Saturday, February 28, 2009

What repentance says

"If your brother sins, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him." Luke 17:3

How should we repent when rightly rebuked? In four ways:

1. "I was wrong." Plain, honest, no evasions.

2. "I am sorry." Brokenhearted, realizing the damage done.

3. "It won't happen again." Rebuilding trust for the future.

4. "Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?" Performing deeds in keeping with repentance (Acts 26:20; Matthew 3:8).

"And let us be in earnest, not as fencers but as warriors." Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, page 122.

Delighting in a new way?

"I came to teach at Covenant because I felt constrained by the Lord to be of some service in helping men and women who are going into ministry to love non-Christians rather than to be afraid of them, to delight in building friendships with unbelievers rather than retreating from them, to find what is admirable in our secular society rather than merely being critical of its obvious weaknesses, to extend to people around us a little of the amazing grace that the Lord has shown to us."

Jerram Barrs, Covenant Seminary, St. Louis.

HT: Dane Ortlund.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Humility in the wrong place

"What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert -- himself."

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chapter three, "The Suicide of Thought."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today is his birthday

HT: Justin Taylor.

A work of God sometimes unnoticed

"Where are the Hittites?

Why does no one find it remarkable that in most world cities today there are Jews but not one single Hittite, even though the Hittites had a great flourishing civilization while the Jews nearby were a weak and obscure people?

When one meets a Jew in New York or New Orleans or Paris or Melbourne, it is remarkable that no one considers the event remarkable. What are they doing here? But it is even more remarkable to wonder, if there are Jews here, why are there not Hittites here?

Where are the Hittites? Show me one Hittite in New York City."

Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle, page 6.

". . . beloved for the sake of their forefathers." Romans 11:28

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The kind of men God used

Horatius Bonar, writing the preface to John Gillies' Accounts of Revival, proposes that men useful to the Holy Spirit for revival have been marked in these nine ways:

1. They were in earnest about the great work on which they had entered: "They lived and labored and preached like men on whose lips the immortality of thousands hung."

2. They were bent on success: "As warriors, they set their hearts on victory and fought with the believing anticipation of triumph, under the guidance of such a Captain as their head."

3. They were men of faith: "They knew that in due season they should reap, if they fainted not."

4. They were men of labor: "Their lives are the annals of incessant, unwearied toil of body and soul; time, strength, substance, health, all they were and possessed they freely offered to the Lord, keeping back nothing, grudging nothing."

5. They were men of patience: "Day after day they pursued what, to the eye of the world, appeared a thankless and fruitless round of toil."

6. They were men of boldness and determination: "Timidity shuts many a door of usefulness and loses many a precious opportunity; it wins no friends, while it strengthens every enemy. Nothing is lost by boldness, nor gained by fear."

7. They were men of prayer: "They were much alone with God, replenishing their own souls out of the living fountain, that out of them might flow to their people rivers of living water."

8. They were men whose doctrines were of the most decided kind: "Their preaching seems to have been of the most masculine and fearless kind, falling on the audience with tremendous power. It was not vehement, it was not fierce, it was not noisy; it was far too solemn to be such; it was massive, weighty, cutting, piercing, sharper than a two-edged sword."

9. They were men of solemn deportment and deep spirituality of soul: "No frivolity, no flippancy . . . . The world could not point to them as being but slightly dissimilar from itself."

Theology, culture

I like Reformed theology. I believe it's what the Bible teaches. But I don't like Reformed culture. I don't believe it's what the Bible teaches.

Reformed theology is all about grace deciding to treat people better than they deserve, for the sheer glory of it all. Sometimes Reformed culture doesn't look like that, feel like that, taste like that. It gives people exactly what they deserve, as judged by the Reformed person. But who exalted him as judge in the first place? Our true Judge stepped down to become our Friend. That theology of grace must translate into the sociology of grace as we treat one another better than anyone deserves, for the sheer glory of it all.

"If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride."

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, page 15.

No preconditions

"For this implicit faith and total resignation of ourselves to the adorable Providence of God, willing nothing but what he wills, and because he wills it, is a state of mind whose excellency I cannot represent to you; it . . . makes our weakness as serviceable to us as our strength . . . . Let me, therefore, entreat you to put on this temper; to lay hold of it with all your might; to make everything you hear or see or find in yourself, the world, religion, or Providence, so many fresh occasions of committing yourself to God by a faith without any bounds, a resignation without any reserve."

William Law, Works, IX:249-250.

HT: John Lovell

Nothing else is required of us

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." Revelation 3:20

"Nothing else is required of us in order to our having an interest in Christ but that we should find it in our hearts to be willing that Christ should be ours and we his."

Jonathan Edwards, in Michael D. McMullen, editor, The Blessing of God, page 362.

Let us consider this settled

"Let us consider this settled: that no one who has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection. . . . Let us not hesitate to await the Lord's coming, not only with longing, but also with groaning and sighs, as the happiest thing of all. He will come to us as a Redeemer."

John Calvin, Institutes, 3.10.5.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Joyful tidings

"'Evangelion' (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word, and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man's heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy."

William Tyndale, quoted in Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, page 1.

Tomorrow some of us will preach the gospel. May we announce to the people one utterance, at least just one, that has the power to make a reasonable, thoughtful, respectable adult want to stand up and shout for joy. Not that they will. But they should be thinking, "Hold on here, buddy. I know how you feel, but don't let this joy carry you away." If we never say anything that has that effect on a reasonable adult, are we preaching the gospel?

Let's preach to sinners the news so good that we ourselves must struggle against the joy of it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Nothing less than a new world

". . . so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5:21

In Romans 5:12-21, Paul "is not saying merely that we have life for a time, after which life ends in death; nor is he aiming to explain the fact of such death. . . . What he is saying is rather that all that we call life . . . lies under the dominion of death. . . . Death rules supreme in this world. . . ." But since the resurrection of Christ "the new aeon has become actual fact in our world. Christ stands at the frontier between the two ages, outdating the old and blazing the way for the new. . . . In the new aeon, which burst upon man with the resurrection of Christ, life has come to dominion still more mightily."

Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, pages 22-23.

This life we live is not life. This life is a living death. This whole world is ruins brilliantly disguised as elegance. Christ alone is life. Christ has come, bringing his life into the wreckage called us. He has opened up, even in these ruins, the frontier of a new world where grace reigns. He is not on a mission to help us improve our lives here. He is on a mission to create a new universe, where grace reigns in life. He is that massive, that majestic, that decisive, that critical and towering and triumphant.

We don't "apply this to our lives." It's too big for that. But we worship him. And we boast in the hope of living forever with him in his new death-free world of grace.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wildly optimistic

"The Devil is wildly optimistic if he thinks he can make human beings worse than they are."

Karl Kraus, quoted in Henri Blocher, Original Sin, page 11.

Greatest youtube clip of all time

This is not profound. It is fun. In its way, I suppose, that is profound, thank the Lord.

P.S. For the proper pronunciation of the English word "baby," check out 22 seconds into the vid.

The world of today needs Christians who remain Christians

"I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think (insofar as I can judge of it) in order to reach a reconciliation that would be agreeable to all. On the contrary, what I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as is silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds. This is tantamount to saying that the world of today needs Christians who remain Christians. The other day at the Sorbonne, speaking to a Marxist lecturer, a Catholic priest said in public that he too was anticlerical. Well, I don't like priests who are anticlerical any more than philosophies that are ashamed of themselves."

Albert Camus, addressing the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg in 1948, recorded in Resistance, Rebellion and Death, page 70.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to be revival-ready

"Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, but a humble saint is most jealous of himself. He is as suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints . . . and to be quick to notice their deficiencies. But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts. . . . Pure Christian humility disposes a person to take notice of everything that is good in others, and to make the most of it, and to diminish their failings, but to give his eye chiefly on those things that are bad in himself."

Jonathan Edwards, "Thoughts on the Revival," in Works, I:399-400.

Is that all there is -- to despair?

Very American version of despair. Bouncy, cheery, defiant. This is us.

"Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known." Jeremiah 33:3

Very divine version of hope. Startling, implausible, tender. This is God.

True Woman

This Thursday evening at 7 PM, at Immanuel Church, Mary Kassian will be teaching via DVD on how women's self-understanding has changed over the past decades. This is a continuing series flowing out of the True Woman conference this past fall.

All women are invited to consider and discuss how the gospel helps us find ourselves as never before.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Department of Injustice?

"In contemporary America, pornography is both a public reality and big business. Ambient pornography -- sexually explicit advertising, entertainment, and merchandising -- is all around us. But pornography is also big business, producing sexually explicit materials in printed, video, and digital formats and making billions of dollars in the process.

The pornography industry has a big stake in defending itself against legal challenges and restrictive laws, and it has been stunningly successful in doing so. One of the leading legal defenders of pornography has been David Ogden, a lawyer who can only be described as a First Amendment extremist, who has even argued against laws against child pornography.

President Barack Obama has nominated David Ogden as Deputy Attorney General of the United States. This nomination is both ominous and dangerous. Given David Ogden's high visibility in defense of pornography, this nomination sends a clear and unmistakable message. The pornography business will have a friend in high office in the Department of Justice."

Dr. Al Mohler, "Pornography, Public Culture, and the New Administration," 13 February 2009

Someday our President will stand before the King of kings and give an account, in detail, day by day, of his use of the office of President of the United States. Given the unmistakable links between pornography and the abuse of women going on in the world right now, if our President fails in their legal protection, the judgment handed down on that Day will be hard for him to bear.

If our own opposition to this vile thing, pornography, is not yet intense, I suggest reading the last two chapters of Mark Driscoll's Porn-Again Christian. They are disturbing.

May the Savior of the world visit our generation with massive cleansing power.

The world needs . . .

"When you listen to the radio, you hear the canned, frozen, processed flutter being dished to the world as the American kind of music. . . . I need substance in my life. And the world needs substance. The world doesn't need any more hip. Hip is dead. The world doesn't need any more cool, more clever. The world needs more substantial things. The world needs more greatness."

Billy Joel, A&E Monthly

What unifies God's people

"We live in a religious climate that seems to believe that shared experience (whether in prayer or worship) is what unifies God's people. That is not the case. Paul makes it known in [2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:2] that the baton being passed down is not an apostolic office or simply an experience but a body of apostolic truth."

Dr. Greg Waybright, Wellspring, Spring 1996, page 2.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This I know

Beams of heaven as I go
through this wilderness below
guide my feet in peaceful ways
turn my midnights into days
When in the darkness I would grope
faith always sees a star of hope
and soon from all life's grief and danger
I shall be free someday

Burdens now may crush me down
disappointments, they're all around
troubles speak in mournful sigh
sorrow through a tear-stained eye
There is a world where pleasure reigns
no mourning soul shall roam its plains
and to that land of peace in glory
I've got to go someday

I do not know how long it will be
nor what the future holds for me
but this I know, this I know:
if Jesus leads me
I shall go home someday

Never anyone else

Friday, February 13, 2009

Not in the circumstances

"The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever]. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them."

Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People, page 64.

The health of our souls

"Penitent sorrow is only a purge to cast out those corruptions which hinder you from relishing your spiritual delights. Use it therefore as physic [medicine], only when there is need, and not for itself but only to this end, and turn it not into ordinary food. Delight in God is the health of your souls."

Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, Part 1, chapter 3, section 13, direction 20.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is your church an institution?

To call anything an "institution" today is its death sentence, including a church. Should we be ashamed of the institutional aspects of our churches?

What is an institution? An institution is a social mechanism where life-giving human activities can be nurtured and protected and sustained. Some aspects of life should be unscheduled, spontaneous, random. But not all of life should be. What an institution does is structure and order a desirable experience, so that it becomes repeatable on a regular basis. Some things deserve better than to be left to chance. Football season is an institution, Valentine's Day is an institution, and so forth.

Institutions are not a problem. The problem is that an institution can become institutionalized. An institution is meant to enrich life. Institutionalization takes that good thing and turns it into death. How? The institutional structure, the mechanism, takes on its own inherent purpose. The structure itself overshadows the experience that is to be nurtured within the structure. When the institutional vehicle intended to facilitate the desirable experience stops being the means and morphs into the end, when running the plays rather than moving the ball down the field and scoring the touchdown becomes the preoccupation, when the instrument of blessing becomes brittle and life-quenching -- that is institutionalization. It's how a vehicle for liberation degenerates into an engine of oppression, but it keeps the sacred aura of the original liberating purpose. The Pharisees were masterful in this way.

Your church is an institution. Don't be embarrassed by that. But guard and improve your institution, so that its gospel purpose -- that people would meet with Christ, go deep, and never stop growing in him -- so that that larger purpose is served.

Reformed, always being further reformed, according to the Word of God, for greater joy in the Lord spreading to more and more people -- that's an institution worthy of our all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How it all began

"By what means Satan first drew mankind from the obedience of God, the Scripture doth witness: To wit, by pouring into their hearts that poison, that God did not love them."

John Knox, Works, V:24.

1 Corinthians 16:13

Paul charged the whole Corinthian church, including women and children, to "act like men." What could that rugged faith look like?

Gen. David Baird (1757-1829) served in the 73rd Highlanders in India and was captured as prisoner of war in 1780. Hearing the bad news back home in Scotland, his mother did not freak out. Her comment: "God pity the chiel [young man] who's chained to our Davie!"

In our emotionally delicate age, this is instructive.

Matthew 12:7

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mighty; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the heart of kings;
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like as God's
When mercy seasons justice.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Every sermon

"Every sermon I come to hear, I must expect to be nearer heaven or nearer hell."

Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel Fear, page 20.

Interview with Eugene Peterson

CT: You seem to have a strong sense of place, of the importance of one's location.

EP: I enjoy reading the poet-farmer Wendell Berry. He takes a small piece of land in Kentucky, respects it, cares for it, submits himself to it just as an artist submits himself to his materials. I read Berry, and every time he speaks of "farm" and "land" I insert "parish." . . . The pastor's question is, "Who are these particular people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?" My job is simply to be there, teaching, preaching Scripture as well as I can, and being honest with them, not doing anything to interfere with what the Spirit is shaping in them.

CT: What does it mean to experience all the material of our lives as an act of faith?

EP: That I'm responsible for paying attention to the Word of God right here in this locale. The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it.

CT: As a pastor, then, you see grace in some unlikely situations.

EP: Yes, and my job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them to see the grace that is operating in their lives. It's hard to do, because our whole culture is going the other direction, saying that if you're smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. . . . The work of spirituality is to recognize where we are -- the particular circumstances of our lives -- to recognize grace and say, "Do you suppose God wants to be with me in a way that does not involve changing my spouse or getting rid of my spouse or my kids, but in changing me, and doing something in my life that maybe I could never experience without this pain and this suffering?"

Christianity Today, 3 April 1987, pages 25-26.

You have no idea how wonderful I really am, and in fact I have no idea how wonderful I really am

Mockingbird articulates the self-understanding popular with many of our friends today. Link here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Do you have a growth plan for 2009?

We're over a month into 2009. Are you changing? Is your 2009 becoming different from your 2008? Do you have a growth plan for 2009? If not, nothing much will change. But if so, you're going to have an exciting year.

Your growth plan should be:

1. Personal and free. No one has the right to tell you how you should be growing. Think for yourself. Work out your own salvation. How is the Holy Spirit convicting you and alluring you into new obedience?

2. Biblical and accountable. Identify specific verses in the Bible to serve as your guides for newness in 2009. And share your growth plan with one other guy who will pray for you every day and check up on your progress.

3. Practical and bold. Your growth plan should funnel down to concrete actions in your schedule, week by week. It should include steps of new obedience that scare you. Realistic and do-able, but scary. Obeying God in scary ways is invigorating.

There are two ways to live. One is to run laps. Same, same, same, over and over again. The other way is to run cross country, into new territories you've never known before. And the way to get off that boring, confining track is your own freely chosen growth plan for 2009.

It's not too late to begin.

Top-line thoughts from the Raleigh Boot Camp

1. A church should have a masculine ethos. 1 Corinthians 16:13 commands a whole church, "Act like men." There is cowardice, even effeminacy, in American churches today.

2. When you're doing the right thing, compromise is not leadership. It is capitulation.

3. All our problems arise from not connecting with the gospel. All our remedies are found in rediscovering and applying the gospel.

4. If you are not growing, you cannot lead others into growth. If you are growing and changing, you will be a force for renewal.

5. People in whom the Holy Spirit is at work love challenge; people in whom the Holy Spirit is not at work resent challenge.

6. We do not yet appear to be in the Third Great Awakening. If we were, the conversations at Harvard and CNN and the White House would be about Jesus. But renewal does seem to be growing in impact. I rejoice to see this in the Acts 29 Network and feel honored to be involved. If we will stay low before the Lord, I expect the blessing to grow and increase.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Off to Raleigh

Off to Raleigh for the Acts 29 Boot Camp. Back at the end of the week. Thanks for checking in. God be with you.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Don't ask questions, just believe?

"But someone will say, 'Didn't Jesus say that, to be saved, you have to be as a little child?' Of course he did. But did you ever see a little child who didn't ask questions? People who use this argument must never have listened to a little child or been one. My four children gave me a harder time with their endless flow of questions than university people ever have. . . . What Jesus was talking about is that the little child, when he has an adequate answer, accepts the answer. He has the simplicity of not having a built-in grid whereby, regardless of the validity of the answer, he rejects it."

Francis A. Schaeffer, "Form and Freedom in the Church," International Congress on World Evangelization, July, 1974.