Sunday, May 31, 2009

The heart of Jesus


"I am gentle and lowly in heart." Matthew 11:29

"Now it is very remarkable that the only passage in the whole New Testament in which the heart of Jesus is distinctly mentioned is the one before us. . . .

The words employed here include, first, a readiness on the part of Christ to pardon all past offenses. 'Come to me,' he says, 'for however much you may have offended in the past, I am meek and easily to be entreated. I am ready to forgive, to forget and cast behind my back all your provocations. I do not say this to cajole you; my very heart says it, for my heart is full of tenderness and compassion for you.'

The words also include a willingness to endure yet further offenses. 'Not only do I forget the past but I am ready to bear with you still, though you should still offend me. I will endure it all. Come to me, although you cannot hope that your future character will be perfect. I will help you to struggle into holiness and be patient with your failures. As frequently as you shall grieve me, so frequently will I forgive you. I am meek in heart, ready to forgive the past and willing to bear with you in the present and in the future.'

Beloved brethren, what a heart Jesus has to receive sinners in this divine manner!"

C. H. Spurgeon, Treasury of the New Testament, I:177-179.

Oldie of the week

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Certainty and openness


Some Christians seem "all certainty." Maybe it makes them feel heroic, standing against the tide. They see too few gray areas. Everything is a federal case. They have a fundamentalist mindset.

Other Christians seem "all openness." Maybe it makes them feel humble and cool. They see too few black-and-white areas. They're giving away the store. They have a liberal mindset -- though they may demonstrate a surprising certainty against certainty.

The Bible is our authority as we sort out what deserves certainty and what deserves openness. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 defines the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, Christ buried and Christ risen again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, as "of first importance." Here is the center of our certainty.

From that "of first importance" theological address, we move out toward the whole range of theological and practical questions asking for our attention. The more clearly our logic connects with that center, the more certain and the less open we should be. The further our thinking extrapolates from that center, the less certain and the more open we should be.

When a question cannot be addressed by a clear appeal to the Bible, our conclusions should be all the more modest.

The gospel requires us to have high expectations of one another on biblically central doctrines and strategies, and it cautions us to be more relaxed with one another the further we have to move out from the center.

A church or movement may desire, for its own reasons, to define secondary and tertiary doctrines and strategies as important expectations within their own ministry. That's okay. But then it's helpful to say, "We know this isn't a dividing line for Christian oneness. It's just a decision we've made for ourselves, because we think it will help us in our situation. We realize that other Christians will see it differently, and that's cool."

May we become more certain where we've been too open and more open where we've been too certain, according to Scripture alone. And where it seems helpful to provide further definition on our own authority, may we do so with candor and humility but without apology.

Get up on your feet, put your hands together

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Come to me"


"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

The sacred center of Christianity is Christ himself. Coming personally to the Person. Coming directly to the Mediator. No one but Jesus can call us with such authority, and no one but Jesus can encourage us with such a promise. No one else can give us rest.

If our primary purpose in church is to connect with one another and build community, that's what we'll get -- one another. And we'll end up angry. Only Jesus gives us rest. If we will put him first and come to him first, we'll have something to give one another.

If our primary purpose in church is outreach and mercy and justice and all those good missional things, we'll end up exhausted and empty. Only Jesus gives us rest. If we will put him first and come to him first, we'll be renewed for endless mission.

Only One has ever said and can ever say, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

His offer stands. But he comes first.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quickly forgotten

I wonder if you've had the uncanny experience of hearing a recording of yourself preaching and you find yourself thinking, "I need this. Did I really say those things? How could I have forgotten so quickly? Lord, work this truth into my heart and never let it leave, never for one second."

This evening that was my experience listening to this.

The one essential condition


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

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Possessed, chapter 7, section 3.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The power of imputation


"And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." Romans 4:5

When we hold out the empty hands of faith, God freely imputes to us Christ's righteousness, establishing us eternally under his smile. There is no penalty box for rule-breakers, for all are rule-breakers to whom God credits perfect play because of Christ.

Here is the only answer to our sense of judgment within. Only the voice of God can persuasively refute the accusations of conscience. That divine voice we now hear in the gospel and can announce to ourselves moment by moment, whenever the accusing voice within would rob us of our peace and joy in Christ.

After Jonathan Edwards' seraphic description of Christian humility in his "Thoughts on the Revival," my favorite passage in all of literature outside the Bible comes from Martin Luther's letter to his discouraged friend Jerome Weller in 1530:

"Whenever the devil pesters you with these thoughts, at once seek out the company of men, drink more, joke and jest, or engage in some other form of merriment. Sometimes it is necessary to drink a little more, play, jest, or even commit some sin in defiance and contempt of the devil in order not to give him an opportunity to make us scrupulous about trifles. . . .

When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: 'I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.'"

Theodore G. Tappert, editor, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, page 86.

With our appropriate emphasis today on accountability among us men, let's not forget to hold each other accountable to this, the highest exercise of the gospel in our lives: to be so happy in the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we defy the devil and all his destroying accusations and throw them back into his face to shame him even as we triumph by faith in Christ, to his honor and glory as the only Savior of sinners.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Youth renewed


"You are surprised that the world is losing its grip, that the world is grown old? Think of a man: he is born, he grows up, he becomes old. Old age has its many complaints: coughing, shaking, failing eyesight, anxious, terribly tired. A man grows old; he is full of complaints. The world is old; it is full of pressing tribulations. . . . Do not hold onto the old man, the world; do not refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you, 'The world is passing away, the world is losing its grip, the world is short of breath. Do not fear. Thy youth shall be renewed as an eagle.'"

Augustine, quoted in Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pages 297-298.

Summer


Summer has begun. Finally. Nashville's winter was cold, and I hate cold. It is not possible to be too hot. Love hot.

Summer isn't just happening somehow. It isn't here by inertia or a kind of cosmic cycle of inevitability. Summer is now upon us because God in mercy and grace is giving it to us: "You have made summer" (Psalm 74:17).

May we use it with his mercy and grace in mind.

Simul justus et peccator


"Realism has never been a mean achievement. It is a hard-won asset. And it differs from cynicism, with which it is sometimes confused, by only a slender thread -- the thread, I believe, of God's grace. . . . We are thinking of the person who can say, on the one hand, 'I am an incredible idiot,' and at the same time, 'Life is good and the future holds out hope.'"

Paul F. M. Zahl, Who Will Deliver Us?, pages 47-48.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Romans 8:3


"Ah! if [Reason] lend not arms, as well as rules,
What can she more than tell us we are fools?
Teach us to mourn our nature, not to mend,
A sharp accuser, but a helpless friend!"

Alexander Pope, "Essay on Man," Epistle II, Section 3.

Oldie of the week

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My story, my song

Christ hath so perfectly satisfied


"The doctrine for which we contend is that Christ hath so perfectly satisfied divine justice for all our sins, by one offering of himself, and not only for our guilt but also for both temporal and eternal punishment, that henceforth there are no more propitiatory offerings to be made for sin, and that though, for the promotion of their penitence and sanctification, God often chastises his people, yet no satisfaction is to be made by them either in this or a future state of existence."

Francis Turretin, The Atonement of Christ, page 68.

Battling with monsters


"Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #146.

Playing the role of standard-bearer is filled with temptations. It is difficult for fallible people to serve as the watchdogs of others -- their purity, their accuracy. We can become what we despise and attack in others, without noticing the irony of it. Indeed, the reason we despise others is that we secretly fear we are seeing in them what we most loathe about ourselves. Without moment-by-moment awareness of the cross of Christ, we crucify those we condemn in our own blood ritual of self-atonement. And what is that but the opposite of the cross?

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24

Friday, May 22, 2009

Selfish?


"It is often ignorantly and frivolously charged against Christian men that it is selfish in them to seek heaven and glory for their own souls; but no man who is truly seeking salvation will be moved by that accusation. When men really begin to seek their salvation, and to turn their faces to the glory of heaven, then it is that all selfish and ignoble desires receive their death-blow. It is not selfish, surely, for the diseased to seek healing, or the hungry food, or the prodigal his father's house. So far from this being a sign that the heart is selfish, there is no surer sign that it is being sanctified."

Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, page 138.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ralph D. Winter, 1925-2009, missiologist


"I coined the phrase, 'You do not evaluate a risk by the probability of success but by the worthiness of the goal.' We were willing to fail because the goal we sensed was so urgent and strategic."

Whose worthiness?


"In truth our doctrine is no other than that which we have learned at the feet of Christ, namely, that God doth justify the believing man, yet not for the worthiness of his belief but for His worthiness who is believed."

Richard Hooker, "A Learned Discourse of Justification," section 33.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

That's why


"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.'"

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1983

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Gossip


Q: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

A: The duties required in the ninth commandment are the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man and the good name of our neighbor, . . . loving, desiring and rejoicing in their good name; . . . a ready receiving of a good report and unwillingness to admit of an evil report concerning them.

So says the Westminster Larger Catechism. The Bible itself is so clear against gossip, probably because we are so inclined toward gossip:

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who does not take up a reproach against his friend. Psalm 15:1, 3

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him: . . .
one who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16, 19

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people. Leviticus 19:16, AV

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. James 4:11

Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
and do not reveal another’s secret. Proverbs 25:9

God gave them up to a debased mind . . . . They are gossips. Romans 1:28-29

There are many biblical passages confronting gossip. The witness of God against this sin is overwhelming.

What is gossip? It is not necessarily false information. Slander is false. Gossip might include true information, and maybe that’s why gossip doesn’t always feel sinful. What makes it sin is, first and foremost, that God says it’s sin. But gossip spreads what can include accurate information to diminish another person. That is not how people behave when they are living in the power of the grace of God.

Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification. Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments. It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop. It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of. It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty. Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

Adultery too is a serious sin, and one likely to be disciplined in a church. But I have never seen a church split over the sin of adultery. Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.

Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube. It erodes trust and destroys morale. It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere. It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation. It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial. It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against. It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers. It exhausts the energies we would otherwise devote to positive witness. It robs our Lord of the Church he deserves. It exposes the hostility in our hearts and discredits the gospel in the eyes of the world. Then we wonder why we don’t see more conversions, why “the ground is so hard.”

What should we do when a conversation starts slipping into gossip? We should immediately challenge the sin: “Hey friend, sorry to interrupt, but this is gossip. So here’s the deal. This conversation is now on hold until you go get _____________, and then you can start over and say whatever you feel you must say right to his face. I am willing to be a witness to that conversation, but I will not participate in gossip. What do you choose to do?” Amy Carmichael established this rule at her mission station: “Never about, always to.”

“Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). Therefore, let’s always ask ourselves, “These words about to rise up out of my mouth or go out through my keyboard – do they build up? Am I being constructive? If the person I feel like discussing were here with me right now, how would his presence change what I feel like saying?”

“Do not be deceived: . . . revilers will not inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Covenant Seminary


Last evening our son Gavin and his dear wife Esther both graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, with the M.Div. and M.A.C. degrees, respectively. Our son Dane earned the M.Div. and Th.M. from Covenant as well.

Covenant has made a significant contribution to our family, for which Jani and I are grateful. What stands out about CTS in my mind is that they have not only established the gospel as their theology but also woven a gospel ethos into the fabric of their corporate culture. It makes a difference.

When any young man called to pastoral ministry asks me which seminary I recommend, Covenant is first on my list.

Congratulations to Gavin, Esther and to all our friends at Covenant Seminary.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Off to St. Louis

Off to St. Louis tomorrow morning to cheer for our son Gavin and daughter-in-law Esther as they graduate from Covenant Seminary. We're so proud of them. Back in Nashville for church on Sunday.

Thanks for checking in. God be with you.

Anger


"Someone once said that staying angry is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. If your cause is just, you would still find the energy to fight for it even without anger."

Frederica Mathewes-Green, "Unrighteous Indignation," Christianity Today, 23 October 2000, page 117.

Idolatry


"The central theological principle of the Bible [is] the rejection of idolatry."

Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit, Idolatry, page 10.

James 4:2

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jeremiah 29:7


But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

"That is not how Christians usually think about the city. Many Christians write the city off. At most, they try to establish their own fortresses within the city. But God does not tell his people to seek peace in the city; he tells them to seek the peace of the city."

Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah, page 415.

I felt such a struggling


"I began to speak, as the Lord gave me utterance. At first, the people seemed unaffected, but in the midst of my discourse, the power of the Lord Jesus came upon me, and I felt such a struggling within myself for the people as I scarce ever felt before. The hearers began to be melted down immediately and to cry much; and we had good reason to hope the Lord intended good for many."

George Whitefield, quoted in Archibald Alexander, The Log College, page 19.

Monday, May 11, 2009

He who humbles himself will be exalted

Michael Gerson, "A Faith for the Nones"

Writing this past Friday in The Washington Post, Michael Gerson previews a new book on religion in America here. He concludes:

"The young, in general, are not committed secularists. 'They are not in church, but they might be if a church weren't like the religious right. . . . There are almost certain to be religious entrepreneurs to fill that niche with a moderate evangelical religion, without political overtones.'

In the diverse, fluid market of American religion there may be a demand, in other words, for grace, hope and reconciliation -- for a message of compassion and healing that appeals to people of every political background. It would be revolutionary -- but it would not be new."

HT: Paul Zahl

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Oldie of the week

My mom


On this Mother's Day, I honor my mom. She stands out, to me, in these three foremost ways:

1. I have never ever, not even once, wondered whether Jesus is Lord in my mom's heart. Her loyalty to him always has been wonderfully clear.

2. Her life story could be reconstructed from her Bibles. She reads through the Bible every year, writing in the margins her own prayers and praises. In her home, there is a shelf full of worn-out Bibles amounting to a narrative of her spiritual journey. She is busy wearing out a new one now.

3. She spreads her devotion to Christ to others, both family, friends and neighbors. In my own case, though people have often said I look like my dad, inside I am more like my mom. She has left a profound impression, and I am a better man for it.

Happy Mother's Day, mom. You rock.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Just begin to say


"Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. . . . Never look back at your sins again. Say, 'It is finished, it is covered by the Blood of Christ.' That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you. What you need is not to make resolutions and to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! You just begin to say, 'I rest my faith on Him alone, who died for my transgressions to atone.'"

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, page 35.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gurnall on Job


Leaving the first kind of fiery darts -- enticing and attractive temptations -- we now proceed to the second kind, those which fill the Christian with fear. It is only the power of faith that can quench these fiery darts.

This is Satan's weapon held in reserve. When alluring temptations fail, he opens his quiver and shoots these arrows to set the soul on fire, if not with sin then with terror. When he cannot carry a soul laughing to hell through the deception of pleasurable temptations, he will try to make him go mourning to heaven by this different kind of attack. It is a sure sign that Satan is losing. . . .

The arrows he shot at Job were of this kind. When God let the devil practice his skill, why did he not tempt Job with some golden apple of profit or pleasure? Surely the high testimony God gave about Job discouraged Satan from these methods. Satan had no tactic left but this.

William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, II:91, paraphrased.

Merciless


So a few years ago she did something wrong. A world of love would say, "Let's bury this and give her her life back. She can still have a great future. God bless her." But the actual world we live in, this merciless world, says, "Let's embarrass her and shame her and destroy her."

Thank God for God the merciful. All who, like her, like me, need mercy should stand together with defiant trust in him. He will have the final word, a very happy word.

Guinness on Schaeffer


Justin Taylor interviews Os Guinness on Francis Schaeffer, twenty-five years after Schaeffer's death, here. I owe a great debt of gratitude for Schaeffer's influence on my views of Christianity and culture. As each of his books appeared, beginning in 1968, it became an event in my life. May God give us more men like him.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

And while we're at it . . .

Psalm 40

Conviction or accusation?

"He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment." John 16:8

". . . the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down . . . ." Revelation 12:10

How can I tell the difference between the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and the accusing attacks of Satan? Some thoughts:

1. The Holy Spirit puts his finger on a specific sin I have committed, something concrete I can own and confess, but the accusations of Satan are vague and simply demoralizing.

2. The Holy Spirit shows me Christ, the mighty Friend of sinners, but the devil wants me spiraling down into negative self-focus.

3. The Holy Spirit leads me to a threshold of new life, but the devil wants to paralyze me where I am.

4. The Holy Spirit brings peace of heart along with a new hatred of sin, so that I bow before Jesus in reconsecration, but the devil offers peace of mind with smug relief, so that I fold my arms and say, "There, that's over with."

5. The Holy Spirit helps me to be so open to God that I allow him to control the conversation, but the devil tempts me to take off the table certain questions I just don't want God to talk to me about.

We are thankful for our dear Friend, the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Baseball card justification


There's your picture on a baseball card. Turn it over, and whose stats, season by season, do you find there? Not yours, but Jesus'. A great career.

HT: Tom Cox

Judges 21:25

"In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Judges 21:25

The book of Judges tells a story of chaos, wasted years, stupidity and tragedy. It narrates a significant season in the life of God's people.

What went wrong? The author sums it up in the last verse of his book: "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." They were not doing what they saw as wrong. They weren't trying to mess up. They thought they were doing the right thing. But what was right in their own eyes created disaster. What they needed was a king, a Christ-figure, whose word would save them from their own good intentions, their own moral fervor, their "gut." "Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26).

We have a King ruling over us according to what is right in His eyes. And we learn, often to our surprise, what is right in His eyes from the Bible. That is how he saves us from our disastrous rightness and leads us into green pastures and beside still waters we could never find on our own.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Alignment


Pat Macmillan, in "The Mission-Directed Ministry Team," RTS Ministry, Winter 1994, quotes Peter Senge: "When a team becomes more aligned, a commonality of direction emerges, and individuals' energies harmonize. There is less wasted energy. In fact, a resonance or synergy develops."

To achieve that powerful alignment among the individuals on a team, the stated mission must meet four criteria:

1. Relevant. I want it.

2. Significant. It's worth it.

3. Achievable. I believe it.

4. Clear. I see it.

Macmillan goes on: "Don't assume that the benefits are as clear to others as they are to you. Don't gloss over the pragmatic elements of the team mission and the goals that flow out of it with eloquent generalities. Cooperation based on warm fuzzies, cliches and platitudes will soon break down."

Interestingly, he also notes that it's the individuals who are just a little out of alignment who blunt the effectiveness of the team. People who are way off are obvious. It's the not-quite-there people who are more difficult to discern but who make the task tedious.

"A clear, certain mission . . . serves as a gyroscope providing stability and allowing the team to maintain its footing and sense of direction in turbulent, fast-changing environments. It provides boundary lines in which the team can set realistic, but exceptional, goals. It also enables the team to monitor and evaluate progress."

My own experience has shown that an under-defined church structure, however well-intended, creates friction which then tends to be interpreted by individuals involved in moral and relational categories. But if the problem is basically structural, and we call it what it is and fix it on that basis, we can be more patient and understanding with one another personally.

Alignment matters.

Much courage


"But in all fields, even those of culture and art, other people's judgment exercises a paralyzing effect. Fear of criticism kills spontaneity; it prevents men from showing themselves and expressing themselves freely, as they are. Much courage is needed to paint a picture, to write a book, to erect a building designed along new architectural lines, or to formulate an independent opinion or an original idea."

Paul Tournier, "The Spirit of Judgment," Guilt and Grace, page 98.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Oldie of the week

Back from Albuquerque

Fantastic time with my new friends at Desert Springs Church and with my old friend, Dr. Sam Storms. My heart is full. But glad to be back home in Nashville at Immanuel Church. Great week ahead. Car show this Saturday, 9-12. Bring your Vette.