POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Follow the voice inside?

We live in a time where we no longer think truth is out there. In our day truth is created, generated, is personal and comes from within. Whether learned in class espousing philosophical deconstruction or simply singing along with a song from Moana, we are taught today to follow the voices within. Follow your heart! Find your own truth! Do what makes you happy! That chorus sings incessantly today.

Last month marked a year since our family moved out of New Jersey. This month marks two years from the time where God made it clear that our time in the garden state was coming to the end. This was not what "my heart" wanted. I had always assumed and intended to stay in the northeastern United States serving God's purposes there. When it became clear that it would be best for us to transition the church we had planted and base a new ministry out of Virginia, my heart literally felt sick. By this, I don't mean a bummed out feeling for a couple of days. I mean a deep feeling of discouragement and sadness that lingered for many months. Why? I love New Jersey and the work I had been given to there. My heart said stay, be still, endure, figure it out, and keep a tight hold on my will and plans.

And please don't think it was some heroic decision on my part; I was not happy in my soul about leaving. Yet as I look back over the last two years I see a kind hand of Providence at work in countless ways that I would have never been able to see by looking into my heart. Today, the Lord is giving me new passion and excitement for my work that I could not have anticipated. I see his light in my wife's eyes and my family is doing well in a new season. I am enjoying the care of my new pastors and building friendship with them and serving the Lord's purposes together. God has cared for his church in New Jersey in wonderful ways through his people there. If I had followed my heart, none of these decisions would have ever been made.

Sometimes God's plan works out in our lives by doing what we do not, on the surface, desire. Sometimes loving him and loving other people means we should transform our personal desires and plans. I believe that sometimes things are not so clear until much more life is rolled out by God into the rear view mirror.

The sovereignty of God is much more than a mere doctrine. It is something we trust. It is knowing that the judge of the earth will always do right by his own children even in the most difficult and trying circumstances. We trust God's providence and rule because we trust God. 

Though in catchy Disney songs we might hear to always follow the voice inside, there are times when the voice of the one who made us must hold sway. Sometimes these voices lineup. Our hearts desire is the will of God for us. These days feel great. There are other times we learn obedience through trials and difficulties. Obeying God through his Word, wise counsel, difficulty and circumstance is quite complex. It is a sure and true path in the end.

The martyred missionary Jim Elliot once remarked that in trusting Christ he had never made a sacrifice. I wish I could say I always knew to trust God with every difficulty, circumstance and decision in real time. Sometimes I just don't. And yet trusting the one who is the truth has always led me in his path and for this I simply give thanks. He really does know what is best even when it doesn't feel that way to us.

I wish my heart trusted more readily and easily and I understood as much in the moment as I do looking back over over the years. But you know what they say about hindsight; it does get clearer as each day passes.

So these last two years have been challenging for me but they have led me back to the words of Jesus Christ: "Come, follow me." And in these words there is also a corollary truth: we don't simply follow the voice inside. 

Life and Doctrine

The apostle exhorted a young pastor long ago to watch his life and his doctrine, to persevere in them, and by doing so he would save himself and his hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

A pastor should care to both preach well and grow well in his character. This was said early and often in the Christian tradition. For example, the north African theologian Augustine of hippo once wrote:  

More important than any amount of grandeur of style to those who seek to be listen to with obedience is the life of the speaker… A preacher should seek to live in such a way that he not only gains a reward for himself, but also gives an example to others, so that his way of life become's, in a sense, and abundant source of eloquence.  

Augustine, On Christian Teaching

In similar fashion, the golden mouth preacher Chrysostom challenged others to live a life of holy integrity before God and his hearers:

The praise of the speaker does not consist in applause, but in the zeal of the hearers for godliness: not in noise may just at the time of hearing, but in lasting earnestness. As soon as applause has issued from the lips it is disbursed in the air and parishes;   but the moral improvement of the hearers brings and imperishable and immortal reward both to him who speaks and two of them who obey. The praise of your cheers makes the speaker illustrious here, but the piety of your soul afford the teachers much confidence before the judgment seat of Christ.  Wherefore if anyone loves the speaker, let him not desire the applause but the profit of the hearers. 

John Chysostom, To Those Who Had Not Attended the Assembly

Like many parents I have adopted the phrase "know who you are and know whose you are" with my children. I want them to know they are loved by God and by our family as they walk out into the world in their journey of life.  As a preacher, we are to know the same thing. We belong to God and we serve at his request and calling. 

Preaching should be as much about our character and way of life as it is the preaching event. We can never be someone that we are not and no on stage fakery or eloquence will fool the eyes of God.  

As preachers of the Gospel we should care to share the truth and to live the truth in our own hearts and lives. This means an honest life of repentance and faith. Repentance for our own sins and shortcomings which are legion. Faith to keep our eyes on the one who forgives and raises the dead to new life. If we fix our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, both the joy and the substance of our message will flow fourth out of a life lived for him.

Watch your life and your doctrine…Persevere in them both.  

The Works of Roger Crowley

One of the portions of history that is lost to many modern day people is that of the late middle ages. This was time of the great empires of Islam and Christendom and the various clashes of civilization. Islam had marched out of Arabia from the time of the prophet forward and consumed vast territories and lands in North Africa, the ancient near east and Asia. 

The rise of the the Ottomons and the vast empire forged by the Turks and their subjects followed. This era was touched on so little in my education to my impoverishment. In recent years, I've found a great delight learning about these Mediterranean empires of Asia and Europe that shaped the modern world. 

My guide into these worlds have been the works of the British historian Roger Crowley. I cannot recommend his books enough with the audio versions being a particular joy to me. Crowley covers the conflicts, trade and intrigue of the various Mediterranean powers exposing the reader to the Habsburgs of Europe, the Ottoman Turks, the wily Venetians and the rise of the ambitious Portuguese.  If you like narrative history and creative non-fiction these works are a must. 

The following are descriptions of the books from Crowley's site. I have provided links to both Amazon and Audible for any who are interested in picking up a copy. Highly recommended. And no, this is not an ad, we don't do ads here on the POC Blog. 

Constantinople: The Last Great Siege tells the story of one of the great forgotten events of world history - the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in1453.

For a thousand years Constantinople was quite simply the city: fabulously wealthy, imperial, intimidating - and Christian. Single-handedly it blunted early Arab enthusiasm for Holy War; when a second wave of Islamic warriors swept out of the Asian steppes in the Middle Ages, Constantinople was the ultimate prize: ‘The Red Apple’. It was a city that had always lived under threat. On average it had survived a siege every forty years for a millenium – until the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet II, twenty-one years old and hungry for glory, rode up to the walls in April 1453 with a huge army, ‘numberless as the stars’

Constantinople is the taut, vivid story of this final struggle for the city told largely through the accounts of eyewitnesses. For fifty-five days a tiny group of defenders defied the huge Ottoman army in a seesawing contest fought on land, at sea – and underground. During the course of events, the largest cannon ever built was directed against the world’s most formidable defensive system, Ottoman ships were hauled overland into the Golden Horn, and the morale of defenders was crucially undermined by unnerving portents. At the centre is the contest between two inspirational leaders, Mehmed II and Constantine XI, fighting for empire and religious faith, and an astonishing finale in a few short hours on 29 May 1453 – a defining moment for medieval history.

Constantinople is both a gripping work of narrative history and an account of the war between Christendom and Islam that still has echoes in the modern world.

US cover.jpg

The inhabitants of the Maghreb have it on the authority of the book of predictions that the Muslims will make a successful attack against the Christians and conquer the lands of the European Christians beyond the sea. This, it is said, will take place by sea.’ 
Ibn Khaldun, fourteenth-century Arab historian

In 1521, Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power, prepared to dispatch an invasion fleet to the island of Rhodes. It was to prove the opening shot in an epic struggle between rival empires and faiths for control of the Mediterranean – the White Sea to the Turks – that consumed the centre of the world for sixty years.

Empires of the Sea tells the story of this great contest between the Ottomans and the Spanish Hapsburgs. It is a fast-paced tale of spiralling intensity that ranges from Istanbul to the Gates of Gibraltar and features a cast of extraordinary characters: Hayrettin Barbarossa, the original Barbary pirate, the risk-taking Emperor Charles V, the Knights of St John, last survivors of the military crusading orders, and the brilliant Christian admiral, Don Juan of Austria. Its brutal climax came between 1565 and 1571, six years that witnessed a fight to the finish, decided in a series of bloody set pieces: the epic siege of Malta, the battle for Cyprus and the apocalyptic last-ditch defence of southern Europe at Lepanto – one of the most dramatic days in world history, that fixed the frontiers of the Mediterranean world that we know today.

Empires of the Sea is the sequel to the much-praised Constantinople 1453. It is page-turning narrative history at its best – a story of extraordinary colour and incident, rich in detail, full of surprises and backed by a wealth of eyewitness accounts. Its denouement at Lepanto is a single action of quite shocking impact. Cervantes called it ‘the greatest event witnessed by times past, present and to come’. The book is also a narrative about technology and money. Lepanto was the Mediterranean’s Trafalgar, the last and greatest moment in the age of the galleys before sailing ships with broadside guns swept all before them, and it was paid for, on the Christian side, with Inca gold.

City of Fortune tells the story of Venice’s rise from lagoon dwellers to the greatest power in the Mediterranean. It was an epic five hundred year voyage that encompassed crusade and trade, plague, sea battles and colonial adventure.

Along the way, Venice created an empire of ports and naval bases – the Stato da Mar – which flourished under the lion banner of St Mark and whose sole function was to funnel the goods of the world back into the warehouses of the lagoon. Venice became, for a time, the axis of world trade and the richest place on earth. The city was a brilliant mosaic fashioned from what it bought, traded, borrowed and stole across the Mediterranean basin.

The path to empire unfolded in a series of extraordinary contests – the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 that launched the Stato da Mar, the slugging contest with Genoa fought to the death within the lagoon itself, and the desperate defence against the Ottoman empire. The long arc of ascent, domination and maritime decline is the subject of this book.

Drawing on first hand accounts of crusaders, sea captains and merchants, as well as the state records, City of Fortune is a rich narrative about commerce and empire, seafaring  and piracy, and the places where Venetian merchants sailed, traded and died: Constantinople, Crete, Alexandria, the Black Sea, theAdriatic and the shores of Greece. It begins symbolically on Ascension Day in the year 1000 and ends with an enormous explosion off the Peloponnese in 1499 – and the calamitous news that the Portuguese had pioneered a sea route to India, strangling Venice’s lucrative spice trade.

‘The sea without end is Portuguese.’ Fernando Pessoa

In 1497, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and became the first European to sail to India. This feat came off the back of sixty years of coherent effort by the Portuguese to find a way out of the Atlantic Ocean. Then they set about conquering the world.

As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten. But Portugal's navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched Gama’s expedition and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East - then began creating the first long-range maritime empire. Driven by crusading fever and the lure of the spice trade, a few thousand Portuguese, equipped with a new technology – ship-borne bronze cannon – joined up the oceans and surprised the world. In an astonishing blitz of thirty years, a handful of visionary and utterly ruthless empire builders, with few resources but breathtaking ambition, attempted to seize the Indian Ocean, destroy Islam and take control of global trade.

This is narrative history at its most vivid - an epic tale of navigation, trade and technology, money and religious zealotry, political diplomacy and espionage, sea battles and shipwrecks, endurance, courage and terrifying brutality. Drawing on extensive first-hand accounts, many of which have never been available in English before, it brings to life the exploits of an extraordinary band of conquerors - men such as Afonso de Albuquerque, the first European since Alexander the Great to found an Asian empire - who set in motion five hundred years of European colonisation and unleashed the forces of globalisation that shape the modern world.

Hope. The final frontier

I'll never forget the season of life from early 1998 until September 27th 2001. My wife and I had married quite young and had hoped to start a family.

Our first pregnancy came with the expected joy, rapid family announcements and the fresh hopes of new parenthood. These hopes came quickly crashing down when we lost the first child to miscarriage. Over the course of the next several years we lost four more successively. It became an act of courage for my wife to hope to get pregnant and then hope the child would make it to term. It felt like a bad movie where the same script kept playing over and over.

In that season we thought about many things. My wife and I both wrestled with God’s relation to pain and suffering. Her questions were related to God's care for her and mine were more intellectual, considering if God was real. We also wrestled with the concept of Christian hope and the Lord really met with us in and through this time. God gave us quite a different perspective than we had in our youthful idealism.

The real struggle was with the continual disappointment with our circumstances. We were able to conceive quite readily only to have our hopes come crashing down. As a husband, it really hit me when my wife said, "I've been pregnant or dealing with the aftermath of miscarriage constantly, nonstop for three years and we have no children." Hearing that was heartbreaking. My bride had gone through every miscarriage physically, emotionally and spiritually and she began to really wonder if she wanted to try again. You see, there is a hope that disappoints. Trying again meant facing the unknown once again with a past that grew with disappointment.

One of the passages of scripture that really ministered to us came in the form of rhetorical question from the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 8.

24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. - Romans 8:24-25

Who hopes for what he sees? Who hopes for what they already have? Nobody. Hope is a future facing reality whereby we long for something we do not yet have. As such, hope in this life can be a very disappointing thing.

  • We had hoped for children. Have our family, nice, quick and easy. Disappointment.
  • We hope that things will go better at our jobs but sometimes they don't. Disappointment.
  • We hope to accomplish something in a sport and we get injured. Disappointment.  
  • We hope that our relationships will be full of joy and glory. Sometimes they are just made of the stuff of the earth. Disappointment.
  • Many times we think it is a promise from God to make us healthy, wealthy and wise. Not the case. Disappointment.

It takes courage to have hope in our world. Our expectations vary, are adjusted by reality and sometimes come crashing down. The whole book of Ecclesiastes is about deconstructing and unwinding our earthly hopes. This wonderful book wrecks us for putting our hope in the wrong things. You think wisdom and learning will make life perfect? Wrong. Wealth and achievement? Wrong again. Having pleasure? Nope. Placing our ultimate joy and future on the shaky foundations of this world is a fools errand here under the sun. Vanity, emptiness, a mere chasing after the wind.

Yet the gospel offers such a different foundation for hope in this life. As a human being we hope for something different in our current story. We grow numb and disappointed. But as a Christian, we have hope in God’s promise that all things will turn out to be far more than OK. This sort of hope is such a scarce commodity among the human race.

Hope is described in the New Testament as a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). Gospel hope is transcendent because it is based on the promise of eternal life with God. This promise issues forth from one who never lies. (Titus 1:2,3)

Our hope is always future facing so with every earthbound disappointment we renew hope in the promises we have in Christ. His Spirit is in us as a deposit guaranteeing our possession of a glorious future (Ephesians 1:11-14). He has an inheritance for us that will never spoil, fade or perish, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:3-9). The Spirit has poured his love into our hearts so that we have a renewed hope and renewed vision even amidst the darkest of days. This is why our hope in God's promises in Christ are called "a firm anchor of the soul" by the writer of the book of Hebrews.

Hope indeed is the final frontier for human beings. This life filled with sin and death can batter the small hopes of the masses into despair. Yet for those who trust in the promises of Christ, who believe in the resurrection of the dead, who believe in the life to come and his glorious Kingdom have a different story. They will live from hope to hope through every trial and difficulty. Today’s disappointments will one day fully and finally fade into the eternal promises of our God.

This Easter you may perhaps say to one another "He is risen!" And when you reply, "He is risen indeed," remember that you have a hope that will not disappoint and not simply a religious slogan to echo. Your future resurrection with Christ guarantees that you will stand some day in glory with hope fulfilled by sight. Even when you face the final blows of death your hope will transcend that moment where many think all is lost.

If we have placed our hope only in this life we are to be more pitied than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19). Yet Christ is risen from the dead and he leads us into and over the final frontiers of hope into the Kingdom of Heaven. Bank on it.