Monday, June 30, 2014

What if we got our deepest desires?

"We would never imagine that getting our heart's deepest desires might be the worst thing that can ever happen to us." -- Tim Keller

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Let us not dictate to God

“Let us not dictate to God.  Many a blessing has been lost by Christians not believing it to be a blessing, because it did not come in the particular shape which they had conceived to be proper and right.  To some the divine work is nothing, unless it assumes the form which their prejudice has selected.”

-- Jeremiah Lanphier, Alone With Jesus (London, 1872), page 88.

You did awesome things that we did not look for.  Isaiah 64:3

-- HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What must I do to be saved?

The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross so that we could be forgiven, and rose again as Lord of all to bring us all the blessings of God's kingdom.  So what is the right (and therefore, saving) response to this Good News?  

We are to 'repent and believe' -- but to fill out the meanings of those words a little more: we are to put our trust in Jesus to be our Savior (believe) and give him our whole-souled allegiance as Lord (repentance).  That marks the beginning of a life of 'following Him' -- being devoted to live by 'everything he commands.'  Or as Paul puts it in Romans 1:5 and 16:26, it is the inception of a live lived in the "obedience of faith."

As the old Gospel song puts it, "The world behind me, the cross before me...  I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning turning back."

(Matt. 28:18-20; John 21:19;  1 Thess. 1:9f.; Acts 2:38; 16:31; Rom. 6:17ff.; Gal. 2:20; 6:14)

Friday, June 27, 2014

God's Last and Effective Word

"The secret of the promise is the bearing of the curse so that the blessing may prevail. The gospel is that in Jesus Christ the curse has been set aside and God’s creative purpose for the blessing of his creation is established beyond any possibility of reversal.

"God’s last and effective word is his blessing. It is a particular word spoken in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, broadcast by those who like Paul cannot but pass it on, so powerful is its effect, over flowing with blessing from those who, blessed by it, become a blessing to others."

— Richard Bauckham
"Bible and Mission"
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 35-36

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Love's Demand

"Love demands the perfecting of the beloved (the growth, betterment, healing, improvement, uprightness, and goodness of the beloved). Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them; but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than even hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved. Love forgives constantly but condones least. Love is pleased with little, but demands all."
-- C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is Scripture and Preaching Enough?

"We don't really believe Scripture is enough. It must be supplemented with techniques, programs, experiences, exercises, entertainment. The Reformation put the pulpit (for the preaching of the Word) at the center, and we're working hard to move it aside and replace it with a thousand and one distractions. 'Preach the word!' Paul cried to Timothy as he finished his own course. God grant us ears to hear, greater hearts to grasp, bolder lips to proclaim, and stiffer spines to stand on the Word alone."

-- Dan Phillips (from an interview by Guy Davies)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

When the heart is full of the love of Jesus

On the most basic levels, I desire fullness, and fleshly lusts seduce me by attaching themselves to this basic desire. They exploit the empty spaces in me, and they promise that fulness will be mine if I give in to their demands. When my soul sits empty and is aching for something to fill it, such deceptive promises are extremely difficult to resist.

Consequently, the key to mortifying fleshly lusts is to eliminate the emptiness within me and replace it with fullness; and I accomplish this by feasting on the gospel. Indeed, it is in the gospel that I experience a God who glorifies Himself by filling me with His fullness. This is the God of the gospel, a God who is satisfied with nothing less than my experience of fullness in Him!

Indeed, as I perpetually feast on Christ and all His blessings found in the gospel, I find that my hunger for sin diminishes and the lies of lust simply lose their appeal. Hence, to the degree that I am full, I am free. Eyes do not rove, nor do fleshly lusts rule, when the heart is fat with the love of Jesus!

— Milton Vincent
A Gospel Primer for Christians

Friday, June 20, 2014

This, not that, is real Christianity

“You may feel and say, as many do, ‘I was converted and became a Christian.  I’ve grown.  I’ve grown in knowledge, I’ve been reading books, I’ve been listening to sermons.  But I’ve arrived now at a sort of peak, and all I do is maintain that.  For the rest of my life I will just go on like this.’

"My friend, you must get rid of that attitude; you must get rid of it once and forever.  That is religion.  It is not Christianity.  This is Christianity: the Lord appears!  Suddenly, in the midst of the drudgery and the routine and the sameness and the dullness and the drabness, unexpectedly, surprisingly, he meets with you, and he says something to you that changes the whole of your life and your outlook and lifts you to a level that you had never conceived was possible for you. . . . There is always this glorious possibility of meeting with him in a new and a dynamic way.”

-- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Living Water: Studies in John 4 (Wheaton, 2009), page 14.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Jesus is Lord"

"...for Paul, the confession that Jesus is Lord meant the acknowledgment that Jesus shares the name and the nature, the holiness, the authority, power, majesty and eternity of the one and only true God." --  C.B. Cranfield  (cp. Rom. 10:9-10)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Power of a Good Example

I think one of the biggest stumbling-blocks that trip people up as Christians is hypocrisy and nominalism in those who profess to be Christians -- a joy-less form of religion that's devoid of its real power. But it's also true that one of the things that is most encouraging to true faith is to see it lived out for real -- the kind of real faith and love for God that Ray Ortlund describes in a tribute to his dad....

"Stories of My Dad"

Monday, June 16, 2014

The New Life, the Spirit and the Word

"...the new life in the believer is always drawn toward the gospel, the Word of Christ, the Scriptures, as the basis of its support, the food by which faith is strengthened.  The witness of the Holy Spirit binds them to Scripture to the same degree and with the same force as to the person of Christ himself."

-- Herman Bavinck, "Reformed Dogmatics" abridged in one volume, p. 525

"Jesus came preaching"

An excellent essay by Timothy George on the primacy of preaching in the ministry of Jesus.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"A Prayer for Father's Day"

From Pastor Scotty Smith: 

    For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its meaning. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Eph. 3:14-19

     Dear heavenly Father, on this Father’s Day, it’s an unparalleled joy to acknowledge that you are the Father we’ve always longed for and needed. Our most loving and engaged fathers have been a wonderful hint of what it means to be your beloved children; but they could never be to us what you alone can be. And our most broken and irresponsible fathers cannot rob our hearts of the joys we find in knowing you and crying, Abba, Father.

     Thank you for adopting us, through the finished work of Jesus. Thank you for freeing us from our slavery to sin and our orphan-like ways; and for giving us the Spirit of Sonship, a secure place in your family, and an inheritance that can never spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us. Thank you for promising to complete the work you began in us, and for always, and only, disciplining us in love, even when it hurts.

     Father, thank you for grace to forgive our earthly fathers who failed us, including those who broke our trust, hurt us, and misrepresented you to us. Continue to heal us and free us from the lingering effects.

     And thank you for grace to acknowledge our failings as parents, and for promising us the strength we need to humble ourselves before our children, and to trust you to write stories of redemption in our families. Please do so, Father, to your glory.

     Lastly, Father, we thank you for the spiritual fathers you’ve given us—the “dads of grace” who help us discover more and more of the multi-dimensional love of Christ. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

-- Pastor Scotty Smith

Friday, June 13, 2014

"The Treasure Makes All the Difference"

from Jon Bloom at Desiring God Ministry:

One of Jesus’s most powerful parables is also one of his shortest:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44).

Fifteen minutes before this man’s discovery in the field, the thought of selling all that he owned to buy it wouldn’t have crossed his mind. Even if it had, it would have seemed ludicrous. But fifteen minutes after finding the treasure, he was off to do it with joy. What made the difference?

The treasure.

This man suddenly found something that transformed his whole outlook on life. The treasure restructured his values and priorities. It altered his goals. The treasure revolutionized the man.

The treasure in this parable is the resurrection to eternal life. It was the same “treasure in heaven” that Jesus promised the rich young man if he would sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus (Matthew 19:21). The rich young man, blinded by short-term worldly wealth, could not see the treasure, but the man in the parable did, and he jumped at it.

Now, there was a cost to obtaining the treasure. Viewed one way, the cost seemed high — it cost him everything he owned. But viewed another way, the cost was very small. Standing in the field, the man did a quick cost-benefit analysis. It didn’t take him long to realize that selling all his possessions was going to make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. He would have been a fool not to do whatever was necessary to buy that field.

The Treasure of Treasures

Now, when the man bought the field and obtained the treasure of eternal life, what specifically did he get? This is an important question, because the Bible makes eternal life a central focus for the Christian, yet provides few descriptions about what it will be like. When the Bible does describe eternal life, it often uses similes, metaphors, and symbols. Why?

One reason is that we simply are not yet equipped to comprehend the reality we will experience in the new age, for “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Through figurative language, God helps us transpose the glories we now see and understand into glimpses of future greater glories.

But I believe there is a more important reason God doesn’t give us more details: Eternal life is more about a Person than a place. What will make the kingdom of heaven so heavenly to us will not be the glorious phenomena of the new creation or the rich rewards we will receive, as inexpressibly wonderful as they will be. The heaven of the age to come, the Treasure of treasures, will be God himself — knowing and being with the One from whom all blessings flow.

Jesus himself said, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). And Paul expressed his deepest longings like this: “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:8, 10). What we will enjoy most about the resurrection is having the dim mirror of this age removed and finally seeing Jesus face to face, finally knowing the triune God fully as we have been fully known by him (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Remember Why You Sold Everything

The resurrection from the dead is the single greatest hope of the Christian. It is the only prize that ultimately matters, and we make it our one great life goal to obtain it (Philippians 3:14). It is the culmination of the gospel (1 Peter 3:18). The whole reason Jesus came into the world was to give us eternal life (John 3:16). He died for us, that we might live with him (1 Thessalonians 5:10). Jesus did not come to give us our best life now. He came to “deliver us from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).

Jesus is longing for this day with all his heart. He expressed this yearning to his Father when he prayed, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

Jesus’s great longing is that you will be with him. And when you are finally with him, “he will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things [will] have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Never again will you know any kind of separation from him (Romans 8:39), for you will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

That is the treasure you have discovered in the field of this fallen world. Jesus has paid for it all, and it costs you everything you own in this age to have it. Yet it is such a small payment for such an everlasting, never-ending treasure that only a fool would pass it up.

The treasure makes all the difference.

-- Jon Bloom, "Desiring God" ministry

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Pointed Admonition

"If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be." -- Charles H. Spurgeon

The dawn of a new creation...

"On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn."

— G. K. Chesterton

Monday, June 9, 2014

God is King...He Will Come as King

"The kingdom of God does not refer merely to a general or abstract concept of God’s sovereignty (God is king), but to his active, dynamic reign in history. God’s dynamic reign was evident even before the fall when God was busy expanding his blessing— bringing dominion over all the earth through his image bearers (Gen 1: 26– 28; 2: 15; cf. Psalm 8). ….Therefore, the message of the kingdom [after the Fall, and as the Bible unfolds] is not simply that God is king, but that God will come as king and set right what human sin has made wrong."

-- Jeremy R. Treat  "The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology" (pp. 41-42). Zondervan.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rescued from the Kingdom of Darkness

"Fallen men without the operations of the Spirit of God, are under the rule of Satan. They are led captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2:26). So long as this ‘strong man fully armed’ is not molested by the ‘stronger than he,’ he keeps his kingdom in peace and his captives willingly do his bidding. But the ‘stronger than he’ has overcome him, taken his armor from him, and has liberated a part of his captives (Luke 11:21–22). God now exercises the right of releasing whom He will; and all born again Christians are ransomed sinners from that kingdom."

— Loraine Boettner
The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination
(Philadelphia, PA: P&R Publishing, 1965), 67

Saturday, June 7, 2014

"Worship in a Selfie World"

From, by Stephen Miller:

Wow. God really met with us in worship tonight. The room was just so full of his presence. One of the most intense times of worship I have ever experienced.

This caption came across my Instagram notifications a few weeks back.

I was curious to see the photo this student had taken to commemorate his experience. I never would have expected a picture of a young man standing in front of a mirror in his bathroom with a bewildered smirk on his face.

Yet there he was, a duck-faced teenager staring at his bathroom mirror, smart phone in hand. What this had to do with how much he loved worshiping Jesus was a mystery to me.

This Is Our World

This is the world in which we live, the world of the selfie. The world where people take something that is not about them and make it about them through the lens of their camera.

Grown men pose with their best “Blue Steel” smolder while the tip of Paris’s breath-taking Eiffel Tower protrudes from the side of their heads like a tiny, awkwardly placed steel horn.

Teenage girls attempt their cutest look while a singular stone column of Rome’s ancient, awe-inspiring Colosseum is barely visible in the background.

We are not seeing the world through their eyes so much as seeing their eyes blocking the world.

Maybe I am alone here, but I would much rather see a picture of Niagara Falls than a face obstructing my view of it. Niagara Falls is not about us. It is majestic. It demands the full frame for viewers to feel even just a little taste of the awe of something grander than themselves.

Selfie-Type Worship

This is exactly what we are doing when we attempt to make corporate worship about us. Our sinful hearts want to fill up the frame of God’s glory with our faces. Our flesh wants to distract us from the infinite worth of a holy God who has invited us into his presence to behold him and be made like him.

This selfie type of worship constantly tries to infiltrate our churches, causing us to value sentiment over substance, emotional hype over emotional health, or musical preference over meaningful proclamation.

When the content of our songs and prayers are saturated with me-centered themes and thoughts, we are buying into the lie that worship is about us. To be sure, our faces are in the frame, but they are a spec of sand on the beach of a vast ocean of beauty and holiness. To focus on the spec would be silly, if not outright madness.

God-Focused Worship

When we gather for corporate worship, we are ascribing worth to the only worthy one, and lifting him to the place where he alone belongs, on the throne of our hearts.

As we do this, he is with us in a very real way. This is not a hypothetical situation — God is with us. There is no greater privilege on earth for the redeemed and adopted family of God than getting to stand in the presence of God and worship him in Spirit and truth through his Son.

In doing so, we are building up and encouraging one another, reminding our own hearts of who God is and what he has done, and proclaiming it to a world that desperately needs to see him for who he is.

This is neither done by singing about ourselves, nor obsessing over our preferential feelings.

He Must Increase

If we are going to learn to worship in a selfie world, we must continually look beyond our musical preferences, sentimental nostalgia, and contextual idealism, in order to gaze with wonder and awe at the character and acts of our mighty King and Savior.

We must saturate our services and songs with his word and wonder at his wisdom, will, wealth, works, and ways. He is the God who created planets and stars, and he holds them all in his hands. He made electrons and protons, atoms and elements, gravity and inertia. Everything that has been made was made by him and through him, and before any of its foundation was laid, he chose to redeem and adopt us in Christ. This is too massive to be minimized with me-centeredness.

May we all resist the temptation to fill the frame with our face, but rather fill our minds with his eternal glory, and never stop repeating the refrain of John 3:30:

“He must increase. I must decrease.”
“He must increase. I must decrease.”
“He must increase. I must decrease.”

From, by Stephen Miller

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What the cross says....

“To whom does the invitation of this cross come?  It comes to the failures, the people who know they have gone wrong, the people who are filled with a sense of shame, the people who are weary and tired and forlorn in the struggle. . . .

"Do you despise yourself, kick yourself metaphorically, and feel you are no good?  Weary, forlorn, tired, and on top of it all, sad and miserable?  Nothing can comfort you.  The pleasures of the world mock you.  They do not give you anything.  Life has disappointed you, and you are sad, miserable and unhappy, and on top if it all, you have a sense of guilt within you.  Your conscience nags at you, condemns, raises up your past and puts it before you, and you know that you are unworthy, you know that you are a failure, you know that there is no excuse, you are guilty. . . .

"And then on top of all this, you are filled with a sense of fear.  You are afraid of life, you are afraid of yourself and your own weakness, you are afraid of tomorrow.  You are afraid of death, you know it is coming and you can do nothing about it, but you are afraid of it. . . .

"This is the amazing thing about the cross.  It comes to such a person, and it is to such a person above all others that it brings its gracious and its glorious invitation.   What does it say to you? . . . You are not far off, and the cross speaks to you with sympathy.  That man dying on that cross was known as the friend of sinners.  He was reviled by the good and the religious because he sat down and ate and drank with sinners.  He had sympathy. . . .

"Not only that, he will tell you that he is ready to accept you.  The world picks up its skirt and passes by.  It leaves you alone, it does not want to associate with you, you have gone down, you belong to the gutters, and the world is too respectable to have any interest in you.  Here is one who is ready to receive you and to accept you. . . . Sit down, he says.  Wait, stop, give up your activities.  Just as you are, I am ready to receive you.  In your rags, in your filth, in your vileness.  Rest.

"What else?  Pardon.  The cross speaks of benediction, of pardon, joy and peace with God.  It tells you that God is ready to forgive you.  It says, listen to me, your sin has been punished.  I am here because this is the punishment of sin.  Listen to me, says the blood of sprinkling.  I have been shed that you might be forgiven, pardoned, at peace with God.  Oh, thank God, there is also cleansing here.”

-- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Cross (Wheaton, 1986), pages 168-170.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

"Why I gave up alcohol"

An insightful article at Christianity Today online.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Unbelief is a great sin" -- Spurgeon

"Beloved friends, let us never look upon our own unbelief as an excusable infirmity, but let us always regard it as a sin, and as a great sin, too. Whatever excuse you may at any time make for others—and I pray you to make excuses for them whenever you can rightly do so—never make any for yourself. In that case, be swift to condemn.

"It is a very easy thing for us to get into a desponding state of heart, and to mistrust the promises and faithfulness of God, and yet, all the while, to look upon ourselves as the subjects of a disease which we cannot help, and even to claim pity at the hands of our fellow-men, and to think that they should condole with us, and try to cheer us.

"It will be far wiser for each one of us to feel, ‘This unbelief of mine is a great wrong in the sight of God. He has never given me any occasion for it, and I am doing him a cruel injustice by thus doubting him. I must not idly sit down, and say, This has come upon me like a fever, or a paralysis, which I cannot help; but I must rather say, This is a great sin, in which I must no longer indulge; but I must confess my unbelief, with shame and self-abasement, to think that there should be in me this evil heart of unbelief.’"

— Charles Spurgeon
"Unbelievers Upbraided"
sermon on Mark 16:14