Saturday, January 26, 2008

This just in

As I was shutting things down for a while (see next post), an email arrived from Julian Hardyman, a dear friend and the senior pastor of Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge, with this lovely witness to the truth of the gospel:

"He who believes the truth enters on the enjoyment of a happiness which is of the same nature and springs from the same sources as the happiness of God. Jehovah rests and rejoices in the manifestation made of His all-perfect character in the person and work of Jesus Christ; and he who believes enters into this rest and participates of this joy."

John Brown, Hebrews, page 210.

I am finding in this staggering truth -- that the universe is one continuous explosion of the glorious happiness of God and that, through union with Christ, I have been included on the inside of this mega-miracle forever -- I am finding in this staggering truth a source of personal encouragement deeper than I have known before. Life is such a privilege.

Thank you, Julian.

Back soon

Off to Vermont on Monday for several days of preaching. Thanks for checking in. Back soon.

God be with you.

Ray

The Glory All Around

"The little birds that sing, sing of God; the beasts clamor for him; the elements dread him, the mountains echo him, the fountains and flowing waters cast their glances at him, and the grass and flowers laugh before him."

John Calvin, quoted in Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, pages 192-193.

"The whole earth is full of his glory." Isaiah 6:3

"And they lived happily ever after."

"In this spiritual espousal or marriage relation between Christ and his people, there is a giving of themselves each to the other. Christ, on the one hand, gives himself unto the soul. 'I will be yours,' says he to the soul, 'yours to love you, to save you, to make you happy in me and with me. I, with all my riches and treasures, will be fully and forever yours.' . . . And Oh, how sweet is this language! What can Christ give to poor souls like himself? In giving himself, he gives the best gift that either heaven or earth affords! In giving himself, he gives life, he gives peace, he gives grace, he gives righteousness, he gives the favor of God, he gives heaven, he gives all. Oh, sweet gift! On the other hand, the soul, by way of return, gives itself to Christ. 'I will be thine,' says the soul to Christ. 'I will be for thee and not for another. . . . Sweet Jesus, such as I am and have I give to thee. I am a poor, a sorry gift,' says the soul, 'infinitely unworthy of thine acceptance. My best is too bad, my all is too little for thee; but seeing it is thy pleasure to call for and accept of such a gift at my hands, I do, with my whole soul, give my myself, my strength, my time, my talents, my all, forever to thee.'"

Edward Pearse, The Best Match, or, The Soul's Espousals to Christ, pages 5-6.

Does truth adjust, or do we?

"Heresy is often defined as an insistence upon one half of the truth; it can also be an attempt to simplify the truth, by reducing it to the limits of our ordinary understanding, instead of enlarging our reason to the apprehension of truth."

T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society, page 74.

“Our understanding of the [biblical] words is to be taken from the reasons why they were spoken, because the subject is not subordinated to the language but the language to the subject.”

Hilary of Poitiers (ca.315-367), De Trinitate, IV.14.

We must not shrink God down into the smallness of our thought categories; we must stretch our thought categories out to match the grandeur of God, according to Scripture.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Ultimate Apologetic

In the July 1954 issue of Reformation Review, Francis Schaeffer published a brief article entitled "How Heresy Should Be Met." He proposed that, to neutralize the heresies defrauding the people all around us, what is needed is a three-fold strategy:

"The final problem is not to prove men wrong, but to win them back to Christ. Therefore, the only ultimate successful apologetic is, first, a clear, intellectual statement of what is wrong with the false doctrine, plus a clear, intellectual return to the proper scriptural emphasis, in all its vitality and in its relation to the total Christian faith, plus a demonstration in the life that this correct and vital scriptural emphasis meets the genuine needs and aspirations of men in a way that Satan's counterfeit does not."

The ultimate apologetic is churches where (1) falsehood is exposed, (2) the truth is set forth, and (3) we together, though imperfect, are living proof that the gospel makes beautiful human beings.

Worthless sanctification

"How often when I was installed in the desert . . . I would imagine myself taking part in the gay life of Rome! . . . Although my only companions were scorpions and wild beasts, time and again I was mingling with the dances of girls. My face was pallid with fasting and my body chill, but my mind was throbbing with desires; my flesh was as good as dead, but the flames of lust raged in it."

Jerome, recalling his life of desert asceticism, quoted in J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings and Controversies, page 52.

"These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." Colossians 2:23

As good as it's going to get for him

"I always see the death's head lurking. I could be sitting at Madison Square Garden at the most exciting basketball game, and they're cheering and everything is thrilling, and one of the players is doing something very beautiful -- and my thought will be: 'He's only twenty-eight years old and I only wish he could savor this moment in some way, because, you know, this is as good as it's going to get for him.'"

Woody Allen, quoted in Frank Rich, "Woody Allen Wipes the Smile off his Face," Esquire, May 1977, page 75.

God himself

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

A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, pages 9-10.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"I am . . ."

"In these days, when at the command of the great gods my lordly sovereignty has manifested itself, going forth to plunder the goods of the lands, I am royal, I am lordly, I am mighty, I am honored, I am exalted, I am glorified, I am powerful, I am all powerful, I am brilliant, I am lion-brave, I am manly, I am supreme, I am noble."

Adad-Nirari II (911-891 B.C.), quoted in Daniel David Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, I:110.

"I am gentle and lowly in heart."

Jesus, quoted in Matthew 11:29.

Church planting

This brief video makes the case for new church plants:

Link

"Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!" Psalm 80:3

Nothing cuts us down to size

"Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, 'I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.' Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross."

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, page 179.

Exegesis!

"And now the end has come. So listen to my last piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis and yet more exegesis! Keep to the Word, to the Scripture that has been given us."

Karl Barth, in his final lecture upon getting kicked out of Bonn University, 1935

Quoted in Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth, page 259.

No bounds

"Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love!" Song of Solomon 5:1

"Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites. . . . They may drink, yea, swim in the rivers of spiritual pleasure."

Jonathan Edwards, a sermon thesis. I thank Prof. Don Westblade, Hillsdale College, for sharing with me his transcript of the Edwards manuscript.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Freedom from an overly tender conscience

"Penitent sorrow is only a purge to cast out those corruptions which hinder you from relishing your spiritual delights. Use it therefore as physic [medicine], only when there is need, and not for itself but only to this end, and turn it not into ordinary food. Delight in God is the health of your souls."

Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, Part 1, chapter 3, section 13, direction 20.

Just one more gift

God has given me so much. I am a rich man. But if God would give me just one more gift before I die, this is what I desire -- John 7:37-39. Coming to Christ with my thirst and drinking, so that rivers of living water flow out of my heart to many other people. "This he said about the Spirit." To understand this even a little, to experience it, spread it -- Lord, just one more gift.

Let us not dictate to God

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

Jeremiah Lanphier, Alone with Jesus: Gleanings for Closet Reading, page 88.

"You did awesome things that we did not expect." Isaiah 64:3

That's why all this has happened

"Over half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: 'Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.'

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: 'Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.'"

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Templeton Address, London, 10 May 1983.

Another conversion story

"God was pleased to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold of his dear Son by a living faith, and by giving me the Spirit of adoption, to seal me even to the day of everlasting redemption. Oh, with what joy -- joy unspeakable -- even joy that was full of and big with glory, was my soul filled, when the weight of sin went off, and an abiding sense of the pardoning love of God and a full assurance of faith broke in upon my disconsolate soul! Surely it was the day of mine espousals -- a day to be had in everlasting remembrance! At first my joys were like a spring tide, and overflowed its banks."

"I know the place! It may be superstitious, perhaps, but whenever I go to Oxford I cannot help running to that place where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me and gave me the new birth."

George Whitefield, quoted in Arnold A. Dallimore, George Whitefield, I:77.

A Minister's Inner Life

"Chief corruptions to be watched against: sourness, sadness, timorousness, forgetfulness, fretting, and inability to bear wrongs . . . .

Let me resolutely set myself to walk with God through the day. If anything fall out amiss, recover again speedily, by humble confession, hearty prayer for pardon, with confidence of obtaining. And so proceed.

Oh, mildness and cheerfulness with reverence, how sweet a companion art thou!

Few rare and worthy men continue so to their end, but, one way or other, fall into coldness, gross sin or to the world; therefore, beware!

Count not the daily direction nor Christian life to be bondage but count it the sweetest liberty and the only way to true peace. Whensoever this is counted hard, that state that is embraced instead thereof shall be harder."

John Rogers, quoted in Cotton Mather, The Great Works of Christ in America, I:424.

Tuesday, January 22, 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 vapouring 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, "The Task"

When you have shut the door

"Now then, little man, for a short while fly from your business; hide yourself for a moment from your turbulent thoughts. Break off now your troublesome cares, and think less of your laborious occupations. Make a little time for God, and rest for a while in him. Enter into the chamber of your mind, shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him, and, when you have shut the door, seek him. Speak now, O my whole heart, speak now to God: 'I seek thy face; thy face, Lord, do I desire.'"

Anselm, Proslogion, chapter 1.

The spirit of true religion

"This forced and artificial religion is commonly heavy and languid, like the motion of a weight forced upward. It is cold and spiritless, like the uneasy compliance of a wife married against her will, who carries it dutifully toward the husband whom she does not love, out of some sense of virtue or honor. Hence also this religion is scant and miserly, especially in those duties which do the greatest violence to men's carnal inclinations; and those slavish spirits will be sure to do no more than is absolutely required. It is a law that compels them, and they will be loath to go beyond what it stints them to; nay, they will ever be putting such glosses on it, as may leave themselves the greatest liberty. Whereas the spirit of true religion is frank and liberal -- far from such peevish and narrow reckoning, and he who hath given himself entirely unto God will never think he doth too much for Him."

Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, part one, "True Religion is Life."

"I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious. To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coat tail and the heavens hailing your heart -- to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask? Oh the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth!"

Jim Elliot, diary, 15 January 1951, quoted in HIS, April 1956, page 9.

When you became a Christian, did you think you were giving anything up? Were you acting out of a sense of virtue or honor? Or were you running away from all that, toward Someone in whose eyes you saw everything you desire?

Leadership as refusal: "But he wouldn't do it."

"Reagan had everything to gain -- everything in the eyes of the world -- if he had accepted the Reykjavik deal. He would have had the applause and respect of his foes, the thanks of a relieved world that would read the headlines the next morning that said BREAKTHROUGH! He would have been celebrated by history, known the pleasure of having given the world a gift of extraordinary and undreamed-of progress. Nothing but win all around him.

But he wouldn't do it. Because he didn't think it was right.

And because he didn't do it, the Soviet Union finally fell, crushed by a hundred forces but most immediately by its inability to keep up with the United States. The only thing that would have saved them was a cave-in on SDI. That way, the old status quo could continue.

And so the wall fell and Soviet communism fell and the expansionist threat fell, and every globe maker who made the globes for every schoolroom and office in the world had to redraw all the lines.

What a crisis that day was. What a tragedy it seemed. What a triumph it was."

Peggy Noonan, When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan, page 297.

Batter my heart

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
that I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
but is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
but am betrothed unto your enemy:
divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
take me to you, imprison me, for I
except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne, 1573-1631

Monday, January 21, 2008

When Christ seems absent

"In the time of his presence we have the sense of his love to us; but in the time of his absence then he sees, and we ourselves have the sense of, our love to him."

William Bridge, A Lifting Up For The Downcast, page 177.

The wonder was wrought

"At the end of three hours of dialogue with Gene Bedford that momentous Saturday in June I volunteered, 'I'm ready' -- and I somewhat understated my readiness by a fallback to Pascal's wager. 'If I go ahead, and there's nothing to it, I have nothing to lose,' I said; 'if I don't go ahead, and there is something to it, I have everything to lose.'

'Let's pray,' he said. We knelt down in the front of the car, Gene crowding down at the steering wheel and I beside him. There was a long silence during which I was unsure how to begin. A newspaper reporter and editor, and exposed in my youth to the Episcopal prayer book, I nonetheless lacked words appropriate to the moment.

'If I pray first,' Gene volunteered, 'will you repeat after me?' I agreed.

Sentence by sentence Gene prayed the Lord's Prayer, and I followed. Then I acknowledged my sinful condition and prayed God to cleanse my life of the accumulated evil of the years, to empty me of self and to make resident within me the Holy Spirit to guide and rule my life.

By the end of that prayer the wonder was wrought."

Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography, page 46.

God's goodness spreading toward us

"God's goodness is a spreading, imparting goodness. . . . [He] is more willing to bestow good than we are to ask it. He is so willing to bestow it that he becomes a suitor to us, 'Seek ye my face.' He seeks to us, to seek him. It is strange that heaven should seek to earth, and yet so it is."

Richard Sibbes, Works, VI:113.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"You are . . . ."

"Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." 1 Corinthians 1:30

"One always dies too soon, or too late. And yet one's whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are your life, and nothing else." Jean-Paul Sartre, "No Exit"

Which we are? United with Christ, who is for us everything desirable? Or our own lives and selves, with nothing else?

Because of God and his grace, we are inside the life of Someone Else.

Worse than war

"I said that war was a terrible evil, but there were worse things, including the extinction of all that one believed in. We could not allow aggression to succeed."

Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, page 230.

Truly Christian controversy

"As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side, for truth is great and must prevail, so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle. But I would have you more than a conqueror and to triumph not only over your adversary but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations . . . . As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him, and such a disposition will have a good influence on every page you write. If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven. He will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts. And though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever. But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But if God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now, and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, not his. Of all people who engage in controversy, we who are called Calvinists are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation."

John Newton, writing to a young minister, quoted in The Works of John Newton, I:268-270.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tolerance?

"In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair. . . the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die."

Dorothy Sayers, quoted in D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God, page 53.

I knew by your looks

"What is the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism? We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were overrun daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface, 'What is the chief end of man?' On receiving the countersign, 'Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever' -- 'Ah!' said he, 'I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!' 'Why, that was just what I was thinking of you' was the rejoinder.

It is worthwhile to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow up to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God."

John E. Meeter, editor, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, I:383-384.

Such an experience of his love

"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ." 2 Thessalonians 3:5

"As Dwight Moody walked the streets of New York seeking funds for rebuilding the religious facilities of Chicago [after the great Chicago fire], he admitted, 'My heart was not in the work of begging. I could not appeal. I was crying all the time that God would fill me with his Spirit.' Moody was so burned out that nothing else really mattered. He said that 'it did not seem as if there were any unction resting on my ministry.' He had endured almost four months of intense spiritual agony. 'God seemed to be just showing me myself. I found I was ambitious; I was not preaching for Christ; I was preaching for ambition. I found everything in my heart that ought not to be there. For four months a wrestling went on in me. I was a miserable man.'

But suddenly, 'after four months the anointing came. It came upon me as I was walking in the streets of New York.' The Holy Spirit came upon Moody in great force while he was walking down Wall Street. All of a sudden nothing was important except to be alone with the Lord. He went as fast as he could to the residence of a New York friend and asked for a room to pray in.

'Ah, what a day! I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it, it is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand.'"

Lyle W. Dorsett, A Passion For Souls: The Life of D. L. Moody, page 156.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Stuffed with wind

"My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them. That is not the reason. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment, it is because they have but a little in the world, and that if they had more then they should be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind. No, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach."

Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, page 91.

True ministry from God

"God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere and upright ministers."

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

Anybody need a scapegoat?

"And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness." Leviticus 16:21

"In Passion Week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord's Supper, I met with an expression to this effect -- 'that the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.' The thought came into my mind, What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly, I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus."

Charles Simeon, quoted in Handley C. G. Moule, Charles Simeon, pages 25-26.

Here we are, guilty people in a guilty world, often dumping our guilt and sadness on others, blaming them, pointing the finger, making ourselves out to be victims. Why are we like this? Because we know we cannot bear our own guilt. We deeply need someone else to bear it for us. "Hey roommate with whom I am having this argument, I am so unhappy, so uncertain about myself, but I know I cannot face the reality of what I am. So I want to make you the problem. Please stand still for five minutes while I really give it to you, okay? All this guilt, all this sorrow, all this anger -- would you please bear it away for me?" Trouble is, my roommate or spouse or child or parent or colleague or neighbor or whoever -- their strategy for off-loading their own misery is the same. Every human being on the face of the earth is so guilty, and looking for a scapegoat.

Above it all, Jesus stands forth and says to us, "Anyone need a scapegoat? How about me? The sin and regret and shame you cannot bear yourself -- at my cross, I carried away the guilt of many sinners, some worse than you, and that guilt will never ever return to them. I bore it away into a far wilderness. But I rose up from it all, too, because God was so pleased with me. I am the perfect scapegoat you're looking for. Bring it on."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The awesome, dangerous, solid realities

"Kierkegaard described accurately the sense of disorientation which a tamed modern religion produces in those who read the Bible:

'The New Testament therefore, regarded as a guide for Christians, becomes, under the assumption we have made, a historical curiosity, pretty much like a guidebook to a particular country when everything in that country has been totally changed. Such a guidebook serves no longer the serious purpose of being useful to travelers in that country, but at the most it is worth reading for amusement. While one is making the journey easily by railway, one reads in the guidebook, "Here it is a band of robbers has its stronghold, from which it issues to assault the travelers and maltreat them."'

Such a domesticated view of spiritual reality may be superficially comfortable for a while, but eventually it is simply not credible. We will have less anxiety ourselves and more of a hearing from the world if we will believe in and preach the awesome, dangerous, but solid realities taught in Scripture."

Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, page 144.

In my opinion, the [definite article] challenge of our times is for our churches to re-enter the world of New Testament revival power, without leaving the world of today.

How Edwards defined life

"In the Edwardses' world, the meaning of life was found in intense loves, including earthly loves."

George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, page 497.

If I were in conversation with Jonathan Edwards and he began a sentence by saying, "The meaning of life is . . .," and then he paused, I would await the completion of that sentence with eagerness. Here is an intellectual genius. Here is a man of God. Here is a formidable theologian. Here is a wise pastor. And he is about to propose to me THE meaning of life. "Okay, Pastor Edwards, I am so listening. Please complete that sentence for me."

Then he says, "Ray, the meaning of life is intense loves, including earthly loves." Not moderate loves. Not play-it-safe loves. Not this-won't-cost-you-anything loves. Not this-won't-thrill-you-to-your-core loves. Not let's-dabble-in-the-shallows loves. But intense loves. Brightly burning loves. All-consuming loves.

Deep in our timid hearts is a desire to be loved mildly, nothing more. That way, we retain control, we set the terms, we avoid risk. Our loving God, in his ferocious intensity, will have none of it. He defines the meaning of our lives, and we are saved from our anemic loves and brought by degrees into intense loves, like his own.

"Thank you, Pastor Edwards. I need to think about this."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

You are your secrets

O. Hobart Mowrer, the psychologist, set himself to understand more deeply our hollowed-out emotional lives. He noted that, commonly, when we perform a good deed, we advertise it, display it, draw attention to it, hoping to collect on the emotional credit of it then and there. But when we do something cheap, evil or stupid, we hide it, deny it, minimize it. And the discredit from that stays with us and even accumulates with each further sin. So we make ourselves chronically bankrupt in conscience and heart. Our lives are required of us, and we are found wanting. No felt "net worth." Lost confidence, pizzazz. Our positive energies are depleted by concealing, pretending, brooding.

Then Mowrer wondered, what if we reversed our strategy? What if we spent our lives admitting our weaknesses, owning up to our failures, naming our idiot-moments, confessing our follies, errors and debts, while also hiding away from everyone's view our smart ideas, heroic sacrifices, kind deeds, charities and virtues? What if, instead of throwing back at the other guy his worst failure while trotting out our best moment, we put up our worst against his best? And so forth. What would happen? Our hearts might start filling up.

He entitled his essay "You are your secrets." It is in his book The New Group Therapy, pages 65-71.

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. . . . Your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:1, 4).

Who is on display in preaching?

"No man can give at once the impressions that he himself is clever and that Jesus Christ is mighty to save."

James Denney, quoted in James S. Stewart, Heralds of God, page 74.

With us with the whole of himself

"When you pour yourself out over us, you do not lie there spilt but raise us up; you are not scattered, but gather us together. Yet all those things which you fill, you fill with the whole of yourself. Should we suppose, then, that because all things are incapable of containing the whole of you, they hold only a part of you, and all of them the same part? Or does each thing hold a different part, greater things larger parts, and lesser things smaller parts? Does it even make sense to speak of larger or smaller parts of you? Are you not everywhere in your whole being, while there is nothing whatever that can hold you entirely?"

Maria Boulding, translator, The Works of Saint Augustine: The Confessions, pages 40-41.

God is not divided up into chunks here and there, not even into conceptual chunks called attributes. He is everywhere with his whole being. Today, wherever we find ourselves, God will be with us wholeheartedly, with the whole of himself, without being limited by his giving of himself to us in all our particularities moment by moment.

Good morning, fellow millionaires

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

Peter Kreeft, Heaven, page 183.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

When we notice the dirt

"I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. . . . No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of his presence."

C. S. Lewis, letter, 20 January 1942, quoted in Clyde S. Kilby, A Mind Awake, page 162.

"One anothers" I can't find in the New Testament

Humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, correct one another, corner one another, run one another's lives, confess one another's sins, disapprove of one another . . . .

Here is one that does appear in the New Testament: "Outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10). A culture of honor. Who wouldn't want to live there?

Idolatry, the most natural thing in the world

“The conflict in Israel down to the Exile was the conflict between Yahweh and Baal. The Baals and Astartes were fertility gods and the type of religion they represent is ‘sexy.’ Not that there are not creator-gods in fertility religions. But the gods and goddesses with their marriages and illicit loves are so many parts of the stream of life and are borne along on its current. They are personifications of natural process. To make, and worship, iconic representations of them is the most natural thing in the world.”

Christopher R. North, "The Essence of Idolatry," Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 77 (1958): 159.

The outstanding non-event

"What is important in history is not only the events that occur but the events that obstinately do not occur. The outstanding non-event of modern times was the failure of religious belief to disappear."

Paul Johnson, A History of the Modern World from 1917 to the 1980's, page 698.

Good question

In a counseling conversation, a friend of Eric Clapton's asked him a good question:

"Chris's first question to me, at our very first session, was, 'Tell me who you are,' a very simple question you would think, but I felt the blood rush up to my face and wanted to yell at her, 'How dare you! Don't you know who I am?' Of course, I had no idea who I was, and I was ashamed to admit it."

Eric Clapton, Clapton: The Autobiography, page 257.

"Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves."

John Calvin, The Institutes, 1.1.1.

Union with Christ

"The heart of Paul's religion is union with Christ."

James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ, page 147.

"Union with Christ –- this is the sum and substance of the Christian's status, the definition of his relationship to Jesus, the large reality in which all the nuances of his new being are embraced."

Lewis B. Smedes, Union With Christ, page xi.

The startling language of "in Christ" -– we would never say we are "in George Washington" –- this startling language appears around 164 times in the writings of the apostle Paul, and it is not a case of mere verbal ingenuity. Paul can't stop talking about this, because it is a profound truth. Through the radical grace of God, we who were excluded and alienated and hostile have been so included that Paul has to invent a new way to say it: "You are in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor 1:30). We, the unclean, are not just washed; we are in the Holy One forever. We, the rebellious, are not just pardoned; we are in the King forever. We, the sad, are not just encouraged; we are in the Blessed One forever. We, the defeated, are not just empowered; we are in the Victor forever. We, the confused, are not just instructed; we are in the Sage forever. This is radical reconciliation, full provision, an astounding advantage. This is how the Jesus who lived 2000 years ago becomes our living Friend and Power today –- union with Christ. God announces to us that he has relocated us in his universe of grace. We are no longer outside Christ, and now not just before Christ or near Christ or beneath Christ, but in Christ. Let's inhale deeply from this new environment.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The very essence of authentic Christianity

"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory." 1 Peter 1:8

"When we come to verse 8 we find Peter describing for us what remains of Christian faith that has passed through the furnace of afflictions. In other words, verse 8 describes the end product of persecution and pain. It describes Christian faith in its rawest and purest form, the most holy essence of faith. This is 'grade-A' faith, faith that is as free as it can be, this side of heaven, of sinful additives and preservatives! Here is faith as it has never been seen before. Here is faith with the peripheral elements pared off, its spurious and superficial and hypocritical dregs drained away. In sum, verse 8 describes the very essence of authentic Christianity."

Sam Storms, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections, pages 38-39.

Humane, sustainable wisdom

"The cheerful of heart has a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15

One measure of humane, sustainable, biblical wisdom is not to take oneself so seriously that one becomes grimly self-focused but, instead, so to trust God that one retains a lifelong personal capacity for childlike fun, youthful play, hilarious frivolity, uncontrollable laughter to the point of tears and goofing off with a clear conscience. I believe this.

Redneck apologetics

A recent National Geographic article reports on the environmental benefits of responsible hunting:

Link

How to read the Bible

There are basically two ways to read the Bible -- as a book of law, or as a book of promise. Our natural religious psychology wants to read the Bible as law: "God is explaining here how I can win his favor." A law-hermeneutic is the pre-understanding we naturally bring to our Bible reading, every page. But in Galatians 3 Paul explains that he reads the Bible as a book of promise, and he wants us to as well. He sees every page of the Bible as gracious promise from God to undeserving sinners. Is there law in the Bible? Yes. But it was "added" (v. 19). Law was inserted after the promises to Abraham were established. It is promise that comes first (Genesis 12), then law comes later (Exodus 20). It is promise, therefore, that defines the all-encompassing framework within which we are to read everything else in the Bible.

You and I can confidently read the Bible with a hermeneutic of promise. Every page, including narrative, law, wisdom, praise, lament, prophecy -- every page, most deeply understood, shines forth as a promise of grace to sinners in Christ.

Restrictions

"Yes, restrictions do serve as barriers. If someone has a treasure that he doesn't want stolen, he hides it in a place inaccessible to thieves and robbers. If he fears that one lock isn't enough, he affixes two locks. If he suspects that someone may try to tunnel toward them, he'll post a guard. Think of the many restrictions assumed by those who are concerned with literature, theater, music, fashions, women, or other worldly passions. I read somewhere that Flaubert never repeated a word within the same chapter. There are rich and elegant women who won't wear the same dress twice. Yes, worldliness is full of restrictions, too."

Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Penitent, page 88.

Not our own, yet most truly ours

"There are, however, in the Book of God universal truths, and the wonderful thing about them is that they are at the same time more particularly adapted to you and me and all our innermost wants than anything we can discover for ourselves. That is the miracle of inspiration. For thousands and thousands of years some of the sayings here have comforted those who have well-nigh despaired in the desert of this world. The wisdom of millions of apostles, of heroes, of martyrs, of poor field laborers, of solitary widows, of orphans, of the destitute, of men driven to their last extremity, has been the wisdom of this volume -- not their own, and yet most truly theirs."

Mark Rutherford, The Revolution in Tanner's Lane, chapter 24.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Undeserved happiness an adjustment

"I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honorable toils and just rewards. Like other great men under reverses," he added with a smile, "I must endeavor to subdue my mind to my fortune. I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve."

Captain Wentworth, in Jane Austen, Persuasion, chapter 23.

Memory vs. Pride

"I did this," says my memory. "I cannot have done this," says my pride, remaining inexorable. Eventually, my memory yields.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Aphorism 68.

What humility feels like: overwhelming gratitude

"I have often said that the first thing I am going to do when I get to heaven is to ask, 'Why me, Lord? Why did you choose a farmboy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what you were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?'

I have thought about that question a great deal, but I know also that only God knows the answer. 'Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known' (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Every day a host of men and women serve Christ far more faithfully than I have done, often in hidden and difficult places, and I cannot help wondering why God entrusted such a highly visible ministry to us and not to them.

One of the joys of heaven, I am convinced, will be discovering the hidden ways that God in his sovereignty acted in our lives on earth to protect us and guide us so as to bring glory to his name, in spite of our frailty.

As I look back over the years, however, I know that my deepest feeling is one of overwhelming gratitude. I cannot take credit for whatever God has chosen to accomplish through us and our ministry; only God deserves the glory, and we can never thank him enough for the great things he has done."

Billy Graham, Just As I Am, page 723.

What method do you use?

The following conversation took place between D. L. Moody and a critic:

Critic: "Mr. Moody, I don't think your approach to evangelism is very effective."
Moody: "I am certain that it can be improved upon. What method do you use? I would like to learn how to do my work better."
Critic: "I don't have any method just now."
Moody: "Then I will stick to my way for the time being."

I thank Dr. Lyle Dorsett for this account.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Testing the truth

"'I would soon have renounced pleasure,' say they, 'had I faith.' For my part I tell you, 'You would soon have faith, if you renounced pleasure.' Now, it is for you to begin. If I could, I would give you faith. I cannot do so, nor therefore test the truth of what you say. But you can well renounce pleasure and test whether what I say is true."

Pascal, Pensees, #240.

The Cross is the attraction

"There was no psychological grid for missionaries to pass through in those days. Dohnavur asked twenty-five simple questions, among them:

• Do you truly desire to live a crucified life? (This may mean doing very humble things joyfully for His Name's sake.)
• Does the thought of hardness [hardship] draw you or repel you?
• Do you realize that we are a family, not an institution? Are you willing to do whatever helps most?
• Apart from the Bible, can you name three or four books which have been of vital help to you? Apart from books, what refreshes you most when tired?
• Have you ever learned any classical or continental language?
• Have you ever had opportunity to prove our Lord's promise to supply temporal as well as spiritual needs?
• Can you mention any experience you have passed through in your Christian life which brought you into a new discovery of your union with the crucified, risen and enthroned Lord?

In a statement written a few years later, Amy Carmichael put it briefly: Do not come unless you can say to your Lord and to us, The Cross is the attraction."

From Elisabeth Elliot, A Chance To Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, page 265.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The presidency of the Holy Spirit

"And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." 1 Kings 8:10-11

Our forefathers used to call this "the presidency of the Holy Spirit," when the Holy Spirit would preside over the gathering of God's people in such a way as gently, wonderfully to take charge.

I have seen this. Doubtless, many of you have as well.

One Sunday morning at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena -- we were a mainstream church of scientists, real estate agents, stay-at-home moms, just normal folks -- my dad was preaching away. I was not paying much attention. Typical. But then, with no prompting from the pulpit at all -- dad was minding his own business, preaching Christ -- Ed Fischer quietly rose from his place in the choir, went down to the communion table at the front, and knelt in prayer. Then his wife Lita got up from her place and did the same, at his side. I thought, "Hmmm. That's odd." But then I was surprised to see many people from all over the church going forward and kneeling as one at the front, getting right with God. There was no emotionalism. There was no self-display. It was quiet, powerful. Dad was surprised. He hadn't planned on this or even foreseen it. He did not manipulate it. He wasn't even making an appeal. God did it, and dad yielded to the presidency of the Holy Spirit. He stepped back and went to prayer. The organist had the presence of mind to begin playing quietly, appropriately. The service took a surprising direction, in the glorious mercy and power of God. And although this experience was no panacea, and the next morning everyone went back to work in the usual way, still, God had visited us. God bent down and kissed us, bringing us closer to himself, clearing away some problems, opening up new possibilities.

We could never be the same again.

Real Faith

"Pseudo faith always arranges a way out to serve in case God fails it. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second way or makeshift substitutes. For true faith, it is either God or total collapse. And not since Adam first stood up on the earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted him."

A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous, page 50.

The one thing that kept them going

"David Niven told the engrossing story (I had never heard it) of a single episode in the chaotic flight from France after Dunkirk in 1940. One motley assembly, 'Royal Air Force ground personnel who were trapped, Red Cross workers, women, ambulance drivers and, finally, the embassy staff from Paris with their children -- by the time they got to St. Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, there were over three thousand of them and the British government sent an old liner called the Lancastria to come and take them away, with three destroyers to guard her. They were just pulling up the anchor when three dive bombers came. The destroyers did what they could, but one bomb hit, went down the funnel and blew a huge hole in the side, and she quickly took on a terrible list. In the hold there were several hundred soldiers. Now there was no way they could ever get out because of the list, and she was sinking. And along came my own favorite Good Samaritan, a Roman Catholic priest, a young man in Royal Air Force uniform. He got a rope and lowered himself into the hold to give encouragement and help to those hundreds of men in their last fateful hour.' 'Knowing he couldn't get out?' 'Knowing he could never get out, nor could they. The ship sank and all in that hold died. The remainder were picked up by the destroyers and came back to England to the regiment I was in, and we had to look after them, and many of them told me that they were giving up even then, in the oil and struggle, and the one thing that kept them going was the sound of the soldiers in the hold singing hymns.'"

Quoted in William F. Buckley, Jr., Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith, page 209.

We will not get out of this world alive. But we can give hope to others by how we sing to God all the way.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When God becomes significant, so do we

To eat, to breathe
to beget
Is this all there is
Chance configuration of atom against atom
of god against god
I cannot believe it.
Come, Christian Triune God who lives,
Here am I
Shake the world again.

Francis A. Schaeffer, 1960

What my dad wrote in my new Bible

On my seventeenth birthday, my dad and mom gave me a new Bible. It lies before me now, with this inscription by my dad: "Your mother and I have found this Book our dearest treasure. We give it to you and doing so can give nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be full of blessing. We love you. Phil. 1:6. Dad"

As I read what my dad wrote that September day in 1966, it was as if those words, and the classical Christian piety they articulate, passed into my heart, never to leave. So much has changed since then. I am no longer seventeen, no longer a high school senior, no longer playing football and going out on Friday night dates and listening to rock and roll on KRLA, but what my dad wrote has not changed -- the truth of it, the value of it, the impact of it. It has only gone deeper. I will forever thank God for the Bible, including this Bible. And thank you, dad.

. . . or we are all undone

"We may please ourselves with the prospect of free and popular governments. But there is great danger that those governments will not make us happy. God grant they may. But I fear that in every assembly, members will obtain influence by noise, not sense. By meanness, not greatness. By ignorance, not learning. By contracted hearts, not large souls. . . . There is one thing, my dear sir, that must be attempted and most sacredly observed or we are all undone. There must be decency and respect, and veneration introduced for persons of authority of every rank, or we are undone. In a popular government, this is our only way."

John Adams, writing to James Warren, quoted in David McCullough, John Adams, page 106.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

They sang as they slew

"For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the city."

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, being the third part of The Lord of the Rings, page 820.

Suddenly it comes

"April 21, 1942

I go along perhaps for some days, and then suddenly it comes, as this evening climbing a hill, at the top the sea spread out before me, fragrant and limpid the air -- a sudden happiness possessing my heart, penetrating to each corner of my being, like an electric current, physical; all fear gone, burden of self lifted, nothing to dread, nothing to regret, complete trust in whatever has shaped my destiny and the destiny of all life: 'Let us with a gladsome mind praise the Lord for he is kind.' I say, this is grace."

Malcolm Muggeridge, Like It Was: A Selection from the Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge, page 179.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The book of Job

I used to think that the book of Job is in the Bible because it presents such a rare and extreme case of human suffering. "Look at this worst case scenario. If you can see God at work here, then surely in your piddly little problems . . . ."

Now I think the book of Job is in the Bible because the story is so common. There are many Jobs today. Many are thinking, "I can't believe how my life is turning out. What on earth has happened? There's a lot wrong with me, but I see nothing I've done to explain the magnitude of this loss and devastation and heartache. For crying out loud, where is God in this?"

Enter Job's three friends. They were cautious and sensitive at first. But, with their tidy notions threatened by his untidy realities, the moralism started pouring out of them: "Come on, Job, get real with us. There must be some dirty little secret in your life that explains all this. Just come clean and admit it, and pretty soon all this misery will go away." Their finger-pointing oversimplifications intensified Job's sufferings, and this too is a common experience. People are overwhelmed with sorrow and confusion, and also isolated, ostracized by those for whom the situation is all quite clear.

I don't think that the book of Job is about suffering as a theoretical problem: Why do the righteous suffer? I think it's about suffering as a practical problem: When (not if) the righteous suffer, what does God expect of them? And what he expects is trust. When the righteous cannot connect the realities of their experience with the truths of God, then God calls them to trust him that there is more to it all than they can see. And, as with Job, there is. A battle was being fought over him in the heavenlies, and there are many such battles today.

Trust in God, it appears, not explanations from God, is how we penetrate most deeply into our existence. This is an insight relevant to many people today. Not easy to accept. Impossible to accept without the cross. We can bless God for the cross.

Sacrifice empowers others

"At that moment I seemed to wake up -- the memory of my fallen comrades, executed by the firing squads of La Cabana, came into my mind. I thought about Julio and his scorn for life as he defended his belief in freedom and patriotism; I thought about all of those men who marched to the firing squads with a smile on their lips; I thought about the integrity of those martyrs who had died shouting, 'Viva Cuba Libre! Viva Christ the King! Down with communism!' And I was ashamed to feel so frightened. I realized that the only way to honor the memory of those heroes was to behave with their firmness and integrity. My heart rose up to God, and I fervently prayed for him to help me stand up to this brutality, and do what I had to do. I felt that God heard my prayer."

Andrew Hurley, translator, Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares, page 41, narrating his experience in Castro's prison system in Cuba.

Jews for Jesus

Knowing Jews for Jesus from the start, I have long admired their courage, conscience, humor, imaginativeness and integrity. Maybe someone reading this blog would like to contact them for more information.

Sinfulness worse than my own?

"How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?"

Dietrich, Bonhoeffer, LIfe Together, pages 96-97.

Calvin on the sovereignty of God over evil

". . . a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance. Far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed of ignorance of what the Lord withdraws into the glory of his inaccessible light."

John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, translated by J. K. S. Reid, page 124.

God wants to work through you

"Unbelief says, 'Some other time, but not now; some other place, but not here; some other people, but not us.' Faith says, 'Anything he did anywhere else he will do here; anything he did any other time he is willing to do now; anything he ever did for other people he is willing to do for us.' With our feet on the ground, and our head cool, but with our heart ablaze with the love of God, we walk out in this fullness of the Spirit, if we will yield and obey. God wants to work through you!"

A. W. Tozer, The Counselor: Straight Talk about the Holy Spirit from a 20th-Century Prophet, page 116.

A startling, unchanging, motivating truth

". . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14

"No unclean thing, nothing that defileth or is defiled, shall ever be brought into the glorious presence of this holy God. There is no imagination wherewith mankind is besotted more foolish, none so pernicious, as this, that persons not purified, not sanctified, not made holy in this life should afterward be taken into that state of blessedness which consists in the enjoyment of God. There can be no thought more reproachful to his glory, nor more inconsistent with the nature of the things themselves, for neither can such persons enjoy him, nor would God himself be a reward unto them. They can have nothing whereby they should adhere unto him as their chiefest good, nor can they see anything in him that should give them rest and satisfaction, nor can there by any medium whereby God should communicate himself unto them, supposing them to continue thus unholy, as all must do who depart out of this life in that condition. Holiness, indeed, is perfected in heaven, but the beginning of it is invariably and unalterably confined to this world, and where this fails, no hand shall be put into that work in eternity."

John Owen, Works, III:574-575.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Pressing on

"A man who thinks much about success must be the drowsiest sentimentalist, for he must be always looking back. If he only likes victory, he must always come late for the battle. For the man of action there is nothing but idealism."

G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, pages 13-14.

Brotherhood

"Dr. Malcolm C. Grow, the Eighth Air Force's chief surgeon, told air intelligence investigators, '[These men] are not interested in democracy or freedom; they are interested in their buddies or their team. The teams are the closest knit things that you have ever seen.' As Fortress gunner Jack Novey recalled: 'I can't explain why we bomber crews, without any gung ho attitude at all, would put our lives on the line mission after mission against the terrible odds of those days. . . . Even when my fears were about to overwhelm me, even when I was physically sick, I kept flying my missions. I didn't want to let my crewmates down. I would rather have been dead."

Quoted in Donald A. Miller, Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys who Fought the Air War against Nazi Germany, pages 88-89.

End of the season

Here at the end of the 2007 deer season, this brief video sums up my year.

Unbelief -- chosen, but subverted

"I date my break [from atheism] from a very casual happening. I was sitting in our apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. . . . My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear -- those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: "No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature. They could have been created only by immense design." The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead."

Whittaker Chambers, Witness, page 16.

A martyr's desire

"Hebrew: I can think of nothing I'd like better than to be able to pick up a page of Hebrew Old Testament and read it at sight."

The journal of Jim Elliot, age 21, quoted in Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty, page 82.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A restless yearning that isn't going away

Many of us broken-down middle-aged has-beens carry with us every day, in living memory, the lasting impression of a joyful time when God came down on our generation with astonishing grace and power. It was called The Jesus Movement, and it flowed over us from around 1969 to 1972. There were excesses and eccentricities, now embarrassing (". . . naturally stoned on Jesus . . ."). But at the heart of it all, The Jesus Movement really was that -- Jesus moving, and not just in the churches but over an entire generation. We can never again be contented with anything less than revival. We have seen what only God can do. We experienced a cleansing that only God can give. We were lifted into a joy that nothing in this world can impart. We will pray and yearn and agitate until our dying days, that God will pour out his Spirit on this wonderful generation of younger people rising up now, so that they will be able to bear witness in their middle years to their own living memory of revival power from on high, and on to their children, and on. This video is a montage of images from that time, with brief narrative. It features Arthur Blessitt, but there were many leaders, and yet there was only one leader that counted, Jesus himself.



Suffering and beauty

Following up on the post below, here is something I learned about my mom. When she was young, perhaps 12 or 13, and studying piano and developing real skill -- she is a talented musician -- she played a piece one day for her piano teacher. After she concluded the piece, her teacher said, "That was correct, technically. You played what is written in the score. But it wasn't beautiful. You haven't suffered enough yet."

Something to give every day

Some years ago my mom told me something about my dad I'd never known before. When I was a kid and dad came home at the end of the day, after he had given himself wholeheartedly all day long, his blood sugar was low, and so forth, after parking the car in the garage, as he walked up the back steps, as his hand reached out to open the backdoor, at that instant before he stepped back into the family circle, he shot up a prayer to God for a little burst of extra energy: "Lord, help me right now to go in there and give myself to my dear family!" Then he would walk in, sweep my mom up in his arms and kiss her -- and I don't mean a little peck on the cheek but I mean a borderline-embarrassing kiss on her mouth -- and then he would turn to me and say, "Hey skip, want to wrestle?" Then we'd go out to the front room, get down on the carpet and wrestle and tickle and play and hug and have fun.

I can't remember one time when my dad walked in the door with nothing to give us. He had something to give every day. God answered his simple prayer.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Too good? Too good for Jesus?

"The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. . . . it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage."

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chapter 3, "The Suicide of Thought."

"'For myself,' she continued, 'I don't have that streak. I believe that what's right today is wrong tomorrow and that the time to enjoy yourself is now so long as you let others do the same. I'm as good, Mr. Motes,' she said, 'not believing in Jesus as many a one that does.' 'You're better,' he said, leaning forward suddenly. 'If you believed in Jesus, you wouldn't be so good.'"

Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood, page 221.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The interview below

I wonder how such a conversation would change from 1969 to 2008. I admire Billy Graham's courage. It looks like he had fun, while also being serious. Some of his points lack force any more, I wish he had put the cross at the forefront, but he does a better job than I'd do.

Woody Allen interviews Billy Graham, Part 2

Woody Allen interviews Billy Graham, Part 1

Elevator conversations



Leisurely conversations are a rare privilege. So I accept that many interactions will take some form of the proverbial "elevator conversation." Can I explain an aspect of the gospel to a friend incisively, as we go from the first to the fourth floor? Eric Metaxas' Everything You Always Wanted to Know about God is helping me.

They had found a new world

"But upon a day the good providence of God did cast me to Bedford, to work on my calling; and in one of the streets of that town I came to where there was three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun and talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was a brisk talker also myself in the matters of religion; but now I may say, I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above out of my reach, for their talk was about a new birth, the work of God in their hearts . . . ; they talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted and supported against the temptations of the devil . . . . And methought they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world."

Quoted in Monica Furlong, editor, The Trial of John Bunyan & The Persecution of the Puritans, page 56.

Sufferings -- do we deserve them?

"There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings."

Dostoevsky, quoted in Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, page 105.

And it doesn't take long

"Every institution tends to produce its opposite."

Quoted in D. M. Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical?, pages 9-10.

And this deep, often unnoticed (until it may be too late) reversal doesn't take long.

"Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first." Revelation 2:5

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

He helped me

Thinking over Matthew 5:3 for Sunday ("Blessed are the poor in spirit"), I dipped into Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, on pride and humility. His exposure of my pride was unrelenting. I was soon turning the pages, thinking, "Okay, okay, okay, but this doesn't HELP me." Then, on page 209, he helped me:

"Look to the humbled Christ to humble you. Can you be proud while you believe that your Savior was clothed with flesh and lived in meanness and made himself of no reputation and was despised and scorned and spit upon by sinners and shamefully used and nailed as a malefactor to a cross? The very incarnation of Christ is a condescension and humiliation enough to [baffle] both men and angels, transcending all belief but such as God himself produceth by his supernatural testimony and Spirit. And can pride look a crucified Christ in the face or stand before him? . . . Doth he pray for his murderers, and must thou be revenged for a word or petty wrong? Is he patiently spit upon and buffeted, and art thou ready through proud impatiency to spit upon or buffet others? Surely he that 'condemned sin in the flesh' condemned no sin more than pride."

Laughter

"Over the mantel of Nathaniel Ward’s house in Ipswich (the Puritan who lived from 1578-1652) the previous owner had carved what he took to be the virtues that together summed up Puritan holiness: sobriety, justice, and piety. Ward hired a craftsman to add a fourth: laughter."

From a sermon by Dr. Robert S. Rayburn, Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, Washington, 22 October 2006.

Mouths filled with laughter are a biblical desideratum (Psalm 126:2) and living proof of God's wonderful, constant, overruling goodness.

Promises which exceed all we can desire

"O God, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man's understanding, pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

When we would fight

When my sisters and I would fight as kids, my folks had us recite Ephesians 4:32 -- in the Authorized Version, of course: "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

More recently I noticed something that gives the word "kind" specific content. This word is also used in Matthew 11:30 when the Lord says, "My yoke is easy." Kindness asks, "How can I make this situation as easy for the other person as possible? How can I avoid embarrassing this person, putting this person on the spot, cornering this person? How can I make a positive response as easy as it can be, even if I have to absorb the difficulty into myself?"

Beautiful word, costly deed. The price of love.

One of my dad's goals

During the final months of his life, here was one of my dad's written goals:

"Seek to make each day a 'masterpiece day'!
a. Ask God for it at the beginning of each day. Write a post-it to be a reminder. Post it on my mirror at the bathroom sink.
b. Do one thing different each day to make that day unique. Help someone with a note, phone call or see them to encourage them."

A masterpiece life.

God did not give us a comic book

"The books of Israel's prophets are among the most difficult in the Old Testament, and probably among the most difficult books ever written."

Delbert R. Hillers, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea, page 124.

Difficult, but not impossible, and well worth the effort.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Cynicism

"When a good man or woman stumbles, we say, 'I knew it all along,' and when a bad one has a gracious moment, we sneer at the hypocrisy. It is as if there is nothing to mourn or admire, only a hidden narrative now and then apparent through the false, surface narrative. And the hidden narrative, because it is ugly and sinister, is therefore true."

Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, page 78.

This is the darkness the gospel dispels. Let us not be caught up in it, however plausible and even fashionable the hysteria.

Armed Forces Bowl

My California Golden Bears -- 42
Air Force Academy -- 36

All's well with the world.

How to pray in 2008 -- and for that matter, in 2009, 2010, 2011 . . . .

"The praying attitude of the Church in the first days after the Ascension, when the disciples waited for the Spirit, should be the Church’s attitude still. . . . [P]rayer is the main work of a ministry. And no more mischievous and misleading theory could be propounded, nor any one more dishonoring to the Holy Spirit, than the principle . . . that because the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the Church has no need and no warrant to pray any more for the effusion [outpouring] of the Spirit of God. On the contrary, the more the Church asks for the Spirit and waits for His communication, the more she receives."

George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, pages 288-289.

. . . if not a martyr's death

"I spent the day chiefly alone, seeking personal holiness, the fundamental requirement in order to a successful ministry. I was in Burleigh Castle for an hour . . . . Before me I had to the right Queen Mary's Island in Lochleven, and to the left the Lomonds, where the Covenanters hid themselves from their persecutors, and I stood amid the ruins of the castle of one of their leaders. The scene was solemn and affecting, and I trust the everlasting Emmanuel was with me. O that I had a martyr's heart, if not a martyr's death and a martyr's crown!"

Quoted in Islay Burns, Memoir of the Rev. Wm. C. Burns, page 193.

Happy New Year

"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know over what they stumble."
Proverbs 4:18-19

If you are in Christ, your life is radiant with him, and becoming ever clearer until "full day." Your best days are not behind you but still out ahead. This is his promised gift, his quiet miracle.

Yes, we live in an age of deep darkness. But so did the apostles. They did not moan, "What's the world coming to?" They shouted, "Look what's come to the world!"

May our path through 2008 be radiant with Christ, happily defying the darkness with apostolic audacity.