Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mirth or fear?

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.

The venerable Scottish Psalter paraphrased Psalm 100 that way. It is true to the meaning of the Hebrew.

My modern hymnal changed it:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
Him serve with fear, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.

"Mirth" was changed to "fear." "Him serve [not with mirth but] with fear." There is no depth of perdition low enough for editors who corrupt the Psalter, the Bible and the gospel. Should we serve the Lord with fear? Yes. But that is not what Psalm 100 says. And the Bible should be allowed to speak for itself. We have no right to replace one good thing with even another good thing, if the Bible is authoritative over us.

Why do we do things like that? We don't trust God. We think we know better. We fear joy. We fear the authority of joy, the take-over of joy. We fear loss of control, loss of face. We are deeply self-exalting.

Every elder board needs to set aside one hour at least to discuss this question: "How can we at our church serve the Lord with more mirth -- in a non-weird way?"

Reformed churches belong to a revival tradition. Let's get back in touch with our spiritual roots, or joy will die. We have no right to let that happen on our watch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Only for the asking

"How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:13

In a sermon preached in 1740, Jonathan Edwards pointed out that we ask God for basically two kinds of things. We ask him for temporal blessings like health and jobs and family needs. We also ask him for spiritual blessings. But Edwards noted how much more frequently and fervently we ask for temporal blessings:

"They don't need any preaching to stir them up to take thorough care to obtain those outward things. . . . And if they begin to suffer for want of those things, how much do they make of their sufferings! . . . Had God nothing better to bestow upon you, when he had made you his children, than a little money or land, that you seem so much to behave yourselves as if you thought this was your chief good? . . . I am bold to say that God is now offering the blessing of his Holy Spirit to this town, and I am bold to say we may have it only for the asking."

HT: Tim Keller

Genesis 3

"You haven't begun to think seriously unless you have thought profoundly on Genesis 3."

Addison H. Leitch, Interpreting Basic Theology, page 68, footnote 4.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Jesus Christ, the apple tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all; but now I see
’Tis found in Christ the apple tree

I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree

Proverbs 20:6

"Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?" Proverbs 20:6, NLT

A spirit of self-assurance is a gospel-denying, self-deceiving, friendship-destroying mentality. It is natural to say to ourselves, "I'm doing my part. They should be grateful." It is supernatural to say to ourselves, "I place myself under the judgment of the Word of God. I humble myself. Even if the other person is wrong, that gives me no right to assert myself. No matter what the other person does, no matter how much I am misunderstood and misjudged, I will remain in the fear of the Lord, I will entrust myself to God." True friendship thrives when, before God, each one is more aware of his debts than his rights.

If God has given you reliable friends, and surely he has, hold them close to your heart. Each one is a rare treasure.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kept by the power of God

"If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah." Isaiah 1:9

Did you notice how God intervened this week? The Church of Jesus Christ did not go completely apostate. The Gospel Coalition did not disown its Confessional Statement. Acts 29 did not repudiate church planting. Together For The Gospel did not fragment in mutual recriminations. Sovereign Grace Ministries did not deny the new birth. And I did not walk away from Jesus.

We all sinned this week, and a lot. No surprise there. After all, original sin means our wills are unfree. But we held fast to Jesus our Savior, and for a whole week.

Truly, the age of miracles is not over.

Friday, September 25, 2009

You also . . .

"In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." Ephesians 2:22

After his magnificent vision of God's peace in Christ growing the Church into "a holy temple in the Lord" (2:21), Paul applies his vision to the church in Ephesus. The emphatic words are "you also." "God is doing this great work in his Church. But he's involving you also. You in your church. You're part of this glory coming down."

John Calvin sees verse 22 as an exhortation to the Ephesians "to be a part of that new temple which through the Gospel was then being built by God in every part of the world."

Paul connects the great work of God in the Church with the particular work of God in that church -- building a new community where God's presence could be known on earth.

So much is at stake in your church.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My church or the Kingdom?

"My passion isn't to build up my church. My passion is for God's Kingdom."

Ever heard someone say that? I have. It sounds large-hearted, but it's wrong. It can even be destructive.

Suppose I said, "My passion isn't to build up my marriage. My passion is for Marriage. I want the institution of Marriage to be revered again. I'll work for that. I'll pray for that. I'll sacrifice for that. But don't expect me to hunker down in the humble daily realities of building a great marriage with my wife Jani. I'm aiming at something grander."

If I said that, would you think, "Wow, Ray is so committed"? Or would you wonder if I had lost my mind?

If you care about the Kingdom, be the kind of person who can be counted on in your own church. Join your church, pray for your church, tithe to your church, participate in your church every Sunday with wholehearted passion.

We build great churches the same way we build great marriages -- real commitment that makes a positive difference every day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The God of the desperate

"And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became captain over them." 1 Samuel 22:2

David attracted desperate men, men who were passionate for change, men who longed for a better future. The empowered and the privileged did not gather to him. They had too much to lose. But the distressed, the debtors and the fed-up rallied to him. And under his leadership, this rabble launched a new era in the history of God's people.

If your heart is at rest with the state of the world, the state of the church, you have little incentive for all-out commitment to Jesus. You will probably just get in the way. But if you are in distress, if you are in debt, if you are bitter in soul, there is a mighty Captain who is not ashamed to have you in his army. He turns no one away, no one who is desperate for change on his terms.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Acceptable worship

Both Cain and Abel worshiped the Lord. Both brought Him offerings. But the Lord rejected Cain's worship and accepted Abel's. Why?

Not because Abel's was a blood-offering while Cain's was "of the fruit of the ground." The law authorized grain offerings (e.g., Leviticus 2).

Hebrews 11:4 tells us that Abel's worship was acceptable to God because it was "by faith." And "whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Acceptable worship throbs with a heart-conviction that God is real and rewarding.

Cain did not worship God with the psychology of faith. His gift was safe: "Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground" (Genesis 4:3). He worshiped God out of his income from past labors.

Abel worshiped God with the psychology of faith. His gift was risky: "Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions" (Genesis 4:4). He gave to the Lord from his breeding stock and from their best parts. He worshiped God out of his chances for the future, out of his capital.

When God rejected Cain's worship, he took his anger out on his brother. Murder in the cathedral (T. S. Eliot). The beginning of the divide between the true and false people of God who otherwise mingle together.

It is good to run from safe, no-risk worship. It is good to worship God with a practical demonstration that He alone is the future our hearts will be happy with.

"Let us offer to God acceptable worship" (Hebrews 12:28).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Observable love

Francis Schaeffer proposed two ways we Christians can display observable love for one another:

One, "When I have failed to love my Christian brother, I go to him and say, 'I'm sorry.' That is first. It may seem a letdown -- that the first thing we speak of should be so simple. But if you think it is easy, you have never tried to practice it. . . ."

Two, "There must also be open forgiveness. And though it's hard to say 'I'm sorry,' it's even harder to forgive. The Bible, however, makes plain that the world must observe a forgiving spirit in the midst of God's people. . . ."

"[Does the world] observe that we say 'I'm sorry,' and do they observe a forgiving heart? Let me repeat: Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe it, or it does not fit into the structure of John 13 and 17. And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has a right to make the two awful judgments which these verses indicate: that we are not Christians, and that Christ was not sent by the Father."

Francis Schaeffer, "The Mark of the Christian," in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, pages 143-146.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pray with impudence

"I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs." Luke 11:8

The word translated "impudence" can also be rendered "shamelessness," "boldness," or as we might say, "sheer nerve." Is that how we pray to our heavenly Neighbor? Could it be written of us, "Because of their impudence/shamelessness/boldness/sheer nerve God will rise and give them whatever they need?"

We need to repent of our polite prayers, if they're treating God as recreational rather than essential.

Oldie of the week

Saturday, September 19, 2009


"Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." Romans 15:7

The word translated "welcome" means "take to oneself." It's the opposite of aloofness. Christ didn't stay at a cool distance. He didn't bring us in, but keep holding his nose. He welcomed us, and wholeheartedly, because then the glory of God's grace would be clearly displayed.

Okay, now we know how to walk into church tomorrow morning.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Off for a while

Ministry demands -- all positive -- here in Nashville as well as out of town will keep me from Christ Is Deeper Still for nine or ten days. Thanks for checking in. God be with you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How a true Calvinist fights

"As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. . . . I would have you more than a conqueror and to triumph not only over your adversary but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations . . . .

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him, and such a disposition will have a good influence on every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven. He will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts. And though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But if God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now, and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we who are called Calvinists are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation."

John Newton, writing to a young minister, The Works of John Newton, I:268-270.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Send me

HT: Joseph Prielozny

Six reasons I am happy on turning 60

1. God has graciously given me thirty-eight years with Jani. The passage of time, with all that life brings, binds us together profoundly. By God’s grace, we will walk hand-in-hand until the end.

2. Our children and grandchildren enrich us immeasurably. If all I ever accomplish is to have raised these godly children, my life will have been well spent.

3. More and more, I have the privilege of affirming and building up younger men with fatherly affection.

4. The Bible is increasingly precious. I cannot possibly articulate how much I don’t care about “issues” not material to the gospel. The central biblical message of Jesus Christ, the mighty Friend of sinners, is all I want to talk about.

5. "As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight." Every Christian reveals divine excellencies. I am thankful for many such friends, especially at Immanuel Church.

6. My most fruitful work lies ahead, not behind, as God gives favor.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Saturday, September 5, 2009

More mercy

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

Richard Sibbes, Works, I:47.


"Prayers and pains through faith in Christ Jesus will do anything!"

John Eliot, quoted in Cotton Mather, The Great Works of Christ in America, I:562.

Friday, September 4, 2009

In this day of God's power

"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 his lovers -- those who love him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort or very life?

Where are the men who say 'no' to self, who take up Christ's cross to bear it after him, who are willing to be nailed to it in college or office, home or mission field, who are willing, if need be, to bleed, to suffer and to die on it?

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 the men who are willing to pay the price of vision?

Where are the men of prayer?

Where are God's men in this day of God's power?"

Howard Guinness, Sacrifice, pages 59-60.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Our disappointing saviors

"While the Senator grew fat and seemed to fall apart, his brothers remained ageless and timeless, slim, breeze-kissed. If he was reality, then we wanted no part of it." So writes David Von Drehle of Senator Edward Kennedy in today.

We idealize apparently superior people, because they turn our thoughts from the weakness and mediocrity we are. This is comforting and even exciting. But inevitably, our saviors prove to be just like us.

There was another Man, who was truly superior. He didn't have to pose. He belonged up there on a pedestal, he was reality, and we wanted no part of it. We didn't choose him. In infinite love, he chose us.

"But God chose what is foolish, . . . God chose what is weak, . . . God chose what is low and despised" (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).

HT: Mockingbird.

Such a small fire

"How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!" James 3:5

The fires in Southern California visualize what can happen in our churches. A little fire, set by a mere spark, can whip into a firestorm so intense it burns a whole church. Just one little rumor. That's all it takes.

But "the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Proverbs 12:18).

HT: Justin Taylor.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Humble hilarity

"Gospel humility frees you from the need to posture and pose and calculate what others think, so that you are free to laugh at what is really funny with the biggest belly laugh. Proud people don’t really let themselves go in laughter. They don’t get red in the face and fall off chairs and twist their faces into the contortions of real free laughter. Proud people need to keep their dignity. The humble are free to howl with laughter."

Dr. John Piper, quoted by Justin Taylor.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The presence of his Majesty

"Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins and my brother Charles were present at our love-feast in Fetter Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, 'We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.'"

John Wesley, Journal, January 1, 1739

I wonder, How much of God do we really want? How much do I really want?

So thankful

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Luke 18:11-12

What was wrong with the Pharisee?

There was a lot right with him. He really didn’t do those bad things. He really did those good things. And he gave glory to God for it all: "God, I thank you . . . ."

So, what was wrong with him? Just this. He sincerely believed he was “not like other men.”

Thank God I’m not like that Pharisee!