Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Going into 2009

Going into this new year of grace 2009, I am thankful for four things and concerned about four things.

Thankful:

1. The gospel is being rediscovered and rejoiced over and ransacked in a fresh way, as evidenced by Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, etc. God seems to be creating new conditions for revival in the future. I hope I see some of it in my lifetime.

2. The rising generation, now in their 20s and 30s, are both theologically-minded and emotionally-intense toward the Lord. This is a powerful mix. If they will stay focused, we're in for some good days. Future buffetings will test us, and we are all weak. But the race of Hebrews 12:1-2 is always runnable, if we will keep our eyes on Jesus.

3. The age of parachurch usurpation seems to be ending, and the rightful, biblical dignity and authority of the church are being re-asserted. Since the church is where God locates his power (Ephesians 3:20-21), again, it looks to me like the preconditions of revival.

4. The Bible is the focus of renewed fascination and serious study. I see the success of the ESV Study Bible as one evidence here. Pragmatism is less acceptable as a form of validation, and biblical authority is increasingly required. This is the Lord Jesus himself touching us with his royal scepter, asserting his authority, for his greater glory and our greater power.

Concerned:

1. Too many churches remain uninvolved in and even unaware of the new things God is doing. They seem stuck in old patterns of dysfunction. Will they be left behind and lost to tragic inconsequentiality?

2. A tsunami of sin has been slamming us for years now, especially through the internet and increasingly filthy "entertainment." When will we get sick to our stomachs, sick of ourselves, sick enough to cry out to God for the massive cleansing only he can give? We tolerate sins that put our Savior on the cross. When will we become indignant enough to change?

3. Even in churches and movements that God is blessing, still, prayer can appear to be perfunctory at times. What is our confidence -- our cool personalities, or the power of the Holy Spirit in our weakness?

4. My generation and above has most of the money. What are we doing with it? Padding our comfortable lives, or plowing it into the cause of Christ? Lazy self-indulgence is a huge temptation for older people. But the next decade can be the greatest season of our entire lives, if we will invest our historically unprecedented wealth in the rising generations of Christ's soldiers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Our intuitive theology

An atheist believes

A fascinating Times article by an atheist makes the case for Christian worldview change as essential to Africa's future here.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What we can expect in 2009


The hallelujah chorus that Christ has been stirring in our hearts throughout 2008 he will sustain and intensify and deepen throughout 2009, to the praise of the glory of his grace.

Thank you for checking into the blog this year. I'm taking a break now. God bless you.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The gospel


HT: Pure Church.

One of the Bible's surprising words

"I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs." Luke 11:8

"Impudence" is the key. Other versions show "importunity," "persistence," "boldness," "shamelessness," and "brazen insistence." All good translations.

The word is anaideia. That's the negative prefix an + aideia ("shame, respect, modesty"). The ESV renders it "impudence." More casually, we call it "nerve."

If you think prayer is boring, look at it from God's perspective. How many boring, predictably flat, way-too-polite prayers must he have to put up with! Jesus is commanding us to pray nervy prayers, because that's when we start getting serious with God. And he likes that. It's when doors start opening up.

Matthew Henry: "We prevail with men by impudence because they are displeased with it, but with God because he is pleased with it."

As you go into 2009, how are you praying? Got the nerve yet to ask God for what you really need and really long for and what would really display his glory in this God-denying world? Or are you settling for polite prayers that bore you and bore God and change nothing?

That was a good man


HT: Vitamin Z.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We couldn't help it

"The evening meeting connected with the Bible conference began January 6th, in the Central Church [in Pyungyang], with more than 1500 men present. . . . After a short sermon, . . . man after man would rise, confess his sin, break down and weep, and then throw himself on the floor and beat the floor with his fists in a perfect agony of conviction. . . . Sometimes, after a confession, the whole audience would break out into audible prayer, and the effect of that audience of hundreds of men praying together in audible prayer was something indescribable. Again, after another confession, they would break out into uncontrollable weeping and we would all weep together. We couldn't help it. And so the meeting went on until 2 A.M., with confession and weeping and praying. . . . We had prayed to God for an outpouring of his Holy Spirit upon the people, and it had come."

Eyewitness account, quoted in Young-Hoon Lee, "Korean Pentecost: The Great Revival of 1907," AJPS 4 (2001): 77.

37 years today


Today is our 37th wedding anniversary. I loved her then, I love her far more now. God has smiled on me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cheapening forgiveness

Justin Taylor recounts one couple's struggle with the meaning of forgiveness here.

Commenting on Luke 17:3 ("If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him"), John Stott, Confess Your Sins: The Way of Reconciliation, page 35, writes:

"We are to rebuke a brother if he sins against us; we are to forgive him if he repents -- and only if he repents. We must beware of cheapening forgiveness. . . . If a brother who has sinned against us refuses to repent, we should not forgive him. Does this startle you? It is what Jesus taught. . . . 'Forgiveness' includes restoration to fellowship. If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love but its shallowness."

May the Holy Spirit come down on us all, such that true repentance finds true reconciliation. We need a massive cleansing only God can give.

What was so great about 2008?

What was so great about 2008 that I would cling to it as I go into 2009? Some things. But not many.

What was so great about me in 2008 that I would cling to it as I go into 2009? Sheesh.

What was so great about my habits and patterns and priorities and time allocations in 2008 that I would cling to them as I go into 2009? I'm seeing a pattern here.

What is it going to take for me to change in 2009? Are prayer and fasting too high a price to pay? Is risk too high a price to pay? How about scariness? How about untried newness? Are they really that bad?

Is there any law, at the federal or state or local level, that forbids me to become a new man in 2009? Any verse in the Bible? Anything in my church's by-laws? Anything of any authority anywhere?

Why stay the way we are? The power of the resurrection is in the world today. We don't have to die before we die.

In 2009, Christ welcomes all who want to live again.

Audacious idea for 2009


Ligon Duncan lists ten reasons for reading Calvin's Institutes in 2009 here.

Christmas Eve 40 years ago


On Christmas Eve 1968 Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, astronauts aboard Apollo 8 circling the moon, drew us into their experience by televising what they saw back to earth. In the most watched television event up to that time, they celebrated God's good creation. We rejoiced with them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So that they could breathe again


CT: What is the East African revival, and why has it lasted over forty years?

Bishop Festo Kivengere: Can I explain? This is a question I have been asked repeatedly for over twenty-five years, and all I have ever been able to do is to share what I have seen. The only explanation I can give is that it is God's work. It is not a technique. It is a movement that cannot be contained. It is renewal within renewal. It is an attitude toward the Lord, toward the Bible, toward the fellowship, and toward the Spirit. It has always been open to a fresh touch.

CT: What does this revival mean to the people involved in it?

FK: It is when Christ becomes a living, risen Lord in the life of a believer. For the non-believer, it is when he is brought into a confrontation with Christ and accepts him as Savior, thus completely changing his life morally and socially. In other words, revival is when Christ becomes alive in a life, changing that life. The person is born again, and if he has previously had that experience, then his life is changed in such a way that it affects all his relationships.

CT: Is it visible to an outsider?

FK: Absolutely! Go back to a village a week after a man comes to the Lord in a meeting in the market. The whole village knows something about it. He has paid the debts he owes. He has gone to people he hated and said, "I'm sorry. I'm a changed man." He has apologized or asked for forgiveness. He's now telling them what Christ means to him. He has carried his new belief into his business practices. In other words, it isn't something he sits on as a comfortable experience. If anything, it is terribly uncomfortable.

CT: How has this differed from other revivals in history?

FK: It may be the continued willingness of those who have been revived to be renewed by the Spirit of God. At the Kabale convention last year, celebrating the fortieth year of the revival in that area, we heard up-to-date testimonies from people who were brought to Christ as early as 1930. They had tremendous freshness; yet they had been winning souls for thirty-five or forty years. They have remained open to what the Spirit may want to say to them in the present situation. They learned that when they got into a rut God had to turn them out of it so that they could breathe again. The tendency to get into certain patterns can stifle the work of the Spirit and create pockets of hardness. Continued breaking and bringing new streams of life have been the means God has used.

"The Revival that was and is: an interview with Festo Kivengere," Christianity Today, 21 May 1976, pages 10-11.

Bishop Kivengere was, after my own dad, the most beautiful Christian man I have ever known.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Infinite Mercy

"Well, what happened to me on that Sunday that I returned to faith was this: I received a glimpse into what I can only call the Infinite Mercy of God. It worked something like this. I realized that none of my theological or social questions really made any difference. I didn't have to know the answers to these questions precisely because God did. He was the God who made the universe in which I existed. That meant He had made the Big Bang, He had made DNA, He had made the Black Holes in space, and the wind and the rain and the individual snowflakes that fall from the sky. He had done all that. So surely He could do virtually anything and He could solve virtually everything. And how could I possibly know what He knew? And why should I remain apart from Him because I could not grasp all that He could grasp? What came over me then was an infinite trust, trust in His power and His love."

Anne Rice, in the author's notes to her novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

HT: Erin Ortlund.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Robot chick


Unable to find the perfect girlfriend, a man has built a robot girlfriend for himself. The story is here.

She even says no. But then he programmed her to do that too, which means total control.

We all face two possibilities -- real relationships, in which we become vulnerable, versus fake relationships, in which we set the preconditions and retain control. We can do this, or try to do this, even with God.

Robotics versus relationships. Dominance versus surrender. "I will never be hurt again" versus "If Christ died for me, then pain must be the price of love. So okay."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

But Mary

"And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." Luke 2:18-19

There was quite a buzz going around about Jesus' birth. When the angels appeared and the glory of the Lord shone down, the shepherds found the Baby in Bethlehem and it all checked out. They spread the word, and people were blown away.

Years later, when the adult Jesus went public with his ministry, the response was not, "We've been waiting for you." The response was, "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22). They had forgotten.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. "Treasured up" means that she prized and guarded and preserved in her thoughts everything that happened. "Pondering" means that she began connecting the dots between the Old Testament prophecies and now these astounding events, reaching by faith for what it all meant.

The crowds were fascinated. That was not wrong. It was right. But it didn't last. And it didn't change them. But Mary went into sustained reflection and meditation and growing understanding.

Real faith?


"My fear is that the modern conception of faith is not the biblical one, that when the teachers of our day use the word they do not mean what the Bible writers meant when they used it. The causes of my uneasiness are these:

1. The lack of spiritual fruit in the lives of so many who claim to have faith.

2. The rarity of a radical change in the conduct and general outlook of persons professing their new faith in Christ as their personal Savior.

3. The failure of our teachers to define or even describe the thing to which the word 'faith' is supposed to refer.

4. The heartbreaking failure of multitudes of seekers, be they ever so earnest, to make anything out of the doctrine [of faith] or to receive any satisfying experience through it.

5. The real danger that a doctrine that is parroted so widely and received so uncritically by so many is false as understood by them.

6. I have seen faith put forward as a substitute for obedience, an escape from reality, a refuge from the necessity of hard thinking, a hiding place for weak character. I have known people to miscall by the name of faith high animal spirits, natural optimism, emotional thrills and nervous tics.

7. Plain horse sense ought to tell us that anything that makes no change in the man who professes it makes no difference to God either, and it is an easily observable fact that for countless numbers of persons the change from no-faith to faith makes no actual difference in the life."

A. W. Tozer, "Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine," in Man the Dwelling Place of God, pages 30-31.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You do matter


"His view of death and his own death was having confidence that life matters and that the world matters. . . . Because of that you fight to live, and because of that you need to go out and carry on the good fight. You do matter, and God does exist. So you put your hand to the plow, you work and you struggle -- you do what you can in all different areas, with passion. You don't sit in a corner somewhere and wait to die. . . . What you look forward to is not death but the Second Coming. You are longing and working for that. Contrary to what people say -- that you can't take anything with you -- yes, you do take your work with you. It's a biblical teaching, that what you do matters and will continue on into eternity."

Deborah Schaeffer Middelmann, regarding her father Francis Schaeffer, quoted in Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life, page 203.

How much capacity for pleasure


"Once I walked beside a river bank in another flat part of the world -- northern Illinois in the US. It was autumn. The leaves were mostly still on the trees. But they were changing colour. Not many were green any more. Their pigmentation was transforming into gold and orange and vermilion and ruby and lemon and primrose. The sun was out. Its rays shone through the trees, sometimes through the bright leaves so they shone like fairy lights. The effect was dazzling. It filled my soul with a sense of overpowering beauty.

Then I realized that God could see it too. And I remembered that God would be enjoying it too: 'May the Lord rejoice in his works' (Psalm 104:31). Not less than me but more than me because he could enjoy it perfectly. I started making some calculations. I tried to count the number of leaves on one branch, then the number of branches, then the number of trees in the wood. It was a few billion I think.

I thought how much sheer pleasure I got from looking at one tree and one lot of leaves from one angle. But God could see every leaf from every possible angle and see all the leaves from all the angles at the same time. I felt like my computer when the CPU is 100% loaded.

How much joy God must get from looking at these billions of leaves from all possible angles all at the same time, if I felt this good looking at a few of them from one angle! It made me realize just how great he is and how much capacity for pleasure he has."

Julian Hardyman, Glory Days, pages 145-146.

Let men or devils do their worst

"You know, sir, what a design I am going upon and what a stripling I am for so great a work; but I stand forth as David against Goliath in the name of the Lord of Hosts and I doubt not but that he that has and does will still deliver unto the end. God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst."

George Whitefield, in a letter, 9 January 1738, published in Letters of George Whitefield, page 33.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Romans 8:1

John Milton, 1608-1674


Prof. Leland Ryken of Wheaton College comments on "Paradise Lost" by John Milton on this his birthday.

Does your church still exist?

"Jesus Christ warns them that if they disobey his commands, and do not repent, their church's existence will be ignominiously terminated. 'I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent' (Revelation 2:5). No church has a secure and permanent place in the world. It is continuously on trial. . . . Many churches all over the world today have ceased truly to exist. Their buildings remain intact, their ministers minister and their congregations congregate, but their lampstand has been removed."

John R. W. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, page 33.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ten reasons for humility about music

Bob Kauflin guides us wisely toward moderation in our otherwise intense opinions about church music here.

HT: Vitamin Z.

A true theologian


"Augustine expressed his faith not with his heart alone, for the heart does not think . . . nor with his mind alone, for he never grasps truth in the abstract, as if it were dead. Rather, to his task as a theologian he brought emotional tenacity, immense intellectual power, purpose of will, deep spirituality and heroic sanctity."

"The Significance of Augustine," Christianity Today, 11 December 1987, page 22.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

All right

Kingdom preachers or power preachers?

"They asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, . . . 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.'" Acts 1:6, 8

The disciples could have made a biblical case for their kingdom scenario. But their question "must have filled Jesus with dismay" (Stott, Acts, page 41). They wanted to regain something they had lost (note "restore"). God's purpose all along and his next step now were both better than they thought. His true kingdom had always been spiritual, and the Holy Spirit was about to come down in unprecedented power.

We long for our kingdoms. We see them in the Bible and tell ourselves they are God's kingdom. But he has a better way -- the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are we smarter than the disciples back then? Shouldn't we bring our enthusiasms under the judgment of "Not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42)? What if we actually got our way?

For example, some of us would like to be the next John Piper or Tim Keller or Mark Driscoll or whoever -- a very personal kingdom dream -- the way I've always wanted to be the next Billy Graham. But God's plan for you is better. It's you, the real you, clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:48). The you that you are by creation and redemption is not fundamentally a problem you have to work around but fundamentally a strategy God wants to work through.

May all our kingdoms fall away. May his power come down on us all.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How much should we give?

"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, page 67.

Maleness


"The book's most pleasant surprise is her casual and unselfconscious repudiation of radical feminism as she watches a horse [at her farm]: 'Suddenly the maleness, the majesty of its maleness, opens itself to me and I love it, revere it. Remember in a burst how I have always loved it, maleness, men themselves, all things masculine. . . . I had forgotten, too, its place in things, its half of the universe. As if in the years of feminism and the need to square imbalance it had seemed necessary to negate what claimed too much for itself.'"

Florence King, reviewing The Loony Bin Trip by Kate Millett, in Chronicles, June 1990, page 44.

Med school discussion

"One way of catching class attention is to ask what advice [medical] students would give when presented with the following family history. The father has syphilis, the mother tuberculosis; they have already had four children -- the first is blind, the second died, the third is deaf and dumb, and the fourth has tuberculosis. The mother is pregnant with her fifth child, and the parents are willing to have an abortion, should you so decide.

Assuming there aren't too many Catholics in the class, you will usually find a majority in favor of abortion. You congratulate the class on their decision to abort -- and then you tell them they have just murdered Beethoven."

L. R. C. Agnew of the University of California School of Medicine at Los Angeles, quoted in "A gripping lesson on abortion," The Palo Alto Times, 27 September 1977.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What scares you?


Two weeks ago Jani and I were in Dallas. On a free afternoon we drove over to Dallas Seminary and noticed a display honoring Dr. Howard Hendricks. Below his photograph was this quotation, etched in glass:

"I live with the dread of tame, domesticated Christianity. I fear for my students that they will chase after what they want -- and therefore miss what God wants."

Interesting. The single statement this man is to be remembered for highlights what scares him. Notice the operative words "dread" and "fear."

What scares you? Does getting what you want scare you? Or does missing what God wants scare you?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Freedom: walking in the light

I think it was Bonhoeffer who said that when a man is alone with his sin, he is terribly alone. Some men live their whole lives in this isolation, while outwardly role-playing relationships. The way to freedom is to come out into the light before God and before our wives (and probably before one other Christian man too), admit the truth and be surprised by the liberating power of James 5:16 confession. This video of one man's story illustrates the freedom of walking in the light.

HT: Jared Wilson.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The atheists have a point



This display at the capitol in Olympia, Washington, states, "At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Yes, it's loony. But there is a reason why atheists say things like this. The reason is, they're right. Not as right as they think they are, but right in a way. Religion does harden hearts. Personally, the worst people I've ever known have been church-going people. A few have been downright sociopathic. But the Bible itself says, "Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes" (Isaiah 6:10). The New Testament writers quoted that passage to explain why some people reacted so negatively to the Good News of Jesus.

The gospel softens and illuminates some people, and it hardens and blinds others. With every exposure, we are all different, either a little closer to God or a little further away. But it never just leaves us as we were.

Let's be careful how we hear the Word of God. If we bring to it a humble, honest heart, we will change for the better. But if we come to reinforce our own self-exalting status quo, the atheists, at least, will have eyes to see it.

The Gospel

What happy people don't do

Roni Caryn Rabin reports in The New York Times what happy people don't do.

2009


As a son of Sweden, my eye was caught by Vilhelm Moberg's The Emigrants, a novel of Swedish migration to this nation in the nineteenth century. He describes the landless, the debtbound, the discontented, the oppressed, confined to a centuries-old, unchanging pattern of life, hearing of a new land far away, a land opened invitingly, even temptingly, for those who longed for a freedom denied them at home. They were stirred. Eventually, one-fourth of all Swedes in the world lived not in Sweden but in America.

The emigrants knew little of the country awaiting them, but they risked everything and went. The enterprising, the bold, the courageous, the aggressive were dismissed as daredevils by some. But their groping, daring undertaking, ridiculed by the unimaginative, with every appearance of foolhardiness, gained for them a larger cultivated land than their entire homeland.

I wonder how many of us need to emigrate today. I mean, from ourselves and the lives we've been living for too long, with too little freshness, too little risk, too little thrill and way too much predictability and self-pity and unbelief and fruitless busyness. But check this out. Your life right now is usable in God's hands for new things. Jesus said to some fishermen, "Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people" (Mark 1:17).

If you are following Jesus, well, have you led anyone to Christ in 2008? You don't have to change your job, but you might have to change your purpose.

If we go into 2009 with the same purposes, the same priorities, the same schedule, the same patterns, the same circle of friends as 2008, nothing will change. But a new land of freedom and opportunity, as it were, awaits us. Let's go there. God will help us get there. But we do have to leave some things behind and make new risks a priority.

Please pray for me, that people who know me will be surprised at what they see as 2009 plays out. And I will pray for you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

2 Timothy 2:3

How to work with God as your boss

By accident?

Questioner: Materialists and some astronomers suggest that the solar planetary system and life as we know it was brought about by an accidental stellar collision. What is the Christian view of this theory?

Lewis: If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents -- the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else's. But if their thoughts -- i.e., of Materialism and Astronomy -- are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents.

C. S. Lewis, "Answers to Questions on Christianity," in God in the Dock, pages 52-53.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Day


“He who loves not wine, woman and song is a fool his whole life long." Martin Luther

"Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." 1 Timothy 4:4

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dylan: how not to do an interview


Dylan in attack mode, out to embarrass this TIME reporter. He makes some good points, but it's all wrong. It's one aggressive gotcha after another. Not his finest hour.

"Flee youthful passions" (2 Timothy 2:22). That verse isn't about sex. It's about the immature pleasure of arguing in order to show off, having fun by making someone else look stupid, an unrestrained ego brutalizing someone else, smart-alecky cleverness displaying itself and scoring points.

"I'm so honest, I'm so free, I'm so radical, look at me." A good thing to repent of.

Doubt: a threshold to certainty


"Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 8.

I believe the Lord takes every one of his children to this place of bare trust in his Word. Without it, we would remain shallow. Through it, we emerge more deeply surrendered to God as God, more deeply settled and quietly certain and surprisingly satisfied.

I also believe that many of us are in that place of intense pressure right now.

God will keep us.

How sanctification works


Justification by grace empowers and spreads sanctification by grace.

I think of my inner self as a globe, a world, with many dark continents still unexplored, uncivilized, vast jungles of primitive impulses. But Jesus the Liberator steps ashore on the coast of one of those continents, plants the flag of his kingdom in my consciousness and declares peace. That is justification.

Then sanctification begins. For example, it doesn't take long for a half-naked savage to run out onto the beach with spear in hand to attack Jesus. This is some selfish desire in me rising up against the King. But he declares peace all over again and subdues that aspect of me by the force of his grace. "Clothed and in his right mind" (Mark 4:15) is the picture.

The King starts moving steadily inland, planting his flag in ever new regions of my being. He brings one dark thing after another into my awareness, declares peace again and again and again, and thereby establishes civilization.

Sanctification works as I re-experience the surprise of justification, applied to new points of need.

God sees, whether or not right prevails

Someday I will stand before God and give an account of my life. Right now I stand before the forces of history, and I feel small. But winning is not essential. Getting ready to give a good account to God is the only essential. On that great and final day, even small things will matter.

This is why I signed the petition to oppose the Freedom of Choice Act. I hope you'll sign it too. You can here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Francis Schaeffer discusses the early church


"A human god is a poor foundation."

"The Christians were not persecuted because they worshiped Jesus; they were persecuted because they worshiped Jesus only."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ed Bradley interviews Bob Dylan


About 3:07 into it:

EB: As you probably know, Rolling Stone magazine just named your song "Like a Rolling Stone" the number one song of all time. Twelve of your songs are in their list of the top 500. That must be good to have as a part of your legacy.

BD: Oh, maybe this week. But the list -- they change names quite frequently really. I don't really pay much attention to that.

EB: But it's a pat on the back, Bob.

BD: This week it is. But you know, who's to say how long that's gonna last?

Where's the wolf?


Where's the wolf? Right there, indistinguishable. Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15).

HT: David Roper blog.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The eyes of the reborn

"Suddenly to be caught up in the wonder of God's love flooding the universe, made aware of the stupendous creativity which animates all life, of our participation in it, every color brighter, every meaning clearer, every shape more shapely, every note more musical, every word written and spoken more explicit. . . . The animals too, flying, prowling, burrowing, all their diverse cries and grunts and bellowings, and the majestic hilltops, the gaunt rocks giving their blessed shade, the rivers faithfully making their way to the sea, all irradiated with this same glory for the eyes of the reborn."

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, pages 54-55.

Courage is infectious

"This morning I lingered over my breakfast, reading and re-reading the accounts of the Dunkirk evacuation. I felt as if deep inside me there was a harp that vibrated and sang . . . . I forgot I was a middle-aged woman who often got up tired and also had backache. . . . It was a very hot morning and work was slowed a little, but somehow I felt everything to be worthwhile, and I felt glad I was of the same race as the rescuers and the rescued."

From the diary of a working-class English woman, 5 June 1940, quoted in John Lukacs, Five Days In London: May 1940, pages 211-212

My civic duty


Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the malls, this happens. Your wife or child could have been in this Target. Think about it.

If you have access to deer hunting land in the Nashville area, remember that gun season opens this next Saturday. I am available to do my civic duty and help rid our fair land of this threat to public safety. Just call or email me.

This buck's story, of course, was that he was only shopping for camo. Hmmm.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Psalm 1


In this provocative blog post, C. J. Mahaney helps me ask a change-conducive question: "Am I deploying my daily life fruitfully or just racing through it busily?" I am drawn back to Psalm 1.

The psalm bristles with contrasts. Not nuances. Stark contrasts. And not because the psalm is simplistic but because it is so profound. In this world's Gadarene rush of ever-expanding options we need that blunt clarity. Psalm 1 calls us back to the one choice we all face every day: good versus evil. It's that profound. It's a choice between simple confidence in the Spirit-filled ways of God versus nervous, hyper-active, carnal worldliness.

Here are a couple of ways the psalm achieves that clarity. The word "not" occurs six times (in the Hebrew text), and the word "but" occurs three times. The logic embedded in Psalm 1 is "not this, but that." The wicked/sinners/scoffers in verse 1 are all actively busy, discussing their counsels and proceeding in their ways and ridiculing everything from their lofty seats. But is it getting them anywhere, really? Taking a closer look in verse 4, we discover that they are being blown along as chaff before the wind. By contrast, the blessed man is meditating on God's law, in verse 2. He is planted like a tree, in verse 3. And his life is really making a difference. It's a picture of impotent restlessness versus fruitful quietness. Wasn't it Pascal who said that all the world's troubles are due to men's inability to sit quietly in a room and read a book? Couldn't we make that case for The Book?

Busyness can be a drug. It makes us feel important and needed. Fruitfulness is another matter. It is a miracle of God's grace through his Word, imparted to a heart that stays quiet and low before him, set upon doing his will only.

I need this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Pulpit

The pulpit, therefore, (and I name it filled
with solemn awe, that bids me well beware
with what intent I touch that holy thing;)
the pulpit (when the satirist has at last,
strutting and vaporing in an empty school,
spent all his force, and made no proselyte;)
I say the pulpit (in the sober use
of its legitimate, peculiar powers)
must stand acknowledged, while the world shall stand,
the most important and effectual guard,
support, and ornament of virtue's cause.
There stands the messenger of truth. There stands
the legate of the skies; his theme divine,
his office sacred, his credentials clear.
By him, the violated law speaks out
its thunders, and by him, in strains as sweet
as angels use, the gospel whispers peace.
He 'stablishes the strong, restores the weak,
reclaims the wanderer, binds the broken heart,
and, armed himself in panoply complete
of heavenly temper, furnishes with arms
bright as his own, and trains, by every rule
of holy discipline, to glorious war,
the sacramental host of God's elect.

William Cowper, 1731-1800.

The relevance of irrelevance

"I am doggedly sworn to irrelevance, insofar as relevance implies a corrupt indebtedness to modernity. . . . My deepest desire as a theologian is to be permitted to study the unchanging God without some pragmatic reason. I simply want to enjoy the study of God -- not write about it, not view it in relation to its political residue, or pretentiously imagine it will have some social effect. The joy of inquiry into God is a sufficient end in itself. . . .

I relish those times when there are no responsibilities but to engage in this quiet dialogue that is my vocation. Then, I readpray, studypray, workpray, thinkpray, because there is nothing I more want to do.

So when old activist friends ask why I'm not out there on the street working to change the world, I answer that I am out on the street in the most serious way by being here with my books, and if you see no connection there, you have not understood my vocation. I do not love the suffering poor less by offering them what they need more."

Thomas C. Oden, "Last Wednesday's Theology," Christianity Today, 10 February 1992, page 9.

"Come to me"


"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus gets personal with us. There is Jesus, there is you and me, and he is inviting us over to him. We need no mediator. He is the mediator. We come to him personally, directly, immediately, as we are. He says, "Come to me." We say, "Here I come."

He gives incentives. One, the "me" we come to is Jesus himself. Nothing to fear there. Two, he will give us rest. We don't earn it. He gives it. He promises to give it. And deeply, too, right down to our souls. Three, his heart is gentle and lowly. The more we experience him, the more we experience this. His heart is not touchy, not sullen, not resentful, not haughty. The Son of God came down as an egoless nobody to make friends with self-important people like us, and he has not changed. Four, his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Jesus is the easiest person in the universe to get along with. He does not impose burdens; he lifts them away. We are the difficult ones, the tense ones, the prickly ones, the hard-to-please ones, the nothing-is-ever-good-enough ones. But Jesus -- he just melts in your mouth.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Church membership

"We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down. Starting with the doctrine that every individual is 'of infinite value,' we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs. In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him. He is capable of receiving value. He receives it by union with Christ. There is no question of finding for the individual a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy. The place was there first. The individual was created for it. He will not be himself until he is there."

C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory, page 174.

Tour ancient Rome via your computer


The Times of London announces a computer-generated window into ancient Rome here.

How to be revival-ready


"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 towards all men: 'Let your moderation be known unto all men; the Lord is at hand' (Phil. 4:5). The awe of the Divine Majesty that appears present or approaching should dispose us to it and deter us from the contrary.

For us to be judging one another and behaving with fierceness and bitterness one towards another, when he who is the Searcher of all hearts, to whom we must all give an account, appears so remarkably present, is exceeding unsuitable. Our business at such a time should be at home, searching and condemning ourselves and taking heed to our own behavior.

If there be glorious prosperity to the church of God approaching, those that are the most meek will have the largest share in it."

Jonathan Edwards, "Thoughts on the Revival," in Works, I:421.

". . . when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth." Psalm 76:9

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A profound ability to absorb adversity


They can keep their horse-drawn buggies, but I'll take "their strong sense of yieldedness to God" any day.

Apostolic tactics

"It is true that as Paul debated on Mars Hill or spoke to the gullible crowd in Lystra, he did not work from his Jewish Scriptures as he did in the synagogues. But this was a tactical device. He reduced the differences between himself and his audience almost to a vanishing point, but only so as to stress his distinctiveness more clearly once they had seen his point."

Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File, page 201.

Cal Thomas on the Religious Right

Cal Thomas wisely reflects upon the failure of the Religious Right here.

The church is the secret government of the world, not by bullying or plotting but by being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Our influence depends not on favorable historical trends but on our integrity before Christ. And unfavorable historical trends are an ideal setting for the display of Christ's glory, as he himself proved at his cross. No power on earth can withstand the weakness of the cross.

Regret turns to rejoicing

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6

It isn't just that you and I have regrets as we look back over our lives. Sadly, we are our regrets. Terrifyingly, we are God's regrets.

As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:5

It isn't just that God forgives us our evil and stupidity. Surprisingly, he counts us righteous in Christ. Astonishingly, he will present us to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing and he will rejoice over us.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cowabunga, dude!


HT: The Times of London.

Promises

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change. Psalm 15:1, 4

A promise must be kept, even when it turns out to cost us more than we expected. Inconvenience does not dissolve obligation. Inconvenience makes promise-keeping all the more beautiful, even God-like.

God is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper. He made us covenantal beings living in a covenantal universe. Our lives unfold with his beauty as we receive, believe, make and keep promises. It costs us. But it cost God too. His cross inspires in us the depth of personal character that doesn't go with the flow but keeps a promise even when unforeseeable eventualities make it hard. The unforeseeableness of the future is the very reason why we make promises. It's why promises are valuable. In a world of contingencies, promise-keeping is the glue that holds us together.

If in the course of life we find a promise hard to keep, we must not think, "Hey wait a minute, this is costing me more than I bargained for. This can't be right. This makes me mad. There must be someone else to blame for this. Now, who can I dump on as my excuse to get out of this?" If we choose to make a promise, and the promise is morally legitimate -- like marriage vows, joining a church, and so forth -- then let's cheerfully and wholeheartedly keep our word, no matter what. It's the Christlike thing to do. It's a pathway into God's personal presence in his tent and on his holy hill. And if God feels remote and unreal, maybe there's a promise we have forsaken. Maybe the way to deeper enjoyment of God is to go back and fulfill that costly promise we've been ignoring.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The same swamp

"Who then can pride himself over against someone else and claim to be better than he? Especially in view of the fact that he is always capable of doing exactly the same as the other does and, indeed, that he does secretly in his heart before God what the other does openly before men. And so we must never despise anyone who sins but must generously bear with him as a companion in a common misery. We must help one another just as two people caught in the same swamp assist each other. Thus we must 'bear one another's burdens and fulfill the law of Christ' (Galatians 6:2). But if we despise the other, we shall both perish in the same swamp."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, page 115.

How does one give reasons for this?

"Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him. Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him. Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him. Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family. Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend. Paul was 'in the flesh'; Christ set him 'in the Spirit.' Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace. Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God. How does one give reasons for this? He does not give reasons; he sings, 'Blessed be God who blessed us . . . even as he chose us in him.'"

Lewis B. Smedes, Union With Christ, pages 86-87.

The most important word in the universe

What is the most important Book in the universe? The Bible. Which book within the Bible is the most important? Romans. Which chapter in Romans is the most important? Chapter 3. Which paragraph in Romans 3 is the most important? Verses 21-26. Which verse in that paragraph is the most important? Verse 25. Which word in verse 25 is the most important? Propitiation: ". . . whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith."

Therefore, the most important word in the most important verse in the most important paragraph in the most important chapter in the most important book within the most important Book in the universe is propitiation. That word is worth studying, understanding, revering.

I thank Dr. Murray Harris for proposing this line of reasoning in a faculty devotional at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School some years ago.

The one essential condition

"The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great, they will not go on living and die of despair."

Dostoevsky, quoted in T. M. Kitwood, What is Human?, page 134.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Performance in Music City USA


Performance counts here in Music City USA. And why not? Everyone wants to shine, we do look for excellence, and there really is a lot of impressiveness around. In fact, the glory of God is shining through all this talent, whether or not the music is meant for him.

But there is a dark side to a culture of performance. The dark side is bondage to appearances -- smiling, beautiful, clever, attractive appearances. Nashville is a city of truly amazing people. But under the surface are also stories of unspoken disappointment, insecurity, heartache, loneliness, fear, regret, injury, even as the show must go on. And we may well wonder, "Does anyone care about my broken heart?"

The gospel opens a door to freedom of heart by telling the success story of Someone Else: "But now the applause of God is heard -- without our own hard-won performances" (Romans 3:21, paraphrased).

What difference would it make if we knew deep within that the only One whose opinion finally matters has already chosen us for a Lifetime Achievement Award because of his performance for us, in our place? Wouldn't we relax? Wouldn't it free our creativity to perform better on the stage of this life right now? Wouldn't it help us cheer for someone else's success too?

This freedom can be ours moment by moment, as we receive approval from God on terms of his perfect grace. Jesus said to everyone tired of keeping up the act, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Luke 1:37

A different man?


"What I want to ask you is: Would you help me become a different man?"

Ex-Nazi Albert Speer, to Pastor Georges Casalis, chaplain in Spandau Prison, the late 1940s, quoted in Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, page 23.

The cry of the heart, longing for a Redeemer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Billy Graham turns 90


In 1949, a movement of God began in Los Angeles that continues with force today. He set Billy Graham apart to himself for remarkable usefulness in the gospel. Many of us have been helped, directly and indirectly. This Friday, his ninetieth birthday, we thank the Lord for Dr. Billy Graham.

"Have you trusted Christ Jesus as Savior? Tonight I am glad to tell you as we close that the Lord Jesus Christ can be received, your sins forgiven, your burdens lifted, your problems solved, by turning your life over to him, repenting of your sins and turning to Jesus Christ as Savior. Shall we pray?"

I love this man dearly.

The gospel spirit

"The gospel spirit is a catholic spirit, a noble and unconfined benevolence, like unto that of our Creator, not confined to any particular part of mankind exclusive of others. . . . To make the wickedness of men the cause of contention and strife in us is to make one sin the cause of another. We cannot please the devil better than by hating men's persons under pretense of duty."

Jonathan Edwards, quoted in George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, page 97.

Not so long ago


So, what ideas that we hold onto today will look this dumb in fifty years? The only escape from the prison of our cultural moment is the eternal truth of the Word of God.

Freedom

"Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else. It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom. God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom."

Whittaker Chambers, Witness, page 16.

Election Day 2008

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing;
he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, "What have you done?"

Daniel 4:35

Friday, October 17, 2008

40 years ago today


I just have to fit this in.

Forty years ago today I took Jani out on our first date. We began falling in love quickly, easily, happily. I believe the Lord gave me his best in all her generation. Why me? I don't know. I can't figure it out. But I am so thankful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In and out of town


I will be in and out of town the next few weeks, including some deer hunting in Georgia and Idaho. Hopefully, my 2008 season will be better than 2007, which was kind of like this video. Contrary to rumor, however, the video is not me. Really.

I'm glad to say I will not miss a Sunday at Immanuel -- with the one exception of November 2nd. Dane Ortlund will be Immanuel's guest preacher that Sunday, when I will be at Christ Community Church in Idaho Falls. It will be a delight to be with my new friends there, but it will also be a pleasure for Immanuel to have Dane here. May the power of the gospel come down on Nashville, on Idaho Falls, and on your city through your ministry too. We are in this together.

Thank you for checking Christ Is Deeper Still. I will resume blogging in early November. Until then, God be with you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Privilege


It is a privilege to have any Bible at all. I have a new one now. My copy of the ESV Study Bible has arrived. Opening it up is like stepping into a conversation with respected friends about the most important thing any of us can think about -- who God really is, who we really are, and what God has done, is doing and will do for people like us, to the praise of his glorious grace. Privilege upon privilege.

What a marvelous opportunity

"What a wonderful open door God has placed before the church of today. A pagan world, weary and sick, often distrusting its own modern gods. A saving gospel strangely entrusted to us unworthy messengers. A divine Book with unused resources of glory and power. Ah, what a marvelous opportunity, my brethren!"

J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent, page 154.

Normal

"Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man."

Flannery O'Connor, "The Grotesque in Southern Fiction," in Mystery and Manners, page 44.

We live in a time of personal eccentricity, goofiness, experimentation, adolescence, quirkiness -- angular people not connecting well and not understanding why and not even knowing who they themselves are. To be normal in our times is a significant grace. It requires that we know the Bible pretty well and can then take the next step of visualizing how that loveliness and wisdom in Christ can be embodied in our own humannness and dailyness and ordinariness and routines and opportunities and relationships. It is so refreshing to meet a normal person, an uncomplicated person, an honest and simple person. They are treasures, heroes, models.

How's this for a life goal? To be normal.

"May the beauty of the Lord our God rest upon us." Psalm 90:17

James 3:10


HT: Justin Taylor.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An eternal legacy

Himself

"Christ is not offered us merely as a Savior who does something for us, but he is offered us as Someone who, having done something for us, is himself the propitiation [Romans 3:25]. . . . It is not as if Christ handed you something and said, 'Here is your redemption, here is your forgiveness,' and then ran away, as a messenger hands a gift in at the door and the door shuts and away goes the messenger; he has done his job. Not a bit of it! It is Christ himself, the Worker, who comes to us himself. It is Christ personally who is our salvation. . . . It is Christ himself, personally, who comes to us with all the efficacy, the fruit of what he has done, and is the propitiation for our sin."

William Still, The World Of Grace, page 96.

Why the church matters

“. . . the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15

The church is suffering massive loss of prestige in our time. This may be the most salient and abiding mark of our generation. Does it matter? Why fight to re-dignify the church? What is at stake here?

“The church of the living God.” A church is where the idols of our culture can be clearly discredited and the living God rallied around, rejoiced in, worshiped, studied, loved and obeyed. If the church is dead, God’s own appointed testimony to his living reality powers down. The felt reality of God in the world today is at stake in our churches.

“The pillar and buttress of the truth.” A "pillar" holds something up high for all to see. In this world, the one truth that will not only outlast America but will outlast the universe needs to be put on clear display rather than submerged under all the stuff that’s demanding our attention week in and week out. A church can make the gospel obvious and accessible through preaching, teaching, memorizing, catechizing, blogging, etc.

A "buttress" firms something up, makes it strong. For many, the gospel does not feel strong. Other things hold them together. A church buttresses the gospel by showing that it really works. Not only does the gospel create the church, but a church also buttresses the gospel. The gospel starts feeling solid and believable and urgently needed as our greatest resource in all of life.

By divine appointment, the church makes the real God seem real, it shouts the truth loudly enough that busy people actually start paying attention, and it embodies living proof that the gospel is a saving power for real people living real lives today.

The church matters. Your church matters. God bless you this Sunday.

Christ's hand, sure and firm

"Let us then as Christians rejoice that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them. For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect, when in the shivering cold the last faggot has been thrown on the fire and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it's then that Christ's hand reaches out sure and firm. Then Christ's words bring inexpressible comfort, then his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever."

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, page 56.

Who he is

"Let Him do what He pleases with me; I desire only Him, and to be wholly devoted to Him."

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, second letter.

The deepest level of our relationship with Christ is not what he does with us today but who he is for us today. We can't predict from our experience what he'll do, but we know from the Bible who he is. "The Lord is my portion, says my soul; therefore I will hope in him" (Lamentations 3:24).

May our hearts dwell quietly in that deep resting place today.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Now he could relax

"About fifteen years ago I was sitting at the dining room table looking out the window and watching five boys fooling around with a BB-gun and wondering a little to myself how long it would be before one of them shot another in the eye. Finally one of them grabbed the gun to shoot at a little sparrow sitting on a tree just outside the dining room window through which I had been watching this whole performance. I could see the whole action unfolding before my eyes; it seemed almost slow-motion, uncanny, inevitable. The boy aimed deliberately at the bird, shot at the bird, missed the bird and put a hole in the window right in front of me, and away they all ran with me racing out of the house after them. I didn't catch any of them!

In a few days I had found out that a boy named Dave White had pulled the trigger. Also in a few days I had the window fixed and paid for. Then I began to think about Dave. He was evading me at every turn. He would not face me and he had no notion of confessing. In the meantime the other boys had floated back to games in the vacant lot and in the street in front of the house, while Dave, the guilty one, was on the outside of all this, 'weeping and gnashing his teeth.' He would have none of us. So I went after him, not to punish him but to save him. He had to face me in judgment, then in grace; only thus could we renew our fellowship, only thus could I bring him back to the gang.

I caught him alone. Now we stood face to face to have it out. The boy was rebellious, tense, tight, ready to fight me, ready to run away again. He admitted he had wronged me but I gave him the surprising message that the window had been paid for, that I had no notion of collecting anything from him, that what really interested me was to know how we could get him to come back to be one of the gang again. . . . I told him over and over again the same old story: the price has been paid, it's all over; let's be friends. What a time I had getting that message through to him. Why? Because he didn't believe me. There is always an unbelievable quality in the wonder of what we call grace. But I wish you could have seen him when he finally did believe me. What a wonderful look, what a release of tensions, what a rolling away of the burdens, what a newness of life. Now he could quit running. Now he could relax. Talk about peace of mind; you should have seen that boy. What total commitment he offered me henceforth, and by no request of mine! There was nothing he wouldn't do for me."

Addison H. Leitch, Interpreting Basic Theology, pages 113-114.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Luke 17:3

"If your brother sins, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him." Luke 17:3

Two if-clauses here. First if-clause:

If your brother sins -- chapter-and-verse disobedience to the Bible -- and the sin is against you, rebuke him. Not a demeaning humiliation. Just sit down with him and say, "Brother, here in [biblical text], God says . . . . But last Tuesday, you and I were in that meeting and, as I recall, you said/did . . . . Brother, I can't see how that behavior lines up with this verse. How do you see it?" No vague generalities, but verifiable facts, clearly addressed by the Bible.

We need to have the freedom to rebuke one another's sinful and foolish behavior. But let's be gentle and respectful. Let's offer the brother an opportunity to explain himself. After all, there might be more to it than one realizes. And let's avoid the verb "to be" ("You are . . .") or "always" and "never" ("You always/never . . ."). Those categories are too absolute to be fair. They blast the brother to smithereens, with no dignity left.

Second if-clause:

If he repents, forgive him. Conditional forgiveness? Yes. The Lord is explaining how to restore the relationship. We must forgive unconditionally and absolutely within our hearts. But for the relationship to be restored, there must be confession of sin. How can a sin be forgiven, if it's never been confessed? So hopefully the brother says, "Darn it, you're right. I didn't see it that way at the moment, but there it is in the Bible. I was wrong, I'm sorry, and it won't happen again. Is there anything I can do now to fix the situation?"

What he needs to hear is, "Dear brother, thank you for receiving what I said so humbly. It's why people respect you. I do forgive you, and wholeheartedly. Thank you for asking about follow-through. Yes, there is something positive that would help. Let's work on it together. What would you think of . . . ?"

The Lord makes these practical things clear. He is wise. Let's follow him.

Pray for your pastor

"And who and what are ministers themselves? Frail men, fallible, sinning men, exposed to every snare, to temptation in every form; and from the very post of observation they occupy, the fairer mark for the fiery darts of the foe. They are no mean victims the great Adversary is seeking, when he would wound and cripple Christ's ministers. One such victim is worth more to the kingdom of darkness than a score of common men; and on this very account, the temptations are probably more subtle and severe than those encountered by ordinary Christians. If this subtle Deceiver fails to destroy them, he artfully aims at neutralizing their influence by quenching the fervor of their piety, lulling them into negligence, and doing all in his power to render their work irksome. How perilous the condition of that minister then, whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people! It is not in his own closet and on his own knees alone that he finds security and comfort and ennobling, humbling and purifying thoughts and joys; but it is when his people also seek them in his behalf that he becomes a better and happier man and a more useful minister of the everlasting gospel."

Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit, pages 223-224.

I have been ordained for 33 years now, but I have never before been so aware of faithful ministers under intense distress and temptation and outright attack. I myself am in green pastures and beside still waters, for which I am grateful. But it is not so for many others right now. Unable to see the battles being fought in the heavenlies and unwilling to speculate about them, I can plead that every church organize regular prayer for her pastor.

I have never seen a faithful pastor too much prayed for, too much encouraged, too much loved and cheered on, though I have seen members oddly concerned that the pastor be reminded of how dispensable he is, how inadequate he is, and so forth. The result, and maybe the intention, is weak churches.

In these times of intense pressure on us all, half-way Christianity is no longer a credible option. It's all for Christ or nothing. Our churches are the front line of spiritual battle, and the pastors are at the forefront of the battle. Pray for your pastor, encourage him, empower him. If the battle is to be won in our generation, it will be a shared victory. We stand or fall together.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The uncertainty of riches

"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not . . . to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy." 1 Timothy 6:17

We think of poverty as uncertain and riches as secure and certain. Yes, poverty is uncertain. But so are riches. Riches in this present age cannot be anything but uncertain. It is their nature to go up, then down, then up, then whatever. And the more riches, the more of this endless uncertainty. Even big banks fail.

Christians are not surprised when riches prove to be as uncertain as the Bible has always said they are. Our hope is in God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

Uncertainty with anxiety versus hope with enjoyment. May we be living proof of hope in God during these days of testing.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

No excuses left

The world is a mess, and it's always someone else's fault. Every rational person on the face of the earth knows something is wrong, and every single one is pointing at the next guy saying, "He's to blame." Everyone is an exception. This is our natural moral psychology.

The gospel pierces our bulletproof self-images, so that the grace of God can pour in with real healing. How? In Romans 1:18-32, Paul confronts Mr. Self-Indulgence, who sees the world as his playground, with no rules but his own appetites and ego. In Romans 2:1-16, Paul confronts Mr. Moral High Ground, who looks at others with scorn and upholds a strict moral code but is always looking for loopholes for himself. In Romans 2:17-29, Paul confronts Mr. Biblical Worldview, who is so sure of himself because he knows the Bible and looks at everyone else with the thought, "Well, I may not be perfect, but at least I KNOW what's right!" But his heart has some very ugly secrets.

All three human profiles -- Mr. Self-Indulgence, Mr. Moral High Ground, Mr. Biblical Worldview -- are "under sin" (Romans 3:9). There are no exceptions. All need a new heart, created by the Holy Spirit. All need a grace from beyond themselves that flies in under their radar with humbling self-awareness that bows low and says, "I fall short of the glory of God. In fact, there is no justification for my life at all. God, be merciful to me, a sinner." This is the one who is justified by God's grace, as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

May our ministries tomorrow lead Mr. Self-Indulgence, Mr. Moral High Ground and Mr. Biblical Worldview into newness of life as a gift of overflowing grace.

Friday, October 3, 2008

God knows how to forget

"When Pompey was killed, Julius Caesar obtained possession of a large casket, which contained a vast amount of correspondence which had been carried on with Pompey. There is no doubt whatever that in that casket there were many letters from certain of Caesar's followers making overtures to Pompey, and had Caesar read those letters it is probable that he would have been so angry with many of his friends that he would have put them to death for playing him false. Fearing this, he magnanimously took the casket and destroyed it without reading a single line. What a splendid way of putting away and annihilating all their offenses against him! Why, he did not even know them, he could not be angry, for he did not know that they had offended. He consumed all their offenses and destroyed their iniquities, so that he could treat them all as if they were innocent and faithful.

The Lord Jesus Christ has made just such an end of your sins and mine. Does not the Lord know our sins, then? Yes, in a certain sense. And yet the Lord declares, 'Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.' In a certain sense, God cannot forget. But in another sense, he himself declares that he remembers not the sins of his people but has cast them behind his back. 'The iniquities of Israel,' says he, 'shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found.'

An accusing spirit might have said to Caesar, 'Do you not know that Caius and Florus were deeply involved with your enemy, Pompey?' 'No,' he replies, 'I know nothing against them.' 'But in that casket there is evidence.' 'Ah,' rejoins the hero, 'there remains no casket. I have utterly destroyed it.'"

C. H. Spurgeon, Treasury of the New Testament, IV:131-132.

God not domesticated

"The God of the Bible repudiates metaphysical compliments, however orthodox, ritual tributes, however splendid, and moral rectitude, however rigorous, when they are set in the context of instrumental religion, offered to a god we hope to domesticate."

Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism, page 15.

The greatest wonder


When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4

The greatest wonder is not that God made the universe; the greatest wonder is that the Maker of the universe is mindful of and cares for you and me. And he does. Right now.

The only safe place

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33

In our anxious times, this verse stands out. Let's be clear about what the Lord is saying.

The Lord isn't saying, "If what you really want is 'all these things,' here's how you get it. Seek first God's kingdom and righteousness." He can't be saying that, because seeking God's kingdom and righteousness first means first. The word "first" makes the kingdom and righteousness, not the 'all these things,' our true goal. God is generous, but he will not be used as a stepping-stone to something higher.

The Lord is saying, "Make it THE goal of your life, even above necessities, to seek God's kingdom and righteousness. Use everything else in your life to make progress toward this goal and to help others make progress toward this goal. Don't use God toward the things of this life, but use the things of this life toward God, and God promises he will back you up. He will give you all of 'all these things' that you need for a God-seeking-first, kingdom-advancing-first, righteousness-pursuing-first lifestyle."

Every one of us is either seeking God or using God, moment by moment. The word "first" reveals the difference. And God's promise belongs to all who seek him first. The only safe place in all the world.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Back from Southern Seminary

Jani and I have just returned from three wonderful days at Southern Seminary in Louisville. Dr. Al Mohler and everyone at Southern simply overdid it in kindness to us. We thank them. May God continue to bless and use Southern Seminary.

We are glad to be back in Nashville and can't wait to go to Immanuel Church on Sunday.

Back to blogging tomorrow. Thanks for checking in.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Away to Southern Seminary

On Monday Jani and I leave for several days at Southern Seminary in Louisville. If you are in the area, we would love to see you. The schedule is here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lovely, biblical wisdom

Sinclair Ferguson is our tour guide through James, pointing out the helps awaiting us there for our daily use of words: DG Conference.

One more Sibbes

"There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us."

Richard Sibbes, Works, I:47.

The goodness of God

"Another way to love God is to consider his wonderful goodness. He is good and doth good. It is a communicative goodness. Let us think of his goodness and the streaming of it out to the creature. The whole earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. What are all the creatures but God's goodness? We can see nothing but the goodness of God. What is all the creation but Deus explicatus, God unfolded to the senses? He offers himself to our bodies and souls; all is God's goodness. . . .

He hath fitted every part of us, soul and body, with goodness, all the senses with goodness. What do we see but goodness in colors? What do we hear but his good in those delights that come that way? We taste and feel his goodness. . . .

But then for our souls, what food hath he for that? The death of Christ, his own Son, to feed our souls. The soul is a spiritual substance, and he thought nothing good enough to feed it but his own Son. . . . The soul, being continually troubled with the guilt of some sin or other, feeds on this. . . .

Then, as God's goodness is great and fit, so it is near us. It is not a goodness afar off but God follows us with his goodness in whatever condition we be. He applies himself to us, and he hath taken upon him near relations, that he might be near us in goodness. He is a father, and everywhere to maintain us. He is a husband, and everywhere to help. He is a friend, and everywhere to comfort and counsel. So his love is a near love. . . .

And then again this goodness of God is a free goodness, merely from himself, and an overflowing goodness and an everlasting goodness. It is never drawn dry; he loves us unto life everlasting. He loves us in this world and follows us with signs of his love in all the parts of us, in body and soul, till he hath brought body and soul to heaven to enjoy himself forever there.

These considerations may serve to stir us up to love God, and direct us how to love God."

Richard Sibbes, Works, 4:195-196.

This "they"

"I insist that up to now the Russian writings have been suffering from a lack of guilt feelings. This is the most difficult threshold which it is necessary to cross in order to say, 'We are to blame, not they.' It is the easiest thing in the world to say 'they.' Published works in our own country and in the whole world are full of this 'they.' Even fine literature is full of it."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "Press Conference on the Future of Russia," Zurich, 16 November 1974.

I love this guy!


Thanks, Jacqueline.

Why is life joyful?

Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, volume 2, pages 500ff., proposes a helpful line of thought:

If God is in fact our Enemy with only destructive intentions toward us, why do we experience any good at all? It isn't surprising that life is painful. What's surprising is that life is joyful. What do our simple, daily joys mean? Is God pretending to be our Friend, is he setting us up for the ultimate nasty surprise? Or is God sending us signals every day that his heart is loving and kind, so kind that we can go back to him in repentance and find his arms open to us?

Where does a warm cup of coffee come from? Where does meaningful and profitable work come from? Where does an interesting crossword puzzle come from? Where does a kiss from my wife come from? Where does a phone call from a friend come from? Where do happy memories of my children come from? Where do the uplifting challenges of tomorrow come from?

The gospel in Romans 2:4 alerts me to the message embedded in my daily joys: "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?"