Monday, September 30, 2013

An Anatomy of the Soul

“I call the Psalms the anatomy of all parts of the soul, for not an affection will anyone find in himself, an image of which is not reflected in this mirror.” -- John Calvin

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Man's Chief Desire?

"Freud said man's chief desire is pleasure. Frankl said man desires meaning, and distracts himself with pleasure when empty. I like Frankl."  --  Donald Miller

Friday, September 27, 2013

Six Benefits of Ordinary Devotions

from Jon Bloom:

Private devotions aren’t magic. We know that (for the most part).

But still, we can be tempted to think that if we just figure out the secret formula — the right mixture of Bible meditation and prayer — we will experience euphoric moments of rapturous communion with the Lord. And if that doesn’t happen, our formula must be wrong.

The danger of this misconception is that it can produce chronic disappointment and discouragement. Cynicism sets in and we give up or whip through them to alleviate guilt because devotions don’t seem to work for us.

Our longing for intimate communion with God is God-given. It’s a good thing to desire, ask for, and pursue. The Spirit does give us wonderful occasional tastes. And this longing will be satisfied to overflowing some day (Psalm 16:11).

But God has other purposes for us in the discipline of daily Bible meditation and prayer. Here are a few:

1.  Soul Exercise (1 Corinthians 9:24, Romans 15:4): We exercise our bodies to increase strength, endurance, promote general health, and keep unnecessary weight off. Devotions are like exercise for our souls. They force our attention off of self-indulgent distractions and pursuits and on to God’s purposes and promises. If we neglect this exercise our souls will go to pot.

2.  Soul Shaping (Romans 12:2): The body will generally take the shape of how we exercise it. Running shapes one way, weight training shapes another way. The same is true for the soul. It will conform to how we exercise (or don’t exercise) it. This is why changing your exercise routine can be helpful. Read through the Bible one year, camp in a book and memorize it another year, take a few months to meditate on and pray through texts related to an area of special concern, etc.

3.  Bible Copiousness (Psalm 119:11, Psalm 119:97, Proverbs 23:12): A thorough, repeated, soaking in the Bible over the course of years increases our overall Biblical knowledge, providing fuel for the fire of worship and increasing our ability to draw from all parts of the Bible in applying God’s wisdom to life.

4.  Fight Training (Ephesians 6:10–17): Marines undergo rigorous training in order to so ingrain their weapons knowledge that when suddenly faced with the chaos of combat they instinctively know how to handle their weapons. Similarly, daily handling and using the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) makes us more skilled spiritual warriors.

5.  Sight Training (2 Corinthians 5:7, 2 Corinthians 4:18): Jesus really does want us to see and savor him. Savoring comes through seeing. But only the eyes of faith see him. “Blind faith” is a contradiction, at least biblically. Faith is not blind. Unbelief is blind (John 9:38–41). Faith is seeing a reality that physical eyes can’t see and believing it (1 Peter 1:8). And “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So if we’re going to savor Jesus, we must see him in the word he speaks. Faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). And like most of God’s gifts, they are intended to be cultivated. Daily devotions are an important way to train our faith-eyes to see the glory of Jesus in his word and training our emotions to respond to what our faith-eyes see. Keep looking for glory. Jesus will give you Emmaus moments (Luke 24:31–32).
6  .Delight Cultivation (Psalm 37:3–4, James 4:8, Psalm 130:5): When a couple falls in love there are hormonal fireworks. But when married they must cultivate delight in one another. It is the consistent, persistent, faithful, intentional, affectionate pursuit of one another during better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health that cultivates a capacity for delight in each other far deeper and richer than the fireworks phase. Similarly, devotions are one of the ways we cultivate delight in God. Many days it may seem mundane. But we will be surprised at the cumulative power they have to deepen our love for and awareness of him.

There are many more benefits. You could certainly add to this list. But the bottom line is this: don’t give up on daily devotions. Don’t whip through them. Don’t let them get crowded out by other demands.

Brick upon brick a building is built. Lesson upon lesson a degree is earned. Stroke upon stroke a painting is created. Your devotions may have seemed ordinary today, but God is making something extraordinary through it. Press on. Don’t short-change the process.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What we think about God...

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us … man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” -- A.W. Tozer

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Decline of Language and Reason

"One of the more subtle, yet drastic upheavals of our time is the way some special interest groups have illogically fought for certain positions by cleverly redefining words and prostituting ideas. As a sloganeering culture, we have unblushingly trivialized the serious and exalted the trivial because we have bypassed the rudimentary and necessary steps of logical argument. Reality can be lost when reason and language have been violated." ~ Ravi Zacharias.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Our Faith Is a Person

“Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person. If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’ ‘But what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.’ ‘But what is your practice?’ ‘There stands our practice. He is our example.’ ‘What then do you believe?’ Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’ Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus.”

-- C. H. Spurgeon, in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859 (London, 1859), pages 159-160.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grad School for Angels

"As the gospel spreads throughout the world, this new and variegated Christian community develops. It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places [Eph. 3:10]. We are to think of them as spectators of the drama of salvation. Thus ‘the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels.’"

— John Stott
The Message of Ephesians
(Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 123-124

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Our Response to Satan's Accusations"

"Satan accuses Christians day and night. It is not just that he will work on our conscience to make us feel as dirty, guilty, defeated, destroyed, weak, and ugly as he possibly can; it is something worse: his entire play in the past is to accuse us before God day and night, bringing charges against us that we know we can never answer before the majesty of God’s holiness.

"What can we say in response? Will our defense be, ‘Oh, I’m not that bad?’ You will never beat Satan that way. Never. What you must say is, ‘Satan, I’m even worse than you think, but God loves me anyway. He has accepted me because of the blood of the Lamb.’"

— D. A. Carson
Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus

HT:  Of First Importance

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Inherent Contradiction of Being an Angry Calvinist

“They who avow the doctrines distinguished by the name of Calvinistic, ought, if consistent with their own principles, to be most gentle and forbearing of all men, in meekness instructing them that oppose.  With us, it is a fundamental maxim, that a man can receive nothing but what is given him from heaven (John 3:27).  If, therefore, it has pleased God to give us the knowledge of some truths, which are hidden from others, who have the same outward means of information; it is a just reason for thankfulness to him, but will not justify our being angry with them; for we are no better or wiser than they in ourselves, and might have opposed the truths which we now prize, with the same eagerness and obstinacy, if his grace had not made us to differ.  If the man, mentioned in John 9, who was born blind, on whom our Lord graciously bestowed the blessing of sight, had taken a cudgel and beat all the blind men he met, because they would not see, his conduct would have greatly resembled that of an angry Calvinist.”

-- John Newton, "Memoirs of the Life of the Late William Grimshaw" (London, 1825), page 67.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Transforming Grace

“God will take you where you haven’t intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own. You know what the Bible calls that? Grace. I think there are moments when we’re going through difficulty and we’re crying out, “Where is the grace of God?!” and we’re getting it. No, it’s not the grace of relief and it’s not the grace of release. Yes, we get those in pieces but largely those are to come. It’s the grace right now that we need, the grace of personal transformation, the grace of personal refinement.”

---Paul David Tripp

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why We Gather (for Worship)

"Corporate worship is designed to reclaim your wandering heart once again so that love for God is the ruling motive of all that you do." - Paul Tripp

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Holy Optimism

"As we march forward into the days that are before us, the worst thing that we can possibly do in changing times is to come with a sour and dour and gloomy pessimism about the culture around us. We cannot stand and speak, 'You kids get off my lawn.' The word that Jesus has given to His church is a word that is filled with optimism and joy. We are not slouching toward Gomorrah, we are marching to Zion."

-- Russell D. Moore

"A Prophetic Minority: Kingdom, Culture, and Mission in a New Era"

This is a wisely written, winsomely expressed statement about the Church's authentic mission in the culture, from Russell D. Moore.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"The Gospel and Godliness"

Here is the opening paragraph of Joe Thorn's excellent essay:

If the gospel you believe does not include obedience as a fruit of faith then it is short-sighted and you will end up spiritually crashing into a wall. Certainly, we need to be exceedingly careful to make clear that our hope and confidence before God, and His righteous judgment, is singularly on the basis of the merit and mercy of Jesus. He has fulfilled the law in His active obedience and satisfied the wrath of God through His atoning death on the cross. Salvation is by grace alone, and is received by faith alone. As J.I. Packer wrote, "there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners."1 This is the heart of the gospel. If we lose this truth we die. But the heart of the gospel beats and carries the blood to the rest of our body, giving strength and movement to the muscles of godliness.....

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Strengthened by His Grace

"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 2:1

“First, then, there is a call to be strong.  Timothy was weak; Timothy was timid.  Yet he was called to a position of leadership in the church – and in an area in which Paul’s authority was rejected.   It is as if Paul said to him, ‘Listen Timothy, never mind what other people say, never mind what other people think, never mind what other people do; you are to be strong.  Never mind how shy you feel, never mind how weak you feel; you are to be strong.’  That is the first thing.

Second, you are to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  If the exhortation had simply been ‘be strong,’ it would have been absurd indeed.  You might as well tell a snail to be quick or a horse to fly as to tell a weak man to be strong or a shy man to be brave.  But Paul’s calling Timothy to fortitude is a Christian and not a stoical exhortation.  Timothy was not to be strong in himself.  He was not just to grit his teeth and clench his fists and set his jaw.  No, he was, as the Greek literally means, to be strengthened with the grace that is in Christ Jesus, to find his resources for Christian service not in his own nature but in the grace of Jesus Christ.”

-- John Stott, Urbana 1967.  Italics original.

The grace of Christ is not an excuse for weakness; he is an endless resource for strength. -- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

J.I. Packer on Fyodor Dostoyevsky

J. I. Packer:

Dostoyevsky is to me both the greatest novelist, as such, and the greatest Christian storyteller, in particular, of all time. His plots and characters pinpoint the sublimity, perversity, meanness, and misery of fallen human adulthood in an archetypal way matched only by Aeschylus and Shakespeare, while his dramatic vision of God’s amazing grace and of the agonies, Christ’s and ours, that accompany salvation, has a range and depth that only Dante and Bunyan come anywhere near. . . . [H]is constant theme is the nightmare quality of unredeemed existence and the heartbreaking glory of the incarnation, whereby all human hurts came to find their place in the living and dying of Christ the risen Redeemer.

—The Gospel in Dostoyevsky: Selections from His Works (Orbis, 2004) vii.

Monday, September 9, 2013

His Love for Us Is Relentless

"...the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him."

-- C.S. Lewis ~ Mere Christianity

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Believing Deeply in Your Being Right with God

“Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. . . . In their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification. . . . Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation.  This means that they must be conducted into the light of a full conscious awareness of God’s holiness, the depth of their sin and the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ for their acceptance with God, not just at the outset of their Christian lives but in every succeeding day.”

-- Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, 1979), pages 101-102.  Italics his.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Keeping it real...

"If you claim to be religious but don’t keep a tight rein on your tongue [and, by a natural extension, on your typing fingers in regard to emails, text messages and Facebook posts], you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless." -- James 1:26

Friday, September 6, 2013

"FactChecker: What Is the 'Dark Night of the Soul'?"

-- from Glenn Stanton via the

"My truck won't start, wife ran off with my best buddy, my dog don't love me no more and on top of all that, we just had a nasty church-split. God has me going through a real dark night of the soul!"

Dark night of the soul.

If you've been around the church for any time, you've probably heard people use this phrase to describe substantive black and difficult periods in their lives, typically a bit more trying than the hitches our good ol' boy here is experiencing.

These are times when God seems so far away if not altogether absent and trials of spiritual drought and life problems are one's constant companion. This dark night tests and torments the depths of our soul. You know it when you're in it.

The phrase comes from John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Spanish priest who came to work with Teresa of Avila in her effort to reform the Carmelite Order. He was one of Spain's greatest poets. He addresses this dark night in two major writings, The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night. Both of these books make up two different commentaries on one of his many poems. This piece starts:

One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
My house being now all stilled

But John of the Cross' "dark night" is not what most think it is or how they use it. While it is indeed an experience one goes through, it is not something that happens to us, nor does it refer to the circumstances of life that affect our souls. The "dark night" John is referring to is something a disciple of Christ intentionally enters into, a particular mindful practice of a spiritual discipline.

How does the poet himself describe it? Right out of the gate, in his commentary on the poem, he explains to us:

In this first stanza, the soul speaks of the way it followed in its departure from love of both self and all things. Through a method of true mortification, it died to all things and to itself. It did this so as to reach the sweet and delightful life of love with God. And it declares that this departure was a dark night. As we will explain later, this dark night signifies here purgative contemplation, which passively causes in the soul this negation of self and of all things.

The soul states that it was able to make this escape because of the strength and warmth gained from loving its Bridegroom in the obscuring contemplation. [1]

"Purgative" is a word he uses often through this work, for it speaks of that which is sought and experienced by the disciple who enters this spiritual process. In his usages, the term refers to an emptying. In The Ascent of Mount Carmel, John explains that this process gets its name because, "in . . . them the soul journeys in darkness as though by night."[2]

This process or exercise is largely about what Augustine referred to in his book City of God as ordo amoris: the proper ordering of the loves. To be virtuous, the Christian should make sure that each love in one's soul receives the degree of attention appropriate to it, not more, not less.[3]

John explains,

When the soul reaches the dark night, all these loves are placed in reasonable order. This night strengthens and purifies the love that is of God, and takes away and destroys the other. But in the beginning [due to its soul-testing rigor] it causes the soul to lose sight of both of them.[4]

As serious Christians, we should honor our spiritual forefathers on whose shoulders we stand by speaking correctly and truly of important facets of the various disciplines and spiritualties that many in Christ's Body practice and have practiced for hundreds of years. If we choose to use such terms, let us go to the original source to learn their meaning, rather than from the last person we heard use it. Referencing gems from the wealth of our faith requires more than playing the telephone game. But too often that is precisely what we do.

The sacred history of Christian practice is worth exploring, knowing about, and referencing accurately. But we can and should be more diligent about how we use spiritual and theological language.

[1] St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, (ICS Publication, 1991), translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, p. 360. Book One: Explanation:1,2.

[2] St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, (ICS Publication, 1991), translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, p. 118. Chapter 1:1

[3] St. Augustine, City of God, 15:22.

[4] The Dark Night, 370. Chapter 4:8

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Know All That You Can Know of God's Revealed Truth

"I would have every Christian wish to know all that he can know of revealed truth. Somebody whispers that the secret things belong not to us. You may be sure you will never know them if they are secret; but all that is revealed you ought to know, for these things belong to you and to your children. Take care you know what the Holy Ghost teaches. Do not give way to a faint-hearted ignorance, lest you be great losers thereby."

-- Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Holy Usefulness

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  2 Timothy 2:20-21

“Lord and Master, make us thus fit for that infinitely precious privilege, a state of consecrated readiness for Your holy use.  We are altogether Yours.  Enable us as such so to ‘cleanse ourselves from’ complicity with evil within and without that we, when You require us for Your purposes, may be found by You handy to Your touch, in the place and in the condition in which You can take us up and employ us in whatever way, on the moment, for Yourself.”

-- H. C. G. Moule, The Second Epistle to Timothy (Grand Rapids, 1952), page 97.  Italics original.  Style updated.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When Help Is No Help at All

"It is neither helpful, loving nor wise to do for someone what they ask you to do, if the doing of it, in reality, will do them harm, including the harm of interfering with their doing for themselves what they really ought to do." -- Jonathan G. Sheffield

Where All of History Is Headed

"The cosmic extent of salvation is seen as the Second Adam offers up to the Father a created order in which He has subdued every enemy (1 Cor. 15:24–26), and there is nothing unclean in the garden over which He rules (Rev. 21:1–8)."

— Russell D. Moore, "The Kingdom of Christ"