Friday, August 29, 2008

The only reason for being

Go back?

"'But wait a minute,' says somebody. 'Are you saying that the passage of the years makes no difference? Are you asking me to believe that I have got to go back nearly two thousand years, and that the truth is what these men taught then?' . . .

Yes, I am, and this is why. There can be no development in this truth, and there has not been, because this is not truth that man works out for himself, but is truth which God reveals. Not one of the apostles was a discoverer of truth. The mighty apostle Paul never discovered the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. . . . It is a revelation; it is something that is given by God, something that has been revealed by him supremely in the person of his only-begotten Son."

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Love So Amazing: Expositions of Colossians 1, pages 63-64.

Compared with some, I'm having a pretty good day

The pathway of power

"The pathway of sacrifice may prove to be the pathway of power."

J. Gresham Machen, quoted in Bulletin of Westminster Seminary, 1987, number 1, page 4.

Scripture and power

"You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God." Matthew 22:29

"The charge against the Sadducees was not simply that they failed to relate and to correlate knowledge and power. More particularly, it was that they were theologically and experientially ignorant of both revelatory truth and the power of God. Not only were they strangers to God's power but they were unknowing of it. Their detachment from God's power, moreover, was due to a deficient knowledge of Scripture. Jesus here pays to the Scriptures one of his ministry's highest tributes, when he implies that knowledge of Scripture will guard one from theological error and acquaint one with the power of God."

Carl F. H. Henry, Wheaton Alumni magazine, Summer 1996, page 15.

What can truth do in a world like this?

"We shall be asked, 'What can literature do in the face of the merciless onslaught of open violence?' But let us not forget that violence does not exist alone and cannot survive in isolation; it is inevitably bound up with the lie.

Between them there is the most intimate, most natural, fundamental link: violence can only be concealed by the lie, and the lie can be maintained only by violence. . . . Violence does not always necessarily take you physically by the throat and strangle you; more often it merely demands of its subjects that they declare allegiance to the lie, become accomplices in the lie.

And the simple step of a simple, courageous man is not to take part in the lie, not to support deceit. Let the lie come into the world, even dominate the world, but not through me."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Word of Truth, pages 26-27.

Theology or personality?

Illustrating how our personal backgrounds, and not simply our theological systems, shape who we are, Montagu Barker relates the apocryphal story of Wesley and Whitefield:

"John Wesley was brought up in a rigid High Church household where the children were ordered by the ringing of a bell and were taught by their mother to cry silently. Whitefield was brought up in the local inn and had a much less ordered life. In adulthood, they worked together and went out on their evangelistic tours, and the story is told that they arrived one night at an inn, very tired. When they reached the room which they shared, George Whitefield threw himself on the bed exhausted while Wesley got down on his knees, opened his Bible and before setting to his devotions looked very reproachfully at George Whitefield and said, 'George, George, is this your Calvinism?' At 2:00 AM in the morning George woke up and found John still on his knees, fast asleep over his Bible, so he shook him and said, 'John, John, is this your Arminianism?' It was not their differing theological systems but their family backgrounds which led them in their fatigue to react with completely different attitudes to devotions. . . .

God works within the individuality of our personalities and it is this which accounts for the rich variety of Christian biography. We have the remote and logical Calvin; the warm tempestuous Luther; the fastidious and over-organized Wesley; the freer, more liberated Whitefield, son of a publican. God used each greatly and in different ways, and who would dare to rank them spiritually? Theologically they stand in absolute agreement regarding Christ and pardon from sins, but their experience of God's dealing with them personally was different. In particular their doctrinal systems widely differed, and unhappily their followers were often bitter enemies. Whatever may be the true understanding regarding the biblical passages disagreed upon, the problems in terms of division and hostility seemed so often to occur in this area of personality and experience."

Nigel Cameron and Sinclair Ferguson, editors, Pulpit & People: Essays in honour of William Still on his 75th birthday, pages 92-93.

How does one say "Yes, let's cut each other a lot of slack" in theologically sophisticated language?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Every possession

"Every possession produces an appetite that clings."

Oswald Chambers, Not Knowing Whither, page 33.

Accomplishments for God come from God

"God cannot be honored with one's own accomplishments, however; only with what is received is one able to honor God."

Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, page 14.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A heart for God comes from God

"How shall a work please God, if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart? To fulfill the law, however, is to do its works with pleasure and love, and to live a godly and good life of one's own accord, without the compulsion of the law. This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Ghost."

Martin Luther, quoted in Dane Ortlund, A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards, page 185.

One sweet ride

Prophetic from the center

Registration for the 2009 National Conference of The Gospel Coalition is now available at The Gospel Coalition.

A pastor's home

HT: Colin Adams

Monday, August 25, 2008

How not to miss the visitation

Israel does not know,
my people do not understand. Isaiah 1:3

Reflecting this morning on Isaiah, I am struck by their innocent intentions versus the massive consequences.

Most of the sins we commit are not conscious. It’s natural to live in a mental environment of good intentions, protected from self-awareness within walls of soft but impenetrable emotional benevolence.

The Lord said, for example, “You are robbing me” (Malachi 3:9). Israel did not respond, “Busted! We didn’t think you’d notice.” They honestly said, “How have we robbed you?” They may have felt misunderstood. So God explained, and showed them a new path of blessing.

Christ said to his church in Laodicea, “You say, I am rich, . . . not realizing that you are wretched . . . .” (Revelation 3:17). Then he counseled them to do new business with him, “so that you may see” (Revelation 3:18). Their loss would be the comforting illusion of okayness, but their gain would be his living presence (Revelation 3:20).

When Jesus wept over Jerusalem (he wept, he didn’t rage), he said, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:42). They weren’t consciously pushing away the shalom of God. They just had a full to-do list that day, and if Jesus had to be dealt with at all – their incomprehension made a snap judgment, and they missed their historic opportunity. The Lord said, “You did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44).

To miss our time of visitation, it is not necessary that we consciously defy Christ. Just not knowing, if at heart we do not want to know, is defiance enough. We cannot change what we cannot see. But we can place ourselves under the light of God’s Word, especially the book of Acts where biblical Christianity is so clearly displayed, and ask the Lord to show us ourselves in our real condition and show us himself in his all-sufficiency and tell us what he wants us to do next.

I believe the Lord would be pleased and would visit us wonderfully.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Quietness of heart #3

“I have calmed and quieted my soul.” David wrote that in Psalm 131. How did he get there? He forsook ambition. “My eyes are not raised too high,” he wrote. He was tempted. Otherwise, why say that? But he mortified that impulse of ingratitude and overreaching and attention-seeking. He settled into the role and place God had assigned to him, because he was confident of God’s providential care.

“Like a weaned child is my soul within me.” No longer fretful, demanding, impatient, infantile, David’s heart rested in a sense of God’s place, God’s timing, God’s plan.

The upward glance at that higher place of influence, visibility and recognition destroys our quietness of heart. The one who has helped me the most here is Francis Schaeffer. One of his printed sermons taught me to look by faith beyond my place, wherever it may be, and into the greater battle raging in the heavenlies today, the real battle of our time that bears no necessary relation to the seeming prominence or obscurity of the soldiers involved, and trust that the Lord of hosts is deploying me most effectively right where I am, moment by moment.

If I do climb up to a higher place, I might actually become less consequential than I was before. Unless I was “extruded” (Schaeffer’s wonderful word) out of the lower place by the force of God’s own hand, my life counts less than before, not more.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).

Quietness of heart awaits us there.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Psalm 47:1 in Africa

With thanks to our Immanuel friend Jacqueline Sudano.

Something so infinitely wonderful

"The chief impression that a study of the atonement leaves with us is that of the many-sidedness of Christ's work for men. When he died for us on the cross, he did something so infinitely wonderful that it is impossible to comprehend it in its fulness. However man's need be understood, that need is fully and abundantly met in Christ. The New Testament writers are like men who ransack their vocabulary to find words which will bring out some small fraction of the mighty thing that God has done for us. And yet, though it is so complex and so difficult, it may be put very simply: 'the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (Gal. 2:20)."

Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament, page 419.

The expansion of the soul

"I want to see a focused vision of spiritual maturity -- the expansion of the soul is the best phrase I can use for it. That is, a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God's world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth."

J. I. Packer, quoted in Christianity Today, 6 April 1998, page 40.

How they studied the Bible

Bullinger (1504-1575) left an account of how the Reformation ministers in Zurich studied the Old Testament together in Zwingli's time:

They began with prayer, asking God for clarity and transformation, that in no way would they displease him.

Then one of the young ministers, who had prepared in advance, read and commented on the passage for that day from Jerome's Latin Vulgate version.

Next, a Hebrew scholar went back over the passage in the Hebrew text, commenting, explaining, citing commentaries along the way.

Then, a Greek reader led them through the passage in the Septuagint and other Greek versions.

Finally, Zwingli himself pulled it all together, surveying the Patristic commentators, the medieval rabbis and the Catholic scholars. He connected the text with the whole of the Bible. He funneled it all down to the force and message of the passage, its uplifting power, the real meaning and profit and use of it.

God was powerfully at work, to produce such a passion for his Word.

Cited in G. H. Box, "Hebrew Studies in the Reformation Period and After: their place and influence," in The Legacy of Israel, edited by E. R. Bevan and C. Singer, pages 345-346.

Quietness of heart #2

Do not say, “I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:7).

Every one of us has some brilliant counter-argument to the call of God. “Lord, I am only a _________.” But what God said to Jeremiah he says to every one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). You don’t define yourself. God does. And he never has a trivial thought. He's not even capable of it.

God also said, “To all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:7-8). You have been sent by God on a unique mission in life, he handmade you for it, and he is with you every day to deliver you.

There is no quietness of heart in wishing you could re-locate your existence inside someone else’s life and personality and books and whatever. But God says that the you that you are by creation and redemption – that real you is not fundamentally a problem; that real you is fundamentally a strategy.

Let your God-defined destiny settle your heart in peace, with joy, and a sense of unique responsibility. Being who you are is a privilege from God.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Quietness of heart #1

In response to a recent conversation, here is the first installment of some thoughts on how not to go crazy in our modern world of frenzied madness:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. This is ancient wisdom. I know that some of us consider the Sabbath no longer valid in any sense, and I can see why. It is legislated old covenant culture (Exodus 20:8). But more deeply, it is embedded in the very creation (Genesis 2:2-3). And in the creation account the seventh day is the only one that doesn’t close out with “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.” The Sabbath remains open. It’s not written on our calendars as much as we are built into its calendar. It’s part of the God-created rhythm for weekly human life.

If we did set apart as holy one day each week, we would add to every year, for the rest of our lives, over seven weeks of vacation. And not for goofing off, but for worship, for fellowship, for mercy, for an afternoon nap, for reading a theological book, for thinking about God and taking stock of our lives, for lingering around the dinner table and sharing good jokes and tender words and personal prayers.

I know the objections to the Sabbath. But I am answering this question: How can I live with quietness of heart in the madness of this world? If anyone has a more biblical (and more immediately usable and beneficial) place to begin answering that question, I’m open. But raising hermeneutical objections to the Sabbath principle doesn’t give me quietness of heart.

I’ll push it further. The very concept of “the weekend” is unbiblical. It turns Sunday into a second Saturday. Home Depot may gain, but we lose. It turns Sunday into the day we catch up on the stuff we were too lazy or disorganized to do on Saturday. It also turns Sunday into a day to ramp up for work or school on Monday. It hollows out not only Sunday but our whole week, because it marginalizes God and church and sermons and all the other vital things that happen in our lives only when we make the vital things also the central things. If we accept the world’s concept of “the weekend,” we inevitably end up “fitting God in” rather than centering the practical reality of our every week around him. We trivialize him, even as we allow secondary things to hijack the sacred place of centrality, we live soul-exhausted lives, and then we wonder why God isn’t more real to us, why church isn’t “working” for us, why we're grumpy, and so forth.

If we want to find our way back into quietness of heart, the first step might be simple. Bold, but simple.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Country music

Richard Clark at Christ and Pop Culture grants some reluctant, even embarrassed, but well reasoned approval to country music. Warms the heart.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Virginity restored

Sexual sin can be especially devastating, because our sexuality is a profound aspect of our existence. Violating sex is like picking up a highly sophisticated, delicate technological device and using it to hammer nails. In our natural incomprehension, we do not know who we are or how to live. Too soon it's too late.

But God gives us our virginity back: "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 6:11).

Sad memories may linger. But they no longer define us, and they are passing away. The truth about us now is this: we are not just patched up versions of what we once were, we are new creations altogether (2 Corinthians 5:17). The new has come. In fact, the new has come back, restoring to us treasures we had once thrown away.

God be praised.

The only house big enough

Jesus and Paul

"A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St. Paul. It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the gospels) and that St. Paul afterwards corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the epistles). This is really quite untenable. All the most terrifying texts came from the mouth of our Lord; all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St. Paul. If it could be proved that St. Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed. . . .

The ordinary popular conception has put everything upside down. Nor is the cause far to seek. In the earlier history of every rebellion there is a stage at which you do not yet attack the King in person. You say, 'The King is all right. It is his Ministers who are wrong. They misrepresent him and corrupt all his plans -- which, I'm sure, are good plans if only the Ministers would let them take effect.' And the first victory consists in beheading a few Ministers; only at a later stage do you go on and behead the King himself. In the same way, the nineteenth-century attack on St. Paul was really only a stage in the revolt against Christ. Men were not ready in large numbers to attack Christ himself. They made the normal first move -- that of attacking one of his principal ministers. . . . St. Paul was impeached and banished and the world went on to the next step -- the attack on the King himself."

C. S. Lewis, in J. B. Phillips, Letters to Young Churches, pages ix-x.

No little plans

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us."

Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect, 1864-1912.

My soul a blank

"I have put my soul, as a blank, into the hands of Jesus Christ my Redeemer, and desired him to write upon it what he pleases. I know it will be his own image."

George Whitefield, quoted in Christian History, Issue 38, page 28.

A forgotten aspect of biblical Christianity

I saw this quote in the blogosphere recently, and verified it, but now I forget who put me onto it. So I apologize to the friend out there whom I cannot now acknowledge. But this is how Spurgeon as a new Christian felt about the church:

"I felt that I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God. I wanted to be wherever they were, and if anybody ridiculed them, I wished to be ridiculed with them, and if people had an ugly name for them, I wanted to be called by that ugly name, for I felt that, unless I suffered with Christ in his humiliation, I could not expect to reign with him in his glory."

C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, Volume 1: The Early Years, page 145.

This humility, this love, is rare today. But Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Let's honor him by reestablishing in our generation the unique prestige and true dignity and proper authority of our churches.

Romans 15:13

Romans 15:13 is the last verse, a summary verse, before Paul wraps things up with comments about his ministry plans and his personal greetings. It was one of my dad's favorite verses in all the Bible:

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Romans 15:13 answers three questions. One, who is God? He is the God of hope. Two, what does he do? He fills us with all joy and peace, so that we abound in hope. Three, how does he do that? Our part: in believing. His part: by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with all joy and peace, so that we abound in hope -- that's what a Romans-taught Christian looks like. Not a rigid, tense, dogmatic person but someone filled with all joy and peace, abounding in hope. Smack him down, and he'll weep for a while. But then he's back up again, rejoicing in God. Everything in Romans 1:1-15:12 is calculated to produce believers like this, churches like this. Romans chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, and so on -- it all funnels down to our being filled with all joy and peace, so that we abound in hope.

This Sunday at Immanuel we begin a journey through Romans. Here is our destination: to be filled with all joy and peace, so that we abound in hope. And who doesn't desire that and need that?

"Rejoice in the wife of your youth" Proverbs 5:18

Obeying the command of God, I rejoice in the wife of my youth. I do so eagerly. Why? For many reasons, including:

She loves me a lot, but she loves the Lord a lot more.

She makes sure that I eat like a duke every day.

She reads voraciously, especially the Bible, which she reveres.

She loves people with warmth and charm, and she really means it.

She is a nurturing mother and now grandmother. (Yes, that cute girl is a grandmother!)

She has never forced me to choose between herself and God but has always urged me to put God first, no matter what the cost.

She fears nothing but sin.

She longs for heaven.

She prays like a saint.

She believes in me and has high expectations of me, and I want to live up to that.

She is patient with me when I am troubled.

She makes our home a clean, orderly, pleasant environment I like returning to every night.

She looks great in a deer stand, wearing camo, with her 270 across her lap.

She is kind even to our dog.

There are, I admit, a few things I don't like about my wife. One, she won't let me grow a pony tail. Two, she won't let me be a slob. Three, she rolls her eyes when I whine and complain. Four, she likes to save money rather than spend it. Five, she likes to throw things out rather than store them forever in the garage. I do have to be patient at times.

No, it's not our wedding anniversary. Just another day with Jani. Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quietness vs. entertainment

"People today are afraid to be alone. This fear is a dominant mark of our society. Many now ceaselessly sit in the cinema or read novels about other people's lives or watch dramas. Why? Simply to avoid having to face their own existence. . . .

No one seems to want (and no one can find) a place of quiet -- because, when you are quiet, you have to face reality. But many in the present generation dare not do this because on their own basis reality leads them to meaninglessness; so they fill their lives with entertainment, even if it is only noise. . . .

The Christian is supposed to be very opposite: There is a place for proper entertainment, but we are not to be caught up in ceaseless motion which prevents us from ever being quiet. Rather we are to put everything second so we can be alive to the voice of God and allow it to speak to us and confront us."

Francis Schaeffer, "Walking through the mud," in No Little People, pages 86-87.

I have calmed and quieted my soul. Psalm 131:2

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What the world eats

Fascinating series of photographs, visiting families of the world, what they eat and how much it costs, week by week.

He gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136:25

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How I wasted $6.25

Last night, on a whim, Jani and I went to a late-night showing of the new Batman film. Some of my favorite people in all the world liked it. But I left vowing not to go back to the movies for the foreseeable future.

First off, for twenty-five minutes we were subjected to the previews of coming attractions, one subwoofer punch in the stomach after another, sitting there like the Maxell logo guy being blasted with stupid sex and stupid jokes, thinking "This is not some bizarre medical experiment for which they're paying me. I paid them. Wait a minute."

(By the way, when sex comes on the screen, which I absolutely do not need in my mind, I just close my eyes. When it's over, Jani nudges me and I open my eyes again. It works.)

Then the movie itself. Visually stimulating. Technologically impressive. Hollywood has fast-forwarded a gazillion years since my favorite films by Steve McQueen and John Wayne. But peel off the layers of glittering presentation, and what's actually there? A ripping good yarn. I grant that. But not much else. In fact, it comes down to a lie of human idealization being passed off on the public because they're supposed to be better off thinking the lie. That violates everything I believe. I learned nothing. I was not enriched in any way.

Immanuel Church cannot compete with Hollywood in terms of raw momentary impact. No church can. But that's one of the great things about church. It can be real. It can be entry-level discovery, for anyone, of the Lovely One who will amaze us forever.

I'm weary with the world's disappointing stimulants. I want more of Christ.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back to the Book!

With the publication of the ESV Study Bible in two months, we are being given an extraordinary opportunity to rediscover the Bible. Let's take full advantage of it. As previous generations have proven, especially in times of reformation and revival, personal Bible study is the primary way we seek the Lord himself.

HT: ESV Study Bible Blog.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Yet again

Yet again, and so sadly. With much to live for, a gifted man spirals down into self-destruction. Only Christ can save us from ourselves.


1. If we prove "disloyal to our core beliefs," we are only discovering what our core beliefs really are. We always act by what we believe to be real, true and rewarding.

2. The concept of "a powerful public man with private flaws" is false. There is no true power, nothing worthy of public trust, without personal character tested and proven moment by moment in the hidden scenes of life.

3. If a candidate runs from National Inquirer reporters and hides in a hotel bathroom, how could he as President face up to the Islamic terrorists?

4. "He was very real and authentic." An "authentic" persona is popular today. But it has to be authentic.

5. "Thousands put their faith and confidence in him, and he has let them down." The Bible says, "Put not your trust in princes" (Psalm 146:3). No spokesman will ever have to reveal disappointing news about the Lord of glory.

6. "Mistake" is today's euphemism for sin. Sin is harder to confess, because it is so humiliating. But only sin, confessed as sin, opens the door to redemption.

7. "I believed I was special." Let's all enjoy being ordinary, which is what we are. And let's glory in the only Special One who ever set foot on this planet.

Maybe the best thing to do now, rather than stare and linger and pry, is quietly to pray for this man and his family, and for us all that God will save us from sin and keep us happy in Him, and get back to serving Him in constructive ways.

Tomorrow is Sunday. Everyone coming into our churches needs Jesus. Let's offer him clearly, sincerely.

Friday, August 8, 2008

William Carey's 11 commandments of missions

1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.

2. Gain all the information you can about "the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held."

3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.

4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you're tired and hot.

5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.

6. Earn the people's confidence by your friendship.

7. Build up the souls that are gathered.

8. Turn the work over to "the native brethren" as soon as possible.

9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.

10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he "famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ."

11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

Listed in Christian History, Issue 36, page 34.

Finally, in desperation . . .

"In 1949 I had been having a great many doubts concerning the Bible. I thought I saw apparent contradictions in Scripture. Some things I could not reconcile with my restricted concept of God. When I stood up to preach, the authoritative note so characteristic of all great preachers of the past was lacking. . . .

In August of that year I had been invited to Forest Home, a Presbyterian conference center high in the mountains outside Los Angeles. I remember walking down a trail, tramping into the woods, and almost wrestling with God. I dueled with my doubts, and my soul seemed to be caught in the crossfire. Finally, in desperation, I surrendered my will to the living God revealed in Scripture. I knelt before the open Bible and said, 'Lord, many things in this Book I do not understand. But thou hast said, The just shall live by faith. All I have received from thee, I have taken by faith. Here and now, by faith, I accept the Bible as thy word. I take it all. I take it without reservations. Where there are things I cannot understand, I will reserve judgment until I receive more light. If this pleases thee, give me authority as I proclaim thy word, and through that authority convict men of sin and turn sinners to the Savior.'

Within six weeks we started our Los Angeles crusade, which is now history. During that crusade I discovered the secret that changed my ministry. I stopped trying to prove that the Bible was true. I had settled in my own mind that it was, and this faith was conveyed to the audience. Over and over again I found myself saying, 'The Bible says.' I felt as though I were merely a voice through which the Holy Spirit was speaking."

Billy Graham, "Biblical Authority and Evangelism," Christianity Today, 15 October 1956, pages 5-6.

"There is something magnificent about these prophet-dreamers who are so sure of God."

Ralph S. Cushman, Practicing the Presence, page 108.


"The word ['grace' in the Old Testament] means kindness and graciousness in general -- that is, where there is no particular tie or relationship between the parties concerned. Further, it is shown by a superior to an inferior, and there is no obligation on the part of the superior to show this kindness."

N. H. Snaith, "Grace," in Alan Richardson, A Theological Wordbook of the Bible, page 100.

If God finds incentives for grace within himself, then nothing in us can disqualify us from his grace.

Because God is God . . .

"The general picture which the Old Testament gives us of God is of One who is by nature merciful and who cannot be swayed by man's puny efforts. In the last resort forgiveness is always due to God's being what he is, and not to anything that man may do. Because God is God, he must react in the strongest manner to man's sin, and thus we reach the concept of the divine wrath. But because God is God, wrath cannot be the last word. 'The Lord is good; his mercy endureth forever' (Ps. 100:5)."

Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, page 154.

Edwards on John 3:14-18

In these verses Christ teaches Nicodemus those things that were very contrary to the notions of the Pharisees and rulers of the Jews at that day, one of which Nicodemus was. They expected to see the Messiah raised on a magnificent earthly throne, but instead of that Christ intimates that he must be lifted up on the cross. They thought that he would come to save their nation, and that being of their nation and conforming to the law of Moses would surely entitle men to the Messiah's benefits. But he teaches that he came not only to save the Jews but all that believe on him through the world, and that God sent him not only from love to their nation but love to the world, that he did not come to destroy the world as they imagined the Messiah would but to save and bless it, and that they that did not believe on him -- let them be who they would, of their nation or other nations -- should certainly be condemned and destroyed.

Jonathan Edwards, The 'Blank Bible,' part 2, page 929.

How Blake saw religion killing Christianity

I went to the Garden of Love
And saw what I never had seen:
A chapel was built in the midst
Where I used to play in the green.

And the gates of this chapel were shut
And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore;

And I saw it was filled with graves
And tombstones where flowers should be
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds
And binding with briers my joys & desires.

William Blake, 1757-1827

Scum of the earth

"We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things." 1 Corinthians 4:13

Christlike people know where they stand with the world -- out with the garbage. The world did not value Jesus, and the world does not value his followers today. In this world of false glories, the cross and all who love it will never measure up to this week's definition of cool. The early church accepted that (see Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, pages 38-43) and triumphed. Now it's our turn. And one thing to gladden us along the way: even below the bottom of the heap is the Lord Jesus Christ, the weakness of God and the foolishness of God, saving everyone low enough to discover him there.

Sinister or loving?

There are two ways to look at this universe we're stuck in. One is to see it as vastly sinister, mocking our desires. The other is to see it as exploding with love, inviting our trust. If the first is true, we should rage at everything, especially the (apparently) positive things. If the second is true, we can never despair, no matter what happens.

In her book The Death of Adam, page 78, Marilynne Robinson sees the first outlook in the cynicism of our times:

"When a good man or woman stumbles, we say, 'I knew it all along,' and when a bad one has a gracious moment, we sneer at the hypocrisy. It is as if there is nothing to mourn or admire, only a hidden narrative now and then apparent through the false, surface narrative. And the hidden narrative, because it is ugly and sinister, is therefore true."

The apostle John opens up another total outlook. As a kid in the 50s, I memorized it in the King James Version, and it will forever be imprinted in my psyche with these words:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

Select, double-click, and what comes up on the screen?

For God -- the ultimate explanation

so loved -- the open secret of history and our lives

the world -- a wretched evil, defiling every one of us

that he gave -- the unthinkable sacrifice

his only begotten Son -- the unique, pure, worthy One

that whosoever -- startling openness to all

believeth -- no more will be required later

in him -- a new focus for our lives

should not perish -- the destruction we deserve

but -- a surprising reversal

have -- personal possession on terms of grace

everlasting life -- a deluge of joy forever.

The gospel is a clear alternative to the acids of cynicism corroding our world. And the gospel, because it is true, will write the final chapter of our lives.

Friday, August 1, 2008

How to hit back

The most precious thing in all the world

Codex Sinaiticus, the magnificent fourth-century manuscript of the Greek Bible, is now available on-line at Along with every other manuscript of the Scriptures, it is the most precious thing in all the world. If the volumes in the British Museum, the art of the Louvre and all the treasures of all the libraries and museums throughout all the world were somehow burned to a crisp in a terrible fire, we would be diminished. But we would live on. If however we lost our Bibles and the manuscripts on which they are based, we would die. Our souls would die. It would take a few years for the full impact to be felt. But we would start to unravel at every level. Goofy ideas would somehow capture our foolish imaginations. The rich truths of the gospel would fade from view, we would embrace plastic substitutes, and we would congratulate ourselves on our progress. If we think we have troubles now, they are nothing, less than nothing, compared to what we would be without the Bible to stabilize us, refresh us, warn us, lift us, inspire us, shock us, correct us, fill us, empower us and keep us moving toward Christ.

Thank God for our Bibles! They are the most precious thing in all the world.

As we go into this Sunday

"What then are we to do about this? There is only one obvious conclusion. Seek him! What can we do without him? Seek him! Seek him always. But go beyond seeking him; expect him. Do you expect anything to happen when you get up to preach in a pulpit? Or do you just say to yourself, 'Well, I have prepared my address, I am going to give them this address; some of them will appreciate it and some will not'? Are you expecting it to be the turning point in someone's life? Are you expecting anyone to have a climactic experience? That is what preaching is meant to do. That is what you find in the Bible and in the subsequent history of the Church. Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when the power comes, yield to him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon if necessary. Let him loose you, let him manifest his power in you and through you."

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, page 325.

1 Timothy 6:17

On a 4x6 card here in front of me, my dad had typed out 1 Timothy 6:17 for his Bible memorization. The verse is punctuated with the wonderful words, "God who richly provides." In the margin dad wrote, "All men look for in riches are found richly in God himself."

All we can desire

"O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding, pour into our hearts such love toward thee that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

The Collect, The Sixth Sunday after Trinity, The Book of Common Prayer.

The deep happiness of heaven

"For the sake of Christ . . . ." 2 Corinthians 12:10

"Let us look at our lives in the light of this experience and see whether we gladly glory in weakness, whether we take pleasure, as Paul did, in injuries, in necessities, in distresses. Yes, let us ask whether we have learnt to regard a reproof, just or unjust, a reproach from friend or enemy, an injury or trouble or difficulty into which others bring us, as above all an opportunity of proving how Jesus is all to us, how our own pleasure or honor are nothing and how humiliation is in very truth what we take pleasure in. It is indeed blessed, the deep happiness of heaven, to be so free from self that whatever is said of us or done to us is lost and swallowed up in the thought that Jesus is all."

Andrew Murray, Humility, page 83.

Powerless instruments

"Where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely." 2 Corinthians 12:9, Phillips

"The power of Christ manifests to the full its irresistible energy and attains its highest results by performing works of power with powerless instruments."

Geoffrey Wilson, quoted in D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity, pages 150-151.


"Just thinking of the span of biblical history, we think of warriors, patriarchs, prophets, mighty men of valor. We think of the apostles and the early Christian martyrs. We not only know that the word courage is found in scripture in many forms, but we also know that courage is demonstrated by God's people again and again. . . . Courage is a hermeneutical key to understand the flow of biblical history in the experience of God's chosen people."

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., The Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, 7 February 2000.

Your life is prophetic

In explaining what makes a great story, C. S. Lewis notes one category:

"Another very large class of stories turns on fulfilled prophecies -- the story of Oedipus, or The Man Who Would Be King, or The Hobbit. In most of them the very steps taken to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy actually bring it about. . . . Such stories produce (at least in me) a feeling of awe, coupled with a certain sort of bewilderment . . . ."

C. S. Lewis, "On Stories," in Of Other Worlds, page 15.

Your life, my life, is a story of divine prophetic intention. An ancient and glorious purpose is playing out through us today. Our hearts sense it. The Bible confirms it. The surprise is -- sometimes filling us with awe and bewilderment -- the surprise is that the very obstacles to the fulfillment we long for are in fact its stepping stones.

Every burial sets the stage for a resurrection, as promised.

Which 25,000?

During the Welsh revival of 1904-1906, about 100,000 people were added to the churches, as reported by Andrée Seu in the latest issue of World magazine. Then she asks,

"A revival cynic later noted that after five years, 25,000 people had left the church. But which 25,000? Revival converts, or original members who couldn't stand the light?"