area: Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay?

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi



The Marrow of Theology In The Marrow of Theology, William Ames (d. 1633) has an outstanding biblical treatment of Christian hope.  Here are a few excerpts.  (Note: the promises Ames speaks of are the promises of the covenant of grace.)

“Hope is a virtue which leads us to expect things which God has promised us (Rom. 8:25).”

“Hope looks toward God in these ways.  FIRST, as the object which it expects, for the principal object of hope is God himself and those acts by which he is joined to us (1 Pet. 1:21).  All those things which lead to God like steps and means are less principal objects (1 Pet. 1:13).  Thus God himself is called the Hope of Israel (Jer. 14:8), and the God of hope (Rom. 15:13).  This is not so much because he is the author and giver of hope as because it is he for whom we hope.  SECOND, hope looks to God as the author and giver of all the good it expects (Ps. 37:5-6).  As it turns toward God for the attainment of good, so it looks toward obtaining it by his own grace (Jer. 17:7).”

“Like faith, hope in God looks to the grace of God and Christ as the only sources of good to be bestowed (1 Pet. 1:13, Col. 1:27).  [God] always promises the greatest good which shall not come about without his help, but by virtue of his promise they will not only probably but surely come to pass.”

“Since faith apprehends the promise and hope expects what is promised, the difference between faith and hope is the difference between what is present and what is to come.”

“The natural fruit of hope is joy and delight in God (Heb. 3:6, 1 Pet. 1:3, 6).”

“Hope is strengthened and increased by all evidences which assure us that the good hoped for belongs to us (Rom. 5:4).”

William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, II.VI.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond WI


No Gospel, No Church

No gospel, no church:

“The greatest need in the church today is the gospel.  The gospel is not only news for a perishing world, it is the message that forms, sustains, and animates the church.  Apart from the gospel, the church has nothing to say – that is, nothing to say that cannot be said by some other human agency.  The gospel distinguishes the church from the world, defines her message and mission in the world, and steels her people against the fiery darts of the evil one and the false allurements of sin.  The gospel is absolutely vital to a vibrant, joyous, persevering, hopeful, and healthy Christian and Christian church.”

Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 39.

shane lems