Tuesday, March 29

A Brief Case FOR Christians Judging

One of the most frequently recurring questions that arises during my classes here at church is one which revolves around judging. Let me correct two misconceptions right away: 1) the overexposure given to one passage of Scripture which jades most Christians' ability to discern the truth, and 2) a misunderstanding of terms. First, the passage, of course, to which I refer is Matthew 7:1-2, 
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
Now, for some reason, out of all the verses in the Bible these two seem to have become indelibly branded on most people's minds, including, it appears, the unredeemed! Just whisper the word "judge" and everyone will be ready to pounce on it and warn of the abuse, or ironically, judge the one making a judgment!? Naturally, there is an important truth in these verses that we must see. But the essence of the warning centers around motives. We are not to judge the motives of another person, because we cannot really "see" those motives. This is fair and accurate. Let's all heed this. Second, there is often a confusion of terms. Scripture tells us to judge, but warns us against being judgmental. It warns us to exercise deft criticism, yet not to be of a critical spirit; to condemn without being condemnatory. Some (perhaps many) who have been so accused have backed off completely. This I would warn (Paul warns) is not to be our default position.

So, just to cite one passage regarding judging, please read 1 Corinthians 6:1–8,
1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! 
Let me just point out a couple of things that demonstrate the value, the importance, yes, the necessity of doing what our Lord bids us. Paul is warning the Corinthian church about taking one another to court, specifically worldly courts. He cites several factors which dictate that we avoid such a misstep. 

First, the world is unrighteous, we are saints, i.e., "holy ones" given wisdom from God. This should truly enable us to make godly decisions.

Second, he argues from the greater to the lesser. Don't you know that you'll judge the world? So, he logically deduces, if you will eventually be the judges of the WORLD, why can't you decide much smaller cases? Wow! Who'd have thought of that? God did. 

Third, now Paul argues for Christians to judge because, as he says, we will judge angels* one day. So, he concludes, if we will judge angels in eternity, ought we not to be able to judge the temporary issues that arise now? So, here he argues from eternity to the temporal.

Fourth, Paul urges the church to behave as those truly sanctified (that is, "made holy"). If you've become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), then why not take the loss? He puts it two ways: Why not suffer wrong? Why not be defrauded? Yes, why not? That's a great question. Why must we insist on getting them back? Why do we have to "win" the argument? One of the best ways to show we love Jesus Christ first, is in how we respond when someone abuses us, or tries to get one over on us. What do we do, Christian? Can we defer to another brother or sister? And can we do this without getting credit for it? What a valuable lesson is in this portion of God's word. And Oh, what a relief it would be to exercise our freedom in Christ in such a way that even if someone treats us unjustly, our response will be one of loving, measured patience, leaving the result in God's hands. (See 1 Peter 3:14-17)
Does this sound too strange to be true? It IS the way of Christ. It is what fills the heart of the true believer. It is one of the virtues which grace produces, which in turn elicits a happy heart. Happiness is very good, isn't it? On which side of this issue do you fall? God help us to carefully examine our own hearts in this matter, and believe the written Word of God!

*Regarding judging angels. . . It's either bad or good angels (or both). We know that the fallen angels will be judged (Mt. 8:29; 1 Cor. 6:3; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Some are inclined to see good angels in 1 Corinthians 6:3, because none are specified, and fallen angels are usually delineated. But this passage does not prove the case. If the good angels are judged it would be on the basis (probably) of their performance, like an evaluation (Grudem). What makes it more interesting is that angels are referred to as God's instruments in the work of judgment (Mt. 13:30, 41; 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7-8). Are Christians involved in this judgment? These Scriptures would teach so (Ps. 149:5-9; 1 Cor. 6:2-3; Rev. 20:4). (Culled from Berkhof's Systematic Theology)

Saturday, March 26

Spurgeon on Churches Who Need Integrity

Young Spurgeon
Not to overload you with Spurgeon, but he did fight against some of the same issues as we. Check this out . . . 

Men seem to say — It is of no use going on in the old way, fetching out one here and another there from the great mass. We want a quicker way. To wait till people are born again, and become followers of Christ, is a long process: let us abolish the separation between the regenerate and unregenerate. Come into the church, all of you, converted or unconverted. You have good wishes and good resolutions; that will do: don’t trouble about more. It is true you do not believe the gospel, but neither do we. You believe something or other. Come along; if you do not believe anything, no matter; your “honest doubt” is better by far than faith. “But,” say you, “nobody talks so.” Possibly they do not use the same words, but this is the real meaning of the present-day religion; this is the drift of the times. I can justify the broadest statement I have made by the action or by the speech of certain ministers, who are treacherously betraying our holy religion under pretence of adapting it to this progressive age. The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world, and so include a larger area within it bounds. By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theatre; they turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political harangues or philosophical essays — in fact, they exchange the temple for the theatre, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuse men. Is it not so, that the Lord’s-day is becoming more and more a day of recreation or of idleness, and the Lord’s house either a joss-house* full of idols, or a political club, where there is more enthusiasm for a party than zeal for God? Ah me! the hedges are broken down, the walls are levelled, and to many there is, henceforth, no church except as a portion of the world, no God except as an unknowable force by which the laws of nature work.

This, then, is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell any longer on so loathsome a proposal. 

*Joss-house - a Chinese religious statue or idol

Friday, March 25

Recalcitrant Attitudes Owing to Feeble Faith

What do I mean? It seems much discussion today regarding spiritual truths hinges less on what Scripture actually teaches than it does on what one thinks. We have (I hope unintentionally) replaced the clear teaching of Scripture with man's opinions. It's remarkable really since such a tactic must of necessity implode at some point. I don't really care what you think. Now, in case that sounds unloving, let me quickly add that I don't even care what I think! If what you and I believe can be verified by a Source outside of and independent of ourselves, then we have a chance of arriving at truth. This is one purpose Scripture serves. Not to trust God implicitly then, is tantamount to what Octavius Winslow teaches emanates from a feeble faith. Read this carefully. He very succinctly outlines the great value of "looking unto Jesus." This is critical in today's Facebook age.

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

Be careful of making a savior of faith. There is a danger, and it cannot be too vigilantly guarded against, of substituting the work of the Spirit for the work of Christ; this mistake it is that leads so many of God’s saints to look within, instead of outside of themselves, for the evidences of their calling and acceptance; and thus, too, so many are kept, all their spiritual course, walking in a state of bondage and fear, the great question never fully and fairly settled; or, in other words, never quite sure of their sonship. The work of Christ is a great and finished work; it is so glorious that it can admit of no comparison, so complete that it can allow of no addition, and so essential that it can give place to no substitution. Precious as is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, and essential as it is to the salvation of the soul, yet he who places it where the work of Jesus ought only to be, deranges the order of the covenant, closes up the legitimate source of evidence, and will assuredly bring distress and uncertainty into his soul. “Righteousness, peace, and joy” are the fruit of a full belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and he who looks for them away from the cross will meet with disappointment; but they are found in Jesus. He who looks away from himself, from his vileness, guiltiness, emptiness, and poverty, fully, and believingly unto Jesus, shall know what the forgiveness of sin is, and shall experience the love of God shed abroad in his heart.

If, then, your faith is feeble and tried, do not be cast down. Faith does not save you; though it be an instrument of salvation, and, as such, is of vast importance, it is but the instrument. The finished work of Immanuel is the ground of your salvation, yes, it is your salvation itself. Then, make not a savior of your faith; despise it not if it is feeble, exult not in it if it is strong, trample not on it if it is small, deify it not if it is great: such are the extremes to which every believer is exposed. If your faith is feeble and sharply tried, it is no evidence that you are not a believer; but the evidence of your acceptance in the Beloved is to arise from Jesus alone; then let your constant motto be, “looking unto Jesus;” looking to Him just as you are; looking unto Him when faith is feeble; looking unto Him when faith is tried; looking unto Him when faith is declining; yes, looking unto Him when you fear you have no faith. Look up, tried and tempted soul! Jesus is the Author, the Sustainer, and He will become the Finisher of your faith. All you need is in Him; one glimpse, dim though it be, of His cross, one touch, trembling though it be, of His garment, will lift you from your lowest depths, lighten your heaviest burden, gild your darkest prospect, and when you arrive at Jordan’s brink, will bear you safely through its swellings, and land you on the sunny and verdant shores of Canaan.

Thursday, March 24

Spurgeon on the Church Accommodating the World!

There is the suggestion of the present hour: if the world will not come to Jesus . . . shall not the church go down to the world? Instead of bidding men to be converted, and come out from among sinners, and be separate from them, let us join with the ungodly world, enter into union with it, and so pervade it with our influence by allowing it to influence us. Let us have a Christian world. . . .
Certain ministers . . . are treacherously betraying our holy religion under pretense of adopting it to this present age. The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world. . . . By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theatre; they turn their services into musical displays . . . in fact, they exchange the temple for the theatre, and turn the ministers of God into actors whose business it is to amuse men. . . . This, then, is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform Himself, His people, and His Word to the world. I will not dwell on so loathsome a proposal.
My dear hearers, how much I long to see you saved! But I would not belie my Lord, even to win your souls, if they could be so won. The true servant of God is responsible for diligence and faithfulness, but he is not responsible for success or non-success. Results are in God’s hands.     

--Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Wednesday, March 23

The Problem with Trendiness-Part 2

Continued from yesterday . . . 

In my first post, I commented on the current trendiness of interest in the doctrines of grace, and my fear that we might mistake commitment to the cool with commitment to the truth. I concluded by referring to churchly piety, and now I expand on this idea.

Institutional Piety

In subsequent columns I will flesh the concept out, but here I lay down the basic foundation: churchly piety is rooted in the church. That would seem to be an obvious point, but it is surprising how many people miss it. The mistake derives from a failure to understand what the church is. Most Christians would certainly agree that the church is made up of all believers, and that is a fine definition. However, it is also more than that.

The church is also an institution with office-bearers (elders and deacons) who have been ordained to specific tasks. These men hold ministerial authority and have responsibility to take care of the well being of the people of God, both spiritually and physically.

The Young, Restless, and. . . Slow

A churchly piety will respect these offices and the men who hold them, and this will have a certain impact on the life of the church. In short, young people will not set the agenda, since the Pauline qualifications for eldership indicate age and maturity as the norms. And if these men are respected, then the young and the restless will be slow to speak and teach and instead be quick to listen and learn. 

I fear that is not very hip or cool. We live in a world where the wisdom of youth is generally assumed. It is somehow uncontaminated by the cynicism and corruption of age. One could, of course, argue that youth is also comparatively uncontaminated by knowledge, experience, wisdom and maturity: precisely the qualities that Paul thought were so central to the officers of the church. Thus, a movement that disregards the older generation, or moves it to one side with a pat on the head, will eventually emerge as seriously deficient in its ecclesiology. 

Hierarchical, Not Hip

Finally, we might also note that Paul's view of the church is hierarchical. That is what elders are: officers in a hierarchy. That is another rather unhip aspect to the biblical teaching. We are told that the rising generation does not believe in or trust institutions or hierarchies. Despite the hyperbole, this is scarcely a cultural innovation: the 1960's saw more real youthful iconoclasm than we ever see today. But perhaps we can allow the prophets of the rising generation their little conceit. 

I suspect youth have never liked institutions for the simple reason that they are run by older people and nobody likes to wait their turn. Such an attitude is problematic when it impacts the church. For all the talk of the need to be countercultural, few ever seem to think of this in terms of attitudes to institutional authority. That is unfortunate because the context of churchly piety is the church, and to reject the Pauline church or to replace it with an inverted version where the young set the agenda reveals a seriously deficient ecclesiology. Such may be hip but, to borrow a phrase, Paul would not be cool with it.

Carl Trueman is Vice President for Academic Affairs at Westminster Theological Seminary. A regular columnist for Reformation 21, he’s also a specialist in the development of theology during the 16th and 17th centuries. Carl is married to Catriona, and they have two sons. He is also the author of Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative and The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

My Postscript . . .
I trust that you've benefited from Trueman's observations. I always appreciate those who have a good eye for current trends in light of the faith of our fathers. God grant us a discerning heart so that we too as Paul urged Timothy, "follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:13).

Tuesday, March 22

The Problem with Trendiness

This is being re-posted from the Desiring God blog.

Confessions of a Non-Hipster

A student recently asked why I hate trendiness so much. From my taste in music to my choice of shoes, I go for what I regard as the timeless (classic rock and brogues) rather than the contemporary (i.e. anything recorded or designed since about 1985).

I answered that we live a large part of our lives before the age of 25. By then, tastes are fixed. Further, the Lord has delivered me from the need to dress like a scruffy dropout, talking in embarrassingly fake street jargon to pretend that I can still connect with `the youth.’ I am, after all, an Orthodox Presbyterian minister. It is hard to imagine a less trendy or more culturally inept calling. Plus, anyone who has heard any rock music produced in the last twenty years knows what an utter insult it generally is to the genre.

Reformed Theology: The Hip Factor

The conversation did, however, tend in a serious direction: is the current revival of Reformed theology driven by the fact that people think it is cool, or by the fact that they think it is true? 

I rejoice seeing the growing appetite among men and women under 40 for the great exponents of sovereign grace, Christ’s atonement, justification by faith alone, and the centrality of preaching. That these things are back on the agenda that could never have been anticipated ten years ago is a stunning testimony, both to God’s grace and the hard work and commitment of a generation of Christians.

Yet I still have the misgiving—perhaps a function of my English pessimism?—that we may be witnessing something trendy rather than true.

Genuine Revival: A Primer for Hipsters

What would the signs be that this revival of Reformed theology is genuine?

Long term, it will be the existence of organized churches (i.e. with elders and members) where this material is faithfully preached and the gospel is lived out daily. And it will build on more immediate developments: a piety that does not feel the need to shock or be self-conscious in its hipness.

This piety will place a primacy on the qualities of character and practice that Paul outlines in his letters, rather than on the celebrity aesthetics he decries in his words to the Corinthian church. It will manifest itself in humble commitment to the gathering of the church, humble attention to the preaching of the Word, and humble service for the church. It will be shown in the careful guarding of our minds and our hearts (that’s the hard part) from erroneous doctrine and behavior—not to earn God’s favour, but rather because God has already blessed us with every good thing in Christ. It will not be brash or loud. It will not even be cool or relevant, except by accident.

And that churchly piety is, I fear, what could be the missing ingredient in the current climate.

Carl R. Trueman is Vice President for Academic Affairs at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) and teacher at Cornerstone Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ambler, PA. A regular columnist for Reformation 21, he’s also a specialist in the development of theology during the 16th and 17th centuries. A proud Englishman, supporter of Gloucester Rugby Club, and marathon runner, Carl is married to Catriona, and they have two sons. He is also the author of Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative and The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Sunday, March 20

Give Us Discerning Leaders!

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. --Acts 20:29-30

One of the most common misconceptions in Christendom today is that it is unloving and intolerant to criticize the beliefs of someone else. But life and the history of mankind will not support that allegation. Some may indeed be intolerant and downright ugly about it, but that changes nothing with regard to standing up for the truth. So, whether we are standing against the Open Theism of Gregory Boyd et al, the justification issue touted by N. T. Wright, or lately the universalism/no hell liberalism of popular speaker Rob Bell, many would have us say nothing, or give them a free pass. It's as if the Bible says nothing about these things. And no matter what each teacher's motives may be, we can only operate on the weight of the doctrine being argued. Does what each submits agree with Scripture or not? Read how A. W. Tozer views such a battle and the need for more pastor/leaders to take up the gauntlet and fight these battles in the name of Christ. He writes: 
Within the circles of evangelical Christianity itself there has arisen in the last few years dangerous and dismaying trends away from true Bible Christianity. A spirit has been introduced which is surely not the Spirit of Christ, methods employed which are wholly carnal, objectives adopted which have not one line of Scripture to support them, a level of conduct accepted which is practically identical with that of the world--and yet scarcely one voice has been raised in opposition. And this in spite of the fact that the Bible-honoring followers of Christ lament among themselves the dangerous, wobbly course things are taking. . . .

The times call for a Spirit-baptized and articulate orthodoxy. They whose souls have been illuminated by the Holy Ghost must arise and under God assume leadership. There are those among us whose hearts can discern between the true and the false, whose spiritual sense of smell enables them to detect the spurious afar off, who have the blessed gift of knowing. Let such as these arise and be heard. Who knows but the Lord may yet return and leave a blessing behind Him?

The Price of Neglect, 6-7.
Lord, give us passionate men, impassioned toward your Word and your glory who are careful exegetes of Scripture. 

Saturday, March 19

The Almighty Power of Christ - J.C. Ryle

From J.C. Ryle Quotes . . . Here is a man with whom we'd all do better to become acquainted. Ryles writes:

"With the Lord Jesus Christ nothing is impossible. No stormy passions are so strong; He can tame them. No temper is so rough and violent; He can change it. No conscience is so disturbed; He can speak peace to it and make it calm. No person ever need despair, if they will only bow down their pride, and come as a humbled sinner to Christ. Christ can do miracles upon their heart. No person ever need despair of reaching their journey’s end, if they have once committed their soul to Christ’s keeping. Christ will carry them through every danger. Christ will make them conqueror over every foe. What if our relatives oppose us? What if our neighbors laugh us to scorn? What if our place be hard? What if our temptations be great? It is all nothing, if Christ is on our side, and we are in the ship with Him. Greater is He that is for us, than all those who are against us."

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985], 85. {Mark 4:35-41} 

Friday, March 18

A Thought About Death

A few weeks before my wife's father died, I had mused, "The portent of my father-in-law's death causes me to reflect. Two things strike me in the wake of this knowledge:  1) We live in practice as if we will live forever on this earth, and 2) we live as if this earth were all that there is to enjoy."

Now, that's all I'd jotted down at the time. Those two statements are true enough, and even now, two months after his death, they still land on my heart with a weight which only the irreversibility of death can cause. Dad did die and sooner than we were all expecting. But he knew Jesus Christ. No, read that again . . . HE KNEW JESUS CHRIST! And with that everything changes! Praise the Lord we have a sure hope which no one can remove. And nothing, not even cancer can diminish it's joys. Dad is quite happy right now.

Let me add these words from Octavius Winslow which were posted on 17 February.

The Final Sickness

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Psalm 116:15.

It is solemnly true that there is a “time to die.” Ah! affecting thought- a “time to die!” A time when this mortal conflict will be over- when this heart will cease to feel, alike insensible to joy or sorrow- when this head will ache and these eyes will weep no more- best and holiest of all- a time “when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality,” and we shall “see Christ as He is, and be like Him.” If this be so, then, O Christian, why this anxious, trembling fear? Your time of death, with all its attendant circumstances, is in the Lord’s hand. All is appointed and arranged by Him who loves you, and who redeemed you- infinite goodness, wisdom, and faithfulness consulting your highest happiness in each circumstance of your departure.

The final sickness cannot come, the “last enemy” cannot strike, until He bids it. All is in His hand. Then calmly, confidingly, leave life’s closing scene with Him. You cannot die away from Jesus. Whether your spirit wings its flight at home or abroad, amid strangers or friends, by a lingering process or by a sudden stroke, in brightness or in gloom, Jesus will be with you; and, upheld by His grace, and cheered with His presence, you shall triumphantly exclaim, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me: your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” bearing your dying testimony to the faithfulness of God, and the preciousness of His promises. My time to die is in Your hand, O Lord, and there I calmly leave it.
The death of our loved ones who depart to Christ should breathe a sobering breath of life into our souls. We are here but briefly really. Get ready, yes. LIVE ready is far better!

How are you living?

Thursday, March 17

God: No Cosmic Bell-Hop!

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? --Isaiah 40:12

What Is His Name?

I ask another question. Do you know Him? Really, how well do any of us know God? Is that the goal of the church, to help the lost find God and believers to gain an intimate appreciation for Jesus Christ? Listen to this question--

Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know! ” --Proverbs 30:4

Do we understand that to know the name is to know the attributes or characteristics of a person? To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray with all the weight of the character of Jesus. So, we ask, “Do you know his name, or his son’s name?” I love the way Tozer put it so many years ago.
We must be concerned with the person and character of God, not the promises. Through promises we learn what God has willed to us, we learn what we may claim as our heritage, we learn how we should pray. But faith itself must rest on the character of God.

Is this difficult to see? Why are we not stressing this in our evangelical circles? Why are we afraid to declare that people in our churches must come to know God Himself? Why do we not tell them that they must get beyond the point of making God a lifeboat for their rescue or a ladder to get them out of a burning building? How can we help our people get over the idea that God exists just to help run their businesses or fly their airplanes?

God is not a railway porter who carries your suitcase and serves you. God is God. He made heaven and earth. He holds the world in His hand. He measures the dust of the earth in the balance. He spreads the sky out like a mantle. He is the great God Almighty. He is not your servant. He is your Father, and you are His child. He sits in heaven, and you are on the earth. --Faith Beyond Reason, 44.

 Places! Let's remember our places, folks. . . . And God's!

From One Great Preacher For Another

Since college days, I have loved reading of George Whitefield, evangelist of the 18th century to both England and America. His story truly does read like an apostle of Jesus Christ. And his love for his Master exuded from him everywhere. That another of my "heroes" of the faith, Martyn Lloyd-Jones should speak to Whitefield's life makes this video that much more enticing. Apparently, this video will only be online for a few more days. Watch it with interest, and be blessed!

Wednesday, March 16

John Piper Does Not Deny That God Makes Much of Us

Borrowed from the Desiring God blog, I wanted to re-post this since it clarifies a point made in Scripture. There is a love of God which is so wonderful that to deny His overweening love of man is, in essence, to deny His divinity. "I have loved you with an everlasting love" does not exactly exalt us, however. It really exalts Him who loves us in spite of our depravity. This verse in fact, from Jeremiah 31:3 glorifies God's faithfulness even though it most certainly lifts up the prisoner's head (ours) and puts it on high. If THIS is what we mean by "making much of man" then OK. I am still not a fan of the phrase, "make much of man." But Romans does say that whom [God] justifies, he also glorifies (Romans 8:30). This glory seems more suited to heaven's beauty than to man's intrinsic worth. Anyway, here's what DGM posted:
At Passion 2011 in Atlanta, Pastor John gave a message titled “Getting to the Bottom of Your Joy.” In it John clarifies if and how God makes much of us:

Let it be said loud and clear John Piper does not deny and and never has denied that God makes much of us. The question is ranking—what’s at the bottom of your joy. Where does it finally rest?

Yes, those amazing truths—that God makes much of you—should thrill your soul!  But why? The answer to that question makes all the difference.

If the answer is, "Because I'm at the bottom, and I love to be made much of," you're not born again. If the answer is, "Because it reveals more of God and makes me know him, treasure him, love him, be satisfied in him, more than I ever dreamed!" then you are born again.

That's the difference—what's at the bottom.
Listen or download “Getting to the Bottom of Your Joy.”

Denying Our Selfishness . . .

I was pondering just yesterday how selfishness leads so many believers to implode to their own detriment and the obvious harm done to the body of Christ. It, like pride, is so useless and unnecessary, really. Coincidentally, the Spurgeon site sent this out the same day. Touched (again) by his message, I have to pass it along to you with the beautiful photo as well! Spurgeon writes:
Our Lord Jesus Christ’s heart was expansive and unselfish. He gave himself for his enemies, and died breathing a prayer over them; he lived never for himself. You could not put your finger on one point of his life and say, “here he lived for himself alone.” Neither his prayers nor his preachings, his miracles or his sufferings, his woes or his glories were with an eye to himself. He saved others, but himself he would not save. His followers must in this follow him closely. 
Selfishness is as foreign to Christianity as darkness to light. The true Christian lives to do good, he looks abroad to see whom be may serve, and with this eye he looks upon the wicked, upon the fallen and the offcasts, seeking to reclaim them. Yes, in the same way he looks upon his personal enemies, and aims at winning them by repeated kindnesses. No nationality must confine his goodwill, no sect or clan monopolise his benevolence. No depravity of character or poverty of condition must sicken his lovingkindness, for Jesus received sinners and ate with them. Our love must embrace those who lie hard by the gates of hell, and we must endeavor with words of truth and deeds of love to bring them to Christ, who can uplift then to heaven. 
Oh that you may all be gentle, quiet, meek in spirit, but full of an ardent, burning affection towards your fellowmen; so shall you be known to be Christ’s disciples.
From a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon entitled "A Call To Holy Living," delivered January 14, 1872. Image by Daniel Parks under Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, March 15

Seeking Substance in Scripture

“Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” John 5:39

It's funny. The longer I live, the more I see things must stay the same . . . that is, with regard to truth. God's Word boasts the exclusive authority necessary to rise above the cacophony of sounds which threatens to overwhelm the masses (and even the church itself!). How much we need to iterate and reiterate this fact! And why? Because it is the Word of God which projects the Son of God by the Spirit of God. Octavius Winslow said,
The word of God is full of Christ. He is the Sun of this divine system, the Fountain of its light and beauty. Every doctrine derives its substance from His person, every precept its force from His work, every promise its sweetness from His love. 
And . . .
It is the office of the blessed and eternal Spirit to unfold, and so to glorify, Jesus in the Word. All that we spiritually and savingly learn of Him, through this revealed medium, is by the sole teaching of the Holy Spirit, opening up this word to the mind. He shows how all the luminous lines of Scripture truth emanate from, return to, and center in, Christ- how all the doctrines set forth the glory of His person, how all the promises are written in His heart’s blood, and how all the precepts are embodied in His life.
And there is hope even (or especially) among the younger set. Carl Trueman from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia says, 
I rejoice seeing the growing appetite among men and women under 40 for the great exponents of sovereign grace, Christ’s atonement, justification by faith alone, and the centrality of preaching. That these things are back on the agenda that could never have been anticipated ten years ago is a stunning testimony, both to God’s grace and the hard work and commitment of a generation of Christians.
So, I conclude urging, search the Scriptures. YES! But do so in such a way that Jesus Christ is central to everything you read. Glory in that truth. Many are beginning to rediscover this heart-swelling truth for themselves. I am happy that young folks are seeking out substance over the superficial.

Saturday, March 12

Cultivating Private Prayer as a Pastor

The following is taken from the 2011 DGM Pastor's Conference. If you'd prefer to watch the video, you'll find it (HERE). Joel Beeke is the speaker:

Obviously, I hope, those of you who are not pastors will still watch/read this, given that personal prayer is for all believers.

Notes taken during the session.

It is always convicting to receive the assignment to speak on prayer to other pastors. And as I was writing the book that Dr. Piper referenced on prayer, I became increasingly convicted by the Puritans about how little I pray. So tonight, I am preaching first of all to myself. This topic is at the heart of revival of the church of Jesus Christ. My father told me when I was a teenager that the greatest problem of the church today is prayerless praying.

The sermons of the Reformers and Puritans are not that different than ours. We’re saying essentially the same thing. What was so different was their prayer lives. My aim is that we would truly pray in our prayers. So turn with me to Isaiah 64:6-9 and James 5:13-18.

True prayer is putting ourselves into our petitions, crying out to God Almighty and praying in our prayers. The problem is not that we don’t pray, but rather that seldom we truly prayerfully pray in our prayers. What is this praying? The primary exercise of faith. Private prayerful praying is the work of the triune God. It has more to do with God than with us. It is Heaven’s greatest weapon that we have at our disposal as a minister of the gospel. This kind of praying is supposed to be half of our vocation—giving ourselves to the Word and to prayer.

The giants of church history dwarf us because of the time and energy that they devoted to private prayer. They were Daniels in private and in public. Luther spent the first two hours of every day in prayer. He once said to Melanchton that he had so much to do that he needed to spend an extra hour in prayer. On the contrary, we too often see prayer as an interruption to our ambition.

Luther was not shy in is prayers. He would often pray loudly and boldly. He said praying was hard work. And he’s right. There is so much working against us in our prayers. Distraction arises in our cold heart and disturbance comes up in those around us.

In all of his busyness, Calvin spent hours in prayer every day. Unless we fix certain hours of every day in prayer, he said, it would slip from our memory. We must taste the sweetness of the fellowship of God in our prayer. We need to strive to grow in prayer.

The Puritans were the same way. They often would rise early, hours before sunrise, to fellowship with God in prayer. John Knox said that the prayers of the great cloud of witnesses rebuked us in our prayerlessness. In 1651, a group of Scottish ministers gathered together in fear of losing their spiritual vitality and wrote up a joint confession. Number twelve on their list was their prayerlessness. Tragically, our prayer life is often like a building closed for repairs.

We intend to do it better, to get more serious about it. We get down about it. Eventually we begin to call our prayerless praying real prayer. Prayerful praying pierces Heaven and warms the soul. We so often struggle in public prayer because we so rarely draw near to God in private. The problem with many of us is that our prayer lives have grown dull. We know that backsliding begins in the inner closet of prayer. Yet, we carry on with the commendation of people while not carrying on with God in prayer.

What we need to do tonight is not just confront this problem of prayerless praying, but search for conclusions. All of our excuses are obnoxious in the eyes of God. It is tragic when a minister of the gospel, who is called to be a man of prayer, can rest comfortably in this wicked prayerless condition. It is easier perhaps to riddle ourselves with guilt than to do something about it.

I do not aim to beat you with guilt but to awake you and me up to the need to lay hold of eternal life through the pursuit of a more faithful, more fervent prayer life with your Savior and your God. This will require us to take hold of ourselves and to take hold of God. How? 

Take Hold of Yourself in Prayer - Seven Principles

1. Remember the Value of Prayer. As ministers, we must remember that prayer is essential for our ministry and every duty we do as a minister of the gospel. Make it a rule to never engage in any activity in ministry without first seeking God in prayer. I have got to go to God in prayer. It is the most Christ-like thing we can engage in, brothers.

What a blessing that we have been called to be men of prayer. Many other men have to work ten hours a day in their secular vocation and we get to spend hours praying. Again my father told me just to have a place to go with your every need is worth more than anything money can buy.

William Bridge said that a praying man can never be miserable because he has the ear of God.

Nothing is so valuable as prayer. The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel. This is Heaven’s greatest weapon.

2. Maintain the Priority of Prayer. Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing.” Prayer has got to be first. It has to be our priority in every need. Spurgeon wrote, “Your prayers will be your greatest aid in your preparations. And after the sermon, how can a preacher give vent to his soul if the mercy seat were denied him.” How hard do you pray after your sermon is over? They would pray after the sermon, “Please, Lord. Don’t let the birds take away the seeds of that sermon.”

I fear that the pressures of the ministry today to be a jack-of-all-trades, pressures at home, pressures in the media crowd out our time for the priority of this ministry of prayer. We lose our power and authority. You have to have windows of prayer between your visits and appointments. That is the way to do it. Keep prayer your priority, not just during your times when you feel like a sailboat gliding effortlessly but also when you feel like an ice breaker.

3. Prayer With Sincerity. Psalm 62:8. The way to pray is to tell the Lord everything about you like he didn’t know anything about you all the while knowing he knows everything about you. Sometimes praying with sincerity means praying briefly, “Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!” God does not look at the logic of your prayers or the style of your prayers but the sincerity of your prayers.

Sincerity in prayer requires integrity in our marriages. Let your prayers be not hindered. Taking hold of our prayers may mean to take hold of our bad attitudes or our treatment of our wives. You have to do something about that. Perhaps praying first a prayer of repentance. We need to avoid professionalism in our prayers because it is not about our prayers but about our hearts. Spurgeon was asked how to get better at praying in public. He responded, “Pray more in private.”

4. Cultivate a Continual Spirit of Prayer. Isn’t it true that when you are really close to God that you have those “occasional prayers”? You pray your way through the day. You pray without ceasing. It is not just during your set times of prayer. We should be like a bird returning to its nest when we return to God in prayer. That is praying in your prayer—having the sense of relationship and knowing that your prayers reach the courts of Heaven.

It struck me how much Calvin used the example of a child crawling up into his father’s lap in relation to prayer. Pray continually. Ask God to help you do that. Whenever you have the least impulse to pray, pray! We have so few impulses to pray that we ought to take advantage of every one of them.

5. Work Toward Organization in Intercessory Prayer. We are ministers. We owe it to our people to pray for every single one of them. We know them and we should pray for them one by one. How? Be strategic. Have set lists that you have organized and categorized to pray for other people. Newton said his best friends were those who prayed for him. It will be encouraging to your people for them to know you are praying for them. I take the church directory and pray for the people on one page each day. You love your people and you know their needs.

6. Read the Bible for Prayer. Prayer is a two-way conversation. God comes to us in prayer and we return to him in prayer. Read verse-by-verse, and pray verse-by-verse. Pray your way through the Scriptures. Turn the psalms into prayer.

Fill your mind with Scripture and your prayers will gain life. In the house churches in China, they had no Scriptures in print but had so much memorized that their prayers were filled with it. When I get discouraged in my prayers, I often look to volumes of saints’ prayers from the past. I have found that they are filled with Scripture.

7. Keep Biblical Balance in Your Prayers. There are many different kinds of prayers in Scripture, aren’t there? We need to examine our prayer life from time to time and check to see if our prayers are repetitive. Are we covering the same bases when we pray? Listen to others pray. We can learn from others in how we pray.

Take Hold of God in Prayer - Three Principles

1. Plead God’s Promises in Prayer. David says, “My soul clings to you.” God is tender to his own handwriting. That is especially true of his own promises. It is no arrogance or presumption to pray to God his own promises. Prayer is nothing less than the promise reversed and retorted back to God. Beseech God with his own promises. Cast your burdens on the Lord and then trust him. Don’t take them right back.

2. Cling to This Glorious Trinity in Prayer. Like Elijah and Isaiah, cling to it. True prayer is not self-congratulatory but self-condemning and Christ-congratulatory. We should dwell on the Trinity and how the three persons draw us to God. We should meditate on who our God is. We need all three persons. We come in a Trinitarian fashion. We know our Father’s hands are full of grace because the Son’s hands were pierced for us. We can come boldly to throne of grace. As ministers, we can always say our time is a time of need. We are full of needs. Bring them to God.

God loves a returning minister who grieves over not turning to him in prayer. When he takes hold of you, you can take hold of him. Let us arise from our prayerlessness and cling to God Almighty, trusting in him, believing in him. We have access by one Spirit unto the Father. John Owen said we ought to labor in prayer to know each person of the Trinity one by one. In our prayer lives, we need an experiential knowledge of the Triune God.

We do not just pray for God’s benefits but God himself. We need God intimacy and God dependency. When we come to our people when we have come out of our closets, they can sense the presence of God. Then our people will begin to understand what prayerful praying is all about.

3. Believe that God Answers Prayer. Too often I will cry out to God and am surprised when he answers. Faithless prayer is fruitless prayer. When we don’t trust God, we make a mess of everything.

Let me end by giving you cautionary conclusion. If you want to know something about a man, ask him about his prayer life. Beseech him for mercies upon the church. In prayer, you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
My aim is not to discourage you. Don’t despair no matter how bad your prayer life is right now. Don’t compare yourself to the saints of past. Let them encourage you that there is more for you in prayer. Let them stir you up! That is the way to use Isaiah 64 and the prayer life Knox, Luther and Calvin. Battle unbelief and despair with prayer. We need not be crushed by demands to pray for hours but to pray with earnestness. Take hope in the almighty, Triune God who loves to be prayed to.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Friday, March 11

The Grace of Confession-Part 2 Paul Tripp

Continued from yesterday . . . 

A properly functioning conscience is a grace
Many relationships travel a one-way road in the wrong direction—the direction of a hardened heart. In the early days of the relationship we’re concerned with winning the other person, being loving, kind, serving, respectful, giving, forgiving, and patient.

But before long we let down our guard. We quit being so solicitous. Selfishness replaces service. We do and say things we would have never thought of at the relationship’s beginning. We become progressively less giving, patient, and forgiving. We look out for ourselves more than for the other person.

At first, our conscience bothers us. Eventually our heart hardens and our conscience doesn’t bother us anymore. It’s a perverse ability that all sinners have: becoming progressively comfortable with things that should shock, grieve, and embarrass us.

It’s a sign of God’s grace when our consciences are sensitive and our hearts are grieved, focusing not on what the other person’s wrongs, but at what we have become. This sensitivity is the doorway to real and lasting change.

It’s only grace that protects us from self-righteousness

This is the other side of the coin. We must understand the dynamic that operates so subtly, yet so destructively, in our relationships. Because we all suffer from some degree of personal spiritual blindness—and because we tend to see the weaknesses and failures of the other person with greater accuracy—we begin thinking of ourselves as more righteous than the other person. When we do this, it becomes difficult for us to think we’re part of the problem, and it makes it difficult to embrace the loving criticism and correction of the other person.

This means that it is not only blindness that prevents us from change, but also assessments of personal righteousness. If we’re convinced that we’re righteous, we desire neither change (nor the help that can make change) happen.

When both people in a relationship think they are righteous and the other person isn't, each person becomes more dissatisfied, impatient, and bitter. Meanwhile. the condition of the relationship worsens.

But there is hope! Grace decimates self-righteousness. Grace opens our eyes and softens our hearts. Grace deepens our sense of need. Grace faces us with our poverty and weakness. Grace causes us to run after help and welcomes us with open arms. When we quit arguing about who’s more righteous and instead grieve over our respective sins, we can know that grace has visited us and that it will work change in our lives.

Confession shouldn’t be this scary thing we do our best to avoid. Sin, weakness, and failure shouldn’t be the constant elephant in the room that we all know is there but can’t (or won’t) talk about. Instead, confession is a wonderful gift that every relationship needs. It should be liberating, not understood as a moment of personal and relational loss. Our confession should be propelled by deep appreciation and gratitude toward God, who has made it possible for us to no longer fear being exposed.

Because of what Jesus has done for us, we do not have to hide or excuse our wrongs. We’re freed from posing as if we’re perfect. In our heart of hearts we know we're not. We can stare our problems in the face with hope and courage because Christ has made possible real, lasting, personal, change in our relationships.

Thursday, March 10

The Grace of Confession-Part 1 Paul Tripp

Today and tomorrow, I am sending out this excellent article by Paul David Tripp on the nature of confession and it's value. I first saw it on the Desiring God blog. Tripp writes:
I often wonder how many people are stuck in their relationships in a cycle of repeating the same things over and over again. They repeat the same misunderstandings. They rehearse and re-rehearse the same arguments. They repeat the same wrongs. Again and again things are not resolved. Night after night they end the day with nothing reconciled; they awake with memories of another bad moment with a friend, spouse, neighbor, co-worker or family member and they march toward the next time when the cycle will be repeated.
It all becomes predictable and discouraging. They hate the cycle. They wish things were what they once were. Their minds swing between nostalgia and disappointment. They want things to be different, but they don’t seem to know how to break free, and they don’t seem willing to do the one thing that makes change possible—confess.
They tell themselves they will do better. They promise they will deal with their issues. They promise they will seek God's help. They decide to invest more time and energy in the relationship. They promise they will talk more. But it is not long before all the promises fade away. It is not long before they are in the same place again. All their commitments to change have been subverted by the one thing they seem unwilling to do: take the focus off the other and put it on themselves.
Here is the point: no change takes place in a relationship that does not begin with confession. The problem for many of us is we look at confession as a burden, when it is actually a grace.
It is a grace to know right from wrong
Change is all about measuring yourself against a standard, being dissatisfied with where you are because you see that you have fallen short of the standard, and seeking the grace to close the gap from where you are to where you need to be.
James likened the Word of God to a mirror (James 1:22–25) into which we can look and see ourselves as we actually are. It is impossible to overstate how important this is. Accurate diagnosis always precedes effective cure. You only know that the board is too short because you can place it against a measuring instrument. You only know that the temperature in your house is too hot because you have a measuring instrument in your house (called a thermostat). 
The Bible is God’s ultimate measuring instrument. It is meant to function in each of our lives as a spiritual tape measure. We can place ourselves and our relationships next to it and see if we measure up to God’s standard. God’s Word is one of his sweetest gifts of grace, and open eyes to see it clearly and an open heart to receive it willingly are sure signs of God’s grace as well.
It is a grace to understand the concept of indwelling sin
One of the most tempting fallacies for us—and for every human being in this fallen world—is to believe that our greatest problems exist outside us rather than inside us.  Despite this, the Bible calls us to humbly confess that the greatest, deepest, most abiding problem each of us faces is inside of us, not outside. The Bible names that problem "sin." Because sin is self-focused and self-serving, it is antisocial and destructive to our relationships.
You know that you have been gifted with grace when you are able to say, “My greatest relationship problems are because of what's inside of me not outside of me.”

Wednesday, March 9

Trusting God's Gracious Foresight

Often--probably more often than we'll ever realize here on earth--our Lord keeps us from besetting troubles. We're likely to never know these, thus, we're also not likely to give God credit for them. One biblical example of this is found when God mightily orchestrated Israel's deliverance out of Egypt. In a sentence you could almost overlook, we read:
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” (Exodus 13:17
Now, whether God said this aloud to Moses or we're allowed into the heavenly thought doesn't really matter. It wasn't up for a vote. Our Lord knows our weaknesses and will (it seems OFTEN) prepare the way before us, putting up protection even (or, perhaps especially) when we are unaware. But if we look with eyes of faith we might see it. If we meditate upon the works of the Lord, we stand a far better chance of recognizing his actions. What a blessing when we realize such things are the very work of heaven! These are not "flukes" but they are the very matter of the divine beneficence. The Lord God will take us through trials in order to mature us. True. "Yea, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me" is a well known supporting text on this. But he will also keep us from evil attacking us, if that evil will overwhelm us. Perhaps it is for this reason, and in light of such a wonderful truth, that Paul can write by the Spirit, that "no temptation has taken us but such as is common to man. But God will, with the temptation make a way of escape." Why? "That we may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). 

Praise. Praise God's wisdom to know which is best. Praise his love to so care as to select the very trials we should suffer, and the ones we should avoid. Praise his power that can do any of this at will. Indeed, what manner of man is this that the wind and waves, and armies and nations obey his will? Good question. Great meditation. Wonderful praise. And we do well, very well, to be much about it. 
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

Saturday, March 5

Why God Won't Answer Our Prayer

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8)

OK, it's not quite true to say that God does NOT answer our prayer (the prayer of the believer). But He answers in a way different than we expect. Still, the question remains. Why?

William Biederwolf writes that one reason God does this is "in order that a higher and better blessing may come to us." (How Can God Answer Prayer, p. 238). Indeed, Paul had prayed that God would remove the thorn in his flesh. But as we learn from reading 2 Corinthians, God in His great wisdom saw fit to let him keep it for in so doing, Paul's spirit was tempered to respond rightly before God and react rightly before men. It humbled him in just the right measure suited to his work. Paul thought he needed the "thorn" gone. But, as Octavius Winslow writes:
The Lord knew best what was for the good of His dear servant. He saw that, on account of the peculiar revelations that were given him in his visit to glory, the discipline of the covenant was needed to keep him low in the dust. And, when His child petitioned thrice for the removal of the thorn in the flesh, he for a moment overlooked, in the painful nature of the discipline, its needed influence to keep him “walking humbly with God.” So that we see even an inspired apostle may ask those things of God, which He may see fit to refuse. 
Biederwolf, quoting Adam Slowman, adds, "Some ask for success and speedy deliverance, and they get disappointments which bring them nearer to Him who will deliver them gloriously in trouble if not always out of trouble." Then he adds this thought which is so well suited to our present situation at church where we have experienced numerous trials, "Some ask for health of body and they get health of soul instead and learn what it is to gain the highest attainable gift of a submitted will which brings changeless peace and is worth all the prosperity gifts put together."

Winslow again,
In withholding, however, the thing we ask of Him, we may be assured of this, that He will grant us a perfect equivalent. The Lord saw fit to deny the request of the apostle; but He granted him an equivalent- yes, more than an equivalent, to that which He denied him- He gave him His all-supporting grace. “My grace is sufficient for you.” Beloved reader, have you long asked for the removal of some secret, heavy, painful cross? Perhaps you are yet urging your request, and yet the Lord seems not to answer you. And why? Because the request may not be in itself wise.
Were He now to remove that cross, He may, in taking away the cross, close up a channel of mercy which you would never cease to regret. Oh, what secret and immense blessing may that painful cross be the means of conveying into your soul!
If God were always to give us what we asked WHEN we asked it, we would actually lose out on the greater grace he has in store for us. This is precisely the reason we must pray with a submissive spirit, deferring to his wisdom, and trusting in his loving care. Pray, yes! But entrust the answer into the hands of the One who knows better than you ever could what you most urgently need.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. ” (2 Corinthians 12:8, ESV)

Friday, March 4

A Rare Interview with D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Thanks to Adrian Warnock of the UK, who drew my attention to this "rare" interview with Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. (I think it is rare because Lloyd-Jones was never one to have attention focused on himself). I owe a debt of gratitude to this man of God. My first reading from him was his wonderful sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, which I used as the basis for a series on the Beatitudes way back in the mid-70's. I have often recommended his works to our church folk, especially in the classroom, for his works though well thought out and expositional are in no degree "untouchable" to the lay person. He reaches people of every age.