Monday, May 31, 2010

The Kind of Christians Today's Spiritual Climate Produces

“Evangelicalism as we know it today in its various manifestations does produce some real Christians. We have no wish to question this; we desire rather to assert it unequivocally. But the spiritual climate into which many modern Christians are born does not make for vigorous spiritual growth. Indeed, the whole evangelical world is to a large extent unfavorable to healthy Christianity. And I am not thinking of Modernism either. I mean rather the Bible-believing crowd that bears the name of orthodoxy.”

- A.W. Tozer, excerpted from Of God and Men

Tozer wrote this decades ago; I can only imagine what he would say today.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Joining in with the Worship of Heaven

"The worship of heaven, which we join when we gather as God’s people, is based on God’s revealed character and mighty works as Creator (Rev 4) and Redeemer (Rev 5). The only fitting response to such grace is that exhibited by the elders in heaven. They worshiped (i.e., adopted the protocol one does in the presence of such majestic selflessness). In the light of the cross we can only look away from ourselves and acknowledge in word and body language someone other than ourselves as the worthy one: the Lamb slain for us."

-- Graham Cole


Saturday, May 29, 2010

We aim to please Him...

“After conversion the motivation for all of life should be the desire to please Christ, who, as kurios [Lord], has proprietary rights over his willing douloi [slaves].” (2 Cor. 5:9,15; Eph. 5:10; Col. 1:10).

Murray Harris, on 2 Cor.5:15 in NIGTC (Eerdmans/Paternoster)

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Your Times Are in God's Hands"

Here is a devotional from "Our Daily Bread" based on a message from Dr. Paul Dixon, who was president of Cedarville University when I attended there (he's now the chancellor).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"If we confess our sins...."

David Powlison provides a very helpful, complete guide to personal confession of sin. (It's also downloadable as a PDF file.)

He introduces it by writing, "When I counsel with people who struggle with deep feelings of shame, guilt, and regret, I sometimes suggest that they design a personalized liturgy. In what follows, I walk through the example of a woman who has had an abortion, and all that led up to that choice, and all that follows in someone whose conscience is alive. But you can tailor it to whatever struggle you or another person needs to deal with. Where is your struggle? Is it temper or bitterness? Sexual immorality? Amnesia toward God? Gluttony, laziness or greed? Judgmental words or thoughts? Gossip? Obsessive worrying? God welcomes all who are weary with sin."

Read the whole thing here....

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three Strands of Prayer

Justin Taylor introduces David Powlison's characteristically insightful article on the three strands of prayer.

Here's a brief excerpt:

1. Sometimes we ask God to change our circumstances—heal the sick, give us daily bread, protect us from suffering and evildoers, make our political leaders just, convert our friends and family, make our work and ministries prosper, provide us with a spouse, quiet this dangerous storm, send us rain, give us a child.

2. Sometimes we ask God to change us—deepen our faith, teach us to love each other, forgive our sins, make us wise where we tend to be foolish, help us know You better, give us understanding of Scripture, teach us how to encourage others.

3. Sometimes we ask God to change everything by revealing Himself more fully on the stage of real life, magnifying the degree to which His glory and rule are obvious—Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, be exalted above the heavens, let Your glory be over all of the earth, let Your glory fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, come Lord Jesus.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"...if you can only groan, sob or sigh....

“My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you.” Psalm 63:1

“Do not be afraid, dear children of God, you that have fallen into a mournful state, do not be afraid to cry out to God. I know we sometimes feel as if we must not and dare not pray. We have become so dull, so lifeless, so unworthy, that we do not expect to be heard, and feel as if it would be presumption to cry. But our heavenly Father loves to hear his children cry all day long. . . .

If you can cry out to Jesus, he will joyfully hear you. If you will give him no rest, he will give you all the rest you need. The Lord finds music in his children’s cries.

‘Oh,’ say you, ‘I would cry, but mine is such a discordant and foolish cry.’ You are the very man to cry, for your sorrow will put an emphasis into your voice. Of all the cries your children utter, that comes closest home to you which arises out of their pain and deep distress. A dying moan from a little one will pierce a mother’s heart. See, she presses the babe to her bosom! She cries, ‘My dear dying child,’ and weeps over it. You too shall be pressed to the bosom of everlasting love if you can only groan or sob or sigh.”

-- C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Old Testament (London, n.d.), II:663.

HT: Ray Ortlund

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"A day when I utterly died" (George Mueller)

When asked what God had taught him most deeply about life, George Mueller (1805-1898), pastor and philanthropist, explained:

“There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will, died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends, and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”

-- Quoted in A. T. Pierson, George Mueller of Bristol (London, 1899), page 367.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are you ready for Sunday?

from Chris Brauns...

Why not spend some time on Friday and Saturday plowing the ground in your life in preparation for Sunday?

"We are told men ought not to preach without preparation. Granted. But we add, men ought not to hear without preparation. Which, do you think needs the most preparation, the sower or the ground? I would have the sower come with clean hands, but I would have the ground well-plowed and harrowed, well-turned over, and the clods broken before the seed comes in. It seems to me that there is more preparation needed by the ground, than by the sower, more by the hearer than by the preacher." -- Charles Spurgeon.

Quoted in the recommended, Expository Listening, by Ken Ramey.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"The Glory of Plodding"

From Kevin DeYoung: "What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency."

Read his entire essay here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"How to Write an Awful Worship Song"

UPDATE: links are working now..sorry for the mistake

...from Stephen Altrogge at
The Blazing Center...

Here's an excerpt:

Make the Song All About You:

The main point of your song should be your experiences and how God makes you feel. Don't bother with objective truth about God. I would suggest that you use the words "I" or "me" at least 12-15 times. For example, "I feel like singing, yes I feel like spinning, because You make me feel so good inside. Like it's my birthday, but more awesome."

Read the entire thing here.


What are we building the church with?

"If the church is being built with large portions of charm, personality, easy oratory, positive thinking, managerial skills, powerful and emotional experiences, and people smarts, but without the repeated, passionate, Spirit-anointed proclamation of 'Jesus Christ and him crucified,' we may be winning more adherents than converts…Do not think that you can adopt the philosophies and values of the world as if such choices do not have a profoundly detrimental impact on the church. Do not think you can get away with it. Do not kid yourself that you are with it, and avant-garde Christian, when in fact you are leaving the gospel behind and doing damage to God’s church."

-- D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry (p. 80, 84)

With this in mind, reflect on 1 Corinthians 3:10-17.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Praise...Righteousness; Worship...Obedience

Via Mike Pohlman...

At the For the Love of God blog, D.A. Carson takes up Psalm 66 and the question of traditional or contemporary worship in the local church. As you might imagine, Carson doesn’t advocate for either, but instead takes the discussion to a higher, more biblical level:

IN AN AGE OF MANY “PRAISE CHORUSES,” people are tempted to think that our generation is especially rich in praise. Surely we know more about praise that our stuffy parents and grandparents in their somber suits and staid services, busily singing their old-fashioned hymns.

It does not help clarity of thought on these matters to evaluate in stereotypes. Despite the suspicions of some older people, not all contemporary expressions of praise are frivolous and shallow; despite the suspicions of some young people, not all forms of praise from an earlier generation are to be abandoned in favor of the immediate and the contemporary.

But there are two elements expressed in the praise of Psalm 66 that are almost never heard today, and that badly need to be reincorporated both into our praise and into our thinking.

The first is found in 66:8-12. There the psalmist begins by inviting the peoples of the world to listen in on the people of God as they praise him because “he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” Then the psalmist directly addresses God, and mentions the context in which the Lord God preserved them: “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance” (66:10 -12).

This is stunning. The psalmist thanks God for testing his covenant people, for refining them under the pressure of some extraordinarily difficult circumstances and for sustaining them through that experience. This is the response of perceptive, godly faith. It is not heard on the lips of those who thank God only when they escape trial or are feeling happy.

The second connects the psalmist’s desperate cry with righteousness: “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer” (66:17-19, emphasis added). this is not to say that the Lord answers us because we have merited his favor by our righteous endeavor. Rather, because we have entered into a personal and covenantal relationship with God, we owe him our allegiance, our faith, our obedience. If instead we nurture sin in our inmost being, and then turn to God for help, why should he not respond with the judgment and chastisement that we urgently deserve? He may turn away, and sovereignly let sin take its ugly course.

Our generation desperately needs to connect praise with righteousness, worship with obedience, and the Lord’s response with a clean heart.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Heart of the Gospel for Real Life

Kevin DeYoung presents a great post based on an excellent excerpt from Richard Lovelace on how substitutionary atonement, the heart of the Gospel, is the key to authentic Christian salvation and transformation.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Walk worthy..."

When the apostle Paul calls on believers to 'walk worthy of God' (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:12) the meaning can't be, "live in such a way that you deserve and earn God's blessing" for Paul makes it very clear that such a life is an impossibility for us sinners, and that our only hope is undeserved grace.

What then must he mean? I think walking worthy of God means to live in a way that corresponds to and is commensurate with who God is, what he calls us to ("his own kingdom and glory") -- there is a way of living and choosing and valuing and dreaming and doing that is 'fitting' with such a calling; any other way of living is just to shallow and too shabby. It just doesn't match the majesty and the mercy of the God with whom we have to do.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Necessity of Theology

A devotion to Biblical theology, rightly understood, is just another way of saying that we are committed to learning and living by 'every word that comes from the mouth of God.' (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4) Apart from such a commitment to theology (that is, to letting the Word of God guide and shape the worship of God, work for God, etc.) the vacuum is inevitably (and miserably) filled with values and criteria for success like expediency, pragmatism, and an undefined, question-begging quest for 'relevance.'

"Theology ought to possess a pride of place in evangelicalism, but, like serious biblical study, it has on the whole been relegated to the backwaters of a few theological seminaries. The study of God is increasingly being replaced by a fascination with the self. Like their archenemy Rudolph Bultmann, evangelicals have begun to embrace 'relevance' as a fundamental criterion of truth."

-- Richard Lints The Fabric of Theology

"When churches abandon or de-emphasize theology, they give up the intellectual tools by which the Christian message can be articulated and defended. In the resulting chaos of religious ideas, the principal criterion left to the community as it seeks to find its way is, quite naturally, that of expediency."

-- Peter Berger, The Noise of Solemn Assemblies

HT to Tullian Tchividjian for the quotes.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Paul and Rob at Mars Hill"

Timothy Stoner gives what I think is a discerning, fair, Biblically-rich analysis between the perspectives of Paul and the published and preached perspectives of Rob Bell, the well known lead pastor in Grand Rapids.

Here is just an excerpt:

"...Paul’s message at Mars Hill was essentially this: there is only one God, and God calls everyone to repent of their error in worshiping empty idols. Those who don’t repent will be judged by a man resurrected by God. Rob and other current teachers assert that the good news does not polarize. To the contrary, exclusive and corrective language is always divisive, regardless of the motive and delivery. That is the nature of language and human nature.
The truth is, it stirred controversy at the Aeropagus as well. Some sneered, others wanted to discuss things later and others believed (Act 17:32-34). The same message resulted in a “great disturbance” in Ephesus. (Acts 19:23). This is not a surprise since at the beginning of his ministry Jesus warned Paul that the schism he would cause would be extreme (Acts 26:17). In this Paul was only following the example of His Master who declared that he came to bring not peace, “but division” (Lk. 12:51)...."

Monday, May 10, 2010

There are three kinds of people in the world...

C.S. Lewis: “Three Kinds of Men”

C.S. Lewis’s short essay, “Three Kinds of Men,” from his collection of essays, Present Concerns (pp. 9-10):

"There are three kinds of people in the world.

"The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them.

"In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society—and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time 'on parade' and 'off parade,' 'in school' and 'out of school.'

"But the third class is of those who can say like St Paul that for them 'to live is Christ.' These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.

"And because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous. It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. The tax which moral conscience levies on our desires does not in fact leave us enough to live on. As long as we are in this class we must either feel guilt because we have not paid the tax or penury because we have. The Christian doctrine that there is no “salvation” by works done to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. Back or on we must go. But there is no going on simply by our own efforts. If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically.

"The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort—it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us."

[HT: Tim Keller; Dane Ortlund; Justin Taylor]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Common Sins"

“The things that crucify Christ and wreck the whole world are the common sins of every day — self-centeredness, pride, apathy, cynicism, slackness, unkindness, every temptation put in another’s path, every wasted opportunity, every pitiful compromise of which we are ashamed — these are the nails and the spear-thrust and the cross. And will anyone deny, with Jesus hanging there, that sin is the critical enemy, the most dangerous insatiable thing in the world, and that he personally needs to be forgiven?”

- James S. Stewart, A Faith to Proclaim (Vancouver, BC; Regent College Publishing, 2002), 59

God's Grace and Your Sufferings

Justin Taylor presents excellent, Biblical, realistic teaching on this crucial them from David Powlison.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Everyone has a (Gospel) story

Tim Chester:

Four points of intersection
Everyone has their own version of the ‘gospel’ story:

creation – who I am or who I should be
fall – what’s wrong with me and the world
redemption – what’s the solution
consummation – what I hope for

When we hear people expressing their version of creation, fall, redemption or consummation, we can talk about the gospel story. Talking about Jesus begins with listening to other people’s stories and sharing our own story of Jesus.

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"This is my story...."

It's my 50th birthday today (as friends have relentlessly reminded me!), so I can't help but reflect a little. I am reminded today how much grace the Lord has shown me, saving grace because of His cross and empty tomb.... but also the special and 'ordinary' grace of a loving wife, faithful, fun and persevering friends, and the love and support of family.

I am very much aware that so much of the harder things I've experienced in my life (and they have been mercifully few) have come , far too often, as the harvest of sinful actions, choices and attitudes of my own making. But I am even more aware of how undeservedly and wisely and repeatedly my gracious God keeps overruling even these things for my good, redeeming them as he redeems me.

And, again, I have been powerfully reminded this week how much of the time God's grace and truth are channeled into my life through the many amazing friends and loved ones He has given as some of his best gifts -- along with the gift of good health and the heart-humbling privilege of the calling to pastoral ministry, ministry to people who I so sincerely love, respect and care about in the churches where I've served.

There are some who seem to live as if they are constantly entitled to a better life than the one they have. But for all my flaws and blind spots, that's one mistake I do not now make, for I know one thing for sure: I have received so much more grace and goodness and generosity from God and God's people than I could have ever hoped for. I am a very 'unentitled man.' If I today, had what I deserved...what I'm entitled to, I would be a very miserable man -- in this life, and then.....

In the words of the song,

Were it not for grace
I can tell you where I'd be
Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere
With my salvation up to me
I know how that would go
The battles I would face
Forever running but losing the race
Were it not for grace

So here is all my praise
Expressed with all my heart
Offered to the Friend who took my place
And ran a course I could not start
And when He saw in full
Just how much His would cost
He still went the final mile between me and heaven
So I would not be lost

Or in the words of the ultimate song on this theme,
"Tis grace that led me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home...."

*words and music by David Hamilton and Phill McHugh
copyright 1997 BridgeBuilding Music

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"The New Atheists" and Low-Grade Intellectualism

I think it is easy for believers to be unduly intimidated by the arguments and pronouncements of the "New Atheists" (e.g., Christopher Hitchens). We seem to start with the assumption that they have logic and reason predominantly on their side. But if all truth is God's truth, and if God really does exist, then that can't be the case.

More specifically, David Bentley Hart, author of Atheist Delusions (Yale University Press, 2009), robustly critiques the inferior intellectual efforts of recent atheists in his review of 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists.

Justin Taylor points to these excerpts:

'How long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for? . . .

'A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

'If that seems a harsh judgment, I can only say that I have arrived at it honestly. In the course of writing a book published just this last year, I dutifully acquainted myself not only with all the recent New Atheist bestsellers, but also with a whole constellation of other texts in the same line, and I did so, I believe, without prejudice. No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any. . . .

'I came to realize that the whole enterprise, when purged of its hugely preponderant alloy of sanctimonious bombast, is reducible to only a handful of arguments, most of which consist in simple category mistakes or the kind of historical oversimplifications that are either demonstrably false or irrelevantly true. And arguments of that sort are easily dismissed, if one is hardy enough to go on pointing out the obvious with sufficient indefatigability.'

(You can read the entire review at First Things)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Minding our first business...

"Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part of the world where lies his business, his first business--namely, his own character and conduct."--George MacDonald

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Centrality of Teaching in Jesus' Ministry

James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark:

Jesus again [6:6b] embarks on a mission circuit, “teaching from village to village” (1:14, 39; also Matt. 9:35). As earlier, the defining element of his ministry is teaching. Jesus is popularly conceived of as undertaking a ministry of “presence” or of compassion and healing. These were indeed important elements of his ministry, but they do not identify the dominant purpose of his ministry, which, according to Mark, was teaching. The doing of a deed, even the performing of a miracle, does not necessarily exact any commitment from those who behold them. They may, if they choose, remain simply impressed, without considering the possible significance of the event for their lives. Even if they consider the event further, they may be mistaken in its significance (e.g., 3:22). But teaching involves “the word” (2:2), which affords a clearer and more precise window into Jesus’ person and mission, and with it the possibility of greater understanding and commitment. (177)

(posted by Kevin DeYoung)

The barren business of pleasure seeking

"Pleasure-seeking, as we learn by experience, is a barren business; happiness is never found till we have the grace to stop looking for it, and to give our attention to persons and matters external to ourselves."

-- J.I. Packer, "God Has Spoken" (p.9)