Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Poem for the New Year

-- by Charles Moir

O Thou whose glory fills the heavens,
Whose bounty clothes the earth,
To Thee a poem of thanks we raise
For blessings from our birth.

For that untiring love Thou dost,
From day to day renew,
O may it on our hearts descend
Like heaven-distilled dew.

For mercy great, unending still,
Which gave up to the grave
Thine only Son, the Sinless One,
Our sinful souls to save.

While entering on another year
Our cares on Thee we cast,
Beseeching aid in days to come
Which cheered us through the past.

That still the freedom may be ours
To kneel down in Thy sight,
And worship Thee at shut of day,
And in the morning light.

That from temptation's fatal paths
Thou turn our steps away;
And keep us from unholy thoughts
That lead the mind astray.

No more may lust of worldly wealth
Command thoughts that are thine;
Nor may we envy other's lot,
Or at our own repine.

Than all the riches earth can boast
Or gems beneath the sea,
We know the pious, humble heart,
More precious is to Thee.

How needful, then, to train our thoughts,
And fan the heavenly flame
Of faith, in the believing heart,
Triumphing o'er sin and shame

And holding by the Word, thou hast
For grace and guidance given,
Pass trough this world in holy fear,
True candidates for heaven.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Your Father delights in giving you the kingdom

 "Our heavenly Father is sitting on the edge of his throne of grace eager to hear our prayers and do us good." -- John Piper

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Our case is settled..."

"Christ bore our sin. And he stripped Satan of the one weapon that he had that could damn us: namely, the valid accusation of our unforgiven sin. That weapon is taken from his hand. He is disarmed. We have no unforgiven sin. The blood of Jesus covers our sin — all of it. Therefore the cross was the decisive defeat of the condemning designs of the devil. He cannot succeed. The victory is ours though faith in Christ. This is why John said in Revelation 12:11, ‘They have conquered Satan by the blood of the Lamb.’ The blood of the Lamb strips Satan of his one condemning weapon, our unforgiven sin.

"The god of this world is cast out of the courtroom. Our case his settled. Our judgment is passed. Our sins are forgiven. Our accuser has no records in his folder. He has no say in our future any more. We have passed from death to life. God has glorified himself by defeating his ancient adversary at the very moment when Satan thought he could win."

— John Piper
For This Purpose I Have Come to This Hour
(Minneapolis, Minn.: Desiring God Ministries, December 3, 2011)

"What to do if you wake up feeling fragile...."

More practical wisdom from John Piper....

Monday, December 26, 2011

Since we are made in the image of God...

from C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

-- C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"

HT:  Justin Taylor

"If we regularly beheld the glory of Christ..."

"If we regularly beheld the glory of Christ our Christian walk with God would become more sweet and pleasant, our spiritual light and strength would grow daily stronger and our lives would more gloriously represent the glory of Christ. Death would be most welcome to us."

— John Owen
The Glory of Christ
(Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1994), 21

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Bible's Message of Christmas

The Biblical message about 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, God becoming man, 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 the faithful church joyfully and reverently proclaims in music and message at Christmas time!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Behold, the Lamb of God"

Jill Phillips, from Behold the Lamb of God, with scenes from the movie, The Nativity Story:

The song and YouTube video.

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love....

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, December 23, 2011

"God with us"...the Good News of Christmas

Preaching on Isaiah 7:14, C. H. Spurgeon closed with this flourish:

“God with us.” It is hell’s terror. Satan trembles at the sound of it; the black-winged dragon of the pit quails before it. Let him come to you suddenly, and do you but whisper that word, “God with us,” back he falls, confounded and confused. “God with us” is the laborer’s strength; how could he preach the gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor own his Master, how could men labor, if that one word were taken away? “God with us” is the sufferer’s comfort, the balm of his woe, the alleviation of his misery, the sleep which God gives to his beloved, their rest after exertion and toil. “God with us” is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky.

-- from Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When the Promise seems unlikely...

“I am the Almighty God, able to fulfill your highest hopes and accomplish for you the brightest ideal that ever my words set before you.  There is no need of paring down the promise until it squares with human probabilities, no need of relinquishing one hope it has begotten, no need of adopting some interpretation of it which may make it seem easier to fulfill, and no need of striving to fulfill it in any second-rate way.  All possibility lies in this: I am the Almighty God.”   (see Genesis 17:1)

-- Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis (New York, 1902), page 161.
HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Worrying is "meddling with Christ's business"

From Charles Spurgeon:  

"The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord."—Proverbs 16:33.

IF the disposal of the lot is the Lord's whose is the arrangement of our whole life? If the simple casting of a lot is guided by Him, how much more the events of our entire life—especially when we are told by our blessed Saviour: "The very hairs of your head are all numbered: not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father."

It would bring a holy calm over your mind, dear friend, if you were always to remember this. It would so relieve your mind from anxiety, that you would be the better able to walk in patience, quiet, and cheerfulness as a Christian should. When a man is anxious he cannot pray with faith; when he is troubled about the world, he cannot serve his Master, his thoughts are serving himself. If you would "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," all things would then be added unto you.

You are meddling with Christ's business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances.  [see Matthew 6:25-34].  You have been trying "providing" work and forgetting that it is yours to obey. Be wise and attend to the obeying, and let Christ manage the providing.

Come and survey your Father's storehouse, and ask whether He will let you starve while He has laid up so great an abundance in His garner? Look at His heart of mercy; see if that can ever prove unkind! Look at His inscrutable wisdom; see if that will ever be at fault. Above all, look up to Jesus Christ your Intercessor, and ask yourself, while He pleads, can your Father deal ungraciously with you? If He remembers even sparrows, will He forget one of the least of His poor children? "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to be moved."

My soul, rest happy in thy low estate, 
Nor hope nor wish to be esteem'd or great; 
To take the impress of the Will Divine, 
Be that thy glory, and those riches thine.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Afflictions, But No Broken Bones"

From Charles Spurgeon:

He keepeth all his bones; not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:20)

"This promise by the context is referred to the much afflicted righteous man: 'Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.' He may suffer skin wounds and flesh wounds, but no great harm shall be done; 'not a bone of him shall be broken.'

"This is great comfort to a tried child of God, and comfort which I dare accept; for up to this hour I have suffered no real damage from my many afflictions. I have neither lost faith, nor hope, nor love. Nay so far from losing these bones of character, they have gained in strength and energy. I have more knowledge, more experience, more patience, more stability than I had before the trials came. Not even my joy has been destroyed. Many a bruise have I had by sickness, bereavement, depression, slander, and opposition; but the bruise has healed, and there has been no compound fracture of a bone, not even a simple one. The reason is not far to seek. If we trust in the Lord, He keeps all our bones; and if He keeps them, we may be sure that not one of them is broken.

"Come, my heart, do not sorrow. Thou art smarting, but there are no bones broken. Endure hardness and bid defiance to fear."

Monday, December 19, 2011

For the sake of praise, not pride

"We are not saved from sin and changed into righteousness for the sake of pride but for the sake of praise. And when God's work on us is done and we stand perfected before Christ in the last day, we will not exult in our worth but will sing with millions of angels: 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and honor and glory and blessing.' Praise to you, O Lord. Amen."

  -- John Piper

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The True Christmas Story Is a Story We Are Already In

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Lk.1:1-4….

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Pet. 1:16

The Biblical Christmas story is real history, it’s not a “Christmas Shoes” kind of story (e.g., a sentimental story of something that may or may not have happened, whether it did or didn’t doesn’t matter, you can still ‘learn the lesson’ or apply the ‘moral’ of the story…)

Christianity is the religion that insists that it rests upon what really happened, and that whether what it affirms as having happened really did happen, makes all the difference in the world. It matters crucially to the truth claim that Christianity makes (1 Cor. 15:12-19; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 Jn.1:1ff.; Jn.20:30-32; Lk.1:1-4; cp. Acts 1:1-4). And that’s why you find the 'witness/eyewitness' theme throughout the New Testament (Lk. 24:45-49; Jn. 20:30-31; Acts 1:8; 4:20; 1 Cor. 15:14-19; Rev. 1:5; 3:14).

And think about it: how do we know anything that we know and believe about history? We know and believe it because we believe in the ‘witness/testimony’ of others who were there at the time.

The Bible is story, yes, but it is a story interpreted and applied by God himself (cp. 1 Jn. 5:9-13, regarding God’s own ‘witness/testimony’ concerning His Son).

The basic Christian message is NEWS – it’s reporting about what really happened (Lk.1:1-4), combined with a God-given explanation of what those events meant, and still mean today.

“Christ died…” that’s story/history/news “…for our sins…” that’s inspired interpretation and explanation... "according to the Scriptures" -- and so the Scriptures faithfully bear witness to Christ (1 Cor. 15:1ff.; Jn. 5:39)

That a baby was born in Bethlehem is news…it happened in history. It really happened. But the Bible goes further, telling us who he was and what he had come to do…and that’s what makes it Gospel – Good News.

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Lk.2:11)

And so the main reason a person should embrace Christianity, and become a Christian, believing in Christ – is because this Good News is really true, it really happened, and Jesus Christ is just who the Bible and the Gospel say he is – Savior, Christ/Messiah, Lord!

So the Christmas Story is a Story that always involves each of us, and always requires a response (Matt.28:18ff.; Acts 2:36ff.; Jn. 3:16)

In fact, the Biblical story is a story we’re all already in…. And in this Story, in the real and true history of God that is the history of our world, Jesus is Savior, so we are to trust Him, and He is Lord, so we are to give Him our whole-souled allegiance.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Christmas tell us...

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

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

Friday, December 16, 2011

"...He Ascended into Heaven."

"If 25 percent of the New Testament has the ascension of Christ as its central event and theological emphasis, why is this the most overlooked doctrine in modern evangelicalism?..."

Read this helpful, inspiring essay here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"God's Funeral"

An exchange between Martin Luther and his wife Katharina:

“Once, when Martin was so depressed that none of Kate’s counsel would help, she put on a black dress.
Luther noticed it and asked, ‘Are you going to a funeral?’

‘No,’ Kate replied, ‘but since you act like God is dead, I wanted to join you in your mourning.’
Luther got the message and recovered.”

 —Rudolf K. Markwald and Marilynn Morris Markwald, Katharina Von Bora: A Reformation Life (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2002), 139-140.
HT: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"The World's Best Epilogue"

By: Ed Welch
Topics: Gospels, Scripture & Theology
Published: Mar 04, 2010

"With so much of life being untidy and imperfect, I appreciate an epilogue that brings a satisfying completeness to a complicated story. I’ll even settle for a couple of lines at the end of a movie: Jack’s fortunes were restored, his good name was cleared, and he lived to see many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which sounds peculiarly like a great Old Testament epilogue. Yes, the end of Job is a winner, but, as we might expect, everything is better once Jesus comes. The epilogue to John’s gospel is the best ever.

"John seems to finish his gospel at the end of chapter 20, but at the urging of the Spirit – and perhaps with a little time afforded by older age and the incessant questions from inquiring minds – he brings everything together in such a way that you too will find it to be the best and most edifying epilogue ever. Throughout his gospel John tosses out intriguing themes and connections, but he rarely spells out his ingenious method. Instead, he is content to put us to work and let us figure some of it out. But, when we get to John 21, we can sit back and relax. Everything is clear.

"Peter is the main character, and for good reason. After all, who doesn’t want to find out what happened to this inner-circle disciple who fell as hard as anyone possibly could? And our interest is not mere curiosity. Since we all have some of Peter in us, we are eager to see how far Jesus’ forgiveness actually extends. If it extended to him, it extends to us.

"The epilogue starts in a very familiar way. John echoes the very beginning of Peter’s relationship with Jesus (Luke 5:4-11). Same lake, no success fishing, an incongruous request from Jesus, a ton of fish. But this time it is no idyllic scene. The last time Peter was fishing Jesus said, “from now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:11), and he hadn’t cast a net since. Now he was back fishing again. He was a man without a mission. At the beginning of this epilogue, Peter had to be thinking that Jesus’ invitation to catch men and women to be part of God’s Kingdom was no longer valid, so he went back to fishing for fish. When Jesus called out to Peter, “throw your net on the right side of the boat” (John 21:6) the nets were soon bursting at the seams, and the message was unmistakable: Peter, what are you waiting for? Get out and start fishing for men. Do you think sin can tinker with my purpose in your life? No way.

"Great epilogue, isn’t it? Peter could not max out God’s gracious forgiveness with three blatant denials. For us, since three blatant denials equal or beat any of our own top three sins, God’s gracious forgiveness certainly extends to our worst sins. As a result, we are justified in hearing Jesus’ words as if they were his words to us. Better yet, it is one thing to be forgiven, but it something much more to be a fruitful partner in God’s plan for the world. We tend to think that we need to spend a few years in the doghouse after such a shameful display of sin. Well, that is not the case. Forgiveness, acceptance and re-commissioning are the way of the Kingdom.

"But in case you have a hard time believing this, Jesus does more.

"An invitation to a meal has always been a sign of fellowship and acceptance. The host is saying that all is well in the relationship with you. Now intensify that experience. For the New Testament Jew, eating together had near sacramental overtones. It was filled with the symbolism of unity and friendship. If you feel unworthy or unclean, your host responds by honoring your and making sure you are cleansed.

"Jesus says, “Come and have breakfast.”
The message again is unmistakable: Peter, you are cleansed. You are a friend. Please, join me. I love you.

"And he says it to us too.

"Too good to be true? Jesus keeps at it. He matches Peter’s three-fold denial with his three-fold commissioning, and he doesn’t even raise the shameful events of the past. Here is a prime moment for “I told you so”—how many times have I gone into a conversation in which I swore off the “I told you so” only to hear it come stumbling out of my mouth— but all Jesus does is stress his love, acceptance and partnership.

"I talked to a man the other day who had been in the marriage dog house. Bad decisions, too many hours wasted in self-indulgence, a roommate more than a spouse – then, finally, after years of indifference to his wife’s pleas, he experienced real repentance. The only question: Was this too little too late? About a month into his changes, he heard his wife on the phone. She was making an appointment with a counselor, who happened to be me, and the husband interpreted that to mean counselor-at-law. He wasn’t angry, but saddened that this was the consequence of his old lifestyle. The marriage was over. When she hung up the phone, she sat down to give him the news. She had set up a time for counseling. It would be like a date. They could spend the morning together, go out for lunch, and top off the day with some biblical direction for their marriage. He witnessed John 21 in a modern-day form.

“Do you love me? Feed my sheep” Jesus is saying that Peter’s sin is in the distant and forgotten past, he loves Peter, and he is asking Peter to respond in kind. In this case, Peter’s love would take a particular form. He would adopt the mission of his Lord and King. Forgiveness and purpose – if you have one, you have the other.

"John crams a lot more in this epilogue, but this is enough to leave a smile on my face. Sins forgiven, fellowship restored, and guaranteed fruitfulness in the best job ever. I still have a hard time believing that he gives us the entire package – forgiveness, fellowship and fruitfulness – even when my sin rivals that of Peter, yet my unbelief is nothing that a few more years of repentance can’t cure.

"Lord, you said these things to Peter. You said them to me. I confess that I limit your words to the size of my own imagination. I believe you. I trust you. And, to respond to your question “Do you love me?” - yes, I love you."

-- Ed Welch, from the website of CCEF (Christian Counseling Educational Foundation)

The most accurate description of counseling....

"Perhaps the most accurate synonym for counseling is wise love. Wise love makes a huge difference in other people's lives. Both the receiving and giving of wise love make a huge difference in your life. Genuine care, a searching question, sympathy and understanding, a timely and true word of God, practical aid, patience in the process---these are life giving."

-- David Powlison, an excerpt from a book foreward

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where can the darkness be drowned?

C. S. Lewis:

In the Incarnation God the Son takes the body and human soul of Jesus, and, through that, the whole environment of Nature, all the creaturely predicament, into his own being.

So that ‘he came down from Heaven’ can almost be transposed into ‘Heaven drew earth up into it,’ and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within.

The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?”

-- "Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer," (San Diego: Harvest, 1964), 70ff.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christ's love to you

“In one sense the whole object of being a Christian is that you may know the love of Jesus Christ, his personal love to you; that he may tell you in unmistakable language that he loves you, that he has given himself for you, that he has loved you with ‘an everlasting love.’  He does this through the Holy Spirit; he ‘seals’ all his statements to you through the Spirit. . . .  You believe it because it is in the Word; but there is more than that; he will tell you this directly as a great secret.  The Spirit gives manifestations of the Son of God to his own, to his beloved, to those for whom he has gladly died and given himself.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapters 7.1-8.4 (Edinburgh, 1973), page 61.

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Come, Lord Jesus, to Redeem Us"

Come, Lord Jesus, to redeem us
from our foes and from our fears.
We await the hand of mercy
that will wipe away our tears.
We have labored long in darkness,
even now our hearts grow weak.
How we long for your appearing
and your great salvation seek.
(Rev. 21:4; Rom. 8:23; 2Tim. 4:8)

Come, Lord Jesus, true and righteous,
bring your pure and piercing light.
For we know when you appear, Lord,
ev’ry wrong shall be made right.
You will vanquish all the proud ones;
you will fill all those who thirst.
O, the first shall be the last, then
,and the last shall be the first.
(Rev. 16:5-7; Matt. 19:30; 20:16; 24:32-46)

Now prepare a path before Him:in the desert make a way.
Take the gospel to the nations
and proclaim his coming Day.
Ev’ry mountain must be leveled;
ev’ry valley must be raised.
Then all flesh shall see his glory.
God shall be forever praised!
(Isa. 40:3-5; Matt. 24:14)

Raise the cry of "Maranatha!”
We shall soon behold our King.
To the Alpha and Omega,
this one prayer and plea we sing:
joining voices with the Spirit
we, the Bride of Christ, say, "Come!”
Come, Lord Jesus, come and free us
from this death and bring us home.
(1Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:13, 17)

Text: Gary A. Parrett (2002)
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Whole-hearted trust accepts authority

from Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

How can I tell if my trust in the Lord is wholehearted?  One way is this.  Do I let the Bible overrule my own thinking?  It says, “Do not lean on your own understanding.”  So, do I agree with the Bible, or do I obey the Bible?  If I merely agree with the Bible, then my positive response is not obedience but coincidence.  The Bible just happens to line up with the prejudices I’ve soaked up from my background.  But what do I do when the Bible contradicts what I want to be true — especially when, on top of that, it seems culturally remote and perplexing?  If I’m reading the Bible for excuses for what I want anyway, my heart has already drifted from the Lord.  But if I trust him wholeheartedly, I will let the Bible challenge my most cherished thoughts and feelings.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Preaching the Gospel...Words Required

"Have you ever heard that statement (attributed to Francis of Assisi), 'Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words'? How do you explain the gospel without using words? That’s like saying, 'Tell me your phone number. If necessary, use digits.'

"Your phone number is digits. The gospel is the words announcing what Christ has done.

"People can’t look at our lives and know the story of Christ. They may see glimpses of the kindness of Christ, but expecting them to get the gospel by watching us would be like trying to gather information from a newscast with the sound turned off."

-- J. D. Greear, "Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary" (p. 223). B&H Publishing Group

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Is for Those Who Dread It the Most

from Matt Redmond:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Good News: "God with us"

‘Immanuel, God with us.’ It is hell’s terror. Satan trembles at the sound of it. . . . Let him come to you suddenly, and do you but whisper that word, ‘God with us,’ back he falls, confounded and confused. . . . ‘God with us’ is the laborer’s strength. How could he preach the gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor own his Master, how could men labor if that one word were taken away? . . . ‘God with us’ is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of the angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky. . . .
"Feast, Christians, feast; you have a right to feast. . . . But in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem. Let him have a place in your hearts, give him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived him, but think most of all of the Man born, the Child given.
"I finish by again saying, A happy Christmas to you all!

-- C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Old Testament (London, n.d.), III:430.
HT: Ray Ortlund

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What is unbelief?

 St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. AD 315-67):

“All unbelief is foolishness, for
it takes such wisdom as its own finite perception can attain,
and measuring infinity by that petty scale,
concludes that what it cannot understand must be impossible.
Unbelief is the result of incapacity engaged in argument.”

—De Trinitate, III.24, cited in Douglas Kelly, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 19.
HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, December 2, 2011

Why we need Jesus Christ

An important essay from Michael Horton on this theme:  "Reason and morality cannot show us a good and gracious God. For that, we need the Incarnation."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesus is the Great Burden-bearer

"Jesus is the great Burden-Bearer of His people. No other arm, and no other heart, in heaven or upon earth, were strong enough, or loving enough, to bear these burdens but His! He who bore the weight of our sin and curse and shame in His obedience and death — bore it along all the avenues of His weary pilgrimage, from Bethlehem to Calvary — is He who now stretches forth His Divine arm, and makes bare a Brother’s heart to take your burden of care and of grief, dear saint of God, upon Himself."

— Octavius Winslow
The Ministry of Home
(HT: Tony Reinke; Of First Importance)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Theology Matters

A good summary post from Kevin DeYoung on why faithful churches and faithful Christians should be unapologetically theological.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What it means to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord

“’Trusting in Jesus’…means firmly believing certain things to be true about Jesus – that he came into the world as God’s Son, that he died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins, that he rose again to be God’s king, and that he is the only one who can stand as a priest before God on my behalf – and then acting in dependence and reliance upon those things about him….

“Because I know and trust that Jesus is God’s good and  perfect king, I  will fall down before him and submit my entire life to him, knowing that whatever he tells me to do will be excellent and for my good.  And because I know and trust that Jesus has died and risen and ascended to God as my priest, I will completely depend upon him for the forgiveness of my sins and eternal life.  I will place my life in his hands, knowing that he will save me from the judgment I deserve and that submitting to him as my king will mean ‘life’ with a capital L.”

“What part does the Spirit play in this?  He’s the one who changes us on the inside so that we put our trust in Jesus….  By his Spirit, God brings us to  the point where we put our trust in Jesus, making him the king and savior of our lives….  When the Spirit brings you to trust in Jesus, he actually begins a new life in you….  God works in you so that you start living how you were meant to live – with Jesus as the king of your life.  God makes you his by joining you to Jesus in such a way that his death is your death – all your sins are paid for; and his life is your life – you begin to live as someone who loves God.”  

-- Paul Grimmond, "Right Side Up: Life as God Meant It to Be" (Matthias Media, pp. 71-73)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

God's ability to bless

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think . . . .” Ephesians 3:20

“Not above some things that we ask, but all.  Not above some of our dimmer conceptions, our lower thoughts, but above all that we think.  Now just put together all that you have ever asked for.  Heap it up, and then pile upon the top thereof all that you have ever thought of concerning the riches of divine grace.  What a mountain! . . . High as this pyramid of prayers and contemplations may be piled, God’s ability to bless is higher still.”

-- C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), III:419.

HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Beloved children, keep yourselves from idols...

The relevance of massive chunks of Scripture hangs on our understanding of idolatry. But let me focus the question through a particular verse in the New Testament which long troubled me. The last line of 1 John woos, then commands us:

“Beloved children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

In a 105-verse treatise on living in vital fellowship with Jesus, the Son of God, how on earth does that unexpected command merit being the final word?

Is it perhaps a scribal emendation?

Is it an awkward faux pas by a writer who typically weaves dense and orderly tapestries of meaning with simple, repetitive language?

Is it a culture-bound, practical application tacked onto the end of one of the most timeless and heaven-dwelling epistles?

Each of these alternatives misses the integrity and power of John’s final words.

Instead, John’s last line properly leaves us with that most basic question which God continually poses to each human heart.

Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?

It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question.

Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?

The undesirable answers to this question—answers which inform our understanding of the “idolatry” we are to avoid—are most graphically presented in 1 John 2:15-17, 3:7-10, 4:1-6, and 5:19. It is striking how these verses portray a confluence of the “sociological,” the “psychological,” and the “demonological” perspectives on idolatrous motivation.

The inwardness of motivation is captured by the inordinate and proud “desires of the flesh” (1 John 2:16), our inertial self-centeredness, the wants, hopes, fears, expectations, “needs” that crowd our hearts.

The externality of motivation is captured by “the world” (1 John 2:15-17,4:1-6), all that invites, models, reinforces, and conditions us into such inertia, teaching us lies.

The “demonological” dimension of motivation is the Devil’s behavior-determining lordship (1 John 3:7-10,5:19), standing as a ruler over his kingdom of flesh and world.

In contrast, to “keep yourself from idols” is to live with a whole heart of faith in Jesus. It is to be controlled by all that lies behind the address “Beloved children” (see especially 1 John 3:1-3,4:7-5:12). The alternative to Jesus, the swarm of alternatives, whether approached through the lens of flesh, world, or the Evil One, is idolatry.

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, November 25, 2011

Unbelief in three tenses

Guilty regret is unbelief regarding God’s grace and goodness, aimed at the past; envy is that same unbelief in the present, and worry is the same doubt about his goodness, aimed at the future.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

President George Washington's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation


Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor - and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You cannot jump out of your skin

"All things are intrinsically made to work in Christ’s way, and, if they do, they work well. The discovery of that fact is going to be the greatest adventure of the future. If we were created by Christ and for Christ, then he is inescapable. You cannot jump out of your skin. If you revolt against Christ, you revolt against yourself. God has us hooked. We may run away in short excursions of freedom, but he reels us in. The facts are against us."

— E. Stanley Jones, quoted by Darrell W. Johnson in
Discipleship on the Edge
(Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2004), 117-118

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"When we watch our friends suffer...."

Gracious wisdom from Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

Eliphaz reveals how his suspicions of Job were confirmed.  “A spirit glided past my face” one night with a message (Job 4:12-16).  A profound insight came to him in this striking manner.  What was it?  Nobody’s perfect (Job 4:17).  Wow.  We really needed spiritual illumination to know that.

In Eliphaz’s mind, that glib moralism explains Job’s sufferings.  It gives Eliphaz, he feels, authority to needle Job, to go on and on about how Job should repent and if only he would own up everything would get better, etc.

But more, his simplistic outlook casts a shadow on God: “Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error” (Job 4:18).  In other words, God is the ultimate Fault-Finder.  That is the moral calculus of the universe.

“Nobody’s perfect” is indeed true, but not profound, nor even relevant in Job’s case (Job 1:1, 8).  It does, however, surround Job with an aura of suspicion in the eyes of others.  There is a social dimension to suffering, as friends gather around to insinuate their well-meaning but misplaced criticisms.  Inevitably, a mentality of judgment projects its darkness even onto God himself.  God saw it that way (Job 42:7).

Wisdom, by contrast, makes us suspicious of our own suspicions, critical of our own criticisms.  Wisdom stops, rather than spreads, a spirit of accusation.  Wisdom gives the benefit of the doubt.  Wisdom, like love, “believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), filling in every blank with positive assumptions.

God does sit in judgment over us all — with perfect wisdom, for the sake of Jesus Christ his Son, the Friend of sufferers, the Accused in their place.

Our part?  “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent” (Proverbs 11:12).  And, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What "union with Christ" means in experience

So near, so very near to God
Nearer I could not be
For in the person of his Son
I’m just as near as he.

So dear, so very dear to God
Dearer I could not be
The love wherewith he loved his Son
Is the love he has for me!

-- a poem quoted by Ray Ortlund, Jr. in a tribute he wrote to his father

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What matters most in a preacher?

"If the pulpit be declining in power, it is due in a great measure to the men who mistake error for freshness, self-conceit for culture, and a determination to go astray for nobility of mind. So far from despising brethren of small literary accomplishments who excel in spiritual power and life, it is our duty to have them in abundant honour, to cheer them under their difficulties, and imitate them in their industrious use of their few talents. They can arouse a conscience though they cannot elucidate a problem; they can stir the affections, though they cannot revel in poetic imagery; they can reclaim sinners, though they cannot mystify with subtleties."

-- Charles Spurgeon

(See the rest of this message here.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What should we expect in our daily walk with God?

In this first post, Justin Taylor introduces teaching from Greg Koukl that examines the idea "that a true relationship of intimacy with God requires ongoing private and personal revelations as a normative part of the Christian life."

In this second post, John Koessler discusses a related concern, the possibility of disappointment when it comes to our expectations of 'intimacy with God.'

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Justification: Declared Righteous...

"This is the scandal of justification: How can God declare us righteous if we are not inherently righteous? Isn’t this a legal fiction? Doesn’t it make God a liar? But that’s like thinking that God cannot say, ‘Let there be light’ unless there is already a sun to give it. God himself creates the conditions necessary for the existence of his work. When he says, ‘Let there be light!’ the sun exists. When he says, ‘Let this ungodly person be righteous,’ ‘this barren woman be pregnant,’ ‘this faithless person embrace my Word,’ it is so.

"When we really understand justification, we really understand how God works with us in every aspect of our lives before him. Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world. He did gain the everlasting inheritance by obedience to everything God commanded, driven by the purpose of fulfilling the law for us, in perfect love of God and neighbor, and he bore its judgments against us. His resurrection guarantees that the law of sin and death does not have the last word over us. He fulfilled the original purpose and commission for human existence, glorifying and enjoying his Father to the fullest. And he did this as our covenantal head, our representative, not simply as a moral example. Just as we were ‘in Adam’ at the fall, we were legally included ‘in Christ’ as he fulfilled all righteousness, bore our sins, and rose from the dead in victory."

— Michael Horton
The Gospel-Driven Life
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Books, 2009), 141-142

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Why We'd Be in a Miserable World Without Religion"

Go here for an interview with King’s College President Dinesh D’Souza: why he’ll argue against the motion, “The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion,” at the Nov. 15 Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Baptism is for believers

Justin Taylor has a very helpful interview with Stephen Wellum, summarizing the case for believer's baptism.
Here is the introduction to the blog post:

Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). His essay “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants” (available in PDF online for free) is, in my mind, one of the most helpful pieces showing what the differences between the old and new covenants demonstrate the necessity of credobaptism over and against paeodobaptism. (The chapter is part of a larger collection of essays, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, ed. Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright.) He is also the co-author, with Peter Gentry of the forthcoming book Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (forthcoming June 2012), a massive exegetical and biblical-theological look at all of the biblical covenants.....