Saturday, August 30, 2008

When the Heart Is Full with the Love of Jesus

“On the most basic levels, I desire fullness, and fleshly lusts seduce me by attaching themselves to this basic desire. They exploit the empty spaces in me, and they promise that fulness will be mine if I give in to their demands. When my soul sits empty and is aching for something to fill it, such deceptive promises are extremely difficult to resist.

"Consequently, the key to mortifying fleshly lusts is to eliminate the emptiness within me and replace it with fullness; and I accomplish this by feasting on the gospel. Indeed, it is in the gospel that I experience a God who glorifies Himself by filling me with His fullness. . . . This is the God of the gospel, a God who is satisfied with nothing less than my experience of fullness in Him! . . .

"Indeed, as I perpetually feast on Christ and all His blessings found in the gospel, I find that my hunger for sin diminishes and the lies of lust simply lose their appeal. Hence, to the degree that I am full, I am free. Eyes do not rove, nor do fleshly lusts rule, when the heart is fat with the love of Jesus!”

- Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians (2008), 45-46.
posted at Of First Importance

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Do You Care What Christ Thinks of the Church?"

Here is an especially compelling exhortation from Sam Storms (with an introduction to it by Justin Taylor):

Sam Storms's latest book is To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3. I'm halfway through the book, reading it devotionally, and have appreciated it very much--especially because Storms models for me the way to meditate on God's instruction day and night. Here was one section in particular I found helpful (pp. 30-31), commenting on Jesus walking among the seven lampstands (Rev. 2:1):

He is present in and among his people. He guards and protects and preserves the church. He is never, ever absent! No service is conducted at which he fails to show up. No meal is served for which he does not sit down. No sermon is preached that he does not evaluate. No sin is committed of which is he unaware. No individual enters an auditorium of whom he fails to take notice. No tear is shed that escapes his eye. No pain is felt that his heart does not share. No decision is made that he does not judge. No song is sung that he does not hear.

How dare we build our programs and prepare our messages and hire our staffs and discipline our members as if he were distant or unaware of every thought, impulse, word, or decision! How dare we cast a vision or write a doctrinal statement or organize a worship service as if the Lord whose church it is were indifferent to it all!

Do you care “What Christ thinks of the Church”? Or are you more attuned to the latest trend in worship, the most innovative strategy for growth, the most “relevant” way in which to engage the surrounding culture? Yes, Jesus cares deeply about worship. Of course he wants the church to grow. And he longs to see the culture redeemed for his own glory. All the more reason to pray that God might quicken us to read and heed the “words” of Christ to the church in Ephesus, then, and to the church now, whatever its name, denomination, or size. It obviously matters to him. Ought it not to us as well?


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Something so infinitely wonderful"

"The chief impression that a study of the atonement leaves with us is that of the many-sidedness of Christ's work for men. When he died for us on the cross, he did something so infinitely wonderful that it is impossible to comprehend it in its fulness. However man's need be understood, that need is fully and abundantly met in Christ. The New Testament writers are like men who ransack their vocabulary to find words which will bring out some small fraction of the mighty thing that God has done for us. And yet, though it is so complex and so difficult, it may be put very simply: 'the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (Gal. 2:20)."

--Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament, p. 419.
posted by Ray Ortlund

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Loving and Fearing God

My fear of Thee, O Lord, exults
Like life within my veins,
A fear which rightly claims to be
One of love's sacred pains.

There is no joy the soul can meet
Upon life's various road
Like the sweet fear that sits and shrinks
Under the eye of God.

Oh, Thou art greatly to be feared,
Thou are so prompt to bless!
The dread to miss such love as Thine
Makes fear but love's excess.

But fear is love, and love is fear,
And in and out they move;
But fear is an intenser joy
Than mere unfrightened love.

They love Thee little, if at all,
Who do not fear Thee much;
If love is Thine attraction, Lord!
Fear is Thy very touch.

-- F.W. Faber

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exhortation to Today's Preachers

Good words from Pastor Alistair Begg.

Here's one thought-provoking excerpt: "Consider this quote from The Doctrine of the Atonement by Smeaton, (a good Scottish theologian of an earlier era). 'To convert one sinner from his way is an event of greater importance than the deliverance of an entire kingdom from temporal evil.' Are you convinced of this?"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Weak Faith in a Strong Branch"

“Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you is a branch sticking out of the edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and seems more than strong enough. How can it save you?

"If you’re certain the branch can support you, but you don’t actually reach out and grab it, you are lost. If instead your mind is filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved. Why?

"It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.”

—Timothy Keller, The Reason For God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008), 234
posted at Of First Importance

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Antony Flew Comments on "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

Antony Flew was a lecturer at the Universities of Oxford and Aberdeen, before posts as Professor of Philosophy at the Universities of Keele and of Reading. He has now retired. He is renowned for his 1950 essay "Theology and Falsification" and his atheistic work, before announcing in 2004 his belief in a Creator God.

See the entire article for the story of Flew's change in perspectives and for his criticism of Richard Dawkins' writing and scholarship in the best-selling book, "The God Delusion."

HT: James H. Grant

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"When he stops tinkering with his soul"

“While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves - blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very thing he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him.”

- A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1993), 85.
posted at Of First Importance

Monday, August 11, 2008

J.I. Packer on Sanctification

Tullian Tchividjian points to J.I. Packer's excellent book, "Concise Theology," with an excerpt regarding sanctification.

The Real Thing Is Harder

When it comes to true worship, authentic evangelism, the pursuit of true holiness, fostering authentic fellowship and doing genuine ministry, the real thing is much harder to bring about, but still it is right and infinitely more valuable.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Carl Trueman on the Doctrinal Controversy at Westminster

Dr. Carl R Trueman, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) presents some crucial perspectives regarding maintaining theological faithfulness and integrity.

HT: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Steven Curtis Chapman & family on Good Morning America

From Justin Taylor's blog.

Know Jesus

“Know Jesus. Sit as His feet. Consider His nature, His works, His sufferings, His glory. Rejoice in HIs presence; commune with Him day to day. To know Christ, is to understand the most excellent of all sciences. You cannot fail to be wise if you commune with Incarnate Wisdom; you cannot lack strength if you have constant fellowship with God.”

- Charles Spurgeon, All Round Ministry (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 52.
posted at Of First Importance

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Charles Colson on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

A worthwhile essay from Christianity Today online.

Here is the famous speech, delivered at Harvard University, to which Colson refers. At the heart of the speech is Solzhenitsyn's critique of the West's secular humanistic worldview.

Keller and Powlison: Should You Pass On Bad Reports?

Justin Taylor's preface:

Tim Keller and David Powlison recently collaborated to provide some biblical wisdom and guidelines on speech and relationships. Our thinking was that perhaps bloggers would want to adopt these and spread the word about them as a way, in Keller's words, to "spiritually season Christian conversation in cyberspace."So if this perspective resonates with you (and I hope it does), I'd encourage you to pass it along or post it on your blog.May the Lord help each of us to have truth-in-love speech that is always gracious, salt-seasoned, gentle, respectful, peaceful, and edifying (Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:15; 1 Pet. 3:15; Rom. 14:19)

Should You Pass on Bad Reports? by Tim Keller & David Powlison
One obvious genius of the internet is that it’s “viral.” Information explodes to the whole world. The old neighborhood grapevine and the postal service seem like ox-carts in a speed-of-light universe. (Do twenty-somethings even know what those antiquities once were? In the old days, people had to talk to each other or stick a stamp on an envelope.) Instantaneous transmission produces some wonderfully good things. Truth, like joy, is infectious. A great idea feeds into a million inboxes. But it also produces some disastrous evils. Lies, rumors, and disinformation travel just as far and just as fast. So what should you do when you hear “bad reports” about a person or church or ministry? We want to offer a few thoughts on how to remain constructive.

To paraphrase Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome words come out of your computer, but only what is constructive, in order to meet the need of the moment, that what you communicate will give grace to everyone who ever reads it.” That Greek word translated “unwholesome” is sapros. It means something that is inedible, either devoid of nutritional value or rotten and even poisonous. It applies to thorny briars or to fish or fruit that’s gone bad. At best, it’s of no benefit to anyone. At worst, it’s sickening and destructive. Consider three things in how to stay constructive.

What Does James Say about Passing Along Bad Reports?

"Humble yourselves before the Lord. Brothers, don’t slander or attack one another." (James 4:10-11) The verb “slander” simply means to “speak against” (Gk. kata-lalein). It is not necessarily a false report, just an “against-report.” The intent is to belittle another. To pour out contempt. To mock. To hurt. To harm. To destroy. To rejoice in purported evil. This can’t mean simple disagreement with ideas—that would mean that we could never have a debate over a point. This isn’t respectful disagreement with ideas. James warns against attacking a person’s motives and character, so that the listeners’ respect and love for the person is undermined. “As the north wind brings rain, so slander brings angry looks” (Prov. 25:23). Everybody gets upset at somebody else: slanderer, slanderee, slander-hearer. The link of slander to pride in James 4:10 shows that slander is not the humble evaluation of error or fault, which we must constantly be doing. Rather, in slander the speaker speaks as if he never would do the same thing himself. It acts self-righteous and superior toward one’s obviously idiotic inferiors. Non-slanderous evaluation is fair-minded, constructive, gentle, guarded, and always demonstrates that speakers sense how much they share the same frailty, humanity, and sinful nature with the one being criticized. It shows a profound awareness of your own sin. It is never “against-speaking.”

James 5:9 adds a nuance: "Don’t grumble against one another." Literally, it means don’t moan and groan and roll your eyes. This refers to a kind of against-speaking that is not as specific as a focused slander or attack. It hints at others flaws, not only with words, but by body language and tone. In print, such attitudes are communicated by innuendo, guilt by association, sneering, pejorative vocabulary. In person, it means shaking your head, rolling your eyes, and re-enforcing the erosion of love and respect for someone else. For example, “You know how they do things around here. Yadda, yadda. What do you expect?” Such a “groan” accomplishes the same thing as outright slander. It brings “angry looks” to all concerned.

Passing on negative stuff always undermines love and respect. It’s never nourishing, never constructive, never timely, never grace-giving.

What Does the Book of Proverbs Say about Receiving Bad Reports?

He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9) The first thing to do when hearing or seeing something negative is to seek to “cover” the offense rather than speak about it to others. That is, rather than let a bad report “pass in” to your heart as truth, and then get “passed along” to others, you should seek to keep the matter from destroying your love and regard for a person. How? Start by remembering your own sinfulness. "All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord" (Prov. 16:2). To know this automatically keeps you from being too sure of your position and of speaking too strongly against people that you hear about or people on the other side of a conflict. You intuitively realize that you may not be seeing things right. Your motives are never as pure as you think they are. To know this acts to keep you from being too sure of the facts, too sure of your position, and of speaking too quickly and too negatively about other people. Knowing your own sinfulness helps you not make snap judgments that take what you hear too seriously. When you remember your sinfulness, remember God’s mercies. "Love covers all offenses" (Prov. 10:12). The God who is love has covered all your offenses. He knows everything about you (and the whole story about that other person). He has chosen to forgive you, and life-saving mercy cost Jesus his life. He could write you up with a 100% True Bad Report, but he has chosen to bury your sins in the depths of the ocean. That makes the life and death difference. If your sins are not buried in the ocean of his mercy, then you will be justly exposed and will justly perish.

But when you’ve known mercy, then even when you hear report of grievous evil, an instinct toward mercy should arise within you. To savor the tasty morsels of gossip and bad reports is very different from grieving, caring, and wishing nothing less than the mercies of Christ upon all involved. And most bad reports are much more trivial. They are the stuff of busybodies and gossips going “tut-tut-tut.” Then remember that there is always another side. "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him" (Prov. 18:17). You never have all the facts. And you never have all the facts you need all at once. You are never in a position to see the whole picture, and therefore when you hear the first report, you should assume you have far too little information to draw an immediate conclusion. What you’ve heard from someone else is only “hear-say” evidence. It has no standing or validity unless it is confirmed in other ways. So when you hear a negative report about another, you must keep it from passing into your heart as though it were true. If you pass judgment based on hear-say, you are a fool. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out the facts. Go to the person. Hear other witnesses. If you’re far away from the scene, wait for more of the story to come out. Suspend judgment. Don’t get panicked or stampeded by mob-psychology and rumors. Be content not to know many things. You don’t need to have an opinion about everything and everyone.

Third, what should you do if you are close enough to the situation to be involved AND you think the injustice or matter is too great or grievous for you to ignore? For starters, notice that you only really need to know something if it touches your sphere of life and relationships. In that case, you should do what will help you to express God’s call upon you to speak Ephesians 4:29 words of wise love. In Derek Kidner’s commentary on Prov. 25:7–10, he writes that when you think someone has done wrong you should remember, “One seldom knows the full facts (v.8) and one’s motives in spreading a story are seldom as pure as one pretends (v.10). To run to the law or to the neighbors is usually to run away from the duty of personal relationship.” See Christ’s clinching comment in Matthew 18:15: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother."

In short, if you feel the problem is too great and you can’t keep it from destroying your regard for the person, you must go personally before you go to anyone else.

When Should You Go?

Galatians 6:1 says we are to go when a person is caught in a trespass. That means there should be some kind of "pattern" or the unmistakeable exposure of a wrong. Don’t go the first time you hear a bad report about someone doing wrong. As we said above, there’s another side to most stories, and our motives are never totally pure when we get indignant. Go if the person seems caught—that is, trapped or stuck in a habit pattern of wrong behavior or falsehood.

How Should You Go?

Galatians 6:1 says we are to restore gently and in humility, bearing all the fruit of the Spirit. Beware of your own tendencies to be tempted—perhaps to the same sin, perhaps to reactive sins of self-righteousness or judgmentalism, perhaps to avoidance sins of cover-up and pretending. Galatians 6:2 goes on to say that we actually fulfill the law of Christ by bearing each other’s burdens. We become nothing less than lesser redeemers in the pattern of our Great Redeemer. Jesus in Matthew 18:15ff says we should also go persistently, and not give up in the process. Patience is one fruit of the Spirit because problems don’t always clear up quickly. There is a progression in efforts to get to the bottom of a bad report, to confirm the facts, and to work at bringing restoration.

Who Should Go?

Galatians 6 says you—plural—who are spiritual should go to the straying one. That both defines how you should go and it calls for multiple people to get involved. Similarly Matthew 18:15ff says to bring in other people if matters don’t resolve one to one. The right kind of checking out a bad report is always done in person and often will be done by involving multiple wise persons.

Why Should You Go?

In both Galatians 6 and Matthew 18 the goal is to restore the person and to re-establish sin-broken relationships. You are working to restore people both to God and to others. ConclusionIn summary, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the principle is this. If you hear bad reports about other Christians you must either cover it with love or go to them personally before speaking of it to any others.

The first thing to do is to simply suspend judgment. Don’t pass on bad reports.
The second thing to do is “cover” it in love, reminding yourself that you don’t know all about the heart of the person who may have done evil—and you know your own frailty. Don’t allow bad reports to pass into your own heart.

The final thing to do is go and speak to them personally. What you should never do is rush to judgment, or withdraw from loving another, or pass on the negative report to others. This is challenge enough when you’re dealing with the local grapevine or slow-moving postal service. In a world of instant world-wide communication of information it’s an even bigger challenge, because you can do bigger damage more quickly. Whether the bad report offers true information, or partial information, or disinformation, or false information—it is even more important that you exercise great discretion, and that you take pains to maximize boots-on-the-ground interpersonal relationships.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Monday, August 4, 2008

Confidence in God's Fatherly Love

"The focus of the orignial temptation [of Adam and Eve] was theological: to destroy confidence and trust in God's fatherly benevolence. That motif continues in all Satan's warfare against the elect of God. He knows he cannot destroy their relationship with God, so he endeavours in every way possible to hinder enjoyment of that relationship and pervert it from one of filial [father-child] communion to one of slavish bondage.

"It is against this in particular that the whole armour of God is provided as the means of defence. Christ himself wore it (Isa. 59:16-17). This is the guarantee of its absolute reliability for us too, as we wear it by drawing on all the resources we have in union with Christ."

-- Sinclair Ferguson, "The Holy Spirit." p.169 (IVP 1996)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Take Heart

“God’s grace means that I can rest assured that I’ll have everything I need to be what he wants me to be and to do what he wants me to do in the situation in which he’s placed me.
I’m no longer restricted to the limits of my own strength and wisdom. By his grace, I’ve a new identity and a new potential. I’m a child of God; the risen Christ now lives inside of me. I need no longer fear people or circumstances; I don’t have to feel weak in the face of suffering or temptation, because I no longer rest in the resources of my own ability. I’m in Christ and he’s in me.

"This new identity gives me new potential as I face the realities of life in this bent and broken world. God’s grace gives me reason to ‘take heart.’”

—Paul David Tripp, “Psalm 27: Take Heart”

posted at "Of First Importance"

"Idolatry on Sunday Mornings"

Here is a very worthwhile series of blogposts/articles from Bob Kauflin, author and worship/music director for Sovereign Grace Ministries. Kauflin is excellent at bringing Biblical theology to bear on the matters of authentic worship and music that is appropriate for such worship.