31 December 2012


A 1970 interview. 

An Echo of the New Jerusalem

'For myself,' said Faramir, 'I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves.

'War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.'
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book 4, Chapter 5

29 December 2012

Why Tremble?

Luther, 1530:
Christ himself says, John 16, 'Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.'

This cannot be wrong--I'm sure of it--that Christ, the Son of God, has overcome the world. Why do we tremble before the world as before a triumphant conqueror? It is worth going to Rome or Jerusalem on one's knees to obtain those words of Christ. 
--'Sayings in Which Luther Found Comfort,' in Luther's Works, Volume 43, Devotional Writings II, 172

20 December 2012

Soul Oxygen

The justification of a sinner is instantaneous and complete. . . . It is an all-comprehending act of God. All the sins of a believer, past, present, and future, are pardoned when he is justified. The sum-total of his sin, all of which is before the Divine eye at the instant when God pronounces him a justified person, is blotted out or covered over by one act of God. Consequently, there is no repetition in the Divine mind of the act of justification; as there is no repetition of the atoning death of Christ, upon which it rests.
--William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Volume 2 (New York: Scribner's, 1891), 545

17 December 2012

60 Reasons Jesus Is Better Than I Think

Listened to some music and thought about Jesus this week. Here's what I jotted down.

1.      His forgiveness gets down underneath not just our conscious, willful sins, but everything that is broken within us.
2.      He ate lunch with hookers and crooked businessmen, not the conservative seminary professors.
3.      Discipleship to him does not involve attaining a minimum level of competency. No resume is needed. Discipleship to him involves humbling ourselves, putting ourselves low, not high, and anyone can do that, if they will simply let Self die and be swallowed up by light and beauty and joy.
4.      Those in union with him are promised that all the haunted brokenness that infects everything—every relationship, every conversation, every family, every email, every wakening to consciousness in the morning, every job, every vacation—everything—will one day be rewound and reversed.
5.      Those in union with him are promised that the more darkness and hell we experience in this life, to that degree we will enjoy resplendence and radiance in the next (Rom. 8:17–18).
6.      He never, ever asks his friends to walk through a trial that he, as the Pioneer-Author-Founder-Trailblazer (archegos: Heb 2:10; 12:2) has not himself, in an even more profound way, gone through himself.
7.      His sinlessness does not encourage him to be aloof from us, holding us at arms length, but a substitute for us.
8.      Unlike the laws of ritual cleanliness in Leviticus, Jesus’ touch of messy humans like me does not contaminate him. It cleanses me. In the OT, clean + unclean = unclean. With Jesus, clean + unclean = clean (Mark 1:41).
9.      His mercy to sinners is not calculating, scale-weighing, careful. It is lavish, outrageous, unfettered. 
10.  His atoning death means he is free not to scrutinize. He needs not. All has been wiped clean. Faults remain, not just in our past but in our present. But the whole atmosphere in which we live has been transformed from one of scrutiny, both toward us by God and by us toward others, into one of welcome, both toward us by God and therefore by us toward others.
11.  He no longer calls us servants, but friends, and he is the friend of sinners. Of sinners. Many of us are born again, serving the Lord with faithfulness, and have never really swallowed that.
12.  He is not an idea or a philosophy or a theory or a framework or even a doctrine. He’s a Person. His blazing wrath upon the impenitent is matched by his gentle embrace of the penitent. He has nothing to say to the righteous (Mark 2:17).
13.  He doesn’t resent me, as I do others, though I have given him many reasons to.
14.  In all my stumbling and failing, he has not yet said, ‘Enough is enough. I’m out.’ Where sin abounds, grace hyper-abounds (Rom. 5:20).
15.  He is incapable of disgust over his children, even his sinning children.
16.  He gives rest. He is that of which the sabbath is a shadow; Jesus is the shadow-caster. He doesn’t just forgive our sins; he lets the frenetic RPMs of the heart slow down into calm sanity. And no external circumstance can threaten that rest, as we look to him.
17.  The one place in all four Gospels where he opens up to tell us about his own heart—the only place—he says he is ‘gentle and lowly in heart’ (Matt 11:29). Burrow down into the very core of what makes the God-Man tick, the one who wove his own whip to drive the enterprising capitalists from the temple, and you find: gentleness.
18.  He is not a tame lion. He is not domesticate-able, predictable, boring. He cannot be caged. Who would want to?
19.  He does not give us grace. He gives us himself. He is grace. He is the life, the vitality, the flourishing, the shalom, that we desperately, hauntingly, long for.
20.  His brilliant resplendence will, one day soon, make every Hollywood superhero look small and silly.
21.  He is both a lamb and a lion. He is the tenderness of which all that is tender is an echo, and also the fierceness to which all that is fierce alludes. 
22.  His grace is both outside me and inside me. Freely accounted righteousness-grace, through the Son, is credited to me from the outside; freely given godliness-grace, through the Spirit, is worked in me on the inside.
23.  He is not averse to dirty, complex, self-justifying jerks. He is averse to dirty, complex, self-justifying jerks who deny they are dirty, complex, self-justifying jerks.
24.  He found me. I have already been discovered. I do not need to maneuver and manipulate my way into the spotlight.
25.  His coming into this diseased world means that, as Gandalf told Sam, everything sad is going to come untrue.
26.  There was nothing physically attractive about him (Isa. 53:2). He would never have appeared on the cover of Men’s Health. He came as a normal man to both comfort and supernaturalize normal people, not sexy people.
27.  He came as a sinless man, not a sinless Superman. He woke up with bed-head. He had zits at 14. He went through puberty. He is not Zeus.
28.  He didn’t come mainly to give a pep talk. He came to do what every pep talk is trying to get us impossibly unmotivated people to do.
29.  He lost every earthly friend he had while he lived, so that we can have him whatever earthly friends we lose. Even when it's our fault.
30.  He knows what it is to be thirsty, hungry, hated, rejected, taunted, shamed, abandoned, suffocated, tortured, killed.
31.  I cannot get underneath his mercy. I can dig and dig and dig with my shovel of sin. But no matter how deep I go, I never hit rock bottom on his mercy.
32.  I can never outrun his love. No matter how fast Wily Coyote ran, the Roadrunner just ran faster. My failures never outrun his patience; as fast as they run, his love runs faster.
33.  He never misunderstands me. Never interrupts me. Never misjudges my motives.
34.  He likes me. Not just loves. Likes. Whatever else ‘friend’ means, doesn't it at least mean that?
35.  Adam was supposed to multiply physical children throughout the nations and finally to overcome the world (Gen. 1:28). He failed. Jesus came, to multiply spiritual children throughout the nations and overcome the world. He succeeded (Matt. 28:19; John 16:33). I was born in Adam. By grace I have been placed in Christ.
36.  His death means my death is a beginning, not an end. A door, not a wall. An entrance, not an exit.
37.  He makes me human again. He didn't come to make me superhuman, a superspiritual being who only ever lives and prays and praises in a disembodied state. He has angels for that. He came to give me back my humanity. He understands and delights in the fact that I am a human being. He is not disappointed that I need sleep, food, and the bathroom. Through him I was made this way (Col. 1:16). He himself experienced all the same things.
38.  He does not hold over me his deliverance of my helplessness. He delights to deliver. It is who he is.
39.  He does not bring pain into my life to coldly punish but to gently help. He brings pain to clear away the static in my communion with him. He was punished so that all my pain is not punitive but paternal.
40.  My union with him means that even self-inflicted pain can only ultimately work out my glory and beauty.
41.  When I am prayerless, he is not. He intercedes for me. And because in Gethsemane his prayer was unanswered, every prayer he makes now on my behalf is answered.
42.  His undentable record is mine and cannot be taken away, even by my own ongoing failures. It was God, not me, who united me to him in the first place. It is God, not me, who is alone capable of un-uniting me from him. And because justice has been satisfied, God never will. The universe would have to come undone for me to be separated from Christ.
43.  I cannot experience a temptation he has not (Heb. 2:18).
44.  Every heart-stabbing poem, every story of redemption, every novel that evokes longings, every reading of Tolkien and Wendell Berry and John Donne and a thousand others who make the tears flow—it all points to and terminates on him. He is the only one in the universe that is not a pointer to something else. Everything else points to him.
45.  His resurrection means my body will one day be restored to me and this time will not run down. Cells will replace cells, I suppose, as God created us—but without resulting in wrinkles and balding and stiffness and aches.
46.  His promised second coming means that I need not secure perfect justice now against those who have wronged me. All will be put right. One day all resentment will evaporate.
47.  He was born in Bethlehem. Out of the way, backwoods Bethlehem. I am freed to live and serve in an unknown place. Significance is not sacrificed; worldly significance is sacrificed.
48.  He withdrew to pray and be alone at times. Flawless ministry does not mean being perpetually available to people.
49.  ‘And they all left him and fled’ (Mark 14:50). Had he lived today, every last Twitter follower would have un-friended him. So that he could be my ever-present friend. They all left him, so that he could say: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5).
50.  Had he blogged today, no one would have blogged more wisely and no one would have received nastier anonymous blog comments. And he would be as patient with them as he is with me.
51.  He loves weakness. He works with weakness. He is repelled by strength. That qualifies me for his help. 
52.  His grace is sufficient. It needs no Dane-generated supplement. All he requires is need. Nothing more, nothing less. Desperation. The bar of divine favor is low, so low that the proud cannot get under it.
53.  David said Yahweh is the Shepherd who makes him lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23). Jesus said he is the Good Shepherd (John 10). It is supremely in Jesus that God makes me lie down in green pastures. Jesus leads me beside still waters. Jesus restores my soul. My weary, depleted soul.
54.  Jesus gathers up all the various and seemingly disparate threads of promise and hope and rescue and longing that dot the landscape of the Old Testament and snowball down through the centuries of redemptive history. The virtue of every OT saint is filled out in him, and the failure of every OT saint heightens the longing for, and is paid for by, him.
55.  He is the perfect prophet who not only speaks God's word to the people but is God's final Word. He is the perfect Priest, who represents the people to God. He is the perfect King, who represents God to the people.
56.  The whole Bible is his, and about him (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39, 46). The Bible is not a manual for life, not a guidebook, not a rulebook, not sage suggestions, not even a doctrinal repository. Not mainly. At its heart, and cover to cover, the Bible is the Word of God about the grace of God in the Son of God for the people of God to the glory of God. When I open the Book, I get him.
57.  If he is the firstfruits, then when I look at his raised invincible body eating fish and able to appear in locked rooms, I am looking at my future. I am a part of the one single harvest of resurrected embodied invincibility of which he is the firstfruits, the first ingathering (1 Cor. 15:20-22). The resurrection of the dead has already begun. The first instance is already among us. 
58.  When he walked out of the grave, Eden 2.0 dawned. Against OT expectation, the old age continued steamrolling right alongside the dawning new age. This is why this world can feel like heaven one day and hell the next. But the overlap of the two ages also means there is still time, still a chance, for any who recognizes he has been born into the old, hellish age to lay down his arms and be swept up into the dawning sunrise of the new age. 
59.  And one day, even the horrors of the old age will die away. We will pass through the wardrobe into Narnia. Middle-earth will be cleansed and the Ring destroyed. We will be home at last. ‘I will bring them home,’ God said (Zech. 10:10). We will weep with relief. We will see him face to face (Rev 22:4).
60.  All because he refused the glory he rightly deserved to enter the hell and mud of our world to grab us and drag us, kicking and screaming if need be, into the new order, the new world of shalom and flourishing and sun and wine and calmness and non-frivolous laughs. All of sheer grace. All to be simply received. Available to anyone who refuses to pay for it.

12 December 2012


Frodo, Sam, and Gollum approach Mordor.
The remainder of that journey was a shadow of growing fear in which memory could find nothing to rest upon. For two more nights they struggled on through the weary pathless land. The air, as it seemed to them, grew harsh, and filled with a bitter reek that caught their breath and parched their mouths.

At last, on the fifth morning since they took the road with Gollum, they halted once more. Before them dark in the dawn the great mountains reached up to roofs of smoke and cloud. Out from their feet were flung huge buttresses and broken hills that were now at the nearest scarce a dozen miles away. Frodo looked round in horror. Dreadful as the Dead Marshes had been, and the arid moors of the Noman-lands, more loathsome far was the country that the crawling day now slowly unveiled to his shrinking eyes. Even to the Mere of Dead Faces some haggard phantom of green spring would come; but here neither spring nor summer would ever come again. Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.

They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labor of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing--unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. 'I feel sick,' said Sam. Frodo did not speak. 
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 'The Passage of the Marshes'

11 December 2012

Wounded, Healed

The sweet beams of [Christ] the Sun of righteousness heal the wounds of believers' souls. When they have been wounded by sin and have labored under the pain of wounds of conscience, the rays of this Sun heal the wounds of conscience. When they have been wounded by temptation and made to fall to their hurt, those benign beams, when they come to shine on the wounded soul, restore and heal the hurt that has been received. 
--Jonathan Edwards, 'Christ the Spiritual Sun,' in Works, Yale ed., 22:56

07 December 2012

Aslan's Other Name

C. S. Lewis to 11-year-old Hila Newman, from New York:
As to Aslan's other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone is this world who (1) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3) Gave himself up for someone else's fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4) Came to life again. (5) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don't you really know His name in this world. Think it over and let me know your answer!
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 3 (HarperCollins, 2007), 334

05 December 2012

How Do We Read or Preach a Text Like Psalm 15 in a Gospel Way?

In the Psalms these days. Came upon Psalm 15 this week. I cringed.

Jesus said the Psalms (probably referring to all the OT poetry) were "about me" (Luke 24:44). How in the world does Psalm 15 fit in to that?

Here's the whole text of the short psalm. Verse 1 asks a question (who measures up?). The rest of the psalm gives the answer (the person who acts in such and such a way, that's who).

   1  A psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?
         Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
   2  He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
         and speaks truth in his heart;
   3  who does not slander with his tongue
         and does no evil to his neighbor,
         nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
   4  in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
         but who honors those who fear the LORD;
       who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
   5  who does not put out his money at interest
         and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
      He who does these things shall never be moved.

Here are the steps I would go through in preaching this text or in teaching it in a small group or in using it in a seminary classroom as a test-case of how to take a difficult, seemingly gospel-vacuous OT text and communicating it in an appropriately Jesus-mindful/whole-Bible yet non-artificial way.

1. Let it land. 

Let the full hortatory weight of verses 2-5 land on us.

Running backs are taught to be patient, waiting for the hole to open up as blockers do their job. If they try to hit the hole too soon, the play collapses. Gospel-excited preachers need a similar discipline of patience. We can't run to the gospel or Christ too soon out of a fear of becoming moralistic etc. Let the play develop. Let the people hear that this is the life to which they are summoned. Don't soften it. Let it land.

And not just in a second-use-of-the-law kind of way that drives us to Christ. If the extent of your preaching of this this psalm is to say "Well, none of us can do any of this--but thank God for Jesus, who did it in our stead!" you are hitting the hole too early. Not letting the play develop.

2. Remind them of the audience. 

Then make clear that this earnest life of virtue to which they are called is a summons given to the redeemed.

You might note the obvious fact that this is a psalm, an ancient hymn from Israel's songbook for their own worship.

Or, you might note the use (twice) of "the LORD," the covenant name of God, the name given to Moses and which for generations after evoked the redemptive event of the exodus.

3. Go deeper with verse 1. 

Clarify what precisely verse 1 is asking. On first reading it sounds like a bare challenge about who is good enough for God. But in point of fact it is drawing together some loaded language from God's mighty acts in Israel's history, language rife with redemptive significance.

Yahweh's "tent" would evoke in the Hebrew mind the tabernacle/temple motif, further strengthened by the reference to "dwelling" on God's "holy hill." "Dwell" here is the Hebrew verb used to speak of God's templing glory (the noun form of this verb is Shekinah). "Holy hill" isn't a vague reference to a sacred area of raised ground; the text might woodenly be translated "the mountain of your holiness." The reference is to Mount Zion, where Jerusalem stood, the place of God's special dwelling to which the nations would one day stream (Isaiah 2; Micah 4). Indeed, the verb "sojourn" is used throughout the OT to speak of the one who dwells as an alien/Gentile in the midst of Israel.

Verse 1 is asking: Who will receive God's promised inheritance? Who will be part of God's covenant blessings? Who will enjoy Eden restored? Who will be included in that final vision of which the physical temple is merely an echo, a glimpse, a shadow?

4. Go deeper with verses 2-5.

Then clarify what exactly the traits in verses 2-5 are. Note that while on first reading it sounds like an arid list of virtues to dutifully execute, these verses in fact focus on the inner state of the heart.

Inner health and outer action are of course closely linked (Matt. 12:33), but it is easy and natural to the flesh to exhort external moral conformity divorced from the heart. We do this because it lets us pacify the conscience through the outer conformity while allowing us to hang on to our secret idols that we love. So, mindful of Jesus' words about the inside of the cup and whitewashed tombs and all that, it would be helpful to explain that this psalm has in view a holistic integrity, inside and out, and not bare externalized action.

The psalm speaks of one who is truthful "in his heart" (v. 2). Someone "in whose eyes a vile person is despised" (v. 4)--they have a certain moral internal compass or perspective. Someone who "honors those who fear the LORD" (v. 5)--i.e., those who live lives in reverent devotion to the Lord, inside and out. Not all the characteristics of verses 2-5 are clearly internal, but enough of them get at the inner person to correct a view of these characteristics that would be exclusively behavior-oriented.

You might further note that v. 1 speaks of dwelling in, not entering into--verses 2-5 therefore describe the character of those walking in glad communion with God, not the minimum bar required for God to bring someone into communion with him in the first place.

You might also note that "blamelessly" in both OT and NT refers not to sinless perfection but holistic loyalty that cannot be publicly impugned. The Hebrew word used here in v. 2 refers to wholeness, soundness, inner health (not far different from shalom).

5. Say what would never be said in a Jewish synagogue about Psalm 15.

Finally, after (and only after) wrestling with the text with a narrow-angle lens, zoom out, as Jesus demands (John 1:45; 5:39-46; Luke 24). Make plain that there is only one person who ever really enjoyed the blessings of verse 1, and only one person who ever really walked the walk of verses 2-5.

But as you do this, don't be trite and predictable. Do it in a textually responsible and convincing-to-the-hearer way. Really work at the text. Wrestle with it. Use your Hebrew concordance, do some Bibleworks searches. When I did, here's what I discovered.

Verse 1 speaks of dwelling on God's holy mountain. Strikingly, this exact phrase is used earlier in the Psalter in what is according to the NT one of the most christologically charged psalms, Psalm 2. In Psalm 2:6 Yahweh says: "As for me, I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill" (same Hebrew phrase as 15:1). In Psalm 2, though, God is not asking who will dwell on this holy mountain. He is declaring whom he has himself set there--a man the NT (especially Hebrews) identifies as Christ himself.

Who shall dwell on God's holy hill? Jesus.

And, in him, both representatively (by imputation) and then actually (by his Spirit), us. 

To dwell on God's holy mountain means to pass into and abide in the temple. But Jesus didn't simply come to the temple; he came as the temple. Jesus dwells on God's holy hill not by entering a humanly-made building to meet with God but by entering a divinely-made body to meet with us. The Word "tabernacled" among us (John 1:14). He is what the temple was meant to do--restore man to God, rejoin earth to heaven, bring the "walking together in the cool of the day" of Eden back to reality once more.

The NT goes on to explain that believers are themselves part of that temple, of which Christ is the cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:4-8). It is not, then, simply that we now go to Jesus the temple rather than a temple building. United to him, we are ourselves part of the temple. We are, with him, the sacred intersection of heaven and earth, sacred and profane, a temple made up not of stones but of redeemed souls (Eph. 2:19-22). 

In verses 2-5 it is verse 5 that intrigues me most. The conclusion to the psalm is: "He who does these things shall never be moved." I noticed this week that "be moved" here is the exact same verb in the exact same form (niphal) as "be shaken" in the very next psalm, at Psalm 16:8. "I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken." The very text Peter quotes in Acts 2 when arguing for Christ's resurrection (Acts 2:24-28). A careful reading of what what Peter does with Psalm 16 in Acts 2:24-33 indicates that Peter views Christ as the ultimate one who in Psalm 16 is "not shaken."

Jesus did Psalm 15. In that glad knowledge we the redeemed, in union with the true temple, are summoned into the life of light-filled joy and integrity portrayed in verses 2-5. United to and walking with Jesus, the friend of sinners, we will never be moved.

Paul said the OT was written so that "we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4) and to make us "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15). Psalm 15 is not excluded from that.

The Innkeeper

God's ways are high and you will know
in time. But I have come to show
you what the Lord prepared the night
you made a place for heaven's Light. 

03 December 2012

Truly Human

God is God, and man is man. God has come to redeem man and lift him up to Himself; yet He does not thereby make him into a demigod, but enables him to be truly human. 
--A. G. Hebert, The Throne of David: A Study of the Fulfillment of the Old Testament in Jesus Christ and His Church (London: Faber & Faber, 1941), 208

30 November 2012

Ordinary Glory

Zack Eswine, pastor at Riverside Church in St. Louis:
Two men left home to plant a church in a city of need. One arrived prior to the other. He dreamed of a city reached for Jesus with the gospel. Through this prior pastor, people came to know Jesus, believers gathered, a community of Jesus followers was born. It was a slow work but it was happening. His prayers were being answered.

In time, he began to meet with the one who arrived later, in order to encourage the newcomer. The old-timer and the new-comer prayed for Jesus to reach the city for the gospel. Through the newcomer pastor, people came to know Jesus, believers gathered, a community of Jesus followers was born.

Ten years later, the one who came first pastors an ordinary church. Its two hundred-plus members demonstrate the love of Jesus in ways that did not exist there ten years earlier. The newcomer who came second pastors a famous church. Its thousands of members and multiple sites around the city demonstrate the love of Jesus in ways that did not exist there ten years earlier. The prayers of both men were answered.

Why then is one of them sad? 
 --Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being (Crossway, 2012), 282

29 November 2012

Broken in Death One Way or Another

"Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him." --Jesus, Luke 20:17

Anglican OT scholar Gabriel Hebert, 1941:
This means that, one way or another, man must be broken and die: either in salvation or in judgment. To fall on that Stone, to die in union with Jesus, for His sake and the gospel's, is salvation; it is to drink of His cup and be baptizes with His baptism. But he who refuses to lose his selfhood will have it taken away from him. If he will not have the Coming of the Son of Man for salvation, he will have it for judgment. 
Indeed, this way of salvation through the losing of life is the royal road which the Messiah Himself takes. 
--A. G. Hebert, The Throne of David: A Study of the Fulfillment of the Old testament in Jesus Christ and His Church (London: Faber & Faber, 1941), 179; language slightly updated

Contextualize This

28 November 2012

Sin's Deception

A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful; and there great lords had dwelt, the wardens of Gondor upon the West, and wise men that watched the stars. But slowly Saruman had shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived--for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dur, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength.
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (Houghton Mifflin), 542

27 November 2012

Thoughts for Guest Preachers, and the Churches That Invite Them

Preached recently at a church that hosted me with remarkable thoughtfulness and it caused me to reflect on how inviting churches can host as well as my most recent experience, and also what should be the specific aims of a guest preacher. To be filtered through your own wisdom and good sense.

For the inviting church: 
1. Give him guidance about what to preach on. Or not to preach on--it's awkward to be told 'Preach on whatever you want' only to show up and discover you're preaching the same text as the previous week.

2. If he wasn't your first choice to pinch hit that day, don't tell him.

3. Tell him what time to show up, and how long he should preach for. 

4. Tell him who is going to greet him, and where. Be sure he has directions to the church. Tell him about any road-work to avoid.

5. Let him know what kind of mic he'll be using, and if he has a choice, ask his preference. Explain how the mic works when it is given to him. Tell him if powerpoint is an option. Tell him if there will be a podium, pulpit, or nothing. Give him guidance about dress code. In short, don't assume anything; err on the side of giving him too much information rather than too little.

6. Don't ask him to administer a sacrament. Do the sacrament another day, or ask an elder or pastor of the church to do it. He is in a strange place and doesn't know the particulars of your church's practices, which for you seem totally normal and obvious. Let him focus on the preaching event.

7. Send him a PDF of the bulletin or some kind of write-up that outlines clearly the flow of the service. Tell him exactly at what point he will be getting up to preach, where he will be sitting for the service (front row? chair on stage? anywhere he wants?), and what the cue will be for him to get up to preach. Let him know how he should end (pray? invite someone else up? a brief interpretive dance?), and what will happen right afterward. If you expect him to give a benediction tell him.

8. Pray with him before the service.

9. If the passage on which he is preaching is going to be read by someone else in the service, tell him beforehand. Sometimes the preacher builds the Scripture reading into the opening of his message in such a way that creates awkwardness of transition if he has to excise the Scripture reading from his sermon at the last minute.

10. Identify for him what version of the Bible your church normally uses in public worship, and how important or unimportant it is that the guest preacher stick to that.

11. After he preaches, even if it was the worst sermon you've heard in a long time, find some way to affirm him. And do so by identifying something specific in his sermon that helped you. 'Good job!' is pretty much a zero response. 'I was helped when you said...' is what he needs to hear. If he invites it, offer critique. And through it all remember that it's much easier to criticize preaching than to preach.

12. Tell him beforehand how much you're going to pay him. That is not unspiritual. It is blessed clarity. He deserves it.

13. Pay him well, a la 1 Cor. 9:11. Honor him and his family, if he has one, in that way. Obviously there are no hard and fast rules to lay down as churches and social contexts differ so widely. But I think it would be a good rule of thumb, in a church of 100 members or more, finances permitting, to pay the man 1% of the approximate average annual salary of your members. I.e. if the average household income is $50,000, that would be a check to the guest preacher of $500. Another way to look at that is that you're paying him for about half a week's work (52 weeks per year is 104 half-weeks per year--and $50,000 divided by 104 is about $500, too). If there is more than one service, adjust that number as you see fit. If he has driven a distance to join you, cover that expense.

14. Follow up the week after. Thank him. Even if you intend never to invite him back, thank him and encourage him, as you are able to do so with honesty.

For the guest preacher:
1. You are not there to impress them. You are there to help them.

2. You are not there to outshine their regular preaching pastor. You are there to help them.

3. You are not there to make a little extra cash. You are there to help them.

4. Time permitting, do something fresh. Don't pull one out of the Sermons Folder unless you have to (or if they explicitly encourage it in the invitation, knowing you are currently pressed for time). It is harder to prepare a fresh message. But much more fun, more powerful, more meaningful, less robotic for you, and generally, I think, more edifying to the listeners.

5. Every church has its own theology, its own ethos, and its own view of preaching. Nevertheless, preach the gospel. Don't give a pep talk. Don't give advice, like I am here. Just tell them why Jesus is better than they think. Prepare your message with Luke 24:27 and John 5:39 and Acts 20:24 written out on sticky tabs stuck to your laptop. Whatever you do, give them gospel oxygen. Let them breathe again.

6. You are not there to change their church in any kind of structural or theological way. Even if they need it. Nor to make subtle suggestions. That's not the role of a guest preacher. You are there to encourage and edify them on whatever points you and they agree on. If you can't find enough central things to agree on, decline the invitation.

7. Don't say yes out of obligation (it's hard to preach grace when you do it out of a law-mindset) or because you think you might never get another chance to preach (if God wants you to preach he'll open up the doors) or because if you don't preach then they're missing out (they're not). Say yes if you have time to prepare well, and out of a glad sense of privilege, more confident in the power of the Word than the power of your persona.
8. Whether you agree to preach for them or not, thank them for the kind invitation. You don't deserve it.

9. Don't be scolding. There is a time for a certain kind of scolding, perhaps, when immaturity must be lovingly confronted (1 Cor 4 comes to mind). But not from a guest preacher.
10. As Calvin Miller recently wrote, it is just as important to know your context as it is to know your text. Seek to know the history, especially recent history, of that church.
11. As you leave, remember two things: (1) you are not as great a preacher as you think you are, and (2) your preaching is more effective than you think it is.

26 November 2012

Upon Whom the Ends of the Ages Have Come

Donald Robinson, Graeme Goldsworthy's theological mentor:
Jesus is Himself the End.

There is nothing revealed to us in the purposes of God which does not have its fulfillment in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

All that the Old Testament believers looked forward to in the day of the Lord finds its realization in Jesus: the passover (1 Cor. 5:7), the exodus (Luke 9:31), the covenant (Matt. 26:28), the law (John 13:34; Rom. 10:4), the tabernacle (John 1:14), the bread from heaven (John 6:35), Canaan (1 Pet. 1:4; Heb. 11:16), David (John 1:49), Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:10-14), the Temple (John 2:21; Acts 15:16).

But Jesus not only concludes and fulfills the historical experience of old Israel; He fulfills also the more ancient history of creation. He is the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15), who has already received the glory and dominion with which it was God's purpose to endow man (Heb. 2:5-9).

The End has therefore come in Jesus Christ.  . . . There is nothing whatever of all God's purposes of salvation which has not been fulfilled in Him. 
--D. W. B. Robinson, The Hope of Christ's Coming (London: Falcon, 1960), 13-14

25 November 2012

Beauty and Brightness

Edwards, preaching on 2 Cor. 5:8 at David Brainerd's funeral--
O how infinitely great will the privilege and happiness of such be, who at that time shall go to be with Christ in his glory. . . .

[It is] the privilege of being with Christ in heaven, where he sits on the right hand of God, in the glory of the King and God of angels, and of the whole universe, shining forth as the great light, the bright sun of that world of glory, there to dwell in the full, constant, and everlasting view of his beauty and brightness, there most freely and intimately to converse with him, and fully to enjoy his love, as his friends and spouse, there to have fellowship with him in the infinite pleasure and joy he has in the enjoyment of his Father, there to sit with him on his throne, and reign with him in the possession of all things, and partake with him in the joy and glory of his victory over his enemies, and the advancement of his in the world, and to join with him in joyful songs of praise, to his Father and their Father, to his God and their God, forever and ever.

Is not such a privilege the worth seeking after? 
--Jonathan Edwards, 'True Saints Are Present with the Lord,' in Works, Yale ed., 25:243-44

24 November 2012


It is a matter of common experience that the really important lessons which we all have to learn in our lives are not learned once for all and then retained, but learned, then forgotten, then re-learned; most of us have had the humiliating experience of learning some spiritual lesson, and then finding that it was substantially an old lesson, which we thought that we had firmly grasped five or ten years before. 
--A. G. Hebert, The Throne of David: A Study of the Fulfillment of the Old Testament in Jesus Christ and His Church (London: Faber and Faber: 1941), 184

23 November 2012


A thought occurs to me: do I possess a stamina for going unnoticed? Can I handle being overlooked? Do I have a spirituality that equips me to do an unknown thing for his glory? 
--Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being (Crossway, 2012), 245

20 November 2012

Theology Is a Reverse Science

In general for some time past biblical scholarship has to a large extent failed in its duty to the Church, whose life the Bible nourishes, because its underlying presuppositions have been those of humanistic science. Our so-called theological studies have in many cases been studies in textual and documentary criticism, in archaeology, in comparative religion, or in the development of religious ideas, instead of being in the proper sense theological studies--that is, studies of human life . . . in relation to the truth of God, and of God's own redemptive action towards mankind.
Theology, it has well been said, is a kind of reverse science, dealing with all the things that other sciences deal with, but seeing them in relation to their First Cause and Final Cause. 
--A. G. Hebert, The Throne of David: A Study of the Fulfillment of the Old Testament in Jesus Christ and His Church (London: Faber and Faber, 1941), 31

19 November 2012

Authentic Beauty

I am reflecting on my grandfather these days, my dad's dad. Partly because I have a Bible of his from the 1980s lying on my desk at Crossway. I flop it open frequently to see what he was jotting down in the margins about various passages that become meaningful to me on any given day. In the picture here he's preaching near the empty garden tomb in Jerusalem, 1992.

On Tuesday, July 24, 2007, 48 hours after my grandfather died, my dad wrote on a now-private blog:
Sunday evening my dad died. He was the most godly man I've ever known. I was fearful that he might linger and suffer a long time. But God in mercy took dad more quickly than I expected. So now, dad is released from this life. He is safe in heaven forever, beyond the reach of sin and Satan. And dad is happy, because he is finally with the Lord he loved since his conversion at the age of 12. He is worshiping Christ with inconceivable joys because of the finished work of the cross for sinners.

My lasting thought on my dad is not only that he was a wonderful father to me personally and a wonderful pastor to so many but also that he embodied classical Christian piety with authentic beauty. He loved his Lord tenderly and reverently. He believed the Bible entirely. He honored the Lordship of Christ over the whole of life. He led people to new faith in Christ. He was a faithful husband and father. He preached with an astonishing ability to help people connect with the Lord. He was generous with his money. He thought carefully about theology. And he enjoyed the daily things of this life, because God is good. And dad was kind, so very kind, to everyone around. It is inconceivable to me that dad would compromise the high standards of Christian holiness, so consistent was his life. These basics are demanding, but they make a man great. They make the church great. And we must not become so sophisticated that we lose them in our time. Now it is our turn to take up this baton and run well, passing it on to those who follow.

Mom and the rest of us will miss him terribly. Jani and I still cannot absorb the fact that he is not here. It is stunning, isn't it, to think that none of us can even call him on the phone? (Oh, let us stay close and love one another avidly, while we can!) But soon we will see dad again, for we ourselves have been claimed by Christ, and he has our hearts. If we will walk with the Lord in the simple basics, then we too will be ready to leave this life behind and be lifted into that which is truly life forever.

Dad, well done! I love you, and I'll see you soon. But not soon enough.


Dick Lucas on Mark 14

A nice introduction to one of our time's great expositors.

14 November 2012

Pay No Attention to Appearances

Aslan to Jill:
"Remember, remember, remember the Signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the Signs.
"And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly. I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the Signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances.
"Remember the Signs and believe the Signs. Nothing else matters."
 --C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

13 November 2012

Doctrine Hijacked by Pride

Zack Eswine, who for me has been a beautiful, grace-seasoned, calm embodiment of where Calvinism--a big God with big grace for big sinners--takes us:
“Why I’m what some people call, ‘a Calvinist.’” That was the title. It totaled about sixty or so pages. It was bound with red or blue plastic for a spine and then fronted with a clear cover so that the title was front and center for the reader.

I was the author. I was twenty-two and zealous. I was devouring a little book by A.W. Pink entitled The Sovereignty of God. I wanted those whose adult table I wanted to join to know the truth as I saw it at the time. So I sent this treatise to my family and friends. What better way to show Jesus’s love to loved ones than by writing and sending a document they did not expect, to answer questions they were not asking, with a tone that was not warranted, in order to defend an argument that they were not engaged in or had heard of, and all of this by surprise without so much as a conversation?

G. K. Chesterton (whom I would not have read at the time because he was not my “sort” of Jesus follower) once said that there was a kind of thought that stops thought. I’ve come to believe that what Chesterton said about this brand of skepticism in his generation at least partially describes what Jesus meant when he spoke to those who handled the Bible in his. By this time I knew that Jesus does not coddle church leaders who misuse his teachings to promote error. What I would later learn is that Jesus likewise does not coddle church leaders who use knowledge, even of good proper things, as a tool for arrogance and spite. 
--Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being (Crossway, 2013), 126

12 November 2012

What Made John Stott Come Alive?

Public worship. Friendship. Birds and butterflies.

I love this man.

Looking forward to a long, unhurried, one-on-one conversation in the new earth.

Augustine: The Secret of Powerful Preaching

He should be in no doubt that any ability he has and however much he has derives more from his devotion to prayer than his dedication to oratory; and so, by praying for himself and for those he is about to address, he must become a man of prayer before becoming a man of words.

As the hour his address approaches, before he opens his thrusting lips he should lift his thirsting soul to God so that he may utter what he has drunk in and pour out what has filled him.
--Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching (Oxford University Press, 1997), 121

08 November 2012

The Central Passage in The Lord of the Rings

Louis Markos, in his new book On the Shoulders of Hobbits, which is hard to put down, though not nearly so hard as the books on which he is writing:
For me, the central passage in Tolkien’s long epic comes as Frodo and Sam are about to pass into Mordor, the dark and desolate land where Sauron and Mount Doom dwell. As they pause there on the threshold, Sam shares with Frodo a profound meditation on the nature of the Road and on the nature of stories. It is a speech to which we who live in an age that has lost both its sense of purpose and its sense of history—that knows neither where it came from nor where it is going—must carefully attend.

Sam and Frodo are living at the end of the Third Age. Behind them stretch ten millennia of mighty warriors, heroic battles, and timeless tales of adventure and self-sacrifice. But they are, of course, more than tales. They are the stage, the backdrop against which these two seemingly insignificant Hobbits act out their roles in the sacred narrative of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. Sam begins by reflecting back on those tales and those who lived through them:
“The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you, at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?” (IV.viii.696)
As I hinted in the previous chapter, there is good reason to believe that Tolkien’s vision of the Road and of the call matured during the seventeen years that separate The Hobbit from The Lord of the Rings: a period that includes those dark and desperate years during which England faced annihilation by the Nazis. Though Bilbo’s journey had allowed Tolkien to recover for his age much of the old magic and many of the old virtues, it lacked the proper scope to encompass the full dimensions of choice and destiny that define Frodo’s journey. To accomplish that would take a greater tale, one that could live up to Sam’s high description.

In the greater tales, the ones that matter—the ones that change both us and our world—the heroes do not so much choose the Road, as the Road chooses them. For our part, we must be ready, prepared in season and out, to answer the call, whenever and however it comes. And we must be prepared to press on, trusting to an end that we often do not, perhaps cannot, see. It is easy to claim that we would have done what Abraham did, but that is only because we stand outside the story. We see the good end, the fulfillment that Abraham could not see from within the story.

Sam muses on these things, and then, in one of those flashes of pure clarification that come to all those who endure in a cause, he realizes that the tale he and Frodo have been landed in is not a thing isolated from the past, but marks the continuation and perhaps even culmination of a tale that began long ago in the First Age:
“Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?”
“No, they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.” (IV.viii.697)
I believe it was Pascal who said that only God can see the whole picture and every detail within the picture at the same time. In his moment of clarification, Sam sees that his individual call (and that of Frodo) is part of a larger tapestry in which each individual call works together to bring about the destined and hoped for end, what Tolkien liked to call the eucatastrophe: the good end that rises up, miraculously, out of what seemed, at first, to be defeat and death.

If we would be a part of that eucatastrophe, then we must be willing to trust the call, to enter the tale, to set our weary feet to the Road.
--Louis Markos, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis (Moody, 2012), 34-36

07 November 2012

The Heart of Every Disciple of Christ

My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.
--C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

When Christians Sin

Let us say that I have been living in the light of what God has been giving us for the present life. As a born-again child of God, I have been practicing the reality of true spirituality, as Christ has purchased it for us.
And then sin reenters.
For some reason my moment-by-moment belief in God falters--a fondness for some specific sin has caused me at that point not to draw in faith upon the fact of a restored relationship with the Trinity. The reality of the practice of true spirituality suddenly slips from me. I look up some morning, some afternoon, some night--and something is gone, something I have known: my quietness and my peace are gone. It is not that I am lost again, because justification is once for all. But . . . there is no exhibition of the victory of Christ upon the cross. Looking at me at this point, men would see no demonstration that God's creation of moral rational creatures is not a complete failure, or even that God exists. . . .

At this point a question must arise: Is there a way back? Or is it like a fine Bavarian porcelain cup, dropped to a tile floor so that it is smashed beyond repair?

Thank God, the gospel includes this. The Bible is always realistic; it is not romantic, but deals with realism--with what I am. There is a way back, and the basis of the way back is nothing new to us. The basis is again the blood of Christ, the finished work of the Lamb of God: the once-for-all completed work of Christ upon the cross, in space, time, and history.
--Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Tyndale House, 2011), 86-87; italics original

06 November 2012

Whitefield on Election

It's election day--a good time for a great statement by George on the election that takes place before the foundation of the world, not the one that takes place as I type.
We should not have so much disputing against the doctrine of election, or hear it condemned (even by good men) as a doctrine of devils. For my own part, I cannot see how true humbleness of mind can be attained without a knowledge of it.
And though I will not say, that everyone who denies election is a bad man, yet I will say . . . it is a very bad sign. Such a one, whoever he be, I think cannot truly know himself. For if we deny election we must, partly at least, glory in ourselves. But our redemption is so ordered that no flesh should glory in the Divine presence. And hence it is, that the pride of man opposes this doctrine because according to this doctrine and no other, 'he that glories, must glory only in the Lord.'
But what shall I say? Election is a mystery that shines with such resplendent brightness that, to make use of the words of one who has drunk deeply of his electing love, it dazzles the weak eyes even of some of God's dear children.
--George Whitefield, 'Christ the Believer's Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption,' in The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 2:214-25

I love Calvinism.

05 November 2012

A New Website for My Favorite Seminary

Looks great.

Living Moment by Moment in the Reality of One's Justification

Francis Schaeffer:
If we are Christians, we have understood and acted upon the finished work of Christ once and for all at our justification, and our guilt is gone forever. Now let us understand and act upon the practice of that same work moment by moment in our present lives.

Let me repeat: the only difference in the practice is that in justification it is once for all, and the Christian life is lived moment by moment. The Christian life is acting moment by moment on the same principle, and in the same way, as I acted at the moment of my justification.

But let us notice that from another perspective, even at this point it is not really different, because life is only a succession of moments, one moment at a time. When we say 'moment by moment,' we are dealing in practice with a succession of single, historical moments. No one lives his whole life at a time. This is another of these places where the existentialists have made a very accurate observation. Life is not a once-for-all thing; it is a series of moments. So when I talk about living the Christian life moment by moment, I can only live it in practice one moment at a time, just as my justification took place in one moment. There is no other way to do it. In this sense, the difference is not absolute between the two. Nobody can live except moment by moment, and only one moment at a time. . . .

So we must believe God's promises at this one moment in which we are. Consequently, in believing God's promises, we apply them--the present meaning of the work of Christ for the Christian--for and in this one moment. If you only can see that, everything changes. As we believe God for this moment, the Holy Spirit is not quenched. And through his agency, the risen and glorified Christ, as the Bridegroom of the bride, the Vine, brings forth his fruit through us at this moment.
This is the practice of active passivity. And it is the only way anybody can live; there is no other way to live but moment by moment.
--Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Tyndale House, 2011), 77; italics original

Conclusion: I do not have to live an entire life's worth of Christian obedience and risk and self-denial today. I am called simply to let today unfold, taking God at his word moment by moment, receiving the gospel down into my soul hundreds of times today, hitting refresh time and again. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

03 November 2012

Lewis on the Psalms

There, despite the presence of elements we should now find it hard to regard as religious at all, and the absence of elements which some might think essential to religion, I find an experience fully God-centered, asking of God no gift more urgently than His presence, the gift of Himself, joyous to the highest degree, and unmistakably real. What I see (so to speak) in the faces of these old poets tells me about the God whom they and we adore. 
--C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Harcourt Brace, 1958), 52-53

02 November 2012

Irresistible Grace

Luther argues (against Erasmus) that all that we do is not by unshackled free choice, 'but of sheer necessity.' For 'when God is not present and at work in us everything we do is evil and we necessarily do what is of no avail for salvation.' [There is a specific context and argument here: Luther is not denying the two doctrines of common grace and the imago dei, which in his broader theology he affirms--see ch. 2 of this book by Bruce Demarest]

Then Luther makes an important distinction in explaining what he means by 'of necessity.' Very helpful, and strikingly similar to Edwards' Freedom of the Will.
Now, by 'necessarily' I do not mean 'compulsorily'. . . . That is to say, when a man is without the Spirit of God he does not do evil against his will, as if he were taken by the scruff of the neck and forced to it, like a thief or robber carried off against his will to punishment, but he does it of his own accord and with a ready will. And this readiness or will to act he cannot by his own powers omit, restrain, or change, but he keeps on willing and being ready; and even if he is compelled by external force to do something different, yet the will within him remains averse and he is resentful at whatever compels or resists it.

He would not be resentful, however, if the will were changed and he willingly submitted to the compulsion. . . .

Ask experience how impossible it is to persuade people who have set their heart on anything. If they yield, they yield to force or to the greater attraction of something else; they never yield freely. . . .

By contrast, if God works in us, the will is changed, and being gently breathed upon by the Spirit of God, it again wills and acts from pure willingness and inclination and of its own accord, not from compulsion, so that it cannot be turned another way by any opposition, nor be overcome or compelled even by the gates of hell, but it goes on willing and delighting in and loving the good, just as before it willed and delighted in and loved evil.
--Bondage of the Will, in LW 33:64-65

Sovereign, regenerating grace does not force us to do what we don't want to do. More deeply, it brings us to want to do what we should want to do. It gets underneath even our felt levels of desire.

I can get my 3-year-old Nathan into bed by picking him up, kicking and screaming, and carrying him. Or I can get him into bed by promising him that Where's Waldo and castle legos await him in his bed. Strategy #1 is not what Calvinists mean by irresistible grace.

But even strategy #2 doesn't quite capture it. Even in #2 Nate isn't getting into bed out of a delight to obey but because I've dangled something else in front of him. His desire to look for Waldo and play legos passes the threshold of his desire to stay downstairs. But he still doesn't delight in obedience. The will remains untouched. It is a book, not me, that he wants.

Irresistible grace is grace that softens us way down deep at the core of who we are. Taste bud transformation. In a miracle that can never be humanly manufactured, we find ourselves, strangely, delighting to love God.

This is a big God, with big grace.

The Whole Purpose of the Christian's Life

Whatever is not an exhibition that God exists misses the whole purpose of the Christian's life now on the earth.
According to the Bible, we are to be living a supernatural life now, in this present existence, in a way we shall never be able to do again through all eternity. We are called upon to live a supernatural life now, by faith. Eternity will be wonderful, but there is one thing heaven will not contain, and that is the call, the possibility, and the privilege of living a supernatural life here and how by faith before we see Jesus face-to-face. 
--Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Tyndale House, 2011), 64

29 October 2012

Something Else Great

By the way, would you admit this--that to lose the sense of man's greatness is not fatal when men think something else great instead? Man can look pretty small in the Psalms, Pindar, Aeschylus, and Lucretius: but the poetry remains glorious because God, or the gods, or Natura are great. The modern predicament is that having voted man into the chair and then lost belief in Man, there is no glory left.
--letter from C. S. Lewis to George Hamilton, August 14, 1949, in Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2 (ed. Walter Hooper; HarperCollins, 2004), 967; emphases original

Repairing the Deformed Self

Growth in loving God repairs the deformed self. The point is not that a proper understanding of self leads to finding God but that a proper understanding of God is the only way to come (gradually) to a purified self--that is, a happy self. 
 --Ellen Charry, exegeting Augustine's thought, in By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine (Oxford University Press, 1999), 131

26 October 2012

Charity and Worry

Lewis, 1946 letter--
It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning. I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know.)

A great many people (not you) do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don't think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we're doing it, I think we're meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds' song and the frosty sunrise. 
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2 (ed. Walter Hooper; HarperCollins, 2004), 747-48; emphases original

25 October 2012


If you know Christ and him crucified, you know enough to make you happy, supposing you know nothing else. And without this, all your other knowledge cannot keep you from being everlastingly miserable. 
--George Whitefield, in a sermon on 1 Cor. 2:2 in 1739, in The Sermons of George Whitefield (ed. Lee Gatiss; Crossway, 2012), 2:238

Heaven is God

Scott Oliphint and Sinclair Ferguson:
Some time ago we heard a fascinating radio program in which a number of famous people were asked what they thought heaven would be like. A consistent three-point pattern began to emerge in their answers, although its most significant element seemed to pass unnoticed by the program makers:

1. All those interviewed believed in heaven.
2. All those interviewed assumed they would be there.
3. When asked to describe heaven, not one of those interviewed mentioned that God was there.

But it is the presence of God in holy, loving majesty that makes heaven what it is. It can even be said that heaven is the presence of God--being in heaven means living with him forever. 
--K. Scott Oliphint and Sinclair B. Ferguson, If I Should Die before I Wake (Baker, 1995), 44; quoted in Dan Barber and Robert Peterson, Life Everlasting: The Unfolding Story of Heaven (P&R, 2012), 185

24 October 2012

Unless You Turn and Become Like Children

A Philistine will stand before a Claude Monet painting and pick his nose; a person filled with wonder will stand there fighting back the tears.

By and large, our world has lost its sense of wonder. We have grown up.
--Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Multnomah 2005), 89-90

23 October 2012

Take Heart

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

22 October 2012

Those Non-Puritanical Puritans

Leland Ryken:
Married sex was not only legitimate in the Puritan view; it was meant to be exuberant. [William] Gouge said that married couples should engage in sex 'with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.'

An anonymous Puritan claimed that when two are made one by marriage they 'may joyfully give due benevolence one to the other; as two musical instruments rightly fitted do make a most pleasant and sweet harmony in a well tuned consort.'
--Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Zondervan, 1986), 44

'Behold, I am doing a new thing' (Isa. 43:19)

Love to see this.

September 16, 2012 from SGCLouisville on Vimeo.

Delighted In

It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected.
The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God.
To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain.
But so it is.
--C. S. Lewis, 'The Weight of Glory'

19 October 2012

Rightness and Love

Love for men is not to be just a banner, not just a slogan, but it should show itself in practical ways in our lives. Our acts and our utterances in our contacts with men should show this love. We should show it by kindness in the small and large things of our daily living. The rule is that we should do to others as we desire that they should do to us. . . .

Our walk should be such that even the blasphemer must know inwardly that we have dealt fairly with him. Rightness and love must go hand in hand or there is no real power. Showing a man to be wrong is only the first step; the final aim must be to lead him to full obedience to Christ. In dealing with the unbeliever our final desire for him must be his salvation, no matter how hopeless that seems. No man is beyond the infinite grace of God.
 --Francis Schaeffer, 'The Secret of Power and the Enjoyment of the Lord'

17 October 2012

Not From but Through

Ultimate joy comes not from a lover or a landscape or a home, but through them. . . . They point to what is 'higher up' and 'further back.' 
--Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Eerdmans, 2002), 6, drawing on Lewis, Tolkien, Augustine, Calvin, and The Shawshank Redemption; emphasis original

Bible Scholars in Their Lab Coats

The science of this world . . . has examined everything heavenly that has been bequeathed to us in sacred books, and, after hard analysis, the learned ones of this world have absolutely nothing left of what was once holy. 
--Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (Random House, 1991), 171

He who can sit with ten open commentaries and read the Holy Scriptures--well, he is probably writing the eleventh, but he deals with the Scriptures contra naturam
--Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers (Indiana University Press, 1967), 1:210

HT: Jonathan Pennington

15 October 2012

He Loved Us Then: He'll Love Us Now

It is not hard for me to believe God has put away all my old failures that occurred before new birth. What is hard is to believe that God continues to put away all my present failures that occur after new birth.

We tend to view the Father looking down on us with raised eyebrows--'how are they still such failures after all I have done for them?' we see him wondering.

A Christian conscience is a re-sensitized conscience. Now that we know God as Father, now that we have become human again, we feel more deeply than ever the ugliness of sin. Failure makes the soul cringe unlike ever before.

That's why Romans 5:1-11 is in the Bible.

Lots to say about 5:1-5 and the present peace believers enjoy because of the past justification that has been secured, but here's something I'm reflecting on this week from verses 6-11.

No less than three times in these verses Paul says roughly the same thing:
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (5:6)

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (5:8)

If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (5:10)
Three times Paul says that God did something to save us when we were hating him. Weak. Sinners. Enemies. We didn't have to clean ourselves up first. He didn't meet us halfway. He pulled us out of the moral mud in which we were drowning.

That's great news. But that's not Paul's burden in these verses. He's after something else.

What's the ultimate point Paul is driving at in Romans 5:6-11? Not God's past work, mainly. Paul's burden is our present security, given that past work. He raises Christ's past work to drive home this point: If God did that back then, when you were so screwy and had zero interest in him, then what are you worried about now? The whole point of vv. 6-11 is captured in the "since" of v. 9: "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him . . ." It is not hard for him to hug you in your mess now that the hard part's done.

This really helps us relax.

He drew near to us when we hated him. Will he remain distant now that we want to please him?

He suffered for us when we were failing, as orphans. Will he cross his arms over our failures now that we are his adopted children?

His heart was gentle and lowly toward us when we were lost. Will his heart be anything different toward us now that we are found?

"While we were still." He loved us in our mess then. He'll love us in our mess now. Our very agony in sinning is the fruit of our adoption. A cold heart would not be bothered. We are not who we were.

Christ loved you before all worlds; long ere the day star flung his ray across the darkness, before the wing of angel had flapped the unnavigated ether, before aught of creation had struggled from the womb of nothingness, God, even our God, had set his heart upon all his children.

Since that time, has he once swerved, has he once turned aside, once changed? No; ye who have tasted of his love and know his grace, will bear me witness, that he has been a certain friend in uncertain circumstances. . . .

You have often left him; has he ever left you? You have had many trials and troubles; has he ever deserted you? Has he ever turned away his heart, and shut up his bowels of compassion? No, children of God, it is your solemn duty to say 'No,' and bear witness to his faithfulness. 
 --Charles Spurgeon, 'A Faithful Friend,' in Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., 1857), 13-14