Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"If you're not praying..."

"If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life."

- Paul Miller, A Praying Life

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ray Ortlund, Jr. on a Gospel-centered Church

Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

“. . . a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”  Luke 7:34

What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered?  That’s a popular concept these days.  Good.  What if we were scrambling to be law-centered?  But the difference is not so easy in real terms.

A gospel-centered church holds together two things.  One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of divine grace for the undeserving — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe.  Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us.  Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us.  Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige.  The good news of substitution.  The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone.  Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there.  That message, that awareness, that clarity.  Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into its sociology.  The good news of God’s grace beautifies how we treat one another.  In fact, the horizontal reveals the vertical.  How we treat one another reveals what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe.  It is possible to say, “We are a gospel-centered church,” and sincerely mean it, while we make our church into a law-centered social environment.  We see God above lowering his gun, and we breathe a sigh of relief.  But if we are trigger-happy toward one another, we don’t get it yet.

A gospel-centered church looks something like this album cover — my all-time favorite.  A gospel-centered church is a variegated collection of sinners.  What unifies them is Jesus, the King of grace.  They come together and stick together because they have nothing to fear from their church’s message or from their church’s culture.  The theology creates the sociology, and the sociology incarnates the theology.  And everyone is free to trust the Lord, be honest about their problems, and grow in newness of life.

The one deal-breaker in a gospel-centered church: anyone for any reason turning it into a culture of legal demandingness, negative scrutiny, finger-pointing, gossip and other community-poisoning sins.  A church with a message of grace can quickly and easily stop being gospel-centered in real terms.

A major part of pastoral ministry is preaching the doctrine of grace and managing an environment of grace.  The latter is harder to accomplish than the former.  It is more intuitive.  It requires more humility, self-awareness and trust in the Lord.  But when a church’s theological message and its relational tone converge as one, that church becomes powerfully prophetic, for the glory of Jesus.

May the Friend of sinners grant beautiful gospel-centricity in all our churches.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Power of Being Amazed by Grace

"How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?

"What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

"The way in which we maintain ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still ‘amazing’ to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace."

— Sinclair Ferguson
Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Drive out the mocker...."

"Get rid of the one who makes fun of wisdom.
    Then fighting, quarrels, and insults will stop." -- Prov. 22:10 (New Century Version)

The NIV translation of this person is "the mocker", and the NET Bible's note says that this is the person who refuses to be "changed with discipline or correction, but who despises and disrupts anything that is morally or socially constructive."  Think of what this might mean for family, church, or work situations,....

Friday, December 27, 2013

Four Kinds of People

It seems to me there are essentially four kinds of people:

1.  Those who believe the truth about life, God and reality, etc., and act in accordance with that belief.
2.  Those who “believe” the truth about life, God and reality, etc., but act contrary to that belief (in substantial ways).
3.  Those who believe what is false about life, God and reality, but act contrary to that belief (in substantial ways).
4.  Those who believe what is false about life, God and reality, and act in accordance with that (false) belief.

There is a lot to say about each group, but for now: the people in group #3 are often nicer or nobler than those in group #2.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Why It's Essential for You to Become a Christian

Both Scripture and now many years of observation have convinced me of this:  unless a person comes to the place where they are truly devoted to God, over any other devotion, their lives -- at some point or another -- are going to break down and fail.  We were made to know and love and serve God; and if we won't or don't, our lives will not work.

"You shall have no other gods before me. (Ex. 20:3)
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 Jn. 5:21)
'There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.' (Prov. 14:12)
"...ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”  (Rom. 3:16-170
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)
 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) "But the way of the transgressor is hard."

'Only if your identity is built on God and his love and grace can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.' (Tim Keller)

The Alternative?: Living in Idolatry (‘God-substitutes’)

Here is a list of various ‘god-substitutes’ and the particular kinds of brokenness and damage that each one brings into a life:

• If you center your life and identity on your spouse, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems and flaws will be overwhelming to you.

• If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.

• If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.

• If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.

• If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the ‘escape strategies’ by which you try to avoid the hardness of life.

• If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.

• If you center your life and identity on a ‘noble cause,’ you will divide the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.

• If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, you guilt will be devastating.

In pride we become obsessed with whatever interferes with people making much of us.

Our besetting sins are warning signs that our characteristic idolatry is at work.

‘Only if your identity is built on God and his love and grace can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.’


-- based on chapter 10 (“The Problem of Sin”) of Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” (Dutton)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How He has loved us...


There is no other solution to the marvellous mysteries of His Incarnation and Sacrificial Death but this: Christ has loved us.

There is not a circumstance of our Lord’s history which is not another form or manifestation of love.

His incarnation is love stooping.
His sympathy is love weeping.
His compassion is love supporting.
His grace is love acting.
His teaching is the voice of love.
His silence is the repose of love.
His patience is the restraint of love.
His obedience is the labor of love.
His suffering is the travail of love.
His cross is the altar of love.
His death is the burnt offering of love.
His resurrection is the triumph of love.
His ascension into heaven is the enthronement of love.
His sitting down at the right hand of God is the intercession of love.

Such is the deep, the vast, the boundless ocean of Christ’s love!

— Octavius Winslow
The Sympathy of Christ

He came to seek and to save...

"Jesus was born in a dungheap because that's where he knew he'd find us." -- Jerome

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"...In the absence of human assistance..."

Today I was talking to a friend about how much I wish I could talk to Dr. Grier (who went to be with the Lord this past year) to get his advice and insight on a very challenging situation I've been facing. I'm sure I would benefit from his wisdom as I did so many times before. But then I came across this quote today, which both encourages and challenges me....maybe it will be helpful to others too: "God sends people in and out of your life to exercise your faith and develop your character. Whey they’re gone, they leave you with the reality that your God is with you to deliver you wherever you go! Joshua never would have learned that while Moses was there. In the absence of human assistance, we learn the magnitude of God’s favor." (Jorge Bergoglio)

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Christmas is for those who hate it most"


from Matt Redmond:

We are by now accustomed to hearing about how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his—ehem—problems with this season is no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.

Not too long ago, I heard from someone about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter hopelessness and devastation. Christmas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of this pain. It's been a story very hard to forget.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.

But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is backwards. Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer—is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.

Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to "wing night" alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when he wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune—they want "home" but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray.

Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it most.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Searching for a Savior

"You see, whether we know it or not, every human being lives in search of a savior. We are all propelled by a quest for identity, inner peace, and some kind of meaning and purpose. And we’ll all look for it somewhere. Here’s the bottom line: looking to [something in] creation to get what only the Creator can give you will always result in addiction of some kind. The thing that you hoped would serve you pulls you into its service. What seemed like freedom ends up being bondage. The thing is not the problem; what you’ve asked of it is."

-- Paul David Tripp, "Sex and Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies" (Crossway)

What Christmas Tells Us about God

Christmas means "God is with us" (Matt. 1:23); the Cross means "God is for us" (Rom.8:31).

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!." (2 Cor. 9:15)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Why could we not cast it out?"

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

“You failed there, he said in effect to these disciples, because you did not have sufficient power.  You were using the power that you have, and you were very confident in it.  You did it with great assurance, you were masters of the occasion, you thought you were going to succeed at once, but you did not. . . . You will never be able to deal with ‘this kind’ unless you have applied to God for the power which he alone can give you.

"must become aware of your need, of your impotence, of your helplessness.  You must realize that you are confronted by something that is too deep for your methods to get rid of or to deal with, and you need something that can go down beneath that evil power and shatter it, and there is only one thing that can do that, and that is the power of God. . . .

"We must ask ourselves how we can succeed if we do not have this authority, this commission, this might and strength and power.  We must become utterly and absolutely convinced of our need.  We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in all our methods and organizations, and in all our slickness.  We have got to realize that we must be filled with God’s Spirit.

"And we must be equally certain that God can fill us with his Spirit.  We have got to realize that, however great ‘this kind’ is, the power of God is infinitely greater, that what we need is not more knowledge, more understanding, more apologetics, more reconciliation of philosophy and science and religion, and all modern techniques – no, we need a power that can enter into the souls of men and break them and smash them and humble them and then make them anew.  And that is the power of the living God.

"And we must be confident that God has this power as much today as he had one hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago, and so we must begin to seek the power and to pray for it.  We must begin to plead and yearn for it.  ‘This kind’ needs prayer.”

-- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Wheaton, 1987), pages 18-19.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Worry is a waste...

“Don't waste your life in doubts and fears: spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour's duties will be the best preparation for the hours or ages that follow it.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

"He knows..."

"'But He knoweth the way that I take [-- Job].' In the grip of the mystery of God's providential dealings with us, this is the very acme and apex of faith. To put it very simply, it means that our resting place, as we may be faced with the mystery of God's secret will is, 'I do not know, but I know that God knows.' The judge of all the earth will do right." -- John Murray (cp. Job 23:10-12)  "Collected Writings" vol. 3, p. 164.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Gifts of the Magi

Frederick D. Bruner on the gifts of the magi (‘wise men’): 

“When people are drawn to, find, and worship God’s Christ, they also find themselves wanting to bring him their finest resources. Christmas gift-giving has its origin here. The first gift-giver is God. Now the first human gift-givers are Magi. Regenerate humanity’s first response to Christ is giving itself to his honor and service. The question of life’s meaning begins to be answered: it is to devote one’s gifts to God’s King.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"If God does not exist...."

"Nor can anyone argue that the horrors of the twentieth century were unanticipated.  Although they came as a shock, the did not come as a surprise.  In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov exclaims that if God does not exist, then everything is permitted.

"Throughout the nineteenth century, as religious conviction seeped out of the institutions of Western culture, poets and philosophers had the uneasy feeling that its withdrawal might signal the ascension of great evil in the world.  In this they were right...."

-- David Berlinski, "The Devil's Delusion:  Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions"

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Counting the Cost

"It costs something to be a true Christian. It will cost us our sins, our self-righteousness, our ease and our worldliness." ~ J.C. Ryle

Saturday, December 7, 2013

God's Holy Love

"The deepest truths about God’s character are not simply about his holiness, or his love, but about his holiness in its bond to his love, the one expressing the other, each deepening the paradox of their belonging to each other, of belonging together. Each in relation to the other leads us into the glory of who God is in his character." -- David Wells

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"You are the light of the world..."

"The Bible is not the light of the world, it is the light of the Church. But the world does not read the Bible, the world reads Christians! 'You are the light of the world.'" -- Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Carson on "The Gospel"

"The gospel is the great news of what God has graciously done in Jesus Christ, especially in his atoning death and vindicating resurrection, his ascension, session, and high priestly ministry, to reconcile sinful human beings to himself, justifying them by the penal substitute of his Son, and regenerating and sanctifying them by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to them as the down payment of their ultimate inheritance. God will save them if they repent and trust in Jesus." -- D.A. Carson

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

At the Foot of the Cross

"Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is here, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size."


— John Stott
"The Message of Galatians"
(Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 179

HT:  firstimportance.org

Monday, December 2, 2013

"Don't Let Christmas Distract You from Jesus"

from Jared Wilson...

"There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.

"I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by 'Jesus.' This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Alive to God

"The atoning death of Christ, and that alone, has presented sinners as righteous in God’s sight; the Lord Jesus has paid the full penalty of their sins, and clothed them with His perfect righteousness before the judgment seat of God.

"But Christ has done for Christians even far more than that. He has given to them not only a new and right relation to God, but a new life in God’s presence for evermore. He has saved them from the power as well as from the guilt of sin.

"The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the Cross, ‘It is finished.’ The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes.

"Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life He brings those for whom He died. The Christian, on the basis of Christ’s redeeming work, not only has died unto sin, but also lives unto God."


— J. Gresham Machen
"Christianity & Liberalism"

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Blessed are the peacemakers (shalombuilders)..."

‘Blessed are the peacemakers – the shalom-builders – for they bear the family resemblance of the Father.’ Blessed are those who make peace, the full-fledged kind of peace that the Bible describes (shalom). Shalom is the way things are supposed to be, that blessed blend of flourishing, security and righteousness that God created, Man vandalized, and God is re-creating again.

So, blessed are those who participate in God’s good program, making things better in whatever sphere or situation in which they find themselves – promoting solutions and outcomes marked by what’s right and wise and good – solutions that really work in a world where so much has gone wrong, and where many foolishly, lazily or rebelliously continue to sabotage the good God has intended. Ultimately, they are sure to fail, for God is determined to remake this cosmo into a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home (2 Pet. 3:13), at the time when God will vindicate, establish and reward all who have followed his lead.

No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called [recognize as] sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Obedience...

"Obedience to the will of God is the pathway to perpetual honor and everlasting joy!" -- Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Centering Your Life on God and His Love



...the alternative is idolatry...

"You shall have no other gods before me. (Ex. 20:3)
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 Jn. 5:21)

'Most people think of sin primarily as breaking divine commandments, but the very first commandment is to “have no other gods before me.”

'So, according to the Bible, the primary way to understand sin is not just the doing of bad things, the making of even good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose and happiness than your relationship to God.

'Only if your identity is built on God and his love and grace can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.' (Tim Keller)

The Alternative?: Living in Idolatry (‘God-substitutes’)

Here is a list of various ‘god-substitutes’ and the particular kinds of brokenness and damage that each one brings into a life:

• If you center your life and identity on your spouse, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems and flaws will be overwhelming to you.

• If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.

• If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.

• If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.

• If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the ‘escape strategies’ by which you try to avoid the hardness of life.

• If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.

• If you center your life and identity on a ‘noble cause,’ you will divide the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.

• If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, you guilt will be devastating.

In pride we become obsessed with whatever interferes with people making much of us.

Our besetting sins are warning signs that our characteristic idolatry is at work.

‘Only if your identity is built on God and his love and grace can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.’


-- based on chapter 10 (“The Problem of Sin”) of Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” (Dutton)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Bible's Purpose...

"The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome.

"Religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference."

— Tim Keller

The Curse or the Crown

"Behold, what manner of love is this, that Christ should be arraigned and we adorned, that the curse should be laid on His head and the crown set on ours." - Thomas Watson

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Credo

I should live joyfully, courageously and purposefully before God everyday as his loved child (being renewed in his image) in the obedience of faith, faith [belief that engenders vital confidence] in his contrary-to-what-I-deserve love/grace/goodness towards me in Christ my Savior/Mediator (by his atoning cross and victorious resurrection), in accordance with his Gospel-centered Word, empowered by His gracious Spirit, trusting in his loving fatherly Providence that extends to every detail of my life and situation now, and hoping in the perfect happiness and glory that he has promised me for eternity.

Friday, November 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis: "The Really Foolish Thing People Often Say About Christ"

On the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite quotes:

‎"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

-- C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Devil Makes the Law Out of the Gospel

“It is the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel.  If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that he should kiss my backside.  Even if I sinned I would say, ‘Should I deny the gospeI on this account?’ . . . Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished.  But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, ‘The forgiveness of sins covers it all,’ I have won.”

-- Martin Luther, quoted in Reinhard Slenczka, “Luther’s Care of Souls for Our Times,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 67 (2003): 42.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address

Today is the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Can Life Have Meaning without God?"

A fascinating discussion/debate focused on the question, "Can life have meaning without God?" -- featuring Tim Keller (author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of NYC) and Greg Epstein (humanist chaplain at Harvard).  This webcast begins with Max McLean presenting a compelling rendition of C.S. Lewis's essay, "On Living in an Atomic Age."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Functions of the Law and the Gospel

"The office [function] of the law is to show us the disease, in such a way as to show us, at the same time, no hope of cure: the office [function] of the gospel is, to bring a remedy to those that were past hope. For as the law leaves a man to himself, it condemns him, of necessity, to death; while the gospel, bringing him to Christ, opens the gate of life."


— John Calvin
Commentary on 2 Corinthians

Saturday, November 16, 2013

'Your sins move him to pity more than anger...'

"We may have the strongest consolations and encouragements against our sins. . . . There is comfort, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger. . . . Christ takes part with you, and is far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that hath the leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more. . . . The greater the misery is, the more is the pity when the party is beloved.

"Now of all miseries, sin is the greatest, and while you look at it as such, Christ will look upon it as such also. And he, loving your persons, and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his affections shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not."

-- Thomas Goodwin on Jeremiah 31:20 in "The Heart of Christ"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Jesus, I adore Thee"

The Latin text of “Adoro te devote” ("I Adore Thee Devoutly") is attributed to Thomas Aquinas (1227-74). The English underlay is adapted by Stephen Caracciolo, which at times is a loose translation of Aquinas’ text and at other points is a rhymed and metered interpretation of the prologue of John’s Gospel.

Jesus I adore thee, Word of truth and grace,
Who in glory shineth light upon our race.
Christ, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed.
Alpha and Omega, thou true Son of God.

Taste and touch and vision to discern thee fail;
Faith that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told.
What the truth hath spoken that for truth I hold.

Word of God incarnate, Lord of life and light,
Teach me how to love and worship thee aright.
Holy Spirit, ever ’bide within my heart,
Speaking thy commandments, telling all thou art.

Wondrous revelation, verity and grace.
Lo, in glory’s heav’n I see thee face to face.
Light of endless light whom heav’n and earth adore,
Fill me with thy radiance, now and evermore.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"When believers handle suffering rightly, they are not merely glorifying God to God. They are showing the world something of the greatness of God— and perhaps nothing else can reveal him to people in quite the same way."

-- Timothy Keller,  "Walking with God"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Give me one more thing...."

"Thou who hast given so much to me, give me one more thing - a grateful heart!" -- George Herbert

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Beautiful Fear" (The Fear of the Lord)

This is one of the most important ideas/realities, too much missing from the contemporary evangelical church...

GLOBAL GOSPEL PROJECT
Mark Galli   “Christianity Today” online 11/9/13

"We are strangely attracted to the One we dread."


Between 10,000 and 2 million years ago, during an earlier global warming, glaciers moved through a mountain of granite nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, carving wonders through what is now Yosemite Valley in central California. Among the glaciers' wondrous work is the Half Dome, which rises nearly one mile above the Yosemite Valley floor.

From the valley you can gaze up at the bald rock, or, if you're a rock climber, you can scale its face. Many visitors climb a path that winds to the top. Or, as I am wont to do, you can drive to Glacier Point and behold Half Dome across the valley, face to face.

When visitors get out of the car and start walking toward Half Dome, they typically have two reactions: they grow afraid and awestruck. Or awestruck and afraid—it's hard to tell which comes first. It's a combination of the sheer size of the dome face combined with the dramatic drop to the valley below. They start walking more carefully as they approach the edge. Parents grab their children's hands; friends grasp each other's arms.

The view literally takes one's breath away, and visitors tend to start whispering. They dread falling into the abyss, and yet they want to get as close to the edge as they can.

Approaching the edge of death and wonder like this inevitably leads to silence. LA journalist Christopher Reynolds recently put it this way about Glacier Point's "jaw-dropping views": "The spectacle is an invitation to consider eternity and forget petty human affairs."

For the Christian, the experience may bring to mind the first line of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." It's that "almighty" part—and the human reaction that goes with it—that interests me here: fear. More precisely, the fear of the Lord.

Those of us in ministry circles today try to banish fear from our vocabulary. Fear is such a downer. Isn't ministry about helping people overcome their fears? Doesn't Jesus say, "Do not fear, only believe" (Mark 5:36, ESV)? Doesn't John say, "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18, ESV)? Perhaps the fear of the Lord is an Old Testament idea, a religious relic of a distant past when people thought the finest thing to say about God was that he was all-powerful. We on the other side of the Resurrection know that the greatest thing to be said about God is that he is love. Perfect love, in fact, that doesn't produce fear but instead banishes it.

And yet, when we go to places like Glacier Point, we find ourselves attracted to the very thing that makes us afraid. And rather than running from it, we want to get closer, at least as close as we can without getting killed. At such moments, we realize life is a little more complicated.

To Fear and Not to Fear

I can hardly count the number of times in the Bible that "the fear of the Lord" is extolled as a virtue, or when people meet God almighty and are left stammering. At the foot of Mount Sinai, "there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled" (Ex. 19:16, ESV). When Isaiah sees the glory of God in the temple, he thinks he's going to die: "Woe is me! For I am lost" (Isa. 6:5, ESV). We get the distinct impression that God wants us mostly to fear him:

Know and see that it is evil and bitter
for you to forsake the Lord your God;
the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord God of hosts. (Jer. 2:19, ESV)

When "gentle Jesus" shows up, things get worse. The disciples are frightened after Jesus stills the storm (Mark 4:35–41) and "terrified" at the Transfiguration (9:6). The woman healed of a blood flow is at first filled with "fear and trembling," and on the first Easter morning, the witnesses are seized with "trembling and astonishment . . . for they were afraid" (16:8).

When people witness the power and glory of almighty God, they are terrified. They think they are going to die. When we blithely sing to God to "show us your glory, Lord," we might as well be making a death wish. Or maybe we just want to get close to something that scares us to death.

Notice what the people of Israel do when they encounter God almighty. They don't run. They keep hanging around the mountain. Isaiah doesn't bolt from the temple.

Then again, notice what the people of Israel do when they encounter God almighty. They don't run. They keep hanging around the mountain. Isaiah doesn't bolt from the temple. The result of Jesus' terrorizing miracles is that more people than ever flocking to him. Yes, the women run from the tomb in fear. But they are not running from God as much as obeying the heavenly messenger to tell others something that may well scare the living daylights out of them: Jesus is alive and well.

Perhaps evangelism is not so much one hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread, as one terrified person telling others where they can go to experience this beautiful fear. It would appear that, at least initially, the Resurrection was not intended to bring witnesses a warm, fuzzy comfort that all will be well. Rather, the message seems to be, "Do not just believe, but also fear!"

And yet how many times in the Bible does almighty God tell people, "Fear not"? And this, just after he has scared the bejeebers out of them by displaying his might. This is a steady refrain in the opening chapters of Luke, when epiphany after epiphany begins with the angel telling the witnesses to fear not. Perhaps the best-known example—partly because it preaches so well—is Jesus' admonition to the ruler of the synagogue who has just learned his daughter has died: "Fear not, only believe" (Mark 5:36, ASV).

Of course, these repeated fear-nots are God's Twitter way of saying that "neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38–39, ESV). In the end, there is nothing so big or ominous or powerful in this life that compares to God. There are many things that harm us, and some of them we could even call mighty. But they are only mighty. God is all-mighty. And if almighty God is for us, who can be against us? So chill out. Fear not. Or at least don't fear relatively petty things.

The Beginning of Wisdom

But God almighty? Yes, fear him.

Not respect him. There are plenty of good words in Hebrew and Greek that communicate honor and respect. But the biblical writers rarely use them when talking about God. Honor your father and mother (Ex. 20:12). Respect the emperor. But when it comes to God, they tell us to "fear" him (1 Pet. 2:17). When it comes to God, they keep using the word that scares us. (We may have nothing to fear but fear itself, but that seems to be what we fear.)

Like many biblical commands, the command to "fear not" comes with a promise: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10). If we fear God, then we will become judicious, understanding, knowledgeable, and astute. Perhaps we have abandoned teaching about the fear of the Lord because, really, we no longer want to be wise. Loved, yes. Comforted, hopeful, forgiven—yes. But not wise.
Then again, the Lord is gracious, because the very mention of forgiveness suggests that he is opening a back door to let proper fear sneak in.

There's a surprising verse in the Psalms that points to this. The psalmist is meditating on his behavior as he prays in the presence of a holy God. He concludes that, all things being equal, things look pretty hopeless. He expresses it differently than Isaiah, but it amounts to the same thing: "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (130:3, ESV). If God's righteousness were the first and last word about God, we would be as good as dead. Then he continues, "But with you, there is forgiveness." Whew—we are not dead men walking. The kindling of our sinfulness and the fire of God's holiness are not going to touch. Instead, the mountain of sin is crushed and reshaped by the glacier of God's forgiveness.

What comes next may surprise the modern reader. The psalmist does not continue by saying, "And you've done this that we might sing your praises." One hopes that people will praise God for such a gift. But this is not what the psalmist says. Nor does he say, "And you've done this that we might love you forever." Nor, "And you've done this so that we will forgive others." Again, true enough, as far as it goes.
No, the psalmist says, "But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared."

It's hard for us to imagine what the psalmist is talking about. We expect him to suggest that we'll be thankful. Or joyful. Or relieved. But not fearful. There are many reasons for this, but I suspect one of them is this: we generally start talking of forgiveness way before we have seen and understood the utter devastation of sin and the magnificence of redemption.

Redemption is like that massive glacier, nearly a mile high, that shoved its way through the immense granite block, sweeping away mountains here and splitting others there. If we grasped the power that removed the granite mountain of sin and carved from it a scene of unimaginable beauty, I dare say we'd be inspired by a beautiful fear.

Beautiful because of the sheer glory of redemption, and yet filling us with a fear that attracts. We feel in our souls that if we get too close to the God who pulled this off, we will fall into an abyss. Yet we can hardly help edging closer and closer, with friends grabbing our arms telling us to be careful, to watch ourselves.

That's because our friends suspect something that we may have forgotten today: that to free fall into the hands of almighty God is a dreadful thing (Heb. 10:31).

It is also the most wonderful thing. Because to know this beautiful fear is to know grace, for "his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation" (Luke 1:50, ESV). And to know beautiful fear is to become like Christ, who, according to Isaiah, is one whose "delight shall be in the fear of the Lord" (11:3, ESV).


-- Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today

The Direction of Grace

Alexander Whyte: “Grace has only one direction that it can take. Grace always flows down.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Love for Theology?...

"Love theology, of course: but love theology for no other reason than it is THEOLOGY—the knowledge of God—and because it is your meat and drink to know God, to know him truly, and as far as it is given to mortals, to know him whole." -- B. B. Warfield

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Joy of the Spirit

"O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams." ~ Augustine

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

If Christ is risen...

"If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen— nothing else matters."

— Jaroslav Pelikan
"The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine"

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Both God's Holiness and His Love

“If we stress the love of God without the holiness of God, it turns out only to be compromise.  But if we stress the holiness of God without the love of God, we practice something that is hard and lacks beauty.  And it is important to show forth beauty before a lost world and a lost generation.  All too often young people have not been wrong in saying that the church is ugly.  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we are called upon to show to a watching world and to our own young people that the church is something beautiful.

Several years ago I wrestled with the question of what was wrong with much of the church that stood for purity.  I came to the conclusion that in the flesh we can stress purity without love or we can stress the love of God without purity, but that in the flesh we cannot stress both simultaneously.  In order to exhibit both simultaneously, we must look moment by moment to the work of Christ, to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Spirituality begins to have real meaning in our moment-by-moment lives as we begin to exhibit simultaneously the holiness of God and the love of God.”

-- Francis A. Schaeffer, "The Church before the Watching World" (Downers Grove, 1971), page 63.

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fearless in the Judgment?

“In the righteousness of Christ we stand without fear, as Christ would stand without fear, before the judgment seat of God.” -- J.G. Machen

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Jesus Calling"?

Michael Horton and Tim Challies have written helpful, critical reviews of Sarah Young's book, "Jesus Calling."   I share their concerns, especially about the underlying premise of the book.  Here are some thoughts of my own:

"The central concern that people that I have with this book relates to a crucial contrast that is profoundly disregarded in "Jesus Calling", namely, at a particular point in time, and in a particular place Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:6) and at another time, and in another place he said, “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35) and at still another time and place he said, “…Do not be afraid. I am the First and Last.” (Rev. 1:27)

In each of these Biblical examples the Lord Jesus said/spoke those words at a particular place in a particular time in history. However Jesus has never “said” (giving that word the very same meaning), “Many people are so preoccupied with future plans and decisions that they fail to see choices they need to make today.” (from the book “Jesus Calling”, reading for Oct. 27) nor did he ever say “I am pleased each time you initiate communication with Me” (“Jesus Calling”, reading for Nov. 1) nor has he said, “A thankful attitude opens windows of heaven” (“Jesus Calling” reading for Nov. 22).

If all that Ms. Young is intending to say is that her devotional writings are personal, experiential interpretations and applications of God’s inscripturated Words/truth that would be very different. But in what she actually writes in the preface to her book, I, along with the reviewers I’ve cited, think that she’s saying much more. She writes of receiving messages from God, which she presents in the book, and then says these messages are “written in first person, with ‘I’ designating God.” And so, according to her, in the daily devotional messages contained in her book, God is speaking, which is essentially the same claim made by the writer to the Hebrews about the Word of God received in Scripture through prophets and the Son (and his apostles) – Heb. 1:1-2; 2:3.

It is also very sad and troubling to read in the preface, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more.” In other words, the Bible is simply not enough. The Bible is insufficient for being the catalyst for real and experiential and life-changing encounter with God. In that perspective, Ms. Young seems to be very much at odds with the psalmist (Ps. 19:7-14 and Ps. 119).

I’m sure that the book has been helpful to many because much of what she says is, in fact, Scripturally true, and therefore beneficial and encouraging. But for these two reasons: that her book is confused and mistaken in its claims to be God’s words, and that the book is based on the premise that the inspired Word of God contained in Holy Scripture is insufficient and inadequate to produce the divine result of real communion with God, I think it is certainly fair to characterize it as ‘dangerous.’

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crying Out to God

“Paul cried out for release.  ‘I besought the Lord thrice that it might depart.’  He records the repeated entreaty without any regret, with no trace of a feeling that he ought to have endured in silence.  ‘Learn to suffer without crying out’ is a noble precept — as regards ‘cries’ to man, which are often better forborne.  But the maxim has no bearing upon cries to God, to the Christ of God.  Too ready, too outspoken, too confiding we cannot be in ‘telling Jesus all.’  Such ‘crying out’ will not weaken us; it will only strengthen us.  For it is the outgoing of our soul not only to infinite kindness, but at the same moment to infinite wisdom and strength.  It is taking refuge in the Rock.  It is ‘coming to the Living Stone.’  And that is the way to become ‘living stones’ ourselves, by contact, by contagion.”

--  H. C. G. Moule, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (London, 1962), page 117.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"You are God's beloved child"

"Have you heard God’s blessing in your inmost being? Are the words, ‘You are my beloved child, in whom I delight’ an endless source of joy and strength?

"Have you sensed, through the Holy Spirit, God speaking them to you? That blessing — the blessing through the Spirit that is ours through Christ — is what Jacob received [see Genesis 28], and it is the only remedy against idolatry. Only that blessing makes idols unnecessary.

"As with Jacob, we usually discover this only after a life of ‘looking for blessing in all the wrong places.’ It often takes an experience of crippling weakness for us to finally discover it. That is why so many of the most God-blessed people limp as they dance for joy."

— Tim Keller, "Counterfeit Gods"

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Convictional, Kind People

"Christ has not called us to be nice people [who don't confront culture], but Christ has called us to be kind people. He's called us to be convictional people and kind people who love those who are around us. And even when we are standing up for what we believe in, we're standing up for what we believe in as those who are offering redemption and reconciliation and the mercy of Christ." -- Russell Moore

Friday, October 25, 2013

Revolt Against What's Good for Us

"A basic principle of Christian theology was once written into the moral immune system of Western civilization—what God commands and institutes is what leads to genuine human flourishing. Our civilization now lives in open revolt against that affirmation." ~ Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 24, 2013

God and Our Longings and Desires

"I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God—some other country . . . into which He forbids us to trespass—some kind of delight which He “doesn’t appreciate” or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it. The thing just isn’t there.

"Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us—a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing...He knows what we want, even in our vilest acts: He is longing to give it to us. He is not looking on from the outside at some new “taste” or “separate desire of our own.”

"Only because He has laid up real goods for us to desire are we able to go wrong by snatching at them in greedy, misdirected ways. The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled. That is why I say there can be good without evil, but no evil without good. You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse."

-- C.S. Lewis,  "The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume II: Family Letters 1905-1931"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"A Life of Thankful Discontentment"

"The Christian life should be a state of thankful discontentment or joyful dissatisfaction! We live every day thankful for the amazing grace that fundamentally changes our lives, but we should not be satisfied.

"Why not? Because, when we look at ourselves honestly, we have to admit that there is still need for personal growth and change. We are not yet all that we could be in Christ. We are thankful for the many things in our lives that would not be there without His grace, but we should not settle for partial inheritance. We should want nothing less than all that is ours in Christ!

"In this sense, God does not want us to be content with less than what He wants for us. He calls us to continue to wrestle, meditate, look, consider, resist, submit, follow, and pray until we have been completely transformed into His likeness."

— Paul David Tripp and Timothy S. Lane
"How Christ Changes Us By His Grace"
The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 2005)
20

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Claims of Jesus

"Jesus’ claims are particularly unnerving, because if they are true there is no alternative but to bow the knee to him." -- Timothy Keller

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our Lord's Wrestling Hand to Hand

“By his wrestling hand to hand with the devil’s power, with the dread of death, and with the pains of hell, Jesus Christ emerged victorious and triumphed over them, that in death we may not now fear those things which our Prince has swallowed up.” -- John Calvin

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Church's Mission: An Explosion of Joy

“There has been a long tradition which sees the mission of the Church primarily as obedience to a command. It has been customary to speak of ‘the missionary mandate.’ This way of putting the matter is certainly not without justification, and yet it seems to me that it misses the point. It tends to make mission a burden rather than a joy, to make it part of the law rather than part of the gospel. If one looks at the New Testament evidence one gets another impression. Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact? The mission of the Church in the pages of the New Testament is more like the fallout from a vast explosion, a radioactive fallout which is not lethal but life-giving.”

– Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (p. 116)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Salvation Through Substitution

"We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its center the principle of 'satisfaction through substitution,' indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution.... The theological words 'satisfaction' and 'substitution' need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstances be given up.

"The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us."

-- John Stott, "The Cross of Christ"

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Shepherd (a poem based on Psalm 23)

THE SHEPHERD

This Shepherd
He is mine
My Hero
My Everyday God.

I need a Provider
  a Protector,
  a Guide...
He is.

He restores,
refreshes,
reassures,
rescues
  me.

He sees my suffering,
  loss,
  disappointment,
  despair
And He Is There.

He chose me to be...
  His treasured friend,
  His honored guest.

He bestows on me
  dignity,
  value,
  abundance,
  grace.

He pursues me with
  goodness and
  mercy.

Now and forever...
This Shepherd is Mine

-- Sheila Elizabeth Rynbrandt

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Motivation for True Obedience

"Until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that naught is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; no, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity."

— John Calvin
"Institutes of the Christian Religion"
I.2

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Whom will you believe?

“So now, turn from your conscience and its feelings to Christ, who is not able to deceive. My heart and Satan, however, who will drive me to sin, are liars. . . . You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord, who receives sinners, preaches to you. . . . Therefore, you are able to fight with your conscience by saying, ‘You lie. Christ speaks the truth, and you do not.’”

-- Martin Luther

Monday, October 14, 2013

To Live for Happiness...or Meaning?

"Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived three years in the Nazi death camps, observed how some of his fellow prisoners were able to endure the horror and pass through it while others could not. The difference came down to what Frankl called meaning. The problem is that contemporary people think life is all about finding happiness. We decide what conditions will make us happy and then we work to bring those conditions about.

"To live for happiness means that you are trying to get something out of life. But when suffering comes along, it takes the conditions for happiness away, and so suffering destroys all your reason to keep living. But to “live for meaning” means not that you try to get something out of life but rather that life expects something from us. In other words, you have meaning only when there is something in life more important than your own personal freedom and happiness, something for which you are glad to sacrifice your happiness."

-- Timothy Keller,. "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering" (pp. 70-71). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

"God Moves in a Mysterious Way"


God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

(author unknown)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Eternity

"Eternity shall be at once a great eye-opener and a great mouth-shutter." ~ Jim Elliot

Friday, October 11, 2013

Surprised by Suffering?

“Why should we be surprised, then,... that our lives are often filled with darkness and pain? Even God himself in Christ did not avoid that. But though God’s purposes are often every bit as hidden and obscure as they were to Job and to the observers at the foot of the cross, we— who have the teaching of the Bible and have grasped the message of the Bible— know that the way up is down. The way to power, freedom, and joy is through suffering, loss, and sorrow.”

-- Timothy Keller, "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering"

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Enlist Under the Banner of Christ

"If you wear the livery [i.e., servant's uniform] of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. His service is life, peace, and joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus Christ!" -- Charles Spurgeon

Monday, October 7, 2013

Orthodoxy in Community

“One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see.  By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community.  Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.”

-- Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church before the Watching World (Downers Grove, 1971), page 62.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Cross As the Way to Peace

"Look steadily at Jesus on the cross, if you want to feel inward peace. Look to anything of your own, and you will never feel comfortable. Your own life and doings, your own repentance and amendment, your own morality and regularity, your own church-going, your own Bible-reading and your prayers, your own almsgiving and your charities, – what are they all but a huge mass of imperfection? Rest not upon them for a moment, in the matter of your justification. As evidences of your wishes, feelings, bias, tastes, habits, inclinations, they may be useful helps occasionally. As grounds of acceptance with God they are worthless rubbish. They cannot give you comfort; they cannot bear the weight of your sins; they cannot stand the searching eye of God. Rest on nothing but Christ crucified, and the atonement He made for you on Calvary. This, this alone is the way of peace."

~ J.C. Ryle

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Great Exchange

"This is what happens when we become Christians. Christ assumes our liabilities and graciously gives us his assets."

— Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp
"How People Change"

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Story of God -- the Restoration of Creation

"If you read the Bible from cover to cover you realize that it narrates (proclaims!) a true and cohesive story: the good news that through Jesus Christ God has entered history to liberate and renew the world from its bondage to sin and suffering.

"This is the story of God, who pursues the restoration of his creation at the cost of his own life. He is making all things new (Rev 21:5)! That’s the simple and yet profound, life– and world-altering plotline of the Bible."

— Michael R. Emlet
CrossTalk
(Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2009), 41

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Borrow a Song from Tomorrow

"Is there nothing to sing about today? Then borrow a song from tomorrow; sing of what is yet to be. Is this world dreary? Then think of the next." -- Charles Spurgeon

Monday, September 30, 2013

An Anatomy of the Soul

“I call the Psalms the anatomy of all parts of the soul, for not an affection will anyone find in himself, an image of which is not reflected in this mirror.” -- John Calvin

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Man's Chief Desire?

"Freud said man's chief desire is pleasure. Frankl said man desires meaning, and distracts himself with pleasure when empty. I like Frankl."  --  Donald Miller

Friday, September 27, 2013

Six Benefits of Ordinary Devotions

from Jon Bloom:

Private devotions aren’t magic. We know that (for the most part).

But still, we can be tempted to think that if we just figure out the secret formula — the right mixture of Bible meditation and prayer — we will experience euphoric moments of rapturous communion with the Lord. And if that doesn’t happen, our formula must be wrong.

The danger of this misconception is that it can produce chronic disappointment and discouragement. Cynicism sets in and we give up or whip through them to alleviate guilt because devotions don’t seem to work for us.

Our longing for intimate communion with God is God-given. It’s a good thing to desire, ask for, and pursue. The Spirit does give us wonderful occasional tastes. And this longing will be satisfied to overflowing some day (Psalm 16:11).

But God has other purposes for us in the discipline of daily Bible meditation and prayer. Here are a few:

1.  Soul Exercise (1 Corinthians 9:24, Romans 15:4): We exercise our bodies to increase strength, endurance, promote general health, and keep unnecessary weight off. Devotions are like exercise for our souls. They force our attention off of self-indulgent distractions and pursuits and on to God’s purposes and promises. If we neglect this exercise our souls will go to pot.

2.  Soul Shaping (Romans 12:2): The body will generally take the shape of how we exercise it. Running shapes one way, weight training shapes another way. The same is true for the soul. It will conform to how we exercise (or don’t exercise) it. This is why changing your exercise routine can be helpful. Read through the Bible one year, camp in a book and memorize it another year, take a few months to meditate on and pray through texts related to an area of special concern, etc.

3.  Bible Copiousness (Psalm 119:11, Psalm 119:97, Proverbs 23:12): A thorough, repeated, soaking in the Bible over the course of years increases our overall Biblical knowledge, providing fuel for the fire of worship and increasing our ability to draw from all parts of the Bible in applying God’s wisdom to life.

4.  Fight Training (Ephesians 6:10–17): Marines undergo rigorous training in order to so ingrain their weapons knowledge that when suddenly faced with the chaos of combat they instinctively know how to handle their weapons. Similarly, daily handling and using the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) makes us more skilled spiritual warriors.

5.  Sight Training (2 Corinthians 5:7, 2 Corinthians 4:18): Jesus really does want us to see and savor him. Savoring comes through seeing. But only the eyes of faith see him. “Blind faith” is a contradiction, at least biblically. Faith is not blind. Unbelief is blind (John 9:38–41). Faith is seeing a reality that physical eyes can’t see and believing it (1 Peter 1:8). And “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So if we’re going to savor Jesus, we must see him in the word he speaks. Faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). And like most of God’s gifts, they are intended to be cultivated. Daily devotions are an important way to train our faith-eyes to see the glory of Jesus in his word and training our emotions to respond to what our faith-eyes see. Keep looking for glory. Jesus will give you Emmaus moments (Luke 24:31–32).
 
6  .Delight Cultivation (Psalm 37:3–4, James 4:8, Psalm 130:5): When a couple falls in love there are hormonal fireworks. But when married they must cultivate delight in one another. It is the consistent, persistent, faithful, intentional, affectionate pursuit of one another during better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health that cultivates a capacity for delight in each other far deeper and richer than the fireworks phase. Similarly, devotions are one of the ways we cultivate delight in God. Many days it may seem mundane. But we will be surprised at the cumulative power they have to deepen our love for and awareness of him.

There are many more benefits. You could certainly add to this list. But the bottom line is this: don’t give up on daily devotions. Don’t whip through them. Don’t let them get crowded out by other demands.

Brick upon brick a building is built. Lesson upon lesson a degree is earned. Stroke upon stroke a painting is created. Your devotions may have seemed ordinary today, but God is making something extraordinary through it. Press on. Don’t short-change the process.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What we think about God...

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us … man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” -- A.W. Tozer

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Decline of Language and Reason

"One of the more subtle, yet drastic upheavals of our time is the way some special interest groups have illogically fought for certain positions by cleverly redefining words and prostituting ideas. As a sloganeering culture, we have unblushingly trivialized the serious and exalted the trivial because we have bypassed the rudimentary and necessary steps of logical argument. Reality can be lost when reason and language have been violated." ~ Ravi Zacharias.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Our Faith Is a Person

“Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person. If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’ ‘But what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.’ ‘But what is your practice?’ ‘There stands our practice. He is our example.’ ‘What then do you believe?’ Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’ Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus.”

-- C. H. Spurgeon, in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859 (London, 1859), pages 159-160.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grad School for Angels

"As the gospel spreads throughout the world, this new and variegated Christian community develops. It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places [Eph. 3:10]. We are to think of them as spectators of the drama of salvation. Thus ‘the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels.’"

— John Stott
The Message of Ephesians
(Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 123-124

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Our Response to Satan's Accusations"

"Satan accuses Christians day and night. It is not just that he will work on our conscience to make us feel as dirty, guilty, defeated, destroyed, weak, and ugly as he possibly can; it is something worse: his entire play in the past is to accuse us before God day and night, bringing charges against us that we know we can never answer before the majesty of God’s holiness.

"What can we say in response? Will our defense be, ‘Oh, I’m not that bad?’ You will never beat Satan that way. Never. What you must say is, ‘Satan, I’m even worse than you think, but God loves me anyway. He has accepted me because of the blood of the Lamb.’"


— D. A. Carson
Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus

HT:  Of First Importance

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Inherent Contradiction of Being an Angry Calvinist

“They who avow the doctrines distinguished by the name of Calvinistic, ought, if consistent with their own principles, to be most gentle and forbearing of all men, in meekness instructing them that oppose.  With us, it is a fundamental maxim, that a man can receive nothing but what is given him from heaven (John 3:27).  If, therefore, it has pleased God to give us the knowledge of some truths, which are hidden from others, who have the same outward means of information; it is a just reason for thankfulness to him, but will not justify our being angry with them; for we are no better or wiser than they in ourselves, and might have opposed the truths which we now prize, with the same eagerness and obstinacy, if his grace had not made us to differ.  If the man, mentioned in John 9, who was born blind, on whom our Lord graciously bestowed the blessing of sight, had taken a cudgel and beat all the blind men he met, because they would not see, his conduct would have greatly resembled that of an angry Calvinist.”

-- John Newton, "Memoirs of the Life of the Late William Grimshaw" (London, 1825), page 67.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Transforming Grace

“God will take you where you haven’t intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own. You know what the Bible calls that? Grace. I think there are moments when we’re going through difficulty and we’re crying out, “Where is the grace of God?!” and we’re getting it. No, it’s not the grace of relief and it’s not the grace of release. Yes, we get those in pieces but largely those are to come. It’s the grace right now that we need, the grace of personal transformation, the grace of personal refinement.”

---Paul David Tripp

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why We Gather (for Worship)

"Corporate worship is designed to reclaim your wandering heart once again so that love for God is the ruling motive of all that you do." - Paul Tripp

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Holy Optimism

"As we march forward into the days that are before us, the worst thing that we can possibly do in changing times is to come with a sour and dour and gloomy pessimism about the culture around us. We cannot stand and speak, 'You kids get off my lawn.' The word that Jesus has given to His church is a word that is filled with optimism and joy. We are not slouching toward Gomorrah, we are marching to Zion."

-- Russell D. Moore

"A Prophetic Minority: Kingdom, Culture, and Mission in a New Era"

This is a wisely written, winsomely expressed statement about the Church's authentic mission in the culture, from Russell D. Moore.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"The Gospel and Godliness"

Here is the opening paragraph of Joe Thorn's excellent essay:

If the gospel you believe does not include obedience as a fruit of faith then it is short-sighted and you will end up spiritually crashing into a wall. Certainly, we need to be exceedingly careful to make clear that our hope and confidence before God, and His righteous judgment, is singularly on the basis of the merit and mercy of Jesus. He has fulfilled the law in His active obedience and satisfied the wrath of God through His atoning death on the cross. Salvation is by grace alone, and is received by faith alone. As J.I. Packer wrote, "there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners."1 This is the heart of the gospel. If we lose this truth we die. But the heart of the gospel beats and carries the blood to the rest of our body, giving strength and movement to the muscles of godliness.....

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Strengthened by His Grace

"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 2:1

“First, then, there is a call to be strong.  Timothy was weak; Timothy was timid.  Yet he was called to a position of leadership in the church – and in an area in which Paul’s authority was rejected.   It is as if Paul said to him, ‘Listen Timothy, never mind what other people say, never mind what other people think, never mind what other people do; you are to be strong.  Never mind how shy you feel, never mind how weak you feel; you are to be strong.’  That is the first thing.

Second, you are to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  If the exhortation had simply been ‘be strong,’ it would have been absurd indeed.  You might as well tell a snail to be quick or a horse to fly as to tell a weak man to be strong or a shy man to be brave.  But Paul’s calling Timothy to fortitude is a Christian and not a stoical exhortation.  Timothy was not to be strong in himself.  He was not just to grit his teeth and clench his fists and set his jaw.  No, he was, as the Greek literally means, to be strengthened with the grace that is in Christ Jesus, to find his resources for Christian service not in his own nature but in the grace of Jesus Christ.”

-- John Stott, Urbana 1967.  Italics original.

The grace of Christ is not an excuse for weakness; he is an endless resource for strength. -- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

J.I. Packer on Fyodor Dostoyevsky

J. I. Packer:

Dostoyevsky is to me both the greatest novelist, as such, and the greatest Christian storyteller, in particular, of all time. His plots and characters pinpoint the sublimity, perversity, meanness, and misery of fallen human adulthood in an archetypal way matched only by Aeschylus and Shakespeare, while his dramatic vision of God’s amazing grace and of the agonies, Christ’s and ours, that accompany salvation, has a range and depth that only Dante and Bunyan come anywhere near. . . . [H]is constant theme is the nightmare quality of unredeemed existence and the heartbreaking glory of the incarnation, whereby all human hurts came to find their place in the living and dying of Christ the risen Redeemer.

—The Gospel in Dostoyevsky: Selections from His Works (Orbis, 2004) vii.

Monday, September 9, 2013

His Love for Us Is Relentless

"...the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him."

-- C.S. Lewis ~ Mere Christianity

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Believing Deeply in Your Being Right with God

“Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. . . . In their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification. . . . Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation.  This means that they must be conducted into the light of a full conscious awareness of God’s holiness, the depth of their sin and the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ for their acceptance with God, not just at the outset of their Christian lives but in every succeeding day.”

-- Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, 1979), pages 101-102.  Italics his.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Keeping it real...

"If you claim to be religious but don’t keep a tight rein on your tongue [and, by a natural extension, on your typing fingers in regard to emails, text messages and Facebook posts], you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless." -- James 1:26

Friday, September 6, 2013

"FactChecker: What Is the 'Dark Night of the Soul'?"

-- from Glenn Stanton via the GospelCoalition.org

"My truck won't start, wife ran off with my best buddy, my dog don't love me no more and on top of all that, we just had a nasty church-split. God has me going through a real dark night of the soul!"

Dark night of the soul.

If you've been around the church for any time, you've probably heard people use this phrase to describe substantive black and difficult periods in their lives, typically a bit more trying than the hitches our good ol' boy here is experiencing.

These are times when God seems so far away if not altogether absent and trials of spiritual drought and life problems are one's constant companion. This dark night tests and torments the depths of our soul. You know it when you're in it.

The phrase comes from John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Spanish priest who came to work with Teresa of Avila in her effort to reform the Carmelite Order. He was one of Spain's greatest poets. He addresses this dark night in two major writings, The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night. Both of these books make up two different commentaries on one of his many poems. This piece starts:

One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
My house being now all stilled

But John of the Cross' "dark night" is not what most think it is or how they use it. While it is indeed an experience one goes through, it is not something that happens to us, nor does it refer to the circumstances of life that affect our souls. The "dark night" John is referring to is something a disciple of Christ intentionally enters into, a particular mindful practice of a spiritual discipline.

How does the poet himself describe it? Right out of the gate, in his commentary on the poem, he explains to us:

In this first stanza, the soul speaks of the way it followed in its departure from love of both self and all things. Through a method of true mortification, it died to all things and to itself. It did this so as to reach the sweet and delightful life of love with God. And it declares that this departure was a dark night. As we will explain later, this dark night signifies here purgative contemplation, which passively causes in the soul this negation of self and of all things.

The soul states that it was able to make this escape because of the strength and warmth gained from loving its Bridegroom in the obscuring contemplation. [1]

"Purgative" is a word he uses often through this work, for it speaks of that which is sought and experienced by the disciple who enters this spiritual process. In his usages, the term refers to an emptying. In The Ascent of Mount Carmel, John explains that this process gets its name because, "in . . . them the soul journeys in darkness as though by night."[2]

This process or exercise is largely about what Augustine referred to in his book City of God as ordo amoris: the proper ordering of the loves. To be virtuous, the Christian should make sure that each love in one's soul receives the degree of attention appropriate to it, not more, not less.[3]

John explains,

When the soul reaches the dark night, all these loves are placed in reasonable order. This night strengthens and purifies the love that is of God, and takes away and destroys the other. But in the beginning [due to its soul-testing rigor] it causes the soul to lose sight of both of them.[4]

As serious Christians, we should honor our spiritual forefathers on whose shoulders we stand by speaking correctly and truly of important facets of the various disciplines and spiritualties that many in Christ's Body practice and have practiced for hundreds of years. If we choose to use such terms, let us go to the original source to learn their meaning, rather than from the last person we heard use it. Referencing gems from the wealth of our faith requires more than playing the telephone game. But too often that is precisely what we do.

The sacred history of Christian practice is worth exploring, knowing about, and referencing accurately. But we can and should be more diligent about how we use spiritual and theological language.

[1] St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, (ICS Publication, 1991), translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, p. 360. Book One: Explanation:1,2.

[2] St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, (ICS Publication, 1991), translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, p. 118. Chapter 1:1

[3] St. Augustine, City of God, 15:22.

[4] The Dark Night, 370. Chapter 4:8

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Know All That You Can Know of God's Revealed Truth

"I would have every Christian wish to know all that he can know of revealed truth. Somebody whispers that the secret things belong not to us. You may be sure you will never know them if they are secret; but all that is revealed you ought to know, for these things belong to you and to your children. Take care you know what the Holy Ghost teaches. Do not give way to a faint-hearted ignorance, lest you be great losers thereby."

-- Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Holy Usefulness

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  2 Timothy 2:20-21

“Lord and Master, make us thus fit for that infinitely precious privilege, a state of consecrated readiness for Your holy use.  We are altogether Yours.  Enable us as such so to ‘cleanse ourselves from’ complicity with evil within and without that we, when You require us for Your purposes, may be found by You handy to Your touch, in the place and in the condition in which You can take us up and employ us in whatever way, on the moment, for Yourself.”

-- H. C. G. Moule, The Second Epistle to Timothy (Grand Rapids, 1952), page 97.  Italics original.  Style updated.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When Help Is No Help at All

"It is neither helpful, loving nor wise to do for someone what they ask you to do, if the doing of it, in reality, will do them harm, including the harm of interfering with their doing for themselves what they really ought to do." -- Jonathan G. Sheffield

Where All of History Is Headed

"The cosmic extent of salvation is seen as the Second Adam offers up to the Father a created order in which He has subdued every enemy (1 Cor. 15:24–26), and there is nothing unclean in the garden over which He rules (Rev. 21:1–8)."

— Russell D. Moore, "The Kingdom of Christ"

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thermometer or Thermostat

“The church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What is an idol and how does it function in our lives?

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.

"The Bible uses three basic metaphors to describe how people relate to the idols of their hearts. They love idols, trust idols, and obey idols.

"The Bible sometimes speaks of idols using a marital metaphor. God should be our true Spouse, but when we desire and delight in other things more than God we commit spiritual adultery. Romance or success become 'false lovers' that promise to make us feel loved and valued. Idols capture our imagination, and we can locate them by looking at our daydreams. What do we enjoy imagining? What are our fondest dreams? We look to our idols to love us, to provide us with value and a sense of beauty, significance, and worth...."

“An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’ There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”

-- Tim Keller, "Counterfeit Gods"

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Christian Virtue (Almost) No One Aspires To

"...submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ..." -- Eph. 5:21

It's the 'S' word for contemporary Christianity  -- 'submission.'   Submission is a crucial (radical!), Christ-like virtue that figures prominently in Biblical teaching – but it’s a virtue (both an attitude and habit of action) that very few Christians today actually aspire to and work to develop.  But again, it is at the very heart of what it means to be Christ-like, for Jesus himself said, “…I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”  John 6:38     “Not what I will, but what You will” was the guiding principle for Jesus’ life and ministry.  And the same spirit of submission was expressed when he said, “My food is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do.”    In fact, the same attitude of submission is seen in the Spirit’s relation to the Son (see Jn. 16:13-14).

Paul reminds us that in his earthly life and ministry, Jesus “humbled himself in obedience to God”(Phil. 2:8 NLT) and the writer to the Hebrews goes so far as to say that the (sinless) Son “learned obedience from the things he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8)

It’s no wonder then that the New Testament makes clear that authentic, Christ-imitating, Spirit-filled living is all about submission and obedience.  And it is clear too, that it is pretty hollow to claim a commitment to submission to God, if you’re not willing to submit to other people in all the ways the Lord commands:

-- in our fellowship and interactions with fellow believers (Phil. 2:3-4)

-- in our home and family live -- wives to husbands, children to parents (Eph. 5:22; 6:1)

-- in relation to pastoral leadership (Heb. 13:17)

-- in relation to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1ff.)

-- and in our work lives (Col. 3:22-25; 1 Pet. 2:18-10)

But embracing and pursuing this central, Christ-like virtue does not come naturally to us at all, because of our own sinful self-centeredness, because of the culture and values of the world (cp. Rom. 12:1-2), and because today’s church is so saturated with worldliness.   It is a real blind spot, even for people who are ‘at church’ and ‘in the Word’ all the time.

We like our religion ‘a la carte’ – a smorgasbord and menu of choices – so that we pick and choose how and when and where we will ‘obey’ – but almost always on our own terms.  And that is just the point: if we’re ‘doing Christianity’ on our own terms in an individualistic way, unsubmitted to the actual authorities that God himself has put in our lives (to teach us submission), then we are not really obeying or submitting at all.

One key indicator in all of this is whether or not we’re really and practically open to correction and admonition.  As the Book of Proverbs says,

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
      reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
      teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.  (9:8-9)

So whatever claims we make to being spiritual and passionate about following the Lord, should be examined in light of this exceedingly practical test:  how do I respond to counsel, advice and correction?  (Someone else has suggested this very practical test: you can tell if you’re really committed to being a servant/slave of Christ by how you respond when someone treats you like one.)

True submission to God’s Word isn’t merely about hearing and talking and reading and discussing (cp. James 1:22-25).  Real love for God and God’s people is about doing, not talking (1 Jn. 3:18).

And again, true spirituality is centered in submitting.  Maybe the most powerful proof of this is found in a verse like 1 Cor. 15:28, where Paul says that at the end of the age, when Christ has brought his redeeming work to its climax, fully carrying out the will of the Father for him, even then, with sin fully overcome, “the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”  Are you imitating Christ in your commitment to submission?