Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Everything Comes through Christ Jesus"

"Everything that is coming to us from God comes through Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus has won our pardon; he has reconciled us to God; he has canceled our sin; he has secured the gift of the Spirit for us; he has granted eternal life to us and promises us the life of the consummation; he has made us children of the new covenant; his righteousness has been accounted as ours; he has risen from the dead, and all of God’s sovereignty is mediated through him and directed to our good and to God’s glory."
— D. A. CarsonA Call to Spiritual Reformation

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

When Christ is at the center...

"Ironically, when we live as if our personal story is at the center of our universe, we struggle to find meaning and significance. But when Christ is at the center and we are pushed to the periphery, it is then — in that place of seeming obscurity and insignificance — that we find true worth and value, by giving glory to the crucified and risen King with whom we can become united through faith. "

— Trevin WaxCounterfeit Gospels

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I am early in my story....

‎"I am early in my story, but I believe I will stretch out into eternity, and in heaven I will reflect upon these early days, these days when it seemed God was down a dirt road walking toward me. Years ago he was a swinging speck in the distance; now He is close enough I can hear His singing. Soon I will see the lines on His face." - Donald Miller

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Feast, Christian, Feast....God is 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, Jr.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Savior, who is Christ the Lord

“…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2:11)

Jesus is Lord and Messiah (King) and Savior – we need him to be all of these for us.  We need a Savior from the guilt and penalty of our sin.  We need forgiveness.

But more and more I’ve come to realize that, every bit as much, we need Him to be our King and Lord.  We are just no good at governing our own lives.  We keep choosing the way that seems right to us, but again and again it turns out to be a self-destructive choice (Prov. 14:12).  We just haven’t figured out the way to peace (shalom, flourishing, the way things are supposed to be, Rom. 3:17).

So one of the key ways that Jesus saves us is by ‘lording it over us’.  The only way to find ‘rest for our souls’ is to ‘take his yoke’ (that is, his authoritative teaching) and ‘learn from him’ – for his yoke, compared to the one we’ve been wearing, is ‘easy’ and his burden, compared to the one we’ve been carrying, is ‘light’.  (Matt. 11:28-30).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Glory of Christ is God's Chief End

Puritan Thomas Goodwin [writes]: God’s “chief end was not to bring Christ into the world for us, but us for Christ . . . and God contrived all things that do fall out, and even redemption itself, for the setting forth of Christ’s glory.”

Mark Jones spells out so helpfully what it means that Jesus is not just Lord and Savior, but also Treasure:  The glory of Christ is not an appendix . . . . As it is the culmination of all we can say about his person and work, so his glory provides the most basic reason for saying it, in that it is the basis for and the fullness of our eternal enjoyment of him . . . . we are not speaking the whole truth if we make Christ’s personal glory subservient to our salvation."

"This child of Christmas is more than Lord. He is even more than Savior. He is our great Treasure, and in “our eternal enjoyment of him” is his glory and the end for which God created the world. Christmas is not finally about his birth for our salvation, but our existence for his glory."

-- from David Mathis at Desiring God

It Is More Blessed to Give

“Remember that we have been taught, ‘It is more blessed to give, than to receive…..’ To give your time, to give your attention, to give your practical help, to give the benefit of the doubt, to give someone another chance, to give grace and forgiveness, realizing how desperately you have needed, and still need, both -- from God and from others -- yourself.” – Jon G. Baldwin

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – Colossians 3:12-14

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Atheism, Evidence and Philosophy

"God never wrought miracle, to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." -- Francis Bacon, "Of Atheism," The Essays

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jesus is the Fulfillment and the Fulfiller

“The Old Testament is an incomplete book; it is revelation developing towards a climax.  There is the constant prediction of a ‘day of the Lord,’ a consummation, a unique revelation of the power and glory of God. . . . This hope is expressed in terms of the past, yet exceeds anything experienced in the past.

"There is to be a new David, but a greater than David; a new Moses but a greater than Moses; a new Elijah or Melchizedek, but one greater than those who stand out from the pages of the old records.
"There is to be a greater and more wonderful tabernacling of God, as his presence comes to dwell in a new temple.  There is to be a new creation, a new Israel, redeemed, revived, a people made up of those to whom a new heart and a new spirit are given that they may love and obey their Lord.

"Old Testament prophecy . . . needed only the coming of the One in whom all the prophecies of the Old Testament would be fulfilled, in whom all those themes of hope in the Old Testament would be gathered up and realized, the Fulfillment and the Fulfiller. . . .”

-- Francis Foulkes, “The Acts of God,” in G. K. Beale, editor, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? (Grand Rapids, 1994), pages 364-365.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It's OK to be ordinary....

"...for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." (George Eliot)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

C.S. Lewis: the Most Reluctant Convert

C.S. Lewis describes his own conversion in his book, "Surprised by Joy":

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him of whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 [May 22] I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.

"I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? … The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compassion is our liberation."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Soul Rest?

Why would we ever think that we could experience the promised 'rest for our souls' unless we have 'taken up the easy yoke,' and are habitually learning to live by the teaching of Jesus our Lord? (Matt. 11:28-30)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Exacting Boss or Loving Father

"How can the inner workings of the heart be changed from a dynamic of fear and anger to that of love, joy, and gratitude? Here is how. You need to be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring you home. The key difference between a Pharisee and a believer in Jesus is inner-heart motivation. Pharisees are being good but out of a fear-fueled need to control God. They don’t really trust him or love him. To them God is an exacting boss, not a loving father. Christians have seen something that has transformed their hearts toward God so they can finally love and rest in the Father."

— Tim Keller
The Prodigal God

A worthwhile reminder....

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

—William Shakespeare, "Hamlet"

Friday, December 12, 2014

"Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?"

from Charles Spurgeon:

An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.

From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). That is clear enough. So it would have been if He had added, "and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel." No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him.

Then again, "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers ... , for the work of the ministry" (Eph. 4:11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.

Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the church to the world? "Ye are the salt" (Matt. 5:13), not the sugar candy—something the world will spit out not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, "Let the dead bury their dead" (Matt. 8:22) He was in awful earnestness.

Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his mission, he would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear him say, "Run after these people Peter and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick Peter, we must get the people somehow." Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.

In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of this gospel of amusement! Their message is, "Come out, keep out, keep clean out!" Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.

After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the church had a prayer meeting but they did not pray, "Lord grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are." If they ceased not from preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). That is the only difference! Lord, clear the church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods.

-- Charles H. Spurgeon

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christ the Divider

Matthew 2:3 "When King Herod heard this [about the birth of Jesus] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."

“Christ is the peace of the righteous, the trouble of the wicked.” (P. Quesnel)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Romantic Love Is Not Enough"

"I love my wife. She’s a remarkable, godly, and wonderful woman. I am thrilled to be married to her and to have spent these last ten years growing together. To expect her to meet all of my relational needs, however, would be incredibly unfair to her. Romantic love is a wonderful gift from God, but all of our relational needs cannot be met in one relationship. We need more than romantic love to be happy.

There are loads of clichés about love. “Love is all we need." "I married my best friend.” Songs invite couples into an “us against the world” mentality. But these clichés are misleading and will ultimately damage relationships. Romantic love serves a wonderful purpose, but it cannot do more than it was designed to do. It cannot replace the important role of other friendships...."

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Freedom of Religion and Secular Humanism

One of the most damaging and far-reaching mis-beliefs that is confusing the current 'conversation' on crucial ethical issues today is the idea that 'secular humanism' ought to be the default position -- and then perhaps some extra accommodations should be tacked on to legislation for 'those who are religious.'

But even though secular humanism as a belief system typically lacks a deity, it is still, for the purposes of our national conversations, an all-encompassing 'world-view' that speaks to the issues of ethics (what is right and wrong...what people, or the government, OUGHT or ought not do). It is just at this point that we need to recognize that, in this sense, secular humanism, as a comprehensive system of beliefs, should not be advantaged or favored by governmental legislation or policy, to the detriment of those whose comprehensive belief system does include God.

The U.S. Constitution is concerned to preserve freedom in the practice of one's religion (not merely a private activity of worshiping), and for that there must be a true and thorough freedom of conscience. In short, a-theism (belief systems that do not include a deity) is not to be preferred or advantaged by the government to the detriment of theism (belief systems that do include a deity).

It is worth considering too that the Declaration of Independence found the source of inalienable human rights in the endowment of the Creator. If a belief system does not include a Creator, how can it securely maintain inalienable human rights that have their source in Him?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Joy of Jesus

"It cannot be supposed that Jesus prosecuted His work on earth in a state of mental depression. His advent into the world was announced as ‘good tidings of great joy,’ and the tidings which He Himself proclaimed were ‘the good tidings,’ by way of eminence. It is inconceivable that He went about proclaiming them with a sad countenance.… Joy He had; but it was not the shallow joy of mere pagan delight in living, nor the delusive joy of a hope destined to failure; but the deep exultation of a conquerer setting captives free. This joy underlay all His sufferings and shed its light along the whole thorn-beset path which was trodden by His torn feet."

— B. B. Warfield, quoted by Brian S. Borgman in
"Feelings and Faith"
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2009), 154

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Bible and Reality Teach the Same Lesson

Biblical Christianity teaches us that we human beings were created and designed to rightly relate to God, such that, when we don’t, our lives really go hay-wire, so that the only real ‘fix’ for this is to begin to rightly relate to God. At age 54, not only am I more and more sure that this is what the Bible teaches, I’m also more and more certain that this is what life/reality teaches too.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Communion with God -- Essential to Christianity

John Newton, the Puritan writer of the song Amazing Grace, wrote to a friend: "Many . . . who would not flatly contradict the apostle’s testimony in 1 John 1: 3 [i.e., that we should have fellowship with God in the Holy Spirit] attempt to evade its force by restraining it to the primitive times . . . but who can believe that the very nature and design of Christianity should alter in the course of time? And that communion with God, which was essential to it in the apostle’s days, should now be unnecessary?"

--  John Newton, “Letter IV: Communion with God,” in The Letters of John Newton, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1960), 29.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Martin Luther on the Bible and Communion with God

Martin Luther was adamant that we must never get “beyond” God’s words in the Bible or we can’t know whom we are conversing with . “We must first hear the Word, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost works in our hearts; he works in the hearts of whom he will, and how he will, but never without the Word.”

-- Tim Keller, "Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God" (p. 57). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Sense of Deity

'All human beings are made in the “image of God ” (Gen 1: 26– 27). Bearing God’s image means that we are designed to reflect and relate to God. This is why the sixteenth-century Reformer John Calvin wrote of the divinitatis sensum, the sense of deity that all human beings have. “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity,” and therefore “the seed of religion is planted in all.”' [compare Romans 1:19-20]

-- Tim Keller, "Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God" (p. 44)

Sunday, November 30, 2014


“The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.”—G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Radical abandonment to Jesus

"If Jesus is who he says he is, and if his promises are as rewarding as the Bible claims they are, then we may discover that satisfaction in our lives and success in the church are not found in what culture deems most important but in radical abandonment to Jesus."

— David Platt,  "Radical"

Friday, November 28, 2014

Real Friendship

"Everyone says they want community and friendship, but when that means accountability or commitment people run the other way." -- Tim Keller

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"The Healthiest People Are the Ones Who Praise the Most"

They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.Psalm 145:6-7

"Some people are never satisfied. They think others drive too slow and eat too fast. They're convinced government is crooked, the schools are worthless, and the church is full of hypocrites. Something is wrong with every sermon these people hear, every program they see, every dish of food they are willing to try.

"Such people seem to spend the whole of their sour little lives in front of a complaint window. They are like the pessimistic farmer who had six chickens hatch one morning. He was inconsolable. When someone asked him what was wrong, he replied bitterly: 'I had six chickens hatch this morning, and now all of 'em have died but five.'

"Open, grateful human life resounds not with complaints but with praise. The healthiest people are the ones who praise the most. Family, friends, books, sports, music, nature --all these draw praise from healthy people. 'Did you see that? Wasn't it great!' 'Did you hear what he did for her sister? Isn't she a generous person?'

"But Christians reserve their highest praise for the goodness and greatness of God. The psalms ring with it: 'The Lord is great and greatly to be praised! Praise the Lord!' At creation, says the Book of Job, 'the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy.'

"Praise is a way of expressing awe and admiration for the stunning greatness of God and his deeds, and for the ingenious ways in which God keeps fitting his help to our need. Our prayers ought to include some hearty praise. But whether in prayer or other speech, our praise of God may never be glib. Some people say 'Praise the Lord!' with no more reverence than they lavish on 'Have a nice day!'

"Not that. Our praise of God must be both candid and thoughtful. For praise of God is the very music of heaven...."

-- Cornelius Plantinga, "Assurances of the Heart" (pp. 66-67, Zondervan: 1993)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

President George Washington's Thanksgiving 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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What does repentance look like today?

"Repentance is the step-by-step walking out of our redemption, the bit-by-bit turning of our hearts from the corruption of idolatry to the sweetness and rest in treasuring God above all."

-- Mike Wilkerson,  "Redemption"

Grown-up Thinking About What the Bible Teaches

"There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them."

~C S Lewis

Monday, November 24, 2014

Holy Ambition

'No life can surpass that of a man who quietly continues to serve God in the place where providence has placed him.' -C.H. Spurgeon

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Longing for the Kingdom

"For just as spring break is a taste of summer time in the midst of the semester, so also the kingdom of God is present in the midst of history, as we taste of its blessings now, and look forward to the summer time of God’s kingdom when Christ returns, the Holy City the New Jerusalem descends, and the whole creation is restored in new heavens and the new earth. Amen, come Lord Jesus."

— David Naugle
"The Gospel of the Kingdom of God"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Focused Vision of Spiritual Maturity

“I want to see a focused vision of spiritual maturity — the expansion of the soul is the best phrase I can use for it.  That is, a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God’s world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth.”

-- J. I. Packer, quoted in Christianity Today, 6 April 1998, page 40

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Gospel Mystery

“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours.  He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.”

“Learn Christ and him crucified.  Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin.  Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine.  Thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.'”

-- Martin Luther

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The First and Last Adam

'As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face may the last Adam's blood my soul embrace'

-- John Donne

Friday, November 14, 2014

Putting First Things First

"The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.

"It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman— glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

"Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made. . . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first."

-- C.S. Lewis

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Empowered for the Struggle

"Gospel freedom does not mean there is no struggle. It means you engage in a struggle you can win." - D.A. Carson

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelical Christians Can Worship Idols"

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to worship idols. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else – popularity, money, influence, sex, success – in place of God.
That’s just who I am.
For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.
I wanted it to, but it didn’t.
So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that idolatry and Christianity are compatible.
I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I am an evangelical, and I have a very high view of the Bible – I am currently studying for a PhD in biblical studies at King’s College London, which will be my third theology degree – as well as knowing both the ancient languages and the state of scholarly research. Yet, after much prayerful study, I have discovered the liberating truth that it is possible to be an idolatrous Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an idolater.
Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the monolatrous narrative in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness and inclusion towards our idolatrous brothers and sisters.
Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out. Firstly, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament – the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars at the weekend, they indicate that we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.
Secondly, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus-person: one whose life is based on his priorities, not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those people that the (one-God worshipping) religious leaders rejected – and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate, but for those who love Jesus, it should be at the very heart of the discussion.
Jesus had no problem with idolatry.
He included everyone, however many gods they worshipped.
If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach.
We should also remember that, as we have discovered more about the human brain, we have found out all sorts of things about idolatry that the biblical writers simply did not know. The prophets and apostles knew nothing of cortexes and neurons, and had no idea that some people are pre-wired to commit idolatry, so they never talked about it. But as we have learned more about genetics, neural pathways, hormones and so on, we have come to realise that some tendencies - alcoholism, for example - scientifically result from the way we are made, and therefore cannot be the basis for moral disapproval or condemnation. To disregard the findings of science on this point is like continuing to insist that the world is flat.
With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who has sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage”, namely Romans 1, the problem isn’t really idol-worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, is not that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He is talking about people who were naturally worshippers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?
Not only that, but none of his references apply to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities – statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone – and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions. (Some see an exception in the way he talks about coveting as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, but these obviously reflect his desire, as a first century Jew, to honour the Ten Commandments.)
In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he is not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves, and women), and it is about time we recognised that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.
Obviously this is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than the last word on the subject. But I hope you will all search the scriptures, search your hearts, and consider the evidence afresh - and avoid judging those who disagree in the meantime! Maybe, just maybe, we can make space in the church for those who, like me, have spent a lifetime wrestling with the challenge of idolatry.

[I really hope it's obvious that this is a parody, but if not: it is.]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

To see Thee more clearly...

"Our whole business in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen." -- Augustine

Monday, November 10, 2014

What it means to be a preacher of the Gospel...

"Preachers of the gospel are heralds of another world, charged to deliver a message they did not invent, a message of great urgency addressed to every single person in the world."

-- Timothy George

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Bible Is to Bring Us to God

“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative ‘must’ in the church of the living God.  Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term.  But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever.  For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.  The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God.”

-- A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (London, 1967), pages 9-10.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Faith Includes Faithfulness

In the Bible the word for 'faith' also includes 'faithfulness' -- it is built right into the meaning of the word. So a person of faith (a believer) is a person of faithfulness -- faithfulness to God (via His Word). Think of what that means then for anyone who claims to have made a profession of faith.......... ( = a pledge of faithfulness).

Friday, November 7, 2014

If you don't worship God...

"When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing. We worship anything."

-- G. K. Chesterton

Mis-directed worship...

Mis-directed worship...."This is the essence of sin, and the story of all our lives. We have all set our hopes onto something or someone we thought was really impressive and important. Something we thought would really make us happy . . . money, another person, a position. So we examine the thing. We lean on it a little bit. We test it. We taste it. It seems good. We respect it a little more, so we lean on it a little more.

"Pretty soon we trust enough to place the full weight of our soul upon it, and then . . . crash. We end up disappointed. Despairing. Why?

"Because it wasn’t God. And everything crumbles under the weight of worship except God."

-- Matt Papa, "Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ" 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The obedience of faith

"The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The two are opposite sides of the same coin." - A.W. Tozer

Compare Rom. 1:5; 16:26

A More Captivating Beauty

'As fallen human beings we are plagued with inordinate affections. We love green pieces of paper more than God. We love balls made out of pigskin more than God. We’ve shown we even love apples more than God. We, like Esau, have traded our birthright— the dignity of our shameless, joy-filled, glory-beholding, glory-reflecting existence— for a bowl of beans. As Blaise Pascal so aptly put, “Man’s sensitivity to little things and insensitivity to the greatest things are marks of a strange disorder.”

'Our hearts are sensitive toward the little opinions of others, and insensitive to the great judgments of God. And so, we worship our way into sin. We must worship our way out.  We don’t need more willpower. We don’t need to get ourselves together. We need a greater thrill . . . a more captivating beauty.'

-- Matt Papa, "Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ"

Monday, November 3, 2014

For God's choicest gifts

"To place ourselves in range of God's choicest gifts, we have to walk with God, work with God, lean on God, cling to God, come to have the sense and feel of God, refer all things to God."

-- Cornelius Plantinga

Friday, October 31, 2014

Luther on the Goal of God's Grace

"For God is not gracious and merciful to sinners to the end that they might not keep his Law, nor that they should remain as they were before they received grace and mercy; but he condones and forgives both sin and death for the sake of Christ, who has fulfilled the whole Law in order thereby to make the heart sweet and through the Holy Spirit to kindle and move the heart to begin to love from day to day more and more."

— Martin Luther
"Complete Sermons of Martin Luther"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Salvation that is not enjoyed is no salvation

"The new life in Christ, just like all natural life, must be nourished and strengthened. This is possible only in communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit and through the word of Scripture. Enlightened by the Spirit, believers gain a new knowledge of faith. The gospel is the food of faith and must be known to be nourishment. Salvation that is not known and enjoyed is no salvation. God saves by causing himself to be known and enjoyed in Christ.""

— Herman Bavinck
"Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation"
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Academic, 2008), 96

What it means to be God's children

“The adopted status of believers means that in and through Christ God loves them as he loves his only-begotten Son and will share with them all the glory that is Christ’s now (Rom.8:17, 32, 38-39).

“Here and now, believers are under God’s fatherly care and discipline (Matt.6:26; Heb.12:5ff.) and they are directed, especially by Jesus, to live their whole lives in light of the knowledge that God is their Father in heaven, praying to him as such (Matt.6:5-13), imitating him as such (Matt.5:44-48; 6:12, 14-15; … Eph.4:32-5:2), and trusting him as such (Matt.6:25-34).

“[In living this way they express] the filial instinct that the Holy Spirit has implanted in them (Rom.8:15-17; Gal.4:6).

“Adoption and regeneration accompany each other as two aspects of the salvation that Christ brings (John 1:12-13), but they are to be distinguished. Adoption is the bestowal of a relationship, while regeneration is the transformation of our moral nature.

“Yet the link is evident; God wants his children, whom he loves to bear his character, and takes action accordingly.”

-- J.I. Packer “Concise Theology” pp. 167-168 (Tyndale)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Cheerful Joy of the Spirit

"O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams." ~ Augustine

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What does it mean to truly love others?

"If any of you perhaps wish to maintain love, brethren, above all things do not imagine it to be an abject and sluggish thing; nor that love is to be preserved by a sort of gentleness, nay not gentleness, but tameness and listlessness. Not so is it preserved. Do not imagine that . . . you then love your son when you do not give him discipline, or that you then love your neighbor when you do not rebuke him. This is not love, but mere feebleness. Let love be fervent to correct, to amend. . . . Love not in the person his error, but the person; for the person God made, the error the person himself made."

-- St Augustine

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Place Where God Is Present

“The gathered church is the place of God’s own personal presence, by the Spirit….. There is not a more important word in all the New Testament as to the nature of the local church than this one! The local church is God’s community where it is placed; and it is so by the presence of the Spirit alone, by whom God has now revisted his people.”

-- Gordon Fee, "Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God"

What is the goal of a good pastor?

"A good pastor attaches the sheep to the Great Shepherd, not to himself." -- John Calvin

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Imagine there IS a Heaven....

“Now suppose both death and hell were utterly defeated. Suppose the fight was fixed. Suppose God took you on a crystal ball trip into your future and you saw with indubitable certainty that despite everything — your sin, your smallness, your stupidity — you could have free for the asking your whole crazy heart’s deepest desire: heaven, eternal joy. Would you not return fearless and singing? What can earth do to you, if you are guaranteed heaven? To fear the worst earthly loss would be like a millionaire fearing the loss of a penny — less, a scratch on a penny.”

--  Peter Kreeft

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

False Teaching Described

"False teaching starts as shallow, tries to be trendy, and pursues innovation without boundaries, and before you know it, you’re standing in a church where the Nicene Creed is either mocked or meaningless. Fresh readings of Scripture are fine, so too is a new engagement with old questions, but excavating ancient dung and calling it a diamond is not kosher." -- Michael Bird (from his upcoming commentary on Romans

The Entire Bible Calls Us to World Evangelization

"Our mandate for world evangelization is the whole Bible. It is to be found

  • in the creation of God (because of which all human beings are responsible to Him)
  • in the character of God (as outgoing, loving, compassionate, not willing that any should perish, desiring that all should come to repentance)
  • in the promises of God (that all nations will be blessed through Abraham’s seed and will become the Messiah’s inheritance)
  • in the Christ of God (now exalted with universal authority, to receive universal acclaim)
  • in the Spirit of God (who convicts of sin, witnesses to Christ, and impels the church to evangelize)
  • and in the church of God (which is a multinational, missionary community, under orders to evangelize until Christ returns)."

– John Stott, “The Bible in World Evangelization” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement

Monday, October 20, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Church as an Environment of Grace

“How wonderful it is to come every Sunday into a liberating church!  All week long we swim in an ocean of judgment and negative scrutiny.  We constantly have to comply with the demands of a touchy world, and we never measure up. . . .

"Then on Sunday we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone.  It is so refreshing.  Sinners like us can breathe again!  It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless.  He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-attack with the good news of his grace for the undeserving.  Who couldn’t come alive in a community which inhales that heavenly atmosphere?

"Here is where every one of us can happily take our stand right now: ‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).  Our self-focus was crucified with Christ.  The need to conceal failure and display false superiority no longer lives.  Christ is enough to complete every one of us, without adding anything of ourselves.

"As we humbly keep in step with the truth of this gospel, people will find a new kind of community in our churches where sinners and sufferers can thrive.”

-- Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ (Wheaton, 2014), pages 90-91.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reality Check

Malcolm Muggeridge was a famous British liberal who became a conservative. Asked why, he replied, “I’ve been mugged by reality.” We in the West have lived so long with faddish notions expressed in sayings like, “Well, that’s your truth, but not mine” that I’m afraid we have actually lapsed into a kind of bizarre ‘wishful thinking’ that apparently imagines that we can alter Reality just by ‘thinking’ things are different than they are. But as John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” And Reality – the way things actually are – is even more unyielding. Here are some current examples, I think, of things that modern people have tried to imagine differently than what actually exists: 1) the nature and goals of Muslim extremism; 2) the Ebola virus, and 3) Hell.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Worldliness today

"Worldliness" -- something that the Bible warns Christians about (Rom. 12:2 and 1 John 2:15-17) -- is often very hard to detect precisely because it's just a part of the world (of ideas, values, practices) that we inhabit (almost unconsciously). That means Christians and churches need to be especially diligent and vigilant, habitually applying Scripture as the standard and filter for our beliefs, practices and values. (Here's one potential example: in the Bible, the younger are habitually called upon to defer to the older...but in popular, contemporary Christianity, which group is more influential?) The motto of the Protestant Reformation is still important: '...the church always being reformed/renewed by the Word of God...'

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

True Christians Persevere in Faith

John Murray:

The very, expression, “The Perseverance of the Saints” in itself guards against every notion or suggestion to the effect that a believer is secure, that is to say, secure as to his eternal salvation, quite irrespective of the extent to which he may fall into sin and backslide from faith and holiness. It guards against any such way of construing the status of the believer because that way of stating the doctrine is pernicious and perverse.

It is not true that the believer is secure however much he may fall into sin and unfaithfulness. Why is this not true? It is not true because it sets up an impossible combination. It is true that a believer sins; he may fall into grievous sin and backslide for lengthy periods. But it is also true that a believer cannot abandon himself to sin; he cannot come under the dominion of sin; he cannot be guilty of certain kinds of unfaithfulness. And therefore it is utterly wrong to say that a believer is secure quite irrespective of his subsequent life of sin and unfaithfulness. The truth is that the faith of Jesus Christ is always respective of the life of holiness and fidelity. And so it is never proper to think of a believer irrespective of the fruits in faith and holiness. To say that a believer is secure whatever may be the extent of his addiction to sin in his subsequent life is to abstract faith in Christ from its very definition and it ministers to that abuse which turns the grace of God into lasciviousness.

The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere; it cannot be too strongly stressed that it is the perseverance of the saints. And that means that the saints, those united to Christ by the effectual call of the Father and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will persevere unto the end. If they persevere, they endure, they continue. It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere. Consequently the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance.

Perseverance means the engagement of our persons in the most intense and concentrated devotion to those means which God has ordained for the achievement of his saving purpose. The scripture doctrine of perseverance has no affinity with the quietism and antinomianism which are so prevalent in evangelical circles”

-- John Murray, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied”,  pp. 154-155

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Are You Looking For?

"We are all glory-chasers and pleasure [happiness]-seekers.  The question is where you’re looking."

A very wise essay from Jonathan Parnell and Desiring God Ministries.

Our Brother

"As a tempted brother, he feels for us; as a sinless brother he can save us."

— Sinclair Ferguson, "Children of the Living God" (Heb. 2:16-18)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Friendship with God is the highest good

Your true and deepest good (happiness/flourishing) is, and comes by means of, the friendship with God that He so graciously offers (Isa. 48:17f.). (And you are ruined by spiritually adulterous friendship with the world -- that is, life not devoted to God's glory [James 4:4]).

Friday, October 10, 2014

We Live in and by Looking

"His finished work, His accepted sacrifice, His precious blood, His completed expiation on ‘the accursed tree.’ On this work we live daily. It is a quickening work; a work the knowledge of which is life to the dead soul.

"To disbelieve that work, or to lose sight of it, is death; to believe it, and to keep our eye upon it, is life and healing. The sight of it, or the thinking about it (call it by what name we please), draws in life; we live in and by looking. This work contains the divine fullness provided for the sinner."

— Horatius Bonar
The Gospel in Galatians

Thursday, October 9, 2014


“Although affection characterizes many of the friendships portrayed in the Bible, affection is ancillary to the animating center of friendship, which is nothing less than the willingness to lay down one's life for one's friend (Jn 15:13). Such friendships are not optional for Christians; Jesus commands his disciples to befriend one another in this distinctive way. Moreover, Paul recommends that new converts and those who are young in the faith should 'devote themselves to the service of the saints' (1 Cor 16:15) and place themselves under 'the authority of the elders' (1 Pet 5:5). For Paul, friendships of accountability and training are central to growth in holiness.”

-- Kent Dunnington, "Addiction and Virtue"

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How to Wed Scripture and Song in Corporate Worship

"There cannot be religion where there is not reason. There cannot be the exercise of religion where there is not an exercise of the rational faculties. . . . . All worship must be for some end—the worship of God must be for God. It is by the exercise of our rational faculties that we can intend an end [purpose/goal]." (Stephen Charnock, "The Existence and Attributes of God")

"The Word of God does many things, but engaging the mind in worship is one of its most undervalued uses. Scripture is living and active....."

This is such a wise and important article.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Right worship relates all activity to God

“Worship is adoration of, devotion to and complete submission to God. Right worship strives to relate all human desire and activity to God; it is an exercise in reorientation toward one all-sufficient end. All human desires and activities are put into question: How does this love, this commitment, this activity avow or disavow, affirm or disclaim my relationship to God as the fundamental expression of my identity and destiny?

"Worship is therefore a totalizing activity; it demands that everything in a person's life be put in the dock before God, interrogated by one standard and consequently renounced or reordered. This is why the form of worship is prayer. In confession we repent of that in us that does not conduce to love of God, and in praise and intercession we reorder our vision and our desires to the love of God. The end [goal] of right worship is that everything be taken captive for Christ, that our lives as Christians be the expression of one unceasing prayer to God.”

-- Kent Dunnington, "Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice"

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sin Is Counterfeit Worship

"For all sin, as idolatry, is essentially counterfeit worship. All sin is the effort to attain independently of God that flourishing, integrity of self and delight that can only be attained through, that just IS in fact, right relationship with God."

-- Kent Dunnington, "Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

No Longer Pause

“Ransomed men need no longer pause in fear to enter the Holy of Holies.  God wills that we should push on into His Presence and live our whole life there.  This is to be known to us in conscious experience.  It is more than a doctrine to be held, it is a life to be enjoyed every moment of every day.”

-- A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (London, 1967), pages 36-37.

Conversion means 'a new king must reign'

“It is not conversion to think that you will turn, or to promise that you will turn, or resolve that you will turn, but actually and in very deed to turn, because the Word has had a true entrance into your heart. You must not be content with a reformation; there must be a revolution: old thrones must fall, and a new king must reign. Is it so with you?”

- Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Most Direct Route to Spiritual Maturity

"The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection [maturity]. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian."
—A. W. Tozer

Monday, September 29, 2014

A "Form of Religion" But Not the Real Thing

A "Form of Religion" (But Not the Real Thing)
It seems that one of Satan's most effective strategies is to get the professing people of God to get caught up with a 'form of religion' that substitutes for the real thing in our lives (cp. 2 Tim.3:5). Recognizing these man-made substitutes is a first step in resisting them. Along this line, Jonathan Leeman posts on a schema of seven counterfeit gospels, as cited in How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp.

1. Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same ‘commitment’ as I do.”  I honor the Lord with my lips, but my heart is far from him.

2. Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”  My obedience is not fueled by a deep gratitude for grace, but from a desperately sought pride in my performance.

3. Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”

4. Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”  I’m very involved and consider myself more hard-working for the kingdom than most, but I am preoccupied with whether or not other people recognize and affirm me.

5. Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”  I have let myself become only a hearer, but not a doer of God’s Word.

6. Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs."

7. “Social-ism.” “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”