Yearly Archives: 2010

My favorite post in 2010

Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.  The doctrines of grace create a culture of grace, healing, revival, because Jesus himself touches us through his truths.  Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile.  Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless.

The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9).

The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16).

The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16).

The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23).

The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2).

If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts.  If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture.  But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.

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The highway to strength

“And do we not often feel weak in the sense of utter unfitness for being ministers at all by reason of our own sinfulness?  Paul said of his calling to the ministry, ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!’  We can say that too; yet sometimes we feel as if we would speak no more for Christ, and we should sink into silence were it not that His Word is as a fire in our bones, and we cannot refrain.  Then we think we will go away into the far west, and in some log cabin teach a few children the way of salvation, for we do not feel fit for anything higher.  Our shortcomings and our failures stare us out of countenance, and then are we painfully weak.  But this also is the highway to strength: ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’”

C. H. Spurgeon, An All Round Ministry (Edinburgh, 1978), page 216.

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Where there is no encounter

“Reflecting on the American church scene, [Bonhoeffer] was fascinated that tolerance trumped truth.  His analysis was remarkably similar to the report he wrote in the summer of 1931, trying to make sense of his year at Union:

‘I now often wonder whether it is true that America is the country without a reformation.  If reformation means the God-given knowledge of the failure of all ways of building up a kingdom of God on earth, then it is probably true. . . . The voice of Lutheranism is there in America, but it is one among others; it has never been able to confront the other denominations.  There hardly ever seem to be ‘encounters’ in this great country, in which one can always avoid the other.  But where there is no encounter, where liberty is the only unifying factor, one naturally knows nothing of the community which is created through encounter.’”

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer (Nashville, 2010), pages 338-339.

On the one hand, community is destroyed by negative scrutiny of others, relishing reasons to criticize, looking down from a superior position.  On the other hand, community is diminished by cowardly avoidance of encounter.  And, as Bonhoeffer interestingly suggests, we Americans have enough space geographically and enough options ecclesiastically that we can avoid encounter if we choose to.  But God says, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:17).

It is wrong to brutalize a brother.  It is also wrong to avoid a brother.  The way of Christ is to move toward one another, especially …

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No greater consolation

“Behold Christ lying in the lap of his young mother.  What can be sweeter than the Babe, what more lovely than the mother!  What fairer than her youth!  What more gracious than her virginity!  Look at the Child, knowing nothing.  Yet all that is belongs to him, that your conscience should not fear but take comfort in him. . . . To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother.  Who is there whom this sight would not comfort?  Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.”

Martin Luther, quoted in Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand (New York, 1950), pages 354-355.

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“There’s only pain. God is here . . .”

“Bruchko,” he said, “my body hurts.  I hurt everywhere.”  “Shh,” I said.  “You need to be quiet.  We want you to be well.  We want you to be strong.”  He shook his head, barely moving it.  “No, Bruchko.  I’m not well and I’m not strong.  I have closed my eyes.”  His eyes did close, and he slipped off.  I stayed near him.  Later he opened his eyes again.

“Bruchko, I heard a voice like the spirits that talk when they try to kill you.”  I nodded.  “But this voice called me by my secret name, by my real name.  No one alive knows my real name, but this spirit called me by my real name.  So I called to it and said, ‘Who are you?’ and it said, ‘I am Jesus, who has walked with you on the trail.’ . . . So I told Jesus that I hurt all over, from my head to my toes.  And Jesus said that he wants me to come home.”  His breath was coming with difficulty.

“Help me, brother!” he whispered, looking at me.  “Help me!”  Then he turned his eyes away.  “But you can’t,” he said.  “I’ve been embraced by death.  I’m leaving, Bruchko.  I’m leaving.  I can’t see.  There’s only pain.  God is here, and he wants to take me on the path we couldn’t ever find on our hunts, the path that goes beyond the horizon to his home.”  Then he smiled, and his face looked for a moment like the …

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“If you believed in Jesus, . . .”

“‘For myself,’ she continued, ‘. . . I believe that what’s right today is wrong tomorrow and that the time to enjoy yourself is now so long as you let others do the same.  I’m as good, Mr. Motes,’ she said, ‘not believing in Jesus as many a one that does.’  ‘You’re better,’ he said, leaning forward suddenly.  ‘If you believed in Jesus, you wouldn’t be so good.'”

Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood (New York, 1949), page 225.

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39 years ago today

39 years ago today God gave me the privilege of marrying the love of my life.  I am a happy man.  Thank you, dearest Jani, for your tender, rugged faithfulness all through these swiftly passing years.  May we serve our Lord in the fullness of his power, for the renewal of his people, until our dying day.

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Thoughtful, total commitment

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  Revelation 3:15-16

“The idea of being on fire for Christ will strike some people as dangerous emotionalism.  ‘Surely,’ they will say, ‘we are not meant to go to extremes?  You are not asking us to become hot-gospel fanatics?’  Well, wait a minute.  It depends what you mean.  If by ‘fanaticism’ you really mean ‘wholeheartedness,’ then Christianity is a fanatical religion and every Christian should be a fanatic.  But fanaticism is not wholeheartedness, nor is wholeheartedness fanaticism.  Fanaticism is an unreasoning and unintelligent wholeheartedness.  It is the running away of the heart with the head.  At the end of a statement prepared for a conference on science, philosophy and religion at Princeton University in 1940 came these words: ‘Commitment without reflection is fanaticism in action; but reflection without commitment is the paralysis of all action.’  What Jesus Christ desires and deserves is the reflection which leads to commitment and the commitment which is born of reflection.  This is the meaning of wholeheartedness, of being aflame for God.

One longs today to see robust and virile men and women bringing to Jesus Christ their thoughtful and their total commitment.  Jesus Christ asks for this.  …

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What Christianity really is

“When churches lose their influence, when the Christian message ceases to arrest the indifferent and the unbelieving, when moral decline is obvious in places which once owned biblical standards – when such symptoms as these are evident, then the first need is not to regroup such professing Christianity as remains.  It is rather to ask whether the spiritual decline is not due to a fundamental failure to understand and practise what Christianity really is.”

Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Edinburgh, 2000), page 151.

My restatement of Murray’s point:  If what we today call Christianity is not compelling people’s loyalty, then there is no point in hosting big events down at the Ryman Auditorium to promote it further.  If our Christianity is not apostolic in power, we ourselves have no right to accept it.  As long as the book of Acts remains in our authoritative Bible, we must and may find our way into that story.  Let’s face honestly the distance between biblical Christianity and our own mediocrity and seek God for mercy.  He will honor that humility.

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A broadly human conception of matured piety

“Soon after I entered the ministry I was called upon to visit the senior elder of my church, who had been taken sick unto death.  He had been a noble and stately figure among us, a certain old-world grace and courtesy reflecting the strength and dignity of his soul.  He had been a great friend of his Master, and he had done his Master’s work in a great way.  I saw him two or three days before he died, when it was known that the end might come at any time, and I found he was enjoying Dickens’ ‘Pickwick Papers’!  I must have made some remark about it, and he replied very simply that he had always been fond of Pickwick, and that he would not be ashamed, when the Master came, to be found deep in the enjoyment of such innocent humor.  I do not know what helpful ministry I brought to him, but I know that he gave to me a broadly human conception of matured piety, which all along the way has enriched my conception of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.”

John Henry Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (New York, 1912), page 204.

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