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.