Saturday, March 28, 2009

What preaching is meant to do

Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 1 Thessalonians 1:5

"Paul knew he was clothed with power and authority. How does one know it? It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of a power not your own thrilling through the whole of your being, and an indescribable sense of joy. . . .

What about the people? They sense it at once; they can tell the difference immediately. They are gripped, they become serious, they are convicted, they are moved, they are humbled. Some are convicted of sin, others are lifted up to the heavens, anything may happen to any one of them. They know at once that something quite unusual and exceptional is happening. . . .

What then are we to do about this? There is only one obvious conclusion. Seek Him! 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, pages 324-325.

Frame on Scripture

John Frame identifies what are, in his opinion, the four best books on Holy Scripture here.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Must you?

"One hundred years after Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, a man approached the great church father Tertullian with a problem -- his business interests and Christianity conflicted. He ended by asking, 'What can I do? I must live!' Tertullian replied, 'Must you?'"

R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, page 74.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The greater wealth

If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? Luke 16:11

"The 'true riches' obviously have nothing to do with money. To have spiritual power to overcome the awfulness of the post-Christian world -- that is true riches. The church is constantly saying, 'Where's our power? Where's our power?' Jesus' statement here gives us at least part of the answer. We must use money with a view to what counts in eternity. If a child cannot take his father's money, go to the store, purchase what is requested and return home with the change, it does not make sense for the father to increase his allowance. So since . . . the money we handle is not our own, if we do not bring it under the lordship of Christ, we will not be given the greater wealth of spiritual power."

Francis A. Schaeffer, "Ash heap lives," in No Little People, page 266.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

In the garden

Courageous pastor

A courageous pastor in New Hampshire takes heat for living out the gospel, reported here. Click into "Pastor takes in convict."

Everything man-made

"He will not fail." Isaiah 42:4

"He has done all things well." Mark 7:37

Everything man-made lets us down. Sooner or later, everything man-made reveals its hidden weaknesses. Only Christ will not fail. Only Christ does all things well. I don't. You don't. Christ does. Always. Infallibly.

I remember my dad saying this to me years ago. I didn't object outwardly, but inwardly I disagreed with him. I resisted the implications for the man-made things in my own life I was depending on too much -- my man-made ecclesiastical system, my man-made theological system, and other things. But dad was right.

Remember the Roadrunner cartoons where poor old Wyle E. Coyote runs off the cliff or has an anvil fall on him or opens a door and the dynamite explodes in his face? Hilarious. But it happens. It happens to us all. Man-made things go boom. They cannot be trusted. Respected, yes. Honored, yes. But not trusted.

The only unfailing object of our trust and hope is Christ himself. Theological systems have their uses, but also their limits. Christ, Christ, Christ -- the risen, living, present Person of the Lord Jesus Christ who is right here right now and always will be, forever keeping his promises -- only he has no limits, only he cannot disappoint.

"My soul finds rest in God alone." Psalm 62:1

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Today is her birthday

"A literature which mirrors society would be no fit guide for it."

Flannery O'Connor, "The Grotesque in Southern Fiction," in Mystery and Manners, page 46.

HT: Justin Taylor.

What the Father has to say

"We must think of the Son always, so to speak, streaming forth from the Father, like light from a lamp, or heat from a fire, or thoughts from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father -- what the Father has to say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it."

C. S. Lewis, "Good Infection," Mere Christianity, page 135.

Psalm 146:3

"The state was the great gainer of the twentieth century, and the central failure. Up to 1914, it was rare for the public sector to embrace more than 10 per cent of the economy; by the 1970s, even in liberal countries, the state took up to 45 per cent of the GNP. . . . The state had proved itself an insatiable spender, an unrivalled waster. . . . By the turn of the century politics was replacing religion as the chief form of zealotry. To archetypes of the new class, . . . politics -- by which they meant the engineering of society for lofty purposes -- was the one legitimate form of moral activity, the only sure means of improving humanity. This view, which would have struck an earlier age as fantastic, became to some extent the orthodoxy everywhere."

Paul Johnson, A History of the Modern World from 1917 to the 1980s, page 729.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

No great hardship

"To be laughed at is no great hardship to me. I can delight in scoffs and jeers; caricatures, lampoons, and slanders are my glory. But that you should turn from your own mercy, this is my sorrow. Spit on me, but oh, repent! Laugh at me, but oh, believe in my Master! Make my body as the dirt of the streets, if you will, but damn not your own souls! Oh, do not despise your own mercies. Put not away from you the gospel of Christ. . . . I charge you, as I shall face you at the judgment bar of the Lord Jesus in the day of judgment -- I charge you, by your own immortal welfare, lay these things to heart."

C. H. Spurgeon, 10 January 1858

HT: Jacob Vanhorn

Weak toward God

"Man cannot be righteous in God's sight until he repents of his own expectation that he can be righteous in his own sight. God is not mighty toward man until man is weak toward God."

Edward John Carnell, Christian Commitment, page 302.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

When opposed and reviled

"Spiritual pride takes great notice of opposition and injuries that are received and is apt to be often speaking of them and to be much in taking notice of their aggravations, either with an air of bitterness or contempt. Whereas pure and unmixed Christian humility disposes a person rather to be like his blessed Lord, when reviled, dumb, not opening his mouth, but committing himself in silence to him that judges righteously. . . . It becomes the followers of the Lamb of God, when the world is in an uproar about them and full of clamor against them, not to raise another noise to answer it but to be still and quiet. . . . Meekness and quietness among God's people, when opposed and reviled, would be the surest way to have God remarkably to appear for their defense. . . . Nothing is so effectual to bring God down from heaven in the defense of his people as their patience and meekness under sufferings."

Jonathan Edwards, "Thoughts on the Revival," in Works, I:401.

A living prayer

Saturday, March 21, 2009

San Diego Boot Camp

Acts 29 is offering the next Boot Camp in San Diego May 5-6. More info here.

"Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap and be faithful even unto death? Where are those who will lose their lives for Christ's sake, flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously and be reckless in his service? . . . Where are the adventurers, the explorers, the buccaneers for God who count one human soul of far greater value than the rise or fall of an empire? . . . Where are God's men in this day of God's power?"

Howard Guinness, Sacrifice, pages 59-60.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Calvin's Institutes

A number of us are reading through John Calvin's Institutes this year, the 500th anniversary of his birth. Yesterday morning I finished. But I did get a head start. In 1981. So it's about time.

Calvin can be tiresome when he goes off like this: "This is what, indeed, certain fanatics who delight in unbridled license shout and boast . . .," referring apparently to Anabaptist conviction (4.20.2). Smackdowns do not edify.

But there is so much about Calvin's thinking I receive and love. I found myself agreeing with almost every conviction he proposed. Not everything. But disagreement was rare. I have been instructed and enriched by this study. My Bible is now marked in many passages with a marginal note: "See Calv, Inst, x.x.x."

Why does John Calvin still matter today? Above all else, Calvin understands what it means to take into account, first and foremost, in all things, God: "The Christian must surely be so disposed and minded that he feels within himself it is with God he has to deal throughout his life" (3.7.2). Every moment of every day is a God-moment.

For us, that way of thinking is an adjustment. An adjustment big enough to be called repentance. We think piecemeal. We compartmentalize. We diminish the reach of God's grace into the moment-by-moment of our lives. But like a prophet of old, Calvin calls us back to God.

I thank the Lord for this fallible but precious gift, my brother, John Calvin.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We apologize

"We in the modern church confuse witness with reputation. We conceal facts discreetly, saying, 'It wouldn't be a very good testimony if this sort of thing got around.' Discretion is valuable in its place. What we sometimes forget is that the world around us is well aware of what goes on in our congregations and institutions. Truth will out. And as people begin to realize not only that our standards of behavior are no different from theirs but that we tolerate and conceal what we profess to abhor, our preaching becomes an empty parroting in their ears. It is not sin which destroys our witness, but concealed and tolerated sin. If we were to deal with sin more openly, more radically, and to be less concerned with our reputations, our witness would in fact be powerful."

John White, The Golden Cow, page 35.

Proposal. A full-page ad in The Tennessean. Section one. Right hand page. Lots of white space. Two simple words in big font at the top: "We apologize." Then, in smaller font just below that, something like this: "We, the undersigned churches of Nashville, apologize to our city. We have not been the witnesses for Christ that he commands. We are neither delighting you nor disturbing you with Christ. This is our failure alone, and we own it before him and before you. God helping us, we pledge to be humbler, clearer, more provocative and more pleasing to you in the future. If we break this pledge, you will have no reason to take us seriously ever again. But we cannot go on as we have been. The time has come for repentance and revival." Below that, the participating churches could be listed, in alphabetical order, in columns. Then everyone involved could go back to their churches and we could get down on our knees and beg the Lord Jesus Christ to change us.

What do we have to lose? Only the status quo.

The real state of his heart

"Orders of a Religious Society Meeting in Fetter's Lane, in obedience to the command of God by St. James . . . May 1, 1738, it was agreed:

1. That they will meet together once in a week to confess their faults one to another, and pray for one another, that they may be healed. . . .

10. That every one in order speak as freely, plainly and concisely as he can, the real state of his heart, with his several temptations and deliverances since the last time of meeting."

Peter Bohler and John Wesley, quoted in Raymond C. Ortlund [Sr.], Let the Church be the Church, page 75.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trusting God

"If I don't know yet, that means I don't need to know yet. In fact, I think it's probably safe to say that, if I don't know yet, then I need not to know."

HT: Gavin Ortlund.

Certain young men

"Nevertheless, this book goes forth with a mission. It is written with the profound conviction that the paramount need of the twentieth century is a mighty evangelical revival such as that which was experienced two hundred years ago. Thus, I have sought to show what were the doctrines used of God in the eighteenth-century Revival, and to display the extraordinary fervour which characterized the men whom God raised up in that blessed work. Yea, this book is written in the desire—perhaps in a measure of inner certainty—that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more bring into being His special instruments of revival, that He will again raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ. And what manner of men will they be? Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be ‘fools for Christ’s sake’, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labour and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat. They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness ‘signs and wonders following’ in the transformation of multitudes of human lives."

Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, pages 15-16.

HT: Tyler Powell

Get up out of your seat

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When the Spirit is poured down

"The purest joy in the world is joy in Christ Jesus. When the Spirit is poured down, his people get very near and clear views of the Lord Jesus. They eat his flesh and drink his blood. They come to a personal cleaving to the Lord. They taste that the Lord is gracious. His blood and righteousness appear infinitely perfect, full and free to their soul. They sit under his shadow with great delight. . . . They lean on the Beloved. They find infinite strength in him for the use of their soul -- grace for grace -- all they can need in any hour of trial and suffering to the very end."

Robert Murray M'Cheyne, preaching on Psalm 85:6, "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Now decisions have to be made

"The logic of mission is this: the true meaning of the human story has been disclosed. Because it is the truth, it must be shared universally. It cannot be private opinion. When we share it with all peoples, we give them the opportunity to know the truth about themselves, to know who they are because they can know the true story of which their lives are a part. Wherever the gospel is preached, the question of the meaning of the human story -- the universal story and the personal story of each human being -- is posed. Thereafter the situation can never be the same. It can never revert to the old harmonies, the old securities, the old static or cyclical patterns of the past. Now decisions have to be made for or against Christ, for Christ as the clue to history or for some other clue."

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pages 125-126.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The governing power

"Grace is the governing power that determines humanity's destiny."

Adolf Schlatter, Romans, page 129, on Romans 5:12-21.

The only choice

"No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol."

Simone Weil, 1909-1943

Friday, March 13, 2009

Romans 5:20

"Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Romans 5:20

"The Law came in as a sort of 'afterthought,' a secondary and subordinate stage, in the Divine plan, causing the indefinite multiplication of sins which, like the lapse or fall of Adam, were breaches of express command. Multiplied indeed they were, but only with the result of calling forth a still more abundant stream of pardoning grace."

Paraphrase of Romans 5:20 in Sanday and Headlam, Romans (ICC), page 139.

40 years ago

In the mercy of God my Father, 1969 was a great year for me and a wonderful I'd just met. And I still kiss her.

Our deepest recession

"The deepest need of men is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God. We have mistaken the nature of poverty and thought it was economic poverty. No, it is poverty of soul, deprivation of God's recreating, loving peace. Peer into poverty and see if we are really getting down to our deepest needs, in our economic salvation schemes. These are important. But they lie farther along the road, secondary steps toward world reconstruction. The primary step is a holy life, transformed and radiant in the glory of God."

Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, page 123.

Our economic recession began in a recession of the soul. If our hearts were filled with the Holy Spirit, we would be so freed from financial foolishness that we would not have established lifestyles, personally and nationally, that we now know are practically unsustainable, politically divisive, economically backward and perhaps even militarily risky.

The most relevant message to our nation today, and to ourselves, is personal repentance, confession of sin, newness of life and hope in the gracious promises of God in Christ.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How to read the Bible

"Against those forms of Judaism that saw the law-covenant not only as lex [law] but as a hermeneutical device for interpreting the Old Testament, Paul insists that the Bible's story line takes precedence and provides the proper hermeneutical key."

D. A. Carson, "Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament," JETS 40 (1997): 585.

There are two ways to read the Bible. We can read it as law or as promise.

If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do. Even the promises will be conditioned by demand. But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do. Even the commands are conditioned by provision.

In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one. "This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise" (Galatians 3:17-18).

So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or promise, demand or provision, burden or gift, command or grace, we can just start reading on page one and see which comes first. And in fact, promise comes first, in God's word to Abram in Genesis 12. Then the law is added later, in Exodus 20. The category "promise" establishes the larger, wraparound framework for everything else added in along the way.

The deepest message of the Bible is the promises of God through grace. The Bible presents itself to us this way. The laws and commands and examples and warnings are all there. We must revere them. But they do not provide the hermeneutic with which we make sense of the whole. We can and should understand them as qualified by God's gracious promise in Christ.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Laodicea today

"You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked." Revelation 3:17

Michael Spencer's provocative article prompts me to turn to Revelation 3:14-22. Here's the picture. You see some strange guy walking down the street of your town. You can't help but notice that he is:

1. wretched, or, "suffering, distressed, miserable" according to Liddell-Scott-Jones' Greek lexicon;

2. pitiable, or as we would say, pathetic;

3. poor, that is, beggarly, penniless;

4. blind, that is, he cannot see the obvious;

5. naked, that is, embarrassingly exposed.

So here he comes down the street, banged up from encounters with light posts and mailboxes, naked as a jaybird. You approach the poor guy and say, "Sir, may I help you?" And his answer is, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing." Delusional.

This was the church in Laodicea. This is too many churches today. We focus on our strengths and successes. And there is just enough good going on in our ministries that we can plausibly refuse a blunt reappraisal of our weaknesses. But the Lord is saying, "That whole mentality is wrong. It is lukewarm. It makes me want to vomit (verse 16). I am not asking you whether you hate my guts. You don't. I almost wish you did. But I am confronting you that you don't love me wholeheartedly, so that you go into repentance and reevaluation and change. Here's what you need to do: Stop telling yourself you're okay and go back into re-conversion (verse 18). Change your complacency into zealous repentance (verse 19). Hey, are you listening to me? I'm that faint voice you can barely hear any more. I'm outside your church, banging on your door. You didn't even notice when I walked out. But I'm back, one more time. If anyone in there is listening, just open the door and I will come in. I won't smack you down. I will befriend you (verse 20). The others in your church may or may not join us, but all I'm asking for is one open, honest heart."

Usually, our churches settle for half-way remedies, which is why they limp along in mediocrity. But every now and then, someone humbly opens that door, and Jesus walks in. He is ready to bless any church if anyone there is willing to start admitting, "I am not rich, I have not prospered, and I need everything."

This corny but honest old gospel song nailed it:

"Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come
Into thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus I come to thee
Out of my sickness into thy health
Out of my want and into thy wealth
Out of my sin and into thyself, Jesus I come to thee."

Lord, receive even me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The goodness of God

"God's goodness is a communicative, spreading goodness. . . . If God had not a communicative, spreading goodness, he would never have created the world. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost were happy in themselves and enjoyed one another before the world was. But that God delights to communicate and spread his goodness, there had never been a creation nor a redemption. God useth his creatures not for defect of power, that he can do nothing without them, but for the spreading of his goodness. . . .

Oh that we had hearts to make way for such a goodness as God would cast into us, if we were as we should be. God's goodness is a spreading, imparting goodness."

Richard Sibbes, Works, VI:113.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

1 Peter 4:19

"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." 1 Peter 4:19

"In this one verse is summarized the teaching of the entire letter. Christians do not suffer accidentally or because of the irresistible forces of blind fate; rather, they suffer according to God's will. . . . Therein lies the knowledge that there is a limit to the suffering, both in its intensity and in its duration, a limit set and maintained by the God who is our creator, our savior, our sustainer, our Father."

Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter, page 184.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Romans 6:1

There is a story about Tetzel, the Dominican monk who went around sixteenth-century Germany selling indulgences and scandalizing Martin Luther. He used to sing a little ditty: "As soon as your money falls into my casket, your soul leaps free from the fires of Purgatory!"

A thief came up to him and asked how much it would cost for an indulgence to forgive all his past sins. "A thousand gold pieces." "And how much for one to forgive all my future sins as well?" "Two thousand more." "All right, here's three thousand. Give me the indulgence." "Here it is. Thank you." "And now here's one of those future sins. See this sword? Hand back the three thousand."

Peter Kreeft, Heaven, pages 186-187.

I love this guy

Calvin and the cross today

"God declares to us that Jesus Christ, who once had his side pierced, today has his heart open, as it were, that we may have assurance of the love that he bears us; that as he once had his arms fastened to the cross, now he has them wide open to draw us to himself; and that as once he shed his blood, so today he wishes us to be plunged within it. So, when God invites us so sweetly and Jesus Christ sets before us the fruit of his death and passion, . . . let us all come to take our stand with our Lord Jesus Christ."

John Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah's Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ, page 82.

Most manly city

A study just released ranks "America's Manliest Cities" on criteria such as the number of professional sports teams, the popularity of hardware stores and the frequency of monster truck rallies. And you guessed it. Nashville is the #1 Manly City of America. And last place? New York.

I love this town.

HT: The Tennessean.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Psalm 8:2

My grandson bears eloquent witness to the power of God here.

Greek and Hebrew

"Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretense? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David's Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?"

John Wesley, "An Address to the Clergy," in Works X:491.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


"Gilbert Tennent was an example of great fortitude and unshaken resolution. Whatever appeared to him subservient to the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom, the salvation of souls, or the common good of mankind, he pursued with spirit; and what he did he did with his might. If the end seemed to be attainable, great obstructions and difficulties in the way were so far from dispiriting that they animated him in his efforts; nor would he give up the point while one glimpse of hope remained. Hence, he accomplished many important matters which one less determined and enterprising would presently have relinquished as desperate. He would go through honor and dishonor, through 'evil report and good report'; and though he had sensibility with respect to his character as well as other men, yet, if preserving it seemed at any time to require the omission of duty or sinful compliances, he readily determined to expose himself to all risks; and if adhering to the will of God should be accounted 'vile,' he resolved that he would be 'yet more vile.'"

From the sermon at the funeral of Gilbert Tennent, quoted in Archibald Alexander, The Log College, page 26.

Only what you believe in

"Build only what you believe in."

Kelly Johnson, designer of the U2 and SR-71

Monday, March 2, 2009

Kung Fu Movies

My son Eric instructs me in the profundities of kung fu movies -- really -- in this post.