Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Christian, what hast thou to do with sin?"

from Charles Spurgeon:

Christian, what hast thou to do with sin? Hath it not cost thee enough already? Burnt child, wilt thou play with the fire? What! when thou hast already been between the jaws of the lion, wilt thou step a second time into his den?Hast thou not had enough of the old serpent? Did he not poison all thy veins once, and wilt thou play upon the hole of the asp, and put thy hand upon the cockatrice’s den a second time? Oh, be not so mad! so foolish!

Did sin ever yield thee real pleasure? Didst thou find solid satisfaction in it? If so, go back to thine old drudgery, and wear the chain again, if it delight thee. But inasmuch as sin did never give thee what it promised to bestow, but deluded thee with lies, be not a second time snared by the old fowler— be free, and let the remembrance of thy ancient bondage forbid thee to enter the net again!

It is contrary to the designs of eternal love, which all have an eye to thy purity and holiness; therefore run not counter to the purposes of thy Lord.

Another thought should restrain thee from sin. Christians can never sin cheaply; they pay a heavy price for iniquity. Transgression destroys peace of mind, obscures fellowship with Jesus, hinders prayer, brings darkness over the soul; therefore be not the serf and bondman of sin.

There is yet a higher argument: each time you “serve sin” you have “Crucified the Lord afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Can you bear that thought? Oh! if you have fallen into any special sin during this day, it may be my Master has sent this admonition this evening, to bring you back before you have backslidden very far. Turn thee to Jesus anew; he has not forgotten his love to thee; his grace is still the same. With weeping and repentance, come thou to his footstool, and thou shalt be once more received into his heart; thou shalt be set upon a rock again, and thy goings shall be established.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Telling the Christmas Story

The Biblical message of Christmas is the wondrous truth of the Son of God becoming man to save sinners from the guilt and misery of their sin.

It is about the profound mystery of the Incarnation – the Word becoming flesh, dwelling among us, as one of us, fitting Him to be our sympathizing Savior and interceding High Priest.

It is about the fulfillment of promises and prophecies and about the inauguration of a new covenant, with the covenant gifts of forgiveness of sin and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It is about the drawing near of the reign of God in the person of the Messiah whom God had promised to send.

It is about the glory of God in the way that he brings peace – shalom (the way things are supposed to be) – to earth.

It is about the momentous decision that his coming presents to every human being – will they receive or reject Him? Will they repent and believe the Good News?

And the Good News is that a Savior from sin has come – and this One who is Savior/Redeemer is also Messiah, King and Lord. Those who refuse Him will bring final judgment and everlasting ruin upon themselves. Those who receive Him are actually made the children of God!

The Biblical stories surrounding the birth of Christ also give us compelling examples (in the responses of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Simeon etc.) of what it means to trust and obey God, and to submit to his will even when that submission is very difficult. And these examples teach us about what it means to care more about the interests of the kingdom of God than our own individual concerns.

These are the themes that a faithful church will proclaim in music and message at Christmas time.

They will seek to tell this Story faithfully, and not distort it. Nor will they corrupt it by adding in confusing, adulterating elements that (even allowing for the appropriate use of imagination) obscure what the Biblical story and message really is.

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Lk.2:10-11)

Mark Dever: the Gospel and Personal Evangelism

Justin Taylor points to Mark Dever on the Gospel and Personal Evangelism.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Believers must repent for being discouraged by their sins

“Their being discouraged by their sins will cost them many a prayer, many a tear, and many a groan; and that because their discouragements under sin flow from ignorance and unbelief. It springs from their ignorance of the richness, freeness, fullness, and everlastingness of God’s love; and from their ignorance of the power, glory, sufficiency, and efficacy of the death and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ; and from their ignorance of the worth, glory, fullness, largeness, and completeness of the righteousness of Jesus Christ; and from their ignorance of that real, close, spiritual, glorious, and inseparable union that is between Christ and their precious souls.

"Ah! Did precious souls know and believe the truth of these things as they should, they would not sit down dejected and overwhelmed under the sense and operation of sin. God never gave a believer a new heart that it should always lie a-bleeding, and that it should always be rent and torn in pieces with discouragements.”

- Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
(HT: Subby Szterszky)
posted at Of First Importance

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Encouragement for Procrastinators"

"No unwelcome tasks become any the less unwelcome by putting them off till tomorrow. It is only when they are behind us and done,that we begin to find that there is a sweetness to be tasted afterwards,and that the remembrance of unwelcome duties unhesitatingly done is welcome and pleasant.
"Accomplished, they are full of blessing,and there is a smile on their faces as they leave us. Undone, they stand threatening and disturbing our tranquility,and hindering our communion with God.
"If there be lying before you any bit of work from which you shrink,go straight up to it, and do it at once.The only way to get rid of it is to do it."
-Alexander MacLaren (1826–1910), Scottish preacher
CJ Mahaney; Justin Taylor

What Is Working for Us in the Pursuit of Holiness

“Mark well the great advantages you have for the attainment of holiness by seeking it in a right gospel order.

"You will have the advantage of the love God manifested towards you, in forgiving your sins, receiving you into favor, and giving you the spirit of adoption, and the hope of His glory freely through Christ, to persuade and constrain you by sweet allurements to love God again, who has so dearly loved you, and to love others for His sake, and to give up yourselves to the obedience of all His commands out of hearty love to Him.

"You will also enjoy the help of the Spirit of God to incline you powerfully to obedience, and to strengthen you for the performance of it against all your corruptions and the temptations of Satan, so that you will have both wind and tide to forward your voyage in the practice of holiness.”

—Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999), 97
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Excerpts from "Don't Stop Believing"

Here are some excerpts from the Introduction to "Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough" by Michael Wittmer:

"This postmodern turn toward liberalism is penetrating the evangelical church. As I will explain in this book, an increasing number of postmodern Christians are practicing a liberal method: accomodating the gospel to contemporary culture and expressing greater concern for Christian ethics than its traditional doctrines....

"So I intend this book as a friendly warning. Many of the leaders whom I quote in this book are friends whom I love and respect.... I am thankful for their emphasis on authentic Christian living. Their vision for what the church can become is both exhilarating and challenging.

"My only concern, and the point I will press in this book, is that their quest to correct the abuses of previous generations must not lead them to err on the opposite extreme. Perhaps our parents emphasized right belief more than good behavior, but that must not become an excuse to teach good behavior at the expense of right belief. If we continue down this road, it may not be long until our liberal method leads to liberal conclusions.

"Authentic Christianity demands our head, heart and hands. Our labor for Christ flows from our love for him, which can arise only when we know and think rightly about him. Genuine Christians never stop serving, because they never stop loving, and they never stop loving, because they never stop believing." (pp.20-21)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Losses Overcome" by Charles Spurgeon

'And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.' (Joel 2:25)

"Yes, those wasted years over which we sigh shall be restored to us. God can give us such plentiful grace that we shall crowd into the remainder of our days as much of service as will be some recompense for those years of unregeneracy over which we mourn in humble penitence. The locusts of backsliding, worldliness, lukewarmness, are now viewed by us as a terrible plague. Oh, that they had never come near us! The Lord in mercy has now taken them away, and we are full of zeal to serve Him.

"Blessed be His name, we can raise such harvests of spiritual graces as shall make our former barrenness to disappear. Through rich grace we can turn to account our bitter experience and use it to warn others. We can become the more rooted in humility, childlike dependence, and penitent spirituality by reason of our former shortcomings. If we are the more watchful, zealous, and tender, we shall gain by our lamentable losses. The wasted years, by a miracle of love, can be restored. Does it seem too great a boon? Let us believe for it and live for it, and we may yet realize it, even as Peter became all the more useful a man after his presumption was cured by his discovered weakness.

"Lord, aid us by Thy grace."

Monday, November 17, 2008

"He shall choose our inheritance for us"

A devotional meditation on Psalm 47:4 from Charles Spurgeon:

Believer, if your inheritance be a lowly one you should be satisfied with your earthly portion; for you may rest assured that it is the fittest for you. Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition. A ship of large tonnage is to be brought up the river; now, in one part of the stream there is a sandbank; should some one ask, "Why does the captain steer through the deep part of the channel and deviate so much from a straight line?" His answer would be, "Because I should not get my vessel into harbor at all if I did not keep to the deep channel."

So, it may be, you would run aground and suffer shipwreck, if your divine Captain did not steer you into the depths of affliction where waves of trouble follow each other in quick succession. Some plants die if they have too much sunshine. It may be that you are planted where you get but little, you are put there by the loving Husbandman, because only in that situation will you bring forth fruit unto perfection.

Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, "Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows."

Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Down busy self, and proud impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love!

"Trials must and will befall—
But with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all;
This is happiness to me."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Evangelicalism, Pop Culture and "The Search for the Sacred"

Another excerpt from Michael Horton's "Christless Christianity."

“Citing examples from television, pop music, and best-selling books, an article in Entertainment Weekly noted,

‘Pop culture is going gaga for spirituality…. [However,] seekers of the day are apt to peel away the tough theological stuff and pluck out the most dulcet [sweet/pleasing] elements of the faith, coming up with a soothing sampler of Judeo-Christian imagery…, Eastern meditation, self-help lingo, a vaguely conservative craving for “virture,” and a loopy New Age pursuit of “peace.” This happy free-for-all, appealing to Baptists and stargazers alike, comes off more like Forrest Gump’s ubiquitous “boxa choclits” than like any real system of belief. You never know what you’re gonna get.’

“The search for the sacred has become a recurring cover story for national news magazines for some time now. Although this search is often identified as an encouraging sign of interest in God, it may be more dangerous than atheism.

“At least atheism makes arguments and shows an interest in a world external to the feelings of the inner self. Furthermore, after each round of this quest for the holy grail, evangelicalism itself looks more and more indistinguishable from the ooze of pop spirituality more generally.” (pp.159-160)

"The Stone Will Be Rolled Away for Each of Us"

“He came back.

"After that brutal Friday, and that long, quiet Saturday, he came back. And that one intake of breath in the tomb changes everything. It changes the very reason I drew breath today and the way I move about in this world because I believe he’s coming back again. The world has gone on for more than two millennia since Jesus’ feet tread the earth he made. What would they have said back then if someone had told them that some two thousand years later we’d still be waiting? They would’ve thought back to that long Saturday and said, ‘Two thousand years will seem like a breath to you when you finally lay your crown at his feet. We don’t even remember what we were doing on that Saturday, but let me tell you about Sunday morning. Now that was something.’

"These many years of waiting will only be a sentence in the story. This long day will come to an end, and I believe it will end in glory, when we will shine like suns and stride the green hills with those we love and the One who loves. We will look with our new eyes and speak with our new tongues and turn to each other and say, ‘Do you remember the waiting? The long years, the bitter pain, the gnawing doubt, the relentless ache?’ And like Mary at the tomb, we will say: ‘I remember only the light, and the voice calling my name, and the overwhelming joy that the waiting was finally over.’"

The stone will be rolled away for each of us. May we wait with faithful hearts.”
Andrew Peterson, CD liner notes for Resurrection Letters Volume II (Centricity Music: 2008)
posted at "Of First Importance"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Trapped in Neverland"

Another worthwhile essay from Carl Trueman: "Trapped in Neverland." Here is an excerpt:

"The world of my grandfather was evil because it made him grow up too fast; the world of today is evil because it prevents many from ever growing up at all....

"...Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself.

"When entertainment becomes more than a pleasant and occasional distraction, when time and income become devoted to entertainment and to pleasure, when sports teams become more important to us than people - even the people to whom we are close - then something has gone badly wrong.

"The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth.

"My grandfather was lucky in this one thing: he did not have time to be immature because he did not have the surplus income that would have granted him that luxury. That is not to exalt the virtue of poverty - poverty is an evil - but it is to underscore the dangers that come with wealth in abundance."

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, November 10, 2008


“Inasmuch as the Cross is eschatological, the world of evil forces is also judged.

"It is as if two people were playing chess. At a certain point, one of the players rises from the table, leaving his opponent to ponder his next move. The opponent struggles with all the possibilities because he is determined to win. What he has not realized is that there are only a limited number of moves that he can make, and not one of them can change the outcome of the game. No matter what he does, he will lose.

"Just so at the Cross, the outcome of the chess game between God and Satan was decided. God will certainly win. Satan, however, is presently playing out every conceivable option, imagining that somehow his rebellion will triumph. It will not.”

—David F. Wells, God the Evangelist (Carlisle, UK: World Evangelical Fellowship, 1997), 67
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Christless Christianity" -- another excerpt

In his new book, "Christless Christianity," Michael Horton critiques the ministry and teaching of Joel Osteen as one of the most prominent contemporary examples of the 'moralistic, therapeutic deism' that is the 'alternative gospel of the American church:'

"A TIME magazine story in 2006 observed that Osteen’s success has reached even more traditional Protestant circles, citing the example of a Lutheran church that followed [Osteen’s book] ‘Your Best Life Now’ during Lent, of all times, when, as the writer notes, ‘Jesus was having his worst life then.’" (p. 71)

It is striking and sad when secular magazines like TIME are more discerning than many evangelical Christians.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Billy Graham's 90th Birthday

Tullian Tchividjian (a pastor and author himself) writes about his grandfather's 90th birthday. Tullian invited readers of his blog to share how God has used Billy Graham in their lives, and I was happy to do so, along with many others. Here is what I wrote:

First of all, years before I came to faith in Christ, it was Dr. Graham’s preaching via his televised ‘crusades’ that planted the seeds for me in terms of coming to know that I was lost and needed a Savior.

Then as the Spirit drew me to faith, it was his book, “Peace with God,” that helped me to understand how to respond to the Gospel in repentance and faith, and what it meant to follow Christ as a new believer.

Also, his own powerful preaching was an early lesson to me about the centrality and efficacy of preaching God’s Word — a lesson that has stayed with me in my own pastoral ministry.

One other thing: your grandfather’s integrity, authenticity and faithfulness (along with that of your grandmother) has always been a heartening example to me. And when there were times that non-believers would point to the failures and hypocrisies of other ‘televangelists’ in order to cast reproach on the Gospel, I could always gently remind them of Billy Graham.

And so I’m sure there are so many, many others who are like me when I say that, when it comes to your grandfather, I thank God every time I think of him.

Excerpts from "Christless Christianity"

Here are some excerpts from Michael Horton's new book, "Christless Christianity" (described in the previous post).

"I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being
practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups."

"…we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American
church life where the Bible is mined for ‘relevant’ quotes but is largely
irrelevant on its own terms…." (pp.16-17)

"…There need not be explicit abandonment of any key Christian teaching, just a series of subtle distortions and not-so-subtle distractions. Even good things can cause us to look away from Christ and to take the gospel for granted as something we needed for conversion but which now can be safely assumed and put in the background. Center stage, however, is something or someone else." (p. 20)

"…So much of what I am calling ‘Christless Christianity’ is not profound enough to constitute heresy. Like the easy-listening Muzak that plays ubiquitously in the background in other shopping venues, the message of American Christianity has become simply trivial, sentimental, affirming, and irrelevant."
(p. 21)

Recommended Reading!

I highly recommend the new book by Michael Horton, "Christless Christianity." Horton insightfully analyzes what he calls "The Alternative Gospel of the American Church" which he describes as 'moralistic, therapeutic deism.'

I'll be posting occasional excerpts from this important book.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"A Reasoning Trust"

“Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.”

- John Stott, Your Mind Matters (London, England: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 30.
posted at Of First Importance

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Christ Intercedes for Us

“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

—Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, ed Andrew Bonar (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth: 1960), 179
posted at "Of First Importance"