Saturday, September 27, 2008

Away to Southern Seminary

On Monday Jani and I leave for several days at Southern Seminary in Louisville. If you are in the area, we would love to see you. The schedule is here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lovely, biblical wisdom

Sinclair Ferguson is our tour guide through James, pointing out the helps awaiting us there for our daily use of words: DG Conference.

One more Sibbes

"There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us."

Richard Sibbes, Works, I:47.

The goodness of God

"Another way to love God is to consider his wonderful goodness. He is good and doth good. It is a communicative goodness. Let us think of his goodness and the streaming of it out to the creature. The whole earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. What are all the creatures but God's goodness? We can see nothing but the goodness of God. What is all the creation but Deus explicatus, God unfolded to the senses? He offers himself to our bodies and souls; all is God's goodness. . . .

He hath fitted every part of us, soul and body, with goodness, all the senses with goodness. What do we see but goodness in colors? What do we hear but his good in those delights that come that way? We taste and feel his goodness. . . .

But then for our souls, what food hath he for that? The death of Christ, his own Son, to feed our souls. The soul is a spiritual substance, and he thought nothing good enough to feed it but his own Son. . . . The soul, being continually troubled with the guilt of some sin or other, feeds on this. . . .

Then, as God's goodness is great and fit, so it is near us. It is not a goodness afar off but God follows us with his goodness in whatever condition we be. He applies himself to us, and he hath taken upon him near relations, that he might be near us in goodness. He is a father, and everywhere to maintain us. He is a husband, and everywhere to help. He is a friend, and everywhere to comfort and counsel. So his love is a near love. . . .

And then again this goodness of God is a free goodness, merely from himself, and an overflowing goodness and an everlasting goodness. It is never drawn dry; he loves us unto life everlasting. He loves us in this world and follows us with signs of his love in all the parts of us, in body and soul, till he hath brought body and soul to heaven to enjoy himself forever there.

These considerations may serve to stir us up to love God, and direct us how to love God."

Richard Sibbes, Works, 4:195-196.

This "they"

"I insist that up to now the Russian writings have been suffering from a lack of guilt feelings. This is the most difficult threshold which it is necessary to cross in order to say, 'We are to blame, not they.' It is the easiest thing in the world to say 'they.' Published works in our own country and in the whole world are full of this 'they.' Even fine literature is full of it."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "Press Conference on the Future of Russia," Zurich, 16 November 1974.

I love this guy!

Thanks, Jacqueline.

Why is life joyful?

Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, volume 2, pages 500ff., proposes a helpful line of thought:

If God is in fact our Enemy with only destructive intentions toward us, why do we experience any good at all? It isn't surprising that life is painful. What's surprising is that life is joyful. What do our simple, daily joys mean? Is God pretending to be our Friend, is he setting us up for the ultimate nasty surprise? Or is God sending us signals every day that his heart is loving and kind, so kind that we can go back to him in repentance and find his arms open to us?

Where does a warm cup of coffee come from? Where does meaningful and profitable work come from? Where does an interesting crossword puzzle come from? Where does a kiss from my wife come from? Where does a phone call from a friend come from? Where do happy memories of my children come from? Where do the uplifting challenges of tomorrow come from?

The gospel in Romans 2:4 alerts me to the message embedded in my daily joys: "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Submitting to one another

In 1836 Judge William Gould led a movement at First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, to buy their first organ. It was a break with tradition. In a congregational meeting, one member rose and demanded chapter and verse where the Bible authorizes "the worship of God with machinery." But the members voted for the organ, and Judge Gould was appointed to raise the money.

Soon after the Judge ran into Robert Campbell, a member who had opposed the organ. Mr. Campbell asked the Judge why he had not asked him for a donation. Gould replied, "I knew you did not wish to have the organ." "That makes no difference," said Campbell. "When the majority of the members of the church have decided the matter, it is my duty to put aside personal feeling and assist as well as I may."

Narrated in David B. Calhoun, Cloud of Witnesses, pages 40-41.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Romans 12:10

"Outdo one another in showing honor." Romans 12:10

Here is a competition in which everyone wins, here is where we can fight for first place in line: in honoring one another. Not just accepting one another, not just forgiving one another, not just tolerating one another, but honoring one another.

Every church can be a culture of honor. Why? Because of the doctrine of glorification. It's the punch-line of the gospel: "Them he glorified" (Romans 8:30). Every Christian you know will be forever glorious inside and out with the glory of the risen Jesus: "To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Let's see one another not as we are but as we will be. That gospel-perception makes Romans 12:10 an obvious thing to do. Romans 12:10 might be the most disobeyed Scripture in our churches today, but it really is the wardrobe into Narnia.

Who wouldn't want to walk into church this next Sunday morning to a hero's welcome?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


"That white boy can sing"

Spring 1966, goofing off in Auto Shop with my black friend Don Autry, discussing the latest songs on the radio. We both like The Spencer Davis Group. Don's comment is the highest praise Steve Winwood may have ever received: "That white boy can sing." Yes, he can.

What we have gained

I walked in the sunshine with a scholar who had effectively forfeited his prospects of academic advancement by clashing with church dignitaries over the gospel of grace. “But it doesn’t matter,” he said at length, “for I’ve known God and they haven’t.”

. . . [Not] many of us ever naturally say that in the light of the knowledge of God which we have come to enjoy past disappointments and present heartbreaks, as the world counts heartbreaks, don’t matter. For the plain fact is that to most of us they do matter. We live with them as our “crosses” (so we call them). Constantly we find ourselves slipping into bitterness and apathy and gloom as we reflect on them, which we frequently do. The attitude we show to the world is a sort of dried-up stoicism, miles removed from the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” which Peter took for granted that his readers were displaying (1 Peter 1:8). “Poor souls,” our friends say of us, “how they’ve suffered” – and that is just what we feel about ourselves! But these private mock heroics have no place at all in the minds of those who really know God. They never brood on might-have-beens; they never think of the things they have missed, only of what they have gained. . . . When Paul says [in Philippians 3] he counts the things he lost “dung,” he means not merely that he does not think of them as having any value but also that he does not live with them constantly in his mind; what normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure?

J. I. Packer, Knowing God, pages 20-21.

Our real problem

Reflecting on Romans 1:18-32, I realize with new clarity what our real problem is. Our real problem is not our sins. If our sins were the problem, we might muster the will-power to pull out of this nose dive. But the good news of the gospel begins with some really bad news. Our sins only provoke a bigger problem: the wrath of God. Our real problem is not our sins but God. He is angry, he isn't going away, and there is nothing we can do about it. If God is against us, who can be for us?

But here is the good news. God has made God our salvation. He did it at the cross. God has provided a way of escape from God: in God. We run from his wrath by running toward his grace in Christ. And if God is for us, who can be against us?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Every sin mimics God

"All those who wander far away and set themselves up against you are imitating you, but in a perverse way; yet by this very mimicry they proclaim that you are the Creator of the whole of nature and that in consequence there is no place whatever where we can hide from your presence."

Augustine, Confessions, Book 2, Section 14.

Every sin is not an original composition but a fake, an imitation of something real and wonderful. It is the photographic negative of beauty found in God alone. There is no way to escape God. His truth lurks even in our sins. No one, including the most extreme sinner, will ever be able to say, "God, you were completely beyond my range of awareness and experience." Our sins only testify to him.

Why not go directly to God, where we'll actually be happy?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An all-weather faith

"The cross is practical, it is God moving in love to meet violent men and women, Himself facing violence and suffering for us. Your faith was born in violence. The Christian is not scared when nations are upset, when the whole world is shaking. Your faith was born on Calvary. It can stand anything. It is an all-weather faith.

Don't imagine you can only be a Christian when everything is smooth. Christians shine better when everything is just the opposite. Your faith was born in blood and sweat in the loneliness of Calvary. You can stand any test."

Bishop Festo Kivengere, When God Moves, pages 14-15.

Would someone please, please, please sing like this again?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

J. I. Packer on the ESV Study Bible

HT: Justin Taylor.

The book of Job

The book of Job is not answering a theoretical question about why good people suffer. It is answering a practical question: When good people suffer, what does God want from them? The answer is, he wants our trust.

The book is driven by tensions. One, Job really was a good man (1:1, 8). He didn't deserve what he got. Two, neither Job nor his friends ever saw the conflict going on between God and Satan, but his friends made the mistake of thinking they were competent to judge. Three, his friends interpreted his sufferings in moralistic, accusing terms (4:7-8). Thus they intensified his sufferings. Four, Job refused to give in either to his own despair or to their insinuations. He looked to God, and God showed up (38:1-42:17).

Two observations. One, even personal suffering has a social dimension, as others look on. Suffering brings temptation both to the sufferer and to the observer. The sufferer is tempted to give up on God. The observer is tempted to point his finger at the sufferer with smug, self-serving explanations: "This is all your own fault, of course. If you'll own up, everything will start getting better." The fallacy here is to assume that we live in a universe ruled by the simple laws of crime and punishment. Our minds dredge up these thoughts because we are so uneasy about ourselves and therefore threatened by the suffering of another: "If it's happening to Job, it might catch up to me too." So we cling to the illusory feeling of control by reinforcing our own self-image of moral superiority. The book of Job teaches a better, humbler way. When we observe someone else suffering, we too should trust God and sympathize with the sufferer rather than off-load our own guilty fears by dumping on the sufferer.

Two, when we ourselves suffer in ways we cannot explain, God wants us to trust him more than we ever have before. Job eventually settles into a deeper place where, without answers to his questions, he trusts in the omni-competence of God: "I know that you can do all things" (42:2). What God can do is more important than how God explains himself. What if he did tell us every mystery right now? Would we be satisfied? I doubt it. It would only pander to our pride. Far better to leave it all with God, as our faith deepens from questioning to admiring. We don't live by explanations; we live by faith.

"I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able." 2 Timothy 1:12

More wonder -- and still more

"Let us not stop at any benefit we may have had, and not even with the highest experiences we may have enjoyed. Let us seek to know more and more of the glory of God. That is what leads always to a true experience. We need to know the majesty of God, the sovereignty of God, and to feel a sense of awe and of wonder. Do we know this? Is there in our churches a sense of wonder and of amazement?"

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, page 370.

Identity in lifestyle or in Christ?

"Lifestyle always overpowers traditional morality in the war within the Western conscience, and nowhere more obviously than when abortions reach the level of pro-life parody, as they do more commonly than most abortion rights advocates will admit. The British gynecologist P. Greenhalgh writes of a rich mother of three who came to her for an abortion. She wanted a fourth child but not just yet, since the family had already reserved a ski vacation months down the line. Many ob-gyn specialists have stories like this and, when one hears them, it's easy to see why women feel so guilty about owning up to the pedestrian nature of their reasons.

But then most people don't really consider lifestyle pedestrian, especially not their own. In a society organized around a succession of acquisitions and thrills, questions of lifestyle determine one's identity, one's rank in society, one's allegiances, one's loves and hates. It's not a matter of monolithic, time-honored religion versus itty-bitty, flighty lifestyle. It's religion -- marginal vestige, subculture, private matter -- versus lifestyle -- the engine, the symbol, the central organizing principle of the most powerful nation in the history of mankind.

. . . That ski vacation that the mother of three is aborting her child for might be a repository of all the happiness or love or pride she has."

Christopher Caldwell, "Pro-Lifestyle," The New Republic, 5 April 1999, page 15.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Intimacy: the life-giving grace

"'Intimacy' is a word that can make you wince. It is used in sentimental settings, and it is sometimes deployed to describe relationships that are unworthy of the word. But it actually means something important. Intimacy is when I know somebody else as they really are. It is when I know someone inwardly and not just outwardly.

Christ was uninterested, for example, in human beings from the outside in. He was only interested in people from the inside out. He pulled away from people who looked like 'whitewashed tombs' but whose insides were filled with 'the bones of the dead' (Matthew 23:27). Intimacy is the opposite of a whitewashed tomb. It is seeing into the core of a person while not being repelled by what you see."

Paul F. M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, page 139.

Devil's advocate

Gospel: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

Devil's advocate: A tax collector! Why, he was just one step below a child-molester in that society -- collected taxes for the Roman governor, and cheated people at that -- I'll bet he felt out of place in that holy and beautiful place.

Gospel: The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like all other men -- robbers, evil-doers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all my income."

DA: Man, what a record! A tither -- even tithed his bank interest! You mean he fasted twice every week? No wonder he was considered to be a holy man by all his neighbors. God must have been proud to hear him!

Gospel: But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

DA: Now, what kind of prayer is that? The man's not only a bounder -- he should have his head examined. What a debasing and negative self-image for a mature man to have! He needs a psychiatrist.

Gospel: I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

DA: Now, what's that supposed to mean? Come on, man, make sense!

Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate: Church Music in the Evangelical Tradition, pages 186-187.

The gospel is clearest in her smile

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reggie White, 1961-2004

An astounding football player, a man's man, a Christian witness to our times

Friday, September 12, 2008

A matter of wonder

"Times of revival are seasons in which many nominal and spiritually sleepy Christians, operating out of the semi-Pharisaism of religion, wake up to the wonder and ramifications of the gospel. Revivals are massive eruptions of new spiritual power in the church through a recovery of the gospel. In his sermon on Mark 9 Lloyd-Jones was calling the church to revival as its only hope. This is not a new program or something you can implement through a series of steps. It is a matter of wonder."

Tim Keller, in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, page 113.

"And awe came upon every soul." Acts 2:43

Every day

"How many millions of sins in every one of the elect, every one of which is enough to condemn them all, hath this love overcome! What mountains of unbelief doth it remove! Look upon the conduct of any one saint, consider the frame of his heart, see the many stains and spots, the defilements and infirmities with which his life is contaminated, and tell me whether the love that bears with all this is not to be admired. And is not the same towards thousands every day? What streams of grace, purging, pardoning, quickening, assisting, do flow from it every day!"

John Owen, Works, 2:63.

The universe is a metaphor

"The immense magnificence of the visible world in inconceivable vastness, the incomprehensible height of the heavens, etc., is but a type of the infinite magnificence, height and glory of God's world in the spiritual world -- the most incomprehensible expression of his power, wisdom, holiness and love in what is wrought and brought to pass in the world . . . . These things are often compared in such expressions: Thy mercy is great above the heavens, etc."

Jonathan Edwards, quoted in The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister E. McGrath, pages 63-64.

Frantic vs. Quiet

Whoever believes will not be in haste. Isaiah 28:16

"Persons who believe and trust in God will not search about frantically for ways to save their own lives, but they will in quiet and confidence grasp the hand of their all-powerful and merciful God. Such persons of faith will, says Isaiah, form the cornerstone of the city of God."

Elizabeth Achtemeier, in Reading and Preaching the Book of Isaiah, page 35.

Forty years ago today

Forty years ago today was The Day. Late that afternoon I was walking past Centennial Gym at Wheaton College. A guy I knew was hanging out not far away. I stopped to say hi. He introduced me to a new girl on campus. And what a girl. Completely darling, that was obvious. But I didn’t realize at the time that this girl would become God’s greatest earthly gift to me. How good the Lord is to give me as my life-partner this lovely girl. She is a living manifestation of his love for me. I thank him with all my heart.

By now Jani and I know how quickly forty years race by. And it won’t take another forty years for our earthly journey to be over. Life is short. In Christ, life is good. And now is the time for us to serve him with all our might. Heaven is coming soon.

My heart is glad to be on this heavenward journey with that darling girl I met forty years ago today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Forgiveness awaits us

"I do not think that in the mouth of Jesus Christ repentance has the force of a condition but rather of a route. Jesus seems to me to be a penetrating and realistic observer of men, who describes things as they take place. Certainly, in the parable of the prodigal son what happened was that the son repented and as a sequel to his repentance he returned home; he then found that his father had already forgiven him in advance, and without any conditions. . . . Forgiveness leapt spontaneously from the father's heart, for indeed it had never been absent from it."

Paul Tournier, Guilt & Grace, page 190.

Yet another reason to treat one another really well

"If all men stood talking of their rights before they went up a mast or down a sewer or stoked a furnace or joined an army, we should all perish. . . . The man preoccupied with his own rights is not only a disastrous, but a very unlovely, object; indeed, one of the worst mischiefs we do by treating a man unjustly is that we force him to be thus preoccupied."

C. S. Lewis, in The Quotable Lewis, page 520.

A piece of news

"The free gift of God is an absolutely unaccountable event in the life of every man who accepts it. It is not the natural working out of a principle, but it is a thing that happens. But that happening in the soul is the result of a happening in the sphere of external history. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. There we have the central characteristic of our religion; the central characteristic of Christianity is that it is not founded merely upon what always was true but primarily upon something that happened -- something that took place near Jerusalem at a definite time in the world's history. In other words, it is founded not merely upon permanent truths of religion but upon a 'gospel,' a piece of news."

J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent, page 39.

The soul of Christian reality

"The soul of Christian reality is not a Christian philosophy or a Christain theology, even though both of these are essential for an understanding of it. The core of reality is a concrete, creative meeting between God and man."

John A. MacKay, Christian Reality and Appearance, pages 13-14.

"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." James 4:8

A Whiner for All Seasons

"What could your miseries have in common with mine? My situation is unique, unheard of since the beginnings of time. . . . Show me a better man than me, a heart more loving, more tender, more sensitive. . . .If there were a single enlightened government in Europe, it would have erected statues to me."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, quoted in Paul Johnson, Intellectuals, page 10.

The requirement Paul overlooked

In addition to the requirements for church leadership listed by the apostle Paul, let's add in high school football. Why is playing high school football valuable for future church leaders?

1. Teamwork. A successful play requires every man to fulfill his particular assignment well. The right guard isn't watching the left tight end, to see if he's doing his job. He focuses on his own responsibility. When every man respects and trusts his teammates and does his own job well, the team moves the ball down the field toward the goal line.

2. Guts. You can't quit until the end of the fourth quarter. You don't save some reserve energy for the party after the game. You lay it all down during the game, and then you crawl off the field. You learn to play hurt without quitting. You endure and you find out how satisfying it is to endure when you're bleeding and sweating and your whole body is screaming out for relief but you keep going anyway.

3. Winning and losing. You practice with your buddies, you run the windsprints together, you pay the price together, and then you go out onto the field and kick butt together and you win and you have fun winning. And when you lose, you find out it isn't the end of the world because there's another game next weekend and you're going to work harder and play better next week and get back into that winning mode.

4. Manliness. God created manhood. He isn't embarrassed by it. He doesn't apologize for it as "macho." Manliness is beautiful in his sight. Football glorifies manliness. In a fallen world, everything, including manhood, is distorted. But even fallen men are reaching for something real and wonderful when they go onto the field and play out this mystery of manhood which God created for eternal glory. Guided by his wisdom, young manliness can grow into something sacrificial and humble and selfless and enduring throughout a man's life, for the benefit of others.

Paul did talk soldiering and farming and building. I don't think high school football is far away.

He knows how

"The Church's ever-living Head knows how to usher in creative epochs, to rally His people to some converging point through the lapse of centuries and to gather up under this powerful influence isolated opinions into one consistent whole."

George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, page 285.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not under law but under grace

"Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." Romans 6:14

Paul did not write, "Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are under grace." He made it clearer than that. He deliberately excluded ambiguity at the very point where I become confused.

Apart from continual re-saturation in the gospel, I see myself as under law when I've been bad, because I deserve it, and I see myself as under grace when I've been good, because I've earned it. Totally wrong.

Paul makes it clear where we stand now before God: "You are not under law but under grace." And then he looks us right in the eye and says to us, "I dare you to believe it and live by it."

Martin Luther: "It's the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel. If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that should kiss my backside. . . . Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished. But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, 'The forgiveness of sins covers it all,' I have won."

Thanks to isaiah543 for the Luther quote.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What will heaven sound like?

In Revelation 14:2 the apostle John tries to describe the sound of heaven, as he heard it in his vision:

"And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps."

Three times John uses a simile ("like") to describe the sound of heaven. It was like, first, the roar of rushing waters. Niagara Falls. Sustained intensity. It was like, secondly, a loud peal of thunder. Kaboom! Dramatic percussion. It was like, thirdly, harpists playing their harps. Tender loveliness. And the sound of heaven was/is all three sounds mingled together as one.

We have never heard such a sound. C. S. Lewis was right. This is "the silent planet." We do know what a waterfall sounds like, what a thunderclap sounds like, even what an orchestra of harpists might sound like. So the similes work. But we have never heard it all mixed together into one coherent whole. Someday we will hear it. Someday we will be a part of it, as we sing a new song before the throne (Revelation 14:3).

I wonder what it will be like to become capable of sustained intensity, dramatic percussion and tender loveliness, all at once, forever, as the celebration of God's glory pours out of us.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Edwards on motivation

Dane Ortlund's new book on how we get traction for practical Christian living, as Jonathan Edwards explained it, is considered worthy of a careful read -- as his dad and mom can also attest.

Malcolm Muggeridge, 1903-1990

A sparkling author, a fearless thinker, a Christian witness to our times.

The burial of Jesus

"The adversaries act as if they were the victors. . . . What do they mean by their extensive preparations? They are fighting for the cause of death against life and would gladly establish and maintain the throne of death and keep down and immure the throne of life. Let them do their utmost. An all-overruling God controls their designs and permits them to assist death by still more strongly forging his fetters, in order that the bursting of them may appear so much the more glorious."

F. W. Krummacher, The Suffering Savior, page 439.

Regular reaccreditation

"The Christian leader should recognize that even Christian groups will expect him to reaccredit his leadership, just as Israel expected Moses to do. They were God's chosen people, a unique group. Yet they expected that this man, who had literally put his life on the line for them and had given them such devoted and courageous leadership, should regularly reestablish his right to be their leader. . . . Even our heavenly Father regularly blesses us in ways tangible enough that we are reassured he is still aware of our need and splendidly able to meet it. Since God really 'owes' us nothing, it is a mark of his lovingkindness that he responds to our need for reassurance."

Hudson T. Armerding, The Heart of Godly Leadership, pages 131-132.

Reflections on Isaiah

ESV Study Bible.

Little moments

"A little . . ., a little . . ., a little . . . ." Proverbs 24:33

"Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. No rewards at the end, no glory. The twenty-first-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair and the credit card. Christian, you will win or lose in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision. Lord, make my life a miracle!"

Ray Ortlund Sr., Lord, Make My Life A Miracle, pages 130-131.

Congregational singing

"We have already seen that in 1537 one of the four foundations for the reform of the Church was congregational singing. . . . We have seen in effect that Calvin placed singing at the heart of his theology of the Church. The reason is not far to seek. To put it with the utmost simplicity: The Church is the place where the Gospel is preached; Gospel is good news; good news makes people happy; happy people sing. But then, too, unhappy people may sing to cheer themselves up."

T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin, page 87.

The essence of sin

"Saints are perhaps always best evoked by sinners. And it would be hard to think of someone more at ease in the world of modern sin than Tony Hendra. He is and has been a brilliant satirist, an alum of National Lampoon in its glory days, an architect of the peerless parody rock documentary, 'This is Spinal Tap,' a man who has known (and tells us of) serial sex and drugs and rock and irony. But this extraordinary, luminescent, profound book shows us something wonderfully unexpected and deeply true. These ideas of sin that we have are not really sin. Or rather: they are the symptoms of sin, not its essence. And its essence is our withdrawal -- our willful withdrawal -- from God's love."

Andrew Sullivan, "The Saint and the Satirist," The New York Times Book Review, 30 May 2004, page 1, reviewing Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A moment for the history books

HT: Vitamin Z

How to find peace

They have healed the wound of my people lightly saying, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace. Jeremiah 6:14

George Whitefield (1714-1770) made the case that, to find peace, we must see four hard things about ourselves. Then we can take the final step into peace.

One, we must see our actual, chosen violations of the law of God.

Two, we must see the source of our sinful choices, and that is our warped nature we can't opt out of.

Three, we must see the evil in our obedience as well. "You must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up. . . . If you never felt the deficiency of your own righteousness, you cannot come to Jesus Christ."

Four, we must see "what most of you think you are not guilty of -- and that is, the sin of unbelief. . . . Were you ever made to bewail a hard heart of unbelief? Was it ever the language of your heart, 'Lord, give me faith'?"

Finally, "you must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ, . . . and then you shall have peace."

A hard path, a soft destination. There is no other way.

J. C. Ryle, Select Sermons of George Whitefield, pages 75-95.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Goodbye, summer 2008

I want a haircut like that.

Quietness of heart #4

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him. Psalm 62:1

This is my wife’s life-verse. What might that imply about living with me? In any case, it's a great life-verse. Our souls do find rest in God alone. No one else can give our souls the rest we long for.

A hurricane of sin is raging over our world as never before, leaving a trail of destruction in human lives. In times like this, quietness of heart is not easy. But there is a peace that comes from beyond this world. God gives it, and to those who need it most.

Many reading this right now have been betrayed, cheated, slandered, robbed, divorced, molested, sued, abandoned, lied to, and just let down in various ways. Our souls have been shaken to the core. And rarely does the offender loop back and apologize. Typically, the offender finds a way to justify it. They have to live with their own conscience. So they add to their sin the further sin of blaming the one whom they have wronged. But what if they were to own up? Would it make everything better? We sinners just aren’t capable of restoring fully what our misbehavior has taken away. We are greatly capable of destruction but little capable of reconstruction. This is life in our fallen world, including life in the body of Christ. Our souls will find no rest here.

But God’s salvation brings real quietness of heart to real people living real lives in this real world. It’s what Psalm 62 is all about. The flipside of a sorrowful realism about sin is the wonderful discovery of a quietness of heart that comes from beyond this world. God is able to restore everything. The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before and blessed his latter years more than the former (Job 42:10, 12). And far more wonderfully, whatever God may ordain in this life, Christ is preparing an eternal place for us (John 14:3) where nothing impure will ever enter in (Revelation 21:27). No one else can do that for us. And nothing less will satisfy our souls.

Exhausted souls find rest only in God’s promises, his presence, his goodness, his faithfulness, his purity, his love, his beauty, his forgiveness, his nearness, his power, his wisdom, his sovereignty, his justice, his grace in Christ. It isn’t a technique. It’s a miracle.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:8