Friday, June 27, 2008

A sweet tough guy

My grandfather, Brig. Gen. J. B. Sweet, was a lovely Christian gentleman, whose name matched his nature. He had the Persian Gulf Command during World War II, supplying American war materiel to the Russians via the southern route. Two things about grandpa:

One, his son was a B-24 pilot. When his plane went down, grandpa could not leave Tehran and return to the States to comfort the family and attend the funeral. There was a war on. He had to stay and carry on. I have no idea how he did it. But he didn't give up, he didn't cave in, he didn't get bitter. The Lord was with him, he kept going, and he returned to his family when God allowed him to.

Two, he was a teetotaler. When the Russians hosted a banquet for the Americans -- think of that scene near the end of "Patton" -- at one point the Russian general lifted his glass of vodka and offered a toast to his American allies. Grandpa lifted his empty glass out of courtesy, then put it back on the table, upside down. The Russian was furious. He slammed his fist on the table: "In my house, EVERYBODY DRINKS!" Grandpa slammed his fist on the table and shouted back, "In my house, NOBODY DRINKS!" End of discussion.

And I have never known a sweeter, gentler man.

The fatigue vanishes

"Today I have noticed that when I forget other people I become fatigued rather quickly. When I am reminded of my purpose and start again holding people, seen and unseen, before God, a new exhilaration comes to me, and all the fatigue vanishes."

Frank C. Laubach, Letters By A Modern Mystic, page 59.

Hints, whispers, foretastes

The Seekers were an Australian folk group in the 60s. This clip comes from their final concert in 68. I know how cheesy this appears to nearly everyone but me, but humor me for a moment, okay? The lyrics here are:

"There's a new world somewhere
They call the promised land,
And I'll be there someday
If you will hold my hand.
I still need you there beside me,
No matter what I do,
For I know I'll never find another you.

There is always someone
For each of us they say,
And you'll be my someone
Forever and a day.
I could search the whole world over
Until my life is through,
But I know I'll never find another you.

It's a long, long journey,
So stay by my side.
When I walk through the storm,
You'll be my guide, be my guide.

If they gave me a fortune,
My pleasure would be small.
I could lose it all tomorrow
And never mind at all.
But if I should lose your love, dear,
I don't know what I'd do,
For I know I'll never find another you."

Why on earth do people write wildly idealistic lyrics like that, and they sell? It wasn't just the times, the 60s, because poets and dreamers and revolutionaries have been saying outlandishly wonderful things like this throughout the ages. We say things like this because our hearts know there is Something beyond the ordinary, ho-hum whatever we're facing at the moment. There is Something everyone longs for but no one has yet experienced. But we get hints, whispers and foretastes of it, as in romance. Then we extol the hint as the Thing itself, because the mini-experience, fleeting as it is, still outperforms everything else. Significantly, these almost UFO-like sightings of the Something cannot be gotten through money or power or status or any other fraudulent mechanism of control everyone is running after. They just happen to us, like falling in love.

"If they gave me a fortune, my pleasure would be small. I could lose it all tomorrow and never mind at all." That sounds like Philippians 3:7-11.

There is reality in our dreams -- more real than "the real world."

Friday, June 20, 2008

The kiss of the Spirit

"A spiritual application of the Word of God consists in applying it to the heart, in spiritually enlightening, sanctifying influences. A spiritual application of an invitation or offer of the gospel consists in giving the soul a spiritual sense or relish of the holy and divine blessings offered, and the sweet and wonderful grace of the Offerer in making so gracious an offer, and of his holy excellency and faithfulness to fulfill what he offers, and his glorious sufficiency for it, so leading and drawing forth the heart to embrace the offer and thus giving the man evidence of his title to the thing offered."

Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, page 153.

This is what the Holy Spirit is doing to the hearts of people as they hear the gospel preached. It is quiet and invisible, uncaused and unstoppable, for God's glory.

Have a great Sunday.

The greatest top 40 song of all time

It's all in Jesus

"We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects, that he might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other."

John Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.19.

A startling challenge to us parents as we drive our kids around town

"Speak to your children disgracefully of the gallantry and pomp and riches of the world and of the sin of selfishness and covetousness, and diligently watch against it and all that may tempt your children to it. When they see great houses and attendants and gallantry, tell them that these are the devil’s baits to entice poor sinners to love this world, that they may lose their souls and the world to come. Tell them how much heaven excels all this, and that the lovers of the world may never go there but the humble and meek and poor in spirit. Do not do as the wicked, that entice their children to worldliness and covetousness by giving them money. But tell your children how much happier a poor believer is."

Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, page 452.

Psalm 73

Psalm 73 is spiritual medicine for hearts sick with envy toward happy, contented, God-disregarding people. Verse 25 is my own best diagnostic in all the Bible for examining my heart toward God: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you." But the psalm is not only diagnosis; it is also remedy.

I recommend Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Faith On Trial as an extended exposition of Psalm 73. The outline of the psalm is not obvious. Here is how I think it holds together:

A1 The problem: “I was envious of the arrogant” (1-3)
B1 They have it so good (4-12)
C1 Poor me! (13-15)
D “Then I discerned . . .” (16-17)
C2 Stupid me! (18-22)
B2 I have it so good (23-26)
A2 The privilege: “It is good to be near God” (27-28)

My software does not allow me to indent the subordinate points in the above outline. Sorry. Point D is, obviously, the centerpiece of the psalm and the hinge on which the poet started turning from envy to enjoyment.

Psalm 73 has the power to free us from misplaced desire and redirect us back to God. A renewing word for real people living real lives in these hard times.

Where the battle rages

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

Martin Luther, quoted in Francis A. Schaeffer, No Final Conflict, page 13.

What God can do

"In 1952, when I was twenty-one and still an atheist studying philosophy at Yale, I picked up a copy of Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain and began to read about the author's pilgrimage from secular intellectualism to the Trappist Order. As I read, my mind became enlightened by the reality of the presence of God. It suddenly became clear that behind all the beauty and order in nature and human art there lies a divine creative wisdom, an infinite personality whose beauty is past change. In Merton's metaphor, it seemed as though a window in the depths of my consciousness, a window I had never seen before, had suddenly been opened, allowing a blazing glimpse of new orders of existence. My mind was suddenly filled with streams of thinking which reordered my understanding around the central fact of God, streams which I knew were not rising from any source within my natural awareness, which now seemed a desert by comparison. Immediately, irrevocably I was no longer an atheist. If someone had spoken to me about a 'leap of faith,' I would not have known what they were talking about; for there was no gap to leap. I felt that I was in contact with God."

Richard F. Lovelace. Dynamics of Spiritual Life, pages 229-230.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I need to change some things

The January 2008 issue of Readers Digest published "Don't Be Overwhelmed by Technology" by Ron Geraci. A simple article, but apparently with some research behind it. Here are some take-aways for me:

• The growing avalanche emails, cell phone calls and text messages, in addition to the more traditional forms of communication still coming at us, can be overwhelming.

• Constant connectivity destroys boundaries and can reduce our daily lives to "a series of constant microinterruptions and stop-starts."

• Some of what's coming at us is noninformation, unworthy of our time and attention.

• Electronic relationships are more vulnerable to misunderstanding. Each email can require multiple judgment calls on the receiver's end: "How quickly must I reply? Why did she CC me? Is he angry, or am I misreading his tone?"

More could be said. But I need to make some adjustments in my own life. My oxygen is daily communion with Christ through the Bible and prayer. I need to protect my capacity for concentration there. From now on, I will blog on Friday afternoons only. Thanks for checking in at all.

Blogging is good. But my soul at rest in Christ is better.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dylan for president

How fathers train soldiers

"Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 2:3

Timothy was Paul's son in the Lord. Paul called him "my child" (2 Timothy 2:1). How did this spiritual father raise his fine young son? Not for ease, but for hardship. And Timothy was ready to face the future, come what may.

Paul looked his beloved child right in the eyes and said, "This world is mobilized in total war against the Lord Jesus. Look around you. You see the brutality everywhere. This is why. But our Savior is committed to an all-out campaign of liberation, and we are in his army now. He will deploy you in battle. You will suffer. Don't run from it. Accept it. When this war is finally over and we all go home, we will live on with no regrets. We will live forever with the satisfaction of having fought in the greatest conflict in the universe, and we didn't turn tail and run. We followed orders and pleased our Commander (2 Timothy 2:4). He will be so pleased to pin those medals on your chest. He will be so pleased to toast you at his victory banquet. Think about it, son."

On this Father's Day, may all Christian fathers say to their sons and daughters the things that must be said, to raise up the next generation of steady, rugged, joyful soldiers for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


"Then the church shall be brought to the full enjoyment of her bridegroom, having all tears wiped away from her eyes, and there shall be no more distance or absence. She shall then be brought to the entertainments of an eternal wedding feast, and to dwell forever with her bridegroom, yea, to dwell eternally in his embraces. Then Christ will give her his loves, and she shall drink her fill, yea, she shall swim in the ocean of his love."

Jonathan Edwards, "The Church's Marriage to her Sons and to her God," in Works, II:22.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The most important thing my dad taught me

Coming up to Father's Day this Sunday, I am thinking of my dad. I think about him a lot. The most important thing he taught me was this. There is only one way to live: all-out, go-for-broke, risk-taking, pedal-to-the-metal, ferociously joyful and grateful enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus Christ. Halfway Christianity is the most miserable existence of all. Halfway Christians know enough to feel guilty about themselves but haven’t gone far enough to get happy in Christ. Wholehearted Christianity is very happy.

How could my dad get there and stay there? He really, really knew that God loved him and had completely forgiven all his sins at the cross of Jesus. I saw dad in repentance. But he did not wring his hands and wonder what God thought of him. He believed the good news, his spirit soared and he could never do too much for his Savior.

I am thankful for what my dad taught me. It's the most valuable thing anyone has ever given me. And I want everyone to have this treasure.

Emotional blackmail at church

In a conversation prompted by a new book about A. W. Tozer, John Piper offers this insight:

"Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them. Was David’s zeal for the Lord imbalanced because his wife Michal despised him for it? Was Job’s devotion to the Lord inordinate because his wife urged him to curse God and die? Would Gomer be a reliable witness to Hosea’s devotion? I know nothing about Tozer’s wife. She may have been far more godly than he. Or maybe not. It would be helpful to know.

. . . Tozer may have blown it at home. . . . But I have seen so much emotional blackmail in my ministry I am jealous to raise a warning against it. Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, 'If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.' There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it."

In an age when personal unhappiness is always someone else's fault, some people walk into church looking for a scapegoat. The pastor is easy prey. Their angry perception of him is, as Dr. Piper suggests, logically confused but psychologically compelling within their own thought-world, which they readily spread to other people. Then, in the name of "reconciliation," the pastor may be pressured to confess as sin aspects of his ministry which are in fact biblical, loving, Christlike.

There is a reason why God put verses like this in the Bible:

More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore? Psalm 69:4

And there is a reason why he put verses like these in the Bible:

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:14-18

And as for our amazing son . . .

Our son Eric teaches at Briercrest Seminary. I had the privilege of sitting in on his Psalms course last week. I was greatly enriched -- and so proud of him. Go for it, Eric!

Why, yes, I just happen to have a picture of my granddaughter right here. Thanks for asking.

We're back from vacation. Thanks for checking in.