Monday, December 31, 2012

"Joyful Tidings"

“‘Evangelion’ (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word, and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy.”

-- William Tyndale, quoted in Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Edinburgh, 2000), page 1.

"Today some of us are preaching the gospel.  May we announce to the people one utterance, at least just one, that has the power to make a reasonable, thoughtful, respectable adult want to stand up and shout for joy.  Not that they will.  But they should be thinking, “Hold on here, buddy.  I know how you feel, but don’t let this joy carry you away.”  And if we never say anything that makes that impact on a reasonable adult, are we preaching the gospel?

"Let’s preach to sinners the news so good that we ourselves must struggle against the magnitude of its joy."

-- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Spirit Works through the Word

“Spiritual experience that does not arise from God’s word is not Christian experience. . . . Not all that passes for Christian experience is genuine. An authentic experience of the Spirit is an experience in response to the gospel. Through the Spirit the truth touches our hearts, and that truth moves our emotions and effects our wills.”

- Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, Ill.; Crossway Books, 2008), 31.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Convicted by mercy

"Repentance out of mere fear is really sorrow for the consequences of sin, sorrow over the danger of sin — it bends the will away from sin, but the heart still clings. But repentance out of conviction over mercy is really sorrow over sin, sorrow over the grievousness of sin — it melts the heart away from sin. It makes the sin itself disgusting to us, so it loses its attractive power over us. We say, ‘This disgusting thing is an affront to the one who died for me. I’m continuing to stab him with it!’"

— Tim Keller
Church Planter Manual

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The relief of poverty, hunger and injustice

"God created both soul and body, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both the spiritual and the material. Therefore God is concerned not only for the salvation of souls but also for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice.

"The gospel opens our eyes to the fact that all our wealth (even wealth for which we worked hard) is ultimately an unmerited gift from God. Therefore the person who does not generously give away his or her wealth to others is not merely lacking in compassion, but is unjust.

"Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth through giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost. We cannot look at the poor and the oppressed and callously call them to pull themselves out of their own difficulty. Jesus did not treat us that way."

— The Gospel Coalition
"Theological Vision for Ministry"

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Christmas Is for Those Who Hate It 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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Let us treat men as men and God as God...."

I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; and forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor? (Isaiah 51:12-13)

"Let the text itself be taken as the portion for today. There is no need to enlarge upon it. Trembling one, read it, believe it, feed on it, and plead it before the Lord. He whom you fear is only a man after all; while He who promises to comfort you is God, your Maker, and the creator of heaven and earth. Infinite comfort more than covers a very limited danger.

"Where is the fury of the oppressor?" It is in the Lord's hand. It is only the fury of a dying creature; fury which will end as soon as the breath is gone from the nostril. Why, then, should we stand in awe of one who is as frail as ourselves? Let us not dishonor our God by making a god of puny man. We can make an idol of a man by rendering to him excessive fear as well as by paying him inordinate love. Let us treat men as men, and God as God; and then we shall go calmly on in the path of duty, fearing the Lord and fearing nobody else."

-- Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Let's Re-think Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs"

-- from Russell Moore:

"Sometimes I learn a lot from conversations I was never intended to hear. This happened the other day as I was stopping by my local community bookstore. It’s a small store, and a quiet store so it was impossible not to eavesdrop as I heard a young man tell his friend how much he hated Christmas. And, you know what, the more he talked, the more I understood his point.

"This man wasn’t talking about the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or about the stresses of family meals or all the things people tend to complain about. What he hated was the music.

"This guy started by lampooning Sting’s Christmas album, and I found myself smiling as I browsed because he is so right; it’s awful. But then he went on to say that he hated Christmas music across the board. That’s when I started to feel as though I might be in the presence of the Grinch. You know, when every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing; they’d stand hand-in-hand. And the Who’s would start singing. The sour old green villain didn’t like that.

"But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.

"'Christmas is boring because there’s no narrative tension,' he said. 'It’s like reading a book with no conflict.'

"Now he had my attention.

"I’m sure this man had thought this for a long time, but maybe he felt freer to say it because we were only hours out from hearing the horrifying news of a massacre of innocent children in Connecticut. For him, the tranquil lyrics of our Christmas songs couldn’t encompass such terror. Maybe we should think about that.

"Of course, some of the blame is on our sentimentalized Christmas of the American civil religion. Simeon the prophet never wished anyone a “holly-jolly Christmas” or envisioned anything about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But there’s our songs too, the songs of the church. We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the, as this fellow would put it, “narrative tension” of the Christmas story.

"The first Christmas carol, after all, was a war hymn. Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ he had demonstrated his power and “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk. 1:52). There are some villains in mind there.

Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself. Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare. After all, the light, the Bible tells us, overcomes the darkness (Jn. 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Cor. 4).

"In a time of obvious tragedy, the unbearable lightness of Christmas seems absurd to the watching world. But, even in the best of times, we all know that we live in a groaning universe, a world of divorce courts and cancer cells and concentration camps. Just as we sing with joy about the coming of the Promised One, we ought also to sing with groaning that he is not back yet (Rom. 8:23), sometimes with groanings too deep for lyrics.

"The man in the bookstore knew that reality is complicated. There’s grit, and there’s tension. Without it, Christmas didn’t seem real to life. It’s hard to get more tense than being born under a king’s death sentence (Matt. 2:16), and with an ancient dragon crouching at the birth canal to devour you (Rev. 12:4). But this man didn’t hear any of that in Christmas. I’m glad I overheard him.

"We have a rich and complicated and often appropriately dark Christmas hymnody. We can sing of blessings flowing “far as the curse is found,” of the one who came to “free us all from Satan’s power.”

"Let’s sing that, every now and then, where we can be overheard."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Bow Low Before Baby Jesus"

A good essay from David Shrock ends like this:  "...May we not fawn over him with mere sentimentality this Christmas, but bow low and adore him as our Savior and King."

Read the entire essay here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Our Merciful High Priest

"Trained, too, by a protracted discipline in the school of affliction, He knows the temptations of our race--He knows what it is to weep, He knows the burden of a heavy heart. It was, perhaps, one design of the varied scenes of trial through which He passed to give Him that experience of our state which should call into the liveliest exercise the exquisite sympathy of His soul. In generous natures common troubles and afflictions have a tendency to knit them together; it is only where the heart has been seared by sin and immersed in selfishness that it can look with indifference upon struggles of others similar to those through which it has passed. The Apostle assures us that Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest. And those who have felt His presence in their trials can appreciate the priceless value of His sympathy. He has gone before us through every path of sorrow, and we cannot utter a groan nor heave a sigh which does not go to His heart. His pity for the guilty is as tender as His sympathy with the saints." -- James Henley Thornwell

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Scandal, Shame and Shock at Christmas"

From "Christmas Uncut," a short evangelistic book presenting the heart of the gospel message from the Christmas narratives, for churches and Christians to give away to non-believing visitors and friends.


It's the height of ambition for most 5-year-old girls---and often their mothers, too. But in every school and church, only one girl each year can reach the dizzying height of being Mary in the nativity play.

Yet in a way, it's not such a prized role at all. In fact, it's quite strange that parents want their daughters to be Mary. We're essentially dreaming that our child will play a teenage mum who got herself pregnant in a very suspicious way, and whose life nearly fell apart because of it. Because that's what happened to the real Mary.

A nativity play begins with smiles and carols. The real Christmas began with scandal, shame, and shock.


Here's the scandal. Mary was a normal girl living in a nothing town called Nazareth, in the north of Israel. She was probably 14 or 15---and (as was normal in that society) engaged to be married. But, before Joseph had touched her, she fell pregnant.

Today, that might prompt a bit of gossip, nothing more. Then, it was hugely scandalous. They took marriage seriously in Israel---so seriously that adultery could get you stoned to death.

And that's what Mary faced. Not just dirty looks and cutting comments from other women, but a lifetime of struggle and loneliness, and the real possibility of death. But they don't mention those things in nativity plays.


Here's the shame. Imagine being Joseph. Everyone would know that Mary so hated the thought of being with you that she'd decided to go elsewhere. There aren't many things more humiliating than your girl sleeping around; and that's what the neighbors would assume Mary had done. It's amazing that Joseph was prepared to split up quietly, rather than letting everyone know what Mary did. It's even more amazing that he ended up sticking by her.

They don't mention those things in nativity plays, either.


And here's the shock. All this was God's doing.

I don't know how you imagine God, if you do at all. Maybe some old guy sitting up in the sky? Maybe some amazingly powerful force who quite frankly has more interesting things to do than care about our little lives? Maybe some distant being who really has no idea what life is actually like here on planet earth?

But here's the God of the Bible. He's a God who gets involved. Who turns lives upside down. Who doesn't act as we might expect.

He's a God who came and lived on earth, as a human.

That's the big shock. Not that a teenage girl got pregnant, and the father wasn't her boyfriend. Not that a young guy decided to stick by his girl, even though he wasn't the father.

No---the shock is that the baby "will be called the Son of God."

Who Is God?

This baby was God coming to live in human history. This baby would be human (Mary was his mother); but he would also be God. He was God's Son, who had existed with God the Father (whom we normally just call God) and God the Holy Spirit since before the creation of the world, since eternity.

And so here's a glimpse of who God is. He's Father, Son, and Spirit. He's existed as this three-in-one God, in perfect love and relationship within himself, for eternity.

That sounds quite strange. And it is! But it's also exciting. Because if this God is all about love and relationships, then the universe he's made will be about love and relationships too. It's not about power, or possessions, or just pointlessness. The God of love and relationship has made us to enjoy a life of love that lasts and of relationships that work.

That's a God worth knowing. And that's the God who was going to be born to Mary; God the Son come to live on earth.


I don't know about you, but I struggle to get my head around that news. The God of eternity, who knows and controls everything, becoming a baby who needs changing, feeding, burping. My mind can't work that out!

But then, there are lots of things that overload my brain---like the fact that light can travel from here to the sun in 8.3 minutes. That's a speed of 186,000 miles per second. My mind can't really understand how something can travel so fast (science was never my strongest subject at school). Yet I know it does travel at that speed.

We'll never understand how God could travel so far---from his throne in heaven to the womb of a woman in Israel. But he did. The angel said that this baby "will be called the Son of God." God came to earth, as one of us, to live in the world he created.

So what will God as a human be like? What does he want to tell us? What has he come to do?

At this point, Mary could only have had only a vague idea. But the night he was born, things would start to become clearer . . .

From The Gospel Coalition Website

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Infinite..and an Infant

"I do believe that the very angels have never wondered but once and that has been incessantly ever since they first beheld it. They never cease to tell the astonishing story, and to tell it with increasing astonishment too, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and became a man. Is he not rightly called Wonderful? Infinite, and an infant — eternal, and yet born of a woman — Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast supporting the universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms — king of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph — heir of all things and yet the carpenter’s despised son. Wonderful art thou O Jesus, and that shall be thy name for ever."

— Charles Spurgeon
"His Name - Wonderful!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Who in his right mind would believe......?

“. . . that God could become a Man in a particular place and at a particular time, . . . could be nailed to a cross and left to die, only to rise from the dead and . . . disappear into heaven, there to watch over mankind forevermore.  Who in his right mind could believe such a story?  Well, to begin with, all those who have believed it.  That is to say, the greatest artists, mystics, sculptors, saints, builders – for instance, builders of the great medieval cathedrals – over the Christian centuries, not to mention the Christians of all sorts and conditions whose lives, generation after generation, have been irradiated, given a meaning and a direction, through the great drama of the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.”

-- Malcolm Muggeridge, Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim (San Francisco, 1988), pages 65-66.
HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The choice between God and idolatry

"One has only the choice between God and idolatry....  If one denies is worshiping some things of this world in the belief that one sees them only as such, but in fact, though unknown to oneself imagining the attributes of Divinity in them."

-- Simone Weil (quoted by Tim Keller in "The Reason for God," p. 166)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Hope of Heaven

“It has pleased our Father to open his counsel and to let us know the very intent of his heart and to acquaint us with the eternal extent of his love; and all this, that our joy may be full and we might live as the heirs of such a kingdom [of heaven].  And shall we now overlook all this, as if he had revealed no such matter?  Shall we live in earthly cares and sorrows, as if we knew of no such thing?  And rejoice no more in these discoveries than if the Lord had never written it?  If your prince had promised you some lordship, how often would you be casting your eye upon it and making your daily delight to study it, until you come to possess that dignity itself.  And has God promised you heaven, and do you let it lie there, as if you had forgotten it?  Oh, that our hearts were as high as our hopes, and our hopes as high as these infallible promises!”

-- Richard Baxter, Practical Works (London, 1838), III:276.  Style updated.
HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

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!

Friday, December 7, 2012

What does it mean 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)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What is true repentance?

Q.  What is repentance unto life?

A.  Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, #87.

(from Ray Ortlund, Jr.)...  Two observations:

One, the motive for repentance is not only sorrow for sin but also a sense of the mercy of God in Christ.  We have zero motivation to repent, unless we see the mercy of God awaiting us.  Not the slap of God, but the embrace of God.  Repentance is not just turning from sin, not even that primarily.  Repentance is primarily turning to God, moment by moment, because he has promised his mercy to the penitent.

Two, the outcome of repentance is not a restored status quo, getting back to “normal,” getting back to where we were before we sinned, evading the consequences of sin.  The outcome of true repentance is new obedience, unprecedented obedience, perhaps unheard-of obedience.  Newness of life.

True repentance is hope-inspired and newness-creating.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pastors, Sheep and Goats

"The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let the goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness".

- William Still, "The Work of the Pastor", p. 23

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Come to Christ Himself"

via Ray Ortlund, Jr.

“He that . . . wants relief must come to Christ himself.  He must not be content with coming to His Church and His ordinances or to the assemblies of His people for prayer and praise.  He must not stop short even at His holy table or rest satisfied with privately opening his heart to His ordained ministers.  Oh no! . . . He must go higher, further, much further than this.  He must have personal dealings with Christ Himself.  All else in religion is worthless without Him.  The King’s palace, the attendant servants, the richly furnished banqueting house, the very banquet itself — all are nothing, unless we speak with the King.  His hand alone can take the burden off our backs and make us feel free. . . . We must deal directly with Christ.”

J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Old Tappan, n.d.), pages 266-267.

"If we go to church just to be with one another, one another is all we will get.  And it isn’t enough.  Eventually, our deepest unmet needs will explode in anger at one another.  Putting community first destroys community.  We must put Christ himself first and keep him first and treat him as first and come to him first and again and again.  He can heal as no other can.  Can, and will.  If we come to him."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Heroes of Faith

"Men dream that heroes are only to be made on special occasions, once or twice in a century; but in truth the finest heroes are home-spun, and are more often hidden in obscurity than platformed by public observation. Trust in the living God is the bullion out of which heroism is coined. Perseverance in well-doing is one of the fields in which faith grows not flowers, but the wheat of her harvest. Plodding on in hard work, bringing up a family on a few shillings a week, bearing constant pain with patience, and so forth - these are the feats of valour through which God is glorified by the rank and file of His believing people...we will not pine to be great, but we will be eager to be good. For this we will rely upon the Lord our God, whose we are, and whom we serve." - Charles H. Spurgeon, "Around The Wicket Gate"

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Spirit and the Word

"There is no deeper revelation of the Spirit beyond the revelation of the Bible. The authentic work of the Spirit is seen, not when people get excited by some new message or miracle, but rather when their eyes are opened and their hearts are filled with an ever-deepening appreciation of the Bible's teaching about what God has done for them in Christ and a growing longing to live in light of all they have received from him."

-- Vaughan Roberts. Authentic Church: True Spirituality in a Culture of Counterfeits. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011