Monday, July 28, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

The heart sings unbidden

"For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others. I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down or kneel down to a book of devotion would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand."

C. S. Lewis, quoted in Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Biography, page 115.

Here in dust and dirt

"Thus in the turmoil of life without and black despair within, it is always possible to turn aside and wait on God. Just as at the center of a hurricane there is stillness, and above the clouds a clear sky, so it is possible to make a little clearing in the jungle of our human will for a rendezvous with God. . . . Once, in Times Square, I was glancing disconsolately but also avidly at the rows and rows of paperbacks, each with some lewd or sadistic picture for its cover, and noticed that by some strange accident my book on Mother Teresa, Something Beautiful For God, had got on to these sad shelves. Wondering how it could have happened, Herbert's beautiful lines came into my mind:

And here in dust and dirt, O here
the lilies of His love appear."

Malcolm Muggeridge, Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, pages 22-23.

His death is intelligible

"If I were sitting on the end of a pier on a summer day, enjoying the sunshine and the air, and someone came along and jumped into the water and got drowned 'to prove his love for me,' I should find it quite unintelligible. I might be much in need of love, but an act in no rational relation to any of my necessities could not prove it. But if I had fallen over the pier and were drowning and someone sprang into the water and at the cost of making my peril -- or what, but for him, would be my fate -- his own saved me from death, then I should say, 'Greater love hath no man than this.' I should say it intelligibly, because there would be an intelligible relation between the sacrifice which love made and the necessity from which it redeemed. . . . The key to the whole of New Testament teaching [is], . . . as we look to the cross, He bore our sins, He died our death. It is so that His love constrains us."

James Denney, The Death of Christ, pages 177-178.

Power to witness

"This is what we still need: power to witness. The truth is that nothing would as readily silence gainsayers against the Reformed faith as would this. Far more important, it is only through such empowering [by the Holy Spirit] that we will get beyond witnessing to fellow Christians about the Reformed faith and start witnessing to non-Christians about saving faith."

Sinclair Ferguson

Lovely Lizzie

How the devil spoke through Peter

When Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the Lord replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:16-17). Peter’s declaration was not from his own mind. God gave Peter a new sense on his heart that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament longings (“the Christ”) and the most significant person in the universe (“the Son of the living God”). This decisiveness about Christ is the touch of grace upon the human being.

What happened next, therefore, is astonishing. When Jesus pointed to the cross, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you’” (Matthew 16:22). Peter began dictating to Jesus how world redemption was (or was not) to be gained, and no way would there be a cross! Peter’s heart must have been swelling with emotions of loyalty to Jesus. But the Lord saw what was really happening. He confronted Peter with these disturbing words: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matthew 16:23).

God illuminates Peter’s mind, so that he can affirm the truth about Jesus. Then Satan speaks through the same Peter. Jonathan Edwards warned us: “It is a grand error for persons to think they are out of danger from the devil and a corrupt, deceitful heart, even in their highest flights and most raised frames of spiritual joy.”

Did Peter choose to lend himself to evil influence? No. Jesus explains how he went wrong: “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matthew 16:23). Peter didn’t have to set his mind on the things of Satan to be useful to Satan; all he did was set his mind on the things of man. No Christian would deliberately embrace “the things of Satan," but “the things of man” seem acceptable. If not identical with “the things of God,” "the things of man" seem distant enough from “the things of Satan” to be plausible, even hopeful. But Jesus can see that the reasonable “things of man” and the horrible “things of Satan” are both opposed to the redemptive “things of God,” so diametrically opposed that “the things of man” can become aligned with “the things of Satan.”

What then are “the things of man” that compromised Peter? The human instinct of self-preservation. That very understandable impulse can be useful to the most evil person in the universe. So Jesus made it clear: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).

Any time you and I reject the cross and, in effect, rebuke our Lord for choosing that path for himself and us, can we be sure what influence will come out of our mouths next, even if we have also served as voices for God? And at the moment we might not even be aware of the difference. Peter wasn’t, until Jesus reproached him.

Every day we face decisions that require us to die a little. We may find ourselves thinking a very human thought like, “Far be it from me, Lord! This shall never happen to me.” But if we set our own preconditions on the Lord, we might hear him say to us, as in fact he said to no one less than the apostle Peter, “You are a stumbling block to me. You do not understand that new life always comes through death. If you want to follow me there, I welcome you to. But you’ll have to pick that cross back up again. Yes, that one. The one you just dropped to the floor.”

His cross is a safe place. In the dying words of the Scottish martyr John Nisbet, “Be not afraid of his sweet, lovely and desirable cross.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Welcome, little soldier

Last night at 10:57 PM Karis Elizabeth Scheidt entered the world, daughter of our John and Krista. We praise God for her as a vital part of his ancient purpose of redemption in Christ. Her birth is filled with meaning we cannot yet comprehend but rejoice in by faith.

Welcome, little soldier, into the battle of the ages. God will be with you.

"I love that music"

Blessed are the pure in heart

My dad died a year ago this weekend. The Lord used dad widely and powerfully. One reason, maybe the primary reason, was his simple purity of heart toward Christ.

Our doctrines are lenses through which we see Christ. The clearer the lens, the better. But less clear lenses are not opaque. The Object we all desire to see is the person of Christ himself, and dad succeeded in diverse Christian settings because he had no passion but Christ.

Dad understood that Christians with less clear doctrinal lenses still see Christ, if not with precise theological formulation then at least with Spirit-given intuition. Christians with more clear doctrinal lenses are advantaged conceptually to receive sharper, more detailed views of the One we all love. But dad also knew that anyone’s spiritual sight can be darkened with sin and unbelief, no matter how finely ground the doctrinal lens. We have Christ, who gives himself to his entire Body; we have doctrinal lenses, which tend to be denomination-specific; we also have eyes, our own personal capacity for spiritual sight.

The way it nets out, the Christians with less clear doctrinal formulation – for every one of us, that’s some other denomination – might actually behold his glory more wonderfully. And the Christians with more clear doctrinal formulation – that’s our group, whoever it may be – might actually behold his glory less wonderfully. The ideal, of course, is clear doctrinal lenses and clear spiritual sight together. And when that grace is given to a lot of people at once, it starts feeling like revival. But no amount of lens-grinding can offset darkness in our very eyes.

“Is it rational to suppose that those whose minds are full of spiritual pollution and under the power of filthy lusts should have any relish or sense of divine beauty or excellency, or that their minds should be susceptive of that light that is in its own nature so pure and heavenly?” (Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light).

Dad valued Christ so much that he valued doctrine. He also knew that dull eyes cannot see Christ well even with good doctrine. It’s why dad lived in daily, cheerful humility. He stayed low before the Lord with grand thoughts of his glory. He confessed his sins promptly. He didn’t think much of himself, and he thought the best of others. All of it sprang from one pure impulse in his heart – a reverent adoration of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that clarity of sight, looking out through his good doctrine, received daily views of Jesus in his glory.

Well done, dad.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Truly reformed

I believe in the sovereignty of God, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Solas of the Reformation, I believe that grace precedes faith in regeneration. Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian – or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

Paul answered the theological aspects of the Galatian error with solid theology. But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). In other words, “The legalists want to ‘disciple’ you. But really, they’re manipulating you. By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them.” It’s like chapter two of Tom Sawyer. Remember how Tom got the other boys to whitewash the fence for him? Mark Twain explained: “In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Paul saw it happening in Galatia. But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It re-sets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself.

The Judaizers would probably have answered at this point, “We love Jesus too. But how can you be a first-rate believer, really set apart to God, without circumcision, so plainly commanded right here in the Bible? This isn’t an add-on. It’s the full-meal deal. God says so.”

Their misuse of the Bible showed up in social dysfunction. “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised. . . . They desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” (Galatians 6:12-13). In other words, “When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: ‘See? We’re better. We’re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. We’re the buzz.’” What is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self. Even Peter fell into this hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14). But no matter who is involved, this is not the ministry of the gospel. Even if a biblical argument can be made for a certain position, and we all want to be biblical, the proof of what’s really happening is not in the theological argumentation but in the sociological integration.

Paul had thought it through. He made a decision that the bedrock of his emotional okayness would forever lie here: “Far be it from me to boast [establish my personal significance] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14-15). In other words, “Here is all I need for my deepest sense of myself: Jesus Christ crucified. His cross has deconstructed me and remade me, and I am happy. Everything else is at best secondary, possibly irrelevant, even counterproductive. Let Jesus alone stand forth in my theology, in my emotional well-being and in my relationships with other Christians!” This settledness in Paul’s heart made him a life-giving man for other people. He was a free man, setting others free (Galatians 5:1). This is the acid test of a truly Reformed ministry – that other believers need not be Reformed in order to be respected and included in our hearts.

Whatever divides us emotionally from other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians is a “plus” we’re adding to the gospel. It is the Galatian impulse of self-exaltation. It can even become a club with which we bash other Christians, at least in our thoughts, to punish, to exclude and to force into line with us.

What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Jesus Christ, the apple tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
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
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
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
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
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

Act like men?

"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong." 1 Corinthians 16:13

Manliness has taken a beating in our modern world. The boldness of John Wayne has been replaced by the hesitance of Hugh Grant. Men are uncertain what they should be.

But the gospel is so comfortable with God's created order that manliness has a place, a vital place, in the church. Paul takes all he has taught in 1 Corinthians -- the humility of the gospel, sexual integrity, marriage and singleness, personal entitlements, how to take communion, spiritual gifts, the resurrection -- he translates all that theology into this practical summary: "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."

Act like men? Yes. "andrizesthe" in Paul's text. Calvin: "He encourages them to be manly and courageous." And Paul gives this charge to the entire congregation in Corinth -- men, women, boys and girls. He loves to see a manly ethos throughout a church. I remember reading about a Scottish mother whose son had been taken prisoner of war. She didn't go into hysterics. Her comment was, “God have mercy on the man who’s chained to our Davy!” The valiant Christ was setting the tone of her heart.

Manliness is distorted by sin in many ways. But true manliness deserves to pervade our churches. Obviously, guys, that starts with us. Let's set the tone!

Safe in Christ

"We may often be baffled by the reality of the power of evil as it is manifest in our circumstances. Sometimes that power seems so overwhelming that we are unable to praise within the circumstances of our life. It is then that we do well to recall the words of the Apostle Paul. When writing amidst difficult circumstances to the Church at Ephesus he could say, 'Giving thanks always for all things unto God.' He had come to know that no matter what the source of the evil, if we are in Christ, and surrounded by Him as by an atmosphere, all evil has to pass through Him before it comes to us."

Robert M. Norris, Fourth Press, February, 1997.

Spiritual power and the mind

"And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding." Isaiah 11:2

"'Be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature' (1 Cor. 14:20). It is not easy to be a leader of people who can out-think you. A leader must be one who, when he sees a set of circumstances, thinks about it. He sits down with pad and pencil and doodles and writes and creates. He tests all things with his mind and holds fast to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21). He is critical in the best sense of the word, that is, not gullible or faddish or trendy. He weighs things and considers pros and cons and always has a significant rationale for the decisions that he makes. Careful and rigorous thought is not contrary to a reliance on prayer and divine revelation. The apostle Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, 'Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.' In other words, God's way of imparting to us insight is not to short-circuit the intellectual process."

John Piper, "Marks of a Spiritual Leader," #7, A Hard Thinker

"People who are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the gospel have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past, ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is vacated and abdicated to the enemy."

Charles Malik, "The Other Side of Evangelism," Christianity Today, 7 November 1980, page 40.

"In our quest for the fullness of the Spirit, we have sometimes forgotten that a Spirit-filled intelligence is one of the powerful weapons for pulling down satanic strongholds."

Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, page 183.

The idol of my generation, still active today

"Totalitarianism is the possession of reality by a political Idea -- the Idea of the socialist kingdom of heaven on earth, the redemption of humanity by political force. To radical believers, this Idea is so beautiful it is like God Himself. It provides the meaning of a radical life. It is the solution that makes everything possible; it is the end that justifies every regrettable means. Belief in the kingdom of socialist heaven is the faith that transforms vice into virtue, lies into truth, evil into good. For in the revolutionary religion, the Way, the Truth and the Life of salvation lie not with God above but with men below -- ruthless, brutal, venal men -- on whom the faith confers the power of gods."

Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties, page 287.

"Should I?"

"Should I not be concerned about that great city?" Jonah 4:11

Jonah was ticked. "That blankety-blank Nineveh has repented, and God has relented. The world would have been better off without these enemies of Israel. But there they are still. Going to make more trouble for us in the future, no doubt. And God has spared them. Dang."

How does God respond to his sulky prophet? He reasons with him. God asks Jonah a question -- about God. "Jonah, you seem so sure of your own feelings. So let me ask your advice about my feelings. Should I not feel pity for Nineveh? Is your anger wiser than my compassion? Is my mercy to sinners an offense, or is it my glory? Tell me, Jonah, what kind of person should I be? Should I be more like you, or maybe, just maybe, should you be more like me?"

Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Confide in me"

"I must have your cheerful consent to the method of salvation which I have accomplished. I require the entire surrender of your immortal spirit, polluted and condemned as it is, into my hands, for all that it needs. No longer go about to establish a righteousness of your own by the deeds of the law; but rather feel that you have no righteousness, and receive my salvation, as it is testified to a dying world. This do, and you shall live. You shall have an interest in that great atonement which was made for all your sins; you shall be delivered from the curse of the law by that blood which not only answers every charge and covers every sin but effectually pleads on the behalf of those who from the heart renounce all other helpers and confide in me as their Savior!"

Gardiner Spring, The Attraction of the Cross, page 120.

The most dangerous thing we have

"James tells us that the tongue is the most dangerous thing we have. . . . We need to pray for help in this terrific battle against the danger of our own tongues. It is my tongue and your tongue which can kindle a forest fire!"

Edith Schaeffer, Lifelines, pages 188-189.

The church: an environment of constant reassurance

"Not only does the Lord through forgiveness of sins receive and adopt us once for all into the church, but through the same means he preserves and protects us there. For what would be the point of providing a pardon for us that was destined to be of no use? . . . We must firmly believe that by God's generosity, mediated by Christ's merit, through the sanctification of the Spirit, sins have been and are daily pardoned to us who have been received and engrafted into the body of the church."

Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.21.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Fourth of July

Here in a world ruled by God, there is such a thing as justice in human affairs. The justice that should humble us with proper self-examination when we fail is the same justice that should embolden us with proper self-assertion when we are attacked. If the tilt of our thinking is always toward the self-doubt that enfeebles, we are not motivated by a sense of justice but by its absence. But in this world ruled by God, history will display the triumph of his justice "just as sure as the turning of the earth."