Monday, November 16, 2009

Honesty: death to performance coming to Nashville


Check it out here.

Gospel metaphor


No analogy is perfectly aligned with its reality. But there are telling parallels here with the gospel.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Spiritual pride


"There is no sin so much like the devil as this for secrecy and subtlety and appearing in a great many shapes undiscerned and unsuspected, even appearing as an angel of light. It takes occasion to arise from everything, it perverts and abuses everything, even the exercises of real grace and real humility. It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath. We need therefore to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts and to cry most earnestly to the great Searcher of hearts for his help. He that trusts his own heart is a fool."

Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts on the New England Revival, page 155, edited slightly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Louisville Boot Camp


The Acts 29 Boot Camp in Louisville left me with these thoughts:

1. God continues to stir up a new generation of gospel men. It is so wonderful to watch this, I almost don't want to breathe lest I disturb it. For one who has seen long seasons of unstirred and confused men, the present work of God is unspeakably precious. May it intensify more and more.

2. Acts 29 is maturing and winning broader favor. I see no ego-games going on. I see gifted men submitting to Christ and honoring one another. May we stay there, low before the Lord, where we could perhaps be entrusted with an ever-increasing stewardship of blessing.

3. My hope for Nashville in particular is that, over the next ten years, we will plant so many Acts 29 churches that we reach a threshold where our whole city senses that something has changed, that the gospel has come to town with newness of life.

For this, I give myself in prayer and effort. And I welcome more co-laborers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A revival-ready social environment


"At such a day as this, God especially calls his people to the exercise of extraordinary meekness and mutual forbearance. Christ appears, as it were, coming in his kingdom, which calls for great moderation in our behavior toward all men: “Let your moderation be known to all; the Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5). The awe of the Divine Majesty, that appears present or approaching, should dispose us to this moderation and deter us from the contrary. For us to be judging one another and behaving with fierceness and bitterness toward one another, when he who is the Searcher of all hearts, to whom we must all give an account, appears so remarkably present, is exceedingly unsuitable. Our business at such a time at this should be at home, searching and condemning ourselves and taking heed to our own behavior. If there is glorious prosperity for the church of God approaching, those who are the most meek will have the largest share in it."

Jonathan Edwards, Works, I:421.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dr. Bruce Ware at Immanuel Church


Dr. Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, will preach at Immanuel Church this Sunday, November 8th, at 10:30 AM. We welcome you to come hear Dr. Ware.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Great Disturbance


"Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying 'Repent,' intended that the whole life of believers should be repentance." Martin Luther, Thesis 1

According to Schaff, History of the Christian Church, VII:160, Luther was attacking the medieval notion of sacramental penitence. That kind of "repentance" could be limited to isolated outward acts, leaving the rest of our lives safe from the mega-upheaval of true repentance. Luther contended that real repentance opens us up to endless personal change, leaving nothing about us untouched.

When Luther posted his Theses, he undermined self-reinforcing Christianity, which is no Christianity, and he launched a new era of self-challenging Christianity, which is the power of the gospel.

In Karl Barth's commentary on Romans, he entitles his section on Romans 12-15 "The Great Disturbance." The whole world needs gospel disturbance. Nashville needs it. I need it.

Bring it on.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Temptation


A voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Matthew 3:17

"There are many other voices speaking -- loudly: "Prove you're worth something." "Prove you have any contribution to make." "Do something relevant." . . . These are the voices Jesus heard right after he heard, "You are my beloved." Another voice said, "Prove you are the beloved. Do something. Change these stones into bread. Be sure you're famous. Jump from the temple, and you will be known. Grab some power so you have real influence." . . . Jesus said, "No, I don't have to prove anything. I am already the beloved."

Henri Nouwen, Leadership Magazine, Spring 1995.

There is more than one way to be strong. We can be strong with the dark energy of anxiety, because we need approval, or we can be strong with the bright energy of assurance, because we are already approved.

We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. 1 Thessalonians 2:4

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What is true of Him


God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7

"We must think of suffering in a new way, we must face everything in a new way. And the way in which we face it all is by reminding ourselves that the Holy Spirit is in us. There is the future, there is the high calling, there is the persecution, there is the opposition, there is the enemy. I see it all. I must admit also that I am weak, that I lack the necessary powers and propensities. But instead of stopping there . . . I say, "But the Spirit of God is in me. God has given me his Holy Spirit." . . . What matters . . . is not what is true of us but what is true of Him."

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, page 100.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What if Nashville went in for therapy - and found that the counselor was Jesus?


Nashville: I’m tired. Really tired. Especially tired of failing and then covering it up with a smile.

Jesus: “I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground.”

Nashville: I can’t see that. And it’s not just me. The whole world is a mess. What about 9/11? What about all the horrible things that keep happening?

Jesus: “I form light and I create darkness. I make well-being and I create calamity. I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

Nashville: That scares me. I don’t want one God over all. I want many spiritual paths, all okay. That leaves me in control.

Jesus: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is no other.”

Nashville: So let’s say you are God. Let’s say you even love me. But why? You know all my secrets. Why do you love me?

Jesus: “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”

Nashville: If I open my heart to you, don’t I risk ending up a fool? What if you fail, like everything else in my life?

Jesus: “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”

Nashville: And if I refuse?

Jesus: “There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked.”

Nashville: And if I say yes?

Jesus: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Nashville: But I’m so sinful.

Jesus: “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like a mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

Nashville: But I’m so weak, so very weak.

Jesus: “A bruised reed I will not break, and a faintly burning wick I will not quench. I will lead the blind in a way they do not know, in paths they have not known I will guide them. I do not forsake them.”

HT: Isaiah the prophet

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Much difference?


Fred Sanders reflects on the death of Paul Tillich -- liberal theologian, serial adulterer -- here. Sanders recounts:

After his death, [Tillich's wife Hannah] returns home and opens his locked drawers. “All the girls’ photos fell out, letters and poems, passionate appeal and disgust. Beside the drawers, which were supposed to contain his spiritual harvest, the books he had written and the unpublished manuscripts all lay in unprotected confusion. I was tempted to place between the sacred pages of his highly esteemed lifework those obscene signs of the real life . . . ."

If there could be placed between the sacred pages of our theological lifework the obscene signs of the real life, would there be much difference between Paul Tillich and us, really?

"Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." 2 Timothy 2:19

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Your love shames him


"There is nothing so contrary to the nature of the devil as love, for he is a spirit who is full of malice. . . . The devil understands many things, but there is nothing that he would make such bungling work at as imitating the true, divine, holy, humble love of a true saint."

Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God, edited by Michael D. McMullen, page 314.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What can be a greater honor than this?


"How great an honor will it be to a person to have God at the day of judgment owning a person, declaring before all men, angels and devils that that person is before his all-seeing eyes and that he stands innocent and perfect in his sight, clothed with perfect righteousness and entitled to everlasting glory and blessedness. How honorable will this render them in the eyes of all that vast assembly that will be together at the day of judgment. That will be an infinitely greater honor than any man or any angel declaring that they judge him upright and sincere and that eternal life belongs to him. What can be a greater honor than this -- to be owned by the great King and Lord of all things?"

Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God, edited by Michael D. McMullen, page 61.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The way of simplicity


"If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers himself to 'babes' and hides himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to him. We must strip down to essentials, and they will be found to be blessedly few. We must put away all effort to impress and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond."

A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, page 18.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let me go forward


"I pray, O God, that I may know thee, that I may love thee, so that I may rejoice in thee. And if I cannot do this to the full in this life, at least let me go forward from day to day until that joy comes to fullness."

Anselm, Proslogion, LCC edition, page 92.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A broadly human conception of matured piety


"Soon after I entered the ministry I was called upon to visit the senior elder of my church, who had been taken sick unto death. He had been a noble and stately figure among us, a certain old-world grace and courtesy reflecting the strength and dignity of his soul. He had been a great friend of his Master, and he had done his Master's work in a great way. I saw him two or three days before he died, when it was known that the end might come at any time, and I found he was enjoying Dickens' 'Pickwick Papers'! I must have made some remark about it, and he replied very simply that he had always been fond of Pickwick, and that he would not be ashamed, when the Master came, to be found deep in the enjoyment of such innocent humor. I do not know what helpful ministry I brought to him, but I know that he gave to me a broadly human conception of matured piety, which all along the way has enriched my conception of the fruits of the Holy Spirit."

John Henry Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work, page 204.

HT: Dr. Ray Van Neste

He took it lovingly


"And the legendary 'Rabbi' Duncan concentrated it all into a single unforgettable sentence, in a famous outburst to one of his classes: 'D'ye know what Calvary was? what? what? what?' Then, with tears on his face -- 'It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.'"

J. I. Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood, page 95.

My endlessly recurrent temptation


"This is my endlessly recurrent temptation: to go down to that Sea (I think St. John of the Cross called God a sea) and there neither dive nor swim nor float, but only dabble and splash."

C. S. Lewis, "A Slip of the Tongue," in The Weight of Glory, page 187.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Philippians 3:7


But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Philippians 3:7

"Notice now that he does not only say, But what was gain to me I later saw as indifferent, as unimportant -- no: as loss. To repent . . . does not mean to be liberalized, to become indifferent to what we formerly were, to the former objects of our devotion and the former conduct of our lives, but to be horrified by it all. . . . Recognition not of some imperfection but precisely of the guiltiness, perversity, and reprobateness of his glorious Pharisaism, irreproachable and upright as it was en sarki (in the flesh), recognition of the indictment not on his wickedness but on his goodness -- that is what came upon him dia ton Christon (for the sake of Christ), that was the meaning that Christ's work had for his attitude to these things."

Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians, page 97.

HT: Dane Ortlund.

If the invisible God could be seen . . .

"If the invisible God could be seen, he would look like Jesus."

I. H. Marshall, "Jesus Christ," in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, page 601.

The humility of enthusiasm


"The joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10

Mark Driscoll articulates the most important leadership lesson of all here. It is so obvious, so biblical, so often disregarded.

Every church's leadership culture must have the boldness in Christ to look people straight in the eye and say forthrightly, "Hey, c'mon guys. This is for the Lord. Let's go for it!" Enthusiasm reaches for high standards, excellence, accomplishment. Enthusiasm demands of itself the best for the sake of a higher call. Enthusiasm crucifies the too-easily-wounded, silken Self for the sake of Christ. Enthusiasm cheerfully refuses to be held hostage by negative people. Another word for this kind of leadership is humility.

Self-focused leaders worry too much about offending people. Christ-focused leaders risk offense for his sake. Some people will be unable to join in the enthusiasm. Let them go. Let the joy of the Lord triumph. This happy reverence is your strength.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Browning Version


Last evening I watched The Browning Version, the 1951 British film about a sour school teacher married to a bitter woman together producing a distasteful life. But there is redemption at the end. He stands up and says, "I am sorry."

"I am sorry." Honest words. Humiliating words. Rare words. When uttered sincerely, taking responsibility for the offense, powerful words. Healing words. Reconciling words.

"If your brother repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Almost helpless and fainting


George Whitefield's feats of perseverance drew this observation from an eyewitness: ". . . the man whose powers of voice and action had appeared to evince an extraordinary vigor would be found half an hour afterwards, extended on two or three chairs, almost helpless and fainting."

No preacher is made of steel.

Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, I:486.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

John 7:37-38


"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" John 7:37-38

"The fulfillment of . . . the promise could be testified by thousands of living Christians in the present day. They would say, if their evidence could be collected, that when they came to Christ by faith they found in him more than they expected. They have tasted peace and hope and comfort since they first believed, which, with all their doubts and fears, they would not exchange for anything in this world. They have found grace according to their need and strength according to their days. In themselves and their own hearts they have often been disappointed, but they have never been disappointed in Christ."

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John 1:1 through John 10:9, page 472.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Spiritually invigorating


". . . one of the best things that could happen to many believers would be for them to be led to give away, all at one time, a substantial part of their savings. That is, they should give a substantial part of their capital. Why? Because there is something about giving away a sizable percentage of one’s money – and, of course, the amount would vary entirely from one individual to another – that is spiritually invigorating. And there is seldom a case in which a large gift does not throw the Christian back on the Lord and increase the feeling that he is all-wonderful and that he is more than able to care for the one who trusts him. I have seen this happen in many instances. And I have never known a true Christian to be sorry for even the most sacrificial giving afterward."

James Montgomery Boice, Philippians, page 290.

Idols today?


Mark Driscoll unmasks our modern idols on Nightline.

Unburdened


And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

"Here is a beautiful antithesis. In ourselves we are scattered, in Christ we are gathered together. By nature we go astray and are driven headlong to destruction, in Christ we find the path that leads us to the gate of salvation. Our sins overwhelm us, but they are laid on Christ by whom we are unburdened. Therefore, when we were perishing and, alienated from God, were hastening to hell, Christ took upon himself the filthy depths of our sins, to rescue us from eternal destruction."

John Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah's Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ, pages 66-67.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The positive energy of hope


"Hope is the soul of moral vitality; and any man, or society of men, who would live . . . must be looking forward to something. . . . An institution which is not struggling upwards towards a higher future must resign itself to the conviction that it is already in its decadence and must expect to die."

H. P. Liddon, The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, pages 73-74.

Four marks of spiritual leaders - 4



“As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded, he took courage and put away the detestable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities that he had taken in the hill country of Ephraim, and he repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the vestibule of the house of the Lord. And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and those from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who were residing with them, for great numbers had deserted to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.” 2 Chronicles 15:8-9

Spiritual leaders gather others in. There is no nuance to this Hebrew verb. "Gather" means gather. Like Asa, spiritual leaders joyfully pull more and more people in, getting them involved in the new work the Lord is doing at their church.

A church does not grow by some wonderful luck. It grows by intentionality. Spiritual leaders take responsibility for gathering, so that their church becomes a focal point, a density of concentration, where the renewing work of the gospel is shared by more and more people.

Jesus said, "Whoever does not gather with me scatters" (Matthew 12:30). Jesus is gathering. Our risen, joyous, athletic Savior is running through the world today saving people right and left for the sheer grace of it all. He is gathering, he is recruiting. He is planting and building his churches. And he is calling us to gather with him. Whoever does not gather with him scatters. There is no neutrality. We show our love for him by our gathering with him.

Let's search ourselves with two questions. One, Whom have we actively gathered in for his sake? Two, Whom have we scattered? How many aren't in our churches, how many empty seats are we looking at, because we have neglected the ministry of gathering?

This is my own greatest failure at present. Day by day I feel covered over with "church stuff." I must change, and without delay.

When a church is blessed with leaders who, for the sake of Jesus, lift his standard high and call others to rally around, that church's success is inevitable.

"Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Four marks of spiritual leaders - 3


“As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded, he took courage and put away the detestable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities that he had taken in the hill country of Ephraim, and he repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the vestibule of the house of the Lord . . . .” 2 Chronicles 15:8

Christian leaders take courage from the gospel not only to put away the detestable idols but also to "repair the altar of the Lord." The gospel deconstructs our idols and lifts our vision of Christ in practical ways.

Renewal is what the verb means: "to make anew, restore," according to Koehler-Baumgartner. Every church needs it. Inevitably, things get tired, even sloppy. It's just hard for us to keep caring at a high level. That's why the prophet exhorted Asa in verse 7, "Do not let your hands be weak," or literally, "sink down." Falling standards -- it's how we all trend. In our own homes and hobbies, of course, we may think, "Hey, nothing but the best for me!" But when it comes to the work of the Lord, we can settle for yard-sale-mediocrity. It dishonors him. But then, in grace, he re-activates the gospel in our hearts and re-energizes us to lift him high in every way. Spiritual leaders are the first to pray for, watch for and reach for his renewing mercies.

Asa's reforms led his people to renew their covenant with the Lord "with all their heart and with all their soul" (verse 12). And they rejoiced that their hearts and their habits had returned to the Lord "with their whole desire" (verse 15). We all understand that. When we throw off our lethargy and rededicate ourselves to the Lord with wholehearted passion, it thrills us.

Spiritual leaders do not accept the negativity that resists ongoing renewal. They see too much glory in Christ. Their vision of him finds diplomatic ways (hopefully) of gently insisting that, for his sake, their church will serve him with high standards. And where altars need to be repaired, they do it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Four marks of spiritual leaders - 2


“As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded, he took courage and put away the detestable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin . . . .” 2 Chronicles 15:8

Christian leaders put away the detestable idols from their lives and their churches. It is not enough to add Jesus. We must also subtract our idols. As time goes by, so much accumulates and complicates. We cannot go on adding and adding. We must boldly subtract. This is repentance and reformation.

“Detestable idols” means “abhorrent, monstrous, disgusting idols.” Our hearts do not create nice idols. Oh, how we need the lovely One! How we need to see him so clearly and revere him so tenderly that we get tough on ourselves and throw the idols out!

Christian leaders have a nose for the stench of idolatry, and they confront it, as Asa did. It is not leadership to ignore the smell, perfume the smell. Some churches do. They make room for their idols of tradition, idols of superiority, idols of unconfessed sin, idols of cool. But anything that distracts from Jesus stinks. It stinks to God. It reeks with our arrogance and self-pity and whatever else diminishes Jesus in our experience. Christian leaders are deeply stirred by this. They become restless. They become desperate for the greater glory of Christ, desperate enough to magnify him at all costs.

“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). Moises Silva comments: “What Paul once regarded highly he now finds revolting. There is no need to downplay the meaning of skybala with such equivalents as ‘rubbish’ . . . a specific reference to excrement is not uncommon and the KJV rendering ‘dung’ is both appropriate and probable.” Paul had feasted on the dung of Self. But when Jesus became real to his heart, he took all his hard-won trophies (changing the metaphor now) out to the dumpster, threw them all in, walked away, looked back over his shoulder and laughed. He had gained Jesus.

Such clarity is rare. But whenever church leaders demand it of themselves, their church becomes happy and mighty for Christ.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Four marks of spiritual leaders - 1


“As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded, he took courage . . . .” 2 Chronicles 15:8

Christian leaders take courage from the gospel of Jesus. The opposite of taking courage is Rehoboam, who was “irresolute [literally, delicate of heart] and could not withstand” the worthless losers who defied him (2 Chronicles 13:7).

The authority of the gospel inspires in men inflexible resolve for the greater glory of Christ. They are men of passion, men of enthusiasm, men firm in purpose. They are happily unstoppable.

Such men are always needed. There are many voices ready to compromise, complain and undermine. But the cause of Christ has such grandeur, it makes other men courageous. Think of the apostles, Luther, Whitefield, Spurgeon. Every church needs such men.

In his “Thoughts on the Revival,” Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Two things urgently needed in ministers, if they would attempt great advances for the kingdom of Christ, are zeal and resolve.” He pointed out that when people see such courage in leaders, “it awes them and has a commanding influence on them.” But when leaders show timidity, their cowardice actually provokes opposition.

Gospel men have a taste for battle. They suffer, but they win, and they enjoy winning. Tolkien portrays their advance: “. . . and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them.”

If you are playing it safe, you are actually discouraging other men (Deuteronomy 20:8). Repent. But if the joy of gospel battle is in your heart, the Holy Spirit is stirring you. Now go find some other courageous men and fight with them and suffer with them and win the victory with them. The Lord will be with you, for the cause is his.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tina Turner, Jonathan Edwards and Deuteronomy 6:5

Several posts below is a YouTube clip of Tina Turner belting out "A fool in love" and "I think it's gonna work out fine." Now here I am, a sixty year old minister posting this teenage goofiness on my blog. Why?

Because she gets it. She shows a capacity for intensity. Through the years, whenever I've seen people who showed a capacity for intensity and passion and wholeheartedness, I've been drawn to them. And I am repelled by listlessness, especially my own. Peel away the outer layer of silliness -- not that it's wrong -- and Tina Turner is demonstrating something powerful.

In his biography of Jonathan Edwards, page 497, George Marsden writes, "In the Edwardses' world, the meaning of life was found in intense loves, including earthly loves." It was the tone of their life together. They understood that God is of such a nature, creation is for such a purpose, redemption is of such a power, that intensity of love is the meaning of it all. Intensity. Passion. Wholeheartedness.

Deuteronomy 6:5 makes intense love the greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Moderate love is a sin. Maybe the worst sin.

As Augustine said, "Give me a man in love. He knows what I mean."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Who can duly adore?


"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 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 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?"

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, pages 228-229.

Never in vain


"They never sought in vain that sought the Lord aright."

Robert Burns, "The Cotter's Saturday Night"

Oldie of the week

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Christ himself

"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, "De Propaganda Fide," in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men's Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859, pages 159-160.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Great meltings


"'It was a common thing, as soon as the Bible was opened, after the preliminary services, and just as the reader began' -- here, you will observe, it was the simple reading of the word without preaching; yet such was the power upon the minds of the people that 'it was a common thing, as soon as the Bible was opened, after the preliminary services, and just as the reader began, for great meltings to come upon the hearers. The deepest attention was paid to every word as the sacred verses were slowly and solemnly enunciated. Then the silent tear might be seen stealing down the rugged but expressive countenances turned upon the reader. '. . . The word of the Lord was precious in those days."

Charles J. Brown, in The Revival of Religion: Addresses by Scottish Evangelical Leaders delivered in Glasgow in 1840, pages 316-317.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mirth or fear?


All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.

The venerable Scottish Psalter paraphrased Psalm 100 that way. It is true to the meaning of the Hebrew.

My modern hymnal changed it:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
Him serve with fear, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.

"Mirth" was changed to "fear." "Him serve [not with mirth but] with fear." There is no depth of perdition low enough for editors who corrupt the Psalter, the Bible and the gospel. Should we serve the Lord with fear? Yes. But that is not what Psalm 100 says. And the Bible should be allowed to speak for itself. We have no right to replace one good thing with even another good thing, if the Bible is authoritative over us.

Why do we do things like that? We don't trust God. We think we know better. We fear joy. We fear the authority of joy, the take-over of joy. We fear loss of control, loss of face. We are deeply self-exalting.

Every elder board needs to set aside one hour at least to discuss this question: "How can we at our church serve the Lord with more mirth -- in a non-weird way?"

Reformed churches belong to a revival tradition. Let's get back in touch with our spiritual roots, or joy will die. We have no right to let that happen on our watch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Only for the asking


"How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:13

In a sermon preached in 1740, Jonathan Edwards pointed out that we ask God for basically two kinds of things. We ask him for temporal blessings like health and jobs and family needs. We also ask him for spiritual blessings. But Edwards noted how much more frequently and fervently we ask for temporal blessings:

"They don't need any preaching to stir them up to take thorough care to obtain those outward things. . . . And if they begin to suffer for want of those things, how much do they make of their sufferings! . . . Had God nothing better to bestow upon you, when he had made you his children, than a little money or land, that you seem so much to behave yourselves as if you thought this was your chief good? . . . I am bold to say that God is now offering the blessing of his Holy Spirit to this town, and I am bold to say we may have it only for the asking."

HT: Tim Keller