Friday, July 31

A Song For All Seasons from Bernard of Clairvaux

Throughout the years, there has been one hymn that the Spirit has used to bring me comfort and joy in every conceivable situation. Whether enduring a difficult construction challenge while going through school, facing my own sinfulness, or rejoicing in some singular blessing, I find myself singing the following lines. I simply have loved the beauty of this hymn, and would hope that you would ponder the words and, perhaps consider whether this might be your constant companion as well.

Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts
Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th Century (Jesu dulcis memoria);
Translated from Latin to English by Ray Palmer, 1858, in his
Poetical Works (New York: 1876)

Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,

Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,

From the best bliss that earth imparts,

We turn unfilled to Thee again.

Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood;

Thou savest those that on Thee call;

To them that seek Thee Thou art good,

To them that find Thee all in all.

We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,

And long to feast upon Thee still;

We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,

And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,

Wherever our changeful lot is cast;

Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,

Blessed when our faith can hold Thee fast.

O Jesus, ever with us stay,

Make all our moments calm and bright;

Chase the dark night of sin away,

Shed over the world Thy holy light.

Thursday, July 30

No Second-Hand Faith

Our Christian lives can easily dissolve into mere memories of former blessings, instead of enjoying a continued string of gracious and divine acts. I know this happens to older believers who fall to reminiscing on more spiritually invigorating days of yesteryear, but who today see very little as tangible evidence of God's grace. God tells Israel this through Jeremiah:

7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”

Remember the Alamo! . . . or, Egypt!!

Americans--perhaps, more Texans--recognize the above declaration as a stark reminder of how valuable the loss of life is when dying for a cause. The children of Israel would rally around another cry, "Remember Egypt!" For many years, Israel could reflect on her sordid past and remember a day when God's faithfulness overwhelmed them at the Red Sea event. God delivered them out of bondage and freed them to move faithfully toward the Promised Land. By the time of Jeremiah the prophet approximately 800 years have passed in which Israel has violated the law of God and spurned His love times without number. And they forgot God. His real presence was but a distant memory, and his works but a mindless mantra muttered by the irreligious and hopeless.

Then Jeremiah prophecies that no longer would they speak of the Lord only in terms of previous victories (Egyptian bondage), but of his present power to deliver them again, this time from Babylon's tight grip! No longer would they only locate God's glory in a story (even a great one) from the past, but they'd experience his power themselves. NO SECOND-HANDED FAITH HERE!

What Should We Remember?

Do we practice such a "once-removed" kind of faith? We expect it from the world don't we? I've golfed with unsaved friends who when lightening was spotted on the horizon, exclaimed that they'd want to get close to the "Reverend" because he was "in good with the man upstairs!" There, they imagined, was protection from the storm even if it came via someone whom they jokingly thought was "in good with" God!? What they sometimes exclaim in jest finds grounds in life doesn't it? It's blessing two steps removed--a sort of faith by proxy, if you will.

For Christians, too, there is the distinct tendency to let the living WORD atrophy into mindless clichés. The Infinite God becomes a story to be told rather than a life to be lived. "But that is not the way you learned Christ" (Eph. 4:20). "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power" (1 Cor. 4:20). The Christian's life was not meant to be endured while vicariously living off the diaries of saints of old, but by faithing out the life of sainthood every day! Here is no surrogate lifestyle; this is the genuine article! And the crazy thing about Israel's Babylonian deliverance, and about ours, is that both are but one among many others--smaller to be sure--but too many to be counted. They ARE there, if we but had eyes to see them. The problem, it seems, is not in the absence of God, but in the dullness of our hearts.

What DOES it take to get our attention-- a tsunami, 911, or the death of a loved one? Can we, if we are wise, not see God in the myriad smaller ways he surrounds us every day? Indeed, his mercies are new every morning. "Those who seek me diligently find me" (Prov. 8:17b).

Wednesday, July 29

Living the Surrendered Life: Making It Practical

The following is thanks to Nancy Leigh DeMoss, from her book, Surrender: The Heart God Controls. Chapter Six,

"Full consecration" may be in one sense

the act of a moment,

and in another the work of a lifetime.

It must be complete to be real,

and yet, if real, it is always incomplete;

a point of rest, and yet a

perpetual progression.

--Frances R. Havergal

One of the clearest statements of the practical terms of surrender for every follower of Christ is found in Luke, chapter 14. In verse 25, we find Jesus surrounded by a large crowd. Unlike what we might be tempted to do, Jesus never played to the audience. He wasn't concerned about His ratings; He wasn't running for office or trying to attract the biggest crowd in town. He knew full well that when some heard His message, they would lose interest in His movement. But that didn't keep Him from being straightforward.

Jesus looked at the crowd of would-be disciples and said, in effect, "If you want to follow Me, you need to understand what's involved":

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters"-and here's the heart of the matter-"yes, even his own life-he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple" (vv. 26-27).

There could be no mistaking Jesus' point. He was not offering His listeners some sort of weekend Christian experience, an escape from their problems, an anesthetic for their pain, or fire insurance from hell. Everyone listening to Jesus knew that a cross meant only one thing-death. He was calling them to come and die to everything that competed with His reign and rule in their lives.

In verse 33, He reiterated His call to total surrender: "Any of you who does not give up everything that he has cannot be My disciple."

Jesus' words in Luke 14 are penetrating because they are so intensely personal and practical. He did not speak in sweeping generalities; rather, He identified specific issues that must be surrendered by those who call themselves His followers-things like our relationships, our affections, our physical bodies, our rights, and our possessions.

It's one thing to have an emotional experience at a Christian gathering where you are inspired and challenged to surrender control of everything to God. It's another matter to live out that surrender once the emotion of the moment has passed - when the bus gets home from the conference... when you lose your job and the bills keep coming...when you find out you're expecting your fifth child in seven years...when your mate is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Tuesday, July 28

ZEAL by J. C. Ryle. You Gotta Read This!

Some quotations really JUMP OUT at you. Here's one to save, re-read and utilize wherever you can:

Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature—which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted—but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called ‘zealous’ men. . . .

A zealous man in religion is pre–eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough–going, whole–hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies—whether he has health, or whether he has sickness—whether he is rich, or whether he is poor—whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence—whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish—whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise—whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame—for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it—he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray. . . . If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill (Exodus 17:9–13). If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of ‘zeal’ in religion. (Practical Religion, 1959 ed., p. 130)

Monday, July 27

You Can't Eat a Chicken You Name!

For my wife's birthday, Phyllis and I were taken to lunch by church friends, Gary & Sue Appleby, former missionaries to Germany. Their adult daughter, Amy was with us and shared that per the norm they had raised chickens while in Germany. The idea was, of course, to eventually make a meal out of them. But when it came time they just couldn't bring themselves to kill those helpless little birds. Why? Because Mike (their son) & Amy had given names to them! And because they had named them, it just didn't seem right to turn them from pet to provision! There is something about naming that is very personal, even if it is just chickens!

God works through people, people with names. "No child is just a child. Each is creature in whom God intends to do something glorious and great. No one is only a product of the genes contributed by the parents. Who we are and will be is compounded with who God is and what he does. God's love and providence and salvation are comprised in the reality of our existence along with our metabolism and blood type and fingerprints." Jeremiah's name, Eugene Peterson writes in Run With the Horses, may mean "the LORD exalts," or "the LORD hurls." Either way, his name involves "the LORD." Whatever his names actually meant to his parents, he became a prophet of God, doing his oft unpopular bidding. He operated against the norm, went opposite the tide of human opinion. We in America, do not tend place as much emphasis on the meanings of names as upon who they represent (a parent's surname, a favorite uncle or aunt). What we DON'T want to happen is for our names to dictate our direction in life, to be only what others expect of us instead of what God expects. And that will likely go contrary to society's norm.

Don't Abdicate Your Role

"The French talk of deformation professionelle--a liability, a tendency to defect that is inherent in the role that one has assumed, as say a physician or a lawyer." Jeremiah was a prophet and "the deformation to which prophets and priests and wise men are subject is to market God as a commodity, to use God to legitimize selfishness. . . . A personal name, not an assigned role, is our passbook into reality. . . . Anything other than our name--title, job description, number, role--is less than a name. . . . We live by the stereotypes in which other people cast us that are out of touch with the uniqueness in which God has created us, and so live diminished into boredom, the brightness leaking away."

Here's The Point

"The only thing more significant to Jeremiah than his own being was God's being. He fought in the name of the Lord and explored the reality of God and in the process grew and developed, ripened and matured. He was always reaching out, always finding more truth, getting in touch with more of God, becoming more himself, more human." Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isaiah 43:1).

Saturday, July 25

Confronting Evil with GOSPEL POWER!

In his wonderfully current book, An All-round Ministry (online), are recorded the annual lectures of C. H. Spurgeon to his preacher's college in London. In "How to Meet the Evils of the Age" (1877), Spurgeon addressed himself to four evils. The first is "the return of superstition." This seems in principle to correlate with something of the postmodern mentality today. And though he aimed his guns at Ritualism, a sort of pastiche of Roman Catholic mysticism and protestant Anglicanism, his words still offer wisdom for us in how we hold to our beliefs. He says:
This superstition, too, is in harmony with the innate idolatry of the human heart; it offers gratification to the eye and to the taste, it sets up a visible priest and outward symbols, and these man's fallen heart craves after. It offers to save men the necessity of thought by offering an outward service, and furnishing a priest to do their religion for them; but, alas! it takes man off from the real and spiritual, it consoles him without true regeneration, and buoys him up with hope though he has not submitted himself to the righteousness of Christ.

What is the Remedy?

In short, he says, "I have only one remedy to prescribe, and that is, that we do preach the gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in all its length and breadth of doctrine, precept, spirit, example, and power." I fear that we today (and I wonder if this applies to us ministers as well!) no longer fully believe in the simple power of the gospel to change the hearts of men? Our adherence to the truth may be nothing more than lip-service. Spurgeon goes on to unveil what was his conviction as to how mighty is such gospel truth:

The gospel, if it were fully received through the whole earth, would purge away all slavery and all war, and put down all drunkenness and all social evils. In fact, you cannot conceive a moral curse which it which it could not remove. And even physical evils, since many of them arise incidentally from sin, would be greatly mitigated [alleviated], and some of them for ever abolished. The spirit of the gospel, causing attention to be given to all that concerns our neighbour's welfare, would promote sanitary and social reforms, and so the leaves of the tree which are for the healing of the nations would work their beneficial purpose. KEEP TO THE GOSPEL, BRETHREN, AND YOU WILL KEEP TO THE ONE UNIVERSAL, NEVER-FAILING REMEDY [emphasis mine].
Even as hunger lies at the bottom of some fevers and maladies, it can be once again corrected by food. "Give the bread of life to the multitude, and the maladies and diseases of fallen humanity will be divinely removed; I am sure it is so."

I hope we are as well!

Friday, July 24

"Giv'n You a Number & Tak'n 'Way Your Name"

When I was young (1960's) there was a show on TV entitled "Secret Agent," ("Danger Man" in the UK) starring Patrick McGoohan as secret agent, John Drake. (Incidentally, he died 13 January of this year. He was 80.) Johnny Rivers sang the theme song, "Secret Agent Man," in which are these repeated words, ". . . giving you a number and taking away your name." Well, replacing names with numbers is, no doubt, the business of the clandestine world of espionage. They have to maintain some deniable distance in the event things go wrong. But,

God Personalizes

Not so in the everyday world of humanity. Giving names and NOT numbers is vital to our role as those created in the image of God. Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses, writes:

At our birth we are named, not numbered. The name is that part of speech by which we are recognized as a person. We are not classified as a species of animal. We are not labeled as a compound of chemicals. We are not assessed for our economic potential and given a cash value. We are named. What we are named is not as significant as that we are named.

Peterson reminds us that people don't necessarily remain the same throughout their lives. "Some people as they grow up become less. As children, they have glorious ideas of who they are and of what life has for them. Thirty years later we find that they have settled for something grubby and inane."

He then quotes Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy:

The name is the state of speech in which we do not speak of people, things, and values. . . . The name is the right address of a person under which he or she will respond. The original meaning of language was this very fact that it could be used to make people respond.

Society Depersonalizes

But we live in a society that relishes statistics and facts . . . the abstract. Here is where Peterson draws the significance of living according to our names:

Any time that we move from personal names to abstract labels or graphs or statistics, we are less in touch with reality and diminished in our capacity to deal with what is best and at the center of life. Yet we are encouraged on every side to do just that. In many areas of life the accurate transmission of our social-security number is more important than the integrity with which we live. In many sectors of the economy the title that we hold is more important than our ability to do certain work. In many situations the public image that people have of us is more important than the personal relations that we develop with them. Every time that we go along with this movement from the personal to the impersonal, from the immediate to the remote, from the concrete to the abstract, we are diminished, we are less. Resistance is required if we will retain our humanity.
It's Not What We DO, But Who We ARE

OK, maybe you've heard that. It is nonetheless quite true. We are not to be evaluated by our usefulness, or by how much others want us or don't want us. We are not defined by labels. The Lord said to Solomon, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time" (1 Kings 9:3). Notice he did not say, "I have opened the doors of the temple so that you can attend church, and show up only to return home again. No, he put his NAME there, meaning that this is personal, whole-hearted worship about which he's speaking. Like the Israelites, "One of the supreme tasks of the faith community is to announce to us early and clearly the kind of life into which we can grow, to help us set our sights on what it means to be a human being complete. Not one of us, at this moment, is complete."

We Are Always Becoming . . .

John said it, "Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). We're not there yet. But one thing is for sure, we are not simply a set of electronic circuitry, but a "poem" in the making, made by God (Eph. 2:10). We have been given a name--HIS name, and not a set or rules and by-laws (as good as they may be in their place). Don't let this world squeeze you into its mold (Romans 12:1).

Thursday, July 23

Fascinated with JESUS

The goal of Scripture is an intensely personal love for Jesus possessing your whole being. The goal of redemption is your love-relationship, your love-life with Jesus. Christian living is living in love with Jesus. Prayer communion is looking lovingly into Jesus' eyes, thrilling to Jesus' voice, resting in Jesus' arms.

Christ's passionate lovers have bejeweled the history and heritage of the church. No Christian is greater than his love. Few today realize the intense devotion to Christ in the early church and in our sainted martyrs. The Holy Spirit can develop in us just as ardent devotion as He did in those days.

All other passions build upon or flow from your passion for Jesus. A passion for souls grows out of a passion for Christ. A passion for missions builds upon a passion for Christ. When Hudson Taylor was once asked what was the greatest incentive to missionary work, he instantly replied, "Love of Christ." William Booth's passion for helping the underprivileged, the derelicts of society, and for world evangelization was built upon his passion for Christ. The most crucial danger to a Christian, whatever his role, is to lack a passion of Christ. The most direct route to personal renewal and new effectiveness is a new all-consuming passion for Jesus. Lord, give us this passion, whatever the cost!

--Wesley L. Duewel, Ablaze For God

Wednesday, July 22

How Sovereign is God?

In his Body of Divinity, the puritan Thomas Watson beautifully unfolds the doctrine of the providence of God. What is that? He defines it thus, "Providence is God's ordering all issues and events of things, after the counsel of his own will, to his own glory." One point he makes is that there are no events that can be termed "casual" and accidental.

The falling of a tile upon one's head, the breaking out of a fire, is casual to us, but it is ordered by a providence of God. You have clear instance of this in 1 Kings 22:34, But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate (ESV). This accident was casual as to the man that drew the bow; but it was divinely ordered by the providence of God. God's providence directed the arrow to hit the mark. Things that seem to fall out casual, and by chance, are the issues of God's decrees, and the interpretation of his will.
C. H. Spurgeon believed as well that God's sovereign providence reaches to every minute thing. And if you haven't seen this memorable quotation, it's one of my favorites.

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes - that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens - that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their course. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebush is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence - the fall of...leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.
In how many ways such providence is carried out in our lives, only God knows. But it should at least cause us to rest secure in the loving power of His grace who ordered it.

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ . . . I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it (Isaiah 46:9-11).

Tuesday, July 21

Assurance--Hope Out of Trials

The Westminster Catechism says the following (with updated language of my own):

True believers may have the assurance of their salvation shaken, diminished or discontinued in different ways. It may be:

1) Through the neglect of preserving it;
2) By falling into some special sin, which wounds the conscience, and grieves the Spirit;
3) By some sudden or intense temptation;
4) By God's withdrawing the light of his countenance; or
5) By allowing those who fear him to walk in darkness, and to have no light.

Yet, they are never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.

Monday, July 20

The Daily Spurgeon: "To Be the Army of the Lord"

Here's a spiritually nourishing blog. I would encourage your reading of this brief but powerful call to the church. But also, you may wish to mark this as one of your oft-visited sites.

The Daily Spurgeon: To be the army of the Lord

Shared via AddThis

Sunday, July 19

Should Jesus Be A Christian's "Crutch"?

"You Christians are so weak. Why don't you learn to stand on your own two feet? You just use Jesus as a crutch."
Who of us has not had someone level these kinds of accusations against us? Now, one of the rejoinders we might use is, "Yes, Jesus is my crutch and I'm happy with that." Or, we might say, "Yes, he is. What's yours?" These show a certain assurance and deference on our part for sure. But after having considered this anew, it dawned on me that such an answer does not rightly represent our faith or the God of our faith. Why?

First, crutches are used by folk who cannot walk rightly due to an infirmity. The crutch then makes up for work that they can only partially do by themselves. The point is that THEY are doing the work! And even if it is LIMITED ability, it is still THEIR ability, isn't it? Salvation, however, is not something that we do in and of ourselves as most would attest. So using the term "crutch" for Jesus is not accurate. The assumption is that we bring something to the healing process. This may seem to be nit-picking, but its truth bears itself out.

Second, Christ cannot rightly be said to be a "crutch" because he doesn't support us, he completely changes us! In salvation, Jesus doesn't come and prop up in us what is failing or weak. No, he RE-CREATES a new man; he TRANSFORMS us! We are all familiar, are we not with Paul's teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." We don't need a crutch, but much more than a crutch. We need radical surgery, a completely new life!

Third, Jesus is not a crutch because he is not a temporary fix. Someone breaks a leg, then uses a crutch until they are able to put weight on that weakened appendage until they can eventually use it. Never in a true believer's life will he simply "use" Jesus until he is better and able thenceforward to operate under his own power. No, the work of the new birth is for life!

Fourth, Jesus cannot be said to be a crutch in that he is not simply to be viewed as an "add-on" to our otherwise adequate life. We can use a crutch and then set it aside when not needed. But when can this be said of faith in Christ? 1) We cannot simply "take up" Christ to further our own cause, and 2) at no point could we ever be in a position to "set him aside" when he is no longer necessary.

Now, these points may seems a bit "over the top" or finicky. But I think that they surface a deeper and far more important issue, the radical alteration found in the nature of the new birth. If we are going to take advantage of such assaults against our faith as the one that starts this post, then shouldn't we try to steer the attacker in the best direction? This, I think, is the crux of the situation!

Saturday, July 18


News services know that bad news sells. The worse the news, the greater the viewership, and, of course, the larger the revenue (which in a consumerist society is all that matters). Everywhere, leaders are falling, whether politicians or ministers! Our TVs are simply awash in crime and sex, and every manner of evil. Anyone with half a conscience reels after a while. We get disheartened. We begin to wonder if there’s anyone who seeks God. Anyone?!

Warning! Watch out that the preponderance of iniquity does not cause you to become cynical of all people or skeptical of even the possibility of good motives. Distrust and pessimism are not necessarily virtues of the worldly wise, but they may be signs of faithlessness. It’s one thing to astutely recognize the sins in society, quite another to be controlled by them. Martin Luther, the reformer said, “You cannot prevent the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair!” This is a call to Christians to prevent evil from building its nest in our hearts.

Scripture Always Trumps Evil

Karl Barth is purported to have said that we should “read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” The assumption here is that we are to be aware of what is going on in the world, but that we should interpret that knowledge in light of the Bible. That is wise advice.

We cannot prevent most evils from occurring. But we can control how those evils affect our minds. Paul said that he’d learned how to thrive in both good and bad times through faith in Christ (Phil. 4:11-12). Further, he exhorts us to control those things upon which we concentrate. “Whatever is true, . . . honorable, . . . just, . . . pure, . . . lovely, or commendable, . . . think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). He is not commending ignorance or naïveté, but a deliberate bond to God’s superior ways—a coalition with Christ. God has his way in the affairs of mankind. Therefore, we are not to fear man, “who is [only] able to kill the body,” but we are to fear (love and respect) him who is “able to destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt. 10:28). This objective fact should lead to subjective glee!

God, through Isaiah warns, “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread (Isaiah 8:12). Israel had habitually turned away from theocracy (God-rule) to other nations for help to overcome their enemies. This was conspiracy, which refers not to a mere alliance, but conspiracy with treasonable intent! (See Young, 1:310).


Two Scriptures offer correction:

Don’t let your good be evil spoken of (Rom. 14:16).

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).

Be alert. Yes. Don’t be naïve. Certainly not. But, by the same token, don’t be tempted to attribute evil motives to every good thing because there are those who have broken trust. Isaiah tells us what we should trust, But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread (Isaiah 8:13). If I may be so cute, we may conclude that while bad news sells; good news thrills! I’ll take the latter. How about you?

Friday, July 17

Feasting in a Fast-Food World*

There is little that we can point to in our lives as deserving anything but God's wrath. Our best moments have been mostly grotesque parodies. Our best loves have been almost always blurred with selfishness and deceit. But there is something to which we can point. Not anything that we ever did or were, but something that was done for us by another. Not our own lives, but the life of one who died in our behalf and yet is still alive. This is our only glory and our only hope. And the sound that it makes is the sound of excitement and gladness and laughter that floats through the night air from a great banquet.
--Frederick Buechner, Magnificent Defeat

Have we not been summoned by our Lord Jesus to let him into the church's banquet room so that He and we might enjoy one another? The invitation is to the Church: ". . . If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Jesus has not bid us assemble in front of a white board or Powerpoint, but around the dinner table. There's a place for learning, for classes. But the place of choice is dining, entering into his Presence. The place of studies will come and, in light of such dining, be that much more enhanced. Oh, to relish such opportunities!

*Title and quotation thanks to Michael Horton, "Reformation Today" (July/August 2009).

Thursday, July 16

Are We Really Living While We're Living?

Heart pumping and lungs pulsating is only one definition of life, a very plastic and ambiguous one at that! Many (most?) fail to truly enjoy living. Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses, quotes the Czech philosopher and martyr Vitezslav Gardovsky (1978), writing in God Is Not Yet Dead that "the terrible threat against life is not death or pain, nor any variation on the disasters that we so obsessively try to protect ourselves against with our social systems and personal stratagems. The terrible threat is 'that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in just such a premature death, a death after which we go on living for many years.'"

How Do We Fight This?

Peterson says,
We live in a society that tries to diminish us to the level of the antheap so that we scurry mindlessly, getting and consuming. It is essential to take counteraction (emphasis mine). . . The only way that any one of us can live at our best is in a life of radical faith in God. Every one of us needs to be stretched to live at our best, awakened out of dull moral habits, shaken out of petty and trivial busy-work.
An Example in Jeremiah

According to Peterson, what God did in enlisting the prophet Jeremiah, he does with us as well.
I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know, to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of the The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny.
Don't Quit NOW!
God, as it were, continues with Jeremiah, "Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit. If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence? What is it you really want, Jeremiah, do you want to shuffle along with this crowd, or run with the horses?"
As a Christian, I hear you Peterson. As a Pastor, I really hear you! When we arrive at the end of the book, we look back over the long prophecy of Jeremiah and have to conclude, "He ran with the horses!" Find the quest, embrace the hope. Shall we not join him?

Wednesday, July 15

Why Are We Such a Bored People?

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? Jeremiah 12:5

"The puzzle is why so many people live so badly. Not so wickedly, but so inanely. Not so cruelly, but so stupidly." This is how Eugene Peterson opens his wonderfully enlightening book, "Run With The Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best." He quotes Tom Howard:
"Modern man is a bleak business. To our chagrin we discover that the declaration of autonomy has issued not in a race of free, masterly men, but rather in a race that can be described by its poets and dramatists only as a bored, vexed, frantic, embittered, and sniffling" (Chance or Dance, p. 104).
Peterson points out that this is true and has caused many in our culture to perform all manner of evil just to get attention--even if bad attention! Now, that's living a trivial, non-sensical life. I myself have heard actors/actresses say that they tire of "good" roles, preferring instead the wicked person because they are more interesting! That must be true in our culture. Newspapers know that good news does not sell. And you certainly don't see, as Peterson says, good people becoming the focus of TV specials. "No Oscars are given for integrity. At year's end no one compiles a list of the ten best-lived lives." OUCH!

"One of the first things that strikes us about the men and women in Scripture is that they were disappointingly nonheroic. We do not find splendid moral examples. We do not find impeccably virtuous models. That always comes as a shock to newcomers to Scripture: Abraham lied; Jacob cheated; Moses murdered and complained; David committed adultery; Peter blasphemed."
We read on and begin to suspect intention: a consistent strategy to demonstrate that the great, significant figures in the life of faith were fashioned from the same clay as the rest of us. We find the Scripture is sparing in the information that it gives on people while it is lavish in what it tells us about God. It refuses to feed our lust for hero worship. It will not pander to our adolescent desire to join a fan club. The reason is, I think, clear enough. Fan clubs encourage secondhand living. Through pictures and memorabilia, autographs and tourist visits, we associate with someone whose life is (we think) more exciting and glamorous than our own. We find diversion from our own humdrum existence by riding on the coattails of someone exotic.

We counter this mind-numbing humdrum of an existence "by plunging into a life of faith, participating in what God initiates in each life, exploring what God is doing in each event. The persons we meet on the pages of Scripture are remarkable for the intensity with which they live Godwards, the thoroughness in which all the details of their lives are included in God's word to them, in God's action in them." And here, Peterson makes a solid observation: "It is these persons, who are conscious of participating in what God is saying and doing, who are most human, most alive." Indeed. So, let us "run with the horses" . . . by faith!

Sunday, July 12


If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
--C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Saturday, July 11

Ineptness in the Pulpit, Not Length, Creates Yawns in the Pew!

That's right. I just heard Dr. Timothy Dwyer, Associate Professor of Bible and Ministry from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester say as much. I believe that he is right. People will stay with you IF you have something worthwhile to say. For the last two decades I have heard repeated that 20-somethings are leaving the superficial, frothy, glitzy kinds of churches to find ones that actually say something profound. They want MORE, in other words. The problems mankind faces demand answers they've not been receiving. Well, to return to Why Johnny Can't Preach from the last two posts, let me quote T. David Gordon's take on preaching that makes a difference. See what you think . . .
What would make a difference would be Christian proclamation that is consequential, that is concerned less with current events than with the history-encompassing events of creation, fall, and redemption. What would makes a difference would be Christian proclamation that did not panic every time a court rendered a decision on some pet geopolitical concern, but called our attention instead to the certain judgment of God, with whom we have to do. What would make a difference would be Christian proclamation that was less concerned with "how-to" and more concerned with "why-to," why humans are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. What might make a difference would be Christian proclamation that was less concerned with the latest news from the Beltway, and more concerned with the stunning and perennial good news that God in Christ is reconciling sinners to himself. But any one of these preferred alternatives requires a sensibility for the significant; a capacity to distinguish the weighty from the light, and the consequential from the trivial. [emphases mine]
Gordon is not arguing that there isn't a place for some of these things, but he IS arguing that comparatively, God's truth trumps all else. And where else must that truth be broadcast more than in the Christian pulpit? That is a legitimate concern.

Friday, July 10

Faith Looks at the Bridge, Not the Chasm

When it comes right down to it, how do we end up trusting--really trusting--in Jesus when the going gets rough? This is a question of true faith. T. David Gordon recounts a story that may open our eyes to the answer. In his wonderful little book, Why Johnny Can't Preach, Gordon is dealing with the need for us preachers to be sure that we don't just challenge people to have faith, or tell them ways to be more moral (which turns the focus inward to self), or by "taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture." Rather, as he says, "faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ."

A Very Helpful Letter After the Civil War

About 25 years after the Civil War, the Southern Presbyterian, Robert Lewis Dabney moved from Virginia to Austin, Texas. "In his latter years he became blind and weak, and knew his death was near. He wrote to his old friend [Clement Read] Vaughn, wondering whether he would have strong enough faith to face his impending death, and Vaughn's reply was as theologically trenchant as it was pastorally lovely. He wrote back to Dabney and asked Dabney what a traveler would do if he came to a chasm over which a bridge was spanned":

What does he do to breed confidence in the bridge? He looks at the bridge; he gets down and examines it. He don't [sic] stand at the bridge-head and turn his thoughts curiously in on his own mind to see if he has confidence in the bridge. If his examination of the bridge gives him a certain amount of confidence, and yet he wants more, how does he make his faith grow? Why, in the same way; he still continues to examine the bridge. Now, my dear old man, let your faith take care of itself for awhile, and you just think of what you are allowed to trust in. Think of the Master's power, think of his love; think how he is interested in the soul that searches for him, and will not be comforted until he finds him. Think of what he has done, his work. That blood of his is mightier than all the sins of all the sinners that ever lived. Don't you think it will master yours?

Now, dear old friend, I have done to you just what I would want you to do to me if I were lying in your place. The great theologian, after all, is just like any other one of God's children, and the simple gospel talked to him is just as essential to his comfort as it is to a milk-maid or to a plow-boy. May God give you grace, not to lay too much stress on your faith, but to grasp the great ground of confidence, Christ, and all his work and all his personal fitness to be a sinner's refuge. Faith is only an eye to see him. I have been praying that God would quiet your pains as you advance, and enable you to see the gladness of the gospel at every step. Good-bye. God be with you as he will. Think of the Bridge!

Your brother,
C. R. V.

Thursday, July 9

"MUNDANENESS" Is Ruining the Ministry & Churches

Why? Because the habits of our culture have promoted the banal and encouraged the trivial. As a result, it is nigh on to impossible for many ministers today to think deeply about the text of Scripture. If they cannot think deeply then they'll not be able to preach deeply either. Listen to what T. David Gordon says about this in his very important recent book, Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers--

Our inability to read texts [he means to ponder deeply the implications therein] is a direct result of the presence of electronic media. The sheer pace of an electronic media-dominated culture is entirely too fast. . . . We become acclimated to distraction, to multitasking, to giving part of our attention to many things at once, while almost never devoting the entire attention of the entire soul to anything. The close reading of texts would be an antidote to such a pace because such reading is time-consuming and requires the concentration of the entire person. . . .
When the poet stares at that which the rest of us merely glance at, he invites us to take a longer look along with him. It is precisely this longer look that is necessary to cultivate a sensibility for the significant.
Here, the shift of dominant cultural media has been profound, because television, in contrast to poetry, is essentially trivial. Because its pictures must move (and indeed, even camera angles must move, on average less than every three seconds), it captures best those things that are kinetic, that have motion. Yet few of the more significant aspects of life involve much motion: love, humility, faith, repentance, prayer, friendship, worship, affection, fear, hope, self-control. Most of what is significant about life takes place between the ears, as we make sense of life, of our place in it, and of our failures and successes, our joys, our sorrows, our fears, our loves. This world of the mind and soul is essentially a linguistic world, a nonkinetic world; a different world from the world of rapidly changing images.
I think Gordon was right when he offered that "Mundaneness is . . . part of the curse of Genesis 3." We have to fight the pull of culture through self-discipline, the discipline to rule out those influences which war against our soul, which demean the profound, which even prejudice our hearts and minds against anything deep and most beneficial. Faster is not better in most areas of life.

Look tomorrow for what Gordon says would make a difference?

Tuesday, July 7

C. S. Lewis--The Decline of Religion is a Good Thing!

In the mid-1940s, there was a cry that religion was in decline. But was this such a bad thing? C. S. Lewis in his essay in God in the Dock, entitled, "The Decline of Religion," points out that if the kind of religion that sported large numbers was forced upon the populace, then it would be hard to tell who was there because they really wanted God. An example he cites was the requisite chapel attendance at Oxford around 1900, which by 1946 had shrunk, as it turns out, at "the precise moment when chapel ceased to be compulsory." This was typical all over England, he claims. This change, he further claims, has been taken to indicate that the nation as a whole has "passed from a Christian to a secular outlook." But he points out that if one were to derive any clue from the novels of the late 19th century, one would discover that they were as secular then as during the mid-1900's.

Again--Is This A Bad Thing?

Lewis would say, "No." Why? As he said,
". . . The religion which has declined was not Christianity. It was a vague Theism with a strong and virile ethical code, which, far from standing over against the 'World', was absorbed into the whole fabric of English institutions and sentiment and therefore demanded church-going as (at best) a part of loyalty and good manners as (at worst) a proof of respectability. Hence a social pressure, like the withdrawal of the compulsion, did not create a new situation. The new freedom first allowed accurate observation to be made. When no man goes to church except because he seeks Christ the number of actual believers can at last be discovered. . . . The decline of 'religion', thus understood, seems to me in some ways was a blessing. At the very worst it makes the issue clear. . . . When the Round Table is broken every man must follow either Galahad or Mordred: middle things are gone (emphases mine).
Thus, false believers were no longer forced to hide beneath a cloak of conformity. Their true colors were allowed to show. Legalistic churches still do this in mass numbers, allowing people to pay lip-service to God while denying the very heart which he requires of all true followers! That needs to be exposed and repented of in the church.

It is not so good for the world. As Lewis avers, there is a sense in which such a decline is worse for the 'World', in that religion tends in some degree to purify a country, aids in the "comparative humanity of her police, and the possibility of some mutual respect and kindness between political opponents." But, as he adds, "I am not clear that it makes conversions to Christianity rarer or more difficult: rather the reverse. It makes the choice more unescapable."

Friday, July 3

Conquering The Church's Reductionistic Faith

I am pondering true love for God. It seems a rare thing even among Christians. Bring up some feelings for God and people sort of lose interest. Now, it were one thing if it were done in a weird or obnoxious way. But one can be careful and introduce the topic slowly, thoughtfully within normal Christian conversation. It still seems love for God has been edged out (or kicked out) by religious and even not so religious solutions to man’s problems. To find someone who’d bless our soul with sweet recollections of Jesus’ love would be a FIND! And I must hasten to add that though writing this, I myself may not leave another believer feeling it either. It is possible to identify a problem and still not evince the solution. My wife and I talk about these matters. So much talk is about God, around religion, involving church. Yet, it seems to circumnavigate the Person. It’s reductionistic in nature. And it is the “air” we breathe. Do we fight it? Is that to be our modus operandi? Yet, we must believe that seeing it is part way to resolving the problem.

Enter Deuteronomy 29:4 . . .

This blew my away this morning. Let me give the context with the preceding two verses:

2 And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 3 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders.

Moses reminds them of God’s powerful grace exhibited toward them. These are the historical record of God’s dealings with man, and they deserve recognition. More, they demand worship! He is grounding their being, their existence, yes, even their future prospects as the holy people of God (abundant life), in the certainty of God’s previous and clear mercies. In short, there is very good reason to trust God, to adore God! Saying that does not accomplish it, as we know.

Next, and here is an astonishing statement:

4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.

It’s as if He were saying, “You have the history, the evidence and it’s etched in your memory. It is documented as a legacy, passed down orally as well as in written form! But, so far you do not have the accompanying and necessary heart to rightly understand and appreciate that history.”

So, it’s one thing to read what God has done, quite another to relate to it. Question is, does God always give this kind of heart to his creatures? Are we not commanded to hear and understand? Forty years had passed as they wandered through the desert, the older and generally faithless generation dying off in the process due to their unbelief. Still, even those remaining and left to hear Moses’ sermons in preparation to enter the promised land, even they had not been given a “heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” They had something to be sure! They evidently believed more than their forbears; they were allowed to live and enter the land!

So, what is the meaning of this “heart” and “eyes” and “ears?” And are we all waiting on God to give us these? Is there anything we can do to promote such a knowledge? Does the New Testament unveil a new way? If so, why is it still that seemingly so few enjoy such an "interior" life? Oh, let us ask these questions. It is THIS kind of knowledge to which Jesus as referring in salvation: "This is eternal life that they KNOW you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). Please, give us a "heart to understand, eyes to see, ears to hear."