Friday, February 26, 2010

Blogging break (mostly)

I'll be taking a break from blogging (mostly) for a week or so. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the blogs I frequently refer to, as well as checking out resource rich sites like (including a remarkable section of online books) and Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

But mostly, of course, spend time in the Word....

"Repentance is the vomit of the soul."

One of the joys of being a pastor is seeing people whom you have sought to minister to really 'get it' -- receiving God's Word in a transforming way. So it was heartening for me to receive a missionary update letter from a friend (and former parishioner) who is now serving as a missionary on a difficult field in Eastern Europe.

When I first knew him, he was a rambunctious, mischievous, fun-loving kid from a devoted Christian family. Now, some twenty years later, it was encouraging and convicting to read his insightful meditation on 'repentance' (the update letter was entitled, "Repent and Be Saved"):

"I want to share with you something that I have been thinking and reading about lately. That is the nature of true repentance. Because I only have a few short sentences to express a book of thoughts, I will only say one thing. True repentance is much harder that I would like to believe. I think it is much harder that we are often taught, in churches and in books.

"Thomas Brooks, a Puritan author, wrote, 'repentance is the vomit of the soul....' I have never met a person that likes to vomit, but we vomit because the body is rejecting something not good for it. It is true with repentance, a justified soul must reject the sins that plague it. It is messy, hard and painful and often leads to a humbling and suffering, but true repentance is worth it.

"If we but had a truer knowledge of God and could behold Him in His Glory, we would understand the great offense of our sin, and the need to repent.

"The good news in all of this is that the same grace God extends to save us is given to us to lead us into true repentance. In the words of another great Puritan, John Newton: ''Twas Grace that brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.'"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Martin Luther on "No other gods..."

Here's Martin Luther on the first commandment from his "Large Catechism":
A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.

That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

Therefore I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.

Ask and examine your heart diligently, and you will find whether it cleaves to God alone or not. If you have a heart that can expect of Him nothing but what is good, especially in want and distress, and that, moreover, renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the only true God.

If, on the contrary, it cleaves to anything else, of which it expects more good and help than of God, and does not take refuge in Him, but in adversity flees from Him, then you have an idol, another god.


posted by Martin Downes

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Him we proclaim"

Pastor Ray Ortlund, Jr. consistently posts encouraging, challenging, Christ-honoring, gospel-centered posts on life and ministry. For example....

“Him we proclaim.” Colossians 1:28

Him. Paul summarized his ministry in one word: “Him.” Not “Christ + _________” but Christ as the only focus. All other topics of interest had to fit in around Him and promote Him and make Him clearer. If they didn’t serve that purpose, Paul got bored quickly.

We. Whatever others may do, this is what we do. Whatever message others may shout out, we’ll shout louder about Jesus Christ. We are responsible to Him and will give an account to Him only and finally.

Proclaim. Not beg, as if He were poor. Not suggest, as if He were doubtful. Not propose, as if He were the premise of something larger. But proclaim as the only life that is truly life, accessible to everyone on terms of grace, received with the empty hands of faith, giving all, demanding all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What Makes Biblical Christianity Unique?

"Salvation then, according to the Bible is not something that was discovered, but something that happened. Hence appears the uniqueness of the Bible. All the ideas of Christianity might be discovered in some other religion, yet there would be in that religion no Christianity. For Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event.

"Without that event, the world, in the Christian view, is altogether dark, and humanity is lost under the guilt of sin.

"There can be no salvation by the discovery of eternal truth, for eternal truth brings naught but despair, because of sin. But a new face has been put upon life by the blessed thing that God did when He offered up His only begotten Son."

-- J. Gresham Machen, "Christianity and Liberalism," p. 60 (Eerdmans 2009)

The Sweetness of the Spiritual Life

“First comes the actual exercise of the mind, fixing thoughts and meditations upon spiritual truths.

". . . Next comes the inclination of all the affections toward these things, whereby they cleave to the spiritual truths and make an engagement unto them. . . .

"Finally comes a relish and a savor in which lies the sweetness and the satisfaction of the spiritual life. We taste then by experience that God is gracious, and that the love of Christ is better than wine . . .

"If we settle for mere speculations and mental notions about Christ as doctrine, we shall find no transforming power of efficacy communicated unto us thereby. But when, under the conduct of spiritual light, our affections do cleave unto him — then virtue [change in character] will proceed from him to purify us, increase our holiness, and sometimes fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory . . .

"Where light leaves the affections behind, it ends in formality and or atheism; where affections outrun light they sink into the bog of superstition.”

- John Owen, quoted by Timothy Keller, "Gospel Christianity 2"

Real Repentance

“Repentance is that which describes the response of turning from sin unto God. This is its specific character just as the specific character of faith is to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation.

“Repentance reminds us that if the faith we profess is a faith that allows us to walk in the ways of this present evil world, in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, in the fellowship of the works of darkness, then our faith is but mockery and deception. True faith is suffused with penitence.

“And just as faith is not only a momentary act but an abiding attitude of trust and confidence directed to the Savior, so repentance results in constant contrition. The broken spirit and the contrite heart are abiding marks of the believing soul….

“Christ’s blood is the laver of initial cleansing but it is also the fountain to which the believer must continuously repair [return]. It is at the cross of Christ that repentance has its beginning; it is at the cross of Christ that it must continue to pour out its heart in the tears of confessions and contrition. The way of sanctification is the way of contrition for the sin of the past and of the present….”

- John Murray, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” (Eerdmans) p. 116

Monday, February 22, 2010

Best of all...

“When I say that God is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment. The saving love of God is God’s commitment to do everything necessary to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying, namely himself. Since we are sinners and have no right and no desire to be enthralled with God, therefore God’s love enacted a plan of redemption to provide that right and that desire. The supreme demonstration of God’s love was the sending of his Son to die for our sins and to rise again so that sinners might have the right to approach God and might have the pleasure of his presence forever.”

- John Piper, God is the Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2005), 13-14.

posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Danger of Head-knowledge Alone

Let us pray that we may be delivered from a cold, speculative, unsanctified head-knowledge of Christianity. It is a rock on which thousands make shipwreck to all eternity. No heart becomes so hard as that on which the light shines, but finds no admission. To be an ignorant heathen, and bow down to idols and stones, is bad enough. But to be called a Christian, and know the theory of the Gospel, and yet cleave to sin and the world with the heart, is to be a candidate for the worst and lowest place in hell. It is to be as like as possible to the devil.”

~ J.C. Ryle

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke volume 2 , [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998], 67.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Daily Personal Communication with a Living Person

“Seek every day to have closer communion with Him who is your Friend, and to know more of His grace and power. True Christianity is not merely believing a certain set of dry abstract propositions: it is to live in daily personal communication with an actual living person – Jesus Christ. ‘To me’, said Paul, ‘to live is Christ.’ ” (Phil 1:21).

~ J.C. Ryle

Practical Religion, “The Best Friend”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998], 350.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Almost Christianity: "5 Love Languages"

David Powlison's critique of Gary Chapman's extremely popular "5 Love Languages" concept is, in my mind, an important example of how, even within evangelical Christianity, the world has squeezed us into its mold.

Powlison's Scripturally-wise writing is an invitation for us to be 'transformed by the renewing of our mind/perspective.'

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Revival We Desperately Need

J.I. Packer describes true revival:

"Revival is God touching minds and hearts in an arresting, devastating, exalting way, to draw them to himself through working from the inside out rather than from the outside in.

"It is God accelerating, intensifying, and extending the work of grace that goes on in every Christian’s life, but is sometimes overshadowed and somewhat smothered by the impact of other forces.

"It is the near presence of God giving new power to the gospel of sin and grace.

"It is the Holy Spirit sensitizing souls to divine realities and so generating deep-level responses to God in the form of faith and repentance, praise and prayer, love and joy, works of benevolence and service and initiatives of outreach and sharing."

-- from his essay in “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion” in A God-Entranced Vision of All Things (pp. 100-104)
HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Memorial Service for a "Senior Saint"

Today I attended a memorial service for one of the dear senior saints in our church. And I was struck, once again, by the kind of person her ‘kind’ of Christian faith led her to become. I say her ‘kind’ of faith because it seems that, even in my lifetime, ‘normal’ evangelical Christianity has changed and, I think I would have to say, devolved.

It seems to me that the typical evangelical Christian today is preoccupied with self in a way that Bible-believing, Bible-reading, Bible-obeying Christians of a couple generations ago were not. Back then, the Christian consensus really was (in the words of a simple gospel song), “Jesus, then others, then you…that’s the way to spell ‘joy.’”

But now our natural love of self is not only not rebuked or challenged, it’s too often affirmed. “Why am I not happy?” “If only I had….” “I just don’t feel fulfilled…others have let me down…”

But this dear lady had poured herself into the lives of others. Even though she never married and had no family, she ‘adopted’ a circle of fellow church members and neighbors and she became a mother and sister and aunt to so many of them. She was a teacher, and it was evident from the letters read from former student, that she had taught them not only certain subjects, but also about life itself.

She devoted herself to cultivating and strengthening lifelong friendships, and it was clear that she did this, not by being preoccupied by what she could get from others, but by what she could give. She sincerely imitated and obeyed her Savior who taught her (and her generation) that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 20:26).

I hope and pray that my generation, and younger, can learn from our Bibles, and from the lives of such senior saints, that the authentic Christian life only truly begins on the other side of the crucifixion, not the coddling, of the self.

-- Matt.16:24-26; Rom.6:3-6; 2 Cor. 4:8-12; Gal. 2:20; 5:24; 6:14; Phil.3:8-11; 2 Tim.3:1-2ff.

Paul Tripp on "What Gives You Rest?"

An insightful message from Paul Tripp with a helpful introductory summary from Justin Taylor.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What's wrong with "Twilight"?

I don't know much about this, but what I've seen and heard seemed unhealthy, so I thought this video interview from pastor/author/apologist Doug Wilson was worthwhile.

HT: Justin Taylor

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Prayer for Thick Skin and a Big Heart

From Pastor Scotty Smith (Christ Comm. Church, Franklin, TN):

Dear Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, apart from you, the admonitions in this passage [I'm guessing it's Rom.12:14-21 -- DP] mock our sensibilities. Everything within us instinctively wants to get even when we are hurt by others. Whether it’s a “light-hearted” insult or an outright assault; whether it’s our forgotten birthday or a remembered failure; whether we’re excluded from a party or included in someone’s madness… so often, too often, the pain we feel gets recycled and redistributed to others.

We ask you for thick skin and a big heart, Jesus. We want to love well in the presence of everything from non-intended slights to full bore evil. Where evil has already deeply wounded us or is presently lurking, Jesus, let us remember, even deeper in our hearts, that you will repay, you will avenge. Because you have already overcome evil on the cross and have secured its utter annihilation, we can dare to imagine overcoming evil with good. We are clueless about feeding hungry, thirsty enemies, Jesus. Take our hand and show us the way.

And where we are just too sensitive, Jesus, too easily offended, too ready to keep record of wrongs done to us… may the gospel bring us much greater freedom. May this be a week, Jesus, of overlooking everything that should be overlooked, of dealing wisely as peacemakers with the situations we must confront, and a week of revoking all revenge in light of the Day you return to make all things new. All for your glory we ask these things, Jesus. Amen

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Single and Lonely?

Justin T. posts about a new online mini-booklet from Jayne Clarke, entitled "Single and Lonely (Finding the Intimacy You Desire)." Despite the title Clarke's treatment of this topic goes beyond what singles experience. She makes it clear that all of us can be prone to loneliness...and can resort to self-sabotaging strategies to deal with these feelings.

In one excerpt she describes such flawed strategies:

"So how do we remedy [our] loneliness? When I was a child I thought it was simple: Make one really good friend. I was a good listener, and I combined that with a decent sense of humor and a willingness to be helpful. My job was to listen, make you laugh, and help you out. Your job was to be my friend so I wouldn’t be lonely. But eventually I would upset the balance of this arrangement by asking you to help me. If you couldn’t manage it, I felt hurt. Or maybe I couldn’t get you to listen to me for ten minutes when I had already listened to you for hours. In either case, I wouldn’t dare tell you that I was hurt because you might have gotten upset with me. So I would take self-protective steps to prevent getting hurt again.

"Do you see the dynamic? I work to get you to like me, but I also work to protect myself from you. I move toward you because I want your acceptance, but I back away because I want to play it safe. A tug-of-war goes on within my heart. My desire for acceptance wins one moment, self-protection the next. The result? I send out a continuous stream of mixed messages. When I am self-protective, I withdraw into myself. But then I become afraid you are (a) losing patience with me; (b) glad to be rid of me; or (c) not even noticing that I’ve withdrawn. All of these possibilities are bad, so I risk getting hurt by being nice again so you’ll still like me. Sooner or later, it all takes too much effort, and we drift apart. But eventually, loneliness gets to me, the memories fade, and I begin the cycle all over again with someone else.

"I didn’t always realize that my strategies not only increased my own loneliness, but added to other people’s loneliness as well. Neither did I realize what was going on in me beneath the surface. At a very basic level I was treating my friends like objects, manipulating them so they would do what I wanted. When they let me down, I saw them as obstacles to my sense of security and belonging...."

Justin suggests this excerpt as a summary of the main idea: “Whether we are single or married, we will experience loneliness in this fallen world. But God wants to enter into our loneliness and transform it. He unites us to himself and each other in Jesus as we submit our lives to him; and he calls us to enter into the loneliness of those around us.”

You can read the entire online booklet here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Life Built on God's Glory and Grace

"Any life not built on God's glory and grace will be built on the deification of something else."

-- Tim Keller

If I understand Keller right, he's urging us to live in devotion to God's glory (versus living for ourselves, or for some other 'god') in the 'environment' of God's grace (he freely justifies us, putting us in the right with him, it's not a matter of our performance).

So true Christianity does call us to repentance (we are to live for God's glory, turning away from our idols) but it is still all of grace (because our right standing with God is a gift, and because he enables and empowers the pursuit of holiness that he commands).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What does it cost to be a Christian?

“It will cost a man his love of ease. He must take pains and trouble, if he means to run a successful face towards heaven. He must daily watch and stand his guard, like a soldier on enemy’s ground. He must take heed to his behavior every hour of the day, in every company, and in every place, in public as well as in private, among strangers as well as at home. He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imaginations, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life. He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible-reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace.

“This also sounds hard. There is nothing we naturally dislike so much as ‘trouble’ about our religion. We hate trouble. We secretly wish we could have a ‘vicarious’ Christianity, and could be good by proxy, and have everything done for us. Anything that requires exertion and labor is entirely against the grain of our hearts. But the soul can have ‘no gains without pains.’ Let us set down that item third in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man his love of ease.”

~ J.C. Ryle

From the series “Four Costs of Becoming a Christian”

Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle, “The Cost”, [Wheaton: Crossway, 2002], 176.

posted at "JC Ryle Quotes"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Difference Between the Law and the Gospel

“The difference between the law and gospel does not at all consist in this, that the one requires perfect doing, the other only sincere doing, but in this, that the one requires doing, the other not doing but believing for life and salvation. Their terms are different, not only in degree, but in their whole nature.”

- Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (Welwyn, 1981), 76.

posted at "Of First Importance"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

R.C. Sproul on the holiness of God

Justin Taylor's post points to a number of excelllent resources from theologian R.C. Sproul. I agree with Justin that Sproul's book, "The Holiness of God," is a contemporary classic.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Crucial Place of Forgiveness in Christian Fellowship and Friendship


1 Thess. 1:3 “a faith that works, a love that labors, a hope that endures…”

One of the hardest things that Christian love has to do is to forgive…

1. We are called to love others. (Matt.22:39; Jn.13:34-35)

2. Love includes doing right by the other person (it’s more than that, but not less).

· Rom. 12:9-10, 16-19ff.

· Rom. 13:8-10; 1 Cor. 13:4-5 (6-7).

· “Doing right by” the other person is another way of saying we promote shalom/peace (the way things ought to be according to God’s will) in the relationship. (“Blessed are the peacemakers…”); Eph.4:1ff.

3. This is interrupted when we sin/act wrongly towards another person (disturbing/diminishing or even vandalizing ‘shalom’). It’s a matter of acting in an unloving, disrespectful way towards the other person. (And our actions includes our words.)

· “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing [cp. shalom].” (Prov. 12:18; cp. Matt. 5:21-22; 12:36-37)

4. Because such shalom-disturbing wrongdoing is inevitable, we must be skilled and effective at forbearing and forgiving (and pursuing true reconciliation). Col.3:12-15

· “forbearing” for the ‘little’ stuff

· “forgiveness” for significant things

· If we won’t forgive [others], we won’t be forgiven [by God] (Matt. 6:12, 14-15; 18:21ff.; Lk.17:3-4; cp. the urgency of seeking reconciliation in Matt.5:23-24

· full fledged reconciliation requires the participation of both parties

o true reconciliation maintains the connection to ‘repenting’ and a shared commitment to shalom/righteousness as defined by God’s Word and will – cp. Matt.18:15f.; Lk.17:3

o but we are also called upon to ‘forgive’ unilaterally, standing ready to facilitate reconciliation, but recognizing, as we’ve said, full reconciliation requires cooperation and participation of both

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Paul's Suffering...and Christ's Resurrection Life

Justin Taylor has a wonderful summary of some of the key passages from 2 Corinthians, explaining the purpose of Paul's suffering in terms of mediating and manifesting Christ's resurrection life. What he writes is both exegetically illuminating and pastorally profound.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Speaking is key to saving...

For those enamored with advice like “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary” – what should we make of Paul’s expression in 1 Thess. 2:16?: “They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.”

In what is almost an off-handed remark, Paul is clearly saying that whether or not people get saved depends on whether or not they are spoken to. It’s odd to me that such an argument needs to be made; but we live in theologically odd times.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More on the Tim Tebow Super Bowl Ad...

From a pro-choice journalist writing in the Washington Post: “If the pro-choice stance is so precarious that a story about someone who chose to carry a risky pregnancy to term undermines it, then CBS is not the problem.” You can read the whole piece here.

-- from Justin Taylor

Monday, February 1, 2010

Idolatry: the Most Natural Thing in the World

“The gods and goddesses . . . are so many parts of the stream of life and are borne along on its current. They are personifications of natural process. To make and worship iconic representations of them is the most natural thing in the world.”

-- Christopher R. North, “The Essence of Idolatry,” BZAW 77 (1958): 159.

"It is the most natural thing in the world to falsify God. All we have to do is follow our intuitions and good intentions. But whenever our uncrucified selves take over, bad things start happening. Worshiping Christ alone is an adjustment. It is unnatural — and freeing.

"We pay a price to follow Christ. We pay a far higher price not to follow Christ."

-- Ray Ortlund, Jr.