Monday, December 31, 2007

Metaphor for revival

Hope in a decadent age

"All that is meant by Decadence is 'falling off.' It implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense. On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. The loss it faces is that of Possibility. The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result. Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces."

"Behold, I am making all things new." Revelation 21:5

See Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, page xvi.

Revolution is . . . .

Jean-Paul Sartre said, "Revolution is seeing each other a lot."

The power of a cohesive church. Acts 2:42-47.

Quoted in Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties, page 80. Amazing book.

New Years Eve partying?

Flannery O'Connor described our times as "an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily."

Pain management.

Flannery O'Connor, "Novelist and Believer," in Mystery and Manners, page 159.

Truth in a fraudulent world

Malcolm Muggeridge went to Stalinist Russia in 1932 as a journalist for the Manchester Guardian. He had to submit his reports to a government censor before they could be sent back to Britain for publication. One day the censor looked his story over, shook his head and said, "You can't say that, because it's true." Muggeridge commented, "It seemed like a basic twentieth-century text."

See Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick, page 223.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Is not this a happy business?

"Faith does not merely mean that the soul realizes that the divine word is full of all grace, free and holy; it also unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ. . . . Now is not this a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil and bestows all his goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ and is swallowed up in him, so that she possesses a rich righteousness in her bridegroom."

Martin Luther, quoted in Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction, pages 158-159.

"But wasn't the Bible written by drunk monks?"

Yes, I really have heard that objection. But there are many ways people cast doubt on the Bible. It's a huge subject, and it can become technical pretty fast. But here are two things to keep in mind as we interact with our friends.

One, the Bible did not come down to us the way some people think –- like the game when one person whispers a secret to the next person, than that person to the next, around the circle until the final person reveals how crazily distorted the original message had become. The New Testament was preserved along many lines of transmission, unlike that one circle of people, and copying the Bible was no game to anyone involved. The United Bible Societies edition of the Greek New Testament lists hundreds of manuscript evidences, a few dating as far back as the second and third centuries. By contrast, the Loeb edition of Aristotle's Metaphysics is mostly derived from five manuscripts, the best of which dates to the tenth century A.D., about 1300 years after Aristotle. This is why Bruce Metzger, an expert in the field, says, "The textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of his material" (The Text of the New Testament, second edition, page 34). We don't have to re-create a lost New Testament.

And in the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, though medieval in date, was carefully preserved. The scribes obsessed about accuracy. Take Isaiah. There are thousands of words in Isaiah. But the Revised Standard Version of 1952, which had no axe to grind for a conservative view of the Bible, decided for a wording in the Dead Sea Scrolls Isaiah against the Masoretic Isaiah in only around 15 cases. Why? The traditional text is a convincing witness to antiquity.

Two, consider what Jesus thought of the Bible – in his day, the Old Testament. Jesus said, "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). In other words, "The Bible cannot be proven wrong." Jesus never breathed the slightest hint of doubt about the Bible. In fact, he affirmed it repeatedly, including some of the hard-to-accept parts, like Jonah and the whale (Matthew 12:40). John W. Wenham summarizes Jesus' view of the Bible: "To him, what Scripture said, God said" (Christ and the Bible, page 37). If we respect Jesus enough to believe him about other things, why would we refuse him here?

Some will object, "But everybody back in Jesus' world believed that. He was a man of his times. We know better now." Do we? Isn't our skepticism a function of our own times? What's so striking about Jesus is how unlike his times he was. That's what got him crucified. Let's not patronize Jesus. He was a competent thinker for all times. He was speaking from God. He demonstrated a wisdom that – if we'd accept it today – would advance our thinking on all the most important fronts. What if suddenly we all believed everything Jesus taught? Would that be so bad?

Fantasy the other way round

Simone Weil, the French Jewish intellectual, said,

"Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as the good. No deserts are so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive and full of charm."

Quoted in Geoffrey Barlow, Vintage Muggeridge: Religion and Society, pages 91-92.

Friday, December 28, 2007

All you stand to lose is your damnation

"By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day -- and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it." Revelation 21:24-27a

In October Jani and I were in Beijing. One evening we went out for dinner at the 300-year old home of a Chinese prince, now a restaurant. The menu offered, among other dishes, deer afterbirth. With that exception, we loved it all. Traditional Chinese dress, dance, food, music. I thought of John's vision of the holy city where we'll live with God forever, this passage in chapter 21, and I thought, "All this human fascination here in this restaurant -- a preview of coming attractions. Modernity will not succeed in grinding these glories of human creation into indistinguishable gray mush, these glories which the Lord Jesus wired into us in the beginning. The redeemed will bring into the holy city the glory and honor of their nations. The languages and literatures, the music and the dances, the sports and the jokes -- all the charming, impressive, venerable and hilarious creations of man, but now purified and consecrated to the Lord Jesus Christ, who will rule over us all with great joy.

Streaming through the gates of the New Jerusalem I see a Scottish pipe band in their kilts, and here come some amazing African dancers, and (my personal favorite) a garage band from 1960's California. Here comes Jane Austen with her novels. Here comes some shepherd boy from Greece in the second century A.D. with his little home-made pan pipe. No one is excluded. Everyone is treasured, rejoiced over.

The Savior of the world says to us all, "So then, what are you? What are you, London, Tel Aviv, Nashville? Whatever you are, bring it on. All you stand to lose, by coming to me, is your damnation. And everything else about you I will make eternal, to the glory of God."

How can we not love Someone like that?

They will come dancing

"If the church is what it should be, young people will be there. But they will not just 'be there' – they will be there with the blowing of horns and the clashing of high-sounding cymbals, and they will come dancing with flowers in their hair."

Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, page 107.

I loved that man. He set my generation free to be happily radical for Christ. Now it's my turn -- for the next generation.

The fullness of Christ

Paul sees maturity as growing up "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). To rise to such grandeur, we are not helped by a diminished view of Christ. We need to see his fullness again and again, Sunday after Sunday.

On August 18, 1955, Carl Henry wrote Billy Graham a letter full of the wisdom and courage we need in our generation. The issue at hand was the formation of a new magazine, though the relevance of his outlook is far broader:

"I have carried with me into and through the night the burden of the new magazine, Christianity Today. There has come to me the growing conviction that, at its present level of editorial projection, it carries, if not a compromise of principle, at least a sufficiently perilous strategy as to render its ultimate effectiveness insecure and uncertain, and enough of a disposition to introduce a sturdy theology only by degrees as to give me grave doubts that it offers me justification for stepping out of my present theological responsibilities. I have no personal reputation for bitterness; my friends have included men in all theological brackets. But in evangelistic and missionary thrust, I have but one uncompromisable zeal -- that Christ be known in His total claim upon the life. At the beginning of our century, the question raised by the sponsors of that fine series "The Fundamentals" was, Have we told the whole truth? We seem to be wondering when we may dare tell some of it."

Quoted in Wilbur M. Smith, Before I Forget, page 181.

Yes, let's be ready to give intelligent, respectful answers to current objections (1 Peter 3:15). But let's never treat Jesus as a problem, as if we'd better hide some aspects of him. There comes a point when we trust him so much and admire him so much that we risk offending our unbelieving friends, lest we offend our glorious Lord. Let's not slight the Lord of glory. Let's display his fullness, not holding back at all. Let's see what he will do with that. And along the way, we ourselves will grow toward his grandeur.

Year-end giving

I wish I could influence year-end givers to consider two ministries. One is Covenant Theological Seminary, and the other is The Gospel Coalition. Both are being used by God to raise up a new generation of faithful ministers of clear gospel conviction. Anyone can find out more at:

Covenant

Coalition

George Whitefield (1714-1770), the Anglican evangelist, said, "God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere and upright ministers."

Quoted in J. C. Ryle, Select Sermons of George Whitefield, page 75.

I didn't need an alarm clock

My dad died this year. I think about him a lot. I drew strength from his love. I miss him.

As a kid growing up, I didn't need an alarm clock most mornings. I woke up to the sound of my dad, down the hallway, singing in the shower. Every morning he sang heartily, cheerfully, with zero irritation to me, this hymn:

When morning gilds the skies
My heart awaking cries
May Jesus Christ be praised
Alike at work or prayer
To Jesus I repair
May Jesus Christ be praised

I never wondered about my dad. Never once. Never. I knew where he stood. Unlike so many others, he was not hard to read. He did not take a wait-and-see, keep-a-low-profile, play-it-safe approach to life. Jesus was too real and wonderful to him. He praised the Lord openly throughout the whole of his life, public and private. What a man!

I want to be unmistakably easy to read, beginning with my dear family.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I wonder how much difference it would make

"'Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don't mean just ignored, but actually cut out -- disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?' We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions and activities."

Quoted from Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry, page 356.

God save us from Godless godliness.

Altogether unearthly

William C. Burns was preaching in Perth, Scotland, in 1840. His biographer writes,

"The power indeed that attended his words, and the effects which often in the most unexpected quarters followed them, was at this time most remarkable. 'I never thought,' exclaimed a strong, careless man, who had heard him, 'to have been so much affected; it is surely something altogether unearthly that has come to the town.'"

Taken from Islay Burns, Memoir of the Rev. Wm. C. Burns, page 144.

Cultural relevance in preaching is good. I don't want to preach to yesterday. God has made me responsible to the actual people around me. I accept that. I like it. I want to get better at it. But there is more. Shouldn't a message from the King make people say, "Something altogether unearthly has come to us, something from far away, beyond ourselves. That's why it's so helpful"?

I want to re-learn how to preach.

Submitting to one another

". . . submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21).

At First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, in the 1830's, Judge William Tracey Gould led a movement in the church to buy an organ. This was a change, since most Presbyterians still sang without instruments. The innovation was opposed by some in a congregational meeting. But the majority decided for it anyway, and Judge Gould was appointed to raise the money for the new organ. One day the Judge ran into Mr. Robert Campbell on the street. Campbell, who had opposed the organ, asked the Judge why he hadn't called on him for a donation. "Because, Mr. Campbell, I knew you did not wish to have the organ." "That makes no difference," said Mr. Campbell; "when the majority of the members of the church have decided the matter, it is my duty to put aside personal feeling and assist as well as I may."

Well done, Mr. Campbell. You showed how all of us, in all our churches, can revere Christ together.

The account appears in David B. Calhoun, Cloud of Witnesses: The Story of First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, 1804-2004, pages 41-42.

What love looks like

In his Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, William Bradford describes how the Pilgrims cared for one another during that horrible first winter:

"But that which was most sad and lamentable was, that in two or three months' time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage and their inaccommodate condition had brought upon them. So as there died sometimes two or three of a day in the foresaid time, that of 100 and odd persons, scarce fifty remained. And of these, in the time of most distress, there was but six or seven sound persons who, to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them. In a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren; a rare example and worthy to be remembered."

Quoted in Samuel Eliot Morison's edition, page 77.

Great Christmas gift

My awesome Gavin and Esther gave me the new (to me) Passion CD for Christmas, "Everything Glorious."

My two favorite cuts:

One, "Party." This song expresses exactly how we can feel. Hey, we're not going to hell anymore! This life is all the hell we will ever know. A few short years from now and we will never sin again, never suffer again. "We're gonna PARTY."

Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). He did not say, "I go to prepare a place." He said, " . . . for you." The instant you step into heaven, you're not going to look around and say, "Well, I can adjust to this. It's all right. Really." You're going to look around and say, "For cryin' out loud, he thought of ME. He understood MY crazy heart. I'm gonna LOVE this." And you will go into warp-speed.

So now I'm driving around Nashville blasting the speakers out of my four-wheel-drive dead-deer-totin' Tennessee pick-up playing and re-playing "Party," getting ready for heaven. Anybody want to come along?

Two, "I stand amazed (how marvelous)." I used to sing this hymn in church as a boy. It made little impact. Two things have happened since to change that. One, I have discovered more about my sin and more about my Savior. Two, God created the electric guitar.

Here is verse two:

He took my sins and my sorrows
he made them his very own
he bore the burden to Calvary
and suffered and died alone

How marvelous, how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous, how wonderful
is my Savior's love for me!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It would be hell to me if . . . .

Gut-check time. Complete this sentence: "It would be hell to me if . . . ."

Henry Martyn (1781-1812), Anglican missionary, was the guest of a muslim friend for dinner. His host described for him a painting he had seen of Jesus bowing down before Muhammad. Martyn tells us what happened next:

"I was cut to the soul at this blasphemy. Mirza Seid Ali perceived that I was considerably disordered and asked what it was that was so offensive? I told him 'I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified; it would be hell to me if He were to be always thus dishonored.' He was astonished and again asked 'Why?' 'If anyone pluck out your eyes,' I replied, 'there is no saying why you feel pain; it is feeling. It is because I am one with Christ that I am thus dreadfully wounded.'"

Quoted in Constance E. Padwick, Henry Martyn: Confessor Of The Faith, page 265.

The ultimate personal motive for evangelism, missions and revival: "I could not endure existence, if the world were to go on trivializing Jesus. It would be hell to me, if the blasphemies obscuring the display of his glory were to succeed in my generation."

Lord, preserve us in this passion.

Tears as worship

Somewhere years ago -- I can't remember the specifics -- John Piper pointed out something in Acts 20:19 that I had never noticed before. Paul explains how he served the Lord: ". . . serving the Lord . . . with tears . . . ."

"Serving the Lord with tears." Amazing.

The life in Christ, though wonderful, sometimes becomes tearful as well. But the Lord Jesus receives every tear as service to himself. Let that realization become a divine kiss on every tear-stained cheek.

A reading plan for 2008?

Maybe we all could benefit from planning our 2008 reading, rather than just let it happen (or not happen) as we are buffeted by events day by day. John Wesley wrote this to a young preacher:

"What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you; and in particular yours."

Quoted in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along The Way, page 169.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

"In the incarnation of God we do not suppose that he undergoes any debasement, but we believe that the nature of man is exalted." Anselm, Why God Became Man, chapter VIII

We thank you, Lord.

New covenant pastoring

"For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death!" Deuteronomy 31:27

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13

Moses ministered the old covenant. Paul ministered the new covenant. The difference is obvious.

Moses looked at his people and said, "You sorry bunch of rebels, I've had to watch you like a hawk. And the moment I die, I know what's going to happen. You're going to run from God so fast . . . ."

Paul looked at his people and said, "Sure, you have problems. But I'm not worried about you. In fact, you don't even need me around any more. God is at work in you, and you're going to be just fine."

As a pastor under the new covenant, it is not my job to manage other people's sanctification for them. They don't need me to do that, nor am I qualified to do that. They do not need negative scrutiny; they deserve confident encouragement. Should problems be addressed along the way? Sure. But the main thing to communicate is new covenant confidence. God is at work in them. That work is sacred. That work can be trusted. That work is to be revered.

Under the new conditions God has established through Christ, who couldn't love being a pastor? I am walking among living miracles of God.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"But that's just your interpretation"

Anybody ever raise that objection when you're explaining the gospel? "But what you're getting from the Bible -- it's just your interpretation. Why should I or anyone else believe that?"

This objection aims to dismiss your truth-claims as overrated. It's a strategy for leveling out all assertions as no more than mere personal opinions: "You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to."

Here are some things to keep in mind.

One, stay focused on what C. S. Lewis called "mere Christianity" -- the core truths of the gospel that are super-clear in the Bible. Avoid pet doctrines and denominational nuances. Your unbelieving friend might be throwing this objection out there because you really are advocating just a personal hunch.

Two, validate the objection, then neutralize it. "Sure, there's interpretation in what I'm saying. But no one can know anything without interpreting it, without running it through the sieve of personal understanding. It's like the sunlight shining through a stained-glass window. The colors show up, but the light is still real and the sun is really out there. So okay, you're getting the gospel through me, and I'm not very good at this. Big deal. The point is, it isn't JUST my interpretation. There is truth in what I'm saying."

Three, make the truth personal, and offer it personally to your friend. "I always have to watch myself, to minimize the distortion-factor in my thinking about Christ. So, thank you for reminding me of that. But here's what I can't get away from. As I read the Bible, the reality of Christ comes storming through to me so clearly I just can't dismiss that power as an 'interpretation.' I have to deal with him, because he's dealing with me. If you'd rather keep it safe, at the level of 'interpretation,' I don't blame you. He is totally rocking my world. But here's where I come down. I'd rather have him messing with me than lose him by treating him as an abstraction. His love is the only good thing in my life I'll keep forever. Want to talk about that? Want to talk about what he can mean to you too?"

Friday, December 21, 2007

Freedom

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).

Kenny Chesney sings,

through the joy and pain that living brings
don't we all want the same thing
freedom, sweet freedom

it's what the junkie needs that the needle can't give
the depressed and forgotten are praying for it
it's what the brave and courageous are fighting for
an open sail on a distant shore
freedom

Religion is a yoke of slavery, fit only for a stupid ox that has to be driven and forced. So is sin. Both enslave and degrade and depress.

Funny thing is, yokes of slavery can feel natural and right and safe. But God says, "Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you" (Psalm 32:9). There is another way to stay near to God. In fact, it's the only way. Jesus died to give it to us. Freedom. It's human. It's dignifying. It's unifying.

Have you ever gone in among a church and you got the impression that the power driving it was coercion -- merely human inventions that you had to submit to, to fit in? Exclusion is powerful. It manipulates people, because we are all insecure and we long to be accepted. Paul saw through it long ago: "They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them" (Galatians 4:17). "Hey newcomer, this church is about us. All this is for us. You're here for us, to make us feel better about ourselves. Get it?"

Jesus came to free us from that. His kingdom is where everyone who bows before him also stands before him. He is what it's all about - -the display of his cross-love, taking our guilt and shame and outsider-ness away, including us, lifting us up, together as one.

You are accepted in Christ by the all-holy God. And if he has lifted away your yoke of slavery, no one has the right to put it back on your neck -- not even you. You are free. Stand firm. Enjoy your freedom before God. Relish it. Prove it. Spread it. And do not submit again to a human yoke of slavery.

And when this life is over, as it soon will be, you will accelerate into a freedom even more wonderful than you've been given now. Total freedom forever. "An open sail on a distant shore." That is your destiny. Let it define you now. And bring someone else there with you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why older Christians matter more than ever

Some of us at Immanuel Church have lived a few years. Are we still worth much? Yes, for many reasons. Here is one high on the list. As younger people enter into our church, it is our privilege to welcome them, honor them, include them, empower them, lift them up -- and show them what radical Christianity looks like.

Here is a quote from an article I read last week, "Young, Restless and Ready for Revival" (Christianity Today, December 2007):

"Students tell me that spiritual mentors who are 'on fire for Jesus,' consistent in their walks with God, who remained sexually pure in their own dating and marriage relationships, and who live full-of-the-Holy-Spirit lives in front of them are rare. But they are longing for, begging for, older Christians to be solid spiritual mentors and parents to them, to pray powerfully for and with them. They don't need more programs. They want prayer and revival for their generation."

Okay, older members of Immanuel Church, let's speak to that yearning in the hearts of younger people! Here is what every one of us can do: look into the eyes of younger people who visit us, show them that we care, say the words "I love you" and act like it, say "How can I pray for you this week?" and do it, tell them "I am praying that God will use you powerfully in your generation," and pray for revival not only in your days but also in theirs. No young person (or older person, for that matter) wants to be regimented and smothered and hovered over, but everyone wants a life that really counts for God. Let's lift the next generation up in that way. Let's breathe life into them. Let's set them free to be all-out for God. And that means, first of all, you and I must be all-out for God.

I remember one Sunday night around 1965 at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, when I was hanging out with some high school buddies in the church parking lot one night, dear old Alfred Dickson happened to walk by and I heard him comment under his breath, "Isn't it wonderful to have all these young people here?!?"

Monday, December 17, 2007

Without God, with God

Some months ago I read The Cocktail Party by T. S. Eliot, which tells the story of some people -- bright, intelligent, articulate -- stumbling through life without God as the Fountainhead of all else. And they keep missing each other, too, speaking past each other. With real insight, Eliot has one character say,

"What has happened has made me aware that I've always been alone. That one is always alone. Not simply the ending of one relationship, not even simply finding that it never existed -- but a revelation about my relationship with everybody. Do you know -- it no longer seems worth while to speak to anyone!"

Without God in our lives, it's not just that other relationships come and go. It's that we have no certainty that we are really relating to anyone. Without God, we have no reason not to suspect that all "relationships" are mental constructs of our own making, all of it dark and manipulative and fraudulent.

But with God, the Triune God who overflows with love and delight, we find ourselves living in the most "relational" world imaginable. He is real and for us through Christ. He makes us real and for one another. With him, our love for one another is real. We are actually stepping, however haltingly, into the very love of God himself.

This is what you and I see in one another's eyes. A wonder almost unspeakable.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The cross our resource moment-by-moment

Dr. Sam Storms, a dear friend, writes on the cross as the motivating power of our daily lives. Thanks, Sam.

Click below:

Link

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Humility

Jani and I have been reading aloud C. J. Mahaney's superb book on humility. He put me onto Charles Bridges' classic on the Christian ministry, first published back in 1830. Bridges wisely writes,

"It is of little comparative moment that our ministry should bear the stamp of talent, erudition or pathos. But if it should be characterized by the savor of humility and love, it would be best adapted to display the glories of Immanuel, and most honored with the manifestations of his Spirit."

A temptation I face in preaching -- every preacher faces it -- is to show off. There is a tug in our hearts to show off learning, eloquence, cool, whatever. But that would prostitute the ministry of the gospel. True preaching, as everyone knows, is for the display of the glories of Christ, for the good of everyone listening, not for the display of the preacher and for his own advantage.

Preaching filled with a sense of wonder at Christ might in fact turn out to be learned and eloquent and all that, but not consciously, not deliberately, just accidentally. And what explains the impact of true preaching is not its unintended learning and eloquence but "the manifestations of his Spirit."

Two desires move my heart. One is the display of myself. The other is the display of Christ, blessed with the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. It's a choice, moment by moment.

I choose Christ. And that means I renounce my pride. Happy choice.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Spurgeon on "Immanuel"

Preaching on Isaiah 7:14 over a century ago, Charles Spurgeon closed his sermon with this flourish:

"God with us." It is hell's terror. Satan trembles at the sound of it; the black-winged dragon of the pit quails before 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 the sufferer's comfort, the balm of his woe, the alleviation of his misery, the sleep which God gives to his beloved, their rest after exertion and toil. "God with us" is eternity's sonnet, heaven's hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky.

Thanks, Spurgeon, for reminding us of our deepest resource for life today: "God with us."

Hey Immanuel Church, if you ever see me moping around, will you remind me?

Welcome!

Thanks for checking in with me. I appreciate it.

Why this blog? Because I desire much interaction with Immanuel Church and other friends. Our busy schedules keep us all occupied in so many ways. This electronic medium will, I hope, stimulate our conversations throughout the week.

Again, thanks for visiting. And God be with you.

Ray