Thursday, April 30, 2009

Off to Albuquerque

Did I spell that right? Anyway, off to New Mexico for The Clarus Conference with Dr. Sam Storms. Back next week. Thanks for checking in. God bless.

A new mechanism for bringing people together

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When you have shut the door


"Now then, little man, for a short time 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 of Canterbury (ca. 1033-1109), Proslogion, chapter one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Joy appears


This video reminds me of the church, appearing in this world with a surprising joy by the power of the gospel.

"The exuberant joy of the early Christians was one of the most potent factors in the spread of Christianity."

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, page 5.

"It would be hell to me if . . ."


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

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

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

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reading, meditation, prayer


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

John Wesley, writing to a young preacher, quoted in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along The Way, page 169.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Back from Chicago


Clearly, the Lord is at work. He is creating new conditions for the future. In the 90s, we had nothing of the magnitude of The Gospel Coalition, Together For The Gospel, Acts 29 and other obvious indicators of a new movement of God. We did have, say, Promise Keepers, which helped many. But PK was not explicitly gospel-centered, not aggressively theological. Its impact was unsustainable. But now the Lord is giving us something new, something better. Let's be thankful to him. This doesn't come along every day. Let's steward the blessing well. If we bungle this, I doubt we will see it again in our time. But if we are wise, not intruding our own self-centered complications but humbly keeping Christ first, the blessing will grow. And maybe, in the mercy of God, we will see awakening in our time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

To Chicago

Off to Chicago for The Gospel Coalition. Thanks for checking in. God bless.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Guilt gone


"Forgiveness transcends finite human reason. The mere thought that one's entire sin account can be utterly eradicated is staggering. Yet it is quite clear that the forgiveness of sins strikes at the very core of human need and experience. It speaks of guilt gone, remorse removed, depression disappearing and emptiness of life eradicated. What power there is in forgiveness! And it all comes abundantly from the gracious hand of God."

Lewis A. Drummond, in The Voice from the Cross, page 18.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Galatians 5:1

Why one sin utterly condemns


For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. James 2:10

"One failure, one breach, one bad moment, and guilt for the whole law crashes down on me? Kind of an overreaction, isn't it? Seems nit-picky at least, even oppressive. So that's what God is really like, huh? Figures."

Let's admit it. We all think that way. But the failing is not in God. It's in us.

Every American knows the name Benedict Arnold. He was a traitor. He betrayed the American cause in the Revolutionary War. The memory of Benedict Arnold conjures up one thought: treason.

What we may not know is that Arnold had served energetically and effectively on the American side. As a general in our Continental Army, he bravely fought and won at Fort Ticonderoga. But he was passed over for promotion, he ran up some personal debts, he came under criticism by political competitors, so he switched sides. He became sneaky. He got himself assigned to the command of West Point, in order to hand it over to the British. But his plot was discovered.

I wonder what he was thinking. He probably weighed all the good he had done for the Americans against the bad he was receiving from the Americans, and he justified himself, he told himself it was okay. But that isn't how the moral calculus works. Doing good does not offset doing evil. Doing evil offsets doing good. That is why the good record of Benedict Arnold will forever be overshadowed in the American consciousness by his final act of betrayal. His betrayal revealed the true state of his heart. He had not been serving America sincerely but for ulterior motives. And when his Self was not served to his own satisfaction, he turned. If his Self had been served to his satisfaction, he doubtless would have stayed true. But even then, his loyalty would have been deeply false. Undiscovered, but false.

Our obedience to God doesn't prove a thing. It might not be obedience at all. It might be coincidence. It might be that what the Bible says and what we were going to do anyway just happen to line up. What reveals our hearts is our disobedience. This is why one violation of the law not only does condemn us but deserves to condemn us. Our sin exposes the fraudulence of our righteousness, not the other way around.

Let's face it. We are all Benedict Arnolds. But God loves Benedict Arnolds. Christ died for his betrayers. Now he offers us his royal amnesty on terms of grace, received with the empty hands of faith, which we are finally able to hold out before him when we know and admit and repent of what we really are.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Witness


Kathy Ireland bears humble, articulate witness to the difference Christ is making in her life here.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Substitution


Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree." Galatians 3:13

"Our most merciful Father, seeing us to be oppressed and overwhelmed with the curse of the law . . . sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him all the sins of all men, saying, 'You be Peter that denier, Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor, David that adulterer, that sinner who ate the apple in Paradise, that thief who hung upon the cross, and briefly, you be the person who has committed the sins of all men. See therefore that you pay and satisfy for them.'"

Martin Luther, commenting on Galatians 3:13.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Grace In Practice


Dr. Paul Zahl, pictured here with his wife Mary, is Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church near Washington, D.C., and author of, among others, Grace In Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, concerning which one reviewer notes, "Cascading pop-culture references are flanked with the profoundest of insights." I am enjoying this book immensely and wish to draw further attention to it. Although I surpass Paul in memorized lyrics of 60s oldies, which is a considerable accomplishment in its way, he greatly helps me understand the grace of God in Jesus, which is the [definite article] comfort and treasure of life.

I thank the Lord for this man, yet another precious gift to his Church.

Men for Nashville


Why plant churches in Nashville? In addition to the fact that both church attendance and church availability are falling behind our growth in population, there is a deeper reason and a grander opportunity.

Think of a bell curve. At one end are a few people who obviously are not Christians. At the other end are a few people who obviously are Christians. In between are multitudes of people who are hard to read – good people, talented people, Bible-believing people, not living for Christ. They are nice people living nice lives, going to church, going to hell. They do not know how good God is. So Christ is being robbed of his honor, and massive beauty is going uncreated.

That bell curve is our city, and that status quo is firmly established. Any challenge will be criticized. But one thing is clear. Our Savior loves every person in this city, claims every square inch of this city, deserves every dollar in this city, and he has put us here to make his saving power felt, so that Jesus is loved and worshiped and obeyed and gladly lived for and courageously died for more than ever before in our history. Our Redeemer is able to create a new Nashville out of the old Nashville.

We men are the key.

It is time for us men – God created us men to lead – we men must be the first to apply the gospel to the real needs of our hearts, repent, trust God in new ways and live for him so visibly that others around us see hope for themselves. The urgent need of the hour is more men moving together from the middle of that bell curve toward the radically Christian end by the power of God’s grace.

The more men we have living in revival, the more churches we will have living in revival, and the more our city will feel the glory of Christ coming down in revival. Revival is God changing us beyond our power to change ourselves. It is miracle that we choose to embrace without embarrassment. God is calling you to be part of his miracle. God is calling you to be the change our city needs. God is calling you to be a cornerstone in the new Nashville. Will you follow the call?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience.” Let's stop fine-tuning our old obedience. Let's go further with the Lord than we have ever gone before in new obedience. We are more evil than we ever feared and much more loved than we ever dreamed. New obedience flows from that realism about ourselves and that refreshing in God’s love. Let’s go there together, and let’s gather more men together to go there with us, and let’s not be surprised when God raises up new leaders to plant new churches that spread gospel-empowered revival. That is God’s call on us at Immanuel - revival-by-grace.

We are weak. We cannot do this perfectly. If the only choice we see before us is perfection versus nothing, we will get nothing every time. But if we will obey God’s call, even weakly and imperfectly, he will bless us, and our city will be blessed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Small pieces of paper


"Years later [after the Battle of Trenton in 1776], Benjamin Rush would recall a private meeting with George Washington at Buckingham, during which Washington seemed 'much depressed.' In 'affecting terms,' he described the state of the army. As they talked, Washington kept writing something with his pen on small pieces of paper. When one of them fell to the floor by Rush's foot, he saw what was written: 'Victory or Death.'"

David McCollough, 1776, page 273.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Most Glorious Lord of Life

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin,
And having harrowed hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we, for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin,
May live forever in felicity:
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again;
And, for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

Edmund Spenser, ca. 1552-1599

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jesus Christ the apple tree



The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all; but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree

I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree

No one but he


Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. John 19:41

"It is not without meaning that the tomb in which the body of Jesus was laid was a new one. It was thus impossible to affirm that any other than He had opened a way out of its dark recess, the conqueror of death."

James Dodds, Exposition of The Apostles' Creed, page 52.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sorrow and love

I remember when


"'I do not give a fig for the simplicity that is prior to complexity; but I would give my right arm for the simplicity that lies beyond complexity.' This remark gets at the kind of thing French philosopher Paul Ricoeur had in mind when he wrote about 'the second naivete.'

The first naivete happens when we see things in quite uncomplicated terms -- they strike us as simple and straightforward. But then something forces us into a questioning mood, and we subject those ideas to critical examination. Some folks get stuck at this stage -- they suspend belief and get caught up in a mood of endless questioning. This isn't healthy, Ricoeur argued. We need to embrace again the beliefs that have held up well under critical scrutiny . . . the second naivete."

Richard J. Mouw, The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn From Their Fundamentalist Heritage, page 151.

I grew up in a softly fundamentalist church in the 1950s. Back then, "fundamentalist" was not a smear; it simply described our attempt to be thoroughly true to Christ, according to the Bible. Which means I can remember some wonderful things.

I remember when churches were not commodities but communities. I grew up in a spiritual neighborhood, where the adults took responsibility to care for the next generation. I lived among hundreds of spiritual aunts and uncles who loved me, told me about Jesus, taught me the Bible, corrected me when I got out of line and generally sacrificed for me so that I could grow up to be a man of God.

I remember when the Bible was cherished as so sacred that we treated the very leather and paper as "The Holy Bible." We read the Bible, sang the Bible, prayed the Bible, memorized the Bible, heard the Bible preached, and learned the Bible from cover to cover. I grew up knowing my way around the Bible -- and knowing that it mattered supremely and eternally.

I remember when this crucial question was always close at hand in our collective and personal consciousness: Is your life fully surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ? Not only, Have you been born again? That vital question was always there too. But in addition, the question of wholehearted intentionality about living for Christ first, whatever the cost, whatever the implications, wherever it might take you -- this was constantly put before us, "every head bowed and every eye closed." My spiritual teachers did not hope I might fit Jesus into the margin of my crowded life. They confronted me, lovingly, gently, insistently, that Jesus is Lord. I needed to know that. No one else would have told me. Thank God they did.

I remember when we prayed together, the whole church together. I grew up listening to adults pray mature, adult prayers. I learned something. I learned reverence and depth and faith that with God nothing is impossible.

I remember when we tithed. And in our home, if because of our tithing to our church we didn't have enough money ourselves to make it to the end of the month, we sucked it up. But Jesus came first. Period. It was that practical.

Sure, we were uncool. Sure, we needed some refreshing in our music. Sure, there was some quirkiness that we've improved upon since then. But there was something real and solid and powerful there, something we must not lose in our glib arrogance today.

Gimme that old time religion.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Anything but God


"It is a dreadful truth that the state of having to depend solely on God is what we all dread most. And of course that just shows how very much, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on things. But trouble goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained, we will not turn to him as long as he leaves us anything else to turn to. I suppose all one can say is that it was bound to come. In the hour of death and the day of judgment, what else shall we have? Perhaps when those moments come, they will feel happiest who have been forced (however unwittingly) to begin practicing it here on earth. It is good of him to force us; but dear me, how hard to feel that it is good at the time."

C. S. Lewis, in The Quotable Lewis, #335.

HT: Dane Ortlund, John Scheidt

What if Philippians were our only Bible?

A recent study in Philippians prompted me to wonder, what if this one brief book were our only available Bible? How much would we have to believe and live off of? At least this:

• He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (1:6);
• We are all partakers of grace together (1:7);
• We will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (1:10);
• Human opposition, far from defeating the gospel, is serving to advance the joyous spread of the gospel (1:12-18);
• Should life be lost, Christ is gained (1:21);
• Temporary survival is gospel opportunity (1:22);
• To depart and be with Christ is far better than this life (1:23);
• The further we go with Christ, the more joy we experience (1:25);
• The gospel of Christ is an uplifting power (1:27);
• Opposition to gospel witness presages the doom of the opponents and the glorious destiny of the faithful (1:28);
• It is a God-given privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ (1:29);
• Union with Christ brings encouragement, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy (2:1);
• Christ Jesus himself is living proof that the arrogance of this world is doomed and that gospel humility is the path of great reward (2:6-9);
• Jesus is King, and he will have every rational creature in the universe know it and own it, to the greater glory of God the Father (2:10-11);
• We do not need even an apostle always present to lead us by the hand; God himself is deeply at work in us (2:12-13);
• Knowing Christ Jesus the Lord redefines all trophies of self-exaltation as “rubbish,” for he gives true righteousness and participation in his death and resurrection; he is so superior to all things in this world that, whatever path we may take into the resurrection of the dead, the price to be paid is small (3:7-11);
• In conversion, Christ Jesus takes eternal possession of us (3:12);
• The call of God in Christ Jesus offers a prize far beyond this world, worthy of our all (3:14);
• To whatever extent we struggle to grasp the upward call, God will reveal all that we need revealed (3:15);
• To settle for the rewards of this world is to make oneself an enemy of the cross of Christ and to make a god of one’s earthly appetites, which is the path of destruction and the reversal of a truly human life (3:18-19);
• We who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh also find our citizenship in heaven, from which we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will raise our "vile" (KJV) bodies into his immortal glory by his power over all things (3:3, 20-21);
• Our names are written in the book of life (4:3);
• The Lord is at hand (4:5);
• God receives our prayers and sends his overruling peace to guard our hearts when the circumstances of life would have us frantic (4:6-7);
• As we follow the apostolic example of lovely heavenly-mindedness, we experience the presence of the God of peace (4:8-9);
• Christ strengthens us to accept with contentment whatever life may bring (4:11-13);
• When we support the ministry of the gospel, the fruit increases to our own credit (4:17);
• God receives our gospel partnership as a sacrifice pleasing to himself (4:18);
• God is committed to our own needs with all his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (4:19);
• In it all, God will get glory for himself forever and ever (4:20);
• And in the meantime, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will steadfastly be with our spirit (4:23).

Makes me wonder, how much more is there in this Bible which I hardly know?

Approval ratings


I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage. 1 Corinthians 10:33

Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

When Paul faced a choice between pleasing himself and pleasing others, he pleased others.

When he faced a choice between pleasing others and pleasing Christ, he pleased Christ.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why not?


We miss our kids. We raised them to think for themselves, and then they did. So now they're living their own lives here and there, far from us. But two of the families live in the Chicago area. Having taken today and tomorrow off, to decompress a bit, we've just decided on a whim to fly up and see them for 24 hours. We called ahead and it's okay with them. So we'll be back to work here in Nashville Wednesday morning -- Great Guys at Shoney's in Brentwood at 6:30 AM. Hope to see you there.

Why not make a memory? A lifelong memory is worth the money. We only wish the other two families were there too. We'll miss them all the more.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

41 years ago today

How John Stott prepares a sermon

Brilliant, practical, sensible, useful counsel from a master here.

Matthew 21:10-11


And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowds said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee." Matthew 21:10-11

Not a wrong answer. He really was the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee. But an inadequate answer. He was more than the crowds understood. Not only a prophet, he was the focal point and fulfillment of all the prophecies. Still more, "In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19).

A half-way Jesus, known with half-truths, bringing a half-salvation, applying a half-remedy to the magnitude of our needs -- it is easy to settle for that. But then we wonder why it isn't working for us. The real Jesus, the whole Jesus, is better than we know. But we can find out. The thing to do is to keep asking that mega-question, "Who is this?", until God grants such clarity that the full Jesus stands forth in our understanding. As our vision of him grows, we grow. We get traction and start rejoicing with new freedom of spirit.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Why I love Muggeridge


"By definition God belongs to eternity, not to time, and so is intrinsically immortal. The last Archbishop of Canterbury but one, Dr. Ramsey, appeared not to realize this when, to my amazement, at the end of a performance of Godspell, he rose to his feet and shouted, 'Long live God,' which, as I reflected at the time, was like shouting 'Carry on eternity' or 'Keep going infinity.' The incident made a deep impression on my mind because it illustrated the basic difficulty I met with when I was editor of Punch [magazine]: that the eminent so often say and do things which are infinitely more ridiculous than anything you can invent for them. That might not sound to you like a terrible difficulty but it is, believe me, the main headache of the editor of an ostensibly humorous paper. You go to great trouble to invent a ridiculous Archbishop of Canterbury and give him ridiculous lines to say and then suddenly he rises in his seat at the theater and shouts out 'Long live God.' And you're defeated, you're broken."

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, page 13.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

John 13:34-35

The meaning of the city


"Once settled in his country, Cain does two things to make his curse bearable: he knows his wife sexually, who then gives him a son; and he builds a city. . . . This first builder of a city . . . will satisfy his desire for eternity by producing children, and he will satisfy his desire for security by creating a place belonging to him, a city. . . . For God's Eden he substitutes his own. . . . A city is not just a collection of houses with ramparts, but also a spiritual power."

Jacques Ellul, The Meaning of the City, pages 5-9.

One of the greatest pictures of redemption in all the Bible comes from Cain's invention of the city in Genesis 4:17. At the end of the Bible, what do we find? The city, this man-made mechanism for living without God, rather than thrown down into hell, becomes heaven: "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:2). The city becomes not a way to escape God but the dwelling place of God with man.

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